A Brand is a Promise (and United Airlines’ Ameniti Service Sucks)

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.

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34 thoughts on A Brand is a Promise (and United Airlines’ Ameniti Service Sucks)

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I live in Chicago and fly out of O’Hare a lot. I’m also a marketing person, so I tend to pay attention to these things more than most. Here’s a company, United, that has been in bankruptcy and yet is paying to repaint all of their planes. Every time I see this is drives me crazy. Who ever thought of this, agreed to this and approved this should be fired. Do these people really believe for 1 second that even 1 more person is going to fly United because they spent millions repainting their planes?

  2. Beginning in about ’99 or so, I have been either a United Premier Exec or higher (I lived through the intolerable summers of 2000 and 2001 when United service sucked even worse then it does now. Example (really happened):

    Me. “But I’m a 1K. Can’t you help me get on the flight?”
    United CSR: “So what.”

    I endured two years as a 1K flier (100,000 or more miles in one year) and vowed to never become dependent upon them again. I felt hostage to the miles, sure that somehow they were going to do good things for me in the future. The most I got out of my status w/ United was frequent First Class upgrades and a handful of free flights for the grandparents’ visits. Woo hoo.

    As a result of my status w/ Mileage Plus, Amenti started sending me their crap. I thought it sounded like a good deal, but put it off. The next time I looked – closely – at the mailing they sent (about once per month), I decided that the special “benefits” would never be valuable to me, mostly because of the “class of service” requirements for the purchased ticket.

  3. Ameniti does seem like kind of a lame service that is not going to bring in hordes of price-sensitive travelers, although that may not be their goal. But based on the info here, all I can say is…caveat emptor. Why is it their fault you did not spend time researching and understanding their offer, especially when it costs $350? It took me 3 clicks to get here from the link you provided: https://www.ameniti.com/ameniti/control/tc2for1#united See #4 and #6. They are clearly targeting the luxury market for whom money is no object.

    If the class of service requirement was somehow hidden from view and not knowable, then I’d agree that deceptive marketing practices make this a bad situation and worthy of future personal travel boycotts. But like any service – cable, phone, internet, credit cards, and, yes, frequent flier offers etc. – you gotta read the fine print.

    As far as getting more miles and not being able to use them, well, I get a pile from actual miles flown, 100% bonus miles and an affinity credit card (not on UAL) and I regularly take the family to Europe for free. In the summer. Just takes a little advance planning.

  4. Well, you must be brilliant then, LHOOQ.

    Several years ago, I made a conscious decision not to participate in frequent flyer programs at all, because I felt that navigating their complexity and hassle was not the highest and best use of my time, and generally not worth the clock cycles.

    Opportunity cost is purposely built in to frequent flier programs.

  5. my man you are definitely ready for a start up!

    I have taken clients on offshore due diligence trips and after the biz class fares and 5 star hotels, they have used up all the savings from offshoring -)

    I like getting upgraded as much as the next person, but not above a 30-50% premium over competitive economy.. but I guess there;s enough big company fliers who continue to pay the bucks…

  6. Jeff:
    I’m just surprised that you actually picked up the phone to book a flight. I havent done that since like 1999.

  7. Generally, I agree with what has been said here. However, the Ameniti program and miles do work if you are a certain type of traveler. Where Ameniti really makes a difference is if you would normally fly business or first and pay your own way. If your company pays, it doesn’t help you. For example, First Class to Hong Kong would be about $9500 per person if you booked over the internet. With Ameniti, you can get two first class tickets for $12,000. A savings of $6000 to $7,000 over the normal. So, that is a considerable savings. If you are normally an economy flier, you won’t save any money with Ameniti. Remember, it is a luxury travel club. Not an economy one.

    Same for miles. The only way miles are worth anything to me is using them for international first class. I used 200,000 miles a few years ago for a European trip. Using the miles for economy flights would have given me about $2500 value. I used them to get two first class tickets to London and then back from Paris. Booked over the internet, the cost would have been $25,000 for both tickets. So, that was about 10 times the value of using for economy. And, international first class is very nice and not like domestic first class. I did the same for a trip to Hong Kong last year. On a 14 hour flight, it is nice.

