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For my latest ongoing series, I wanted to take at look at the current elite status programs for the major airlines. So far we’ve covered Delta, and now we’re going to take a closer look at American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, starting with Gold status.
Gold is the lowest of American’s three elite status tiers. To achieve it, you must fly 25,000 qualifying miles or 30 segments or earn 25,000 points in a calendar year (January 1-December 31). You begin receiving elite benefits immediately upon qualification, and as long as you meet the standard requirements, your benefits will last through the end of the next membership year, which runs from March 1 through the final day of February of the following year. So if you earned your Gold status now, it would be good through February 28, 2015, but if you earned it very early next year like in March, it would be good through February 29, 2016.
The Difference Between Elite Qualifying Miles And Points
Unlike most airlines that award either Elite Qualifying Miles (based on how far you fly and in what class of service, which generally benefits long-haul flyers) and/or Elite Qualifying Segments (number of individual flights you take, which is better for frequent short-haul flyers), American has a third qualification system, which is heavily weighted towards premium fares: Elite Qualifying points. Like most people, I generally qualify for my American elite status by EQMs because I fly on long routes as cheaply as possible.
However, if you fly higher fare classes, it’s worth keeping track of your points. That’s because since the numbers of miles or points to qualify you need are the same, initially it might look like elite-qualifying miles and elite-qualifying points are the same thing, but that in fact is not true at all.
Flyers earn elite-qualifying points for flights on American Airlines, American Eagle, AmericanConnection and American Airlines-marketed codeshare flights (info for other participants can be found at the links above) in the following ratios based on fare class.
So the higher the fare code or class of service you buy, the more elite-qualifying points you earn, ranging from 0.5-1 point per mile flown on deeply discounted economy tickets (like most of us buy) all the way up to 1.5 points per mile on full-fare economy, business and first class fares. For more information on miles vs. points, read my post here.
Once you’ve earned Gold status (and the change is reflected in your AAdvantage profile), you can begin taking advantage of numerous benefits. You can find the full listing here, but here are additional details on them:
- Access to the Gold Service Desk reservation line at 1-800-848-4653.
- Priority access check-in, security screening lands and boarding to avoid lines. In airports where there is not Business check-in, you can use the First Class check-in.
- Access to preferred seats (aisle and window) for you and up to 8 companions, or Main Cabin Extra at time of booking now through February 28, 2014 (fingers crossed they’ll extend it again!) and 50% off starting March 1, 2014 or free within 24 hours of departure. For more on American Airlines seating in the new A319 Airbus, click here.
- 25% bonus on base miles for eligible flights.
- Minimum of 500 AAdvantage miles per flight segment on applicable routes.
- AAdvantage award charge fees waived when using miles from your AAdvantage account.
- Check two bags free of charge (for you and your companions).
- Discount for Admirals Club membership (for complimentary snacks, drinks and WiFi).
- As a gold member with AA, you will have Ruby status for oneworld partners and earn priority check-in and preferred seating when traveling with one of the member airlines.
- Same-day standby.
- You will also get priority check-in and boarding when traveling on Alaska Airlines, along with two checked bags free of charge.
1. Gold Desk Service: Though it’s not that much different from just calling American directly, at least you can usually get a representative relatively quickly and they’ll have your account information on hand to help with what you need.
2. Priority AAccess: This can be a real time-saver with dedicated check-in and security lanes, especially at congested airports with horrible layouts like LAX.
3. Preferred Seats: While American charges for preferred seating near the front of coach or on aisles and windows, as well as for roomier Main Cabin Extra seats, Golds get this for free (well, just until February 28, 2014 for Main Cabin Extra). Per the Main Cabin Extra policy page, starting March 1, 2014, Golds can purchase Main Cabin Extra seats at 50% off at time of booking, or reserve an available seat for free within 24 hours of their flight.
To take a quick example, on a flight from JFK to London, a preferred seat would cost you $89 extra each way, and a Main Cabin Extra seat would cost you $123 more – so this can be a real moneysaver, and a way to make sure you get a decent non-middle seat on those long flights.
4. Mileage Bonus: Gold members receive a 25% mileage bonus on base miles for every flight. These bonus miles are only redeemable award miles not elite-qualifying miles. They also receive a 500-mile minimum on flights. For example, a one-way flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco would earn a regular member 337 miles. But that same flight would earn a Gold member 625 miles.
