Tuesday, June 14th, 2016, 12:55 pm
American’s AAdvantage program has been undergoing death by a thousand cuts.
Clearly the mergers of the last decade have decimated airline loyalty programs. The loss of AirTran, America West, Continental, Northwest, and USAirways have meant that the remaining oligopoly of airlines no longer need to compete on the same level that they used to. Hubs have been eliminated and will continue to disappear. Miles have become harder to earn when flying and become less valuable when cashed in.
In the meantime Delta has put all of their focus into their airline operations and they no longer even publish award charts.
United devalued their program in 2014 in one fell swoop. But after American’s changes, the United mileage program is far superior and the airline’s operations have been rapidly improving since they fired Smisek.
American’s trickle style roll out of bad news since the merger coupled with poor airline operations and abysmal award availability has been nothing short of a horror film.
1. They removed the ability to get a free stopover on award tickets without warning. Their own partner Alaska allows a stopover on one-way tickets even when redeeming for American flights. Competition like United still allows for a stopover and open jaw on awards that make using miles very valuable when utilized properly.
2. They removed their lucrative round-the-world award chart without warning. We got great use out of it on a trip around the world in 2010 and would have liked to have known before it was removed. United and ANA still have good round-the-world options.
3. They increased their AAnytime award flight options to have multiple levels of expensive awards, making it cost prohibitive to redeem for flights on peak dates. United still maintains one rate that makes the higher award level far more reasonable than American.
4. They still don’t provide free upgrades for lower and mid-tier elites as Delta and United do.
5. The new Platinum Pro level is the most unimaginatively named level ever and is the 3rd type of Platinum in American’s program. Worse than its unfortunate name, it won’t have the fee-waiver benefits provided by Delta and United like free award cancellations and free confirmed standby and it only gives 2 free 50 pound checked bags compared to 3 free 70 pound bags with Delta or United Platinum.
6. They’re finally rolling out domestic upgrades on award tickets, but only for top-tier Executive Platinums (though that comes after cutting their international upgrade certificates in half). Delta offers this for Gold and higher while United offers this to all elites who have a United credit card.
7. They’re devaluing their Gold and Platinum lifetime status levels by introducing higher levels and upgrades that are prioritized by the amount of money you’ve spent on flights in the past 12 months, something that no other airline does. So much for long-term loyalty.
8. They’re now requiring $3K in spending on top of flying to earn Gold, $6K for Platinum, $9K for Platinum Pro, and $12K for Executive Platinum. That’s copying Delta and United’s requirements. However Delta and United waive the spend requirement for foreign members while American will not.
9. Delta and United also waive the elite spend requirement if you spend $25K in a calendar year on their co-brand credit cards (excluding the ability to earn 1K status on United), while American did not announce any such waiver.
10. Their saver award space availability has deteriorated to the point that I’m not even sure it’s better than Delta’s. Both of those airlines lag miles behind United, especially if you have a United credit card.
11. Their award chart was once a bright spot, but was mAAsacred earlier this year and no longer provides a competitive advantage.
12. They have draconian routing rules, such as not allowing a flight from the US to Australia to transit via Asia and not allowing a flight from the US to Southern South America to connect in Central or Northern South America. American also requires that there be a published fare for award flights that you take, that you take the most direct routing, and they limit the total distance you can fly to MPM+25%. These restrictions exacerbate award availability issues. United has none of these restrictions.
13. American charges a massive fuel surcharge to fly on British Airways and a small fuel surcharge to fly on Iberia, making it tough to fly to Europe without paying outrageous fees. United has far more partner airlines than American and doesn’t charge a fuel surcharge for travel on any of them.
14. Operationally speaking, American has the worst tarmac delays, cancellation, and mishandled bag rates among all domestic carriers. Delta is by far the best domestic airline from an operation standpoint, and United is better than American and has been improving.
15. American cancelled their interline agreement with Delta as it became too expensive to keep sending their delayed and cancelled passengers to Delta. United still has an interline agreement with American and Delta, meaning they have more options to accommodate passengers when issues arise. I experienced pain from this issue firsthand.
16. American ended their El Al mileage relationship in 2014 and ended their own flights to Tel Aviv this year, leaving them with zero partners that fly between North America and Tel Aviv compared to 7-11 weekly Delta flights to Israel and 28 weekly Star Alliance flights on United and their partner Air Canada.
17. The OneWorld alliance no longer requires airlines to interline bags to other carriers even within the alliance if you purchase 2 separate tickets. American claims they will still do so, but in my experience it was very hard to get them to do that and will likely become impossible. Delta and United still interline within their alliance on 2 tickets and United will interline to other airlines if you have elite status or even if you just ask nicely.
18. Many of American’s award partners are still not available online, which means having to call and play call center roulette to book awards on airlines like Air Tahiti Nui, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, JAL, and others. Just today I had an American phone agent outright lie to me about award space that I knew was there. I HUCA’d and received it, but they have seemingly stopped making progress in getting more airlines on their website. Progress has even gone backwards as airlines like AirBerlin have shows more award space on Iberia’s site than on American’s.
19. American’s flight status on their website and app are very primitive. It’s updated very late and often displays incorrect information in delay situations. United’s flight status on their website and app provides far more useful and timely updates and information.
20. American’s customer service is horrendous. I’ve experience this firsthand on a few occasions, but every aspect of their airline from gate agents, club agents, luggage agents, Twitter agents, executive office agents, and DoT representative agents have dropped the ball on our cancelled flight to London and their failure to provide a refund or alternate flight afterward. Delta and United would have had this solved in no time, but nobody at American cares or has the power to fix anything.
21. If you do want to redeem for an American flight, you’ll always do better by using miles from partner airlines like Alaska, BA, or Etihad, so there’s no longer much of a point of collecting miles from American. If you do fly on American you should credit your flights to a partner like Alaska.
22. I’ve found American to be very inflexible to deal with for schedule changes on award tickets. Delta and United are typically quite accommodating when flight times change in my experience, while that can’t be said for American.
23. The bottom line is that if you want operational excellence then your default choice ought to be Delta. If you value your miles then your default choice ought to be United.
But unless you find a cheap fare or you’re stuck in an American captive hub like Dallas, what exactly is American’s AAdvantage and why do they deserve your loyalty?
Did I miss any other disAAdvantages? If you’re an American loyalist, are you planning on sticking around or are you jumping ship?
Hit the comments!