A Brief Conversation With Suzanne Rubin Makes Me Reconsider My Position On American’s Recent Changes

It’s no secret that recent American Airlines changes weren’t well received by the frequent travel community.  Some folks in the blogsphere and elsewhere were upset about American’s lack of notice while others were just plain upset they made the changes.

I was on record as being critical of their e-mail communication to their members and also that I think there are more painful changes coming.

I was lucky enough to run into Suzanne Rubin at a conference this week and talk with her for a few minutes.  Suzanne approached me and she was the one to bring up the recent changes and how they were handled.

Suzanne was open with me that she didn’t expect the reaction that AAdvantage received for the changes, but was very open about owning that feedback from the membership.  I’ve known Suzanne since not long before she took over the AAdvantage program from Maya Leibman and always known her to be a straight shooter.

But this was a refreshing reminder of why I still respect the folks who run AAdvantage.  I can tell that Suzanne internalizes the reaction from the community and wants to maintain a strong relationship with her members.  I know also that she and the rest of the management team at American Airlines will continue to make decisions that they feel are best for their business.

Sometimes those will be to the benefit of their customers; other times they will be the right financial decision for the company but may hurt their relationship with that some group of folks.  We discussed the recent improvements in visibility of systemwide upgrades and some of the decisions they had to make internally to deliver those improvements to their customers.

I left our conversation feeling that Suzanne is ideally equipped to handle what comes ahead and that we’re likely to get more heightened communication on changes going forward.

Some will say that my bias to American Airlines is clouding my judgment, but I think Suzanne’s track record on communication stands on it’s own. I’m still cautious about the leadership in other areas of American, due mostly to the thought patterns exhibited by Doug and Scott Kirby during their days at US Airways.

In short, the AAdvantage folks are still there, still listening, and still improving.

  1. dhammer53
    Reply

    No they’re not. There’s not one trusted blogger that can convince me the AA/US is looking out for their (best) customers. UA fliers learned that in March of 2012. I for one don’t feel bad that Suzanne is internalizing her feeling and emotions.

    When UA made the changes, I walked. I flew 4 segments in 2013. I’m a Million Miler that was a PremEx (50K) flyer for the previous 10 years.

    I hope AA loyalist show their disapproval with their feet. AA show also take note of how UA is now at the bottom of the list profitability wise. Et tu AA? Based on the actions of AA management, I’m predicting they’re going to keep their ORD friends company in the future.

    • pizzainmotion
      Reply

      Hey, Dan. Sorry for not answering sooner. I was preoccupied with the aggressive Awards last night. FWIW, I’m not trying to convince anyone. I was pretty skeptical based on how things went down. And, I wasn’t planning to bring it up with Suzanne. I found her open and frank when we spoke and that was consistent with many other conversations I’ve had with her.

      Also, to be clear, I’m only referring to the way I think Suzanne and her tram will communicate changes in the future. I do think there’s more changes we won’t like coming and those are part in parcel of the thinking I see from UA, DL and Doug/Scott’s track record. AA still represents the best value for me, but I understand your thoughts and the reason you’ve chosen the direction you went.

  2. srdshelly
    Reply

    I need more explanation. How is it conceivable that she didn’t expect the reaction? How can she be telling the truth about that? My position about American and US Airways is that, until I have some reason to learn otherwise, I will operate on the basis they will go with the worst aspects of each existing program and will make devaluations without notice. The AAdvantage mile is worth much less today than it was a few weeks ago.

    • pizzainmotion
      Reply

      srdshelly, two separate issues here. First, the communication. I believe Suzanne when she says she thought they were providing ample notice on AAnytime awards. I don’t agree with how they handled it. I also don’t agree with no notice on explorer award changes. I think that because AAdvantage hadn’t made changes like this for a while and didn’t focus group or look at how their competitors rolled out similar devaluations, they thought they were doing the right thing.

      Now, the future of the program. I, too, think more bad changes are coming. American is still more rewarding in some areas than it’s competitors and Doug and Scott will be driving cost savings everywhere they can. For now, though, American is still the best choice for me. DL really isn’t an option from a network standpoint. UA is just a hot mess. I fly them out of utility, not loyalty. We’ll have to wait and see but I suspect AA will still be the best choice for me (and many others) for quite a while. We might not be happy with the new program but it still may be best in breed.

  3. ZO
    Reply

    “Suzanne’s track record on communication stands on it’s own…” Yes, yes it does. Just not in the positive way that you intended that statement to reflect. Undergoing such major shifts in the program without any notice whatsoever more than negates any minor communication she may have done in the past about piffling changes. Bloggers need to understand that access can be gotten through respect, and not just sycophancy.

    • pizzainmotion
      Reply

      ZO, I respect your negative opinion of their recent decisions. But if I were to throw out all respect for a program every time they made negative changes I’d have run out of airlines a long time ago.

  4. Richard
    Reply

    Genuinely curious — what do you mean by “Suzanne’s track record on communication stands on it’s own”? As near as I can tell, she hasn’t had much to communicate during the merger period up until now (understandable), and now that she finally has changes that need to be communicated, those communications have been handled rather poorly (to put it charitably).

    • pizzainmotion
      Reply

      Richard, we’re in agreement that they handled this poorly. But, Suzanne has been in charge of AAdvantage for 2.5 years. There have been changes in the past I haven’t liked, but by and large I’ve respected how those changes have been handled. The counter argument is that these most recent changes are likely the most significant (certainly for our crew) and they were handled poorly. I understand the outrage, I’m just not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water.

  5. Chris
    Reply

    @dhammer53: Who are we to flee to from AA? DL isn’t a much better alternative.

    • pizzainmotion
      Reply

      Chris, that’s really the baseline issue right now. Is UA or DL really a better fit right now?

  6. Enane73
    Reply

    I have to agree with the other comments. There is NO WAY they didn’t know the changes were not going to be well received they way they were implemented. 0 chance. Other programs devalued their miles with short or no notice and everyone was fuming. I’m sure they follow the blogs, FT, etc. If she didn’t expect that reaction she should quit. Period.
    Just a little extra tidbit that probably not a lot of people experienced: they cancelled all the awards that had a “free one-way” the night they made the changed without notice. I had a trip from South America with a stop over in New York and a CX flight to Vancouver later in the year on hold (with 4 days to ticket) and the reservation was canceled. Called the Exec Plat line and nobody could tell me what happened. It just canceled by itself……rrrrrrright….
    Anyhow, I still like AA and value their miles but I have a REALLY sour taste in my mouth…..

    • pizzainmotion
      Reply

      Enane73, did they reinstate the award for you?

      • Enane73
        Reply

        Nope. They said there was no space anymore so nothing they could do (GRU-JFK in TAM F). Since I was in Kuala Lumpur at the time (on a Explorer Award….hehe) and wanted to explore the city rather than fighting with AA, I let it go. I didn’t want to waste my time.

  7. Lakeguy
    Reply

    Not only did she know but she willingly obfuscated the actual information. To send an insulting email that delivered supposedly good news while not even mentioning the negative changes is FLAT OUT lying. Thing is, Suzanne actually is a good egg. It’s Parker and Kirby that need to be hung out to dry – she was just following orders.

    • pizzainmotion
      Reply

      Lakeguy, the e-mail communication was just plain bad. No doubt. The thing is, I think if it were me, I probably wouldn’t even broadcast something like the elimination of explorer awards because I’ve got to imagine their usage is fairly low. I’d announce it on our website, for example. But highly doubt I’d send 60 million e-mails out.

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