The Day (and Program Change) That Will Live in Infamy
On August 1, 2016, the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer program went over to the dark side. On that date American Airlines switched to a revenue-based system. Henceforth frequent flyer miles earned through flying on American and its partners is calculated on the price of the ticket (minus taxes and government fees) rather than the distance flown.
The amount of miles earned also depends on the passenger’s status in the AAdvantage program. General members earn five miles per dollar, Gold members earn seven miles per dollar, Platinum members earn nine miles per dollar, and Executive Platinum members earn 11 miles per dollar. In addition, flyers who use an American Airlines credit card to buy their ticket will receive two miles per dollar for the full ticket cost.
The Vast Majority of Flyers Will Earn Far Fewer Miles
Only those who pay high prices will earn more, and there are caps on the number of miles even big spenders can earn per ticket. As a rule of thumb, paying $.20/mile is the break even point on earning as many miles under the new system as under the old one.
I try not to pay more than $.05/mile for my tickets. That means I will earn on one quarter of the miles I had previously earned from flying! I do not see how the vast majority of leisure travelers will be able to earn enough miles for dream goals like one round-trip business-class or first-class ticket (a range of 115,000 to 220,000 miles per ticket) to Europe or Asia much less two of them.
Under the system in place in July, I earned 9,046 miles (4,548 flight miles times two for my 100% Executive Platinum bonus). Under the revenue-based system, even without deducting taxes from the $492 fare, I would earn only 5,412 miles, and a general member would earn only 2,460 miles rather than 4,548. Clearly, going forward the easiest way to accumulate frequent flyer miles will be through credit card sign-up bonuses and spend.
The Last Mileage-Based Trip
On July 27, 2016, I flew from Charlotte, North Carolina to Palm Springs, California and the return on July 30 was from Ontario, California to Charlotte. This trip was for a family get together to send off my nephew Evan Polley and his wife Jamie who were soon to be deployed to Okinawa with his Marine Corps intelligence unit. I would also have an opportunity to play a round of golf in Los Angeles with friends from my legal days.
Charlotte to Palm Springs
The routing was Charlotte to Phoenix, Arizona where I had a 50-minute layover and then a short 45-minute flight on a CRJ to Palm Springs. After parking, checking my golf clubs, and quickly clearing security with TSA PreCheck, I arrived at Gate B 13 after boarding started. I was the only one in the Priority lane so I boarded immediately.
That morning I had been upgraded to first class and was assigned seat 2C. on a legacy USAirways A321. Nearly all of my flights from or to Charlotte are on those aircraft with an occasional 737 and A319 mixed in.
The good news about legacy USAirways aircraft is they have legacy USAirways crews who are very reliable about providing pre-departure beverages (PDBs).
The bad news about legacy USAirways is that they lack power outlets and in-flight entertainment.
I doubt that the old fashioned audio system even works as the flight attendants did not bother to distribute headsets.
The Phoenix flight was scheduled for four hours and 22 minutes. Since it was a morning flight, breakfast was served in first class. Service started with a moist towel.
Breakfast was served after being airborne for an hour. I chose the frittata/omlette for the breakfast entree which looked better than the waffle option. American gives first and business class customers the ability to choose their meal online. This option is available between 30 days and 24 hours before departure. Because I was only upgraded on the day of departure, I could not make an online selection.
The flight attendants began serving from the back to the front of the first-class cabin. I was worried that the egg option would be gone when the Flight attendants asked me for my choice. Fortunately both options were available when it was my turn to be served.
The breakfast was served all at once. The fruit was fresh and crisp. The egg dish was slightly spicy as was the sausage. The frittata also came with potatoes. The highlight of this meal was the biscuit, which came with strawberry jam and butter. American always does a great job with these biscuits. They are served warm if not hot, and the have a very light and flaky texture.
Another nice touch on American Airlines is that even on domestic flights meals are served on linen rather than a bare tray. The linen adds an extra touch of class.
Before landing I finished off the flight with a Woodford Reserve on the rocks.
Notice that the middle arm rest has a small tray that swings out for drinks and snacks in addition to the area on the armrest.
Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX)
American operates from Terminal 4 at PHX.
The flight from Charlotte was parked at Gate A25, and my flight to Palm Springs was departing from Gate B23. It was a brisk 10-minute walk to get to the departure gate and left little time for stopping in the Admirals Club at Gate B7. There is no Admirals Club on the concourse my flight was departing from.
The flight to Palm Springs was on a CRJ that had no first class. I sat in an exit row. The flight was only 40 minutes to cover the 261 miles.
Palm Springs Airport (PSP)
I was surprised to find that the concourses at PSP are open air. Getting off the plane we were rudely greeted by 115 degrees of “dry” heat.
The walk to the terminal was also outdoors.
The open-air design no doubt saves on energy costs.
Ontario to Phoenix
For the return on July 30, I flew out of Ontario, California, which is about 75 minutes from my hotel in Palm Springs. Just outside of Palm Springs, the highway winds through a large windmill farm. There must be several hundred of them.
It was my first visit to this airport. There are two medium sized terminals separated by a quarter of a mile of open ground. The airport authority is plainly leaving room for future expansion.
The terminals are modern and clean. My flight departed from Gate 410.
The incoming flight was delayed by 30 minutes. There were only two gate agents, but they did a good job of quickly boarding the full flight. This must have been a legacy USAirways crew on this A321 because we were offered PDBs even though boarding was rushed.
My pre-departure beverage was Glenlivet 12-year, single-malt scotch, one of my preferred brands. American Airlines recently added this liquor to its offerings in first class. The flight to Phoenix was 325 miles. The flight attendants also managed to come back with snacks and beverages once we were airborne.
Reading the American Airlines magazine an interesting ad caught my eye.
Phoenix to Charlotte
I had more time between flights in Phoenix than on the outbound flight. My flight to Charlotte departed from the B concourse that does not have an Admirals Club. That concourse has a Priority Pass lounge at Gate B23, the Club at PHX. I will review that lounge separately.
The last flight I would take on American Airlines under the “good” frequent flyer program was once again on an A321 with a legacy USAirways crew. The Charlotte flight departed from Gate B23 which was directly below the Club at PHX. This fight was also slightly delayed. At least I could wait in comfort. I could see the aircraft from the lounge.
Agahe crew was legacy USAirways. As usual they offered PDBs. I passed this time because I’d had a couple drinks in the Club at PHX and I knew there would be ample time on the 1774-mile, four-hour flight to Charlotte to imbibe.
Indeed shortly after takeoff the flight attendant asked for drink orders. I requested Glenlivet scotch.
This flight was a dinner flight. My upgrade on this flight cleared in time to make an online selection for dinner. I chose the pasta dish, a cheese ravioli. It was served with a tossed salad, a roll and butter, an appetizer of prosciutto and fruit and cheesecake for desert.
After dinner I relaxed for the remainder of the flight.
Mileage-based frequent flier programs have all but faded into history. Alaska Airlines is the only major US airline that hasn’t jumped on the revenue-based band wagon. Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines does not fly to Charlotte. Many travel bloggers claim that mileage running for redeemable frequent-flyer miles was already passe. However I am really going to miss racking up 40,000 or 45,000 frequent-flyer miles for cheap flights in economy class on trips to Southeast Asia. And I hope that Alaska Airlines is able to expand its route structure in the east.