6 Reasons NOT To Leave American AAdvantage

Yesterday I wrote about the major changes coming to American AAdvantage.

American announced that starting August 1, 2016, redeemable miles will be accrued based on revenue rather than distance flown. Furthermore, they added a revenue requirement for status, and changed how their upgrade priority works. On the plus side, they added complimentary domestic upgrades for Executive Platinum members traveling on award tickets.

In a follow-up post I shared 10 reasons I’m considering breaking up with American. The logic was essentially that we’re now at a point where the loyalty programs of the “big three” US carriers more or less look the same, so it’s time to choose airlines based on their onboard product and routes, rather than their loyalty programs, because they’re no longer a point of differentiation.

With that, I pointed out that operationally Delta is a far superior airline to American (and United), which I think a vast majority of people would agree with.

For that matter, Delta’s SkyMiles Medallion elite program is arguably also at least as lucrative, if not more lucrative, than American AAdvantage.

All that being said, I was harsh on American yesterday, so figured I’d share six reasons you shouldn’t switch your loyalty away from American. Just to clarify, I’m not saying anyone should or shouldn’t stay with American, but rather am just trying to be balanced in sharing both sides of the issue here:

Oneworld Emerald status is still awesome

Executive Platinum comes with oneworld Emerald status, which gets you access to international first class lounges whenever you’re traveling internationally, even if you’re in economy or business class.

This includes the incredible Qantas First Class Lounge Sydney.

Qantas-First-Lounge-Sydney-19

Also the Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge Hong Kong.

Cathay-Pacific-The-Pier-Lounge - 17

Also the Qantas First Class Lounge Los Angeles, which is probably the best lounge in North America.

Qantas-Lounge-LAX - 13

These are better than any lounges you’ll ever have access to as a SkyTeam business class passenger.

Transcon & Hawaii upgrades

American AAdvantage offers Executive Platinum members complimentary upgrades on all flights within the US, without exception. This includes their A321s, which they operate between Los Angeles/San Francisco and New York.

American-Business-Class-A321 - 3

Meanwhile Delta SkyMiles doesn’t offer complimentary elite upgrades between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco, or on flights to/from Hawaii, other than those to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Salt Lake City.

American AAdvantage continues to be transparent

There’s something to be said for transparency. Delta SkyMiles is quite proud about not being transparent. They don’t publish award charts, and think the concept of communicating with their members is preposterous.

American is the opposite. Whether you like the changes or not, they’re incredibly transparent, and share news of any changes in advance. I appreciate that. It’s the right way to do business.

AAdvantage-Program

Cheap premium oneworld fares are unbeatable

Discounted business class fares are cheaper and more readily available than ever before, which is true across all alliances.

However, oneworld seems to have the most consistent and best business class fare sales, thanks in part to the $400 AARP discount for BA business class tickets, plus the further 10% discount through the BA Visa. Several times per year it’s possible to book business class tickets between the US and Europe for under $1,200 roundtrip. If you place any value to miles, that’s arguably a better deal than redeeming miles.

British-Airways-Business-Class-5

Meanwhile Qatar Airways consistently has great business class fares out of all kinds of markets, and a great business class product to boot. That’s a pretty unbeatable way to earn American Airlines status.

Qatar-Airways-A350-Business-Class-30

I suppose Saudia also has great business class fares, but that doesn’t seem as enjoyable of a way to earn SkyTeam miles. 😉

Access to international first class

Ever since American’s award chart devaluation I think the sweet spot for award redemptions is business class. That being said, at least you still have the option of redeeming for international first class. In some cases it’s not even that expensive, like the cost of 80,000 miles for one-way first class between the US and Japan on Japan Airlines.

So while it doesn’t matter to everyone, it’s certainly a nice option to have.

There are risks and costs to switching airlines

Now that the “big three” US frequent flyer programs are more or less equal, it can make sense to choose an airline based on the quality of the airline rather than the relative advantages of their frequent flyer programs.

That being said, with the pace at which frequent flyer programs are changing, there is something to be said for considering the switching costs of frequent flyer programs.

