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Since last night, the airline forums have been abuzz about rumored changes to the 2016 American Airlines AAdvantage program. TPG Contributor JT Genter dives into the rumors to analyze and summarize what we know so far.
At 6:22pm last night, TravelingBetter user — and reliable American Airlines source — JonNYC first posted “AAgents getting training on new AAdv changes.” His initial take on the changes were very positive:
My review; absolutely excellent. YES, there are a few takebacks, etc., but I see this as the best anyone could have possibly hoped for.
He went on to share all the details he knows about the new program. Although these details have reportedly been released to American Airlines employees — who supposedly had to sign a non-disclosure agreement when they received it — we cannot know that these changes are confirmed. Also, there’s no known timeline for an official announcement.
- No revenue requirements for elite status — This is excellent news! It was feared that American Airlines would follow Delta and United’s lead and require a minimum amount of spend on fares in order to reach elite status. For 2016 status, both United and Delta require that frequent flyers spend $3,000 on fares (no credit for taxes and fees) just to reach their lowest level of status. Meanwhile, with the right American Airlines deals, you might be able earn AAdvantage top-level Executive Platinum status for under $3,000 in total spend!
- Simplification of the Elite Qualifying Miles/Points system — For 2016, Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) earning rates will effectively become a blend of the current EQM and Elite Qualifying Points (EQP) system. This is good news for people who fly both revenue economy and premium cabin, as this means no more “worthless” (for elite accrual) first/business or economy-class revenue flights. For example, say you fly 50,000 miles in discount economy and 25,000 miles in business in a calendar year, you would earn Executive Platinum status under the rumored system (100,000 EQM) vs. Platinum (75,000 EQM & 62,500-87,500 EQP) under the current system. In no case that we can come up with should anyone earn status slower than the current system. The new elite earning chart is rumored to be:
- Full fare first/business F/J – 3 EQMs per mile flown
- Discount fare first/business – 2 EQMs per mile flown
- Full fare Y/B – 1.5 EQMs per mile flown
- Discount Main Cabin – 1 EQM per mile flown
- No “major changes” to AAdvantage award chart — Although there are reportedly some minor devaluations, rumors contend that there are no major changes. A major change to the award chart has been feared by many and deemed “inevitable” by some.
- 4x 500-mile upgrades earned every 12,500 EQM vs. 10,000 EQMs —While this seems to be a devaluation, some people will actually earn 500-mile upgrades much faster due to the EQMs bonuses from premium cabin tickets. Economy-only flyers will suffer a bit, earning 500-mile upgrades 25% slower.
- No changes to the current levels required for elite status — Gold status will be earned after 25,000 EQM, Platinum at 50,000 EQM and Executive Platinum at 100,000 EQM.
- Systemwide Upgrades (SWU) will still be redeemable for all revenue fares — Another feared change was that American Airlines would require elite travelers to purchase more-expensive fare classes in order to use SWUs — similar to United’s policy. Thankfully, there are no reported changes to American Airlines’ current SWU upgrade system.
- Segment qualification remains the same as the current system — Last year, American Airlines increased the number of segments required for top-tier Executive Platinum from 100 to 120 — in line with United’s 120 segment requirement and close to Delta’s 140 segment requirement. So, it is not surprising that there are no further changes to segment qualification.
- Redeemable miles (RDM) earning will be based on fare cost rather than miles flown — JonNYC reports that redeemable miles will be “$$ X status” starting in late 2016. Once this kicks in, it seems that this will severely reduce the value of the redeemable miles earned from a mileage run. For example, a 24,910-mile run from Houston (IAH) to Johannesburg (JNB) on British Airways will currently earn 24,910 RDM for standard members, 31,138 for Gold members and 49,820 for Platinum and Executive Platinum members. At TPG’s current valuation of 1.7 cents per American Airlines mile, this run earns between $423-$847 in redeemable miles alone! Considering that the fare was just $838 at the time, Platinum/ExPlat members could get more value out of the miles — before factoring-in elite status benefits and 500-mile upgrades —than the cost of the ticket. This specific run will be severely limited by the new changes to the AA earning chart on British Airways-marketed flights and then this change to how redeemable miles are earned.
- Only 4 Systemwide Upgrades (SWU) earned when reaching ExPlat, but there will be a formalized way of earning more — Previously, Executive Platinum members would receive 8 SWUs at qualification, and then no more. If you reached higher level of miles/points (i.e. 150k), you would then need to call AAdvantage desk and ask for them to grant you more. But, these situations were hit-or-miss. Now, there’s a defined method of earning more SWUs.
If you were holding off on getting an American Airlines-earning credit card due to fears about the award chart being devalued, you are in luck. It seems that there will be no major changes to the award chart and the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard has recently increased its signup bonus to 50,000 AA miles after a $3,000 minimum spend!
While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.