American’s Lifetime Status Program is Less Generous Than Delta, United
American AAdvantage has an uncompetitive million miler program, recognizing lifetime loyalty, and they’ve made it worse over the past few years.
- Delta offers up to lifetime Platinum status, and an annual gift for million milers.
- United offers up to lifetime Global Services, and extends the lifetime member’s current status to a spouse
In contrast American only offers lifetime Gold (1 million miles) and Platinum (2 million miles). There’s no lifetime Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum, or ConciergeKey status.
American Devalued Lifetime Status With Program Changes
American effectively made ConciergeKey an elite status level two years ago, before that ConciergeKey customers were Executive Platinums and did not have upgrade priority. In addition American introduced the Platinum Pro (dumb name) status at 75,000 qualifying miles between Platinum and Executive Platinum.
American’s lifetime Platinum status went from mid-tier (second of three levels) to being towards the bottom (second of five levels).
What’s more American began prioritizing upgrades based on rolling 12 month spend, giving priority to customers qualifying for status each year over lifetime elties. Now lifetime Platinums not re-earning their status each year are at the bottom of the upgrade list even amongst Platinums. Lifetime Platinums are really ‘Gold-plus’.
Management Hasn’t Been Lifetime Status-Friendly
Legacy US Airways management was late to recognize lifetime status at their former airline, and didn’t offer anything beyond lifetime Silver at one million miles. They’ve always been focused on current revenue over rewarding a lifetime of loyalty, even though the lifetime program can be a goal that current customers strive for.
Details of American AAdvantage aren’t determined just at the level of the AAdvantage program team. Indeed, according to a senior American Airlines executive with knowledge of the matter the team itself had recommended revenue-based changes different from what was eventually implemented but were overruled by then-President Scott Kirby who preferred to mirror what Delta and United had done.
However Scott Kirby and Andrew Nocella, the Senior Vice President whom AAdvantage reported up to, have decamped for United. Perhaps that creates an opportunity to revisit lifetime loyalty.
American Doesn’t Want to Give Windfall Benefits
Until December 1, 2011 all miles earned in the American AAdvantage program counted towards lifetime elite status. There was then a brief window where spending on American’s premium co-brand Executive card counted. However they’ve since transitioned to only counting actual flight miles towards million miler status.
As a result of the airline’s historical method of calculating lifetime miles, there are a large number of customers with big lifetime balances — not just 3, 4, and 5 million but even 70 million lifetime miles.
The airline doesn’t want to expand the pool of Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum members with customers that earned lifetime miles from credit card spend or checking account balances in the distant past. They’d have more 3 million and 4 million milers than Delta and United (probably more than both combined).
At the same time they wouldn’t want to set the bar so high, to compensate for the number of customers with high lifetime mileage balances, that the new lifetime elite levels would seem unattainable for customers striving for them today.
At 100,000 miles a year it takes 10 years to earn lifetime Gold and 20 years to earn lifetime Platinum under today’s rules. Four million mile status would take 40 years. (Of course some customers earn 200,000 and more flight miles per year.) Setting the threshold at 5 million or 10 million miles would seem a bridge too far.
A Path Forward to Improve American’s Lifetime Status Program
One of my all-time favorite frequent flyer programs was british midland’s Diamond Club. The program was folded when bmi was acquired by British Airways. I loved it because once you had qualified for Gold status, additional first class flying earned 625% of flown miles, and because of their cash and points award chart.
One feature of the program was lifetime Gold status after 10 years as a Gold member. They didn’t track miles earned, they tracked years of status.
Marriott requires lifetime nights and lifetime years of status to earn their lifetime status levels.
There’s no reason why American would be unable to adopt a new requirement for new lifetime status levels. That wouldn’t be pulling out the rug from anyone that’s been working towards lifetime status.
- Leave lifetime Gold at 1 million miles
- Leave lifetime Platinum at 2 million miles
- Add lifetime Platinum Pro at 3 million miles and 10 years of Platinum Pro status or higher
- Add lifetime Executive Platinum at 4 million miles and 10 years of Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey status
This would allow American to introduce a competitive lifetime elite status program without flooding the ranks with customers who earned their lifetime miles in the past via credit card spend and other non-flight activity.
Don’t Chase Lifetime Status Too Hard
Lifetime elite programs are hugely motivating for customers, it keeps them locked into a program they’ve been loyal to in the past. They may consider shifting allegiance, which is made easier through status match offers from competitors. But with years of status and miles earned behind them, as they approach lifetime recognition, there’s a reason to stay.
I always caution against this — british midland lifetime status was ‘life of the program’ and the program no longer exists, folded into British Airways Executive Club. And I’m reminded that when United removed lifetime elite benefits — annual upgrades — 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.
It may not be advisable to invest too heavily in lifetime loyalty, but there’s even less reason today for an American Airlines customer to continue to do so after hitting lifetime Platinum. That’s easy to change.