Last month I wrote that more levels may be coming to the top of American AAdvantage. Here’s why I believe it is inevitable.
American Airlines Airbus A321T
What We’ve Learned from Past Mergers
US Airways was the first US airline to offer 4 levels of elite status. When American West acquired US Airways they had 25,000, 50,000 and 75,000 mile elite levels. US Airways had 25,000, 50,000 and 100,000 mile levels. So instead of making a choice between the two systems they just went with all 4 levels.
When Delta and Northwest merged they each had 25,000, 50,000, and 75,000 mile levels. But they became the world’s largest airline, and while their customer bases and flight operations grew proportionately it became easier for customers to stay on a single airline for all of their travels and so there were more elites. Instead of adding a 100,000 mile level they went with 125,000 — keeping four levels, with the highest level of any US airline for top tier.
When Continental and United merged they were like America West and US Airways: 25,000, 50,000 and 75,000 mile elite levels at Continental (like Delta and Northwest, to which they had previously been linked, had) and 25,000, 50,000 and 100,000 mile levels at United. So they followed the US Airways model of adopting 4 levels.
But unlike US Airways, United really had 5 levels because Global Services, the revenue-based status that grew out of United’s old VIP program (and which was far more robust than Continental STARS), was actually top tier. Global Services began outside of MileagePlus, there were actually Global Services Premier members (versus 1Ks) and even Global Services members who were not MileagePlus members at all. But it was eventually integrated, and unlike at Delta and American, United’s revenue-based status gets priority in the upgrade queue and other waitlists in addition to to other benefits.
Where American Stands
With American’s merger with US Airways, they didn’t keep 4 (all) status levels. They kept American’s elite program, more or less, so 25,000, 50,000, and 100,000 mile levels. There are a lot of former US Airways 75,000 mile Platinum members that were unhappy in the transition since they no longer had status above 50,000 mile flyers.
Why American Needs a Higher Tier
As with Delta, there’s a recognition that as the world’s largest airline with a much more comprehensive route network it’s possible to stay on one airline now and so there are more customers flying more miles with the airline.
As if that wasn’t enough, American now makes it much easier to qualify when buying premium fares.
That means more top elites, and therefore more top elites flying coach more of the time.
American Airlines Airbus A319 Economy
Perhaps the most common reaction I saw among elites to this change was that there would simply be more elites. There aren’t any revenue restrictions to cull the bottom out from the elite pool in AAdvantage like with United and Delta (who have minimum spend reuqirements). And with bonus qualifying miles replacing the alternative ‘points’ method of qualifying on high fares, it’s be easier to earn status on a mix of expensive and cheap fares.
However as Bridget Blaise-Shamai from AAdvantage pointed out to me, this isn’t the case, because American actually inflated elite ranks last year. That’s because, as she pointed, they were running an elite qualifying points promotion for the past year, and that’s gone away. “We’re not inflating any elite group as a result. Some customers will be getting status faster, but there won’t be more people [with status].”
American likely needs four elite tiers, and a top tier with more than 100,000 qualifying miles. What may make most sense is to ape Delta: 25,000; 50,000; 75,000; and 125,000 miles. (While an imperfect method, you will do better than 50% by simply betting any given airline will do what Delta does.)
Alternatively American could make their top tier, Concierge Key, a true elite tier like United’s Global Services.
United is in a Similar Spot
United of course still has a 100,000 mile top tier and will inflate its elite ranks with a similar premium fare qualifying miles bonus.
They may not care as much, because their true top tier – Global Services – isn’t inflated by this. But members qualifying by miles certainly will.
If American goes to 125,000 miles for a top tier matching Delta, one imagines United has a good chance of following.