American Airlines Changes Program Rules: Are They Next To Devalue?

American Airlines makes changes to its program without notice. For instance they eliminated their ‘distance-based’ mileage awards without letting anyone know in advance. Members had been saving up for trips of a lifetime, but after years accumulating miles the option was just gone.

In 2015 the program inserted language into its terms specifically saying that they had no obligation to treat members with good faith or fair dealing. That just codified what the Supreme Court said in Northwest v. Ginsberg, that frequent flyer programs offer rebates and regulation of price and schedule is a domain of the federal government only, and that common law contract arguments (like good faith and fair dealing) are state-level claims pre-empted by the Airline Deregulation Act.

In essence, the only avenue of redress for unfair and deceptive practices by frequent flyer programs is the Department of Transportation. A DOT Inspector General found that the agency improperly ignores complaints about frequent flyer programs, leaving consumers stranded.

JT Genter notices that American has updated the AAdvantage terms and conditions to now say that, though they gave advance notice of program changes in 2022 and 2023, they have no obligation to do so in the future.

These terms changes go on to say that they may “withdraw, limit, modify, or cancel” any program benefit they wish. Again, without notice. There are two possibilities, which aren’t mutually exclusive.

  1. Bad lawyering, adding scary language to consumer-facing terms to address something that isn’t a real risk area. (The best lawyers don’t generally go work for American Airlines.)

  2. A tell about the program’s future plans.

Their rules also now say that your AAdvantage account number and password are “solely owned” by American, are “confidential information” and that you may not give them to anyone without the airline’s authorization. You can only share information with:

  • AAdvantage partners as permitted by the AAdvantage program (are third party travel agents who sell American Airlines tickets AAdvantage partners?)

  • Someone in your household to help you manage your account

  • Someone you “directly supervise” as part of their employment, so an assistant but only if you are their supervisor. You can’t give your account number to your boss’s assistant who is booking trips for the two of you!

Finally, they say they have “no liability in connection with any unauthorized use or access of your AAdvantage account number or password.” Note that they do not say that this is the case only when you’ve shared that information!

Traditionally when accounts are hacked for whatever reason, the loyalty program investigates the incident and makes the member whole for any miles stolen out of their account. A literal reading of these changes says that American undertakes no such obligation. If your miles are stolen, tough luck.

Ultimately I don’t see them following Delta’s lead limiting club lounge access by credit card customers, or imposing minimum spend requirements for unlimited access – at least right away. They’ll see how it works out for Delta, and beside they just announced their Admirals Club access changes.

As for changes to their elite program, Delta is taking baby steps towards what American has already done in making ‘almost everything count’ towards status (‘Loyalty Points’) but with more onerous requirements for status. I wouldn’t be surprised to see American tweak how many Loyalty Points are required for status levels or for incremental choice benefits – they did that last year, they might do it again – but going to Delta’s levels seems extreme and something they’d at least want to take a wait and see approach to.

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. If AA had a brain, they’d keep their requirements as is (or gasp, make them slightly lower). They could definitely attract lotsa DL elites.

  2. Please don’t buy any airline points with cash, don’t signup for any airline credit cards, don’t plan your life around redemption availability, and don’t hoard points thinking they’re valuable.

  3. I had the same reaction you did. How does AA’s media team or your AAdvantage contacts explain these sort of nonsensical terms (I imagine they want you to just ignore them up and until it is in their interest to enforce them against you)?

    – If my grandmother is at the point where she wants assistance managing her financial affairs, I guess I can help with everything except her AAdvantage account?
    – Am I violating these terms if I store my AAdvantage number in my profile at OTAs like Priceline, Expedia, etc.?
    – Can AA share a list of their AAdvantage-approved partners?

    You can obviously tell the intent here: trying to block AwardWallet,, etc. But this language is just bonkers.

  4. Jake is right, airlines points are monopoly money. The last ~10 years have shown that airlines don’t give a rats ass about “loyalty”.

    Cash back -> brokerage account is as close to a guaranteed return as you will get.

  5. My password can’t be solely owned by American, as they don’t actually store my password. No up to date website does that anymore. They store a salted hash of your password or something similar. So I understand they are trying to restrict you from using third party tools with this language, but the language they chose is quite poor.

  6. If I was AA I’d be promoting the good aspects of the program in the near term to try to win over some of the Delta folks. I’d be actively saying we are happy with our program and aren’t changing.
    Obvioulsy that would be til they do change,…but in airline years 2-3 years is a longtime.

    Those Delta changes were pretty brutal…even for the real premium spending road warriors. Maybe they want to make Diamond exclusive. Maybe they think people will shift a ton of spend to their partners…idk. We spend $100k on credit cards a year and travel a fair amount for work. By putting spend on an AA card and flying AA for work and booking through Rocketmiles we make EXP. But we’d be mid tier in Delta. I just don’t think the people in the next income bracket (my boss) gives a fck about status. He books his flights and doesn’t care about price. If he books 10 flights a year it might be on 10 different airlines. Those poeple don’t chase status. I think Delta is making a mistake. I think they are going to lose more profitable customers than they think.

  7. Jake is right. Change can come any anytime. My first Round the World First Class in 2013 cost 265,000 AA miles half in CX. Now it’s 500,000 plus. Still fun

  8. of course AA and UA will change their loyalty programs

    People somehow miss the fact that loyalty programs exist to, wait, wait, build loyalty.

