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American Airlines frequent flyer reward changes make it harder to earn

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American airlines planes are seen at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California, United States on September 15, 2022.

Tayfun Toskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Members of American Airlines‘ loyalty program could have to spend more to earn elite frequent flyer status next 12 months, a part of a slew of changes the carrier announced Thursday.

Starting in March, AAdvantage members might want to earn 40,000 so-called Loyalty Points to earn Gold status, up from 30,000 in the present earning 12 months. Gold is the bottom elite tier of American’s program, and it comes with perks like free upgrades — when those seats can be found.

The airline will even do away with MileSAAver and AAnytime awards, two categories to redeem frequent flyer miles for tickets, at set minimum rates. As a substitute American will feature its “Web Specials,” with mile requirements that may change based on demand.

“Since we introduced Web Specials a pair years ago, our members have gravitated toward those fares,” a spokeswoman for the airline said. “We’ll proceed to maintain the award chart because our members value the guidance of a chart to assist make award opportunities easier to grasp.”

Airlines allowed loyalty program members to carry on to their elite statuses in the course of the pandemic when travel demand dried up. The programs were a lifeline for airlines in the course of the Covid-19 crisis since carriers earn money when travelers earn miles through rewards bank cards. Airlines were also in a position to raise billions in debt backed by these lucrative programs.

Now with travelers returning in droves and the recognition of travel rewards bank cards soaring, carriers are rejiggering those programs and rethinking perks like lounge access and requirements to earn elite status.

Delta Air Lines last month said SkyMiles members should have earned elite status to buy memberships to its airport lounges — it previously allowed anyone to purchase lounge access — among the many changes the airline made after customers complained about long lines and crowding at some locations.

American Airlines, for its part, said Thursday that travelers flying on no-frills basic economy tickets would earn 2 Loyalty Points per dollar spent, down from 5, for tickets issued from Jan. 1.

The airline can be offering perks to travelers who have not yet earned status or are between status levels, a approach to entice them to maintain flying and spending.

For instance, after AAdvantage members earn 15,000 Loyalty Points, they can be allowed to board in Group 5 for one earning 12 months. They can even pick between two other perks: access to priority check-in and security lines together with an earlier boarding group on one trip, or five coupons for a preferred location seat, that are generally toward the front of the economy cabin but don’t offer extra legroom.

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