American has been talking about revamping its AAdvantage program for some time now, but thanks to the merger with US Airways, the dust had to settle before any big changes could be made. I know the airline has been hard at work on designing the new program, and yesterday, the details were revealed. Unfortunately, we learned that American was really just “hard at work” copying Delta and United. American had the chance to be innovative, but it punted.
For the 2017 program, American has pretty much copied-and-pasted what United has done, which in itself was a copy-and-paste job of what Delta constructed from scratch. The basic points are this.
- For award miles, you’ll now earn 5 points per dollar spent on American. (Elites earn higher multiples depending upon status exactly the same as United and Delta.) For travel on partners, it will still be a hodge-podge of miles flown as has been the case with Delta and United, but no details have been released.
- For elite status, there will now be a new tier in between Platinum and Executive Platinum. It’s awkwardly called Platinum Pro and it sits at the 75,000 mile level. This will match up with United and Delta’s Platinum tier, just to make the naming even more confusing.
- For elite status qualification using miles or segments, the mileage thresholds remain the same (with the exception of Platinum Pro, which is obviously new). American and United are identical. (Delta is the same except for its Diamond level which is at the 125,000 mile threshold instead of the 100,000 mile level.)
- American will add Elite Qualifying Dollars as a requirement in addition to mileage/segments for earning elite status. As United and Delta already do, American will require 0.12 times the base number of miles to qualify for each level. That’s $3,000 for Gold, $6,000 for Platinum, $9,000 for Platinum Pro, and $12,000 for Exec Platinum.
Are you as unimpressed as I am? I get that there’s something to be said for conformity. It makes it easier for travelers to compare what they’ll get from each airline, but it also means that nobody’s program stands out. (Well, nobody except for Alaska Airlines, which is keeping its old style of program and will probably win even more fans.)
The problem here is that airlines have become too reliant on their frequent flier programs. It’s not about earning someone’s loyalty either. The award miles side of the house is all about making money. Airlines make a boat load of cash selling miles to partners, and they don’t want that to end. Then on the elite miles side, there is the issue of alliance-wide benefits. Plus, they need to convince people they have a chance of upgrading, even though that’s becoming less and less likely to occur every day.
I can only imagine that these constraints make airlines like American think inside a very small box when they try to rethink loyalty. Instead of actually making improvements, they just shuffle the deck chairs. What’s changed now with this new program? Well it’s a whole lot more complex, that’s for sure. And all this added complexity doesn’t solve the problem that airlines wanted to fix with their mileage-based programs. It just trades one problem for another.
Airlines wanted to find ways to better reward their customers who spent more money with them. The person who spent $1,000 earned the same number of miles as the person who spent $200 for the very same flight. Over time, airlines started giving bonuses for higher classes of service, and frankly that was a better solution than what they’ve come up with now. Because going revenue-based creates a different problem. Now, the person who spends $200 to fly across the country is likely less profitable than the person who spent $200 to go 300 miles, but they both earn the same amount of miles. Nothing has been solved. The problem has just shifted.
With the explosion of data that has come available to you over the last few years, airlines, you could do something really different, and really awesome. Loyalty programs could become more fluid. Data can be better analyzed and people can be individually targeted. If I’m logged in and looking to book a flight, create a tailored offer to try to win me over. Offer me free wifi and that might encourage me to book with you. Or push a free upgrade my way. Learn more about me and give me things that will make me more loyal as we interact from flight to flight. Don’t just give me a level of status based on my generic interaction with you, constantly reduce benefits, and call it a day.
If American really wanted to focus on loyalty, it would do the hard work necessary to craft something that actually would achieve that goal. Instead it has just phoned it in and failed to inspire.
[Original man copier photo via Shutterstock]