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11 things you might’ve missed in American’s massive loyalty program update

Oct. 26, 2021
8 min read
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Earning American Airlines AAdvantage elite status is getting a big overhaul.

The airline is introducing a new rewards currency, called Loyalty Points, that you’ll have to accumulate in order to hit the airline’s four elite levels. To unlock top-tier benefits, you’ll also need to fly at least 30 segments with American or its partners in a year.

There’s lots more to learn, much of which was already covered in our main story about the changes. But there are some finer details worth sorting out from the bigger picture. Here, we’ll dive into 11 of them.

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The membership year is changing

In the past, American (and its largest competitors) have used the calendar year from January through December to determine your elite-status qualifying progress.

Well, American is breaking from the convention by shifting the qualifying period to March 1 through Feb. 28 (or Feb. 29) of the following year. If you earn elite status during that period, it'll be valid through March 31 of the year after that.

For example, if you earn 200,000 Loyalty Points between March 1, 2022, and Feb. 28, 2023, your Executive Platinum status will run through March 31, 2024.

Asked about why American is making this calendar shift, Heather Samp, managing director of member engagement, told TPG that it's about making it less stressful for those who are close to the status thresholds who might also be enjoying a year-end winter vacation.

When the qualification period ended on Dec. 31, some would-be elites took last-minute trips ("status runs") to boost their status, which might've interfered with the Christmas and winter break holidays.

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Everyone is getting a status extension

To bridge the gap until the new program officially launches on March 1, 2022, American will give all current elites a two-month status extension. All currently valid elite status has already been extended to March 31, 2022.

The airline is also extending the elite-qualifying period from Jan. 1, 2021, to Feb. 28, 2022, giving flyers another two months to qualify for next year's status under the current scheme of elite-qualifying miles, dollars and segments.

Additionally, all qualifying activity completed in January and February 2022 will also count towards your Loyalty Points balance when it launches in March — you'll basically have 14 months of qualifying activity to earn status for 2023.

Basic economy earnings are back

During the pandemic, American revamped its basic economy fares by loosening restrictions and adding the ability to apply upgrades to these deep-discount tickets.

But, the airline cut all elite-earning progress from these fares on Jan. 1, 2021.

Well, with the program revamp, all basic economy flights on American will once again contribute toward your elite progress. You'll earn one Loyalty Point for each redeemable AAdvantage mile that you earn from your basic economy flight.

30-segment minimum for rewards

This one will certainly sting for some flyers.

In addition to earning 125,000 or 200,000 Loyalty Points for Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum status, respectively, you'll also need to fly at least 30 segments with American and its partners to unlock the rewards of these status levels, which will include your pick of systemwide upgrades, Admirals Club passes and bonus AAdvantage miles, with additional rewards "coming soon."

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

If you've historically earned top-tier status from a handful of long-haul, premium-cabin flights, you're likely going to need to add some shorter, domestic hops to your travel plans to qualify for these rewards.

In some cases, it could make sense to book a connecting itinerary if you're struggling to hit the 30-segment requirement.

Award flights will contribute to segment requirement

The good news is that award travel marketed by American will contribute towards the 30-segment threshold.

This only includes AAdvantage award segments for travel on American — partner-issued tickets or awards on partner airlines will not count towards this threshold. Note that you won't earn any redeemable AAdvantage miles or Loyalty Points from award tickets.

Sign-up bonuses are out

To earn Loyalty Points, you don't necessarily have to fly with American. Your cobranded AAdvantage credit card spending, as well as your activity with certain partners, like the eShopping portal or SimplyMiles, will also contribute to earning Loyalty Points.

Generally, you'll earn one Loyalty Point for each base AAdvantage mile earned from the aforementioned activities.

However, there's a big caveat for those credit card power users. Sign-up bonuses, limited-time spend offers and category multipliers are excluded from earning Loyalty Points.

Only the base AAdvantage miles you earn will contribute to Loyalty Points. For most cobranded cards, that's one AAdvantage mile and one Loyalty Point per dollar spent.

Status and cabin bonuses are in

When you book a ticket with a partner airline, you earn AAdvantage miles based on the cabin flown, the flight distance and your elite tier. All of those factors contribute to your mileage earnings, and they'll all factor into your Loyalty Points earning, too.

For example, if you splurged for a discounted British Airways business-class fare from New York to London for $2,000, you'd earn 4,314 redeemable miles (3,451 base miles with a 25% cabin bonus), which translates to 4,314 Loyalty Points one way. If you're a top-tier Executive Platinum member, you'd also receive a 120% elite bonus on the base miles, bringing your total redeemable miles to 8,455 (3,451 multiplied by the 1.20 elite bonus + 4,314) and your Loyalty Points to 8,455.

Pay attention to the calendar

Along with the new qualifying period from March 1 through Feb. 28, you'll also want to pay attention to the timing of when you earn your Loyalty Points.

For flights and non-credit card activities, you'll earn Loyalty Points based on the date of the activity, not based on when the AAdvantage miles post to your account.

However, for cobranded card spend, those purchases will count based on when the activity posts to your AAdvantage account, which could take a few billing cycles depending on your account.

That said, if you're planning some last-minute spend to boost your Loyalty Point balance, you'll want to plan that a few weeks (or even months) ahead to ensure it counts to the correct qualifying period.

Million Miler is unaffected

American's Million Miler program awards lifetime status, bonus miles and systemwide upgrades depending on how many million miles you've flown with American and its partners.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Though the way you earn elite status is changing, you'll still accrue progress towards Million Miler status based on the actual distance flown.

Rolling EQDs conversion

Along with the elimination of elite-qualifying miles, dollars and segments, American will transition to a 12-month rolling Loyalty Points balance as the tie-break for determining upgrade priority, after status level and which type of upgrade you requested (systemwide upgrade, mileage upgrade or 500-mile upgrade).

For 2022, American will consider the elite-qualifying dollars you earned in 2021, as well as Loyalty Points as you earn them, to determine upgrade priority. That way, elites who flew with American during the pandemic in 2021 will be rewarded for that travel, as opposed to everyone starting with a clean slate.

The details of the calculation are as follows. The rolling EQDs that you have as of Feb. 28, 2022, will be converted into Loyalty Points (for upgrade priority only) based on your status held as of Jan. 1, 2022. The multipliers used are the same base (5x) and your applicable elite bonuses (7x, 8x, 9x and 11x). For example, a Gold member earns seven miles per dollar spent when flying, so those EQDs will be multiplied by seven as if they had been earning Loyalty Points.

500-mile upgrades

AAdvantage Gold and Platinum members must opt-in to complimentary domestic upgrades using 500-mile upgrade certificates. Historically, you received four 500-mile upgrades for every 12,500 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) earned during each membership year.

Of course, the new program no longer counts EQMs, so earning 500-mile upgrades will change, too. We just don't have the details yet. "There will be more details to share around how you can earn e500s at a later time," an American Airlines spokesperson told TPG.

Bottom line

American's revamped elite status program combines all qualification progress into one new currency called Loyalty Points.

While it might sound simple on the surface, there are plenty of finer details in the announcement, including a new segment requirement for earning top-tier rewards and a tweaked membership year.

You don't want to miss these details — they could make or break your elite earnings for 2022 and beyond.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/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.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023