The 5 Things American Airlines Did To Kill My Loyalty

I’m an American AAdvantage Executive Platinum member, and I’m going to requalify for that status this year — not because I’m trying but because they’re the largest legacy airline at my home airport of Austin.

I’ve taken Southwest, United, Delta, Virgin America and Alaska flights this year. I even earned United elite status for 2017. If I’m flying to a Delta hub I’ll fly Delta. If I’m flying to a United hub I’ll fly United. Southwest offers me many of the non-stops I need. And if I can possibly fly Virgin America I’ll do that because their inflight product is.. better.

Instead of giving American Airlines the vast majority of my wallet share, their schedule and price gives them just enough that I’ll still hit that 100,000 mile status but likely just barely. In the past I’d have connected and paid more to stay on American. That’s not something I’ll do anymore because of five changes they’ve made over the past couple of years — and they’re probably not the changes that matter to most members.

Big Devaluations at American That Mattered to Most Members But Didn’t Kill My Loyalty

American introduced minimum spending to earn elite status. I don’t have a problem with that since partner airline flights count towards spend (based on a percentage of distance traveled) and US members can earn qualifying dollars via credit card spend using the Barclaycard-issued AAdvantage cards. Upgrades are now prioritized by rolling twelve month qualifying dollars rather than time of request.

They now award miles for flying based on ticket price rather than distance flown and they’ve set break-even earn below the average fare so fewer miles are being awarded now than before the change. However only a little more than a third of miles are being earned from flying anyway, I have millions of miles, so I don’t much care. I resent earning 100 miles on a cheap segment that’s part of a larger itinerary, but it doesn’t matter to me the way that it did when I started traveling for work and had only a couple hundred thousand miles. Back then every mile counted.

Even while they’re awarding fewer miles, the value of those miles has fallen as a result of higher award prices and also because saver awards have become non-existent which amounts to doubling or tripling of award prices. That puts the lie to the claim that they’re rewarding high spenders more.

Systemwide upgrades have been reduced from 8 to 4 for Executive Platinum members. You can fly beyond 100,000 miles to earn a total of 6 or 8, but top tier members who continued to fly used to be able to receive more than 8 upon request.

Of course Executive Platinum isn’t even top tier status anymore now that ConciergeKey has effectively been formalized as an elite level. It used to just mean help during irregular operations, now ConciergeKey upgrades clear first (along with other changes).

The only positive change to the AAdvantage program I’ve been able to come up with in the past two and a half years is upgrades on domestic award tickets for top elites, something that United and Delta already offered. I don’t book domestic award tickets, and there’s little saver inventory from American in any case.

And none of this bothers me enough to end my loyalty to American. It just goes to show that every flyer is different, since the things that have turned me off to American aren’t even in this list. I used to go to AA.com and buy whatever ticket American offered when I needed to travel now I fly all the major U.S. airlines based on schedule and price. And here’s why.

Reason #1: American Airlines Wastes My Time

American boards before the posted time. They clear upgrades much later than they used to and if you’re on the upgrade list at the airport you may get skipped over if you aren’t waiting at the gate. When flights delay, those delays aren’t posted until scheduled boarding time passes. That means I show up at the gate early — for an upgrade, to board in time to get overhead space — only to find my flight is delayed. American charges for access to its lounges, but I have to leave the lounge early for this.
American doesn’t respect my time.

The drive towards ‘D0’ departures exactly on time mean gate agents skip over everything else with that one goal in mind, good luck finding a gate agent who will come onboard to process an upgrade after customers have boarded. And I also need to spend time during connections buying something to eat since the food in domestic first class is inedible.

American even publishes an earlier check-in cutoff time than other airlines because they want to waste customers’ time want customers at the gate earlier in the quest for on-time departures.

Reason #2: American Charges Cash Co-Pays On Nearly All International Award Tickets

American AAdvantage adds fuel surcharges (despite $45 oil!) to British Airways awards, and a de minimis amount to Iberia awards. Before American launched a revenue-sharing joint venture with BA members weren’t allowed to book US-London flights on British Airways, but if they booked Canada or the Caribbean to London, or London to anywhere else in the world there weren’t any fuel surcharges billed.

Most members think that these extortionate fees to use your miles which can run up to $1000 roundtrip per person for an inferior product apply only to British Airways.

