American Airlines Completely Changes How Elite Status Is Earned, Makes Most Miles Count

American Airlines Loyalty Points is the new program for how elite status is earned. You’ll be able to earn status with most of your activity in the program, not just flying. And they’ve actually created a fairly simple system, where almost everything counts and the “Loyalty Points” you earn over the course of 12 months determines your status.

  • Gold: 30,000 miles earned
  • Platinum: 75,000 miles earned
  • Platinum Pro: 125,000 miles earned
  • Executive Platinum: 200,000 miles earned

american airlines loyalty points levels

This system is going to mean more elites, and most members will be able to qualify for the same or higher status than they’ve had in the past, although there are exceptions.

I spoke with Heather Samp, the American AAdvantage program’s Managing Director of Member Engagement, about the program.

The New Status-Earning Year Runs March Through February

The new system will be based on points earned March through February. Status will be valid through March of the following year. So if you earn 200,000 points March 2022 through February 2023, you’ll be an Executive Platinum through March 31, 2024.

Heather Samp explained that the change is a “reflection of something we’ve noticed for years,” that members are “incentivized by status, but the end of the year is the holiday period, and the last thing we want them to have to remember is to requalify for status.” She then offered that credit card statements which include the holidays generally close in January. They want holiday co-brand spend to be included at the end of an earning year.

Two Months Of Extended Status And Double Dipping

All current status is being extended through March 31, 2022. Instead of seeing elites who didn’t requalify (easy as American made it) lose their status January 31, 2022 they’re giving two more months to qualify for status, and also using those two months as a head start on earning the next year’s status too.

  • Members get an extra 2 months (January and February 2022) added onto the 12 months of 2021 to earn 2022 elite status on top of their 2021 activity. It’s effectively two more months of the 2021 elite program.

  • And its an extra 2 months (January and February 2022) added onto the 12 months beginning March 2022 to earn 2023 elite status by acquiring Loyalty Points..

Choice Awards Available Starting At 125,000 Loyalty Points

“Loyalty Choice Rewards” are the new name for Elite Choice Rewards, a selection of benefits like miles and confirmed international upgrades, awarded at 75,000, 100,000 qualifying miles and beyond. Earning these will come at Platinum Pro and above for members who fly at least 30 segments on American Airlines and qualifying partner airlines (oneworld, JetBlue). AAdvantage awards for travel on American count towards this 30 segment requirement.

As long as a member has 30 flight segments they’ll earn a choice of benefits at,

  • 125,000 points (Platinum Pro qualification)
  • 200,000 points (Executive Platinum qualification)
  • 350,000 points
  • 550,000 points
  • 750,000 points

american airlines loyalty points choice rewards

Options include systemwide upgrades, bonus miles, Admirals Club day passes and more to be specified. They’ll presumably offer things like an Admirals Club membership and gifting status.

What Counts As A Loyalty Point Gets A Bit Complicated

A truly simple system would say that all miles count, but so far that’s not the case. They’re saying that flights on American, oneworld airlines and JetBlue count. They’re saying credit card spend counts, as well as miles earned through their online shopping portal, Rewards Network dining partnership, and SimplyMiles count. For now though nothing else counts though they expect the list to grow. Heather samp said they’re still talking to other partners.

Unsurprisingly credit card initial bonuses don’t count as Loyalty Points. In fact it’s only base miles earned through credit card spend – category bonuses don’t help either. You may earn 3 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines with a co-brand card, but only one of those miles will be a Loyalty Point.

And ancillary spending with American Airlines generally doesn’t count. So if you pay for a seat, buy up to Main Cabin Extra, or take them up on a post-purchase upgrade offer, that spending doesn’t earn Loyalty Points. That’s because they award miles for flights based on a ticket being issued, and American Airlines ancillaries don’t attach to ticket numbers.

Heather Samp pointed out that in some sense awarding points for these would be unfair to elites, who often get these items free and thus don’t have the opportunity to earn these Loyalty Points. But since flight bonuses count (6 extra points per dollar for Executive Platinums) qualifying under this program seems substantially skewed towards existing elites rather than away from them.

