Beginning with elite qualifying for 2023, American will scrap the current elite qualifying system and now create something called Loyalty Points which can be earned by flying, spending on co-branded credit cards, or shopping/dining. This is officially no longer a frequent flier program. It’s a big spender program.
Admittedly, American’s current elite qualifying program is dizzyingly complex. There are three different metrics which matter:
- Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) – Even though regular redeemable miles switched to being based on revenue, EQMs continue to award based on miles. There is a multiplier that gives more for higher fares and less for lower fares (with none for Basic Economy). There is also a way to get extra EQMs if you have certain credit cards.
- Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) – These are the dollars you spend on American tickets. They haven’t had access to dollars spent on partner tickets, so those are still based on a multiplier x miles flown to figure out how many EQDs you get.
- Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) – These are the number of segments you fly on American and partners.
Just understanding what these mean is hard enough, but then you have to figure out how to qualify using these metrics. You need to combine EQDs with either EQMs or EQSs. Here’s the normal, non-pandemic chart.
Now, the game has changed. This complexity is all gone, and instead, travelers will earn Loyalty Points which are earned as follows:
- The base redeemable miles you earn when flying American or partners — you know, the ones that are 5x for regular members, 7x for Gold elites, and so on of the fare you paid — will now also become Loyalty Points. This means Basic Economy again earns toward elite status, and now those who are elite and get higher multipliers will get to have that apply to elite qualification as well.
- Base credit card spend — usually meaning 1 point per dollar spent — will also feed Loyalty Points. Credit card sign-up bonuses and category bonuses do not count, so it’s a flat 1 point per dollar… or possibly more of less if you have a card that doesn’t award 1 point per dollar for regular spend.
- All base miles earned by spending with partners, including dining and shopping programs among others, will now go toward elite qualifying as well.
- Any miles that are bought, gifted, or transferred from a partner (like Bonvoy) do NOT count toward Loyalty Points.
There is no minimum flying required at all. The qualification is very simply stated:
As Heather Samp, Managing Director of AAdvantage Member Engagement told me, the airline went deep searching for the right way to do this.
What does loyalty mean? It’s people on the aircraft, but it’s also people at the grocery store swiping their AAdvantage card. I definitely view that as loyalty to the same degree as someone boarding our aircraft.
That feels like the airline is admitting something that has been increasingly obvious over time. The money made from credit cards and partners is enormous, and now American is just recognizing the importance.
There are a million scenarios of what this looks like in practice, and I can’t run through them all. I’m sure there are many points and miles bloggers who can do that for you, and I’m happy to leave it to them. What I really wanted to understand was what this would do to the elite population in general. Naturally, I couldn’t get American to give me any of their projections, but Heather did say this about how they looked at this coming out of the pandemic with people struggling to qualify.
There are two types of members, some who we hope will resume [flying] — which we want to keep — [but] also welcoming new members. The flying profile of new members is much different than road warriors. We imagine [the elite population] will increase, but we don’t think it will feel like a devaluation.
And that may very well be true, but it’s so hard to know. I would think it would become a whole lot easier for people to qualify for Gold. Spend $30,000 on the credit card in a year and you’re there. But if you don’t fly American at all, then what good does elite status even do? If you fly once a year, you now have the ability to get stapled to the bottom of the upgrade list, but you probably still won’t clear. It’s more about the ability to reserve preferred seats and get Main Cabin Extra if available at check-in.
But Gold is entry level and that’s not the big issue. The real question is what this will do at the higher levels. I would imagine that someone who qualifies for Gold will now be able to justify combining flying and spending to reach Platinum. The same goes all the way up the chain. It’s easier once you’re already an elite because you get more miles when you fly. I imagine it will still look like a pyramid, but the overall size of the pyramid will grow.
It’s been said more than once that “if everyone is an elite, nobody is.” United and Delta still seem to firmly believe that, but American has a different view. This will certainly be attractive to people who go off to grad school, take parental leave, or, ahem, go through a pandemic. It will give more options to qualify and that flexibility is going to be welcome.
Newbies who didn’t qualify before but now become Gold will be happy as well, early boarding, preferred seats and all that. They won’t get upgrades, most likely, but what they will get is still a nice set of perks that may keep them on American over some other airline.
The top tier elites should be happy as well, I’d think. They’ll just keep flying and spending on their AA credit cards — much to the delight of Citi and Barclays — while maintaining their position at the top of the pyramid.
The real question in my mind is what will happen in the middle. Will upgrades become harder to get for that group? American says that it will be watching closely, but the team has done surveying and focus groups, and they think this is going to work out well for everyone.
I like that it’s different, but if you don’t keep the core flier happy, then you have a problem. We shall see how this goes.