I’ve been an unabashed American Airlines fan for years. It dates back at least 15-20 years when my father used to fly mostly on American Airlines and I was in the awe of the way he got treated. When we would fly on family trips, we would always get treated well as we headed to explore a new place.
Heck, I can recall back in 2003/2004 being an avid user of the American Airlines Citibank credit cards. I was so staunchly an AA fan, I wouldn’t even believe a friend when he told me I could earn more American Airlines miles from credit card spending on a hotel chain’s credit card. I applied for the SPG Amex Card and never looked back, though I still transferred a lot of those points to AA for flights.
For my father’s 70th birthday, we decorated his birthday cake with a small “Happy 70th” and a large “Congrats on 2MM miles on AA” with a big AA logo (thanks to the artistic talents of my lovely wife).
About 5 years ago, some friends convinced me to try out United, arguing it was a better fit for my travel. I agreed, with the caveat that they try out American. I ended up at the forefront of the United demise while they kept telling me how much they enjoyed flying on AA. Yeah, guys, I know.
Boy. How. Times. Have. Changed
A lot has happened since US Airways and American Airlines merged. There was a hopeful period where we thought maybe AA would take a different path than Delta and United had. And, then, they copied pretty much every devaluation their competitors envisioned.
Here’s what that last few years have looked like as American Airlines evolved:
- We’re closing in on 3 years since the merger was made official. I was skeptical back then that the merger would prove to be better in many ways than a standalone American. Doug and Scott had a reputation, one that didn’t likely mean that customers would get more with the new American. But, being an AA fan, I figured there would be plenty of time to evaluate. And, there was.
- Things were mostly quiet for a while, then American made some unannounced changes, pretty much all to the detriment of the customer. These didn’t really affect me much, since I didn’t traditionally take advantage of the explorer awards or North American stopovers. The big uproar here was no notice, but I think AA learned from the backlash.
- Late in 2014, AAdvantage rolled out big chunks of their new program and many breathed a collective sigh of relief, thinking things might not get worse-ish. Keeping domestic upgrades mostly the same was big, but it’s diluted by a reasonable amount with the decision to give unlimited upgrades to new 75,000 mile Platinum Pro members.
- AA makes a few adjustments to the same-day change policy, one of which I really didn’t like.
- The other shoe drops and AA announces big cuts to the systemwide upgrades awarded to EXPs. They also announced revenue-based earning. As a mild plus, they announce more EQMs for folks who buy more expensive tickets.
- American then devalued its award chart, though not as bad as some expected.
- Then, they whacked partner earning.
- They announced premium economy, which is generally a plus. They left unanswered whether the reduced number of SWUs would also only be eligible for upgrades from coach to premium economy (instead of to business class).
- After hinting about it for a while, American confirms it will start offering “basic economy”, which essentially means they’ll give out less benefits to customers buying cheap fares, including their elite members.
- It hasn’t been all bad news, they’re upgrading Flagship lounges and opening more of them.
- American proved they can still be the airline I love by finding a way to get me home to a sick family.
- American eliminated the ability to hold a revenue flight for 24 hours. This sucked.
Let’s not forget American’s on-time performance, consistently near the bottom of the pile amongst large and small competitors in the US.
And Then A Story Like This Comes Up
Remember that guy who got me started as an unabashed AA fan? Yup, dear old dad. He taught me the value of collecting miles, I taught him the value of mileage runs for elite status.
He stopped by my house the other day to check on the family. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks so it was good to give him a hug and catch up.
He started telling me the story about his recent trip out to an Air Force reunion in California. My father has been involved in planning various events for folks from his time in the Air Force all around the country. He’s very passionate about keeping tabs on those he served with and their families. He was speaking with his commander’s widow a few days prior to the event and she informed him that the timing of the reunion had changed. My father’s flight would land after the reunion was over.
He called the Executive Platinum desk to see if he could change flights. His first call was more than 24 hours prior to departure and they advised he call back within 24 hours to check about a confirmed same-day change.
He called back at the 24-hour mark but the earlier flights didn’t have the proper inventory to make the switch. It appeared he’d miss the Air Force reunion after all. Or, maybe not.
Now, my dad can talk. He loves to charm the ladies, bringing chocolates to the Admirals Club and on pretty much every AA flight to hand out. And, he loves to tell stories. I’m guessing that he told the Executive Platinum agent he was speaking with why he needed that earlier flight based on what happened next.
His phone rang a short while after he hung up with the EXP desk. It was the same agent he’d been speaking with earlier about switching flights. Some inventory had opened up an earlier flight, she said. Did he still want to switch? The answer was an obvious yes. She made the switch and thanked him for his service.
Earn Loyalty, Don’t Destroy It
American used to do things like that for me quite a bit, and I never served in the Air Force. It happens less frequently now. I was really happy to hear my dad’s story. I’m not sure he realizes how atypical it is in today’s world of less rewarding loyalty programs. I can’t recall the last time an Executive Platinum agent made an exception on something when I called, let alone proactively called me back. Those exceptions used to be fairly common.
The whole experience of flying is less rewarding amongst the big 3 US carriers. I never really needed it to be fireworks and chocolate fountains. But, a bit more moments like my dad’s experience would go a long way to me considering the new American to be like the American of old.
The post American Airlines Still Surprises And Delights. Is It Enough? was published first on Pizza in Motion