In the fall top American Airlines executives – including President Robert Isom – started cold-calling their best customers “to find out who it is that’s traveling and still earning elite status throughout the pandemic.”
Recently several top American Airlines AAdvantage elite members have reported getting calls scheduled with Rick Elieson, the head of the AAdvantage program.
One customer readout from a call with the AAdvantage President contained some useful information.
- American Airlines will make status easier to earn this year. So far American reduced miles and qualifying dollars required for earning status this year by 20%, but hasn’t gone as far as United (which has stacked promotion after promotion) or Delta (which is giving 50% – 75% bonuses towards status for flights and award travel counts). I’ve said it’s inevitable American acts, but since they’ve been selling qualifying miles it seemed more likely they’d run a promotion rather than reduce requirements, which might have left a bitter taste with those who paid up.
Elieson reportedly shared an early June announcement of either further reduced qualification requirements or a promotion to boost status, since the number of elites at every level are currently on track to fall “precipitously.”
- Systemwide upgrades will be extended again. At the start of the pandemic American said that confirmed upgrades which were earned for 2020 were extended to July 31, 2021.
These are upgrades given to Executive Platinum and Concierge Key members and to those achieving 2 million mile status and each million miles thereafter).
The extension meant members could book travel and confirm it until that point, even for trips that occurred afterward. Europe is likely to re-open, but hasn’t done so yet. Asia probably won’t open in time. So Elieson reportedly shared the early June announcement of another extension of systemwide upgrades.
- Possible changes to how confirmed upgrades work. The conversation entered the real of more speculative about the future of confirming upgrades. Elieson acknowledged American doesn’t make much upgrade space available to confirm, and reported that “80% [are] confirmed at time of departure.” United sometimes lets members spend additional upgrade credits to confirm space when upgrade inventory isn’t available.
Here American discussed,
Regarding availability, one option up for discussion was what if flyers paid a fee to confirm seating with the SWU, regardless of inventory availability. In my opinion, this would be reasonable, but the price point could not be prohibitively high.
- No more luggage tags for elite members. American stopped sending out elite membership cards and luggage tags last year as a cost-saving measure. These are “unlikely” to return.
- Same day change policies could be improved. Also in the real of the speculative, Elieson apparenly suggested it would be “easier to accomplish” improvements in making changes to itineraries than bringing back luggage tags!
American’s same day change policy is ultra-restrictive. It’s nearly impossible to confirm changes to a domestic first class ticket (won’t even allow downgrading to coach at the customer’s request). You have to fly the same itinerary on your new flights – you cannot even change connecting cities – which is idiotic since it means customers can’t take advantage of the primary benefit of the world’s largest airline which is multiple connecting hubs around the country.
During the call Elieson reportedly say “they may allow increased options and co-terminals” as part of same day changes however he “wasn’t able to address routing changes,” which is the biggest challenge to actually finding available itineraries for changes.
The systemwide upgrade extension would be welcome. I have four that are expiring and really don’t want to use them flying Dallas – Austin (if I can even find availability!).
It’s critical not just for American’s customers but also for the airline that they make status easier to earn this year. Business travel won’t return in earnest for several months, at which point the year is mostly shot for earning status. There’s not been much of an opportunity for monthly transatlantic and transpacific business class customers to fly. The airline doesn’t want to downgrade these people, and tell them they’re no longer valuable when they (might) return to flying in 2022 – encouraging them to become free agents again.