American Airlines Miles Program Changes: Winners and Losers

UPDATE March 3, 2016 – As previously announced, changes are coming to American Airlines’ loyalty program Aadvantage, and the date to keep in mind is March 22.

Tip: Take a look at the changes here – but do it when you have uninterrupted quality time. Nearly all of today’s miles programs are extremely complicated.

Here’s a sample snapshot of changes, and these are for off peak award levels for travel booked on or before March 21, and travel booked March 22 and beyond.


Aadvantage MileSAAver Off Peak Awards Levels

Destination Booked by March 21 Booked March 22
Hawaii 17,500 20,000
Caribbean and Mexico* 12,500 12,500
Central America 15,000 12,500
South America Region 1** 15,000 17,500
Europe 20,000 22,500

*The tier above Off Peak – MileSAAver – actually drops in miles needed from previously levels.

**Region 1 includes Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela.

Nov. 19. 2015 – Get out your calculator and ride the three waves of changes coming to American Airlines AAdvantage miles program – rolling out in 2016.

American Miles Program Changes

Bottom line: With American’s miles program changes, the Big Four that control 80% of the air traffic in the U.S. (American, Delta, Southwest, United) are now on the same page when it comes to earning miles. No longer can you fly a mile to earn a mile; miles earned is now based on the number of dollars spent flying those miles. The more you pay for a flight, the more miles you earn.

So miles or loyalty programs of the mega-carriers now concentrate mostly on the 10% of passengers who pay the most for tickets. Once or twice-a-year fliers and  so-called cheapskates who look for deals are not ten-percenters and miles programs may no longer be worth their time and trouble.

American Changes: Winners/Losers

Here’s my list of winners and losers as the changes roll out (find more details on American’s website).

1ST WAVE – January 2016: New elite qualification rules

  • Winners: No change for high frequency or distance-based elite qualification.
  • Losers: Those who count on expensive, last-minute or premium cabin tickets as elite qualifiers; those qualifiers have been removed from the program.
  • In Limbo: Branded credit card users (who spend $20K+ a year) though they may end up winners if American decides to award elite status for high yearly card use.

2ND WAVE – March 22, 2016: New redemption chart

Generally, trips to ‘winning’ regions can be redeemed with fewer miles while the number of miles needed to redeem trips to ‘loser’ regions will increase.

  • Winning Travelers: Miles-hoarding branded-credit card junkies who plan to fly to the following ‘winning’ regions.
    • Regions: Domestic flights lasting 90 minutes (or less) plus Mexico, Caribbean, Central America (up to 17% less for coach).
  • Losing Travelers: Miles-hoarding branded-credit card junkies who plan to fly to the following ‘loser’ regions.
    • Regions: Alaska, Hawaii*, Europe*, Canada South America, Asia, South Pacific (increases from 13-30% in coach).

*Off-peak travel to Hawaii or  Europe up about 12%, peak travel flat.

3RD WAVE – June 2016: Miles now earned on basis of dollars spent

  • Winners: Highest level elites who will get more redemption inventory as others find it harder to redeem awards trips under the new system.
  • Losers: Two categories.
    • Cheapskate fliers: Or anyone who likes to save a buck; these folks now earn fewer miles.
    • Mileage runners: Folks who used to fly cheap flights to far-flung locations simply to amass miles to make elite status. The era of the mileage runner is over.
  • In Limbo: Some potential elites, because it’s not clear if taxes, fees or surcharges embedded in airline tickets will count as dollars spent to earn miles. If this is not counted, it could decrease miles-earning potential by 20% or more.

Redemption Rate Change Table

Destination Off Peak Peak Business First
Contiguous 48 US states 54%
Canada & Alaska 20% 20% 69%
Hawaii 14% 7% 37%
Caribbean -14% -17% 25%
Mexico -14% -17% 25%
Central America -17% -14% -17% 25%
South America Region 1 17% 14% 0% 38%
South America Region 2 0% 15% 36%
Europe 13% 15% 36%
Asia Region 1 30% 8% 20% 28%
Asia Region 2 0% 27% 63%
South Pacific 0% 7% 28% 52%



Updated: March 3, 2016