American Just Announced Their 2015 Program and It’s REALLY Good! Here’s What You Need to Know That Isn’t On Their Website

American Airlines just announced when their AAdvantage program and the US Airways Dividend Miles program will be combined into one, and what the program will look like.

I’m going to outline the program below, based on the announcement that American made and also based on clarifications that I got yesterday speaking with AAdvantage President Suzanne Rubin and members of her team.

We’re Keeping the American AAdvantage Program, Mostly As-Is

Throughout the past year the mantra at American, as they proceed with the US Airways merger, has been “integrate before we innovate.” The goal has to become one airline, not to make changes. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that they’ve basically announced that they are keeping the current American AAdvantage program, with a few minor tweaks.

And while there’s going to be more detail on all of this to share, I came away from talking with Suzanne with a clear understanding that the goal here is to set expectations of members about what they will experience going forward. They never make commitments not to change things in the future, but they do look like they’re carrying forward the AAdvantage program, as it currently exists, for the most part — rather than becoming revenue-based or upending the award chart. Which is great news for flyers.

Suzanne told me, “what we’re trying to do is help people understand what to expect as we bring the programs together.”

What’s more, as they focus on integrating the two airlines first rather than making changes to AAdvantage, she points out that they “won’t be done when the frequent flyer programs integrate, there is a lot of work with the reservation systems and single operating certificate to bring two carriers together,” so that’s the airline’s focus. It sounds like they’ve shared the new status quo with us, at least for now. Suzanne emphasized that they will continue “the balance and restraint we’ve shown”as they look at what changes other carriers make to their programs.

Timeframe: They will combine programs and accounts on a one-to-one basis during the second quarter of 2015. They haven’t set a target date, and there’s lots of IT work to do, but they sounded optimistic to me about hitting their deadlines on the early, rather than late, side of the calendar.

Elite Qualification

They’re going with the (3) AAdvantage elite tiers, rather than (4) tiers like with US Airways. They’re combining elite qualifying activity from member accounts during 2014, for 2015 status, and from the beginning of 2015 for members to get a head start on the new year.

The only tweak to the AAdvantage rules is that they’re going to require 120 segments for top tier elite status, the way that US Airways does today. This seems largely the result of the combined route network — US Airways has a ton of short-distance flights in the Northeast, which drives the existing Dividend Miles decision on segments.

  • 2014 elite qualifying activity from both US Airways and American will get pooled to determine your elite status for the rest of 2015. That means if you had 90,000 qualifying miles with American, and 10,000 qualiying miles with US Airways, you’d become a top tier Executive Platinum. The $25,000 I put on my US Airways MasterCard turns out to be useful after all (at least if I hadn’t already pretty much requalified without it).
  • 2015 elite qualifying activity to date from both US Airways and American will get pooled as well.
  • The number of miles required for elite status remains the same. The elite tiers remain the same, too — a three tiered program, AAdvantage Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum. I turned out to be wrong, at least at this point, when I guessed at the beginning of the merger that they would have (4) elite tiers like US Airways, Delta, and United do.
  • For those who qualify on segments, top tier will require 120 next year instead of 100. All other segment requirements stay the same. But you’d need to fly 120 segments in 2015 for 2016 status (or fly 100,000 miles or earn 100,000 ‘points’ which are miles adjusted by fare class).

This does take away some of the incentive to shoot for US Airways Platinum status this year, folks flying between 75,000 and 99,999 qualifying miles should be strongly advised to push for the 100,000 mile level in order to see a return on their flying above 50,000 miles.

Combining Your US Airways and American Mileage Accounts

You’ll be able to link your US Airways and American AAdvantage accounts in early 2015. This will help make sure that miles and qualifying activity gets merged correctly. Of course they’ll try to do it for you if you do not do it yourself.

You won’t be able to move miles back and forth between accounts prior to the programs being combined.

Upgrades

The airlines themselves will combine in late 2015, six months or more later than the frequent flyer programs combine.

So during much of the year all elites on both airlines will have American AAdvantage elite status. But the upgrade processes will work differently depending on which airline you’re flying.

  • When the programs combine all elites will get unlimited complimentary upgrades when flying US Airways.
  • When flying American, the existing system prevails with one tweak. Executive Platinums still get unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades. Golds and Platinums will upgrade using 500 mile stickers (as it is with American today). These upgrades are earned complimentary at a rate of 2000 miles of upgrades per 10,000 miles flown. Additional domestic upgrade certificates can be purchased.
  • American will offer unlimited complimentary upgrades to all elites on flights of 500 miles or less.
  • US Airways elites will receive a starting balance of 500-mile upgrades based on the elite qualifying flying they’ve done.
  • Top tier elites from both airlines will get the American AAdvantage benefit of 8 sytemwide upgrades, international upgrades that can be confirmed at booking (subject to availability) or waitlisted on any paid fare.

Here’s the American version that will start when the programs integrate, and will be the new model entirely when the two airlines combine.

Because US Airways has so many short flights on regional jets, the bulk of which offer a first class cabin, Suzanne tells me that 34% of the flights on the combined route network are under 500 miles and offer a first class cabin. That’s much higher than I would have guessed, but given US Airways that makes sense to me. And it says that US Airways elites below the Chairmans level still keep their complimentary domestic upgrades on a third of flights.

In addition, while they haven’t firmed the formula yet for giving US Airways elites 500 mile e-upgrades in their accounts from day one, they are trying to make sure US Airways members start off well-positioned when the programs combine.

Towards that same end, US Airways Chairmans Preferred members will get their (2) confirmed international upgrade certificates with the 2015 program year. And then when the programs combine they’ll get their (8) American systemwide upgrades.

If the 2 US Airways upgrades haven’t been used, they’ll go away with the new program, which is more than fair considering they’ll get 8 new ones. But US Airways upgrades only need to be applied to a future US Airways reservation… any Chairmans member might as well apply them rather than use them, and will in effect get 10 confirmed upgrades for the year!

On net I think 500 mile upgrades rather than unlimited complimentary upgrades are good for flyers. They’ve compromised somewhat on this between the two systems, taking the current AAdvantage domestic upgrade process, with unlimited complimentary upgrades on short flights.

The AAdvantage upgrade system leads to a higher upgrade percentage for lower-tier elites who aren’t competing against every elite every time they request an upgrade. American does a better job satisfying upgrade requests than, say, United does.

I think US Airways Gold and Platinum elites come out a little ahead of American Platinums here, because they’ve been getting complimentary upgrades and will also effectively be earning upgrade stickers at the same time for future use. (American Platinums earn those stickers but have to use them if they want to be upgraded in the time leading up to the programs getting combined.) And US Airways Chairmans Prefered members can double dip in 2015 on their confirmed upgrade instruments.

Worth noting that US Airways and American codeshare flights with each other still will only be able to be upgraded at check-in, not in advance. It’s a systems limitation that will last until the airlines themselves are combined towards the end of the year.

Both international systemwide upgrades (that are given to top tier elites at both airlines, and to American’s million milers upon qualification) and mileage upgrades will work on either airline when the programs combine.

Million Miler Status

There are no changes to American’s million mile status program.

When the programs combine, million miler balances at US Airways and American will be combined. They will not be re-calculated, e.g. using American’s legacy more generous formula where they used to count miles from all sources towards status.

This is going to be a relief for American lifetime elites, that they keep their lifetime status and that American is sticking with 3 elite tiers. United lifetime mid-tier elites were livid when the airline went to four tiers… and their 50,000 mile status became ‘second from the bottom’. That’s not happening with this integration.

It’s also an improvement for US Airways elites who were previously not able to earn anything beyond lifetime Silver but can now earn lifetime Platinum (mid-tier).

What’s more, a US Airways member who freshly crosses a lifetime million mile threshold as part of combining miles, will be eligible to receive American’s gift of upgrades when that happens. (A lifetime silver porting over to lifetime Gold at American, but not crossing a new lifetime threshold, won’t get the upgrades gift that comes with crossing a threshold.)

Award redemption

There’s no changes to the award chart at this time. When the programs combine, we keep the American AAdvantage award chart and award rules. See The Ultimate Guide to Constructing Award Tickets Using American Miles.

With a single program, miles will be able to be used both for saver awards and the more expensive awards that give you any available seat regardless of airline (currently that can only be done with US Airways miles on US Airways, and American miles on American).

I think many members were afraid that integrating the program would be a time that we’d see big award chart changes. That’s not happening.

Increased Class of Service Mileage Bonus

They’re increasing the international business class mileage-earning bonus from 25% to 50% on January 1.

Changes to Same-day Confirmed: Good for Legacy American Top Tier, Mixed for US Airways Elites

Top tier AAdvantage members will get complimentary same-day confirmed flight changes starting January 1. Currently American’s Executive Platinums have to pay $75 for the privilege, like all other members. So this is an improvement.

