9 Reasons I’m Still A Happy AAdvantage Executive Platinum Member

Filed Under: American, American AAdvantage

There’s no denying that over the past few years I’ve become significantly less loyal to American Airlines. I continue to requalify for Executive Platinum status with American, but I’m not a fanboy of the program in the same way as before. This came after American made all kinds of negative changes, from adding a revenue requirement for status, to awarding miles based on how much you spend, to reducing Executive Platinum benefits, to devaluing their award chart, to greatly decreasing award and upgrade availability. The amount of value they’ve taken out of the program is significant. In fairness, that’s the general industry trend, so American isn’t alone in that regard.

I used to think they had the best frequent flyer program out there, but now I think it’s mostly average, and I just happen to fly them. Last year I completed a Delta status challenge, and I currently have Platinum status with them. While I think Delta’s domestic flying experience is superior to American’s, flying on both airlines has once again made me like American’s frequent flyer program more.

Again, I don’t think American is a better airline, but when flying SkyTeam there are some areas where I say “boy, American AAdvantage really is better in that way.” These aren’t necessarily all specific benefits of the frequent flyer program, but rather things I appreciate in conjunction with the frequent flyer program.

So despite all the negative changes American has made, why do I continue to find AAdvantage Executive Platinum to be worth it?

Phenomenal oneworld Emerald lounges

My single favorite oneworld Emerald perk is getting access to international first class class lounges. There’s something that makes you feel super rewarded when you book an economy ticket, upgrade to business class, and get access to an incredible first class lounge, for example.

I pinch myself every time I use the incredible Cathay Pacific Pier Lounge in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge in London, or Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney.

Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge LHR

This is just such a cool reward for loyalty, and something that always gets me really excited. You simply don’t get that with Star Alliance or SkyTeam.

American’s excellent Flagship Lounges

Over the past year, American has opened four Flagship Lounges, in New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles. Delta doesn’t have any premium international lounges, while United only makes their Polaris Lounges open to international business class passengers, and not to elite members. So getting access to these lounges on account of status is awesome.

American Flagship Lounge LAX

What’s especially cool is that I can use my oneworld Emerald status with LATAM to access these lounges when traveling domestically. Now that’s a score!

The ability to earn elite miles on partner airlines (especially Qatar Airways)

Last year I took a trip on Delta’s SkyTeam partner, Xiamen Air, to China. For a paid business class ticket I earned only 75% MQMs. That’s fewer MQMs than I’d earn for traveling economy on Delta. Basically Delta’s mileage earning rates on partner airlines are all over the place, and vary greatly based on whether you’re flying a joint venture partner, or just a SkyTeam partner.

What I love about AAdvantage is that they have generous mileage earning rates on virtually all of their partners. Almost all business class tickets on partners will earn you 150% elite qualifying miles, even on the partner airlines they claim to hate, like Qatar Airways.

Speaking of that, that’s probably my second favorite thing about AAdvantage (after oneworld Emerald lounge access) — the ability to earn American elite miles for travel on Qatar Airways.

Qatar Airways has the world’s best business class, so being able to requalify for status with American based on flying Qatar is awesome.

Qatar Airways business class 777

Transcon upgrades in advance

American is pretty dominant between New York and Los Angeles, and that’s a route I take quite a bit. United doesn’t offer complimentary elite upgrades in this market, while Delta only offers them day of departure. American, on the other hand, offers upgrades on this route just like any other, and for the past several years I’ve always cleared my upgrade, one way or another.

To me that’s pretty valuable, because a 6hr30min transcon flight is one where being in a comfortable seat really matters.

