Last-minute elite status strategies for American Airlines AAdvantage

Nov 12, 2019

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There are just weeks left in 2019, which means time is running out to qualify or requalify for airline elite status in 2020. If you haven’t done so already, check your balances, strategize your travel for the rest of the year and see where that puts you in terms of elite status for the next year.

If you find you’re going to come out short of your goals, here are some ideas for earning the qualifying miles, segments and dollars you need before the end of the year. Today’s post will focus on American Airlines AAdvantage elite status.

Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy
(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

 

Useful posts

American Airlines has made some changes to its mileage program in the past few years. So before you start planning, take a look at these helpful posts for information you should have on hand as we enter the final countdown.

Now that you have all that information at your fingertips, let’s look at the benefits of elite status and plans to get you there.

Elite status qualification and benefits

Let’s start with some basics on American Airlines elite status. You can find information on the AAdvantage program and its membership tiers here. Below, we’ll look at the qualification requirements and benefits of each tier.

While you now earn award miles and elite-qualifying dollars based on your airfare on American Airlines flights, you earn elite-qualifying miles and dollars based on distance flown and fare class purchased on partners.

AAdvantage Gold

This is the first level of elite status. Currently, it requires flyers to earn 25,000 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) or 30 elite-qualifying segments (EQSs) and spend $3,000 elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs) per calendar year.

The benefits include:

  • Earn 7 award miles per dollar spent on airfare (a 40% bonus)
  • Unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades for flights of 500 miles or less
  • Earn 500-mile upgrade vouchers
  • 24-hour upgrade window
  • Dedicated elite phone customer service
  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • One free checked bag
  • Complimentary Main Cabin Extra seats within 24 hours of departure, and complimentary preferred seats
  • Waived award ticketing and close-in booking fees
  • Complimentary same-day standby
  • Discounted Admirals Club membership
  • Oneworld Ruby status
(Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.)

 

AAdvantage Platinum

The second tier of elite status is twice as hard to earn metrics-wise, but comes with several more benefits. Currently, you must fly 50,000 EQMs or 60 EQSs and earn $6,000 EQDs in a calendar year to qualify.

Additional benefits include:

  • Earn 8 miles per dollar spent on airfare (a 60% bonus)
  • 48-hour upgrade window
  • Complimentary Main Cabin Extra and preferred seats
  • Priority baggage handling
  • Two free checked bags
  • Priority baggage delivery
  • Oneworld lounge access, priority boarding and security
  • Oneworld Sapphire status

AAdvantage Platinum Pro

To qualify for the third tier of elite status, you must fly 75,000 EQMs or 90 EQSs and earn $9,000 EQDs.

The additional benefits at this tier include:

  • Earn 9 miles per dollar spent on airfare (an 80% bonus)
  • Unlimited complimentary upgrades
  • 72-hour upgrade window
  • Complimentary same-day flight changes
  • Oneworld Sapphire status

AAdvantage Executive Platinum

Finally, American’s top-tier level of earned status (Concierge Key elite status is invitation-only) requires customers to fly 100,000 EQMs or 120 EQSs and earn $15,000 EQDs in the calendar year.

If you hit this tier, you’ll enjoy the benefits listed above, plus:

  • Earn 11 miles per dollar spent on airfare (a 120% bonus)
  • Unlimited complimentary upgrades
  • 100-hour upgrade window
  • Complimentary upgrades on award tickets
  • Four systemwide upgrades
  • Complimentary upgrades on award tickets
  • Expanded award seat availability on American Airlines flights
  • Guaranteed availability in Main Cabin
  • Free same-day change on American-operated flights
  • Complimentary snacks and alcoholic beverages in the main cabin
  • Three free checked bags
  • Waived ticketing, award reinstatement fees
  • Oneworld Emerald status

With an understanding of the requirements and benefits of each tier, let’s look at how you can actually achieve your desired status.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 24, 2018: An American Airlines Airbus A320 passenger plane is serviced at a gate at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.)

Last-minute earning strategies

You have just about a month left, so it’s time to make some hard decisions about what is possible and what’s not. That said, a month can be plenty of time to meet the earning thresholds of your elite status tier of choice and there are some quick and easy options to get you over the hump.

Tried and trusty options like old-fashioned mileage runs are no longer as cost-effective thanks to more restrictive policies on same-day flight changes and earning on special fares.  But, there are still a few other tricks to help you along your way. Here are the ones to consider.

Credit card spending

Like some other airlines, American Airlines AAdvantage members can earn elite-qualifying miles and/or dollars by spending on certain cobranded credit cards.

Cardholders of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® can earn 10,000 EQMs every calendar year they spend $40,000 or more on purchases on the card.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

Buy-up to elite status

As in past years, American has started offering frequent flyers the chance to “elevate” their elite status and either requalify for their same tier or advance toward a higher tier by paying a certain preset amount. To see what your offer is, check this page.

 

The offers vary individually by your current status and progress toward elite status. Anecdotally, though, members have been offered a range of options including $699-$799 to requalify for Gold, $800-$1,800 for Platinum and $1,400+ for Executive Platinum, so it really can differ for each person.

