How to Have the Best Frequent Flier Loyalty Program: Copy the Others

“A merican Airlines is evolving AAdvantage to continue our tradition of having the best loyalty program in the world by rewarding our most loyal customers with the benefits they value the most,” said Andrew Nocella — who is the chief marketing officer of American Airlines — in this press release announcing the remainder of the changes to be implemented to the AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program.

How to Have the Best Frequent Flier Loyalty Program: Copy the Others

With all due respect to Mr. Nocella — whom I have never met — that is little more than a load of marketing claptrap, as most of the changes basically clone those of the changes which Delta Air Lines implemented for its SkyMiles program effective as of Thursday, January 1, 2015; as well as the changes which United Airlines implemented for its MileagePlus program effective as of Sunday, March 1, 2015.

Sure, there will be some members of the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program who will benefit better under the announced changes than with the current version of the program — the theory is that American Airlines is seeking to reward its highest-value customers with generous redemption earnings; while those customers who travel on a budget are expected to “feel the most pain” as a result of the impending changes — but although I am not a gambler, I will bet that the majority of members will lose rather than gain.

The changes were expected to occur as soon as the merger between American Airlines and US Airways was completed. Although there were people who were hopeful that American Airlines would leave the AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program alone to differentiate it from United Airlines MileagePlus and Delta Air Lines SkyMiles and attract more frequent fliers, who seriously did not see this change coming — especially when the first set of proposed changes were first announced on Tuesday, November 17, 2015?

So let’s see — Platinum Pro is an elite level status tier which will be added on Sunday, January 1, 2017 and is almost identical to the Platinum Medallion elite status level of the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program.

Did it really take seven whole months to generally change a frequent flier loyalty program to become virtually identical to those of Delta Air Lines and United Airlines? Is that what it takes to have “the best loyalty program in the world”? Does it really take executives with six-figure salaries and analytical employees with Master of Business Administration degrees to be a lemming?!?

Well, let us go through the ennui and review what was announced…

AAdvantage Program to be Based on Revenue Starting August 1, 2016

Yawn.

That was my reaction when I first learned of the announcement released earlier today of the remainder of the changes to the AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program, which will change to base rewards on the airfares paid by customers of American Airlines rather than distance traveled effective as of Monday, August 1, 2016; and beginning with the membership year of 2017, elite level status will be valid through January 31 of the following year.

Additionally, the aforementioned Platinum Pro will be introduced on Sunday, January 1, 2017, which will include unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades on flights operated by American Airlines — similar to the Executive Platinum elite status tier; but with a lower priority for upgrades. Up to two bags can be checked at no charge; and oneworld Sapphire elite level status is included with Platinum Pro. You cannot earn towards Platinum Pro elite level status in 2016.

Also effective as of Monday, August 1, 2016, the minimum mileage guarantee once enjoyed by members of the AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program on shuttle flights will no longer be available. The elite member minimum mileage guarantee is also disappearing; but earning a minimum of 500 elite qualification miles will still be awarded on eligible flights.

Members of the AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program can earn anywhere from five to as many as eleven AAdvantage miles per United States dollar paid for the base airfare and surcharges imposed by the airline, depending on your elite status level:

AAdvantage Program Elite Status Level
AAdvantage Miles Earned Per United States Dollar Spent
General Five AAdvantage Miles
Gold Seven AAdvantage Miles
Platinum Eight AAdvantage Miles
Platinum Pro Nine AAdvantage Miles
Executive Platinum Eleven AAdvantage Miles

This means that on an airline ticket whose base airfare is $1,000.00, a general member of the AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program would earn 5,000 AAdvantage miles; whereas an Executive Platinum member would earn 11,000 AAdvantage miles.

Be aware that no matter how much money you spend on a ticket, you can earn up to the maximum of 75,000 AAdvantage miles per ticket — inclusive of any class of service and elite status bonus miles; but there is no maximum for Elite Qualifying Dollars, which are explained in more detail next.

Elite Qualifying Dollars

Effective as of Sunday, January 1, 2017, you will be required to earn Elite Qualifying Dollars — in order to qualify for and achieve elite level status — which will be awarded based on the following two factors:

Elite Level Qualification Executive Platinum / oneworld Emerald Platinum Pro / oneworld Sapphire Platinum / oneworld Sapphire Gold / oneworld Ruby
Elite Qualifying Miles 100,000 75,000 50,000 25,000
Elite Qualifying Segments 120 90 60 30
Elite Qualifying Dollars $12,000.00 $9,000.00 $6,000.00 $3,000.00

Keep in mind that you may qualify using either Elite Qualifying Miles or Elite Qualifying Segments; but either method must be in conjunction with earning a minimum amount of Elite Qualifying Dollars.

With the addition of Elite Qualifying Dollars, the rule that four segments must be traveled on American or American Eagle during the qualifying year to receive elite level status will no longer be in effect.

Certain ticket types — such as those sold in conjunction with a vacation package or tickets where the actual fare is not disclosed like consolidator, bulk fare or student tickets — will earn award AAdvantage miles based on a percentage of distance flown as determined by the fare class purchased.

Tickets which currently do not earn award AAdvantage miles, Elite Qualifying Miles or Elite Qualifying Segments will not earn award AAdvantage miles or Elite Qualifying Dollars in the future. Only the base fare paid for your ticket including any carrier-imposed fees will count toward earning award miles and Elite Qualifying Dollars. Fees for other products or services — such as fees for checked baggage or the cost of membership for Admirals Club, whose rates will increase effective as of Monday, July 25, 2016 — will not be awarded miles or Elite Qualifying Dollars.

Other exceptions to the new Elite Qualifying Dollars policy may apply.

Priority for Upgrades

No firm date pertaining to the way your upgrade request is prioritized will change was announced; but it is expected to occur later in 2017. You will be listed according to your elite status level followed by the number of Elite Qualifying Dollars earned in the last 12 months.

Elite Level Status Upgrades Confirmed Prior to Departure
Executive Platinum As early as 100 hours
Platinum Pro As early as 72 hours
Platinum As early as 48 hours
Gold As early as 24 hours

Award Tickets

If you have earned Executive Platinum elite level status, you can use your complimentary 500-mile upgrade benefits on AAdvantage award tickets for travel on flights operated by American Airlines from Main Cabin to the next class starting sometime later in 2017.

Summary

When changes to the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program were announced, there were people who vowed to take their business to a different airline; but now that the three major legacy airlines in the United States will have virtually the same frequent flier loyalty program, the differentiator is service and convenience — and I have read more than once how members of the AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program are considering defecting to Delta Air Lines.

To me, switching loyalty between frequent flier programs is like switching lanes on a highway or at the checkout area of a supermarket: you rarely advance and wind up in a better position.

I am sure that the members of the AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program who lost benefits rather than gained them will “value” them the most. “The best loyalty program in the world” — indeed.

Frankly, you might be better off losing your elite status, gaining your self-respect — and launching your own frequent travel loyalty program.

Source: American Airlines.

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