American Airlines abandons ‘soft landings’ for elite members – would BA follow?

One of the key benefits of achieving Gold status with British Airways Executive Club is that you don’t need to achieve status the following year.

British Airways has a ‘soft landing’ process for elite members. If you don’t requalify for Gold, you drop down to Silver the next year – you are not suddenly cast into the wilderness! Since Silver members still receive lounge access, albeit in the Galleries Terraces lounge at Heathrow and not Galleries First, it is a good deal.

(In fact, the ‘soft landing’ is one of the best reasons to push for Gold status if you are getting close to it. You may find it cheaper to do some extra BA flying every second year to reach Gold – knowing you don’t need to take a single cash flight next year to get Silver status – than chasing Silver requalification every year.)

American Airlines

American Airlines has a similar system, albeit unofficial and not always offered. However, elite members recently received this email from the airline:

Can you believe we’re almost halfway through 2013? Hopefully you’re on track to achieve your goal of elite status qualification for 2014. To check how many elite qualifying points, miles and segments you’ve earned thus far, simply log in to your account.

Previously, based on your prior year status, you benefited from an exception to receive a higher level of elite status than you actually earned. Next year, regardless of your current status, your elite status for the next membership year will be based on your elite qualifying activity in 2013.

We invite you to achieve the highest level you can to earn the greatest benefits. You can also find details about qualifying for elite status here.

Basically – although of course American is too cowardly to state it outright – the airline has abandoned ‘soft landings’. If you do not requalify for Platinum or Gold status, you will drop straight down to nothing.

This is fundamentally unfair, I think. It is especially unfair in the current environment, where you may spend a few months out of work and suddenly find you have to start from scratch to get your status back. It is also unfair on women who take maternity leave, since they will return to work status-free.

Hopefully this is not a plan that British Airways will follow. It would reduce the number of people in the BA lounges, but it would also be sending out the wrong message about how BA values your loyalty.

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Comments

  1. Stripy says:

    Just a quick couple of points:
    1) Not sure what American has done is really “cowardly”….it has always been an unofficial benefit after all (plus the AA presence on FT did confirm that soft landings were history)
    2) The comparison to BA is not necessarily a logical one – AA has been bloating its elite pool by matching elites from, seemingly, just about anywhere and doubling down on this by offering very attractive ‘double/triple elite qualifying miles’ promos to all who credit their flying to AA. I’d venture to guess that the incoming leadership from US may have decided that they’ve overdone it and have told them to do something about it (although this would have to be done somewhat cleverly as the merger hasn’t yet gone through so US leadership ‘technically’ has no say). Stopping soft landings is one way of reducing the number of elites. BA doesn’t appear to have a need to cull the elite pool so I don’t see why they’d do away with a benefit their flyers clearly value highly.

  2. Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    I think that this is far more likely to be so they are aligned with US. Makes it easier (from a marketing/PR point of view) to merge the programmes if it isn’t received as making it worse for either side.

  3. flyforfun says:

    I benefited from the soft landing with AA when I changed jobs and went from being an EXP to not flying at all. Because of having lounge access, and the glorious VIP upgrade passes (pay Y, travel J etc) I did a lot of trips I probably wouldn’t have done on AA. Yes, they were economy tickets, but revenue is revenue. I did 3 leisure trips in the space of 4 months to the States in their “low” season at one point.

    Since losing status now, I look at BA as well as AA when traveling. I’m guessing people won’t stay loyal if they no longer have status.