While the recent United Airlines’ passenger incident (I’m not touching that topic, folks) has dominated the news, there’s another hot topic in the airline blogging world: a sudden distaste for American Airlines’ AAdvantage. So why is it so popular to dislike American Airlines lately? I’m still trying to figure that one out.

    It’s not as if there’s been any major changes to American’s AAdvantage program in the last few months. And many long-time loyalists to American Airlines are jumping on the bandwagon of discontent. Perhaps all it takes is one prominent blogger to vent about an airline to stir the pot and get every frequent flyer riled up.

    First, there are a few valid reasons for travelers to be a bit disappointed with American Airlines and the AAdvantage program in the last year or so:

    • American officially went to a revenue-based earning system in late 2016 (following Delta and United)
    • American Airlines added minimum spend requirements to all levels of elite status for 2017, with weak credit card spend waivers
    • Systemwide upgrades for top tier Executive Platinum status were cut from 8 to 4 for achieving this status
    • Awards availability on American flights has been recently poor but this varies on what you’re trying to book. This is difficult to truly quantify,  but premium cabin long-haul redemptions on American’s own flights has always been challenging.

    The overwhelming theme is that all of the major carriers have reduced the benefits of their elite status programs and dramatically raised their mileage needed for award redemptions. I hate to see negative changes to any frequent flyer program but these programs are designed to serve airline’s profitability, not serve the interests of travel “hackers”.

    Due to the success of the airlines and their consistent profitability, airlines have been less dependent on attracting lucrative frequent flyers with rich elite status benefits. This could certainly change if the economy sours or the airline business weakens due to market conditions or high fuel prices.

    This is absolutely not unique to American Airlines. The Big 3 carriers all went to a revenue based earnings model by 2016. Delta has removed award charts and increased their award redemption rates dramatically. United continues to lag behind in overall passenger experience and increased partner award redemptions. American has has some of the weakest award redemption availability.

    But here’s why I continue to be loyal to American Airlines:

    • I’m based in Dallas and with DFW as American’s home and largest hub, the nonstop network out of DFW is a huge convenience
    • American has done a fantastic job since the merger with US Airways to update their fleet with new planes and a moderate refresh of the legacy US Airways fleet.
    • The premium cabin experience greatly exceeds that of United and is on par with Delta (in my experience)
    • My upgrade ratio still approaches 75% as an Executive Platinum. Even on battleground routes like DFW to LAX.
    • The AAdvantage program still represents a good value if you’re a traveler with moderate flexibility.
    • The miles required to book on partner airlines premium cabins is still less than that of Delta or United
    • I like the Oneworld alliance. I’m very keen on JAL, Cathay Pacific, and Finnair. And while not everyone is fond of British Airways, I’m actually a fan.

    In the end, travelers are going to have their own perceptions about their favorite and least favorite airline. But all things summed, nearly all frequent flyer program are about equal. One must pick and choose what is most important to them.  It may be convenience, award redemptions, upgrades, or whatever else is important to their travel experience. Call me an American Airlines loyalist and defender but I’m not ready to cry a river over AAdvantage just yet.

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