American Airlines elite status review: Extensions and reduced qualifications in 2021

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American Airlines is the largest airline in the U.S., and if you’re located near one of their hubs, flying with them might be the most convenient option. If you fly enough, you’ll earn elite status which gets you perks like automatic upgrades when available, free checked bags and priority boarding.

It’s a new year, so you’ve got plenty of time to earn the status! And in 2021, American has reduced the requirements to earn elite status, making it easier for those with a reduced travel schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, if it’s looking like you won’t be able to achieve it by the end of the year, your strategies are:

  • Book a mileage-run (buy random cheap flights to places you don’t even care to go, just so you can earn more elite qualifying miles and segments. Note that you will have to actually fly on them)
  • Buy back your status with miles (usually not a good deal)
  • Take advantage of some airline credit card benefits. For example, if you have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® you’ll earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) every calendar year that you spend $40,000+ on the card

Seems like a hassle, but airline elite status can really add to your travel experience. Let’s take a look at American Airlines elite status,

Here’s how to earn each level of AA status. (Photo by CaseyMartin/Shutterstock)

American Airlines status

American Airlines COVID-19 status extension and lowered requirements

American Airlines is following suit with other airlines and hotels and extending the elite status expiration date for current members to Jan. 31, 2022. This applies to any status that is valid through Jan. 31, 2021. Also, systemwide upgrades that expire on Jan. 31, 2021, will be extended to July 31, 2021.

On top of that, you’ll need to meet lower thresholds in order to qualify for elite status in 2021. Here are the 2021 requirements vs. standard non-coronavirus requirements:

In addition to the reduced requirements, American is also giving a head start on elite status earning for 2021. All base EQMs, EQSs, and EQDs earned based on flights taken from Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 2020, will also count towards the 2021 requirements. American will automatically roll them over in mid-Jan. 2021. However, bonus elite qualifying credits, such as those earned from American Airlines credit card, will not rollover.

American will also waive the EQD requirement for Gold, Platinum or Platinum Pro status if you spend $30,000 on an eligible American Airlines credit card in 2021.

Elite members will even receive a credit to use toward an American Airlines Vacation package. Executive Platinum members will receive a $400 credit, Platinum and Platinum Pro will receive $350 and Gold members will get $300. This is valid for vacation bookings of $2,500+ (and must include round-trip airfare and hotel) made after July 1, 2020, for travel through Dec. 20, 2021.

How to Earn AA status

American Airlines miles can be valuable when you take advantage of some of the best uses of AA miles for partner flights, thanks to the generous partner AA award chart. If you want to learn more about them, we have a guide to American Airlines miles to show you how to use them.

Once you’ve set up an American Airlines account you’ll not only earn AA miles but also credit toward elite status. At each tier, you’ll get benefits like free checked bags, seat upgrades when available and mileage bonuses, depending on which of the four elite status tiers you achieve. Below are the normal requirements you’ll need to achieve for each tier, but again — American has softened the requirements for 2021:

  • American Airlines Gold – Earn 25,000 EQMs or 30 EQSs AND $3,000 EQDs
  • American Airlines Platinum – Earn 50,000 EQMs or 60 EQSs AND $6,000 EQDs
  • American Airlines Platinum Pro – Earn 75,000 EQMs or 90 EQSs AND $9,000 EQDs
  • American Airlines Executive Platinum – Earn 100,000 EQMs or 120 EQSs AND $15,000 EQDs

Here are the requirements for earning elite status in 2021, which have been lowered due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • American Airlines Gold – Earn 20,000 EQMs or 20 EQSs AND $2,000 EQDs
  • American Airlines Platinum – Earn 40,000 EQMs or 45 EQSs AND $4,500 EQDs
  • American Airlines Platinum Pro – Earn 60,000 EQMs or 70 EQSs AND $7,000 EQDs
  • American Airlines Executive Platinum – Earn 80,000 EQMs or 95 EQSs AND $12,000 EQDs

The acronyms may look intimidating, but they’re pretty easy. Here’s what they mean:

  • EQMs (Elite Qualifying Miles) – Earned based on the distance flown, airline and fare class
  • EQSs (Elite Qualifying Segments) – Earned based on the number of flights you take
  • EQDs (Elite Qualifying Dollars) – Based on how much you spend on American Airlines flights and certain partner airlines

Note that Basic Economy fares do not earn any of these things. However, elites will enjoy elite status benefits when flying on a basic economy ticket.

While you can qualify for elite status based on EQMs or EQSs, American Airlines also requires you to spend a certain amount on airfare (not including taxes and fees), called EQDs. Each level requires an additional $3,000 in spending, until you reach Platinum Pro. To earn the next level up, Executive Platinum, you’ll need to spend another $6,000, for a total of $15,000. While American Airlines miles expire after 18 months of inactivity, your EQMs, EQDs and EQSs will reset every year.

