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With COVID-19 continuing to put a damper on airline travel, American Airlines has upgraded its AAdvantage program so frequent flyers can reach elite status in 2020 more easily than before. For example, you might be able to reach the lowest tier of elite status — Gold — with just 15 segments of travel in a calendar year. That’s half the number of segments normally required.
Is it worth reaching for AAdvantage elite status? The answer depends on the frequent flyer benefits you value the most, as well as whether you’re willing to be flexible enough in your travel plans to achieve elite status. The comprehensive guide below can help you understand the main benefits of AAdvantage elite status, how you can earn it and steps you can take to get there faster.
American Airlines elite status: Are the benefits worth it?
The elite status program at American Airlines AAdvantage is similar to programs offered by rival airlines; it offers standard perks like free checked bags, priority boarding and potential to offer bonus rewards. Like its peers, American provides discounted lounge access to elite status members, as well as complimentary same-day flight changes and standby travel.
In terms of customer service and in-flight experiences, the benefits of elite status are fairly similar for the three major U.S. carriers: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Where the carriers differ in their consumer value is on flight accessibility and rewards. For example, some carriers might have more flight options available from your home airport and more international partners in destinations where you're likely to travel.
If you don't currently have elite status on any airline and are looking to join a program, you should first find out which airline has the best flight options for you. If you frequently travel abroad or are hoping to earn rewards for free international flights, it's also important to consider whether a U.S. airline has favorable international partners. American Airlines, for example, is part of the oneworld alliance, whose 13 member airlines offer more than 1,100 destinations in 180 territories.
The following chart highlights the main perks you’ll get for being a status member with American:
|Free checked bags||0||1||2||2||3|
|Same-day flight change fee||$75||$75||$75||Waived||Waived|
|Lounge access during international travel (business and first class)||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Unlimited auto-request upgrades||No||Flights 500 miles or less||Flights 500 miles or less||All flights||All flights|
|Upgrades confirmed by certain time||None||24 hours||48 hours||72 hours||100 hours|
|Priority bag delivery||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Main Cabin Extra seating for more legroom||No||At check-in||At booking||At booking||At booking|
American AAdvantage elite status levels
As you’ll see from the benefits described in the chart above, you get access to more elite benefits with American’s frequent-flyer program as you move up the elite status ladder. However, you’ll also have to fly an increasing number of miles or segments to achieve the highest tiers of elite status, as we’ll outline.
Before we do that, let’s look at the four main levels of elite status you may be able to achieve with the AAdvantage program in 2020, as well as the highlights and qualifications you’ll need to reach each level.
How to qualify: Fly 15 Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) or 15,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), and also spend at least $1,500 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) toward the cost of a flight.
Base earnings: 7 award miles/$1 (versus 5 award miles/$1 for standard AAdvantage members)
Key benefits: If you travel infrequently (perhaps just for leisure), or less than 15 times per year, it's not worth going for Gold status. Instead, you might be better off bargain hunting for the most affordable fares offered by all available airlines, and paying for the trip with a rewards credit card. However, if you’ve already met the 15 trip segment requirement and also have at least $1,500 in EQD flight dollars, Gold status can be a decent perk that might occasionally provide some added travel comfort.
One example is at the airport, where Gold members receive free same-day standby, as well as priority check-in and boarding. Gold members also get one free checked bag, which can lead to considerable savings the more you fly. Another perk: Gold members get 40% more bonus miles than non-elite AAdvantage travelers. Free flight upgrades are also available at the Gold tier. However, it’s likely your upgrade request won’t be granted because higher status elite travelers generally get upgrades first.
How to qualify: Fly 30 Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) or 30,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), and also spend at least $4,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs)
Base earnings: 8 award miles/$1
Key benefits: Elite status at the Platinum level can be well worth it for travelers who fly at least 30 segments per year with American, and who can also afford to spend at least $4,000 on airfare. At this tier, members have access to the oneworld alliance's business class and frequent flyer airport lounges, which is helpful for international travelers. Members also get two free checked bags and free same-day flight changes.
With Platinum elite status, the upgrade benefit is mixed; upgrades are confirmed as early as two days in advance, but Platinum members are still low on the priority list. Platinum members get the same airport perks as Gold members, but also 60% more bonus miles, versus 40%.
How to qualify: Fly 45 Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) or 45,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), and also spend at least $6,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs)
Base earnings: 9 award miles/$1
Key benefits: Platinum Pro status is worth it for the heavy traveler. Benefits at this level are similar to those for Platinum travelers, but with a few bonuses. For example, Platinum Pro members receive an 80% mileage bonus (9 award miles/$1), and also upgrade confirmation up to 72 hours (instead of 48 hours) in advance of departure time.
