Positive American AAdvantage 2021 Program Changes

Filed Under: American

The dynamics in the airline industry have certainly changed in recent months. It used to be that we saw airlines make endless negative changes to their frequent flyer programs, while hopefully that’s a trend that’s reversing now, as airlines are struggling.

Well, along those lines, American AAdvantage has announced some positive changes for next year. Let’s go over them, in no particular order:

AAdvantage lowering elite requirements for 2021

American AAdvantage has already extended status by 12 months, meaning that most status is valid through early 2022. On top of that, status requirements have been lowered for those qualifying for status this year.

Now American has announced plans to make it easier to earn AAdvantage status in 2021:

  • American will count all elite activity in the fourth quarter of 2020 towards 2021 status, meaning members essentially have 15 months to qualify for status next year (this includes elite qualifying miles, elite qualifying segments, and elite qualifying dollars)
  • American is reducing AAdvantage elite thresholds by around 20%

Here are the AAdvantage elite requirements for 2021:

  • Gold status will require 20,000 EQMs OR 20 EQSs AND 2,000 EQDs
  • Platinum status will require 40,000 EQMs OR 40 EQSs AND 4,500 EQDs
  • Platinum Pro will require 60,000 EQMs OR 70 EQSs AND 7,000 EQDs
  • Executive Platinum will require 80,000 EQMs OR 95 EQSs AND 12,000 EQDs

Furthermore:

  • For 2021, American will waive the EQD requirement for Gold, Platinum, and Platinum Pro members, if spending at least $30,000 on purchases with their eligible AAdvantage credit card
  • There’s no such waiver for Executive Platinum members, at least as of now; I do wish that the revenue requirement were at least decreased more than the mileage requirement, given the decrease in business travel and lower fare environment

It will be easier to earn AAdvantage status in 2021

AAdvantage introducing rewards menu

As of the 2021 program year, American AAdvantage will be introducing a menu of rewards for both Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members. American recently sent out a survey to some AAdvantage members about this concept, so I think we have a good sense of what to expect.

The idea is that Executive Platinum members currently get four systemwide upgrades, but not everyone uses these upgrades, so American will introduce more customizable options.

The full details of the available rewards are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, though in general:

  • Platinum Pro members don’t currently get any tangible rewards like this, so this is a huge win for those members
  • For Executive Platinum members, nothing is being taken away, as members can still select four systemwide upgrades; however, if they prefer, they can instead choose rewards like Admirals Club day passes, bonus AAdvantage miles, and more

See my previous post for a sense of what kind of rewards we might see with this program.

Members will be able to choose alternatives to systemwide upgrades

AAdvantage elite members now get perks on basic economy fares

This was first announced several weeks back when American revealed it would eliminate change fees, but it’s worth noting that this is now live. Since October 1, 2020, AAdvantage members can take advantage of elite perks on basic economy fares. This includes upgrade privileges, the ability to assign seats (including Main Cabin Extra), same day confirmed flight changes, and more.

The one catch is that as of January 1, 2021, basic economy tickets will no longer count towards earning future elite status, as they won’t earn EQMs, EQSs, or EQDs. Previously basic economy tickets qualified towards elite status at half the usual rate.

Elite perks will now apply on basic economy fares

There’s no “catch” here, at least for now

Anyone who has been following loyalty programs for a while is likely skeptical, thinking that there’s no such thing as a wholly positive announcement from an airline. Well, fortunately times have changed, at least for now.

As far as these changes go:

  • With the reduced elite requirements and 15 month window to earn status, AAdvantage management is just making its best guess as to how demand will recover; obviously requirements won’t be raised for 2021 anymore, but it’s always possible they’ll be lowered further, depending on how the situation evolves
  • Being able to choose elite perks as a Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum member is wholly positive, as Platinum Pro members previously didn’t get such a perk, while Executive Platinum members will now have alternatives to four systemwide upgrades

Bottom line

American AAdvantage has announced that elite requirements for 2021 will be lowered by roughly 20%, while members will also have an additional three months to qualify. On top of that, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members will soon be getting new rewards, which should be a great addition.

