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How You’ll Earn Elite-Qualifying Miles on AA’s Partners in 2016

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In 2015, your elite-qualifying mile (EQM) earnings for economy flights could vary significantly between American Airlines partners. This is changing in 2016! The AAdvantage program will now treat partners somewhat equally when it comes to earning EQMs. TPG Contributor JT Genter digs into the new charts to let you know what this could mean for your 2016 elite qualification.

We are still processing the changes to the 2016 AAdvantage program released yesterday. While we covered all that we knew at the time, there was a large adjustment that was not detailed in American Airlines’ announcement: an important change to how you earn elite-qualifying miles when flying on AA’s partner airlines.

2015 AAdvantage Program

The 2015 AAdvantage elite-qualifying chart.

First, let’s dig a bit into the current AAdvantage program: In 2015, you can earn American Airlines Gold, Platinum or Executive Platinum status by earning 25,000, 50,000 or 100,000 elite-qualifying miles or points (or 30/60/120 elite-qualifying segments), respectively.

Elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) are generally equal to the number of miles you flew “butt in seat.” Elite-qualifying points (EQPs) are closer tied to revenue: discount economy on AA earns just 0.5 EQPs per mile flown, but first- and business-class flights booked through American Airlines earn up to 3.0 EQPs through a promotion.

You can still earn a bunch of Elite Qualifying Points (EQP) by booking first/business class tickets - before the EQP system goes away January 1st!
You can still earn a bunch of elite-qualifying points (EQP) by booking first- or business-class tickets — before the EQP system goes away January 1!

Elite mileage earning for flights booked with partner airlines currently varies quite a bit from one airline to the next. Many flights booked with AA’s key partners (such as Alaska, British AirwaysFinnair and Iberia) earn the same amount of EQMs and EQPs as if you booked with American Airlines. So, it currently doesn’t make much of a difference if you book with American Airlines or these partners, as you’ll earn the same elite-qualifying miles and points either way.

However, economy flights booked with other airlines (such as Japan Airlines, Qantas and Qatar) earned just a fraction (25%-30%) of the EQMs that flights booked with American Airlines would earn.

2016 AAdvantage Changes

The new 2016 AAdvantage system. It doesn’t look different, but there are important changes to note.

In 2016, American Airlines is simplifying things a bit by getting rid of the EQP system. The airline is effectively merging the 2015 EQM and EQP systems, turning the 2016 elite-qualifying mile (EQM) earning chart into something closely resembling the 2015 EQP system. The very beneficial difference being that all American Airlines-marketed flights earn at least 1 EQM per mile flown under the 2016 system.

When we revealed the leaked changes a few weeks ago, we mentioned that this is a really good thing. This rewards predominately discount economy travelers for splurging for business- and first-class tickets every once in a while. Likewise, premium-cabin travelers who have to endure an occasional flight or two in economy also benefit. Under the 2015 system, both of these “out of the ordinary” flights would be less rewarding when it comes to qualifying for status.

There is, however, an important catch to note with AA’s 2016 program — the new system will only work to your benefit if you book flights through American Airlines, even if they’re operated by a partner.

Changes to Partner Elite Earning Charts

Your economy EQM earnings on these airlines are changing in 2016.

If you’ve already booked discount economy flights with American Airlines’ partners for travel in 2016, your elite-qualifying earnings (when credited to AAdvantage program) will likely change under the new program.

All partner award charts now show that EQMs will be awarded at a rate of 50% of the miles flown — on all discount economy fare classes that previously earned miles. This means that you will earn between 50% and 200% of the EQMs in 2016 that you would have earned in 2015 for the same fare class.

Let’s explore some of the changes in detail. For simplicity, please note that we only are focusing on discount economy fare classes that earn miles. There are still fare classes with partner airlines that will continue to earn zero EQMs in 2016, as they did in 2015.

