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American Airlines Elite Qualifying Miles: What EQMs are and how you earn them

Nov. 22, 2019
11 min read
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One of the foundational elements of American Airlines elite status, upgrades and perks is the Elite Qualifying Mile (EQM). Gone are the days when one mile flown meant one mile earned — whether it's toward status or award miles.

On the positive side, AA premium-cabin flyers can earn elite-qualifying miles faster than ever before. But this comes at the expense of complexity — especially when flying on AA's partners. AA flyers have to consult numerous charts to figure out what they're going to earn, and there are several catches and pitfalls to keep in mind.

For those that want to be in the know, let's dive into how AA flyers can earn Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) and how earning EQMs can help you earn elite status and upgrades.

How many EQMs are needed for elite status?

The primary reason for American Airlines flyers to care about earning Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) is for elite status on American Airlines. However, remember that EQMs aren't the only requirement that must be met to earn elite status. In addition to earning enough Elite Qualifying Miles — or Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) if you earn status through segments — travelers also have to earn enough Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD).

Starting in 2019, the requirements needed for American Airlines elite status are as follows:

  • AAdvantage Gold: 25,000 EQM and 3,000 EQD
  • AAdvantage Platinum: 50,000 EQM and 6,000 EQD
  • AAdvantage Platinum Pro: 75,000 EQM and 9,000 EQD
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum: 100,000 EQM and 15,000 EQD

Related: What is American Airlines elite status worth?

Other benefits of earning EQMs

Elite status isn't the only reason to pay attention to your Elite Qualifying Miles. There are two other perks that are gained by earning EQMs.

500-mile upgrades

To get upgrades on flights within North America, American Airlines Gold and Platinum elite members need to redeem 500-mile upgrade "stickers." If you're unfamiliar, we have an entire guide to how 500-mile upgrades work.

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In short, you'll earn four 500-mile upgrades — enough to upgrade up to 2,000 flight miles — for each increment of 12,500 EQM that you earn between Feb. 1 and Jan. 31 of the following year.

To find your progress toward earning the next batch of upgrades, browse to your American Airlines account wallet and check the number of "EQMs needed." As we can see below, TPG's Travel Analyst Zach Griff is 12,139 EQM from reaching the next threshold -- which means he just recently earned 4x upgrades:

On North American routes, AA Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites get "unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades" through the 500-mile upgrade system.

The downside to this unlimited upgrade system is that Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites don't earn upgrades like Gold and Platinum elites do. That can be a problem for elites who often travel with non-elite companions. Even though they don't earn 500-mile upgrades, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum elites still have to use 500-mile upgrades to upgrade non-elite companions.

To check your balance, go into your American Airlines account Wallet — where you'll see that the "EQMs needed" line isn't listed:

Threshold bonuses

After qualifying for Executive Platinum status, AA frequent flyers are enticed to continue earning more EQM with rewards for reaching 150k, 200k and 250k EQM thresholds. At the 150,000 EQM threshold, Executive Platinum elite members have a choice between:

Upon reaching 200,000 and 250,000 EQM, elites get a choice between:

EQM from flying American Airlines

First, it's important to clarify that award miles, EQM and EQD earnings depend on the airline "marketing" the flight — not the airline operating the flight or the airline that sold you the ticket.

That means that you could theoretically be on a British Airways-operated flight on a ticket purchased through Iberia, but you'll earn award miles, EQM and EQD based on the AA earning chart if your flight number is an American Airlines flight number.

AA-marketed flights earn:

  • Basic economy: 0.5 EQM per mile flown
  • Economy: 1.0x EQM
  • Premium economy: 1.5x EQM
  • Discount business/first class: 2x EQM
  • Full-fare business/first class (code F,J): 3x EQM

To throw a bone to flyers that take short flights, all AA flights earn at least a base of 500 EQMs. For example, flights between Boston (BOS) and New York LaGuardia (LGA) are only 184 miles in distance but earn 250 EQM in basic economy, 500 EQM in standard economy or 1,000 EQM in business/first.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

Elite Qualifying Miles from flying partner airlines

While earning Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) is relatively straightforward on American Airlines-marketed flights, earning EQMs on partners can be quite complicated.

In short, you're going to earn EQMs on almost all Oneworld partner tickets — with exceptions for some partner economy fares. EQM earnings depend on two aspects: the airline flight number and the airline fare class. To complicate matters further, there's a different award chart for each partner airline.

As of publishing, you can earn American Airlines EQM on the following Oneworld partner airlines:

Just like on AA-marketed flights, Oneworld flights also have the Minumum EQM guarantee. That means that you'll earn a base of 500 EQM on all Oneworld flights, but that base earning is then multiplied by the relevant EQM earning rate — which might be 0% for some fare classes.

