ELITE

I have until Friday to cough up $14,000 – should I pay?

Olyy/Shutterstock
Olyy/Shutterstock
Given my backlog of cases, it’s unusual to cover something I just heard about a few hours ago. It’s even more unusual to redact the name of both the passenger and the airline.

But as you’ll see in a minute, this is a highly unusual problem with an imminent deadline. At stake? The highest-level elite status and several million frequent flier miles.

Oh, and the fate of our republic.

I’m kidding.
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Why don’t we end the silly rules that make flying a misery?

Anatoliy Lukich / Shutterstock.com
Anatoliy Lukich / Shutterstock.com
When it comes to air travel, there’s a growing rift between informed and uninformed passengers.

I see it every day. A reader contacts me asking for help with a refund on a nonrefundable airline ticket or to change the name on an unchangeable reservation or to get their expired airline miles unexpired. Common sense tells you it shouldn’t be a problem. But spend a little bit of time studying the rules, and you’d know it is.

Ah, rules. They’re dense, cryptic, wrapped in legalese. But they do not apply to all customers.

A small subset of air travelers has taken the time to obsessively study every restriction, paragraph and clause. They often spend hours figuring out a creative way around those silly roadblocks that are meant to extract more money from customers. They get “free” airline tickets, as they did last week. That doesn’t make these “hackers” better or more deserving of the preferred treatment they get — they’re just better-informed.
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3 tips for handling upgrade guilt

seat2Do you suffer from upgrade guilt when you fly in first class? You probably do — and if you don’t, you should.

The woman seated in the last row of first class on my previous flight did. As I boarded the aircraft, our eyes locked, and I smiled as I shuffled back to seat 25D.

She looked away. I could tell she felt sorry for me.
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Your New Year’s travel resolution? Don’t be a jerk

Mmaxer/Shutterstock
Mmaxer/Shutterstock
Here’s a New Year’s resolution we can probably all agree on: Don’t be a jerk when you’re on the road.

There’s something about travel — whether you’re flying, driving or sailing — that brings out the jerk in all of us. Like the guy in seat 26B just in front of me right now on a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, who is probably a nice guy on the ground. But put him on a plane, and shortly after takeoff, he jams his seat into my knees without so much as an apology.

Jerk.
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A few miles short of elite status on United Airlines — now what?

No one likes to start the New Year on the wrong foot, especially if it means you’ll be treated a little bit less special by your preferred airline. But that’s exactly what Matin Nazir is facing.

He didn’t qualify for Premier status with United Airlines for 2012, after five straight years of elite-ness.

Perhaps most frustrating, he’s only a few miles — and a few hours — from renewing his Mileage Plus status.
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Ridiculous or not? Airline rules were meant to be broken (by elites)

You don’t have to fly frequently to know the airline industry has some of the most ridiculous rules in the travel business. But if you fly enough, you may not have to follow all of them.

For example: Most passengers are herded through boarding areas in large, disorganized groups. Unless you’re an elite-level frequent flier; then you skip through a “breezeway” or over a red carpet, away from the long line, directly to your preferred seat. Frequent fliers also get to shortcut the lengthy security line at some airports, and they don’t have to pay many checked luggage fees and other surcharges.
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Your turn! The other side explains why we’re so wrong

I’m frequently accused of using this site as a bully pulpit, which is, of course, completely true.

I leverage this little corner of cyberspace to advocate for travelers who don’t have the clout of an elite-level frequent flier or the power of a corporate travel department to support them when they’re on the road.

Still, there’s something to be learned from listening to the other side — the folks responsible for inventing the fees and silly rules you have to put up with, the ones whose elite status affords them god-like treatment, the people who, let’s face it, don’t see the world the same way we do.
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Ridiculous or not? Airlines are charging their best customers extra to be nicer

An offer from American Airlines, which landed in Greg Nieberding’s “in” box last week, looked almost too good to be true.

The airline was offering “five star service” that included meeting him curbside, helping him check in, access to its first-class lounge and pre-boarding.

Just like the good old days.

But it was too good to be true. American wanted to charge Nieberding, a Dallas business owner and elite-level frequent flier, $125 for its VIP service.
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Do-good passenger slams elite seatmate in open letter

minneapolis airport“I’m sorry your Silver Elite status on Northwest Airlines didn’t qualify you for a first-class upgrade on your recent flight from New York to Minneapolis,” Kevin Winge quips. “All of us, your fellow passengers, shared in the incredulity you expressed so vocally to the gate agent when informed that you would be flying coach.”

Winge is the executive director of Open Arms of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that provides nutritious meals to people living with diseases, so he knows a thing or two about entitlement. And I think he’s succeeded in writing an open letter that could apply to every annoying airline passenger we’ve ever shared a plane with.
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Is United Airlines getting a customer service upgrade?

You’d think reports of superior customer service from an airline like United would be random — a one-off for a carrier that consistently gets inferior scores.

Maybe not.

We know that the folks at United who work with super-elite Global Services members were sent to the Disney Institute, which offers courses on ways to improve customer service. United-watchers know that Barbara Higgins, a former Disney employee who is now in charge of customer service at the airline, is behind many of these positive changes.

But in the last few months, I’ve seen evidence that these improvements have trickled down to the people on the front lines of customer service. All the way to people like Rachel Schachter, a camp counselor who wrote to United with the following concern.

