Since American Airlines decided go revenue-based and introduced Elite Qualifying Miles last year, many AA loyalists feel betrayed and don’t bother re-qualifying anymore (well, unless your corporate contract forces you to fly AA). As an half academic flyer/half leisure traveler, I don’t necessarily feel betrayed. Nonetheless, AA no longer appears appealing to me.
In addition to changes in Elite Qualification, there were a few more straws that broke the camel’s back:
- The Saver Award availability on AA’s own flight is so pathetic that using miles for domestic travel is almost impossible. The situation is even worse for AA’s long-haul international flight. The only good use of AA miles, in my opinion, is to redeem miles on other oneworld partners, such as JAL and Cathay Pacific. That being said, I realize not everyone has such demand for international travel.
- Citi Prestige no longer gives you access to Admiral’s Club. I know this is rather trivial, and Citi’s AAdvantage Executive credit card still grant you unlimited access. However I don’t feel the urge to spend $450 on annual fees just to purchase a Admirals Club membership (plus whatever signup bonus Citi has to offer).
- The densification of aircrafts leads to miserable coach experience, particularly in 737 MAX 8.
- AA’s management is not consumer-friendly, and in some sense, idiotically arrogant. This is what Gary Leff has been arguing for a while. Can you believe that Mr. Parker himself has never flown in AA’s 737 MAX 8, and yet has the confidence to endorse it?
Sorry this becomes a quasi-rant on AA. At any rate, last year I did not commit my flying to American like I did in the past few years. I actually requested a status match to Delta (more on that later).
My Executive Platinum Status Has Now Expired, and I Feel Relieved
So starting Feb 1st, 2018, my Executive Platinum status officially expired, meaning I no longer have the privilege of unlimited upgrade to premium cabin on domestic flights. Also without re-qualifying I won’t get the four Systemwide Upgrade (SWU) that can be applied toward long-haul international flights. I also lost some other nice perks such as free same-day confirmed flight change (T&C apply) and the 120%mileage earning bonus.
Does it sound dismal? Far from it! Losing those benefits in effect has freed me from my commitment to American Airlines altogether, and man I feel such a relief, bordering on joy.
In the past, I would always prefer AA for the purpose of scoring an upgrade, despite a decreasing success rate over time. This often entails connections even I frequently fly out of PHL, one of AA’s hub in the Northeast. Even for international travel, I would fly on AA metal just to use my SWU, even though that means sometimes higher fare and inconvenient routing. Now that I am no longer bounded to those “perks”, I am as free as I’ll ever be again! When one distances himself/herself from AA, he/she will soon realize there are more better options out there in the market. For a ~5-hour domestic flight, it doesn’t really matter to me if I sit at the front or the back of the plane.
There are, however, two things that I do miss. First is the access to fabulous oneworld First Class lounges (e.g. Cathay’s The Pier and The Wing), even if I fly coach. However, given the frequency of my international travel I don’t think this is a real issue. Plus, I can always redeem Cathay Pacific’s First Class directly (either using AA’s miles or Alaska’s) and gain access. Second perk of Executive Platinum is the benefit to book, modify, and cancel an award ticket free of charge. This could be the benefit I value most to begin with, but again, with credit cards that offer reimbursements for airline incidental charges (legitimately including ticket change fees), this benefit is expendable.
However, I Still Reach Gold Status
Thanks to the cheap LATAM business class fare to Easter Island and other domestic travel on AA, I still achieved AA’s Gold Status. With this entry-level elite status I would still be able to
- use my 500-mile sticker for domestic upgrade (though chances are slim);
- board the plane in Group 4 (meaning there is usually a 50/50 chance of finding empty overhead bin);
- to select Main Cabin Extra for free within 24 hours of departure;
- and have first check-in baggage fees waived. .
To be clear, all those perks are good enough, but still, AA’s co-branded credit cards come with those benefits, so looking ahead I will not actively seek re-qualification
But, Does it Matter to AA?
Simply put, NO. To me the reason of this trend of going revenue-based in the industry is mostly about the lack of choices that customers have. There are two reasons further behind the situation today.
Firstly, US airlines are making record-high profits and planes are getting increasingly fuller. Mileage programs used to develop customer loyalty. Yet, now that loyalty matters less and less and aircraft loadings are high anyway, there is no need for the carriers to entice customers by generous mileage programs.
Secondly, the consolidation in the industry in the past couple of years has resulted in three mega-carriers (AA, UA, and DL) followed by a few boutique (Alaska, Virgin America, JetBlue) and low-cost carriers (Southwest). For customers, particularly those based in a “hub”, the consolidation of airlines means significantly fewer choices than before. If you live in Atlanta, Delta would mostly be your only practical option. If you live in Dallas, AA is dominant in the market.
Why Do I Status Match To Delta?
I know this is counter-intuitive, as Delta perhaps has the worse frequent flyer programs among the legacy carriers. Yet there are two reasons that convince me to do so:
First, operationally Delta is a superior carrier. When it comes to on-time performance and flight IRROPs, Delta probably has a better reputation compared to perhaps AA and UA combined.
Second, Delta’s soft product is substantially better than United and AA. I have flown First Class in Delta’s 737-900ER and I was pleasantly surprised. The cabin was refreshing, service attentive, food yummy (note: by US standards), and seat-back entertainment great. On the ground Delta has the nice SkyClub that puts United Club and Admirals Club to shame. Overall, flying Delta is a much, much pleasant experience than flying AA or UA.
A nice metaphor to describe the situation is that AA and I peacefully divorced. There is no bitter argument involved; it just came to my realization that we no longer match. So perhaps when everybody’s frequent flyer programs are equally bad, we will shift our focus backing to flying itself. So long, AA!
Have you ditched AA and if so, how’s life after that?