American Airlines will re-engineer its AAdvantage frequent flyer program from next year to provide greater appeal to high-spending first class and business class passengers, with a bigger focus on dollars spent than distance flown.
The number of miles needed to book a flight with American and its Oneworld partners including Qantas, British Airways and Cathay Pacific will also change, with the majority of routes requiring more miles than today.
Here’s what’s changing and what it means for you, the traveller.
Most flights need more miles to book
Using your AAdvantage miles to book a flight on or after March 22 2016 will almost certainly require more miles than needed today, although flights booked before that date – even when flying after that date – will use the current award costs.
For example, flying Sydney-Los Angeles on either AA or Qantas jumps from 62,500 to 80,000 miles in business class and from 72,500 to 110,000 miles in first class, one-way, while Australia-Europe increases from 60,000 to 85,000 miles in business and from 80,000 to 115,000 miles in first class.
The miles needed to fly from Australia to the Middle East and India are almost doubled, spiking from just 45,000 miles in business class to 80,000 miles, while first class rises from 60,000 to 100,000 miles.
‘Asia Region 2’ – encompassing the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong – also rises slightly from 35,000 to 40,000 miles in business class and 45,000 to 50,000 miles in first class (where available), although ‘Asia Region 1’ (Japan, Korea and Mongolia) lowers from 45,000 to 40,000 miles in business class.
Closer to home, Australian domestic business class flights rise from 17,500 miles to an even 20,000 miles, while trans-Tasman business class flights between Australia and New Zealand jump from 17,500 miles to 25,000 miles.
Elite-qualifying points replaced with EQMs, EQSs
From January 1 2016, elite-qualifying points (or EQPs) will no longer be part of AAdvantage, with your status now earned solely through either elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) or elite-qualifying sectors (EQSs).
To compensate, you’ll now earn up to three EQMs per mile flown on full-fare American Airlines first and business class tickets, two EQMs per mile on discounted tickets in the same cabins, 1.5 EQMs per mile on full-fare economy, and the same 1 EQM per mile in discount economy.
[Click on the table above to enlarge it.]
EQMs earned on partner airlines will also change, with 1.5 EQMs awarded per mile flown in Qantas first class, business class and premium economy, although pricey H-class economy tickets drop to just 0.5 EQMs per mile, while the least expensive economy fares continue to earn 0.5EQMs/mile.
Systemwide Upgrades halved for top flyers
Currently, Executive Platinum frequent flyers receive eight Systemwide Upgrades each year, which can be used for a confirmed upgrade from economy to business class or from business class to first class on any American Airlines domestic and international flight – including to and from Australia.
From next year, ExPlats will instead earn just four of these upgrades each year, but will earn a further two after pulling in 150,000 EQMs in a single membership year, and two more on reaching 200,000 EQMs.
That means the most frequent travellers won’t miss out on eight upgrades overall, although it requires twice as much travel as today to attain the same benefit.
500-mile upgrades more expensive, harder to earn
Although American’s elite frequent flyers receive complimentary space-available upgrades on short flights within North America under 500 miles, Gold and Platinum members can upgrade on longer flights within the same region using 500-mile upgrades: either earned or bought.
Gold and Platinum members achieving these by flying will receive four 500-mile upgrades for every 12,500 EQMs earned each year – up from 10,000 EQMs for the same at present – while the cost of purchasing a single upgrade will rise from US$30 online/US$35 in person to a flat US$40.
Executive Platinum members and one travel companion continue to receive unlimited space-available upgrades on North American flights greater than 500 miles, as they do on shorter journeys too.
Status benefits shortened by one month
Reach the heights of Gold, Platinum or Executive Platinum from 2017 and your status will then be valid for the remainder of that year, the next year and then until the end of January in year three, rather than the end of February as occurs today.
For example, reach the AAdvantage Platinum tier in November 2016 and your status and benefits will last until February 28 2018 under the current rules, but reach Platinum one year later in November 2017 and it’ll last until January 31 2019, rather than February 28 2019.
Miles earned on flights based on dollars, not distance
Come the second half of 2016, travel on American Airlines will accrue miles based on what you (or your company) paid for the ticket in both base fare and carrier surcharges (but excluding taxes and other fees), rather than simply on distance flown and where you’re sitting on the aircraft.
Base-level members will earn five miles per US dollar spent, Gold-grade flyers earn a higher seven miles per US dollar, Platinum members pocket eight miles per US dollar and Executive Platinum members reel in 11 miles on the same.
On a return business class trip from Sydney to Los Angeles with a base fare of US$5,791, that gives standard members 28,955 miles; Gold frequent flyers 40,537 miles; Platinum members 46,328 miles; and Executive Platinum high flyers an impressive 63,701 miles.
For flights booked in all other currencies including Australian dollars, the price of your ticket will first be converted (internally) into US dollars and then miles awarded based on this figure.
Further information can be found on the American Airlines website.
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT