Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

American Airlines Announces 2016 AAdvantage Program Changes

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

They say when it rains, it pours and this week the big travel industry news continues. Today, American confirmed that it’s moving to a revenue-based earning system for the AAdvantage program in the middle of next year, and will also be increasing the number of miles you’ll need to redeem for many types of awards in March of 2016. While I was genuinely shocked at the Marriott/Starwood acquisition, I’m not surprised by the AAdvantage changes, especially since rumor broke a couple of weeks ago and the official changes are largely in line with what we expected then.

Bottom line: This isn’t doomsday. There will be winners (people who spend more and fly on expensive tickets) and losers (economy class international flyers). If you’re not earning more miles in the new system, you’ll likely also feel the pinch of the increase in miles needed for award flights.

An American 787 Dreamliner.
An American 787 Dreamliner.

For example, beginning on March 22, 2016, SAAver-level business class to Europe goes from 50,000 miles to 57,500 each way and first class to Asia Region 2 (including Hong Kong) goes from 67,500 to 110,000 miles. The latter stings, for sure, but United charges the same amount of miles for first-class partner award flights to Europe and Delta doesn’t offer international first-class redemptions at all. Note that the current redemption rates will apply for travel through the end of the schedule, as long as your flight is ticketed before March 22.

The good news here is that American will now offer a new low tier for short-haul flights (similar to what you can book with Avios), where flights under 500 miles are just 7,500 AAdvantage miles in economy and 15,000 in first. We all know short-haul flights can be really expensive, so this opens up a new option for valuable redemptions, though I’d probably still use Avios for these flights since they’re generally easier to accrue.

Elite Changes

American’s wonky system of allowing you to qualify on points, miles or segments is simplified into miles and segments. This is good news, because it will allow you to be rewarded for both expensive and cheap flights, whereas the current EQP system penalizes you for cheap economy flights by awarding half the number of points. In the new EQM program, all flights will earn 100% and premium fares will earn up to 300% — more generous than Delta and United. Plus, American isn’t adding a revenue component to elite status, which is one less hoop to jump through.

Below is the number of elite-qualifying miles you can expect to earn per mile flown, based on fare class, with earnings from Delta and United added in as well:

Class Purchased American Delta United
Full-Fare First/Business 3 2 1.5
Discount First/Business 2 1.5 1.5
Full-Fare Economy 1.5 1.5 1.5
Discount Economy 1 1  1

 
As for elite upgrades, there are minor changes for Gold and Platinum members specifically. Beginning March 1, instead of earning four 500-mile upgrade certificates per 10,000 EQMs, you’ll earn four for every 12,500 EQMs. You’ll also be able to purchase 500-mile upgrades for $40. American’s justification is that customers will be earning more EQMs in the new system. All elites will still be eligible for complimentary upgrades on flights 500 miles or shorter, and Executive Platinum members will be eligible on all domestic flights.

Fewer systemwide upgrades may mean less time in business class.
Fewer systemwide upgrades may mean less time in business class.

The bigger changes are for long-haul international upgrades — instead of eight systemwide upgrades for hitting Executive Platinum, you’ll now get just four, which isn’t great, but you can earn up to four more based on the number of EQMs you accrue (another two after 150,000 EQMs, and two more after 200,000 EQMs). That new policy kicks in on January 1, 2016.

Additionally, beginning with the 2017 membership year, you’ll only have elite status through the end of January unless you re-qualify. That means fewer elites competing for upgrades beginning February 1.

Earning Redeemable Miles

In the second half of 2016, American is introducing an entirely new system for earning redeemable miles on flights marketed by AA. If the below looks familiar, that’s because it is — Delta and United award miles based on the same table, though note that there are some slight differences, since Delta has a Diamond tier with higher earning requirements than AA’s Executive Platinum and United’s 1K. Additionally, AA’s Gold level matches Silver on Delta and United, and AA’s Platinum matches Delta and United’s Gold. Platinum earnings on both Delta and United are not listed below, as American doesn’t have an equivalent tier.

AAdvantage Member Level General Member Gold Platinum Executive Platinum
Miles / USD 5 7 8 11
Delta (Equiv. status level) 5 7 8 11
United (Equiv. status level) 5 7 8 11

 
Redeeming for AA Flights Current Chart vs. New Chart

As I mentioned, the redemption amounts are changing significantly, especially for travel in premium cabins. For some awards, American is actually charging more than United, since all of the amounts below apply to travel on AA’s own flights. If you’re redeeming for first-class flights to Asia and Australia, the mileage requirements are significantly higher than United’s, and AAdvantage redemptions to these regions are usually incredibly difficult to come by, but hopefully that will change after March.

Mileage requirements jump significantly for AA's premium cabins.
Mileage requirements jump significantly for AA’s premium cabins.

All of the figures below apply to flights from the United States operated by American Airlines — new redemption amounts are displayed alongside the old (or current) requirement. Note that all of these redemption amounts are for MileSAAver awards. Both AAnytime redemption levels remain unchanged, with the exception of very slight increases for select economy redemptions.

