Premium passenger wars

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Happy 2015 frequent flyers!

Less than two weeks in, 2015 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for attentive frequent flyers. First, let’s do a brief recap of the seismic changes in 2014:

  • Delta announced that SkyMiles members would earn miles based on ticket price instead of distance flown, greatly reducing mileage earning for the vast majority of passengers
  • Delta increased the minimum annual spending requirements to achieve elite status
  • United copied both changes without batting an eye
  • Alaska and American held pat and did not copy either change

The idea behind Delta and United’s changes was to punish travelers flying on discount tickets and reward those on premium fare tickets. And yet – American Airlines declined to follow them into the gutter, creating a massive imbalance between AA’s program and those of Delta and United. Not only that, but American has come out swinging early this year, not just holding its program above its competitors’, but also offering significant mileage bonuses for paid premium cabin tickets.

Make no mistake: this is war. United has already responded with its own bonus promotion for paid premium cabin tickets. Though with its reduced baseline earnings, it still pales compared to American’s AAdvantage program, especially for top-tier members.

As for Delta, its miles have been notoriously difficult to redeem at the “saver” award level for years. Changing this was the “carrot” Delta announced last year along with the “stick” of reduced mileage earning. To its credit, anecdotal evidence so far in 2015 suggests that there are in fact more “saver” award seats available on Delta flights than there have been previously. Factoring in reduced mileage earning for most travelers, this approximates to a wash. However this also means that Delta remains stingier than its main competitors when it comes to redeeming miles for award tickets.

As Headmaster of the Frequent Flyer Academy, I can unabashedly recommend the mileage programs of Alaska Airlines and American Airlines in 2015. While the future is uncertain, these two programs have so far resisted the massive devaluations undertaken by Delta and United in the past few years. That alone makes them more worthy of your loyalty. And don’t be afraid to reach out and let them know you’re flying their airline for precisely that reason.

AA miles

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Ryan has been a travel expert for more than ten years. His journeys have taken him to all six inhabited continents, including living in the Middle East and backpacking across Australia, Asia and Europe.

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