American AAdvantage Making Several Changes January 1 — and then More Changes Later in 2017

American has several changes to the AAdvantage program going into effect January 1. More changes to the program will come later in 2017. And there have been hints of airline changes that will influence elite benefits further still.

The airline’s communications department just sent out a reminder, which is admirable because many of the changes are negatives for customers or at least aren’t unambiguously positive (hence not the sort of thing you usually see communications folks promoting).

New Status Levels for the AAdvantage Program

American is introducing Platinum Pro, a 75,000 mile status tier, and formalizing benefits for ConciergeKey above Executive Platinum.

Platinum Pro requires 75,000 miles flown or 90 segments, and $9000 elite qualifying dollars. Benefits include:

  • Unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades
  • 72 hour upgrade window (their upgrades begin to clear 72 hours out, this does not mean they will receive upgrades 72 hours prior to travel. Note that Platinums — the 50,000 mile status level — has its upgrade window reduce to 48 hours out so that the Platinum Pro level is ‘better’.
  • 9 redeemable miles per dollar spent on tickets, an 80% bonus, compared to the 60% bonus for regular Platinums. This is still less than the 100% bonus that Platinums received up until August 1.

American Airlines ConciergeKey is the ‘super secret’ level that George Clooney had in Up in the Air, in some sense equivalent to United Global Services and Delta 360.

ConciergeKey began mostly for corporate travel buyers and folks in their old VIP program back in 2007, and gradually expanded to individual high revenue customers.

  • Benefits have primarily centered around assistance during irregular operations. ConciergeKey provides airport escorts and pre-boarding sometimes as well as a dedicated customer service line. And since 2012 they get access to Flagship First check-in.

  • ConciergeKey supposedly gets proactive monitoring of flights for rebooking assistance.

  • It also has come with Executive Platinum status (since 2012), an Admirals Club membership and members can use miles to upgrade without paying the cash co-pay required of other members.


Flagship Check-in, LAX

You cannot qualify for ConciergeKey with a specific amount of flying or a published amount of spending, however over $50,000 in a year may be enough (or buying a $50,000 ‘AAirpass’). ConciergeKey is also given out to decision-makers of big corporate contracts.

Effective January 1 ConciergeKey becomes the de facto top tier in the AAdvantage program (in fact it is loaded as a status level in Sabre) because ConciergeKey members will receive top status on waitlists for flights and upgrades. ConciergeKey will be ahead of Executive Platinums, and their domestic upgrades will begin to clear 120 hours in advance of travel versus the current 100 hour Executive Platinum upgrade window.

We’ll also see a higher boarding priority and a next flight guarantee for ConciergeKey members as well.

Elite Status Requires Minimum Spending

Starting in 2017, you’ll have to meet minimum spending requirements in addition to miles (or segments) flown for American Airlines elite status.

This more or less copies United which copied Delta, both of whom already have such a requirement in place. They even copied the minimum 12 cents per mile dollar threshold.

Delta and United exempt members based outside the U.S. from this requirement. American does not.

Delta and United exempt members who spend $25,000 in a year on a co-brand card from this requirement (although United only applies this exemption to status up to their Platinum 75,000 mile level). American does not. Instead, American will allow spending on their Barclaycard co-brand cards only to earn elite qualifying dollars.

  • Spend $25,000 on a Barclaycard-issued American AAdvantage credit card and earn 3000 elite qualifying dollars.

  • Spend $50,000 on a Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Silver credit card and earn an additional 3000 elite qualifying dollars.

You cannot combine spend on more than one credit card to reach these spend thresholds (in contrast to Delta and United). It has to be $25,000 (or $50,000) on a single card. And you can not earn 3000 elite qualifying dollars (or 6000) from multiple cards.

There are two strategic considerations to this:

  1. These elite qualifying dollars are valuable even to customers meeting minimum spend already. Even if you’re going to earn elite status with sufficient ticket spend, you may want to earn elite qualifying dollars with credit card spend also. That’s because an extra $3000 or $6000 in elite qualifying dollars can still be helpful, since sometime in 2017 American is going to order their upgrade list based on elite status and then prior 12 month elite qualifying dollars earned.

  2. Timing when you meet spend matters. When you hit the spend levels of your credit card matters (when the qualifying dollars post). You’ll have to consider whether you want to earn it quickly and at the beginning of the year, spread out 3000 EQDs on the Silver card early and 3000 later, etc. My approach will be to hold off crossing the spend threshold until the new upgrade priority algorithm goes into effect ‘later’ in 2017 in order to maximize the amount of time that it will help me on upgrade lists.

It is now possible once again to apply for the Barclaycard products. If you want the Silver, you need to first get the Red and wait three months to upgrade. You won’t be charged the Silver card’s higher annual fee during the 12 months from when you applied for the Red card.

This does nothing for American’s members based outside the U.S. of course. However (as with Delta) flights on most partner airlines do earn qualifying dollars based on far class and distance. So non-US members flying, for instance, British Airways and crediting to their AAdvantage account can still earn elite qualifying dollars. And indeed discount premium cabin fares are some of the best ways to earn status under the new regime because they earn bonus qualifying miles and earn qualifying dollars faster than similarly-priced tickets on American.

More Changes Coming

There are more changes coming later in 2017 that we know about, though we don’t have date certain for implementation.

  1. Upgrades on domestic award tickets for Executive Platinums. This will happen sometime in 2017. We don’t have the date when this change will happen yet.

  2. Spending becomes a tie-breaker for upgrades. Currently upgrades are based on status and then time of request. At some point in 2017 that will change to status and then trailing 12 month total elite qualifying dollars. We don’t have the date when this change will happen yet.

  3. Eliminating (some) elite benefits on the cheapest fares. Probably the biggest change we expect to see in 2017 is the introduction of Basic Economy fares. American hasn’t yet announced what those fares will entail but we can assume based on what Delta and United have done already that they will not allow upgrades. They may not allow elites to have advance seat assignments at all, let alone access to extra legroom Main Cabin Extra seats. It will be a departure from treating elite customers well every time they step onto an American plane — the elite customer will be treated differently on their expensive business ticket than they will for a leisure trip when they buy the cheapest fare available.

There may be other changes as well, for instance American has said they would be introducing ‘domestic premium economy’ in 2017 but without details on what that means.

What These Changes Mean for Customers

Customers who flew 75,000 or more miles a year will be higher up in the upgrade queue than those flying just 50,000 miles. ConciergeKey members jump to the top of the upgrade list, above Executive Platinums. Those folks benefit from the new tier changes.

American’s move to revenue-based accrual, which came in August, and the 2017 requirement of minimum spend towards status are near-exact duplications of changes that Delta and United did already. Those followed an award chart devaluation in March that brought AAdvantage award pricing closer in line with United and Delta. So there’s little innovative, or for that matter distinguishing, about American’s approach.

There’s far less reason to choose American as a result of its AAdvantage program that there used to be. They’ve already reduced the number of systemwide upgrades that top tier elites earn, for instance, while Delta now offers a similar number to their own top tier members and without minimum required fare requirements just like American. And American’s award availability, and upgrade space, has gotten much harder (indeed is now even worse than United’s and Delta’s for flights on their own aircraft, though I value my AAdvantage miles for partner first class to Asia and the Mideast).

Meanwhile the new Platinum Pro level is a devaluation for American’s million milers who earn lifetime Gold at 1 million miles and lifetime Platinum at 2 million miles. It’s not possible to earn higher lifetime status, and American’s 2 million milers who used to be one level down from top tier will be just one level up from the bottom tier. Coupled with changes coming next year to how upgrades are prioritized those who earned lifetime status but aren’t spending much with the airline today get pushed to the bottom of the upgrade list within the Platinum tier as well.

The AAdvantage program certainly isn’t better in 2017 than it was in 2016, and is materially worse than it was in 2015. That’s not surprising, it’s the direction that the US industry’s largest airlines have been moving.

