28 February 2008

The Nickel-And-Diming Of Flyers - The US Airways Saga

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28/02/08 - The Nickel-And-Diming Of Flyers - The US Airways Saga

Normally my posts stay away from editorializing about travel. I try and stick to tips, equipment and related subjects. This post is slightly different. This post is about the nickel-and-diming of passengers.

A few weeks ago United Airlines (UA) changed it's baggage policy. Under the new baggage policy passengers flying on super-save fares would only be entitled to one checked piece of baggage. Your second bag would cost you $25. Under UA's new policy passengers on most fares would be entitled to two checked bags, as would all of UA's elite frequent flyers, and it's Star Alliance partner's "Star Gold" (*G) frequent flyers.

Over the past few years I have been a loyal flyer with US Airways (US). My status with US Airways' Dividend Miles has been Platinum, meaning I fly more than 75,000 miles per year with them. I have flown US throughout the United States, from Boston to Fort Lauderdale; through the Midwest, into Chicago and Milwaukee; through the bright lights of Las Vegas and countless Trans-Continental flights from Philadelphia to San Francisco & Los Angeles and New York's JFK to Phoenix. I have even chosen to fly US to London and Paris.

As a loyal US frequent flyer I have watched the airline make some bad choices in the past two years. Many of these bad choices were brushed off as growing pains related to their merge with America West Airlines (HP). The integration of HP and US first involved two incompatible reservations systems and two completely different fleets. Merging the reservations system took an extremely long period of time and alienated many frequent flyers, but I endured. The fleets still remain separate in many ways. There is US-East and US-West. "US" on the registration means you are flying a US aircraft, "AW" on the registration means you are flying an HP or "Cactus" aircraft. The seat maps often don't match up, making choosing your seats a crap-shoot, and certain expected amenities are not universal. A good example of this is all US Airbus aircraft have in-seat emPower outlets in every seat, both first and economy class and the HP aircraft do not generally have any in-seat power in any seat.

As the merger progress the management in Tempe promised it's frequent flyers more benefits. These "benefits" including the removal of the coat closet on some planes making it harder to hang up your coat. Other "benefits" involved the removal of a significant number of first class seats on many planes. This "upgrade" in the aircraft seating made getting an upgrade as an elite frequent flyer extremely difficult.

As the aircraft "upgrades" continued US reconfigured it's inter-continental Airbus A330-300 (A333) aircraft with the removal of the addition 2" of leg room in the economy section, in rows 6-through-21. What a great upgrade, yes?

Many airlines have switched to Buy-on-Board meals, often called "BOBs" This is annoyance, but it has become commonplace. Most airlines charge $5 for a snack box while US charges $7 and offers you less food for $2 more.

To further "enhance" your experience in booking tickets with US, they instituted a $10 fee for tickets purchased through reservations; a $20 fee for tickets issued at the airport or a city ticket office and even a $5 fee for some tickets purchased on www.usairways.com!

Now I'm sure you're saying, "Wow, what else can US Airways Nickel-and-Dime you for? Well let me tell you...........

If you are a Chairman's Club member, you're now paying for your drinks. Sure you are paying your annual dues for the lounge, but the drinks are no longer on the house.

In an absolutely stunning move, recently US Airways removed the "500 mile minimum" frequent flyer miles received while flying on any flight. You take a 100 mile flight you get 500 miles, you fly 498 miles you get 500 miles. This is standard with every airline I know of. Well, now US started a new policy, if you fly 271 miles, you get 271 miles. US built its self up on east coast business routes. These flights are high cost, high traffic routes, such as Boston (BOS)-New York (LGA); New York (LGA) - Washington DC (DCA) ; Charlotte (CLT)- Norfolk (ORF) and other short routes of under 500 miles. My common New Haven (HVN) - Philadelphia (PHL) flight is 157 miles and it now averages more than US$700 to fly it! That is a short flight on a turbo-prop aircraft and they won't do the 500 mile minimum.

Oddly enough, I can fly from HVN to San Francisco (SFO) via PHL for US$379......but if I get off in PHL, it's US$739. Now , I am no economist, but why does it cost US$360 LESS to fly an extra 5042 miles round trip? With this logic I should be getting 10,000 miles not 157 miles in my account because I am paying more for less miles.

