A Complete Guide to American Airlines AAdvantage Elite Status

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First-class upgrades. Airport lounge access. Exclusive telephone lines. Priority check-in. If you travel frequently enough, all of these perks (and more) can be yours with AAdvantage elite status — American Airlines' frequent flyer program. All it takes is a little understanding and a fair bit of flying.

Imagine this:

  • Instead of shuffling through a 30-minute security line, breeze through with priority security screening.
  • Rather than struggling to find a seat at the gate, grab a snack and a comfy chair in the Admiral's Club.
  • Instead of talking your way out of a middle seat, spread out in first-class thanks to a complimentary upgrade.

In this guide to American Airlines AAdvantage elite status, we're walking you through everything you need to know to enhance your travel experiences on American Airlines.

get first class upgrades with American Airlines AAdvantage elite status

Getting Started

American Airlines' frequent flyer program is called AAdvantage. Founded in 1981, it's the second oldest airline loyalty program in the world — and the oldest that you've probably heard about.

The first step to earning elite status is to sign up for a free AAdvantage account and get an AAdvantage number. American Airlines uses this number to track your flights and purchases to award “miles” for each. The more you fly and the more money you spend, the more miles you'll earn.

Two Types of Miles

You can earn two different types of miles, depending on the situation:

  • Redeemable Miles — These are miles earned on qualifying flights and purchases with partners. You can use (redeem) them for all kinds of things — including award flights, seat upgrades, and lounge memberships.
  • Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) — These miles are earned for qualifying flights and are used solely to measure your progress towards earning elite status. EQMs aren't redeemable for anything.

Related: How to Earn AA Miles

AAdvantage Elite Status Qualification

American Airlines AAdvantage uses a combination of three metrics to determine a loyalty member's elite status:

  1. Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) — This number represents the amount of money spent on AA-marketed flights (base fare + carrier surcharges, minus government taxes and fees). On partner flights, it's a calculated number based on the cabin fare purchased and the distance flown. Learn more in our post about American Airlines EQDs.
  2. Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) — This number reflects a percentage of the actual number of miles flown based on the airline and the booking code purchased. You'll earn bonus EQMs for flying in premium cabins (premium economy, business class, first class)
  3. Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) — The total number of flights (take-offs/ landings) flown with AA or qualifying partners.

American Airlines AAdvantage elite status progress bar

To qualify for AAdvantage elite status, members have to meet pre-determined thresholds for each metric.

Here are the metrics required to qualify under normal circumstances:

Status TierElite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs)Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs)Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs)
Gold3,00025,00030
Platinum 6,00050,00060
Platinum Pro 9,00075,00090
Executive Platinum15,000100,000120

Thankfully, you don't have to meet all three requirements. You can earn AAdvantage elite status via a combination of EQDs and EQMs or a combination of EQDs and EQSs.

However, with Covid-19 making air travel more difficult, AA has adjusted the qualification requirements for earning elite status in 2021:

Status TierElite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs)Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs)Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs)
Gold2,00020,00020
Platinum4,50040,00040
Platinum Pro7,00060,00070
Executive Platinum12,00080,00095

AA is also allowing co-branded cardholders to spend their way towards elite status in 2021. If an AAdvantage member makes $30,000 in purchases on an AAdvantage co-branded credit card this year, American Airlines will waive the primary cardmember's EQD requirement for Gold, Platinum, and Platinum Pro elite status. But, if you're going for top-tier Executive Platinum elite status, you'll still need to earn 12,000 EQDs from flying.

Elite Status Timelines

There are two timelines to be aware of when earning American Airlines AAdvantage elite status:

  • Qualification period — which runs from January 1 through December 31 of each year
  • Membership period — starts the day you qualify and runs through the next year and all the way to January 31 of the next year

The amount of Elite-Qualifying Miles/Dollars/Segments earned in the qualification period determines your elite status through the end of the following membership period. So, the earlier in a calendar year that you qualify for status, the longer you get to enjoy it.