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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Comments

  1. I’m surprised anybody with brains will credit any flight to AA anymore
    I have been PLA or EXP for the last 10 years but I am done..
    Even flying AA and crediting to Alaska (after getting status match from Alaska) is a much better alternative as the only difference is the ineligibility for upgrades, but still gets MCE seats free and for the most part, more miles…

  2. I’m an American Air EXP and lifetime platinum with about 4 million miles. It’s hard to think of words to write here that would make it through the profanity filter – but needless to say, I’m profoundly disappointed in AA and the industry in general for the way they have so aggressively looked for ways to worm their way out of long-term understandings with their most loyal customers. I have moved all the way from admiration to hatred in the way I think of the AA brand.

  3. @farsighted99 – no, you must spend $3000 on tickets in addition to flying 25000 miles but you can replace the ticket spend requirement with $25k spend on a Barclaycard credit card.

  4. AA’s program devaluations are extreme. They hit every member who isn’t flying paid Business or First exclusively. I’ve been EXP or PLT for the last 12 or 13 years and have 2.5 million miles in the program to date.

    AA (and OneWorld) got better than 80% of my travel dollars in 2016. My travel spending looks to be up for 2017, but AA will definitely be getting a smaller percentage, as EXP is a much less attractive proposition than it once was. I know the grass is hardly greener at United or Delta, but my incentive to stick with AA has been devalued right along with my miles.

  5. I am currently AA PLT as a result of a status challenge offer they gave me, but I have to say I’m not that likely to use it at this point. I will be crediting my AA flights to Alaska from now on. It’s not worth retaining the status (the spend requirement most likely doesn’t affect me but I’d rather not think about it), and I already have too many of their miles that I can’t figure out how to spend. (I tried to search award availability to South America yesterday and it’s beyond laughable.)

  6. Let’s hope jetsmarter extends its sign up period. AA has shown that it does not care about loyal customers. AA has turned into US air. Hello Alaska air! There are other choices.

  7. Nice summary and reminder of the current and coming changes to the AAdvantage program. I would argue that the new 2017 program is substantially worse then the 2015 program.

    As others have mentioned, I am surprised that has not been a drastic reduction in AA elites, especially with the program changes the past years.

  8. @Greg the reason there hasn’t been a reduction in elites is that (1) they’ve made elite status easier to get, first with an “EQP bonus” when you qualified for status either on miles OR revenue-based points, and now with bonus qualifying miles for premium fares, and (2) as a result of the US Airways merger, elites don’t just grow proportionately with the number of planes and routes, rather it is easier for customers to stay on one airline and not split their travels and thus more earn status.

  9. I used to consider it a joy to do business with American Airlines.
    As a Lifetime Platinum, I have given up on AA. For 25 years I have always been loyal to American Airlines, but now I despise them. I need to get someone to help me pull the knife out of my back. My new policy is to shop the flight out for the best price, and pay a few bucks extra for an exit row. If for some reason I wind up on AA, I credit the miles to Alaska. I agree with a previous post, when the word hatred was used to describe AA.

  10. Hello? Readers? Are you listening? Airlines are in the business of MAKING MONEY. If airlines can sell a seat, upgrade, or other service and receive cash for it as opposed to giving it away they will. It’s clear that people are willing to pay a few bucks more to get a better seat, drinks, and service. That means your upgrade opportunities that have already dried up in 2016 are only going to get worse. You can stop your whining and to what the rest of us do, book based on route and price. Stop being blindly loyal to one airline. They clearly have their bottom line as their priority, not your flying experience. That’s how the world works. Investors who by stock and bonds in an airline want it to be profitable and when they are, they give shareholders dividends and gains. They can’t do that giving upgrades to every Sliver level elite out there. So stop whining.

  11. CaptainKirk – airlines have competitors. Why should I fly American from to Tokyo when ANA or JAL are better choices? Yea the airlines job is to make money, but they aren’t entitled to my money. They have to earn it. Of course we will complain when they cut perks. The perks were put in place to incentivize to use them. Some of us live in areas where we have options, and without the perks there is no benefit to giving them money.

