Time to Reconsider Brand Loyalty in the Travel Industry

And Why It Might Be Worth Your Time & Money to Do So

As customers, why do we continue to spend money with companies that create constant hardships for us? I never used to name company names, but as a “person of influence” in the travel industry, it’s time that I start wielding that influence. So here it goes.

I transferred my “loyalty” to American Airlines this year from another carrier. The plan was to test out American to see if it would be a suitable company for me to invest my time, money and loyalty. So in a way, last January began a year-long interview process to see if the company was up to snuff to earn my business. After just 9 months, I had already concluded that aligning with this airline would be a serious mistake. Still, I was committed on several flights through November. So here I sit in O’Hare on an 10-hour layover (it was supposed to be a 6-hour layover but my flight was delayed 4 hours). That’s fine. I’m just biding my time thinking about the sea change that needs to happen in the travel industry. And I’m certainly doing my share to help bring about change.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

Truthfully, I’ve been gobsmacked at how unprofessional, uncaring and nonchalant American Airlines is. Coming over from one of their major competitors, and being enrolled at American’s second highest tier level, I had somewhat high expectations. I expected to be welcomed warmly, to be impressed with the inflight service and flight schedules, and even to enter a long-term relationship with the company. Not. Gonna. Happen. As evidence, I cite a series of 8 round-trip flights (both domestic and international) that took place between August and November 2016. Here’s what awaited me, one of American Airlines’ second best customers:

Fully 50% of my flights were delayed more than one hour in this 4-month period. The delays caused me to miss connections, arrive in destinations at ungodly hours, or overnight in hotels at the airline’s expense (and away from my family). Upon further research (including colleagues who have taken these same flights), I discovered that the flights in question are always considerably late. This is not a one-time occurrence due to air traffic or weather. This is a consistent, reproducible and predictable situation that the airline is aware of. See the picture I snapped at the Seoul airport as evidence.

Bizarre, nonsensical routings. For example, to fly from Portland, Oregon to Seoul, Korea, I was required to fly to Dallas (3.5 hours), overnight at a hotel (my expense), and suffer through a 15-hour flight to Seoul (one of the longest flights in the world). Logic would have routed me from Portland to Seattle and then on Korean Airlines from Seattle to Seoul. It would have cut my total elapsed transit time in half. But I stuck with American out of “loyalty”. I didn’t even look at the cost of my extra time and overnight hotel.

Airfares consistently higher than other airlines. Still I foolishly chose to pay it due to my misplaced loyalty. Let’s look at one example in particular. I wanted to fly Portland to Seoul, Seoul to Ft. Lauderdale and back to Portland. American Airlines wanted $6500 to do that triangle trip. I was forced to buy 2 different tickets (Portland to Seoul roundtrip, and Portland to Ft. Lauderdale round trip), still for a pretty penny. I had priced the airfare to Seoul on Korean Airlines and it was almost half of what the U.S. carrier wanted. But I stayed with American Airlines out of loyalty.

I’m not even going to bring up nasty or attitude-laden flight attendants, or damaged or delayed luggage. To be fair, I encountered some very nice flight attendants and gate agents. And every airline has its share of “special” personalities.

Needless to say, bye-bye American, and good riddance. I’ve given you plenty of reasons (and there are many, many more untold) why I’m defecting. And there are millions of other passengers who have found refuge with Southwest Airlines, Jetblue, Frontier, WestJet, Easyjet, Ryanair and other alternatives. These airlines don’t put on any pretense and try to be something they’re not. What you see is what you get. The bar is considerably higher for an airline like American, but the reality doesn’t match the expectation.

WESTIN FT LAUDERDALE BEACH RESORT

Reprehensible behavior is not confined to the airlines. Let’s talk about the Westin Ft. Lauderdale Beach “Resort”. That’s right “beach resort” is part of its name. The hotel was under renovation (which by all accounts was at least 20 years overdue) but the US$35 daily “resort fee” still applied. When I asked what the “resort fee” included, especially since this hotel does not begin to even resemble a resort and there were no resort activities in which to partake, I was given the standard “Internet service, free local calls, blah blah blah” answer. Oh, and there’s also a spa, they said, but that’s an extra fee. With my hotel loyalty status, I get free Wi-Fi anyway. Like most travelers, I have a cell phone and don’t need to make local calls. I was forced to stay at this hotel for a conference I was speaking at. Otherwise, you can rest assured I would not have booked it. I suspect the two-inch gap (see picture) between the bottom of the door and the floor was part of the problem.

But the resort fee is only where the fun began. I was placed in room 1014. On the first night beginning at 12:10 am, loud laughing and cackling from a bevy of teenage girls in the hallway did not bode well for a good night’s sleep. After not one, not two, not three, but four calls to security over the next two hours, the noise finally stopped, presumably because the girls tired out, not because of any heroic efforts from hotel security. Incidentally, I’m still wondering where the points are on my account for that hotel stay. This hotel property can’t even get right the act of posting points to a customer’s account. It’s true that most Westin properties are much better, but how inclined do you think I am to book Westin again after that charade?

CHOICE HOTEL, VICTORIA, BC, CANADA

At the Choice Hotel in Victoria, BC, Canada, I arrived back at my room after a long day out, only to find the door open. Yes, that’s right. The door was ajar (see the picture as evidence). Alarmed to say the least, I called the hotel’s reception desk. The hotel did not have a security officer so I was forced to deal with the young front desk clerk who could do nothing but apologize. Luckily nothing was stolen. Still, I demanded to speak with the general manager. Nope, we don’t have one of those. Then I demanded to speak with the front office manager. Nope, we don’t have one of those. But the hotel did have a revenue manager. Shows you exactly that hotel’s priorities. And we only chose to stay at this hotel under duress after an epic Airbnb fail. After much back and forth with Choice Hotels’ corporate office, we were offered C$30 in compensation. Still waiting on it. I’d rather it had never happened, what am I going to do with a check for C$30?.

WHY IT MIGHT WORTH YOUR TIME & MONEY TO SWITCH

Is sticking with the same airline, hotel company or car rental company still worth it? Only you’ll be able to decide for sure. But if I can get an air ticket for ½ the price of the big guys, and even after I add a fee for a bag or two, or even a better seat, I’m still way ahead. What’s a good night’s sleep worth, especially if I have a speech the next day? What would it have cost me (not just money, but time and effort), to replace my property if it had been stolen from my hotel room?

There is a tremendous opportunity for smaller and even local and independent businesses to step up and (re)capture market share. The big companies aren’t delivering. Will you?

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