This article is a part of a multi piece opinion on how American Airlines can regain investor confidence, passenger loyalty and general good public perception. For the index of the articles, see here.
American’s AAdvantage program is one of the most diverse programs in the world. They offer reasonable prices for sAAver awards, a variety of partners throughout the world, and the opportunity to redeem for First Class on other carriers.
For elites, the program is sub par. The airline program is not a good deal for mid and low level elites. American has a lot to improve on when catering to these lower level elites, and they could benefit from a few other enhancements to the program that can make AAdvantage a great program again. Here are some suggestions:
Unlimited Upgrades for Platinum and Gold Members
At the moment, American requires their two lowest level elites to pay for the chance to upgrade. Although not a direct payment, these elites need to use certificate upgrades in order to get the upgrade. They get 4 upgrade certificates (good for 500 miles each on a segment) for every 12.5K EQMs flown. If you don’t have any and you want o be upgraded, you need to purchase the certificates for $40 each. No other airline in the US does this. This makes American’s lowest level elites prone to paying more if they want to take advantage of their upgrades. They are charging them for not being “elite enough”.
I have heard backlash from changing to the other models, where all elites get free space available upgrades, but I differ from those opinions. When I was a PLT, I was always annoyed at having to buy upgrades. The airline should change this policy, since it seems they are trying to squeeze out more money from their lower level elite fliers.
Elite Qualifying Dollar Waiver
American pitches their credit card more than an MLB player does a baseball. If American wants people to spend money on their card, they can use it to leverage elite status. American, much like Delta and United, could create a minimum CC spend in order to waive elite qualifying dollar requirements to, at least , their Platinum Pro status. I understand if they want to keep Executive Platinum more exclusive. However, for at least the other 3 status tiers, they should offer a chance for people to waive their EQD reqs by spending at least $25K in everyday spend on their CC.
More SAAver Award Availability
This is where AAdvantage is truly disgraceful. American hardly ever releases sAAver award availability, both domestically and on international flights. I looked up non-stop options between PHL and LAX for the next three months and found one flight. The rest were connecting flights, some of which were connecting in random airports, such as STL or IND. Their LAX-HKG flight is often widely available in both Business and Economy, but there are so few seats available for awards that no reasonable person would use them. American should set to a system of releasing award seats, say 10% released at beginning of schedule, and a remaining 10% a week or two before day of departure. This is similar to what Lufthansa and Etihad do.
Flagship Dining Access for Concierge Key
I am not a Concierge Key, but I think they should be offered the option to use the Flagship First Dining restaurants when they travel internationally, even if in coach. This would make them more distinguished, and give them a reason to continue to invest their $50K+ on American every year. It is a small addition to their benefits portfolio, but a much appreciated one.
Systemwide Upgrades Clearing Earlier
A few weeks ago, I had to fly to Tokyo. I requested a systemwide upgrade on the flight. There were over 10 seats open three days before departure, and I had not been upgraded yet. As a matter of fact, no one had been upgraded yet. My upgrades cleared 28 hours before departure. This is unreasonable, no one will purchase 10 business class tickets 3 days before departure. I get they can’t open them up as soon as you open up the schedule, but waiting a little over a day before departure is unacceptable. This can be easily addressed by changing the algorithm that manages upgrades and revenue opportunities.
If the airline wants to see AAdvantage become lucrative again, they should implement customer-friendly changes, and soon. What other changes do you want to see to AAdvantage?