American Airlines finally ripped the bandage off AAdvantage and it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I really thought there was an outside chance that American might push the envelope with its AAdvantage changes and move just a bit further than Delta or United. Instead, what we got was essentially the same program its primary competitors offer with very few compelling differences.

The Basics

American’s latest changes have been covered ad nauseum around the interweb, but here is a quick review. Beginning August 1, 2016, miles will be awarded based on the price of your ticket and elite status.

In 2017, American will introduce a new elite tier, Platinum Pro. Platinum Pro members will receive complimentary elite upgrades (no need to buy 500 milers for yourself), earn 9 miles per dollar, and enjoy Oneworld Sapphire status. To be clear, you can begin earning towards Platinum Pro in 2017.

American will also introduce a minimum revenue requirement, known as Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs), effective January 1, 2017. If you have experience with the Delta or United programs, the thresholds will seem familiar.

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Notably, there is currently no EQD waiver for credit card spend. I expect that is something we will see negotiated with American’s credit card partners before 2017, but for now, we have what we have.

My Take on the Revised AAdvantage Program

In a word: meh. Sure, you can find some nits and noids that are probably different, maybe even better than the programs offered by Delta and United. For instance, American’s top tier Executive Platinum status is slightly more attainable than Delta Diamond Medallion with a lower EQM threshold if you’re earning on miles. On the flip side, there is currently no EQD waiver for meeting a credit card spend threshold.

I still think you’re slightly more likely to be successful at getting an elite upgrade with American at the lower tiers (Gold and Platinum), even with the new Platinum Pro tier getting comp upgrades, because American has not yet introduced a “comp for all” strategy, which I think is a plus for the program.

The bottom line – I feared the program would be worse than what was revealed yesterday. I really expected to see less than full EQMs for the lowest fares, and I suppose there’s still time for that to happen, but it looks like we’re safe for now. If you routinely buy higher fare tickets, you’re probably better off under a revenue-based earning scheme. Overall, I’ve been slightly better off with revenue-based redeemable miles earning and I expect that to continue as long as my current business travel patterns persist.

In the end, the programs of the “Big 3” airlines are essentially the same. I don’t see a compelling value proposition to choose one airline over the other based on their loyalty program, Alaska’s Mileage Plan excepted. Personally, the new AAdvantage program changes nothing for me. Price and schedule trump loyalty, and when I really care, I’ll just buy a first class seat. If I relocate at some point in the future, I’ll reevaluate my loyalty strategy then. For now, you’ll be most likely to find me on a Delta flight, and you’ll see me on Southwest from time to time when the need arises as well.

-MJ, June 7, 2016