FARE GAME

American Airlines just overhauled its frequent-flyer program to reward big spenders

Turns out, it’s not about the journey.
Turns out, it’s not about the journey.
Image: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA
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American Airlines has become the latest major carrier to overhaul its frequent-flyer program to reward big spenders.

Starting Aug. 1, members of the biggest US carrier’s AAdvantage program will earn miles based not on the distance they traveled but on how much they paid for the seat. American claims it is “rewarding our most loyal customers with the benefits they value the most.”

In its most basic form, members will earn 5 miles for each $1 spent under the new regime, excluding taxes and fees. That means that instead of earning the roughly 7,000 miles in round-trip between New York and London, passengers spending $900 on that ticket would earn just 4,500 frequent-flyer miles.

Travelers can earn more based on their elite status, but they’ll have to pay up. Starting Jan. 1, 2017, to reach gold status, flyers will need to spend $3,000 in addition to 25,000 elite qualifying miles. Gold members earn seven points per dollar spent. And to make Platinum, flyers will have to spend $6,000 on top of 50,000 miles and they’ll earn eight points per buck.

For a cool $9,000 and 75,000 miles, you can join a new status—Platinum Pro—in between the top Executive Platinum and Platinum statuses that American is launching in January.

The new fare-based frequent flyer model isn’t new for the industry. American’s competitors United Airlines and Delta Air Lines introduced a similar scheme for their loyalty programs as they focus more on their top paying customers. (United also made its business class that much fancier to entice more onboard.) British Airways overhauled its own program also to favor big spenders and first-class passengers.

Overall, it’s one less reason to cheer for cheap fares. But hey, there’s more wifi.