American Airlines Gifting Free Elite Status To Many Flyers, “Cheapening” Executive Platinum

With promotions for bonus qualifying miles and qualifying dollars a current Executive Platinum needs to spend $9000 and fly 70,000 qualifying miles to re-earn their status. American will then sell 10,000 more qualifying miles to an Executive Platinum for $495.

But many AAdvantage members who do not have any status at all are being gifted,

  • Platinum status
  • Coomplimentary upgrade certificates
  • An expedited path to even higher status

In fact, just 25,000 miles and $3550 qualifying dollars in 3 months is enough for these customers to earn Executive Platinum, which is similar on an annualized basis to normal Executive Platinum qualifying criteria – but less than half of what Executive Platinums need to do overall this year with promotions.

  • The first half of the year was mostly a writeoff. There was very little business travel, almost no long haul international travel, and many elites still weren’t even traveling for leisure.

  • So comparing with ‘normal’ criteria doesn’t make sense, doubling 3 month criteria to compare it to six months of travel is more realistic.

  • And while the back half of 2021 should be ‘more normal’ than the prior 16 months, business travel won’t really begin to ramp up in earnest until the last four months of the year and many long haul destinations – bread and butter for corporate travelers – won’t even be open in a meaningful way.

With Long Haul Travel Limited, Many American Airlines Widebodies Are Flying Domestically

Some status challenge offers are for lower levels than Executive Platinum, for instance topping out at Platinum Pro. You can log in to check if you’re targeted. Even if you don’t plan to fly American, it’s worth registering for the free 500 mile upgrade certificates which do not expire and might be useful in the future.

Airlines give away status all the time. Usually it’s the lowest levels of status, rather than top tier. It’s rare to offer people without even competitors’ status an expedited path to top tier elite that your existing best customers don’t get.

Recently when American Airlines came out with its promotions for existing elite members to retain their status, a senior manager at the airline argued to me that I wouldn’t have wanted the promotions to be more generous, because that would have inflated the elite ranks and meant more people competing for scarce things like upgrades and spots on standby lists. But the airline is doing just that, opening a targeted fast track to top status that’s easier than the one they’re providing as a tool to retain the people that have been their best customers.

Ultimately though status is only useful and competition for rivalrous benefits only meaningful to the extent that newly minted elites actually fly, and if this becomes material it’s likely because they’re flying enough where there contribution is worthwhile to the airline.

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, 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. *baby voice* Awwww…..poor wittle entitled peoples are finding out they are not so speshul after all. Who cares. Buy your ticket and fly where you are willing to pay for like the rest of the world.

  2. This really upsets me.

    I’ve been Platinum Pro for the last 4 years, earning it the hard way, and nearly hitting EP 3 of those.

    I NEVER get these offers. Ever. And my boost up at the end of the year is always RIDICULOUS.

    I’ve flown in PAID Domestic FC for 3 round trips this year and have a few more planned in the late summer.

    But I don’t see a path to EP this year at all.

    Very Disappointed.

  3. I’ve received similar offers in the past… after having been EXP for a couple of years and then suddenly stopped flying (when AA started awarding miles on price instead of distance flown, natch).

  4. I agree with Benjamin, as 500 mile upgrades are worthless unless you have EP or higher. I just pay for the domestic first class, which is basically a bigger seat, but that’s what American is calling it. It is not premium, and has turned into more of a US Air cabin, surly flight attendants, no service, a basket of salty and sugary “snacks” instead of warmed nuts, class cocktails and paper coffee cups instead of a real cup. My last flight from MCO to CLT the flight attendant gave me the makings of a Bloody Mary, plastic cup with one ice cube, unopened can of blood Mary mix and an open bottle of Tito’s, never came back the entire flight. Status is worthless on AA and being a charter members meaningless, AA has expanded the levels so much, no one is being treated as valued customer except maybe the Concierge Key members. I never get reasonable offers to earn the next level, nor even want to with hte way they treat their “best’ customers.

  5. @ Gary — As LT Plat, chasing AA status is not interesting. Why spend anything to get the lame marginal benefits? They might as well give EP status away.