This new program no longer has a minimum earning guarantee towards status (so this is the end of the 500 minimum qualifying miles guarantee for shorter flights). However Basic Economy tickets will earn Loyalty Points. They only just eliminated Basic Economy earning towards elite status for 2021.

Specifically excluded from Loyalty Points are purchased, transferred and gifted points; credit card earning accelerators, multipliers, and acquisition bonuses as well as other promotional bonuses.

American Airlines Loyalty Points Will Determine Upgrade Priority

Currently American Airlines awards upgrades based on elite status and then rolling 12 month qualifying dollars. In other words, the more you spend the higher on the upgrade list you’ll be.

Since elite qualifying dollars are going away, upgrade priority is changing. Loyalty Points will be used as the upgrade tie-breaker instead of qualifying dollars.

The brilliance here is that every dollar of spend on their cards potentially improves a cardmember’s upgrade chances. Previously only Barclays cards earned qualifying dollars, and only at specific dollar thresholds ($25,000 for business, $50,000 for Aviator Silver). The amounts were out of reach for some, provided no reason to stretch beyond for others.

To determine your initial Loyalty Points in the program (for upgrade purposes only) they’ll take your rolling ‘EQD’ total as of February 28 times value times your elite status bonus.

Gold and Platinum members who earn 500-mile upgrades from their flying will have their clock reset March 31, 2022 instead of January 31, 2022. American hasn’t said whether earning 500 mile upgrades will change at all in this new system.

Miles Flown Still Matters

There’s one dimension in which miles flown will still matter for elite status: lifetime status. That’s still granted after 1 million miles (Gold) and 2 million miles (Platinum) with additional rewards for each incremental million miles.

American AAdvantage knows their lifetime status offering is uncompetitive (topping out as it does as Platinum status) and was looking at ways of fixing this prior to the pandemic. Hopefully that project still moves forward.

No Devaluation Coming

I’d heard about other changes that the program was working on and those had me nervous. After all the former head of the program said that award charts were on the way out. Apparently the other projects have been put on ice.

There’s no redemption changes being announced today. And Heather Samp says any other big changes won’t be “a 2022 thing.”

Some Elite Qualifying Scenarios

At an earn rate of 11 miles per dollar spent on flights, an Executive Platinum member would need just over $18,000 in flight spend to keep their status. That’s higher than today’s ‘normal year’ $15,000 spending requirement. And it’s about what United requires. But that’s without adding in a single mile from credit cards, online shopping portal, etc.

Take my 2019. I spent $40,000 on the premium Citi card and $50,000 on the Barclays Aviator Silver in order to earn 20,000 qualifying miles and $3000 qualifying dollars. That meant I needed to fly 80,000 miles and spend $12,000 to keep my Executive Platinum status. With that same $90,000 card spend (and no shopping portal or other relevant earn), I’d need to spend $10,000 to keep Executive Platinum with no mileage requirement.

Put another way I was earning 20% of my qualifying miles and 20% of my qualifying dollars from credit card spend. Going forward the same spend will earn 45% of the way to Executive Platinum.

On the other hand, though, someone starting with no status and earning Executive Platinum has a potentially long and expensive road. If they did it on flying alone it would take $27,012 worth of tickets.

  • $6000 spend to earn Gold (at 5 miles per dollar to earn 30,000 points)
  • $6429 more spend to earn Platinum (the next 45,000 points at 7 miles/dollar)
  • $6250 more spend to earn Platinum Pro (the next 50,000 points at 9 miles/dollar)
  • $8333 more spend to earn Executive Platinum (the next 75,000 points at 11 miles/dollar)

In this new program it’s easier to keep status from flying than it is to earn new status since a base member earns just 5 miles per dollar until they become a Gold, and elite flying bonuses grow with each higher tier. And the high cost of status using flying alone is also the point, since other forms of activity are frequently higher margin.

It is also worth noting that card and other partner activity goes relatively farther for lower-status elites because flights earn less for those elites.