My colleague traveled with your airline on 6/11 on the itinerary below, from SAN-SFO-PDX to work as a counselor at our summer camp near Astoria, OR. His connecting flight in SFO was delayed and he missed his connection to PDX by just two minutes. As a result, he was rerouted through Seattle, arrived several hours late and was unable to take the shuttle that we had reserved for all the staff to come from PDX to our camp. He had to spend the night in Portland and fly to Astoria the next morning.

Our camp is a not-for-profit organization for children, and in light of the current economic situation we have very little extra funds, and we had not planned to pay an extra $75 for Mr. Max to fly to Astoria on Seaport Air. Because his inability to arrive at PDX on time was the fault of United, we would be extremely grateful if you would refund the $75 for Mr. Max’s flight to Astoria, OR.

Now, to be clear, there’s nothing in United’s contract of carriage that says it has to offer a refund in a situation like this. And Mr. Max was not a Global Services member, nor was he what would be considered a “premium” passenger.

But two days later, she received the following response:

I am sorry to hear [Mr. Max] was delayed from San Diego to San Francisco in which he then had to overnight due to missing his connection to Portland. We realize the importance of getting our guests to their destinations safely and on time, we are very sorry to have let you down on this occasion.

A check in the amount of $75 will be issued under separate cover, directly in your name which you can transfer to Camp Young. When we issue a check, an individual name must be listed on the check instead of an organization or business.

Also, for the inconvenience Mr. Max incurred in having to overnight in San Francisco, we are enclosing an electronic travel certificate as goodwill that can be used towards a future flight on United or United Express.

As a valued guest with United, we appreciate your business and hope you will give us another opportunity to serve you under more pleasant circumstances.

Great job, United.

To be completely fair, Schachter sent her first email to Higgins, not to the main United customer service address. (I advise people with a legitimate grievance to start at the front door and only escalate the complaint if they’re ignored.) But something tells me, based on the many recent reports I’ve received from happy customers, that she might have had the same response if she went through normal channels.

I hope this trend continues.


How tAAcky! American Airlines adds elite lines while economy implodes

Like most other travel bloggers, I normally ignore any press releases sent to me on Monday night or Tuesday morning, because they’re what I like to call “paper fodder” — failed pitches to the marquee business travel columns in one of the dying national newspapers. But for this one, I’ll make an exception.

Here’s what crossed the wire a few moments ago.

AMERICAN AIRLINES TO INTRODUCE PRIORITYAACCESS PRIVILEGES FOR ITS TOP CUSTOMERS

Privileges Ease Check In, Security, and Boarding for AAdvantage Elite Status Members, First and Business Class Travelers, AAirpass Customers, and Passengers Traveling on Full-Fare Economy Class Tickets

FORT WORTH, Texas – American Airlines will soon introduce to its top customers PriorityAAccessSM privileges, which are an array of enhancements designed to make the airport process and overall travel experience more convenient.

American’s AAdvantage® elite status members, First and Business Class travelers , AAirpass customers, and passengers traveling on full-fare Economy Class tickets will receive more control and be offered an easier journey when they travel with dedicated PriorityAAccess check-in, security screening lanes (where available), and exclusive boarding lanes at the gate.

“American Airlines greatly appreciates the loyalty of our customers, and we have been working hard to deliver the product features and recognition we know they value and deserve,” said Mark Mitchell, American’s Managing Director – Customer Experience. “PriorityAAccess benefits provide a differentiated experience for our top customers at the ticket counter, at security checkpoints, and at the gate.”

American will introduce PriorityAAccess privileges on Sept. 30 and expects to complete the rollout by the end of October.

Following is a summary of American’s PriorityAAccess benefits. These benefits will be available to First and Business Class customers; AAdvantage Executive Platinum®, AAdvantage Platinum®, and AAdvantage Gold® members; AAirpass® customers; oneworld® Alliance Emerald, Sapphire and Ruby members; and customers traveling on full-fare Economy Class tickets, which are booked in American’s “Y” ticket category.

PriorityAAccess Check-In

PriorityAAccess customers will enjoy their own dedicated check-in area at the ticket counter with distinctive signage clearly identifying PriorityAAccess lines. In addition, “PriorityAAccess” will be printed on boarding passes, designating travelers as American’s top customers. American will offer PriorityAAccess check-in areas at all of the airports it serves worldwide.

PriorityAAccess Security Screening

Where permitted by airport policy and government security regulations, American will offer exclusive PriorityAAccess security screening lanes. Like the dedicated check-in lines, PriorityAAccess screening lanes will be clearly marked with special signage. Currently, American plans to offer PriorityAAccess screening lanes in its 10 largest airports, as well as in other airports where permitted by the TSA.

The airports that will have exclusive PriorityAAccess security screen lanes are: Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Miami (MIA), Los Angeles (LAX), New York JFK (JFK), New York La Guardia (LGA), St. Louis (STL), San Francisco (SFO), Boston (BOS) and San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU).

PriorityAAccess Boarding Lanes

To further enhance convenience for its top customers, American will offer dual boarding lanes at its gates – one for PriorityAAccess customers and one for general boarding. Customers with PriorityAccess privileges will be invited to board first or board at any time through their exclusive PriorityAAccess lane, which allows them to bypass lines after general boarding has begun.

“PriorityAAccess is aptly named on several levels since it highlights American’s priority to expedite and smooth our customers’ journeys,” Mitchell said.

I have just one thing to say: How tacky!

At a time when the economy is on the verge of a collapse, this is the last thing American should be doing. A more fitting move, if you ask me, is to give the least fortunate passengers — the ones who can barely scrape enough money together for an airline ticket — some relief.

American could start by lifting the fee for the first checked bag.