The American policy for same-day confirmed changes has a longer time window than the US Airways policy, but is available only for domestic and is restricted inventory.

The US Airways policy waived the fee for all elites, was available for international, and in broader inventory. But it was highly time-restrictive. So US Airways elites below top tier lose the fee waiver, the better inventory, and the ability to use it internationally (in those rare cases that schedules allowed). But they get a longer time window.

Same-day standby will still be free for AAdvantage elites.

Keeping American AAdvantage Account Numbers

When the programs combine, American AAdvantage members keep their account numbers.

US Airways members who do not have AAdvantage accounts will be given an AAdvantage account.

There’s real potential for confusion here because American uses 7 alphanumeric characters for their accounts, and US Airways used 7 alphanumeric characters for theirs prior to their merger with America West. When US Airways and America West merged, legacy US Airways members kept their 7 character numbers and the system added zeroes in front of it.

Not much should come of it, and a reasonable approach given the potential overlap of numbers, but interesting to note.

Overall, a Huge Win

I fly American because I find their program to be the most valuable across the board. So it’s great news that the program isn’t really going to be changing, except at the margins (higher segment requirement for top tier status; unlimited complimentary upgrades for all elites on the shortest flights).

US Airways Dividend Miles members are getting moved over to the AAdvantage platform, one-to-one, and will get to benefit from the AAdvantage program which is overall a better program. Some US Airways elites won’t like losing unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades below top tier, but:

  • There are more international upgrades
  • US Airways elites get unlimited complimentary upgrades on the shortest flights
  • US Airways elites get a make-good, starting off with a complimentary balance of 500 mile upgrades.

And they get the AAdvantage program, mostly unchanged. Contrary to my expectations, they aren’t using the combination of programs as an opportunity to bundle in devaluations. While United and Delta have made huge changes to their programs and to their award charts, the changes at American/US Airways are mostly limited to what we saw back in April.

When if the merger hadn’t happened, US Airways probably would have already gone with a revenue-based program and with significant award chart changes. So this seems like a win all-around.

As you think about how these changes will work, the basic idea is that current US Airways rules apply to US Airways flights until the two airlines combine later this year. They don’t want to make tech changes to US Airways for what amounts to just a few months’ use. So all elites get complimentary upgrades on US Airways until the reservation system cutover, using US Airways prioritization rules for upgrades. And American new rules go into effect with the merger of the programs during the second quarter when they combine the member databases.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] American Airlines came out this morning with an announcement of what the new American AAdvantage program will look like. The two programs are moving forward with their merger toward a single airline. It looks like the ability to link frequent flyer accounts in the two program will be available in early 2015 and the award charts on both airlines are staying intact for now. Read Gary from View from the Wing’s full analysis here. […]

Comments

  1. Thanks for this info and analysis, Gary. I wanted to follow up on @Corey’s question above, which I don’t believe you replied to, re AA systemwide upgrades. Is it yet clear at what date in 2015 we can use those upgrades for US flights? (Also, I assume that when that option kicks in it will also be possible to use miles plus cash for upgrades on US flights, right?)

  2. @Steve you can use AA systemwide upgrades for US flights effective the date at which the two programs combine. Miles and cash co-pay will also be possible.

  3. @toomanybooks, I would think this is as good as any time for Trial Preferred (http://www.usairways.com/en-US/dividendmiles/promotions/trialpreferred.html) if you think you can fly the necessary miles to get up to chairman. Furthermore, under the American program, you cannot buy up to Exec Plat so I don’t think they will continue this offer once the programs are merged. There may be a small window in 2015 where this offer may still be active but I am betting against it.

    @Gary, great summary as always, keep up the good work!

  4. @Gary – I am an Exec Plat for 2014 (only 20k EQMs this years) but I paid for and successfully completed a US Airways trial and now am a Chairman through Feb 29, 2016 according to their website as of right now (about 40k PQM). I originally queried AA Twitter desk regarding whether or not AA would step down your elite level if you did not re-qualify because they discontinued the “golden parachute” but US still has it. I received the response of, “You’ll receive the status that you qualify for” which means ‘no’.

    But this brought to mind another question. Based on reading what they have put out and what your assessments regarding status for the rest of 2015, does this mean that even though I purchased the trial and completed it, I don’t actually get to maintain that through Feb of 2016? If so, that is a huge issue for me as I purchased the trial because of it. Further, it still states it on the Preferred Trial page right now that Feb 2016 is the end date for trials started today, so this is a conflict with what was released from AA, or am I reading it incorrectly. If I fly nothing more than what I already have by the time they take merge the programs (assuming June 30th) and I should have Chairman through Feb of 2016 but only flew 55k EQMs through that point, would I get knocked down to Plat?