American Airlines has several non-alliance partners where you'll earn AAdvantage award miles: China Southern Airlines, Etihad Airways, Fiji Airways and Hawaiian Airlines. However, you won't earn any EQMs on any of AA's non-alliance partners unless you book the flight with an American Airlines flight number.

While these aren't official designations, AA's partners broadly fall into the following groups when it comes to EQM earning:

EQM earning ratesVery close
Close partnersMid-tier partnerDistant partnersNon-alliance partners
Airline examplesQantasBA, Finnair,
Iberia, JAL
QatarCathay, Malaysia,
Royal Jordanian,
S7, Sri Lankan
China Southern,
Etihad, Fiji, Hawaiian
Discount economy1.00.50.5----
Mid-tier economy1.
Full-fare economy1.
Premium Economy1.51.5n/a1.5--
Discount business/first2.
Full-fare business/first3.

Economy fares

As you can see in the chart above, EQM earnings on partners range from zero to 1x per flight mile. If you're looking to earn at least some EQMs, you'll want to avoid the following partner economy fare classes — which earn 0 EQMs no matter the distance of the flight:

  • Cathay Pacific: K, M, L, V, Q, S, G, N
  • Malaysia Airlines: N, O, Q
  • Royal Jordanian: N, O, G
  • S7 Airlines: P, W, G, Z
  • Sri Lankan Airlines: G

With the exception of LATAM — which won't be a partner by Oct. 2020 — all other Oneworld partner economy flights will earn at least 0.5 EQM per flight mile. On most partners, you're going to need to avoid buying the cheapest economy fare classes to earn 1x EQM per flight mile. But, there's one new exception.

Starting Oct. 1, 2019, American Airlines and Qantas celebrated their recently-approved joint venture by improving the mileage earnings on each other's flights. Now, all Qantas-marketed flights will earn 1 EQM per mile flown — making it AA's only partner where this is the case.

Premium economy fares

With the exception of LATAM — which, again, won't be a partner by October 2020 — all Oneworld partner premium economy tickets earn 1.5 EQM per mile flown. On some partner airlines where you'd only earn 0.5x EQM in economy, the ability to earn triple that in premium economy makes it a pretty tempting sweet spot.

Business- and first-class fares

With one exception — yes, again, it's LATAM — all Oneworld partner business- and first-class fares earn at least 1.5 EQM per flight mile. But, when it comes to business- and first-class earnings, there are two distinct groups of partners.

On partners British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines (except domestic flights booked into E class) and Qantas, you'll earn 2x EQM per flight mile in most business and first-class fares. If you book a full-fare (F or J class) ticket, you'll earn 3x EQM per mile flown.

On AA's other Oneworld partners (except LATAM), you'll earn 1.5x EQM per flight mile in all business and first-class tickets.

Elite Qualifying Miles from credit cards

If you need an EQM boost to hit elite status — and you don't want to go on a mileage run — there are a few credit cards that can help you earn elite status. But, all three options require quite a bit of spending.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

While Citi offers several American Airlines cobranded credit cards, only one offers EQM-earning potential. Citi / AAdvantage Executive cardholders can earn 10,000 EQM by spending $40,000 on their card during a calendar year.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

If you don't have the card already, you can score a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. In addition to the card's EQM earning potential, the primary cardholder gets Admirals Club membership and authorized users get Admirals Club access. You'll also get a first checked bag free on domestic itineraries and priority boarding. See our full Citi AAdvantage /Executive card review.

Here's where to apply for the Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard

Cardholders can earn 5,000 EQM for spending $20,000 on the card in a calendar year, up to 10,000 EQMs per year for spending $40,000. Other perks of the card include a free checked bag, preferred boarding, $25 in statement credits per day toward inflight food and beverage purchases on AA-operated flights and up to $50 back a year as statement credits for Wi-Fi purchases on AA flights.

The catch: You can't apply for this card directly. Instead, you’ll need to have the AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard for at least 90 days before you can call Barclays and request an upgrade to the Aviator Silver card.

Related: Should you upgrade from the AAdvantage Aviator Red to the AAdvantage Aviator Silver?

AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard

The third card that offers EQD earnings is the AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard. You can earn 3,000 EQDs for spending $25,000 in a calendar year. Additional perks include a free checked bag (with limitations), preferred boarding, 25% back on food and drinks purchased on AA flights and 2x miles on AA flights, telecom, office supply and car rental purchases.

Featured image by (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.