AA Debacle: We have contact! Well, sorta…

I finally heard back from American Airlines today. The response was…uh… well, here, read it for yourself.

Dear Mr. McKee,

Thank you for visiting the American Airlines Web site and for your recent e-mail to AAdvantage Customer Service.

Our award fee structure is based strictly on departure date, rather than delivery time.  When flights are ticketed 21 days or more prior to departure, there is no award fee.  Ticketing 20 – 7 days prior to departure requires a $50 fee, and ticketing 6 days or less prior to departure requires a $100 fee.  A $25 add-on fee applies to each additional award whenever multiple awards are claimed at the same time. Electronic tickets will be delivered via email or fax, while paper ticket delivery will be by U.S. mail (or by overnight delivery when applicable) to the AAdvantage member’s address only. 

To use AAdvantage miles for travel, members simply make their award reservations and obtain award tickets simultaneously.  Most AA awards can even be booked and ticketed on our Web site, AA.com.  The same fee structure applies.

Effective August 1, 2005, non-flight awards such as AAdvantage car awards and conversion awards will be available exclusively online at www.redeemAAmiles.points.com. There is a $25 processing fee that applies per partner, per account. Until then, these awards can be claimed through AAdvantage Customer Service, and the following fees apply:  We will guarantee delivery in 6 days for $75, plus the $20 add-on fee for each additional certificate.  There is a $25 fee for delivery in 21 days or more.  

Our AAdvantage award fee structure is closely aligned with the advance purchase requirements for revenue tickets.  If you have the flexibility of purchasing airline tickets in advance, you can often benefit from discounted fares.  On the other hand, if you purchase a ticket at the last minute, your only option may well be higher, non-restricted full-fares.  Similarly, if you have the flexibility of planning your award travel 21 days or more before departure, then you will not incur award fees.

Please understand that award fees help us generate more revenue for products and services that our members value. The fees we charge allow us to continuously improve procedures associated with the AAdvantage program, such as implementing electronic tickets, electronic upgrades, AAdvantage self-service options on AA.com and other enhancements.  In a program without membership fees, they are virtually irreplaceable.

I’m sorry my response couldn’t be more positive.  We value your loyalty and are eager to continue the beneficial relationship we have enjoyed thus far.  Thank you for your understanding.

Regards,

Paula Collins
AAdvantage Customer Service
American Airlines

Clearly this is a form letter – cranked out by either an automated scanner or a person who is scanning the mail for certain keywords. Either way, it’s obvious that the person reading or reacting had little to no interest in solving my problem. There wasn’t even so much as a passing reference to the actual problem I mentioned in my orginal mail.

Beside my general distaste for the nearly condesending lesson on AA processes and procedures, there were a couple of bits that stuck out:

Please understand that award fees help us generate more revenue for products and services that our members value. The fees we charge allow us to continuously improve procedures associated with the AAdvantage program, such as implementing electronic tickets, electronic upgrades, AAdvantage self-service options on AA.com and other enhancements.  In a program without membership fees, they are virtually irreplaceable.

So let me get this straight – I’m the one paying for the AA loyalty program?? Rather than offer these services as a way to obtain and retain loyal customers, AA is admitting that loyalty rewards only exists if I’m willing to cover their costs? Let’s think about this with a different example for a second. When I go into Smoothie King (which I do often), they punch a card once for every smoothie purchased. When the card is full, I turn it in for a free smoothie.

Now imagine if Smoothie King offered the free program, but then told me in order to cover the costs of the money they loose on the free smoothies for everyone, I have to pay a conversion fee to redeem my punch card. Doesn’t that pretty much defeat the purpose? Further, imagine if Jamba Juice sold smoothies for 20% less than Smoothie King and they were right next door. What’s the point of the loyalty program at that point?

I understand the economics of a loyalty program, especially for a faltering company like AA. But this is seriously the best canned response they could write?

But that aside, it still doesn’t address the point of my email – a specific problem related to a specific incident, with a specific concern.

The rep who sent this form mail, very obviously stuck a personalized note at the end, which runs right past unimpressive and borders on insulting:

I’m sorry my response couldn’t be more positive.  We value your loyalty and are eager to continue the beneficial relationship we have enjoyed thus far.  Thank you for your understanding.

So after I told them I’m a platinum member spending tens of thousands of dollars a year, the best "please don’t leave" they can muster is that they are eager to continue getting my money? And it nearly made me laugh that when I read about the rep being sorry about not being more positive – they didn’t even have the courtesy to simply say "Unfortunately, we have to stick to our guns, that’s our policy". While that lack of flexibility would be stupid and short-sighted, at least it would have honest and upfront. They never told me anything specific to my case, so why would I think she was being "not positive"?

Further, this response shows absolutely no interest in actually resolving the issue to a point where I’m happy. There is no mention of what to do if this mail hasn’t answered my issues. There’s absolutely no concern shown for the fact that I’ve told them I’m on the brink of leaving. And of course there’s the tiny matter of not actually addressing the issue in a way that makes me think that they care about me as a customer. In fact, the feeling I had after reading this message was that they were showing me the door.

Next step: the reply email! I’ll post that right after this entry.