Thanks To Credit Card Points, Top Status Members At American Airlines No Longer Know How To Fly

Airline elite status used to be about who flew the most. At most airlines spending on a co-brand credit card can help with status, or even help get higher on the upgrade list. That’s a reflection of how valuable those credit card programs are. Delta says about 1% of U.S. GDP is run through their cards and they’re trending towards $10 billion in annual revenue from American Express by the end of their current co-brand deal in 2029.

At American Airlines, credit card spending plays an even greater role. In many quarters the airline’s profit has been entirely accounted for by the sale of miles to banks. And they revamped their status program so that miles from most sources carry equal weight towards status.

  • There’s no difference between a mile earned from flying versus a mile earned from online shopping through their branded portal.

  • While a non-status member earns 5 “Loyalty Points” per dollar spent on airfare, and a top tier elite earns 11 points per dollar, it’s been possible to earn 40 points per dollar online shopping with FTD.

  • Flower purchases, or bonzai trees, can be worth up to 8 times as much towards AAdvantage status as actually flying.

Since a majority of miles are earned via credit card, and American’s U.S. co-brands earn 1 Loyalty Point per dollar spent, a lot of status is being generated by credit card. (Some of their foreign credit cards earn up to 2 Loyalty Points per dollar, in fact.)

And that means not just more people earning status overall than before, but different people earning status. Frequent flyers used to ‘know the drill’. They knew how flying worked. That’s no longer true for customers as a whole with AAdvantage status, according to Chris Isaac, Director of the AAdvantage program. In an interview, he tells Paula Thomas,

[H]istorically, those that were reaching our highest tier levels, say our executive platinum status level, probably knew the business as well as we did.

And so you didn’t really have to coach them. The conversations were very different with, say an executive platinum member, it was much more brief. It was just the facts, what you needed to know to get you on your way. And, we knew how to do that.

Well now we have executive platinum members that are not the road warriors. And so our frontline team members are also having to adjust a bit. Where perhaps we’ve got somebody that is getting that elevated level of care but they also need a little bit of instruction on how to get you know, from point A to point B. And so, it’s provided a lot of new opportunities for us, in terms of the way we interact with our members.

American Airlines now has Executive Platinums who “need a little bit of instruction on how to get you know, from point A to point B.” Those with airline status used to joke about ‘the kettles,’ Ma and Pa Kettle rubes who didn’t know how to fly. Now they are the kettles!

It’s not just status that’s changed, it’s who has status that’s changed. Does that change how you think of those who have status?

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. American Airlines could help satisfy their elite and most profitable passengers if they offered lifetime Platinum Pro when elite passengers reach 3 Million lifetime AAdvantage miles from any source and lifetime Executive Platinum when passengers achieve 4 Million AAdvantage miles from any source. When clients earn 10 Million lifetime AAdvantage miles from any source, why not offer them complimentary American Airlines’ ConciergeKey status for the next ten years?

  2. Nothing says rewarding “loyalty” by placing Jimmy Kettle who runs all the spend at his used car lot through his card above someone doing 20+ trips a year. I love it when they have no idea how to get through a pre-check line or put a bag in the overhead bin.

    I’m glad its profitable to the company, but these changes are making me less sticky to AA. We’re moving quickly to a “I’ll buy the cheapest F ticket instead” if I wanted to be treated like a human when I fly, as the ‘perks’ to loyalty are little more than what you’d get with a freebie credit card.

  3. The irony of this post.

    Hawk credit cards, Gary. Or, complain about credit card flyers.

    But you can’t do both.

  4. To be fair, it’s not a huge change from the previous group of kinda low-class, khaki wearing convention goer types who racked up points from reimbursable business travel but also think lounge buffets and business class plane food are really fancy, delicious meals.

  5. Most of the status holders are traveling on the company’s dime.. especially since many of the frequent flyer status is dependent on how much you spend. Someone who travels for leisure or uses their own money is going to find it hard to reach status so I’m not that sympathetic to all of this nonsense.

    I found it much better to just pay for what you want instead of trying to score upgrades which are literally impossible to come by if you’re not a top tier member. Other airlines like Hawaiian will keep trying to sell their first class seats until the day of the flight so their status is totally useless.

  6. I noticed it on Southwest when people that never fly have companion pass and A+Preferred. I never stopped traveling during COVID and always got boarding position 17. Today I’m A21 and I’m A+ from ass in seat trips not running up my credit cards. I’ve as far back as A28 behind a bunch of tourist going on a cruise

  7. As a business traveler who regularly takes more than 52 trips a year, and who has been an EP with AA for more years than I can remember, I couldn’t agree more with this article. AA has ruined their loyalty program.

