A Rebuttal to Gary Leff over the US Airways/American Upgrade Policies
Gary Leff has published yet another blog post about why he feels that the American AAdvantage system of upgrades is better for elite flyers and Why Complimentary Upgrades are Bad for Frequent Flyers. He seemed delighted that, on a recent flight, there were empty seats in the first class cabin (I wonder if there were any Chairman Preferred on that flight that were not upgraded – but that is a different story).
What I would like to do is address a few of his points directly.
- The sale of stickers, combined with mileage upgrade co-pays that do not exempt elite frequent flyers even domestically, mean that American earns a revenue premium on their first class cabin.
Not all upgrades are going to generate a large revenue premium. If one simplty uses his upgrade certificate, no revenue is generated. If one chooses to purchase additional upgrade certificates, the revenue generated is a paltry $30/certificate. Even assuming that the longest transcon upgrade will require five of these $150 hardly offsets the price of a seat in coach that could be sold if a member is upgraded, thereby freeing up more seats in coach. And I am not sure the revenue will offset the amount of ill will towards the airline when elite members see those empty seats.
- A more profitable first class cabin also supports a better first class product. American flyers were in uproar as their first class meals were cut back even a little, more or less meeting the old US Airways halfway. The revenue lets American invest in the product. (I wouldn’t call American’s first class spectacular, but it is materially better than US Airways first class.)
Doug Parker is in a great position now to turn American back into a profitable airline just as he did with US Airways after the America West Merger. That success did not involve selling upgrade instruments. I’ve flown the American First product, and other than the fact that some of the planes are newer and some of the planes have the new lie flat seats for trans-cons, it is just not that different than flying First on US Airways. As the old America West/US Airways planes are phased out, the hard product will improve across the board. I would respectfully submit that Gary hasn’t flown even a quarter of the US Airways First flights that I have and I have found them to be lacking in some areas (power ports mainly) but superior in others (crew members).
- Mid-tier and entry-level elites are actually better off without unlimited complimentary upgrades. When every passenger gets free upgrades, every passenger is requesting them almost every time. Elites who want to upgrade have to compete against every other elite every time.
Again, not only do I find this statement incredibly condescending but I have to disagree with this. At US Airways, we don’t request upgrades (except for our Envoy certs). We know what the proverbial pecking order is and if one is careful in choosing flights, the upgrade chances increase exponentially, thereby rewarding all frequent and loyal flyers. As a Silver, no, you won’t be upgraded as much as a Chairmans Preferred, but you will get upgraded. And if you want an upgrade badly enough, miles serve the purpose for that.
- When elites are rationing their free upgrades or they have to pay some amount, they actually have to make a decision when they care about getting the upgrade.
I don’t even know how to respond to this. What? If you are loyal to an airline, an upgrade is almost like the Holy Grail. We all want them. All the time. When would you not care about getting an upgrade? And even though you request it with your little upgrade instrument, there is no guarantee that you will get it. Unlimited upgrades reward loyalty – to everyone.
- The upgrades go to the people who want them most.
- And Golds don’t have to compete against all Platinums, and Platinums don’t have to compete against every other Platinum for the upgrade. That means upgrade percentages go up. You’re more likely to get the upgrade when you request it.
Again, when you fly US Airways, you know the system. It is fair and it works. I never think I am in a competition with others to get an upgrade. The system works, for the most part, in a fair and equitable manner. As a lower tier, upgrades are a delightful surprise and as such, much more appreciated. Complimentary upgrades reward everyone who is loyal to the airline and that is how it should be. I don’t want to have to request an upgrade and then be disappointed when I don’t get it.
- Most US Airways flyers are going to want to keep the system they have. I expect the average elite frequent flyer to say, why should I have to pay for something they used to give me for free?
Exactly. But it’s not really free, is it. Plenty of dollars were spent to establish loyalty and earn status with the airline. Why should that loyalty not be rewarded?
Gary mentions meals (again):
As for the meals issue, meh. It really doesn’t merit much more discussion. I have never seen such a whinging bunch of folks in my life. If you are flying and you know there is not going to be a meal offered, plan on packing a lunch at home or stopping in the airport and picking up a sandwich. Many of the loudest complainers also spend a lot of time in airport lounges – if you have time for that, then you have time to grab something for on the plane. I guarantee that it will be better than anything you are going to get on a domestic flight. I even do that if I am flying coach on an international flight and believe me, have even received envious looks from the flight crew as I’m tucking in to my Bring My Own Meal. In the longer run, planning and bringing your own food is much healthier for you.
I know my ‘voice’ is not as big as Gary Leff’s (whom I admire greatly by the way), but this is most assuredly the way I feel and I’ll repeat it. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I have a feeling that the US Airways loyalists are going to be pulling the short straw on the combining of programs.
And that will make me very sad indeed.
What do you think? Can the merger of the two loyalty programs find a common ground?
Should flights go out with empty seats in First?
I absolutely disagree with Gary Leff on this issue and this is the comment that I left on his blog:
I totally disagree with your assessment. Anyone can argue a point particularly if it is in line with what their believe to be ‘true’. It has been obvious from the outset of this merger where your loyalties lie.
I find it hilarious that American flyers are still beating the meals issue to death. Unless I am flying an international route, I could care less about a meal on a plane. No matter how you dress it or serve it, it is nothing but a glorified TV dinner….. Even those ‘delightful’ ice cream sundaes are often barely edible because they are frozen harder than a brick.
As for the upgrades, it makes NO sense for a F cabin to go out with empty seats. Sure, leave those seats empty and then pay the poor people who get bumped out of oversold coach rather than upgrading to the front and filling the back. How does revenue balance out there in the big picture? Loyalty should be rewarded whether one is a business traveler with all or most expenses paid…or a retired schoolteacher who just happens to love your airline and chooses to fly it faithfully.
I personally believe the ‘sticker’ system is absurd as it stands. US tried it in the 90’s and scrapped it. If the ‘stickers’ were good for a full segment, then perhaps they would be useful. As they stand, farnorthtrader has it right….too many are required for a reasonable flight.
I have resigned myself to the fact that US Airways loyal flyers, who stuck with them through the America West merger and subsequent austerity goof-ups, are probably going to come out of this merger pretty well screwed to the wall –
Unfortunately, it is going to be the people who flew Parker’s low cost carrier through thick and thin – who helped it crawl out of a hole and operate in the black for several years in a row – helped it to become strong enough to BUY American out of bankruptcy – yes, it’s going to be those loyal flyers who get the shaft on this if the AAdvantage program (as it is) dominates the merger of the two.