Rumor: Big AAdvantage Program Changes Coming In 2016

Filed Under: American

While we’ve seen tons of changes to both the Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus program over the past couple of years, the American AAdvantage program has remained pretty steady. And that’s to say that American has a considerably more lucrative award chart, and is also the only one of the “big three” US carriers to not have a revenue requirement for status, or to award miles based on spend rather than miles flown.

Why there haven’t been big AAdvantage changes

That can perhaps largely be explained by the fact that American has been focused on their merger with US Airways, and throughout this process their focus has been on “integrating” rather than “innovating.” Now that the final major hurdle of the merger is complete with the integration of the two airlines’ reservations systems, we’ll presumably see some “innovation” soon.

During a recent earnings call, American’s President Scott Kirby said he was hoping for “more innovation within the frequent flyer program,” which should come as no surprise. I don’t think that’s necessarily to say that they’ll copy Delta or United exactly, but clearly there will be some changes.

I think we’ve all sort of been sitting around and waiting for them, and it looks like we’ll finally see them very shortly.


AAdvantage changes coming in 2016

JonNYC at TravelingBetter (who is a very reliable source on all things American Airlines) posted the following today:

Agents are getting their training– with an accompanying non-disclosure.

Will update thread as details sluice through.

He followed that up quickly with the following:

I’ve now seen the full set of changes.

They do impact the entire program and are substantial, and they do start in 2016.

As far as earning status, I think what they’ve come up with is excellent.

And then he followed it up with the following:

My review; absolutely excellent. YES, there are a few takebacks, etc., but I see this as the best anyone could have possibly hoped for.

Well I’m certainly optimistic based on the last comment. So I guess based on the above, here are my general thoughts:

  • There will be an award chart devaluation, though it won’t be too terrible (I’m thinking one-way first class to Asia going from 67,500 miles to 80,000-90,000 miles, maybe)
  • American will change how status is earned, though isn’t just following Delta and United and going fully revenue based, but rather is doing something actually innovative
  • At first I was really disappointed that they’d make drastic changes to the 2016 program with only a couple of months advance notice, given that Delta provided 10+ months advance notice when they made extreme changes; that being said, I’m actually sort of optimistic based on the above commentary, and have to assume that if they’re giving such little advance notice the changes can’t be that bad, or they’ll lose the trust of members (which I think they’ve been trying very hard to earn throughout the merger)

Bottom line

It sounds like some big changes are coming to the AAdvantage program, even for 2016, which I wasn’t necessarily expecting. And while I’m sure all things considered the changes will be a net negative, it sounds like they’re a lot better than they could have been when you take into account what Delta and United have done to their programs.

So, anyone want to guess what kind of changes we’ll see?

  1. Let’s see how long it will take American airlines to actually disclose what’s going to happen after we have spent the entire year working on earning the status.

  2. I was on the about a month ago and they had a different reward chart up. I assume it was some sort of a glitch because when I refreshed the page it went back to the normal reward chart.
    The reward chart that I saw listed the current reward prices as off peak and the peak reward price was a bit higher. For an example business class to the middle east was 67.5k during off peak and higher during peak. I do not remember how much higher, but the 80-90k range seems right.

  3. Earning status on United and Delta have nothing to do with being revenue-based, Lucky. PQMs and EQMs are still by miles flown, minimum 1 qualifying mile no matter what fare class.

  4. Concierge key, wondering if it is going to be staying the same? Maybe they can increase the bonus system wides from 2 to 4 😉

  5. @keith Delta and United still make you spend a minimum amount either on flights or on cobranded credit cards. RDM earning is tied to fare, PQM/MQM are based on miles flown. Provided you spend enough in MQD

  6. I think (and hope) that the promo this year offering more EQP was a test to see if they could entice more people to pay for discount first/business and that they will put something in place to continue that trend in 2016 and beyond. It’s been a win-win for me, I know the added EQP has enticed me to pay for P, A and I fares more often, increased the revenue per mile that AA has gotten from me, and in return I’ve gotten more certainty of sitting in F/J, and gotten status for a lot fewer B.I.S. Miles. I hope the EQP for 2016 matches the promo, or takes a step further.

