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Elite Status Series: American Airlines AAdvantage Gold

by on December 12, 2013 · 40 comments

in American Airlines, Elite Status

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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.

AAdvantage Gold

AAdvantage Gold status.

Qualification

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.

You earn to earn 25,000 miles to qualify for Gold status.

You need to earn 25,000 miles to qualify for Gold status.

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.

EliteStatusEarning

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.

Benefits

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.

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 3.45.24 PM

Upgrades

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.

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 3.47.24 PM

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Michael Carey

    FYI: Very hard to use Evips as there is very little availability for long-haul flights. American has new premium products and is selling them at such a rate that there is zero confirmed upgrade space from LAX to a host of popular destinations in Jan and Feb.

  • Shawn

    You don’t start earning the 500 mile upgrades until you reach your status. So if you currently don’t have status and you hit gold, then you must fly 10,000 more miles to receive the 500 mile upgrades. Also, the free main cabin extra benefit has been extended until March 1, 2014.

  • Josh Cabrera

    Here you highlighted that AA has 1.5 EQPs for travelers who tend to purchase premium fares, but you didn’t give Delta equal justice by failing to highlight that Delta does essentially the same thing for premium fares by giving flyers 1.5 MQMs.

  • PHLflr

    I get that AA flyers hate the idea of the USAir merger because of customer service and new airplanes, but the lack of unlimited space available upgrades for USAir Gold/Platinums who are moving into the AA system is a real downgrade for us. That is the perk that I most appreciate and most use.

  • michael

    third-grade writing.

  • JC

    While what you say is true, you may be missing the intention of this article. It is written to serve as an explanation of AAdvantage Gold, not to compare and contrast AA Gold vs. other entry-tier programs directly. To this end, the post does not reference any other airline’s FF elite programs specifically, only the other tiers of AA, with occasional generalizations towards competitors.

    Personally, as an AA Gold, I’m thrilled by posts like this, which make things much easier to understand the airline’s own website – Thanks to TPG! :)

  • Josh Cabrera

    No, my point is that in the series for Delta – which had the honor being the first FF program TPG chose to review, the same point could have been made for how MQMs work for premium fares. I could have been clearer about that part.

    Personally, I’m not trying to knock AA down or brown-nose DAL, and as a PM, I’m actually desperately trying to convince myself to switch to AA from DAL since I fly out of DFW.

  • VeritasIII

    With all my critiques of Delta, I think they have the best mid-level (50K) offering. Their 100% bonus on earned miles for Gold Medallions, upgrades and benefits are the best. Even if their “currency” is less valuable a 100% bonus makes up for that.

  • Jasmine

    No mention that AA auctions first class on flight upgrades. That effects upgrades since non elites can bid up to first class which reduces availability.

  • patmcpsu

    American’s policy seems to be the least generous in the industry and the merger would be a good opportunity for them to get in-line with the competition.

    What are the chances that it gets modified (to the generous
    side) during the merger process?

  • Joe

    So a new gold member does not get any upgrades in the account? Instead, the only way is to earn them through flying?

  • Chris

    Says the guy who uses an unnecessary hyphen and doesn’t capitalize his name or the first word.

  • JC

    Ah, I understand, thank you for the clarification!

    Out of curiosity, is it only because you’re flying out of DFW that you are interested in making the switch? Have you contacted AA about asking for a temporary status match, which would then enable you to gain a sustained status for the year?

    Though I don’t fly as much as I once did, I’ve been pretty happy with AA overall, and I think the new aircraft that are coming online would be a huge draw.

  • JC

    Free country = start your own blog and do it better.

  • ss

    The section on award change fees is incorrect–AA does not charge anyone to change (as long as origin and destination are the same). The fee is for *ticketing* inside 21 days, which is waived for gold

  • Dodger

    That sentiment would indicate a misunderstanding re. your chances of an upgrade (as a Plat). Having been both an AA Plat and US Plat I had a far higher upgrade % on AA and it was specifically down to the lack of unlimited upgrades for everyone. Having 500-mile upgrades makes pax think about what flights they’re going to use their upgrades on where the free-for-all system at US means everyone requests upgrades on every flight. As an AA Plat I regularly upgraded on trans-cons and mid-cons (and Hawaii flights) just by being a bit more “clever” with the flights I booked….no way would I have got even half of those upgrades with the US unlimited upgrade policy.

