The last few years have seen wholesale changes to the American Airlines AAdvantage program. For quite a few years, they were much more rewarding than their competition. They also frequently offered a superior product when it came to amenities like meals and in-flight Wi-Fi (United didn’t really have any for years). That’s changed and now American is very much on par with the benefits they offer to elite members.
It wasn’t necessarily a quick process to get here. This is a bit of the greatest hits from an earlier post I did summing up changes:
- We’re closing in on 3 years since the merger was made official. I was skeptical back then that the merger would prove to be better in many ways than a standalone American. Doug and Scott had a reputation, one that didn’t likely mean that customers would get more with the new American. But, being an AA fan, I figured there would be plenty of time to evaluate. And, there was.
- Things were mostly quiet for a while, then American made some unannounced changes, pretty much all to the detriment of the customer. These didn’t really affect me much, since I didn’t traditionally take advantage of the explorer awards or North American stopovers. The big uproar here was no notice, but I think AA learned from the backlash.
- Late in 2014, AAdvantage rolled out big chunks of their new program and many breathed a collective sigh of relief, thinking things might not get worse-ish. Keeping domestic upgrades mostly the same was big, but it’s diluted by a reasonable amount with the decision to give unlimited upgrades to new 75,000 mile Platinum Pro members.
- AA makes a few adjustments to the same-day change policy, one of which I really didn’t like.
- The other shoe drops and AA announces big cuts to the systemwide upgrades awarded to EXPs. They also announced revenue-based earning. As a mild plus, they announce more EQMs for folks who buy more expensive tickets.
- American then devalued its award chart, though not as bad as some expected.
- Then, they whacked partner earning.
- They announced premium economy, which is generally a plus. They left unanswered whether the reduced number of SWUs would also only be eligible for upgrades from coach to premium economy (instead of to business class).
- After hinting about it for a while, American confirms it will start offering “basic economy”, which essentially means they’ll give out less benefits to customers buying cheap fares, including their elite members.
- It hasn’t been all bad news, they’re upgrading Flagship lounges and opening more of them.
- American proved they can still be the airline I love by finding a way to get me home to a sick family.
- American eliminated the ability to hold a revenue flight for 24 hours. This sucked.
We knew that how much you spent would have an impact on your ability to upgrade. We just weren’t exactly sure when it would start. The process starts tomorrow, though it’s only for flights starting in August. View From the Wing outlines the changes, including how the new hierarchy looks:
Starting May 20 upgrade prioritization will be:
Upgrade type (mileage awards and systemwide upgrades followed by 500 mile upgrades on purchased tickets and then 500 mile upgrades on awards)
Elite qualifying dollars in the past 12 months
Time of request
What To Make Of This Change?
This change makes it harder for folks on cheaper tickets to score upgrades. It also penalizes folks who don’t fly AA consistently. For example, I started out the year on United and intended to switch to AA once I’d hit 1K with United. That decision now means I’ll be behind all the other Executive Platinum members for upgrades due to my lower spending level.
American Airlines is adding the benefit of free domestic upgrades for Executive Platinum members on award tickets as well. I don’t view the two as an even trade, though some will.
I can understand the thinking on making revenue a tie-breaker, but I think it’s at least one step too far. Revenue is king right now for the airlines, frequently at the expense of a long-term relationship with the customer.
That’s evident in the framework for the new Platinum Pro level that American added for fliers who accumulate 75,000 elite-qualifying miles on a yearly basis. Delta and United both had that level, so American followed suit. By also extending unlimited domestic upgrades to Platinum Pro, they hurt two groups of loyal travelers.
That move hurts Executive Platinum members who frequently make last-minute changes to their flights. In the past, EXP members only had to contend with other EXP members if they made a change in the last couple of days prior to flight. It’s also a disadvantage for Lifetime Platinum members. They used to rank behind Executive Platinum members for complimentary domestic upgrades. Now, that’s no longer the case. And, since Plat Pro gets unlimited upgrades, the few first class seats that don’t get purchased will get sucked up well before a Lifetime Plat gets a chance very often.
The Final Two Pennies
Revenue-based upgrade priority will make it harder for some elites to score upgrades. That makes things like systemwide upgrades less valuable unless you spend quite a bit of cash. My fellow business travelers aren’t reporting an avalanche of complimentary upgrades on American this year, so there’s questionable benefit to the Executive Platinum award upgrade benefit.
Here’s the thing. I still really like American Airlines. Some will say I’m irrational. But, I’d rather fly them out of my home airport of Washington-Dulles, all else being equal. I think their staff is, on whole, more friendly. The in-flight Wi-Fi, while slower than United, always works. That’s definitely not the case on United. And, they have lots of new planes coming into the fleet.
But, since the program doesn’t provide me more benefits than United (and United gets me home to my family sooner with nonstop flights), I’ll have to like them from afar.
The post Money Talks. American Airlines Adds Revenue Requirement For Upgrades was published first on Pizza in Motion