Attention: this information is now out of date. The AAdvantage program described below has changed effective January 1, 2016.
People are always saying things to me like, “Hey Andy, why are you always going on about airline status?” and “Ow, quit standing on my foot!”
I can offer no help on the second, but I’m here to help you out with the first. First, an introduction to airline loyalty.
Airline Loyalty Programs
There are two flights, nonstop, from DFW-LGA (New York’s LaGuardia Airport). One is $638 roundtrip, the other $517. Quick, which one would you pick? $517, right? Here’s the crazy thing about airline programs: many people would say wrong. For those who value airline status perks, a very common response would be “what airline?” because it has a direct effect on their miles balance or qualifying status on their preferred airline.
Airlines value loyalty, and they’re willing to pay for it. If they didn’t have loyalty programs that conferred benefits to some passengers (that fly more often and/or spend more money with that airline), it would be a race to the lowest price, at which point all airlines lose money (even moreso than many do already). So, airlines give you an incentive to keep choosing their airline, even if you’re paying more money to do so. Things like free bag checking, exit row seats, all the way up to free upgrades to Business/First Class (on international flights!). If you travel a lot for work or for pleasure, elite status can pay off.
I’m based in DFW, so this first post will cover the basics of the American Airlines AAdvantage Program.
American Airlines AAdvantage
American boasts a robust flight network, orders for new planes that will make theirs the youngest fleet in the sky among US carriers, and one heck of a bankruptcy proceeding at the time of this writing. American is part of the Oneworld Alliance of airlines, so many of the benefits you receive on American are reciprocated on other Oneworld carriers (British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Iberia, just to name a few).
The AAdvantage program is constantly changing, and you can find all of this on American’s website written in very nice legalese, but I’m going to try and simplify everything for you here, after all that’s what you pay me for, right?
There are three status levels in the AAdvantage Program: Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum (corresponding to Oneworld Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, respectively).
Here are the qualifying standards (updated to reflect the 2015 status requirements). For each level, you have to reach at least one of the following:
25,000 EQP (Elite-Qualifying Points)
25,000 EQM (Elite-Qualifying Miles)
30 EQS (Elite-Qualifying Segments)
AAdvantage Executive Platinum
Wait, what are the differences between all of those acronyms?
We’ll get to that, but first, let’s start with miles, since those are the easiest. Let’s say I have no status and fly a round trip DFW-LGA-DFW. The total flight distance for that trip is 2,778 miles. I will earn the following:
2,778 redeemable miles (RDM)
2,778 elite-qualifying miles (EQM)
2 elite-qualifying segments (the flight from DFW-LGA, then the flight from LGA-DFW)
x elite-qualifying points (I’ll explain later)
But wait, do the redeemable miles count for anything? You bet, those are the miles you can redeem for free flights in the future. Those have no bearing on your qualification for any status (nor do any miles earned from credit card bonuses, with one very specific exception).
Now, you’ll notice I didn’t specify the number of EQP, that’s because, unlike EQMs that are calculated based on distance flown, EQP are calculated based on how much you paid for the ticket. Easiest way of understanding it is me: I flew 101,687 EQM this year (which earned me Executive Platinum status) but I only earned 35,822 EQP, since all of my flights were inexpensive coach tickets. There is a person I know who qualified with the ratio of EQP/EQM the other direction, he didn’t fly nearly as often as I did, but he always flew on business or first class airfares, for which his company paid.
Most cheap tickets will earn 0.5 EQP for each mile you fly. More expensive coach tickets earn 1.0 EQP, and Business/First usually earns 1.5 EQP. How will you know what your ticket will earn? By reading my next post, American Airlines AAdvantage Status Explained: AAdvanced.
So, the easiest way to earn status? Fly! Fly for work, fly for leisure travel, or, if necessary, fly to earn status (called a mileage run, also called Andy You’re A Moron by some close friends). But what are the benefits? For the full look at the benefits, American has a really handy chart located at http://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/eliteStatus/elite-benefits-chart.jsp. I’m going to point out the highlights of each level below:
- Free checked bags
- Free same-day standby (you have to pay $75 for the chance to do this without status)
- Earning upgrades on certain domestic flights
- Ability to select window, aisle, and exit row seats
- 25% bonus on redeemable miles for every flight
The above, plus:
- Get cleared for upgrades and standby before most Gold-level passengers
- Starting in 2014, complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra seats on coach flights
- Priority luggage tags
- 100% bonus on redeemable miles for every flight
- Access to Oneworld Business Class Lounges on departing Oneworld international flights, regardless of class of travel
AAdvantage Executive Platinum
The above, plus:
- Complimentary, automatic space-available upgrades to First Class on domestic flights
- Free snacks and drinks in coach
- Phone ticketing charges are waived (normally $25 per ticket booked)
- Mileage redeposit fee waived (big deal, otherwise you have to pay $150 to reinstate miles you use on an award ticket and would like to cancel)
- Access to Oneworld First Class Lounges on departing Oneworld international flights, regardless of class of travel
- (new for 2015) Same day reservation change fee waived
- The big one: 8 systemwide upgrades, which can be used to upgrade any paid-for segment one class of service (example, if I find another American mistake airfare to Frankfurt for $340, I could buy it in coach and then upgrade to Business class for free)
Benefits common to all levels are same-day standby privileges, Priority Access boarding, and a minimum of 500 EQM/RDM miles earned on each segment (so if I fly DFW-AUS, I get 500 EQM/RDM, even though it’s 190 miles).
Executive Platinum is the top level of published status, but there is an even higher level of status, but you must be invited to achieve it: the ConciergeKey program. There is not much official documentation on what it takes to qualify, but odds are that if you qualify, you’ll know pretty quickly.
In my next post, I’ll go over some lesser-known benefits of the various status levels, and what you can expect on other Oneworld airlines when you have status with American.