American’s loyalty chief is resigning just over a year since taking over

Sep 10, 2021

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Changes are afoot in American’s loyalty department.

On Friday morning, the carrier’s president of the AAdvantage loyalty program, Rick Elieson, announced his resignation in an internal email communication, which was viewed by TPG and confirmed by the airline.

“Twenty-eight years later, it’s my turn to leave American and pursue other interests,” Elieson’s farewell letter reads. (You can find the full letter below.)

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“During his time in AAdvantage, Rick has made the program easier for members to engage with and contributed greatly to making our Loyalty program the best in the industry. He is a caring and calm leader who has shaped hundreds of careers and will leave his mark on American for many years to come,” wrote Vasu Raja, chief revenue officer, in a follow-up email about Elieson’s departure.

Elieson joined American in 1994 as an analyst, working his way up the rankings across multiple business units. He’s spent time with revenue management, pricing, loyalty, cobrand partnerships and cargo.

He took over the AAdvantage loyalty program in June 2020, after the Fort Worth-based carrier announced a major executive-level reshuffling. As part of the news, long-time AAdvantage chief Bridget Blaise-Shamai left the company, leaving big shoes to fill.

Elieson, a long-time AA veteran, came out swinging. Despite his previous role as president of cargo, Elieson felt prepared for his new customer-facing job. “Cargo [like loyalty] is a billion-dollar business. It has a really positive culture and there is a blend of people in that vertical,” he told TPG in an exclusive interview in October 2020.

Within six months of his presidency — and at the height of the pandemic — he worked on some major policy adjustments that made AAdvantage more rewarding and accessible for first-time flyers.

His legacy includes loosening restrictions on basic economy, permanently eliminating most change fees (including on awards) and announcing multiple updates and promotions to the loyalty program for 2021.

During his tenure, AA also strengthened its partnership with Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways: not just with expanded codeshares and new routes, but also with a slew of reciprocal loyalty benefits as well.

A new president of AAdvantage will be identified in the coming months. In the meantime, the loyalty team is hard at work at redefining the program for 2022 and beyond, with more details expected soon.

Full version of Rick Elieson’s farewell email

AAdvantage Team,

In February 1994 my older brother called me to tell me American was hiring. There had been a hiring freeze, but it had been lifted and they were looking for foreign language speakers. He encouraged me to apply, saying, “American is a good company. If you’re smart and work hard, they’ll take good care of you.” I know, I know, there’s a presumption in that statement, but he should know – my brother was working for American at the time. He started his career on the ramp loading bags, and by the time he called me, he was leading one of AMR’s smaller subsidiary business units. He went on to spend almost 30 years at AMR and Sabre. I believed him, and I applied for a job.

Twenty-eight years later, it’s my turn to leave American and pursue other interests – and I still believe him. What I’ve come to appreciate along the way is that there is no “the company.” There’s just you and me. We’re each responsible to do our best, and to recognize and develop the smart and hardworking people around us. Because there’s really no such thing as individual success.

This is my way of saying thank you. I’ve been a part of many amazing successes during my career at American and every single one of them were the product of the amazing team of which I was a part. Thank you. Thank you for the honor of working alongside you in the Loyalty organization, and for teaching me something new every day.

There’s so much to look forward to for the rest of 2021 and in 2022. Throughout the pandemic you’ve been hard at work, focused on our customers and moving the program forward – making AAdvantage more engaging and rewarding for everyone. Exciting enhancements to our award-winning program are on the horizon because of the work we’ve done together, and I couldn’t be prouder of what you’re accomplishing and how you’re working together.

My day-to-day responsibilities will quickly fall on the shoulders of others, but I’ll continue working behind the scenes through the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition and the program’s continued success.

Thanks for all that you do for our AAdvantage members and for each other.

Rick

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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