AAdvantage Update Leaves Loyal Flyers at Disadvantage

November 30, 2015
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. Recently American Airlines sent out an e-mail explaining its new plans to improve the AAdvantage Program for its best customers. Since most of the changes are for the worse, this is a major effort to spin those changes.



    Now miles for elite status will no longer be accrued simply by legs, points or by mileage, but rather by money spent on the ticket, yet again rewarding the First and Business Class travelers whose fare has been paid for by their companies and again ignoring those of us who travel often but on the cheapest fares available. This change, for those who have already qualified for Executive status may not make too much difference, but for the Platinum, Gold and general members, I think it may.
     
    Now if you struggle to reach the 100,000 miles needed for Executive Platinum status, which until now has earned you eight system-wide upgrades (depending on availability, of course), now will earn only four. Is this improving the program, I wonder? You can, if you really are a frequent, frequent, frequent traveler, earn another two free upgrades for each additional 50,000 miles you fly. In other words, now you will have to fly 200,000 miles in order to achieve the number of upgrades you currently earn for 100,000. So much more generous, don't you think?
     
    Plus those upgrades will expire at the end of January of the following year instead of the end of February, shortening their validity.
     
    Upgrades at the gate already are much more difficult to get even for Executive Platinum members, now that AA and US Air have merged, adding all those new FF US Air travellers to the list of requests,  so the Platinum and Gold members might as well forget even trying.
     
    Other airlines may be making similar changes to their award programs and these changes are probably more complicated or less negative than they seem to me at first glance, or second, or third, but I think they are worth checking out and alerting your readers to. I would appreciate knowing if I am misinterpreting the benefits of these changes to AA frequent flyers or if this is a major spinning effort.
     
    A. No, you are not misinterpreting. Frequent flyer programs have become much less valuable due to the many changes that airlines have made over the last couple of years. Award seats are available, but for more miles than before; and free upgrades are harder to find. Mergers have resulted in more people having more miles to “spend” (if you had 15,000 in American and 15,000 in US Airways you didn’t have enough to get a free ride; now you do, and that means more people competing for seats). Plus, airlines have reduced the cost of business and first class non-refundable advance purchase fares, meaning that more people are buying these seats leaving fewer free upgrades available. You might consider getting a cash back credit card instead of an airline rewards card if you earn most of your miles with credit cards rather than flying.

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