Thing about Gold, the lowest level of status. $30,000 in credit card spend will earn Gold in this new system. It used to take $40,000 of spend to earn 10,000 qualifying miles (40% of the way to Gold, but without helping with qualifying dollars). For non-flyers low levels of status are easy(ish), and for big spenders high levels of status are easy. Bottom-line is that the program rewards a mix of spend and flying more than flying alone.

American Airlines Loyalty Points Are Fairly Revolutionary

A year ago I wrote that it’s time for airlines to award elite status based on non-flight activity. Today it’s possible to earn status on Air Canada and other airlines with nothing but non-flight activity. That’s usually limited to the lowest-tier of status. US Airways (whose management now runs American) experimented with this at the end of 2006. I was surprised it never caught on until now.

Frankly there’s just not been a lot of innovation in the U.S. airline loyalty space in several years, except for finding ways to require more of customers while giving them less. This is one of the more interesting things we’ve seen in awhile.

Seven years ago (and indeed even earlier) I wrote about why the highest ticket revenue passengers aren’t the best or most profitable customers. The salient points were that,

  • Many corporate customers bought tickets because of a sales agreement, many business travelers bought tickets because an airline offered the only non-stop on the route, and rewarding those customers more for their flying spent money on them without incremental return to the business.

  • On the other hand airlines don’t do a good job rewarding higher margin activities like co-brand credit card spend, buying seat upgrades, and engaging with other partners who buy miles at higher prices than the banks do.

The simplicity of “everything counts” is fantastic and recognizes the highly profitable role ancillary mileage sales play at the airline. Prior to the pandemic the profitability of the airline was almost entirely attributed to the AAdvantage program. Only everything doesn’t yet count, and I surmise they’re trying to extract additional revenue from partners to award Loyalty Points and not just miles for transactions – the question of exactly what counts is still up in the air beyond flying, credit cards, online shopping portal, SimplyMiles, and dining.

Making qualification run March through February, an transaction dates on partner activity (shipping dates rather than purchase dates on merchandise, statement close dates rather than spend dates for credit cards) is going to be confusing.

So it seems like there’s still some work to do on the program but this seems like a bold step, and that alone energizes me a bit about the program.

American Airlines Loyalty Points – Good Or Bad For Members?

There are going to be a lot of people earning status off of credit card spending alone (though without 30 flights they won’t earn choice benefits like systemwide upgrades). There’s a reason that back when American used to award lifetime elite status based on all miles earned in an account people were becoming 70 million milers… business credit cards, and big business expense reimbursements off of consumer cards.

Overall this is going to mean more elite members. Heather Samp explained that it’s not clear yet how 2019-style flying returns, and what routes or even travel days are elite heavy. The Monday-out, Thursday-back flying may not be the same. They think that elites will be more spread out across their system on this program, not all flying the 5 p.m. Thursday LaGuardia – Dallas Fort Worth flight. But she acknowledges that the elite “population may grow,” but thinks they’re well-positioned to handle that growth.

A lot of members are going to benefit from the new American Airlines Loyalty Points program for earning status. A few won’t like it. But if this is it, and we keep our award charts and most importantly partner award pricing, then it seems like a pretty good outcome. And they’ve broken out of he box of ‘doing what everyone else does’ and I have to like that.

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. @Ann,
    Yup, for some. We have a lot of spend (not even manufactured). However. we steer it to Hyatt for status and the value of their points (definitely don’t need more AA miles).

    Cheers.

  2. @ Gary — I think AA will lose a lot of LT PLT/EXP customers permanently. It is easy to use LT PLT as a fallback, but then most people, including myself, will have zero interest in regaining EXP with the added requirements of coming from a lower level. Very stupid of AA. Looks like we may be done with AA.

  3. Preliminary call to get more details provides one answer. This was EXP desk talking to her lead who had previously spoken to AAdvantage Customer Service (wait for them was 60 minutes, so I did not speak to them directly) – take it for what it is:

    All flight spend (AA, partner, special fare) will be based on $ and elite status – so 11 miles/loyalty points per $. No apparent differentiation for partners or special fares.

    Not buying it yet, but it is one data point.

    Cheers.

