If you are a regular reader of a few of the major travel/points blogs, it would be understandable if you thought two things: (1) every two or three days, there is an AMAZING credit card deal you would be a fool not to sign up for, and (2) American Airlines is the most amazing air carrier in the world, all of its planes have brand new lie-flat state of the art seats, and that its elites are treated like royalty. Neither of these things are true.
As I’ve said before, I generally avoid American Airlines. I’ve had bad experiences flying it, I find its loyalty program useless for all but its highest tiered passengers, and I think its moves to announce a “New American” while in bankruptcy and merger discussions border on breach of fiduciary duty ,and are more about Tom Horton wanting to get as much in as possible before he is shown the door/golden parachute. Of late, I’d been amused by American’s delusional self-promotion as to the “New American.” But I’ve particularly grown frustrated with certain bloggers who have become extensions of American’s very good PR machine, and in my mind lost any shred of credibility that they might have.
First, I’ll acknowledge that every blog is different, and thus, what a reader should expect will be different from every blog. My blog, for example, is primarily a personal blog. I don’t write it to make money. It is mostly for my friends, family, and people I’ve met throughout the world traveling—and for myself. Other blogs are targeted at much broader audiences though – businesses aiming to make money off the “advice” they give to others about flying. For your advice to be worth anything, though, it should reflect what the average reader can reasonably expect. There is an inherent tension here for certain bloggers, though, as they never fly coach, only fly airlines and stay in hotels in which they have top-tier status, and have access to perks and customer service that you and I do not. When they do a trip report, it isn’t a trip report you can model your behavior on. (And I also would love to see their tax returns, as I don’t think putting pictures up of your flight for a weekend drinking and clubbing makes the trip a “business expense.”)
Want to know about American’s new business class on its 777-300ERs? It will be easy to find on google, because American gave free flights to dozens of bloggers to blog about their experiences. Several of them accepted the flight, and some of them didn’t but used points or cash to fly them anyway. I argue, though, that it is irrelevant whether you accepted it or not. The fact that an airline is offering you a free flight, or special treatment, itself will have a subconscious (or conscious) impact on your impression of the airline. And even if you pay for your flight yourself after its been offered to you for free, you can be sure that someone from corporate knows what flight you are on and is looking out for you, especially since some of the flights seem to have been packed with bloggers. For a slightly different perspective on this, check out Gary’s post here. I would say, though, that the New York Times would never publish a “review” of a product where the journalist had been tweeting with the company’s PR department for his entire flight. There are some bloggers who I just don’t read anymore, since I can’t tell what is objective, and what is an attempt to ingratiate more with airlines or to drum up credit card business. (Don’t get me started on summaries of destinations which are simply one paragraph blurbs about hotels and sights that the author has not visited or stayed at.)
The reviews of the 777-300 business class have struck me as particularly ridiculous, for two reasons. One, American Airlines currently has six of these planes in service. So for the lion’s share of passengers, the plane is a non-issue. Instead, you will be stuck on American’s subpar old janky products. Two, you would think no other airline flies comparable business class products from the US to Europe. But not only do they, but they’ve been doing so for years.
For comparison, here’s the AA holy grail:
Here’s the Alitalia seat I flew in in June 2012, using Delta Skymiles, from New York to Rome:
Here’s the Delta seat I flew in in June 2011 from Boston to London:
And there are others as well, including US Airways Envoy Class seats.
Now, is AA’s seat better than these? Maybe. But is it some mindblowing innovation? No. Is it enough to make anyone switch airline loyalty, or worth kvelling over like they have reinvented business class? Give me a break.
The other problem with bloggers’ AA coverage, and the idiotic awards American recently received for its frequent flyer program (which is based on a voting system as scientific as the Oscars), is that they confuse an airline’s treatment of its top-tier elites with its frequent flyer program as a whole. A friend of mine who recently switched loyalty programs from Delta to American explained that American is great for its top-tier elites, but subpar for others. For example, American does not provide unlimited complimentary upgrades for any elites other than Executive Platinum (its top published tier), unlike all of the other legacies. For all others, upgrades must be earned — beyond earning your elite status – in the form of 500-mile stickers. For every 10,000 miles you fly as an elite, you get 4 500-mile stickers – each good for upgrading 500 miles of flight. As a matter of comparison, I just flew as a Delta Gold Medallion from New York to Anchorage via Salt Lake City, with complimentary upgrades the entire way. On American, this would have required me to use 9 stickers – representing 20,000 miles flown after I qualified as an elite. Folks also love the 8 systemwide upgrades given to Executive Platinum members- again, something that lower tier elites do not have access to. So when an Executive Platinum blogs about his experience on American, it is relevant only to other Executive Platinums.
Generally, you should judge a company based on how it treats its average customers, not its top-tier customers. And if you are going to evaluate frequent customer programs, it really is silly to focus on the top-tier for airlines. Top-tier status is very hard to attain unless you (1) don’t have a real job yet have excess income and no real family/personal responsibility; (2) travel a ton for work; (3) manipulate airline program rules/fares; (4) claim your job is flying in first class and write it off as a business expense; or (5) some combination of the above.
So I actually did fly American recently, on a work-related trip as to which I had no control over the booking, from JFK to LAX. I have done American’s transcons before, and they suck. I have flown in coach from New York to California on American, Delta, Continental, United, and Virgin America – every carrier that flies the route but JetBlue – and American is the worst.
The flight out was a disaster from the get-go. First, at booking, there were only middle seats left except “preferred” seats on my outbound leg. American’s helpful twitter crew did put me in one of the preferred seats in a window for free. Great. Except when I got on the plane, it was mindboggling that American had the nerve to charge extra for these seats. On American’s janky old Boeing 767s, these seats are next to the bathroom and the business class galley. Which means you have the joy of the business class meal carts being next to you, in the aisle, while you get nothing to eat. My mother taught me that that’s just rude. And of course, since the Flight Attendants were going back and forth with goodies for business class, one ended up dumping a tray of champagne on a coach passenger – in a “preferred” seat, who thus paid for the privilege. When he asked the Flight Attendant if American would pay for dry cleaning, he said, “well, you can just go online and ask. I don’t have time to find the forms right now.” And went back to serving business class.
Otherwise, the plane is old and dated, with drop down screens reminiscent of flying in the 1980s. Now, as certain bloggers may have told you, American is putting new planes on this route …. sometime in a few years. It also will have a new management team in place before then, so, that’s something to rely on.
I had the chance to check out American’s Admirals Club at LAX on my way back. American has finally caught up with its competitors and now does offer limited free (well and soft) drinks in their clubs, as well as wifi, but it still mostly feels like going into a different airline terminal, with just as much for sale as any other part of the terminal. The space is nice and airy, though. The extent of the free food offerings made the Delta Skyclub biscoff cookies and trail mix look luxurious:
I am pretty sure I had these in nursery school.
The return flight was on the same plane, but I moved away from the “preferred” seat to a normal one. The Flight Attendants were a bit more professional, though still didn’t regulate the chaotic musical chairs that went on throughout boarding.
My dislike for AA is complicated by the fact that I may be making a change soon that would push me towards flying US Airways a whole lot more, and thus adjusting my loyalty preferences to the “New American.” But we’ll see .
Bottom line, if a blogger has consistently amazing experiences on one airline, and seems to be “reviewing” them constantly from a first or business class seat, don’t trust a word they say. For me, I will continue to fly what I can and review what I can, and share my thoughts and experiences without making money off of it or kissing company’s butts. That way, my experiences may actually be closer to what you, dear reader, would actually experience.