A couple of months ago I received a promotional package from United Airlines for a new service they were offering called Ameniti. I am universally skeptical of these programs, but in reading through the benefits like free companion tickets, upgrades on rental cars and hotels, and a few other things I thought this might actually be a pretty good deal for $350 a year. So I signed up.
Like all things airline related I should have read the fine print because having these benefits and actually being able to use them is something that is apparently not gone over in detail in the promo piece. I have yet to be able to get a companion air ticket and my experience calling them last week really pushed me over the edge. Here’ the conversation, from memory but largely accurate, with their call center last week about a ticket to LA.
ME: Hi, I need to book a ticket from SFO to LAX and get a companion ticket.
AMENITI REP (AR): okay, no problem, what days are you traveling.
ME: <give her dates and discuss flights>
AR: Okay, that ticket will be $1,150 for coach
ME: Are you kidding? It a shuttle flight to LA.
AR: Yes, but in order to qualify for the companion ticket this reservation has to be priced as a changeable, refundable ticket and that is $1,150.
ME: But I’m flying to LA and a refundable ticket on Southwest is like $100, which means you are still 5 times more expensive for two tickets and you are not giving me anything extra.
AR: I’m sorry sir, but that’s the fare.
ME: But I’m flying to LA…
Basically, you see what is going on here and it is definitely not a one-time thing. For my recent trip to NYC the Ameniti rate was $6,000 (roughly) and I ended up flying on JetBlue for $220 a ticket. More importantly, I loved flying on JetBlue (only flown them one time previous to this) so the next time I need to fly I’m not even bothering to call United.
The Ameniti agent tried telling me about frequent flier bonuses and so on, but big freaking deal when a few thousand miles are costing you a few thousand dollars extra. I’ve had it with miles anyway, they rarely turn into the benefit that they are promised to be and in the end almost more of a hassle.
Which brings me to my headline premise, brands are a promise from the company to the customer. United fails because they over-promise and under-deliver. I got suckered into giving them $350 for a subscription to their Ameniti service and have yet to be able to take advantage of any of the benefits. JetBlue promises me a cheap fare, and ends up delivering a cheap fare and friendly service and inflight satellite television and snacks that don’t suck.
Companies like to think that it’s the big things that trip them up, as in high fuel costs and expensive labor in the case of the major airlines, when in fact it’s the small stuff that ends up accumulating to be a major problem. Companies in trouble, like UAL, like to think that they can rebrand themselves by running new advertisements, changing colors, or coming out with new slogans, when in reality the attributes of branding have nothing to do with what the company creates to support it, but rather the behaviors and attributes of the products and services they are delivering.