Fort Worth-based American Airlines has overhauled its AAdvantage frequent flyer program, dropping the requirement to actually be a frequent flyer to hit status levels.
American is dropping the flight segment requirement from its AAdvantage program as well as making it more difficult to hit the AAdvantage Gold tier, previously the lowest rewards level in the program. The move is another shift away from reliance on flying and actual ticket buying, as the airline last year announced it would emphasize making everyday purchases on American Airlines-branded credit cards in addition to travel.
“It’s not necessarily about how people are flying, it’s about how they’re interacting and also how they want to be rewarded and recognized,” said Heather Samp, managing director of AAdvantage. “What we’re launching is really an opportunity to recognize and reward our members more frequently for their engagements with us.”
The changes are set to go into effect in March, only a year after American made previous changes to the program. Other airlines, including Delta and United, have also made big changes to frequent flyer loyalty programs to adapt to changes in travel behavior.
American is adding a handful of reward levels, including at the bottom, and removing all the other ways of tracking status into one system of points. A new rewards tier at 15,000 points is being added, allowing customers to get a higher level of preferred boarding or coupons to get preferred seats.
But it’s also making it about 33% harder to attain the AAdvantage Gold tier, moving the requirement from 30,000 to 40,000 points.
Basic economy travelers will also earn fewer points.
The COVID-19 pandemic and changes to corporate travel have transformed how airlines need to address their frequent flyer programs, which are constantly reevaluated to incentivize customers to spend on credit cards and take more flights.
Airlines had long rewarded customers for things such as miles flown, trip segments, international flying and other travel-related factors. That has created a cultural subgroup of airline mileage gurus who would take cheap flights over long distances to high-status levels to give them preferred boarding positions, seat upgrades, free flights and lounge access.
And before the changes of the last three years, those programs leaned heavily on frequent business travelers. But business travel is down and leisure travel is up.
“It’s a focus on meeting the members where they are,” Samp said. “Now we’re going to have much more in terms of interactions with our customers, before they reach status, at status thresholds and between status thresholds, and also beyond.”