Upgrades, Downgrades, and Standby: The AAdvantage Year in Review

It’s always tough to find material at the end of the month when bonus offers expire and sweepstakes end, but at the end of the year, it’s especially challenging. So rather than subjecting you to reruns, “Found on AAdvantage eShopping” posts, or resorting to celebrity news and controversy, I thought I’d take a little a break.

(Actually, that’s not completely true. I did do a guest post over at MileQuest about the last DC-3 in scheduled passenger service in North America.)

I don’t want you think that I’m a slacker though. The break was really so that I could maintain the high standard of content quality on the site. To illustrate my point, I’d like to offer these examples of topics that you didn’t have to read about:

Found in the Forums: No more Glenlivet.  Is American removing the “The single malt that started it all” from their flights?

Katy Perry and Russell Brand breakup?  This. can’t. be happening. TMZ measures the distance between the two in AAdvantage Miles:

“The couple spent XMAS 7,000 AAdvantage miles apart. They tied the knot just over a year ago last October.”

Cheap gimmicks are beneath me.

And so are writing cliches….So here’s a list of the Best and Worst AAdvantage related news for 2011:

Upgrades:

 

Double Elite Qualifying Miles: At times during the year, American has offered DEQM on a few heavily trafficked routes like DFW/LAX, DFW/SFO, ORD/SFO, ORD/LAX. Unfortunately for many, the offeres were limited to residents of California, Texas, and Illinois. And in the final month of 2011 (and continuing through the first month of 2012) they’re offering DEQM miles to everyone and all of the their routes.

Virgin American launches new service: See above.

AAdvantage turns 30: Our favorite frequent flyer program is still with us and now old enough to run for the U.S. Senate. To celebrate, American and the AAdvantage team put together 30 days of promotions.

Dynamic Air Awards: AAdvantage members with elite status can book any Economy Class seat for travel within the U.S. mainland for fewer miles than an AAnytime award.

Redeem AAdvantage Miles for Hotels and Car Rentals: More ways to use your miles. Actually, this was introduced late 2010. But this was the first full year so I thought I would mention it.

Forum Participation: The AAdvantage joined both the milepoint and FlyerTalk frequent flyer forums; even soliciting ideas as to how they can improved the program. They haven’t been extremely active, but it’s a good start.

Twitter: One more way to communicate directly with AAdvantage customer service at twitter.com/AAdvantage.

oneworld MegaDo: For years, AAdvantage Geeks and oneworld Geeks have had to watch the United and Delta folks have all the fun. Thanks to the work of a dedicated group of people in the milepoint forums and the support of leadership at American and AAdvantage, we get a MegaDo of our very own!

Maya Leibman: Easily the most visible and active AAdvantage President in recent memory. Lots of improvements under her watch. American is a conservative organization (to say the least), so her participation in the MegaDo Kickoff party and her milepoint conversation really stands out as making an effort to connect with customers.

Contest and promos: Lots of sweepstakes this year. Including free miles for following AAdvantage on Facebook and a contest to find a video blogger for the oneworld MegaDo.

Updated Admirals Clubs: The Admirals Club locations in Denver, Philadelphia, Washington (DCA), and San Francisco all got updated, and work has started LaGuardia (which really needed it). I think the new club at SFO is probably my favorite.

Expanded Admirals Club privileges: Members can now access Alaska Airways lounges as well as several partner lounges around the world.

Food: For the people riding in the front of the plane, it’s new chefs and new menus. For the folks in back, it’s more healthful snack choices.

New aircraft: Bye-bye MD-80s:-)

Technology: The AA.com app for iPhone was released last year.  iPad and Android got versions this year.

Big credit card offers: Citibank offered some insanely large signup bonuses this year.

Million Miler program: What had been a well known, but undocumented, program became official this year. But now it’s a recognized benefit, it’s become more difficult to attain.  Before, every mile counted towards Million Miler status, and now only flight miles count. With the proliferation of generous credit card signup bonuses, American needed to do something to preserve the program so that they could continue to offer it to their best customers (and not Citibank’s).

Book Partner awards online: AAdvantage members can now redeem miles online for travel awards on Alaska Airways. It’s a first step and the ability to book more partner awards online is expected in 2012.

American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia Joint Business Agreement: Better alignment of schedules and frequent flyer benefits. And so far, fares haven’t gone up. In many markets, prices have gone down.

Downgrades

 

Facebook:  AAdvantage created a Facebook presence, and so far it’s been of little value other than the fact that it’s keeps the crazy people away from milepoint and FlyerTalk.  For example, AAdvantage posted some news about a Citi credit card offer along with a link link to an online application.