  12. For all those wanting to jump into Alaska, just a friendly reminder that my understanding is that any flights between their hubs (including Virgin’s SFO, I believe) and AA hubs (e.g. SEA-ORD, LAX-DFW, etc) will no longer be allowed to codeshare/earn miles either way as part of the DOJ terms for the Virgin merger.

  13. agree with many, if not most, of the comments here. 24 years mostly on American for PFL, only to see not only the status program, but the equipment to deteriorate, ugh. however, preferring non-stop service, have few choices out of DFW. Suck it buttercup….talking to myself

  14. Hello Captain Kirk- sad to hear so many people with comments like yours. Just throwing in the towel. What AA is doing is legal but also indicative of how low capitalism has evolved in the USA in the past 30 years. A company can make money and still be fair to loyal customers. That’s the way it used to be and the system worked just fine. Loyalty is a 2 way street. Loyalty allows for long term benefits for both airlines and customers. When times get tough for airlines (and at some point they will especially for an airline with the large words “American” on the side of the plane), it will be loyal members (not all of course) that will remember how they were treated when times were good. I think you are missing the point when you say they are only in business to make money. Yes they are in business to make money. All companies are. But some remain profitable longer than others and it is usually the ones that make money without trying to screw their customers as part of the process. People who just look at companies as just being money making machines at any cost, further help them to become greedier. When people give up, the companies will push the envelope even more and will only come to their senses when something severe it’s the industries. Do you remember what happened after 9/11? I stuck with my airline because they had taken care of me. If there isn’t some type of resistance, some of us will be traveling in the cargo hold one day soon.

  15. Ferdinand – truer words never spoken. Airline loyalty programs have long existed as a way to engender mutually beneficial loyalty – especially with business flyers. As you say, they can choose to legally and flagman really i as you say, they can choose to legally and flagrantly screw their loyal base of customers – but hopefully not without consequences.

  16. So I got PLT match on AA for 2016 but dropping to Gold for 2017. Every flight was paid F this year. Where did that get me? Demoted. Yah I only flew AA where it was more efficient than WN or DL but for the flights I flew I paid for it. Honestly as long as my revenue per flight is better than the lifetime folks (somewhat exponentially), yah I expect to get to be upgraded over them when I’m on a connecting flight that is delayed but cuz I’m on a discounted F ticket get demoted over some lounge lizard that got upgraded 1xx hours ago. Generally I hope the revenue based model helps folks like me. So far it hasn’t really as on DL I met the GLD spend (no CC) but will Not even make silver based on mileage.

  17. I am going to stick with AA for now and see how it goes over the next 2 years. I have LT UA 1K so I can always go back to UA. But I will decide in 2 years. I have just been flying AA for 5 years, after leaving CO/UA.

    Where is there to go to? UA/DL – no. Alaska – but limited flights (East Coast).

  18. I think it’s pretty clear loyalty means very little to any company these days. I fly almost all AA being based out of DFW. If not AA, then who?

  19. I honestly don’t know if these changes will effect my travel choices. As a NYC-based EXP, my work travel has gone from 50k to 150k butt in seat miles/year since 2012. Up and down the East Coast weekly and California monthly, Delta makes the most sense if I was going to switch, but then I would have practically zero chance upgrading to LAX based on their rules. At least on AA, it’s about a 1/3 chance on my monthly JFK-LAX. Or is the consensus of this group to merely take the best flight specific option, regardless of airline, per trip?

  20. An ExPlat Desk agent, a long term veteran with AA, told me flat out that it is all about the money. Glad she cleared the air, and she’s right. So I will also take the same approach and become more vigilant where I spend it, which will be as little as possible with AA. I had inquired about why my international SWU’s were not clearing in advance, and having to play upgrade roulette at the gate. She told me they were now holding those seats to sell right up to departure. I had three international SWU requests that never cleared until time of departure during the Sept-Dec period, so I speak from experience. I am a multiple year ExPlat 3 MM with annual spend between 12K ~ 20K. Thus I share @Steve Hall’s feelings about AA. Planes are full, so what is one more pissed off customer when another will snap up the seat. It is enough to make me seriously consider reorganizing my business so as to eliminate 70% of my air travel. Other posters are right: where DO we go? UA? DL? Really?