    It used to be a simple equation: Fly the miles, get rewarded. Now, with new tiers and co=branded credit card spend, I honestly have no idea if I’m going to make EP again this year. I’m trying to adapt to the new system, and I’ve used a co-branded credit card for years now, but it honestly seems to me that AA doesn’t really care if I’m traveling the miles anymore. I guess that’s the point.

    I also agree with another commenter: There should be higher lifetime award levels for those who’ve done the milles. I’m approaching 3 million miles, but at 2 million, I earned the highest lifetime level possible – and that level will do me little good once my intensive travel ends.

    Sadly, we’re all like dogs howling at the moon. No matter how loyal we’ve been to AA, nothing we say is going to change the system back to what it was, or even just make us feel that doing the miles is valued by AA.

    Frustrated EP.

  8. It would be more honest, transparent and maybe even more profitable for AA if they cut out all the rest of it and just went to the chase, selling status outright from the get go. I mean who’s fooling whom? It is absolutely no longer about flown miles’ loyalty with AA, only about spend. Maybe change the name to AA’s “frequent spender” program? Just sayin’.

  9. I don’t think it’s about class, it’s about knowledge of AA, the AAdvantage program, and more generally, just travel. It’s obvious to me that today’s elite population is significantly “less-traveled”. That’s not a ding on them, it’s just a fact.

    You see this in the airport, on the plane, and especially on social media. A quick read of social media groups focused on AA’s EP & CK members shows this clearly. These are now rarely discussions about complex or arcane rules and ins & outs of the program. More common are posts like “I’m EXP, what’s an SWU?” and “I”m connecting at LHR on my way to Paris, do I have to collect my luggage and clear customs?” These are fair and reasonable questions, but not the type you would have seen in an EXP forum several years ago.

    I hadn’t really thought about how this impacts the EXP desk at AA, but it’s easy to see how agents could now be taking more time to answer more basic questions from those elites with less “road-warrior” experience. Perhaps inflated elite population and extended talk times are a primary factor in the now regularly long hold times at the EXP desk.

  10. This seems like it’s by-design (or maybe they managed to stumble into this design). Elites that aren’t actually frequent flyers don’t know all the regulations that work in their benefit in one of the few industries in the United States that are still heavily under regulation (both to their detriment as well as protection). People having these benefits that don’t even know what they’re fully entitled to, or how to operate the “machine” that is a US-based airline, means more dollars in their pockets.

  11. If the ticket/bag/gate agent has a little tenure (age) most appreciate we million milers. They know we earned this status by butts in the seat. I get a thank you a lot from Delta and wife a little less with American. But still they know regardless and same with the flight crew. Also it does help to be nice and friendly too which seems to be in short supply these days.

  12. @Bob – I have literally suggested that the changes to the Citi Executive card are negative, you call that hawking ok fine.

    But it’s perfectly consistent to explain to customers how to benefit from cards, and the ecosystem they’re in, and then to talk about what’s changed as a result.

    Where’s the complaint here?

  13. I have been a loyal Advantage member since 1990. Made Gold status quite a few times and even Platnium a few times… Now thanks to loyality points & flying I am EXP! I deserve this just as much a some low level exec that flys every week. And, I only use AA points to book intl J or F tickets perferrably not on AA metal. (got the road warrior lingo down)

  14. @Doug is exactly right. AA EXP status used to mean receiving the highest standard of customer care among the legacy carriers. Now EXP status is virtually meaningless. I am an EXP approaching 4 million miles lifetime on AA and I doubt anyone at AA even cares. I’ve been UA 1K for past five years and that experience is discernibly better. But being based in Dallas really limits my chance to fly UA now. AA has practically gutted and devalued the AAdvantage program to the point that I’m not even sure why I keep up with it anymore. I just buy lowest cost F on whatever airline can get me there and back.

  15. Do we know for sure that the loyalty point arrangement has resulted in more Exec Platinum fliers, or is that an assumption?

  16. I’m 73 and have been in this Advantage program over 35 years, almost from the beginning in. 1981. At first my miles all came from flights. Personally I lost around 100,000 miles after not flying during the year, so when credit card activity could help retain miles, I was all fo it. Today the way AA keeps changing thresholds, as a retired individual it’s difficult to seriously cash in award miles, without blowing a ridiculous amount of miles. Much less most flights that have award miles are at horrible hours, like 6 am. I am seriously considering changing my credit card habits to another airline. I keep hearing United is much better to its customers.

