American Airlines made a bunch of announcements today about what to expect from them in 2014 from a loyalty standpoint. A lot of it has me excited!
I first learned about it this morning on View From The Wing, where it appears Gary spoke to Suzanne Rubin ahead of the announcement to get the inside scoop.
They also have a pretty comprehensive list of changes (and, more importantly, non-changes) listed on their website. Let’s breakdown the announcement.
First, what’s staying the same?
The AAdvantage program will continue to have 3 tiers (Gold, Platinum and Executive Platinum). There is a small tweak to Executive Platinum qualification on segments, bumping it to 120 from 100.
Mapping the US Airways elite levels to AAdvantage means that Platinum Preferred members get a bit screwed since there is no 75,000 mile level in the AAdvantage program.
What else is staying the same? The domestic upgrade system, mostly. And, this is AWESOME news, even for those folks at US Airways that don’t believe me.
US Airways elite members are all entitled to complimentary upgrades according to availability on all domestic flights. American Airlines has, for as long as I can remember, employed a system where travelers earn 500-mile upgrade certificates to use on flights as they choose. They can also buy extra upgrade certificates. And, an elite member who wanted to upgrade all their flights would need to purchase some certificates, as you only earn 2,000 miles worth of upgrades for every 10,000 miles flown.
Executive Platinum members currently receive complimentary upgrades on all domestic flights.
What else stays the same?
Award chart: No changes being announced right now.
Mileage accrual: There is no mention of a revenue-based program, which is consistent with previous signals from executives.
So, what changes?
I’ll admit, I was pretty nervous the current system would hit the trash can with the new regime. But, it stays largely intact with one meaningful change.
All elite members of both airlines will receive unlimited complimentary upgrades (subject to availability) on flights 500 miles or less.
I actually like this as a good compromise and a nod to what US Airways’ elites currently enjoy, especially on the short-hop network that is the East coast.
Executive Platinum guest still get unlimited upgrades, which I love.
But, the reason all the US Airways folks should give this system a chance is that it meaningfully increases the number of upgrades you can actually receive. Since everyone is not automatically eligible on every flight, some folks will pick and choose the flights they want upgraded. This means really good upgrade percentages when you really want an upgrade. As a Gold and Platinum member with American Airlines, I consistently averaged a higher upgrade percentage than I did as a top-tier 1K on United Airlines.
And, to help US Airways elite members get comfortable with their new system, they’ll be awarded some 500-mile upgrades to get started, though the amount hasn’t been determined yet. That’s a good-faith gesture that should help smooth out the transition.
Here’s how the new system lays out in a chart:
Another gem from this chart is the word “auto-requested” for Executive Platinum complimentary upgrades. A relic of the old system was the fact that you had to check a small box at the bottom of the final booking page to request an upgrade. I didn’t forget very often, but sometimes the box could become “unchecked” if an agent had to make changes to your reservation and it would go unnoticed until it was too late. Glad to see this bit getting cleaned up.
American Airlines will combine elite activity from US Airways and American Airlines in 2014 to determine elite status in 2015.
Another great bit of info, since I thought I was going to have to squeeze in a brutal mileage run in 2014 to keep my Executive Platinum status in 2015.
There’s one small change I’m not wild about, but it’s truly small. Currently, all AAdvantage elite members need to pay $75 for a same-day flight change, and there’s specific inventory reserved for this on some flights. As of January 1st, Exec Plat members will receive this for free.
Less fees are a good thing, right?
For me, I never minded paying the fee. Why? Because most people didn’t like paying it. And, before making the change, I could generally confirm with an agent that there was upgrade inventory for me and confirm a first class seat on my new flight. As a business traveler who changes flights frequently at the last-minute, the system United Airlines uses where everyone can change for free and upgrades are all complimentary, all the seats up front are generally taken by the time I make my change. I’ll certainly smile happily and live with this change for all the other positives here.
Bottom Line It For Me, Ed
I was absolutely fearful that US Airways leadership would come in and put their stamp on the loyalty program, and not in a good way. This shows me two things. Suzanne Rubin, who runs the AAdvantage program, is advocating for the members. And, Doug and Scott are listening and considering all avenues to move forward.
A mostly intact upgrade system and combined earning for status in 2015 are great things, along with a lot of other smaller changes that I view mostly as positive.
If you’re an elite for either airline, be sure to read the whole announcement.