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What You Need to Know About the Updates to American Airlines AAdvantage Program

Change is good, right? For American Airlines, and most other loyalty programs, change is almost never a good thing. American is on a roll this year, starting in March with the devaluation of your AAdvantage points. Starting August 1st there will be a host of changes when it comes to earning points and earning status. In one year American has changed the way you earn points and spend your points, both with negative implications for 90% of travelers.

 

American Airlines was the last holdout of the big three carriers (American, Delta, and United) that allowed you to earn miles based on your actual miles flown. What a concept, right? That means that we can officially stop calling them miles, all three of the major US carriers allow you to earn “points” solely based on your dollars spent, not miles flown.

 

Same plane and same seat, just less redeemable miles for those without status
Same plane and same seat, just less redeemable miles for those without status, thanks American!

 

Back in the old-days, if you flew from LAX to JFK you would earn close to 2,500 miles one-way because you earned a minimum of 1 point per mile flown. Now (well, August 1st) your earning rate is based on the price of the ticket minus any government imposed fees. If your one-way flight from LAX to JFK was $200, you would only earn about 900 redeemable miles/points. The base flight cost is around $180 X 5 points per dollar spent = 900 points. Compare that to 2,500 miles you will earn if you fly before August 1st on American Airlines. That is almost 1/3 of the points you would have earned. Again, ‘miles’ and ‘points’ are terms used interchangeably.

 

American followed suit with Delta and United, all three carriers will now earn you a base of 5 points per dollar spent (not including the built-in gov fees). If you have status such as Gold or Platinum with American, that earning multiplier increases to 7 and 8 points per dollar, respectively. Even with American Platinum status, that 2,500 mile flight from LAX to JFK would only earn you 1,440 “redeemable” miles (based on a $180 base fare) versus the 2,500 you would earn prior to their change. Another term for the miles you earn is “award” miles. These are miles/points that you can use towards the purchase of an award ticket (IE a free ticket).

 

Starting in August, you will no longer earn miles equal to your distance flown
Starting in August, you will no longer earn miles equal to your distance flown

 

There is hope! (for now)
You can credit your American award miles to Alaska Airlines since they are a codeshare partner. Alaska Airlines is one of the few remaining carriers that allow you to earn miles based on the actual distance flown. When purchasing your ticket you can choose which frequent flyer account you’d like to have the miles credited to, in this case you would enter your Alaska Airlines account number. The great part with earning Alaska Air miles is that you can redeem them for Delta or American flights in addition to Alaska flights. You can shop award flights on Alaska’s website without having an account so you can get an idea of costs and availability.

 

Now we know why the Alaska Airlines guy is always smiling
Now we know why the Alaska Airlines guy is always smiling

 

One-way flights on Alaska Airlines, American, and Delta using your Alaska points will run you 12,500 one-way. The exception to that rule is for intra-state flights on Alaska Air. San Jose, CA, for example, has new Alaska Airlines routes to Orange County and San Diego. Those flights would only require 7,500 Alaska miles one-way in coach (or 15,000 in first class) because they are flown by Alaska and you start and end in the same state.

Now, let’s say your job has you fly to New York on American Airlines from Los Angeles once a month. You would earn enough miles for a one-way Alaska Airlines intra-state flight after just 1.5 trips to NYC from LAX.  Again, make sure to credit your American Airline flight ‘miles’ to Alaska Air if that makes the most sense for you.

 

The current sign up bonus for the Citi American Airlines credit card is only 30,000 miles. I would hold off on signing up for that card since the bonus is typically 50,000. If you want a better sign up bonus at the moment, go for the Delta Gold card offering 50,000 miles + $50. Also, Delta just announced free in-flight entertainment for all passengers starting in July!

 

Stay tuned for Pt. 2 on earning status with American Airlines under the new rules, it ain’t pretty.