American changes award redemption options

And the hits just keep on coming…..

Last month Delta announced changes to its rewards program, which most people weren’t too happy with. A month ago, I never thought I would be pointing to Delta as a good example of how to make changes. But here I am, about to do that. See, while Delta changed their Skymiles program in ways that will make most travelers earn fewer miles for each flight, they gave us a whopping ten months of notice. If people want to fly Delta every week between now and 2015 to maximize their mile earnings with the current system, they can do that!

This week, American changed their award redemption charts. They went from two levels of coach awards to five (five! That’s more than double the amount!), with the final award level simply an asterisk. As in, it’s going to be so high we can’t even count it right now. They left their MileSAAver awards unchanged, but because there are now four other award levels your chances of getting one are similar to your chances of a Bigfoot sighting.

AA reward chart

They also got rid of OneWorld Explorer awards, also known as round-the-world tickets. If you go to the AA Explorer page, it redirects you to the home page. Great. I had always thought it might be nice to make a round-the-world trip one day, but had no concrete plans in mind. But a surprising amount of people who did have concrete plans, no reservations as of yet, and I am so bummed for them.

There are other changes, of a similar nature, including reductions on baggage allowance for lower elite tiers. But the changes, while basically across the board negative, are not the worst part. The worst part is that American made these changes, with no notice, in the middle of the night. Delta, who will never be called an example of loyalty excellence, gave ten months! It’s insane to me that American treats their most loyal customers this way. A friend of mine has been saving points for several years for his round-the-world trip, and he got zero notice. I shudder to think what could be next.

What can we learn from this? As Gary Leff points out, points are always going to devalue. So earn and burn, as much as you can. It has been my opinion for years that Southwest offers the best bang for the buck for domestic travel, with short haul awards for as few as 3,600 points. At this point I really only want status with American for upgrades (I haven’t gotten one in months) and so that my flights to Manila suck less, but I’m starting to wonder about the wisdom of even that much loyalty…. For people with international award travel ambitions, obviously Southwest isn’t the right option. But as it stands now, I’m not sure who is.

I have to wonder: Is Southwest next?? Should I rush to cash in those points before they change the rules in the middle of the game?  Was Road Warrior’s lack of respect for points more justified than I thought? It would be so nice if an airline released good news for their customers, for once. Sadly, it’s gotten to the point that many would see an airline saying they aren’t changing a thing as good news. Although an improvement in a points program would probably go a long way to winning over more customers.  Hopefully Southwest will take the higher road (sky) and change nothing. But if I were the marketing manager at United and Delta, I would advertise the heck out of any status matches available.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the changes announced by American?


  1. Qantas just made it harder to earn points in their program too. It’s ironic that you post this because a lot of people affected by this (on the message boards) were thinking of shifting to AA award program for their Qantas flying instead, because it represented better bang per point. So much for that.

    It doesn’t affect me very much as price is the biggest determinant for me when choosing an airline.

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