American Airlines Needs To Do More For Elites Earning Status This Year ‘The Real Way’

American Airlines has been giving out status and promoting status challenges.

Everyone knew that 2021 would be an odd year. It might not be a total loss, like 2020, where American like most everyone else just extended status. However business travel hadn’t returned in the first half of the year in a meaningful way, and much of long haul international travel remained out of reach. Customers who normally made their status on international business class tickets just weren’t doing so, yet no one wanted to lose these customers when their business returned.

American started by,

Clearly things weren’t working out as hoped, and their projections were for the elite program to shrink dramatically so they took steps to counteract this and encourage customers to fly for status by placing that status within reach.

Then American even rolled out two more ways for existing elites to keep their status next year:

  1. $2000 qualifying dollars in spend on the airline this fall, or
  2. $15,000 spend on co-brand credit cards over four months.

At this point any existing elite who wants to keep their status should be able to do so without doing very much flying. These newest offers make it so easy for elite members to keep their status that many now become ‘free agents’. With American status secured, why not defect when another airline has a better schedule or price?

American Airlines, then, should focus on providing greater incentives to requalify for elite status on the basis of qualifying miles and qualifying dollars. They’ve made that doable this year through reduced requirements and promotions. Now they should encourage people to follow that path.

To be sure there are ‘elite choice’ benefits for earning Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum status but these alone aren’t reasons to forego the easy options and stick with the program for 2021.

Members who earn their status with credit card spend don’t earn systemwide upgrades, for instance, but those are rarely confirmable in advance any longer. And someone like me earns status domestically, and redeems miles for international travel… on partners that offer a better travel experience.

It’s time for American Airlines to add big bonuses for requalifying for elite status this year, or the structure they’ve set up may give them elite members in 2022 but will cost them business this year.

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. What keeps me from “defecting” is that I get the elite benefits with AA, whereas if a different airline has better schedule/price I don’t. For family of four with 2 young kids, the free bags and seat assignments generally outweigh any price/schedule benefit from another airline. Though I am, admittedly, not someone who would ever qualify for EXP if they weren’t handing it away (Hyatt Globalist, extended for COVID, and will extend it again with $15,000 credit card spend).

  2. American actually needs to reverse course and stop racing to the bottom. It needs to simply block and tackle with new equipment including fundamentals like power ports, properly maintained airplane seating areas, edible food (enough with the pathetic and weird sandwiches morning, noon and night), clean and comfortable waiting areas and jet ways, adequate ground personnel, vastly improved employee and especially flight attendant morale and lastly realistic flight schedules that can actually be flown without delays and cancelations due to inadequate crews. Plus, how about providing reliable advance information to the passengers about flight delays and cancelations so they can make alternative arrangements to minimize their personal and business disruptions.

  3. I am surprised that none of the major airlines are offering promos like double redeemable miles through the end of the year (together with some re-qualification bonuses). Right now I am 15 miles away from PlatPro. Some additional kickback from AA program would be good. Remember triple miles to/from BOS? Or perhaps Parker can re-instate USAiways annual promo when one gets extra miles for doing all kind of partner activity. I guest AA is too stingy nowadays.

  4. @ Gary — I am basically avoiding booking AA since all I have to do is charge $15k of business expenses on my Aviator card and be done with it. I am focusing all my travel on DL and partners to renew Diamond (contrary to most people’s understanding, the elite choice benefits are VERY valuable if you know how to maximize them). Even with the 50%/75% MQD bonus and MQD-earning on mileage tickets, I am struggling to cobble together 15,000 MQDs. AA blinked first, and now DL can delay whatever else they will do for another couple months.

  5. I was 1K with UA for 10 years until they raised the requirements to an unreasonable level in 2019. I dropped down to Plat and jumped over to AA to test the waters. I will use this offer to maintain Plat with AA but also use the UA offers to achieve 1K again. I hold options. UA is my preferred airline but if they raise the requirements above $15k per year and AA remains competitive then I will switch to AA (I don’t actually fly them but One World partners). So AA has created an option that I might trigger next year.

  6. They gotta do something to retain the OPM flyers…
    Once those poor saps are forced back in their air by their corporate overlords they ll need to feel important again with a shiny elite card.

  7. Yup! Exactly! I’m planning on requalifing several ways (including the hard way) for Plat Pro this year. I’m WELl on my way with EQD’s, but the miles are HARD to stack up at 2X in Domestic First. ZERO incentive for me to shoot for Exec Platinum. Plus my paid FC flight from DFW-CVG last night was AWFUL. Just unbelievable the amount of screw-up.

  8. I’ll requalify for EXP via $15k CC spend and/or $2000 airfare spend. But, just went to book a trip for my family and realized the reconfigured Oasis 737’s only have 2 non-exit rows of MCE seats. So, my family is stuck in a non-MCE seat (which is okay for my wife and kids, but not for me as a 6 footer) as AA has crammed too many seats in that plane.

    I have a long history with AA and have not changed yet because none of the domestic airlines seem much better. But, seeing what United is planning for their planes, and AA doubling down on a LCC experience, it will be interesting to see what Delta’s plans are and then will choose between UA and Delta if AA doesn’t reverse course.