For example:

  1. If you qualify for AAdvantage Gold on November 1, 2021, you'd be Gold from November 1, 2021 through January 31, 2023.
  2. If you (somehow) qualify for AAdvantage Platinum by February 1, 2022, you'd be Platinum from February 1, 2022 through January 31, 2024.
AAdvantage elite members receive a discount on Admirals Club memberships.

AAdvantage Elite Status Benefits

As you might expect, the higher the elite status tier, the better the benefits. Here's a chart summarizing some of the best perks for each status tier:

 UpgradesUpgrade WindowComplimentary Main Cabin Extra & Preferred SeatsComplimentary BaggageElite Mileage Earning BonusOther Notable Benefits
GoldComplimentary auto-requested upgrades on flights 500 miles or less24-hour•Complimentary M.C.E. at check-in
•Complimentary Preferred Seats
1 free checked bag40%
PlatinumComplimentary auto-requested upgrades on flights 500 miles or less48-hourComplimentary M.C.E. and Preferred Seats2 free checked bags60%
Platinum ProComplimentary auto-requested upgrades72-hourComplimentary M.C.E. and Preferred Seats2 free checked bags80%•Complimentary same-day flight change
•Choice of 1 Reward^
Executive PlatinumComplimentary auto-requested upgrades100-hourComplimentary M.C.E. and Preferred Seats3 free checked bags120%•Complimentary same-day flight change
•Complimentary upgrades on award tickets
•Choice of 2 Rewards^

^Starting in 2021, AAdvantage Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members receive the ability to choose awards that best suit them. Simply choose your preferred reward(s) by December 30th of your membership year. If you reach AAdvantage Platinum Pro on November 23, 2021, you can select your one reward anytime before December 30, 2022.

Choose your rewards with American Airlines AAdvantage elite status

First-Class Upgrades

Complimentary seat upgrades are by far the best benefit of American Airlines AAdvantage elite status. Whenever a premium cabin has empty seats, American Airlines uses a system of status and seniority to upgrade AAdvantage elite members to fill them.

The primary way AA determines which passenger gets an upgrade is by their elite status tier. The higher your elite status, the higher you'll appear on the upgrade list. If there are multiple passengers with the same tier level, priority is based on rolling EQD earnings in the past 12 months. Consequently, an Executive Platinum member with 20,000 EQDs will have priority over an Executive Platinum member with 16,000 EQDs.

American Airlines Featured

500-Mile Upgrade Certificates

Not all status tiers receive complimentary upgrades for every flight. AAdvantage Gold and Platinum members only receive complimentary upgrades for flights 500 miles or less. For flights over that distance, they're required to redeem 500-mile upgrade certificates for every 500 miles flown.

For example, if a Gold member's upgrade clears on a 1,800-mile flight from Los Angeles to Indianapolis, AA requires that they use four 500-mile upgrade certificates to accept it. If they don't have enough certificates in their account, they can either buy them (for $40 each) or forfeit the upgrade.

In addition to buying them, Gold and Platinum members can also earn 500-mile certificates for flying. Members receive four 500-mile upgrade certificates for every 12,500 EQMs earned during their membership year after achieving status. Just be aware that although the certificates never expire, you can't use them if you don't have elite status.

Systemwide Upgrades (SWUs)

If you reach AAdvantage Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum, you can choose Systemwide Upgrades as a reward. These can be used to upgrade one cabin class on a one-way itinerary (three segments max) operated by American Airlines. Even better, you can apply these to anyone you like—even if you're not flying with them!

For example, say you book a one-way economy ticket from Indianapolis (IND) to Hong Kong (HKG) via Dallas (DFW). If upgrade space is available, you can immediately upgrade your class of service to business class for both segments.

The one downside is that SWUs don't last forever. Starting in 2021, AA will limit SWU validity to one year after issuance. That means it could make sense to hold off on choosing them as your Choice Reward until you know you can use them.

Ultra-Frequent Flyers

The rewards don't stop once you've reached Executive Platinum status. AA has a few tricks up its sleeve to continue rewarding your loyalty for reaching 120,000 EQMs and beyond.