In practice though they apply to nearly all international awards booked using American miles — all awards, that is, unless you live in an international gateway city.

If you have to connect to an international flight you’ll probably have to buy the domestic connecting flight because there will be no AAdvantage award availability. That’s essentially a co-pay or carrier-imposed surcharge. With the virtual elimination of saver awards on American Airlines flights you’ll always have to pay hundreds of dollars to use your miles.

Reason #3: In Exchange for the Privilege of ‘Co-Pays’ They Inconvenience Checked Bags Out of Spite

If you have to buy a domestic flight as part of an international award, because doemstic award space isn’t available, you’re going to be traveling on separate tickets.

Now if both tickets are for travel on American Airlines, or American and a oneworld partner airline, you can book the award ticket and then call up (finding an agent who knows how to do this) and have them sell the revenue flights into the existing award reservation instead of creating a new reservation. Then American will through-check your luggage even though you’re traveling on separate tickets.

American is the only airline that makes you do this. Delta and United, while they have similar policies of only through-checking bags on alliance partner airlines (not always enforced) don’t require you to find an agent who knows how to sell revenue flights inside an award PNR.

If you’re traveling on separate tickets — paid American Airlines flight, because award space wasn’t available, and one of American’s non-alliance partners — then even this workaround isn’t permitted. When I flew Austin – Dallas – Abu Dhabi there was never any award space Austin – Dallas (unless I spent ~ 50,000 miles per person one way) so I had to collect bags and re-check them.

Award flights are supposed to reward loyalty, but it just felt like American was sticking it to me. I paid my cash co-pay in the form of a one-way Austin – Dallas flight and had to book a longer connection, wait for checked bags, take them to another terminal and wait to re-check them myself. For spite, not even for incremental revenue to American.

Reason #4: Upgrades Have Gotten Very Tough — But You Can No Longer Spend Miles or Use Certificates to Confirm Them Either

Upgrades are tough across the board, that’s not only an American Airlines phenomenon. Planes are full. Airlines are selling more first class seats. United even sells upgrades at check-in to non-elites from $59 while advertising how many elites are waiting for complimentary upgrades.

Airlines used to sell domestic first class seats at a premium. There were two or maybe even three fare buckets for first class, and those determined pricing. But over the past several years technology has evolved to allow airlines to sell first class as a ‘buy up’, pricing first class as a fixed amount over the lowest coach fare. You might pay $180 or $300 more than whatever coach costs for first class, it’s no longer several times the coach fare to sit up front. And that’s translated into many more first class seats sold. A year and a half ago Delta more or less predicted the end of domestic first class upgrades in 2018.

That’s fair — if they can monetize a product even on the cheap it’s understandable that they don’t want to give it away for free. They’d rather take a $59 or $200 on a single trip than incentivize someone to spend $20,000 over the course of a year. That’s a business choice. But it does erode loyalty when they no longer have the single biggest reward available to elite frequent flyers most of the time.

Here’s the thing though: knowing that complimentary upgrades were tough to get, up until January you could at least spend miles and cash, systemwide upgrades, or on eligible fares a small business program upgrade certificate to confirm the seat up front.

Just as American’s award availability has dried up, so too has confirmed upgrade space. I used to know that the price of an upgrade from coach to first was always at most 15,000 miles and $75 as long as I wasn’t flying on one of their premium transcon routes. Now there might be a couple of confirmed upgrade seats available close to departure, but almost never at time of booking.

Systemwide upgrades used to book into revenue inventory domestically. They became capacity controlled but domestic flights usually had capacity. Now they’re almost useless even for short hops.

Reason #5: The Legacy US Airways Fleet is a Basket of Deplorables — and Legacy American Planes Aren’t Kept Up Well Either

Nearly four years into the American Airlines – US Airways merger they haven’t bothered to align their fleet. For the most part US Airways narrowbody planes don’t have extra legroom seats at the front of the aircraft or even seat power. (First class also has less legroom and decrepit seats.)

As it stands I need to do my best to avoid a large swathe of the airline’s fleet. But legacy American Airlines aircraft aren’t that much better.

Power outlets on planes ‘wear out’ and it’s hard to get your power cord to stay in the socket, sometimes I’m jiggling the cord to get the perfect goldilocks spot — not too far in, not too far out, the plug has to be just right in order to pull any juice.

