Skift Take

Budget travelers may be facing a tough landscape for airline loyalty next year. But there are still a few inexpensive pathways to airline elite status.

New developments in airline frequent flyer programs through 2015 and 2016 have changed the way that travelers earn award miles and elite status in 2017, creating, for many, a harder road to qualification.

The changes concluded in August of 2016 when American Airlines became the last of the big three legacy carriers to move AAdvantage, its loyalty program, to a model that rewards passengers award miles based on the cost of each ticket. As part of those changes (and in line with competitors), the airline also included a revenue-component to elite qualifications.

To earn elite status on a legacy carrier next year, it’s thus necessary to fly a tiered, requisite number of elite miles and spend a corresponding amount of (pre-tax) cash. On most carriers those tiers are roughly:

  • Low tier: 25,000 miles (or 30 segments) and $3,000
  • Low-mid tier: 50,000 miles (or 60 segments) and $6,000
  • Mid-high tier: 75,000 miles (or 90 segments) and $9,000
  • High tier: 100,000 miles (or 120 segments) and $12,000

Delta Air Lines, of note, requires high-tier elites to earn 120,000 miles or 140 segments in addition to $15,000 in spend.

Interestingly, the process of earning qualifying dollars does not seem to be very well aligned among partner carriers. After American changed its program earlier this year, several bloggers pointed out that qualifying dollars on partner carriers were earned as a function of flight miles instead of actual ticket cost — a possible loophole for qualification. United Airlines makes similar concessions, removing the qualifying dollars element for non-U.S. flyers.

“Turns out there is a way to significantly reduce the spend requirement on airline tickets to reach the EQD thresholds at each elite membership level,” blogged Ric Garrido on his Loyalty Traveler blog.

Similar loopholes for international loyalty program members earning elite status in the U.S. have also been discovered.

Another approach that many travelers are considering is within the ranks of Alaska Airlines’ loyalty program, Mileage Plan. That carrier remains the only US airline to award elite status based on distance flown, and as Brian Sumers reported earlier this month, the strategy seems here to stay. And even though Alaska just backed out of its partner agreement with Delta Air Lines, it still has strong relationships with American Airlines and a handful of international carriers on which it’s possible to earn status.

Needless to say, for those unwilling (or unable) to fly on Alaska or without the time to jump through partnership loopholes, a revenue-based approach is the only solution for elite status in 2017. For many, those spend requirements may simply be too much to earn elite status as the year takes shape. But for those with healthy expense accounts, 2018 may find you alone in the elite ranks.


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Tags: loyalty

Photo credit: An AAdvantage Citibank credit card. American Airlines

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