American business class A321

Requalifying for status isn’t that difficult

Requalifying for Executive Platinum status with American requires 100,000 elite qualifying miles and 12,000 elite qualifying dollars. Personally I don’t find this to be too difficult:

  • If needed, you can earn 10,000 elite qualifying miles and 6,000 elite qualifying dollars by spending $50,000 on the Aviator Silver Mastercard (which eliminates the challenge of the revenue requirement)
  • You earn 200% elite qualifying miles on all American business and first class ticket (Delta only awards 150% elite qualifying miles on discounted first and business class tickets); for example, I booked a business class ticket from Los Angeles to Quito that earns me about 20,000 elite qualifying miles, and it cost under $1,000
  • Travel on partner airlines helps to quickly rack up the miles; last year I booked cheap business class tickets on LATAM and Qatar Airways, which got me about halfway to requalifying

Systemwide upgrades you can use for a great business class seat

Executive Platinum members get four systemwide upgrades per year, and I’ve still not missed an international upgrade when using these. In the past year I’ve upgraded two roundtrips from Los Angeles to London and Los Angeles to Hong Kong. While service in business class on American leaves a lot to be desired, getting an excellent reverse herringbone seat with wifi and great lounge access is tough to beat.

American business class 777

American’s Business Extra program

American has a small business rewards program called Business Extra which I get quite a bit of value from. This is separate from the AAdvantage program, so you can double dip. You can redeem your points for all kinds of things, but my preference is to redeem them for upgrade certificates, which can help to confirm upgrades in advance.

Probably my favorite “niche” redemption is booking a paid business class transcon from New York to Los Angeles (or vice versa). Sometimes business class is $650 one-way, and I consider that to be a good value, especially when it looks like an upgrade from economy to business class would be difficult. Then I can upgrade to first class, and enjoy American’s awesome Flagship First Dining facilities.

American Flagship First Dining JFK

They don’t sell upgrades out from under you

While in general I’ve found that domestic upgrades have gotten tougher, I appreciate that American doesn’t sell upgrades out from under you. With Delta, they’ll sell you an upgrade anytime up until departure, even when people are on the upgrade list. In other words, Delta tries to convince elite members to actually pay to upgrade, especially in cases where an upgrade would be tough to clear. This makes Delta upgrades even tougher.

American first class A319

AAdvantage is transparent

I might not like most of the changes American makes to the AAdvantage program, but I really do appreciate how transparent they are. They let us know of major changes in advance, and they at least continue to have published award costs. For me this at least creates some mutual respect between the program and members, while the same can’t be said for Delta SkyMiles, which is constantly making program changes without any advance notice.

Bottom line

American has a lot of deficiencies. Their operational performance can’t compete with Delta’s, they don’t have power ports on way too many of their planes, their lifetime status program is terrible, and much more.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m making American AAdvantage work for me. I don’t go out of my way to fly American on domestic flights anymore (actually, I barely fly them domestically, with the exception of transcons). I don’t go out of my way to earn miles with them. I don’t really recommend them to friends. I think they’re missing out by not having a more compelling program.

However, I’m able to make the program work well for me. Requalifying for Executive Platinum status is fairly easy for me thanks to the ability to credit partner airline flights to AAdvantage, and for that I’m getting oneworld Emerald lounge access, two roundtrip international upgrades per year, upgrades on transcon flights, and a few other perks that I value.

So that’s how I’m feeling about AAdvantage at the moment. I’ll keep requalifying for Executive Platinum and find it to be worthwhile, not because the program is amazing, but because I’ve found my value “sweet spot” here.

I’m curious to hear how you guys are feeling about American AAdvantage nowadays!

  1. Even if it weren’t Delta’s policy to give transcon upgrades on day of departure only, you still wouldn’t clear them in advance. Clearing a Delta upgrade when the upgrade window opens is something that happens maybe 5-10% of the time these days, at least on any route longer than 90 minutes. The rest go to the gate.

    And on the premium transcon routes at all but the most off-peak of times it’s often a struggle to get upgraded on Delta even when using regional upgrade certificates, so the complimentary upgrades are more conceptual than anything.

  2. Ben, hopefully you haven’t had to connect to any mainline AA flights on wholly-owned PSA of late. What an ongoing train wreck..