  4. @ brp — There is zero chance that is correct. AA clearly doesn’t have the IT to track partner ticket spend. If they did, they would already be crediting miles based on ticket price, not miles flown.

  5. @Gene,
    Certainly agree with you. That was (and still is) my first inclination on this. Just providing a data point straight from the horse’s mouth, via a game of post office.

    Another option is that they now do have the infrastructure to get the data, hence the rollout now.

    Not counting on it, but not ruling it out either.

    Cheers.

  6. AA making it easy for people with status to keep existing status by doing X

    Sucks that people with no status can do the same thing and earn less

    The playing field clearly isn’t level.

  7. I know other partners like Bask are “still in the works” … but when can we expect to hear one way or another?

  8. I earned Lifetime Plat flying AA MD-80s — frequently in the last row next to the engine cowling and deafening din from gate to gate. And this was on $1,400 walkup fares from LAX-DFW. But those dollars are gone with Bob Crandall and as a going concern AA needs current $$$ which have you have repeatedly pointed out comes from selling AAdvantage Miles, now Loyalty Points.

    The new deluge of Plat Pros and EXPs won’t make much of a difference since I haven’t seen an upgrade on a longhaul route since Platinum Pro layering came along but another cautionary lesson about paying present dollars for the promise of future benefits.

  9. Actually think this is good for me relatively. LT plat, Plat Pro requal based on $15k cc d add pend. Sitting on a ton of miles but already have gone free agent.

  10. As an EP for many, many years this is bad all around. There’s no strong incentive to fly. I begrudgingly spent $45k on AA cards this year for the “promos” to retain EP only thing to have the rules change end of year and I would have qualified anyways. Why would I spend more on AA credit cards when we all know a devaluation is coming. I am going to spend my 1M AA miles and be done with this. There are multiple better options. I have 800k million miler miles but I would only get gold at 1M, haha, no. I rather just pay for first/business and have a confirmed seat.

  11. I work for AA. I used to work on the Elite Desk so I had to understand the loyalty program inside and out. There is nothing simple about this. Leave it to AA to roll out another program with as many or more exceptions than there are rules/policies. I dread having to unravel this and make it make sense to Joe Flies Twice A Year or Mary Joined AAdvantage by Signing Up For A Credit Card on Her Annual Vacation and Wants Her Free Flight Thank You.

  12. I am still really confused. I feel like most articles I read said it was based on miles flown, not dollars spent. But obviously if you have an AA credit card its going to be dollars spent on the card (which I don’t have). So if I don’t have that, what are the chances I will re-qualify for Plat pro? Seems like slim to none based on what you said- “If they did it on flying alone it would take $27,012 worth of tickets” if you have no status, which is a fortune I am not willing to spend. So since I have Plat Pro, how many miles/dollars will I need to spend on flights to re-qualify? It is not clear based on flying alone how this will go for me. How is this simpler? At least with United I can see easily what I am earning on PQP for each flight and how that tracks. This seems like a basic scam to get people to get an AA brand CC and spend on it. Or am I wrong?

  13. @Lara S – If you are already Plat Pro without a co-branded card, then you’ll need 125,000 pts / 9 pts per dollar, or 13,888 dollars. in airfare. And 30 segments to get a systemwide upgrade or other reward of your choice.

  14. I’m not sure what the folks at American Airlines were thinking on this one, but in one word: horrible! American has basically told it’s actual loyal in the seats on the metal customers -“we could careless about you” to attract even more non-loyal customers. American has essentially moved the program to an all revenue based program- they only put in the 30 segment caveat to make it seem good. and 30 segments is absolutely nothing to be honest. In this new so -called “simple” system, the goal post to qualifying for elite status was moved significantly more than what it was in 2019 qualification year. It is not as simple as it is being marketed and glorified by so many bloggers – half of them don’t get at all – too many people are focusing on the credit card spend -touting that to be the greatest thing. I am Executive Platinum and a loyal AA flyer, I don’t jump around from one airline to the next -I fly AA exclusively and I am extremely disappointed in American Airlines complete disregard to their actual loyal customers. I don’t know who these customers were they claim to have informed and provided feedback because I surely wasn’t one and I’ll bet they didn’t contact other real loyal customers either. On average it will cost an additional $10,000 in flying to achieve executive platinum status – folks like myself who fly for leisure and work for small companies don’t buy J tickets. In my industry, a J ticket takes food off the table of an employee so they idea that the so-called business traveler is only J ticketers are absolutely hogwash and I wish people will stop.

