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Change Is In The Air: How the AAdvantage Program Will Affect You

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American Airlines is no stranger to the mileage rewards game. In fact, the AAdvantage frequent flier program is the largest and longest-running one around, and dates all the way back to 1981. Other airlines followed suit after its introduction, and a more competitive market of the sky was born.

The game has changed considerably since then. Airlines added expiration dates and fees to their rewards, redemption flights have become more miles-expensive, and elite tiers are even more difficult to climb. Now, American Airlines has rolled out even more changes to their program, which will affect every member of AAdvantage®.

Earn points based on what you paid, not how far you traveled

Until now, miles earned in the rewards program have been based on just that: the number of miles traveled. Beginning with flights on August 1, 2016, though, AAdvantage®  will begin awarding miles based on the actual cost paid for your travel.

This is either good or bad news, depending on what kind of traveler you may be. Flexible travelers and bargain shoppers (or CheapOair-frequenters, like myself) will be penalized by the new changes. These people are willing to alter their travel plans by hours or even days in order to save a buck, and typically plan ahead. They are often able to book long-haul travel for discounted prices, and their cost-to-distance ratio is the lowest.

Premium fliers and those willing to pay a bit more for their tickets will reap the most benefits. That includes most business travel, which tends to be last-minute or based on a rigid schedule. Price is less of a concern for these folks, who are willing to pay more for short-notice travel, particular flight schedules, and upgraded seating. As a result, they pay more per mile, and will enjoy greater benefits from the new AAdvantage® system.

For example, let’s take a discounted, $300 (base fare) round-trip flight from Washington, DC to Orlando. This flight covers 2724 miles of travel, which would have resulted in 2724 reward miles for a base level member. Under the new program, basic AAdvantage® members will receive 5 points for every dollar spent, which would result in 1,500 awarded miles for this same flight… a difference of -1,224 miles. That’s a substantial change.

If you’re a full-price flier, though, you may enjoy the new system. Take a short trip from Washington, DC to NYC, for instance. This 1,000 mile round-trip journey would have netted you 1,000 rewards miles with the old rules. Under the new program, though, a mid-week coach ticket (running about $350 base fare) now earns you 1,750 miles… a difference of +750 miles. This also doesn’t include any booking class or promotional bonus miles.

Depending on your elite status, you will earn more than 5 points per dollar spent. Here’s AA’s chart for travel rewards based on status:

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New elite level: Platinum Pro

If you spend a fair amount of time in the skies, chances are you’ve made your way up the elite level rungs. Well, now you have a new goal with the Platinum Pro tier. It lies between the Platinum and Executive Platinum tiers, and will be available beginning in 2017.

This shiny new level includes oneworld® Sapphire status, 9 reward miles/dollar spent (an 80% bonus), two free checked bags per flight, and complimentary flight upgrades within North America and between the US/Central America. Upgrades can also be confirmed as early as 72 hours before a flight, compared to 48 hours for Platinum and 100 hours for Executive Platinum.

To meet the requirement for this new elite status, or any of American Airlines’ status level, one will need to acquire a number of both elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) and now, also…

Elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs)

While AA isn’t the first to add a qualifying dollar amount (Delta and United have already done this), it’s not a very welcomed change. In addition to meeting mileage (EQM) and qualifying-segment (EQS) minimums, AAdvantage® members will now also need to spend minimum dollar amounts (EQD) before gaining elite status. Here’s the breakdown:aa2

The one perk to the change? AA will be removing their former requirement that 4 segments must be traveled on American/American Eagle throughout the qualifying year in order to gain elite status.

Taking your status level into account, AA.com will begin displaying earned miles for flights during the booking process, beginning in late June of this year.

Upgrade prioritization

Under the new system, upgraded flights will be prioritized based on both elite status and EQDs. This means that if there’s one upgraded seat available, and two equal-level members request that seat, the one who spent the most in qualifying dollars over the past 12 months wins the upgrade. The EQD total taken into consideration will be on a rolling 12-month basis, sorted by tier.

Overall

The new AAdvantage® changes follow suit with many of other frequent flier programs out there, shifting the focus from how much and how far their customers travel with them, to how much they spend. The almighty dollar wins out in the end, and while there will be some winners, most will find that their mileage earned will take a hit.

Business and luxury travelers will be the most enthused with these changes, earning a greater percentage of rewards miles based on their fare cost. Early planners and bargain fliers will find that their dollars don’t stretch quite as far when it comes to miles accrued. Those attempting to climb the elite status rungs may be irked to learn that they now have three qualifying minimums to meet, the newest based on their monetary expenditure with the airline (EQSs, EQMs, and now EQDs). Oh, how the times are changing.

What do you think about the AAdvantage®  program changes? How will it affect your frequent flier usage? Sound off below.

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