This happens to me most often on American Airlines. Perhaps other airlines installed different hardware or just maintain their planes better. More often than not American’s power sockets are unusable, and they don’t do anything about it.

That’s why I carry a U.K. power adapter in my bag. I plug that adapter into the outlet at my seat, and then plug my power cord into it. The UK adapter’s prongs aren’t worn out as often, and the three prongs hold the adapter in place in the outlet.

None of This Makes Me Loyal to Any Other Airline

They’ve devalued my miles, and award me fewer miles, and I’d be willing to put up with that. But the common thread in what’s eroded my loyalty is that American Airlines doesn’t respect my time — boarding too early, not updating passengers on delays, forcing customers to collect and re-check bags unnecessarily — and makes me less productive while making it harder to use the benefits of status which are supposed to help ‘buy out of’ an increasingly uncomfortable coach product.

If I lived on the West Coast I’d probably choose to fly Alaska Airlines. They’ve re-affirmed their commitment to a generous frequent flyer program. And since they’re merging with Virgin America that likely buys customers a honeymoon period where the airline doesn’t want to anger their loyal elites.

That’s similar to the period during bankruptcy and after the US Airways merger, before they completed the customer-facing integration, where American was far more generous than competitors.

However living in Austin my choice is left to simply buy on schedule and price, which means buying from American less often and not going out of my way to fly them. But still earning Executive Platinum status with the amount that I fly.

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. @Gary
    Gary, you have unleashed the potential for stupid comments from JoshG and iahphx….
    Brace yourself

  2. Maybe your loyalty just doesn’t matter all that much anymore. American just announced strong passenger revenue data, similar to Delta (which according to you has a worse frequent flier program) and United (which has had its PR issues). Planes are full. And based on what I see, upgrade queues remain long, so many elites are still flying American (and Delta). Finally, you always highlight what American is doing wrong, yet you (and Lucky) still seem to reach EXP and have not shifted most of your flying to Delta or United, so those programs apparently aren’t good enough to draw you in.

    I’m pretty happy with American’s product and routes out of NYC. Delta is a better airline, but I get cheaper flights on American via a corporate discount, so I will stick with them for my 70,000 miles or so a year. EQD earning has also worked well for me. It is what it is.

  3. It mystifies me that they get away with the miserable domestic award space. United and Delta, for all the problems they have, at least often have a seat available to their hub cities. I value AAdvantage miles at 1.0 cpm now because of that “copay” you describe.

  4. @ Gary — #4 is completely opposite to my experience, and it must be related to my home market. This year, my SO and I have flown ATL-CT, CLT-ATL, ATL-LGA, ATL-DCA, DCA-ATL, ATL-LAX, LAX-ATL, and CLT-JFK and have cleared all but one out of 15 or so upgrade opportunities. I have shifted our flying from DL to AA because of this experience. Hopefully, it will last for a while. This is an especially awesome development since you can now upgrade award tickets for free as an EXP. I am willing to book one-way coach awards at 20k or 30k for long flights, and I often pay just 7,500 miles for short flights. If the upgrade doesn’t clear, I can utilize my refundable backup options (DL or UA awards) to insure that we are sitting up front.

  5. From another perspective – AA still has the vast majority of your loyalty and in a sense they have succeeded in getting the type of relationship they want from you. Airlines don’t care if you also fly a fraction on their competitors.

    To really make your point, your spend on AA will have to drop down to 15-20% or less (i.e. Only flying on AA to AA hubs) of your total spend for this to effectively be something AA is doing wrong.

    Otherwise, they have been successful in extracting the type of spend/relationship they are striving to get out of you.

  6. Excellent analysis, Gary. I’m waiting for whatever date (January 1?) status-matching to Alaska will allow me to get its top status for 2018, and then will do so.

    After being executive platinum for at least 15 years, this past year I made it by accident, simply flying enough international partner airlines in business class that I ended up qualifying. But this will likely be my last year.

    My reasons for vastly cutting back on American? They include:
    1. Most of all, the effective end of domestic upgrades at time of booking. If I can’t rely on those, I might as well switch to Alaska’s better frequent flyer program and service, and to JetBlue’s better legroom and to both airlines’ non-legacy perspectives that don’t involve a race to the bottom.
    2. My Citi Presitge card no longer gets me into its lounges.
    3. Those lousy US Air planes.
    4. I can get more useful miles, good for use on much better airlines, via credit card bonuses and spending.
    5. The shrinking availability of awards for domestic flights, especially as that can impact award travel to Canada and Mexico. (For more distant destinations, I’m avoiding American and certainly its European partners anyway.)
    6. I just can’t be bothered to do the miles and spending calculations for such an increasingly lousy airline.