  8. I checked the United site for round trip unrestricted business fares to Hong Kong ($5900), but when I called Ameniti to book a two for one fare, I was told it would be apx. $9000, in Z class. Shame on United and Ameniti for offering a program that “hides” the true cost of this service. Can anyone tell me how I can find the elusive Z class on the United web site?

  9. An easy solution….don’t fly the legacy airlines. Stick with the discounters. If you don’t like their service, don’t use them. If you want “special treatment” buy your own plane or fractional ownership. I’m a Global Service member on Star Alliance Network, I check myself in with the kiosks. It annoys me when the Premiers and lower, stand in line to just check in….big deal..check yourself in…and be done with it!!

  10. I can show you the world
    Shining, shimmering, splendid
    Tell me, princess, now when did
    You last let your heart decide?

    I can open your eyes
    Take you wonder by wonder
    Over, sideways and under
    On a magic carpet ride

    A whole new world
    A new fantastic point of view
    No one to tell us no
    Or where to go
    Or say we’re only dreaming

    A whole new world
    A dazzling place I never knew
    But when I’m way up here
    It’s crystal clear
    That now I’m in a whole new world with you
    Now I’m in a whole new world with you

    Unbelievable sights
    Indescribable feeling
    Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling
    Through an endless diamond sky

    A whole new world
    Don’t you dare close your eyes
    A hundred thousand things to see
    Hold your breath – it gets better
    I’m like a shooting star
    I’ve come so far
    I can’t go back to where I used to be

    A whole new world
    Every turn a surprise
    With new horizons to pursue
    Every moment red-letter
    I’ll chase them anywhere
    There’s time to spare
    Let me share this whole new world with you

    A whole new world
    That’s where we’ll be
    A thrilling chase
    A wondrous place
    For you and me

  11. I am more than familiar with this. I actually used to work on this program. I believe you are going a bit overboard..on some things. There are more benefits to the program…and FYI..it’s 295.00 a year..not 350. Honestly, the 2 for 1 does not work for all markets. Typically, domestic coach travel is not the best option as a 2 for 1 unless you are doing last minute travel. You get the most for the 2 for 1 domestically if you purchase first. You get the most benefit with the 2 for 1 if you travel internationally in economy business or first. Business or first most of all, but you get great deals in coach too. Secondly, it is your responsibility to read the terms and conditions. It STATES in there..you have to purchase a full fare ticket. If you missed that…it’s your own fault. This type of ticket is great for business travelers. It will not meet everyone’s needs..of course not. What does? But..like I said in the beginning. A little overboard buddy. ALSO, Ameniti LUXURY travel club. Note: Luxury. This is NOT disocunted airfare. Other benefits: full service travel agent, concierge desk, you get upgraded to gold status with Hertz and Starwood. Discounts with Hertz and National. Which means upgrades, ect. Double miles with partners. Also, we don’t book ONLY United…FULL SERVICE TRAVEL AGENT. We can pretty much book everything. You get Red Carpet club passes, lots of other things. And most the time, you get 25,000 bonus miles to even sign up. That’s worth 250.00 in itself. So..there ya go. there is more and more and more..but I’ll stop there.

  12. I’ve flown United since I was about 2 years old and have almost 500,000 actual flight miles, having qualified many times for different levels of premier status. I use to love United, but feel snookered by their Ameniti club. Too much is in the fine print, and the fine print makes it worthless in most cases that I would have used it.

  13. It would appear that we are not alone in discovering this. United announced yesterday that they are discontinuing the Ameniti program.

  14. To the best of my knowledge, The Ameniti program was never designed to be a discount program. It was designed to be a luxury travel program. If you were to Purchase a full fare ticket, you could take a companion with you for free (plus airport and government taxes). I am an Accredited Travel Agent, but I do not service Ameniti. I just priced an itinerary from San Francisco to Los Angeles on United a month out and while the full published fare (which is changeable and refundable) was $1236.80, while the discounted L booking class published fare for the same flights priced at $108.80. I’m sure the Ameniti agents have access to the same fares but you may not be eligible for a free ticket when you are paying for a discounted ticket. Remember, Ameniti is a luxury travel club. Not an economy one.

  15. Listen carefully… I never expected it to be a discount program, but I DO expect that the benefits they were promising should be 1) available, and 2) not MORE expensive than if I just paid joe-walk-up-full-fare.

