American hyped holiday cheer and gifts, but delivered me disappointment

Dec 2, 2020

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The top story on TPG yesterday was, overwhelmingly, the announcement that American AAdvantage would leave a surprise gift in member accounts on Wednesday morning.

It was the frequent flyer equivalent of waiting for Christmas.

I was so intrigued, I left the American Airlines homepage up on my desktop so I’d see it first thing this morning, and bounded down the stairs too immediately check my account and my immediate family’s accounts — not unlike peeking into stockings that were hung by the chimney with care.

But with that level of build-up, imagine my disappointment when I opened my wife’s account and found this:

Only 100 AAdvantage miles? That’s it — really? Are there more miles at the very bottom of the stocking?

Well, there’s also the chance to earn double miles for two months in early 2021 … when the majority of people who have chosen not to fly will continue to stay grounded. Surely, this nugget of coal was an outlier, since my wife doesn’t have status with American and hasn’t flown with the airline in almost a year.

But when I started asking around the virtual TPG office, it was clear other travelers received much of the same. And some of the offers were arguably worse:

And it’s not just TPG staff members who may have been given rocks.

And my “gift” may be the most confusing of all: I’ve been given an indeterminate amount of 500-mile upgrades:

I suppose I have to wait and see how many 500-mile upgrades hit my account — like having to wait until Dec. 26 to open a gift. For context, I have Executive Platinum status and, for the majority of my domestic flights in 2019 and before the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, I flew American between my home in Atlanta (ATL) and New York City’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA).

We’re all on the naughty list

After conversing with several other frequent flyers and scrolling through social media to see post after post from AAdvantage members “thanking” American Airlines for their gifts, I had to sit back and chuckle. This is, perhaps, the best example of a well-intentioned and potentially fantastic promotion that should have aborted its takeoff roll:

  • I have almost no use for 500-mile upgrade certificates, as I receive complimentary upgrades as an Executive Platinum member and I rarely (perhaps never) have the opportunity to upgrade a friend or family member. In fact, most Executive Platinum members have gobs of these in their accounts that go unused for years.
  • If your American miles are set to expire (even though United, Delta and Southwest miles never expire), those 100 bonus miles will keep your miles active. But beyond that, it’s an entirely useless “gift” TPG values at $1.40.
  • Avis single-car class upgrades? Nearly worthless.
  • A tiny enticement to fly in January and February at what could be peak pandemic times? Why would I fly to get more useless 500-mile upgrades and just 2,000 miles I value around $30?

I realize American can’t give everyone 100,000 miles or unlimited free upgrade certificates, but surely we can do better than these little lumps of coal.

Or, simply don’t hype up that surprises are coming only to deposit arguably hollow gifts. AAdvantage exists to encourage and entice people to fly. The program itself is valued at more than the airline. American needs passengers in seats more than ever, and that’s not just due to the pandemic: The airline flew its Boeing 737 MAX this morning for the first time and wants travelers to feel safe on the just-recertified aircraft.

The decision to hype up 100 miles or an equivalent “gift” to members? I guess we’re all on the naughty list this year.

Bottom line

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

My after-gift-delivery quarterbacking says the gifts today should have been more generous and should have been designed to really get people excited about boarding an American flight in the near future.

Why not give truly valuable gifts that expire at the end of the first quarter of 2021? Confirmable upgrades to members with no status, five-star service through the airport in the first quarter, free drinks passes, lounge access with near-in expiration dates, 12,500 miles that expire in the first quarter, tempting status challenge offers — anything, really, besides 100 to 250 miles or a one-class car rental upgrade certificate.

Like tens of thousands of other AAdvantage members yesterday, I appreciate what the program tried to do, and it got travelers talking about American. But, perhaps Oscar Wilde said it best: “It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done.”

Featured image by Mark Rightmire/Orange County Register/Getty Images.

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