Reflecting on the U.S. "Big 3" FF programs

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Travel' started by kansaskeith, Apr 25, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. kansaskeith

    kansaskeith Gold Member

    Messages:
    2,486
    Likes Received:
    5,786
    Status Points:
    4,070
    Disclaimer up front: Most of my airline usage, and accumulated miles, are with AA, and have been for a decade. I've been an AA member for like 28 years, and pretty much gave up on other airlines back in the early 2000s.

    I have become enthralled with milepoint since discovering it last summer, and reading it actively. I originally found it when checking out a hotel program. But regarding MP's airline content, I started by concentrating on the AA forums and threads, for obvious reasons. The last couple of months I have read more and more posts about the other two huge U.S. airline programs, United's and Delta's, and something really started to jump out at me.

    Right now, this instant, from what I read on here, I conclude that far-and-away American's program is treating its members, and particularly its elite members, best.

    The horror stories I am reading about the United/Continental systems conversion, plus the "complexifying" and downscaling of benefits (particularly upgrades) tell me I would really be gnashing my teeth if that were my program right now.

    And with Delta, if I had one coin for every derisive use of the term "Sky Pesos" about the devaluing of that airline's program, I'd have . . . well, I'd have a helluva lot of pesos!

    So here I sit with AAdvantage, and what that program does (including holding out far longer than anybody thought they could on the old liberal Million Mile program, which obviously had to be tightened eventually, and was) still seems generally designed to keep customers happy. And its people, despite obvious stress right now, still seem by-and-large to understand what a customer is.

    I could nit pick, and I could certainly point to a lot of AA flight interruptions and mechanical delays in 2011, but as far as the mileage program itself, from my reading it is head-and-shoulders more customer friendly than its two largest competitors.

    The obvious question is American's current financial situation and whether the relatively upscale AA loyalty program will last through the bankruptcy. I am under no illusions. I try to redeem miles as I go along and don't want to horde millions of them to redeem when I am 90 years old, and part of that is not knowing how long AAdvantage will keep its edge. Many think flat out it will be pulled back.

    But for now, from most things I read on milepoint, frankly, I am glad to be where I am.

    Delta and United flyers, milepoint is your venue too. So: What am I missing here? Argue with me.

    And American flyers, do I have too many rose-colored glasses on? You, too, please argue.

    I welcome any (civil) discourse on whether my opinion is all wet.
     
    HaveMilesWillTravel likes this.
  2. HaveMilesWillTravel
    Original Member

    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

    Messages:
    12,506
    Likes Received:
    20,199
    Status Points:
    16,520
    United flyer here.

    So far the merger hasn't been too bad for me. But I also don't fly weekly and for a living. I am sure others had more problems.

    In general, given that I am about 100k miles away from MM status and since I am based at SFO with UA and *A fitting my travel pattern best, it would not be in my best interest to switch programs at this time. I expect to "explore" other options a bit more when I reach 1MM status by end of 2013 and don't face the pressure to accumulate EQMs for me and my wife each and every year.

    Overall... it's an airline and its loyalty program. Airlines tend to die and programs tend to change. Even "lifetime" may not mean a whole lot considering that I hope that my own lifetime is a few more decades.
     
    desamo, LizzyDragon84 and kansaskeith like this.
  3. DestinationDavid
    Original Member

    DestinationDavid Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    6,846
    Likes Received:
    12,715
    Status Points:
    11,770
    Off topic, but I still remember your first posts in the AA forum and thinking, "this guy's really chatty for a new guy!" :D

    You're a cornerstone of the AA forum now, we enjoy your input!
     
    HaveMilesWillTravel likes this.
  4. kansaskeith

    kansaskeith Gold Member

    Messages:
    2,486
    Likes Received:
    5,786
    Status Points:
    4,070
    Note to MILEPOINT: After posting this thread, I realized it may really belong under "General Discussion: Miles and Points" under "Miles and Points," rather than here under "General Discussion: Travel." If you want to move this over there, please, feel free! Thanks, and sorry.
     
  5. mattsteg
    Original Member

    mattsteg Gold Member

    Messages:
    3,278
    Likes Received:
    5,543
    Status Points:
    4,170
    I'm based out of MSP. Something like 90% of the gates in the main terminal are Delta controlled. For the places I need to fly to, the route map is just much more complete. Some aspects of AA's offering intrigue me, but they're just not a player at MSP. I could manage one of the star programs if I wanted to be contrarian, but again not ideal at all. For probably most people, route options make the biggest difference.

    With that said, AA's program has some weaknesses, and Delta's has plenty of strengths (just not domestic award availability or transparent management!).

    From the outside looking in, elite levels short of EXP are weak. Metered upgrades, elites pay for same day confirmed changes (this one is just bizarre. even EXPs!), no award stopovers anywhere interesting, etc.

    Delta has some unique properties. Some portions of the program (primarily the middle tiers) are more generous than the competition in terms of benefits, which scares me as I know the management does not want to be in that position. For better or worse, they are far more closely CC tied than any other airline - you can concoct a route to top tier purely on CC spend. This dilutes and inflates the elite pool some, but if you're willing to play you can end out ahead of where you'd be elsewhere. They're making great progress with refurbing the international fleet, and lead the way in onboard wifi. As long as you're not stuck in Atlanta at peak times, upgrades can be quite good. I prefer the clubs to what I've seen of the domestic alternatives. Redemptions, while tough and potentially tenuous, are nowhere near as difficult as people make them out to be. International award space on Delta metal is not common, but this is hardly unique to Delta. Domestic award segments are monumentally scarce, and the award booking site and calendar is hopelessly broken in Delta's favor, so people see big numbers (maybe from domestic segments, maybe from glitches in general) and complain about it, or can't see partner space online and complain about it. Mile earning and acquisition is easy.

    On forums like this one, someone will be looking for an award, maybe at a peak time or short notice, and the typical skypesos complaints and "you'll never find space tatl this late for summer" comments come out. I'll look (through non-Delta channels, which is vital) and see flight options for literally every day for months on end, at least from the gateways. Partner space is there and amazingly enough going e.g tatl for low miles is just about a sure thing from more than one east coast gateway, most of the time. The search engine is terrible and misses the options it should find, domestic availability can be cripplingly low, with some markets just not having low availability period, and the legendarily bad reputation builds more ill repute.

    Delta absolutely needs its feet held to the fire about the award calendar nonfunctionality and about their terrible international upgrade program. Unfortunately, on the award side it's long since devolved into hyperbole.
     
  6. DestinationDavid
    Original Member

    DestinationDavid Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    6,846
    Likes Received:
    12,715
    Status Points:
    11,770
    Since I've been accused of (A) being a secret American Airlines employee/lawyer and (B) too positive about the AAdvantage program in general, maybe it will help my street cred if I list a few things I think AA doesn't do as well. :)
    • Admirals Club needs an update in terms of product offering. The free wifi and drinks are a nice improvement, but the quality of the food being offered is a bit sad.
    • American has serious route network issues. Flying to three destinations in Asia and a handful of European cities does not make a global airline. AA leverages its partnerships well, but for an elite flier with SWUs and miles to burn, the more locations you can go on your carrier the better. Upgrades aside, the weak network has a variety of other implications that are negatives for the airline. UA and DL are mopping the floor with AA in this area (profitability not factored in).
    • E+ on domestic flights, though apparently we can look forward to that being fixed in the next few years.
    #2 is really my only major issue. Overall I'm pretty happy with AA.
     

Share This Page