American’s AAdvantage Program Changes – June 2016

American Airlines is making changes to their AAdvantage Program, and they are not pretty. This is of course, a follow-up devaluation to the one announced November, 2015.
There are a bunch of changes – here’s the high points, plus my own analysis.

AAdvantage Redeemable Mileage (RDM) Earning Rate Goes Revenue Based

Not a huge surprise here. We knew they were going to do it, “sometime in 2016” – well that date is 1 August 2016.
Here’s the earn rates:
AAdvantage RDM earn rates as of 1 August 2016 - courtesy of American airlines.

AAdvantage RDM earn rates as of 1 August 2016 – courtesy of American airlines.

Note, that the announcement says it’ll tell you how many miles you’ll earn for flights after 1 August 2016 when you book on American’s website, but as of this writing, it is not showing. 

Also – the minimum mileage guarantee goes away on Shuttle flights starting 1 August 2016.

New AAdvantage Status Level

This is one I was definitely relieved about – the new status is Platinum Pro, and will require 75,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) to attain.
Four AAdvantage Status Levels in 2017. Courtesy of American Airlines.

Four AAdvantage Status Levels in 2017. Courtesy of American Airlines.

The benefits of Platinum Pro include:

This one is a push, in my opinion, as they could have just as easily instituted another level at 125k instead of 75k miles, mirroring Delta (granted, they’d need to tweak the other levels too).

The Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) Shoe Drops

Here’s the most painful part of the changes, in my opinion – AAdvantage introduces Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD). This was something I was expecting in the November announcement, and was quite relieved when it wasn’t there. Many figured this was a far gone conclusion, well, now it has happened, and it’s not pretty.
Elite Status Qualification Requirements now include Elite Qualifying Dollars.

Elite Status Qualification Requirements now include Elite Qualifying Dollars.

It is important to note that your Elite Qualifying Dollar amount is calculated from the base fare plus carrier-imposed fees, not the total amount of how much you pay American, so $12,000 could be much more, depending on where you’re flying out of. For example, my read is that if you fly out of the United Kingdom a bunch, you’ll be paying the Air Passenger Duty (APD), which won’t count to your EQD total.
As of this writing, it is not clear whether there will be waivers, whether for members who live overseas, or for those who hold an American Airlines credit card. If I were at Citi, I’d want some arrangement to have a waiver, especially for the Citi Executive, but I’m not exactly impartial here.

Interesting things that stand out:

Elite Qualifying Dollars will impact your upgrade changes: it really stands out to me that later American will have a way to associate your Elite Qualifying Dollars with your account to prioritize you on the upgrade list.
The way your upgrade request is prioritized will change later in 2017. You’ll be listed according to your elite status level followed by the number of EQDs earned in the last 12 months.
This is perhaps the most blatant “what have you done for me lately,” move I’ve seen, and I find it offensive when associated with a “loyalty program.” I also will not be surprised if they have some problems instituting it, as IT is hard.
Executive Platinum will be able to use 500-mile upgrades on Award Tickets: American will be letting elites use 500-mile upgrades on award tickets. This is perhaps the first time I’ve seen this particular benefit, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

Funny Math for Partner Marketed Flights: This FAQ also jumped out at me:

Why are award miles and EQDs for travel on partner airline marketed flights calculated differently from American marketed flights?

When you fly with a partner airline, the fare you paid isn’t always shared with American. Therefore, flights that are marketed by American’s partner airlines earn mileage and EQDs based on a percentage of the distance flown as determined by the booking code of the ticket purchased.

Wrapping Up

Overall, this puts another nail in the coffin–perhaps not quite the final one though. It will certainly thin the ranks of elite flyers out, barring EQD waivers, in 2018. I think the most noticeable change immediately will be the revenue based earning of RDMs. Ironically for me, I’ve got a flight in August, where I’ll actually earn nearly 3x the miles under the new system, but I suspect for many, it’s going to hurt. Those super cheap airfares to Asia and Europe that many have gotten on, won’t be nearly as rewarding, in some cases 50% or less.

We’ll see the biggest impacts of these changes March, 2018, when the elite ranks are thinned. I say this, because I think a lot of folks–myself included–pushed hard to requalify or get the majority of flights in before 1 June, expecting revenue based earning of RDMs to kick in around then, and decrease the earn rate. Even for folks who haven’t gotten all the way, it wouldn’t surprise me if they finish it off this year, since most of the rough changes don’t kick in until next year anyway.

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