The saga of Middle Age Miles’ love-hate relationship with American Airlines continues, and today’s news definitely falls on the side of “hate.”
This morning, we received two emails from American, each of which makes Executive Platinum status harder to obtain:
- First, AA increased the Elite Qualifying Dollar (EQD) requirement for Executive Platinum increases from $12,000 to $15,000. The increase goes into effect in 2019, for those seeking to attain status in 2020.
- Second, AA announced that holders of the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver personal credit card can no longer earn $6,000 EQDs through $50,000 annual spend. Previously, Aviator Silver cardholders could earn $3,000 EQDs with $25,000 in spend, and another $3,000 EQDs with an additional $25,000 in spend – for a total of $6,000 EQDs if the cardholder spent $50,000. Now, cardholders can only earn $3,000 EQDs, with $50,000 in spend.
- Third, AA announced that holders of the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red personal credit card can no longer earn EQDs at all. Previously, Aviator Red cardholders could earn $3,000 EQDs with $25,000 in spend.
Fittingly, the email announcing the increase in the EQD requirement featured a picture of the tail of an AA plane (as shown in the featured image for this article). Yes, AA literally showed its a** in this announcement.
Discussion and Analysis
I’ll start this discussion with full disclosure: We are particularly cheesed by these announcements, because we’re in the crosshairs of those being targeted by AA as not being “worthy” of Executive Platinum status. This, despite the fact that we’re loyal, and I’d like to think, valuable AA customers.
I’m going to analyze these changes in terms of our own personal status. Aside from the point that this is the most relevant analysis for us, it underscores that the impact of these changes and the going-forward analysis and strategy is heavily dependent on each person’s individual circumstances. My hope is to lay out the framework and decision-making process in a way that is helpful to everyone impacted by the new AA changes.
Middle Age Miles’ Personal Background and Status
Philly and I do virtually all of our flying on AA, given that we live in its DFW hub. Our “normal” flying behavior would result in us earning about 60,000 to 75,000 EQMs and plus-or-minus $9,000 EQMs each year. During the mid-2010’s, before I got engaged in points-and-miles, we cruised along generally earning Platinum status each year.
In 2016-17, a few things changed. One, AA added the Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) component to its elite status requirements, starting in 2017. Two, Barclays revamped its AA Aviator cards, adding the ability to earn Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and EQDs through spend, as we discussed above. The Aviator Red card allowed its holder to earn 5,000 EQMs with $20,000 in spend and $3,000 EQDs at the $25,000 spend level. Cardholders could also upgrade to the Aviator Silver card, which added further earning capability – an additional 5,000 EQMs at the $40,000 spend level, and an additional $3,000 EQDs at the $50,000 spend level. And three, I studied the benefits of Executive Platinum status and strategized about how we could use them.
Looking at these factors, I thought Philly and I could reasonably meet the Executive Platinum status requirements during 2017 (100,000 EQMs plus $12,000 EQDs) and utilize its benefits to improve our flying experience. But it would take some planning and, frankly, some changed behavior. [Many bloggers will tell you that you shouldn’t change behavior or spend any extra money to achieve any particular elite status with any airline. And by and large, we’d agree with this advice. That said, I think there are exceptions when you can achieve top-tier status, especially if you have a solid understanding of how you can use its benefits.]
We detailed our experience and strategy in meeting the Executive Platinum requirements during 2017 in our article, My 2017 Journey to Executive Platinum Status. In short, we spent more money than we otherwise would have on AA during 2017 (including our mid-December Date Weekend in Maui (full trip report to come!) and my transcontinental mileage run, memorialized in Diary of a Mileage Run – Seattle to JFK and Back.
In 2018, we’ve done some of the same things as last year, to retain our Executive Platinum status and benefits during 2019. We haven’t done anything nearly so “extra” as Date Weekend in Maui. But we have:
- Each spent enough on our Aviator Silver cards to get 10,000 EQMs and $6,000 EQDs;
- Spent enough on Philly’s Citi AA Executive card to get another 10,000 EQMs for her;
- Paid a little more to purchase first class a couple of times when the fare delta over coach was small, to increase our EQM earning;
- Purchased Premium Economy on a transatlantic trip to get 1.5x EQM earning, when Main Cabin may have been sufficient; and
- Just yesterday, took an AA connecting flight from Denver to Seattle, when a Delta non-stop would have been cheaper and faster.
- [Note that when I say “paid” or “purchased,” this almost always means “use Chase UR points, Amex MR points, or Citi TYPs!]
Aside from the true business road warriors, you would think we’d be AA’s prime, target customer. The current rules are driving incremental revenue from us to AA (and its credit card partners). And we believe the trade-off is worth it for the benefits. This would seem like the perfect example of a loyalty program working exactly as it should.
We had hoped that AA’s new EQD requirement would thin the Executive Platinum ranks from 2017 to 2018, so that we’d be part of a more exclusive club. However, our anecdotal experience would strongly suggest that Executive Platinum numbers have stayed high. And given the changes announced today, it would seem that AA has concluded the same – it needs to thin the ranks further. And Middle Age Miles is squarely on the chopping block.