  • Jon

    I can’t agree with this enough. As an AA Gold, my upgrade percentage is sitting near 75%. If I were on UA/US/DL I’d be seriously SOL. But, I travel to smaller markets and try to find flights with low loads and have had some great success. The fact that there are Plats on the flight who are perfectly happy saving the $30-60 and hanging out in MCE helps tremendously.

    Not that MCE is half bad in itself, but being a lowly gold and still being able to get a good number of upgrades makes me stick with AA. If not, I might as well go with Southwest instead.

  • Jon

    …or just buy them for $30 per 500mi.

  • Jon

    You’re comparing apples and oranges. DL Gold (50k miles) is equivalent to AA Platinum (50k), not AA Gold which is 25k. AA Platinum level gets 100% bonus just like DL.

  • Josh Cabrera

    Yes I’m only considering it because DFW is my home airport. I fly mostly 1-stop, short-haul flights on DAL – usually snagging an exit row or first class seat on MD-88s/90s.

    I haven’t been a FF for long – just over a year, but I really like DAL. The customer service has always been great; the website and app are great; I get a good amount of upgrades; and most of my SkyMiles will probably be redeemed for direct DFW-LGA flights to visit family.

    My co-workers say I’m an idiot for not trying to always fly direct. If I flew AA, I could get more direct flights in general, but I don’t mind my 1-stop itineraries for the most part. The direct flights are nice for those rough weeks at work or travel disruptions, but the 1-stops usually earn me 100% more miles, which I find valuable for holiday travel – saved $600 this season already. I will most likely stick with DAL for 2014 but also will keep a close eye on AA to see how the merger pans out.

  • Josh Cabrera

    You must be buying the 500-mile upgrades though, right? I’m still trying to fully understand how AA upgrades work, but from my understand, you can’t earn enough to upgrade at that rate solely on earned upgrades.

  • concerned traveler

    we’ll have to see if the new post – merger program is as good or if doug parker takes away benefits

  • Matt Berg

    I’ve been an AA Gold for 4 out of the last 5 years (never anything higher) and I think I’ve gotten quite a bit out of the program. The fact that you have to pay a fee for the upgrades seems to make it easier to actually get the upgrades as not every person that is eligible always requests them. I used to fly JFK-TPA 4-5 times a year and I was almost always upgraded on that route with either 500-mile upgrades that I had earned, or bought for $30. That flight was about 3 hours and I could pretty much count on getting an upgrade for $60 which I felt was a pretty good deal.

    Internationally, I usually fly Business or First with miles, but we jumped on some cheap economy cash fares to Dublin this past summer and the three of us made pretty good use of the other Gold benefits: Business Class Check-In at JFK, Priority Tags for luggage, and Free Main Cabin Extra which made the 7hr flight a lot more comfortable.

  • Ben Price

    I’m in the following boat: ex-DL captive whose desperately trying to shift his biz AA.

    I have NO idea how AA upgrades work. What’s this 500-mile upgrade I keep seeing?

    When I called to upgrade on my last MIA-MAD trip, it was 35k miles + $350 + fare difference. Is this the 500 mile upgrade?

  • Josh Cabrera

    The way I understand it is:

    After you hit AA Gold (and higher) – for every 10,000 miles you fly, you will earn 4 “500-mile upgrades”. When you want to request an upgrade, you have to redeem 1 of these upgrades for every 500 miles on the flight you wish to upgrade. So if you are flying DFW-ATL, which is ~700 miles, you will have to use 2 of your earned “500-mile upgrades”. You can also purchase these upgrades for $30 each, or $60 total on a flight like DFW-ATL.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I rather play the complimentary upgrade lottery all the time then having to use the AA system.

  • Ben Price

    Me too Re: lottery. The 500-mile thing doesn’t seem like too hot a deal.

  • Trav

    hmm – posted this a second ago and it disappeared. Sorry for the dupe if it shows up twice.

    http://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/eliteStatus/upgrades/500mileUpgradesContent.jsp?from=Nav#overview

  • Trav

    AA says that the auction upgrades are only processed after all elite upgrades are processed. So it shouldn’t affect gold elites as long as they are really playing by that rule.

  • JC

    When I lived in Cinci, I hit Delta’s Silver Medallion status. Was always generally happy with Delta’s product itself, and totally hear you on the value of the quicker accrual of status and miles.

