It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

If R.E.M. had recorded what is arguably their most famous song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” not in 1987 but in 2016, frequent flyer mile would no doubt have made the list of things Michael Stipe was ranting about.

If I were to believe the frenzied state of my social media feed in the last few days, the alleged demise of the American Airlines AAdvantage program ranks up there with Zika and the rise of Donald Trump as potential world ending moments of the last year.  “Burn baby, burn!” many of my frequent flying friends and fellow bloggers said.  I watched as friend after friend posted photos of their account balance burned down to nearly zero (or certainly less than six figures).

When I woke up today and checked my balance, I felt no remorse either.

AA

The difference is, I didn’t burn.

My balance – hovering above 800,000 – was a wasted opportunity according to many.  The conventional wisdom being that I missed out on lower cost awards before a massive devaluation.  And I would agree except for four key things:

  1. Devaluation is relative – While award redemption values are going up, mileage earning is also being recalibrated.  While I *think* I’ll be one of the flyers who comes out ahead based on my largely domestic business travel schedule, many will not.  For those of us who will continue to earn , there was not a lot of benefit in burning everything off.
  2. Redemption requires some basic plans – I would have booked more had I had concrete plans in place – I certainly had time to make some (four months!) and I did redeem for 2 one-way British Airways First awards when the devaluation was first announced – but that was for travel that was already solidified.  I also put a first class partner award to Dubai on hold a couple of weeks ago for a trip I thought I’d be taking, but my schedule changed before I could ticket it and now I don’t know when I’d be going (and the routing I planned would not make sense for the normal context of how I would book).  In the last couple of years, I’ve largely used my awards to position to/from cruises locations around the world and I don’t always book my cruises far in advance so it was hard to predict what I might use before March of 2017.  Technically I could have booked a lot of random awards on the thought I might use some of them.  But that is a problem for me because….
  3. Time has a value – I don’t have time to manage random awards and remember to change them or use them or redeposit them.  That’s a personal decision that may only be applicable to me but it’s a real issue.  I’ve lost miles on unused awards poorly managed before – I can’t do that again.
  4. The real value of my miles – I hold the opinion that the real value of my miles lies in the potential.  I have used over 4,000,000 AAdvantage miles to fly first class around the world multiple times, to transport friends and family, or to be somewhere at the last minute when a revenue ticket was unreasonably out of reach.

I still hold the opinion that the AAdvantage program will continue to work out to be a solid program for my needs.  But that won’t stop me from feeling a bit of envy over the next twelve months as I watch my friends post photo after photo of their amazing last ditch redemptions.  I’ll use them as inspiration for what I’ll eventually do with my miles.

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine.

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