Spend Your Way To American Airlines Lifetime Status

Filed Under: American

Earlier this week American Airlines announced that they’re extending AAdvantage elite status by 12 months. Not only that, but they also announced a few creative changes, which were overwhelmingly positive.

I’ve received a lot of questions about these changes. In a previous post I covered how American’s new award fees work, and how American’s new AA Vacations elite credit works. In this post I wanted to take a look at the ability to earn lifetime million miler status through credit card spending.

First I want to take a look at how American Airlines’ million miler program usually works, and then I’ll talk about the special promotion currently available.

How does American’s million miler program work?

With American’s million miler program, you can earn the following perks for passing million mile thresholds:

  • When you earn one million lifetime miles you earn AAdvantage Gold status for life, plus 35,000 bonus redeemable miles (one-time)
  • When you earn two million lifetime miles you earn AAdvantage Platinum status for life, plus four systemwide upgrades (one-time)
  • For each additional million miles, you earn four additional systemwide upgrades (one-time)

Earn systemwide upgrades starting at two million miles

What miles count towards million miler status? Under normal circumstances, you earn miles towards million miler status as follows:

  • For flights on American Airlines you earn one mile for every mile flown
  • For flights on eligible partner airlines you earn on account of base miles
  • In both cases this doesn’t include class of service bonuses, or award travel

Partner travel can also count towards million miler

What are the benefits of AAdvantage Gold & Platinum?

AAdvantage Gold is American’s entry level elite status, and perks include the following:

  • A free checked bag
  • A 40% mileage bonus
  • Main Cabin Extra seats for free 24 hours before departure
  • Auto-requested upgrades on flights of 500 miles or less, and on flights of over 500 miles you need to use upgrade stickers

AAdvantage Platinum is American’s next higher elite level, and perks include the following:

  • Two free checked bag
  • A 60% mileage bonus
  • Main Cabin Extra seats at the time of booking
  • Oneworld Sapphire status, which includes lounge access on international itineraries
  • Auto-requested upgrades on flights of 500 miles or less, and on flights of over 500 miles you need to use upgrade stickers

Don’t expect the upgrades to clear all that often as a Gold or Platinum member. Of course it depends on the route, day, etc., but upgrades won’t clear a majority of the time.

Main Cabin Extra is probably the most valuable perk

American’s million miler program isn’t competitive

Back in the day American’s million miler program used to be extremely compelling. Until 2011, all miles earned with AAdvantage counted towards million miler status, including miles earned through credit card bonuses, miles earned through shopping, elite bonus miles, and much more.

At that point they changed the terms to limit the activity that counts, but they didn’t actually make status any more generous. American’s program lags behind Delta and United:

  • Delta SkyMiles lets you earn up to lifetime Platinum status, and counts all MQMs (including those earned through credit cards) towards lifetime status
  • United MileagePlus lets you earn up to lifetime Global Services, and you can even appoint a companion to receive the same status you have

Simply put, American is just so far behind when it comes to lifetime status that it isn’t even funny.

American’s million miler program isn’t very compelling

American’s promo: spend your way to lifetime status

For a limited time only, American Airlines will count spending on their co-branded credit cards towards lifetime status:

  • All Citi AAdvantage and Barclays AAdvantage Aviator cards are eligible for this
  • All purchases that post between May 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020, will count towards this total
  • You will earn one mile towards lifetime status for every dollar spent on the card; sign-up bonuses, as well as categories that are bonused, won’t earn you any additional miles towards lifetime status

In other words, spending $50,000 on a co-branded card would earn you 50,000 miles towards lifetime status.

Credit card spending temporarily counts towards million miler

The opportunity cost of American Airlines credit card spending

Here’s the value proposition of spending money on American Airlines credit cards, as I see it:

  • For most spending on American Airlines cards you’re earning one mile per dollar, which I value at a 1.5% return
  • The best cards for everyday spending offer 1.5-2x transferrable points per dollar spent, which I value at a return of 2.55-3.4%
  • To me the opportunity cost of spending on an American Airlines card is somewhere around ~1.05-1.9%

In other words, if you spent $10,000 on an American Airlines card, I’d view the opportunity cost as being $105-190. Again, this is rough math based on my valuation.

If you wanted to take it to a theoretical extreme, spending a million dollars could come with an opportunity cost of $10,500-$19,000 compared to using another card, which is essentially what you’d be “paying” for lifetime status.

There’s quite an opportunity cost to spending on American cards

So, is it worth it?

Personally I think for most people the answer is “no.” It’s one thing if you’re within 50,000 miles of million miler status, or something, and this would help. However, for everyone else:

  • I don’t think the million miler program with American could get much worse, so it’s not like there’s a rush to earn million miler so that you earn lifetime Executive Platinum status, or anything
  • If you fly American with any frequency, chances are you already have Gold or Platinum status; if you don’t have status, I still don’t think Gold or Platinum is a particularly compelling reason to switch to American

I don’t think the value proposition is here for this promotion

Bottom line

Presumably co-brand airline credit card spending is way down given the current pandemic, and that’s why we’re seeing some creative promotions like this.

Personally I don’t find this to be particularly worthwhile. American has a weak million miler program, and the opportunity cost of spending is high.

If American improved their million miler program and made it possible to earn Executive Platinum status for life it would be a totally different story, but otherwise I just don’t see the value.

Perhaps some disagree.

What’s your take on this promotion from American?

  1. I believe for partner airlines, you actually earn million miler based on the base miles, so if you buy a cheap ticket on Alaska now, you would earn 0.25 million miler miles per mile flown.

