American’s New Way To Earn Elite Status Makes Frequent Flyer Programs Fun Again

There’s been a trend over the past several years for airline to award status based on ticket spending. United took this to the most extreme place, dropping miles and flights and in favor of a straight-up pend counter. It’s crass, and it’s not very engaging. It also misses the point that the customers who spend the most aren’t necessarily the most profitable, or the ones with whom a program can influence wallet share.

It’s been obvious for two decades that frequent flyer programs were the highest value part of an airline. Mileage Plus was the only profitable piece of United when the airline filed bankruptcy 20 years ago. They secured debtor-in-possession financing from their co-brand card partner, and when times were rough pre-sold miles to provide the airline with liquidity. During the pandemic the largest airlines raised $6.5 to $10 billion apiece against the future income streams of their frequent flyer programs alone.

Nonetheless it took the pandemic for airlines to try new things, to move out of lock step with each other in their race to the bottom. American Airlines did something truly revolutionary (if not obvious) in declaring that the company’s best customers aren’t just the ones who spend the most on low margin airline tickets. Instead spending money with the airline’s co-brand credit card, shopping through their portal, and engaging in myriad other transactions with their partners that cause those partners to buy miles from the airline are the sine qua non of a profitable customer.

Elite status will require:

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

american airlines loyalty points levels

A minimum of 30 flights will be needed to earn ‘choice awards’ that start at 125,000 Loyalty Points per year. But status itself can be earned without ever setting foot on an airplane. And upgrade lists are prioritized based on elite status followed by the number of loyalty points you’ve earned in the preceding 12 months.

Why do I say this is fun?

  • I remember 20 years ago driving around to find gas stations that accepted Diners Club. Now maybe it makes sense to drive around looking for Shell gas stations, though you only earn a loyalty point per dollar and need a lot of gas to move the needle on your status and you’re capped at earning 1560 miles per year this way.

    I was never going to have a gas preference based on 1500 miles per year (especially when it meant giving up cash back) but every little bit helps towards status and could make the difference in clearing an upgrade.

  • Groups of frequent flyers earn their travel funds by buying products through shopping portals and reselling those products to break even or earn a profit, with their margin coming from the shopping portal in the form of miles or cash back. Those folks can leverage the American Airlines shopping portals towards top status for the first time. Figuring out what products you can do this with will be – for some – a way to net elite status without coming out of pocket at all, but of course there are inventory risks. Figuring out online sales – being an entrepreneur – can earn elite status with American Airlines AAdvantage.

  • Stack offers for maximum effect. You’ll want to look for offers where you can pay with a Mastercard and earn miles for the transaction (via SimplyMiles) and make the purchase online earning miles through the shopping portal (AAdvantage Shopping) and pay with an AAdvantage co-brand credit card all at the same time with each of those 3 things separately earning Loyalty Points for the same transaction.

    Earning 40 miles per dollar sending flowers is no longer exciting the way it was 20 years ago. But when you can stack a card-linked offer, and when the credit card charge earns miles and when all three activities earn elite status too you’re going to want to jump on it. It brings to mind the old AAdvantage credit card ad, “Was he sorry? Or was it the miles?” Or my favorite of the series with a diamond ring, “Was it love? Or was it the miles?”

  • You’re going to want to go out of your way to generate charges on an AAdvantage co-brand credit card (something that hasn’t made sense for most people in many years). You might pay your car payment via Plastiq charging to an AAdvantage credit card (2.85% fee) and pay your mortgage via Plastiq, Mastercards are accepted for this and fortunately U.S. AAdvantage co-brands are Mastercards. Pay quarterly takes (pay1040.com charges 1.87%) with credit card as well. Tax time has an upside for your elite status.

There are still some misses in the American Airlines elite qualifying program, like failing to count seat revenue, bag fees, and buy ups to first class (high margin products all) and imposing new onerous requirements on customers in regions without the opportunity to engage with as many elite-earning partners. However this is a step towards ‘getting’ both what customers are actually profitable to the business and incentivizing customers to engage in more profitable activity.

And they’ve made the program fun again by creating something for members to chase. They’ve gamified their elite status to the benefit of both themselves and their members. This is new, and there will certainly need to be tweaks as they see how it works out in practice. But it’s been so long since these programs have been genuinely exciting.

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. Have you finished all of the Kool-Aid? “How can I be more loyal to American Airlines?” is not a game I’d consider fun.

