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. Thank you for this information, Gary! One question: I assume that the USAirways “Buy Up to Preferred” program has now gone the way of the dodo bird (extinct)?

    Thanks!

  2. @Frank it’s been dead, I do not expect it to come back but they could surprise me with some sort of change. If they do I’ll let everyone know!

  3. So will the SWU’s work on US Airways international flights in 2015? That would be big for me as PHL-LHR is a flight that I’d benefit from but have stayed away from thus far because of the inability to upgrade.

  4. Does “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.” essentially mean that I would take my AA Lifetime balance + total miles accumulated in USair = new AA lifetime?

    OR will it be AA lifetime + butt in seat miles on usair = new AA lifetime?

  5. I think the under-500 mile “free upgrade” rule is both innovative and smart. And I like the idea of requiring coupons for most elites to upgrade longer flights, as it increases the odds of getting the upgrades you really want.

    Of course, the most interesting thing about the program is that it remains mileage-based, and not revenue based. I’m skeptical that it will remain that way in the future, but I hope enough people see the advantage of it and switch their flying to AA — such that it’s PROFITABLE to keep it that way. Otherwise, USA frequent flyer programs essentially become credit card loyalty programs for most Americans, except the top elites.

  6. Free upgrades “Flights 500 miles or less” — does this mean the entire itinerary is 500 miles or less or is this per leg?

  7. So if I have both the Citi Executive card and the Barclay card. And just want to get the EQM from the spend, I’m better off using the Barclay card because it is $25,000 and not 40,000?

  8. Gary, how do we know that at the time the two mileage accounts are combined the AAdvantage award chart will remain unchanged? Is this explicitly stated on their website or is this something Suzanne and team mentioned in your conversation with them?

  9. @Tyler read the whole post and there’s a lot in here that’s not included in the email. I know it’s a long post but give it a shot and report back. 😉

  10. @Chris it sounds like, per my post yesterday, only the new premium Barclays card will offer EQMs next year — 5k EQMs at $20k spend, 5k more at $40k spend. The Barclays offering breaks up the earning in chunks while the Citi card waits until 40k spend to earn the full 10k.

    * The Barclays card is at a lower price point but doesn’t come with lounge access
    * I’ve queried whether it’s possible to earn 10k EQMs separately from each card

  11. Any news on when the US Chairman’s Preferred Trial offer may end? If not, any thoughts on when the optimum time to start/finish would be, looking ahead to the merger?

  12. Gary

    Do the Citi AA (100k offer card) and US Airways Barclay card go on a calender year, or 12 months from when you sign up? That could make a difference in how people plan out to get their extra EQM from spend

  13. @Kevin you can still upgrade a companion, but it will require 500 mile e-upgrades (which you do not earn for free). of course you could always confirm them into first with the windfall increase in upgrade instruments you receive!

  14. For those of us that are not even gold in American: I have the Citi exec = 10k elite QM. Then the US airways card = 10k EQM. So if have both and earn both bonus next year does that mean I’m +20k towards EQM and only have to fly 5k to reach gold?

  15. Christmas came early!!! Thanks AA!!! I read my email from AAdvantage a little while ago. The fact that there will continue to be 3 TIERS is sweet music to a Lifetime Platinum like me. Woohoo!! And I much prefer the 500 mile upgrade policy. I do very well under the current system. 🙂

  16. This is a hugely important question for me:

    I will be BOTH AA ExecutivePlatinum and US Chairman’s at year end. As soon as I get Chairman’s, they will give me 2 Chairman’s upgrade certificates. Then in February I will get 2 more as Chairman’s usually do.

    Now, you say,

    “And then when the programs combine they’ll get their (8) American systemwide upgrades.”

    So the million dollar question for me is: since I am both, will I get 8, or will I get 16 (basically 8 from US Airways Chairman’s plus 8 from AA ExecPlat)?

    I would think that for someone who will effectively have over 225,000 EQM combined they would give more than 8…

    If 16, this would mean next year I have *30* international business class upgrade seats to snag (6 GPUs, 2+2 Chairman’s, 2+2 Chairman’s, 8 SWUs, 8 SWUs). My friends may never sit in economy.

  17. Hi, I have a question about this phrase: “if the merger hadn’t happened, US Airways probably would have already gone with a revenue-based program.”

    Is that information coming from someone at AA/US, or was that purely a hunch? If it did not come from you, then the fact that Parker is running things makes me wonder if it’s only on the back burner.

    Thanks.

  18. Is there any fudge factor on “flights 500 miles or less”? I’m AA Plat, but AA no longer flies from my airport, but US has several flights each day — of 508 miles.

  19. Question about this sentence.

    “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.”

    Does this mean we will have a more than 12-month window to hit status level ahead of the merger? Meaning could I go into 2015 as US Plat but through added flying become a US CP/AA ExcPlt at the merge point?