Benefits of Executive Platinum Status
The benefits of Executive Platinum status have indeed been nice:
- We had Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs) clear for both transatlantic legs of our summer trip to Prague/Dubrovnik
- On our upcoming trip to London, the SWUs for our return have cleared, and I expect that SWUs will also clear for our outbound flight
- We have received, I believe, domestic upgrades to First Class on 12 legs (thus, 24 upgrades total, and we’ve turned down a couple when only one of us would have cleared)
- We have used no-fee same-day confirmed flight changes on 7 tickets, to save hundreds of dollars in airfare (I believe the savings are approximately $1,000 total)
- The ability to book flights using AAdvantage miles and cancel for free has been quite valuable – it’s very nice to be able to book a placeholder flight to lock in space, knowing that it can be canceled easily and with no fee when plans firm up and seats can be purchased
- We’ve earned about 20,000 extra redeemable AAdvantage miles each, based on incremental earning of 2x over Platinum Pro (11x per dollar instead of 9x) on about $10,000 each in spend
- We’ve gotten lots of free fruit & cheese trays, snack boxes, and little bottles of booze
- And being able to get Main Cabin Extra seats for free is always a very nice benefit (although this comes with Platinum and Platinum Pro status as well)
To roughly quantify this but keep it simple, let’s say the SWUs are worth $750 each and the domestic upgrades are worth $100 each. Assuming our SWUs clear on our outbound London flight, that’s about $3,000 for each of us on the SWUs and about $1,200 on the domestic upgrades, for a total of about $4,200. Add the savings for the no-fee same-day confirmed changes ($500 each) and the value of the extra AA redeemable miles ($240 each), and Executive Platinum status has been worth at least $5,000 for each of us.[In fairness, maybe half of our domestic First Class upgrades would have cleared anyway if we’d only been Platinum or Platinum Pro – but even if you deduct half of the value of the domestic upgrades, we’re still talking about at least $4,500 in incremental value.]
Strategy Going Forward
So what’s our strategy going forward? To be honest, I’m not sure yet. As you can tell, I think the benefits of Executive Platinum status are very valuable for us. We “spent” more to get the status; however, the benefits have clearly exceeded the extra spend by $1,500 each, at the very least.
One other factor to consider going forward is that you can still earn $3,000 EQDs for $25,000 spend on the Barclays AA Aviator Red business card. The EQD benefit on that card has not changed, despite the changes to the personal card. I currently hold this card, and presumably Philly could get it. This would be a trade-off, as we couldn’t earn any EQMs at all on the business card, and we wouldn’t earn a companion certificate at $30,000 in spend as we currently do on the Aviator Silver card.
If we simply do our normal flying in 2019 and don’t get any EQMs or EQDs from credit card spend, then we’re probably back to where we were in the mid-2010’s – but probably a few less EQDs (I’m better at getting cheaper fares now, plus the Executive Platinum benefits save us some money on airfare versus what we were spending a few years ago). That would be somewhere around 60,000 to 70,000 EQMs and maybe $7,500 to $8,000 EQDs. We’d earn Platinum status. We’d get free Main Cabin Extra seats and maybe a few domestic upgrades.
If we do this, we can re-allocate organic credit card spend where it might be more valuable. We can also forego (or re-allocate) any non-organic spend that we’ve been putting on the Barclays and Citi AA cards. I think this analysis is a little tough. I plainly believe we’ve been getting more value for spend on the AA cards than it’s cost us. Even with no EQD earning, or EQD earning only at $50,000 in spend, we would get value from earning 1 AA mile per dollar on unbonused spend and the companion certificate we’d earn for spending $30,000. We might also get value from the 5,000 EQMs at each of the $20,000 and $40,000 spend thresholds, if they pushed us over the threshold from Platinum to Platinum Pro. To me, this is murky and difficult to assess, at least off-the-bat. In addition, the analysis involves assessing the alternatives of where we might place the spend, which is also a bit murky. We could put unbonused spend on the Amex Blue Business Plus card at 2x Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar, or toward the $15k per year needed for free nights on the Amex Hilton Ascend and Chase World of Hyatt cards, toward minimum spends on new cards or spend bonuses we might receive during the year, or perhaps somewhere else.
Also, if we go back to “normal” flying only, we could cancel or downgrade our Barclays AA Silver cards and save the $195 annual fee, times two. We could perhaps also cancel my Barclays AA Red business card and save the $95 annual fee. (We would still keep Philly’s Citi AA Executive card, for Admirals Club access for us and the kids.)
But we would miss Executive Platinum. As I’ve noted, the benefits are valuable and we can quantify them. It’s worth spending “some” amount extra to get up to 100,000 EQMs and $15k EQDs to get the benefits.
Even if we’re willing to spend, another constraint we have is time. I’m pretty flexible, but Philly is working full-time. Getting to 100,000 EQMs for Executive Platinum is already tough for her, and she wouldn’t mind flying a little less. Those factors and the additional dollars we’d need to spend point us toward returning to “normal” flying.
My time is more flexible, and me traveling more can be helpful to the Middle Age Miles mission. It might make sense for me to go for the new Executive Platinum thresholds but not Philly. On the other hand, we like to travel together, so that’s a tough call.
At this point, I’m leaning toward returning to “normal” organic flying, making flight-by-flight decisions based on cost, comfort and convenience, and foregoing the AA credit card spend and fees. It seems simpler. It will almost certainly be cheaper. Plus, feeling more free to fly other airlines might allow me to provide more varied content for Middle Age Miles.
In any event, we’re not happy with the changes AA has announced today. We surely enjoy having Executive Platinum status, but I’m not sure we can afford to keep it.
What do you think of AA’s changes? What will your strategy be in response? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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