American Airlines About to Change its Million Miler Qualification Rules, Only Flight Miles to Count Towards Lifetime Status?

For the past year or so there’s been intense speculation that American AAdvantage would change its million-miler program.

Historically, there’s has been the easiest to qualify for of any major frequent flyer program. Most airlines count only actual flown miles, or actual flown miles on their own flights and not partners towards lifetime status. American, on the other hand, counted miles earned in an account from all sources.

One million American miles earned, no matter from what, is lifetime Gold. Two million American miles earned, no matter from what, is lifetime Platinum. Each million miler threshold earns complimentary upgrades as well, Lifetime Gold gets either 8 domestic 500-mile upgrades or for non-US residents 4 confirmed upgrade instruments used on any American flight. Lifetime Platinum gets four confirmed upgrade instruments used on any American flight regardless of address on your mileage account. And then additional confirmed upgrades are earned at each additional million miler threshold.

I wrote about my own question for 2 million miler status here and here.

This generosity has swelled the elite ranks. Now, million miler members tend to be good customers and this approach has underscored that frequent flyer programs aren’t just about rewarding frequent flyers anymore, customers earning miles through other means are generating real revenue for the program as well. Still, there was a clear sense inside AAdvantage that the program was too generous and ripe for a change.

However, it’s a programming nightmare. The system is automated, it tracks all miles, it doesn’t distinguish between particular kinds of miles and what should count and what not. So much programming would need to be done. And then there was certainly debate as to what miles to count going forward, just actual flight miles like everyone else? Partner fligth miles? Elite bonus miles for flights? What amount miles earned from credit card spend, certainly their Citibank co-branded credit card arrangemnet is a very important one for the AAdvantage program. Almost certainly they wouldn’t count points transferred in from other programs, like transfers from Starwood or Hilton. (Marriott is no longer a partner of AAdvantage.)

Then the decision was no doubt delayed because in 2010 the AAdvantage program went through a series of Presidents, they had three in a series of months. The status of the lifetime program was hardly the most important decision to be made, and it’s likely a new leader needed to get up to speed and asked new questions.

Finally, it looks like a change is coming. It was reported on Milepoint that the mobile.aa.com website says that “AAdvantage miles earned through select mileage activity count towards Million Miler status.” (Emphasis mine.) This doesn’t appear on the main AA.com page, but does suggest a shift. Why else would the new language make its way onto that site? Something seems to be up, a change is likely to come and come soon.

The question is which miles will continue to count. Probably not miles transferred in from other programs. But credit card spend is pretty important to AA, it’s possible that spend on a Citi AA credit card could still count. It’s possible that bonus miles from flights could still count. We just don’t know the particulars yet.

My bets are that:

  • Existing lifetime status honored
  • Existing lifetime miles balance honored, no retroactive recalculation
  • It will be more than butt-in-seat miles that count even post-change

Of course I could be wrong, I do not have special knowledge here.

JonNYC who is usually right about these things in the days ahead of when they’re going to happen at the very least, thinks only butt-in-seat miles will count. He wrote on Milepoint:

There’s zero question that the “mix” of miles to count going forward was very much in flux over the last few months– and may have even contributed to the delay in rolling this out. However, it’s my opinion that that matter has been settled and that flown-miles-only has won out. I guess we’ll have to wait and see– but not very long!

EDIT TO ADD: It may very well be that the announcement of changes comes immediately but that the changes themselves don’t. It’s very unclear at this point, but we’ll certainly know soon enough.

No doubt this will be a topic of questions to the President of the AAdvantage program in person at the Randy Petersen Travel Executive Summit a week from now and then during her online Milepoint chat May 4.

If it were me, and I were on the cusp of a million-mile threshold, I would transfer in any miles I could now in order to cross that threshold, unless I was likely to make it simply by flying. I’d even consider today’s 30% bonus on purchased miles (today’s 30 deals in 30 days offer), since it means buying miles at about 2 cents apiece which I normally wouldn’t do but could be worth it for a lifetime of status if you’re close enough. Today is a good day to transfer points in from hotel programs, etc.

Of course none of those things post miles to your account instantly, the change could come at any moment, and JonNYC could be wrong that the announcement could come right away but that implementation wouldn’t be immediate. We’ll have to wait and see, and that means there’s some risk. But it could be now or never for at least only occasional American Airlines flyers to take advantage of lifetime status.

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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  1. Any guess as to what the Starwood promo day will be about in the 30th anniversary deals? I had been waiting to transfer SPG points until I saw that one in case it was a transfer bonus…

    I’m not near a MM milestone so it would really come down to just making it less difficult to make it under the new rules – is it worth the risk to wait and see?

  2. I agree with substantially all of your forecasts (bets), with a slight difference that they will use EQPs for qualification, not pure miles.

    This is similar to what DL has done, and is consistent with rewarding premium fare class traffic – something all carriers are looking to do.

    The value of the Citi relationship is an important wildcard here. DL has “whored” their MQMs whereby for enough cc spending, you can easily get FO status, and possibly GM with multiple credit cards, without even flying.

    Regardless of the future, retroactivity in AA’s program is highly unlikely.

  3. This would bring it in line with other carriers like UA, now THE dominant domestic carrier. (man, I hope UA doesn’t make any changes to lifetime PE, which I am about 80K away from – requiring true 1MM BIS miles)

  4. Well, my 2.78 Million Miles are super-majority “butt-in-seat”; therefore, this Lifetime Sapphire “ain’t” worried ’bout my “sorry arse”.

    ED.

  5. Well if I had to guess purely from the language of “select mileage activity”, it would almost certainly have to be something more than merely BIS miles. Otherwise if the miles that count only come from one source, and that source is flown miles, why not merely say so. “Select..activity” seems a very round about way of wording it. Of course, that presumes that the writer at AA was thinking intently about it which is probably not the case! I’m so far away from 1MM on AA, from any source, it’s not really an issue for me but will be interesting to see what happens!

  6. I’m at 840k lifetime. I could transfer from Hyatt. I’m a month or two away from a 75k hitting from Citicard. Hrm. What to do?

  7. Program to Date Miles 993,115
    That includes my max purchase of 40,000 on offer and i liquidated my spg account.
    Any ideas Gary, how to top up with another 10k??
    Any suggestions please!!!

  8. @Cymonsez you get bonus miles at 1 million lifetime, yes, starting on December 1. Until then you get either (8) 500 mile upgrades [for North Americans] or (4) eVIP confirmed international upgrades (for international members)

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