How to Alienate Customers without Really Trying

jetAirlines are notorious for poor service and customer alienation. Some of the issues are out of their control since they can’t make the weather cooperate and have to conform to governmental requirements. Most people understand this and don’t hold the companies accountable.

The problem is that the things that are within their control are mishandled. Bad weather is inevitable. Bad attitudes aren’t. Airlines as a group provide excellent examples of what not to do to keep customers happy. Some airlines do it better than others do.

Loyalty programs began in the airline industry.

It was a brilliant marketing concept. Provide points redeemable for future flights to encourage travelers to fly with your company. It works wonderfully. When prices and schedules are comparable, most people will stay with one carrier to increase those points.

I’m not an exception. I tend to choose one or two airlines and stick with them. When I lived in New York and Chicago, it was United and American. My loyalties changed when I moved south to Delta and US Airways. A few years ago, I became a Delta girl.

I wish I could say it was because Delta’s service exceeded US Airways, but I can’t. US Airways sent me a Dear Jane letter. It began by telling me how they valued my business. It continued with a reminder about the points that I had accrued. It finished with a threat. If I didn’t fly with them by a certain time or pay a fee, they would take my points away.


I earned those points by flying with them. Yes, they have to maintain the records, but it isn’t as if they have men in green visors calculating points daily. My data only used a few bytes in their computer.

Doesn’t loyalty work both ways? Why would I be loyal to a company that considers maintaining a few bytes of data more important than me as a customer? I wonder who made that decision. Did it come from a marketing guru who thought that it was a great way to bump up sales? Or, an IT person who wanted to do some housekeeping?

A better approach would have been to send a letter thanking me for previous patronage and asking if there was a problem since I hadn’t flown with them for a while. It could have included an offer for double points on my next flight. If housekeeping was the issue, they could have asked if I wanted to continue to participate.

Instead, they left me feeling betrayed and alienated.

Since I received the letter and subsequently lost the points, I haven’t flown US Airways. In a few weeks, that will change. I have a tight schedule and they were the only airline that had flights when I needed them.

When I booked the flights, my frequent flyer number was still active. The only difference was that my balance was zero. I wonder how long I have after my flight before they take them away again.

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