    Now, I might indeed fly American occasionally in the future, if it makes sense for a given trip. But it will be much less so than before.

  7. American is consistently the cheapest option for me to fly out of LAX, not Alaska, Virgin, or Southwest (who I feel is very overpriced). I price check them on every flight, and its rare that their pricing is higher. Even when it is higher, its only by the slightest of margins and with status I’m not paying extras for bags or seat assignments so then I default back to AA.

    I would say my biggest gripe is the lack of SAAver availability as well. We earn a false currency that they have 100% control over and yet they release minimal space with SAAver availability. Why do they sell miles (not that I buy) and have credit card deals awarding miles for spend if they aren’t going to release SAAver availability to members? I feel like if a seat is for sale in whatever fare bucket equates to SAAver availability than we should be able to book it with miles at the SAAver rate.

  8. Gene,

    As you have found out, the best strategy for upgrades now is to

    1) Not be based in a “fortress hub” for the airline
    2) Fly leisure routes and times

    You seem to be an ATL flier – I have had upgrade success flying AA in and out of ATL as well. And while LAX and JFK/LGA are AA “hubs,” they are not necessarily fortress hubs for AA, so upgrades are easier to snag.

    I generally fly paid business class to the west coast from NYC and also fly to various east coast cities from LGA, and I’ve had decent success getting complementary upgrades. I am frustrated with the lack of confirmable mileage upgrades from coach to business out of JFK on transcons and international flights, but I’m a lowly Platinum

  9. You’re right, Gary – many of us EXPs have different reasons for seeing our loyalty killed.

    For me, it’s being a Canadian who flies out of YVR. I would ALWAYS choose AA first, and fly to LAX, PHX (ugh) or DFW to get to wherever I needed to go. Hell, I even paid for an Admiral’s Club membership even though AA has no lounge at YVR. I’d often fly on weekends because my trips would take most of the day to get where I needed to with connections… all to stay loyal to AA.

    But for me, what killed it was the double whammy of changing to the EQD model (okay, fine, I get why they did; I can begrudgingly accept it) and the fact that as a Canadian, I am treated as second class because I am ineligible for the EQD reduction via CC spend.

    I charge about 10K a month in hotel/business expenses. I’d easily earn the $6K reduction. But AA offers no such avenue for me as a Canadian.

    For me, that reason alone is enough to make me want to clean out the mileage account, burn my SWU’s, and status match to another US carrier that offers me the EQD exemption (hello Delta, here I come).

    This benefits me, actually: Delta’s MQD exemption and proximity to their Seattle hub.

    Too bad, AA. I enjoyed my travels with you. It’s a shame you had zero interest in returning the loyalty.

  10. Golfingboy is right – if Gary really put his money where his mouth was, he’d be flying 150,000 miles on Southwest or be flying 1/3 AA, 1/3 Delta, 1/3 United or something like that.

  11. @ Doug — Just for you, here are my “stupid” comments.

    Gary, I’m glad you’re no longer “loyal” to AA. You’re probably still loyal to your favorite hotel chains, which I think is also foolish.

    Every travel purchase should be transactional. An airfare purchase should be about getting to your destination as quickly as possible with as much comfort and convenience as makes economic sense (and, obviously some people will place more value on these factors than others: like I’d pay almost nothing extra to fly USA domestic FC, while other will be happy dropping real money on these upgrades).

    Hotel loyalty is even more foolish, because while we have only a handful of airlines, we have an almost limitless number of hotel options. The perks of hotel loyalty are very modest compared to what you can obtain if you view every stay as transactional. Let the chains and the independent hotels compete for your business — by price, location and perks — on every stay.

    This doesn’t mean that you should pick up status when it’s free or nearly effortless. Having such status sometimes makes a chain hotel (and occasionally, a specific airline) a better option for your “next” trip. Like I’ve picked Hiltons over other properties because I know I’ll get a free breakfast and lounge access (which, when everything else is nearly equal, can tip the balance toward the Hilton). And, obviously, you’d be a fool not to collect as many frequent flyer miles and hotel points as you can for free with credit cards and such — and then use them.

