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.”
— John Lazarev (@jlazarev) May 28, 2018
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
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.
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?