  17. I’m really at a lost on how I feel about all the comments I’m reading concerning this post. I’ve flown on AA nearly forever…first flight when I was in my 20’s was on AA. I live in the Metro DFW area so it’s convenient. I’ve had a CitiBank AA card since 1990. I love the awards; appreciate the awards and totally use the awards every time I can.
    I’m a little put off by the elite that have a bizillion miles accumulated only by flying. Must be wonderful for you to be able to travel so much. Some of us are not that fortunate; especially since we are retired and not getting those “free miles” granted to us by way of business travel. I too miss those actual flying miles when I was working in corporate.
    However…I do manage to dress myself, speak properly and wear shoes when I manage to fly now on AA and am thankful that I can use my award miles from my CitiBank AA card. Makes it nice.
    Some of us are just not quite as elite as many of you. Hopefully you will continue to allow us the privilege of flying on the same plane as you.

  18. 100% spot on, this has slowed down the process on and off the plane also causing missed connections when tight. Inexperienced travelers used to be just summer travel season and holidays. Now it is all the time.
    This is a horrible system for us that fly every week just adding to the stress and BS

  19. @Evan Katz – there are more elite members total, that’s certain, and the composition of who is an executive platinum has changed (also certain). I do not know the actual number of current executive platinums, though i’ve published some numbers on totals in the past.

  20. I’m mixed. I’ve been EXP for 13 consecutive years. It’s certainly gotten worse, but still better than not being EXP. What bothers me more are the absolute slobs in the admirals club. Just today saw some guy in gym shorts and oversized T-shirt shoving food in his mouth while putting it on his plate. Just disgusting behavior.

  21. I have been EP for maybe 5 years? Maybe 7? I’ve never thought once it was worth anything except when I could get SWUs to clear in the past. That doesn’t happen now. I only stay with AA because I have the AA card for lounge access and because I love the oneworld emerald lounges when traveling abroad.

  22. American Airlines has no respect for their best customers. There is almost no benefit to earning elite status with with AA. Avoid American Airlines if possible.

  23. Nobody flies commercial anymore because the planes are too full. -Yogi Berra

  24. Wow. I cannot believe the amount of whining by so called executives on this thread. I have done some business travel in the past but the majority of my trips are for personal enjoyment. I use my credit card and enjoy the benefit of being able to accumulate points. Why? All I ever wanted is to possibly get more leg room or free baggage checking. Guess what Mr. FREQUENT FLYER or Mr. EXECUTIVE, we can’t even get THOSE perks anymore.

    So, if you get sick and need surgery please find a First Class hospital with only Surgeons on your level that only operate on patients with your elite statuses. I will prefer to care for people from the common population who don’t expect special treatment for repeated treatments and surgeries. Not executives who want special care because they are executives.

    And actually I want to say thank you to AA not for taking away from just the little person, but taking away from all.

  25. I’m regular AA platinum. What used to be a pretty good chance of an upgrade is now much, much lower with the credit card folks entitled to the same upgrades without ever taking a flight before. So my plan is to keep the credit card so I get the free bags and early boarding and not worry about status anymore. I’m not getting upgrades anyways.

  26. Wow the holier than though attitude in here is sad. Yeah you’re sooooo special because you’re company pays for your flights . You know soooo much how to put a bag in the overhead bins, congrats you are a star! Oh sorry not everyone dresses to your haughty business clothes. Grow up you’re not that special and no different than anyone else except you know how to put a bag up and you don’t wear cargo shorts. Smh

  27. Even though I’m based in Dallas, I think I may just go back to United and deal with an extra connection in ORD, IAH, DEN, although those three cities are regular terminal destinations for me as well. I’m both 1K and EXP. At least I can use T-E CLEAR to speed up going through security since it isn’t available in any of the American terminals at DFW. I’ve flown on AA more than any other carrier, but it is just detestable these days. And good luck ever getting someone on the EXP hotline if you need help. I never had that problem calling the 1K line. And UA will at least call 1K members to board as a group, unlike AA that lumps in EXP’s with the rest of Group 1.

  28. I have the Citi Executive card to get lounge access and earn AA miles to use for BA business class award flights (which are usually cheaper through AA.). If I now get status through the card, it allows me to select seats on BA free.

    Flying is normally a pain. If I can use the system to make it more pleasant at a lower cost, I will. Anyone can. It’s not a matter of fairness.

