News To Me: American Restricts Elite Benefits On Partner Award Tickets

Filed Under: American, American AAdvantage

I’d like to think I’m pretty well versed in the American AAdvantage program. I’ve been a top tier elite with American for many years and have probably flown too many close to a million “butt in seat” miles on them, so I have a lot of firsthand experience as well.

A couple of days ago a Twitter user shared a direct message he received from American’s Twitter team indicating that they’ve “been directed to no longer replace the BA number with the AA number on BA Avios bookings.”

This is referring to booking a ticket using British Airways Avios for travel on American. This is a great value since they have a distance based award chart, and also since they don’t charge the close-in ticketing fees of up to $75 that American charges if booking with AAdvantage miles.

I’ve booked a countless number of Avios tickets over the years for travel on American, and have always been able to add my AAdvantage number.

On the most basic level, this is valuable since you can then manage the trip on American’s website, and your Known Traveler Number will automatically carry over. For elite members the benefit is that you get priority boarding, Main Cabin Extra seats, and can Executive Platinum members can even receive a free snack and alcoholic drink.

So when John Tweeted that, I assumed he just got a misinformed agent, since I’ve literally never had an issue with that.

American has a rule against getting elite benefits on partner award tickets

View from the Wing points to something in American’s terms & conditions that I had never seen before, and wasn’t aware of:

You cannot accrue partner airline miles with your partner frequent flyer number if you have already used your AAdvantage number to obtain AAdvantage program benefits such as First or Business Class upgrades, baggage fee waivers or complimentary access to Preferred/Main Cabin Extra seats. Additionally, you cannot redeem partner airline miles with your partner frequent flyer number and obtain AAdvantage program benefits such as priority boarding and access to preferred seats.

In other words, this suggests that you can’t change your frequent flyer from American AAdvantage to another number if you’ve taken advantage of benefits associated with your status, and similarly, you can’t redeem partner airline miles and then change your frequent flyer number to AAdvantage to take advantage of program benefits.

This comes as a big shock to me, as clearly this has never been regularly enforced. Like I said, I’ve been doing this for years, not because I was intentionally violating the rules, but rather because I didn’t realize this was a problem, and have never been told otherwise.

This policy is ridiculous and customer-unfriendly

There are two parts to this. The first part is logical enough. That’s to say that if you receive a complimentary elite upgrade then you can’t change your frequent flyer number to that of another program, with which you wouldn’t be eligible for an elite upgrade. That’s a pretty consistent rule across all programs, and I think that’s fair enough.

But the second part I take issue with. Personally I don’t know of any airline that doesn’t let you change your frequent flyer number on an award reservation. Let me give a few examples of how I’ve used this:

  • When redeeming British Airways Avios for travel on British Airways, I always put my American Executive Platinum number in the reservation, since oneworld Emerald status gets you free seat assignments on British Airways
  • I’m also oneworld Emerald through LATAM, so I’m able to credit my flights to American while using my LATAM oneworld Emerald status to access Flagship Lounges on domestic itineraries; note that this is in American’s best interest, as they get paid by LATAM every time I use one of their lounges on account of my LATAM status
  • Then there’s the example we’re talking about above, where I’ll add my Executive Platinum number to a British Airways Avios booking for travel on American, so that I can get priority boarding and Main Cabin Extra

Like I said, I can’t think of any airline that has such restrictive rules, or at least that enforces them. To me this is a bad way to treat loyal customers. For example, wouldn’t you want a Concierge Key customer to always at least see a semi-decent side of American, rather than being last to board and getting stuck in the last row of economy with 30″ of seat pitch? This also comes across as so unnecessarily cheap — what’s the real cost to them to offering this?

Loyal customers should always be treated like loyal customers, in my opinion, and not just with certain transactions. Then again, if there’s one thing airlines have shown us over the past couple of years it’s that we are worth as much to them as our fare on that particular trip.

The policy also doesn’t make sense

On top of the fact that I think the policy is customer unfriendly, the ability for American to enforce it, and the way the rule is written, doesn’t make sense to me. Let’s look at the exact wording of the rule one more time:

You cannot redeem partner airline miles with your partner frequent flyer number and obtain AAdvantage program benefits such as priority boarding and access to preferred seats.

It doesn’t explicitly say you can’t change your frequent flyer number. Like I said, that could be useful for a non-elite member so they can manage their reservation on aa.com, link their Known Traveler Number easily, and more. Rather it says that you can’t take advantage of elite benefits.

Does that mean that non-elite members can add their AAdvantage number to the reservation, but elite members can’t? Can elite members still add them, and when our boarding passes say to board with Group 2, should we instead wait to board with Group 7? I don’t understand.

I also question American’s ability to enforce this rule. British Airways agents can change your frequent flyer number, you can change it at an airport kiosk, and every American employee I’ve ever asked has gladly changed my frequent flyer number. So this seems like a case of “hang up and call again” if you don’t get the agent you want.

