April 9, 2014 in Business

American Airlines debuts frequent-flier program changes

Gregory Karp Chicago Tribune
 
Miles still rewarded

The announcement Tuesday did not revamp how frequent fliers accumulate reward miles or achieve elite status levels. Recently, airlines have started rewarding dollars spent with the airline, rather than miles flown only.

American Airlines on Tuesday announced changed policies and a revamped program for redeeming frequent-flier miles, a mixed bag of good and bad news that affects how customers can cash-in reward miles and whether they get free checked bags, among other changes.

American, the newly merged carrier of American Airlines and US Airways, is trying to quickly create a consistent traveler experience for customers, said Suzanne Rubin, the American Airlines executive in charge of the loyalty program.

The changes announced Tuesday were not meant as an adoption of one airline’s policies over the other’s. Instead, the changes reflect elements from both airlines as well as what airline competitors offer, she said.

In the frequent-flier program, for example, US Airways’ Dividend Miles members will notice the elimination of blackout dates for reward travel. Previously, award miles were not able to be used on certain high-demand dates.

Some complexity was introduced into the program. For example, reward redemptions were split into three levels for domestic flights, costing different amounts of award miles depending on how much demand exists for the seats.

Rubin said the airline tried to keep in mind how complicated frequent-flier programs can get.

“As an industry, we’ve been challenged with complexity,” she conceded. She said the airline’s website, AA.com, attempts to help customers understand the program by laying out the reward price points for a destination.

With baggage rules, most fliers won’t experience changes because there was no change to the rule for the first checked bag. But for foreign travel, the airline added and removed bag fees.

American also changed baggage allowances for elite members. For example, American’s AAdvantage Gold members and US Airways’ Dividend Miles Platinum and Gold members will receive one fewer free checked bag than they do today.

“It could have been worse,” Brian Karimzad, director of MileCards.com, which analyzes reward credit cards and programs, said of the changes announced Tuesday.

“The big fear is that they would raise prices,” he added, referring to the amount of reward miles required to purchase a ticket.

He said the main negative is that American made the program more complex, charging different amounts of miles depending on demand for seats.


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