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TPG reader Alexis emailed me to ask about a new program American launched to help elites falling short of requalification maintain their current status:
“I’m currently American Airlines Gold elite, but I didn’t fly enough to retain the status for 2014 or to qualify for buying the “Boost” option. Is it worth it, in your opinion, to repurchase Gold status for $649? Or is it a better deal to get the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard with the $95 annual fee? I’m currently planning to fly about 15,000 miles next year, at least half of that will be with a baby (so I will be checking luggage).”
It is that time of the year when people are nervously taking flights to lock in their elite status for 2014. In fact, last week I flew to Dublin via London on American Airlines simply to ensure my Executive Platinum status for another year. I was coming up just a little short short and taking that flight – even though it cost me about $1,000 – made it certain that I would keep my Executive Platinum status and score those eight valuable systemwide upgrades, which I conservatively value at about $4,000, as well as a whole host of other perks, so that made it worth it for me.
Alexis is in a different situation though. AAdvantage Gold Status is the lowest level of American elite status, and you don’t get complimentary upgrades – you have to earn them – though you do get a lot of other benefits, which I covered here. Having elite status is nice in that you get free checked bags, priority check-in and boarding, and some other time- and money-saving perks, and it will help you if your flight is ever canceled, etc. However, I don’t recommend buying elite status when you are not even flying enough to qualify. If you are not flying that much you are probably not maximizing those benefits so why shell out hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the hopes of future benefits?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Gold status, 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.
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.
As Alexis mentioned, 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.
- Renew: If you are an elite status member in 2013 but aren’t able to retain your status by the end of the year, you are eligible for a status renewal.
However, you need to be within 5,000 miles or 5 segments short of reaching Gold status to boost to the status for the cost of $399. If you are you already Gold and are way off from retaining it and out of the “boost” range (like Alexis), you can buy it back for $649.
In my situation, I am actually qualifying on Points, which is a unique system American has based on the airfares you purchased in addition to the standard elite-qualifying miles and elite-qualifying segments methods of most airlines. That’s because I managed to purchase a few very inexpensive business and first class fares this year that earned me tons of extra points, while the EQM’s I accumulated weren’t quite as high, so I decided to purchase a slightly higher fare class on my Dublin trip to cross the threshold.
However, to provide a quick contrast, let’s say I was within the 6,500 miles my Dublin trip accrued me if I were trying to qualify on miles alone. With the new Boost/Renew options, American would have charged me $1,800 to boost up to Executive Platinum. So it was actually better and cheaper for me just to buy a ticket and go for a quick weekend with friends.
I understand that not everyone can do that, though, especially considering there are only two days left in the elite-qualifying year, and you do have to put a value on the time spent away from home to get those miles. So do the math, but in general I would not recommend spending $600 plus to lock in lower level elite status – instead get an airline co-branded credit card that is going to give you that priority boarding and the free checked bags, which is essentially what lower level status is nowadays anyway.
Given Alexis’s situation, she might want to apply for the card she mentions, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard, which currently comes with a 50,000-mile bonus after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of cardmembership, and the $95 annual fee waived for the first year. Its benefits mimic those of elite status and include first eligible bag checked free for you and up to 4 travel companions, and Group 1 priority boarding. Then Alexis, who might not be traveling as much with an infant, can also take advantage of AA’s Choice Fares on domestic travel to bundle in extra perks like free waived change fees, which elites do not get, and call it a day – much more economical in her circumstances than shelling out $649 for basic benefits she might or might not use.
For more information on American Airlines elite status, reach these previous posts:
Why I Love American’s New Choice Fares Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.