Executive Platinum Threshold Rewards

Once you've earned Executive Platinum status, you can continue earning more rewards for reaching higher EQM thresholds. The standard thresholds are 150,000; 200,000; and 250,000 EQMs. But for 2021, AA has lowered these to 120,000; 160,000; and 200,000 EQMs.

  • 120,000 EQMs — Earn two additional Systemwide Upgrades; 40,000 bonus award miles; and the ability to gift AAdvantage Gold status
  • 160,000 EQMs — Earn two additional Systemwide Upgrades; 40,000 bonus award miles; and the ability to gift AAdvantage Platinum status
  • 200,000 EQMs — Earn two additional Systemwide Upgrades; 40,000 bonus award miles; and the ability to gift AAdvantage Platinum status

AAdvantage Million Miler Program

The Million Miler program is designed to award extended benefits to anyone who's been flying long enough to accumulate one million miles. For this, AA bases mileage earned towards Million Miler status on distance flown on AA-marketed flights (butt-in-seat miles) and base miles earned on qualifying partner flights.

Here's what you can expect when reaching these beautifully round numbers:

  • 1,000,000 miles — AAdvantage Gold status for the lifetime of the account and 35,000 bonus award miles
  • 2,000,000 miles — AAdvantage Platinum status for the lifetime of the account and four one-way Systemwide Upgrades
  • Each additional 1,000,000 miles — Four additional one-way Systemwide Upgrades

AAdvantage Concierge Key

Concierge Key is the highest level of American Airlines AAdvantage elite status

There exists an elite status tier even higher than AAdvantage Executive Platinum. This status is called Concierge Key, and it's invite-only. Nobody really knows the metrics required to procure an invite. However, many reports indicate that it typically entails spending upwards of $50,000 with American Airlines annually.

As you'd expect, this status comes with even better benefits. For instance, AA has been know to give Concierge Key members with tight connections plane-to-plane transfers in a Cadillac. Additionally, they receive complimentary upgrades up to 120 hours before departure, complimentary Admirals Club Access, and access to Flagship First check-in. In short, American Airlines rolls out the red carpet for these most-loyal travelers.

AAdvantage Elite Status When Flying Oneworld Partners

Get Oneworld elite perks through American Airlines AAdvantage elite status

Each tier of American Airlines AAdvantage elite status coincides with respective status with Oneworld:

  • Gold — Oneworld Ruby
  • Platinum — Oneworld Sapphire
  • Platinum Pro — Oneworld Emerald (as of June 30, 2021)
  • Executive Platinum — Oneworld Emerald

Oneworld status entitles you to benefits when flying with Oneworld partners. Ruby members receive priority check-in and standby, while Sapphire members receive priority boarding and lounge access. Naturally, Oneworld Emerald elites receive the best benefits — including increased luggage allowance, first-class check-in, and first-class lounge access.

Status Challenge

What if you have elite status with another airline and want to switch your loyalty to American? Well, I've got good news and bad news.

Let's start with the bad news. Unlike Delta and Southwest, AA doesn't offer direct status matches for elite members from other airlines. So, even if you're a Delta Diamond or United Premier 1K, AA won't offer you a free match to AAdvantage Executive Platinum.

The good news, however, is that AA does offer a status challenge program. You don't need to have elite status with any other airline, and you don't need to have any planned travel with American. Simply call AAdvantage customer service (888-697-5636), and request info on a status challenge.

While AA doesn't publish anything about this option, the reported details are relatively well known:

  • You can utilize a status challenge to earn AAdvantage Gold or Platinum status.
  • You can choose whether you want to have the status while completing the challenge or not.
  • AA requires you to pay a fee to accept a challenge. This fee varies by person, the elite tier you're vying for, and whether you want the status during the challenge. Reports indicate prices anywhere from $100 to $500.
  • You'll have 90 days to reach the EQD and EQM/EQS threshold to retain the status.