    That said, I find AAdvantage miles infinitely easier to use efficiently than SkyMiles. It might be just be the routes/times I’m interested in, but I feel like i *NEVER* see domestic economy (bleh, what a boring way to use miles anyway) for less than 40K, whereas AA has better availability. Something to perhaps consider?

    Nice chatting, thank you!

  • Jon

    That’s correct that I buy the $30 upgrades. Or “work” pays for it.. Most of the time I’m fine sitting in MCE – i’m slender and the leg room in MCE is more than sufficient for my needs. But if I were on DL/UA/US I’d ALWAYS be sitting in Y due to sheer competition for free upgrades. I mean, what good are complimentary upgrades for Golds (who want the upgrade) if the upgrade inventory is being taken up by other elites who could care less about the upgrade in the first place?

    That all said, I think my flying habits make the upgrades more worthwhile than elites who might be doing transcons all the time (where they’d be paying $150 for stickers on a $280 fare). YMMV.

  • Josh Cabrera

    You make a good point about making the upgrades more equitable. As you said, YMMV, and for what it’s worth, AA Gold seems better than DL Silver.

  • Miles

    Ya sure they are. And unless you ask everyone flying first class there status you won’t know.

  • austinpop

    Brian, I didn’t see you mention the Million Miler program. I achieved 1MM and became lifetime Gold a few years ago, before the criteria were tightened. I too feel I’ve gotten more out of Gold status than I expected. I’ve even gotten upgraded on seemingly unlikely segments (AUS-JFK, for example).

    I’m not thrilled about the merger, but glad that it’s AAdvantage that’s being preserved rather than DM, because that raises the chances of them continuing the Million Miler program.

    That said, I’ll miss the Buy Miles and Share miles US DM promos!!

  • Jimmy Yiannias

    I’m an AA Million Miler with lifetime Gold, with no mile flown on AA this year. However, I have 72,000 Elite Qualifying Miles on USAir (from flights, 2 credit card elite points and USAirways Club promos).

    Will I be able to combine my AA Gold Status (?equivalent to 25K?) w my 72,000 USAir miles to achieve 97,000 Elite Qualifying Miles?

    I’m planning on using USAir’s Buy Up to Preferred, and wonder if my Million Mile (Gold) on AA helps me in any way.

    Thx for the help!!

  • jjflysalot

    I’ve “achieved” GLD or PLT status the last few years. GLD has diminished–first–priority boarding hasn’t specifically called out GLD members, but rather RUBY level. Believe AA’s primary status holders should be called out by name. Second, not offering MCE seats is a joke–thanks AA. Third, used to get a couple of AAdmirals club passes just for being GLD–no longer, you must reach yet another threshold. And the final insult to injury is AA elite welcome kit–that includes multiple “Applause Certificates”–basically a homework assignment for you to recognize AA employees. Hey geniuses at AA marketing–how about some free drink coupons instead?

  • Snoody

    so I am 4200EQP away from EXP, I always qualify on points, does this mean I could renew by paying $399, iinstead of a flight before yr end?

  • Nprn

    I was literally 500 miles short of making gold status last year. Flew quite abit between LA to Hawaii and Chicago. Wondering if paying $399 to “boost” is worth it. I don’t think I will be flying as much this year.

  • sgspecker

    As of today, American downgraded the perks for Gold members. As an AAdvantage 1M miler I’m pretty unhappy with this. Here’s the note on their Elite status page:

    †For tickets issued on or after April 8, 2014, for travel on or after
    that date, Gold members traveling on American Airlines operated flights
    are eligible for one free checked bag; for tickets issued prior to April
    8, 2014, Gold members are eligible for two free checked bags.

    In an email to members, they made it sound like a benefit:

    “…as an AAdvantage Gold
    member, you can now check one bag free of charge for yourself”

    But this is taking a benefit away from us. What irks me is that while I rarely check a bag, I mostly check two when traveling for vacation or while heading back to my folks place on vacation (taking luggage and gifts). So, this isn’t another tax on my company, this is something that’ll come out of my personal bank account.

  • RJB

    yes – fully agree. Giving up on AA and going to Southwest for local flights. Gold status isn’t worth the hassle of frequently canceled flights for ‘weather’ (AKA AA didn’t fill the flight, therefore canceled the flight, and wants customers to foot the bill)

  • DiverThom

    AA’s new policy regarding seats bought with air-miles, If you buy Super-Saver fares you are ineligible for Preferred seats even if you are elite, you cannot even pay the extra to get those seats.

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