American Airlines “innovates” again and puts the AAdvantage program out of its misery

American Airlines announced today (well, yesterday for me because I happen to be in Japan at the moment) some more Super Happy Fun changes to their AAdvantage program.  It’s not just that they’re bad, but American executives continue to lie to investors and consumers by using words like “innovation” or “innovative” or “good” when describing these changes.  They are literally copying and pasting what Delta and United have done.  That is not innovation, that is laziness.

Now, bearing in mind that I’m jetlagged and mainlining coffee until the breakfast buffet opens, let’s take a look at all of this innovation.

Innovation #1 – Using the same revenue-based mileage earning scheme as Delta and United

Beginning August 1, 2016, the amount of redeemable “miles” you earn for a trip will be based entirely on the airfare of the ticket, not on the distance flown.  Why American continues to call them “miles” I do not know but I imagine the FTC will want to take a look.  Oh don’t worry though, there are multipliers based on your status level (chart courtesy of American Airlines, who sent this out in their email today):

Elite status level Miles earned per USD spent
AAdvantage® member 5
AAdvantage® Gold 7 (40% bonus)
AAdvantage® Platinum 8 (60% bonus)
AAdvantage® Executive Platinum 11 (120% bonus)

Now let’s have some quick Q&A:

Q: Ok, so if I pay a total of $300 for a ticket and I’m Executive Platinum I would earn 3300 miles, right?

Lol (that’s American laughing at you, not me) no.  There are a lot of government fees hidden in that $300, so only the portion that American charges you (not including fees like checked baggage fees) are part of this equation, so likely you’d be at somewhere around $260 before taxes, meaning you’d get approximately 1/8 of a mile for that trip.

 

Q: What if I buy a ticket in First Class, do I get a bonus?

You could buy a ticket in the cockpit and it wouldn’t make one bit of difference, it is all based on the cost of the ticket.  How dare you ask for more miles just because you paid extra for a First Class seat!  Basically American has cast their lot with the most fickle travelers in the world: full-fare premium cabin business travelers, which wouldn’t be so bad if their on-time statistics were not literally the worst in the industry at the moment (businesspeople don’t like being late).

 

Q: What if I booked travel last week for a trip after August 1?

Womp womp, you purchased your tickets when American advertised one set of benefits on its website, what makes you possibly think that American would be expected to honor what was promised?  Ah, yes, consumer protection laws.  Unfortunately when you booked the trip does not matter, American has decided that as of August 1 you as a traveler do not matter, only your money.  Regardless of when you booked, all travel beginning August 1 will accrue redeemable miles based on Delta’s United’s American’s “innovative” new earning chart.

Innovation #2 – Adding a fourth status level, matching Delta and United’s programs

We all saw this coming, US Airways had four status levels and American had only three.  The execution of it, however, is absolutely laughable.  American will now how four status levels: Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum, but now there’s another tier between Platinum and Executive Platinum called…wait for it…Platinum Pro.

Platinum Pro.

Are you serious?  That sounds like a discount membership you would buy from a car wash, not something offered by the world’s largest airline.

Here are the new status levels and requirements, from AA.com:

Elite status qualification

Qualification Executive Platinum / oneworld®EmeraldSM Platinum Pro / oneworld®SapphireSM Platinum / oneworld®SapphireSM Gold / oneworld®RubySM
EQMs 100,000 75,000 50,000 25,000
EQSs 120 90 60 30
EQDs $12,000 $9,000 $6,000 $3,000

What are the benefits of this new Platinum Pro level, aside from the special tri-color automotive soap?  A big ol’ bucket of WAIT WTH WHAT ARE THOSE EQDs?!

That’s right folks…

Innovation #3 – Minimum required spending for status levels, just like Delta and United

I’m getting tired of getting so innovated!  American simply does not care how much you fly with them anymore, they only care how much money they can take out of your grubby selfish little hands, especially if you’re a loyal flyer.  Much like our fun little Q&A above on the revenue-based redeemable miles earning scheme, only the AA portion of the fare will count towards the Elite Qualifying Dollar requirement, making the total dollar amount much more over the course of a year.

United and Delta have co-branded credit cards that waive the minimum spending requirement with a certain amount of spending.  American has yet to announce a similar program but that’s most likely because they are renegotiating their co-branded credit card relationships at the moment.  As soon as they announce a single credit card partner I imagine you’ll be able to spend like $25000 on that card and get rid of the EQD requirement.  Why am I so certain?  Because that’s what Delta and United do.

Was there anything good announced?

