American Gutting Ability to Earn Elite Qualifying Dollars Credit Through Card Spend

American AAdvantage has two co-brand credit card issuing partners for consumers in the U.S., Citibank and Barclays. Spend on each bank’s premium card lets you earn elite qualifying miles towards status ($40,000 for 10,000 qualifying miles on the Citi Executive card, 5000 qualifying miles at each of $20,000 and $40,000 spend on the Barclays Aviator Silver).

Currently the Barclays-issued cards also let you earn elite qualifying dollars as well. That’s changing for 2019.

Ability to Earn Elite Qualifying Dollars Through Card Spend is Being Gutted

Two years ago American and Barclays introduced card spend as a way to earn credit towards American’s new ticket spend requirement for elite status.

  • $25,000 spend on a Barclays-issued American AAdvantage credit card earned 3000 elite qualifying dollars.
  • $50,000 spend on a Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver credit card earned an additional 3000 elite qualifying dollars (6000 total).

However,

Beginning January 1, 2019, current AAdvantage Aviator Silver cardmembers will be eligible to earn $3,000 EQDs after spending $50,000 on purchases per calendar year, and AAdvantage Aviator Red and Blue cardmembers will not be eligible to earn Elite Qualifying Dollars.

An American spokesperson suggests that Red cardmembers haven’t been using the benefit, though of course it’s only a limited segment of credit card customers who are chasing status, a limited segment of those spending heavily on the co-brand card issued by one of their two bank partners, and an even smaller subset for whom credit card elite qualifying dollars make the difference in whether or not they reach their elite tier.

Elite qualifying dollars aren’t just required to earn elite status, they’re also the basis now for ordering upgrade lists within each status tier.

Some Customers Get to Keep the Benefit Another Year, Others Get Taken For an Annual Fee

For 2019 the benefit is being eliminated entirely except for Aviator Silver cardholders who will 3000 elite qualifying dollars after $50,000 spend (instead of earning 6000).

Anyone who signed up for an Aviator Red Mastercard, or upgraded to an Aviator Silver, between January 1 and October 31, 2018 will keep the pre-existing elite qualifying dollars benefit for 2019, and their benefit will change January 1, 2020.

However anyone that paid the annual fee on a card in, say, June in expectation of using the benefit in 2019 is out of luck with the benefit, and out of luck with the fee. That deserves a complaint to Barclays for changing crucial benefits during the annual fee year.

Change Reduces the Incentive to Spend on AAdvantage Cards

Airline credit cards aren’t the most rewarding for customer spend — by a long stretch. The only real value they offer compared to bank-issued cards that earn points faster and let you transfer those points to a variety of different airlines is the help they can give you earning elite status.

Barclays offers the Aviator Red card to new customers, and then allows upgrade to Aviator Silver. The Aviator Silver product has created phenomenal incentives for incremental spend for an AAdvantage elite customer:

  • $20,000 spend earns 5000 qualifying miles
  • $25,000 spend earns 3000 qualifying dollars
  • $30,000 spend earns a companion ticket
  • $40,000 spend earns 5000 qualifying miles
  • $50,000 spend earns 3000 qualifying dollars

The $25,000 spend benefit is being eliminated, and $50,000 spend on the card will only earn half the qualifying dollars credit for status. That’s a blow to a card I’ve been putting $50,000 a year on.

I Expect to See More Program Changes and Card Changes

This past summer Citi launched new benefits for their AAdvantage co-brands, this change is a reduction in value from Barclays, so I still anticipate new benefits to come from them as well. American confirms that “[n]ew cardmember benefits will be announced in 2019.”

And with United copying Delta’s move to increase qualifying requirements for status it’s hard to imagine American not copying by increasing the spend requirement for elite status.

American’s move to restrict earning qualifying dollars from credit card spend suggests a move in this direction as well. They’d almost certainly be expected to announce other program changes at the same time, and I’ve heard that at least some should be positive. However there’s only a limited amount of time left in 2018 for them to announce such a thing for next year.

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. IMHO, the biggest problem with loyalty programs is that most of this is a zero-sum game. I’d really, really like to see something that is a win for both the provider as well as the consumer.

    Particularly on the credit card side, a benefit offered most likely results in a direct cost to provide it. And at some point, benefits that are good enough to actually change behavior are likely pretty darned expensive to give up.

    I choose to look at the bright side — people are paying me to do things I would already do. I’m riding that wave as long as possible.

  2. Unlike most cuts, this one doesn’t bother me as much. There are too many elites for the current program and schedule of benefits. Thinning the ranks by reducing the amount of qualification that is “artificially enhanced” is probably on balance a good thing for elites in general.

