In Defense of AAdvantage
There have been several letters in the past two months about the lack of availability of upgrades or free tickets, including problems with American Airlines.
Fortunately my experience has been different. I am an AA lifetime Platinum member and in the second week in December I was able to obtain upgrades between New York and Albuquerque during Christmas time on the day and time I wanted. Then in the first week in January, I was able to obtain a first-class award ticket from New York to St. Martin over the Martin Luther King Day weekend, a heavy travel date. I then needed to go to Europe on an upgrade on about four weeks’ notice in February, and while I couldn’t get on the AA flight to Zurich, I was given space on the Swiss flight on the day I wanted and then came back from London on the day and flight I wanted.
The best service I received was when I wanted to go to Los Angeles for a long weekend. Since I had a surplus of both Continental and US Airways miles, and was beginning to run short on American, I tried first to get space on United with my US Airways miles. Notwithstanding many flights between New York and L.A., I couldn’t get a flight within four days of the days I wanted. I then tried Continental and was told I could have the flights I wanted but it would cost me 90,000 miles instead of the regular 45,000 for a first-class ticket. That seemed ridiculous, so I wound up calling American, and for 45,000 miles I was able to get a first-class ticket on the day and times I wanted.
While undoubtedly there are times when upgrades or award tickets are hard to get, American has been nothing but accommodating as far as I’m concerned.
Hanno D. Mott
And Still Another AAdvantage Defender
(A) type of letter I see regularly in InsideFlyer is from the frequent flyer who complains he/she cannot get the award travel desired from the program. Harold Rutan’s letter, in the March 2004 issue, falls into that category. While I will not comment upon the many posts on FlyerTalk.com complaining about problems getting Continental awards, having no personal experience with Continental, I can state that Mr. Rutan’s experience is suspect.
I typically fly American from San Francisco to Europe, paying a coach fare and upgrading with either miles or VIPs. This January, I made a reservation from San Francisco to London for travel in March, and had no problem upgrading with my VIPs. While I cannot speak for the entire January through March period Mr. Rutan complains of, I do have a friend, a fellow FlyerTalk member, who is flying San Francisco or San Jose to London or Frankfurt each weekend from January through March, the end of the triple miles promotion. (Don’t get me started about how “triple bonus miles” can possibly be only two times the actual/minimum mileage.) According to him, he has had no problems upgrading any flight in either direction with VIPs. From information derived from FlyerTalk, generally the miles upgrades are slightly ahead of VIP certificate upgrades, in the scheme of things at AA.
I think that any time someone tells you that something “never” happens, you need to step back and reevaluate. It may be possible with the “triple bonus miles” promotions that the few capacity-controlled upgrade seats were taken early. But clearly, as our experience demonstrates, not on every flight in that time frame. Mr. Rutan may have merely called and found a reservation agent having a bad day, or maybe he was the cause of the agent’s bad day. Customer service tends to be directly proportional to your attitude. The attitude you give is generally the attitude you receive. In any event, I have found that dealing with airlines over the phone is like dealing with problems with your computer running Windows. Always reboot. If you don’t like the answer you received from one airline agent, thanking them and hanging up to call back later seems to solve most problems.
As to the second example, I only wish that I could upgrade to Business/Premium class, even if only to the U.S. gateway city, for $275 instead of 25,000 miles or a VIP certificate. Any time you can get airline miles or their equivalent for about 1 cent per mile, you should pat yourself on the back for only paying wholesale. Save the miles for that first-class ticket to Australia, if you can find that award.
While I have, occasionally, had to wait until arriving at the airport for check-in to receive my upgrade, my experience has been that, on an international itinerary, the upgrades have come through sometime the week before the flight, where there are empty seats showing on AA.com. Otherwise, I would be calling the elite desk frequently, to make sure that any available seats are offered for upgrade.
Once again, taking personal responsibility for improving your travel experience is the key factor. I would have to ask Mr. Rutan, is the grass really greener? I’ll wait to read his follow up letter with complaints about his “new” frequent flyer program in which he is being comped elite status.
Trouble in Salt Lake
On March 14th, we were booked to return on United from Salt Lake City to Chicago through Denver. When we arrived in Denver, slightly late due to United maintenance (in Salt Lake), we ran to our gate. It was about 17 minutes before it left. The door (out by the ticket agent) was closed. The gate agent went over to that door by the gate and called out several names on her list and only let those people board the plane. We asked why we were not allowed on the plane (we had our boarding passes and seat assignments). She said, “too late” even though she was boarding certain standbys.
