Letters – February, 27 2006

Letters – February, 27 2006

Upgrade AAbsurdity
I am a longtime subscriber to Inside Flyer, and rely on the magazine for a heads-up on changes to frequent flyer programs.

My husband and I are Platinum Elite on American Airlines and traveled to Europe this fall. We upgraded from economy on the outbound portion of the trip, but didn’t bother with a request for the return. Upon arriving at the airport, we learned that our flight was lightly booked, so we decided, spur of the moment, to request an upgrade. It seems that American instituted a new policy in mid-July, slipping it in without notification, and one that none of your readers seems to have mentioned to you. In addition to the $250 one-way on top of the 25K miles to upgrade, if one requests an upgrade within one week of a flight, it’ll cost an extra $100! There is a sliding scale backward: I think it’s $50 within two weeks and $25 at three weeks.

We were so taken aback when confronted with this that we told the agent not to bother. American lost a fast $500, which is considerable in these days of shrinking profits. There were so many empty seats that spreading out was no problem. The only punishment we endured was a disgusting snack box for “lunch” that, with the exception of a piece of cheese, was all carbs. When I said something about it to the flight attendant, she requested that I complain, as she was “ashamed” to have to serve it!

Gone but Not Forgotten
Another ghost now haunts the office of a magazine editor: the ghost of an airline past, Independence Air. Oh, but they do fail and die. One of the big ones — US Airways — perished, leaving its name behind and some routes. They called it a “merger,” and pretended the airline didn’t die. But in a way, it sort of did. And before you rejoice over the renewal of United Airlines, ask yourself how many quarters of profitability has that airline put together lately? If United doesn’t make a profit, how can it fly? (I’m feeling almost sorry for anyone who loans money to an airline with scant chance of profitability.) I’m not rejoicing that we still have large airlines in danger of shutting down or, you know, “merger,” because the competition is good for us all. We need the airlines in business and we need their competition for our well-being as travelers. And, truth to be told, United and American are excellent airlines, among the very best on the domestic scene. But they must make profits, or big changes are on the way. That is something we should recognize. I am not cheering on the demise of the Big Sick Five. I really wish them well. I truly hope their managements will wake up and realize that high fuel prices are here to stay. I hope they can come up with solutions to bring back the Big Sick Five to full health. If not, we shall all suffer — airlines, airline employees, and travelers, all in the same boat — or plane.
Mark Terry

Editors Note: The ghost of Independence Air does not haunt this office as we never took a part in predicting its success or failure. Rather, we mourn the loss of the program benefits to the more than one million members of iClub.

Fewer Dividends
I keep hearing good things about the changes to the Dividend Miles program for Dividend Miles members since the merger between US Airways and America West. Has everyone overlooked the fact that Gold Preferred members now only get a 50-percent mileage bonus instead of 100 percent? That’s a quarter reduction in the total miles earned from a flight, and that’s huge! Instead of minimum 1,000 miles per segment, it is now 750 miles. Delta, Continental, Northwest, American and United all still offer a 100-percent bonus for their Gold (mid-tier) level members, so US Airways is at an obvious competitive disadvantage. Why would anyone who flies at that level want to fly with US Airways since the elite program is about miles and upgrades? Speaking of upgrades, where I live in Greensboro, US Airways flies nothing but commuters, so an upgrade is now out of the question. Given these changes, I will no longer fly US Airways. This probably accounts for the reason demand has lowered enough to where US Airways has replaced all mainline jets with commuters. Another puzzling fact is there is a US Airways Club in Greensboro, even though technically US Airways doesn’t even fly there anymore.
Jay Zollicoffer

Let the Card Owner Beware
The following letter was sent to Hilton HHonors:

While I very much enjoyed my stay and the hospitality extended me during our recent visit to the Nairobi Hilton in Kenya, I’m very disturbed by an incident that occurred there.

