Your Guide to American Airlines Lifetime Elite Status

Apr 2, 2019

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Hearing the number “one million” has an alluring ring to it, as everyone conjures up images of the millionaire lifestyle and all the luxury that provides. Grinding out one million miles flying with the same airline, however, might not be as glamorous. Those road warriors who manage to remain fiercely loyal to the same airline for decades of travel can look forward to a badge of honor at the end: a lifetime of elite status plus the bragging rights and snazzy luggage tags that come with being a “million miler.”

If you’re a devoted American Airlines traveler, what exactly does the future hold for you? Today we’ll explore the ins and outs of the AAdvantage million miler program.

How to Earn American Lifetime Elite Status

American Airlines has made a lot of negative changes in recent years, from a major award chart devaluation to the introduction of new 737 MAX aircraft that make Spirit’s seats looks like a spacious palace. As project Oasis progresses and more of American’s 737-800s get retrofitted with this cramped configuration, the carrier will become less pleasant to fly. Of course, things are never quite as bad if you’re sitting at the front of the plane, and the saving grace has been the speed with which American has worked to update its long-haul fleet with top notch lie-flat seats. Taken together, these two changes have made elite status and the possibility of an upgrade all the more important and have left even more people scrambling to lock in their status.

If you’re looking to jump off the yearly hamster wheel of Elite Qualifying Miles/Dollars/Segments, loyal AAdvantage members can enjoy a lifetime of elite status once they reach the following thresholds:

At one million miles you’ll earn lifetime AAdvantage Gold status, which comes with a 40% mileage bonus (7x miles per dollar spent instead of 5x miles); priority check-in, security and boarding; free preferred seats at check-in; and a host of other perks. For a full analysis of American Airlines elite status, you can check out TPG Editor Nick Ewen’s valuations here. In addition, after your first million miles, you’ll also get 35,000 bonus AAdvantage miles, worth $490 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

At two million miles you’ll earn AAdvantage Platinum status for life, which comes with a 60% mileage bonus (8x miles per dollar spent), free preferred/Main Cabin Extra seats at the time of booking and Oneworld Sapphire benefits. You’ll also get four one-way Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs), which allow you to upgrade a paid ticket into a higher class of service on eligible flights. Under the right circumstances, these can get you hundreds of dollars worth of value, though you’d need upgrade space available on your flight to use them.

After two million miles, you start to run into the problem of diminishing marginal returns, as each additional million miles you earn will only get you four more SWUs rather than continuing to climb the AAdvantage elite status ladder.

To check your progress towards these thresholds, simply login to your AAdvantage account, navigate to your account page, then click on activity. You’ll see your current balance and Million Miler balance at the top.

TPG Editor Nick Ewen has a ways to go until he locks in lifetime status with AAdvantage.
TPG Editor Nick Ewen has a ways to go until he locks in lifetime status with AAdvantage.

It’s also important to clarify what miles count towards lifetime status with American. Million Miler miles (say that three times fast) are not the same as redeemable AAdvantage miles, nor do they exactly match your Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs). Instead, they fall into an entirely separate category and only count towards your lifetime status qualification.

According to AA.com, the following activity counts towards Million Miler qualification:

Which miles will count for the AAdvantage Million Miler program?
Flight distance on American marketed flights or the base miles earned for travel on eligible partner marketed flights will count toward AAdvantage Million Miler status.

For American-marketed flights, you’ll earn 1 mile for each mile flown, and for partner flights credited to your AAdvantage account, you’ll earn 1 mile for each base mile you earn based on that partner’s specific award chart (you can access charts for each airline partner at this link). Note that this excludes class-of-service bonuses for paid first or business class along with elite status bonuses. It also doesn’t apply to award tickets, only revenue flights.

That being said, American is on the more generous side when it comes to partner earnings, and it also allows you to work towards Million Miler status on basic economy tickets. In addition, the carrier used to use redeemable miles as the metric for qualification (this was eliminated in 2011). As a result, if you earned any AAdvantage miles before December 1, 2011, all of them would’ve counted towards lifetime status.

Take the above screen shot from TPG Editor Nick Ewen’s account as an example. He has definitely not flown over 250,000 miles on American and its partners in his 17+ years of membership; instead, over 150,000 of those Million Miler miles came from welcome bonuses on Citi-issued credit cards back in 2010.

Is It Worth It?

While there are plenty of shortcuts to earn elite status in a given year, either by leveraging credit cards that offer bonus elite-qualifying miles or a revenue requirement waiver, there isn’t much you can do to shortcut your way to lifetime elite status. Even if there was, this isn’t the most rewarding way to invest your limited time and resources.

After all, a million miles is a lot of flying! I’m currently an AAdvantage Gold elite member, and I have been for the last few years. While I don’t like the Elite Qualifying Dollar requirement (I need to spend $3,000 a year to requalify for my status), I have no problem hitting the 25,000 Elite Qualifying Mile threshold. After three years of doing this, what do I have to show for it? Barely 71,000 miles in my Million Miler balance.

At this rate it will take me almost 40 years to reach a million miles, and my reward for doing so will be the same elite status I already have plus a medium-sized mileage bonus. While 35,000 bonus miles might sound nice right now, I shudder to think how little that will be worth after another four decades of award chart changes. And of course, that’s assuming the AAdvantage Million Miler program still exists in its current form, a prospect that’s highly unlikely.

Even though this qualification is accelerated significantly for American’s most loyal fliers (Executive Platinum elites logging 100,000+ miles a year), the resulting status won’t be anything special. They’ll qualify for Million Miler status after 10 years but be rewarded with a lifetime of status that’s three rungs below the status they currently hold. Having some status is certainly better than nothing, but Gold status is hardly special enough to command a traveler’s loyalty. I’m much more likely to pick an airline based on price and convenience rather than the enticement of low-level elite status for life.

Even if an AAdvantage member was able to give Tom Stuker, the world’s most frequent flier, a run for his money and log 20 million miles on American, the resulting lifetime elite status would top out at AAdvantage Platinum. The perks here are noticeably better than Gold, but that’s still not a great return on what likely amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent with American Airlines.

Long story short, it’s nice that American offers some type of lifetime elite status scheme, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend devoting your loyalty to the carrier based solely (or in large part) on its Million Miler program.

Bottom Line

Lifetime status with American gives you a chance at first class upgrades but probably isn’t worth directly pursuing. (Photo by Benji Stawski/TPG)

Lifetime elite status is meant to be an exclusive reward for an airline or hotel’s most loyal and long-term customers. In the case of American Airlines, flying a million revenue miles doesn’t actually get you a whole lot in return. If you’ve decided to be loyal to American for reasons that truly matter — price, convenience, quality of fleet and service — and you end up flying a million miles, it will be nice to never have to worry about qualifying for elite status again. That being said, you should treat a program like this as a nice surprise rather than going out of your way to plan for it.

Featured photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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