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Some American Airlines Flyers Won’t Earn Miles for Flights Starting Next Month

"The fact that American still hasn't told everyone who is or is not preferred adds more to the confusion.”

Several trade groups representing travel advisors in the Americas are pushing back on American Airlines plans to restrict the earning of AAdvantage Miles on some travel agency bookings. 

The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), World Travel Agents Associations Alliance (WTAA), Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and Advisors (ACTA), and Foro Latinoamericano de Turismo (FOLATUR), insist that American Airlines’ plans will harm travel agencies and their clients. 

On February 20, American announced changes to the way some flyers would earn AAdvantage miles for their flights. Effective May 1, only bookings made directly with American, through their airline partners, or preferred travel agencies would be eligible to earn miles. American has not yet announced which agencies are considered “preferred agencies,” saying the list would be posted on their website in late April.

Travelers with corporate accounts with American would continue to earn miles for all flights regardless of booking channel—unless they book a Basic Economy fare.

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American is making these changes as part of a dispute with some travel agencies over the platform they use to make flight bookings. Travel agencies using older technology booking systems cost American much more per booking than newer platforms and American’s own website. American has been trying to convince these agencies to upgrade to the newer platforms to help them save on distribution costs, and this policy is the latest salvo in that conflict. 

“It’s very inward-looking on the part of American,” Henry Harteveldt, President of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry market research firm, told Fodor’s. “It’s not a very consumer-friendly approach, and American is being a bit of a bully here.” He goes on to say that the move is risky, as it draws the airline’s loyalty members into the middle of their dispute with agents. 

He also warns that the rest of the airline industry will closely watch the results—whether the policy change will work in American’s favor (driving customers to book through American’s website, and driving agencies to adopt the technology platforms American prefers) or not (agencies would deprioritize American’s flights when sharing options to their customers, or disgruntled customers will choose other airlines). 

“As risky as American’s actions are, a lot of airlines are watching to see if it works out well for them, because if it does, I would not be surprised to see United and Delta copy it in certain ways,” says Harteveldt. Alternately, he says, those airlines sales teams could work to scoop up travelers unhappy with the changes. 

Brett Snyder, author of the popular travel industry blog Crankyflier, and CEO of the travel assistance service Cranky Concierge—a travel agency that could be affected by American’s changes if it is not designated as “preferred” by the end of April—is frustrated by the moves. 

“This move just adds more confusion for travelers who continue to try to and navigate American’s frequent changes. The biggest impact will likely be on business travelers who may not have a choice of where to book depending upon company policy. The fact that American still hasn’t told everyone who is or is not preferred adds more to the confusion.”

Leisure travelers who do have a choice of booking channel will also be affected, say Snyder, particularly because American hasn’t yet released the list of preferred agencies, and agencies that are not preferred may not disclose that to travelers during the booking process. 

Travel agencies include both traditional “brick-and-mortar” travel agencies, corporate booking tools, and large online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity. Even many cruise lines and tour operators that book airfares as part of their packages are considered travel agents when they issue airline tickets for their travelers. 

The changes only affect travelers who collect AAdvantage Miles for their flights on American. Travelers who collect miles for another Oneworld alliance partner (like Alaska Airlines, British Airways, or Qantas) for American Airlines flights will continue to earn miles regardless of booking channel.