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Q&A: What’s an American AAdvantage Member to Do?

Q&A: What’s an American AAdvantage Member to Do?

 

Reader Mary-Lynne poses the following question:

I’m a 2 million miler on American, most miles earned on my Citibank AAdvantage cards, but many earned the old-fashioned way.

I didn’t panic when American filed for bankruptcy, although I was miffed when it announced plans to pull out of Bob Hope Airport (Burbank, CA), by far the most convenient airport for me. But the recent posts about the possibility of another airline with an inferior loyalty program acquiring American are sending me into a tailspin.

I also have a Starwood AmEx card, but I charge far less on it than on my AA cards. I’m considering shifting charges to my AmEx card to give me more options in choosing airlines and protect against the devaluation of my American miles. The only downside I see to this is that if too many people do this, the revenue that AA has been getting from Citibank will decline, worsening their chances of emerging from bankruptcy as a stronger airline.

What do you think? Shift charges to AmEx or stick with the American card?

Answer

Many travelers, myself included, are having to reassess their commitment to American in view of such bankruptcy-related disruptions as the route cut you cite, and the possibility that the company will be acquired by another airline with a less generous frequent flyer program.

Which Credit Card?

If you do decide to stick with American, shifting your charges to the Starwood Preferred Guest card has a lot to recommend it.

Not only can the Starpoints you earn with that card be exchanged for American miles, they can be exchanged for miles in the programs of 31 other airlines as well. Among North American carriers, Starpoints may be converted into miles in the programs of Air Canada, Alaska, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, United, and US Airways. (Note however that the conversion rate from Starpoints to both United and Continental miles is 2:1—that’s two Starpoints for each mile—instead of the 1:1 rate for the other airlines mentioned.)

In addition to its vaunted flexibility, the card offers a value kicker as well: For every 20,000 Starpoints exchanged, you get 25,000 airline miles—a 5,000-mile bonus.

And lest we forget, Starpoints can be redeemed for free nights at Starwood’s network of over 1,000 hotels.

Which Program?

The larger question is whether you should remain an American loyalist at all. Under the circumstances, I would suggest refocusing your loyalty, at least temporarily.

Which program? For you, I’d suggest United’s MileagePlus. For starters, United has a presence at Burbank, which could increase with American’s exit. When American discontinues its Burbank flights on February 9, you’ll have the following options for travel from that airport:

  • JetBlue – three flights/day
  • US Airways – five flights/day
  • Alaska – six flights/day
  • Delta Connection- three flights/day
  • United Express – nine flights/day
  • Southwest – 49 flights/day

In addition to having the most Burbank flights of any carrier except Southwest, United is a dominant carrier at LAX, the area’s largest airport. So from a convenience standpoint, earning and redeeming United miles should be as easy as it was with American.

Like American, United is a full-service airline, with airport lounges, first-class seating, global alliances connections, and so forth.

And like American’s AAdvantage program, United’s MileagePlus is a robust program with many hundreds of options for earning miles and worldwide opportunities for redeeming them.

If you do decide to make MileagePlus your go-to program, the unfavorable exchange rate makes the Starwood card a no-go. Instead, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which features 1:1 transfers into the programs of British Airways, Continental, Southwest, United, Hyatt, InterContinental Priority Club, Marriott, and Amtrak. The card currently has a particularly rewarding sign-up bonus: 50,000 bonus points after charging at least $3,000 in three months.

When the Dust Settles

If American survives its brush with bankruptcy, intact in the ways that are important to you, then you can cash out any miles you’ve earned in MileagePlus (or in another alternative program) and resume your relationship with American.

But if American loses its luster through restructuring, or if it’s acquired by the likes of US Airways or Delta, you will have taken at least the first step down a new and better path.

Reader Reality Check

How are you handling American’s bankruptcy and uncertain prospects?

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  • Bill

    I’m concerned and plan to use my miles for F 1/2 way round world on cathey pacific. Rest way round world on ? In mean time I support front line AA employees, & will continue to fly AA

  • Marc

    At this point I’m not overly concerned. My AAdvantage account balance stands at a smidgeon under a million miles, so this is near and dear to my heart. If other bankruptcies are any indication, the AAdvantage program should survive intact.

    IF AA is taken over by another carrier I’m praying it will be Delta. Although I have 200k miles with USAir, I’m no fan of their program and think Skymiles is far superior just in case my miles have to get rolled over.

  • Amy

    Tim,
    You mentioned:
    “you can cash out any miles you’ve earned”

    How do you cash out?
    Is it possible to change AA’s miles into another program, or slide them over to the Starwood AmEx program?

  • Mark C

    I am a 2 million miler – Platinum for life on AA, and am surprised that the other airlines have not begun predatory moves to attract AA “lifers” by matching the status. Clearly if one has attained 2 million miles on AA, it would take a long time to match that status on another airline, so a boost or matching status makes sense.

  • John D.

    As a FF who has accumulated millions of miles in different programs worldwide, I decided the best course of action was to exit as many U.S. carrier programs as quickly as possible using and transferring points wherever possible. I now use foreign carriers ( mostly Asian ) and am very happy with the ease in which I can use my mileage. Alas, the great U.S. carriers no longer exist in the form we early fliers knew. I commute between homes in Asia and the U.S. and whenever I have to travel domestically within the U.S. I am always disappointed in the state of air travel there today. It is like we have gone forward to third world status overnite. The only exception is Southwest. Still no comparison to Asian carriers but not bad considering “you get what you pay for” As for loyalty, the big U.S. carriers have repeatedly shown their customers what they think of them. Why remain loyal to a company that does not appreciate your business? Happy I switched.

    John D. Dalian China

  • MARY MARGARET

    we have over ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND MILES BETWEEN US ON AMERICAN AIRLINES, HOWEVER EVERY TIME i TRY TO MAKE A RESERVATION (MONTHS IN ADVANCE, i NEVER GET ANY SEATS FOR INSTANCE WE JUST TRIED MAKING RESERVATIONS FOR iRELAND (LOW SEASON – THEY COULD GET US TO dUBLIN BUT NOT BACK AND THE COST OF A ONE WAY TICKET WAS MORE THAN A ROUND TRIP -IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN SUGGEST RE THESE MILES. wE JUST BOOKED ON dELTA TO IRELAND AND THEIR FARES BEAT AMERICAN BY FAR. tHANKS FOR LISTENING