Are too many elite customers ever a “problem” for an airline? Are customers ever wrong?

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heather poole says customers are the problem

An American Airlines flight attendant, who I have now chosen to block on twitter, tweeted the above. Really? Gosh this sounds so familiar to me. In fact, it sounds very much like a tweet you will find HERE in my fellow blogger Gary’s post in A View From the Wing blog:

UATweet

Too many customers. Too many elites. Too many flyers who are paying for tickets and expecting too darn much from an airline. Yes, I can see this is a major problem!

Just think how much less of a problem an airline would have if they did not have pesky customers, including elites, expecting things. Boy, that would make for a smooth running airline would it not?

delta air lines says when everyones an elite flyer no one is reg new 2016 medallion program

Even Delta Air Lines had their own marketing blunder a few years back. And yes, Delta has tons of elites at every medallion level but they appreciate all of them (well, they sorta appreciate Silver Medallions, just not as much as the rest of the group). Also, they have made changes so ONLY those who spend the most are able to reach top elite status.

the customer is always right

From WikiPedia

The point is that in any business the customer should never be viewed, under any set of circumstances, as a problem. The age old adage that the “customer is always right” really is true even when it comes to airlines. Delta takes this very seriously and especially so for those who are HVC or high value customers, that is, their elites. And rightly so since elites are a large part of all the income an airline earns.

Delta has a secret elite level above Diamond Medallion elites (their top published elite level). Delta calls this group of chosen members Delta360 elites and these are the ones who spend a ton of money each year with Delta (or the year before). While you cannot read a list of all the perks these elites get, since they are not published, we have an idea what they get. Things like always getting an upgrade on any fare class is common I am told by those who are or have been members (this includes traveling companions). A private phone line to call and every time you travel your flights are monitored by an individual representative from Delta. Are you running late and have a tight connection? You can expect a Delta Porsche waiting to whisk you to your next flight and the door will not close until you get there. Nice.

Now can any traveler ever NOT be worth it? Sure there are those who cause serious disruptions, but that is not your normal customer. Any normal person is a worthwhile customer. Even if they are on an E class BASIC ticket they are still of value to Delta. So much so that they are expanding these cheap offerings of ultra low cost fares (but limiting elite perks if you happen to be an elite who buys one). So Delta feels your “worth” is less to them if you are buying cheap and yet they still want to sell you a ticket and have you fly the airline.

Due to this I personally will never buy one of these BASIC fares but elites like me, at any level, who practice this type of buying behavior drive more profit to the airline. We value being an elite and value the special service we get for these financial choices. And guess what, Delta values us back.

Others can work around a few of these E class restrictions. If they happen to have the Delta AMEX Gold, Platinum or Reserve credit card they can retain many of the perks others do not have on these ultra low fares. Thus, Delta values your relationship highly with their partner AMEX and rewards you for this type of behavior. Very smart.

The bottom line is any airline, or an airline employee for that matter, feels that a customer has become or is “the” problem it is not thinking right. Viewing an elite who has perhaps spent thousands of dollars and supported an airline by always buying every ticket with that airline as a “problem” is bad for business. Not appreciating a customer who also supports airline partners like in Delta’s case American Express or the many other auto and hotel partners is also a real problem. All these also drive profits to the airline.

I guess it is time for you to tell me. Vote in my poll below and we shall see if I am in left field here as well as Delta.

Are elite airline customers a problem? Are there too many?

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18 comments

  1. As a business owner myself, I totally sympathize on the too many elites front. Nothing distresses me more than having too many good customers handing me money. The horror!

  2. I think part of the problem is that there is no difference between an elite who earns the status the old-fashioned, hard way (i.e., butt in seat) vs. those who get it from credit card spend w/little actual travel w/the airline. I know the airline still gets a piece of the credit card spend, but in my opinion anyway, that’s not the same as someone who actually flies 100K miles sitting in an AA/DL/UA seat. Plus, at least w/AA, I do believe there is a feeling that the elites actually cost them money since we don’t pay for preferred seats, don’t pay to check bags, don’t pay ticketing fees, etc-in their minds, we cost them more than they feel we are worth. Especially Doug Parker & the ‘new’ AA (i.e., old US).

  3. In fairness, as I understand her point, the issue is whether you delay a departure for one elite running late, at the expense of the hundreds of customers, including elites, who managed to get to the airport on time.

  4. I’m sorry, but there is such a thing as a “problem” customer. Granted I am talking from within a different industry, but sometimes there are customers that are overall unprofitable. They expect the best pricing, pay slow or expect special terms, always find something wrong with orders, always need to be the first delivery of the day, etc. mistreat your employees, etc. Some customers just drain so ,much from you to the point it can hurt the ability to service others,

    They may not want to be public about it, but many good businesses periodically find the need to “fire” customers. Haven’t you never had a customer/client that you decided just wasn’t worth it?

  5. Actually there are too many elites.

    I spend plenty of time on FT, and in the air. When a flight from DEN-MSP with 160 seats has 45 people on the UG list, what does being elite even mean?