    The domestic air travel experience has become so unpleasant – even in AA FC with the hard seats – it’s good to see the tables turning and actually seeing airlines competing to win business travelers with quality product versus taking us for granted.

  9. So AA should reward all of those idiots who extended the pandemic by traveling on vacation and helping the virus and variants to spread, in defiance of the CDC warning not to do so?

    No way in hell.

  10. I am in the same boat as Hepworth. With three young kids the benefits of booking free leg room at the time of booking is such a great platinum benefit. If I booked a trip to Austin in April with my son for October will that count as spend for the $2k?

  11. I emailed @gary about a similar problem with WN, I earned companion pass via card spend just to have WN extend everyone anyway, just to have @gary tell me that WN would just tell me to ‘pound sand’. Now @gary thinks AA will care… They’ll just tell you to ‘pound sand’

  12. I would expect that most AA elites are hub captive.

    With that assumption in mind, I do not know it is the end of the world if there is a lapse in numbers of elites. Yes, someone living in DFW might get a UA status match for 2022. But they will be back to AA in due time, even if they lose status on AA.

    There was a time (perhaps even now) that AA would “soft land” an elite who did not requalify to their current level by “demoting” them to the next lower level. I rather believe that this, and not forced promotions, should be sufficient to maintain the attentions of people who are in a requalification fix.

  13. It seems kind of unfair that requalification for Platinum is same dollar spend as EXP

  14. I have been Lifetime Plat for 5-6 years now. Not sure if 3 million miles means attaining PlatPro for life, BUT…

    I was EXP for 7 years. But in 2019 I just missed, by less than $1000 EQDs, requalifying at PlatPro level for 2020 (I had well over 80,000 EQMs). Instead of a soft landing to PlatPro, AA dropped me to Plat. I was provided zero incentive to try and regain higher status through the mess of 2020. And this year? AA is missing the boat by not recognizing the value of past loyalty, as they gift it to people who’ve never or rarely shown AA loyalty in the past or incentivizing those who generate revenue for AA primarily through credit cards.

    I’m one roundtrip away from attaining Plat Pro in two weeks. Seriously considering whether it is worth dumping another $5000 towards EQDs to graduate to EXP again, or to grab a status challenge with another while they’re hot.

  15. I agree, Gary. It isn’t that hard to meet the lower requirements that were announced at the beginning of the year. Once the $3k EQD posts from my Aviator Biz spend, I’ll be at EXP.

    AA went way too far for their corporate elites and should give some incentives to those who earned status the hard way (probably spending their own money). Oh well, maybe they’ll be more C inventory as it sounds like I’ll be one of the few EXP’s with SWU’s to burn in 2022.

  16. Y’all keep in mind that AA is no longer an “airline”, but they are now a “bank”, in the form of a credit card company. They make more gross margin on zero hard assets by hawking credit cards than flying people with hard assets (planes).

    So, why would they want to reward you to fly them, when they have all the incentive in the world to reward you for credit card spend (and fees).

  17. American Airlines has disappointed consistently. That’s the only thing they seem to be good at doing. I started flying American Airlines in 1994 and have Platinum for LIfe. Living in London, I was EXP for many years. However, September 2020 was my worst experience ever on American Airlines both directions across the Atlantic. I get the pandemic but most of the excuses are just money saving excuses. I’m so tired of hearing the excuse of the pandemic just like the 9/11 excuse way after the event. Anyway, while living in London, I transferred to British Airways. There is no monetary spend requirement unlike the American carriers. I get lounge access free domestically as part of my BA status in the USA regardless what class of service I’m flying. I basically replicated my American Airlines platinum status with British Airways and get more from it. Yes I don’t get upgrades on American Airlines but honestly, it’s really not worth it. I’d rather sit in an emergency exit row and bring my own food on board. Now that Alaska is part of OneWorld, I’ll chose them over American Airlines anyday when flying domestically in the USA. The problem what American Airlines will have ongoing is the customer experience that Alaska offers is superior than what American Airlines. Parker has ran the new American Airlines into the ground trying to be everything to everyone. It doesn’t work that way. Just my two cents.

  18. @ Diego Dave — The highest lifetime statues with AA is Platinum. At 3 MM (and each additional MM thereafter), you will receive 4 SWUs that expire in 12 months.

  19. American Airlines is not what it purports to be. They are a scam operation that’s kept aloft by a group of singing cranes who live in the engine nacelles.

  20. My God have you flown on American lately. It’s a train wreck. Too few agents, long waits, canceled flights. The have canceled most flights to Europe, and South America. Southwest suffers none of this. I have 3,000,000 mile am lifetime Platinum, am Platinum Pro and for a few years was Executive Platinum. But my wife and I find ourselves flying on Southwest more frequently , it’s just a better run airline. MyGod even United former basement dweller runs better, cheaper and nicer. Robert Crandall should be begged to return.

  21. I’ve tried American Airlines a couple of times as in Alaska 75K. Not only did they not get upgraded on any of the flights but the mileage that was credited to me was lower because of the fair class. Alaska does not do that. I’ve flown about 30 flights this year and was upgraded 27 times on Alaska and zero on American. I asked for a drink an American as an emerald they said they didn’t serve alcohol in the main cabin even though I was in an exit row. I have to say that Americans flights were cheaper than Alaska flights but the calculus of not getting upgraded Is not worth $100 or so

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