Bottom line

I had no clue this was a policy of American’s, so this comes as a surprise to me, and it would also greatly decrease the value of Avios tickets on American for elite members. As of now it doesn’t seem that this policy is enforced a vast majority of the time, as I’ve never been told this before.

I hope American reconsiders this policy, as it’s extremely customer-unfriendly. You shouldn’t treat your customers like nothing just because they redeemed miles through a partner program (for which American is still getting paid). American, do you really want your most loyal customers to see the worst you have to offer?

What do you think of American’s policy — is it fair, or no? Does anyone know of another airline with a similar policy?

Comments
  1. It’s usually possible to update the FF number from BA to AA through RJ’s website (or another oneworld airline that will accept BA’s Amadeus PNR). In light of this ability, a policy like this makes even less sense to me.

  2. It should be possible for BA to update the number on their end. Usually you won’t be able to do it online, but you should be able to if you call BA.

  3. In a way, this is similar to awards being treated as Basic Economy fares. At least with Delta, no upgrade and no advance seat assignment.

  4. Tread carefully here. There is a workaround if you book via the web. If this starts getting enforced, this is a HUGE negative to whats left of the Aadvantage program.

  5. AA’s Twitter Team seems to be the main gatekeepers here… I ran into it for the first time last month. The old workarounds also are not working anymore (Finnair and RJ), as it appears AA has gone to the length to make those changes not actually take effect in AA’s specific IT system. Frustrating for sure.

  6. “I also question American’s ability to enforce this rule”

    Dumb. Danger Will Robinson.

    This is probably not a difficult software change.

  7. Agreed that this policy seems silly as you’re not ‘double dipping’ on benefits but one of the examples you gave of earning American miles while using LATAM status to get lounge access is generally restricted by airlines. For example on United to get domestic lounge access for a non-PS flight you can only use other star alliance status if it’s attached to the ticket/reservation. This your miles would also credit to that program. I’ve seen people try to get United credit and show their Turkish or other *gold status and the lounge agent has refused access unless it’s electronically attached to the ticket. I’m sure enforcement varies but given that this is trying to skirt the rules restricting domestic United status holders from access I think it makes sense.

  8. I dunno. In the opening paragraph, you say:

    “This is referring to booking a ticket using British Airways Avios for travel on American. This is a great value since they have a distance based award chart, and also since they don’t charge the close-in ticketing fees of up to $75 that American charges if booking with AAdvantage miles.”

    You don’t want to pay the charges or be held to the restrictions AA has in their program, but you still want the benefits AA has in their program.

    I can see AA’s point — if you want the benefits, you should be willing to pay the cost. You’re using a workaround to have your cake and eat it too.

  9. Of course it makes sense – cherry picking benefits from 2 airlines on a single journey is and should be against the rules. In fact, not enforcing this is a dis service to other elites, who face over crowding

  10. Like many, I book using ba.com and simply add my AA Frequent Flier number. Then I go to the AA.com’s website to make sure my reservation shows up, and I get all of my elite benefits, including free standby (which I use on Avios bookings regularly). Hard to see them really changing this – I always thought that how you “buy” a ticket (cash via phone or online, AAdvantage miles, partner miles, online travel agency) is totally separate from benefits you get as an elite.

  11. There used to be a way of having both numbers made with BA – FQTV and FQTS – so you had one for earning and one for status.
    No idea if that remains the case as haven’t done it for years, but the problem back then was getting an agent who both knew how to do it, and could be bothered to do so.
    It was also a colossal pain in the ass when it credited to the wrong scheme as well..

  12. For what it’s worth if booking online at Ba.com you can book yourself as a traveler other than the BA account holder. On this ‘second person’ you can put in your AA account number and it will automatically populate through. No need for rj/finnair changes at all.

  13. @ Deepak @ Mike Coffey — You’re not cherry-picking elite benefits. You’re not taking advantage of any benefits of status with BA here.

  14. I am a bit lost at the moment, does this mean that I will not be able to change from my Qatar Gold (OWS) card (with which I have chosen MCE seats) to a basic Finnair (no status) and get miles on the Finnair number?

    If I can still change these what is the best way to do it and when, will the check-in/boarding agent do it?

  15. If you book with avios a domestic segment and add your AAdvantage number with EXP status, will you be able to get a free upgrade?

  16. I first noticed this issue at the end of April. I had revised my frequent flyer number on a BA award from BA to AA using the Finnair website. The switch did not work. On the outbound, I did not receive PreCheck or Group 5 boarding, all benefits tied to my AA FFN. On the return flight, I added my known traveler number online at AA.com which I was happy to find out enacted PreCheck. To enact the group 5 boarding benefit from Aviator card, I had to ask gate agent to switch out BA FFN to AA FFN. I hope AA is not directing gate or check-in agents to stop assisting with this issue.

  17. If I am a BA silver who books an award ticket on American, do I still get elite benefits?

  18. US Airways used to be very strict in the *A days, if there was already an FF # in the reservation, no one would touch it. I guess this is someone from US’s doing to try and cut costs.

  19. @ Ben — AFAIK, you can’t change a UA or LH number when you use your UA or LH account to book an award. PLEASE tell me there is a way!