  3. @Bgriff: Problem with upgrades is that there are too many elite members mainly if you fly in/out of a main hub. I live in a Delta hub, I am a DM and usually buy tickets within a week of my flight. I just experienced a round trip to Vancouver where I was not upgraded to first in either way. I was automatically upgrade to Delta Comfort+ on my return from Vancouver but not on the way in. Again, there is a limit of seats on premium class and too many folks “eligible” for them.

  4. The minimum spend requirement was a change for me. When I first started reading this blog three to four years ago American was having price wars with low cost carriers. I would routinely fly LAX-DFW roundtrip for the day for around $75. And mostly flew on the brand new 788 Dreamliners they were breaking in. That’s the only time I ever made gold status. My spend must have been about $800. Today I would have to spend $3000 minimum.

    Also , If you connect in SFO or don’t mind a layover there because it’s a cool city the JFK SFO route is easier to upgrade on the Transcon than JFK LAX.

  5. Their planes are awful, however. Just really beaten up. Would be nice to see them try to compete at all with Delta in that area.

  6. My last three flights with AA- have offered me a paid upgrade (LAX-MIA) and Sangster to MIA, MIA-LAX regardless of status or amount of 500 mile upgrade certs- and from Sangster I was charged over $1800 In different upgrade fees – for a seats that I was never granted upgrades on (reps kept processing trying to get the system to give me what I’ve paid for on the kiosk). I had to fight to get the money back upon return. There was 2/3 open seats in Biz/First on these flights, and so many seats on the 777….So yes I stopped flying AA temp. Because I was having my upgrades sold to me. What’s the point of status if they do this? Anyone else experience this?

  7. Good summary of your experience.

    Here’s why I’m a very unhappy Executive Platinum member

    1) My transcon upgrades clear about 33% of the time. YTD it’s like 20% but I was able to do cash/copay in advance for the summer outbounds (not returns, and not in the fall). I understand this is a zero sum game, other Ex Plats have better results, I’m a low EQD Ex Plat.
    2) If I need the check in counter, they have eliminated the ExPlat (and First non-3 class transcon) check in counter and am lumped in with Priority (which is everyone holding an AA credit card). This really makes me feel unloved.
    3) The remote gate at LAX adds 30 minutes to my travel time when leaving/arriving to Eagles Nest
    4) The Admiral’s club at LAX was closed for the better part of a year, only to be reopened signficantly smaller and more crowded
    5) The first class fares for crummy transcons. LAX-BOS in Oct is $2499 on a 737.
    6) Denisification, densification, densification. LAX-BOX, LAX-PHL are killers in those palnes.

  8. Oh Lord, here we go again. Tomorrow’s post by Lucky will be “9 Reasons Why American Airlines Was Great Yesterday and 9 Reasons Why I Hate American Airlines Today”.

  9. Lucky just curious, how much sense do you think United Platinum or 1K status would make for you? I don’t remember you ever talking about that as a possibility

  10. “AAdvantage is transparent”? You are not serious, right? Considering the recent PSA incidents…

  11. The Delta RUCs are very difficult to clear ahead of flight, and have gotten a lot harder the last year or two. That was the straw that pushed me away from Delta elite status.

  12. Lucky,

    Interesting time for you to post this. I fly about 50,000 to 60,000 domestic miles annually, with occasional trips international. Based on NYC. I was an AA Plat in recent years. However, I have decided to move more of my flying to Delta as of this year. Why?

    1) Much better schedule out of NYC
    2) More comfortable planes generally
    3) The ability to selectively upgrade flights with cash on competitive routes
    4) Unlimted upgrades at the Silver and Gold level, versus the sticker system with AA
    5) Ability to add 20,000 EQM with the Delta AMEX Platinum – I will try to go for Delta Plat next year

    I will still try to fly AA transcons from LAX to NYC, because as you rightly point out, AA’s flying experience is great on transcons (and specifically on the ground at LAX). But from NYC to LAX, and between NYC and SFO, I think JetBlue and Delta are as good or better (especially as I don’t need to access a lounge when departing out of NYC).