    But “loyalty” to these travel companies? In all honesty, that’s for suckers.
    .

  12. @Anthony – Delta ain’t better for me, and even if it was it’s not a practical option out of Austin. United has fewer flights from Austin, but I fly them non-stop to DC.

  13. As long as no new competitors pop up, the space remains highly regulated at local/state/federal levels, and the economy moves at a decent clip, airline loyalty programs may not have any real incentive (beyond bank deals with co-branded cards) to improve the value of their loyalty programs so this is could just be the reality of current conditions across all three legacy US carriers. For more loyalty member segments that in recent memory, the state of loyalty programs on all three legacy US carriers certainly seem to encourage free agency today more than ever.

    That being said, the marketing of unicorn sAAver seat availability on decent routings in Y and J alike is quite frustrating as it doesn’t look like it’s changing in the short term beyond the infrequent “intern inventory dumps.”

  14. @iahphx
    Tks!!! You nevet dissappint…
    At least you should disclose which airline you work for and aldo tell us why younkeep reading Gary’s blog since regardless of what he says you will always say he is wrong…

  15. @iahphx – That’s quite a logical approach but apparently there are still enough travelers buying into the older concepts of loyalty to continue greasing the gears of airline loyalty programs (except at EP/CK levels)

  16. They need to stop calling them miles when they devalued them by 2/3, it’s insulting and another flip-off to those long-time customers who collected real miles before the slob took over and trashed the airline – driving out the elegant Suzanne Rubin as AAdvantage President who resigned in protest. The slob is a trainwrecker who ripped out entertainment on US Airways but left the controls in the seat arm just to spite customers, who I saw spending hours trying to get it to work.

    Who except in Big 3 captive markets would fly on one of these dumpsters collecting 1/3Miles when you can get full mileage on Alaska’s superior product, now with transcons on even hipper Virgin America, and be treated much better all around.

  17. I haven’t been loyal to one airline for over 2 years now, and I’ve been loving every minute of it. Holding strategic credit cards gets me a lot of what loyalty used to, just without the stress of reaching a moving target to requalify for status.

  18. @Doug — I don’t work for an airline, but I do have investments in airlines and other travel companies. What you fail to realize is that what’s best for a travel company (and therefore, an investor in that company) isn’t necessarily best for you as a traveler. Many people who collect loyalty points fail to understand that sometimes the things they like most about an airline or hotel are the things those companies lose money on (like, for example, generous upgrades). So when the managers realize they can make more money by reducing the perks, the customers get unhappy.

    There are, of course, things that are good for both management and traveler. Like on-time performance, safety, and friendly flight attendants. I’d add “honesty” to that, too: like I vehemently oppose frequent flyer award systems that promise awards but, in practice, have almost no award seats available. That’s no way to make a buck, and probably loses you more customers than it attracts. But, at the end of the day, your relationship with an airline or hotel is just business. They’re not a loved one or friend. If you think about it that way, you’ll be happier about the whole thing.

  19. I had horrible experience with American just this week. All flights 45 minutes or more late. Canceling flight after 2 hours of waiting for it. Customer service was not customer friendly. Option were limited and not one available back to my destination resulting in having to stay over in a town not near my destination and no compensation for it , paying for travel to my airport to retrieve car and additional charges for airport parking. Very frustrating flight and will choose other airlines for future trips. Just wanted everyone to be aware how this airline operates.

  20. @iahphx
    I realize that, but airlines can do it since times are good now, and even so, airlines are feeling the pinch in revenue
    United admitted that the changes to their program hurt the spend by elites and so did CX last week
    I used to spend 10,000 usd a year with AA for the last 10 years, and this year will be ZERO
    I now fly all kinds of better airlines (Aeromexico, LATAM) and credit Alaska, and I fly domestic with Alaska as based in YVR
    I am sure AA doesn’t notice my individual 10k spend gone but multiply that by many who are doing same thing and you have big revenue loss
    It goes both ways

  21. Just goes to show you how widely divergent the factors are that people care about. Fully agree with you on EQD – no impact. RDMs are irrelevant to me they just pile up in my account – I fly enough, I don’t need to fly more. I don’t much care about domestic upgrades – the longest domestic segment I ever fly is about 3 hours. Even then – I’m about at 90% success rate there this year (and I am a low EQD EXP) – most clearing between 48 and 100 hours.

