Let Them Eat Cake

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I’ve been keeping a low profile lately lest I lose my head.

Interpret that both figuratively and literally.

Figuratively, it has been a crazy eight weeks since we last left off with me crying at the end of a fantastic vacation.  I’ve tackled 12 trips, wrangled several major projects in my professional, volunteer, and personal spheres, and dealt with a health challenge.

Literally, I’ve been in hiding for fear of the Marie Antoinette* treatment for what I have to say.

Let them eat cake.

While I haven’t been writing, I have been keeping up with the recent changes in the frequent traveler sphere and the stories from some of my fellow Prior2Boarding and Boarding Area writers do pop up in my daily feed.  It seems as if the outrage has hit epic proportions.  The latest was the other shoe dropping in the recalibration of the American Airlines award program.

I’ve been told I lack empathy because I am not opposed to these changes.  That may be an overstatement – the empathy part, that is.  I stand by my opinion that I don’t oppose the changes simply because they don’t hurt me overall.

The reality is that airline corporations are businesses.  And as such have to make decisions that are in the best interest of their bottom line.

American, like Delta and United previously, has decided that the AAdvantage frequent flyer program was not encouraging the type of consumer behavior that was in the best interest of their bottom line.  They’ve also gave several months of advanced notice of the program changes – first in the fall when they announced that award redemptions were changing and that mileage accrual changes would take effect in 2016 and now when they are announcing changes for the 2017 qualifying year.  The added plot twist of a revenue requirement for status qualification is also not a surprise – insiders have hinted for months that this would roll out along with a new AAdvantage tier.  For some of us, the pleasant (or unpleasant) plot twist was that revenue would now also factor into how upgrades were processed.

And yet, the collective frequent flyer community is surprised.

The ample notice gave plenty of opportunity for unhappy consumers who felt they would be negatively affected to move to a different program – either for the 2016 program year (when the first wave of changes was announced in 2015) or for the 2017 program year (based on the latest changes).  In other words… let them eat cake.  If you don’t like the bread offered by American, you are welcome to go eat cake elsewhere.

But some want to have their cake and eat it too.  They would like for AAdvantage to be the program it was a year ago – one that provided the savvy frequent flyer the potential to qualify for status relatively inexpensively while earning miles liberally and redeeming them for the most advantageous redemptions.  Unfortunately that model is not one that is sustainable if the most profitable fliers don’t feel that a loyalty program benefits them.

I think of some of my colleagues who regularly fly American, often on last minute (sometimes purchased as they are arriving at the airport) tickets who are “rewarded” for their loyalty by sitting in a center seat in the back of coach because the free upgrades were given away to those who purchased a discounted months in advance.  That latter group would tell you that they demonstrated their loyalty by purchasing their $200 ticket months in advanced, locking into American, to secure their upgrade.  The former group would tell you that they demonstrated their loyalty by purchasing their $1,000 ticket at their airport on American versus Delta/United out of loyalty.

American is in the difficult position of figuring out which type of loyalty to award… and they picked the almighty dollar.

At the end of the day, I should break even in this new world order.  I both fly and spend enough now to hit the top revenue threshold for Executive Platinum under the new guidelines.  Whether my upgrade success will hold remains to be seen.  My mileage earnings for my business trips will exceed my current mileage gains.  Where I will come out even or behind will be for international travel.

If I could dial back one of American’s changes (and only one) – it would be the changes to the mileage redemption chart.  But I’m otherwise happy with the bread American is serving.  For those who aren’t, I hope the cake is as good elsewhere as you believe it to be.

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* I’m fully aware that the translated phrase “Let them eat cake” is widely misattributed!

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last nineteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Once an "every week" road warrior, she now only travels around 100 days a year. She resides in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and playing with her Border Collie/Great Pyreness mix puppy Harley Quinn.

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  1. Glad to see you’re back as I missed reading your posts. Concerning the changes and the bloggers’ reactions to the AA award program changes – you are spot on.

  2. If this was to happen to Alaska, I would be feeling much the same. TH now easily flies enough miles and spends enough in tickets to qualify for top tier (12K and over 75K in miles on AS, not AA), but is rewarded with Alaska selling the empty middle seat of the bulkhead to someone for 50 bucks so they can get a free drink and a little more leg room.

    How about letting her just pay the 50 bucks to keep that seat empty for her and the person in the aisle? They are more likely to be the ones who slog back and forth and are not going to drink, but keep their heads down either catching up on work or trying to decompress after a trying week.

    I agree with you – the mileage devaluations sucked, but I would rather keep my RDMs close to what I had before. I don’t redeem for premium tickets the way others do, so I’m not outraged the way others are.

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