Now in its third week, consumer pressure for high-profile companies to stop offering discounts to AAA members has begun to show signs of effectiveness.
The national travel group, whose 27 million members pay about $100 a year for roadside assistance, has been blamed for encouraging poor planning and lack of automotive knowledge for nearly a century. Critics claim AAA allows people to ignore things like tire pressure, battery age, or even fuel levels with the expectation that a simple phone call will rescue them – often from avoidable situations. These situations often manifest themselves in cars stopped on the side of the road, which can create widespread travel delays – or even car accidents.
Because of AAA’s clout, they have become the single largest membership discount group in the country, allowing members to save 10%-20% on hotel rooms, souvenirs, park entry fees, and a myriad of other travel- and household-related goods and services.
Companies such as Hampton Inn, Sam’s Club, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car have all agreed to discontinue their AAA discounts after receiving thousands of complaints on social media, all of which mysteriously came from the same three IP addresses. In an official statement, the CEO of Hampton Inns and Suites explained that the chain “Respects the opinions of our customers” and “Considers all online personae to be unique, legitimate, and equal in the value of their opinions.”
Rob West, leader of the anti-AAA group Dads for Safer Roads, is considered the unofficial leader of the anti-AAA movement. “What started as a valuable service, offering things like route planning guides, maps, and personal assistance, has slowly devolved into a Mechanic of Last Resort,” he insists. “When I was a kid, my dad was a AAA member. Before a trip, he would check the oil, tire pressure, wipers, you name it. He also had tools in the trunk, snacks, water, sleeping bags, just about everything. He knew that if our Jaguar didn’t make it to our destination, we’d probably be okay.”
When Mr. West’s mother was mauled by a wolf while waiting for AAA on the side of the road on a 1984 roadtrip to Walt Disney World, he vowed to never rely on the organization again. The traumatic experience left him hurt and wondering where they had gone wrong. After years of therapy, he concluded that reliance on others was something he couldn’t count on, renouncing everything from banks to doctors.
“Now when I go on road trips,” says Mr. West, “I pack all the same stuff my dad did, plus my AR-15 [rifle]. Wolves may have teeth, but now I’m armed to the teeth. They may run in packs, but I’m the one packing. Can you use any of these in your soundbites?”