Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – August, 31 2007

Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – August, 31 2007

There was some news released by American Airlines recently which will probably pass unnoticed by many people. It did, however, not escape my attention because I believe this news is about something that the AAdvantage program will eventually offer their members. Let me explain.

Released was information about a downloadable desktop tool for American Airlines passengers called DealFinder. This release comes as no surprise because it is yet another example of just how competitive the battle is for passengers shopping for low airfares. Essentially DealFinder allows a traveler to enter where you want to fly, how much you’d like to spend, your travel dates and how many people will be traveling. The tool then scours the American Airlines database of fares constantly and when a match finally becomes available from fare changes that American initiates, it then notifies you that you are ready to fly. This could be days, weeks and even months into the future, depending on the travel dates you enter. These customer-initiated searches by travel dates have long been the domain of other Web sites competing with the airlines for booking airline tickets. The Fare Alert by Expedia and the FareWatcher by Travelocity come to mind.

Okay, so where are you going with this Randy? I was just getting to that. If we look closely at the last round of technology improvements that American Airlines has introduced, it is apparent that they first introduce innovations to their general traveler audience and then later copy it for their AAdvantage members, with the appropriate adaptations to the mileage crowd. That is what happened with the calendaring that AAdvantage introduced earlier this year. I firmly believe that in the next year, AAdvantage will take the technology they developed for DealFinder and introduce something akin to an AwardFinder. It will let AAdvantage members enter where they want to fly on an award, their travel dates and how many people will be traveling. The AwardFinder will then continually scour the availability of award seats, which change all the time, and alert you when they are available (this is assuming that the award seats were not available with your first search). Seems like such a great idea! (Actually, we have worked on this for some time which is why I loosely use the name AwardFinder.) I’m disappointed that the industry has not jumped ahead with this. But, given the priorities that the industry has faced, I suppose it’s reasonable to assume they had better things to do first (but then, what’s really more important than keeping their best customers happy?). So, if I’m wrong on this AwardFinder tool, I sure hope the seed of an idea is now planted over at American Airlines. If I’m right about this, then AAdvantage now knows the world is waiting.

WARNING: Humor ahead. Just in case marketing executives are reading this, I want to make sure they understand I am attempting to send a witty message to the powers who assign titles and labels to the frequent traveler. Case in point: I don’t know how many times I’ve received my account snapshot from Rewards Network and their partnership with the United Mileage Plus Dining program, but surely it has been dozens if not many dozens of times. I’m sure I read the information and I’m sure, okay, semi-sure, that details do not escape my eyes very often, if at all. But my last snapshot contained reference to a level of membership that left me laughing on the floor and I’m sure glad I was not sitting in 22-F at the time. In this dining program, there are levels of membership attained by the number of times you dine with the program, each earning a higher mileage award. There are three levels from what I can tell. The top level is called “Elite Dining Member.” It has a fairly familiar sound to it and we all relish being an “Elite” member no matter the flight, the hotel or the restaurant. The lowest level of membership from my snapshot is called the “Active Dining Member.” I’m kind of lukewarm to this title, I’m not sure if in the realm of loyalty marketing with every metal and precious stone assigned to us with the goal of stroking our ego, that being able to claim you are an “Active Dining Member” instills the urge to dine out often. It begs to ask, in this case is the use of the word “Active” a verb or a statement of status? I’m just not sure and have sent this off to the Office of Loyalty Marketing for a clarification. All I know, is that I am going to eat often enough so that I never have a card that reads “Active Dining Member” somewhere in my wallet. But this all sets up the real focus of my comments about this dining program (which by the way, I am a huge fan and supporter of). The middle level of membership: “Engaged Dining Member.” I kid you not. With 4-11 qualifying transactions within a calendar year (or if you have a Mileage Plus Dining Password) you too can become engaged. Uh, make that Engaged. I’ve seen everything from the “Titanium” level of membership with Vietnam Airlines Golden Lotus Plus to the “Paragon” level of China Airlines Dynasty Flyer, but to achieve a level formally titled “Engaged Dining Member” just leaves me speechless.

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