Yesterday American announced the details of their 2015 AAdvantage program. This is the next step of the US Airways and American Airlines integration, whereby next year they’ll be merging the Dividend Miles program into the AAdvantage program.
A vast majority of people are thrilled with the changes. And they should be — when you look at what Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus have done over the past couple of years, American’s program mostly staying the same is great news. From my perspective the program even improved, as American added complimentary same day changes for Executive Platinum members, a benefit which is long overdue in my book.
But that hasn’t stopped some US Airways flyers from expressing their disappointment. One of the most vocal is Carolina Travel Girl, who isn’t happy with the changes at all:
These changes are not in any way (other than an increased mileage bonus) good for the current US elites. The current AA elites who don’t know any better are basically not affected…
So these changes aren’t good in any way? And those of us AAdvantage loyalists are just happy because we “don’t know any better?” Fascinating.
Carolina Travel Girl then explains that she’s a Chairman’s Preferred member this year, but won’t be next year.
Where do we even begin?
These changes are good for Chairman’s Preferred members
Chairman’s Preferred members are going to be getting eight systemwide upgrades per year. Currently they get two systemwide upgrades, which are also valid for a companion. So at a minimum they’re doubling the number of systemwide upgrades they’re getting.
US Airways Chairman’s Preferred members still get complimentary upgrades, a 100% mileage bonus, fee waivers, etc.
The one downside is that stickers are required for companion upgrades. So if you always fly with companions then yes, that’s a big negative. But if you only fly with companions sometimes, you can even use those excess systemwide upgrades to confirm their upgrades at the time of booking.
Who wouldn’t love unlimited complimentary upgrades?
Ultimately, I think those unhappy with the program changes just lack perspective. I totally get why US Airways elite flyers are pissed about complimentary upgrades going away.
Because a substantially smaller percentage of US Airways’ passengers are elite members. Upgrades consistently clear, even for low level elites.
What kind of a barbarian would want to see that go away? No one, right?
Here’s a question for US Airways flyers — when’s the last time you saw an upgrade list 30+ people deep after everyone had cleared? Because hub-to-hub, that’s the norm for other airlines.
I think the real objection US Airways flyers have — and the perspective they lack — is that US Airways undoubtedly has the lowest proportion of elite flyers of any major US airline.
US Airways doesn’t have as global of a network as American, Delta, or United, so people aren’t flying US Airways as often, and thus aren’t earning status with them. I mean, US Airways doesn’t even fly to Asia, so earning status is a lot tougher than with American, Delta, or United.
That’s understandable, and that’s why upgrades usually clear.
But just pulling up some upgrade lists for United for tonight, here’s how they look — they’re both 30+ people deep, and it’s not even Sunday, Monday, or Thursday:
So I think the real frustration a lot of US Airways flyers have is actually with the fact US Airways is merging with an airline that has a higher percentage of elite flyers.
Some people seem to have the misconception that every American flight goes out with first class cabins half empty because they’re refusing to upgrade elite members.
The reality is quite the opposite.
A US Airways Silver or Gold member might actually clear transcon upgrades. They might actually clear a hub-to-hub upgrade. How often do you think a Gold or Platinum member at American would clear a Miami to Los Angeles upgrade if they had unlimited complimentary upgrades? Almost never, I’d say.
And that’s not because American is denying people upgrades, but because there are more elites, and some people are actually paying for the product.
Sticker upgrades aren’t punitive
With American, Gold and Platinum members earn four 500 mile upgrades for each 10,000 miles they fly. And on top of that, they’ll soon get unlimited complimentary upgrades on flights of under 500 miles (which make up over a third of domestic upgrade eligible flights).
Carolina Travel Girl says:
And we will be subjected to the outdated ‘Sticker’ program where, if you fly 50K miles, you will earn 10 stickers… good for one transcon upgrade.
So you get four stickers for every 10,000 miles of flying, so by my math that’s 20 stickers… good for two roundtrip transcon upgrades, if that’s how you choose to redeem them.
Then she says:
Also, if you want that upgraded flight, make sure you only book it for late in the year after you have earned those stickers.
The good thing about sticker upgrades is that you don’t actually have to have stickers in your account when you request the upgrade. You just need them by the time you check-in.
So you can request upgrades for as many flights as you’d like, and if they clear you’d just need the stickers by check-in.
The way I view American’s sticker upgrade system is that it basically allows you to prioritize which upgrades are most valuable to you. In a vast majority of cases flights aren’t going out with empty seats upfront. Instead, the elites that value the upgrades the most are getting them.
I challenge Susan (or anyone else) coming over from US Airways to take some American flights and count how many empty seats they see in first class. Chances are if they’re sitting in the back it’s not because evil American wants those seats to be empty, but rather because American has more elite members than US Airways, so there’s more demand for those seats.
And I think that’s the crux of the frustration.
I get why US Airways flyers are unhappy. My read on the situation is “we just wanna keep getting complimentary upgrades into our first class product that’s about as classy as a frat party. It might not be much, but it’s ours, damnit!”
But I think the frustration is misdirected. US Airways members’ real complaint should be with the fact that US Airways is merging with an airline that has a much higher percentage of elite passengers than they’re used to. American just has a different way of allocating those seats among elite members, so that people get the upgrades when they value them most.
And even if you’re not happy with the changes, do realize that AAdvantage is still the lesser of the evils.
Think American’s new program is “so bad” that you’re better off with Delta or United? I’d love to hear all about it! 😉