Elite status is valuable to me, as a frequent traveler, for a number of reasons but over the last two years, changes to American Airline Advantage program are causing me to ask if it’s time to let go of my status.
American used to award a very generous (8) eVIPs or systemwide upgrades and I don’t feel the need to lament the drop to (4) eVIPs. The real loss has been the lack of ability to secure the use of these upgrade instruments in advance.
It’s one thing to reduce the number of available upgrades, it’s another to thing to then also make the remaining few instruments nearly impossible to use. What used to be a confirmed upgrade well in advance has morphed into a gate-level upgrade at the time of boarding if at all. I’m not even referring to relatively full flights. On at least one specific example last year I used Expert Flyer and seat maps then called the Executive Platinum line and was able to confirm that as little as two weeks out from a trip there were 27 seats in business class available.
Despite a wide open business class section, my status, and filing the eVIP at the time of booking (this used to be more important than it is today) – American still wouldn’t approve the upgrade until boarding. On other occasions, they didn’t clear at all and this last year I actually let one expire – a mortal sin – because a series of those upgrade requests did not clear.
The unusable nature of the eVIPs over the last 18 months for me has transitioned this from the very reason I flew 100,000+ miles/year with American, to a hollow promise that has made me resent the program.
Award Seat Availability
Gary Leff, Summer Hull at Mommy Points, Lucky, and Nomadic Matt have extensively covered the inability to redeem flights with obvious seat availability recently. I doubt I can do a better job covering this issue than the two of them, but I bring this up to state that if I have to fly another carrier using American miles because American would rather fly those seats empty, then maybe I should earn miles with those other carriers too.
It’s been impossible to find space on American metal which has also made our stash of Business Extra Points (which can only be used on AA metal without exorbitant gouging on European joint ventures) utterly useless.
Value of Miles
The relative value of miles has greatly diminished with the award chart “enhancements” as a result of the merger. All miles have become worth less than they were before, but I also highlight that as earnings are lower as well (due to a switch to 11 points per base fare dollar spent over 200% of miles flown). If the award chart redemptions increased in cost by 30% on average, but earnings also decreased by 30%, the net effect is closer to a 50% overall devaluation.
Internationally, increased competition and price compression has also decreased the relative value of point redemptions. If I can catch a $1500 business class flight to Asia over the holidays (I did this with American last year) and a similar redemption would cost 125,000 miles and $200 in taxes, the value of my points have now decreased to just about $.01/mile.
My domestic upgrade percentage this year has been ok. I haven’t cleared anywhere near the percentage I did in the past, but I imagine that the elite herd will thin following this year where many won’t hit Elite Qualifying Dollar requirements. For remaining elites, they may again ride in the front more often than they do now.
My status allows lounge access on international itineraries regardless of class, and access to first class lounges is something I do value, but could also achieve just business class lounges with Sapphire one world status in any carrier within the alliance. As I purchase more business class fares going forward (as long as rates remain low), I would have this perk as a benefit of those tickets, so getting it with status is no longer helpful.
I already have 80% of my EQDs and EQMs booked for this year. The question that remains is will I continue with American at all? The answer is unknown. If American can shore up their award availability issues and eVIP clearances, I’d remain loyal. But loyalty works both ways, if they can’t be loyal to me and honor their end of the bargain, why should I be loyal to them?
Have you experienced issues with availability or the value of your status?