Some astute Facebooker wrote “I just checked the site, and can’t believe you want my social security number, etc. Everyone knows you never put that kind of info online.”  Want to give up sleep?  Just remember these people get to vote too.

Million Miler program: To quote Cracker, “A million miles, a million miles”.

British Airways:  British Airways devalues their frequent flyer program and continues to charge fees for award travel on BA, which drives award traffic to American.  Now BA’s customers are redeeming miles on a American, and  it leaves fewer seats for the rest of us.  Gee American, with friends like these…..

Samsung instead of iPad:  When American refurbished their 737s and didn’t install personal in-flight entertainment systems on the back of their seats, I thought they were crazy.

I was wrong.  With the rise of iPad, tablets, netbooks, laptops, and video streaming, letting people use their own personal entertainment devices seems like a much better idea.

Video on my iPad looks much better than any video screen on the back of a seat. Unfortunately for those without iPads and riding in the front of the plane, they’ll be stuck having to watch movies on Samsung tablets. (I’m a Mac guy, but I’m completely unbiased;).

DealFinder:  For a long time it was only available for Windows. Version 2.0 was introduced in August and it’s compatible with the Mac.  Now it sucks on both platforms.

Big credit card offers:  So many people with so many more miles. Fewer flights, so fewer seats. I worry about “Miles Inflation”. After watching Delta’s Skymiles become about as useful as a German Mark during the days of the Weimar Republic, I worry the same could happen with AAdvantage.

Standby list:

 

Then’s there’s the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.  It’s too early to tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s possible that despite the number of reasons that it happened, it will end up being the beginning of new and profitable era for American Airlines.

Read this list of challenges:

the airline was in deep trouble. It was one of the highest-cost carriers, with expensive contractual commitments to its unions, the legacy of agreements made in better years….

By year’s end, American’s balance sheet listed these liabilities:

• Fixed high lavor costs that could be reduced only by painful furloughing, which in turn, could affect quality of service.

• An over-age fleet with insufficient capital for modernization and expansion.

• Inflationary pressures that gouged deeply into whatever cost-control measures were taken, like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom.

• In ability to compete effectively against low-cost carriers due to any or all of the first three factors, and because any major attempt to match their fares could result in losing money even with fully loaded airplanes.

This isn’t the first time the organization or the people have faced a big challenge.  

The list came from the excellent book Eagle: The Story of American Airlines by Robert J. Serling, and the author was describing the situation American faced in 1980, just after legendary CEO Robert Crandall became CEO.  Here’s how he and the organization responded:

Crandall went a different route. He took the airline into a jungle of virgin trails that had to be cleared with machetes of imaginative innovations in marketing, finance, and employee cooperation.

Only four years later, American had more than $1 billion in liquid assets a hub system second to none and expanding, new international routes, a solid diversification program, a largely modernized fleet with more new planes coming, one of the best profit recored in the industry, and a revolutionary agreement with its unions that promised to make it a low-cost airline with a rainbow-hued future.

There’s value in experience.

Hope, hard work, and optimism.

I hope you have have a safe and happy New Year!

Comments

  1. What is AA’s motivation in the following situation?: A flight is oversold. They offer $800 plus hotel and taxi fare and a next day flight for any volunteers. Either way they will have a full flight. Why is getting one passenger onto the flight so important if you are taking one off?

    • Happy New Year Politiweb.net.ms,

      That’s a good question. My assumption is that at the point they’re asking for volunteers, they’re looking to minimize their losses (bumping an $800 passenger must be cheaper than bumping someone else, perhaps a passenger making a connection to an international flight).

      The whole business model defies logic though, a company in any other industry wouldn’t last a year if it was run like an airline.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Hi Corey – Very rarely does American offer Executive Platinum Challenges. It has happend though. Last year United started offering status matches to American’s AAdvantage Executive Platinum customers, so to compete, American started offering United 1K members Executive Platinum.

    Lucky took American up on the offer and made Executive Platinum last year: http://bit.ly/waWGsk

    If you hold top level status with Delta or United, it can’t hurt to send a letter to American’s customer service department, explaining the amount of travel you did last year to earn your status. The worst they can do is tell you know. And who knows, later on they might change their minds.

    They’re working really hard to keep their best customers right now. And with the oneworld MegaDo Elite Challenger and their systemwide Double Elite Qualifying Miles offers, they’r aggressively trying to earn more.

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