With the American AAdvantage program’s Loyalty Points system, elite status is no longer based on how much you fly, but rather based on how many eligible points you rack up. One of the interesting opportunities here is to earn AAdvantage elite status exclusively through credit card spending.
In this post I wanted to do some number crunching on the value proposition of that, and answer some of the most common questions. Should you put spending on your American Airlines credit card? I particularly wanted to take an updated look at this, given that the 2023 AAdvantage program elite year launched as of March 1, and with this we’re seeing some changes to the program.
In this post:
Credit card spending counts toward AAdvantage elite status
With the American AAdvantage Loyalty Points system, you can earn elite status by racking up the following number of Loyalty Points in the 2023 program year:
- AAdvantage Gold status requires 40,000 Loyalty Points
- AAdvantage Platinum status requires 75,000 Loyalty Points
- AAdvantage Platinum Pro status requires 125,000 Loyalty Points
- AAdvantage Executive Platinum status requires 200,000 Loyalty Points
Rather than following a traditional calendar year, the Loyalty Points program runs from the beginning of March until the end of February of the following year. That means the 2023 program year runs from March 1, 2023, until February 29, 2024.
Long story short, you earn one Loyalty Point per dollar spent on an eligible co-branded Barclays or Citi American Airlines credit card. Welcome bonuses, spending bonuses, and other promotional bonuses, don’t count as Loyalty Points, for these purposes. In other words, if a card offers double AAdvantage miles for a flight purchase, you’d still only earn one Loyalty Point per dollar spent.
This means you could earn Gold status by spending $40,000 on a credit card, or you could earn Executive Platinum status by spending $200,000 on a credit card.
Which American Airlines credit cards earn Loyalty Points?
The following co-branded Barclays and Citi American Airlines credit cards earn one Loyalty Point per dollar spent:
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® (review)
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® (review)
- American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp® (review)
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® (review)
- Citi AAdvantage Gold Card
- AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Blue Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard
On top of that, the following card earns one Loyalty Point for every two dollars spent:
- AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard
It’s also worth noting that there are some opportunities to earn Loyalty Points at an accelerated rate with credit cards, based on spending that posts to your account during an AAdvantage membership year:
- For the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, you can earn up to 20,000 bonus Loyalty Points per year without any spending requirement — earn 10,000 bonus Loyalty Points after reaching 50,000 Loyalty Points in a status qualification year, and earn another 10,000 bonus Loyalty Points after reaching 90,000 Loyalty Points in the same status qualification year
- For the AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard, you can earn up to 15,000 bonus Loyalty Points based on eligible purchases — earn 5,000 Loyalty Points if you spend $20,000, earn an additional 5,000 Loyalty Points if you spend a total of $40,000, earn an additional 5,000 Loyalty Points if you spend a total of $50,000
Note that cardmembers earn Loyalty Points based on statement close dates, so that’s something to keep in mind if you need a certain number of Loyalty Points before the end of a membership year.
The opportunity cost of American Airlines credit card spending
Some people are saying “well now a bunch of people are just going to spend $200,000 on their credit card to earn Executive Platinum status.” That’s absolutely true, and that’s why I think this program is brilliant from American’s perspective — people are spending on co-branded American Airlines credit cards like never before.
That being said, for many savvy travelers, I think the math mostly only checks out here at the margins. Based on my valuation of points:
- American AAdvantage miles are worth 1.5 cents each
- Points with the major transferable currencies are worth 1.7 cents each
- You could be earning 1x AAdvantage miles per dollar spent, which I value at a 1.5% return
- You could be earning up to 2x transferable points on some other cards, which I value at a 3.4% return
Specifically, you could earn 2x transferable points with the following cards:
- The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card (review) (Rates & Fees) offers 2x miles per dollar spent, with no caps
- The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (review) (Rates & Fees) offers 2x miles per dollar spent, with no caps
- The Citi Double Cash® Card (review) offers up to 2x ThankYou points per dollar spent, in conjunction with the Citi Premier® Card (review)
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (review) offers 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 spent every calendar year
Now, people may have different valuations of points currencies, and that’s fine, as you can adjust the math accordingly. But by my math, the opportunity cost of using a co-branded American Airlines credit card is ~1.9%. In other words:
- Spending $200,000 on an American Airlines credit card would “cost” me $3,800
- Is Executive Platinum status (and 200,000 Loyalty Points) worth $3,800?
One further incentive to earn Loyalty Points could be to qualify for Loyalty Point Rewards, which offer perks like systemwide upgrades. However, keep in mind that you only unlock the Executive Platinum Loyalty Point Rewards if you earn 250,000 Loyalty Points. You no longer qualify for these kinds of rewards just for earning Executive Platinum status.
A hybrid qualification approach could make sense
Like I said, on an ongoing basis I couldn’t imagine earning Executive Platinum status exclusively through credit card spending:
- For the $3,800 opportunity cost, you could just outright pay the fare difference for first class on so many flights, rather than gambling with upgrades (and upgrades for Executive Platinum members are far from a sure bet)
- If you’re earning status entirely through credit card spending, one has to wonder how much value you’d actually get out of the status; it’s not worth inefficiently spending $200,000 on a credit card so that you can get better treatment on a few trips per year
That being said, at the margins I think there could be value in spending money on an American Airlines credit card. For example, say you fly 30 segments per year with American Airlines anyway (which is probably the lower limit of where it’s even worth going out of your way to earn top tier status).
If you usually book fairly inexpensive fares, you might otherwise earn 100,000 Loyalty Points. At that point I think it could be worth putting some spending on credit cards to earn (or maintain) Executive Platinum status. That’s especially true if you could earn 250,000 Loyalty Points.
If you were to earn 250,000 Loyalty Points, you’d be able to select valuable Loyalty Point Rewards that cumulatively could include six systemwide upgrades or 85,000 AAdvantage bonus miles. The value of that could really add up.
My strategy with the Loyalty Points system
As I explained in a separate post, I think the Loyalty Points system is genius, though it’s challenging me, as someone who likes to maximize value. I wasn’t sure how 2022 would play out for me — in the end I requalified for Executive Platinum status, and I earned roughly half of my Loyalty Points through credit card spending. Admittedly it was an off year of travel for me.
While I was initially opposed to it, I might just find myself doing some credit card spending on AAdvantage cards going forward. Here’s how I view it:
- Living in Miami, I fly American a fair amount, given that the carrier has a dominant presence there
- While we’ll see how things play out, I’d probably earn 125,000-150,000 Loyalty Points through my “natural” American flying
- I absolutely think it could then be worth aiming for 250,000 Loyalty Points, given the potential value of six systemwide upgrades or 85,000 AAdvantage bonus miles, which I’d be able to select with the Loyalty Point Rewards program, not to mention the value of Executive Platinum status
- I’ll keep trying to focus on earning Loyalty Points through non-flying means other than credit card spending, like using AAdvantage Dining, AAdvantage SimplyMiles, AAdvantage eShopping, earning miles through the AAdvantage & World of Hyatt partnership, etc.
Is earning elite status with credit card spending unfair?
I’ve seen comments from some along the lines of “not fair, now I’m going to be competing for upgrades with people who never fly American Airlines.” I have to strongly disagree with this logic, and I say that as someone who intends to minimize my spending on American Airlines credit cards on an ongoing basis:
- If someone doesn’t actually fly American Airlines often but earns the same elite tier as you, they won’t pose much competition for upgrades
- For example, say someone earns Executive Platinum status with credit card spending, and flies just 20,000 miles per year on the airline; it would take 10 of these kinds of travelers to pose the same level of competition for upgrades as a single Executive Platinum member who earns the status by flying 200,000 miles per year
- So even if elite ranks are swelled significantly, the risk to upgrades clearing should be minimal if people aren’t traveling that much
Bigger picture, while I know there’s some contention between those earning status through flying vs. credit card spending, it’s important to acknowledge that credit card agreements are where major US airlines make much of their profits.
American Airlines doesn’t make a whole lot of money flying passengers (in most quarters, the revenue per air seat mile at American isn’t much higher than the cost per air seat mile). Instead the airline makes money on everything else, and particularly from its frequent flyer program and credit card agreements.
Therefore it’s reasonable, if you ask me, that American wants to further incentivize the behavior that’s most profitable.
American Airlines credit card spending FAQs
Since there have been lots of questions about the details of earning Loyalty Points for credit card spending, I figured I’d address some of the most common questions below. In no particular order…
Does American Airlines credit card spending count toward million miler lifetime status?
Nope. Lifetime status is calculated based on the distance flown for American marketed flights, or base miles earned for travel on eligible partner marketed flights. Credit card spending doesn’t count toward that.
Do you need to fly a certain number of segments to earn elite status?
Nope. For 2023, there’s no requirement to fly any number of segments to earn AAdvantage elite status, or to earn Loyalty Point Rewards. You could earn both status and Loyalty Point Rewards exclusively through non-flying means, if you wanted to.
Does American Airlines credit card spending help upgrade odds?
Yes it does. Not only do you earn AAdvantage elite status with credit card spending, but within each elite tier, upgrades are prioritized based on your rolling 12-month total of Loyalty Points. You earn one Loyalty Point per dollar spent on an eligible co-branded card, so the more you spend, the higher your upgrade priority will be within your elite tier.
Do you need to use an American Airlines credit card to earn Loyalty Points for a flight?
You don’t, and this seems to cause some confusion. Regardless of which credit card you use, you can earn five Loyalty Points per dollar spent on American Airlines flights (except basic economy fares, which earn two Loyalty Points per dollar).
If you have elite status, you can earn anywhere from 40-120% bonus Loyalty Points, for a total of up to 11 Loyalty Points per dollar spent on American Airlines flights. If you pay with an eligible American Airlines credit card, you can earn one additional Loyalty Point per dollar spent on American Airlines flights.
Nowadays American AAdvantage has the Loyalty Points system for earning elite status. With this, you could earn elite status exclusively through credit card spending. The catch is that if you’re a savvy credit card user, there’s potentially a significant opportunity cost to spending money on American Airlines’ co-branded credit cards.
I calculate the opportunity cost of American Airlines credit card spending as being somewhere around 1.9%, though others may have different valuations. That means spending $200,000 on an American credit card would “cost” me $3,800, compared to the best options out there. However, that doesn’t factor in the value of potential Loyalty Point Rewards, like systemwide upgrades or bonus redeemable miles.
While I don’t think it’s worth earning elite status exclusively through credit card spending, I do think a hybrid approach could make sense, whereby you earn it through a combination of flying and spending.
There’s no denying that American’s Loyalty Points system is brilliant. Consumers have greatly increased spending on American Airlines credit cards in order to earn elite status, and that’s extremely profitable behavior for the airline.
Do you earn American AAdvantage Loyalty Points through credit card spending? If so, what’s your strategy?