Is it worth pursuing American Airlines elite status ‘the hard way’ anymore?

Jul 22, 2021

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The pandemic forced airlines to make some major concessions to their loyalty programs. What started with airlines extending elite status turned into lowered qualification thresholds and a slew of promotions that have made it easier to secure status for next year.

American Airlines just launched an especially enticing opportunity for existing elites. Specifically, on top of the reduced qualification requirements this year, existing American Airlines AAdvantage elites can also requalify for status by spending $15,000 on an AAdvantage cobranded credit card or earning 2,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs). In other words, existing elites can now buy their way entirely to elite status without any flying at all.

On paper, these promotions sound great: easier ways to qualify for status. But not everyone is happy with the changes. Some elites are concerned that these moves can diminish the value of their status and make it harder to score upgrades.

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American Airlines AA 737-800 Main Cabin
(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

The problem

Airlines like American are in a tough spot right now. Although air travel is taking off again, it’s vastly different from what it once was. Business and international travel is still down significantly, so airlines need to do what they can to maintain positive relationships with their most loyal flyers.

To recap, in addition to extending any status held in 2020 through 2021, American lowered the 2022 qualifying thresholds across the board. It then launched a way to get around the EQD requirements and announced limited-time opportunities to earn bonus Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), EQDs and potentially even purchase some EQMs. It recently introduced two new pathways for current elites to requalify, either through cobranded credit card spending or by earning 2,000 EQDs.

Related: American Airlines is giving away free elite status

As great as this appears on paper, these promotions may consequently hurt its relationship with those who are flying again. TPG reader and AAdvantage Platinum Pro member Shawn Fortune reached out to us to share his disappointment:

I’m writing regarding the recently announced American Airlines promotion to keep your status if you have a card spend of $15,000+ on a co branded credit card. As a Platinum Pro member, I want to express my extreme dislike and reservations to this new promotion.

Throughout 2021, I have been flying with American Airlines working to gain my status for yet another year. For me, I’ve flown this year and taken trips I didn’t need to take in order to gain my status for another year. I’ve provided American Airlines with nearly $6,000 worth of business this year– all to be told that simply spending $15,000 on a credit card would keep my status? What is the point of me flying this year? $15,000 is an extremely easy number for people to spend on their American Airlines credit card.

There is no excuse for why people shouldn’t be flying. Flight schedules are virtually back to normal and vaccine rollouts have made it safe for us to travel once again. There shouldn’t be any more talk of “we’ll be ready when you’re ready,” because there’s nothing that’s holding people back.

Not only does this promotion overcrowd a loyalty program that only has benefits if it’s exclusive, but it sends the message that people don’t need to fly to gain status; the whole point of airline status. It shows that AA will always be there to swoop in and be the saving grace. Airline loyalty shouldn’t be confused for credit card loyalty, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. The fundamental purpose of airline loyalty is being put on the back burner. Because of this, despite already taking 52 flights and flying 60,000 miles in 2021, someone who hasn’t even flown since 2019 (because of status extension in 2020) may take an available upgrade seat.

I think this is one of the most detrimental decisions American Airlines has made regarding its loyalty program in a long time, and as a multi-year Platinum Pro loyal member, it makes me very frustrated to see that my loyalty doesn’t matter.

Related: What is American Airlines elite status worth in 2021?

AA elite status stats
(Screenshot courtesy of aa.com)

Related: All of the elite qualification changes you need to know about

The solution

It should go without saying that we are in an unprecedented situation and there’s no perfect solution. It’s also worth pointing out that American isn’t the only airline essentially letting you buy your way to elite status. For instance, JetBlue, Southwest and Air Canada are offering opportunities to earn status without flying as well.

That said, there are still loyalty incentives for those flying again. For starters, only those who qualify for Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum status “the hard way” will be eligible for elite choice rewards. These include systemwide upgrades (SWUs), bonus miles, travel vouchers, Admirals Club passes and more. TPG values these benefits at $350 to $1,400.

Additionally, those who earn status through flying will have more EQDs in their accounts, so they’ll have a higher upgrade priority over those who requalify via shortcuts.

We reached out to American Airlines to see how they’re dealing with these concerns. Here’s what a spokesperson had to say:

We value our elite members and understand that not all of our members are ready to return to travel. For those who are currently an elite member, we have provided the opportunity to retain their 2020 status, that has been previously extended through January 31, 2022, for an additional year by offering a credit-card spend promotion or a flight promotion.

For those members who qualified for Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum status by meeting qualification dollar and miles or segment requirements in 2020 or 2021, they receive:

  • Elite choice rewards benefits which were introduced for those who qualified in 2020 for their status level.
  • Upgrade priority that is higher than someone who simply retains status

As a reminder, AAdvantage lowered qualification thresholds in 2021 when compared to 2019 thresholds which has provided an opportunity for members to qualify for higher status.

That last point is especially important to keep in mind. American is making it easier for everyone to qualify for status next year — not just those who previously held status. If it weren’t for these changes, many elites would be at a lower tier this year.

Related: Why this is the year of easy elite status

Bottom line

Whether it’s worth pursuing status the old-fashioned way ultimately depends on how often you travel. If you travel frequently, American Airlines elite status can still be highly valuable. Not to mention, you’ll have an opportunity to qualify for higher status than you normally would due to the lower thresholds.

Sure, it might not seem fair that some members can effectively buy their status for next year. But these travelers worked hard to earn their status before the pandemic and the airline needs to make them feel appreciated as well.

Having a lower shot of an upgrade shouldn’t be a major concern since these elites will have a lower upgrade priority than those who actually met the qualifications. Plus, earning Platinum Pro elite status through flying is the only way to earn choice benefits.

If you’re a current elite that’s unhappy with the changes, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. American periodically sends members surveys about the AAdvantage program. You can also share feedback by contacting the airline via its website. If you decide to take your business to another airline, be sure to see what status match opportunities are available to you.

Featured photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy

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