American Airlines Sent Me a Year in Review and It Has Me Questioning the Value of Loyalty

I’ve been mostly grounded for the past three months since my daughter was born. I made two quick trips to DC, just two nights each, and my wife and I also went to New York. Our infant daughter did wonderfully on the flights in both directions, and it was great to get compliments from other passengers.

With less flying, and spreading my flying out across more airlines more often than ever before, I only just requalified for American’s Executive Platinum status this week.

Ironically for the flight that did it I was in the last row of coach. My connecting flight home to Austin was delayed. But my flight to Dallas Fort-Worth got in early I managed to get on an earlier (delayed) Austin flight that was already midway through boarding. I was grateful for the back of the plane — and I even lucked out with the row to myself.

Yes that’s a stain on my shirt from the gulab jamun I ate for dessert on my inbound flight

American just sent out an email summary of the year, which is a pretty cool idea. It opens,

It’s been said that so much of who we are is where we have been. We hope you’ve enjoyed where we’ve taken you this year and are grateful you’ve chosen to spend so much of your time with us in the skies.

I couldn’t help but think of this scene from Hitch

For me this summary was just a reminder of how much less valuable my status has become. Here’s some of what they shared.

I only flew American domestically in 2018. Living in the middle of the country I don’t find myself on premium transcon flights or even widebodies very often. Instead I slog it out domestically on Boeing 737s. And there are now 18 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in American’s fleet, along with 41 Boeing 737s that have been converted to have the same interior (“Oasis”).

That means less legroom in first class (and a less comfortable seat, with obstructed underseat storage despite not having a seat back screen). It means less legroom in Main Cabin Extra and the rest of coach. The coach seat has less padding than before, which is okay for a short flight but anything three hours and up is painful (and they use these planes on flights over 7 hours).

My 100,000 miles flown earned me just over 62,000 bonus miles.

Before AAdvantage went revenue-based I would have earned 100,000 bonus miles. So I’m 38% worse off than before.

I used to receive upgrades almost every time I flew. There are more elites now since the merger, more passengers with a bigger route network means it’s easier to fly more miles — especially for people on either side of the country. Planes are more full than ever before, and first class is sold less expensively than it used to be. American is selling almost 50% of its domestic first class.

So what did Executive Platinum get me? What was it worth?

There’s a reason that I earned elite status with Southwest Airlines this year, too. They’re the biggest carrier at my home airport and they have the only legally permitted non-stop from Washington National to Austin thanks to the antiquated perimeter rule that United lobbies to keep in place. There are only a limited number of flights permitted to travel more than 1250 miles from that airport, and Austin is 1315 miles away.

I will continue to fly American Airlines. They are the largest full service carrier in my home market, and they have a hub at my most frequent destination where I fly for work every month. I will also fly other airlines too — something I didn’t used to do. There was a time when I needed to go somewhere my first and only stop was

When even Executive Platinum status isn’t worth all that much anymore — while ConciergeKey status has gotten better — I think it underscores how much has changed about the idea of airline loyalty in the United States over the past four years.

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. I only take AA when a much greater value or schedule than other carriers (United and JetBlue preferred these days, given my location or typical airports, even though AA has a convenient hub.)

    I still have not forgiven them for tagging me with about $500 of fuel surcharge on a “free” loyalty program trip I booked for my sister from Boston to London. I got a HUGE runaround asking for an explanation from the customer service people until I looked up the booking code to find it was a fuel surcharge, nothing about airport taxes or international taxes that they tried to imply. AA claimed it was British Airways’ fault; BA complained it was an AA thing. It was all a matter of their not being able to plan fuel purchases, reneging on a loyalty program expectation, and trying to mislead me about the charge.

    I purchased the “free” loyalty ticket anyway as it was about half the full-fare cost at the time (I’m a nice sister,) but it has forever left a bad taste in my mouth about AA and its partners. That, and some less-than-professional comments from AA crew about their own work issues (did I really need to hear this?) just makes me think that passenger comfort and respect are not top priorities.

  2. I have been flying American Airlines as a loyal frequent flyer for over 32 years. I hate to agree with the negative comments, but it’s hard not to. I try very hard to be loyal to American Airlines but I get the feeling that they couldn’t care less about me or my loyalty. The limited space and the uncomfortable seats make flying less of a pleasure each trip. The fee-based mileage awards is really an insult to their loyal passengers.

