Are you a member of an airline, hotel or other travel rewards program? If so, make sure you know if the program has modified its terms for earning status or utilizing points or miles or changed benefits. Because the global pandemic has decimated the travel industry, travel-related loyalty programs have been offering promotions or making modifications to recognize the fact that people aren’t traveling much and to encourage members use their services and products as much as possible. Yesterday, American Airlines, the airline where I maintain my primary frequent-flyer account, revealed a long list of substantial changes to its AAdvantage program along those lines.
These changes include:
- Adjusting Elite Qualification Mile (EQM) thresholds for 2021,
- Including EQMs earned in the last quarter of 2020 in the total of EQMs earned in calendar year for 2021,
- Waiving the Elite Qualifying Dollar (EQD) requirement for Gold, Platinum and Platinum Pro status for those who spend $30,000 on purchases with American Airlines credit cards,
- Adjusting EQM thresholds for Executive Platinum rewards,
- Introducing a range of benefits members can choose from when they earn status as Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum, and
- Applying elite benefits to basic economy fares.
Normally, American status is based solely on activity during a single calendar year. To incentivize putting butts in seats this year, all base EQMs, EQSs (Elite Qualifying Segments), and EQDs earned on flights taken from October 1 – December 31, 2020, will count toward status qualification in 2020 and 2021. This move is a version of “rollover miles,” a regular feature of Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles program. Delta’s rollover, however, only applies to miles and not segments or qualifying dollars and it applies to all EQMs including bonus EQMs (for business and full coach fares).
Like most Airline frequent flyer programs that have switched to a revenue-based system, American determines elite status based on meeting the thresholds for EQDs (the fare paid minus government fees and taxes) and either EQMs or EQSs. Status is valid from the date earned through the end of the following program year. Status earned in 2021 is valid through January 31, 2023.
This chart depicts the new requirements for earning American elite status for 2021.
|Qualifying metric||Executive Platinum|
Because air travel dropped precipitously when the pandemic hit, earlier this year American substantially lowered qualifications requirements for earning status in 2020. These are the current requirements applicable to earning status in 2020.
Compare to the standard requirements for earning American elite status.
In addition, American and just about every airline and hotel program has previously agreed to extend current elite status through the January 31, 2022 without any additional activity and pause the expiration of points and miles.
Enhancements to Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum Benefits
The new benefits for Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum are not finalized except that members who reach the threshold for platinum Pro may choose from a list of rewards such as a systemwide upgrade (SWU), Admirals Club day passes, bonus miles and other benefits to be announced.
The most important change from my perspective is probably giving Platinum Pro members the opportunity to receive an SWU. That new benefit should remain even after travel returns to normal. As an Executive Platinum member, I like it because it provides the opportunity to select one SWU upon reaching Platinum Pro to add to four SWUs members can select upon reaching Executive Platinum.
Systemwide upgrades can be extremely valuable. They can be shared with anyone and the member doesn’t have to travel with them. (Sorry, I have plans for all of my SWUs.) SWUs allow upgrading any economy fare to business class or any business class fare to first class on any American flight worldwide if space is available. A “get out of coach free” card comes in handy on long flights across the Pacific or Atlantic.
The update states that upon attaining Executive Platinum status “you can choose to maintain up to the 4 systemwide upgrades you receive today, or you’ll have the flexibility to select from a list of additional rewards.” If American is asking members to give up some or all of their SWUs voluntarily, it will have to be for something equally appealing.
Executive Platinum members who exceed the minimum threshold can earn additional benefits including additional SWUs at 150,000, 200,000 and 250,000 EQMs. For 2021, the thresholds for these benefits have been reduced to 120,000, 160,000 and 200,000 EQMs.
Basic Economy Fares
Basic economy fares are the least expensive and most restrictive tickets American sells. Starting in 2021, members can use their elite benefits to upgrade, select preferred economy seats, or make same-day confirmed flight changes. Unfortunately, this improvement will have little utility for most elites who often avoid basic economy fares because they earn no EQD or EQS credit and starting in 2021 will also earn zero EQMs.
These changes, while mostly temporary, are almost entirely positive. That is remarkable because over the last 10 years or so, frequent flyer programs have been generally making status harder to attain and eliminating benefits or adding restrictions that make them harder to use. It is paradoxical that the more money airlines make, the harder they become on their frequent flyers.
If you are a member of any travel rewards programs periodically review the websites to see if there have been any changes or promotions that might be to your advantage. Always register for promotions. You never know what tomorrow brings.