Travel from US to: Off-Peak Coach (Old) Off-Peak Coach (New) Coach (Old) Coach (New) Business (Old) Business (New) First (Old) First (New)
Contiguous 48 US states N/A N/A 12,500 12,500 25,000 25,000 32,500 50,000
Domestic < 500 miles N/A N/A N/A 7,500 N/A 15,000 N/A N/A
Canada & Alaska N/A N/A 12,500 15,000 25,000 30,000 32,500 55,000
Hawaii 17,500 20,000 22,500 22,500 37,500 40,000 47,500 65,000
Caribbean 12,500 12,500 17,500 15,000 30,000 25,000 40,000 50,000
Mexico 12,500 12,500 17,500 15,000 30,000 25,000 40,000 50,000
Central America 15,000 12,500 17,500 15,000 30,000 25,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 1 15,000 17,500 17,500 20,000 30,000 30,000 40,000 55,000
South America Region 2 20,000 N/A 30,000 30,000 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Europe 20,000 22,500 30,000 30,000 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Asia Region 1 25,000 32,500 32,500 35,000 50,000 60,000 62,500 80,000
Asia Region 2 N/A 32,500 35,000 35,000 55,000 70,000 67,500 110,000
South Pacific N/A N/A 37,500 40,000 62,500 80,000 72,500 110,000

 
American has also changed the dates for off-peak awards. For example, awards to Europe can currently be booked for travel from October through May 15.; however, after March 22, you’ll only be able to book off-peak Europe awards from November 1 through December 14, and then again from January 10 through March 14.

Redeeming for Partner Flights

You’ll need to redeem even more miles to fly Cathay Pacific first class.

And here is the award chart for flights on AA’s partners, such as Cathay Pacific and Etihad. Note that business and first-class partner award levels are identical to those for American’s own flights — by comparison, United charges significantly more miles for premium-cabin partner awards.

Travel from US to: Off-Peak Coach (Old) Off-Peak Coach (New) Coach (Old) Coach (New) Business (Old) Business (New) First (Old) First (New)
Contiguous 48 US states N/A N/A 12,500 12,500 25,000 25,000 32,500 50,000
Canada & Alaska N/A N/A 12,500 15,000 25,000 30,000 32,500 55,000
Hawaii N/A N/A 22,500 22,500 37,500 40,000 47,500 65,000
Caribbean N/A N/A 17,500 17,500 30,000 27,500 40,000 52,500
Mexico N/A N/A 17,500 17,500 30,000 27,500 40,000 52,500
Central America N/A N/A 17,500 17,500 30,000 27,500 40,000 52,500
South America Region 1 N/A N/A 17,500 20,000 30,000 30,000 40,000 55,000
South America Region 2 N/A N/A 30,000 30,000 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Europe 20,000 22,500 30,000 30,000 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Middle East / India N/A N/A 45,000 40,000 67,500 70,000 90,000 115,000
Africa N/A N/A 37,500 40,000 75,000 75,000 100,000 120,000
Asia Region 1 25,000 N/A 32,500 35,000 50,000 60,000 62,500 80,000
Asia Region 2 N/A N/A 35,000 37,500 55,000 70,000 67,500 110,000
South Pacific N/A N/A 37,500 40,000 62,500 80,000 72,500 110,000

 
As you can see above, American also made some adjustments to the off-peak coach award chart, removing discounted partner awards to Asia. Additionally, as is also the case with off-peak awards on AA-operated flights, the off-peak dates have changed significantly for partner flights to Europe.

Also, note that the above chart only applies for flights to or from the United States. If you’re looking to travel between other regions, be sure to check AA’s new charts to see if your award will increase based on current redemption levels. If you’re traveling in first or business class, you should expect an increase.

With both American and partner awards, you can book at the old rates through March 21, 2016. If you need to change your origin and destination or class of service after that date, you’ll need to pay the new mileage amount, but date and routing changes should be permitted without re-pricing the award.

Bottom Line

While I would love to live in our current system forever, it just isn’t sustainable and American needs to justify to its shareholders that it is being competitive and doing everything to keep top customers engaged. The airline has carefully watched United and Delta switch to revenue-based earnings programs and still hit record profit. American tried to keep up by introducing a promotion to award high-spenders, but having a promo in place is not a long-term solution to courting high-spenders.

The changes following AA's merger aren't all bad.
The AAdvantage changes following AA’s merger aren’t all bad.

While many of these changes are not great, I think we should be thankful that the merger brought us almost two years with the current model, and we still have until March 22, 2016 to redeem at current levels — so burn baby burn! American is giving us plenty of time to adapt, which I appreciate. Overall, I still think AAdvantage Executive Platinum is the best top-tier elite program out there, and while I don’t like some of these changes, they won’t drive me away, because frankly the competition is still less appealing.

If you’re not happy with the changes and think you may need to take your business elsewhere, be sure to let American know, either by sending an email or reaching out on other platforms, such as Twitter. While we likely won’t see any major changes to redemption amounts before March, the airline could show its appreciation through another gesture, such as bonus mileage-earning opportunities or an increase in the number of systemwide upgrades for Executive Platinum members.

What do you think about AA’s 2016 AAdvantage program?

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

Apply Now
  • Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy Group 1 Boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases.1
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back — up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 14.24% - 22.24%* (Variable) $95, waived for first 12 months* 3.00% Excellent/Good