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In 2016 American Airlines announced major changes to its AAdvantage frequent flyer program, affecting both redeemable miles and elite status. Now that we’re into 2017, most of those changes are officially in effect.

With all that’s new, it’s important to know exactly what you’ll need to do in 2017 if you want to earn elite status on American for 2018 and beyond. Let’s take a look at all the ins and outs of the new system, keeping in mind that these new rules apply to earning status starting now for the 2017-18 program year.

The Basics of Elite Status

For the first time, American has four elite status tiers instead of three — a new “Platinum Pro” level has been added for 2017.

img-aa-elite-tiers-cards

While you couldn’t qualify for Platinum Pro for 2017 with your 2016 travel, if you reach the Platinum Pro requirements anytime during the 2017 calendar year, you’ll get the status for the rest of 2017 along with all of 2018 — which is true of all the elite status levels.

Platinum Pro roughly splits the difference between the benefits of the higher Executive Platinum status and the lower Platinum one (yes, the names are confusing). With Platinum Pro, you’ll get complimentary domestic upgrades — no 500-mile stickers needed — a 72-hour upgrade window, 4 extra redeemable miles per dollar spent on top of the standard 5 for a total of 9 miles per dollar, complimentary Main Cabin Extra and preferred seats and two free checked bags.

American has long been missing a fourth elite tier, as Delta and United have had four standard tiers for several years already, so it’s not surprising to see this added for 2017.

Elite Qualifying Dollars

In addition to flying a certain number of miles (EQMs) or segments (EQSs) in 2017, in order to earn elite status you’ll need to spend a certain amount of money on tickets with American as well. This new additional rubric is called “Elite Qualifying Dollars” or EQDs.

These are the EQD requirements for each American status level in 2017:

img-aa-elite-requirements-2017

As you can see, the higher the elite level, the more you’ll be required to spend with American. For basic Gold status you’ll have to buy $3,000 in tickets during the calendar year as well as fly either 25,000 miles or 30 segments. But to get top-tier Executive Platinum status, you’re required to shell out $12,000 in airfare with American in addition to flying 100,000 miles or 120 segments.

When it comes to Elite Qualifying Dollars, keep in mind that government-imposed taxes and fees are not included, so don’t expect your entire airfare to be credited as EQDs. On the other hand, carrier-imposed fees do count, so you don’t have to worry about fuel surcharges not applying.

So is there any way around this new requirement? Glad you asked.

EQDs via Credit Card Spend

Like Delta and United, American has tied Elite Qualifying Dollars in some manner to its co-branded credit cards. Unfortunately it’s neither as simple nor as generous as the other two airlines.

There are four AAdvantage Aviator cards that currently exist.

First, the ability to earn EQDs via credit card spend is only possible via one of American’s bank partnerships. Specifically, the following information applies only to the Barclaycard versions of the AAdvantage cards, not the Citibank ones. To get AA EQDs with a credit card you’ll need at least one of either the AAdvantage Aviator Red, Aviator Silver, Aviator Blue or Aviator Business MasterCards.

Second, you will not be able to earn enough EQDs this way to completely eliminate the requirement at the top two elite tiers. American and Barclaycard have decided that by spending $25,000 in a calendar year on either the Aviator Red, Blue or Business cards, you’ll earn $3,000 in Elite Qualifying Dollars.

You cannot “double up” on these three cards — you can only earn $3,000 on one of them for the year. However, if you also have an Aviator Silver, you can earn an additional $3,000 in EQDs for another $25,000 in spend. It’s also possible to put the entire $50,000 on the Aviator Silver and earn $6,000 in EQDs that way, but then you can’t add any more from the other Aviator cards — $6,000 EQDs is the maximum for the year across all credit cards.

To sum it up, $50,000 in spend across one or two Barclaycard Aviator cards can get you enough EQDs to make AAdvantage Gold or Platinum (along with the corresponding EQMs or EQSs), but will only get you partway to Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum.

So is there any other way around this new requirement? Again, glad you asked.

EQDs via Partner Airlines, Special Fares and Missing Fares

Since American can only determine EQDs when it knows how much you paid for the ticket, this becomes a problem when you credit a flight on an American partner back to the AAdvantage program since the other airline likely won’t tell American how much the ticket cost. To solve this dilemma, AA has added an EQD calculation to its partner earning charts, which is based on the old system of miles actually flown.

If you’re hoping this is where this new EQD system becomes simple and straightforward, you’re about to be extremely disappointed. Because American has come up with a different EQD calculation for every partner, which also takes into account the fare class your ticket was booked in.

Oh, but we’re not done yet. There are also cases where you might buy a ticket for an American flight, but AA still doesn’t know how much you paid for it because the fare info is missing. This can sometimes happen when the ticket is rebooked during irregular operations or for other reasons, and the original fare info doesn’t get added to the changed ticket.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-9-56-14-am
This is the chart American uses for flights on its own planes on or after January 11, 2017, when it doesn’t have fare information.

So to handle tickets without fare info, American created another formula based on fare class and included a calculation for EQDs. Which would be fine except that apparently AA quickly decided it didn’t like that formula and — wait for it — came up with yet another formula for flights departing after January 11, 2017, on American metal when American doesn’t know the fare.

Think we’re done? Not yet! Sometimes American doesn’t have information on your airfare because it’s a bulk ticket. Bulk tickets are often sold as part of AA Vacations packages, but you can also get one when booking with flexible bank points through travel portals such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Travel.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-9-55-10-am
This is American’s “Special Fares” chart for bulk tickets flown after January 11, 2017.

So rather than just use the same calculation as when the fare is missing, American created another formula to determine EQDs when traveling on a bulk fare. Of course, you can guess what happened next. When AA decided it didn’t like its missing fares formula and changed it for flights departing on or after January 11, it went ahead and did the same for the “Special Fares” formula, which means there is yet another chart for those tickets.

Got all that? Great, because I’m exhausted.

Upgrade and boarding priority changes

So once you’ve earned elite status, what other changes can you expect in 2017? Well, later in the year American will implement a new system for upgrades in which EQDs over a rolling 12-month period will be considered as part of the priority criteria. This will only apply to priority within elite tier levels — if you’re an Executive Platinum, you’ll still get upgraded ahead of Platinum Pros, Platinums and Golds regardless of your EQD status.

Also, the news is good on award tickets for Executive Platinum members who travel on award tickets. Starting later in 2017, those top-tier elites will be eligible for complimentary upgrades on tickets redeemed with miles. Delta has had this benefit for all its elite tiers for a few months now, so American is still playing catch up by only implementing it for Executive Platinums.

Finally, American has updated its boarding priority to specifically allow Concierge Key members (which is an invite-only elite status even higher than the highest public status) to board first ahead of everyone else and also allow Executive Platinum members to board with business class and ahead of the rest of the elites.

What have we learned about American’s elite changes?

Clearly there are a lot of ways to earn Elite Qualifying Dollars on American, and a whole bunch of them have nothing to do with how much you paid for your ticket. Remember also that these different strategies can be combined. Perhaps you’ll want to use an Aviator card for a portion of the EQDs, partner travel for another portion and actual spend on American for some as well.

Regardless, if you’re hoping to earn elite status on American this year but aren’t sure how you might spend enough money, you’ve got a lot of options to choose from that might make things easier.

Featured image courtesy of American.

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