This Promotion Won’t Fly

Air Lies 
I recently received an email from American Airlines inviting me to sign up for a promotion. If I flew between May 15 and June 30th to Europe, I would get 20,000 bonus miles. What did I have to lose?

Since I had a few business trips to Europe and American flies from Raleigh to London directly, I thought I would bypass my instincts to use Delta and go with America. Delta’s flights are more reliable and their planes are far fresher and newer.  They aren’t perfect but I think they are doing a better job than American.

So I flew to London and waited for my bonus miles. When 3 weeks past, I called the airline and they told me that I didn’t qualify. They informed me that I didn’t read the small print about paying full fare for the flight AND flying between certain dates. I didn't follow the rules. I didn't match their code and I should have known better. 

I’m telling this story for a purpose. I am not interested in bashing American Airlines. They are doing a really good job annoying their customers. 

Promotions can do one of two things for a brand

1. Win your brand new friends.
2. Create pissed off existing customers. 

The way the promotional e-mail was written and the sneaky way they hid the information was both confusing and misleading. Instead of going out of their way to find an easy and clear way to highlight the terms, they buried it. And, they didn’t help me when I signed up for the promotion nor did they consider reaching out to me when I didn’t qualify. I found out I wasn't getting these bonus miles and I was mad, angry and disappointed. What should they have done differently and what's the marketing lesson in this? 

Better read the fine print 

Read the Small Print
The lesson for marketing professionals is to be as transparent and obvious in creating a promotion. Don’t hide the special requirements. 


Make sure you are clear and that you end up with delighted customers not people like me who have feel cheated or perhaps more accurately deceived.  American could have found a way to make this promotion work for its customers by truly offering me a way to win not a way to fail. As a frequent flyer with gold status, you would think that they might have sent me an email after I registered and I signed up for a flight that I didn't qualify but they would offer me some thanks for picking American. 

The airlines segment has consolidated like other industries. There are not that many choices left. But for my next travel, when given the option of deciding among a few airlines, guess who will always be my last choice? 

By the way, I did call customer service and they did elevate things to a supervisor. She was polite and sympathetic and even gave me 5,000 miles to make me go away. I appreciate that but this all could have been avoided if they had created a promotion that made sure that the customer wouldn’t feel tricked. Had they designed this promotion better, they could have helped me feel good about airline not annoyed. 

American has a new ad campaign with the tag line, “Change is in the air.”

I hope it takes off because their promotion should be grounded. 

Note: If you have your seat belt buckled, maybe you can share my blog with one friend who might be interested in my marketing observations and insights. Come fly with me and thank you. 

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