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Where Is American’s AAdvantage Program Headed?

Where Is American’s AAdvantage Program Headed?

Any discussion of airline loyalty schemes must pay tribute to American’s AAdvantage program.

Not only does AAdvantage enjoy the distinction of being the first-launched modern loyalty program, edging out United’s by a matter of days, it has also been one of the most innovative. And based on anecdotal evidence, it has done a consistently admiral job of delivering on the key promise of loyalty programs: ready availability of award seats when it comes time to redeem AAdvantage miles.

But while the program remains a solid one, it’s no longer at the front of the pack.

Which could be said of the airline itself. The company that is responsible for much of what we take for granted today in commercial aviation — advance-purchase fares, sophisticated computer reservations systems, hub and spoke route networks, mileage-based loyalty programs — is no longer at the forefront of the industry it did so much to shape.

Sadly, American has mismanaged itself into bankruptcy. And more troublesome still, it looks increasingly likely that American will be acquired by an airline that has done little to endear itself to the traveling public, US Airways.

All of which raises questions about the AAdvantage program’s future prospects.

So it was with considerable interest that I tuned in last night to an online chat (archived here) with Suzanne Rubin, president of the American AAdvantage program.

Over the course of an hour, Rubin responded to questions from frequent travelers on a variety of topics.

The first program-related question: "Where do you see the AAdvantage program evolving to over the next 24 months in terms of redemption, accumulation, and flight availabilty?"

Rubin simply cited upcoming additions to the oneworld alliance lineup, SriLankan Airlines and Malaysian Airlines.

In the evening’s only real breaking news, Rubin revealed that Qantas would "soon" join Alaska Airlines, British Airways, and Hawaiian as AAdvantage partners whose award seats can be booked online at AA.com. A nice addition, to be sure.

A question of vital interest to members of most major programs concerned American’s plans to retain "loyalty with your current elites so they don’t feel pressured o leave." Rubin’s answer was hardly reassuring: "One of our primary objectives is to continue delivering value to all of our elite members."

In response to a "why switch to American" challenge from a United partisan, Rubin rather unconvincingly alluded to the fact that American had plenty of new aircraft on order, as if that gave American a competitive advantage over United, Delta, et al. And, she continued, "We have announced plans to enhance our inflight experience — further Wi-Fi expansion, new premium amenities and innovative inflight entertainment options (to name a few)… All very exciting things to look forward to as you travel with us."

And finally, to the question of AAdvantage’s future in the event of an American-US Airways merger, Rubin would only say this: "American’s primary focus is on navigating through the restructuring process."

The Take Away

If you were an AAdvantage member looking for reassurance that the program has a bright future, you were likely disappointed by the lack of specifics.

For all the happy talk and promises of good things to come, there was little of substance to look forward to. And the specter of a program ultimately owned and managed by US Airways looms as large as ever.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your take on AAdvantage, both present and future? Are you more or less committed to the program than you were?

Reader Reality Check

Do you have a Citi AAdvantage credit card? Have you used the award discounts?

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  • Ritz

    Wow! Were you and I watching the same chat? I actually came away more reassured than before about the not only the future of the AAdvantage Program, but American Airlines in general. I have to question the impartiality of bloiggers like you when one can so clearly perceive things differently. I thought there was a clear, concise, pointed effort to reassure long-time and long-term elites (as well as high dollar clients) to keep flying AA, and reap the benefits of loyalty to the program and the airline.

  • Carberrie

    I am committed to American and AAdvantage for now but will bail if US Scareways takes over.

  • Marianne

    I am very worried about the future of the AAdvantage Program if the merger with U.S. Air goes through. I had the misfortune to be forced to fly US Air on business when they were the only option available. The experience was a disaster on all fronts, particularly regarding lost luggage (sorry, folks, I have a bad back and can’t hoist luggage overhead, flight attendants won’t help because of their backs, and courtesy offers of help went bye-bye a long time ago).
    At the moment I still can find awards at a level that works, when I plan ahead, but last minute flights not so. Platinum member, retired and not flying as frequently as before.

  • Ed

    I gave all my Continental (now United) miles to my daughter with three children and plan to use my remaining AA miles within a year. Not hanging on to Southwest miles any longer than necessary, either.

    In a shorter sentence, mileage programs are worth as much as paper money has been: nothing to bank on.

  • Erica Duncan

    While I agree there was not much substance in the online chat, Im remaining cautiously optimistic that American Airlines and AAdvantage survive. Suzanne expressed a commitment to the brand, and I find generally that AA FAs are also committed. With such commitment comes customer loyalty and increased revenues. Hoping AA patiently weathers the current storm.

  • Bill

    I’m less that 10k miles away from the Million Mile Club, so I fully expect things to go to hell in short order.

  • longhorns

    She would make a good politician. I don’t think she actually answered a single question. Nothing but platitudes.

  • Kevin

    With ORD as my base, I bailed on UA five years ago or so. Got tired of having ‘status’, only to have the Premier security line as long as the general travelers, and then feel like I’m on Southwest when they called all Premier and Group 1 to board – it was a stampede – everyone was Group 1. So my status meant nothing. Took my average of 100 annual flights to AA and have been thrilled ever since. No real issues with award tickets either. An now I may get stuck back in Cattle Premier status with Scareways…who said flying was romantic?

  • Chris

    Also, one has to bear in mind that she is probably limited in what she can say due to the bankruptcy proceedings. In many cases, people would like to be more forthcoming, but that just isn’t possible due to the rules.

    That said, I still think AA has the best FF program all-around when compared to other domestic airlines. Here’s hoping they come out on the other side of bankruptcy as a atand-alone airline!

  • FG

    As a Lifetime Platinum AAD Member and all the perks that go with it, I would hate to see that disappear in a USA Merger.

  • Nick

    Lived in Chicago prior to moving to Phoenix 8 years ago. The description of United is right. Would avoid them like the plague when I lived in Chicago.

    Now that I live in Phoenix, avoid US Air. Since I fly back to Chicago frequently, AA is still my best bet. Looked for a flight today and AA was cheaper than Southwest. With my wife’s spending, I have Platinum. With Southwest air, printed my boarding pass right when the 24 hour window opened and was B51. Now avoid Southwest like the plague.

  • Donald Davidson

    The first shoe dropped this week. I am lifetime platinum on American with more than 4,000,000 miles flown and an AA FF account that begins with a zero-not a letter.
    We were notified that all our non-expiring miles will now be switched to expiring miles tied to traveling on AA.
    The rewards for loyalty are so appreciated. Thank you American Airlines for your appreciation of our using you all these years.

  • Don

    Not so sure I can agree with Ritz above that we all can remain confident because AA says so
    After decades in these programs actions speak louder than spin and friendly speak that nothing will change
    I /we all have to be worried that US Airways might somehow damage Americans program if it were to take control
    I remain hopeful that AA will continue to run their program
    so I can’t say with certainty we are out of the woods or that nothing will change
    Unlikely even in the best scenario if history of these programs and carriers
    Are any indicators
    let us like at the current United Continental merger for the combined and continued chaos
    Fingers crossed
    Im heading towards 6 million miles on AA and will go back to United if AA is run by US Airways in any substantial way
    Cheers

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