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How I Earned AAdvantage Elite Status at Age 18

March 23, 2017
6 min read
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At about this time last year, I challenged myself to earn airline elite status for the first time. I've since achieved my goal and have status through at least the beginning of 2018. Today I'll be sharing how I fast-tracked my way to earning AAdvantage Gold and teach you how to do the same — no matter your age.

Since this would be my first time earning elite status, my goal was to start with the lowest tier in American’s program: AAdvantage Gold. This normally requires 25,000 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) or 30 elite-qualifying segments. At the time, the $3,000 spending requirement did not apply.

Here are five strategies I used to earn AAdvantage Gold status, all of which could come in handy no matter which program or status level you're looking to get.

1. Stay Loyal to One Airline

I chose American because its route map fit well with my travel needs.

As a high school senior with the college application season in full effect, I knew I’d be doing a fair amount of school-related travel. Moreover, most trips would yield at least 5,000 EQMs, as I primarily applied to schools on the other side of the country.

My first step of fast-tracking to elite status was picking American Airlines as my sole carrier. Since it has a large route network and hubs in the airports I travel through the most, AA simply made the most sense for me.

2. Utilize an Elite Status Challenge

Status challenges are great opportunities to fast-track your way to elite perks. Last year, American offered challenges for its two lower tiers:

Gold: Earn 7,000 EQMs in 90 days; $100 fee
Platinum: Earn 12,500 EQMs in 90 days; $200 fee

To put this into perspective, anyone who registered for a challenge could have earned Gold status after just three one-way transcon flights.

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Although I had a big trip coming up that would yield me over 14,500 EQMs (more on that soon), I decided to register for the Gold challenge. TPG values AAdvantage Platinum at more than double what Gold is worth, but I didn't think — at the time, at least — I'd be able to take advantage of the additional benefits.

Even better, the challenge didn't actually cost me anything; I got the fee reimbursed thanks to the annual $100 airline fee credit provided by my American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card.

3. Consider Booking Paid Premium-Cabin Tickets

If a premium cabin airfare deal comes up, consider acting on it to boost your EQM earnings.

With American Airlines, you earn 1 EQM per mile flown in discount economy and 2 EQMs per mile in discount first/business. The 100% bonus on EQMs can go a long way when you get a good deal, not to mention the bonus award miles you earn from flying in a premium cabin.

I was able to go on one paid premium cabin trip, which got me 14,562 EQMs (about three-fifths of the Gold status requirement without a challenge). However, since I signed up for the elite challenge right before taking this trip, I was able to earn my status just from my outbound flights. This means that I was able to take full advantage of my new status for my return, even though that didn't provide much since I was already flying in business.

4. Maximize Routing

Status earned through challenges completed in the first half of the year is valid through the current membership year, and if you complete a challenge in the second half of the year your status is valid through the next membership year. Unfortunately, I was among the former, but already having 17,000 EQMs and a couple more trips before the end of the year, I figured that I should try to extend my status through the beginning of 2018 by reaching 25,000 EQMs.

Regardless, I knew that I would need to take three more cross-country flights between home and college before the end of the year. However, that would only yield about 7,000 EQMs, leaving me a bit short of 25,000 EQMs.

As a result, there were times when I booked flights with unnecessary connections. I ended up earning the couple hundred additional EQMs I needed from just one layover, but if you can afford the couple additional hours of travel time, this is a strategy I definitely suggest you try to take advantage of. American’s website shows how many miles you'll earn before booking, so you can determine whether it's worth selecting an itinerary with connections.

Furthermore, if you have a credit card that includes lounge access as a benefit, you can make your layover a bit more pleasant.

5. Mileage Runs

Consider booking a mileage run, like I did to Vegas. Image courtesy of f11photo via Getty Images.

Although not a viable method of earning redeemable miles for cheap anymore, mileage runs are still excellent ways to earn EQMs. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, a mileage run is when you take a trip — usually with the most circuitous itinerary possible — with the sole purpose of earning miles.

Since I knew that the travel I had planned through the rest of the year would already be enough to reach 25,000 EQMs, I didn't need to go on a mileage run. That being said, I am an aviation geek and couldn’t pass up on an amazing deal I found to fly from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in the morning and return that evening. Even though I was a teenager in Sin City, this was technically my first ever mileage run and ended up being a really fun travel day with my friend.

When planning a mileage run, be sure to check the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk for cheap ideas and follow @TPG_Alerts to see the latest flight deals as soon as they’re published.

Bottom Line

You can use various strategies to fast-track your way to airline status, making it significantly easier to become an elite even if you're not a business traveler — and college is a great time to start.

The five strategies discussed above are the ones I was able to take advantage of, but they aren't your only options. For instance, spending a lot with a co-branded credit card could help you boost up to elite status as well.

Do you have any tips for earning elite status at a young age? Share them in the comments below!