How to Fix American AAdvantage Lifetime Elite Status

American’s Lifetime Status Program is Less Generous Than Delta, United

American AAdvantage has an uncompetitive million miler program, recognizing lifetime loyalty, and they’ve made it worse over the past few years.

  • Delta offers up to lifetime Platinum status, and an annual gift for million milers.
  • United offers up to lifetime Global Services, and extends the lifetime member’s current status to a spouse

In contrast American only offers lifetime Gold (1 million miles) and Platinum (2 million miles). There’s no lifetime Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum, or ConciergeKey status.

American Devalued Lifetime Status With Program Changes

American effectively made ConciergeKey an elite status level two years ago, before that ConciergeKey customers were Executive Platinums and did not have upgrade priority. In addition American introduced the Platinum Pro (dumb name) status at 75,000 qualifying miles between Platinum and Executive Platinum.

American’s lifetime Platinum status went from mid-tier (second of three levels) to being towards the bottom (second of five levels).

What’s more American began prioritizing upgrades based on rolling 12 month spend, giving priority to customers qualifying for status each year over lifetime elties. Now lifetime Platinums not re-earning their status each year are at the bottom of the upgrade list even amongst Platinums. Lifetime Platinums are really ‘Gold-plus’.

Management Hasn’t Been Lifetime Status-Friendly

Legacy US Airways management was late to recognize lifetime status at their former airline, and didn’t offer anything beyond lifetime Silver at one million miles. They’ve always been focused on current revenue over rewarding a lifetime of loyalty, even though the lifetime program can be a goal that current customers strive for.

Details of American AAdvantage aren’t determined just at the level of the AAdvantage program team. Indeed, according to a senior American Airlines executive with knowledge of the matter the team itself had recommended revenue-based changes different from what was eventually implemented but were overruled by then-President Scott Kirby who preferred to mirror what Delta and United had done.

However Scott Kirby and Andrew Nocella, the Senior Vice President whom AAdvantage reported up to, have decamped for United. Perhaps that creates an opportunity to revisit lifetime loyalty.

American Doesn’t Want to Give Windfall Benefits

Until December 1, 2011 all miles earned in the American AAdvantage program counted towards lifetime elite status. There was then a brief window where spending on American’s premium co-brand Executive card counted. However they’ve since transitioned to only counting actual flight miles towards million miler status.

As a result of the airline’s historical method of calculating lifetime miles, there are a large number of customers with big lifetime balances — not just 3, 4, and 5 million but even 70 million lifetime miles.

The airline doesn’t want to expand the pool of Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum members with customers that earned lifetime miles from credit card spend or checking account balances in the distant past. They’d have more 3 million and 4 million milers than Delta and United (probably more than both combined).

At the same time they wouldn’t want to set the bar so high, to compensate for the number of customers with high lifetime mileage balances, that the new lifetime elite levels would seem unattainable for customers striving for them today.

At 100,000 miles a year it takes 10 years to earn lifetime Gold and 20 years to earn lifetime Platinum under today’s rules. Four million mile status would take 40 years. (Of course some customers earn 200,000 and more flight miles per year.) Setting the threshold at 5 million or 10 million miles would seem a bridge too far.

A Path Forward to Improve American’s Lifetime Status Program

One of my all-time favorite frequent flyer programs was british midland’s Diamond Club. The program was folded when bmi was acquired by British Airways. I loved it because once you had qualified for Gold status, additional first class flying earned 625% of flown miles, and because of their cash and points award chart.

One feature of the program was lifetime Gold status after 10 years as a Gold member. They didn’t track miles earned, they tracked years of status.

Marriott requires lifetime nights and lifetime years of status to earn their lifetime status levels.

There’s no reason why American would be unable to adopt a new requirement for new lifetime status levels. That wouldn’t be pulling out the rug from anyone that’s been working towards lifetime status.

  • Leave lifetime Gold at 1 million miles
  • Leave lifetime Platinum at 2 million miles
  • Add lifetime Platinum Pro at 3 million miles and 10 years of Platinum Pro status or higher
  • Add lifetime Executive Platinum at 4 million miles and 10 years of Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey status

This would allow American to introduce a competitive lifetime elite status program without flooding the ranks with customers who earned their lifetime miles in the past via credit card spend and other non-flight activity.

Don’t Chase Lifetime Status Too Hard

Lifetime elite programs are hugely motivating for customers, it keeps them locked into a program they’ve been loyal to in the past. They may consider shifting allegiance, which is made easier through status match offers from competitors. But with years of status and miles earned behind them, as they approach lifetime recognition, there’s a reason to stay.

I always caution against this — british midland lifetime status was ‘life of the program’ and the program no longer exists, folded into British Airways Executive Club. And I’m reminded that when United removed lifetime elite benefits — annual upgrades — they specifically promised months earlier not to take away, customers sued and a judge summarized,

United’s defense here is that the airline’s very best customers—its Million Mile Flyers—should have known better than to believe United’s promise of “lifetime” benefits. This defense amounts to a confession of consumer fraud. United could not—honestly and legally—promise “lifetime” benefits while reserving the right to cancel its promise at any time and for any reason.

It may not be advisable to invest too heavily in lifetime loyalty, but there’s even less reason today for an American Airlines customer to continue to do so after hitting lifetime Platinum. That’s easy to change.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. What is really bad about the LT status of AAdvantage is not only there is nothing higher than Platinum, but they do not take the class flown bonus into account, e.g. business, etc. This I believe is unfair because if I paid to fly in the Premium class, why should this not be taken into account for my lifetime status since I am spending more than the most coach fares.

    Indeed with the introduction of Platinum Pro level, previously Gold and Platinum status means nearly nothing. They should have for the one time upgraded all existing Gold/Platinum to the next level like what Marriott did for their existing Platinum members (one time grandfathered to Platinum Premier).

    Anyway, in general rather dissapointed since US Airways took AA over that everything has just been downhill from that point…

    Cheers!

  2. I got Lifetime Platinum now Platinum Premier with Marriott in 4 years of consulting. I have around 700K lifetime miles with United. I’m not going out of my way to hit a million, but I do tend to look at United first. However, I know these programs can change any minute.

  3. I have lifetime gold on American thanks to million miler status. I’ve literally flown AA once since achieving that milestone. I’ll grant that’s partly because I’m based in Denver now and AA isn’t convenient, but AA wouldn’t have to scratch my back very hard to get me to jump through some hoops.

    And to be fair, my million miles wouldn’t have happened without Doug Parker’s airline buying problem, as my AA miles alone wouldn’t have cut it. I needed AA miles, HP miles, US miles, and TW miles to get there.

  4. I’m 45k miles short of a million miler on United. I left them about 15 years ago and have only taken one flight since.

    I’ll likely drop from Exec Plat due to the Barclays Aviator changes. In looking at the benefits, I see almost no value of Plat pro over lifetime Plat. I fly trans cons monthly, only got a complimentary upgrade once on those flights as Exp Plat this year (other than miles/copay in advance, which any one can do if they ever open the availability again). This includes most trips being on miles/copay wait list without clearing about 8 times.

    So not sure your proposal would incent me enough. Given densification, AA is headed towards an LCC experience.

    A great airline once.

  5. Your arguments seem sound. Because of the economically-foolish way AA was previously allowing customers to accumulate lifetime miles, they can’t just copy UA or DL. And, honestly, I think we’re talking about a very small number of travellers who could meet your proposed standard, and who probably wouldn’t use the benefit that much anyway (as you note, people’s travel habits change over time). And maybe somebody would be incentivized to “go for it” with this new challenge. Hopefully, somebody at AAdvantage sees your post and thinks it’s a good idea!

  6. I am left to wonder just how many “unworthy” LT Plats there really are and how many “unworthy” LT Plat pros there would be is pre 2012 miles from any source got counted.

    Moreover, would these “unworthy” LT’s matter.

    I eked out LT Plat in 2011. And my grandfather got 103 years, so perhaps (if the program has an unending lifetime) I’ve got 50 more years as Plat. But I eked out LT Plat (no doubt like many) under circumstances when my actual flight miles would have scored me gold only a few years. I am truly unworthy. And many others are, too. But the “unworthy” who get LT status through other means simply do not fly enough to deprive the worthy of the slice of the pie that they may “deserve”.

    AA has effectively addressed this issue – to whatever limited extent it exists – by making “unworthy”, seldom flying, low revenue, LT Plats a mere tick above Golds for upgrades (for which we must pay, unlike DL and UA). Yeah, we get free baggage, expedited security and lounges on international flights, but if out travel is so sparse that we are “unworthy” LT Plats who would not even qualify for annual gold, just what comes out of AA’s side?

    At bottom, many LT Plats are otherwise re-earing that status, and do not need the LT element. As for the “unworthy” LT Plats, thy fly so seldom that they just are not present to crowd out benefits to more worthy LT Plats.

  7. You’re spot on with this one Gary. I’ve got just shy of 5M from 20+ years in the program (8 as EXP). I used to insist on flying AA exclusively, but since Doug Parker eviscerated the program I go out of my way to avoid AA. They rewarded my years of loyalty with nothing, and they offer an inferior product both domestically and internationally.

  8. Delta used to also count all credited miles toward lifetime DL status, but DL stopped doing that way before AA did.

    I’m betting that if a very large proportion of the current airline loyalty program customers stop getting airline miles from credit card spend, maybe then a desperate airline will again open the door to earning lifetime elite status from credit card spend and other non-flight partner activity. But before that happens, the US3 airline loyalty programs will have to alienate way more of the market than has happened.

  9. I never really understood the decision not to grant Platinum Pro at 3 million miles . I can understand AA not wanting to grant lifetime Executive Platinum or Concierge Key and keeping them at annual levels .

    The folks who hit 3 million lifetime miles are already lifetime Platinum and have the benefits of that status. Yes , there are nice incremental perks at Platinum Pro such as free domestic upgrades and some fee waivers . However , the spend priority in upgrade processing neutralizes the upgrade benefit to a certain degree. The top spending annual Platinum Pros will always trump the lifetime folks who don’t have a lot of annual spend . Therefore , AA is protecting its “best” customers.

    Lifetime status only benefits folks who actually use the status and fly the airline . No real cost to giving lifetime status to folks who don’t use it . Of course , AA wants folks to actually fly on them so it seems like a win win to grant Platinum Pro at 3 million miles .

    Like you have stated , getting to 3 million miles is a Herculean task any way you look at it and the old “all miles count” folks are probably starting to thin out . I like your proposal but not sure AA has the ability to go back and look at HP and US top status years to determine who has the requisite number of elite years .

  10. Yes, 3 mil + 10 years. As someone who started traveling heavily in the past 6 years (probably 700+ segments) and only 500k miles to show for it, I’m constantly irritated by the “I’ve flown 3m miles crowd”. Pre-2011 it was so easy it earn miles on AA that i would probably be close to that as well.

  11. As a lifetime Platinum, I avoid American Airlines like the plague. I can’t get that knife out of my back.

  12. As Alan said as a lifetime Plat I avoid AA any time I can. But am somewhat forced as I live DFW But from MIA where I used to use AA I now go other airlines

  13. More critical is the fact that AA’s MM tier is its first elite tier that offers next to no real benefits in its own program or with OneWorld, while UA’s is actually its 2nd level elite tier that provides real elite benefits including STARGold (which offers priority check-in, boarding, checked bags and lounge access). AA got into trouble with Lifetime by giving it away for any miles earned, not just flight miles. That pretty much flooded the ranks and could justify a lower elite tier, but when AA reverted to the more standard flight miles it should have given Platinum for those flight miles. It could have grandfathered all-miles Lifetimers at Gold But recalculated with just flight miles to match the 50K tier of other programs at 1 million flight miles. (AC only counts flight miles on its metal and not STAR pertner miles for its initial Lifetime MM STARGold/50K Elite tier. AA’s program is and has been a mess.

  14. The changes are sensible, although a general rethink of the loyalty program would also be sensible. A world where virtually the entire domestic F cabin was free upgrades was absolutely unsustainable. But frequent fliers value upgrades above any other benefit and with so many premium seats being sold, not even the top tier is getting them regularly. (Which also means that the “sticker” program isn’t effective at rationing seats to those who don’t get unlimited upgrades)

  15. Gary if the company wanted your commentary on how to shower people with benefits who aren’t currently bringing revenue to the table they know how to reach you.

  16. I’m with Alan. Knife stuck in back. I worked very hard for that LT Plat to now be 2 of 5 tiers on a subpar airline. I’ve been at 2.975 LT miles since they made the change. I don’t even want the 25k EQM as I wouldn’t know what to do with 4 eVIPs.

    With Marriott, it appears I’ll scrape in with 755 nights (but I won’t believe it until I see it), working hard for LT oldPlat there and ending up LT newPlat with the next level gone for me would suck more than AA’s stab.

    Screw these companies and their LT statuses. It’s all about ‘what have you done for me lately?’ Well, customers can be that way, too. And I find that I save a lot of money as well when I do, so joke’s on them. I’ve flown a dozen new airlines since AA did their thing and stayed at 5 or 6 different hotel groups, 4 of which I previously wouldn’t have even checked, not to mention some great airbnbs.

    Screw the current status chasing as well. I don’t need no stinking status if I fly J and F. B6 Mosaic is awesome for coach, and that airline actually doesn’t suck. For hotels you can pay for the amenities you lose without status and easily come out way ahead.

  17. I have well over 2,000,000 AA miles that count toward lifetime Platinum status with AA, and yet I don’t find the program valuable enough anymore to make it much of an incentive for me to use AA/Oneworld carriers instead of other carriers; and I definitely do what I can to try to avoid crediting my flight activity to AA’s program. Complimentary upgrades on AA are so meaningless for me since they are either not relevant to me or so rarely available as to be best ignored as a factor; lounge access by way of AA/OW elite status either doesn’t apply or isn’t a distinguishing factor for my travel patterns; and priority check-in and security screening is way less of a factor than it used to be. And the checked luggage benefit of the status is a hassle to use more times than not or can be had without having AA/OW elite status. The elite status bonus is so meaningless now, especially with AA miles such a lousy rebate currency and with the revenue-based-mileage earning, that having lifetime status is doing nothing more than helping keep AA in the picture when it would be out of the picture due to its second-rate operational characteristics, its third-rate mileage-earning/redeeming characteristics, and an IRROPS-handling that reminds me of Air India during Air India’s worst days.

    I used to be a very loyal AA customer and it was my primary carrier of choice and primary airline loyalty program. Now it’s neither, despite having at least AA lifetime Platinum status. Even if AA goes with a lifetime PlatinumPro status, it still wouldn’t get me to change my habits at this point. AA took a good thing and messed it up. AAdvantage on the Greenstamps lifecycle? If so, AA management has only itself to blame for this.

  18. Indeed, Peter’s got it. Most customers would be better off by being free agents more than they are. Unfortunately, customer habits don’t change so fast and easily for so many and there is little to protect customers from getting burned by being overly-hooked to brand and/or loyalty-program participation.

    It will be interesting to see at what point the customers of travel service provider loyalty programs get so badly burned that meaningful regulation finally beings to apply to the anti-consumer games played by the airline and hotel loyalty program owners/operators.

  19. I think lifetime Exec Plat at 4MM will create too many Exec Plats. I’d redesign it this way:

    1MM and 6 years of Plat: Lifetime Gold and 1 SWU/ year if one hits the ordinary Gold criteria

    2MM and 6 years of Plat Pro: Lifetime Plat and 1 more SWU/ year if one hits the ordinary Plat criteria (max 2/ year)

    3MM and 6 years of Exec Plat or 12 years of Plat Pro:
    Lifetime Plat Pro and 1 more SWU/ year if one hits the ordinary Plat Pro criteria (max 3/ year)

    4MM and Lifetime Plat Pro: Free lifetime Admiral’s Club membership, hitting the ordinary Plat criteria gives 2 SWUs/ year instead of 1 (max 4/ year)

    5MM and 6 years of CK or 12 years of Exec Plat: Lifetime Exec Plat, hitting the ordinary Plat Pro criteria gives 3 SWUs/ year instead of 1, and 3 more by hitting the ordinary Exec Plat criteria (max 9/ year)

    6th and each subsequent MM: 1 systemwide joker a la BA, choice between 3 SWUs (36 months expiry) or 60,000 RDMs.

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