  5. @Kyle if your US Airways status during the 2015 member year is Chairmans Preferred you should become an Executive Platinum with American when the programs combine.

  6. Gary – for us novices, please explain how you become a lifetime whatever (gold, platinum, chairman); are you saying we will NO LONGER be able to buy up to Chairman or Executive Platinum as we have been able to do previously? Please clarify EQM. Thanks.

  7. Thanks for the analysis, Gary. You seemed pretty definitive about not being able to move points back and forth between the programs. Was this confirmed by the folks you spoke with at American? What a shame…

  8. @bobbieeddie – The “Buy Up to Preferred” US Airways program was already eliminated. However, American has had a program that allows for end of year status buy back/buy up for that last 5k – 10k elite qualifying miles.

    Million miler status … each program has a lifetime miles calculation. Up until a couple of years ago, miles at American earned from any source (credit card signup bonuses even!) counted. US Airways used to give only lifetime silver for 1mm miles and nothing beyond that. American is lifetime Gold at 1mm, lifetime Platinum at 2mm, and each successive million mile marker earns more upgrades.

  9. So, similar question to Kyle- I am currently Platinum in AA through a successfully completed Platinum challenge. My expiration date was 2016. When the systems combine in 2015- do I lose that whole year of Platinum? Or am I still good until 2016? I will be able to requalify; but it would be after the merger is complete and before the 2016 expiration.

  10. @Nikki – if you are an AAdvantage Platinum through February 2016, you will remain so even when they fold Dividend Miles into the AAdvantage system. Your status is safe.

  11. Hi Gary, thanks so much for putting in all the time to bring this information to us. One query for you. On AA’s webpage regarding the upcoming FF program integration it states “When we combine our programs in second quarter of 2015, you’ll be able to redeem miles for AAnytime® awards and upgrades on American and US Airways.”

    That statement is under the title ‘Redeeming Miles’ – on this link – https://www.americanairlines.com.au/i18n/AAdvantage/AAdvantage2015/index.jsp

    The quote above refers to AAnytime Awards and not MilesSAAver Awards. Once I transfer my Dividend Miles into my AAdvantage account next year, will I be able to use those transferred Dividend Miles to book MilesSAAver Awards, as distinct from AAnytime Awards?

    I’d be grateful for any light you can shed on the matter.

    John

  12. @John tipple – yes, no problem. See, you can redeem for MilesAAver awards now on AA using your US miles. What will change is that you can ALSO redeem miles for AAnytime awards once the programs merge.

  13. Thanks Gary, apologies for my ignorance here but how do I go about doing this. I can’t see an option to nominate use of my dividend miles on the AA.com site when I try to book an award.

    Do I need to call the AA Award reservation centre to use Dividend Miles?

    If it matters, I am not intending to use my Dividend Miles for AA operated flights, but more likely flights operated by Oneworld partners (in particular Qantas, as I live in Australia).

    Perhaps I should have clarified this in my earlier post. I have successfully used AA miles to redeem 1st class MilesSAAver awards on Qantas metal from Sydney to London. I now have accumulated a lot of Dividend Miles that I’d like to access for redemption of another Qantas operated flight through the AAdvantage program.

    Thanks Gary, I understand if you don’t have time to respond to this.

  14. Gary – I meant to add – The reason for my preference to go through AA rather than redeem through US Airways is that AA allow one-way redemptions. That is what works best for me. Thanks again

  15. As a segment qualifier in pervious years this is a bit of a hit. The caveat is that this year due to an injury my travel is down – I’m sitting at 57 segments/47.5K EQM with 12 segments/25K currently planned, leaving me at 69 seg/72.5K EQM for the year. I hate thinking about ending up at Platinum this year. 81 segments is 8 round trips for me (since I connect through a hub), so achieving an additional 27.5K EQM almost seems easier. I could easily do a round trip every week through the end of the year with the “Weekly Deals” and the spend would likely be worth it because we actually use our SWU’s each year. Your thoughts?

  16. While the US Air buy status isn’t available, it seems the trial buy-in is available. Ranging from $200 Silver to $600 Platinum. In the fine print it looks like this is not available if you have used it and not qualified in the previous year. It does look like it is available to non-status members only.