    All of my AA flights this year – save one weather delay induced misconnect – have been within 15 minutes of on time arrival.

    I truly don’t get the SWUs are useless narrative. I’ve never missed an SWU request as EXP. I used all of my SWUs this year by mid-April, all on Y to J on international longhuals departing or arriving DFW. 1 cleared at booking and I’ve cleared my one miles+money request this year (SYD-LAX) at booking as well. So that’s 2 of 5 at booking this year. Plus the fact that I generally fly lowest-Y way advanced purchase all the time – meaning I likely wouldn’t be able to use UA GPUs without paying out of pocket upfares.

    I’d say the only cut that’s been made that I am truly bothered by is the cut from 8 to 4 SWUs. Jury’s out for me on change to upgrade prioritization by EQD – I haven’t had the opportunity to test that yet for SWUs.

    And everyone always leaves out the introduction of Premium Economy in these discussions. That’s a true improvement in my book – as there are circumstances I can purchase it (unlike J).

  22. Gary, I am in Austin and dropped the AAdvantage program a few years ago (for most of the same reasons). The ‘waste my time’ factor is actually why I don’t even consider AA for my flights today. Anyway, I haven’t looked back and have been much happier / more productive since I left ‘loyalty’ and the AA program. What would be interesting to know is how many other ExecPlats in Austin are doing the same thing? I remember the glory days of the nerd bird (AUS-SJC), when the whole plane was packed with elites. I remember once hearing that Austin had the highest per capita ExecPlat population in the system. It would be interesting to know what the program abandonment trends are, as I hear about this from many of my colleaugues / former AA elites. Any insight to this?

  23. Beware if you credit AA miles to Alaska that they forced Alaska to give you less actual “miles” than you’d get crediting to AA. This is strictly up to the flown airline so they twist Alaska’s arm to be as stingy as they are.

    Only cheap fares on Big3 are Basic economy which is their brilliant effort to emulate Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and other trash. Who wants a race to the bottom on a plane?

  24. “if I can possibly fly Virgin America I’ll do that because their inflight product is.. better.”

    Yes, it’s better, but the market appears not to be willing to pay extra for it. Alaska will eliminate this unrequited quality differential.

  25. “I feel like if a seat is for sale in whatever fare bucket equates to SAAver availability than we should be able to book it with miles at the SAAver rate.”

    @Jeff: the saver award bucket must be equivalent to a cash price lower than the lowest cash fare. Then the computer will restrict that inventory even more tightly.

    That said, I often find AA saver awards opening up once the late-booking fee kicks in. I then avoid said fee by redeeming Avios for the flight. If only I had a similar workaround for United!

  26. The airlines now see their frequent flier programs as primarily marketing tools and a revenue source. They give you a couple of miles and you pay for the rest with 3rd party activities. They don’t get the loyalty anymore. The maths the airlines did was that you (or we the road-warrior frequent fliers) would basically keep spending like we did and they would monetize this unsold F cabin and sell a bunch of miles instead of giving them away. It’s like they found a bunch of cash in the pocket of the jeans that they hadn’t worn for several years. Except its not really like that. That $59 upgrade revenue and the $5.99 they saved giving you less miles does have a cost of they lose a $25K per year customer. But you have to make it count, don’t participate in the 3rd party earning opportunities unless there is some promotion an d cancel the credit cards. Also ridicule all the lemmings still on the status treadmill.

  27. The baggage thing mystifies me the most. I had to recheck baggage in Miami last month for an Int’l connection and they missed the final delivery. Most likely because I rechecked my bag only 35 minutes before departure. So now they will pay on a baggage claim. So, not only are they not making incremental revenue, they are losing money.

  28. As you say, it varied. My personal reasons… I’m a Lifetime Gold, who recently moved from the DFW fortress hub to freelance MSY. I have a ton of RDM (though not as many as Gary), and most years, 50K Plat level is out of reach. So I’m not bothered by the changes to RDM earning nor the EQD requirements.

    What has killed it for me:
    1. The pittance of Saver award seats, as discussed.
    2. The loss of the ability as a Gold to select MCE seats for free until check in time. Before that, as a Gold, I at least knew that when not upgraded, I’d have a good Y seat. Not anymore.
    3. The loss later this month of club access with my Citi Prestige card. This week I flew to DCA, and my choice of nonstops was AA or Southwest, similarly priced. I actually opted for AA so I could visit the club one last time on the flight home. Next time, I may choose Southwest…

  29. #2 is very much me right now. Wanted to book CX F HKG-ORD-SEA. Of course, AA has no availability in F or Y ORD-SEA on the date.

