American Airlines said Monday it will begin awarding bonus frequent-flier miles to customers who buy pricey seats in first- and business-class cabins.
The airline said the promotion will give AAdvantage and Dividend Miles members more miles based on distance flown, fare purchased and the member’s elite status level.
American had been the only holdout among the largest carriers to continue awarding miles based on distance flown without regard to dollars spent.
Early reaction from frequent-flier experts was positive.
“This is huge for those who fly American and pay for premium fares,” Brian Kelly, operator of ThePointsGuy.com, wrote in an online post Monday. He called it “a jab against United and Delta who will be slicing back mileage earning for many fliers in 2015.”
“I think at a certain point, premium fliers want premium rewards,” he said.
Beginning Jan. 1, American will give customers who are members of the two frequent-flier programs, which are due to be combined in mid-2015, bonus miles for first- or business-class tickets bought for travel during the 2015 calendar year.
For example, regular members will receive a bonus of 250 miles for a short-haul business or first-class ticket and 3,000 miles for long flights of more than 3,000 miles. Bonuses for Gold members will be 500 miles and 6,000 miles, respectively.
Flights between New York and both Los Angeles and San Francisco are counted as long-haul flights.
Kelly said that as a top-tier American Airlines flier, called Executive Platinum whose members receive the most lucrative bonuses, he’s “glad that American is being a leader in the space and not simply copying Delta, which is exactly what United has been doing.”
Brian Karimzad, director of MileCards.com, said the move seems preemptive.
“It looks like American is trying to make sure its most profitable fliers aren’t tempted by United and Delta’s new programs, which significantly increase rewards for those who buy the highest fares,” Karimzad said.
But American’s new program isn’t necessarily better than those of competitors, he said. United and Delta become more attractive at higher spending levels, according to his calculations. For example, fliers would earn more miles on American for a first-class seat from Chicago to Los Angeles. But a flier earns more than double the miles on United and Delta for a full-fare, business-class ticket from Chicago to London, according to fares for travel in late January.
“If you are paying for first or business class, Delta and United still earn you many more miles for international tickets, which cost thousands of dollars,” Karimzad said.
A downside of American’s new program is that with more miles awarded, each reward mile is worth slightly less. “My only concern here is that with such an influx of new miles, there could be an increased chance of an award-chart devaluation,” Kelly said.
Also worth noting is that the American promotion has a specific end date of Dec. 31, 2015, suggesting the bonus program could change in 2016, Karimzad said.
“And don’t be surprised if United or Delta start targeting additional bonuses for specific routes or time periods,” he said.
American previously announced that beginning Jan. 1, bonus miles for AAdvantage members traveling on business-class tickets on American and US Airways will increase from 25 to 50 percent to align with what Dividend Miles members receive. Monday’s announced promotion is on top of that.
Bonus miles will be automatically added to members’ accounts after the eligible flight is complete, the airline said.
The promotion is aimed at making the frequent-flier program at American, now the world’s largest airline since merging with US Airways, the “best in the business,” said Suzanne Rubin, President of the AAdvantage loyalty program.