Suzanne Rubin, President American AAdvantage

Suzanne Rubin is the President of the American AAdvantage program, the world’s first frequent flyer program, currently with more than 70 million members worldwide. Prior to her current position, Rubin worked in several positions at American including roles in planning, finance and sales.

Suzanne Rubin
Suzanne Rubin

InsideFlyer
How is the AAdvantage integration with Dividend Miles coming along? Any news from that corner
Suzanne Rubin
As you can imagine, the integration of our two loyalty programs is a long and complicated process. We are working heads-down to create the best loyalty program for the world’s greatest airline, and we are tackling the integration in three phases. The first phase, which we are in now, we are calling “Reciprocity”—focusing on providing customers expanded benefits across the two carriers such as the ability to redeem inventory-controlled awards, launching the codeshare between American and US Airways, integrating US Airways into oneworld and offering select reciprocal elite benefits. The next item to come in this phase will be a domestic, day-of-departure upgrade product for our elites when flying on the other airline’s metal that will be in effect until we are a single frequent flyer program. While we continue to work on “Reciprocity,” we are already working on the second phase: “Integration and Stabilization.” The final phase—once we are on a single loyalty platform— will be “Innovation.”

InsideFlyer
For such a busy person, you seem very approachable. How many emails from AAdvantage members do you receive in a day and do you personally answer them?
Rubin
Some days are busier than others. For example, April 8th was a very busy day. I do personally read every letter I receive from customers, and depending on the issue, I or someone from AAdvantage Customer Service will respond, or we will engage the appropriate group here at American to resolve whatever the question or issue may be.

InsideFlyer
Speaking of April 8, 2014, American had some negative press recently from members who say the program made changes to the program without adequate warning. Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on what happened, do you think American should have done anything differently?
Rubin
We heard a lot of valuable feedback about how we could have improved the delivery of the recent changes, and we will do our best to incorporate those learnings going forward. We value the input from our customers because it makes us better. The announcements that were released in April spanned across many areas of the airline, and to make these changes easier to digest, we wanted to make sure we were communicating as many changes as possible at the same time. We quickly heard from customers, as well as media, that we missed the mark ranging from the length of advanced notice that we provided, to the level of detail, all the way to the tone of the communications. We have absolutely taken these suggestions and comments into account as we move forward.

InsideFlyer
How do you view how frequent flyer programs should introduce changes to the program?
Rubin
After attending the recent Executive Travel Summit, I thought Randy articulated very well something that all loyalty programs should keep in mind as programs evolve. Randy referred to an old hotel campaign—“The best surprise is no surprise”—I think that is wise counsel. Everyone seems to understand that changes are necessary and will happen in business. It’s how programs introduce that change, and how they mitigate the impact of that change on customers, that matters as much as the change itself.

InsideFlyer
How can a frequent flyer program regain trust from members?
Rubin
As in anything, trust is built by doing what you say you are going to do and by being open and transparent.

InsideFlyer
AAdvantage has won the Freddie Award for Program of the Year/Americas for the third year in a row. How do you think the program satisfies members so much that they vote for AAdvantage?
Rubin
American and AAdvantage have placed a lot of focus on putting customers at the center of everything we do. We have a world class loyalty program, but we also recognize that loyalty comes from everything we do—not just the program. It is a function of our network, products, customer service and dependability all coupled with loyalty program benefits that customers value and enjoy.

InsideFlyer
What’s one aspect of American AAdvantage, and frequent flyer programs in general, that you would change if you could wave a magic wand to make the change?
Rubin
If I had a magic wand to wave, it would be to drive more simplicity throughout the program. Understanding the ins and outs of loyalty programs, while incredibly valuable and rewarding, can be quite time consuming.

InsideFlyer
In recent years, much has been said about the lower elite tier benefits of frequent flyer programs eroding. With so many elite members, how is AAdvantage ensuring that these lower-tier elite members are happy?
Rubin
AAdvantage has always tried to maintain an appropriate balance between the volume of members and the benefits that we can successfully deliver based on the size of the audience. That said, there are certain times and flights where you will inevitably find a higher concentration of elite members simply based on demand. For example, high business demand flights will have a higher concentration of elite customers—think DFW-LGA early Monday morning and late Thursday afternoon. We have tried to address this with a more consistent experience regardless of when customers are traveling and where they are seated. For example, we recognize that not all Executive Platinum members will be able to upgrade every time they fly, which is why we go out of our way to recognize them and provide a higher level of service when they are sitting in main cabin.

InsideFlyer
With Delta introducing a more revenue-based program in 2015, and United making some moves in that same direction, can you tell us how American AAdvantage views the future of a revenue-based program?
Rubin
We are always watching the competitive environment and we’ll make sure AAdvantage is positioned as an industry-leading loyalty program fitting for the world’s greatest airline. As I mentioned earlier, our first priority is to integrate the two loyalty programs to provide our customers a more seamless travel experience and greater opportunities to earn and redeem miles on our expanded network.

InsideFlyer
For our final question, we are asking everyone we interview—please tell us about one particularly memorable trip you took.
Rubin
That’s too easy. It would have to be the oneworld MegaDo! Honestly, I love traveling—for the journey—not just the destination. I’m a window seat flyer because I love seeing the world from a different perspective.

 

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