  7. I think they will have an award chart with peak/off peak , similar to BA but based on zones (not by distance), and maybe for partners will be always peak. As we now, AA currently have peak/off peak on some routes but only for Y, for J/F still the same, and that will be the big change. As a good thing, I hope they remove or lower the current price for “Anytime awards”, the currently amount needed is ridiculous!!!.

  8. From the thread, JonNYC did an update:

    “No minimum spend for elite

    No $-based elite earning (but bonuses for higher spend)

    No change to level for elite

    No change to segment qualification.”

    The damage to the award chart is… disappointing, but oh well.

  9. Hopefully they get rid of the crappy upgrade system. Sick of having to focus on “upgrade points” instead of getting them complimentary like I did with USAir.

  10. @ JonNYC — Look again…that is not inside the quotation marks. ( I had the exact same initial reaction as you.)

  11. This year, about 70% of my travels this year were in A/P/I fares and it was mainly due to the bonuses. Blew past 100K EQPs with only 38 segments and AA has definitely extracted much higher PRASM from me. My annual spend is about the same, status is the same, but at a much lower cost for AA. Sounds like they intend to continue stimulating this kind of spend as they can enjoy a considerably higher profit margin and I have heard many Plats/EXPs mentioning a similar shift in purchasing patterns, even the price sensitive ones.

    Very clever, AA. Possibly smarter than what DL/UA has done.

  12. Sounds like the changes are such that they are not going to cause everyone to bolt. Maybe not as good as it is today, it will be better than UA/DL.

  13. No rumors yet about the award chart, which is my only concern. I was hoping (Though, admittedly, not terribly realistically) that any devaluation would hold off going into effect until May. I already know a trip I want to book to the Middle East in March or April of 2017. Oh well. Maybe I’ll just have to do my best to play a trip to some place like India also for 2016, if I can manage it.

  14. Well, there’s a serious 25% devaluation for partner redemptions, and partner redemptions are constitute all aspirational redemptions. Still, it’ll be cheaper than DL and UA.

    The drop from 8 eVIPs to 4 eVIPs is going to be a lot harder to take for intercontinental flyers. Too bad for you if you liked flying in front on low demand days.

    Looks like dollars based RDM earning will wait for Fall 2016 so that will loom for a while. No cash requirement for status this year, but maybe next year.

    Sounds a little like EXP will get easier to reach for high revenue flyers with EQPs permanently set at 2x instead of 1.5x. That at least matches DL and UA which at least don’t punish you for flying half in economy and half in front.

  15. Well, welcome to the world of airline mergers!!.

    With that said, there is HUGE news coming from AA next year that will be well received! …will smooth out some of the roughness from the AAdvantage changes.

    There were many good things at US under Parker, and these are surfacing at AA. Also remember, he was trained under Crandall at AA….this is not a stupid airline guy.

  16. “RDM accrual in the late 2016 phase will be radically different than current.” JonNyc on that thread on travelingbetter …. with the use of ‘radically’ … well very ominous indeed and that doesn’t sound like good news or even moderately bad news

  17. This seems to have been in the pipeline for quite some time. I’ve already booked all my essential US-Asia travel for next year in JAL first in anticipation that things would not be as sweet as they are now. If the rumors are true that they will increase partner award redemptions by 25% it would simply bring them in-line with United (Delta’s awards are so variable it’s hard to use them for meaningful comparison). Hopefully, they will make earning miles through CC spend a little easier so as to keep up with competitors like United. Maybe adding a transfer partner, like Citi TY, would help to balance out the equation. But the only thing certain at this point is that our AA miles will likely never be more valuable than they are today.

  18. Take this with a grain of salt, but I won’t post with my normal name:

    A close co-worker of mine has an immediate relative who works at the airport for US Airways (now american) and said the changes will not be good. Status will be garbage for all but the top tier and award prices will go way up where the two main takeaways.

  19. @Eli – Cutting from 8 to 4 SWUs is typical small ball HPdbaAA thinking.

    He’s not running CLT and PHX anymore that are captive hubs.

