Hoping AAdvantage doesn’t follow as United and Delta downgrade perks for entry level elites

I’m hoping that this isn’t a trend, but yesterday afternoon a member of Delta’s social media team posted this in the FlyerTalk forums:

We’re trying to do a better job notifying you in advance when changes are made that could impact your travel. That’s why I’m letting you know that we have an update to the baggage policy which impacts some Silver Medallions.

For Economy Class tickets purchased on or after December 15 for travel that will take place on or after March 1st 2012, Silver Medallions will now be allowed to check one bag (the current policy is two bags) weighing up to 70 lbs at no charge on Delta and Delta connection flights.

This policy change will only impact those Silver Medallions traveling within or between the US, CA, USVI, or Puerto Rico.

You can read the whole statement here.

If you’re not familiar with Delta’s SkyMiles program, Silver Medallion is their entry level elite tier and the “equivalent” of AAdvantage Gold status.

Aside from the fact that 3 days is their example of a “better job notifying you in advance when changes are made”, the announcement wasn’t particularly well received.

Delta claims in their statement that:

(w)hile this change may impact some of you, it is still on par with other airlines in the industry.

This isn’t completely true (yet).

Back in September, United announced some changes to their elite status program that will reduce (from 2 to 1) the number of bags their low level elites (Premier Silver) can check for free. These change take effect January 1, 2012.

Something that really offended many people was this item:

The reason I said that it will affect “some” Silver Medallions is because Silver Medallion members with a Reserve, Platinum or Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express can still check a second bag for free.

I’m not super familiar with Delta’s elite status program, but some Delta branded American Express cards come with the same perks as Silver Medallion status and many of the forum posters were upset that certain Amex cardholders will now have more perks than some of Delta’s most frequent flyers. As one poster put it:

So silver members are now worth less then amex members? wow

While the reduced baggage allowance at United and Delta won’t have any direct impact on me, I’m aware that in the airline business there is a tendency to race to the bottom.

There’s no reason to think that American is considering changes to their AAdvantage elite program, and given the way they handled the Million Miler status change, I would be surprised if they made any changes and didn’t announcement them well in advance.

Back when rumors of changes to the Million Miler program were circulating, recently promoted AAdvantage President Maya Leibman’s addressed them when the subject came up in her chat with milepoint members:

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.

I’m an AAdvantage Gold member and though I don’t often check two bags, I have had to do it on a few occasions (long story).

It’s not just that I’d be unhappy about the baggage allowance, I’d be really disappointed if they made any changes that lessened the value of any of their status tiers.

I’m hopeful that it won’t happen for a couple of reasons:

• Unlike United and Delta who have four elite tiers, American has three. So, presumably, there’s less need for differentiation across their elite levels.

• Delta (and United to some degree) offer lower level elite status to some credit card customers, essentially selling status for a price.

• They’re undergoing their Chapter 11 reorganization, so now is probably not the time to alienate any of their most loyal customers.

Again, I haven’t come across anything to indicate that American is considering a change, but it’s always good to know what’s happening at the other airlines…

For a good look at how the airlines compare across their entry level elite tiers, check out this article by The Points Guy.

Comments

  1. I’m with you! Those of us in the lower tier are not necessarily as fully “vested” in the program as the Platinum or Executive Platinum members, meaning that we’re already on the fringe…removing any benefits could be what tips people towards other programs.

    While downgrading benefits would make current members unhappy, it could have a negative impact on future potential AAdvantage members. Almost everybody has to pass through Gold on their way to higher tiers – if Gold is unattractive or offers a poor experience, it will give people a reason to look to other programs before committing their travel to AA. It’s a “gateway tier” – give people a good experience and they’ll come back for more. If it’s just like every other tier out there, what’s to bring people in in the first place?

  2. So dumb.

    Most elite travelers rarely, if ever, check a bag anyway much less two (usually once or twice a year for family/golf/ski vacation). Given how little bottom tier members fly anyway, it’s a perk that costs the airlines practically nothing in lost fees. They’ve lost far more in goodwill than they’ll make in baggage fees. Just dumb.

  3. @ zpaul – That’s a very good point about AAdvantage Gold being a “gateway tier”. I switched from Delta to American back about 10 years ago and remember the first time I may Gold on the way to Platinum.

    I was (and have been) a far more loyal customer than I was before then. Until I made Gold, the idea of paying more for elite qualifying miles wouldn’t have made sense to me.

    @ IPBrian – I hope you’re right.

    @ jc – Sadly it’s true!! I cut back on my travel back in 2010 and dropped down to Gold. Looks like I’ll be stuck there next year too.

    Now that my upgrades hardly ever clear, I’m that guy that walks past you in first class, with the sad face and dejected look as I head back to take my seat on the exit row:-(

    @ Suzi – You’re right. Delta will spend more marketing dollars trying to recover the lost goodwill then they’ll ever earn off the few elites that do pay for a second bag.

    @ Everyone – Thanks for commenting!

  4. @aadvantagegeek — Better than nothing!

    I was Gold for a spell and have been PLT going on a few years now. I’d imagine that upgrades for AA Golds clear more often than those airlines that give unlimited free upgrades, given that there are some PLTs that don’t want to fork over the cash for the 500-mile upgrade (and only upgrade using earned 500-milers). Wouldn’t you say?

  5. So you dropped to Gold? And yet you write an AAdvantage blog? I think you should star a Delta blog, if you don’t fly American all too much.

    AA has over $4 Billion cash on hand. Other than employees vs. management problems, the real cause 4 the bankruptcy are bloggers not flying and expressing a desire larger than helping. thanks 4 nuttin.

  6. @ jc – I miss PLT, but truthfully I can’t complain: my upgrade percentage is better than 75%, and that’s out of DFW on some elite heavy routes like DFW-LGA, DFW- SFO, and DFW-LAX.

    I think you’re right, and because AA doesn’t offer unlimited upgrades I still have a 3 out of 4 chance of enjoying the baked on board cookie!

    I do miss the 100% bonus AAdvantage miles, but I have no complaints about Gold. I think American does a pretty good job of taking care of their most frequent customers. 🙂

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