    I’m MVPG with Alaska, so I’ll probably book them ORD-SEA instead of rewarding AA for their awful award availability. Though the tip about selling a revenue flight on an award PNR is useful – I was planning to re-check once I got to ORD. We’ll see.

  30. I agree with @swag. No love for Gold’s much. They board at the same time as AA Exec card holders. No access to MCE until check-in. Basically the lowest upgrade potential (even below those non-elite offers). It’s kind of a catch 22 for me. I’m not hub captive but moving my loyalty to Delta or UA doesn’t seem like any great advantage anyway. I basically spend all my time trying to avoid Southwest cattle cars on Concur. At least it’s not boring I guess.

  31. Gary, I got award tickets for next year SFO-HKG-BKK on CX and I want to buy a ticket on American from PHX-SFO because they are really cheap for the flight times I need. Do I have to call AA up and buy the ticket from them in order to add it to the award ticket so I can check my bags through? Does it matter that I used Alaska miles for the award tickets? I would like to use Thankyou points if possible but I am willing to purchase directly from AA if necessary as the fare is just a little over $100 for the one-way. Thanks, I love the blog, by the way. Yours is the 1st I read in the morning.

  32. I do wish AA would just switch to a fixed value for each mile. They sure seem like they want to. If they’re not going to release sAAver flights then at least let me buy the flight using my miles. It made my life easier when I could use my boatload of pts with Virgin America to just buy flights for the times and dates I wanted.

    For those who are free agents, this probably works better for the airlines. They just have to be the lowest price and they don’t have to pay any elite bonuses for Plat, Plat Pro, and EXP(and maybe gold depending on how much each person flies). Since the planes are mostly full, they haven’t had to do anything special to keep the free agents happy since there’s no expectation of anything. When the next crisis comes, they just give out those targeted loyalty incentives to get ppl to come back. Double or triple miles for each flight, etc. Maybe even fast track to elite status.

  33. Can someone give me some pointers on this. I have a flight coming up lax-jfk-mpx and the return is mpx-mia-lax. I have requested upgrades to biz (co-pay and miles). I randomly cleared the MXP-MIA and the rest is pending, probably until the day of. I am only AA Gold. My question is – since I have cleared one leg and I still pay the full miles and copay does that put me at the head of the line to upgrade the other leg of the return flight (MIA-LAX)? Or do they just give it to whoever has higher status than me? I would hope since im being charged a full upgrade that it somehow puts me in the front of the line…..rookie here please help. Also outbound flight is aug 10 return aug 28.

  34. @Buddy M — if you book the Cathay award with Alaska miles, you aren’t going to be able to through check your bag from an American ticket onto the Cathay flights … booking PHX-SFO you will have to pick up your bags in SFO.

    Had you used American miles for SFO-HKG-BKK you could have called up American reservations and asked them to see the PHX-SFO segment inside the existing reservation and then through-checked bags.

  35. Chacun a son goute, I suppose. Gary, your points may be valid. I am fortunate to buy up-front seats so the upgrade issue doesn’t bother me. Use of miles might…
    But, I have basically abandoned Delta after flying them pretty consistently for 4-5 years. Delta’s loss is AA’s gain. Delta couldn’t tell me they care less about me if they put it in the safety briefing.

    DL Diamond
    AA Exec Platinum
    (both by April 🙂 )

  36. The three things which killed it for me were:
    1. The SWUs not booking into A on two-class domestic flights.
    2. The upgrade priority moving from date of purchase to EQD
    3. BA dropping their short-haul pitch to 29-30″ even in J

    In 2015/2016, I was 95% AA, 5% WN. In 2017 so far, I’m 60% DL, 30% AA, 10% WN domestically. I was matched and will requalify for Platinum on DL, with an upgrade rate at 75% mostly connecting through DTW/SLC/NYC. DL discount F is often reasonably priced and I buy up once every 8-9 weeks when I don’t think an upgrade will clear and the price is right. For Europe, I buy VS/AF Premium Economy although I avoid the AF 777s.