While it could make sense to switch to Delta because they’re a better airline, they may very well have the next big move in the race to the bottom for US frequent flyer programs, so you may find yourself quickly looking back longingly at American.

I’d also note that Delta won’t match to Diamond, but instead will just offer a challenge as far as Platinum. As a point of comparison, Alaska and United will typically provide matches and/or challenges to top tier.

Similarly, some are talking about switching to Alaska Mileage Plan, given that they still award miles based on distance flown. That’s certainly true and a good point, but I’d note that there’s a good chance their earnings rates for travel on American will be adjusted as of August 1, 2016, as well. At least that’s what happened to crediting Delta miles to Alaska Mileage Plan when they went revenue based.

Anytime there’s an arbitrage opportunity, the gap will eventually be narrowed.

Bottom line

The point of this post isn’t to suggest that people should or shouldn’t change their loyalty as a result of recent changes, but rather to present a balanced perspective. There are good reasons to stay with American, good reasons to switch to other airlines, and good reasons to become a “free agent” and forget about status altogether. Everyone can decide what’s best for them, as there’s no “one size fits all” answer.

Comments

  1. FARE ALERT BUSINESS CLASS: British Airways/American have Atlanta-London at $1,735 right now for travel Sep-Nov lots of dates and far fewer dates Dec-March. Use AARP $400 discount link to get this rate.

    Also available from Salt Lake City for about $100 more.

  2. There’s more drama on whether or not to leave American than there is between Delta and Qatar.

  3. Can’t see any reason to switch away from AA just yet. Still need to see what they are doing with the basic economy fare and premium economy to follow.

  4. I know you won’t switch to DL (for now), but you certainly created lots of blog traffic. That was the point after all…

  5. One thing you forgot That makes AA better than DL: better partners i.e. CX or JL v. China Airlines, China Southern etc. DL DOES have better TATL partners (AF) but, BA isn’t that bad. AA also partners with 2 of the MEB3 as opposed to Saudia for DL. If only AA would partner with Kuwait airways…

  6. Currently Gold with the bulk of my flights either on American or Alaska. I think I’ll end up doing a status match to Alaska next year since I’m not likely to meet the spending requirement. I’d love to see a comparison of those programs and maybe a look at other One World airlines to which I could credit American flights instead.

  7. Most of your reasons to stay are assuming you’re EXP. Well if I was EXP I wouldn’t leave them, for the reasons you stated. If I was Gold, I have MUCH less incentive to stay. Personally I like AA and DL. I am not a UA fan at all. I have heard UA is improving though with the release of Smisek. That guy was one of the worst airline CEOs ever. He was always doing the opposite of what you’re supposed to do in business. You’re supposed to under commit and over deliver, he would promise the world, then fall flat on his face, time and time again. A merger that takes 4 years and was terrible the entire time, is a joke.

  8. These are better than any lounges you’ll ever have access to as a SkyTeam business class passenger.

    Unless you pay 300 euros and are flying AF J out of CDG. Don’t you consider the AF F lounge the best lounge in the world?

    😉

  9. I’m not an elite traveler, so the benefits are not there for me. Having said that, I like AA for the partnership with Qantas; I fly out of DFW, so it’s definitely more convenient to fly AA for most of the places I fly to.

    Great counter post!

  10. For me, it is all going to come down to what the mileage earning and EQD chart will look like for OW partners when traveling in premium cabins. My guess (hope) is that mileage earning for premium cabin travel will continue to be a multiplier greater than 1 (and that we will continue to earn some type of elite bonus). I suspect that the EQD multiplier will be less than 1 (and it probably should be), but hope it won’t be less than 50%.

  11. Lucky there is no way you are going to give up OWE no matter what the alternatives are. Why are you not looking at other OW FF programs rather than ditching the worlds best alliance for the world’s worst?!?

  12. Reason to stay with American: Redeeming with Qatar and Etihad, Delta doesn’t partner with any of the ME3 and losing those options would be heartbreaking

    Reason to leave American: BAs ridiculous fuel surcharges make award tickets an insult, I am not paying $700+ for a “free” ticket. Americans network is actually pretty tiny and only is big when you factor in its partners, but that’s because BA is so big which is pretty useless when it’s so expensive to redeem miles with them.

