Did American Airlines Really Make A Mistake?

earnings chart

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On Friday, news came out that various foreign language American Airlines websites had posted new charts showing a reduced rate of earning for flights taken on British Airways (I posted about it here). Later in the day American Airlines came out and claimed that it was all a mistake…and the new charts were taken down. But just how much of a mistake was this?

What’s this all about?

American and British Airways are partners in a trans-Atlantic joint venture as well as through the OneWorld Alliance. When members of American Airlines’ loyalty program (AAdvantage) fly on British Airways flights they receive credit (they earn miles) into their AAdvantage accounts. Likewise if a British Airways Executive Club member (BAEC) flys on American Airlines they earn miles in their BAEC account.

For the past few years, the number of miles earned by AAdvantage members flying on British Airways has remained constant…..

Current earnings chart for AAdvantage members flying on British Airways


….but British Airways has been busy devaluing its loyalty program and, following the latest devaluation earlier this year, their own flyers earn less for flying on British Airways than their AAdvantage counterparts…and that’s quite strange if you think about it.

Current earnings chart for BAEC members flying on British Airways:

British Airways Earnings Chart

So, from the above, you can see that BAEC members flying on the lower economy class fare codes earn up to 75% fewer miles than their AAdvantage counterparts.

It makes you wonder why anyone who travels in Economy Class bothers to belong to the British Airways Executive club….but that’s a whole other issue.


The “Mistake”

On Thursday/Friday, some travelers began to notice that American Airlines had added a new earnings chart, for flights on British Airways, to some of its foreign language websites. And the chart looked remarkably similar to the earnings chart that British Airways uses for its own flyers:


It also showed a start date of 1 October 2015 – just a week away.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of bloggers (myself included) thought that this devaluation was a plausible thing for American Airlines to do. Another of British Airways’ partners (Alaska Airlines) did exactly this back in May and we’ve all been waiting for American to follow suit – it makes no sense that AAdvantage members get rewarded better than BAEC members for flying on British Airways.

However, later in the day on Friday, American Airlines confirmed to the View From the Wing blog that this had all been a mistake. And the new tables were taken down from the foreign language versions of AA.com. The actual quote given to VFTW was:

This was a mistake. If it hasn’t been fixed on the sites already, the team is working to fix it shortly. Thank you for pointing this out to us!

The thing is that I’m having trouble believing American Airlines on this one.  I’m fully prepared to believe that there was a mistake here…just not the mistake that American would have us believe.

So what’s really going on?

I have no insider knowledge so I can only speculate and attempt to make a reasoned argument for what I think has happened:

The new tables may have gone live thanks to some automated tool but they weren’t drawn up by a computer. And a computer didn’t type in the start date of 1 October 2015. That was all done by a human being and I don’t think there’s much room for doubt on that one.

I believe that the mistake that American made was in publishing the charts. I don’t believe that the charts themselves are a mistake at all. I think they’re very real.

earnings chart

I think that, shortly after British Airways succeeded in making the British Airways Executive Club even less rewarding than it already was (earlier this year), executives at AAdvantage sat down and revised the earnings chart for their members flying on British Airways. They did exactly what their counterparts at Alaska Airlines did and they brought their earnings chart broadly in line with that of British Airways. And they planned to implement it from 1 October 2015.

But, unlike Alaska, they didn’t end up publishing it. Why?

Over the past two years, American Airlines has been going through a long and complicate merger process with US Airways and, for most of this year, they’ve been concentrating on merging the two airlines’ IT systems – a monumental task.

I think that the AAdvantage executives took their reworked chart to someone in IT but were, at some point, told to hold off implementation. They may have been told to hold off on the new chart after some of the IT work to implement it was done (which would explain how it appeared on some of the foreign language websites) but, at some point, American decided that it had enough important IT work to concentrate on without trying to integrate a new earnings chart for flights on one of their partners.

So what does this mean?

If I’m right (and I accept that this is speculation) we’ll see this chart, or a chart very similar to this, reappear once American has finished merging IT systems. Probably very late this year or in the first quarter of 2016.

As I mentioned earlier, it makes no sense for AAdvantage members to be rewarded better for flying on British Airways than British Airways’ own flyers. So change is coming. The only question left to answer is “when?”.