  6. Not going to lie, got the offer for free Platinum status and a pretty easy path to Platinum Pro with the travel I’ve already got scheduled. Had figured out how to get to Platinum Pro with an EQD waiver from credit card spending and a few mileage runs on the cheap MIA-LAX routes, but now I don’t need to do that.

    I had gotten a similar offer in February but passed as there was no way to travel enough during that period, so was hoping I’d see another one. (Past experience has taught me not to accept and fail on one if you hope to get another one you can meet.) That one was more generous on the 500 mile certificates, it was a total of 20 vs 14 for this one, but it didn’t have a Platinum Pro offer.

    My wife, who has elite status already, got no offer. But like I said, we already have travel planned that should get her Platinum Pro status with reduced levels this year, as she also gets 10,000 EQM with the black Citi AA card.

    It kinda sucks for those true road warrior elites, but that’s their problem, not mine. I’m going to take it and be happy for until Jan 2023. After sitting in steerage all these years, it’s an upgrade. I don’t have any memories of better days gone by, so no complaints. Free MCE seats at booking, possible free domestic upgrades to First out of my flyover city, access to the Flagship Lounge on International, oneWorld Sapphire status, thus Silver on BA, and Admirals Club with the black Citi card – things are looking up.

  7. Cheer up. This is not much different from forcing new condos to rent a percentage of the units to low income housing as a condition of granting the building permit.

    Everyone should be happy that airlines are not forced to sell 2 first class seats on every flight at the lowest economy class fare to people without frequent flyer status on the assumption that non-elites are poor and disadvantaged.

  8. In a normal year, these are valid complaints. But my understanding is that the combinations of increased leisure flying, lowered requirements, and promos has led to a swelling of the lower ranks, while the upper tiers are still trending significantly low for requalification.

    I think these types of promos are just the beginning and when business travel really starts to kick in there’s going to be an intense race to retain and capture high value customers. For now, of course they’re going to try to push you to fly and spend as much as possible, but in the end they’re not going to let the top tiers drop. In the meantime, adding in some potential targeted customers at little or no risk/cost to them makes some sense this year, when the top tiers still may be large, but a good number of people within them are not flying, or flying a lot less.

    I’ve been asked by many of my colleagues who’ve had a break in their business travel whether they should rethink their loyalties. There’s probably never been a better time to think about switching programs. I think the programs are going to get aggressive about “flight risk”, but focusing on getting new people in now and then addressing attrition a bit later makes some sense.

  9. I was EP for 8 years and switched to DL about 3 years ago so haven’t had status for 2 years. I got the offer for Platinum/PP $1500 EQD and 12K EQM for next 3 months. That may be challenging

  10. EXP here.

    This is a non issue. Very few EXP benefits are actually rivalrous. And the most important one that is, upgrades, is sorted by 12-month rolling EQD. So in most cases a person that is actually earning EXP by flying, will be ahead on the upgrade list than someone who picks it up by this promo.

  11. Cash is King. Forget EX PLT membership. I’ve been EX PLT for several years and have over 2 million miles so far. I get their customer service call me when I start not travel so much. I get upgraded everywhere pretty except my home airport of SNA. Why, well you can pay cash to get first class, and here many family pretty much buy up all their first class seats for vacation. Sometimes first class doesn’t cost that much more, and you get more qualifying miles and dollars. Working stuff like me, we will always be the second tier.

  12. @Darin–totally agree.

    My adult daughter doesn’t fly longhaul very much–pre-Covid about 1x or 2x a year, but she does make frequent TPA-MIA runs as well as short intra-Europe runs on BA (booked through AA site). . She also shops a lot through the AA portal, places online orders and then does pickup at the Brick-and-mortar.

    I notice she received the offer.

  13. Waaaaaaa!!!!! Cry us a river…..stop expecting those of us who pay for our air travel to subsidize yours because you think you are better. I can see the comments now. “You don’t understand how this all works!” “You don’t agree with me, I am special!”

    The simple fact of the matter is that if you are getting something for free, the rest of us are paying for it. Airline loyalty programs are a massive waste of money and do nothing more than make flying more expensive for EVERYONE. Pay your way or stay home is the way it should work. Airlines should sell a ticket for what it costs to transport a passenger….period. Humoring all these whiny, greedy, self entitled wastes of air only costs everyone more money to fly with less service.

  14. I have 85 500 mile upgrades and haven’t been able to use any in over 10 years and I am lifetime PL.

  15. @Ryan Waldron

    I’m not whining about my perks, but they do keep me loyal. When I used to fly, mostly for leisure, I’d go with the lowest price on whatever airline met my schedule. And I’ll pull every trick in the book to save a buck, within reason. Since I’m in a high priced to fly from Midwest city, I’ve learned a few tricks like driving to adjacent cities, positioning to hubs with competition, booking award flights from weird local small airports, etc. Then I started figuring out by consolidating my flights into one airline, even I, a mostly leisure traveler, could make my flying experience better through perks. Just getting Main Cabin Extra seats alone along with things like the Admirals Club for my entire family makes maintaining the $495 a year Citi card and Gold status on American worth it.

    If airline seats are expiring assets, why shouldn’t an airline offer them to it’s most loyal flyers if they haven’t managed to sell them? I don’t expect it, but if I can regularly get the perk, why not spend a extra few dollars with AA for the chance to get a better seat, earn a few extra miles to maintain status, board sooner, etc. I reward AA with my loyalty and money, AA gives me perks I value. Is that really going to make flying more expensive for anyone? Basic Economy tickets are there for those who wish to pay that. I generally need to buy a level up in Main Cabin for a chance at the perks. And I’ve seen studies that report paying customers in 1st and Business class basically pay for the rest of the plane, which is why airlines treat them so well.

  16. C_M: If you get upgraded, the cost of the service you didn’t pay for is paid by everyone. If airlines were smart, they would only stock a flight for the travelers they have and save everyone the cost of the extra goods/services. It’s a simple matter of costs…..if they are giving it to a passenger for free, than they have to raise prices to recoup that loss and EVERYONE pays for it in the end. I also love your assumption that everyone who does not play the frequent flyer scam flies the cheapest basic economy. This is far from the case and decent people who don’t have their hand out for something they don’t pay for pay their own way into business and first class all the time. There are people who pay for a ticket, seat, boarding priority, meal extras, bags, and all the other nickle and dime BS that the airlines charge for now a days that pay more than a higher class of service. As for the whole “First class passengers are the only ones that make money” excuse….how in the world is that the case if they are constantly giving away the highest and most costly class of service to the airline for free? There are plenty of flights every day where the folks in economy seats that are too small for their children, no less full grown adults that are paying the way for the freeloaders up front. Then you have the airlines screwing passengers by overselling seats and taking people’s money without even allowing them on the plane. If they are giving it away, the cost is being passed on to everyone paying in higher fares with less service and to their employees in less pay and benefits. Everything every special/entitled person gets for free is just screwing everyone.

  17. @ Ryan Waldron

    I don’t think you get how this works. An airline has X number of seats to sell and they absolutely want to sell them all at the highest price possible for each. They’ll even offer to knock someone off the plane for loyal flyers if they’re willing to pay enough – hence them often begging for people to give up their seats at the last minute. Any seat that remains empty at takeoff is lost revenue. The cost of servicing that seat if full is minimal – extra fuel, a drink or two, a snack, a little employee time for check-in, baggage handling, etc. Everything else is fixed.

    Now imagine that different passengers want different levels of service – and they’re willing to pay for it or not pay for it, depending on the level of service they want. The more you pay, they more you get. If you want a ticket at the last minute, you’re likely willing to pay more, so airline jack up the price – but also risk not selling the seat. Some passengers want the absolutely lowest fares – and are willing to take chances in exchange for that lower fare. They’ve been doing this a long time and can model how this all works, the goal is to maximize revenue. But models are sometimes wrong – hence the last minute oversold situations or empty seats.

    The key here is flexibility, which is where the different seat levels come in. Getting the plane full is one thing, getting each seat level full is a different problem. There is the Southwest model, where every seat is the same and it’s pretty much cattle car loading, or there’s the legacy model that AA/United/ and Delta follow. You would have passengers locked in to whatever seat they buy – which would mean that as the flight gets full, passengers may only be able to buy expensive level seats – in which case they may buy nothing at all.

    By continuing to offer lower priced seats, but still have overall seats available, with a little flexibility on moving people around, the airlines can insure the flight is full. The question then is, who to move up? (I know moving down is possible, but airlines try to avoid this.) Your most loyal customers, of course, who will appreciate the perk. And some of those customers, like me, will play this game in exchange for paying less for a better seat. Do I appreciate a seat with more legroom – yes. Do I want to pay more if I can figure out a way to get it for free – no? But the risk of not paying up front is, I may not get what I want, I’ll only get what I paid for.

    Does this really cost other passengers more? Not really – dynamic pricing is complex and both sides are playing the game, but if it didn’t work, airlines wouldn’t do it, they’d all adopt the Southwest model. My guess is, it actually increases airline revenue and airlines have the financial track record to show that it works.

  18. You can try to over complicate this as much as you like, it does not change the same simple fact that if they are giving something, anything away for free….all the customers pay the price in higher prices with less service and the employees pay in less compensation and benefits. Over complication of all of this is exactly the problem and why one passenger is paying for another. They should simply charge the cost of carrying a passenger in the seat they book. Overbooking and begging people to get off the plane just destroys their reputation and causes them to have to compensate and re-book those passengers. All additional costs that everyone pays for in higher ticket prices. Try to make it complicated and the costs go up….give stuff away for free and the costs go up, FOR EVERYONE. Plain and simple.

  19. Agree with @Bob on the biggest EXP benefit being complimentary domestic upgrades so rolling EQD is king there but if you’re not EXP or CK to begin with, you’re probably not in the running for an upgrade on the more desirable flights anyway. At least AA is offering something to help out existing EXPs requalify, as Gary started off with on this article, but having been an EXP continuously for 15+ years (with Lifetime PLT), it’s somewhat disappointing, but not at all surprising, to learn non-EXPs are being offered a better express path to EXP than those with a long history of loyalty.

    The most useful EXP benefits for me other than the comp upgrades have been systemwide upgrades (especially for long-haul flights), priority boarding (overhead bin space is at a premium on many flights), same-day flight standby, standby list priority (especially during IRROPS), and the ability to quickly reach a real agent on the phone (usually).

    My upgrade percentage used to be in the 90% range back in the 2000’s through around 2017. But when business class fares dropped significantly in general a few years back, I realized that sometimes you just need to purchase that fare if you want to guarantee those seats on a desirable flight time. Systemwide upgrades, and the ability to use them, were devalued too when they went from fare class A to C which was also disappointing.

    I just recently took my first flight since COVID started, and booked a few more, but have to consider if I should make a run at re-qualification since I’ll have to do it mostly on leisure travel for this year. As mentioned, not a lot of options for long-haul flights until later in the year to really accrue some EQMs. Long-term loyalty through lifetime PLT was also watered down when they introduced Platinum Pro. It’d be nice if AA offered Lifetime Platinum Pro at maybe 3 or 4 MM to partially compensate for that.

    Hopefully, the in-flight service levels will start improving too. While not the subject of this article, another issue now is the increased load at the Admirals Clubs which was also a concern before COVID which seem to have started around the time they made it a credit card perk and merged with US Air. At a DFW club this week, it was packed with large families, had to wait for a seat, then had to bus the garbage left by the prior occupants myself, and then there were no plastic forks left for the food. I remember when AA used to advertise the Admirals Club as an Oasis in the Sky and a respite from the terminal below – now they seem more like nurseries in the sky. Maybe they can also start offering EXPs and longtime Admiral Club members a select number of Flagship Lounge entry coupons per year to restore some of the luster on those statuses.

  20. @Ryan Waldron

    What the heck are you doing reading this blog, which is all about frequent travel programs?

  21. Yes Ryan Waldron has no clue how the airline industry works. An empty first class seat does NOT raise prices for everyone. Nor does sitting a loyal airline passenger in it as an upgrade. Airlines make money on their FF programs.

  22. @Gary I completely agree with u but for upgrades (which is what I care about most), isn’t spending the tie-breaker for when multiple EXP are in the upgrade queue? I don’t spend enough to be Concierge Key, but I spend enough not to worry about those who sneak thru the backdoor to EXP.

  23. Folks gifted status will have low EQD and be below anyone who earned status. The only time this will hurt someone with status is when people gifted status snap up the MCE seats in advance.

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