Yes.  If you are an Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey member you can now get complimentary upgrades on award tickets in domestic markets.  Also, if you spend a ton of money with American you’ll be happy: upgrade priority is now based on your status level followed by the amount of EQDs you’ve earned over the last 12 months.

So really who benefits from all this “innovation”?

The most fickle customers in the world: full-fare premium cabin business travelers.  The new mantra seems to be: American wants your money, not your loyalty.

Is the management of American completely insane?

Yes.  American does not have a competitive hard or soft product right now.  They are depending on jet fuel prices staying low to mask how miserly this looks.  American’s RASM (revenue per available seat mile, one of the big metrics in the industry) is not good right now, nor is their on-time rating.  What better time to piss off a good majority of their loyal flyers, who American came to, hat-in-hand, asking them to stay loyal through a bankruptcy that resulted in a merger that no one wanted?  Is now really the time that American wants to compete on a level playing field when it still trots out A320s from US Airways that don’t even have power ports and 20 year old 777s which have a wide selection of 3 movies to watch on a loop?

I guess it boils down to this…

If I look back honestly at the past 7 years that I’ve been an AAdvantage member, I have to honestly say that I’ve been loyal to AAdvantage, not American Airlines.  I’ve had a few good experiences with American but have had many more poor experiences, which is sad.  I was always willing to put up with it because the AAdvantage program was so good, but that’s gone now.  The AAdvantage program is now no different than Delta or United, and in many cases it is now worse.

So let’s take a look at the past year.  American has bludgeoned their award chart and made many awards more expensive, they’ve made earning redeemable miles for those more expensive awards harder to come by, they have made earning status more expensive, and they’ve reduced the benefit of having status like Executive Platinum by awarding only 4 systemwide upgrades and capping the max you can earn at 8.  At literally every turn they have cut benefits and offered only token gestures in response (hooray. upgrades on domestic award flights).

Congratulations American, you have succeeded.  I am no longer loyal to AAdvantage and will just fade back into the general population of “travelers” where I guess you’re saying I belong.  Someday soon, when you declare bankruptcy again, because you will, don’t bother reaching out and asking for my loyalty again, I see exactly where that got me now.

13 Comments

  1. I’m on route to be EXP in Sept. I think i’m not going to book any travel w/ AA the rest of the year.

    Well said – this is beyond disappointing. They (AA) bent their elites over the pinball machine once and for all. Nice job AA.

    Reply
  2. Very astute observations, Andy. Your caffeine-soaked brain is firing on all 8 cylinders. Much of my $ spend is for round-the-world tickets, so I’ll be interested to see how this all shakes out in the future. I missed the domestic award upgrades, so thanks for pointing that out.

    Reply
  3. This is pretty hilarious. They announced that these changes would happen last year, and the author here is acting surprised. Literally the only new piece of information is Platinum Pro and a revenue requirement. I look forward to the fact knowing i am earning more miles spending $7000 on a JFK-LHR flight than a guy who spent $5000 on a DFW-HKG flight (which is longer). I’m sure the disgruntled mileage runners will show American by switching to United or Delta…oh wait lol.

    No big deal, less elites means more upgrade space for the rest of us.

    Reply
    • Careful on that $7k ticket if you’re EXP, your RDM will be capped at 75000…

      Reply
  4. I think the important point here is that AAdvantage is no longer the differentiator in the market that it once was. I, like you and many readers, flew American primarily because of the (previously) great award chart and mileage earning that differentiated AA from Delta and United. I care less about the addition of EQDs because much of my travel is for business, so I’d frankly have no trouble hitting those targets. The Platinum Pro addition (agree that this name is awful – imagine how much they paid some marketing/consulting firm to come up with that!) is too little to late for me – I would have hit that in my business travel, but because of the other changes to the program, I wouldn’t hit the target this year anyway.

    Now, however, since the program is basically the same as its competitors, that no longer enters the calculus. Now, onboard experience (advantage: Delta, JetBlue, Virgin America, Alaska, and Southwest), partners (pick either Delta or United), convenience (for me, a Bay Area resident, Southwest or United), schedule (depends on the route, obviously) and price (when you buy in advance, Southwest is almost always the cheapest) are the factors that remain. American has the “aadvantage” (zing!) in none of those categories. Obviously, for AA hub captives, not much changes, but for those of us with options, those choices become less set in stone.

    Frankly, I am a little relieved that I no longer feel so beholden to AA. It was a hassle at times and, for a while, it was worth it. Last year, before all of the changes were announced, I was fiercely loyal to AA, even where it was a lot less convenient for me to do so. Late in the year, with the changes announced and with little chance to qualify for EXP, I dabbled with Southwest. I would never have set foot on a Delta plane. Now, I’d fly AA if it was most convenient, but am much more likely to shop around before doing so. AA’s product is frankly subpar and no longer worth going out of my way for.

