Report: American Airlines Will Announce Elite Qualifying Promotion, Extend Upgrades In Early June

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.

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. @ Gary — If American starts charging a fee to use SWUs, I see no remaining reason to bother attaining EXP.

  2. That would be great if they extend the system-wide upgrades. I also have my 4 and won’t have a chance to use them before July so this would be a nice gesture. It’s been impossible to take international trips this year and likely not going to get much easier until the end of this year to many destinations and this is only fair.

  3. They need to be more timely in their announcements. I just burned a VIP for DEN-CLT-IAD because I thought they were going to be expiring – so used it for a flight that I probably didn’t need so use.

  4. They really need to address routing changes on SDFC. It’s absurd that I can’t change connecting cities or downgrade from nonstop to connecting (I understand not allowing the opposite) to make use of the airline’s footprint.

  5. The most critical things they need to fix are 1. 500 mile stickers must be eliminated. Complete scam and disrespect to their most valuable members. 2. Fixing same day changes. United lets you fly different connections, a day early or late, etc. Then there’s AAs useless IT that allows basically nothing.

  6. The extension on the SWU’s is a welcome move – assuming they place inventory in the system to be able to use them. I’ve already lost 2 and have 4 that are expiring in July which I would gladly use as I’m needing to travel LAX-JFK but no SWU inventory available on the non-stop transcons and even with a stop, one leg is available the other is not. Pre-pandemic I was at least once a month traveling on this route purchasing bsns and using SWUs or miles to 1st. If there is no benefit for my past, lengthy, loyalty (almost 6 million miler balance) then there’s no point in continuing that loyalty.

  7. I had a phone call with Heather Samp a week or two ago. Not quite Rick Elieson, but one of his Managing Directors. Ironically I ended up giving feedback for almost the whole 30 minutes, so I didn’t get any of this inside info.

  8. Being an EXPlat living in Asia with a non-US passport. I asked AA what about SWU or extension. Some of us can go nowhere. Can’t return or quarantine and PCR tests with border control make it impossible. AA MUST extend both status and SWU or will quit AA altogether. Status won’t be worth it.

  9. All elites should have unlimited domestic upgrades. Those 500-mile stickers need to be tossed. Especially with so many domestic wide-body flights, and massive premium cabins with flat seats. Would also help with social distancing and spread out the plane a bit.

  10. Thanks for following up on eVIPs, Gary. This is messy for all of us. And trying to requalify to ExecPlat is almost impossible, given where we can fly. I’ve voiced my opinion in numerous focus groups and can lay hope this trickles down.

  11. Yes, I also read FlyerTalk where all this info came from. Clearly, AA should finally think how they would retain their most profitable customers. Right now my next two domestic trips are in paid F and I am already tired of the mediocre service offered by AA this year. (I was very tempted to ship AA boxed food in F to their headquarters in DFW but US postal service would not take this slightly perishable food.) Yes, I am EXP and lifetime Plat with >3M miles but if I am not able to redeem at reasonable rates or use my SWUs, why should I keep buying ticket in F from AA but not UA or DL or Alaska? I understand that AA can generate some $ by flying B777/787 to FL or CUN but what they are going to do next year?

  12. @Alex_77W: The US Postal Service (USPS) accepts stool samples (human poop) in the mail. Accordingly, you can return rejected American Airlines first class boxed food meals back to the AA DFW mothership by USPS unless their food has become so toxic it would be classified as a hazardous material. To return your unhealthy putrified airline meals to AA headquarters, consider shipping by Federal Express or United Parcel Service. If you can find an AA customer service representative in the airport, take advantage of complimentary shipping by requesting an inter-office envelope and designate the shipment of your moldy meal as “company material” or COMAT.

  13. I am exec platinum who will barely fly enough to be Gold next year. Any reason to hope American will lower the extent qualifying thresholds significantly for next year? If not, it makes it easier to be less loyal when my travel takes off again next year.

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