March 22nd, 2016. The day the music stops, the day the last great place to bank miles falls down a peg. American Airlines has been arguably the best program with which to earn miles regardless of where you are in the world. Not only has earning them been easy, redeeming miles for seats on flights that dreams are made of has been a standard affair. Today at 2PM EST the airline announced changes to bring their program in line with the other airlines. In other words, make it worse than before.
For those of you who care about using your miles only for economy flights, you're mostly ok. Some seats require even less miles in the changes and only those to the farthest reaches require a few more miles. You can stop reading. However, you're most likely concerned about business and first class awards, in other words, those "free flights" giving the greatest cents per mile value to your hard earned flying and point collecting. American's fixed chart has been absolutely brilliant for securing always pricey business and first class seats on Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Etihad, including it's First Class Apartment. What would you prefer: 50,000 miles or $7,500? I thought so. Anyway, sit down and pour something relaxing. The new award charts released today reflect increases in mileage required up to 69%; with a majority of changes offering a 30% increase. Of course, the largest percentages were on the awards we cared about most. Here's the current versus new business class chart from the US, it could be worse...
Fortunately certain awards like US to Europe (and vice versa) have only gone up about 10,000 miles each way in business. I'm not thrilled but it's still less than others charge and without surcharges it is still an excellent value, especially from the United States at just $5.60 and 60,000 miles to anywhere in Europe. I told you it could be worse and I meant it, the first class chart was hammered the hardest. Perhaps the saddest change I've seen is that the most luxurious way to use miles for the least miles, flying from London to Abu Dhabi (or vice versa) on Etihad's First Class APARTMENT will jump from 40,000 miles one way, to 62,500. Airlines aren't stupid and as we've gotten smarter at turning consumer rewards into seats we either never would or never could pay for, they've decided that it's time to change the game; or at least up the ante. Here's the far worse first class chart...
American will become a revenue based airline for mileage earning. Essentially, you'll be rewarded based on money spent, not miles flown and inherently fares that are more expensive will be rewarded at a higher rate. So yes, passengers who fly economy on cheap fares will receive substantially less miles through the program than they do today. They will tell you it works out well in your favor, unless you are a top tier elite receiving mega bonus miles; and even if you are, it likely will mean less miles for more flying.
This is a real kick in... well, you know. Currently American offers the most lucrative rewards for elite status, including eight system wide upgrades for top tier Executive Platinum elite members. Essentially, they are upgrade any paid flight to business class, anywhere in the world certificates. Top tier elites will now earn four instead of eight. For every other tier the process in which to gain regional upgrades and benefits again becomes more difficult, requiring more travel for same or less benefits. Similar to earning miles, those who fly on premium fares will have a far easier time earning status in the new program.
The shoes have dropped and they pretty much stink. Could it have been worse? Of course. Do I ever find happiness in large companies making it harder for their loyal patrons to gain benefit from their allegiance? No. A resounding NO.
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