    How that the US airline industry has been reduced to 3 mega-carriers that offer premium services and loyalty programs, there is no reason for the other 2 to keep giving away more than is necessary.

    I just went grocery shopping and got a few targeted coupons that reduced my price – but I still had to spend money.

    Not sure why people hold onto the notion that airline loyalty programs will continue to be as generous as they once were.

  9. @Tim Dunn – “Not sure why people hold onto the notion that airline loyalty programs will continue to be as generous as they once were.”

    Nobody thinks that loyalty programs are “as generous as they once were”

    Delta’s is among the least generous, that hasn’t hurt them. Historically American and United have followed Delta’s lead and it hasn’t always worked out well for them. Their businesses are different.

    The big cash cow they have is their co-brand credit cards. Already there are more lucrative products in the market. There is a point at which they could cut too much, that undermines consumer willingess to spend on the product and that’s unprofitable. For American and United that point is likely different (and in a more generous place) than Delta.

    Surely you agree that zero rewards would push consumers away. The point that consumers stop spending on the products is before *that*. No one knows how far before!

    So why would airlines be reluctant to be less generous? Because their current programs are highly profitable. American reports 52% margins for AAdvantage. For a marketing program, where most businesses in the world have that as a cost center! At some point someone says ‘hey we don’t want to risk that, wouldn’t it be stupid if we…’

  10. @Jim A If AA converts Delta frequent flyers into AAdvantage, the loser would be existing AAdvantage members. There would be more people competing for the same number of First Class and MCE seats, and in theory, more people in the Admirals Club.

  11. AA should realize how much the relative value of its program holds things up for them – witness the underperformance of United about 10 years ago when it made that mistake

    Above all – they should avoid the ‘miles never expire’ rabbit hole (which just raises cost and forces deval of rewards higher value fliers value)

  12. LOL. AA, UA, Delta, what not, they are all the same, namely, their frequent flyer programs are worthless. Enough said.

  13. I’m afraid of AA going Delta’s route with increased loyalty points requirements. Especially since the introduction of loyalty points to status and all these stories of “brand new to flying, all of a sudden now EXP flyers”. Those stories seemed a little odd to me, why would someone new to flying and AA (meaning they presumably have no status), spend $25k on AA flights (or any of their other LP earning channels), just to get EXP? If those stories are to be believed, seems like there may be too many EXP flyers now.

  14. What strikes me even more than the continuous devaluation of the AA loyalty program is the significant degradation of their helpdesk service. At least based on my experience since the end of the pandemic.
    A very recent and unfortunate experience stressed that even more after we had to cancel a quite few long trips (transatlantic, Hawaii, etc…) due to one of us suffering an emergency heart condition preventing her to fly as planned. Tense calls. Difficult processes. Silo oriented teams. Nothing easy at all.
    And the IT at AA happily aggravating the situation by generating a lot of confusion be it trip credits, flight credits generated for fully refundable tickets paid with credit cards and even random reassignments of partially used credits to other passengers in the booking. Oh joy!

  15. @ Gary —> “At some point someone says ‘hey we don’t want to risk that, wouldn’t it be stupid if we…’

    I’d be shocked if anyone at AA *ever* thought “it would be really dumb for us to do ‘X’.” Well, anyone in the C-suites anyway…

    The concept of doing something intelligently aimed at attracting DL customers over to AA is — well, anti-American [Airlines].

  16. On another note, if my account gets hacked and AA (or any other carrier) doesn’t replace them, why wouldn’t I replace the carrier? What airlines — and increasingly other businesses as well — fail to understand is that loyalty, like trust, is earned. It’s also a two-way street, and one can only get screwed by a company so many times before the relationship ends. I can ALWAYS take my business elsewhere — there is more than one airline that flies from the SF Bay Area to _____.

    We all know that we shouldn’t hoard points/miles, that devaluation could come at any moment, and our plans to fly somewhere in F or J on vacation with family or spouse will get kicked down the runway. But setting aside transferable points (AMEX MR, Chase UR, Citi TYP, CapOne), one *must* if not hoard then at least sit on X number of points in order to accumulate the hundreds of thousands of points required to get the tickets…I’m phasing out my airline cards in favor of those with transferable points, but that doesn’t change the fact I have 100+k points here, 300+k points there. I’ve got my tickets to Japan this coming spring (2024), and am now working on going back to Europe.

  17. I have to say my experience is more positive. Most of my points/miles over the the years have come from credit cards, be it AA, Alaska, or Aviator Red, where I would only have to spend a dollar to get 60,000 miles. I could use my 1.5% rebate card to spend $3000.00 and get $45.00 back, or spend it on Alaska or AA credit card and get 60 or 70,000 miles. American express was the only one that wouldn’t allow me to cancel the card, and then later re-apply and get another bonus.

    Hotels cost the same whether on,, or on AA’s hotel site, but on AA’s, I went from zero points to platinum status with a six night stay in Cabo.

    The only negative is the likely flood of new high status members, greatly reducing my chances to upgrade to that lie flat business seat.

  18. My opinion. When Kelleher stepped down from Southwest, SWA stepped down in quality. The same is happening at American. When Doug Parker stepped down, AA stepped down in quality.

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