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Frequent Flier Programs: Not really rewarding

I just finished reading about someone’s experience with ConciergeKey, American Airlines gold-plated frequent flier reward given to customers that have flown several kazillion miles on their airline. I don’t know exactly what all of the perks are, and I imagine that they are pretty sweet given the number of miles it takes to earn the program.

Here’s one frequent fliers recent experience with the program (“CK” is “ConciergeKey”, you can figure out the rest of the abbreviations, or just insert the names of random cities ;) ) -

My flight was delayed this morning. Got an email (standard from the website, anybody can get that, on any airline I think, and you better be doing it too). Said my SAT-DFW flight was delayed half an hour. No real problem, I had a 2 hour layover at DFW. Cool.

Then my phone rings. Some number I don’t recognize. Check voicemail. It’s CK, telling me, we know about the problem, we’ll track it, you’re fine for now, here’s what’s causing the delay.

Bloody awesome.

An hour goes by. Three more delays. Emails say, you ain’t gonna make it, son.

CK calls again. This time, I answer. Sorry for the trouble, you won’t make your connection, but we have you on another flight, and it’s all good.

So on one hand, this program is a really, really sweet reward for customers that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with the airline.

And at some level, I suppose it is also intended to influence the purchasing decisions of customers that haven’t yet qualified for the program.

The problem is that for 99.9999% of the population, it just isn’t possible to make these levels of miles, so it really isn’t all that influential – at least not in my thinking.

Worse still, in the earlier story, the airline can offer this level of personalized service to each person that flies their airline. Technology makes it completely possible to automatically re-book passengers and even though it might be hard to have a person call everyone on every flight, most people wouldn’t mind getting a ping from a computer outlining the problems and the options available. Hell, some of us might even pay slightly more for a ticket that included these services as an upgrade.

As is, I find these programs insulting and disrespectful. When a restaurant can’t deliver the meal I ordered, they bend over backwards to make it right. Why can’t the airlines? This is just basic customer service. Perhaps in the ancient times before automated dialers and high-tech booking systems were practical, I could understand how the costs might outweigh the benefits, but given the current state of technology it feels more like laziness and a lack of innovation.

Moreover, I think if these frequent fliers thought hard for a second about the pain the airlines inflicted on them while they pursued these luxurious “perks”, they’d probably agree with me.

For what we’re paying for airline tickets, we all deserve a better class of service.