    More to the point: I was an FO for a couple years and at first I felt valued, but pretty quickly, DL started devaluing their program quite aggressively. The response from us as consumers shouldn’t be to increase our flying to strive for higher status so as to win back some of what was removed. As it happens, I flew enough to make GM, and that had some nice percs, which of course are eroding now. Because there are too many elites and DL can’t offer those bennies and meet margin goals.

    I’ve seen your online anger over these devaluations, Rene. That is a rational response. But rewarding Delta with more money really isn’t. The way to send DL (and the others) a message is to shop for the best service and product on each flight, and skip out on the elite chase.

    That is the customer-driven way that we can deal with the too many elites problem.

  6. @TXRUS – It seems you missed a huge part of the post. For Delta, they REALLY appreciated the MEGA money they get from AMEX. They even at year end flat out sell elite points at insane price. They are happy to get money from elites be it in the seat or direct or via CC spend. Elevating BIS points is pointless in this modern world.

  7. I am an upper tier elite on another airline and fly all of the world. I do expect that I should be valued and treated differently than your average “elite” customer (especially those who just use an airline credit card). However, I draw the line at holding a plane for even one passenger. You don’t inconvenience an entire plane for one person, even if that person is the most elite passenger on that flight. As a frequent flyer, I understand how things work and plan accordingly. I know too many elite flyers who think that they shouldn’t have to get to the airport in a timely manner nor do they think they need to book long layovers. Well, if that’s a risk you are willing to take, then you have to live with the consequences. Have I been inconvenienced by a missed connection because my flight was late (even when I allowed 2 hours)? Yes. Does it irritate me? Yes. But I don’t throw a temper tantrum. It’s part of being a business traveler. Too many people think the world revolves around them and you have to draw the line somewhere.

    And no, the old adage the customer is always right is not true. Never has been, never will be. The bigger problem is with all the mergers and credit card incentives, virtually everyone is considered an “elite” passenger anymore which makes it much harder for those who actually travel.

  8. So if I PAY for a first or business class seat ( I’m not elite status with any airline) & an “elite” shows up and wants my first or business class seat because they feel they are “entitled” to it because of their “status” with the airline – nope it doesn’t work that way.

    I’m spending MY money for my trip & you’re traveling on the company dime – sorry Charlie…

    You’ll have to go back to coach!

  9. @JH – Uh, well if an airline oversells a 1st class seat, ie you pay for it but an elite has already upgraded to it, they don’t downgrade the elite. The offer a bump voucher or the accommodate the paying 1st class passenger on the next flight. If that is what you are talking about? A bit confused.

  10. 1KTraveler-I think, though, there needs to be a distinction between the traveler who didn’t plan accordingly vs. those who are stuck in the tarmac penalty box because the airline (AA) didn’t plan accordingly (i.e., Doug Parker’s rebanking of the hubs) & can’t get the plane to a gate in a timely manner.

  11. @txrus – Oh clearly for all airlines. I know how it works for DL but maybe it is the same for AA that a gate agent can see if a passenger is on a connecting flight and if holding that flight for 5 minutes so they can make it vs not to me is a no brainier. Again, for DL, they pad schedules so much that 5 minutes will not make a single flight late. Likely they will still land early.

  12. No that’s not what I’m talking about –

    They (the airline) should NOT upgrade the “elite” passenger because the ” elite”thinks they are “entitled” to a first class seat because of their “status.”

    If I am already checked in, on the plane, seated in F, and ticketed in F – and there are no more seats available in F cabin

    – you (the “elite”) tried for the upgrade, but this time the F cabin is full.

    I shouldn’t be “bumped & inconvenienced” because some “elite” feels they need to be in my seat.

    The airline should say “Mr. Passenger, I’m sorry we can’t upgrade you to first class on this flight because that cabin is full & the “elite” should understand as most do (these days).

  13. @JH – If there are no seats they can not upgrade anyone. Again confused but the only way anyone can upgrade is if a seat is open in 1st class OR if someone no shows OR if someone miss-connects etc etc. Either way, there has to be a seat. Clearly.

  14. Didn’t vote. There are two questions, yet only able to answer both with a single yes/no. A properly formatted poll would have 1 question to be answered for each poll entry.

  15. Yes, there are too many ‘elites’ — namely silver and gold. Just about anyone can get those purported elite statuses. The problem is, at least with a few exceptions, you almost never get any of the promised benefit. I’ve been number 15 out of 45 on an upgrade list as a diamond and platinum. Silver and gold won’t get much, if anything. Combined with the zone 1 folks, many of whom think they’re Sky Priority or Delta one premium when it comes to boarding then, yes, there are too many “elites.”

    Delta needs to readjust its levels to 35,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 150,000. And give an additional upgrade certificate for every 25,000 miles over platinum and diamond statuses. Also, allow platinums and diamonds to upgrade on intra-Asia flights out of NRT with domestic first-class/business-class configurations (Guam, Manila, Saipan, etc.)

  16. they are a problem for each other ..the other day there were 172 people on the first class and delta so called comfort class sfo-atl!!!!! nuts never any upgrade chance even withDM/Delta amex Plat etc!!

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