Letters – July, 26 2004

Letters – July, 26 2004

In Search Of: A Concorde Flight Certificate
I have been trying desperately for over one year now to get British Airways to respond to me regarding my trip on Concorde.

It seems they do not care about their customers, as I have sent numerous letters and faxes to date, with no response. I have spoken to the Executive Club Desk and they say it’s not their problem, contact Customer Services. You can’t speak to Customer Services, you have to fax them, which they obviously ignore. If you have any way of getting their attention and help, I would be forever grateful as my request is truly a simple matter, but very much sentimental to me personally and something I would like to share with my children. I have copied my correspondence to BA.
Best Regards,
Daniel Meredith

[copy of letter sent to British Airways Customer Services]

To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing to you in desperation over an attempt to receive the flight certificate that passengers that have flown Concorde would normally have received at the end of their flight on Concorde prior to departing the aircraft. I have been an avid fan of Concorde and it was a lifelong dream from when I was a young child to fly aboard Concorde. I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to fly aboard Concorde on 5 June 2003. Unfortunately the flight that I took on 5 June 2003 did not have the flight certificates available and I was promised that I would indeed receive my certificate in the post. I have followed up numerous times to the Executive Club desk, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, to no avail. The Captain of my flight was Adrien Thompson if that would help in tracking down the proper certificate. The flight crew also did not have any of the diaries that were normally given to passengers on Concorde either, although I would very much rather have the certificate to keep as a lifelong memento for myself and to show my children. Members of my family have also flown Concorde several times over the years and most recently in May just prior to my trip and had received the flight certificate signed by the Captain, along with the diary memento.

I would like to appeal to you for your assistance to obtain the certificate for my flight signed by Mr. Thompson, as I would be forever grateful.

Thank you in advance for any attention that you could place on this very special matter.

Best regards,
Daniel J. Meredith

An Open Letter to Every Program
Every so often, loyalty practitioners need to take a hard look at what we write in our welcome kits and consider how well we live up to the promises we make. The exercise just might open your eyes.

Take recent news about the fees creeping into many loyalty programs. Diners Club International recently announced plans to add a 95-cent handling fee for every 2,000 points (or 1,000 miles) redeemed in its Club Rewards program. Last year, Air Canada began charging a $25 fee to redeem miles in its Aeroplan program. Hertz now charges renters up to 50 cents a day for the privilege of earning airline miles on their car rentals. Even American Express announced recently that it will charge Membership Rewards participants a fee per point, up to a maximum of $50, to transfer points into an airline frequent flyer program.

We steadfastly maintain that rewards should have one dominant characteristic — they should be free. Because if you have to pay for a reward — even if the payment amounts to only a nominal fee — then it really isn’t a reward, is it?

To understand the motivation for companies choosing to dip their hands into the pockets of “best” customers as they redeem rewards, we need only look at the clue provided by an American Express spokesperson to the Wall Street Journal: “We feel the cost of delivering reward programs is increasing.”

We don’t doubt the accuracy of this stark statement. Engaging customers and maintaining good relationships has become increasingly difficult. Consumers have been drip-fed the concept of reward for spend for 20 straight years, and have thus developed a tremendous sense of entitlement. Most can dissect program rules and work them to their advantage with all the skill of a teenager diving into a new Playstation 2 game.

But consumers can also smell insincerity a mile away. If you ask your good customers to carry your card and adjust their behavior, then the burden is on you to maintain that relationship over time. They may be a little spoiled, but consumers do understand that you’re in business to make money. But what does it say about your long-term commitment to them when your accountants can alter program rules in a New York minute? Your message becomes, “Yes, we love you– but don’t become too much of a burden to us, or we might change our minds.”

We don’t mean to suggest that these leading companies did not employ financial modeling disciplines at the outset. But is it possible that, while rejoicing over skyrocketing membership numbers, they neglected to look at engagement rates, program profitability, and other indicators of strategic evolution?

Loyalty programs are easy to launch, but much more challenging to nurture to success. The good news is that you can have your cake and eat it too. Financial modeling tools and measurement plans do exist that will allow you to build true customer loyalty while increasing shareholder value. But all of the goodwill you accrue via platitude-laden welcome kits can be erased in a nano-second by new fees or rules changes designed to patch over program weak spots. Right or wrong, consumers perceive that you were never interested in developing true loyalty at all. When they begin to defect, that perception quickly becomes reality.

It really comes down to a choice: either offer the lowest prices in town and don’t pretend to play the loyalty game, or play the game sincerely and well. Since there can be only one “low price leader” in each industry, I hope you understand where that leaves the rest of us.
Bill Hanifin

Editor’s Note: Bill is a contributing editor and loyalty consultant for Colloquy Frequency Marketing, Inc.

The Complexity of Programs
I am sending you a copy of a letter that I just mailed to Continental Airlines and American Express regarding the complexity of the frequent flyer redemption process currently in effect using AMEX miles. I am asking all parties concerned to revisit their mileage rewards programs. The process shouldn’t be this complicated.

I am confident that my situation is not a unique or isolated case. I thought I was diligent in following the rules; however, a misunderstanding along the way almost denied me a long-planned trip and ultimately cost me 70,000 more miles than I was originally quoted.

I don’t feel that I should have been charged both penalty fees and also an additional 70,000 miles for two seats to Hawaii that were still available at the time the problem was resolved.

Can you tell me if this is common practice in the industry? Is there better way than using American Express miles? Howe do they compare to Capital One miles?

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
Anne Wolfe

Editor’s Note: Anne, there’s a long answer and a short answer. The short answer is no. The reason is that these aren’t “practices” at all, rather errors made by individual employees of the airlines involved and certainly not made any easier by the feudal protection that partnerships still embrace. Should it take three hours of menus and being on hold to move points from the American Express Membership Rewards program to your Continental OnePass program? Absolutely not. Technology is not new and these two have been partners since the day Membership Rewards (then Membership Miles) was first introduced. While better, it’s still not the “real-time” expectation that other program partners enjoy. I think it fair to say they are both at fault. Our reasoning for this comment is simple — you are a shared customer for both programs. Each program should put your interests first. So either OnePass is not diligent enough with Membership Rewards to demand an open link with real-time transfer or Membership Rewards is not demanding enough of OnePass for the same. I’m sure the answer is related to available resources and investment in generational technology. The protective answer is about the cost of this. Well, even when these partners were making money, they did not act upon better customer service.

As for Capital One miles? They may be better, but only if every single frequent flyer miles, you have ever earned with OnePass came from credit card purchases. If any of your miles came from flights, bonuses, telephone and countless other ways such as shopping, then Continental OnePass and American Express Membership Rewards wins hands down.

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