My husband is (let’s now make that was) a Premier flyer with United. They knew when our United flight landed from Salt Lake City, they knew how many passengers and they knew we could make it and they didn’t care! We spoke with supervisors, etc. (They are just young kids doing what they are told, but making bad calls!) The fact is, United doesn’t care about its Premier members, or else we would have been on. To top the whole thing off, in Salt Lake City we were offered three roundtrip tickets in continental U.S. and a first-class direct flight to Chicago if we would wait from 9.30 a.m. until take off at 3 p.m. We declined because we didn’t have the time to do that — we had to get our son back to boarding school in the suburbs of Chicago. United, when they did this to us, didn’t even get us on the next flight out! We had to wait several hours until they got us out. They could have at least apologized and offered us some red carpet treatment!
They are a disgrace, and they don’t deserve our business. We will never fly them again. Whatever frequent flyer miles I have left I have given to my other son. I have nothing good to say about them. It all comes from the top, this kind of treatment. Mr. Glen Tilton does not care about the customer.
One thing you could tell me: is it legal what they did to us? I would be willing to spend a few bucks to take them to court over it — they need to suffer a little pain too. It would probably be the best money we ever spent to get them to realize that the little guy does count.
I would be most grateful if you would publish this in your magazine.
Helen & Ted Bockweg
FlyerTalkers Are Real People Too
I think the rebirth of the FlyerTalk website is a good time to tell you what FlyerTalk has meant to me and why your contribution is more meaningful then you may know. I found FlyerTalk in 2000, just as my husband and I were approaching the time in our lives when we could really have the time to travel. I was learning quickly how to obtain miles and how to travel. Then in February of 2001, my husband and I were both diagnosed with cancer. He with lung cancer and I with breast cancer. He started chemo and radiation, and I opted for a double mastectomy and reconstruction. While we took advantage of every opportunity for limited travel, we had long periods of being homebound. Those were very difficult times, and what helped make it bearable was the ability to wake up each day to FlyerTalk. When the reality of life is too much, it is only dreaming and hope that gets one through. Thus reading the trip reports, the excitement of airline and hotel promotions, itineraries of others, etc. not only distracted me from the issue at hand, but afforded a great escape. I learned about the AA Hawaii special (100,000 miles for 2 FC RT’s) and as soon as my honey finished treatment, took him to Hawaii first class. (that was our last vacation together — thank you FlyerTalk). I read about the $20 tickets to Europe on BA and was able to share everyone else’s joyful and horrendous experiences. I even got to meet Dan Hammer who stopped by on each Thanksgiving to say ‘Hi’. In February of 2003 my husband died. After the initial grieving, while I was experiencing the great loneliness and sadness of life without him, again FlyerTalk kept me company. While family and friends are wonderful, and I keep quite busy, I always realize the great value of FlyerTalk… not just for the miles… not just for the points… but for being able to share the experiences of others when I wasn’t able to have my own. I am back to traveling and to complaining about the airline service, but wanted you to know that FlyerTalk is not just about the miles and points (or if you prefer the moints and piles) but also about those members who may not be as active or vocal on the site, but whose lives and existence are enhanced by the FT community.
So I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you why I am indebted to you for this website and all you have done for the FT community. Many thanks and I am off to my future travels and learning experiences.
Free? Not Quite
Oh, you went and did it! In your story on Southwest Airlines, you referred to award trips as “free trips.” That is a big no-no. If the airlines get the idea that they are giving away “free trips,” they may discontinue the program. The flyers pay — and I do mean PAY — for those supposedly free trips. Many of them don’t shop around for the cheapest fare. They just pay the outrageously high fare of their favorite airline because that’s the one they want to get their miles on. You had better believe that frequent flyer programs are a money maker for airlines. But that “free trips” language is not only not true, it’s downright dangerous for the thinking of airlines and passengers alike. Remember, they are “award” trips, and we pay dearly for them in our volume purchases of air travel.
And another thing. Notice the higher fuel prices? What those fuel prices mean is that some very large airlines are not going to be able to keep flying. Their costs are just too high, and the fuel costs will doom them for sure. So, I just want to tell every flyer who rethinks his loyalty to airlines, that you had better be careful about where you keep your flyer miles — your airline may be out of business soon if it’s one of those with high costs. You need to watch the bottom line of the airlines you fly. Sure, your favorite airline may be a wonderful airline with very nice people, but that won’t save it from going out of business if it doesn’t watch the bottom line of profitability.