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Good Move: American Protects Its Elite Members From the Unwashed Masses

Of all the legacy airlines, United (UAUA) has been the most aggressive at putting out options for travelers to add on to the base price of their ticket. Sure, everyone can charge for a bag, but United has gone way beyond that and has been successful. Now, it appears that American (AMR) is trying to do the same thing, but the airline is addressing one of the biggest complaints about United's program. American is protecting its elite frequent fliers.

You need to go no further than United's Travel Options page to see an impressively long list of things they will be happy to charge you for. Here's the current list:

  • Get extra legroom with Economy Plus
  • Get a LOT of extra legroom in Business or First class
  • Buy a pass to the Red Carpet Club airport lounge
  • Cut in line at check in, security, and boarding gates
  • Pay a one time fee for a year of 1st and 2nd bag fees being waived
  • Skip checking bags and pay for door-to-door bag service
  • Buy foreign currency before your trip
  • Top up your miles to get you to the next award level
  • Get bonus miles when you fly with Award Accelerator
  • Buy travel insurance
As if that's not a dizzying number of options already, there are also bundled deals that let you combine these and save. You can effectively buy elite status every time you fly.

This may seem like an insanely long list, but it's worked well for United, for the most part. These are mostly benefits above and beyond what you could have had otherwise, so it's a value-add for the customer. It's also been bringing in good money for the airline, though it has angered its elite frequent fliers by offering their benefits (priority boarding, waived bag fees, etc) to just about anyone who wants to pay.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so American has decided to try to dip its toe in as well, but it's taking a slightly different tack.

Yes, American is matching the Award Accelerator idea with its Mileage Multiplier, but its new Your Choice program (I really hate these names) is not offering anything that takes away from the elite experience.

The program is starting with a bundle called the "Boarding and Flexibility Package." In this, customers get:

  • priority boarding
  • lowers the change fee from $150 to $75
  • lets you standby for an earlier flight without charge
  • free pilates classes
Ok, so maybe they don't that last one, but if this is truly a "flexibility" package, then they should add that as a benefit.

You might think this would anger the elites to some extent, but it shouldn't. The priority boarding option boards after the elite members and in front of the unwashed masses. Also, lowering a change fee or allowing someone to standby for an earlier flight doesn't impact the elite member at all. So elites shouldn't have any issues with this and the general public should like it as well.

So I like what American is doing here in that they're trying to provide additional benefits without hitting their base of elites. Others should follow that lead.

Photo via Flickr user egmTacahopeful