What do you make of these AAdvantage changes?

Comments
  1. Completely eliminating the BE earning is, in fact, a “catch”, and a pretty big one for a number of travelers.

  2. Hmm so if I cross the Barclays spending threshold this month and receive $3000 EQD- we can presume that will roll over to next year ? Meaning in theory… I could get another $3000 in EQD from Barclays in 2021 ?

    The EQD requirement should be waived entirely at this point. Can’t really fly international and even domestic routes are considerably cheaper (JFK-LAX pricing $599 but wait they just cut that down to two flights a day).

    But my strategy for now is flying cheap first class flights on Alaska to earn extra EQDs

  3. @ Ben — These changes are pitiful. I know exactly no one who plans to fly 80% of normal next year (or 64% of normal over 15 months). Maybe 50% would have made more sense. As a LT Plat/2 MM, I see basically no reason to buy AA tickets in 2021.

  4. Lucky,

    I and I am sure a lot of readers would love a comprehensive post on how to approach airline status in 2021, considering all of these variables:

    1) Reduced thresholds for earning status
    2) Airlines now giving many benefits of lower level status (waived change fees, free standby for AA, for example) to all customers
    3) Reduced route frequency among all airlines, which may make some benefits of status (like same day change) less valuable

    Through credit card spend and rollover, I can probably make Delta Platinum for 2022 without setting foot on a Delta flight. That is making me consider if I should throw in an attempt to get United or American status too.

  5. @ Ben — I am also surprised to see AA not extend SWU expiration further, from 7/31/2021 to 12/31/2021. We would like to book something international with ours, but are not willing to commit to non-essential travel before 7/31/2021 at this point. Besides, there are very few international destinations served by AA that are even open to Americans for the foreseeable future.

  6. Appreciate they’ve published this before the start of the year. Lots to consider. In a world where business travel isn’t likely to pick up at least through the 1st half of 2021, the question becomes can one make your own ‘elite status’ in other ways for personal travel.

    Things working in favor of that approach:
    – Lower change fees for Platinum (if you happen to be LT Plat)
    – Ability to leverage miles to ‘replace’ SWUs
    – Leverage award tickets with advance notice for reasonably priced ‘upgraded’ flghts
    – Flagship Lounge access on International with LT Plat regardless of class

    If your situation is that the majority of your travel historically has been business travel perhaps 2021 becomes a transition year:
    – Wean yourself off of EXP during 2021 with upgrade potential diminishing through the year as your YTD spend slows
    – Leverage the mileage program (if you’ve been acquiring more miles than you can reasonably spend over the years) for premium cabin awards as well as upgrades for transcon and intercon flights(given that revenue based tickets will likely not crowd out awards and upgrades so much prior to business travel ramping)
    – Get adjusted to the idea of losing access the First Class lounges at LHR, HKG and TYO in 2022
    – Take stock of your ticket change/redeposit patterns to determine if you can live in a world where redeposits are only free 60+ days out

    Given where I personally am with miles available, probably eliminated buisness travel for at least the 1st half of 2021 and being LT Platinum, I think I will use 2021 to rationalize a world without EP for 2022. Perhaps the world will change in the run up to 2022. If so, I’ll adjust accordingly.

  7. With no real long haul flying ability from the US until probably YE next year I think they probably look at their elite numbers and waive 2021 qualification by fall next year.

    Plus 2021 and 2022 will have zero biz travel so F/J is about to get a heck of a lot less expensive, why bother with status at that point.

  8. @Gene swus just need to be confirmed by the expiration date. Travel can be at a later date. Of course must be available, but…

  9. Acknowledging that SWUs have become valueless as their use strongly increases the difficulty to requalify is probably the most positive point, alongside lowering the thresholds.

    This being said, it reflects a very pessimistic view (maybe justified) by AA on the recovery of air transportation.

  10. These are generous changes, but I personally don’t anticipate traveling on a plane in the next 6 months. I hope other airlines just extend the membership dates further and AA follows suit.