We checked in for our SAF8 award stay on January 3, 2006 using my American Express card. There is a sign taped to the check-in desk explaining to guests that they encourage you to cover the 3-digit CVV number on any Visa/MasterCard you may be using in Kenya to prevent fraud. The note specifically says it is not necessary to do this with Diners Club or American Express. The front desk clerk who gave me orange stickers for my credit cards also was adamant that it was not necessary for my American Express card.

On Jan. 8, 2006 an unauthorized charge was made on my American Express card for a plane ticket for a Mr. P. J. Wafula for $1,276.00 for a ticket purchased online through Travelocity on Swiss Air traveling roundtrip from Nairobi to Lisbon Jan. 10 — 25, 2006. I was unaware of this charge until I returned home and got my statement from American Express. As I had not used this credit card anywhere else while in Nairobi, it was fairly obvious that the theft of the number had to occur from my use at the front desk at the Nairobi Hilton. A call to American Express, Travelocity and to Hilton Guest Services took place to report the theft and reverse the charge on Jan. 24, 2006.

The gentleman I spoke to at Hilton Guest Services assured me that I would be hearing back from both his office and the hotel manager in Nairobi within a day with a follow-up. To date, I’ve heard from neither.

I posted my experience on www.flyertalk.com in the HHonors forum. Imagine my surprise when by the end of the first day, I’d heard from two other people who had identical experiences within the last year at the Nairobi Hilton — plane tickets purchased at Travelocity using American Express leaving from Nairobi. One of the people even went so far as to email her correspondence with Olivier Vetter, manager of the Nairobi Hilton who told her there was very little they could do to prevent this at their end as too many people had to have access to credit card numbers at the front desk and that they couldn’t be responsible for security breeches.

I find this whole matter completely baffling and appalling. Obviously there is a common and predictable security breech with the front desk at Nairobi Hilton that the hotel, Hilton, and American Express have all been aware of for at least a year.

This brings up the following questions:

1. How is it that other hotels can secure a guest’s credit card information but this location cannot? (Seems simple enough to assign one guest — one clerk to credit card numbers and hold the clerks responsible for the security.)

2. How is it that this property is still allowed to accept American Express cards with this kind of continued violation in security?

3. How is it that Hilton has allowed this to continue for so long despite the reports from your guests? (A simple advisement to cover the security code on any American Express card sent in the “welcome email” we get from Hilton a week out would be very helpful, along with some advice to discuss our plans with American Express before leaving home.)

You have violated our trust in Hilton. I would like to know what steps are being taken to restore that.
Dr. Kathie F. Nunley

More on HawaiianMiles
I am a loyal and true fan of Hawaiian Airlines. I used to travel on their competitor, Aloha Airlines, but their service and employee attitude took a turn for the worse about two years ago so I made the switch, and I’m glad I did! I have managed to earn Pualani Gold Status and it’s great. I get first-class upgrade discounts, free stand-by for earlier inter-island flights, am able to take three pieces of luggage to the mainland and inter-island, free club access to all their lounges, pre-boarding privileges, priority reservations number, and the list goes on and on.

I have had their HawaiianMiles credit card for many years now, from when it used to be with Wells Fargo. It’s a great card! Every year I get 5,000 bonus miles and coupons for free headsets and beverages on board. Their SuperCharged Merchant program is great, allowing me to earn 5 miles per dollar when I shop at select merchants. I also earn two miles for ever dollar I spend on Hawaiian Air travel.

What else can I say about Hawaiian Airlines? Their employees are great! First-class service to the mainland is untouched by their competitors. They still serve nice meals with real utensils and glasses (unlike Delta and other major carriers). Their flight crew provides warm, personable service with aloha and even their ground crew is on it! I have never had a flight that was delayed, and in fact — my inter-island flights usually arrive about 10 minutes early.

Hawaiian Airlines is simply the best, and so is their frequent flyer program!
Lawrence Denis

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