What American Should Do to Improve AAdvantage

I give American a hard time.  At the same time, I still fly American every time I fly.  While it’s true the AAdvantage program has suffered some setbacks, I still have Executive Platinum status with American and am about to requalify through January 31, 2018.  I’ve held some form of status with American since 2009, which I know isn’t as long as some of you but still gives me at least a bit of expertise.

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American Airlines 787

The US airline industry as a whole

It’s important to understand where the airline industry is in the global economic picture right now.  All airlines are profitable at the moment, largely due to the very low price of jet fuel.  At the same time we’re seeing incredibly low prices for tickets, some of the lowest I’ve ever seen in fact (as a reminder, visit my friends at The Flight Deal and Fare Deal Alert for the lowest airfares).  It’s not just economy fares that are low, domestic First Class fares are incredibly low as well.  I used to pay around $500 for an economy seat from DFW-LGA on American and now it’s not uncommon to see a First Class fare for around the same amount.  So while expenses are lower, so are revenues.  There is a rebalancing taking place and airlines are finally able to see what customers will actually pay for both economy and premium seating.  Now that they finally have visibility into this, airlines adjusting their frequent flyer programs to match the new spending levels.

american airlines 787 review

Boeing 787 cockpit

So let’s look at American and the AAdvantage program

I’ve said enough about the changes to the AAdvantage program.  Let’s take the program in its current state.  Here are some things I think American should do to improve its AAdvantage program:

Award Availability

American has the worst own-metal award availability at saaver levels.  This really sucks when they’ve reduced the amount of redeemable miles that most flyers will earn.  Follow the lead of British Airways (I can’t believe I’m admitting BA did something good) and guarantee a certain amount of SAAver award availability (something like 4 economy and 2 business seats) on American metal for every. flight.  Make availability predictable and it will be an incentive for customers.  If I can never find the availability I need, award flights are no longer an incentive to keep flying despite the reduction in redeemable miles I earn.

Award Routing Rules

Publish them.  American has a few interesting award routing rules and it would be helpful to have a webpage where we can go to understand them instead of needing to call a reservation agent to figure out why a certain routing is pricing out as two awards rather than one.

Dynamic Award Pricing

Lately we’ve seen some elements of Delta-like dynamic award pricing on certain routes.  American most likely wouldn’t invest in the IT infrastructure to dynamically price certain awards for only a few routes. Don’t do this American. You already have 5 award levels. Simplify this, do not make it more complex. If I do not know the potential value of a mile there will be no incentive for me to earn them.

Award Availability Searching

Expand your search engine to include all Oneworld partners. We understand you prefer your flyers to redeem awards on American or JV metal, but it would greatly reduce call volume if we could just book things online.

Transatlantic Premium Awards

Quit limiting premium award seats to flights on British Airways and open availability on American jets.  British Airways charges ridiculous surcharges on premium-cabin awards, which are passed through to passengers redeeming miles with American.  Yes, we know American has a joint venture to share revenue with British Airways (likely including these surcharges), but this is tantamount to a devaluation of our AAdvantage miles, since it will cost us more to redeem them.

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Commemorative Inaugural Coin

In-flight Experience

Get rid of or refurbish the legacy-US Airways aircraft.  American should be able to proudly say that Main Cabin Extra and seatside AC power outlets are available on every aircraft.  I do not care as much about aircraft that will arrive in 2018 when I am sitting on an old and tired leagacy-US Airways piece of crap with a dying battery and work that must be done.

American Airlines Twitter Team

Thank them and make sure they’re happy and well-caffeinated 🙂  (I’m going to do an article on this team soon)

Status Benefits

Do a better job of educating members about the benefits of their status. Many long-time members are still unaware of some pretty basic things that enhance the customer experience, simply because they haven’t had time to read the minutiae of the available literature about their benefits. It should not be so hard to learn everything to which our status entitles us.

Systemwide Upgrades

Increase the initial balance awarded from 4 to 8.  These instruments (my opinion, not verified) are about to be devalued whenever Premium Economy is fleet-wide, so get out ahead of that and award more of them. Also, remove the cap on earning more SWUs at 200K EQM. Flyers who purchase expensive tickets and earn lots of EQM need a reason to keep flying American after 200K EQM, right now (as published) there is no reason to keep flying American after 200K EQM.

Status Levels

Ignoring that Platinum Pro sounds like a membership you’d buy at an Express Car Wash place, there needs to be more to differentiate lower levels from the benefits you receive with the AA credit card and more to separate Platinum and Platinum Pro. Give people a reason to earn status, not just happen to realize it one day as a by-product of their normal flying. Make American status worth planning to achieve.

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787 Business Class seat

Soft Product

Planes are full, stressing gate agents, flight attendants, and all of the support personnel of the world’s biggest airline. Proactively work with the unions to find creative solutions to operational problems.

Operational Problems

D0 (American’s initiative to get flights out on-time) has been a failure, often leading to early boarding calls that frustrate your most loyal flyers who have purchased memberships for your Admiral’s Clubs and can no longer stay in the club until it’s almost time to board. This increases congestion at gates, elevates the stress level for gate agents, and impacts the customer experience for all flyers. Rebanking is looking like a failure as well for many of the same reasons. Any slight delay involving a rebanked airport causes waves of delays around the network, costing American money, time, and customer loyalty in the process. Baggage fees have trained passengers to carry on as much as they can, reducing overhead cabin space for your frequent flyers who like staying in the lounge and boarding last.

Most of all…LEAD

Do not follow: the prevailing sentiment among your most loyal flyers is that you are following the rest of the airlines because you think you can get away with it.  Your most loyal flyers are willing to go out of their way to fly your airline.  Do not give them a reason to look at other airlines.  The World’s Greatest Flyers are worth the investment.

 

…end rant

2 Comments

  1. Our author undermines his own argument without even recognizing it. He first shares that while “it’s true the AAdvantage program has suffered some setbacks, I still have Executive Platinum status with American and am about to requalify through January 31, 2018. I’ve held some form of status with American since 2000…”

    Then he shares that “American has the worst own-metal award availability at saaver levels” and encourages AA to “make availability predictable and it will be an incentive for customers.” APPARENTLY NOT. AA already has his business DESPITE this shortcoming. And our author already has admitted he isn’t likely to switch from AA.

    He also encourages AA to “get rid of or refurbish the legacy-US Airways aircraft.” This likely will happen, but there is no rush for AA if the bulk of AA elites like our author are willing to stay with AA anyway–as he’s already admitted.

    It’s a new world. There are many things that airlines SHOULD do if they were hurting in order to incentivize more business. But the major carriers are not hurting. They are making record profits. So they don’t need to incentivize these days.

    The author should know better.

    Reply
    • Bill, good points all around. I’m based in DFW and fly quite a bit for my full-time job, which is why I have Executive Platinum status. I’m sitting at 96000 EQM on the year with travel already planned on AA to requalify me for next year, so I will happily still choose American, even though they’ve reduced the benefits they will provide to me for next year. Since this last round of changes took place well into the qualification year (I had about 75000 EQM before the end of March) the impact to American’s bottom line will not be felt broadly until the beginning of the next qualification year, i.e. January 1, 2017. I have no plans to requalify for Executive Platinum next year, it’s in fact very likely I will status match with a few other airlines to shore up my status for 2018, when I’ll be 100% a free agent, shopping purely on price.

      I agree with you that the record profits airlines are enjoying are covering bad management decisions.

      Reply

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