    The changes seem very optimistic from a recovery POV. In part my status is maintained by business travel and I anticipate my business travel to start much later into 2021 than personal travel. Without business travel and a personal appetite to fly multiple times a quarter even the reduced thresholds are quite hard to meet.

    But, all going well, I guess I’d consider a NYC – South East Asia trip in premium or business to get me most or even all of the way there later in 2021.

  11. Not a chance OPM flying will restart at 80%.
    There is going to be quite a few corporate drones losing status…

  12. Will AA ever make it so miles don’t expire? Southwest and United recently did it. I wonder why AA is holding out.

  13. My suspicion is that at some point in 2021 AA, UA and DL will extend status for another year. I don’t think anyone reasonably expects business travel to restart any earlier than the middle of next year and international business travel may lag behind that (countries have to open back up first and businesses need to be willing to send their people). Like a commentator above noted, I think most people will struggle to make even the reduced thresholds.

  14. Presumably if business travel remains in the doldrums for 2021 upgrade possibilities for even low spend EXPs that are traveling (I’ll top out this year at 13KEQDs) will be better. However, right now it’s mixed. I think high end leisure travelers are buying F on AA because they don’t want to be sandwiched in coach.

  15. does anyone have any idea if they think the EQD dollars spending will go away, with the airlines? to help achieve the higher status? and if they will go back to crediting miles flown? actual miles flown?

  16. does anyone have any idea if they think the EQD dollars spending will go away, with the airlines? to help achieve the higher status? and if they will go back to crediting miles flown? actual miles flown?
    – john

    No. Revenue is the only qualification they actually care about. If you meet the revenue requirement, you are virtually guaranteed to meet either the distance or segment requirements, with a strong chance of meeting both based on your travel patterns.

  17. I agree with most of the comments here. I don’t foresee any business travel before summer of 2021. Most of my travels are international, so without borders opening anytime soon, aiming at 80% of PY travel is a looong shot. I even doubt I’ll reach 50% of my PY. So, like Gene said before, as an AA EXP, Lifetime Platinum, I see no point in going for status in 2021, I’ll just pay for cheap biz class tickets and hope that AA extends status in 2022. We’ll see, but the prospect is bleak at best.

  18. Are we able to do international mileage runs yet from the US? I was thinking of doing a run to LHR (an staying airside). can anyone confirm if this is allowed (not by AA, but by our countries?) Thanks!

  19. It may come as a shock to @Lucky and many other posters above, that every line of this article is of no interest whatsoever to the majority of OMAAT readers.
    For example, as a non-US resident (yay!) I have usable miles/points in at least 12 FF programs, and ‘status’ in none. AA is just one string in the bow, which I use often for partner awards, and since they will be Business class at a minimum, most of the desirable ‘perks’ come with the ticket. So it is not important to jump on the hamster-wheel of any program to attain any form of ‘elite’ status
    It may also come as a shock to some that airline Elite status so keenly sought and jealously maintained is of use only to those practically living at airports and in the air. In the wider community it means nothing. Just giving a bit of perspective

  20. @Glen T, understand your point, but many of us are frequent flyers, and this is important to us. Lucky would not be serving his broad readership by not posting such updates/articles.

    Lucky, are you sure it’s just Q4 activity that rolls over to 2021? I thought it was all of 2020? Would be a disappointment as I was flying quite a bit prior to COVID, and how I had read in announcements when AA first extended status.

    As a 16 year EXP, lifetime PLAT, mostly all based on business travel, it’s another 2020 bummer to think of not having any status potentially from 2022. We have a long way to go, so I guess we’ll see…

  21. Love the crying now from the OPM crowd that they wont make status. Karma

    Same people who were cheering when airlines were firing elites who actually pay for their own flights.

  22. “ For 2021, American will waive the EQD requirement for Gold, Platinum, and Platinum Pro members, if spending at least $30,000 on purchases with their eligible AAdvantage credit card.”

    Until AAdvantage credit card reinstates the travel benefits they took away last year, there’s no incentive to use this card.

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