Should airline extend elite benefits for soldier in war zone?

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By Christopher Elliott

Airlines offer waivers of their often incomprehensible rules all the time. Robert Lytle wants this to be one of the times, and he’d like me to help him make it so.

I’m sympathetic to his case, even though it involves a mileage program, elite status and benefits that are of questionable value. It’s the principle, really. Lytle is with the National Guard, deployed in a combat zone. His social media profile lists him near the horn of Africa.

His experience makes me wonder if airline policies might not be accommodating enough to the men and women in uniform.

A soldier’s request for elite status deferment

Here’s the story so far: Just before being deployed, Lytle earned Silver status on US Airways. Then he found out he wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of the “perks” because he was shipping off into a war zone. He wondered if US Airways would extend his status as a one-time courtesy.

“I have been trying to communicate with US Airways for several months,” he explains. “But I keep getting a runaround. I have faxed, emailed, and tweeted. I can’t seem to get access to a decision-maker and have only been told that there is not currently a policy covering my request.”

He adds, “I would just like to speak to someone who can tell me that they’ve considered making a policy – even if the answer is no.”

Seems like a reasonable request to me.

Let’s have a look at his paper trail.

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Here’s his original inquiry:

I am writing to request deferment of my Silver Dividend Miles status for one year due to military deployment.

I am a somewhat new (but regular) customer, having increasingly begun to use your company for my travel in the past couple years since I moved to the DC area.

A few months ago I was excited to finally earn Silver status and began to enjoy the benefits of the program. At around the same time, however, I learned that I was being activated through the reserves for an overseas combat tour. I am currently writing from that location.

Unfortunately, my year-long tour coincides almost exactly with the period of time I would have been eligible to use my Dividend Miles status.

Not only will I not enjoy the benefits, but I will not be doing any travel that would help me maintain status through the next year. In effect, I am losing out on two years of Silver (or higher) benefits due to this deployment.

For this reason I am inquiring if there is any way to defer the benefit until the next program year, when I will be back home and ready to travel (out of uniform!).

Airlines routinely waive rules for members of the military, so this doesn’t seem like a big ask.

The answer? A boilerplate “no”

Preferred membership is based on flying Preferred Miles or Preferred Segments during the calendar year, January 1st – December 31st. Accounts are set back to zero at the beginning of the new calendar year when qualification starts over. Please be aware that your current Preferred benefits are in place through February 28, 2015.

We do not have a policy that extends or postpones Preferred status or benefits beyond the benefit year that you qualified for.

Thank you for your Military Service.

Lytle tried to appeal to US Airways via web-based chat. The results were even more infuriating. Here’s what happened after he explained everything. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

Lytle: Can you have someone contact me? Tried the generic forms with no luck, would like to talk to someone in leadership.

US Airways: Customer Relations will respond to your email. They’re the team to work with on feedback regarding policies.

Lytle: Clearly they are not. I’m sorry but I have been trying for months, from a combat zone, to resolve this. Very disappointed.

US Airways: We’re sorry for your disappointment in the response from Customer Relations.

Lytle: If you are truly sorry, perhaps you can connect me with someone empowered to make decisions. That’s all I am asking.

US Airways: You can reach out to Customer Relations for a second look at your request.

Lytle: This is getting insulting. Why would repeating the same runaround process be at all helpful? Please just help me talk to someone.

US Airways: We’re sorry you’re not happy with the response.

Don’t you love those scripted responses?

Now, I’m not saying that Lytle deserves to have his so-called “benefits” extended by another year. On reflection, I’m not sure US Airways would be doing him any favors. What I do think is that he should be able to find someone high enough in the organization to listen to his request and offer more than a form rejection.

I do list the names and numbers of the executives on my site, but I’m not at all convinced they’d do anything more than route the requests back to “Customer Service.”

So should my advocacy team and I take up Lytle’s case and get him that answer, even if it is most likely a “no,” or should I allow US Airways’ rejection to stand?

Should I mediate Robert Lytle's case with US Airways?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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