5. Waived Award Change Fee: American will charge a normal non-elite member $75 for making or changing an award booking to within 21 days of travel, but even low-tier Golds get this fee waived. Note, this is not the $150 fee American will charge you for changing an origin or destination.
6. Free Checked Bags: American will charge normal flyers $25 for a first checked bag and $35 for a second checked bag on domestic tickets, but Golds can check two bags for free, and this benefit extends to up to 8 travel companions on your reservation. You can find a list of baggage fees here.
7. Admirals Club Discount: Admirals Club membership normally costs $500 for the first year and $450 for subsequent years for single memberships, or $825 or $775 for married couple memberships. Golds get a $25 discount on single membership and $75 off married couple membership.
8. Ruby Oneworld Membership: American is a member of the Oneworld alliance, so AA elites get certain benefits when flying member airlines including priority check in, access to preferred seating when available, and priority standby and waitlisting.
9. Free Same-Day Standby: Normally American charges $75 just to standby for a different flight within 24 hours of departure, as well as to confirm it, but Golds can standby for free, though they would still have to pay $75 for a confirmed flight change the same day. Personally, I just buy American’s Choice Plus Fares which waive these charges altogether as well as providing several extra benefits like a mileage bonus for $44 each way.
10. Alaska Privileges: You get priority check-in and boarding when traveling on Alaska Airlines, along with two checked bags free of charge – pretty straightforward.
You’ll notice I’ve listed this separately. That’s because American’s upgrade policy is a bit different than other elite flyer programs which provide complimentary, space available upgrades to members based on their status tier. Instead, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Gold members earn four 500-mile electronic upgrades for every 10,000 qualifying base miles flown (including guaranteed minimum miles) during their membership year (March 1 or the date you qualify for elite status, through the last day of February).
They can then use those upgrades to to upgrade from economy to the next class of service for travel on American Airlines or American Eagle within and between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, The Bahamas and Bermuda; and between the U.S. and Central America. One upgrade unit is required for every 500 miles of travel. Each flight segment requires at least one upgrade.
You can request your upgrade when making your reservation, but for Golds, the upgrade window is 24 hours out. If you don’t have enough for your flight, AAdvantage elite members may buy upgrades with AAdvantage miles at a rate of 35,000 miles for eight (8) upgrades, but you can also purchase them for $30 each, so I’d save my miles and pay instead. Non-elite members can also purchase and use 500-mile upgrades, but can only use them on full-fare economy tickets (Y & B).
AAdvantage Gold and Platinum members who purchase full-fare economy Y and B tickets can upgrade for free as soon as at the time of booking.
To put that in perspective, upgrading from LAX-JFK would cost you 5 of them, which you’d need to fly 20,000 miles after qualifying to earn (almost to Platinum status), or buy for $150 after earning your Gold status. Not that you’d have much upgrading on a heavily trafficked route like that after all the Executive Platinums get their complimentary upgrades and some Platinums might put in for their 500-mile upgrades. But it’s still worth a shot.
How To Keep Your Gold Status
To keep your Gold status, you must hit the requirements again since, though historically American had given “soft landings” to elite members who didn’t quite re-qualify for their elite status, American has discontinued this policy.
However, they did just institute a new program with two new options for frequent flyers to requalify for status if they fall short of the miles that they need this year.
From January 2014 through May 31, 2014, American elites will have two options.
- Boost: If you end the year close to AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum, or Gold status but don’t quite make it, you can boost to the next level. If you are within 5,000 miles or 5 segments short of reaching Gold status, you can boost to the status for the cost of $399.
- Renew: If you are you already Gold and are way off from retaining it and out of the “boost” range, you can buy it back for $649.
Even though Gold status is the lowest tier on American, having it can still save you money on things like bags and seating options, as well as making for a much more pleasant travel experience thanks to priority check-in and boarding, and you do earn some other benefits like mileage bonuses and same-day standby, but just wait until we get to the benefits of American’s two other tiers – Platinum, and Executive Platinum especially – where the benefits really start to kick in.
Any AAdvantage Gold members out there who want to chime in with your own experiences with things like service, upgrades and more, please feel free to comment and share your thoughts.