    Hmmm, ok so a newbie planning a lot of travel in he near future might benefit from this. Is this ‘trial’ offer going away next year? If status is achieved using the trial offer, will it count with the merger for AAdvantage status?

    While doing the status trial, do you get the ‘mileage bonus’ of the status you paid for (Silver, Gold, Platinum) and does that ‘bonus’ count towards your Preferred Mileage?

    If all these result as positive answers, then would it be correct that you could get US Platinum Status which would give you AAdvantage Executive Platinum with the merger, with 2 flights from IAD to HNL (through DFW is 9880 plus a 100% bonus for trial status= 39520), and those tickets are about $700-$800. So Top tier elite on Both airlines would cost $1600 plus the $600 for the trial. Total cost for elite on both = $2200 but includes 2 RT (probably upgraded) flights to Hawaii.

    Can anyone confirm my thinking?

  17. Gary:

    I’m a little confused. You mention that once the programs are combined, all Elites will enjoy complementary upgrades (if available) on flights 500 miles or less on flights marketed and operated by AA and that those trips over 500 miles will still use the earned or purchased 500 mile upgrades. However, on AA’s website, (I cut and pasted – see below), bullet point #2 states that “Complimentary upgrades will be auto-requested on flights marketed and operated by American and US Airways”. Can you clarify.

    AAdvantage elite

    Second quarter of 2015 (when programs are combined)
    ■ Enjoy complimentary upgrades on flights 500 miles or less on flights marketed and operated by American

    ■ Complimentary upgrades will be auto-requested on flights marketed and operated by American and US Airways

    ■ Complimentary upgrades on flights marketed and operated by US Airways before day of departure

    ■ Redeem miles for upgrades on flights marketed and operated by US Airways

    ■ Use systemwide upgrades on flights marketed and operated by US Airways

    ■ Redeem miles for AAnytime awards on flights marketed and operated by US Airways

  18. Those of us that have the barclays usairways card, will we still get a 5,000 mile discount on redeemed award travel? Also, do we still get a free stopover on international award redemption?

  19. Gary, just to get this straight in my continually eroding brain….. AA is switching from the points system to the US segment system as part of the merger??

  20. @Dennis – I suspect once the programs are merged you’ll lose the 5k discount from the Barclays card. They will, however, begin doing the 10% dividend on redeemed miles (up to 10,000 miles) per year.

  21. I just found out that they changed the quantity of upgrades required for some flights. I fly to MCO to ORD every week which is 1005 miles. As of 2 weeks ago, i only needed (2) 500 mile upgrades. Now all of a sudden, the system is telling me i need 3. Looks like i won’t be upgrading very often any more.

  22. The AA Advantage website is the worst and most impenetrable I have ever seen. How do I find how how many miles I have and when they expire?

  23. Go to aa.com, log in with your aadvantage number, name and password, and click Login. Once done, click on “My Account,” right underneath where you did that. Simple as that. It’ll show you what you have, and miles expire after 18 months of no activity. Do SOMETHING mile-related every < 18 months and they're good.

  24. You are crazy if you think AA’s domestic upgrade program is good! As Silver Elite on US Air, we always had free First Class upgrades if seats were available. Now, on a simple trip between PHX & PDX, the 1009 mile o/w flight will cost three 500 mile certs. If you have to buy those, that’s $90 each way! We go back and forth often, so even if F/C is empty….we’ll usually have to pay for an upgrade. KInd of defeats the purpose of loyalty, doesn’t it? The free upgrades were the only reason we put all of our “eggs” in US Air’s basket! We are not happy about being dumped into the AA machine.

  25. When you fly 10,000 elite qualifying miles you earn four 500 mile upgrades. A round trip to Portland costs 6 upgrades. If AA were not so stingy, it would not ask for another 500 mile cert for 9 measly miles. It isn’t usually even 1009 actual flight miles (according to the pilot). Anyway….it takes a lot of flying miles to upgrade on shorter flights like PHX-PDX.

    We have been lifelong travelers, and have been elite status at the silver level for over 20 years. While that might not sound like much to someone who travels for business, it’s a lot when you are self employed, don’t travel for business or have responsibilities at home. And what about retired people who only travel domestically because of health concerns? Or those of us helping take care of elderly relatives is other states?

    It seems very MISERLY to take away a perk that doesn’t cost AA anything and is the main reason many of us put all our “eggs” in one basket. UPGRADES!!!

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