  20. This was always against the rules back when I flew NWA and credited to AS. Changing the number resulted in losing the benefits of my status unless I was sneaky about it. The logic was simple, my benefits were associated with my FF number… when the number went away, so did my benefits.

  21. @Lucky, interesting post. I had always assumed that that status benefits (like priority boarding) are offered just by showing your elite card (even if the number isn’t in your reservation). I actually wanted to ask you how you handle this sort of thing if you already have status already with a partner airline but want status on another carrier. For example, I wanted to get elite status on AF (for an F reward) by crediting DL flights to an AF account (I am platinum on DL). Shouldn’t the carrier honor status regardless of which number is entered into the reservation–at least as long as you can show a valid membership card?

  22. This is a big problem for me. I recently moved 120,000 Amex MR points to BA in anticipation of using them in the future on AA domestic flights. I am lifetime gold on AA (and I am unlikely to requalify for any status again) but I needed to stash the points somewhere. If I had known of this policy I would have moved the points to Delta or Aeroplan since I don’t have any status on those airlines or alliances.

    I have yet to book any flights using my BA avios yet. From Mike’s comment it sounds like I can just book the ticket for another person (not myself) and that person will be my name with my AA FF number. I have no interest in ever booking a flight with my BA number, just AA. Can anyone confirm this still works?

  23. Not sure when this policy was implemented on AA, but I flew to DFW-LAS this past Monday issued as BA award ticket on AA.

    I called up AA and had them add my AAdvantage # no problem at all.

    Ticket was booked on 5/25

  24. The aa policy does make sense given how the airlines are trying to collect fees (and they realize it’s a big revenue stream). Overall sadly your post doesn’t have a lot of logic but mostly complaint that you can not benefit from your aa status but still want to use cheaper avois, which is exactly aa wants to avoid, it seems to me. For your simple example of non elites because there is no benefit for them (financial benefit not known traveler number etc) aa doesn’t care and my guess is that the it has something to do with it. Either way I see this new enforcement is the cheapest way for aa to enforce the rule. Do I like it? No. Does it make financial sense? Yes for aa but not for customers. Does your post make a logical argument? Sadly not so much.

  25. @Lucky For Oneworld it should be the operating carrier that pays for the lounge visits, irrespective of status or class driven. In Star Alliance status driven visits are paid for by the FFP. So in that aspect, AA’s policy makes financial sense.

    Can’t be 100% certain though, as the this is not public information. It is gathered from comments on blogs and fora.

  26. Sounds like you want to double dip despite your protesting of not double dipping. Why not just directly book domestic AA first class using avios than to hope for an upgrade? By them enforcing the rule it means if you want domestic first class seat and priority boarding, you have to fork over more avios points. Plain and simple. Makes sense to me. Sucks for people who want to double dip.

  27. The AA credit cards give priority boarding in zone 5. This is a credit card benefit and not an AAdvantage benefit, but the use of this benefit requires you to link you AAdvantage number to the reservation. Seems like they might have a CFPB issue here if they deny use of this benefit in violation of the credit card T&C. Has nothing to do with status.

  28. Not going to lie, see no problem with this. If you want AA status benefits redeem AA miles. If you redeem miles from another airline then you aren’t “loyal” to AA with that flight or how you earned the miles so why should they throw you some freebies?

  29. Don’t like it but 100% fair. Programs are very intentionally designed to reach a balance of benefits, earn/burn, redemption opportunities, etc. AA happens to be better on both on average, but they make an intentional choice not to be the best, for example, with short haul redemptions. To pick elements of one program to combine with elements of another really messes with their design choices. That’s treating the programs transactionally, just like we don’t want them to. hard to argue they are only rewarding loyalty with “certain transactions” when that’s exactly what we all do – we’re loyal for certain transactions.

    That said, still makes our lives harder 🙁

  30. LATAM doesn’t pay a single dime for your lounge benefits. In oneworld it’s the operating airline of the flight that pays for lounge access.

  31. I booked AA flights on BA website with Avios for myself and my wife. My BA number populated automatically but no FF number for her. Went to website and added her AA FF number (she’s a Platinum Pro at the moment). Was able to change seats from back of the plane to preferred seats for both of us on the website. This rule makes no sense and the inconsistency that it will be enforced will drive people crazy.

  32. Today I flew American on a BA award using Avios. I do not currently have any AA status.

    After I booked the award I added my AAdvantage number to the reservation using the FinnAir website.

    Part of my AAdvantage profile is my Known Traveler Number (through Global Entry) and when traveling on AA my boarding pass always reflects TSA PreCheck.

    But today, it did not.

    I should have noticed this at the ticket counter and requested a new boarding pass. But, want to share this as a data point.

  33. It’s been going on a few years now and the arrogant lying folks at Americans customer service denied there had been any changes
    My work around ? Continue to fly other competing airlines who appreciate my tens of thousands annually I spend
    F# American you are the absolute most greedy blood suckers of the universe
    Destroying customer loyalty one day at a time

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