  2. Meh….. I was the chump last year when I actually flew and earned my elite status. I’m not playing the game this year.

  3. Not playing this game too. I will not have one company dictate to me what credit cards to use, what products to buy and where to buy them. Fairly certain I’m going free agent, and a bit excited about it.

  4. American Airlines in 2022 puts the fun back in FUNerals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when you pay for funerals and burial expenses for your family, friends, and indigent strangers with your Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® — you can earn elite status with the world’s largest airline. The average cost of a funeral is $10,000. When you pay for 20 COVID burials billed to your AAdvantage Mastercard, you receive 200,000 loyalty points and earn Executive Platinum elite status. Upgrade lists are prioritized based on your elite level, followed by the number of loyalty points you accrue in the preceding 12 months. In addition, it’s fun to enjoy bumping potentially COVID infected “gate lice” from a first-class seat using your elite preferred boarding privileges, while receiving American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles, and fun bonus elite travel rewards. Apply today for your Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®!

  5. Gary, you’re proposing to do what no sane person would do: Spend money on things that are either not needed or overpriced to gain marginal profits. Shell vs. Walmart gas? How many bouquets of flowers do you buy in a normal year? Buy stuff to resell on eBay? Have you gone totally insane? There’s nothing exciting here, just a deplorable program change that kicks and kicks again long-term loyal fliers like me. Wake up!

  6. I don’t see the upside for casual elites. AA is my second program I fly when it’s tickets are cheaper. I used to earn gold with a few long haul flights per year. Now I won’t bother to fly AA at all as it’s too hard to earn status. I’ll pay more to fly United instead.

  7. Why would it be fun to “chase status” on a crappy airline by spending money? Find status and self-worth elsewhere. Unless you’re independently wealthy and money is no object, I wouldn’t blow my wad on nonsense.

  8. Not a fan. As a serious business traveler I want my FF program to be simple and easy. I do not have time to chase anything. I am fine with using google flights and other bots to track lower costs for my leisure travel but that’s about as far as I want to go on spending a ton of my time on these things.

  9. Gary, you have either lost your mind or AA is holding a family member hostage. Airlines once earned loyalty by going out of their way to treat loyal passengers well. You are completely ignoring the sad fact that AA has devolved into a worthless third world garbage carrier. Dirty cramped cabins, angry pax, cancelled or delayed flights, pissed off disconnected employees, there is no fun to be found flying AA. Multi-million miler decade long EXP my loyalty to AA is gone. I’m more than a few dollars and cents and if a business I use doesn’t see my value beyond that, screw ’em.

  10. I am just a lowly Gold and have been consistently for the last 5-10 years. But live in DFW so am relatively captive. The only value I see in Gold is the priority boarding and 24 hour advance better seat assignment, which I do place reasonable value on.

    I think the only tweaks I’ll plan to my behavior based on these changes are:
    1) To be marginally less loyal to AA on flights (given the shift in emphasis away from flying)
    2) To try a little harder to remember to do online shopping through AA portal (and shift away from Topcashback, which is somewhat of an afterthought currently)

    That’s about it. I suspect with these changes I may make Gold again, but perhaps not. And if not, i’ll just get an AA credit to give me Group 5 boarding and just deal without the other benefits.

  11. For all the complaints about AA, I’m still new to the elite status game and thoroughly enjoy my upgrades. I’m not flying on the business dime, I’m paying for my own flights. I’m not in a hub city, so my choice of airport club is exactly one – the Admirals Club, which we get through the AA Executive Card – and we can give family members access as well. Combine that with upgrades, which clear fairly regularly, since we’re not a hub city, and I’m more than happy to be Platinum Pro. Add in things like free extra bags when we hit the stores and outlet malls, priority bags for checked luggage (better than hauling them through connections), priority lines and phone numbers (particularly good in Europe), access to OneWorld lounges in London and Madrid, upgrades that clear to Hawaii, including the 1st Class seats on the 777 when they were running that from DFW (and the tickets were $279 RT from flyover country!), and yeah, I’m not going to complain after flying steerage all these years.

    Some of these complaints remind me of the pouty teenage girl who complains about getting the birthday Porsche because it’s not a Ferrari.

  12. Regarding hotels booked through http://bookaahotels.com – do special offers and booster points count as LP? So say normal room is 1,000 LP for $100 a night. Special offer is 2,000 for $120 and booster is 3,000 points for $140.

