Passenger rating system determines how you’re treated

January 12, 2018
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HAVE you ever wondered why it seems that airlines treat some passengers differently to others? And we’re not just talking about celebrities.

Perhaps you’re trying to get an airline change fee waived. How come it didn’t work for you, yet the staff bent the rules for your friend in exactly the same scenario a week later?

Or maybe you were travelling with your partner and your flight was delayed. They were credited with bonus miles to compensate for the headaches encountered as a result of the delays, but you weren’t.

So unfair, right! Like rubbing salt in the wound.

Well, it turns out that it could all come down to a ratings system that airline staff keep extremely tight-lipped about.

That’s according to popular travel website The Points Guy, which has uncovered the hush-hush system allegedly used by American Airlines to determine how you are treated. And no doubt it’s just one of many airlines using such a system.

Called the “Helix Score”, it assigns passengers a rating of between one and five, according to frequent traveller TJ Gentler, who wrote the article. The higher the score, the better, and the more likely it is that the airline will treat you favourably. But you’ll never know about it.

“There’s no way of finding out your Helix Score,” Mr Gentler writes. “Agents will have this score in front of them when you call, interact on social media or file a complaint. However, agents seem to be instructed to ‘play dumb’ if you ask about your score.

“While the rare customer has been able to get their score by asking, I’ve never had an agent even acknowledge the system exists. Even if you do get an agent to reveal your Eagle rating, it might not be relevant for long. Everyone’s Helix score updates nightly.”

Mr Gantler said the key to upping your score is to be “a valuable but vulnerable customer”.

Sure, those with a higher elite status — or celebrities — will naturally be up the list. But loyalty isn’t everything — you may be treated more favourably if the airline thinks it may lose your business to another carrier.

So it’s proposed that elite flyers who’ve recently flown less with the airline would have a higher score. Also, it’s likely that the location of your home airport counts — for example, those airports dominated by the airline have fewer opportunities to jump airlines than someone in a competitive market near an airport serviced by several different carriers.

Those with a higher score are more likely to get more flexibility from the airline, such as being able to use upgrades after they’ve expired or escaping certain fees, for example. They are also more likely to earn compensation such as bonus miles.

However, the scores don’t count towards upgrades or standby priorities.

American Airlines declined to comment when contacted by news.com.au.

CODE WORDS: The secret words your airline crew don’t want you to understand.

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