How American AAdvantage Turned Its Back On Lifetime Elite Customers in 2017

American awards lifetime (lowest-tier) Gold status at 1 million miles and lifetime Platinum status at 2 million miles. There is no option to earn higher lifetime elite status the way that there is on Delta and on United.

Two changes in 2017 combined to significantly devalue lifetime Platinum 2 million miler status (and those with millions beyond that).

  • The introduction of Platinum Pro 75k status

  • Prioritizing upgrades based on spend over the previous 12 months

Platinum Pro, aside from being an absurd name (even ‘Platinum 75K’ would have been better), is a new higher tier above Platinum. American went from 3 elite levels to 4. So lifetime Platinums went from being one level from the top tier to being one above the bottom. That immediately puts Platinum 2 million milers lower on the upgrade list.

Platinum Pro elites also receive unlimited complimentary upgrades, which means they request their upgrades on nearly every flight. Platinums have to pay for their domestic upgrades either with complimentary ‘stickers’ earned via flying or paid stickers. As a result there are more elites with higher status on the upgrade list on every flight a lifetime Platinum takes, not merely on some flights. That makes upgrades tougher to get as well.

The introduction of a new elite tier above Platinum should have come with the ability to earn lifetime status at that level. It didn’t.

But the new change going into effect May 20 really adds insult to injury. Within each elite tier upgrades will be prioritized based on the amount you’ve spent with American over the past 12 months. They’re prioritizing most recent spend over lifetime spend. Lifetime elites who aren’t earning a higher status today are almost by definition those who spend a great deal of money in the past, but not as much in the last year. It’s retirement status. And retirement status, low spend over the last 12 months, drops to the bottom of the upgrade list even among Platinums.

All of a sudden Platinum members are behind Executive Platinums on award tickets since that’s a new benefit, behind Platinum Pros since that’s a new higher status level, and behind most Platinums because the upgrade list is ordered based on recent spending.

Now you know what American Airlines thinks of your lifetime of loyalty. And there’s not much you can do about it. (Although a simple fix would be to award lifetime elites the qualifying dollars associated with achieving their tier.)

When United removed lifetime elite benefits they specifically promised months earlier not to take away, customers sued and a judge summarized,

United’s defense here is that the airline’s very best customers—its Million Mile Flyers—should have known better than to believe United’s promise of “lifetime” benefits. This defense amounts to a confession of consumer fraud. United could not—honestly and legally—promise “lifetime” benefits while reserving the right to cancel its promise at any time and for any reason.

Yet there was nothing customers could do about it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Well, what we can do about it is, among other things, switch to Alaska if its merger with Virgin makes its routes sufficiently appealing to us.

    And sorry to sound like a broken record on this Gary, but you could in turn inform Alaska that a gold mine of dissatisfied American (and quite possibly United and Delta) customers awaits it if it offers an appealing enough status match opportunity and/or other perks going forward.

  2. This column is spot on! Than for writing it, Gary. American has managed to morph into an airline with worse benefits than either Delta or United. What is the new American motto” “proudly last among all air carriers?”
    Here’s my promise to American after my 20+ years of program loyalty: I’ll use up my accumulated miles and then abandon my use of American. And I will do everything to support other air carriers besides the “big 3”.

  3. Used to be sorry that I had not charged more on my Citi AA mastercard when those miles counted as EQM for lifetime status. Not anymore. I expect I’ll be stuck where I am now @500k or so for life as it makes more sense for me to credit miles to AS or BA.

  4. Well lookie here Gary:

    You bragged about obtaining status without flying AA much at all. Elite status and Executive Platinum aren’t rare, go to DFW and it seems half the plane is on the upgrade list nowadays. If you want to sit in FC pay for it. No need to shower frequent low value customers with perks and free travel if a transactional high value customer will pay more and receive perks and service germane to what they pay.

    Spare us all of how “loyal” you’ve been to American when it’s only recently you’ve flown and increasingly you say you are flying other carriers and complain bitterly about AAdvantage, the fleet, and FC meals (then go onto say you rarely eat onboard)

  5. Gary, you forgot to mention that with the introduction of basic economy (or however each of the big three calls it) fares, those with lifetime status who were “sold a bill of goods” for life no longer get those goods (preferred seats – or assigned seats at all, free checked bags, etc.) unless they pay a premium (meaning a higher fare than the lowest fare) for the “free” benefits. It amazes me that the airlines get away with this.

  6. Not to be too cynical, but for as long as I have been alive, the frequent flier programs have been on a steady trend of reducing benefits and/or devaluing with only rare deviations during economic distress. UA was entirely correct: anyone who has been around the airlines long enough to have millions of butt-in-seat miles should know to ascribe zero value to any promise the airlines make.