    The bottom line is that United pitched Ameniti as one thing, they didn’t deliver the benefits that were promised, their target market saw through their BS, and they ended up dropping the program after not even a full year.

    A brand is a promise, when United promises benefits they are unable to deliver their brand suffers as a consequence. The originating post holds true despite endless people saying “but it’s not a discount program”. No fucking shit, but it shouldn’t be a ripoff program either by promising benefits their customers can’t possibly take advantage of. They failed on Ameniti, just like they have failed in everyday regular service as well.

    This is exactly what is wrong with the ENTIRE travel industry. Their is full published fare that is 10x what the competitive fare is and travel professionals think I should thank them for paying something in the middle. I’ve flown all over the world for the better part of 20 years and I have yet to pay exactly what the published fare is, either on the front end or after the backend discounts. Maybe the real problem here is that the airlines have a screwed up pricing model that attempts to maximize yield but only ends up irritating customers, which then motivates them to take competitive offers based on simple quality of service issues.

  16. I think Jeff is suffering from a complex issue that he may have suffered as a child. I believe doctors call it a small penis. You people need to get a life: period.

  17. hmmm doesn’t sound that complex… and would not all children be afflicted by that condition? Given the lack of originality and cleverness of your comment, I would suggest that you suffer from a cephalic disorder yourself.

    At least I made the effort to dig up a medical term instead of “small penis”. Dude you phoned that one in, there wasn’t even a hint at any effort on your part and that’s the only thing that I’m offended by.

  18. Ok…Jeff! Stop flying and start driving if that is all you are going to do….bitch, bitch, bitch. One may think you are a female the way you are acting. Also…I guess if you had to drive everywhere…you would bitch about the gas prices…so either way…you are a complainer!!

  19. Actually… Yolanda… I… love… driving… cuz… my… car… is… so… much… fun… to… drive…

    6 instances of “…” in one paragraph is a bit excessive. And you forgot to include “naNanaNanaNa”at the end.

    By the way, has it not occurred to you or anyone else who critiqued my post that UAL has discontinued Ameniti because of dissatisfaction with the program, poor customer uptake, and an inability to grow it into a real business? I really don’t need to say anything more at this point, except that I’m sorry you lost your job.

  20. Jeff…you need to get the facts straight because I do not work for Ameniti. Thank you!!

    You think you are so smart, but really…you are a dip shit that likes to drive! Good for you!

  21. I do like to drive. If you had a car like mine you would as well, but what does that have to do with anything?

    I am sorry you couldn’t get a job at Ameniti. I am quite positive that the interview went well in spite of your personality. Perhaps the essay question on the application was your downfall?

    PS- when used as a noun “dipshit” is one word.

    PPS- I have to call you out on excessive use of exclamation points, including the dreaded double (“!!”) which really does not mean you are twice as enthusiastic about your point.

  22. Oh Jeff…did you ever ask to speak with a supervisor at Ameniti? Perhaps she would have been able to assist you in reading the T&Cs and explaining the program benefits to you. She would have made things right…had you spoken to the right one.
    But you are right…in the end there are too many people like us…willing to pay $700 a month for our cars to drive us a few hours each day, but bawk at the attempt for someone to sell us a plane ticket over $1000. Even if it will get us across the Atlantic in a few hours.

  23. It’s really surprising to me that this post has generated as much traffic as it has.

    I do want to take a moment to recap what I wrote in my original post, which is that Ameniti promised benefits that were not readily available, which is the main thrust of my discontent. I don’t mind paying more for something, but only if I’m also getting more…

    I would encourage everyone to read this post, it really gets to the heart of why Ameniti is a scam with a much more detailed analysis than I have the time or motivation to provide.


    and if that link doesn’t work (been having problems with underscores) try this one:


  24. I too was an agent for Silverwings and Ameniti. As the previous poster mentioned, if you didn’t read the terms and conditions, that’s your fault, not the fault of United or Ameniti. It is expected that the individuals to which the program is marketed will be able to read the terms of the program and evaluate if it will work for them. Failing that, prior to joining, you can certainly contact the reservations or customer service desks and they can provide you with information. The agents assigned to the Silverwings and Ameniti desks are among the most highly trained in the entire company.

