American Airlines Guts the AAdvantage Program

by Marc Cain     

From the best elite mileage program to the least valuable program in less that 6 months.  That has to be a new record.  With American’s announcement of upcoming changes to their Advantage Program there is a strong response from fellow flyers.  And it’s not good!  The blogs are all buzzing and the vitriolic comments are pretty strong.  American has a lot of loyal customers really unhappy.  Here are a few of the policies that changed this week:

  • Starting August 1, 2016 award miles will no longer be based on miles flown rather on dollars spent.
  • Starting in 2017 there will be a revenue component to achieving elite status.
  • Your upgrade request is prioritized according to your elite status level followed by the number of EQDs earned in the last 12 months.
  • AAdvantage will be adding a 4th tier to their program called Platinum Pro requiring $9000 EQDs plus 75K EQMs or 90 EQSs.

All this is in addition to the recent significant devaluation of award redemptions that happened in March 2016.

As a frequent flyer who logs more than 250K miles a year I place great value in the elite airline program when choosing a carrier.  As an employer these changes will cause our company to rethink some of its flying and certainly implement stricter ticketing policies.  I understand the airlines desire to motivate higher spend on tickets, but all that translates to higher travel costs for my company as employees are motivated to spend more for the same ticket.  Strangely, they have capped the miles earned so there is no motivation to spend more that $6800 for a ticket as an Executive Platinum.

As of right now American has not announced wether there will be a waiver of EQDs based on cobranded credit card spend.  Currently both United and American offer these waivers at $25,000 (although United doesn’t allow you to earn their top tier with that).

Without trying to sound like sour grapes I have been considering a change for a while now.  These changes just push me over the top.  The issues that bother me the most are:  1) American has been one of the most profitable airlines in the industry the last few years.  They are repaying their most loyal customers who helped them achieve these profits by gutting their elite programs.  2) American offers a sub par product for the money.  The only motivation to fly American was the benefits from the elite status I achieved each year.  This now frees me up from having to deal with unhappy and many times quite rude AA flight attendants, and nasty old aircraft that American needed to replace a long time ago (many of which are leftover from the US Air merger).

The day this was announced I applied for a status match with United.  Within two hours I had received an email indicating that my status had been upgraded to Premier 1K on United.  For many years I was a 1K on United, only leaving them when their program was greatly devalued.  Recent flights have proven to be very enjoyable and their premium product is really wonderful to travel in.

Bottom line – a loyalty program is design to keep flyer loyal, but it has to flow both ways.

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