  7. Lifetime loyalty is an antiquated concept. Not relevant these days. Elite benefits for someone who now travels nowhere near elite level amounts? In the days of ubiquitous unions and pensions, maybe… but the benefits no longer make sense.

  8. Also, it used to be any miles, not butt-in-seat miles… so the achievement of 1M or 2M could have been achieved with credit card spending as a significant portion of that.

  9. I love it that you still refer to upgrade “stickers.” Very old school!

    Between the revenue model and my lifetime Platinum status, there’s suddenly no incentive to fly American. Occasionally, if the price is right and I can swing an upgrade, it makes sense.

    Otherwise, I think about working on status with Alaska, particularly as they start extending privileges to Virgin flights. I’m sure they will have to adjust their liberal upgrade policy at some point — and of course there are very few seats to upgrade to on Virgin planes — but their program may offer better perks in the short term.

  10. I don’t feel that bad for a lot of the previous so called lifetime achievers. I have been flying significantly since 2013, mainly domestically, and have about 300,000 lifetime miles. Previously, I would probably be lifetime gold and well within reach of platinum with all the bonuses and credit card miles. I’m not crying… you want the status then fly. If you want first class, buy the first class ticket.

  11. It seems like every day I have a conversation with a million miler at UA or AA that is complaining about the loss of benefits and indicating that they have been booking away.

    If the people that are most loyal to you, are really really really unhappy, it cannot be a good sign.

  12. Actually, I really like the fact that Gary Leff is identifying these downgrades of the airline programs. It the airlines thought we were not paying attention, the programs would disintegrate faster.

    Also, for a frequent flyer like myself, these exposés help me for a back-up plan.

  13. @steve
    Steve, Alaska is gladly matching AA status
    I am an ex PLA or EXPLA for the last 10 years and happy to say as of January 2017 I jumped ship to alaska and I am very happy
    I try to fly alaska as much as I can, I flew some delta early in the year, and going forward will use LATAM , Aeromexico or KLM or AA if I really have to, but will credit all to alaska
    so far I have not spent a dime on AA and hopefully will not have to
    AS is great airline with great program

  14. I am one of these lifetime Plats that is getting the short end of the stick. This post is spot on.

    Like others, I have jumped ship to AS, but I am still thankful that I have some status left on AA – I can still get MCE and better treatment during IRROPS, for now at least. I figure a flight tomorrow may be one of the last upgrades I ever get on AA – using leftover stickers. It cleared 36 hours out – a minor miracle.

  15. @Josh G – you’re talking about a post from 7 years ago. You may think that American’s lifetime elites don’t deserve the status, I’m just pointing out that American has decided to renege on the value proposition. Nowhere have I written that I was super loyal to American before 2010.

  16. I continue to earn EXP and will have EXP for 2018 by July. I still think AA is best option to upgrade on international flights – either SWU or miles + copay when your SWUs are gone as well as domestic (except some routes). I still believe my upgrade chances are better on AA as EXP than UA 1K (as Lifetime 1K). For me – if I see significant reduction in upgrades I will likely just drop AA and switch back to UA. But TBD. Most UA 1K aren’t getting upgrades anyway.

    Your LT AA Plat status still gives you MCE at time of booking and pmUS aircraft have few MCE seats.

    With cheap F – it is even getting harder for EXP to get upgrades. So if EXPs are concerned about upgrades, Platinum’s should not be expecting them. So if it is mostly only CK and EXP that will get upgrades, likely not much difference between Plat Pro and Plat for upgrades – which are mostly none. Whether you have LT Plat or earn Plat – your benefits are the same. Plat still get MCE at booking time, international business lounge access, extra bonus miles, etc. So there are still good benefits.

    Many have LT Plat from CC spend and MS. UA is BIS.

    AA likely has many LT Plat with significant spend (from CC and MS) – so they likely don’t want to up the Elite levels for LT status. I doubt they have a way to separate the two categories.

    CO, when they created BIS based LT status – they had to go through old backup tapes of Elite data to build the database of LT miles. This was a major effort – and only possible since their contractor at time (EDS) had all the backup tapes.

    The issue I have – is that I was flying AA 18 years before AA started the FF programs. So how do I get credit for miles flown before the programs started?

  17. Wow. The whiniest, self entitled whine in this blog in a long time. Loyalty programs aren’t to reward past loyalty, they are to lock in future loyalty. In a world where we have five primary US carriers, there is less of a need for US airlines to offer rewards, and inducements are more targeted. These are businesses not charities. There is no insult here – they are incenting you to continue paying for flights, nothing more, nothing less.
    The airlines don’t owe us anything and conversely we do not owe them anything. Fly what is most convenient and cheapest.
    I’m a 4MM lifetime American flyer and current EXP and am under no illusions of loyalty. I fly American because DFW is my home airport, but I expect nothing from them beyond getting me where I am going and not charging for me for baggage.