  13. @Gary. Has AA indicated when they are going to publish the details of terms, conditions, and rules? It’s nice to get a filtered preview, however, it would be nicer to see what they are willing to commit to in the “fine print.”

  14. Yes, AA loyalty is easy as hell to obtain. I can pay my estimated taxes in Q1 and get EXP. Do I want to spend $4000 (the 2% CC fee) for EXP and to get 200,000 miles, probably not. I assume I will still fly $5000 worth = 55,000 miles, so maybe $3000 in credit card fees to get another 150,000 miles.
    I guess it’s worth it. I’ve cleared my upgrades on almost all of my flights recently, even on award tickets and even on high traffic routes like DFW-LGA.

  15. I would agree that buying gas at Shell is the wrong answer for most — it is consistently priced 40 to 50 cents per gallon above Sam’s Club or Costco. But, what if you don’t have a Sam’s Club or Costco nearby? So, perhaps it is best to couch a comment in this context rather than offer a comment in the context of one’s own circumstances. Me, me, me.

    As for shopping portals, they work. If you’re buying stuff anyway and NOT reselling it, you would want to use a shopping portal. It’s gravy. Conceptually, using the AA shopping portal is no different than using Rakuten or Top Cash Back or Max Rebates, etc. From a practical standpoint, the gravy is in the form of AA award points instead of cash back. And, now, one also receives Loyalty Points. That’s what Gary is talking about.

    Now, what about Gary’s discussion about reselling items on eBay. Gary was referring something called a “buyers club,” in which people are already doing this. It is a strategy among some to meet a minimum spend requirement of a credit card welcome bonus. There are also bonus point opportunities with some card issuers. So, if one is already doing buyers club type purchases, why not “stack” it and garner elite status? Again, with a lack of knowledge and understanding, people are ready to throw darts.

    If a person masters the ins-and-outs of shopping portal strategies, you could all potentially achieve EP status with fewer dollars spent shopping than dollars spent if you flew. Either learn from what Gary is talking about or suffer from your ignorance. But, don’t complain.

  16. @jediwho – from the CEO of Rocketmiles (and bookaahotels.com is a joint project of booking.com and rocketmiles) explaining via email to me how the two sites earn loyalty points,

    I can confirm that all base miles earned do count toward loyalty points and our T&Cs will be updated soon to avoid confusion. Any first time booking bonus or repeat user bonus above and beyond the normal earn rate won’t count. Hope this helps! On bookaahotels.com, only the properties that earn miles count toward loyalty points, and those are clearly marked throughout the booking funnel.

  17. @Reno Joe

    Show me a place that doesn’t have a Walmart (I used Walmart and not Costco or Sam’s, where gas is another 3 cents cheaper than Walmart). That pretty much moots your point.

    Last night I bought a new Phillips/Saeco expresso machine, $499. Yes, I would have used AAdvantage e-shopping (I have the button in my browser). Seattle Coffee Gear, the only US company (directly or through their presence on Amazon) to sell the Phillips Carina in the US as far as my research showed is not part of AAdvantage e-shopping, so I had to settle for the 4% TopCashback. How many such purchases does a typical single household person make in a year?

    No, I didn’t know about these so-called “buyers clubs” and profess my ignorance. I will certainly research them. Looking at the number of LPs needed it seems one needs to become a rather dedicated buyer and seller to get up to 200,000 LP.

    And finally, to people who have estimated taxes of the size as what @Hal mentioned ($200,000 for Q1!!! ) I can only say, why in the world are you chasing any kind of status with that kind of revenue stream? I’ve never made more than about $40,000 in a year, and I have been able to maintain ExecPlt for all those years, mostly as a privateer. Maybe this new system works just fine for folks who in estimated taxes in one quarter what I earn in FIVE YEARS! Any other normal folks out there?

  18. C_M, you have a happy, healthy, mature outlook about tier status benefits. How refreshing. Yes, so many comments are gimme-gimme in nature. To enjoy the view, one must climb the mountain.

