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Elite members of AAdvantage, American’s loyalty program, aren’t happy. Over the last several months, influential bloggers from around the community have taken turns lambasting the program and decrying changes.
Behind their complaints are a litany of issues common in today’s changing airline-loyalty program landscape. American now calculates elite status by revenue and mileage rather than just mileage; award space is harder to find; upgrade privileges are diminishing, and service and catering are languishing.
One could make the same complaints about any U.S. legacy carrier. But passengers at American seem to be particularly incensed, maybe because of the carrier’s dramatic fall from the top or because it was the last carrier to get on the revenue train. Not long ago, American was winning awards for the best loyalty program in the country. Now, the airline is firmly in the middle of the pack.
Bloggers at One Mile at a Time and View from the Wing have taken the most aggressive approach. Earlier this month, One Mile at a Time published a story outlining more than a dozen reasons why AAdvantage had deteriorated. A View from the Wing post shared similar problems and pointed to “The 5 Things American Airlines Did To Kill My Loyalty.”
Others are more personal. “American, you went from the bigger, wider, global view of loyalty, to a more transactional view,” complained one blogger who wrote a breakup letter to the airline. “You changed the status paradigm from: ‘hey, you love to fly us, and you fly a ton, so we’ll reward you’ to ‘what have you done for me lately?'”
In many other industries, these complaints would be a wakeup call, but for American and the airline industry in general, this outcry is just a speed bump on a path to smaller, more- focused loyalty programs. The last several years have brought profitability back to the airline industry. Now, flush with cash, loyalty is not as important as readily available, up-front revenue.
At Delta and United, similar passenger upheavals have boiled over after major program changes — especially around the addition of revenue-based components — but eventually, the masses calmed down.
American’s case may end up being different. Without an exceptional in-flight product like Delta’s or a strong international network like United’s, American has little to offer frequent flyers who don’t have to fly the airline. And with Alaska Airlines continuing to exert pressure on legacy carriers with its distance-based loyalty program (which recently earned another award as best in the country), American Airlines may soon be hard-pressed to keep many AAdvantage members.
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