  18. When I attained Million Mile status with US Airways I received a paper certificate “suitable for framing” signed by Doug Parker. Since the merger, Mr. Parker, et al, have worked tirelessly to make sure that certificate was worth less than the paper it was printed on. I continue to attain EXP status but my travel is almost exclusively on One World carriers other than AA. I’d welcome a real One World and Star Alliance program that is not tied to a specific airline in the alliance.

  19. As if. The majority of million milers today got their MM status from credit card spending, since up until recently AA counted EVERY single mile earned no matter what the source towards MM status.

    MMs make up a minority of the frequent fliers. The majority who are MMs who are still active are EXPs and why shouldn’t AA give preference to those who’ve spent more in the past year? Why is rewarding those who spend more such a bad thing?

  20. @josh g
    and here we go again, with josh g, AKA, the AA attack chihuahua and DUI Parker’s boy….

    why do you even read the blog? is it part of your gig at AA?

  21. Hotels are casting an eye at their lifetime top tier memberships as well. By and large they consist of older, retired members whose business was profitable in the past, but is no longer significant. The hotel corporations keep banging on about ‘loyalty’. Meanwhile increasingly powerful property owners are only just still willing to play ball with rewards programs. They make no secret that what matters to them is guests’ spend at their properties, not what they spend across the brand. Hence the rise of selling discounted upgrades to any guest instead of holding upgrades for high status members. Ditto with early check in and late check out.

  22. Gary you weren’t flying AA in 2010, it was more like 2012-13 when you started with any regularity since UA had become less lucrative. Didn’t you post about John Rainey saying just that your blog reading type is overentitled? You brag that you’ve been at this since 2002 in the blog space and longer as a value seeking FF, so 4-5 years really isn’t that long at all. You are a rank amateur when it comes to AA.

  23. @Tony

    If you’ve spent a decade or more putting in 100k+ BIS miles on a given carrier, then I think you have proven that you supported an airline financially. The change is how AA is framing this – from “what have you (the customer) done for me (AA) in the past 12 months?” instead of “what have you done for me over the past XXX years”. It’s a devaluation of benefits that I think there was an incentive to achieve in the past. The devaluation was not totally unexpected, but still, it is a devaluation.

  24. I have to say that I never enjoyed the golden age of elite status on AA. My lowly Gold status comes from the million miler status I’ve only achieved thanks to mergers which have combined my lifetime miles from TW/HP/US/AA. Truth is, I’ve had exactly zero benefits from my status and don’t see that changing.

    Although it was nice having status at various airlines over the last 25 years, I don’t see any real benefit anymore for anyone but the very top elites in undocumented special tiers. Better to just pay for F than hope for an increasingly unlikely upgrade.

  25. Starting in the late 1970’s my business flying was more than 100k miles per year, pretty unusual in those days. I achieved million mile status with UA by the late 80’s and 2 million mile status with AA a few years later. When UA reneged on their promised to lifetime flyers I swore I’d never fly a paid segment on their airline again. I burned off my miles and haven’t flown them since. AA followed the same path reneging on their promise regarding miles that will never expire and I did the same thing.

    All my domestic flying for that last 18 years has been on Alaska because by luck I now live in one of their hubs. Unfortunately most people don’t have that option.

    Sometimes it take a while but eventually bad companies fail. We can only hope that the airline business is no different than making cars or steel or anything else and the free market give us a new crop of entrants who But with have behaved, repudiating their promises, I hope the result is that a window has opened for a new generation of carriers to emerge who understand that you can build a solid, profitable business if you treat your customers right.

    Until then I’m sticking with Alaska. They’re far from perfect but they generally try and do the right thing.

  26. @Josh G – “You are a rank amateur when it comes to AA.”

    Classic. 2013 when I started flying AA? Wrong.

    Heck I flew American to Australia back when they used to operate DC10s via Honolulu.

  27. Always the highest tier at AA Since the inception of the program. Many of the comments above are spot on about the devaluation of the program. What’s not being said is the long time program players are falling off simply from attrition. New flyers have nothing to compare today’s programs with. There is no sense of loss to them, and they enter the programs with only today’s views of 4 tiers and something called CK. We are disposable-or almost disposable imo. One benefit so far not touched are the International One World benefits. I’ll be Exp again – value is minor from the past – I’m flying other carriers based on my own criteria not a loyalty to AA.