    I am excited to try out some airlines which I haven’t flown in a while and fly through some airports I’ve never visited. Looking forward to trying JetBlue and Virgin for the first time in about 10 years and (perhaps) shelving my animosity and giving Delta another go 😉

    Reply
    • What this really does is cuts your rewards accrual in half. I am traveling to Europe this month and under the old AAvantage Program I would have accumulated close to 9,800 Award Miles with their program calculating miles “as the crow flies”. Now with the new program I am only receiving 5,200 miles. But get ready…… They are still charging the same amount of miles to redeem for Award Travel (12,500 miles OneWay, Domestic). So what this does for American? The consumer now has to spend DOUBLE the value to get the same benefits… Great Job on retaining customer loyalty American…

      Reply
      • According to my elite status miles calculations on flights since August 1, 2016, Jason is exactly right. Everything has been cut in half and I will have to fly double the number of flights to get to the same status (Platinum). Fortunately I already achieved Gold for this year, so I will accept the drop and fly other airlines this year where they are less expensive. And not worry about trying to achieve Platinum.

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        • Same here.

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  5. As someone who has been in the past one of those full fare business travelers who also has usually chosen AA for my longer flights to get the miles- I have been an Advantage Member for a long time- Member since: Oct 17, 1989 with over 325,000 lifetime miles. I have flown all the major carriers over the years depending on what my sales routes were and where the corporate HQ was for the company I was working for at the time. These days I am home based but still get in quarterly cross country flights and usually do 3 long haul flights per year. I made gold last year thanks to two trips to Europe , one to Hawaii and several to Florida. This year I am tracking for the same but thanks to the new policy once my gold status expires in February ( my current travel plans are for post August 1 and I will not be making gold again thanks to the innovations they are implementing) I will be doing like everyone else and flying with whoever gives me the best rates. I am planning a couple of trips to Asia next year so I am actually excited about this- I am going to try out some GOOD airlines – either Cathay Pacific, Korean Air or maybe Singapore Air- definitely not AA and their outdated equipment flying those routes.

    Reply
  6. AAdvantage wasn’t my first loyalty program-that was UA in 1981 as ORD was my airport, then for 9 years it was EWR so Continental was what I flew a lot. Still, American says I joined AAdvantage in 1/84 and I’m close to 950,000 lifetime flown miles. That’s fewer than the other two but I put almost all my eggs into AA’s basket when I retired despite being ATL based for 21 years. Now retired, I’m not concerned about status, just award travel. All the majors screwed the pooch there, AA being the last, but at least I have flexibility as to when I can travel. Business class cabins are way better than 25 years ago when I had to often travel to Europe but consider this: an early printed award chart I cme across from UA offered two business class round trips to Europe for 150, 000 miles. Yeah, you had to actually fly to accrue them and now one can get them from multiple credit card sign up bonuses so I guess that as as much as things change, things stay the same.

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  7. I have already started flying to woth Southwest. I don’t think I’ll ever fly American again. They are not as they used to be. They don’t make you feel special anymore. They need to come up with really good innovative ideas and not copy the mistakes of others. Everything has changed and flying is not the way it used to be. Now it gives you the same feeling you get from taking a crowded bus to work on a busy day, everybody can’t wait to get in and once in, they can’t wait to get out. Too crowded, noisy and cramped. Believe me, if they could allow people to ride standing while h9lding to a metal bar, just to get more money, they would get away with it as well.

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  8. From an Executive Platinum and 2 million miler on AA…

    Exec Platinum has been all but useless this year. I got one meaningful upgrade on scores of flights…NY to LAX. The new Airbus 330 series has only 8 First Class seats with negligible recline, so forget upgrades on those. In addition AA has no Premium Economy to Europe or international, so buying a PE ticket and hopefully getting an upgrade is not an option as it is on British Airways.

    So if Executive Platinum is useless, who cares about the new rules? I’m taking my business to innovative carriers like Air Norwegian who offers a Premium Economy with huge seats for just a little more than coach.

    Long gone are the days when my Gold status got me frequent upgrades on AA. Goodbye AA.

    Reply
  9. I just moved here from Australia where I was a loyal Qantas FF, Platinum status for a number of years (equivalent to exec plat in AAdvantage, i think). Now that I’m in the US, I thought it would make more sense to switch to AAdvantage. Just having made platinum, I’m faced with all these changes, I think it’s time for me to start planning on mixing up which airlines to fly on instead of just AA. I miss Qantas…

    Reply

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