New American AAdvantage Program Details

American AAdvantage has just unveiled the details of the 2015 AAdvantage program, which will be the combined program for US Airways and American Airlines as the merger continues.

I had the chance to speak to Suzanne Rubin, President of AAdvantage, as well as a handful of other people at AAdvantage, about the changes.

Before I dig too deep into the 2015 program details (and there’s a lot to cover), let me explain a few things upfront:

These changes (or lack thereof) are awesome

If your heart is beating at a million miles an hour, you should be at ease. You have nothing to worry about.

No award chart devaluation.

No revenue requirement.

Miles won’t be awarded based on dollars spent.

No huge devaluations.

No major changes to the American AAdvantage program whatsoever, fundamentally.

AAdvantage management has the right priorities

I call things as I see them.

I was probably the biggest critic of American and US Airways when they made award chart changes without notice earlier in the year. But I couldn’t help but smile during my call yesterday  — AAdvantage gets it!

And by “gets it,” I mean they have the right goal, which is combining the two programs as smoothly as possible. Dividend Miles will be merged into AAdvantage, and for the time being they’re changing as little about AAdvantage as possible in order to make the transition go smoothly.

To me, this is brilliant, and shows that management’s focus is on the right things. Namely, the primary goals seem to be:

  • Merge the US Airways Dividend Miles and American AAdvantage programs as neatly as possible
  • Minimize disruptions to frequent fliers by avoiding making any changes that aren’t absolutely necessary

I think the lack of an award chart devaluation speaks for itself.

When Do AAdvantage And Dividend Miles Programs Combine?

AAdvantage and Dividend Miles will integrate in second quarter 2015

While an exact date hasn’t yet been set, US Airways Dividend Miles will be merged into American AAdvantage between April and June of 2015.

An exact date will be communicated to members of both programs early next year, and we’ll get more details on the process for matching accounts and status so that you can pool all your miles together.

Elite Status At The New American

AAdvantage will have three elite tiers

The “new” American will continue to have three elite tiers — Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum, just as was previously the case with AAdvantage.

That’s right, that means for now there’s no four tier system, so 75,000 mile US Airways Platinum members will be “downgraded” to 50,000 mile AAdvantage Platinum members.

US-and-AA-Elite-program

That being said, AAdvantage Platinum members earn a 100% mileage bonus, while previously Dividend Miles Gold and Platinum members only earned a 50% and 75% mileage bonus, respectively. So mid-tier US Airways elites will see a significant increase in the redeemable miles they accrue.

2015 Elite ProgramGoldPlatinumExecutive Platinum
Elite-Qualifying Miles25,00050,000100,000
Elite-Qualifying Points25,00050,000100,000
Elite-Qualifying Segments3060120
Equivalent US Airways Dividend Miles StatusSilverGold & PlatinumChairman's Preferred

The only thing that will be changing on the elite qualification front is that Executive Platinum will require 120 segments rather than 100 segments.

I asked for the reasoning, and it was explained to me that it was a change that made sense for AAdvantage based on the combined American and US Airways network, which will have substantially more short flights.

Status will be determined based on combined totals

Once programs are combined, your status will be determined based on the combination of your 2014 elite qualifying totals between both programs, as well as your 2015 elite qualifying totals between both programs.

In other words, if you credited 50,000 elite qualifying miles to each of AAdvantage and Dividend Miles this year, you’d automatically be upped to Executive Platinum status in the second quarter of next year.

If you credit 25,000 miles to each of AAdvantage and Dividend Miles in the first quarter of next year, you’d be AAdvantage Platinum when the programs combine.

Elite Upgrades Beginning 2015

How will domestic upgrades work at the new American?

The biggest challenge American has is integrating the reservations systems of the two airlines. Until late 2015, American and US Airways will be on separate reservations systems.

As a result, AAdvantage is trying not to change the current upgrade systems for the respective carriers. Management feels it doesn’t make sense to do the development work to change the underlying US Airways technology when it will ultimately be phased out, and those resources can be better spent on further combining the two systems.

That being said, where practical American is aligning the policies as closely as possible between the two airlines. So upgrades for AAdvantage elites will work as follows:

For travel on American, the current 500 mile sticker system will continue to apply:

American Airlines Operated And Marketed FlightsGoldPlatinumExecutive Platinum
For flights 500 miles or lessUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgradesUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgradesUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades
For flights over 500 milesUse earned or purchased 500-mile upgradesUse earned or purchased 500-mile upgradesUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades
Upgrade windowConfirmed as early as 24 hours before departureConfirmed as early as 72 hours before departureConfirmed as early as 100 hours before departure

The major change is that American will offer complimentary upgrades to all elites traveling on flights under 500 miles. This represents 34% of flights that are eligible for domestic upgrades.

Gold and Platinum members will continue to earn four 500 mile upgrades for every 10,000 elite qualifying miles earned, and the intent is to give US Airways elites that are transitioning to AAdvantage a starting upgrade balance when the programs combine.

For travel on US Airways, complimentary upgrades will continue to apply:

US Airways Operated And Marketed FlightsGoldPlatinumExecutive Platinum
All flightsUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgradesUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgradesUnlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades
Upgrade windowConfirmed as early as 2 days before departureConfirmed as early as 3 days before departureConfirmed as early as 4 days before departure

Previously Chairman’s Preferred members would clear seven days out, though in this case American is trying to at least align the upgrade windows between programs as much as possible, even if they can’t align the processes.

As a reminder, the respective upgrade regions won’t change:

For American marketed and operated flights, upgrades are valid within and between the U.S. (including Hawaii) and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central American and are based on upgrade availability.

For US Airways marketed and operated flights, upgrades are valid within and between the U.S. (excluding Hawaii) and Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America and are based on upgrade availability.

How will top tier systemwide upgrades work at the new American?

US Airways top tier flyers better be thrilled about this.

Under the old system:

  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum members received eight systemwide upgrades without fare restrictions per year
  • Dividend Miles Chairman’s Preferred members received two systemwide upgrades without fare restrictions per year, each also valid for a companion

As soon as the programs merge in the second quarter of 2015, newly minted Executive Platinum members will earn eight systemwide upgrades.

That means if you’ve already requalified for Chairman’s Preferred this year and have your two systemwide upgrades you can redeem those, and in addition to them will receive the eight system upgrades in the second quarter.

Do note that the two US Airways systemwide upgrades won’t be transferred to the new program, so you’ll want to redeem them before integration.

At that point all AAdvantage systemwide upgrades can be redeemed on both American and US Airways metal flights.

What Is Changing With The AAdvantage Program?

American will be making two entirely positive changes as of January 1, 2015.

Class of service bonus for business class increases

For both travel on American and US Airways, the mileage bonus for business class is increasing from 25% to 50%.

Free same day flight changes being added for Executive Platinum members

I think American AAdvantage Executive Platinum is the best top tier airline status out there, though I’ve long thought that one major oversight was that not offering elite members free same day flight changes. Even EXPs have to pay $75 for same day changes.

Not as of next year — same day flight changes will be complimentary for top tier elites.

This Is The Best Possible Outcome

It doesn’t matter what changes an airline makes, there will always be people that complain.

Always.

I’ve been borderline-terrified about what 2015 would bring to the AAdvantage program, and was convinced we’d see at least one of the following:

  • A combined (devalued) award chart
  • Revenue requirements for elite status
  • Revenue-based mileage accrual

So the actual changes (and really, the lack of changes), almost feel a bit like April’s Fools… in a good way.

Let me be clear about the two most important takeaways here:

This gives me confidence in the leadership of AAdvantage — they’re focused on what’s most important, which is making the merger as easy as possible for their most frequent flyers. To quote Suzanne Rubin, AAdvantage is “focused on integration, not innovation.” And that’s brilliant, in an industry so filled with, ahem, “innovation” at the moment.

I’m not naive. This is not the long term future of the AAdvantage program. We will see changes to the award chart, and we may see revenue requirements. But we have basically “bought” ourselves a year here, I think.

It goes without saying that AAdvantage will closely be monitoring the competition. Once the airlines are on a single operating certificate, reservations systems are merged, and frequent flyer programs are integrated, will American follow in the footsteps of Delta and United?

Maybe, maybe not.

American’s management has time on their side, in this case. Delta SkyMiles seems to be leading the way when it comes to customer unfriendly changes, and United MileagePlus is seemingly blindly following them.

AAdvantage has the benefit of seeing how these changes pan out, and then deciding what’s best for them.

We don’t actually know how revenue based programs will perform — maybe they’re the best thing ever for loyalty programs, or maybe they’re the worst thing ever. Only time will tell.

But having that time, and seeing AAdvantage management focused on ensuring a smooth transition rather than trying to roll out an entirely new program makes me feel much more confident about the direction of the program.

How do you feel about the 2015 AAdvantage program?

Comments

  1. I recently got executive platinum through getting 100 segments on American. Now the requirement is 120 segments for it, if I already got the required amount of segments will I have to get 120 segments now or will that be the case next year?
    Thanks

  2. This is good news. I had expected a 4th tier with 125k points and that is typically a stretch for me. Let’s see what 2016 holds…

  3. Fantastic to hear, makes it easier to switch all my business travel next year from United to American. Time to start getting as many American CC bonuses as possible and build a base!

  4. @ David — Yep, American’s current million miler program will stick around, so US Airways elites will be granted lifetime status based on that. Existing million miler balances will be combined.

  5. @ Maury — There are no plans to switch AAdvantage partners. Think of the AAdvantage program as more or less staying the same.

  6. yay! Good for AA flyers.
    I expect though that they just want don’t want people to be upset before the merger even starts (with the inevitable system issues and computer malfunctions). once the merger is farther along they might gut their program.

  7. Mornin’ Lucky

    Great news indeed.

    One question – I’m flying a split ITIN next week (AA, US, AA.) Naturally that middle segment on US is the longest – PHX – CLT. I am an AA PLT.

    What can I do to get an upgrade on that flight? Is the “3 day policy” stated above in place yet or is that not until 2015?

    Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!

    (only 30K miles until Lifetime PLT! )

  8. @ Owen — American has off peak awards as well, though yes, I’d expect the exact ones US Airways offers to disappear when the program does.

  9. I have a question for you — how does it work for the AAdvantage miles we have in our account already? I’ve accrued 70K miles in the last 6 years, but haven’t been awarded status yet…to my knowledge.

  10. @ KLV — There’s a difference between redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles. Redeemable miles don’t count towards status, so you’ll want to look at your elite qualifying miles total (that amount is reset every year).

  11. A question about eqm’s from credit cards. I am currently AA EXP.

    So far in 2014, I have earned 10,000 EQM’S from the Citi exec card for spending $40,000. These miles have already posted to my Aadvantage account.

    I have been crediting all of my US flights to AA and I have not earned any Dividend miles this year (or ever for that matter) through flying.

    I have also earned 10,000 EQM’s on US this year through the US Airways Card from Barclays for meeting their spending threshold.

    My question is, can I assume that I have a total of 20,000 EQM’S towards my 2015 status?

  12. @ Lovenola — Correct, that’s for your 2014 status which counts towards your status in the 2015 program year. So if you get another 5,000 EQMs between the two airlines you’d have Silver status in the second quarter of next year.

  13. Good for AA —

    Hopefully they gather more loyal AA elites this way…. and when the economy goes down hill, hopefully AA elites will sustain AA through the bad times.

  14. I feel like AA Golds are hurt the most. Without the option to buy upgrades for the sub-500 mile flights, I don’t see them clearing often. I always thought this was one of the best uses because a ~180 BOS-NYC flight can easily result in 2 hours on the plane.

  15. If you don’t think a devaluation is coming, you’re just seeing what you want to see. It’s good news, sure, that it’s not happening as of the program combination. But AA charges *significantly* fewer miles than Delta and United in just about every market. That type of imbalance can’t hold.

  16. @ Justin — Right, as I said in the post I’m sure we’ll see more changes eventually, but not in the immediate future (I’d say in the next year or so).

  17. @ Jon — Well they certainly can’t win with everyone when it comes to the domestic upgrade system. Some swear by sticker upgrades, others swear by complimentary upgrades. And there are people strongly opposed on both sides. So I think they took about as good of a “hybrid” model between the two as they could have.

  18. Hi Lucky– I am looking to plan an award in F for next year (via Cathay Pacific) JFK-HKG-DPS with DM where I would get a stopover in HKG. That would cost me 160K DM whereas if I wait to post merger it would be 135K AA assuming no devaluations. Since it DM will become AA… I assume they will no longer do stopovers that USAirways currently allows (stopover in carrier hub city)?

  19. @ Ray — Correct, my expectation would be that AAdvantage award rules continue to be in place with the new program. Keep in mind however that American charges 22,500 miles for a one-way business class ticket within Asia, so you’d only pay 157,500 American miles for the same award, with the stopover in Hong Kong (it would basically be three one way awards).

  20. Hi Lucky!

    Rohan from Upgrd.com here, I’ve been following your blog recently and now I’m going to be more diligent about commenting, but great post! I did a status match from UA Gold to AA platinum this year, and I read the changes this morning and was thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive news. Although they won’t impact me too much as someone who likely will only attain Gold with AA this year, it is still nice to know that the rules will be pretty friendly for 2015.

    Happy to hear you feel the same way!

  21. I guess there is very little incentive to re-qualify for US Platinum this year if I will get grouped back with Gold (AA Platinum) next year.

    I qualify on segments and could have hit the old 100 segment mark for AA EP this year but US requires 120 segments since I credit to them.

  22. Nice. As an EXP, I will be matching to United and shifting my $70k a year transpac business next year to earn 11x rather than the paltry 2.25x I currently get.

  23. But you should be able to earn
    Gold after earning 5k EQMs from flying and spending $40k on the AA Exec and $25k on the DM MC, correct?

  24. Ben –

    Thanks for your post on this subject – know it was long-awaited and anticipated.

    So if I’m under standing AA and you correctly, if I currently have 90k EQM’s with US and 10k EQM’s with AA to date, I’ll be Exec Plat on AA once the programs combine second quarter (some time after 4/15), correct? If that’s the case, would it be fair to assume that the EP status would good thru the balance of 2015? Trying to decide if it’s worth doing a mileage run on US to CP requalify for all of 2015 or skip that be happy with EP status after the programs combine.

  25. Lucky: In the past I flew a lot with USAir and its predecessors and accrued a lot of mileage. What I can’t seem to find on my Dividend Miles statement is any indication of accrued mileage for “million miler” status. Do you know how we can find that info? I am hpeful that that old mileage will get transferred to my “million miler” account with American. Thanks.

  26. @ Brian — Your existing million miler balance will be transferred over. They won’t retroactively apply all miles earned towards million miler status (in other words, purchased US Airways miles wouldn’t count, or else everyone would be a million miler), but they’d instead use their old metric of only flown miles counting towards million miler.

  27. @Lucky OMG THANK YOU! I forget that AA can be booked 1-way! Thus, waiting till post-merger I would actually save 2,500 Miles! Using 157.5K AA rather than 160k DM! But I would now probably try to book the HKG-DPS segment with avios (25K one-way for business). Thanks again for your insight! Much appreciated!

  28. I will be BOTH AA ExecutivePlatinum and US Chairman’s at year end. As soon as I get Chairman’s, they will give me 2 Chairman’s upgrade certificates. Then in February I will get 2 more as Chairman’s usually do.

    Now, you say,

    “That means if you’ve already requalified for Chairman’s Preferred this year and have your two systemwide upgrades you can redeem those, and in addition to them will receive the eight system upgrades in the second quarter.”

    So the million dollar question for me is: since I am both, will I get 8, or will I get 16 (basically 8 from US Airways Chairman’s plus 8 from AA ExecPlat)?

    I would think that for someone who will effectively have over 225,000 EQM combined they would give more than 8…

    If 16, this would mean next year I have *30* international business class upgrade seats to snag (6 GPUs, 2+2 Chairman’s, 2+2 Chairman’s, 8 SWUs, 8 SWUs). My friends may never sit in economy.

  29. This is interesting as someone who has been considering switching loyalty to AA for a while now, but had been holding off for fear that AAdvantage was going to be trashed in the merger, making a switch pointless. And now…it sounds like the message is “we were too busy with other stuff to contemplate big changes, so we pushed that all down the road another year or two.” So I still don’t feel particularly comfortable switching, since by the time I build up enough AA miles for a big international trip they’ll probably be just about ready to do that trashing of the program they’re not yet ready to do.

  30. @ Ben Hughes — Hah. My guess is that if you merge your Dividend Miles account into your AAdvantage account you won’t get an additional two SWUs, since your account won’t technically be “upgraded” to Executive Platinum. Still a lot of upgrades!

  31. @ Bgriff — At the end of the day I at least feel confident that AAdvantage will make “smart” decisions going forward. Of course long term the smart decision *may* be to have a revenue based program. Only time will tell. But at the end of the day I wouldn’t expect any program to stay the same forever, especially in this environment. Long term loyalty is definitely less of a thing than before.

  32. It’s like the Seinfeld when George Costanza does the opposite. If Doug Parker wants to build a great (and profitable) airline, just do the opposite of what SMI, J. does.

  33. Lucky – I don’t have status in any airline, but I was thinking of doing some mileage runs to try to fly 30,000 miles and get US Airways Chairman’s via their trial program. If I receive Chairman’s Preferred after the trial, do you know how long my EXP membership will be valid for? According to US Airways it would be good through February 29, 2016 so I’m not sure if this will change once the merge occurs.

  34. Ben – thoughts on what will happen to US Platinums that have 100-119 segments in 2014? Not even for Chairman but over the 100 segment limit that AA requires in 2014 to get EP.

  35. Hi Lucky — I’m sitting at about 65k EQM in US and 10k in AA. So, it sounds to me that I’ll be upped to Ex Plat next year if I can accumulate another 25k in either or both programs. But how will this work? If I get 25k more in US, I’ll start next year as a plat, and then at some point I’ll just become Ex Plat?

  36. @ Larry — That’s exactly correct. At some point in the second quarter you can link accounts and will then become Exec Plat.

  37. Good for mileage earning for those buying less expensive fares versus Delta and United, but revenue-based earning now gives a heavy incentive for those buying the $6K+ business class ticket from JFK-LHR to fly Delta/United instead, for example… I’m not seeing how this is good for high-dollar value customers…

  38. So once the program merged, all award booking will be AAdvantage rules?

    No more US-Asia via Europe :-S

  39. With complimentary upgrades for all elites on flights under 500 miles, would that be on award tickets as well? Or only revenue tickets?

  40. Hi Lucky,

    Is there any major differences between redeeming oneworld award with US/AA? Like fees charged, service line quality, etc.

    And it seems on a one-to-one ratio, it would require slightly less miles to redeem for travel between the US and Asia, so in a way there’s even an increased value, though I’d really miss the 100k RT Asia-Europe First Class.

  41. Hi Lucky,

    I am trying to book a round trip in first class PEK-ORD on US airways. However, no availability showing on US airways website after Apr2015. Is that because of the merger? How should I do?

  42. Any detail on how stickers will be awarded to DM elites based on 2014 mileage? For example will Chairmen earn stickers? (Guessing not since EP do not). What if you earn CP for the first time during 2014? I will earn it in December and would hope my January to Nivember flights accumulate stickers from the transition as they would have under AA program.

  43. @ Lucky – in theory, I don’t think they announced that award chart will NOT change so that still may be possible, right?

    Either way, I do have to give AA/US credit for sending out emails about this promptly and having a very informative site about the transition.

  44. @ Segments — Chairman’s Preferred definitely don’t earn stickers, just as Executive Platinum members don’t. So if you enter the program as Executive Platinum I doubt you’d earn any. They’re still trying to figure out how many stickers to give other members.

  45. That will suck if newly minted Chairmen don’t receive stickers for the time in 2014 that they weren’t CP. It is salt in the wound as AA elites get free upgrades on US metal while still earning stickers for that same flight.

  46. I agree with Jon that AA Golds are hurt the most on this. The only reason my upgrades would clear on many flights as a Gold is from the fact that Plats wouldn’t bother requesting upgrades on shorter flights. Now that Plats are automatically upgraded without even requesting it, my success rate in getting upgraded will go from ~85% to 0% awefully quick.

    Ugh.

  47. @ Segments — Sorry, I’m a bit confused. Chairman’s Preferred/Executive Platinum members get complimentary upgrades, so I’m not sure I follow the “salt in the wound” argument?

  48. I don’t typically fly enough to earn CP status. This year is an anomaly. So while I would have free upgrades in 2015, I have no stickers to use for my companion nor for 2016 if/when I do not requalify. So I earn nothing on the way up and start at zero when I drop.

    Meanwhile AA elites are double dipping. An AA Gold/Plt use no stickers to upgrade on US metal in 2014 yet those flights count towards their earn of new stickers. While I am required to buy stickers in 2014 to use on AA since I won’t earn CP status until December 2014

  49. I made million mile status two years ago (right before they changed the program), and I have lifetime gold status. Will that change with the new program?

  50. It’s good that they are merging lifetime miles towards million miler status. It’s not nice that US Airways lifetime miles go away if you’re account is inactive for three years.

    I was mid-tier elite on US Airways in the late 90s for several years. Adding those miles would get me over an AA million mile threshold. But when I tried to make sure my details were up to date, I found out that my US Airways account has been deleted. So it’s more like ‘lifetime and maintained miles’.

  51. No award chart devaluation

    The Award devaluation at AA has already taken place – in a big way. There are now 2
    anytime award levels on many routes, based on destination and demand. This is new. In addition AA has taken away mile saver awards on many routes for J and F even when no seats have been sold. What is true – is newer members to award redemption – don’t see or feel the pain. Those of us who have used miles over the years (I’ve cashed in over 13 million miles with several airlines – both domestic and international ) have seen major devaluation. AA did not have to announce devaluation – it’s already happened.

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