In a move that will surprise few, American Airlines followed United this week by increasing the cost of entry into the top tier of its loyalty program. Next year, earning Executive Platinum status on American Airlines will require 25 percent more spend on the airline.
The nation’s largest carrier is making it harder to qualify for the highest published tier of its loyalty program. Fort Worth-based American Airlines on Monday announced that in 2019 it plans to increase the volume of spending required to qualify for its top-tier Executive Platinum status in the AAdvantage loyalty program by 25 percent.
To qualify for elite status in 2020, it means that through 2019, Executive Platinum members will need to fly 100,000 miles and spend $15,000 instead of $12,000 with the carrier .
No other tier of American’s AAdvantage loyalty program will see changes to elite status qualification requirements in 2020.
American’s move comes just a month after United Airlines, its chief competitor, announced an identical change. Qualification for the top tier (called Diamond elite) of Delta’s Skymiles loyalty program already requires $15,000 in annual spend plus 125,000 flown miles.
In addition to changing the qualification threshold for Executive Platinum members, American also announced a change to the way in which AAdantage members will earn miles when flying on partner carriers and when flying on select special fares.
Starting in 2019, the 50 percent Elite Qualifying Mile bonus that AAdvantage members earn when flying on a full fare economy ticket — known as a Y-class fare — on select Oneworld partner carriers will be erased; moving forward, the fares will only earn 100% qualifying miles. Y fares on British Airways, Iberia, Finnair and Japan Airlines will be affected.
Those who directly use credit card portals to use points to book fares will also see dramatic changes to the way they earn qualifying dollars in 2019. Until now, travelers using points to book an airfare directly through a portal like one provided by Chase or Capital One would end up getting placed into a special bulk fare category where qualifying dollars often exceeded the actual cost of the ticket. Next year, however, that loophole will close and rates will be adjusted to the cost of the ticket.
Not all special fares will result in lower earnings though. According to American, “class of service bonuses for special fares in First and full-fare Business will increase from 50% to 100% per mile flown and [qualifying dollars] for those fares will go up from 30% to 40%.” The full list of affected fares and fare classes was posted on aa.com this morning.
Despite the few positive changes, most travelers will find that American’s updates will make it harder to earn top-tier elite status in 2019. And to a degree, that may be American’s intention. In the last several years, legacy airline CEOs have made it clear that they only want to reward the most valuable, deep-pocketed air travelers – ones who don’t work loopholes to earn elite status or exclusively purchase basic economy fares. In raising the bar for elite status qualification, American and United seem to be keeping their promises.
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Photo credit: A ground crew member directs an American Airlines Group Inc. plane preparing to taxi on the tarmac. Angus Mordant / Bloomberg