    As for million-milers, even though they are claiming it didn’t -change it is meaningless now as it has always been anyway. If million-milers are a real thing then our qualification year should always start at the Platinum qualifying threshold or the Gold for those who are at the first tier.

    I don’t know what to say other than this is the biggest scam -even on the level of a Ponzi scheme – Shame on you Doug, Robert and Vasu. Now we now why Rick step-down!

  15. @Reidy – Although your analysis is a bit of a rant, I don’t think it’s completely off. It’s actually more rational than a lot of the bloggers. But it’s also a bit wrong – things are not as dire as the seem.

    You are correct about the 30 segment requirement – it’s actually not that much. I suppose if you live in a hub city and you just take a few J transoceanic flights a year, it sucks, but for those of us in spoke cities, that’s just 7.5 round trips a year, or 2.5 segments a month (or 2.14 segments/month the first “year”).

    Your calculation about how much additional flying to achieve EXP if you’re already EXP is off. It’s 200,000 points in the new system. It was $15,000 EQD in the old system. As an EXP, you get 11 points per dollar spent, so that’s $18,182 in spending on airfare, so that’s an additional $3,182. If you have a AA branded credit card that you can use for airfare (and I realize that not everyone can take advantage of this, as they’re required to use their company travel agents), that would cut the required spend to $16,666. If you have a Citi AA Executive Card (which as an EXP, you probably have just for the Admirals Club access) you’ll get 10,000 points at $40,000 total spend, so that’s 50,000 points, leaving you with 150,000 points at between 11 and 12 points per dollar of airfare, or $12,000 to $13,637 in airfare.

    Overall, I sort of see this as sort of a neutral change. Not that it’s neutral for everyone, but it’s good for some, bad for others, and no change for many. It definitely looks like it’ll be easier to maintain status than gain levels, so if you are close to getting a higher tier this year, you should definitely lock it in. (There are parts of the program not announced, like oneworld partner Loyalty Point values, AAVacations, and other non-co-branded spending partners, all of which may provide additional value.) If you do a mix of CC spend and flying, I think it may be an improvement, or at least it’s neutral. Long haul, high spend, infrequent fliers lose. People without status lose. I’m still trying to figure out if EXP is possible for me from PlatPro – it was impossible before, as I’d never fly that much, but could get to PlatPro through an EQD waiver on Citi, so in that regard it’s an improvement (as long as I can at least maintain PlatPro). My gut instinct is EXP will be tough, but with the right combo of flying a little more plus routing nearly all my CC spending through AA-branded cards could get me there, at least for one family member. (Two seems a stretch, they’ll have to remain PlatPro.) Which is probably a goal of the new program.

    One thing no one has pointed out is inflation. Thanks to the recent uptick, $15,000 in 2019 is now $16,000 in 2021. At the current rate, which may continue, that could be $17,000 by the end of 2022. So raising the point values is barely keeping up with inflation.

    The one other change I can see is that priorities will change. It used to be, for the same dollars, one might be willing to take connections just to accumulate additional EQM – now it’s a balance between dollars spent and time saved. A dollar saved is a dollar saved, but a dollar spent on airfare is also now more valuable, so $100 extra in airfare for a non-stop may be worth it now that taking an extra 2.5 hours doesn’t really gain me anything, especially if I don’t need the segments. (And I’m paying that out of my pocket, that’s not the company dime.) Flying MIA-LAX mileage runs for $49 is now useless. Flying a few cheap segments could be worth it if you need segments to reach 30, but short will be as good as long.

    So bottom line, the situation is not as dire as you project, but your analysis is closer to the truth than many have projected so far. It’s complicated. And yet to be fully announced, so we’ll see how it goes. Fingers crossed.

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