  20. @rrgg
    I don’t know if Gary has any inside information about this, but it’s well known that US Airways has “studied” moving to a revenue-based program. Their President (and now AA President) Scott Kirby has spoken “approvingly” about such programs on the company’s conference calls (saying that it makes sense to better reward the airline’s higher paying customers). Had their been no merger, I would not have been surprised if US had followed DL and UA on this front. Honestly, I still think it likely that they will follow those airlines, but they obviously want to do the ff integration first. AA management has no particular love of being “generous” to frequent flyers; what they see their job to be is to make money for their shareholders, along with a general desire to treat their employees and customers “fairly.” If they think they can make more money with a revenue-based ff program, I am certain they’ll go for it.

  21. @ Gary
    so If I understand your post correctly
    Million Mileage balances from both programs combine for the redemption side

    But earning Lifetime status only flying counts when the programs combine the way American has it today?
    Appreciate otherwise all the great news awesome
    Thank You!

  22. When talking about the 500-mile certs, you say “American Platinums earn those stickers but have to use them in the time leading up to the programs getting combined.” What does that mean? As an AA Platinum will my current balance of 500-mile certs be “reset” at the merger or will I get to keep my current balance?

  23. @Larry I’ve added the words “if they want to be upgraded” for clarity — what I was saying is that AA Plats are earning and using their stickers. While US Airways elites are effectively earning and banking, because they get upgrades on US Airways without having to use the stickers they’re earning. There is no reset of 500 mile upgrades with the merger, you definitely keep your accrued upgrades.

  24. @D Wonderment — your American and US Airways lifetime balances get combined towards lifetime status. Your American lifetime balance includes all activity through a couple of years ago. There’s no reduction in your American lifetime balance as part of having accounts combined.

  25. @Dan – no you do not get more than 12 months to earn status. What it means is…

    If you earned 50,000 qualifying miles with US Airways in 2014, and 50,000 qualifying miles with American in 2014, when the programs combine you get Executive Platinum 100,000 mile status for 2015.

    And then if you earned, say, 25000 miles in each program during the first 3 months of 2015… those totals combine and you’ll have 50k qualifying miles banked towards the total you earn in 2015 that gets you 2016 status.

  26. @rrgg – I’ve been told in the past that US Airways had a revenue-based program under development. Remember that US Airways transitioned early to 3 award redemption levels instead of 2. And that America West has a revenue-based history. That was not a part of the conversation surrounding these changes, just a general impression based on historical conversations — that they were poised to make that transition.

  27. @Ben Hughes — since you will have only one AAdvantage account you will get only one set of 8 confirmed upgrades.

    However, American does provide more on request for sufficiently profitable customers when they run low. You don’t know in advance if you’re one of those for sure, but a call to AAdvantage Customer Service finds out.

  28. If I have a Barclay USAir Card and Citi AA Card, and I’ve earned the 10K status miles for each (for $25K on Barclay and $40K on Citi), will those be combined for 2015 status meaning I’ve earned 20K status miles via spend?

  29. Hi Gary, how do you know that 2015 elite status will be determined by combining 2014 activity from both programs? This fine print is confusing me: “On March 1, 2015, your elite status will be determined based on your elite-qualifying activity in each program individually.” http://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/AAdvantage2015/timeline.jsp

    Does that mean when they do eventually combine in Q2, my 2014 activity will be combined, or my 2015 status stays as-is from March 1st, and it’s the 2015 qualifying activity that will be combined in Q2?

  30. @Jing – your 2014 eqm’s from each program combine to determine your status in the combined program. And your 2015 eqm’s to date in each program combine as well as you build eqm’s for 2016 status.

  31. Hi Gary–this is great news. As a former UA 1K who jumped ship to American after the awful UA/Continental merger and its impact on FF benefits and treatment–all to my detriment, I was concerned about the pending AA/US Air merger–requalified again as EXPLAT for 2015, and was reserving judgment on whether to plan on flying AA in 2015 for EXECPLAT in 2016–and now my husband and I will plan on doing so.

  32. This is a dumb question, I’m sure. I did some digging but didn’t immediately find an answer.

    Do the 500 mile certs expire?
    And if yes, then what is the periodicity?

  33. @silver springer – i’m in the exact same boat as you. And with the strong US Airways presence at DCA you actually become materially better off [a relatively rare situation, AA EXP in US hub]

  34. @Gary – I’m a Dividend member and US airways Barclays cardholder. I never joined AAdvantage. Should I hold off on joining so that my membership number is potentially the same with an additional zero, or just go ahead and join so that I can make sure my miles transfer correctly?

  35. @jnk – you will not get to keep your current membership number. if you do not have an AAdvantage account one will be created for you, with a new number.

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