  3. Can’t counter any of the above. Im a multi million miler. I thought the change was real with the takeover by US Air. At first the culture change was positive. But Parker now seems to be chasing the dollar with this crappy seats and stealing inches. I’m a Phoenix hub, so thankfully I don’t see the new 737’s. What I am seeing however is dirty and well worn Airbus products that make me wonder if SWA isn’t a better option on the short haul flights..

  4. I have no loyalty to AA since the merger with US Air. As a Preferred member under US Air, I always received first class or business upgrades at no cost or minimal cost for overseas routes. AA nickels and dimes you to death and then charges 500 mile upgrades depending on segments. I agree with the other customers and have started flying Delta, Southwest and Jet Blue and only fly American when it is a convenient direct flight and reasonable rate. When the Customer stop rewarding airlines for their greediness it will eventually sink in to the AA executives. I also hammer AA with extremely low ratings every year in the Freddy Awards. I miss US Air a lot so good riddance to AA. I’ve also joined the class action lawsuit against them for price collusion. Recommend others do the same.

  5. Unfortunately I feel the same way! I have been flying American Airlines as a loyal frequent flyer for almost 19 years. After 2 very recent bad experiences where I was embarrassed and treated very rudely by the flight attendants, I am reconsidering which airline I will use to book upcoming flights from the Midwest USA to the Philippines and to Hong Kong. I’ve tried very hard to be loyal to American Airlines, typically only checking and getting special approval for company trips (since American is typically not the preferred carrier). But I continue to get the feeling that they don’t care at all about me or my loyalty. After a recent bad experience, I wrote to customer service 3 times and got 3 very canned, dry responses that made it very clear that American really does not care about me at all. I get that I’m just one person, but sounds like a lot of people feel this way…

  6. Madame X, those ARE fees and taxes for London Heathrow. Doesn’t matter who you fly, that’s what they charge. Has NOTHING to do with the AAdvantage program. It’s amazing how people complain about being in a pressurized tube at 33,000 feet with fuel in a couple of wings and are so spoiled by the experience of taking off and landing safely as a given, that they have to find something else to complain about. Wah, wah, wah.

  7. Beg to differ. I have no problem with costs that are out of control for the airlines (airport taxes, country taxes.) The surcharge was verified EVENTUALLY BY THE AIRLINE that it was a fuel surcharge (it took a few calls to get them to admit this.) It was all about an inability to control their own costs when the fuel market took unexpected jumps, and not honoring “free” loyalty program tickets (I freely acknowledge and am willing to pay fees that the airlines have to pass along from various airports, taxes, etc.)

  8. Kevin Birnbaum: pipe down, you are utterly, completely wrong. If you’re going to troll, at least get your facts right. One can fly AA metal TO London on an AA award for $5.60 in fees.

    This person is undoubtedly talking about a BA redemption using aadvantage miles.

  9. If AA is trying to entice me to its loyalty program with “free’ flights and the fact that they are proud to have a range of code-shares around the world, they should be able to work out fuel surcharge issues in the rewards. Again, I can understand fees (taxes, etc.) outside AA’s control, but not the inability to plan fuel costs and then load it on loyalty plan members.

    Takes are usually higher that the $5.60 Steve noted, especially on international. Again, taxes are fair and specific landing sites are what they are. The $500 or so or fuel was in addition to the taxes, etc. It was just the fuel surcharge I objected to.

  10. Agree with negative AA comments. Employees seldom smile and unless they are reading script truly never show appreciation for business. Just yesterday, I used System Wide upgrades for my wife and I. I also purchased in advance miles/cash upgrades for 2 grandchildren. Bought tickets over 2 months ago. Although according to list we were 1 through 4, but got did not get upgraded until passengers on list at number 5 through 7 were upgraded. Then they wanted to put 6-year old granddaughter in row next to stranger. I had to object and make case that customers that were 1-4 should be in same row, they thought 6-year-old would be okay. EP for more than 10 years in a row.

  11. AA really has the most service out of Austin? I’m Life Platinum based in Houston and I’ve been contemplating a move. I fly a lot to Australia, Japan, HKG, TPE and Singapore. I’ve had a stellar 30 years of experience with AA but premium redemptions on my long-hauls are becoming almost impossible even 330 days out… ridiculous.

