I am once again a frequent customer of the friendly skies. In 2008, I flew about 60,000 miles. With the exception of one flight, they were all on American Airlines. In 2009, the company I was working for basically imploded, and we quickly pretended to be “fiscally responsible” and cut travel. I made 2 trips in all of 2009. There were many side effects of these events, not the least of which was me finding new employment. Today’s topic focuses on one of those side effects: loyalty — how we get it, keep it, and fight for it.
My first plane ride was at the age of 21. I didn’t fly as a child; my family took vacations by car. My parents didn’t travel for business, and all of our family lived in about a 3-hour radius. There was no need for flying. My first flight was to New Orleans on Southwest Airlines. On that trip, I proposed to my wife. It was an eventful trip, and it sparked our love of travel. We followed our New Orleans flight with a few more. We flew budget airlines, and most of them aren’t around anymore. I remember on one trip to New York, our plane had some kind of issue. We were called to the gate, and given seats on an American Airlines flight. It was like riding on the Concord.
As luck would have it, years later my wife and I would both worked in the travel industry. I had hotel discounts, and she had the coup de grace: flight benefits on American. We wore those benefits out, traveling as much as we could possibly get away. It was fantastic, jetting around the country (mostly in first-class), and I never grew tired of the adventure. Eventually, the benefits went away, and we both left our travel jobs. When it was time for me to become a serious, paying business traveler, there was never a question of who would be the benefactor of my loyalty.
Airlines are a tricky subject with people. Everybody has a different opinion, and usually a passionate one. There is really no right or wrong, just a level of comfort. Here’s what I don’t like about other airlines:
- Delta – The planes seem old, I hate the way they board, and the seats are always uncomfortable.
- Southwest – My least favorite carrier. The people are too happy; it makes me nervous. I HATE the boarding process, and professionals working in shorts is just wrong. The airports they fly to are always crummy and inconvenient for me.
- United – They seem okay, but don’t fly a lot to my home base. I do like the channel that lets you listen to the air traffic. United usually means Chicago, my least favorite city in the world.
- Virgin or Jet Blue – No Dallas base. I pretend they have cooties, and I choose not to fly them.
American seems like home to me. I like the seat material, and the color scheme on the planes. The people are always professional. I like the fact that so many of these people are my neighbors. But more than anything else, I like my STATUS. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to make Gold a couple of years ago. It’s actually pretty sad that it made me so happy, but it did and still does. In 2008, I made Platinum, and that was pretty amazing. There are some good benefits that come with status. Checked bag fees are waived, and you get nice bonus miles for flying. There are many others, but there’s really just one that I care about. Elite members get to board first. This seems trivial to some people, but to me this benefit means everything. When you travel a lot, it’s the little things that make or break your trip. I know that when I sit down, my luggage will be right above me. I won’t have to worry about finding space on the plane,or waiting until everyone deplanes before I can get my bag. I’m a simple guy. What can I say?
When I started flying again this year, you can imagine the disappointment I felt as I looked at my AA Platinum card with its February expiration. Knowing that I was about to be in the thick of group 5 was not a great feeling. This past weekend, I received some correspondence from American. I opened the envelope expecting my statement or something from their Marketing department. You can imagine my excitement when I saw a shiny new Gold card, good through 2010. I didn’t earn it, but they knew I had been loyal to them in the past. It was American’s turn to be loyal to me, and they have cemented a customer for life.
This event has me thinking about why I choose certain brands. I only wear Nike shoes. I drink Coke and not Pepsi. We only eat a certain brand of bread. I like certain brands of clothing. On the flip side, I have never had any loyalty to an automobile manufacturer. It’s an interesting question. I think the answer lies in one simple act or circumstance that results in you becoming a lifelong customer. How many companies are willing to present the situation that forces a decision from consumers?