What to do when the industry’s largest consumer advocate is so wrong


For better or for worse the largest airline passenger customer advocacy group in the United States is FlyerRights.org. The group has claimed responsibility for a variety of legislative changes and DoT actions, ranging from the "3-hour rule" to the most recent changes regarding mistake fares. The value of these changes is debatable, but certainly they make a lot of noise for the organization. With the recent American Airlines operational issues FlyersRights is at it again. But this time they’ve completely missed the boat.

In a press release issued a few days ago the organization called for passengers to avoid the carrier, similar to Scott McCartney’s call in the WSJ a few days prior:

"Given the number of flight cancellations, coupled with AA’s bankruptcy proceedings and other critical issues, FlyersRights.org is recommending you book your flights on other air carriers, said Kate Hanni, Executive Director FlyersRights.org.

The second half of the quote, however, is particularly strange for anyone who actually understands how the companies work:

However, if you have stacked up frequent flyer miles, we recommend you immediately book your trip on AA or a code-share partner to avoid risk of losing those miles in the event AA shuts its doors.

SAY WHAT?

This is simply bad advice all around. Just awful. American Airlines isn’t closing its doors anytime soon – even with the current operational issues – and the frequent flier program is not going to be liquidated. Just not going to happen.

Providing bad information is bad enough. Begging money from people in the process is, in my mind, even worse. Here’s what the quote looked like in the email blast sent out by the group:

image

As you can see, there are two hyperlinks in this part of the message. The first goes to a version of the press release hosted on Yahoo purporting to be an actual news report. Awkward, but not awful. The second link would, one assumes, go to the home page of the organization where more information about this recommendation and other activities of the group can be found. Instead, it it is a link to their donation request page. It is a cash grab. That’s just wrong.

Turns out that the press release is not anywhere I can find on their site. You’d think an organization releasing things in an effort to inform and educate the public would make those releases readily available. Apparently that’s not the way FlyersRights operates.

It is also worth noting that the claim in the press release that passengers were only able to cancel and refund their tickets if delayed was accurate at the time it was issued but that AA relaxed that policy to formally allow rebooking on other carriers as part of the deal.

Providing bad advice and trying to get paid to do so while claiming to be acting in the public interest is ludicrous. Given that the organization is basically the baby of a single person acting in her own interests it seems unlikely that approach is going to change. And it is a shame the information is so bad as she’s managed to make herself quite well heard.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

21 Comments

  1. Never did like Flyers Rights..I think their “solutions” are sometimes reactionary and over the top.

    1. The donation page is just /donate off the base URL. It is “legit” in that you can sign up to pay them money and not phishing nor malware. Just a bad idea.

    1. Pretty sure I’ve never met Chris Elliott in person but we’ve spoken before. And while he has an irrational bias against FF programs in general and often is mistaken about how they operate he’s not bad enough to make a claim like this one, at least not that I’ve seen.

  2. If you thought any airline was going to go belly-up, would you have a different recommendation?

    After all the company is in Chapter 11, so the company has a much higher probability of liquidating. You may think otherwise, but probabilistically that is how it works.

    1. 1) AA is nowhere close to liquidation. So far away that it is legitimately laughable to worry about that right now. But even if they liquidated the points wouldn’t become worthless IMO.

      2) Historically there have been a couple airlines which dissolved and saw the points completely vanish. Ansett was certainly one back in the day. But in most cases these days the greatest profit center for the airlines is the ability of the FF programs to literally mint money. They sell points, mostly to banks but also to other companies, and those companies use the points to attract customers. That is HUGE business, to the tune of billions of dollars annually. Should a major airline be put in a position of liquidation the most valuable assets will likely be acquired by other companies. Loyal customers are a tremendous asset and someone will buy out that part of the company. When that happens it is quite likely that the points will be honored in some way. TWA/AA saw that most recently and while some TWA benefits were cut – most notable was “lifetime” club members only got 3 more years – the miles survived.

      We’re so far away from being in a position to believe that there is risk to the AAdvantage program that it is hard to believe anyone who understands the industry is seriously suggesting otherwise.

  3. Worth noting that not only does the IRS not recognize FlyersRights.org as as 501c3 but they themselves note (in small print) on their “donate” page that “Contributions or gifts to FlyersRights.org are not deductible as charitable contributions for Federal income tax purposes”

    I think they’re using mis-leading terminology when they say “donate”

  4. @Stacey– They’re a 501(c)(4) organization… basically, a non-profit that advocates for legislation. That’s why donations aren’t deductible.

  5. Many infrequent travelers will read the hype and NOT check out what is “fact” & what is “fiction”.

    I had 180K TWA miles and they became AA miles. Over the years, I was able to use them on AA with little problem. AA is my primary airline and I have a large stash of miles with them. AA have some very uses of FF miles like the intl One World Awards in Business/First classes that are distnce based.