Status TierEQDsEQMs / EQSs
AAdvantage Gold Challenge1,0007,000 EQMs or 8 EQSs
AAdvantage Platinum Challenge2,00012,500 EQMs or 16 EQSs

  • Officially, the start date for a challenge can be backdated up to five days. However, some AwardWallet members report in the comments below that they have been able to backdate the start date by seven days.
  • If you complete a challenge requested before June 15, your status lasts through the end of the current membership year. If you complete a challenge after June 15, your status may be valid through the end of the following membership year.

With a little bit of planning, status challenges can be an easier way to earn AA status than the traditional method.

Free Status Offers / Challenges

An even easier way to earn American Airlines AAdvantage elite status is to wait for them to give it to you! Ok… you could be in for a VERY long wait. But, American Airlines has been known to periodically offer free elite status.

For example, I received one such offer for AAdvantage Platinum status — without any fees or strings attached.

Sometimes American Airlines will give AAdvantage elite status for free!

This offer included a challenge to extend my status by earning 4,000 EQDs within about 100 days. AAdvantage tends to send these offers out in the last few months of the year, so be sure to keep an eye on your inbox.

Mimic AAdvantage Elite Status With A Credit Card

Many benefits of AAdvantage elite status can be replicated simply by holding the right credit card. No need to pay for status, no need for any mileage runs, and no taking “the long way” home.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® (review) offers several elite-style perks for only an annual fee of $99, waived for first 12 months. First, you get one free checked bag for you and up to four traveling companions on every itinerary. Second, your entire travel party gets preferred boarding (Group 5). Third, you get a 25% discount on in-flight food and beverage when you pay with your card.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Annual Fee$99, waived for first 12 months
Welcome Offer Earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
The AA Platinum Select card is a great choice for anyone who travels at least a few times per year with American Airlines. Cardholders get a free checked bag on domestic itineraries, priority boarding and a 25% discount on in-flight purchases.

Even better, this card gives you access to Reduced Mileage Awards, which can save you up to 30% on the miles required for domestic awards. With these perks, it's easy to justify the annual fee of $99, waived for first 12 months.
  • Free checked bags for you and up to 4 companions on domestic itineraries
  • Priority boarding to help you win the race for overhead bin space
  • A 25% discount on inflight food, beverage, and Wi-Fi purchases
  • Reduced Mileage Awards can save you 7,500 miles on roundtrip MileSAAver Awards
  • Earn 2X miles for every $1 spent at restaurants
  • Earn 2X miles for every $1 spent at gas stations
  • Earn 2X miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Earn 1X mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases

If you want to take things to the next level, consider the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (review). If there was one card that could fool you into thinking you're an American Airlines VIP, this is it.

Cardholders get priority check-in, priority security screening, priority boarding, one free checked bag for you and up to eight companions, a 25% discount on inflight dining—oh, and a full Admirals Club membership! With so many valuable benefits, it's by far our favorite premium airline credit card.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
Annual Fee$450
Welcome Offer Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
The AA Executive Card card is by far the most cost effective way to gain access to American Airlines Admirals Club lounges. Even better, you can extend the benefit to up to 10 authorized users on your account at no additional cost. In addition, this card offers a free checked bag, on domestic AA flights, priority checkin and boarding, and a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
  • Complimentary Admirals Club membership for the primary cardholder
  • Complimentary Admirals Club membership for up to 10 authorized user accounts
  • No charge for authorized user accounts
  • First checked bag free on domestic AA flights for you and up to 8 companions
  • Priority check-in, TSA screening lines, and boarding
  • 10,000 bonus Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • Earn 2X miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Earn 1X mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year

Bottom Line

If you find yourself flying AA all the time, you owe it to yourself to look into AAdvantage elite status. No, the requirements aren't easy to achieve. And no, you're not going to have the red carpet rolled out as soon as you reach AA Gold. But, if you fly often enough, all of the benefits—no matter how small they may seem—can make a huge difference.

Otherwise, if you only fly AA a few times a year, consider applying for an AA co-branded credit card. You'll get several of the same benefits for far less effort.