  29. I’m giving up on AA. Been paying cash for flights for years but I’ve had it. Attempting to get a RT J ticket from Austin to Split, Croatia, with a routing NOT through Rome and using cash. Couldn’t do it online without going through FCO. Google Flights no help as prices were not accurate. I called AA Reservations and took 40 minutes with agent on phone call back (two hours later). His solution was “can’t do it if you’re not willing to pay $21,000 for round trip.” ‘m not!
    This was for a $$$ paid trip and NOT using the miles that I’ve NOT been able to use/book . . . anywhere in F or J. But it is a First World problem and I’ll find a solution (hint: LH). Cash is still king.

  30. Reporting a typo at the Top 10 deals link. The 9th deal I believe is the CS Reserve but it’s not written in.

  31. Be very cautious with code share and oneworld flight expectations. Many of the status perks aren’t shared or you have to create additional frequent flyer account with the other airline to reserve a premium seat. Lots of squirrely small print!

  32. “Wait, wait, wait. Hold up. So if I’m Platinum Select, does that mean that I get the stuff in the Gryffindor tier?”

    ” No, no, if you want things in the Gryffindor tier, you need to upgrade either to the Platinum Ultra or the Platinum Blue”

  33. Didn’t this start nearly half a decade ago when airlines favorited those flyers whose companies spend most on tickets rather than those who actually fly more?

    My reading of the article is that those who have their tickets paid for complaining about those who spend their own money to achieve status.

    I would sometimes get Gold status from flying a lot and more the credit card helps me achieve Platinum. Getting anything higher won’t happen until someone starts paying for my plane tickets.

  34. An butt-in-seat EXP who flies 50 domestic segments a year will consume close to 50 upgrades, six times as many as a credit card warrior EXP who flies 8 domestic segments a year. Since AA has also increased the mileage requirements for EXP, the total number of EXP has not gone up much, and the total number of upgrades consumed may have gone down.

    The difficulty of getting upgrades at present has more to do with the fewer total upgraded seats available, as the reduced supply of seats of all classes gets quickly filled by record-high demand for air travel.

  35. Nobody is Loyal to anything this is a load of crap. Most that claimed to be do it because of routes and bases where you live. And who is upset is upset because they now fly coach cabin business class upgrades are a never more since every idiot uses to buy their once a year trip with their miles earned. Awfull what american did, they arw basically a banc now taking passengers from other airlines with their alliances in domestic routes….

  36. To read the complaints of how status now goes to every Tom, Dick, and Harry instead of those who fly the most, on the company’s dime I might add, makes me laugh and then shout, “kick rocks.” Quit your belly aching

  37. I can’t believe that the so-called frequent flyers look down on and ridicule people are earning miles by spending their own money on a master advantage card. The airlines, all of them, they’re in business to make money. The advantage frequent flyer program was established to induce more flyers to America from other airlines of course. It worked very well even when miles were predominantly given for flying only. The frequent flyers then and now that reaped the greatest benefits were almost exclusively doing so buy tickets paid for by their company leaving the average person who is unable to fly 20 or 30 times a year out of pocket out of luck. Now these people whose companies are paying for their 20 to 30 times a year flights I’ll call them themselves the “loyal”flyers. Bull crap! They’re only loyalty came from the fact that they were benefiting from their employers money. I would venture to say that less than 1% of those 20 to 30 times per year flyers we’re doing it out of their pocket. Now that AA has broadened the opportunity to get miles in other ways they, the 20 to 30 times per year flyers our bellyaching because other people that don’t have the benefit of employees paying their wayhave been given the opportunity to gain status are now able to get those miles by being a “loyal”Citibank credit card holder. Since the payer of the credit card is usually out of pocket of the flyer that is actually more loyal than the person getting free flights through their business. I am a Citibank holder since the 80s and join the advantage program 2 months after it was established! Have been using my Citibank card and flying American ever since. That’s loyalty! Don’t cry to me you so-called elitist that are riding on free trips that have nothing to do with loyalty!

  38. My name is Leonard Smith and I’m Executive Platinum in 4 months all with card spend, It’s sad and crazy that people on here who are not spending a dime are complaining. Most are just enjoying the benefit of a fortune five hundred company who use their money to fly their workers around for free. On the other hand people who use cards have made a choice to sacrifice real money ( 2% of card sales ) for fleight. We spend money with the airline not gifted travel from your job. Stop acting like y’all are doing something special

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