  13. I have 125k AA miles and was hoping to earn more to earn enough to take my fiancee to Europe business class for our honeymoon…I’m guessing this won’t make that easier.

  14. With all else being equal, airline alliances are more important than ever when choosing loyalty. I would much rather redeem a trip to Europe using United Miles or Sky Pesos, for example, because there aren’t many good OneWorld options.

    It may be time to recap the alliances as a whole.

  15. I don’t know if those reasons are reason enough to spend $20,000 or whatever the after tax rate is to keep Executive Platinum status. Many of your points could be made whether you credit your flights to AA or not.

    BA partner AARP deals can be had whether you credit to AA or to another airline like BA or Alaska. Fist class awards can be had with points. For $20,000 you could buy a lot of AA points especially when they cost 1.8 cents or whatever and you can access the lounges if redeeming for business and first class tickets. Transcon upgrades…. you can just buy a cheap business class fare sometimes they are just a few bucks more then coach.

    Very sad you think a transparent loyalty program where they give the advertised benefits is a plus.

    I am not sure how much of your flying is necessary for your business, but I think for many business/leisure travelers the new Aadvantage Program has very little value over the benefits received.

  16. I left Delta six years and 800k miles ago and have never looked back. Now, I am constantly reading about how operationally superior they are to AA. Maybe in the past six years since I left them they’ve up’ed their game but the Delta I flew with was nothing special – old planes, flight delays, cranky FA’s (especially on the Trans Atlantic flights), inedible pasta and stingy awards. Flying through ATL for years with Delta had many weather related flight delays. Not sure that gets cranked into on-time stats but I missed more connections going through ATL than every other hub combined that I’ve used in 20 years. If my flight needs aligned with Delta I’d probably use them but I don’t think they are superior to AA.

  17. As a 4.7 million miler platinum for life, I am going nowhere. May be harder to get to platinum exec, but my mileage accrual should be the same or better since I fly exclusively first if possible.

  18. I also always had a much easier time using skymiles than I do my AA miles when trying to redeem for the saver rates. For example:

    Delta: using miles from DCA to Rome: DCA to Boston to Rome. Done.

    AA: Using miles from DCA to Brussels: DCA to Boston to LaGuardia to Philly to Brussels. SERIOUSLY?!?!

  19. You are forgetting that Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses are amazing. They are not Skyteam, but they are Delta partners. You know that, Ben!

  20. 3 out of 6 of your reasons for staying is more a function of Oneworld rather than AA/Aadvantage.

    I think that speak volumes.

  21. Good balanced post Ben. It is sad to know benefits for AA top tier customers are accessing partner airlines and lounges. As a top tier customer of AA partner airline, I get nothing out of AA. I just compliant to Qantas yesterday about my trip last week. I will never purchase a QF ticket and get on AA flight. It is just a nightmare.

  22. I knew only Lucky’s blogs would let me understand AA’s “latest” changes – and his 3 posts did it!

    My wife and I are both long time Exec Platinum – we’ll never meet the new EQD which I estimate will require tix costing over $15K annually – we do over $200K annually in biz expenses on Citi & Barclay cards (giving us each 20K EQM annually) and since AA didn’t do the EQD revenue requirement waiver with their co-branded credit card we’ve begun the switch to Delta (we’re already Platinum Medallion) by ordering Delta’s co-branded credit cards this morning – Delta flies where we want, and took AA’s “airline for business travelers” hat.

    When AA was in bankruptcy I would NEVER have predicted we would leave AA in our lifetimes – much less 2 years later. AA has now won the race to the bottom, not just in the loyalty program. It’s been death by a thousand cuts, and it’s aggravating “watching the bouncing ball” as another poster said. Keep it up AA and you’ll write the book on how to “Turn the #1 Airline into the next Spirit Budget Carrier”.

  23. “Knew This Was Coming says:
    June 7, 2016 at 2:33 pm
    Sounds like someone got their hand slapped by the folks at American.”

    Ha ha yep it does …

  24. With all things being equal, DL is looking very very attractive. For May, they were tops again for the second month in a row for on time performance.