Spending $50,000 per calendar year on the AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard® will count for $3,000 toward the EQD requirement. But you cannot apply for this card directly – and that’s a lot of spending. So there aren’t many ways around the fact that if you want American Airlines elite status, you’ll have to pay up one way or another.

The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Silver has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Note that this year (2021) you can waive the EQD requirements for Gold, Platinum and Platinum Pro status by spending $30,000 on an eligible American Airlines credit card in 2021.

Now let’s see what each level gets you.

American Airlines Gold status

This is where everyone starts. After you earn your first 25,000 EQMs (or 30 EQSs) with American Airlines, you’ll get:

  • 7 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines and certain Oneworld flights
  • At least 500 EQMs every time you fly
  • Unlimited upgrades on flights under 500 miles
  • Upgrades – 24 hours before departure when you use 500-mile upgrades on flights over 500 miles
  • Companion upgrade when available
  • Preferred seats and Main Cabin Extra seats within 24 hours of departure
  • Free same-day standby
  • One free checked bag
  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • Waived award processing fees
  • Partner airline benefits, like priority check-in

Gold and Platinum members will earn four 500-mile upgrades for every 12,500 EQMs earned. You can use one upgrade for every 500 miles flown, and it’s always rounded up to the next 500 miles. For example, if your flight is 1,220 miles, you’d need to use three 500-mile upgrades to get into first class.

And while upgrades will be hard to come by, especially at American Airlines hubs, you might get lucky when you fly off-peak or on a less popular route.

American Airlines Platinum status

After reaching Gold, next up is Platinum. You’ll get everything you got with Gold, and:

  • 8 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines and certain Oneworld flights
  • First-class upgrades – 48 hours before departure when you use 500-mile upgrades on flights over 500 miles
  • Preferred seats and Main Cabin Extra seats upon booking
  • Free same-day standby and priority bag delivery
  • Two free checked bags

Here’s where you’ll get a little more when you fly. Your upgrades will have higher priority, you’ll earn more miles and the overall experience is faster and more convenient. Also, note you’ll be able to use partner lounges starting at this level.

American Airlines Platinum Pro status

Beyond Platinum, you’ll earn Platinum Pro. By this time, you’ve flown American Airlines and its partners quite a lot. You’ll get all the previous benefits and:

  • 9 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines and certain Oneworld flights
  • First-class upgrades – 72 hours before departure
  • Free same-day flight changes
  • [NEW in 2021] The ability to select one choice benefit. Options include one system-wide upgrade certificate, 20,000 American miles, a $200 American flight discount and more

At this level, you won’t need to bother with 500-mile upgrades any more – first-class upgrades will clear automatically up to three days before departure. It’s not a huge step up from Platinum other than that, but you’ll get more flexibility if you want to take an earlier or later flight, because same-day changes are free.

The addition of the new choice benefit is a boost for those going for Platinum Pro. You can see all of the choice benefits here.

American Airlines Executive Platinum status

Executive Platinum is American Airlines’ most rewarding tier and for good reason. You’ve proven your loyalty and they’re ready to give you the V.I.P. treatment. You’ll get everything already mentioned and:

  • 11 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines and certain Oneworld flights
  • First-class upgrades – 100 hours before departure
  • Four systemwide upgrade certificates
  • Upgrades on award tickets
  • Three free checked bags
  • More award seats to choose from
  • Guaranteed Main Cabin seats if no upgrades are available
  • Free snack and alcoholic drink in the Main Cabin
  • [NEW in 2021] The ability to select two choice benefits. Options include two system-wide upgrade certificates, 25,000 American miles, an Admirals Club membership, the ability to gift American Gold status to someone and more

Even if you don’t get an upgrade, you’ll always get the best seat available in the Main Cabin and a free drink and snack. You can access most partner lounges when you fly internationally and check up to three bags for free.

American Airlines first class. (Photo by JT Genter)

The biggest perk here are the four systemwide upgrade certificates, which let you book a coach ticket, then confirm yourself an upgrade at the time of booking. It works for one-way travel (up to three segments) and you can share them with anyone. You can use these for American Airlines’ longest routes, like Los Angeles to Hong Kong or Dallas to Tokyo and sit up front for no extra cost – this perk alone can be worth thousands, if you can find an upgradeable seat.

Being able to choose two choice rewards in 2021 makes Executive Platinum status even more valuable. For instance, you could choose the benefit of 25,000 American miles twice, giving you a total of 50,000 miles. Those miles would be worth $700 on average according to our valuations.

