Short flights become a longer road to elite status on American Airlines


American Airlines this week joined the bandwagon of airlines that are cutting off a longtime favorite benefit for frequent fliers: minimum mileage guarantees on all flights. This move saves American Airlines and the other airlines a load of mileage liability.

In an email sent to AAdvantage members, AA announced that effective Jan. 1, non-elite status members will only receive actual miles flown on American Airlines, or the “applicable percentage” of the miles flown on their partner carriers. (Many American Airlines partners, like Qantas, for example, only give a percentage of the miles flown for discount tickets.)

Unlike United and US Airways frequent fliers, who had their mileage credit cut back to the actual flown mileage earlier this year, AA elite members will be exempt from the minimum mile cutback. AAdvantage members with gold status or higher will still receive a 500-mile minimum per flight.

And Continental Airlines recently announced a similar Jan. 1 change, with the exception for OnePass elite members.

Northwest and Delta, for now, are sticking with their 500-mile-per-flight minimum. Although it is worth noting that both airlines may have been on “best behavior” lately with customers while working to get merger approval. Now that they have it, I expect Delta to follow along and eliminate the minimum mileage guarantees.

What does this mean for travelers?

For elite members, not much with American and Continental, and it will be easier to requalify for elite status each year with the minimum guarantee intact. For occasional fliers it means a dream trip could be a little further away.

For those close to elite status, or United and US Airways fliers, the time-honored game of making extra connections on a trip to get bonus miles is kaput. (A friend once took a roundtrip with her Christmas cards from San Francisco via Los Angeles to San Diego in a single day, to get the 2,000 miles she needed to qualify for Premier status. Under the new rules, such a trip would only earn 932 miles.)

At least American, in making the announcement, didn’t try to insult our intelligence this time by calling this a program enhancement.