How not to manage a major policy change to your loyalty program


UPDATE: Turns out that the miscommunication comes from the fact that American didn’t actually change anything, even though their systems did. Still quite the mess this morning, and the communications were not handled well. And there are still wildly varying fees depending on operating carrier. And even without changes the customer service team doesn’t seem to know which carriers incur those charges. Oy.

Original post below.

By now you’ve probably heard that American Airlines is changing the way they calculate some fees on award tickets, essentially choosing to charge the full YQ on many partners. Yeah, they previously had such charges “on the books” but they were much more limited; today the fees are apparently being collected on more partners. I say apparently because no one seems to actually know which partners they apply to, though it is clear that they are being charged and that the current policy is different from yesterday’s.

The twitter team is deflecting question related to which specific carriers are going to see fees, suggesting that customers call in to ask:

But, according to Gary, even the reservations line doesn’t know which partners AA is collecting the YQ for:

With a bit of spare time on my hands this morning I checked several routes online. There are still no fees being charged for Air Berlin (they don’t have YQ anyways), Finnair, Hawaiian and Qantas awards, at least as of right now and what I’m seeing. Other partners cannot be checked online and that’s making verification rather harder. And all of this is subject to change as Ben indicated the changes may be slowly propagating through the systems.

Which itinerary would you choose? You don't know the fees until the check-out page, not in the flight selection list.
Which itinerary would you choose? You don’t know the fees until the check-out page, not in the flight selection list.

American wants to change the rules and that’s fine. I mean, I don’t like the change and I’m really, really happy that I chose to not pursue the 30K->EXP challenge offer I had, but that’s not the point here.

My point is that they’ve done a horrible job of managing the change.

The nice thing to do for customers is to announce changes in advance so people can plan. Loyalty programs have gotten worse about that recently. Even that isn’t my biggest gripe here. When asked about the changes the responses seem to be in a form of “Some carriers may have exemptions,” with no additional details or “[T]he changes don’t apply to us at this time.” If you are going to make a change then make it and ensure that everyone knows what the parameters are of that change. Don’t let the AAdvantage group make a decision and then not tell the customer-facing agents what the change is or how it will affect customers. That just takes the customer frustration over the changes and the uncertainty surrounding them and magnifies it. Really, really bad.

The only other comment I’ll offer up about the Twitter interaction I’ve had today with the @AmericanAir account is that I continue to believe that they don’t really understand their customers and how to interact. At least they don’t understand me. I’ve had conversations with them before about a variety of topics and the team is constantly thanking me for my loyalty or for flying with American.

Except I have no loyalty to them and I rarely fly with them. When I do fly with them I credit the flights elsewhere. Just because a customer engages with a brand online doesn’t mean there is loyalty or even business going on there. Far too many brands seem to be racing to get the response out so quickly that they miss the bigger picture. Being first is rarely as useful as being correct.

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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, and LinkedIn.

19 Comments

  1. Well said. The lack of an official announcement is mind-boggling and a good way to lose respect from their customers.

    1. Very few companies will issue a press release about bad news (though it was entertaining that someone on Twitter asked me where to find one). I’m not really OK with that, but I’m OK with it, if you know what I mean. And the website has had the boilerplate language about “Other government taxes and carrier-imposed fees (including U.S. excise tax* and foreign taxes** based on itinerary or billing address) of up to $700 per passenger per award may apply; total may vary slightly based upon currency exchange rate at time of purchase.” So they’re technically covered in that regard.

      The crappy part is that they did, in fact, change a policy and they did so without getting the customer service group in the loop. That’s just adding insult to injury when a change like this comes around.

  2. Here’s the thing. If they are a domestic brand and basically only service domestic routes, granted they have codeshares and alliances everywhere, I’m a bit confused at your reaction.

    You say that you are not loyal to their brand which is fine. You don’t have to buy designer jeans and so on.

    And you claim to have flown all over the world, so obviously you don’t have to do business with them. You have the means to fly anywhere.

    Why take time out of your day to publish this? Simply reactionary?

    You’ve already broadcast to them that you have no brand loyalty, correct?

    1. They aren’t a domestic brand. They have a HUGE footprint in LatAm and a presence in Europe/Asia. Plus, that has nothing to do with the mistakes they made with this policy change.

      My reason for writing this is a simple one: Anyone can make a change which negatively affects customers. How that change is rolled out and communicated often determines how customers react. A well-managed negative change will have a far smaller impact than a poorly managed one. This time around American is in the latter category IMO.

  3. Very few companies under quality customer service. Instead, customer no service is often the norm because the pay check doesn’t depend on it.

  4. Technically, they didn’t change a policy. That policy has always been in place. What they did do was chance the application of said policy. Of course, customer expectations being what they are, it would have been nice for them to note that they’re applying the existing policy more broadly and to which partners.

  5. honestly you bloggers are a waste. you guys do nothing than asking us to use your links to get compensation. why don’t you work with us SOMETIMES and fight back these greed and injustice. These fuel surcharges are fraud. What’s the benefit of using tens of thousands of hard earned miles for an award ticket and than pay full coach fare in fuel surcharge on top of that? that is a rip off. I checked fares with airlines that charge fuel surcharge. It is better to just pay the full fare than waste miles and than pay full fare on top of that.

  6. I’m not sure it’s true. I think the reason they were caught off guard is because it’s just a rumor and they haven’t made any changes to the program.

  7. Official statement:

    “Last night, in a routine effort to better align American to industry standards with other global carriers, American began collecting carrier-imposed surcharges on tickets for travel on other carriers’ metal.

    This change was intended for revenue tickets only, but the surcharge was erroneously added to AAdvantage award redemptions on other airlines as well.

    Except in the cases of British Airways and Iberia, where American currently collects these surcharges, no carrier-imposed surcharges will be applied when redeeming AAdvantage miles for award travel on other carriers. Any customers who encountered this fee in error will be fully refunded. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

  8. Interestingly, whether the EXP challenge promo or the surcharge on award tickets, each of the tasks that AA kept failing in repeatedly consisted of nothing more complicated than stating its own wishes. You wonder how this crack team will fare against adversaries and competitors.

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