Flight upgrades are likelier at this status level, as Platinum Pro members are second in line behind Executive Platinum members. Also, Platinum Pro status qualifies you for unlimited, complimentary auto-requested upgrades on flights over 500 miles.
How to qualify: Fly 60 Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) or 60,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), and also spend at least $9,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs)
Base earnings: 11 award miles/$1
Key benefits: If you fly frequently enough with American to qualify for Executive Platinum status, you'll get a variety of benefits that may prompt you to stay loyal to the airline. Executive Platinum members get three free checked bags, and 11 award miles for every $1 spent on American Airlines expenses. In addition, Executive Platinum members are first in line for upgrades, which are confirmed up to 100 hours (about four days) in advance.
As an Executive Platinum member, you’ll also receive some exclusive benefits. These include complimentary upgrades on award tickets, a waived ticketing service charge, waitlist priority for both first and business class flights, as well as a waived fee for any change or reinstatement to your AAdvantage account.
Benefits of American Airlines elite status
If you’re already an elite status member, you should know American Airlines is automatically extending your status level through Jan. 31, 2022.
Elite status benefits are aimed at making travel more comfortable and more affordable, but these perks can only be realized if you fly often enough to reach tier status within a calendar year. If you decide elite status is worth pursuing, expect to see the following benefits:
All AAdvantage elite status members receive unlimited upgrades on flights 500 miles and less that are automatically requested when they make a reservation. For flights longer than 500 miles, only elite status members in the top two tiers, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum, are eligible for auto-requested upgrades. However, status members in the two lower tiers can still earn 500-mile upgrades by accumulating Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), which are calculated based on the miles flown. For every 12,500 EQMs you earn, you can expect four 500-mile upgrades.
Executive Platinum members also receive the benefit of four systemwide upgrades. These are guaranteed upgrades that can be used to upgrade an economy ticket to business-class ticket, or a business-class ticket to a first-class ticket. Systemwide upgrades can be transferred to friends and family, and the only exclusion is that they can't be used with a basic economy ticket.
Here’s more about the flight upgrades available for each AA elite status level:
When flying with American Airlines
|Unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades on flights of 500 miles or less||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Flights over 500 miles||No||No||Unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades||Unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades|
|Complimentary upgrades on award tickets||No||No||No||Yes|
|Ability to upgrade the ticket of 1 companion traveling with you on same flight with 500-mile upgrades||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Timeline for upgrades confirmed before departure||24 hours||48 hours||72 hours||100 hours|
Free checked bags
All AAdvantage elite status members get a free checked bag benefit, but the benefit will vary according to the status level, as you’ll see below. By contrast, if you don’t have elite flying status, the first checked bag fee on a American Airlines domestic flights will set you back $30, the second bag will cost $40 and the fee for the third bag will be $150.
|How many free checked bags do you get?||1||2||2||3|
AAdvantage members with Platinum status members and above get complimentary access to oneworld lounges when they fly on an eligible flight. The oneworld alliance has over 650 lounges across the globe, so this perk is useful for frequent international travelers.
Also, all elite status members receive a discounted membership to American's lounge network, the Admirals Club. The airport lounges differ in quality depending upon the airport.
Annual cost for new Admirals Club membership
Elite members of American's AAdvantage program earn bonus miles on flight purchases. Miles can be redeemed for award travel, upgrades, membership to the Admirals Club lounges, and also for vacation expenses like rental cars and hotels. Regular AAdvantage members earn five points for every dollar spent with American and on flights with partner airlines, and elite members earn more based on their status level, as you’ll see below.
Award miles per dollar
At American, award flights can be redeemed for as few as 7,500 miles; these are MileSAAver tickets for flights of less than 500 miles within the contiguous U.S. During the off-peak travel season, trips to Hawaii from the contiguous 48 states can be redeemed for 20,000 miles, and trips to Europe can be redeemed for 22,500 miles. Depending on the type of award ticket you redeem, one-way flights require between 7,500 miles and 90,000 miles.
oneworld alliance elite status
If you earn elite status with the AAdvantage program, you’ll also qualify as an elite member of the oneworld alliance, which means some of your benefits will still apply when you fly with partner airlines like British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. From the following table, you’ll see that reciprocal benefits are best for travelers who have Platinum status or better.
