In case you hadn’t heard, American Airlines announced that they were giving every American Airlines AAdvantage member a free gift for the holidays today. All you had to do was login to your AAdvantage account to see what you had won. I was pretty bogged down with work calls today, but I kept seeing chatter in the background about what people were receiving as gifts.
I saw mentions of people winning 100 miles, 250 miles and 500-mile upgrade certificates. And, I also noticed that most opinions weren’t positive.
The first person I saw commenting on it was Seth Miller, a very knowledgeable voice in the travel space:
I think his reply was relatively balanced. There was some lack of excitement, but nothing too overboard.
I was on a panel with some other travel folks this afternoon. One of them, Marshall Jackson, noted that he received a Main Cabin Extra upgrade. He didn’t seem to be jumping with joy, but he wasn’t negative about the gift.
Next, I saw an article from Gary Leff, another smart voice in the travel space. The title gives away his opinion, “…Stunning In Its Lack Of Generosity”. Gary makes the point that American Airlines had more data on him and could have done a better job with the gift it gave him. He takes exception to getting a 500-mile upgrade, since he already has lots of those.
It seems that most of the gifts I’ve seen so far wouldn’t have satisfied him. He gets free upgrades to Main Cabin Extra. With a seven figure mile balance, he probably doesn’t need 100 miles. I know Gary carries a credit card that gets him and his family into lounges. So, what was AA supposed to give him? Would they have been better off giving him nothing?
Lastly, I saw this article from Richard Kerr, another good friend and smart guy in the travel space. Boy, Richard doesn’t pull any punches:
I realize American can’t give everyone 100,000 miles or unlimited free upgrade certificates, but surely we can do better than these little lumps of coal.
- If your American miles are set to expire (even though United, Delta and Southwest miles never expire), those 100 bonus miles will keep your miles active. But beyond that, it’s an entirely useless “gift” TPG values at $1.40.
- Avis single-car class upgrades? Nearly worthless.
American Airlines Did A Good Thing
For starters, as I said on that panel with Marshall and a few other travel folks, American Airlines got all of us discussing the airline and their loyalty program today. They got thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of members to login and check their accounts today. And, I’m sure they made some connections that members found valuable. They also announced that a handful of members would receive a gift of 500,000 AAdvantage miles plus a mini vacation.
I wonder, would Gary and Richard rather have American just do the larger contest and not hand out small gifts?
The negative reactions caught me a bit off guard. Sure, there are plenty of folks in the larger miles and points community who find the sour side of any sunrise. But, this really seems to have gotten under the skin of a few of my fellow travel bloggers.
Is it really less of a gift because the miles are only worth a couple of bucks? Because it was only a one-car class upgrade and not a two or three-car class upgrade?
Is this effort by American an indicate that the airline is, as Gary says, “primarily worried that someone, somewhere might benefit too much rather than generating excitement for travel and really encouraging people to fly”?
The Final Two Pennies
I think American Airlines had a good, if not perfect, day. I’m sure they made some members happy, and this comes from someone who used to be a very loyal customer and now flies a different airline. I purposely didn’t look at my gift until after I finished the majority of this article, since I didn’t want it to bias my thinking. Here’s what I got:
I don’t fly American Airlines on a regular basis. Heck, I’m not flying anyone on a regular basis right now. I’m not sure if or when I’ll use an Admirals Club pass. And, I’m highly unlikely to complete the additional flying required to earn the bonus offer.
But, I’m thankful for what I received. For just a moment in my day, I wasn’t thinking about employees with COVID-19, or how to navigate a minefield of problems with the logistics of running restaurants in a pandemic. Is my gift life-changing? No, but it did make me think about “normal” travel again someday in the future. I call that a win, even if it’s a small one.
Look, Gary and Richard are smart guys (heck, I was just talking to that Kerr guy about his nightmare in the Smokies). They don’t need me telling them which way is up. But, is it really helpful to treat American differently than an acquaintance or office mate who might hand you a small token around the holidays, even if it’s something you’re never going to use?
After almost a year of virtually no travel, have we grown so sour on loyalty programs that we openly criticize when they try to do something positive?
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