    The Ameniti program was intended for business and celebrity travel, not as a discount program. As a general rule, many people booking business or first class seats for business trips are buying full fare, fully refundable tickets, which is why the offer is attractive, as it offers those individuals to bring along a companion by paying only taxes on the second ticket. In other words, they’re paying full fare anyway, regardless of membership in the program, but as a member, they get a free ticket, potentially saving thousands of dollars. The price of a fully refundable, fully changeable ticket is the same regardless of whether Ameniti, the 1K desk, Premier Exec line, Gen Res, etc books it, so you’re not getting quoted a higher rate on that ticket just because you called Ameniti. You’re not comparing apples to apples.

    Just because you didn’t properly research the program, and later found it was not viable for you to be a member, does not mean the program itself is fundementally flawed.

  25. and some wonder why United went bankrupt… it’s all my fault the program was ill-conceived and poorly supported.

    Yes, the program was fundamentally flawed and that’s one reason why you don’t have a job there anymore.

  26. One final note, I wrote this post last year and people (from United and it’s partners) are still commenting on it in a futile attempt to defend the indefensible, their customer service.

    Face it, you are never going to convince the mass market that you are giving anyone good customer service, therefore I have a built in advantage over you in this debate. Get over it, I don’t care and neither does anyone else considering that United canceled Ameniti. Just move on.

  27. You defeated your own argument when you stated that you were paying a ‘higher than joe-walk-up’ fare. The rates on the SAME TICKET are the same, regardless of where it’s booked. You’re not comparing equivalent products, which tells me that, if you don’t have the wherewithal to address details that are fundamental to comprehensive and objective evaluation of the program, your entire argument is flawed at best.

    If you choose to dislike United Airlines, that is certainly your right, but making erroneous claims in an attempt to justify the fact that you a) didn’t properly research the program b) didn’t even make a concerted effort verify that you were indeed comparing like products (tickets) is outlandish. There are problems at United, that I will readily concede. However, your failure with Ameniti is not one of them.

    You appear to become hostile when confronted with statements that contradict your melodramatic tirade against the program, and blame its failure on it being ‘poorly implemented,’ and use as evidence your own experience. However, I would again point out that YOU failed to read the terms and conditions of the program, not United. YOU spent money on something without being fully aware of the requirements; United didn’t force you to join the program. I have no doubt that you will again respond with some type of semi-hostile statement, since you are unable to make a solid argument.

  28. Devoted bunch, aren’t they? If only they put that devotion to customer service and reducing costs they might not have the worst customer satisfaction, and falling if you can believe that, in the industry.


  29. Whatever you do make sure they assign you a seat. Seems like they don’t want to anymore because…..
    UAL has lately restricted coach seats in favor of “economy plus” they give you an extra bit of legroom for an upgrade fee of $39. Now there are less true coach seats. Twice now I have gotten tickets and shown up at the airport only to be told I’m in a middle seat and the only way around it is to pay the $39. This is my fault for not making sure I had an assigned seat when I booked the flight. But I won’t fly on UAL no matter what now. And going thru Chicago is the worst, I’ve never seen such a pigstye of an airport.

  30. I was wondering why people keep commenting on this post… thanks to all the UAL employees that berated me for writing it in the first place, it’s now the #1 search result when you search on “United airlines Ameniti travel program”. Ain’t Pagerank great!

  31. I like United and Economy Plus. I’ve flown 770,000 lifetime miles on United and I looked closely at the Ameniti program and thought that it would/will be great when I can afford to purchase at least one full fare first or business class ticket when I travel (i.e. when I retire or am at the top of my career). I read the fine print and their online links were very clear about the fare classes that qualified. I actually hope that they revive this program in the future. Otherwise I’ll stick with American Express’ two-for-one offer (unfortunatly on other airlines – UAL doesn’t play ball with Amex).

  32. Economy Plus Access cost me $350 and I wound up using it 3 times in 1 year, so I don’t think I even broke even. The worst part is that they automatically reneew this stinker and the onloy way to get off the program is to call between monday and friday between 6 am and 3 pm Pacific time. This is poor ass customer service. I will avoid flying or give them business. I hope they go bankrupt all the way.

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