    Notice none of my points relate to SkyMiles or even the FF program in general. All of it relates to the convenience and efficiency of domestic flying. Basically, if you fly a lot domestically for work or leisure, Delta is simply a better airline. If you are more interested in international travel or aspects of the mileage program, AA may be better.

  13. This has little to do with the FF Program, but has to do with being an EXP:
    The one thing that bugs me the most, oddly, is the boarding process. Concierge Key first (long dramatic wait), then First Class, which is a throng of about 16 people crushing the line….. then they call Group 1 (which is EXP) but by the time you get to the line, they call Group 2 and 3…..and there is yet another stampede.
    Creates too much stress.

  14. It’s nice that you’re happy with your status and you make some very valid points. The problem is that you don’t mention United as a viable alternative. As usual. This shows some serious bias, which weakens your stature as a neutral purveyor of information. You only seem to mention your favorites. Now it’s your blog, but it’s tough to take this post at near face value when you cherry pick. If you just really don’t like United, say so. I feel the same about Delta, so I understand. Just be frank. As a reader, I know I’d be grateful.

  15. @Lucky

    As I’ve mentioned before on AA credit card and mile bonus promotions you’ve written about, AAdvantage has certain qualities that are nice but when it comes down to it if I can’t find award space in a premium cabin at saver level then the program is useless. Over the years, AA has become so stingy with opening up saver level award space that it’s just not worth my time. If you’re chasing status then maybe but my home airport is IAH so UA is my go to. They aren’t great but they have a lot of award space especially on partners (Lufthansa & EVA) which I prefer over a US airline.

  16. I am very satisfied with my EXP (low spend) status on AA. I guess I have lower expectations because I never made EXP under the old rules but after the revenue based system was put in place, I was one of the few who went from a long history of mid level status to EXP. I don’t find Transcons in old US Airbus or 737s to be torture, I fly the same routes regularly which are predictable, I use the same hubs and normally everything works out according to plan. Was able to use my four SWUs this year after forfeiting two last year (long story). Although I’ve only been able to use the Flagship Lounge in ORD, it was great and I’m looking forward to (someday) using the yet unbuilt one at PHL. The biggest downside has been the scarcity of Saver Award space to Europe. I was able to get Saver award flights for this fall on AA metal but I had to be super flexible where in the past it was a whole lot easier.

  17. @Christian:

    Ben is barred from participating in MileagePlus due to some “creative” mileage earning he did in his younger years. As such, he’ll not be able to write about being 1K or Platinum on UA. I may be remembering things slightly incorrectly as it’s been a while since it was talked about on here, but that’s the gist of it.

  18. Here is my few of “9 reasons”:
    1) One World Emerald lounges are fine but I would not fly through HKG or SYD just for that. One can find much better restaurants.
    2) Flagship AA lounges are fine but could be crowded. Last time in LAX we went to Qantas First instead of picking up late night leftovers at AA Flagship.
    3) Ability to earn with partners: Skymiles wins with some partners by awarding generous 40% EQD – try to get that with AA partners. OneWorld has no member airlines from mainland China so I will get 0 EQD flying those whereas DL does has some.
    4) Getting EQD from CC spending? Why would I put $50K on AA credits card?? Who needs these miles after devaluations?
    5) Clearing transcon upgrades in advance? At what %? No chance at primary business windows. I had 0% success rates on those transcons after AA switched to A321T.
    6) From 8 SWU to 4 – why one should be happy? Also, these SWUs rarely clear in advance under the new management.
    7) Business ExtrAA: why don’t you write about Delta Skybonus?
    8) AA does sell upgrades in front of you!
    9) Did AA once eliminated around the world awards and stopovers in international gateways without any notice? Do you trust AA after that?

