Recapping The American Airlines Changes From This Week

I spent the week sicker than I can remember in a long time and thus things ended up pretty quiet on the blog front.  In a rare coherent moment I banged out one post that highlighted the quiet (but significant) changes to the AAdvantage award chart.

But, there’s a lot more to discuss here.  There’s more changes, there are opinions (mine and those of some other folks I respect) and, of course, conjecture about the future.  What fun would it be without a few what ifs?

First, let’s recap the changes I did cover with a brief thought on their impact to you, the member.

AAnytime Awards move to dynamic pricing:  Impact unknown.  MileSaver award redemption levels stayed the same.  Without knowing how availability might be tweaked, we’re in a pretty solid gray area right now.  I’ve redeemed exactly two AAnytime awards in my life that I can recall, and one was for a funeral.  I’m generally able to find the award availability I want at the saver level, so AAnytime pricing increases, while in some cases high, don’t affect me yet.  I suspect most folks are like me in this regard.

oneworld explorer awards are gone, effective immediately:  Significant impact for those folks planning one of these nifty awards.  Most people don’t even know these awards exist, so overall impact is minimal, though I’m very sorry to see them go.

Ditto for stopovers at North American gateway city on awards:  Minimal impact here as well, since most folks don’t know this existed.  A lot of value to this one.  Essentially a free one-way ticket with an award if planned correctly.  Another thing I’m sorry to see go.

American also announced changes to checked bag policies as well.  AAdvantage Gold members will now get one free checked bag instead of two.  Ditto for Dividend Miles Platinum and Gold members.  This isn’t terribly surprising as it matches the benefits being provided by United and Delta.

To even things up, folks who hold the US Airways MasterCard will get a free checked bag to match the existing American Airlines benefit for its credit card holders.

In what I think is an odd move, full fare tickets and AAnytime awards don’t get free checked bags anymore.  Given how much someone is spending for a full fare ticket or an AAnytime award, this seemed like an easy benefit to throw in.  Now, it seems American feels it’s an easy benefit to take away.

 

How About That AAnytime level 3 chart?

Wandering Aramean provides a ton of information on when you should expect to be redeeming that highest tier.  As he notes, the old US Airways blackout dates will fall in Level 3 along with some others, and it’s certainly not a majority.  There are positives and negatives I see here.  As Seth notes, these are not dynamically priced.  That means when tickets go sky high, you’ll still have a “ceiling”.  But, as in that example, you’ll also still be stuck with sky-high pricing on a day when cheap flights may be available.

Smart folks will understand their miles are a currency and not redeem 50,000 miles for a $200 ticket.  But, folks who collect miles as a normal part of travel and don’t pay as close attention will just see their miles are “worthless” since it takes so many to redeem when then search.  I doubt that can be good for loyalty to American Airlines in the long-term, but in a competitive landscape where their chief rivals are stripping benefits as well, it may be more of a leisurely jog to the bottom.

There are certainly competing opinions on how American Airlines fared in the eyes of their customers.

View From the Wing still trusts AAdvantage, though he’s wary.  He’s giving them a mulligan on this botch.

One Mile At a Time isn’t so sure.  Lucky agrees with Gary on the basic principles of how AAdvantage announced these changes, and also acknowledges that American has built up a lot of repetitional capital with him.  But he cites some pretty poorly worded e-mail excerpts from American to answer customer reactions to the changes:

Making these adjustments quickly ensures that our customers know what to expect when traveling on either American Airlines or US Airways, which helps them better plan their travel. As such, it was not feasible to delay enacting action that bring US Airways and American Airlines even closer together.

I think they both have very valid points.  I think the e-mail replies that Lucky cites are bad, and not just a little.  It may be disappointing that they don’t surprise me nowadays, but they don’t.  We’ve watched United trash their airline over the last couple of years, burning (in some cases) decades of loyalty.

I see the issue two ways.  I don’t trust American Airlines not to handle a similar situation in the same fashion.  I don’t base that completely on this most recent development.  I had low expectations for customer friendly improvements for the new American.  Watching Doug at US Airways for years burned that into me.  I do expect the new American to fly on-time more often, but not by nearly enough to make up for what I think are likely some painful things on the horizon.

I don’t condemn American quite the same way as Lucky for the e-mails he references.  Yes, they’re bad.  But, I see big companies answer customers poorly on an individual basis quite frequently.

I do have a bigger issue with how American positioned themselves in the broader notification e-mails to customers.  They’re absolutely right when they say you’ll be able to redeem AAnytime awards for less in the future, so no reason to roast them for that.

But, I find serious fault in the logic to use “No blackout dates!” as the other rallying cry in that e-mail.  There were no blackout dates before. Sure, US Airways had them, but this is an e-mail going out from the AAdvantage program.  The e-mail starts out like this:

As we integrate our two airlines, our goal is simple: restore American Airlines to its status as the greatest airline in the world. That’s why we’re taking delivery of two new aircraft every week, have given you access to the world’s best network through a codeshare agreement, and now offer the ability to earn and redeem miles on both carriers.

As we continue to align our business, we have a few updates to share with you about our new award travel levels and checked bag policies:

So, as part of their goal to restore American’s status as the greatest airline in the world, they’re happy to announce that they’re not changing a policy (no blackout dates) that most folks weren’t expecting them to touch anyway?  Essentially, “We’re making things better by not making them worse”?

I’m not ready to kick American Airlines to the curb.  But, I’m viewing everything through a clear lens.  I’m 100% willing to admit that I used to view American through a rose-colored lens.  And, my change in heart isn’t completely American’s fault.

United and Delta have both taken turns kicking their customers square in the marbles repeatedly, and they’ve been rewarded with higher profits.  Those profits aren’t outstanding, but I do believe they’re enforcing this behavior.

The legacy carriers continue to practice a “me too” management style, with the only question of real significance who is the first carrier to match the next negative change rolled out.  American isn’t likely to continue to offer outsize value to its customers while their competitors don’t.

Bottom Line It For Me, Ed

American stands ahead of United and Delta in terms of delivering value from their award chart right now.  Their in-flight product and service is light years better than United, IMO, and I’m not ready to start over with Delta and write off the value of my miles altogether.

I don’t consider it a great week for the future of collecting miles and points but I’m hoping next week is better.

What do you think about the changes?

3 Comments

  1. I liked the fee-free us airways upgrades based in miles (I’m a chairman). While 95% of my flights clear with status, it was nice if I didn’t want to chance it. Not happy with them getting rid if the waived fees.

    1. Mrs338, that is a change I’ve frequently heard from US Airways elites recently. You’re right, it’s painful. About as painful as unlimited upgrades for all elites will feel for us American folks who are used to clearing at a very high percentage.

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