An evening with AAdvantage President Maya Leibman over at milepoint.com

RCA Microphone
“RCA microphone” Photo credit: NFSA Australia on Flickr

AAdvantage 30th Anniversary Deal of the Day update: For every night you pay the regular rate at Sheraton & Westin Hotels, enjoy 40% off your next night plus earn 1,000 AAdvantage Miles. Go here for details and don’t forget to submit your name in the daily drawing for 30,000 AAdvantage Miles.

Last night was a big night for milepoint.com, the new frequent flyer forum, when founder Randy Petersen hosted AAdvantage President Maya Leibman as the first guest what will be a series of live chats between executives from the travel business and milepoint.com members. It was a really cool event and Ms. Leibman did a great job of fielding some blunt questions with honest answers and humor.

Ms. Leibman has really raised the profile of her position, I can’t even recall the names of any of her predecessors and I certainly don’t remember any AAdvantage executive making such an effort to engage the membership directly in such an open forum. As the public face of AAdvantage, she’s really hard not to like.

As you might expect, the very first question she was asked was about the reports and rumors surrounding what will probably be changes to the AAdvantage Million Miler benefit, which awards lifetime Gold or Platinum AAdvantage status to members that earn more than a million miles, including miles earned with credit cards and other non-flying activities. The speculation has been that American will eventually introduce a change to this benefit that will count miles earned on flights differently that miles earned in other ways, making it more difficult to achieve lifetime Elite status. Her answer was pretty much that nothing has been decided, but when and if changes to happen, members will be made aware of any changes well in advance of them taking effect.

I’m sure you were equally certain that there is limited information we can share….What I can say is that if we decide to make changes to the program, we commit to clearly communicate to our members and provide as much advance notice as possible…(if there are) any changes to Million Miler the miles you’ve earned so far will still count.

Another question which was probably more of interest to those that participated than to AAdvantage members in general was about reaching out to AAdvantage members through social media.

Social and digital media are very much a critical element for us. That’s one reason why I was excited to participate in this chat. It gives me a chance to talk directly with our members.

One question she was asked was about availability when redeeming AAdvantage MilesAAver awards. She was pretty blunt about the need for American to make money, which is pretty hard to argue. Here’s some of the her response:

American has the greatest percentage of customers traveling on award tickets than any other major U.S. carrier. Last year, AAdvantage members redeemed more than 165 billion miles to claim almost 7.2 million awards.

Her full response was interesting. She pointed out something that I had overlooked:

Anytime Awards offers our members the most flexibility, allowing you to book any unsold seat on any day. Members can redeem the very last available seat on a plane. I know not everyone wants to use this many miles but the fact is, with AAnytime Awards – you go when you want to.

Another question was asked about offering free upgrades to their members with elite status rather than requiring members to use earned or purchased 500 mile upgrade “certificates”.

Upgrades, as you well know, are a finite resource. If you want to talk about something hideous – imagine if all upgrades were free. OK, first stop cursing my name. Second, now really think about it; if all upgrades were free, it would be even harder for Gold and even many Platinum members to get upgraded.

There were lots of good questions (more than 300 submitted). Here are a few more items:

• A Blackberry App is in beta, and should go live soon.
• She hopes that by the end of the year, AAdvantage members will be able to see availability and book partner awards online.

There was also some discussion about all the work American Airlines does to support various charity and community organizations as well as their 26 year relationship with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. In recognition of all the work that they do Randy Petersen and milepoint.com members presented Ms. Leibman with a $1,000 donation to the Komen Foundation:

Randy Petersen: Toward your answer Maya, you’ve been a wonderful first guest for this series of live chats on milepoint and on behalf of all the members of milepost we’re making a $1,000 donation to the Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation in the name of both milepost and the AAdvantage program. This common interest and effort is the least we could do to thank you and your team for this evenings event.

Maya: This is a wonderful gift! American Airlines is a long-time supporter – 26 years in fact — of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. We are also the official airline of Komen, and we have eight signature aircraft that display the Komen pink ribbon. Our planes represent the staggering statistic that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

I was fascinated to learn how many AAdvantage alumni have gone on to management positons at other loyalty programs. It was a very successful event and I haven’t covered all the questions that were asked, so if you missed it, you really should go to milepoint.com and read the whole conversation.

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