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TPG reader Ben emailed me to ask about earning AAdvantage miles:
“I know American Airlines is changing how miles are earned in the second half of 2016, but if I purchase a ticket now for a flight in October, will I earn miles based on the current system (flight distance) or the new system (ticket price)?”
Last fall, American Airlines announced major changes to the AAdvantage program, including a devaluation of the award chart and plans to adopt a revenue-based system for mileage accrual. While redemption rates have already been updated, the new earning rates won’t take effect until the second half of 2016. Ben wants to know if he can purchase tickets now and earn miles based on the distance flown, rather than the price of his fare. The short answer is probably not, but there are a few exceptions.
American Airlines spells out the new rules pretty clearly in its description of the AAdvantage program updates, and even addresses this specific question in the award miles FAQ. To paraphrase, miles will be awarded based on the policy in effect when you travel, not when you buy your ticket. However, there’s still some uncertainty there — we’ve been told the change will take place in the second half of 2016, but we don’t know when. It could be as early as July, but I think American would have announced the date by now if that were the case.
Ben isn’t flying until October, but it’s possible that he’ll still earn miles based on the current system. That could be helpful if you’re planning a mileage run, since many flights will be less rewarding once miles are awarded based on the ticket price. American already increased EQM earning rates this year, so it won’t make a difference which system is in place for those targeting AAdvantage elite status.
Keep in mind that those new earning rates apply to flights marketed by American Airlines. Flights marketed by partner airlines (but credited to the AAdvantage program) will mostly earn miles based on a percentage of the distance flown, with bonuses awarded for some premium fares. That also applies to some vacation packages and other tickets where the fare isn’t disclosed. It’s not clear yet whether those partner-earning rates will also be adjusted in the second half of 2016, so stay tuned for more information if you’re ticketed with Cathay Pacific, British Airways or another carrier.
As with Delta and United in previous years, there will be winners and losers in the new program. The shift to a revenue-based program has numerous effects on leisure travelers, but overall I think it underscores the importance of earning points and miles through other channels (like credit card spending and partner bonuses). Award travelers can take some comfort in the fact that American Airlines hasn’t adopted a revenue requirement for elite status, and that Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has no plans to go revenue-based (for now).
For more on how to maximize the AAdvantage program post-devaluation, check out these posts:
- Which Card Is Best for AAdvantage Awards After the Devaluation?
- 26 American Airlines Awards that Went Down in Price on March 22
- Crediting American Airlines Flights to Alaska in 2016
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
- Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
- Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
- $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
- Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- Annual Fee is $250.
- Terms apply.
- See Rates & Fees