Still think it can't get worse? Well, kick back and grab a can of soda, because I'm not done yet................ Yesterday afternoon, US Airways sent out an e-mail informing us that they will now be charging US$25 for a 2nd checked bag! That's right, a $25 for your 2nd checked bag.

How does this affect you? Well now airlines are not only charging heft fees to fly the, but all the hidden additional fees are just piling up. What do you get in return? You get less frequent flyer miles which means less award travel using your miles and must slimmer opportunities to reach an "elite status."

If for some reason the executives at the US Airways HQ in Tempe are reading this, let me sum myself up quickly here:
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU SHOULD TREAT YOUR MOST VALUABLE CUSTOMERS!

Happy Flying!
(on some other airline)

8 comments:

Rick Lobrecht said...

I sometimes fly Air Canada from Houston to Calgary, and they have started charging for the "meal" on this four hour international flight.

Seshu said...

I am sure the marketing mavens at US Airways are squirming in their seats looking for a comeback but are only restrained by their bean-counting accountants who have hatched up unique (but not new) ways to screw their customers. Flying isn't what it used to be. It's a pain in the arse - from limited luggage, to checking in, to dealing with TSA agents who don't know which end of their ass is up. Destination weddings are more challenging to pursue because of these changes.

A said...

Wow, they will rip you off any way they can. I had the worst flight of my life with America Worst right before their merger with US Airways. Because of the merge, I will never fly US Airways -- and now you have given me even more reason to steer clear.

It seems like if you live in New England you are screwed as far as airfare/airline options. A family member is trying to come out to Vegas to see us (from BOS) in April and she has not been able to find a flight cheaper than $400 -- any most of the flights have multiple stops. $400+ is the new $300 I guess.

I am lucky to have the option of flying Southwest to pretty much wherever I travel in the country. They have changed some of their policies, which is mildly annoying, but for the most part things are still simple, consistent, and reasonable. That is all I look for in an airline.

Harold Jankowiak said...

I just don't get how the heck they figure things. A trip from DTW (Detroit) to LAS (Vegas) on Northwest was $348 with no stops, but if you have to do a 45 minute stop in Minnesota to change planes the airfare went up to $1,185. I don't understand how I have to pay more for them to inconveinence me? It used to be non-stop was more money. Just wait until a major bank such as Capital One buys a major airline and then you will really start to get bent over! Imagine crappy airline service with policies and fees set up by a credit card company......"Oh you want Oxygen on your flight...that will be xx.xx!"

Ron Scheffler said...

Hey Rick, I thought AC started charging for BOBs a long time ago on North American routes? Also, no airline I've used consider Canada-US flights to be "international." Back when they all started charging extra for 50lb+ bags on domestic routes, I argued that CA-US was international and 72lbs was allowed... without luck. BTW Steven, AC charges $6 CA/US for BOBs and alcohol. If you fly on AC Tango fares (cheapest), you'll only get 25% miles, something I believe they've done for a long time even before the Tango terminology. I guess Canada is too big and they don't want everyone hitting Gold on a few yearly YYZ-YVR flights. No domestic competition and expensive cross border flights also don't help. No wonder I haven't paid to fly AC in over 18 months.

I was also burned by LH. Didn't know their cheapest fares for international (Y, B, M, H, Q, V, W, S, G) and W and S for intra-European flights only earn 50%...

Seems like they are all looking for ways to generate revenue while making it challenging for relatively frequent fliers to reach Gold or higher. As more people fly and also collect miles the airlines likely have a significant amount of mileage "debt" on their hands. An Air Canada (Aeroplan) example again, since that's my mileage plan, will let you fly NA-Europe for 60,000 miles, but in the last few years they've added a "plus" feature that gives you a seat even if the standard rewards seats are booked, at a premium, sometimes above the business rewards level (of course the business level is never available at that point), or with the right combination of factors, say you want a direct flight and business level, how does a 4x premium sound...? I guess some people have miles to burn.

I bet other airlines will follow US's lead and credit actual miles rather than minimum miles. The whole industry seems to follow the monkey see, monkey do philosophy.

Just more factors that on the whole push me to drive if it's within 8 hours...

Ron - YHM

bmillios said...

