“It baffles me that American Airlines can be so insensitive”

Pam Kalra is a cancer survivor, but to add insult to injury, she is now having the painful experience of learning that airline loyalty programs are tilted one way — toward the airlines.

She accumulated 90,000 miles in American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, which the airline claims is “the best loyalty program [where] the possibilities are endless.”

Unfortunately, the problems with airline loyalty programs seem to be endless. Our forums are littered with complaints about the airline’s AAdvantage program:

And recent changes to the AAdvantage program have frequent fliers screaming at the devaluation of the loyalty program from miles flown to dollars spent.

This brings us back to Kalra’s case — she was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiation throughout the following year. During that time, her accumulated miles in the AAdvantage program lapsed. According to American Airlines’ AAdvantage program terms and conditions, “AAdvantage members must have mileage earning or redeeming activity once every 18 months in order to retain their miles. If your account has no qualifying activity in any 18-month period, all miles in the account will expire.”

“I was so sick during that time that I could not track miles,” Kalra told us. “It was the least of what I should have been focused on.”

Related story:   Sorry, but we are consumer advocates, not travel agents

Kalra’s good news — she has started to travel again and was interested in using her accumulated miles on American. The only problem: She discovered that they were gone.

“I called them about reinstating my miles and they are asking me to pay for them or to take a challenge,” Kalra said. “I spoke to a supervisor and got the same answer. It baffles me that American Airlines can be so insensitive.”

Clearly American has a case. Kalra did not have any activity on her account in 18 months — activity that can be as easy as purchasing a magazine subscription, which this writer has done on several occasions in order to preserve mileage balances.

But certainly American could have made an exception for a cancer survivor. Instead they asked her to take a challenge, which entails accumulating a minimum number of segments or miles in a short time period, usually reserved for elite fliers who want to maintain their status levels. The other option would have been for Kalra to purchase miles, which in most cases would have been a poorer value than just purchasing the airfares outright.

Kalra reached out to us for help. We suggested that she send her case to our forums, which are read by many airline executives, and where helpful volunteers can advise troubled travelers.

The forum volunteers advised Kalra to

Write a polite, concise, unemotional email to American customer service, (whose contacts are listed on our website). Mention your cancer matter-of-factly, but insert the fact that you were too sick to deal with this somehow. As dumb as it sounds, admit that you let your miles lapse (addressing their ‘by-the-book mentality’), and ask them to make an exception to the rules for you.

Tell them how loyal you’ve been and the trips you are planning. Give them a week, if no response or a negative, use our company contacts and work your way up the beanstalk, waiting a week between each submission. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the return of your miles. Good luck and please let us know the outcome. I hope your health gets better and better every single week of 2017.

As of this writing, nothing has come of Kalra’s efforts to get back her miles. Usually our website does not deal with mileage cases, but we’re wondering if this time we should be the ones making an exception in the hopes that eventually American will too.

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Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined.

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