  12. I can no longer fly AMERICAN Airlines, their loyalty program lacks in all areas. First class is almost 100% business MEN and I understand but when my upgrade was taken from me so that a last minute elite man could have it, I knew it was the beginning of the end. I fly mostly Delta now and LOVE everything about them even while flying coach. The airline attendants are personable and attentive. The seats and entertainment are wonderful. The prices are fair too and add to this, more direct flights!

  13. I have been loyal to AA for more than 30 years traveling all over the world.I’ve been Executive Platinum for years and a former Conceirge Key. The last half of this year I was unable to fly as I had to assist my brother who has macular degeneration and losing his vision. It took me off the road. I have hit the dollar amount to retain my Exucutive Platinum status but fell short in the qualifying miles. I requested consideration for an exception and was told it would not be granted as they reserved the status for their valued customers. 8 system wide upgrades, 18- 500 mile upgrades, all gone. They offered me Platinum status as a guesture but I already have lifetime Platinum having over 2 million miles on American. I’m not sure they are familiar with their own program. So years of loyalty, tons of status, more than 2 million miles wasn’t enough to be a “valued” customer who requested an exception due medical issues. I even offered to pay them for the one time exception. I’ve actually been a huge fan of AA and have traveled around the world with them. I think it’s a tough industry and they perform well in their environment. I must say however loyalty has its limits and going forward, I guess my decision making will migrate towards who has the best fare. When you are told you are not a valuable customer after all we’ve been through, it’s time to shop around. Happy New Year!

  14. Don’t chase miles. Get a cash back card and buy your own ticket. Oh, I get it. A third party is paying your way and you are benefiting. Not all but many. Gripping about something for nothing. Don’t like it. Tough. We are in business to make money and lots of it. The privileged few. I am better. Let me on the plane first peasant.

  15. We learned the hard way that AA has no loyalty whatsoever!! We were Elite with America West/US Air for over 20 years, and enjoyed great benefits and respect from employees for choosing their airline. This was at the lowest Elite level! However, we lost almost all of the advantages of status when AA was purchased, and also had to endure disrespect from employees. AA must think we’re all stupid, as they continually told us how great we were being treated. Are they crazy? The free bags we already get from a credit card….this is our first year without status and guess what?…., we hardly miss it! BTW, we are not that impressed with the Club any longer, too crowded and less of what we like. It will be next to get the ax! We totally miss US Air, as well as the original CEO of America West, Ed Beauvais! Times sure have changed! PS….is anyone else tired of the cookies?

  16. This is to Madam X. Just ignore the rude comment by Kevin Birnbaum as he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I used my Alaska miles to book a flight to London and the taxes and fees to Heathrow were $193.00. You already said that the code was for a fuel surcharge and he said everybody pays $500 to fly to Heathrow which isn’t true. Alaska is flying me on their partner which is AA. His comment isn’t true and his wah wah wah comment was just BS.

  17. Jack – thanks for the note. I assumed that Kevin’s price quote was a typo (I try to overlook rude people). Any taxes I’ve paid to Europe were always at least $100, which I can deal with – that’s not an airline’s doing. Again, when I pressed AA and presented them with the specific code, they FINALLY admitted that the huge charge was a fuel surcharge, on top of taxes and airport fees.

    Happy New Year to All – let’s hope for CAVU, and fewer SNAFU’s and FUBARs.

  18. I usually don’t reply to things like this but he was wrong and rude. Happy New Year to you !

  19. I was Chairman’s Preferred for 10 years with US Airways. Status mattered and we were treated like we were valued customers. Under Doug Parker’s run to mediocrity, a previously good company has been forced to adopt the customer service and benefits level that drove American into bankruptcy in the first place. It is time for the Board to find a CEO that does not take all of his original thoughts from other airlines. American COULD be the world’s premier airline. But not with Doug Parker at the helm.

  20. I pray for you folks that have to fly so much. To me it sounds like one of the levels in Inferno. You probably pity me for commuting the same 20 miles for 31 years!

  21. American tried to give flyers what they wanted with their “More Room In Coach” configuration. What did the complaining public do, still went for the low cost carrier. All American did was to revert back to what the “public” wanted, low cost over comfort. Look in the mirror. Blame yourself.

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