    ORD DFW LAX NYC are all fiercely competitive with no clear leader and AA needs to make up for its mediocre reliability and onboard product.

    UA comes out the winner here.

    6 SWUs on a reasonable W fare

    Best SDC in the industry

    RPU program (sounds like AA has nothing to show for here)

    Lots of changes in the product to leapfrog AA coming

  20. Well, this sucks. They promised no major changes without sufficient notice. If there were changes to the FF program, it should be published in July. Going to park all my miles on Alaska from now on.

  21. I hate how we, as a collective, have just kind of resigned to the fact that the programs only get worse. Then we try to convince ourselves otherwise by saying, “Well, at least they didn’t take away such-and-such,” or “The changes aren’t THAT bad…” The airlines are still ultimately punishing loyalists, but we have developed some form of Stockholm Syndrome at best, or we are all Uncle Toms at worst. Why can’t we call a spade a spade? Yeah, we ultimately have to live with it, but let’s stop putting polish on turds and call airlines on their shenanigans.

  22. @Gene – Gary is probably trying to figure out how to spin his prior – very adamant – statements about the timing (and to some extent nature) of any major changes…some of which are now turning out to be quite wrong!

  23. Lucky, since a devaluation on the redemption side is almost certainly going to happen in 2016… I’m sitting on a reasonably large AAdvantage mile balance (514k miles with at least another 15k expected earnings in the next few months) that I need to start planning how to use over the next year. Ideally I’ll be doing something in the spring of 2016, which I could already book now, and a 2nd trip for fall or early winter (Oct-Dec) 2016 which I could maybe book now but should start looking for over the next 2-3 months. What are the current sweet spots for availability, points required, low taxes/fees, etc. if I’m looking to get 2 trips in business or first for 2 people?

    For some narrowing of possibilities, my wife would love to do French Polynesia or the Seychelles (but not the Maldives because of human rights issues). Europe would be good. South America (particularly Peru, Chile or western/southern Argentina) would also be good. Are any of those showing decent availability on AA or a partner without huge YQ nowadays? As backups, somewhere like Thailand, Australia or New Zealand could be an option, but I know Australia and New Zealand are typically very tough for availability.

    I’m in ATL, FWIW, but can deal with buying positioning flights to DFW, MIA, etc. Would prefer to not have to buy to LAX, but I can do that too. BA would be great for getting to Europe 1 or less connections from here, except for those darn surcharges. I also have UR, MR, SPG, Delta, and United points that I could use for 1-way if there are lots of situations with 1-way availability but not the other on AA. Those balances aren’t enough for round trip though, and I’d prefer to unload AA first.

    Thanks, as always for all the info! Your blog has always been one of my favorites, and I read it every day, except when I’m actually traveling.

  24. @ Autolycus
    I would recommend that you try and book your AA awards now, whenever there is space, and then simply change the dates when close in availability opens up, this way you will be able to get your travel at current rates, as they likely wouldn’t charge you more miles to change your dates post-devaluation. It would go something like this: book your awards to your destination now. CX first or business out of NYC via HKG connecting to anywhere in Asia 2. From Asia 2 you can book a separate award to NZ or at least Australia. Since you have lots of miles to burn, two separate awards shouldn’t be an issue.
    The booking calendar for AA awards opens at 330 days. That is when I would aim to book. Then within 3 – 14 days of your departure, CX usually opens up their unsold inventory. Routing through either NYC or LAX means that you will have several daily flights to choose from, so a greater likelihood that you will be able to grab 2 first class seats on the same flight. There are no change fees for changing an AA award, so long as the routing and class of service stays the same (though they don’t charge a redeposit fee if you upgrade class of service).
    AA doesn’t add fuel surcharges on CX awards, so you would be looking at paying between about $100 per ticket, depending on routing. And you would be able to get your award travel at current rates, even though you will likely be traveling when the new rates come into effect. If you need further help with this there are always award booking services that can take care of the bookings for you.

  25. After the devaluation, if I credit paid miles flown on American to Alaska, will I get full credit or only partial credit (I have no AA status and it is a cheap ticket).

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