Some of you may have seen some tweets from me last night about a strange issue that has popped up since American Airlines has gone into bankruptcy. Let me explain what I have learned so hopefully American can adjust their policy and the fantastic gate and telephone agents that support them won’t have to be the frequent bearers of bad news1.
Flyers with certain kinds of elite status on American Airlines occasionally earn something called a “systemwide upgrade” (sometimes known as an eVIP or VIP). These upgrades allow you to move up one class of service, inventory permitting, on any flight operated by and ticketed through American Airlines and typically expire within the current or next calendar year. I’ve used these things over the years to upgrade into a Business class seat on a long haul flight that was booked on coach, and recently have even been lucky enough to use one to get into First class. Pretty sweet!
Then American Airlines enters bankruptcy. While the status, miles, and upgrades for elite fliers are kept intact, something strange is happening.
American Airlines is part of the OneWorld alliance that includes such prestigious airlines as British Airways, Qantas, and Cathay Pacific. These airlines partner in order to broaden their geographic reach by operating flights for each other’s fliers, known as “codeshares.” Essentially, this means that in some cases, you can book a ticket marketed and sold as British Airways but end up flying on an American Airlines plane, as I did this week.
Due to a number of factors, bankruptcy being a big one I suspect, airfares at American have risen dramatically over the last six months both domestically and internationally. In some cases, booking the exact same American Arlines flights under a OneWorld codeshare will save you money! In my case, I saved 15% on my fare by booking all of my flights as British Airways, even though I’ll be on an American Airlines plane for the long-haul components (Dallas to London).
But here’s the catch. I don’t have any status with British Airways! This means that as an American Airlines Elite flyer sitting on an American Airlines aircraft that chose the lowest fare by buying through a partner, my years and miles with American are worthless. American cannot touch the ticket if they didn’t ticket it, and British Airways won’t touch it because I don’t have status with them. I would not expect to use an American Airlines upgrade on a British Airlines aircraft, but I would expect to be able to use an American Airlines upgrade on an American Airlines operated flight regardless of how it was marketed to me.
Essentially, it’s a standoff—American Airlines tells me to call British Airways, and British Airways says ring or visit an American Airlines agent. In fact, I learned that the only way that an upgrade can occur is through a complimentary upgrade when a flight is oversold. So even though I have expiring upgrades with American Airlines that I am begging to use, their policy prohibits agents from allowing their best customers to use their status when the flight is marketed as a codeshare.
For the record, I love American Airlines. I’ve been flying them pretty much exclusively since I was a child on my grandfather’s Airpass. In fact, I have many fond memories streaking across the sky in those silver planes with red and blue stripes. I’ve been flying with American so long, I remember when they had 747s and MD-11s, and I flew on DC-10s and 727s with their sometimes-flaky tail-mounted engines. I am sure there are many people rooting against AA while they restructure, but as someone with over 2 million miles with the airline, I’m rooting for success. I’m rooting for a new executive team that takes competitive pay without ridiculous bonuses that hurt the pay of of pilots, mechanics, and agents.
American Airlines can’t forget their loyal customer base that is now having to justify staying a customer. I urge American Airlines to remember us so that we continue to fly the friendly marketed and operated skies while delivering revenue, growth, and seat sales for years to come.
- Training is an issue here as I had mixed answers from several agents, including two gate agents at the same gate that said different things. [↩]