Should I Earn AAdvantage Elite Qualifying Miles or Points?

Apr 12, 2015

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TPG reader Max had this question about earning status on American Airlines:

“What’s the difference between American elite-qualifying miles versus points?”

The recent merger of US Airways Dividend Miles into American Airlines AAdvantage has created a lot of changes for flyers, including how elite upgrades work. There are no more freebies for Silver, Gold and Platinum Dividend Miles members, who will now need to use E500 upgrades for flights of 500 miles and over. There are also plenty of changes regarding how to redeem your miles.

American Airlines has a unique approach to elite qualification. Most airlines allows you to qualify on elite miles or segments, and give you bonus miles if you buy first class or other premium fares. American Airlines AAdvantage allows you to qualify based on either miles, segments (which isn’t my favorite), or elite qualifying points, and if you buy premium tickets, you get a bonus in points but not in elite miles.

AA’s system of elite-qualifying points, miles and segments can be confusing. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The exact definitions of each are as follows:

  • AA elite-qualifying miles — the actual miles (including applicable minimum mileage guarantees) you earn on eligible purchased tickets for flights on American or partner airlines.
  • AA elite-qualifying segments — the segments you fly on eligible purchased tickets for flights on American or partner airlines.
  • AA elite qualifying points — these are based on a combination of earned miles and the class of service purchased. For American Airlines marketed codeshare flights, your ticket must reflect an American Airlines coded flight number. On American you earn 0.5 EQP on G, Q, N, O, and S fares; 1 EQP on H, K, M, L, W, and V coach fares; and 1.5 EQP on all Y,B, W, D, I, J, R, A, F, and P fares.

So with American, cheap and premium fares even out to about the same, whereas United, Delta and other carriers will give 100% elite-qualifying miles plus a bonus. Basically, American penalizes those who buy both cheap and expensive tickets.

It’s frustrating if you end up qualifying on points after earning elite-qualifying miles from a co-branded credit card (like the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard or the AAdvantage Aviator Silver card), because those elite-qualifying miles are useless when you qualify on points.

Unfortunately even with the merger, AAdvantage did not make things any less complex, and has kept this rather antiquated system that allows a mix of elite-qualifying points, segments and miles. It truly is a pain for those who purchase a mix of both cheap and premium fares, and I hope it will change in the near future.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook, or send me an email at

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