oneworld Ruby (American Gold)
oneworld Sapphire (American Platinum)
oneworld Sapphire (American Platinum Pro)
oneworld Emerald (American Executive Platinum)
|Priority check-in and standby||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Partner lounge access||No||Business class and frequent flyer lounges||Business class and frequent flyer lounges||First and business class, also frequent flyer lounges|
|Extra bag allowance||None||1 extra bag for free in addition to your ticketed bag allowance||1 extra bag for free in addition to your ticketed bag allowance||1 extra bag for free in addition to your ticketed bag allowance|
How to earn American Airlines elite status
To get elite frequent-flyer status at American, you’ll need to meet a spending requirement as well as a requirement for either miles or segments flown. American uses the following terms to describe these requirements:
- Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) — miles flown, which are calculated based on the miles flown and the ticket type of a certain itinerary
- Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) — the number of flight segments flown with American and its eligible partners
- Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) — dollars spent with the airline, which are awarded based on the ticket price of an American-marketed or operated flight
Generally speaking, it's easier to qualify for elite status when you're buying expensive business-class tickets and taking long-haul flights. The lowest spending minimum to qualify for American elite status in 2020 is $1,500, which at today’s prices, you could easily reach with just a handful of round-trip flights in business class. On the other hand, if you’re a leisure traveler who spends $200 to $300 on economy class tickets, you’ll need to fly more often to reach even the lowest tier of elite status at American.
Here’s a chart that spells out exactly what you’ll need to reach each status level:
Elite status level
Miles flown requirement (EQMs)
Segments flown requirement (EQSs)
Dollars spent requirement (EQDs)
Shortcuts to elite status with American Airlines
It’s possible to speed up the process for achieving elite status at American. Consider the shortcuts below. They can help you climb the tiers of elite status — and earn miles for free flights along the way.
Get a co-branded credit card
Co-branded credit cards and rewards credit cards help travelers earn airline points faster, and a few also offer a chance to earn the special EQMs that let travelers qualify for AAdvantage elite status. If you care more about earning points than flying on American, your best option is a general rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the Citi Premier® Card. These cards can help you earn rewards points you can apply toward travel expenses like plane tickets and hotel rooms.
If you're looking to achieve elite status with American faster, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® can help. It comes with a $450 annual fee, but you’ll get automatic Admirals Club membership as a cardholder perk. You’ll also Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Other co-branded credit cards from American Airlines can help you rack up miles faster and secure some of the elite benefits that come with elite status, even if they won’t actually move you into an elite status category. If you’re eager to rack up as many miles as possible — including a generous sign-up bonus — check out these top offers:
New cardmember offer
Free checked bag
|American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card||$0||Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services. Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases.||Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.||No||No|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®||$99, waived for first 12 months||Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases; also one mile on other purchases||Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.||Yes, for you and up to 4 traveling companions||Yes|
|CitiBusiness®/ AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®||$99, waived for first 12 months||Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations. 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases.; also earn one mile on other purchases||Earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening.||Yes, for you and up to 4 traveling companions||No|
|AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®||$99||Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on all other purchases; also earn one mile on other purchases||Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.||Yes, for you and up to 4 traveling companions||Yes|
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card
15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
- Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- No Annual Fee
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
- Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
- Save 25% on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights
- The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.99% - 24.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
American Airlines status match
If you currently have elite status with another airline, you may be able to participate in a status match to receive similar status at American. Status match programs let you temporarily receive the same status level you have with another airline. If you’re interested in a status match, contact American directly.
If you don't currently have elite status at American or any other carrier, you may be able to participate in a status challenge. For a fee of a few hundred dollars, these challenges let you qualify for status by meeting the requirements of a given status level over a prorated period. For example, if you're looking to qualify for Gold status at American, you may be asked to pay a fee of around $200, and also spend a certain amount and fly a certain number of segments within a certain period of time.
Elite status vs. American Airlines credit cards
If you don’t travel often enough to achieve elite status with an airline easily, you may be wondering if the effort is really worth it. After all, you will almost always spend less on travel over time if you shop around among all airlines to find the best price before booking a flight.
You may be able to receive some elite status traveling perks by simply signing up for a co-branded American Airlines credit card. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® tends to be popular since you earn miles for each dollar you spend, and you get a generous sign-up bonus. You’ll also get elite perks like a free checked bag, priority boarding, and a 25% discount off in-flight food and beverage purchases.
At the end of the day, elite status may — or may not — be worth the effort depending on how often you travel. If you’re on the fence about putting in the time and money, then it’s possible a co-branded credit card may be a smart alternative.
The information related to Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, CitiBusiness®/ AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® and AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.