I realize the answer to this is probably obvious to many, though sometimes I think it makes sense to go back to the basics. Reader Lee8810 asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum:
As a newbie, I don’t know what EQM are and what are their benefits. Do they expire or do they last a lifetime?
In general there are two types of miles you earn:
- EQMs, which are elite qualifying miles
- RDMs, which are redeemable miles
Let me briefly explain the difference between the two:
What are redeemable miles?
When most people talk about miles, they’re referring to redeemable miles. These are the miles you earn through flying, credit card spend, shopping portals, etc. These miles can be redeemed towards airline tickets or all kinds of other things.
Redeemable miles don’t reset each year, though they may expire at some point. For most programs you can prevent miles from expiring by just having some activity in your account during a given period (typically every 1-2 years). However, with some programs, miles expire after several years regardless of the amount of account activity you have (this includes programs like Lufthansa Miles & More and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer).
What are elite qualifying miles?
Elite qualifying miles are a bit more nuanced. While redeemable miles can be redeemed towards travel, elite qualifying miles only help you qualify for status. Elite qualifying miles are generally earned through flying, and are earned in addition to redeemable miles.
An airline may or may not award elite qualifying and redeemable miles at the same rate for a given flight. For example, Alaska offers both 100% elite qualifying and redeemable miles when booking discounted coach tickets. Meanwhile American offers 100% elite qualifying miles, and five redeemable miles per dollar spent.
Generally speaking, your balance of elite qualifying miles are reset every year, and their main value is in helping you achieve status.
Let’s take American AAdvantage, for example. They have four elite tiers, and in order to qualify for a status level you need to earn either a certain number of elite qualifying miles or a certain number of elite qualifying segments, plus earn a certain number of elite qualifying dollars. Here are the tiers:
25K EQMs or 30 EQSs
50K EQM or 60 EQSs
75K EQMs or 90 EQSs
100K EQMs or 120 EQSs
Your qualification is measured based on your account activity between January 1 and December 31, and at that point the EQMs reset. To give a few examples:
- If you earn 20,000 elite qualifying miles each year, those miles would never get you anything, as they reset every year and you won’t actually qualify for status
- If you earn 99,000 elite qualifying miles in a year, you’d receive Platinum Pro status, meaning the 24,000 elite qualifying miles above the 75,000 threshold were “wasted”
- It’s only when you earn 100,000 elite qualifying miles in a year that you get Executive Platinum status
Now, not all programs work exactly the same, but the above is true in general. Just to give a couple of alternative examples:
- British Airways doesn’t use the calendar year for earning status, but rather your member year, which is a rolling 12 month period
- Delta has rollover miles, meaning that elite qualifying miles earned above and beyond what’s required for status roll over to the following year; for example, their top tier Diamond status requires 125,000 elite qualifying miles, so if you earn 200,000 elite qualifying miles in a year, 75,000 of those will count towards status for the following year
Elite qualifying and redeemable miles are very different. They both have value, though they serve different purposes. Redeemable miles can be redeemed towards a ticket and earned over time, while elite qualifying miles can help you earn status, but reset every year.
When I calculate the value I’m getting out of a trip, I consider both the value of the elite qualifying and redeemable miles I’m earning. Historically when people took “mileage runs,” some did so for elite qualifying miles (which is more of a “status run”), while others did so for redeemable miles (to get enough miles for a free ticket).