  19. JH, there are many towns that do not have a Walmart. Here are just a few:
    – Sedona, AZ
    – Bridgeport, CA
    – Lakeport, CA
    – Santa Ynez, CA
    – Sierraville, CA
    – Sonora, CA
    – Ely, NV

    You have a limited view of the world. You view it from how it affects you. You don’t view it from how it affects other people. You can’t appreciate that Gary has given those who live is such communities an opportunity. You can’t appreciate that Gary has opened the concept of shopping portals to those who hadn’t known about them. Or, if they did, that using the AA shopping portal might be a better choice. If the AA shopping portal didn’t work for your coffee maker, fine. But, maybe it works for some guy’s hiking boots — as it did for me. Think about someone other than yourself. Are you a millennial?

  20. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will drive 20 minutes to save 3 cents a gallon on a 14 gallon fill-up. There are times when I’m at Costco and I decide against the cheaper gas based on how long I’m going to have to sit in line. It’s not that much cheaper.

    Your time has a value. So does the gas you use to drive to the cheaper place. Think dollars, not dimes.

  21. @Gary – why doesn’t AA make it simple . Why don’t they just come out and charge $5000 and must paid to AA by an AA card ? Why would they fool around and earn a piece of $5000 through a vendor ? They are much better off just charging the $5000 status upgrade fee direct to consumer and require AA credit card.

    The old US Airways actually let you buy alll the way up to Chairman’s Preferred. Just seems much easier and better for AA to buy status direct from AA. Crazy

  22. I don’t know about all your grumpy people. To me, this article was Old School Gary- kinda nerdy, taking delight in mundane activities that reward you in the frequent flyer game. Yes, much more efficient ways to earn, reasons not to fly, etc. But come on, guys- this is a frequent flyer blog- he writes, we read, and if you find a nugget or two a week, you’re way, way ahead on your investment.

  23. @George: Agree. Also, this is Gary’s core competency (unlike, say, epidemiology). If Gary says this opens interesting opportunities you can bank on it being true.

  24. One of the posters whose comment you published has it right. What we are seeing is an end to Loyalty. The business market will move back to price, convenience and service. irlines will have to discount more for the back of the bus tickets and improve first and business class offerings for senior execs. The days of Up in the Air a la Clooney are done. Quite excited as ANA, KAL and Lufthansa all fly 747-8i equipment and there is now no reason to use a One World carrier or AA per se.

  25. Idea to buy and resell is great, but you will be hit with BBB over 600 dollar rules and lot of hassles. Is it good return if investment and return of my time?

  26. Ha! Thanks for this explanation to something moot to me, I had already decided to not chase AA Plat status after last year’s fun Flagship MIA-LAX for the $2,000 (I brought my own glassware and barrowed a Champagne Flute from MIA Flagship and returned heading home) I’ll just pay first and go on any airline w 1st – very fortunate granted Hope to use up my 6 upgrade certs and $506 expiring flight credits

    But the larger point is the demand for complete control over all your spending on 1 set of cards. where’s the fun in that?

    Is it Already April 1??

  27. I already was getting status with both AA and Alaska (ExpP and Gold) and I foresee a lot of us piling into Alaska. Both airlines have treated me well, honestly, but Alaska a bit more so. If I go all in on Alaska I will do a lot better. I want to stay with both as Elite, but AA keeps raising the bar. And the lack of clarity at this point? Very annoying. Will limp through a few months with AA, but then I need something to make them more tempting. If I spend on an AA credit card I get points, but I can’t use them or I won’t make 200k. If I spend on a hotel card I get points with them and my nights help me retain status. Why spend on AA?

    (BA totally messed up my flights to regain ExPlat and tho I flew them over a month ago, no credit yet)

  28. @KenA Sir, I doff my cap to you. If I could give you a thumbs up I would. Excellent humour, well written, just a joy to read ( my honest opinion not being sarcastic)

    I’m lead to believe quite a number of places lack a wallmart or target nowadays. Apparently you can’t earn points at the stores which have been burnt to the ground ( in a “mostly peaceful” way of course)

  29. @Clayton: Thank you. Thought leaders Gary Leff and the late Benny Hill inspire my writing.

  30. Of course the actual ‘fun’ way to get AA elite is to open a BAEC account and qualify for at least Silver ( OW Sapphire equivalent) which is decidedly easier and use that to access AA lounges and eat/ drink as you like for free even when flying Dom’ in the US and regardless of class flown then contact AA and ask them to status match you which they’ve happily done for me the last 5 years running without batting an eyelid.

    When you get in the lounge just talk to guest services and show your AA platinum or above and enquire about upgrades.

    ^ subject to being allowed to get the chance to fly the 4 sectors on BA metal that’s required.