American Airlines Status FAQS

Here are a few of the most common questions about American Airlines elite status.

What does elite status on American Airlines mean?

Basically, you’ll earn more redeemable miles and have a better shot at upgrades when you fly on American Airlines. You can also board before general ticket holders and check at least one bag for free on every flight.

Do American Airlines elite status members get free checked bags?

Yes, you’ll get:

  • One free checked bag with Gold elite status
  • Two free checked bags with Platinum or Platinum Pro elite status
  • Three free checked bags with Executive Platinum elite status

What are Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) on American Airlines?

EQMs are the number of miles you’ve flown on American Airlines and Oneworld partner airlines, and it’s calculated based on the actual miles and airline flown, and the fare code purchased. For example, here’s what you’ll earn on American Airlines flights:

You can see the fare code when you book your ticket, so you can find how many EQMs you’ll earn for your flight.

Does American Airlines match elite status?

No, but you can call them at 888-697-5636 to request a Gold or Platinum status elite challenge for $200. You’ll have 90 days to earn:

  • 7,000 EQMs OR 8 EQSs and $1,000 EQDs for Gold
  • 12,500 EQMs OR 16 EQSs and $2,000 EQDs for Platinum

If you want status right away, you can pay an extra $200 for Gold ($400 total) or $300 for Platinum ($500 total). There are also occasional targeted offers and if you have certain levels of Hyatt status, you’ll be able to get an American Airlines status match challenge at no cost.

Can you buy elite status on American Airlines?

They occasionally run targeted offers to purchase or “buy up” to the next status level. But again, those are targeted, and usually at the end of the year. Otherwise, you can pay the up-charge to get instant Gold or Platinum elite status when you do a status challenge. But it’s only good for 90 days, unless you meet the requirements (see above).

Is American Airlines Status worth it?

American Airlines’ top-tier Executive Platinum elite status requires a lot of flying, and the lower levels aren’t as rewarding as other airlines because of their 500-mile upgrade system you have to deal with until you hit 75,000 miles or 90 segments flown. Until then, you have to get by with upgrades on shorter flights or hanging out in a preferred or Main Cabin Extra seat, with an occasional upgrade on longer flights.

Plus, there’s really no way to get around the EQD requirement. You have to spend money if you want the status. Because of these limitations, I wouldn’t go out of my way to earn it, unless:

  • Your travel is reimbursed or covered by your employer
  • You’re hub captive and don’t have many other airline choices
  • American Airlines’ routes, times and prices serve your travel needs the best
  • You plan to earn elite status with American Airlines year after year and can keep the higher levels easily
  • You can spend $30,000 on an American Airlines credit card in 2021

When you earn American Airlines elite status, it’s good for the remainder of that year and all of the following year. So if you have a period of heavy travel, you can set yourself up with elite status for nearly two years. If that gets you Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum, you’ll have the best shot at snagging those space-available upgrades.

But honestly, I wouldn’t go out of my way to earn American Airlines elite status, especially considering you can get perks like a free first checked bag on domestic itineraries and preferred or priority boarding with American Airlines credit cards, like:

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

If you find yourself between tiers, carefully review the perks of the next level to see if they’ll save you time and money. There’s not much difference between Gold and Platinum, but there’s something to be said for being Platinum and going for Platinum Pro (not dealing with 500-mile upgrades any more).

Ultimately, it’ll depend on your travel goals. If you have a lot of travel coming up, with most of it on American Airlines, it’s certainly worth earning perks along the way and seeing where you end up.

Bottom line

I wouldn’t earn American Airlines status unless I was certain I’d reach the Executive Platinum tier to get the most benefits. That’s because status earned is valid for the rest of the current year and all of the following year. So with a lot of travel, you’ll have the best shot at upgrades, and get tons of benefits to make your travels smoother.

At lower levels, you have to mess with 500-mile upgrades, and at hubs or on busy routes, your upgrade chances are buried by top-tier elites. Plus, there’s no way around the Elite Qualifying Dollar requirements (unless you spend $30,000 on an AA credit card in 2021), so you have to spend as well as fly certain amounts on American Airlines.

That said, if American Airlines is your best and/or cheapest option for travel, definitely see what level you can earn — something is better than nothing, and earning bonus redeemable miles is always a nice treat when you fly. Plus, you can apply for cobranded AA travel credit cards from both Barclays and Citibank, so you’ve got options for earning miles.

If you have American Airlines status, what you do think of it? And what’s your favorite benefit?

Jason Stauffer was a writer for Million Mile Secrets where he covered points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. His work has appeared in The Points Guy and NextAdvisor.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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