The new American announced several changes coming to their awards program in March 2016. That date is quickly approaching and sadly, the program will become a little less valuable in my opinion. I still will stick to American as I their program fits my travel needs, but it makes the decision a little more difficult.

One major change, comes in the form of earning qualifying miles/points. With American you still earn 1 mile for each mile flown. Anyone qualifying on miles from discount economy tickets still has to fly the same 100,000 miles as before, but those that fly in either First or Business classes should have an easier time earning Elite Qualifying Points. American offers 3 points for Full-Fare First/Business Class and 2 points for Discount First/Business fares. This means business travelers have an easier time earning elite status with American than either United or Delta. Still, hard core travel hackers are able to earn status via Mileage Running.

With the program changes, upgrades are going to be harder to earn. American offers upgrades to Platinum and Gold elites in the form of 500-miles or “sticker” upgrades. In the past, for every 10,000 miles flown, the traveler would earn 4 stickers, but American has changed the requirement to 12,500 miles. Stickers are still available for purchase, each sticker costs $60.

The combination of these two changes could lead to more elite travelers, but less upgrades available.

Systemwide Upgrades – The most coveted perk of earning American’s Executive Platinum status are systemwide upgrades. Systemwide upgrades allow travelers to upgrade to the next class of service on any American Airlines operated flight. In the past, American elites earned 8 systemwide upgrades annually. With the NEW American, elites only earn 4 systemwide upgrades when qualifying for Executive Platinum, but can 2 additional upgrades for every 50,000 miles flown.

Majority of these changes do not really effect the casual traveler or the casual business traveler, but American is also changing the way travelers earn redeemable miles. American, like the other legacy carriers is switching to a revenue based system to earn redeemable miles. In the past redeemable miles were earned based on miles flown, but now they will be based on the amount of money spent on the ticket. If your goal as a traveler is to earn and use redeemable miles, I think you’re better off switching to Southwest.

Overall, the changes are a big devaluation. There are a lot of people out there trying to argue that the changes are not that bad, but most of these people receive some form of compensation from the airline. I will say, of all the legacy programs (United, Delta, American) American still has the best program for the average business traveler. If you travel less than 50,000 miles a year and pay for mostly discounted coach tickets, you may be better off switching to Southwest. Either way, just avoid Frontier and Spirit!

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