Letters – August, 22 2012

Letters – August, 22 2012

Not About Security

In the August issue of InsideFlyer, you tell reader John Mitchell that American’s decision to forbid mileage tracking websites from accessing AAdvantage account information is reasonable because 1) it’s in their terms and conditions, 2) Southwest did it first, and 3) it’s to protect member data.

You’ve frequently been critical of frequent flyer programs sticking to their terms and conditions to the detriment of their members, and contrary to their own long-term interests. Just because they can do something, doesn’t mean they should. I hope you’ll recognize this as one of those instances.

When members have to take extra steps to check their frequent flyer balances, they become less engaged in the program. The programs that are easiest to watch miles grow in–that don’t require manually logging in (and remembering to log in!) to another website are the programs whose shopping portals members will most use, the programs they’ll accumulate car rentals with, and other partner activity as well.

While you suggested to this reader that there’s a security risk in releasing account passwords or PINs to a website, mileage tracking site Award Wallet didn’t need member account information at all, and stopped storing that information on its website. It created a browser plugin so that all account numbers, passwords and mileage balances were stored on the member’s computers only. American’s lawyers still shut them down.

The notion that this is all in the best interests of the member doesn’t wash. Making it harder for members to watch their balances regularly and closely REDUCES security. In contrast, members checking changes in their balances regularly on mileage aggregator sites allows them to realize more quickly when there’s a problem and sound the alarm.

Meanwhile American won’t permit access to online services that the banks are happy to allow to access and store financial account information. If a site can meet Fidelity or Chase security standards, surely a security rationale on American’s part is wrong-headed, even if it were genuine?

But it isn’t about security at all, it’s about commercial agreements. In response to a question from a member in the American AAdvantage chat on Milepoint, American President Suzanne Rubin acknowledged the reason for shutting off these sites’ access is, “Our preference is to enter into commercial agreements with these sites that recognize American’s rights and control the unauthorized dissemination of American’s customer data.”

I certainly hope these websites can find a way to come to terms, but it’s unclear how an Internet venture that doesn’t charge members can afford to pay American or other frequent flyer programs a fee for something that increases those members very engagement in the program.

Perhaps with enough persistence I can change your mind and you’ll join the call to let members manage their data in the most convenient manner possible, within clear and transparent security guidelines.
Gary Leff

Editors’ Note: See this month’s Opening Remarks for Randy’s response.

Tarnished Gold

I have a comment about Priority Club Rewards. I stay at the Crowne Plaza in Manhattan once a month. I just returned from three nights there. Because of our frequent stays, we have achieved the Gold level of Priority Club Rewards. I notice in the brochure (and online) that the only two additional rewards one can expect to receive with a Gold-level membership are as follows:

The first relates to the way points earned are calculated, the second entitles you to a room and key on arrival. In fact the wording used is Gold Elite “ensures your room and key are ready upon arrival.”

I guarantee you this is not true. The hotel informs me there is no guarantee that a room will be ready upon your arrival and, in fact, I can attest to the fact that one never is. I have repeatedly pointed out the meaning of the Gold points card but am told that, no, that’s not what it means.

Very disappointing. We stayed there 15 nights in 2011 in hopes of being able to check in early. We live in Montreal and drive 6.5 hours, and in order to avoid longer lines at the border, we leave home early which means we arrive in Manhattan early and have to sit in the lobby of the hotel for hours [until our room is ready for us].

Thanks for letting me vent.
Johanne Champagne

American Legacy

Bankruptcy wipes out liabilities. Americans pay for the failed pension plans of legacy air carriers–and customers now lose one of the key benefits of AA’s frequent flyer program. It is a sad commentary on American business practices.

My remaining legacy miles will also expire although I used hundreds of thousands of legacy miles already.
D.H. Alan

The Good Old DAAys are Gone

Is the AA (pre-1989) AAdvantage miles “conversion” really a THEFT?

When the mileage-based frequent flyer programs were originally created, if I remember correctly, it took congressional rulemaking action to PREVENT airlines from attempting to “steal” accrued miles via expiration-weaselling, etc.

As you’re doubtless aware, AA recently sent out a letter announcing (aa.com/MileConversion) that what they refer to as (accrued) “Miles With No Expiration” will be “converted” to miles that now expire and that I “do not need to take any action.”

Well, to answer my own question; OF COURSE it’s THEFT and of precisely the type that Congress was trying to prevent in the first place. The interesting related question is: Can AA get away with this without being forced to dissolve the ENTIRE AAdvantage program first? I think I’ll ask that one of my Congressional/Senate representatives.

One does get tired of the continual airline ripoffs. AA probably will in fact get my pre-1989 miles, but they should suffer ALL of the (financial) pain associated with doing so.
John Doyle

American Airlines Not Playing

I think that you should be aware of a new AA policy that makes it questionable how good AA will be as a flying choice. Their new policy is that they refuse account access to third parties.

This defeats the utility of airline tracking phone tools such as PageOnce, Tripit and FltStatus, as well as emerging MEGA tools such as Passport on the iphone iOS 6 and Google wallet on the Android.
Ed Kelley

Etihad Comes Through

Finally, Etihad Rewards program contacted me last night. I spoke with their agent Ana. She re-instated my miles which will be valid within the next five days.

Again, thank you so much for your support. If not for your team, I don’t think this would have ever be ironed out.
Joe

Editors’ Note: This note from Joe references a note he wrote to us about his disappointment when redeeming miles for a flower arrangement (see “Sidewalk Flowers” in the Letters to the Editor section of the May 2012 InsideFlyer). We’re glad we could be of some help.

Mystery Perk

I have been a holder of a Diner’s Club/Carte Blanche card for years. After the latest buyout from Bank of Montreal, I am beginning to question whether I should cancel my two cards and save $450 a year.

I have called at least 10 times in the past few months, inquiring about the “Unlimited International Companion Tickets on British Airways,” and have yet to talk to anyone that has a clue about it.

I attempted yet another call last week, and was assured I would get a call back from Club Rewards–never got the call.

I have sent emails and no response.

Can you please help me with my question, do they still offer the card privilege with British Airways Companion? Really?

I might as well switch to American Express Platinum if this is how they are going to conduct business.
David Weinerth

Editors’ Note: David, we reached out to our contact at Diners Club and have been told to expect to hear from them soon.

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