The Top 5 Reasons To Expect An American AAdvantage Devaluation

There’s been a lot of hints dropping over the past several months, and the preponderance of evidence seems to suggest that American Airlines could devalue the AAdvantage program. We’re approaching a new program year, so if it’s going to involve changing to how elite status is earned or what elite benefits look like, that announcement would likely come soon. The airline can, of course, devalue redemptions at any time. They did so without notice months after current US Airways management took over, on April 8, 2014 (the “April 8 mAAsacre”).

Here are the top 5 reasons to believe a devaluation is in the offing:

  1. The other big U.S. airlines already did it already during the pandemic United, Delta, and Southwest all devalued their points during the pandemic, it’s American’s turn in the monkey see, monkey do world of airlines.

  2. The last President of AAdvantage said they’re getting rid of award charts After saying award charts were here to stay when he took the job last year, he shared over the summer that American is working to eliminate them. No frequent flyer program has ever gotten more valuable after dropping award charts. The only reason to eliminate them is to reduce transparency and commitment to offer value to members. All the revenue-based things airlines want to do are still possible while maintaining award charts.

  3. Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja, whom AAdvantage reports up to, says they’ll become even more revenue-based. We should believe him.

  4. JonNYC says to expect it And Jon has excellent sources.

  5. It has been 5 years since they’ve done it last. That’s actually a long time between devaluations, and the last time award chart pricing changes were announced was November 2015 with March 2016 effect.

There are (3) groups that an AAdvantage devaluation hurts besides the customer.

  • AAL Shareholders Before the pandemic American Airlines often only made money in a given quarter because of the AAdvantage program. The airline’s revenue from passengers and cargo was less than its costs. Even when it eeked out a small profit from flying, AAdvantage profit dwarfed the profit from moving passengers from one place to another.

    Airlines lose credit card charge volume and passenger interest in the program when they devalue. To be sure there seems to be one exception to this, Delta. Delta had a sterling brand and operational reliability and it absolutely owned its hubs. Sure, a Salt Lake City customer should probably get an Amex Membership Rewards card even if they want Delta miles but most people don’t do that. Delta had captive mindshare.

    Before the pandemic United was growing MileagePlus revenue pretty much only because of transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards rather than because of interest in the program.

    Cost-cutting in the program, the most successful asset the airline has, isn’t the way to maximize long-run shareholder value.

  • AAdvantage debt holders Reducing member and cardholder interest in the program isn’t great for holders of $10 billion in debt backed by AAdvantage, the value of which is tied to the long-term value of the program, although in fairness they’re in first position to recoup cash. On the one hand that’s a safety mechanism for bondholders, on the other hand it’s potentially the source of downward spiral (if debtholders are in first position ahead of member’s ability to redeem miles, even).

  • Citibank and Barclays, the co-brand card issuers. Already the Bilt Mastercard is a better way to earn AAdvantage miles than American’s own co-brands, what happens when member interest in earning the currency falls, too?

The AAdvantage program is the annuity that’s been driving free cash at the airline for years. They’d be wise not to kill the goose, and the odds they’re good enough to extract even more value out of it for themselves without killing it seem less than 20% so they shouldn’t try.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. The constant devaluation of award charts will help me as a non-rev get more business class seats :)-

    I don’t get it. They should keep the value in the program they (AA) value so much.

  2. Looks to me like they’ve already done it. Asking. 130,000 miles in biz for JFK-LHR on AA metal next August but 57.5 on BA metal and Delta like 250,000. For JFK-CDG

  3. Help me out.

    If they have abandoned award charts, how do they “devalue” other than just charging gobs more miles for the same seats than they do today, when there are no award charts?

  4. Well, I think this settles what most were thinking on the Citi TYP transfer to AA ability. Definitely not going to transfer any more before the deadline.

  5. Another reason I’ve quit chasing points. Deltas “award” rates are astronomical, so I guess AA going that way.

    I’ll just move to paying and getting cash back.

  6. AA saying they won’t devalue the AAdvantage program is like Venezuela saying they won’t devalue the Bolivar.

  7. I get most of my AA miles through business card spend. American hasn’t exactly been shy about making lots of customer-unfriendly moves during the Covid era when they should have been making AAdvantage more appealing rather than less. If they do a substantial devaluation I’ll simply abandon AAdvantage for the most part as I’ve done with Skymiles.

  8. Your Article Title Was: “The Top 5 Reasons To Expect An American AAdvantage Devaluation”
    My response: “Every dumpster fire needs fuel if they want it to keep burning”

    -15 Years ExecPlat
    -3M miles
    -Haven’t been on paid AA metal since the great devaluation of 2013.

  9. AA EXP here: redeemable miles have absolutely nothing to do with why I fly AA. Miles just pile up in the account and are rarely used. And ridiculously easy to earn.

    A miles devaluation won’t bother me at all. Changes to the elite benefits or qualification reqs on the other hand..

    Also: people that constantly hawk credit cards have no grounds to complain about devaluation of programs. Cause, meet effect.

  10. I feel like that miles have already been devalued for domestic flights. I see about $0.008 value and that started fewer than 4 years ago. They’ve been pushing everything out of saver. Just because they don’t announce a devaluation doesn’t mean it’s not a devaluation.

    (Premium awards are a different story especially on partners. I hope that’s not what they’re about to hit.)

  11. Hope the British government pulls their heads out of their posteriors re: international travel before my 260K AA miles become like SkyPesos. I’ve had to put off a trip to London for two years in a row now.

  12. Man… I just don’t want them to ruin Qsuite redemptions. They’re the only thing I use AA miles for now that Etihad doesn’t have the Apartments.

  13. As 3.6MM EXP I am seeing less and less reasons to fly AA:
    1) In-flight experience went downhill even further during Covid.
    2) When my midweek upgrades do not clear (I am about 12K rolling EQD) what is the benefit of me playing this roulette when I can buy a competitively priced Business/First product from AA competitors with more convenient schedule without the need to go through CLT?
    3) EXP desk is mostly use]less and I am always asked to wait 14-30 min.
    4) While there are some good spots for the award redemption (usually with partners), the routes where I want to go on awards are already priced at <$0.01/miles with "Web Specials" they offer. Any time AAwards cannot be found.
    5) What is good about AA nowadays?

  14. UA, AA, Delta, think they have a natural right to marketshare based on their hubs. The best thing you can do is (especially when flying internationally) is hunt for the best business class fare at the lowest price. If you do that you will no longer care about miles or upgrades. You want to go to London? Check out Jet Blue Mint. You want to go to Paris? Check out La Compagnie. TAP has good deals too. The airlines want to distract you with supposed elite benefits (early boarding, biz seats, and lounge access) but tie this to an insane amount of spend. You can save a lot of money by not giving up your freedom (being a free agent) and just buying the most affordable business class ticket on any airline that will offer it and guess what you will get all those perks while flying on a paid business class ticket. When you do credit your miles consider crediting them to a different airline within the alliance than UA, AA, Delta. Not every airline does dynamic pricing of awards or has much better redemption rates. You can’t stop an AA devaluation. But you can credit your miles to BA, Iberia, or Finnair just as three examples. BA being a transfer partner with Citi, Chase, and Amex. Don’t let the airlines take your business for granted and perhaps they will notice. And if they don’t you will enjoy your freedom!

  15. Move to cash-back cards and invest it. You’ll get more money long term than any airline points program.

  16. So I’ll have to continue to have no loyalty to AA whatsoever and only fly them when they’re the lowest cost with a schedule that works for me? Done.

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