    Don’t hate the player, hate those who set the rules of the game.

  31. If I could use my co-branded Citi AA Executive Mastercard with Google Pay for store purchases, I would be sold on the next program. But AA blames Citi who blames Google for the lack of compatibility and the only solution would be for me to abandon Android for an iPhone or abandon Citi.

  32. If I could use my co-branded Citi AA Executive Mastercard with Google Pay for store purchases, I would be sold on the next program. But AA blames Citi who blames Google for the lack of compatibility and the only solution would be for me to abandon Android for an iPhone or abandon Citi.

  33. I think the author has lost his mind. AA is a business and like any other business needs to make money. I just want AA to take those earnings and invest in their product and service. I’m not going to chase status for a subpar airline. I only have AA status because I fly mostly oneworld partners but live in the US. I don’t see AAs change as fun.

  34. This program totally disenfranchises the business traveler…not fun and not exciting. AA has lost me after more than 40 years and 4MM miles…

  35. I’ve been using the AAShopping widget for a couple of years now. In 2021 I had Program earnings of 53,905 points through online purchases. Some of the arguments above are valid, but my experience has been mostly positive.
    Here is one example: My company needed to buy some Dell computers, I noticed that Dell was offering 1 point per dollar through the AAshoppping widget, so why not? I also used my AA Executive MC and “stacked” more points and it also helped me reach my 30K spending for the 10K Elite miles. (in this case, we needed a particular Dell model, so I did not pick Dell over HP or whatever and put my company at risk, it just worked out that way. It only took a few seconds to double-check the portal and verify that my widget was activated to ensure I got the points)
    I don’t always use the widget though. If there is a decision between quality or brand preference, I usually don’t compromise just for extra points, but if there is a 50/50 decision, I opt for the points. It only takes a few extra seconds when shopping online to check the AAshopping portal to see if there are extra points to be earned. It works for me, but is not for everyone. I will note that if you use Honey and/or Capital One’s widgets, they can kick out the AA widget when you apply promo codes. So be careful and apply the promo code first and then, before checking out, make sure you activate the AA widget. AAshopping now has promo codes, similar to Honey, so this has become easier in the last 6 months or so.

  36. I think the new program is great. I have earned 698,326 miles in the last 7 years with the AAdvantage E-shopping program. I am now a platnum just by buying things for work. Plus my AA credit card and flying.

  37. Not fun at all. American Airlines has lost me as a client with this move. When they value someone who uses a credit card to run their company purchases through and flies on holiday once a year more then me, a business traveler, buying last minute flights two or more time per month domestically they are telling me I do not matter. Good by AA.

  38. As a Hospitality Practice leader who advises a raft of clients with brands you all know and use, the entire approach frustrates me. It’s not designed for frequent fliers or business travelers. It’s not customer friendly or easy to use. Once again, AA demonstrates that they really don’t care. But who can blame them really? Business travel is down 30% and will not return to pre-pandemic levels with the investments companies made in remote work. Hell, even I am flying less because my clients are happy with the remote work and they don’t have to pay consultant travel. The average leisure customer is bargain shopping and millennials hate loyalty programs so this is a dead program as they become the dominant consumer. AA just hopes they can slow roll back towards another BK and a government bailout. Flying is no longer enjoyable and I hope I have to do less of it from now on.

  39. How I reacted to AA’s new “fun” approach to loyalty? I switched to Delta where loyalty is measured by the relationship with an individual and not whether they shop at some overpriced portal.

  40. But to get the real bennies, you need 30 FLIGHTS. I got to exec plat status by flying long haul, JFK to SFO, or EWR to CDG and like that. This new program screws me. I need to find another airline that actually appreciates its flyers. Not just its spenders.

  41. Not an attractive proposition, IMO… And yes, the tone did feel like someone at AA wrote this.

    I’d echo the many comments about AA being driven into the ground by Parker (Oasis interior, anyone?!)… I’ve been mid-tier elite on DL, UA and now AA depending on where I lived and my company policy. Currently AA EXP but not going to jump through these hoops to requalify this year… Not worth it when I can buy legroom (economy+) on UA, DL or jetBlue and not put up with AA’s operating deficiencies.

    I’ll end by re-quote an earlier post “Why would it be fun to “chase status” on a crappy airline by spending money? Find status and self-worth elsewhere.”

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