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High Flyer Interview: Bridget Blaise-Shamai, Managing Director, Customer Insights and Loyalty, American Airlines

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High Flyer Interview: Bridget Blaise-Shamai, Managing Director, Customer Insights and Loyalty, American Airlines

High Flyer Interview: Bridget Blaise-Shamai, Managing Director, Customer Insights and Loyalty, American Airlines
June 20
12:00 2016

DALLAS / FT. WORTH — As American Airlines Managing Director of Customer Insights and Loyalty, Bridget oversees the customer relationship management and analytics, digital marketing and contract negotiations of American Airlines’ (AA) AAdvantage Frequent Flyer Program.

Before moving into this role in February 2012, Bridget was Managing Director, Distribution and Merchandising Strategies based at American Airlines Headquarters in Dallas / Ft. Worth, where she led a team responsible for commercial and technology relationships with travel agencies and other indirect distributors of American Airlines’ fare products.

In the light of the recent announcements regarding the AAdvantage Frequent Flyer Program, announced earlier this month, Bridget shares with Airways the rationale behind these controversial changes made to the program.

Airways: Different from before, AA chose to incorporate mileage and revenue spend with a base-spend amount for each reward level, how did the brand come to this decision?

Bridget Blaise-Shamai: We’ve had more than a year to monitor the competitive landscape, and we’ve seen some areas we know work well to reward customers. In the past, the airlines in general modeled their loyalty programs around the length of a flight. As business models have changed, it no longer makes sense to focus solely on length of haul.  In order to better reward customers who spend more on their tickets and to maintain exclusivity of the benefits we offer to our best customers, it made sense to add a spend-based component to our elite status qualification levels.

What improvements will current AAdvantage members see with the changes?

For Executive Platinum members, we are increasing the elite bonus they receive on eligible flights to 120% (up from 100%) and are adding a new benefit that allows them to use their complimentary 500-mile upgrade benefits on award tickets. Platinum members now have a new tier to strive for, Platinum Pro, that offers complimentary domestic upgrades, and for Gold members, we are increasing the elite bonus they receive on eligible flights to 40% (up from 25%).

Is AA concerned about the growing backlash and response from loyal customers and that other airlines are now preparing match programs?

While we recognize not everyone will view these changes in a positive light, the updates to our loyalty program allow us to give greater recognition and rewards to those customers who spend more on their tickets and ensure that we offer a competitive value proposition for our customers.

Does AA expect to link EQD to branded credit cards?

We are discussing options with our partners but have nothing to share at this time.

Can you provide insight on ConciergeKey and how it will evolve with these changes?

ConciergeKey will continue to be an invitation-only membership with no published qualification requirements. Since ConciergeKey members also hold Executive Platinum status, they too will benefit from the higher elite bonus at 120% and the ability to upgrade on award tickets.

Will AA offer a cash co-copay for re-qualification for status as it has done in the past?

We plan to continue to offer the option to select members to renew their current elite status level or to buy up to a higher elite level for a fee.

Are other oneworld fellow members going to follow this revenue based loyalty program model?

Our team has no insight into what changes other oneworld carriers may be considering as the landscape of loyalty evolves.


About Author

Chris Sloan

Chris Sloan

Aviation Journalist, TV Producer, Pursuer of First & Last Flights, Proud Miamian, Intrepid Traveler, and Did I Mention Av-Geek? I've Been Sniffing Jet Fuel Since I was 5, and running the predecessor to, Airchive, Since 2003. Now, I Sit in the Right Seat as Co-Pilot of Airways Magazine and My favorite Airlines are National and Braniff, and My favorite Airport is Miami, L-1011 Tristar Lover. My Mantra is Lifted From Delta's Ad Campaign from the 1980s "I Love To Fly And It Shows." / @airchive

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  1. Charles Needham
    Charles Needham September 26, 11:19

    Upon reaching the 2 million mile level on American Airlines, I received a personal letter signed by Bridget Blaise-Shamai. It read, in part “We’ve deposited 4 one-way systemwide upgrades into your account ….. allowing you to confirm an upgrade when you make your booking (if it’s available)”. We booked two roundtrip flights from Albuquerque to Tenerife for January 2016. We were told that we are on a waiting list for upgrade, yet the letter says we would have confirmation of the upgrade “when you make your booking”. I know the seats are available because I have been told that I could buy them and it is “wide open”.
    Are these upgrades as useless as the 500 mile certificates? I now have 26 of those and can’t use them because I am only platinum level.
    I await your reply and explanation.

  2. Zvonimir Tolj
    Zvonimir Tolj September 26, 11:42

    We recommend you to contact American Airlines for further assistance.

  3. SV
    SV October 26, 14:19

    Blame it on yield management software. My understanding is that there is some initial allocation of frequent flyer and upgrade seats. Then there are no more seats released until some level of purchased tickets has been crossed and makes the flight profitable. On a trip from LAX to CDG, it was easy to get one Business or First award ticket when booking several months ahead. However it was virtually impossible to get two tickets on the same flight. So I booked one ticket each in First and coach. In the week prior to the flight, availability opened up as the software figured out that the seats won’t be sold, and I moved the coach ticket to first. As an EXP, there was no cost to cancelling the coach ticket and re-purposing the miles.

    SWU’s seem to follow a similar logic. On a trip from LAX to SYD, the return leg cleared immediately for a business to first upgrade, but the outbound leg did not clear until 2 days before the flight. On the flip side, I’ve had the EXP desk get me SWU upgrades even when not shown on the AA website. SWU’s have precedence over complimentary upgrades (not sure if that will hold when the TTM metric kicks in) and so you can use one if you really want to upgrade and there are a bunch of EXP’s on the upgrade list.

    Overall, the SWU is an incredible perk. It lets you upgrade ANY fare class and it lets you use it on anyone’s ticket (gift them) without any cost. Furthermore, you can use a single SWU to upgrade 3 contiguous legs. Of all the AA privileges, the SWU is the most valuable in dollar terms. You could take a $1000 long haul ticket and upgrade it to a $8000 equivalent seat. That’s simply fantastic. Clearly the airline takes a loss in doing that and therefore only does so when the yield management software determines that the seat would go unsold anyway. One tip is to look at a week of flights on the desired leg and you will often find different types on the route. On LAX-MIA, they fly the 321b, 737, 777, The cabin configuration on the 777 has way more business class seats than the other two. So an SWU has a much better chance of clearing on the 777.

    So ‘wide open’ means wide open for sale, not upgrade. If you use a program like ExpertFlyer, it gives you more insight into real-time availability. The 500 mile coupons are less useful in that you need one per 500 miles or part thereof. So you burn 5 on a coast to coast flight. However, it does let you upgrade flights for you and a companion on the same flight. Still, they give those to you for free so it’s good not to look that gift horse in the mouth.

    I hate to say this, but on the 777 & 321T, the business seat is significantly better than the first seat. So don’t waste your SWU on moving business to first. Also, it helps to know the plane you fly on. For example the 32B and 737’s from US Airways that were repainted as AA have very small business class sections. The upgrade seats are usually on row 1 as the cabin has just 2 rows. That has a bulkhead wall that makes it impossible to stretch out your feet. On those flights, I try to get the coach exit row seat and cancel the complimentary upgrade request. That way you have much more legroom and more comfort.

    Safe landings!

    (multi year EXP, million miler and well over 200 EQM a year)

  4. Jenni Ekstrom
    Jenni Ekstrom November 12, 10:09

    Does American Airlines have a deal where you can add your child to your account? I always travel with my little when flying AA and pay full price for her ticket. I know with other airlines, if you travel with your child, their miles will piggy back on to your account.

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