Wise Flyer – July, 18 2014

Wise Flyer – July, 18 2014

Question With all the recent changes to United MileagePlus, what program should I use to accumulate miles? I usually fly the cheapest possible, prefer Southeast Asia.

Should I stick with MileagePlus or is there another airline that might be better for me? My home airport is BOI, UA has better pricing on most flights.
Thank you.

WISEFLYER: While all the attention may be on the upcoming changes to United’s MileagePlus program, there are changes coming to the other two global frequent flyer programs – Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage (including US Airways). While the absolute future of the AAdvantage program remains up in the air, those changes, or whatever that program will eventually look like, are still to be determined sometime in 2015. I think your best bet is to consider what is currently known, not what might be. Let’s look at BOI (Boise Airport). I can eliminate Allegiant from your decision, as they do not have the type of frequency nor the type of program you are seeking to be relevant. Southwest Airlines, while no longer the automatic choice for cheap fares, has decent lift from BOI, but again their program won’t do you lot of good when preferring Southeast Asia, though to be fair you can get there from BOI with the Rapid Rewards program.

This leaves the big three or the big four depending on how you want to play it. By frequency of schedule, the oneworld alliance is hardly a player in BOI with the very limited flight schedule of US Airways. However, having said that, with partner Alaska Airlines and the leading schedule frequency they have, you can certainly leverage Alaska for either Delta SkyMiles, American AAdvantage or even Alaska Mileage Plan.

Looking at average airfares out of BOI, I find that Alaska Airlines airfares to be on the same level as United +/- 3 percent but this is hard to compare since they actually do not overlap on any city pairs. I think United only serves four cities from BOI though they are adding a fifth with service to Houston (HOU).

After looking at the reasonable choices, frequency and pricing as well as your personal choices for redemption, I advise you to stay on the United MileagePlus track. You likely already have a base of miles and status and I’m not convinced there is an overwhelming competitor for you to try and status match to. And as long as you are successful redeeming and earning into Southeast Asia on United metal (do not, repeat, do not, redeem MileagePlus miles for awards on partner airlines to Southeast Asia), I think you’ll be fine.

Your question illustrates exactly what some had predicted would happen because of airline consolidation – the smaller the number of loyalty programs, the fewer choices there are to be a free agent and move from one program to another.

Bottom line: There are no clear favorites from BOI but with the differences in airfares and benefits considered to be +/- 3 percent, take the stress out of change and stay put.

Question: For the past five months now, I have been trying to get AAdvantage to send me my new 2014 membership card (Life Platinum). They had erroneously sent me another member’s card, and despite calling the service desk twice a month, I still do not have my card. They have been appropriately apologetic; have promised many times precise dates by which the card should be there, but to no avail. AA computers are smart enough to recognize my status from my membership number, but their partners (BA, IB, AB, etc.) deny me the privileges I am entitled to (lounges, excess luggage, preferred seating) because my 2013 card has expired. I even wrote Mr. W.D. Parker, the new CEO of AA/US, asking him to take appropriate action, but have gotten no answer. Much as errors can occur in the conduct of business, their timely redress should be the trademark of a company caring for its customers, especially elite ones. It is clear that my frustration with AAdvantage Customer Service, and hence with all of AA, is growing daily. They certainly do not deserve their Freddie Award! What would you suggest I do at this point?

Letter to Mr. Parker:
I am writing to you in your capacity as Chief Executive Officer of American Airlines, in the hope that you may be able to help me.

I have been a member of the AAdvantage program for more than 30 years, and having reached the threshold of 2,000,000 miles, I qualified several years ago for Life Platinum elite status.

In early January 2014, American sent me my new card, which is supposed to have my status recognized by both American Airlines and your partners in the oneworld alliance. Unfortunately a mistake took place and I received another member’s card. I immediately called your Customer Service, who were appropriately apologetic and assured me that a new card, in my correct name, would be sent in a timely fashion.

Four months later, I still have not received my card. In the meantime, the old one has expired, and while your computers are smart enough to recognize my status just from my AAdvantage number, those of your oneworld partners cannot. British Airways, Iberia, Qantas cannot recognize my status, and have refused me the privileges that I am entitled to – access to lounges, excess luggage, etc.
I have repeatedly called – actually about once or twice a month – the AAdvantage Customer Service desk and even talked to a number of their supervisors. They have mostly been very apologetic and have repeatedly promised that my card would be sent. Some of your staff even gave me dates by which the card should reach me – March 23! Another time, April 9… Again and to this day, more than four months after the beginning of the year, the card has not arrived.

I fully understand that mistakes can occasionally happen in the course of business, however efficiently the company may be run. But the mark of a sound business truly caring for its customers is the capacity to redress such errors in a reasonably timely fashion, so as not to irreversibly erode the loyalty of your elite customers.

In this context, I am sure that there is somewhere inside American Airlines a person with the authority to have a new card issued and put in the mail within 24 to 48 hours. Since apparently, your Staff at the AAdvantage Customer Service desk are unable to help, I am asking you to identify this individual and give the appropriate orders to resolve this problem, before further denial of legitimate recognition of my elite status builds into even more frustration in the mind of one of your elite customers.

I look forward to your prompt action, and to the arrival of my card in the next few days.

WISEFLYER: Emile, you have done exactly what any member should have done – 10 years ago. I always hate to hear of these types of circular situations and unfortunately can assure you that you are not an exception. There are others in similar situations who also find themselves without the proper credentials and more importantly, the proper channel for resolving the situation. And over the years I’ve received letters from other readers regarding Delta, United, US Airways and even TWA and Continental Airlines attached to the “guilty-as-charged” actions. Yes, as smart as the computer power of these airlines is these days, it’s still the human interface that gums up the works.
But you didn’t write me to simply tell us of your woes, you wrote in hopes that I can give you advice and a channel of action. Let’s start with the obvious, the advice. As I mentioned, your letter to Mr. Parker is what you should have done 10 years ago. Today, the corner office is at the corner of Facebook and Twitter. Want immediate attention to repair a problem that you did not cause? Use the open microphone known as Twitter. That’s right, there are more of Mr. Parker’s “assistants” ready to field your call for correction on the other end of your keyboard than there ever will be desks outside his office. I have no doubt that a human did read your letter, but as we know, the human did not send you a new Lifetime Platinum card. These aren’t cracker box cards that are given away without effort, a Lifetime Platinum card is something that even I have not earned (I’m lowly Lifetime Gold) and am two shades of jealous. I would, if I were you, use the twin social channels of Facebook and Twitter to call attention to your plight.

But wait. Let’s reserve those channels for the next time you need help. Fortunately for us this is/was an easy item to help one of our readers. Short of calling Mr. Parker and advising him to fix the problem for you, we engaged the positive services of Suzanne Rubin, the President of the AAdvantage program and who has always been interested in the best customer experience for their loyalty program members. As you have identified, everyone at American has been appropriately apologetic but apologies don’t always mean a newly minted Lifetime Platinum card was postmarked in Ft. Worth. Actions speak louder than words and your card is now in the mail. Thanks for letting us know of your situation and we’re glad we could not only update an accepted practice to getting things like this resolved but also play a part in getting it resolved.

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