    Meanwhile, I won’t even get to Platinum on AA and will be Gold next year, but I may be able to pick up BA Silver in April. If not, I’ll move back to WN for those flights – I was A+ for a few years until my travel patterns switched from Midwest/BWI/BOS short-haul to more national travel.

  37. An addition to Reason #1: I flew DEN-LGA yesterday with a 55-minute layover in CLT. The DEN-CLT flight was about 25 mins late arriving, so I had to run to the gate for the flight to LGA. I got there about 20 minutes before scheduled departure, and the gate agent told me that I needed to check my rollaboard because all bins were full. There was even a message on the electronic board that all bins were full. I left my tagged bag at the door of the plane and found my seat… with an empty bin above it. In fact, at least one-third of the bin space was wide open and stayed that way. As a result, I had the pleasure of spending over 20 minutes at baggage claim at LGA waiting for a bag. Wasted time, thanks to an overzealous gate agent.

  38. @ Nick — your post illustrates everything that’s wrong with most frequent flyer programs and trying to remain loyal to them. When your complaints are that SWUs don’t book into A on two-class domestic flights, and that the airline has moved upgrade priority from date of purchase to EQD, you’re talking gibberish to 99% of AA’s customers. These programs are ridiculously too complicated, and there are too many ways customers are going to be disappointed. Getting to your destination quickly and comfortably at a fair price shouldn’t require mastering a system as complex as the tax code. Simplify your life and refuse to play this complicated game where the odds aren’t in your favor.

  39. Gary, I think you missed the most important reason…Customer service…It is non existent…I have damn near 3 million miles with American (lifetime Platnium, recently downgraded for my past loyalty) and routinely get treated like I have never flown before.
    At least delta (also 3 million miles) trys to treat as if they care (sometimes are better than others), but mostly they try.
    I have to go to DCA from BDL on a fairly regular basis and AA has the monopoly on flights but anyone who has done AA at DCA knows that this is a bunch of people who simply don’t give a damn about anything. They lie and they will say anything to get you to move on…I now drive on most trips just to avoid these dreadful people.

  40. Good points, Gary. The most important being that we all view airline loyalty through the lens of our situation and experience.

    I agree with iaphx on viewing each trip as a set of business transactions. It is also the strategy I have consistently chosen for over thirty years of travel. Recognizing early on that I loved to travel and would for a lifetime, I joined all of the free loyalty programs plus joined all the expensive airline lounges with lifetime status (now down to AA, UA, and DL, since NW, TW, US, CO, and Pan Am went out of business). The emergence of other lounge organizations (Priority Pass, Centurion, etc) have filled lounge gaps nicely worldwide where OW, ST, and *A do not provide. I gain status in airlines, hotels, etc, but it only factors into the next transaction based on that transaction alone, but I build lifetime loyalty status nonetheless FWIW. Who knows what programs will survive over the next thirty years? The choice of airlines varies over time and “best” Value does too. AA is now a garbage airline, but I still use my remaining couple million AA miles on its fine OW partners (CX, JL) and it may emerge again in a few years as a respectable choice. I enjoy the customer service on AS, but it isn’t fancy and the route network isn’t comprehensive. I look forward to the next downturn in the business cycle when new tactics will emerge in the points and miles game.

    Thanks to all the contributors. I know lots of tricks, but I’m always game to learn more. It’s interesting to learn your perspectives.

  41. I’ve got a million miles on UAL (and the United Visa card) but these days I’m mostly spending my UAL miles on award travel instead of earning miles by flying with them. Why? Because I live in Portland and from PDX I have the ability to fly Alaska Airlines to most of the places I need to go.

    Alaska is not perfect but they are a very solid airline. The planes are clean and in good condition. You have to pay for the food, of course, but it is good. The flight attendants are cheerful and helpful. The overhead bins are huge. I never look forward to a trip in Economy but on Alaska I have no reason to dread it.

  42. I completely agree. I too live in Austin and have had a horrible time finding award travel flights. For my upcoming flight to NYC I even paid a little more to fly Jet Blue over American, b/c if I’m paying for a ticket Jet Blue regular economy is way better than American’s. I don’t travel as much anymore, so if I can’t cash in miles for tickets, or have to cash in way more than I should, what’s the point of loyalty. They are offering an equal or lower quality product than other airlines and don’t appear to care. Sad, was once my favorite airline.

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