American Airlines Knows Their Lifetime Status is Weak, Considers How to Fix It

American AAdvantage used to have one of the most generous lifetime elite status programs, but three changes to the program have made it less valuable. Meanwhile Delta and United have improved their offerings over the years. Both airlines are now more generous with lifetime loyalty than American, and when a program is less generous than Delta that’s saying something.

One well-regarded source, however, suggests that the airline recognizes this and is considering solutions to improve lifetime status.

United and Delta Offer Higher Status Benefits to Lifetime Elites

American AAdvantage offers lifetime Gold (1 million miles) and Platinum (2 million miles). There’s no lifetime Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum, or ConciergeKey status.

In contrast Delta offers up to lifetime Platinum status (equivalent to Platinum Pro), and an annual gift for million milers, and United offers up to lifetime Global Services (their equivalent of ConciergeKey), and extends the lifetime member’s current status to a spouse.

American Has Downgraded Benefits for Lifetime Elites

American’s 2 million mile lifetime Platinum status went from mid-tier (second of three levels) to being towards the bottom (second of five levels) when the airline made ConciergeKey an elite status level (previously ConciergeKey customers were Executive Platinums) and introduced Platinum Pro status at 75,000 qualifying miles between Platinum and Executive Platinum.

It used to be:

  1. Gold (achievable at 1 million miles)
  2. Platinum (achievable at 2 million miles)
  3. Executive Platinum

However it’s now,

  1. Gold (achievable at 1 million miles)
  2. Platinum (achievable at 2 million miles)
  3. Platinum Pro
  4. Executive Platinum
  5. ConciergeKey

Not only are lifetime elites lower in the status order, but American now prioritizes upgrades based on rolling 12 month spend, giving priority to customers qualifying for status each year over mere lifetime elites. Lifetime Platinums not re-earning their status each year are at the bottom of the upgrade list below other Platinums making lifetime Platinums ‘Gold-plus’.

How American Could Improve Lifetime Status

The good news is that American reportedly recognizes this, and is considering what to do about it.

The challenge American faces is they don’t want to just add 3 and 4 million mile levels. Until December 1, 2011 all miles earned in the American AAdvantage program counted towards lifetime elite status. That included credit card spend and even initial bonuses, shopping portal miles, miles earned from checking accounts and mortgages and everything else.

As a result there are a large number of customers with big lifetime balances — not just 3, 4, and 5 million but even 70 million lifetime miles.

The airline doesn’t want to expand the pool of Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum members with customers that earned lifetime miles from credit card spend or checking account balances in the distant past. They’d have more 3 million and 4 million milers than Delta and United (probably more than both combined).

At the same time they wouldn’t want to set the bar so high, to compensate for the number of customers with high lifetime mileage balances, that the new lifetime elite levels would seem unattainable for customers striving for them today.

  • At 100,000 miles a year it takes 10 years to earn lifetime Gold and 20 years to earn lifetime Platinum under today’s rules.
  • Four million mile status would take 40 years.

Of course some customers earn 200,000 and more flight miles per year, but setting the threshold at 5 million or 10 million miles would seem a bridge too far.

One solution would be to add a minimum number of years at a status level in order to achieve that lifetime status. British Midland used to do this (10 years of gold for lifetime Gold). Marriott does this today. And it’s completely fair to add additional requirements to now status levels, that members haven’t already been striving for.

  • Leave lifetime Gold at 1 million miles
  • Leave lifetime Platinum at 2 million miles
  • Add lifetime Platinum Pro at 3 million miles and 10 years of Platinum Pro status or higher
  • Add lifetime Executive Platinum at 4 million miles and 10 years of Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey status

This would allow American to introduce a competitive lifetime elite status program without flooding the ranks with customers who earned their lifetime miles in the past via credit card spend and other non-flight activity.

Meanwhile I’d strongly suggest mirroring United’s approach of allowing lifetime elites to extend their current status to a spouse or domestic partner. That’s a benefit worth shooting for. There’s nothing more important to a hard core business traveler than how their chosen brand treats their loved ones. It’s often more important than how they’re treated.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I think AA should offer 50,000 elite mile credit each year to lifetime Platinum and 25,000 elite mile credit each year to lifetime Gold to encourage AA revenue spending. I am reluctant to fly 75,000 AA miles as a lifetime Platinum just to achieve Platinum Pro elite status for one year.

  2. I disagree with the approach of adding X years required at a status level for lifetime status.

    I think AA should move forward with adding new tiers but say that only lifetime BIS will count towards the new lifetime status levels.

    In other words, those who may have 10 million lifetime miles but only 500K BIS will not get lifetime platinum pro or EXP but rather will remain at lifetime platinum. They have the data and the capability to do that.

    Keep the program simple. I do agree about making lifetime status a little more richer in benefits. The UA companion status is neat.

  3. @Golfingboy – the problem with that approach is they’ve been showing customers a lifetime million mile total in their account for years. For the past 8 years it has largely only added flown miles. It wouldn’t be simpler to add a new lifetime flown miles total, (1) going back and recategorizing pre-2012 data and (2) having two counters, one for lifetime 1mm/2mm and one for levels above that. That’s why a years requirement seems an easy way to solve a complex problem.

    And remember that non-flight miles are valuable, probably more valuable to the airline than flight miles, the problem is that there would be too many lifetime members if non-flight miles alone count.

    So someone with 3mm miles + 750k flown miles from 10 years at Platinum Pro (it’s an unlikely low #, they’d have to have been Platinum Pro every year they flew American and never hit one mile over qualifying) is a pretty strong Platinum Pro.

  4. Lifetime Platinum Pro at 3 million miles? At 75,000 miles per year, it would take 40 years to achieve that. Nonsense..!

  5. I was quite excited with my Platinum for Life when I got it about 20 years ago after collecting over 3 million miles in about 9 years and I flew only on American … then they introduced Platinum Pro and I almost never fly American anymore – once in the last 5 years.

  6. I do not think there should be an option for lifetime EXP just from the simple fact there are just already too many EXPs. When a CLT-SFO transcon goes out with 24 EXPs on the upgrade list in March after the yearly list culls, you know there are too many. I actually think each year AA should raise the EQD figure to continue to thin the ranks until being EXP is meaningful again.

  7. I’m one of those LT Golds not flying AA much these days, so at the very bottom of the upgrade lists. Yet even though it hurts me personally, I recognize that using recent EQD as the tiebreak makes so much more sense than the old system of earlier-request-date, since it rewards high value customers instead of low.

    And it makes no difference to me how those with higher status are split into tiers. Adding Plat Pro makes no difference, without it, they’d all be Plats and ahead of me anyway. It shouldn’t matter to a LT Plat whether CK is a separate tier or just a part of EXP. (But the Plat Pro tier does hurt LT plats, I guess).

  8. I’ve probably flown 700+ segments since 2011 and I’m only at 500k lifetime miles. I think they need to enable the two trackers – one for total miles earned and one for BIS miles. Tired of listening to the “I’ve flown 3M miles with AA” when actually they’ve earned 3M miles with AA and probably only flew <1M.

  9. 4 MM and 10 years EXP would be something I would aggressively pursue. I am at 2.9 MM and 10+/-2 years (I haven’t counted). I am not holding my breath, cause it ain’t gonna happen.

  10. At Marriott for all they do wrong giving credit where credit is due I went from Lifetime Platinum to Lifetime Titanium
    I wasn’t discarded for my loyalty
    @ American I went from Lifetime Platinum to below Gold technically so I fly other carriers today where I earn my status and get treated and recognized much better
    Also where the customer service is better friendlier with more comfortable seating and has higher quality food and beverage on average

  11. @Jon – with rolling EQDs determining upgrade priority, why does it matter (culling the herd)?

  12. I think they should do what Jon says. The sooner they get rid of elites (who tend to book American) and paying flying customers, the sooner AA sees real pain. Right now AA flies 6 CLT-SFO transcon a day. If volume of customers goes down, AA will cancel flights. [See JFK-SFO schedule.] Using Jon’s example, When AA is down to 1 CLT-SFO transcon every other day, and that flight only has 24 people on it, that would be GREAT.

  13. Since there’s likely no way to go back and audit actual butt in seat miles v credit card miles, etc, I would be ok with them adding X years of status per tier level. I think this makes more sense and it rewards loyal customers.

    Now if AA could just take care of their inner workings as a company, that would be much better in the short term for all of us.

  14. I reached Lifetime Platinum back when all miles counted. I was so excited knowing I never needed to qualify again for Platinum. But now this status is almost worthless. Since I retired and fly much less, my annual spend on AA is quite low. So most other Platinum members would have higher priority on the upgrade list than me. I joined the AAdvantage program on day one back in the early 80s but am through being loyal to AA.

  15. How is AA worse than DL? I am a DL Million Miler, and all I get is lifetime Silver (not Gold.) I’m not concerned with upgrades (I mainly fly transcon and international), but I’d like the lounge access and Sky Priority that I would get with lifetime Gold.

  16. I want to disagree with many of the comments above. I’m lifetime Platinum on AA and lifetime Gold on DL with around 3 million miles on each. Currently I’m EP but retired this year so will fall back to lifetime Platinum in 2020. I understand upgrades will be very tough, and non-existent on high demand routes. However I still see value in my lifetime status on both carriers. Being able to pick any seat at no cost (except DL comfort) and have priority boarding is a benefit. Many on here are spoiled and only count percentage of upgrades as having value but try booking either airline for someone with NO STATUS and see the difference. Again, doesn’t mean I won’t fly other airlines since don’t have to chase status but don’t just dismiss what you have earned.

  17. + 1 on Lifetime Platinum and take every opportunity to not fly American. And I live in DFW.

    I do however avail myself of their lounges when flying in One World partners

  18. AA has gone from being a mediocre,middle of the road Airline to a poor alternative when considering travel both domestic and international. My Ex.Platinum status expired a few years ago after a 10 year period of keeping it current.

    The life-time status given to me after being a member of AA since 1983 was a status of Platinum. This has now been surpassed recently by Platinum pro……….whatever! Anyhow trying to get a upgrade on any AA flight using the lifetime Plat status is absolutely WORTHLESS. Have traveled domestically this year approx 17 round trip flights and yet to have a upgrade given.

    Because I’m based out of MSP. This means connecting almost 95% of the time. It’s becoming worthless to use American due to no chance of upgrades even if you travel off-peak times/days and then considering the added 3 hours to connect and arrive at the final destination.

    Thinking Delta is the only way to plan future travel,can’t be any worse than AA.

  19. As a lifetime Platinum I always flew American Airlines. However, when they watered down their program and added Platinum-Pro I dumped American Airlines. Now when I buy a ticket, I look for the best price/route. Screw American and their Dis-Aadvantage program.

  20. I became a Delta million miler when you had to get most of them by butt in seat travel. Since I retired 14 years ago my lifetime Silver status and Skymiles have become greatly devalued. And since I live in Atlanta I rarely see good sale fares using miles. I recently booked a Delta One flight for the wife and me with the last of those miles, and have no intention of earning any more by buying a ticket.

  21. DL million miler – gets me an ANNUAL silver status. Nothing lifetime about that and can be ended anytime Bastian choses. The only other “annual” gift might be a set of plastic luggage tags that are nothing more than a sop to the ego – will have to see if something new shows up next year. The other million miler gifts only come when you hit the next million.

    Better than nothing, but pretty damned close. Another example of “what have you done for me lately”.

  22. I’m just gunning for United 2MM Lifetime platinum before I retire so I can fly with family and get us all group 1, economy plus seats, and more checked luggage than we could ever need. Agree that being able to gift status to my wife is something I’m looking forward to. It’s always sad when I book her award travel by herself and I have to put her in a normal economy seat 😐

    Only 34 years old and racking up 75-100K miles per year so I should get there by early-mid 50’s.

  23. Don’t know much about the DL LT program but AA’s definitely is inferior to so many levels. Suppose it was great to get LT Gold (1st elite tier) with credit card spend, hotel stays and car rentals in addition to AA flight miles but the change to just flight miles screwed everything up. (Not to mention the devaluation of benefits of this tier.) UA’s LT Gold earned for 1million flight miles is actually its 2nd elite tier, and much more valuable as it is also STARGold…AA’s equivalent would be Platinum.

    If AA wants to “correct” the situation, it should move LT Platinum to 1million AA/OW flights miles. Surely it can track those even if it’s just since the year it made the change from all to flight miles. It should then move current LT Platinums into LT PlatinumPlus if they have 2million flight miles or more.

    This would bring AA into line with UA’s program (and at least status-wise with AC’s which requires 1million miles flown only on AC, not other STAR carriers).

    I came to AA In the mid-2000s so all my LT miles are flight miles, and I’m almost at 800K. Under the current situation, I have little incentive to even go for LTGold since that tier is pretty useless even discounting the upgrade issues. And after 6 years as an ExecPlat, the changes brought after the merger/takeover, sent me over to BA where their top tier Gold may not get me upgrades when I fly AA, but it does get me extra legroom seating, BoB and drinks, but even better Admirals Club and Flagship lounge access when I am flying AA just within North America.

  24. @AC put it best. As an EXP flying at peak times, I almost never get upgraded. Although I still get a few extra perks as EP, (one earlier boarding group, higher standby priority) it’s not that far from Platinum.

  25. The miles + number of years thing screws the younger of us who didn’t get that many (or no) ‘all miles count’ years.

    I’ve been exec platinum for 15 years straight, almost all my miles are butt in seat miles, but I’ll never get to 4 million to get lifetime exec plat in Gary’s model. After 15 or 20 years of exec plat, you should be lifetime exec plat anyway. Maybe you have to have some limited paid flying every year to keep it or something, but I’m about to move over to Delta on a status match, b/c I can’t get any greater lifetime status on AA anyway (and I live in Dallas).

  26. you hear the same thing over and over. And I’m in the same boat. L-T Gold but I avoid revenue travel on AA because they’ve gutted the benefits.

    Based on this article stands to reason that there are a lot of LT Golds out there. so there must be some upside to giving them a reason to buy fly AA. So why not fix this, there has to be some leverage there.

    Allowing seat selection in basic eco – and extending benefit to spouse – would create revenue out of this household.

  27. I’d like to see lifetime tiers at least match United & Delta. AA matches the other two big airlines when it comes to raising fees and requiring more miles for free tickets. I am fortunate to have benefited from the all miles counting towards status as my MM count is at 23.9 million and I should reach 24 million this year. My total miles count is over 30 million. I can’t imagine that out of the 100 million aadvantage members today there is such a large percentage of people with the same large MM count. I’ve been an AAdvantage member for over 30 years and have held ExPlat since 2001 and currently have CK since 2016. BTW I’m 48 years old and am probably one of the youngest with such a high MM number so I can’t see that there are that many people in the same boat as me that would cause a huge surge in higher tier MM lifetime status.

  28. Isn’t United is the only one of the Big Three that only counts miles flown on their metal for million miler status? This makes the status much more difficult to achieve and benefits should be greater accordingly.

  29. I’m a million miler on AA. Here’s a peak at how much I value my status with them: I haven’t flown them in 5 years.

    Admittedly, that’s partly because I moved to Denver and I just haven’t needed to fly to an AA hub city, but it’s mostly because there’s almost no flight I’ve needed to take in the last five years where AA was cheaper or offered a better schedule. Status seals the deal when picking between two otherwise similar itineraries, but I’m not interested in spending hundreds more or taking hours longer on the off chance I’ll score an upgrade or to get more miles I don’t have a use for.

  30. Another Lifetime Platinum that flies with everyone but American
    They weakened Lifetime Platinum adding to many tiers
    They devalued their miles and made saver inventory near impossible to book damaging the value of their mileage currency
    No reason to ever consider them under almost all circumstances
    Added to that you can rarely get an accurate answer to questions and their consumer relations is limited to email and they are mostly not empowered, ignorant and or untrained to help recover from problems American creates on a daily basis
    Only in emergency do I fly them.Prior to Parker ruining the company they were my go to airline for everything.If you told me ten years ago I would fly Delta and Jet Blue Alaska and Southwest today domestically I would have laughed in your face and said no chance
    But today I certainly do and regularly.

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