Your guide to American Airlines lifetime elite status

Apr 15, 2020

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Editor’s note: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information needed to make educated decisions about travel and your rewards-earnings strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route network. But we are sharing this information to provide value for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.

This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

Hearing the number “one million” has an alluring ring to it, as everyone conjures up images of the millionaire lifestyle and all the luxury that provides. Grinding out one million miles flying with the same airline, however, might not be as glamorous. Those road warriors who manage to remain fiercely loyal to the same airline for decades of travel can look forward to a badge of honor at the end: a lifetime of elite status plus the bragging rights and snazzy luggage tags that come with being a “million miler.”

If you’re a devoted American Airlines traveler, what exactly does the future hold for you? Today we’ll explore the ins and outs of the AAdvantage Million Miler program.

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How to earn American lifetime elite status

American Airlines has made a lot of changes in recent years, from a major award chart devaluation to the introduction of “web special” pricing. Of course, things are never quite as bad if you’re sitting at the front of the plane, and the saving grace has been the speed with which American has worked to update its long-haul fleet with top notch lie-flat seats. Having elite status and the possibility of an upgrade are all the more important and have left even more people scrambling to lock in their status.

Related: Is it worth pursuing lifetime elite status?

If you’re looking to jump off the yearly hamster wheel of Elite Qualifying Miles, Elite Qualifying Dollars and Elite Qualifying Segments, loyal AAdvantage members can enjoy a lifetime of elite status once they reach the following thresholds:

At one million miles you’ll earn lifetime AAdvantage Gold status, which comes with a 40% mileage bonus (7x miles per dollar spent instead of 5x miles); priority check-in, security and boarding; free preferred seats at check-in; and a host of other perks. In addition, after your first million miles, you’ll also earn 35,000 bonus AAdvantage miles, worth $490 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

Related: What is American Airlines elite status worth?

At two million miles you’ll earn AAdvantage Platinum status for life, which comes with a 60% mileage bonus (8x miles per dollar spent), free preferred/Main Cabin Extra seats at the time of booking and Oneworld Sapphire benefits. You’ll also get four one-way Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs), which allow you to upgrade a paid ticket into a higher class of service on eligible flights. Under the right circumstances, these can get you hundreds of dollars worth of value, though you’d need upgrade space available on your flight to use them.

After two million miles, you start to run into the problem of diminishing marginal returns, as each additional million miles you earn will only get you four more SWUs rather than continuing to climb the AAdvantage elite status ladder.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on American Airlines

To check your progress towards these thresholds, login to your AAdvantage account, navigate to your account page, then click on activity. You’ll see your current balance and Million Miler balance at the top.

TPG Editor Nick Ewen has a ways to go until he locks in lifetime status with AAdvantage.
TPG Senior Editor Nick Ewen has a ways to go until he locks in lifetime status with AAdvantage.

It’s also important to clarify what miles count towards lifetime status with American. Million Miler miles (say that three times fast) are not the same as redeemable AAdvantage miles, nor do they exactly match your Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs). Instead, they fall into an entirely separate category and only count towards your lifetime status qualification.

According to AA.com, the following activity counts towards Million Miler qualification:

Which miles will count for the AAdvantage Million Miler program?
Flight distance on American-marketed flights or the base miles earned for travel on eligible partner-marketed flights will count toward AAdvantage Million Miler status.

For American-marketed flights, you’ll earn 1 mile for each mile flown, and for partner flights credited to your AAdvantage account, you’ll earn 1 mile for each base mile you earn based on that partner’s specific award chart (you can access charts for each airline partner at this link). Note that this excludes class-of-service bonuses for paid first or business class along with elite-status bonuses. It also doesn’t apply to award tickets, only revenue flights.

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

That being said, American is on the more generous side when it comes to partner earnings, and it also allows you to work towards Million Miler status on basic economy tickets. In addition, the carrier used to use redeemable miles as the metric for qualification (this was eliminated in 2011). As a result, if you earned any AAdvantage miles before Dec. 1, 2011, all of them would’ve counted towards lifetime status.

In addition to actual flight miles, American Airlines is offering the opportunity to once again earn miles towards lifetime status via credit card spending. As part of its 2020 elite status extension announcement, AA also noted that from May through December 2020, customers will be able to earn 1 mile towards Million Miler status for every dollar spent on cobranded credit cards. This offer does not apply to welcome bonuses or bonus categories, so even if your purchases earn more than one redeemable AAdvantage mile per dollar spent, you’ll only earn one mile towards your Million Miler total.

The timing of this offer couldn’t be better, as the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® is offering a welcome bonus of 65,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first four months of account opening.

The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

Take the above screen shot from TPG Senior Editor Nick Ewen’s account as an example. He has definitely not flown over 250,000 miles on American and its partners in his 17+ years of membership; instead, over 150,000 of those Million Miler miles came from welcome bonuses on Citi-issued credit cards back in 2010.

Is it worth it?

While there are plenty of shortcuts to earn elite status in a given year, either by leveraging credit cards that offer bonus elite-qualifying miles or a revenue requirement waiver, there isn’t much you can do to shortcut your way to lifetime elite status. Even if there was, this isn’t the most rewarding way to invest your limited time and resources.

Related: Last-minute elite status strategies for American Airlines AAdvantage

After all, a million miles is a lot of flying! I’m currently an AAdvantage Gold elite member, and I have been for the last few years. While I don’t like the Elite Qualifying Dollar requirement, I have no problem hitting the Elite Qualifying Mile threshold. After three years of doing this, what do I have to show for it? Barely 71,000 miles in my Million Miler balance.

At this rate it will take me almost 40 years to reach a million miles, and my reward for doing so will be the same elite status I already have plus a medium-sized mileage bonus. While 35,000 bonus miles might sound nice right now, I shudder to think how little that will be worth after another four decades of award chart changes. And of course, that’s assuming the AAdvantage Million Miler program still exists in its current form, a prospect that’s highly unlikely.

Even though this qualification is accelerated significantly for American’s most loyal flyers (Executive Platinum elites logging 100,000+ miles a year), the resulting status won’t be anything special. They’ll qualify for Million Miler status after 10 years but be rewarded with a lifetime of status that’s three rungs below the status they currently hold. Having some status is certainly better than nothing, but Gold status is hardly special enough to command a traveler’s loyalty. I’m much more likely to pick an airline based on price and convenience rather than the enticement of low-level elite status for life.

Related: The best travel credit cards

Even if an AAdvantage member was able to give Tom Stuker, the world’s most frequent flyer, a run for his money and log 20 million miles on American, the resulting lifetime elite status would top out at AAdvantage Platinum. The perks here are noticeably better than Gold, but that’s still not a great return on what likely amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent with American Airlines.

Long story short, it’s nice that American offers some type of lifetime elite status scheme, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend devoting your loyalty to the carrier based solely (or in large part) on its Million Miler program.

Lifetime status with American gives you a chance at first class upgrades but probably isn’t worth directly pursuing. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.)

Bottom line

Lifetime elite status is meant to be an exclusive reward for an airline or hotel’s most loyal and long-term customers. In the case of American Airlines, flying a million revenue miles doesn’t actually get you a whole lot in return. However, from May to December 2020, American Airlines is offering one mile per dollar spent on cobranded credit cards toward Million Miler status.

If you’ve decided to be loyal to American for reasons that truly matter — price, convenience, quality of fleet and service — and you end up flying a million miles, it will be nice to never have to worry about qualifying for elite status again. That said, you should treat a program like this as a nice surprise rather than going out of your way to plan for it.

Featured photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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