  28. Welcome to United Lifetime status circa 2012. It’s all downhill from here, and get ready to spend a lot more time back in the exit row and no longer upgraded.

  29. Geez, overly-dramatic much?
    getting harder for ANYONE to upgrade not just lifetime people.
    They are selling more premium seats than ever,. I take no insult at what AA did, and I’m a LT plat

  30. I’m waiting for the next shoe to drop, which is no MCE at ticketing for Platinum/Sapphire.

    Right now after 3 years of EXP, I’m 28% of the way to Platinum after 38% of the year. So I have some work to do if I’m going to get there, but I’ve been buying 7500 mile awards instead of paying $135-$140/segment for trips like ORD-LEX/OMA/RDU.

    In 2018 I’ll just go for BA Silver as long as it yields MCE at ticketing. It should be doable in three round trips and about $2500 even picking destinations I like instead of those which are cheap:
    – One one-stop cross-country RT on AA in J like RDU-CLT-SEA (so 360 tier points)
    – One WT+ to the continent RT on BA like JFK-LHR-EDI (so 200 tier points)
    – One random YUP on AA like ORD-MSP (40 tier points) with a cheap ticket back (5 tier points)

  31. Thanks Gary – I wondered whose ox was getting gored with this change – it wasn’t mine. I generally buy tickets close in for business and had found that I was pretty far down the upgrade list every time. Thus, I think that I’ll generally like the change even though I’m close to million miler status. Bottom line, I’m not getting upgraded all that often right now anyway

  32. One thing I’ve learned at my ‘ripe’ age (yes, I’m in one of the ‘lifetime’ tiers) is how to read the handwriting on the wall. It was painfully, patently, persuasively and pitifully evident over two years ago what American was up to … so, without hesitation I planned and booked three First Class international trips to exhaust my account and fly ‘P’eacefully into the sunset of my ‘relationship’ with an American corporation that knows the meaning of only one word — ‘P’rofit.

  33. I wrote American about exactly the same thing yesterday. So far I have received only an automated acknowledgement of receipt of my message. Given that American clearly has no regard for their most loyal customers, I don’t expect to receive a reply. Just for fun, here’s what I sent:

    This message is regarding the devaluation of my AAdvantage membership. After flying nearly three million paid miles and achieving Platinum status for life, you found it necessary to create a new level, Platinum Pro and insert it between Platinum and Executive Platinum. Now you are changing the upgrade selection criteria. Seriously? I cannot think of another business that treats their most loyal customers this poorly. Didn’t you use focus groups? Tell me, why would I continue to fly your airline (other than schedule convenience)? If I have to buy tickets in order to sit up front, I’ll shop around. Let’s see, I also have an AAdvantage Executive MasterCard. If I’m not flying American, I certainly don’t need that anymore. You’re unbelievable. You have taken the best loyalty program of any airline and managed to take most of the benefits out of it. The AAdvantage program has always been a profit center but may soon deteriorate into a black hole. Oh, I forgot… you’re the guys from US Airways. That explains it.

  34. AA is looking more and more like US Scare. That’s what happens when you make the US Scare CEO the head of the merged companies.

    Long time AA flyer, (1.5 Million miles and most of those were in the seat) now switching to Alaska and SWA. Tired of jumping through all of AA’s hoops. I’ll throw an occasional bone for flights to LGA or JKF if the price is right. At least I get checked bag free.

    Also, I was flying LONG before these credit card signup bonuses. They didn’t offer them back in the 90’s and early 00’s. And honestly, lowering the miles flown based on fare AND raising all the award ticket requirements is like getting a stick in the eye for a person like me. I’m sure those who run their businesses and charge many $$$ on their card (300K-1M) or more it’s not a problem for them. Status doesn’t mean much when you have millions of miles to spend. I guess I’ll have to start churning credit cards to get to do any travel in the future after I use up my miles banked.

  35. Since they made these awards available in 2016, there are virtually none available. I just checked for two tickets to London, on American Airlines, using American Airlines rewards, from now until next May 14 and there was absolutely no flight offering two award tickets to Europe on America. There were awards on British Airways (which is typically on old planes and the taxes for two cost almost 2K) and Lufthansa (and what I have read about their business class is not exactly great). I was excited to get lifetime Platinum status, having flown 2M miles, but it is pretty much worthless. After American merged with US Air, upgrades for Platinum members became non-existent within the 72 hour period (which is now 48 hours)for all but flights which were less than 500 miles and there is no availability to use the “systemwide” upgrades they awarded you (for all but trips of less than 500 miles for which you get complimentary upgrades anyway if there is a seat available). All in all, their program, which was really good when I began in 1986 is now pretty much worthless. But, then, so is Delta’s and just about all the others…..

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