    Bottom line: I do NOT let FlyersRights.org worry me. I have been very pleased with AA and the current situation will be over with soon. Then FlyersRights.org will go on to the next agenda item. 😉

  6. This organizations seems to be a fundraising tool of an individual who is not particularly knowledgeable, but has hit upon a method for capturing some discontent about inconveniences of air travel: “If you don’t like air travel today, donate to me, and I’ll put out news releases.” I think this “group”, if it really is one, can be ignored.

    While I disagree frequently with Chris Elliott and Charlie Leocha, they are knowledgeable in their fields of expertise (Elliott knows nothing about FF programs, but is an excellent ombudsman), and serious players in the discussion of passenger rights. Kate Hanni and FlyerRights don’t seem to have much credibility.

  7. Firstly, the premise that this has to do with the industry’s largest consumer advocate is incorrect on many levels — understandable though.

    If you look at the original press release in detail …

    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/american-airlines-flight-cancellations-wreak-havoc-on-flying-public-says-flyersrightsorg-170564486.html

    … even without being a grammar Nazi, you will find a number of strange problems. Read it carefully — notice the syntax and punctuation issues. Hanni wrote it herself, partly plagiarizing an article that was published by Reuters …

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-27/news/sns-rt-us-americanairlines-pilotunionbre88q155-20120927_1_pilot-union-american-airlines-legal-action

    … and the rest in her own hand. Ask yourself why the nation’s “largest consumer advocate” would not only have to write her own press releases (despite an obvious inability to do so) and why there wasn’t someone available to edit it.

    The quote at the beginning of this blog is not what the original press release said. The original press release was and still is on PRNewswire:

    “Given the number of flight cancellations, coupled with AA’s bankruptcy proceedings and other critical issues, FlyersRights.org is recommends you book your flights on other air carriers if AA refuses to put you on an interline carrier at no extra charge. However, if you have stacked up the frequent flyer miles we recommend you immediately book your trip on AA or a code-share partner just to avoid the risk of losing those miles in the event AA shuts their doors.”

    Notice the run-on sentences, the phrase, “FlyersRights.org is recommends,” and the entire paragraph is set in quotes in the press release. Really?

    In the blog comments above, I see questions about the “organization” and its leader’s credibility. In your wildest dreams you can’t imagine how right you are.

    If anyone would like a free e-version of a book I wrote about all of this and more, drop me a line. I’m easy to find.

    (Offer limited to those who have already posted above.)

    BTW — the organization’s financials have the same credibility as everything else. Bernie Madoff would be proud. The whole thing is a scandal on an almost unimaginable scale — I know — I helped make it happen.

  8. This story is laughable. Not only did the gentleman above leave our group before the airline passenger bill of rights was passed (and then try to take credit for its passage, he has accused myself and the organization of crimes before Congress.

    He claims I mis-appropriated funds, when in fact as our tax-returns reflect my husband and I put 54k into the organization to keep it afloat.

    He claims that he did not get expense reimbursements, when in fact he received more in reimbursements than any other member. (Can prove this with our very well kept records)

    He claims on his blogspot currently that Guidestar doesn’t show us as a non-profit. Guidstar is not a requirement for non-profits and it’s a hassle to set up. We have our tax returns posted on our website for ALL to see which is actually more than the IRS requires. They only require that we make them available so we have gone the extra mile in posting them to be totally transparent.

    He claims we received “industry money” from CoBus. A Bald faced lie.

    He claims that I lied about our membership numbers, but he wasn’t on our BOD and he never had anything to do with our Board Resolutions which show how we quantify “what is a member”.

    He is just a pitiful, angry man who is trying to make a dime on our coat-tails.

    And To “Stacy at Very Good Points” we have two donation pages as required by law for donations. We have a C-4 page which does not offer a tax write-off but allows us to advocate, and C-3 page for donations which does offer a tax write-off but only allows limited donations to be used for advocacy, the rest is mandated to be used for education. We have a toll free hotline and a team of dedicated volunteers that handle anyone who needs help with an airline issue. I might add that for all of your criticism of our stand on the AA BK, none of you seems to recognize the good work we have done which tells me you have an agenda and bias that precedes your thoughts on this issue.

    I have had pilots call with issues their own kids were having on other airlines and helped those folks get their kids home safe and sound. We have incredible relationships with the DOT and can help folks 24/7 with their air travel needs.

    Someday one of you might have an air travel related issue and have nowhere to turn to get help. Do you really want to have NO one to turn to? FlyersRights.org is here for you too! For free. 24/7.

  9. Oh and one more thing. I did not write that press release or any release in 2012.

    These criticisms don’t withstand the smell test.

  10. So your organization didn’t actually release that press release? And the organization didn’t have any releases in 2012?

    Doesn’t sound like you’re all that effective.

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