The American Airlines frequent flyer program is changing. Here’s what you need to know

An American Airlines Airbus 321 sits at the gate at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia on July 23, 2023.

Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

Nice order: American Airlines does not change the requirements to earn elite status with the airline in the upcoming earning year.

These thresholds are typically the most important for frequent flyers as airlines have been improving their loyalty programs in recent years as demand for travel increases and elite ranks swell.

And while American raised the threshold to earn the lowest level, gold, for the 2023-2024 earnings year that ends Feb. 29, the carrier won’t be moving those needles for the next earnings period. Elite status with airlines rewards big spending perks like free upgrades and free checked bags.

American is making a series of changes announced Tuesday that will expand some services for AAdvantage members only.

Here’s what’s changing:

As part of the program changes, only American AAdvantage members will be able to fly standby on domestic flights without paying a fee, hold a flight 24 hours in advance of booking, or purchase one-day tickets to Admirals Club lounges or Flagship Lounges. Currently, all customers have access to these services.

“Being a member is a status,” said Scott Chandler, America’s senior vice president of loyalty and revenue management.

AAdvantage members will also be able to use travel credits for six months longer than non-members and will be able to get partial travel credit when canceling restrictive basic economy tickets if they pay a fee.

The changes highlight American’s focus on its loyalty program, which generates billions of dollars a year. Delta Air Lines announced last year that it would begin offering free in-flight Wi-Fi to members of its SkyMiles loyalty program.

Loyalty programs have been a lifeline for airlines during the Covid pandemic, when travel has slowed to a minimum. Carriers make money when customers spend on co-branded credit cards or other rewards and sell points to banks for loyalty programs, regardless of what customers spend on, from flights to new desktops.

American, United and Delta recently revamped their loyalty programs to reward big spenders, with passengers earning more points and elite status based on how much they spend, not how far they fly.

Carriers are grappling with the rise of elite travelers, repeatedly raising status requirements and improving benefits. This was in part due to airlines allowing customers to maintain their status during the pandemic even if they did not travel.

Delta rolled back some of its changes last year, including tighter limits on access to its popular airport lounges, after customer complaints. All three carriers are building larger airport lounges for more people.

American also said it will also begin allowing customers to earn miles for paying for cabin upgrades and let them redeem miles for upgrades on partner airlines. Customers pursuing elite status will be awarded bonus loyalty points by the airline after they earn 15,000. Gold status, the lowest level, requires 40,000 loyalty points.

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