It pays to check the policies before you board the plane.

I recently flew to California with a large Pelican box to video a project. I flew (as I usually do) on Southwest.

I checked the policies before I left - media professionals are exempt from oversize and overweight boxes on Southwest. Hoorah.

I get to Baltimore Washington International (BWI) - ticket person weighs the box (100 lbs) and informs me that there will be an overweight charge. Natch, I say, I am a media professional, and I am exempt.

"We changed our baggage charge policies on January (something), sir. This will cost you $50."

Me: (looks confused) "Oh, I'm confused. I printed this information off your website this morning." I hand her the printout stating their policies regarding media professionals - specifically that I don't have to pay.

Agent: (calls supervisor over, they huddle, read the paper together, and look at me.)

Me: (big innocent smile)

Supervisor: "Do you have a business card?"

Me: "Yep, sure do." (hands card over, they scrutinize, hand it back.)

Agent: "Ok, this will still cost you $25 as an extra bag."

Me: (confused expression again) "I'm sorry, I'm confused again. I thought I was allowed two bags? This is the second bag."

Agent: (grimaces, processes my tickets and boarding passes and puts a big "heavy" sticker on the bag) "Have a nice flight, sir."

Me: "I'll need that printout back ... thank you ... You have a GREAT day."

...

It pays to check the policies. See:

http://www.southwest.com/travel_center/cameras.html

(fourth paragraph, last sentence)

This happened at EACH leg of the three-legged trip. Good thing I had the printout.

Another thing that occurred to me - it's "cheaper" to pack one big box than two smaller boxes - because the second box will be charged the excess baggage allowance, unless I carry my clothing bag onto the plane.

Chris Ratcliff said...

Due to the astoundingly cheap fares, I've done quite a few flights with Ryanair throughout Europe. Some with a full (and heavy!) Lowe Pro Mini Trekker, and some with my light kit in a Lowe Pro Orion II. Ryanair are really a leader in the cheap fares in Britain, but they also charge for a lot of items (Checked luggage, checking in at a desk) and they've never had allocated seating.

Flying to Spain with a full rucksack of gear, I followed my normal bad habit of getting to airports far, far too early. This worked to my advantage as Ryanair used to have priority boarding for the first 50 to check in, and people with children.

Notice, used to.

The boarding process now IIRC is you have to buy a priority boarding card for about £2 per person per flight if you want to get ahead of the crowd OR have checked in online and have handluggage only (Ryanair have no bag drops). After that it's every man, woman and child for themselves.

As a result, queues appear as soon as the gate is announced, and people have no choice but to queue if they want to get a good seat. People even queue in the priority boarding line due to the sheer number of people who pay the extra (they really target families with the extra charges).

The only ways I've learned to deal with it are:

* Keep an eye on the gates, try and find out which one the flight will be boarding from.
* Join the queue early (I refuse to pay extra for the priority line!) so wear comfy shoes.
* Once you're through the gate, think tactical. If there's a bus, hover near the door. If you're walking to the plane treat it like a Le Mans start and stick your elbows out.
* Pick the least busy stairs onto the plane. Most people go for the front set.
* Golden Rule: Once onboard, aim for the middle of the plane. Everyone seems so keen to get seats by the doors, that the middle rows are the last to fill up. Even the emergency exit rows are sometimes left late! Walking ten or fifteen rows down the plane will give you a sea of empty seats. I'm in no rush to get off the plane once I'm settled for a few hours!

I don't know why, but once travelling with my full Lowe Pro Trekker I got spot checked by Spanish security, then UK security on the same flight! My Canon was covered in dust and filth from a hot Mountain Bike event, and I was waiting to get home to clean it all up. Imagine how I felt when the Spanish security guard tried to take the lens off the body with nothing but brute force! I quickly jumped in, gingerly took it off and replaced it trying to disturb a minimum of crud. When asked by UK security where I'd been and why I'd been out there, I was very glad that my tales of mountain bike events were met with "Ah yeah, we've seen quite a few bikes coming through!"

Neil said...

On August 3 I flew from Mexico City to Charlotte on US Airways. The y not only charged for drinks on board, but they also searched carry-on luggage and confiscated soft drinks and water. This has to be a new low for the airline industry.