American Airlines Got It Right Today, Despite What Travel Bloggers Say

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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  1. The freebies were relatively low value on purpose. It was acquisition costs for getting people to sign up for the promotion and generate a bit of buzz. And then hopefully book more tickets to get double points in January/February. That’s the behavioral change AA is trying to drive here and that’s what all the bonuses given out today (and for the next 2 weeks) are about.

    1. I would imagine this has widespread interest. Heck, my wife brought it up to me without me mentioning it. She hasn’t mentioned her AA account since Obama was president and before I had gray hair.

  2. AA got their publicity big time and lots of praise from bloggers (much more-so than the readers). As for my 100 miles, YES- I would just as soon have gotten nothing and never heard a word about it, With a 300K AA mile balance on hand 100 miles really is nothing anyway.

    But they got the attention they wanted. Call me whatever, but I think that was their true intent (nothing altruistic). Keep the miles and leave my tax money alone instead,

      1. I don’t know how to do it without transfer fee or whatever, I will say a good twist on this would have been if they had given an option to give the points to a non-profit (a charitable one that is). Combined the miles could mean something.

        If it made some people happy that’s great. I just saw it as more of a marketing ploy that seemed to work very well (PR-wise anyway).

  3. One last thought. The main part of this is the promos requiring flying, which are like many others out there. But some smart PR or Marketing person suggested they call it a gift, and that seems to have made all the difference.

  4. I posted this on the AA Executive Platinum Concierge Key flyers group earlier today.

    I have the great aunt. She’s 95, and she’s always been a strong family influence, and so nice to all us kids. And she has the awesome Lake house that we can use anytime we want. This year has been tough on her though – she barely survived COVID, and she has had to downsize and fire her landscaper and her day nurse as her nest egg dwindles down.

    So yesterday I got her Christmas card. Inside was a $5.00 Bill. Can you believe that? A measly 5 bucks? Doesn’t she realize how much money I make? Five dollars means nothing to me. How cheap of her….I’m so disappointed.

    Yes, that’s exactly how petty it sounds to be complaining about the gift AA sent us recently.

    Now imagine your company’s revenues are down 90% year over year. Imagine the guts it would take for you to go to your boss and say “Hey – I think we should send all of our best customers a small gift – just a small something that doesn’t cost us much but that they might find useful in these troubling times.” Someone at AA did exactly that, and I for one really appreciate the gesture.

    1. “Remember the billions these people gave to us in bailouts multiple times? Let’s make their travel experience as miserable as possible. Then when they are finally fed up with our nonsense will send them a few miles. Oh your worried its going to cost us, haha, we’ll just devalue and come out ahead in the end!”

    2. Or another analogy, its kinda like you smoke crack all your life. You spent tens of thousands on crack, then you finally get clean and turn your life around. Things are looking great and then you get a call from your crack dealer offering you just one hit.

    3. The company is leeching money and I appreciate that they made a gesture. Is it fantastic? For the majority of people no, not by any means. However it’s better to be gracious and say thank you than slam them for a lack of generosity.

  5. I agree it wasn’t nearly as bad as some bloggers portrayed it. I don’t think it came off particularly generous, but not quite a zero either. I think many were quite happy with a 100 miles simply to extend mileage expiry. Then again, perhaps they should expire now that Delta and United ended the practice.

    Where I do agree with Gary, though, is that AA does have the data where they could have easily better matched up gifts with likely interest. That part is where I think they missed an opportunity. But a missed opportunity doesn’t mean it was all bad.

    And I do think they met their goal of getting people to at least login to AA, maybe for the first time in a while. Lots of people in the group are sharing what they got.

    Lastly – enjoyed your moderation of that round table, Ed. Great stuff.

    1. Hey, Dave. I enjoyed the summit conference session today. Thanks for the kind words. I’m sure AA could had done better with the data, no doubt. Just not sure that we should react that negatively. Could have done better? Sure. Am I happy they made the effort? Absolutely.

  6. American literally said that the gift and promotion were targeted based on past behavior with the airline.

    – My beef with the gift was that there’s a huge disconnect giving 500 mile upgrades to Executive Platinums who get free unlimited upgrades, and saying the offer is targeted to the member when I’ve had 500 milers sitting in my account untouched since 2011.

    – And the lack of generosity isn’t the 100 miles some people are getting, it’s the promotion – I have to buy and fly 4 premium cabin flights at the start of the year for… 2000 miles. That’s a 500 mile bonus per flight flown in a purchased premium cabin.

    And this isn’t a quiet under the radar promotion, it was heavily promoted and shared in advance under embargo. Look, if they wanted to give every member 100 or 250 miles, fine – not much but it’s a gift (to get people to focus on the promo, but then the promo needs to be worthwhile). But the targeting here makes little sense and the underlying promo they’re promoting isn’t the opposite of motivating.

    My complaint is how poorly designed and executed this offer is.

      1. If the gift had been 250 or 500 miles I wouldn’t have complained, it would have been a very small gift but so what? They said this was targeted based on a member’s historical engagement with the program, they shouldn’t be giving EXPs 500 milers when they’ve had an unused stash for 10 years.

        But it’s really the paucity of the promo itself that was shocking, they’re making this a big deal and driving attention with the gift, but seem somehow afraid to actually incentivize actual business with the airline in any meaningful way.

        1. I’m honestly not sure that any travel brand can really incentivize a meaningful amount of travel in the early part of 2021. But, that’s based on my own concerns about traveling without widepsread vaccine adoption/immunity from folks who have already contracted COVID-19.

          Fair enough on miles vs 500-mile upgrades. I think I’d take the 500-mile upgrade since they’re worth more money, but I can understand why you don’t find value in them.

  7. I didn’t get a gift from Alaska, Delta, or Southwest. As Exec Platinum the 200 miles are almost worthless but who cares? I didn’t expect anything. American is trying to rebuild/keep consumer interest by doing the small things – like this promo, like getting a phone call most times I arrive at an airport telling me where the Admirals Club is and asking if I need any travel assistance, greeting me by name at least half the time I fly – these things matter no matter their “material” value. Yes, I agree that we’ve all bailed them out now twice in just over a decade and that they’ll probably keep burning cash when times are good again. Still, I can separate individual gestures like these from the reality of an industry-wide problem. AA’s PR team has a tough job and they’re having a decent go by my measure.

    1. Hey, Brandon. Thx for weighing in. Plenty more good than bad here with AA on this recent promotion. It’s a great time to be trying things to motivate your customers. I’m glad AA allowed their marketing folks to try something new.

  8. I think AA should ban that Gary for his non stop moaning about the company. Never grateful.

    I like my 500 mile upgrade gift . Thanks AA

  9. Hey, Ed. I for one am pleased with the gift of (2) 500-mile upgrades. I am a Platinum flier, so the upgrades will come in handy when my wife and I travel in 2021. Miles would have been much less valuable to me. I know it is not possible to please everyone, but I for one appreciate their effort.

  10. It was a nice gesture by AA but I was more frustrated with the execution moreso than whether I deemed the gift to be “worthy enough” (Did anyone else get that 502 gateway error page for a few hours when clicking the link in your email or trying to access it through the app? That was a rough user experience – either poorly executed or just bad timing of a technical glitch?) But regardless of whether you feel it’s worth something or not, if a stranger came up to you and gave you a $1.40, you are $1.40 richer than you were 5 mins ago.

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