Starting Wednesday, December 16th, American Airlines will offer ‘Group 6’ boarding to AAdvantage members.
Elite members will still get their priority boarding, and co-brand credit card customers will still receive their boarding privileges. What’s new is that simply being a member of the AAdvantage program will allow a traveler to avoid being the last to board. They’ll board ahead of Groups 7, 8, and 9 (which is basic economy boarding on domestic flights).
Even basic economy customers will receive Group 6 boarding when a member of AAdvantage. As a spokesperson explains,
[S]tarting today as customers check-in for flights tomorrow, they’ll see Group 6 on their boarding pass and there will be a special announcement at the gate welcoming them on board. It’s one more way we’re thanking our members for their loyalty and gives new members a benefit they can use on day one when enrolling in the AAdvantage program.
From the statement you can tell this is about encouraging enrollment in the AAdvantage program. During the Covid era a disproportionate number of flyers are younger, inexperienced leisure travelers. The proportion of customers with elite status is much lower than in normal times, since elites are heavily business travelers – who have been staying home for work, and also in many cases for discretionary trips as well. Even the percentage of passengers on major airlines who are members of the airline’s loyalty program has fallen.
American eliminated mileage redeposit fees for all members and eliminated telephone award booking fees, too, for redemptions that could be made on their website. That makes the program more accessible and rewarding for new members, who are the customers that are flying today.
This push to get travelers to join the program is important, because it helps develop a permission-based marketing relationship that can lead to future business and allow the program to help shift future wallet share. What’s missing, though, is making it easy to join the program. Several airlines prompt you to join in the booking path, allowing you to opt into the program while buying a ticket on their website. You can’t currently just check a box while booking a ticket “I’m not currently a member of the AAdvantage program, please sign me up.”
The airline should also be pushing people to join via inflight wifi. A video announcement about the benefits of the program would help, bolstered by this new boarding benefit. Of course the airline is removing seat back entertainment screens, making it harder to advertise to customers inflight. Of course I’ve American should fund customer improvements by better monetizing the inflight product.