The good news is, these offers tend to change based on your continuing activity and through at least January of the following year. So if you’re not ready to commit just yet and have some flight activity planned it could be worth waiting to see the offer you land on and decide from there.

Status challenge

Another shortcut to elite status is to initiate a status match or challenge. Basically, you send the airline your current elite status information with another airline and ask them to match you to either Gold or Platinum. Then, you will have 90 days to complete a certain amount of flying and spending on the airline. Here are the current requirements for each level.

Gold: 7,000 EQMs or 8 EQSs and $1,000 EQDs

Platinum: 12,500 EQMs, 16 EQSs and $2,000 EQDs

Note that you’ll have to pay a $200 fee even to start a challenge, so factor that into your costs. To enroll, your best bet is to call AAdvantage’s customer service desk at (888) 697-5636.

Business Extra

American Airlines has a loyalty program specifically for businesses called Business Extra. It exists separately from the AAdvantage program, which is for individuals. Companies that enroll in Business Extra earn one point per $5 spent on tickets purchased on American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia, and on Finnair, Japan Airlines and Qantas flights as long as the tickets are marketed by American Airlines.

You can then redeem those points for various benefits including award tickets and lounge passes. However, companies can also redeem 3,200 Business Extra points to confer AAdvantage Gold status on employees. That’s the equivalent of having spent $16,000 on airfare, although you might catch a break with promo deals as Business Extra has been known to run double-points promos on select long-haul routes before.

That’s still a lot of spending, but companies earn these points for all registered employees’ travel. If you work for a big company, the travel manager might have some points to throw your way toward status. It never hurts to ask.

Mileage-run scenarios

Now that achieving elite status requires earning both elite-qualifying miles or segments and hitting spending thresholds, mileage runs are not necessarily the useful tool toward qualifying they once were. However, if you’re up to the EQD spending threshold for your desired tier but still lack some miles, you have some time to make up the deficit.

Related: How and why you might want to book a mileage run

If you plan to credit flights on American’s airline partners to your AAdvantage account, just be sure you’re aware of the earning rates for the specific fare class you purchase. And remember that Basic Economy fares on American only earn 250-mile minimums, half EQMs and half EQSs, so be sure you don’t purchase one of those by accident.

You should check the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk for news about cheap fares. In the meantime, here are a some ideas for how to rack up a few thousand extra miles before the end of 2019.

1,000 miles short: It might seem ridiculous, but some folks miss out on elite status by fewer than 1,000 miles. If you could be in this bucket, it’s time plan a quick turnaround and avoid this fate.

Thanks to 500-mile minimums, East Coasters could do a quick jaunt between Boston (BOS) and New York (JFK) for just $169 and 1,000 EQMs.

If you have more time but need to stick to a budget, you could travel between the airline’s hubs in Miami (MIA) and Chicago (ORD) on a basic economy fare for just $123 and earn 1,196 EQMs.

5,000 miles short: Have a few more miles to go? Look for a quick round-trips from coast to coast like this cheap itinerary from San Francisco (SFO) to New York (LGA) via Charlotte (CLT). For $281, you’d earn 5,680 EQMs and 4 EQSs.

10,000 miles short: You could meet this requirement with a series of short- and medium-length flights. However, it might be better to book an inexpensive long-haul flight instead to avoid the possibility of cancellations or missed connections due to winter weather and holiday travel.

The best bets at the moment seem to be cheap flights from the U.S. to China. This round-trip from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG) is a mere $497 for 16,618 EQMs.

Segments

If your mileage-run strategy centers on earning segments instead, check the FlyerTalk Mileage Run Forum for ideas and then use Google Flights’ Multi City search to piece it together. I was able to construct a same-day six-segment itinerary originating and ending at New York (JFK) via Charlotte (CLT), Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW) and Chicago (ORD) for $364.

EQDs

Although earning EQDs on American Airlines flights is pretty straightforward, it gets more interesting when it comes to partner flights. If you purchase your ticket with partners instead of via American, you tend to earn EQDs based on your fare class and the distance of travel. That means if you can find some ultra-cheap long-hauls that still book into certain fare buckets, you can rack up EQDs at a faster rate than spending. You an also really come out ahead if you find some cheap premium fares. Check the FlyerTalk Premium Fare Deals thread for ideas.

Bottom line

With the end of 2019 rapidly approaching, it’s time to get serious about your elite status plans. The first step is figuring out where you stand now, and looking at what travel you have planned through the end of the year. From there, it might be worth taking a quick and cheap mileage run if it means spending 2020 enjoying the perks of elite status.

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 50,000 miles are worth $700. In addition, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) toward elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. As of July 23, 2017 this is the only card that offers Admirals Club lounge access so if you are an AA flyer this card might make sense for you.  Aside from lounge access the primary cardholder will receive a Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years, first checked bag free for up to 8 travel companions on domestic itineraries and a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you
  • Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 17.24% - 25.24%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$450
Balance Transfer Fee
3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.
Recommended Credit
Excellent

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