For the past year or so there’s been intense speculation that American AAdvantage would change its million-miler program.
Historically, there’s has been the easiest to qualify for of any major frequent flyer program. Most airlines count only actual flown miles, or actual flown miles on their own flights and not partners towards lifetime status. American, on the other hand, counted miles earned in an account from all sources.
One million American miles earned, no matter from what, is lifetime Gold. Two million American miles earned, no matter from what, is lifetime Platinum. Each million miler threshold earns complimentary upgrades as well, Lifetime Gold gets either 8 domestic 500-mile upgrades or for non-US residents 4 confirmed upgrade instruments used on any American flight. Lifetime Platinum gets four confirmed upgrade instruments used on any American flight regardless of address on your mileage account. And then additional confirmed upgrades are earned at each additional million miler threshold.
This generosity has swelled the elite ranks. Now, million miler members tend to be good customers and this approach has underscored that frequent flyer programs aren’t just about rewarding frequent flyers anymore, customers earning miles through other means are generating real revenue for the program as well. Still, there was a clear sense inside AAdvantage that the program was too generous and ripe for a change.
However, it’s a programming nightmare. The system is automated, it tracks all miles, it doesn’t distinguish between particular kinds of miles and what should count and what not. So much programming would need to be done. And then there was certainly debate as to what miles to count going forward, just actual flight miles like everyone else? Partner fligth miles? Elite bonus miles for flights? What amount miles earned from credit card spend, certainly their Citibank co-branded credit card arrangemnet is a very important one for the AAdvantage program. Almost certainly they wouldn’t count points transferred in from other programs, like transfers from Starwood or Hilton. (Marriott is no longer a partner of AAdvantage.)
Then the decision was no doubt delayed because in 2010 the AAdvantage program went through a series of Presidents, they had three in a series of months. The status of the lifetime program was hardly the most important decision to be made, and it’s likely a new leader needed to get up to speed and asked new questions.
Finally, it looks like a change is coming. It was reported on Milepoint that the mobile.aa.com website says that “AAdvantage miles earned through select mileage activity count towards Million Miler status.” (Emphasis mine.) This doesn’t appear on the main AA.com page, but does suggest a shift. Why else would the new language make its way onto that site? Something seems to be up, a change is likely to come and come soon.
The question is which miles will continue to count. Probably not miles transferred in from other programs. But credit card spend is pretty important to AA, it’s possible that spend on a Citi AA credit card could still count. It’s possible that bonus miles from flights could still count. We just don’t know the particulars yet.
My bets are that:
- Existing lifetime status honored
- Existing lifetime miles balance honored, no retroactive recalculation
- It will be more than butt-in-seat miles that count even post-change
Of course I could be wrong, I do not have special knowledge here.
JonNYC who is usually right about these things in the days ahead of when they’re going to happen at the very least, thinks only butt-in-seat miles will count. He wrote on Milepoint:
There’s zero question that the “mix” of miles to count going forward was very much in flux over the last few months– and may have even contributed to the delay in rolling this out. However, it’s my opinion that that matter has been settled and that flown-miles-only has won out. I guess we’ll have to wait and see– but not very long!
EDIT TO ADD: It may very well be that the announcement of changes comes immediately but that the changes themselves don’t. It’s very unclear at this point, but we’ll certainly know soon enough.
No doubt this will be a topic of questions to the President of the AAdvantage program in person at the Randy Petersen Travel Executive Summit a week from now and then during her online Milepoint chat May 4.
If it were me, and I were on the cusp of a million-mile threshold, I would transfer in any miles I could now in order to cross that threshold, unless I was likely to make it simply by flying. I’d even consider today’s 30% bonus on purchased miles (today’s 30 deals in 30 days offer), since it means buying miles at about 2 cents apiece which I normally wouldn’t do but could be worth it for a lifetime of status if you’re close enough. Today is a good day to transfer points in from hotel programs, etc.
Of course none of those things post miles to your account instantly, the change could come at any moment, and JonNYC could be wrong that the announcement could come right away but that implementation wouldn’t be immediate. We’ll have to wait and see, and that means there’s some risk. But it could be now or never for at least only occasional American Airlines flyers to take advantage of lifetime status.