No More Soft Landings for American Elites

How should an airline treat elite members of its loyalty programs who won't requalify for elite status the next year?

Traditional marketing thinking has held that summarily downgrading them to non-elite status was too harsh. After all, they had established a history of loyalty, and deserved some consideration for that. Their potential future business had to be considered, as well. On the other hand, extending the status of those who didn't legitimately qualify was deemed too generous. Loyalty perks were valuable and should be earned.

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The middle ground was the "soft landing": Non-qualifiers would retain elite status for the next year, but they would be downgraded to a lower elite tier, with lesser benefits.

For some time, the soft landing has been standard practice at American for its AAdvantage elites. No more. As announced in May, soft landings have been discontinued.

American has also offered lapsed elites a buy-back option. In last year's iteration, for example, Gold members who flew fewer than 20,000 miles could extend their status through the following year by paying $559.

For 2014, American will offer lapsed elites two ways to extend their status: a new version of the buy-back, plus a "boost" option for those who fall just short of qualification thresholds.

The Boost

  • Current elite members who are within 5,000 miles or five segments of qualifying for Gold status can pay $399 for Gold through 2014.
  • Current elite members who are within 5,000 miles or five segments of qualifying for Platinum status can pay $699 for Platinum through 2014.
  • Current elite members who are within 10,000 miles or 10 segments of qualifying for Platinum status can pay $899 for Platinum through 2014.
  • Current elite members who are within 5,000 miles or five segments of qualifying for Executive Platinum status can pay $1,199 for Executive Platinum through 2014.
  • Current elite members who are within 10,000 miles or 10 segments of qualifying for Executive Platinum status can pay $1,799 for Executive Platinum through 2014.

The Buy Back

  • Current Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum members who are not within boost range can pay $649 for Gold through 2014.
  • Current Platinum, and Executive Platinum members who are not within boost range can pay $1,199 for Platinum through 2014.

There's no buy-back option for Executive Platinum status.

The Verdict

Converting the soft landing into a revenue opportunity for the airline may be a smart short-term business move, from a purely financial standpoint. Loyal AAdvantage members are likely to see it in a less flattering light.

On a positive note, although there's still plenty of time to earn more elite miles before the end of 2013—by making a mileage run, for instance—some travel-weary flyers will welcome the opportunity to avoid the unfriendly skies and simply use a credit card to lock in elite perks for the next year.

Reader Reality Check

How will these new elite policies affect you?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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