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Comments

  • Renato Loayza says:

    Muy interesante el articulo, gracias por ello. Finalmente pude entender el uso de: 500-Mile Upgrade Certificates
    En mi opinion el programa es un poco complicado, pienso q mientras mas simple mejor, comprendo q AA quiere dar muchas opciones a los viajeros, sin embargo creo q cae en un esquema complicado de entender q uno ya no sabe cuando y como acumular millas ni como usarlas.

  • “The start date for a challenge can be backdated up to five days.”

    I once did a status challenge and they were able to backtrack it by 7 days. Probably not the norm but I was able to snag Gold this way with a flight paid for by a third party. 😀

    • Thanks for sharing ur personal data point of actually being able to backtrack 7 days. Perhaps it’s even worth an edit to the article – as in “some AW members have reported backdating as far back as 7 days” – since it’s valuable info to know.

  • Michel Buraglia says:

    I was once a platinum on American Airlines and it has many benefits.

  • Excellent guide and really informative. I managed to get executive platinum via business travel but haven’t managed to get away due to the various restrictions that there’s been in the UK. Hopefully this will soon be over and we’ll be able to get back to travelling.

  • Congratulations on this great guide. I hope that soon I will become Elite! I see it very possible! Thanks

  • Great info!
    Thanks for sharing

  • Jacquelyn Evans says:

    Award Wallet is the best travel app I have ever had, and especially during Covid by far the easiest way to track miles expiration. Just saw that my hundreds of thousands of AAdvantage points expire this summer – American likes to hide this expiry on their website!
    American needs but needs to get with the times – and the other major US airlines – and go with no expiration for points; given that we will be in a pandemic for months to come, extending their points expiration to June 2021 is not long enough for customers who are still at high risk for traveling and is a poor way to thank those of us who are over the age of 65 and lifelong American fliers,

  • I think apart from this article it’s hard to find an up to date article on the AA scheme

  • I have Executive Platinum status for the first time this year and I appreciate the upgrades. I shouldn’t have any trouble re-qualifying next year except dates are so low that the EQDs are hard to achieve. I might have to pay to upgrade a few times at the end of the year to get the EQDs.

    I also have the AAdvatage Executive Card. If you have people you can trust with a credit card, up to 9 authorized users are free and they also get in to the Admirals Club with their cards. My family thought I was awesome when I got them their cards.

  • Vinicius Peres says:

    Great guide. Maybe one day I’ll become Elite!

  • American’s Elite program seems to beat United’s.

  • angelo fonseca says:

    This is a very explanatory guide. Congratulations on the work. This makes our life better and easier.

  • But will you actually be able to get any upgrades no that there will be many more folks with status competing for upgrades

  • I can see this if someone travels AA a lot. If I would hold the Amex Plat card would it be better? Since you can get a known traveler credit and some fees credited, plus they have more lounge options. I know this post is all about AA but I feel the Amex Plat would be better, even if you travel AA a lot?

    • Interesting! I usually think of the Amex Platinum being a better pair with Delta than American, since it grants SkyClub access when flying Delta. The Amex Platinum does provide Centurion Lounge access in most of AA’s hubs (CLT, DFW, LAX, MIA, JFK, LGA, PHL, PHX), so I definitely see it being a good match for AA flyers. However, it doesn’t provide the elite-like perks (free bags, priority boarding, etc) that the AA cards we highlight in this post.

  • I don’t fly AA very often. I think it would be easier to qualify and I get a AA co-branded card.

    • That’s the right move for many. As much as it’s enticing to get elite status, the credit card route to perks is a lot easier and cheaper!

  • Unfortunately, airlines have effectively closed the mileage run loophole and made earning miles so much more difficult.

  • I definitely like to get the elite status bonuses but I would not go out of my way to fly their airline just to get them. I dont think I fly enough to enjoy the benefits anyway.

  • Great guide, interesting to learn a few things I didn’t know re. AAdvantage

  • I did not know that AA would give away Platinum status on a case by case basis.