American Airlines Attacks Brand
In the early 1980’s, with rising interest rates and a need to raise capital, someone in the American Airlines marketing department decided to launch a campaign raise a few million dollars quickly.
For $250,000, travelers could buy an unlimited first class ticket and for $150,000 more they could add a companion ticket. So, for just $400,000, you and a friend could fly anywhere, anytime for free for the rest of your life.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, The Frequent Fliers Who Flew Too Much, the airline decided the AAirpass tickets that they sold were actually being used…often.
In one 25-day span this year, Mike Joyce flew round trip to London 16 times, flights that would retail for more than $125,000. He didn’t pay a dime.
He was airborne almost every other day. If a friend mentioned a new exhibit at the Louvre, Steven Rothstein thought nothing of jetting from his Chicago home to San Francisco to pick her up and then fly to Paris together.
In July 2004, for example, Rothstein flew 18 times, visiting Nova Scotia, New York, Miami, London, Los Angeles, Maine, Denver and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., some of them several times over. The complexity of such itineraries would stump most travelers; happily for AAirpass holders, American provided elite agents able to solve the toughest booking puzzles.
But now, American has begun investigating the frequent fliers in an effort to disqualify them from the program and an attempt to revoke their AAirpass Lifetime Tickets. The airline has even gone so far as to interrogate companion fliers to force confessions that they paid Passholders for the ticket and investigating the member to try to find some kind of fraud.
A quick Google search shows that this is a hot topic and all articles point out the error of American Airlines’ ways. Rather than build emotional connections and embrace their biggest brand advocates, American is investigating them. Instead of building an ad campaign that will reignite the love of travel as seen through the eyes of passengers they have flown around the world, American is banning them from ever stepping foot on their planes again. American is worried about the cost of these passengers instead of focus on the millions of dollars in bad PR that this response is causing.
With social media, the story is spreading like wildfire and thousands of bloggers are weighing in with their comments and observations. This will only continue to hurt the brand. American needs to step in, quickly, and change the conversation.
Obviously, it would be best to not offer a program that you can’t afford. Why in the world would American assume that the people who bought the passes wouldn’t use them…and often?
“We thought originally it would be something that firms would buy for top employees,” said Bob Crandall, American’s chairman and chief executive from 85-98, according to the L.A. Times report. “It soon became apparent that the public was smarter than we were.”
If you do find your company in a situation where they need to end a program, then do it with integrity. Rather than investigate your biggest customers and cause them harm, find a solution that can work for both parties. Of course the best case scenario is to not sell something if you can’t afford to honor the deal.