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TPG reader Joanna emailed to ask about lifetime elite status:
“What exactly is a million miler balance, and which flights count toward your total?”
If you’ve seen Up in the Air, you might remember the pivotal scene where George Clooney’s character finally crosses the ten-million-mile threshold on American Airlines, earning permanent high-level elite status in the process. While the onboard celebration in the movie was a bit of an embellishment, some airlines do offer special status and benefits to reward long-term loyalty.
All three of the US legacy carriers offer million miler programs, which generally grant low or mid-tier lifetime elite status, along with occasional perks like redeemable miles or gifts from retail partners. You can also earn improved lifetime status by becoming a multiple million miler. For example, United starts with Premier Gold status for those who reach one million miles, but offers increasing status for each additional million, all the way up to its invitation-only Global Services status for flyers who reach the four-million-mile mark.
Each airline tracks million miler status differently, and both the benefits and qualification requirements continue to evolve. Delta measures progress toward million miler status based on the total number of Medallion Qualification Miles a member has earned over a lifetime. MQMs include qualifying flight activity, as well as SkyMiles partner activity like bonuses offered on certain co-branded Delta Amex cards, so there are opportunities to qualify beyond your time in the air.
American used to generously count every AAdvantage mile earned, but since 2011, the airline only counts base miles earned on flights (including partner airlines). Miles earned from elite or promotional bonuses no longer qualify. You can earn lifetime AAdvantage Platinum status and four one-way systemwide upgrades at two million miles, plus four more for every million miles beyond that.
United has the most restrictive policy, since million miler qualification is based solely on your distance flown aboard flights operated by United and United Express. On the other hand, United offers the most rewarding million miler program overall, since you can earn top-tier Premier 1K status (at three million miles) and your spouse or significant other can share your benefits.
In all three cases, you’ll only get credit toward your total on flights that actually earn miles, so award travel won’t help. I’d guess that most people working toward million miler status already fly enough to garner some level of elite status. However, I’m sure there are folks out there who don’t fly quite enough to qualify in any given year, but are steadily working their way toward lifetime status at the million mile mark. That kind of loyalty should be rewarded too, so it’s great that these programs exist.
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