  19. “They don’t sell upgrades out from under you
    While in general I’ve found that domestic upgrades have gotten tougher, I appreciate that American doesn’t sell upgrades out from under you. With Delta, they’ll sell you an upgrade anytime up until departure, even when people are on the upgrade list. In other words, Delta tries to convince elite members to actually pay to upgrade, especially in cases where an upgrade would be tough to clear. This makes Delta upgrades even tougher.”

    I actually find this as a negative. I can only get economy tickets through work for most of my flights. I’d happy pay the $100-$150 each way out of pocket to upgrade to domestic first class. Given I’m a lowly platinum with AA, I rarely get the free upgrades now. As such, I prefer Delta’s method.

  20. I spoke to a rude an AA Customer Relations person, her name is Toni Broadway, who confirmed that all eligible REVENUE tickets, regardless of status, will be upgraded first. EXP like myself, traveling on an Award Ticket, will be prioritized AFTER all revenue ticket upgrade requests has been processed.

    Can anybody confirm this to be true?

    My partner, who is Platinum Pro and was traveling with me on revenue ticket on a separate record locator, got upgraded 3 days prior, while I (EXP on Award) didn’t.

    It was under my impressions that all CK and EXP will be upgraded first regardless whether it is a revenue or award ticket?

  21. @Rob – Agreed. Although I’m an EXP member with AA there are times when I’m 4-5 on the list and I know there’s no way in hell its going to clear. In those cases I would welcome the opportunity to purchase a upgrade but AA doesn’t offer that option. It’s a shame as they’re leaving money on the table.

  22. Generally I think OMAAT is the best travel blog out there but this post really undermines that. It mixes benefits of the alliance (the particular lounges) the reward program (upgrade availability) and the airline itself without being clear which is which. Indeed, the title is about being an happy AAdvantage exec but then you admit that you rely on LATAM status.

    Sorry, but this just feels like clickbait.

  23. I agree with Donna. I have done better with EXP now that spending matters for status *and* for upgrades. I mostly fly business but when I don’t I have recently been #1 for upgrade, including on some flights on which mine was the only one to clear 😉

    AA actually improved the EXP program by helping the people who give it profits rather than mileage runners who mainly complain (no disrespect to many here).

  24. Paid J + BusinessExtra upgrade certificate into First Class almost never fails. I agree that this is the best use for accumulated BusinessExtra points.

  25. After 30+ years of traveling for work, paid Y only I promised myself I’m never flying coach again. DL is my preferred airline. SkyMiles is a train wreck for sure. I like the little things that come with a company with a longer term view. Employees value customers more IMHO, especially when they are earning large profit sharing checks. I like the little bottle of waster at my seat rather than a cup poured from a jug on AA which I can’t keep during taxi and climb out. I hate the seats on 777J forward & back bouncing around. When I had a “priority” tagged bag misconnect and take 18 hours from arriving in my destination city until it was delivered (AA) and then battle for three months for reimbursement it takes away from the “feeling like a valued customer” vibe. Long story short, DL seems to appreciate my business much more and actually shows it (SkyMiles excepted)

  26. I moved from United 1K to American EXP. I am a very happy American Ex Plat for the following reasons:

    1. I used System Upgrade for DFW-HKG & just the upgrades on the 2 legs is worth every pain AA might give elsewhere

    2. In 2018, my domestic upgrade will be north of 75%+ & MSE is 90%+ especially given than half my travels are booked within 2 days of departure

    3. While there were a couple of aircraft delays, AA had proactively reached out to me & offered compensation for inconvenience (not the best of compensation but better than the rest!)

    The 2 areas where i think United 1K was better are the following:

    1. I had a 100% Economy+ seating in United 1K while in American, i had 2 occasions where i did middle seat because the ticket was booked within 24 hours of travel

    2. Some of the short to medium range aircrafts in American DFW is very worn & might not compare to United

  27. I had to move from Alaska to AA and the downgrade leaves me in a world of depression. No status match, only pay to challenge to no higher than Patinum. Mileage earning is pathetic, even though I am paying double now. Crawling my way up to EXP, just passed natural Plat.

