One Mile at a Time was the first to share a rumor from a reliable source, JonNYC, that American Airlines has already begun training its agents on changes to the American AAdvantage loyalty program that will kick in during 2016. This is surprising not because we didn’t see it coming — Delta and United have already made drastic changes to their loyalty programs — but because we expected that when they happened they would be similarly drastic and deserving of plenty of advance notice.
It’s now less than two months before 2016 and customers still haven’t received an official announcement. Some of the changes Jon mentions won’t just affect how you earn elite status next year but also how you earn miles with the status you may have already achieved this year.
But maybe we shouldn’t worry. A few telling quotes from Jon:
I’ve now seen the full set of changes.
They do impact the entire program and are substantial, and they do start in 2016. There’s a separate phase on earning (redemption miles, not elite miles) that begins late in 2016
As far as earning status, I think what they’ve come up with is excellent.
My review; absolutely excellent. YES, there are a few takebacks, etc., but I see this as the best anyone could have possibly hoped for.
After Ben’s post, Jon shared a few more things in the TravelingBetter forum. Here are some of the details (my comments in parentheses):
- No minimum spend for elite status or “elite qualifying dollars” to earn elite status. (Basically, this won’t be the same as United or Delta’s approach.)
- No changes to elite levels. (I suspect we could still see the introduction of new levels, perhaps at the 75K level.)
- Systemwide upgrades will be cut to only 4 for Executive Platinum members. (Again, not surprising. You can keep your status …it will just be worth less.)
- There may be bonuses for high levels of spend, such as additional upgrades or more miles. (This is not surprising. It’s good to acknowledge incremental behavior for those who have no trouble hitting the existing goals.)
- “Elite qualifying points,” a separate method of tracking elite status qualification, will be going away. It’s just elite qualifying miles from now on. (Good, they were complicated.)
- Fewer 500-mile upgrades will be awarded. (It’s interesting that they’re sticking with this method, which I like because it makes it easier to prioritize which flights you want to sit up front and which ones you’re happy to sit in coach.)
- As much as 300% elite qualifying miles depending on fare class, but still a floor of 100% for the cheapest tickets. (Not bad.)
- Award miles will be overhauled in late 2016, based on the cost of the ticket and status. (Shucks. Earning miles based on distance is the key to mileage running.)
A long time ago I wrote down my thoughts on the possibility of AAdvantage adopting a revenue model, suggesting that it wasn’t necessary for them to follow the same path as United and Delta. Yes, there would probably be a stronger revenue component, but many programs at the time already reflected this in some way by awarding bonus miles — both award miles and elite qualifying miles — for premium fares.
Some European and Asian carriers already take it to greater extremes, awarding as little as 10% of the distance flown with deeply discounted fares but 300% for long-haul first class tickets. What makes U.S. carriers stand out is that most have had a floor of 100% and only went up, perhaps to 150% or 200%. But this is already changing.
I had guessed at the time that American could expand the system of elite qualifying points to make it similar to these foreign competitors. Instead, Jon tells us that they’re ditching it and focusing on elite qualifying miles. Good for them. It really doesn’t matter if the cheap end goes down as long as the premium end goes up — I imagine we might see higher EQM requirements to maintain status even if the relative level of each tier remains the same. For example, we might see 30K/60K/120K EQM to requalify for 2017. However, it’s good to know that there won’t be a spending requirement, which pretty much killed the idea of mileage running for status on Delta and United.
The most unfortunate update is that award miles will be based on the dollar cost of a ticket factored by status. Status will matter more than ever to ensure you can actually earn enough miles flying with an airline to book an award ticket. If you can mileage run to status, maybe you can still mileage run to earn award miles. Meanwhile cost-conscious travelers, and especially those who fly only once or twice a year, will be more reliant on their credit cards to earn anything close to enough miles for an international business or first class ticket.
I’m looking forward to learning more when the official news comes out. At least there’s some encouraging information here.