How to Decide If Buying Back Elite Status is Worth It

Airlines frequently offer elite status buy back (pay to get this past year’s status) or buy up (pay to get a higher status) offers. On their face they seem expensive. Here’s how to know whether they’re right for you.

There are two questions to ask about the elite status you’re considering:

  • How much status benefits are worth to you?
  • How much you’ll use those benefits next year?

My general rule is that if you’re going to fly more next year than you did this year, you’ll likely get good use of the benefits, and can consider either (1) buying up the status you want, or (2) mileage running to earn the status.

A buy back/buy up offer has the virtue of not requiring you to spend time or money flying. Whether a paid status offer is worth it compared to flying to earn status (mileage run), you need to factor not just how expensive it would be to fly the miles required for status but assign a value to your time as well.

And in this era where minimum spend is at least as important as flying in earning status, paid offers can even work out to be less expensive than flying and spending enough to earn status (depending on how far away from status you are).

Delta offers to let you buy segments and qualifying miles rather than buying status as such, in other words paying for the difference between what you’ve flown and what you need.

American Airlines is out with their offers to buy status and the details are targeted. You can spend money or miles worth one penny apiece. I will just barely requalify for Executive Platinum status this year, although I have one trip left to book to make it.

For instance I’ve seen one report of an American AAdvantage Platinum member who has just 5000 qualifying miles and under $1000 in spend so far this year – they aren’t even close to Gold status – being offered:

  • $699 for 2020 Gold status
  • $1345 for 2020 Platinum status

They plan to fly much more next year, maybe even close to earning Platinum again. So they’re seriously considering spending $1345. That’s a lot of money just for elite status, but if they’d spend money for Main Cabin Extra extra legroom seats on 15 roundtrips they’d make it back. Plus there’s some value to the 60% mileage bonus they’ll earn when they fly, to priority check-in, and priority boarding and free checked bags as well as free standby.

As a general matter I don’t think these offers are worth it. Even top tier elites don’t get upgrades the way they used to. The bottom-tier benefits are largely replicable with just a credit card, and it can be cheaper to buy the benefits you’ll use on an a la carte basis. However there are edge cases like this one where it makes sense (and indeed buy Platinum status for less spend than is normally required in a year for Gold).

One Mile at a Time reports offers of $1895 for Platinum Pro and $1345 for Platinum. As a general matter ‘moving up’ is more expensive than ‘renewing’. I’ve seen offers ranging from $675 to $2,325 for Gold, ; $1165 – $1475 for Platinum; $1795 for Platinum Pro; $2695 – $3195 for Executive Platinum. What’s your offer?

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. I got $1345 to renew platinum status and I flew exactly 789 miles this year on AA. ( Switched to Alaska as MVP Gold 75)

  2. @ Gary — Bu any chance, do you know what date Delta announced Medallion qualification requirements each of the past few years? No announcement for next year yet, but I am not sure how unusual this timing actually is.

  3. @Gene – I really doubt they’re changing the requirements for next year at this point. We learned about the change to card spend required to waive MQDs for Diamond in September, and we learned about the increase to $15k minimum spend for Diamond in early October.

  4. This year is the first time my offer to “buy up” with AA included the option of using miles, at the exchange rate of 1 cent per mile. This isn’t worth a miles exchange, as AA values their miles at 2 cents per mile for those that they provide to their customers.

  5. @ Gary — Thanks, I hope you are correct. But, why else would they be delaying the announcement of changes or, if no changes, simply updating their website by a year?

  6. Do you think this would be counted under the Airline Fee category for Amex cards? I just realized I have $250 unused on one of my cards and if I could apply it to the status, all the sudden it may be worthwhile.

  7. Does anyone here know of an app./site that I will call “A Mileage Run Calculator”? By that, I mean a site where you enter your:

    *location;
    *airline;
    *miles needed
    * other optional data (e.g. dates of travel, window, etc.)

    and it goes out and searches for the cheapest flights that comply with your conditions?

    A site like Kayak could offer this, it is just a different query of the same database they use to get fares on a route. It would make money (particularly at this time of year) by selling the tickets.

  8. I agree there are situations where it may make sense to buy up status (didn’t travel much one year, expect to travel a lot the following year and would like the benefit of status for entire year).

    In my situation I see ZERO benefit to paying to upgrade. Let me explain:

    – First of all I retired in March so all my travel now is leisure and I can generally pick days, airlines, flights, routings, etc so get better fares (or improve chance of an upgrade).
    – I’m currently EP on AA and am seeing fewer and fewer upgrades (especially on West Coast flights out of CLT where I live) due to more elite members and AA selling more of the first class seats.
    – I am lifetime Platinum on AA and lifetime Gold on DL (approximately 3 million miles on each one) so already can select any seat (except Comfort + on DL but usually get upgraded to it), preboard and have a shot at an upgrade.

    Sure if I got Platinum Pro for basically nothing I’d do it so I wouldn’t have to burn 500 mile awards for upgrades (which you do at Platinum) but I don’t fly that much, already get most of the benefits of higher status due to my lifetime awards and are free to fly anyone I want. Believe it or not I use Frontier and Spirit for cheap weekend get aways. Any flight under 2 hours I’ll put up with about anything to save a few hundred dollars. I also still have over a million AA miles and, while it is difficult to get international premium seats without paying the higher award prices, I can get a lot of value domestically for those miles.

    I realize my situation is unique with lifetime mid-tier status on both AA and DL but I don’t see any reason to pay to upgrade either status.

  9. The buyup offer says “Pay in dollars and earn 2019…EQDs…”

    If I’m buying up, what on Earth good would EQDs do me? Buy gold, then fly enough in November and December to earn Platinum? ???? I’m clueless.

  10. Here is another data point. Last year I qualified for AA gold due to flying first class coast to coast. There year I haven’t flown much and when I have I’ve gone with Delta.

    So I have one segment of 4,000 miles and $600 this year and was offered gold next year for $800. Much less than expected although I may still pass on it. I remember a few years ago the offer was much higher. If I thought I could get any free upgrades I would do it but that doesn’t seem to happen much.

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