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We have seen a lot of changes lately to American Airlines’ frequent flyer program AAdvantage, like:

About the same time we were informed of these things (late 2015), American Airlines also announced changes in the structure of how we earn miles that were planned to take affect in the second half of 2016. The official date (and further developments on said changes) have been solidified, alongside an announcement of changes planned for 2017 that affect Elite status.

In describing each change, I will compare it to American Airlines’ direct competition: the other two legacy carriers of the United States, United and Delta Airlines.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 9.01.05 PM

Changes Effective as of August 1, 2016

Revenue-Based Award Mileage Earning on American Airlines Flights

For flights booked with American Airlines (ticket number beginning “001”) AAdvantage members will earn 5-11x of the dollar price of the base fare plus fuel surcharges based on status:

  • 5 miles per dollar– AAdvantage member
  • 7 miles per dollar – Gold
  • 8 miles per dollar – Platinum
  • 11 miles per dollar – Executive Platinum

To be clear, this switch to revenue-based earning applies only to redeemable miles, not status miles. This paragraph talks about earning award miles (AKA redeemable miles) from flying. I will discuss the changes to earning status in a following paragraph.

The new award earning structure will be worse for folks who fly far, cheap tickets and better for people who fly short, expensive tickets. Overall, it will be worse for more people and will disproportionately affect people in the frequent flyer community, many of whom are mileage runners.

This part of the announcement is bad news, though remember that just because you fly an American Airlines flight doesn’t mean you have to credit the award miles to American Airlines. You can enter your frequent flyer number with an American Airlines partner instead, and you should consider crediting future partner tickets to British Airways or Alaska Airlines if American status doesn’t matter to you.

The majority of miles I earn are from credit cards, not flying revenue tickets, so this change is not detrimental news to me (nor to a large portion of you reading this blog, I assume). It is, however, a small step in the direction toward revenue-based mileage redemption, which would mean there would be no outsized value to be gained from one redemption over another. And that is exactly what we don’t want to happen.

How this aligns with competition: This is not a surprising move on American Airlines’ part, as Delta announced a nearly identical move in February 2014, and United copied Delta in June 2014. As of August 1, all three legacy carriers will use the same revenue-based mileage earning scale.

**You can still credit miles to your AAdvantage account for paid flights you take on oneworld and other partner airlines, but the amount of miles earned will be based on a percentage of the distance flown and the fare class. These rates haven’t been published yet but we can expect them to be available by July 15.

New Changes that Affect Elite Status in 2017

Platinum Pro, Another Tier

At some point in 2017 (yet to be defined) a new elite status level will be available called “Platinum Pro”. The existing levels are Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum. None of the existing tiers’ EQM/EQS thresholds required for earning status will change (see the following section to learn about the additional requirement across the board of earning EQDs), Platinum Pro just fits between Platinum and Executive Platinum in the hierarchy now.


The benefits of Platinum Pro include:

  • Complimentary upgrades on flights within North America and between the U.S. and Central America.
  • Earn 9 award miles per U.S. dollar spent on American Airlines flights
  • 2 free checked bags
  • oneworld Sapphire status (same as Platinum members)
  • a higher upgrade priority than Gold and Platinum members

How this aligns with competition: Delta and United both have four tiers of elite status, and US Airways did as well before it merged with American Airlines.

Added Spending Requirements to Achieve Status

As of January 1, 2017, there is a new requirement for earning elite status that follows suit with the revenue-based mileage earning structure that begins in August. Introducing: Elite Qualifying Dollars (i.e. EQDs).

(This does not affect status earned in 2016 for 2017–that is still safe–just status earned in 2017 and beyond.)

There are two ways to earn status in 2017, from the accumulation of either:

  1. earning a sufficient amount of Elite Qualifying Miles combined with Elite Qualifying Dollars
  2. earning a sufficient amount of Elite Qualifying Segments combined with Elite Qualifying Dollars

What are Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs?) EQDs are awarded based on

  • how much the revenue tickets cost that you buy flying American Airlines flights
  • a percentage of the flight distance flown and the fare class purchased on oneworld carriers and Alaska Airlines
  • a combination of the above two things if the flight is made up of American Airlines and partner segments

What are Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs)? EQMs are a percentage of the actual miles flown based on the airline and the booking code purchased.

What are Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs)? EQSs are segments you earn on eligible purchased tickets for flights on American or partner airlines.

What are the sufficient amounts necessary of those combinations to earn status? You need to earn the EQDs stated in the chart below along with either the EQSs or EQMs amounts (not all three, just EQDs + (EQSs or EQMs).

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 9.51.58 PM
(Click to enlarge)

How this aligns with competition: United and Delta have similar systems in place to earn elite status in their frequent flyer programs, but with one major difference: they waive these spending requirements for holders of some of their co-branded credit cards after meeting a spending threshold of (normally) $25,000 in a calendar year.

It is yet to be determined if American Airlines will also offer to waive this EQD requirement for holders of their co-branded cards, like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® for example. The Points Guy reported that an American Airlines representative said the airline is reviewing the possibility of credit card spend waivers, but nothing is confirmed at the moment.


Both of the following changes regarding upgrades are scheduled for later in 2017 (specific date undefined).

Upgrade Prioritization

The prioritization for American Airlines upgrades was previously filtered through status first, followed by when you were added to the waitlist (i.e. when you bought your ticket). The new upgrade prioritization is again first filtered through status, and will be followed by the number of EQDs you’ve earned in the last 12 months (rolling, not calendar year). Again, we see a shift towards rewarding those who are spending the most dollars on revenue tickets.

Upgrades on Award tickets

Executive Platinum Members will be eligible for complimentary upgrades on their domestic economy awards. The prioritization will be right after Executive Platinum Members who paid cash for their flights.

How this aligns with competition: American Airlines lags behind in this area. Delta offers free upgrades on awards to their top three tiers of status members, and United offers it to every member with elite status as long as they have a United MileagePlus Explorer card.

Bottom Line

All of the changes to AAdvantage in 2016 and 2017 are plays by American Airlines to level the playing field with its competitors United and Delta. Prior to all these changes, AAdvantage was considered by most (including me) to be the best frequent flyer program out of the three legacy carriers, all things considered, so in leveling that playing field, the program has certainly suffered.

From my personal perspective, their award chart devaluation back in March was the biggest blow because I care way more about redemption than earning. I collect miles via credit cards and am not a status chaser, so all the adjustments to revenue-based mileage earning and elite status mean next to nothing to me. I do acknowledge though that it’s an inch in the wrong direction– a direction that I hope doesn’t point towards revenue-based mileage redemption. That would be the day I stop redeeming American Airlines miles.

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