Negative Changes:

Airline Fare classes 2015 EQM 2016 EQM Decrease Notes
Alaska Airlines G, K, L, T, V 1 0.5 50%
British Airways G, Q, S, N, O 1 0.5 50%
Cathay Pacific Airways H 1 0.5 50%
Finnair G, N, O, Q, R, S, T, W, Z 1 0.5 50%
Iberia O, P, Q 1 0.5 50% Between Spain and the US/Puerto Rico and Mexico
Iberia O, P, Q 0.8 0.5 37.5% All other flights
Japan Airlines A 0.75 0.5 33% Flights within Japan
LAN Airlines S, N, Q, O, G, A 1 0.5 50% Excluding flights within South America
TAM Airlines K, M, L, V, X, S, N, Q, O, G, H, A 1 0.5 50% Excluding flights within Brazil

The airlines that are negatively affected are:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific Airways
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines (flights within Japan only)
  • LAN Airlines (except for flights within South America)
  • TAM Airlines (except for flights within Brazil)
AA Finnair earnings chart
The current and revised earnings charts for discount economy on Finnair.

For example, let’s take a flight between New York (JFK) and Helsinki (HEL), booked directly through Finnair in discount economy (fare classes: G, N, O, Q, R, S, T, W, Z). The distance between the two airports is 4,117 miles.

  • Flown in 2015, you would earn 4,117 EQMs (4,117 x 100% base miles)
  • Flown in 2016, you would earn 2,059 EQMs (4,117 x 0.5 EQM per mile)

Positive Changes:

Airline Fare classes

2015 EQM

2016 EQM

Increase  Notes
Air Berlin N, Q, O, G, P, E, W 0.25 0.5 100%
Japan Airlines N, Q 0.3 0.5 67% Excluding flights within Japan
LAN Airlines S, N, Q, O, G, A 0.25 0.5 100% Flights within South America
Qantas O, Q 0.25 0.5 100%
Qatar Q, O, T 0.25 0.5 100%
S7 Airlines N, Q, O 0.25 0.5 100%
SriLankan Airlines O, G 0.25 0.5 100%

However, there are quite a few cases where your elite-qualifying mile (EQM) earnings have actually increased! Many of these airlines had an EQM-earning rate of 25%-30% in 2015, but that will increase to 50% in 2016.

EQM earnings will increase on the following airlines:

  • Air Berlin
  • Japan Airlines (excluding flights within Japan)
  • LAN Airlines (flights within South America)
  • Qantas
  • Qatar
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines
AA Air Berlin earnings chart
The current and revised earnings charts for Air Berlin Discount Economy

Did you jump on booking the new Air Berlin flights between the US and Germany starting in May 2016? Well, you are in luck when it comes to EQMs!

Let’s take one of the new routes between Dallas (DFW) and Dusseldorf (DUS), booked directly through Air Berlin in discount economy (fare classes: N, Q, O, G, P, E, W). The distance between the two airports is 5,030 miles.

  • Flown in 2015, you would earn 1,258 EQMs (5,030 x 25% base miles)
  • Flown in 2016, you would earn 2,515 EQMs (5,030 x 0.5 EQM per mile)

EQM Formula for 2016

We have confirmed these calculations with American Airlines AAdvantage. Part of our concern was that EQMs in 2015 were calculated as:

  • Miles between airports  x  base miles

We were concerned that the base miles percentage would continue to factor into the calculations in 2016, meaning that there were devaluations across all partners. However, we have been able to confirm that the formula for 2016 does not factor in base miles. The formula for 2016 EQMs is confirmed to be:

  • Miles between airports  x  EQM earning rate

Bottom Line

American Airlines wants you to only book through them!
Naturally, American Airlines wants you to book partner flights through AA.

This is a very disappointing change for those of us who booked flights based on the old chart. With this stroke of the pen, my wife’s EQM earnings dropped by 11,043 on just one round-trip flight booked through British Airways for travel in January.

Many of the new AAdvantage changes are designed to drive travelers to book flights directly through American Airlines. These EQM-earning devaluations on historically equal partners — such as Alaska, British Airways and Finnair — are another indication of this.

However, there is some silver lining in these changes for those who have 2016 discount economy flights booked with other partners, such as Air Berlin, Qantas and Qatar. The previous earning rates made it barely worth crediting flights to AAdvantage, but with these flights now earning twice the number of EQMs, it might make sense to reconsider.

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