  3. The gutting of benefits that made Citi and Barclay almost must have cards, continue to a point that most of the people I know (including me) do not use these cards except for American Airlines tickets. Using these cards for ordinary purchases is a waste of miles and/or points that could be earned at a higher level using different cards.

    Little by little, airlines and banks chipped away at the very benefits that made us loyal to them.

    I rarely use AA anymore unless it is absolutely convenient. When I was EXP with AA, I went out of my way to be loyal to AA.

    When the next recession hits, and it will, and travel takes a big hit, those very banks and airlines will come back to us hoping to restore our lost loyalty.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  4. For all of us the incentive is different, what it cost them to keep or eliminate this benefit is beyond my knowledge. Each year I spent the qualifying money on each card to reach my 10 elite qualifying miles. If this benefit goes away so does the use of these cards. There are better places with better value to earn points and use them. If and when the program changes, these cards will get put away and eventually cancelled.

  5. Would be curious to know if this also affects the Barclay’s Business card as well or if this is just focusing on consumers.

  6. Personally, I do not care about this change at all. I still have Barclay red only to get 10,000 AA miles/year in the form of a rebate for the first 100,000 miles redeemed. My airline spending is going to Chase Sapphire for the effective 4.5% cash rebate on future flying. Putting $50K on AA-branded credit card is not an attractive proposition if you are logging sufficient EQM and EQD anyway. So my Barclay Red is dormant nowadays.

  7. Well, that’s the only way I maintained Exec Platinum. So this seems like the last straw for my allegiance.

  8. Good.

    Maybe we can get the focus of airline FFPs to starting shift back to earnings associated with actually flying…

  9. I’m due up for renewal on the Aviator Silver this month and I was having second thoughts about keeping it for the EQDs. This certainly makes my decision to get rid of the card far easier.

    But at this point now, I’m just all about the Chase UR and Amex MRs. There’s really no point in earning frequent flyer miles any more. Just use your points to get the flight you want

  10. Doesn’t UA waive EQD $$ spend requirements for credit card holders (excepting 1K)?

    Really this is a big deal only for those buying cheapo tix, and AA has already made it clear that the perks are going to flow to the big spenders (as is the case at most airlines).

    Would be interesting to know if spending craters on CitiAA cards, but of course that is rarely disclosed and won’t be known for months or even years. In the meantime there are plenty of other options for earning transferable points.

  11. I doubt this was a popular benefit. For 99% of people who might have been interested in chasing the status, the amount of spending is grossly disproportionate to the EQD benefit.

  12. I have never even considered putting that much spending on these cards for EQDs. However, I do not like that option going away, because this is another cut in the “Death by a Thousand Cuts” to the airline elite programs. I do not believe that attacking your elite customers is a good strategy for encouraging people to fly an airline.

  13. @ Gary — Barclay’s just lost $50k-$100k of my household’s annual credit card spend. American may also have just lost 2 EXPs, unless QR has some great business fares again and we can still earn at the same rate. We’ll see…

  14. @ Gary — $15k requirement and only $3k for 50,000 card spend would definitely mean I’ll just fall to LT 2 MM Plat. Complete free agency can’t be far off for me. The airlines will have to back off a bit for 2020 once the recession comes next year.

  15. Not sure why some “love this change”? The only competitive item is really the priority order for upgrades. All other EXP benefits are individual and really no real cost for the airline – like same day changes and no fee on reward changes.

    Those spending big are at the top of the list. Those spending really big are CK, and above any EXP. Reducing low spend EXPs doesn’t help bigger spend EXPs.

    Now UA sorts on fare code within status – so reducing 1Ks will help – at least if you are low spend by occasionally buy a higher fare code.

  16. What Randy said is exactly true. Most ppl seem to think that having less elites will be better for them, but it doesn’t make a difference with the EQD priority.

    With First Class monetization coming, it’s really about 1 potential upgrade for those CKs(probably rare since they’re probably buying first) and high spend EXP.s It’s probably going to take like $25k+ spend to get that single upgrade seat. So for those ppl who think this is good will be disappointed when they spend all these EQDs to get a few extra miles per trip that they won’t be able to use anyway since there’s no award availability. There’s no point in giving away a seat when you can sell it for at least $20+

    And given the stock price down so much and hitting new lows, I’d say that whatever management is doing it’s not working.

  17. Well I definitely got the Red card precisely for earning the EQDs, and it has worked as expected. But I too will be cancelling the card in Jan if there is no equivalent benefit and if I can’t get at least Gold status as a result I’ll be changing airlines too.

  18. My question is this:

    With Barclay AAviator Silver you can still earn 3,000

    Barclay AAviator Business has the potential to earn 3,000

    But will Barclay cap TOTAL earnings pre account on any affiliated card at 3,00O?

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