Today American Airlines announced mostly negative changes for earning status in 2016 for 2017. (It also announced negative changes to earning award miles on paid flights and to its award chart.) The five big changes to status earning:

1. No More Elite Qualifying Points

There used to be three ways to earn status: elite qualifying points (EQP), elite qualifying miles (EQM), segments. In 2016, there will be two, with EQP getting the axe.

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The number of elite qualifying miles and segments needed to qualify have not changed.

2. Elite Qualify Miles Are Earned at a Higher Rate

The only good change of the five is that EQM will be easier to earn. For travel in 2016 on American Airlines flights, you will earn:

  • 3 EQM per mile flown on Full Fare First and Business Class
  • 2 EQM per mile flown on Discounted First and Business Class
  • 1.5 EQM per mile flown on Full Fare Economy Class
  • 1 EQM per mile flown on Discounted Class

This is significantly better than the old earning rate for EQM and significantly better than United or Delta’s earning rate.

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This means it will be far easier to qualify for status, which means that more people will qualify, which means that upgrades will be harder.

So even this “good” change is bad for existing elites who would have re-qualified under the old rules.

3. Status Only Good Through January 31

Status used to be good through February 28 two years later. That is, status earned in 2013 was good until February 28, 2015. Now status is good for one less month.

That is, status you earn in 2016 will be good through January 31, 2018.

4. Only Four Systemwide Upgrades for Executive Platinum

When you qualify or re-qualify for Executive Platinum status in 2016, you will get four Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs). You used to get eight. SWUs allow you to upgrade any paid fare on any American Airlines flight as long as upgrade space is available. They are worth several hundred dollars each.

In 2016, you get two more SWUs for flying 150,000 EQM in 2016 and two more for flying 200,000 EQM. That means to get the same eight you got this year, you’d need to fly twice as many EQM next year.

Eight is the new maximum number of SWUs you can earn in a year.

5. Golds and Platinums Must Fly 25% More Miles to Earn 500 Mile Upgrades

In 2015, Gold and Platinum elites get four 500-mile upgrades for every 10,000 EQMs they earn. In 2016, they will get four 500-mile upgrades for every 12,500 EQMs they earn.

These tiers of elite status get unlimited free upgrades on flights under 500 miles but must use two or more 500-mile upgrades to upgrade other flights.

Other than these five changes, the 2016 program should be the same as the 2015 program.

Surprising non-changes include:

  • American did not add a revenue requirement to earn status. Delta and United both require that you spend a certain amount of money with the airline in addition to flying a certain number of miles/segments.
  • There are still only three levels of status at 25k, 50k, and 100k. United and Delta have, and US Airways had, four levels of status. I expected a 75k level to be inserted.
  • Platinum elites (50k) still get a 100% bonus of award miles on paid flights. United and Delta 50k elites only get a 50% bonus. Of course, in the second half of 2016, the number of award miles earned will be tied to the dollars spent on the flight. Platinums will earn 8x miles per dollar versus 5x for non-elites, which is only a 60% bonus.

Bottom Line

American Airlines status is going to be easier to get next year, but it will be worth less because all levels get fewer upgrades, it lasts a month less than previously, and you will earn award miles from flying at a lower rate based on the cost of your ticket.

Plus, the award chart gets a lot worse in four months.

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