Today, American Airlines sent AAdvantage members an email letting everyone know of the upcoming changes to their frequent flyer program. Although the changes should not be a surprise to most, I wanted to take a few moments to discuss some of the more significant changes and share my views. Keep in mind I typically fly just over 50,000 a year annually and majority of my travels are paid for by the company I work for and usually booked in the lowest fare class available. Those who fly more often or fly in higher classes of service may not find my strategy as useful.

Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs)

Until now the amount of money a traveler spent with American Airlines annually had no impact on their level of status, but starting January 1, 2017 American Airlines will enact elite qualifying dollars as a requirement to attain certain levels of status. AAdvantage members will still attain status based on elite qualifying miles or elite qualifying segments, but certain spending thresholds must be met to attain each level of status.

EQD requirements are as follows: Executive Platinum = $12,000, (New) Platinum Pro = $9,000, (Existing) Platinum = $6,000, and Gold = $3,000.

Credit Card Waivers: Anyone fortunate enough to hold an AAdvantage Aviator card from Barclays (formally US Airways) can supplement the EQD requirement by spending $25,000 on the Aviator Red or Blue card to earn $3,000 EQDs. AAdvantage Aviator Silver cardholders can earn up to $6,000 EDQs by spending $50,000 annually.

My View: In the prime of Mileage Running, Executive Platinum could be earned for less than $5,000 if following typical Mileage Run criteria of $0.05/mile. It is frustrating that American Airlines has implemented an EQD requirement, but considering I typically fly 50,000 miles and some of my flights end up costing over $1,000 if they are last minute, I should have no problem meeting the $6,000 requirement to requalify for AAdvantage Platinum status in 2017. Anyone still interested in Mileage Running alone to earn status on their own dime may be better off crediting flights to a different airline to earn status.

Introduction of Platinum Pro Status

Beginning January 1, 2017 AAdvantage members have a new goalpost! Fly 75,000 miles or 90 segments AND earn $9,000 EQDs to reach American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Pro status. AAdvantage Platinum Pro members earn the following benefits:

  • Unlimited complimentary upgrades on flights less than 500 miles.
  • 9 Award Miles per US Dollar Spent on Airfare (does not include taxes/fees)
  • 72 hour upgrade window
  • 2 free checked bags
  • OneWorld Sapphire Status

My Take: Although I am disappointed to know that an entirely new group of road warriors are ahead of me on the upgrade list, I do not think upgrade priority will change too much. Sure, as a lowly AAdvantage Platinum member I will have a little more anxiety before boarding is announced about my upgrade clearing, but my upgrade clearing percentage as a Platinum based in Chicago was already fairly low. I like the addition of the new level since it rewards those who fly that awkward 75,000 mile range which previously left them well above Platinum, but well below Executive Platinum.

EQD Upgrade Prioritization

Well this sucks. I already had low enough upgrade clearing percentages and now American Airlines has figured out how to rank customers based on EQDs. Since majority of my travel is in Discount Economy I do not expect to be at the top of the upgrade list often, but it will be interesting to judge fellow passengers as you hear their names called and watch them walk to the podium.

Award Miles

In the past a mile flown was a mile earned. AAdvange Gold’s would earn a 25% bonus and Platinum/Executive Platinum members would earn a 100% bonus. Today, Award Miles are earned based on US Dollars spent. Executive Platinum Members earn 11 miles/$, Platinum Pro Members earn 9 miles/$, Platinum Members earn 8 miles/$, Gold Members earn 7 miles/$, and Members earn 5 miles/$.

My Take: This was by far the most upsetting change to the AAdvantage program for me. In 2015 and 2016 I was floored by the number of AAdvantage miles I would earn after a couple of flights, but now because many of the tickets I purchase are so inexpensive my AAdvantage mileage balance never seems to move (except for dining out, renting cars, shopping through the portal, etc.). What is also extremely upsetting is the wild fluctuations in award flight pricing, lack of American Metal award seats on transatlantic flights, and overall devaluation of the award chart. With all of the changes, American Airlines simply reinforced the notion of EARN and BURN. Sure, it has become increasingly difficult to earn AAdvantage miles, but in many instances you are better off using credit card reward points to pay for flights anyway!

Final Thoughts

After the initial shock of the AAdvantage “Enhancements” earlier this year, I have taken some time to re-evaluate my loyalty strategy for 2017. As a Chicago based traveler American Airlines simply makes the most sense and compared to the other Legacy Carriers the airline still has some pretty good award flight value, BUT for me American Airlines simply cannot be my airline of choice any longer. If the Citi Prestige card were to continue Admirals Club access through 2017, I would have no problem sticking to American Airlines, but losing this perk is enough to convince me to jump ship for now.

For now, Delta Air Lines is my airline of choice for the following reasons in order of importance:

  • Non-Delta Hub: As a Chicago based traveler I am almost always required to make a stop on the way to my final destination. Majority of my travels are in the midwest, so it would be difficult to qualify on segments or miles with United or American.
  • Delta Sky Club Access: The American Express Platinum Card give me access to Delta Sky Club’s when traveling on Delta. I truly value lounge access because of the ability to speak to a customer service representative if my trip is disrupted. This perk has saved me time and time again and I am sad to lose Admirals Club access via the Citi Prestige Card.
  • Upgrades: The only thing I honestly care about when getting upgraded is the free alcohol. On Delta Airlines and “upgrade” to Economy+ does the job and as a Delta Gold member I am moved up around 60-70% of the time. I am a pretty small individual so the added legroom and seat width of first class was never at the top of my priority list.
  • Loyalty Programs: I have given up trying to hoard Loyalty Points for that amazing international trip. Delta Sky Pesos are virtually worthless, but if I get a free flight here or there great. Majority of my International redemptions will come from transferring Membership Rewards points or Ultimate Rewards points directly to the airline loyalty program which makes the most sense when I am planning my trip.

I realize I digressed, but I want to make it clear why I personally am making the choices that I am making. I hope many you have found this helpful.