  21. Look,

    Most people that have status travel for work. If you are flying over 50,000 miles a year anyway, it makes sense to have status with an airline. I’m flying mostly American these days with occasional Delta, Jet Blue and United flights (I don’t take connections, so I can’t take just one airline). It’s a matter of choosing which one. I tried to play the Alaska game a few years ago, but it didn’t really work because I have never flown the airline (I am based on NY and don’t go to Seattle often). American is working for me now because out of JFK/LGA I get upgraded a good amount when flying to non-American hubs as a platinum. Luckily, on the transcon routes to SFO or LAX, I can book business class when traveling for work because the flight is over four hours. Three or four paid business class trips from JFK to SFO/LAX puts me on the way to Platinum pretty quickly. Plus, when booked a few months in advance, business class to SFO/LAX is reasonable for a leisure trip ($1,200 or so). Don’t forget that status will also get you lounge access when flying internationally; I just booked a spring round trip to Barcelona via AA for $890 round trip and will get lounge access in JFK, BCN, and LHR (I’m connecting on the way back).

  22. DFWSteve,

    Delta is the innovator in selling first class, so if you are upset with upgrade percentages at AA, Delta isn’t going to work. Delta does run a better airline than American, with good operations, improving clubs, nice Comfort +, etc, but if upgrades and miles are your priority, Delta won’t be much better.

    That said, the best strategy for consistent upgrades is simply flying non-hub routes, regardless of carrier. Delta flights from DFW to non-Delta hubs (if they exist) would be an example. I fly LGA-ATL on American regularly and never fail to get upgraded. LGA to DEN on Delta is a very easy upgrade and a cheap first class.

  23. I started flying frequently to Europe 8 years ago, about 6 months after completing AA’s PLT challenge just for laughs. For several years things were pretty good: lounge access, frequent upgrades—esp. after I earned EXP—and strong customer service reduced the hassle factor and discomfort of too many trips.

    But the last couple of years, man… Pretty much since the merger, everything seems to have gone south. The ancient planes, the clueless phone reps, repeatedly having to fight for mileage credit (they still owe me!). It’s certainly not worth paying to renew PLT; LT Gold will be it for me. I tried out UA earlier in the year and have for now settled on Delta, whose routes suit me. Maybe a bit pricier, but the flight experience is better.

    AA, it was fun while it lasted, but it’s all over now. You want our money? You have to deliver. It will be interesting to see how the majors stack up 5 years from now.

  24. I was PLT this year which worked out well for upgrades to/from Shanghai. I am LT Gold and was considering paying $1299 for 2017 PLT upgrade, but these posts have convinced me that would be a waste of money. Thanks to all of you…esp. Ferdinand.

  25. I am a lifetime PLT on Flying Blue, and MM Gold on DL after years of Diamond. I switched from DL to AA after the DL downgrade a few years ago, figuring I’ll use the FlyingBlue PLT level if I did catch the occasional DL.

    I am PLT on AA through 2017. I fly out of CLT, mostly within the US (almost weekly, mostly East Coast and Mid West) and about 6~8 flights/year to Europe (London, AMS, Rome, BRU, a few others). I appreciate lounge access and the occasional upgrade. Based on current year flying, I expect to be PLT PRO for 2018.

    Best strategy going forward? Switch back to DL with use of FlyingBlue PLT, or continue AA?

  26. I am Executive Platinum on AA until February 2018. If things do not change for the better. then I will book elsewhere. My curent plan is to book Jet Blue domestically and one of the asian airlines on asia flights. In any case, American will have my business, only if it is totally unavoidable.

  27. New American is like the old Pan Am or vice-versa ?
    Service on board in First and Business are TERRIBLE. Food and behavior of crew….worst every flight.
    Try to hang a coat in first class. Impossible because is full of bags from the crew members in every international flight.
    Sorry but they should be changing their entire behave not the award program.

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