Why You Should Switch Airlines, Even If They’re About to Devalue (or De-hub)

A couple of comments I’ve heard over the past several days are worth addressing, because they represent ideas that make flyers worse off. And it’s flyers doing it to themselves.

The first is that — no matter how much better a program is — “I’m not going to switch because the program will other devalue too.”

I think this is a mistake. Of course you can’t turn back the clock. The past 4 years have been a great time to be an American AAdvantage Executive Platinum. If you held status with United or Delta you can’t go back and undo the past.

And indeed, maybe they will devalue, who knows how much, we all have guesses.

But right now in my view – and especially at the top tier and for the pricing of their award chart they are better than the alternatives that most flyers face. So you fly them now. See what happens later. Reevaluate as necessary.

The idea that a program or airline might be worse in the future isn’t a reason not to concentrate on them now.

We have no idea what the industry will look like in the future. A recession. Something else that reduces business travel. Another bankruptcy. Higher fuel prices. All of which could change the game markedly. The program you’re with now could devalue (again) in the meantime!

Someone else asked about whether to focus on American since this person is based in Phoenix and ‘someone at American told them the airline will drop Phoenix as a hub.’

Again, see what happens and react.

There is no reason to accept subpar treatment or options now because you think better options won’t still be better in the future. George W. Bush called that the soft bigotry of low expectations.

  • I don’t think it affects plans one way or another what American might do over the next 3-5 years.

  • Even if they de-emphasize Phoenix they will still have a substantial presence and larger than most carriers there, for quite some time.

  • The industry as a whole could look different over that time horizon, and for that matter people move.

I don’t think it’s wise to make airline decisions now on the basis of out years, make it on the basis of the current value proposition and if that changes you can change too. And that’s true regardless of the airline you’re flying and which one you believe would work better for you today. (And it applies to hotel programs, too.)

And of course rumors relayed by someone at an airline, a customer service agent on the fine, or a flight attendant are more often than not wrong… even when plausible (Phoenix may be inconvenient as a hub for American since it’s between Los Angeles and Dallas and you don’t make money overflying your hubs, but Los Angeles is hugely space constrained so can’t really replace the Phoenix operations).

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. if you are already working towards million miler status with an airline, or you are living near an airport that is a huge hub (like Houston or Newark for United) then it does make sense to stick with them. Also, the past few years had been pretty good at United in terms of their frequent flyer program – it is very recently that the program has been getting devalued, status harder to attain. It also depends on what you are trying to get out of the program. AAdvantage has a lot of problems on its own, different problems. (for me, the main problems are lack of flights to Europe from New York and fewer routes from NY) You would be trading some problems for other, different problems – so everybody has to figure out their own situation. One of my friends is switching to American, another to Alaska. For me it would not make sense. I think the most important thing is probably the route network,

  2. Nonsense. This advice may be great for some, but horrible for others. You cannot generalize so much about elite status. American is absolutely not the best answer for everyone (not even a majority), and you are living in an alternate universe if you don’t realize that there will be a massive devaluation of everything at American. They are in business to make money, not appease bloggers.

  3. Gary, this is a nice love letter to AA, however it still doesn’t help that there basically is NO award space to most of the world that business travelers need to go to. I have run test after test, and UA ALWAYS can get me via award space to cities, and AA/BA cannot. In the end, thats what this is all about. If you want to fly premium classes to Asia, you are left waiting for aa (very limited route) CX or JL space, which isn’t easy to find. On UA you can fly UA (almost always there), OZ, SQ or NH, not to mention possibly routing via EU (although harder on new routing rules) via one of many other carriers. For the US based traveler who is just going to fly to the US and some major cities in EU, AA may work, but for a business traveler *A is still worlds ahead, even if UA doesn’t love us.

  4. @joelfreak substantially less than half of redeemable miles are earned from flying, who you fly on paid tickets and may earn status with is totally different than where you redeem.

  5. @Gene For the purpose of this post I assume a pending devaluation, and link to some of my speculation about that. Worry about a devaluation when it happens, don’t avoid superior value (which I identify clearly at the top tier, not necessarily at lower tiers) because you think it won’t be there LATER.

  6. I think the title should be “Why You SHOULDN’T Switch Airlines, Even If They’re About to Devalue (or De-hub)”

  7. @joelfreak “If you want to fly premium classes to Asia, you are left waiting for aa (very limited route) CX or JL space, which isn’t easy to find. ”

    You must not have looked very hard.

  8. Gary is completely right on this one. If you fly with a specific airline, why on earth would you change based on what might happen at some undetermined point in the future?

  9. @italdesign I look at least once a week for trips. For example, this week I am headed to BEG. Most OW engines wont even RECOGNIZE BEG exists, UA has 3 pages of awards that will get me there, via OS, LH and LX…and of course UA. When I fly to BKK or SIN, UA has TONS of capacity going there via *A, if I am LUCKY I get one or two flights possible via CX. I very very rarely get 0 hits on UA for awards, whereas on BA or AA I COMMONLY get 0 hits in J or F.

  10. There is merit to sticking with an airline if you are near a lifetime status goal. On the other hand I would disagree with those who are reluctant to switch because they assume that other airlines will do pretty much the same as delta. Even though it is much smaller, Alaska seems to be doing pretty well by competing with delta not copying it.

    Executives aren’t notorious risk takers, but they do have egos. Are there any airline execs with the brains and the balls to compete or is the industry ruled by a “monkey see, monkey do mentality? Since delta currently has an operational advantage over the other big three, you’d be nuts not to fly delta if the other big airlines had the same ff program.

  11. The same applies to hotel programs. I rode the gravy train with Club Carlson’s Europe properties while it lasted. When the inevitable devaluation came, I re-evaluated. Overall, I’m way ahead of where I would be if I’d switched prematurely.

  12. @gary about 120k revenue, which gets me 11x miles on UA…with todays fares I end up about even. But it also gets me increased award aval, better (although not great) customer support, hotels during weather, and *A lounge access, etc. If I did that on OW, I would loose my UA benefits, and I would be stuck ALOT going through LHR, which is a hellhole. And I use that term very carefully, but LHR qualifies. I just connected from QF to BA, and it took over 2 hours, WITH fast track.

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