  2. So miles I get on my United Explorer Car count towards million miler?

    Huh, I wasnt aware of that. Wont affect anything, but still.

  3. @ James S — No, with United credit card spend doesn’t count. My point was that if you earn lifetime status with United it’s more valuable than with other airlines.

  4. As a Lifetime Platinum, all I can say is don’t waste your time and money on Lifetime Platinum. It’s not worth it. AA watered down the value of Platinum. On domestic flights I fly Alaska, Jet Blue and Southwest. I consider American Airlines to be a back stabbing Traitor.

  5. As I have tried to warn so many people back when this was still possible to buy your way in.
    Do not take lifetime membership benefit for granted unless the benefit is guaranteed.
    Lifetime Gold, means you have Gold doesn’t mean your Gold will have its benefit intact few years from now.
    I still know few people who buy their lifetime on Delta. Bad decision.
    I’m not saying this is not good. But to spend extrAA money just to have lifetime status is throwing away opportunity to spend on other cards. The only exception here is you are very close to 2MM for lifetime Platinum and you hardly fly (takes few more years to reach at current patterns).

    3 things to keep in mind.
    1. If you are already flying enough to need those benefits, you probably already have status.
    2. If you don’t fly enough, getting an airline credit card would likely give you the same benefits you actually need.
    3. If you think bragging rights of a lifetime elite status will get you laid like George Clooney in the movie, think again.

  6. I made AA lifetime gold last year and unless I just needed to top off to cross the finish line, I’d pass on this offer.

  7. Doesn’t AA also limit the value of lifetime status by prioritizing upgrades based on actual spend over the past 12 months? I am lifetime Gold and fly AA infrequently therefore I’m sure I’m at the very bottom of the elite totem pole. Same would apply for Platinum but at least it’d go above all the Golds..

  8. So let’s say I have lifetime gold status, and I am flying on American Airlines award ticket (for simplicity sake let’s say the ticket was booked with AA miles and it is on AA metal). Which benefits apply? For example, am I still eligible for upgrades and can I still select MCE 24 hours in advance for free?

  9. I believe in Santa Claus more than airlines. I’m 50 years old –heh. Once upon a time, being a loyal flyer to an airline and its partners paid off, often, handsomely! It’s long been the case, so why bother even considering airlines’ schemes to lure you to them?
    I became an AAdvantage member (way) back in January 199, and a 1-million miler many years ago… so what? It’s never made a difference beyond getting a pretty–looking luggage tag with my name and stating that I am a million miler. Seriously, AA? I think it’s long been about the time that we ignore airlines’ marketing bait to our loyalty.
    I still love flying; I stopped loving airlines a decade and a half ago.

  10. If you were thinking about getting an American credit card any time in the next few years, now is probably the best time to do it. I was planning to get the credit card at some point, but I signed up a couple days ago just for this benefit. Might as well have whatever spend I put on it this year count towards lifetime status. Plus, annual fee waived for a year, so it is basically free (minus opportunity cost blah blah blah).

  11. For me, nearing retirement, which will end my business flying days (all with my EXP and CK status) and increase our international pleasure trips, Lifetime Platinum will be important to me. I am only 70k miles away from the 2m miler mark, which I was going to hit with planned business travel in Jan 2021, with retirement soon after. The virus threw a monkey wrench into that plan. Now, I can probably get to 2m miles with the AA credit card spend and hopefully business travel starting up in the fall. The Lifetime Platinum will make our international pleasure travel on the One World network a little nicer when I no longer have my earned status from business travel. My situation is a little unique and falls into the category where it make sense to get Million Miler miles from AA credit card spend.

  12. The only reason I gather AA point is to fly by Qsuites or Cathay Business. 140k points to for a return trip SE Asia is steal compared to buying the same ticket for $5000+. Etihad First for 115k one way isn’t bad either.

  13. I have been an American million miler for years with permanent gold status. However, I rarely fly American because mileage points for status each year start from zero rather than from gold. Therefore, I fly Delta almost exclusively for status (currently platinum) because this course of action provides me status on two airlines. If American would allow million milers to begin at gold instead of zero each year, I would fly them exclusively. American’s policy does not make sense.

  14. So many people have status on AA thats why they make it harder to get plat or exec plat. Fly one time from DFW to LGA and the upgrade list has 100 people on it, for a 150 seat plane. Why should they make it easier? Also how is anyone complaining about this?? With all thats going on in the world they offer something for FREE that they didnt offer one month ago and people complain? Wow its shocking how people love complaining and get offended by everything.

  15. You could outright buy million miler status for ~$6,800. It would simply require 214 roundtrip flights on LAX-MIA at the current $32 prices (plus a good amount of your sanity, dignity, health, and life expectancy, I imagine).

    Alternatively, if you’re willing to take you chances with the Feds thinking you’re up to no good, you could buy it for $58,000 if you pay the 2.9% credit card fee and just constantly send money to someone over PayPal until you hit $1M. Be sure to pick someone you trust to return the money to you!

    All in all, these are excellent opportunities to become a true VIP in the skies!

  16. I can’t imagine anyone placing a value on Lifetime Gold status beyond being able to check in First Class and waived checked baggage fees.

    I have been Lifetime Platinum for a decade and have ceased flying AA altogether unless absolutely necessary.

    It has little value as well unless you want to fly on a Sunday afternoon off season to a Phoenix…

    “Platinum Pro” made it virtually impossible to obtain upgrades for Platinum, they rolled back elite milage bonuses, etc.

    Now Doug looking to squeeze cash out of Citibank for the miles.

    The government bailout of these carriers is a shameful waste of taxpayer resources.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *