American Airlines released information about their 2015 AAdvantage program, including details about the merger with Dividend Miles. Scott already posted the changes for people coming from the US Airways side, so I’ll be going over changes coming from the American Airlines side.
The Best Upgrade System Has Somehow Become Even Better
The new system for American-operate flights builds upon the current American Airlines system. Gold and Platinum elites will still have to put forward stickers for upgrades, while Executive Platinums will get unlimited complimentary upgrades.
One key difference is that all elites will get unlimited complimentary upgrades for flights under 500 miles. This only seems fair, since most sub-500 mile flights aren’t really worth using stickers for lower elites. In addition, planes are smaller on these flights, so American may want to open up economy class space by upgrading any elites in the main cabin. As an Executive Platinum member, I’m okay with this change.
US Airways-operated Flights Will Still Have Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades
Once programs are combined, AA elites will be able to upgrade on US Airways flights before the day of departure. In addition, any complimentary upgrades will be automatically requested on both airlines – even as an Executive Platinum, I’ve had to manually request many AA upgrades, and have almost missed out on several by forgetting to check a simple box.
I’ve had elite status with Delta, United, and American Airlines – Delta and United offered unlimited complimentary upgrades for all elites, which really means that the highest elites get upgrades and the lowest elites get whatever’s left over.
Instead, I prefer American Airlines’ current system, where Gold (25,000-mile elites) and Platinum (50,000-mile elites) have to use “stickers” for every 500 miles in a flight they want to upgrade. For example, Los Angeles to Chicago is 1,744 miles, so you would need to use 4 stickers to upgrade that segment. There has been a 51-mile grace for going over, so the 2,504-mile segment from Los Angeles to Kona would still only cost 5 stickers.
For every 10,000 miles a non-Executive Platinum member flies, you get 4 500-mile stickers. You could also buy them online for $30 or at the airport for $35.
Meanwhile, Executive Platinums (100,000-mile elites) get “sticker-less” upgrades. You still have to manually request upgrades, but you don’t have to use any stickers. If you want to upgrade a companion, you would have to use stickers for them.
Even when I was a Gold or Platinum member, I got upgrades on transcontinental flights, such as Washington IAD to Los Angeles. This is because a Gold or Platinum member has to actually assign value to an upgrade and put stickers towards it. If you’re a Gold member who wants a sticker upgrade, you go on the list while a Platinum member who doesn’t value that upgrade doesn’t go on the upgrade list. On the same route on United, a low-tier elite would almost never get that upgrade because every elite above them is on the list.
In addition, this kept the First Class cabin full of paying customers, Executive Platinums who fly a lot, and Gold/Platinum elites who used stickers, meaning that American had an incentive to have a good First Class product. There was a period earlier this year when the First Class product was watered down to match US Airways, but American quickly saw the error in their ways, mainly because many elites voiced displeasure since they have to put something forward for upgrades.
Executive Platinum Members Keep Benefits They Love and Gain One They’ve Been Waiting For
One of the best things about Executive Platinum status has been the 8 systemwide upgrades usable on any American Airlines fare. This means you could buy a cheap economy class fare and upgrade to business class without having to pay a higher fare like one would on United. In addition, you can use the systemwide upgrades for friends and family (unlike with Delta). Executive Platinum members will keep the 8 systemwide upgrades, and Chairman Preferred members will get 8 SWUs once programs are merged.
One current aspect of Executive Platinum that I didn’t like was that I would need to pay $75 for a same-day confirmed on American Airlines flights. However, I got free “MoveUp” on US Airways flights, meaning I could show up to the airport and take an earlier US Airways flight to my destination. The rule stated that I need to have the same number of stops and pick a flight within 6 hours of my original departure.
On the new American Airlines system, Executive Platinums get the $75 fee waived, starting January 2015. The rules on American state that your new departure needs to have the same origin and destination and be on the same calendar day of departure. Unlike US Airways, this means you could move to a later flight. I imagine that once the merger is finalized, the American Airlines system will prevail, which would be bad new for US Airways elites who loved MoveUp.
Lastly, for the few times I’ve sat in coach on American (mainly on 1-cabin regional jets), I’ve always received a free buy-on-board food product and drink thanks to my Executive Platinum status. Starting immediately, the same will be available on US Airways Main Cabin flights, and US Airways Chairman Preferred members will have the same benefits on both airlines. I’ve started flying short US Airways flights using my Avios now that I’ve moved closer to the Northeast, so this is a great addition.
2014 Elite Activity WILL Be Combined … Eventually
If you have elite qualification activity in 2014 in both American and US Airways’ programs, that activity will be combined in the 2nd quarter of 2015.
While American and US Airways had reciprocal earning early in 2014, US Airways was also still a part of the Star Alliance in the early months of the year. During that time, I flew a few United flights (including a $260 Widerøe fare to the middle east) and credited the flights to US Airways. I currently have about 64,000 American Airlines EQMs and 21,000 US Airways PQMs, which puts me at about 85,000 EQMs in 2014. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do 36,000 miles of mileage runs to keep Executive Platinum, but I can certainly fly 15,000 miles. It’s pretty funny that a United Airlines mistake fare will help me requalify for American Airlines Executive Platinum status.
Another positive about this is that both American and US Airways offer methods to earn elite qualifying miles via credit card spending. The US Airways Premier World Mastercard provides 10,000 PQM after spending $25,000 on the card in a calendar year. The American Airlines Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard gives you 10,000 EQM after spending $40,000. If you don’t have time for mileage runs but can put a lot of money on credit cards, this is a potential 20,000 American Airlines EQMs you could gain in both 2014 and 2015.
However, there is a kink in the timeline for the program merger. Any current elite status will expire at the end of February 2015, while a combined elite status won’t be provided until the 2nd quarter of 2015. For example, I currently have Executive Platinum that will expire on February 28, 2015. On March 1st, I’ll drop to Platinum because I’ll only have ~80,000 American Airlines EQMs, and will have to wait until an undetermined date in the 2nd quarter of 2015 for my ~20,000 US Airways PQMs to combine in and give me Executive Platinum for next year. I’m hoping that “2nd quarter” is more toward April 1 and not June 30.
The New Airline Keeps a Three-Tier Elite Model
This is a positive for those who fly between 50,000-74,999 miles and a negative for those who fly 75,000-99,999 miles. US Airways previously had a 4-tier elite model, so those who flew greater than 75,000 miles had a higher elite status than someone who flew slightly less. However, all elite members who fly between 50,000-99,999 elite miles get lumped in one group.
Higher Segment Qualification Changes for Executive Platinum
One negative of the new American program is that segment qualifiers for Executive Platinum will now need 120 segments, not 100. This matches United’s 120 segments required for Premier 1K and comes closer to Delta’s 140 segments for Diamond Medallion.
The Elite Qualifying Points System Remains
I actually do not like the Elite Qualifying Points (EQP) system on American. Most airlines reward you for flying expensive coach fares or business/first class fares, but American also punishes you in the EQP system for booking cheaper coach fares. Airlines like United don’t do this.
For example, let’s say you fly 40,000 miles per year on business in business class. On United, you earn 150% EQM, so you would have 60,000 EQMs and would need 40,000 more EQMs to qualify for 1K (assuming you hit United’s spend threshold). If you add 40,000 miles of cheap leisure fares, you will have United Premier 1K by having 100,000 EQM but only flying 80,000 miles (you were rewarded for your business class fares).
However, if you book those same 40,000 miles per year in business class on American, you would have only 40,000 EQM and 60,000 EQP (since you would get 100% EQM and 1.5 EQP per mile). You would still need either 60,000 miles or 40,000 points to qualify for Executive Platinum. If you book 60,000 miles of the cheapest fares for your leisure travel, you would get only 30,000 points (at 0.5 EQP per mile. You would still have 100,000 miles and qualify for Executive Platinum, but you would only have 90,000 points since you were rewarded for business class travel but penalized for cheaper economy class travel. In the end, you would need 20,000 more leisure miles than you would on United for top-tier status.
I won’t get too much into it, but one could say that this EQP system is American’s way of having a revenue requirement, although it seems to complicate things a bit more.
What Do You Think?
I think US Airways’ flyers won’t like these changes, since they’ve been used to the US Airways system. However, if you’re an American Airlines elite (and particularly an Executive Platinum), I think these are positive changes to the program.