  28. @Alex-As an AA EXP I just flew to Central America (3 legs each way) on an Economy Saver award ticket (30K RT). I was always #1 or #2 on the list. Got upgraded on 5 of 6 flights, with most flights having 10-15 on the upgrade list. I believe it’s more based on EQD spend in the last year (the new deciding factor in upgrades).

  29. I’ve just realized that AA has downgraded the value of the systemwide upgrades. Previously I could upgrade from economy to business on flights to/from Hong Kong. Now from economy the systemwide gets you premium economy, not business. I can pay for premium economy, at twice the economy fare, if I want business, so the upgrade is still available, but at the lowest fare.

  30. And still nothing on AA’s operational woes over the past week. But tons of posts on pushing credit cards and even some on some imaginary and otherwise irrelevant airlines!

  31. I’m a big fan of EP Status and I couldn’t agree more with the comments about the One World Emerald Lounges.

    When I travel in Asia I fly Cathay anytime I get the chance just to have an opportunity to visit the First Class Lounge in HK. When I was there a couple months ago I had a shower, a sit down dinner, a foot massage (you do need to have some time to wait), and some time to relax in one of those great leather armchairs all during a layover.

    They really know how to make you feel pampered!

  32. I’m clearly doing something wrong. I am an EP and I find it absolutely worthless! I’ve got 2 SWU that are going to expire as I never get upgraded and on domestic flights I’ve been upgraded exactly twice and it was from chicago to orlando. Big deal….. 3 out of 4 times this year they havent even had the free snack I’ve wanted. Why exactly am I spending 15K per year on this airline?

  33. Lucky – good article. I am a 2M mile flyer w/ American (Lifetime Platinum) and was Executive Platinum with AAL 10 out of 11 years between 2004 and 2015 when i purposefully decided to go with a different airline (UAL). There were many reasons, including awful service at the airport, in flights, etc. However, the straw that broke the camel’s back was not being able to use my system wide upgrades. On a RT from LAX–>PVG, traveling w/ my family, i tried to use my system wides for me and my family. None of us were upgraded LAX–>PVG and I got only one upgrade from PVG–>LAX despite calling AA, talking to the gate agent in Shanghai, etc. While a manager at PVG promised me he would do the best he can, i found out that they gave upgrades to people with lower or even no status. I gave my upgrade to my wife, of course, and when i spoke to the person sitting next to her in business class, he told me that it was his _SECOND_ flight with AA ever and was shocked to be upgraded to business. I asked him what he paid for his ticket (which was 3 way: PVG–>LAX, LAX–>LAS and then back to PVG) he stated that he paid less than $2K. While he paid more per ticket than we did (~$1K), that unwillingness to upgrade was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Note that just a few years earlier, i had a similar experience flying w/ my parents from PVG. Only i was upgraded which i gave to my Dad. In that case, there were still seats open in First and i offered to upgrade anyone from Business to first so that i could upgrade my Mom to Business but AA did not budge to help me. Since 2015, i have been a Premier 1K member w/ UAL. While i can’t say that UAL is great (they’re all terrible), AAL lost a 2M+ flyer in me.

  34. Completely agree on how useless systemwide upgrades have become. I have 4 systemwide upgrades expiring this January after repeatedly being unsuccessful on getting upgrades on international routes. Same thing as listed above… Flying on the LAX-HKG route could not get upgraded to business using a systemwide upgrade even though there was 20 seats available a week before departure. Ran into some people on plane and there were plenty of platinums who got upgraded a few days before the flight using miles and cash upgrades – of course they are all white — maybe AA is just racist. AA is losing a $25K spend customer next year. I’ll move my business to UA which at least is fair and don’t discriminate.

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