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Frequent flyers have been dreading an update to AAdvantage, American Airlines’ loyalty program for months. Last week, the other shoe finally dropped.
According to leaks from a member of the Traveling Better forum, AA staff are in the process of getting trained on a new loyalty program set for rollout early next year. Details of the program have not been confirmed by the airline yet, but according to the forum, the biggest changes to the program have to do with the way that passengers will earn redeemable miles.
Both United and Delta have moved to loyalty programs that incorporate passenger revenue into the equation for calculating elite status in recent years. While those programs have successfully created leaner loyalty ranks for the airlines (and savings in stride), they have also been widely interpreted as anti-consumer, especially as carriers continue to report record earnings. Still, given their successes, many feared that American would follow suit and launch its own revenue-based loyalty program.
Instead of following its competition, however, American is apparently taking a more consumer-friendly tack. For 2017’s AAdvantage program (which starts in 2016) elite members will still earn status based on miles flown. Starting in the fourth quarter, however, redeemeable miles for award tickets will start being earned as a function of ticket price and elite status — a model similar what’s currently in place at United and Delta.
The resulting program is thus a hybrid of the current, legacy award programs and the revenue-based programs now coming into style. Qualifying for elite status stays the same, while earning miles for award bookings will be harder (unless you fly primarily on expensive tickets).
The hybrid approach may be the best reasonable compromise for the airline. While American needs to have an award program that’s competitive with the industry, it also needs to make sure that its loyal customer base doesn’t dissolve after a disruptive merger with US Airways. By not stirring the pot too rapidly, both American’s board and its customers may end up satisfied.