  25. Sorry AA is not transparent. They didn’t announce the date that redeemable miles would be earned (August 1) until a few months before, and they are basing it on when the flight departs rather then when the ticket was purchased. That’s fraud, and AA should allow all such tickets free refunds, since it was purchased based on a certain understanding of mileage earning.

    How can you call then transparent with such fraud?

  26. @Tiffany – thanks for sharing – I haven’t seen either Gary or Ben on TV before; it was interesting to watch (and put a voice to the face!)

  27. 1) Transcon and HI upgrades are becoming a rather minor points because those upgrades are rather difficult to score even for AA EXP buying tickets 6 months in advance. The reasons are competitive J and F fares, much smaller F cabin in new A321 out of LAX to HI, and high competition.
    2) Qantas Sydney and Hong Kong F lounges are fine but not worth of efforts and money of getting EXP just for that. There are far better restaurants in my neighborhood.
    3) Finally, my personal view on the latest “evolution” of AA program is that is mainly caused by the desire of the current AA management to squeeze more profit from the new credit card contract. Look, on average AA will be giving away less redeemable miles for the flight but is extremely interested in selling more miles to merchants and credit card companies. EQD and “evaluations” of possible EQD waivers based on CC spending is another instrument to encourage customer credit card spending.

  28. @Daniel. Fraud? I dont think so, just sour grapes. Its only a frequent flyer program, get a grip. You have your health, family, job, etc. In the grand scheme of things, this isnt a big deal. If you really think it’s fraud, start a class action lawsuit.

  29. OW Emerald from AA or any airline but QR won’t get you into QR’s F lounge(s), nor of course BA’s Concorde lounge(s). (And as nice as QF’s SYD F lounge is, it’s always overwhelmed by kitchen smells!) I agree that there will be changes in the RDMs accumulated on AA flights in other partner programs. Nor do we know exactly how premium class flights on OW partners will credit (RDMs) to AAdvantage until sometime next month. If AA is going by actual amount paid for a ticket, who’s to say this won’t apply to OW partner flights too. So cheap biz tickets on QR or BA (with its horrendous 2-4-2 cabins) won’t post as generous RDMs as they do today.

    Suffice to say, we must each assess the changes based on what we want from an FF program and our own travel patterns. Each of us has different objectives and needs. I left UA (1K for many years) because it wasn’t delivering what I needed or what I felt a top tier program should, and I have not been disappointed given the value and benefits I’ve received as an AA ExecPlat. I buy my own tickets, for personal travel or business (where budgets still matter), so it’s unlikely I will be able to retain this status after 2017. Being Canadian-based, that U$20K is C$26K. And not being in the US, any credit card benefits — including being able to earn more miles from charging things than by flying — are not available to keep other aspects of the program attractive. Having come back to AA only recently, I’m still a quarter million EQMs from MM status…and I don’t consider OW Ruby|AA Gold to be all that valuable.

    You’ve made some good points on both sides of the debate. But until we have the rest of the details from AA next month, and see what RDM earnings will be in other OW programs (or AS’s) I’m not rushing to change programs. I’ll continue towards ExecPlat for next year (22K EQMs to go, flights already booked for August and September…with a major loss of RDMs though) and decide based on my own needs and considerations.

    I know most around here will be thoroughly disappointed, and I can understand. But I also have to reflect on the almost 40 years of the several FF programs in which I’ve been a member, and the huge benefits I’ve enjoyed. Those of us of a certain age will recall when we could get 4 business tickets anywhere an airline flew for about 140K RDMs (and no fees/taxes) PLUS a week’s hotel stay (in a suite) PLUS a week’s rental of a luxury car! And those double or triple miles route bonuses. It was through these programs that my late wife and I saw places on the planet we’d never have otherwise gotten to. So by all counts, my ROI has been like buying Apple stock at $30…before it split 7:1.

  30. Seriously …. Comparing American, Delta, and United is the equivalent of comparing Diphtheria, Diarrhea, and Whooping Cough.

  31. help booking an AA flight to Greece from MSP. Can’t seem to avoid the BA fee or have enough miles. Anyone want to help with their expertise?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *