Upgrade Yourself: Get Elite Status Using American Airlines’ Ninety-Day Challenge


You don’t have to be a road warrior to get elite status and enjoy the benefits of frequent travel. Now you can pay your way to the perks of being a frequent flier and earn elite status on American Airlines in just ninety days.

Many airlines offer status match challenges—meaning you have to have status on another airline to qualify for the opportunity to get a ninety-day shortcut to elite status on their airline. American Airlines, however, isn’t so elitist about its loyalty program. They’ll let you buy your way in to free checked bags, free premium economy seats, complimentary upgrades, early boarding and all of the other perks that come along with being a frequent flier.

Mostly the province of corporate travelers, earning status usually means flying at least 25,000 miles on a single airline in a calendar year plus spending several thousand dollars. I first earned status years ago as a journalist and was instantly addicted. Even though the programs have become more restrictive and less rewarding over the past decade —  it still beats paying extra for every single amenity and fighting your fellow passengers for overhead bin space.  Once you’ve flown with status, it’s hard to go back.  Unfortunately, I was faced with just that predicament recently as I realized I might not reach my preferred status on United.

Much of the flying we’ve done this year has been to places that United doesn’t fly non-stop, so Delta and American have received a good share of our business. Fortunately, a Today Show segment, reminded me of airline status matching. Knowing I had plenty of travel coming up on American, I reached out to get a match for my Gold Elite status on United. I was informed that American only matches status for Platinum Elite members on United or Diamond Medallion members on Delta. But I could pay a $120 fee for a status challenge regardless of my status, or lack thereof, on any other airline.  Count me in!

But first, there are some particulars. The challenge lasts only ninety days during which you have to fly a certain number of miles and spend a few thousand dollars. However, if you’ve flown recently, you can back date the start of your challenge up to two weeks to capture the miles and cost of any recent American flights.  That $120 is non-refundable whether you complete the challenge or not. Having status while you complete the challenge, raises the entry fee to $300+ for Gold and $500+ for Platinum. If you’re like me and would rather board early and choose a seat with more legroom, then the extra fee more than pays for itself. Purchasing a seat with extra legroom typically runs at least $30 on each leg of your trip. That adds up quickly if you really plan to fly several thousand miles in ninety days.

Speaking of flying, you’ll have to do a fair but of it in roughly ninety days for it to pay off.  To achieve Gold status it’ll take 7000 miles and spending $2000. Platinum status requires 12,500 miles and a $3000 spend.  Make sure you have enough travel planned in the allotted time period to get the most bang for your buck. Also, research the specific perks of each status tier and make sure they match your desires.  I almost opted for a gold status challenge on American, thinking that status was equivalent to United’s Gold Elite status.  It isn’t. The AA equivalent is platinum. Go figure.

There’s a plethora of other rules and stipulations regarding how many Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) are earned for each trip so be sure to ask plenty of questions when you call American’s customer service to activate the challenge.  And don’t forget to find out how long your elite status will last.

Pro Tip: if you complete the challenge after July 1, your status will typically run through the end of the current year and through the next calendar year.

For example, if you complete the challenge after July 1, 2019 you’ll have whichever status you’ve earned until at least January 2021. That same challenge completed before July 1, 2019 would only give you status until December 2019.  With holiday travel coming up this could be an excellent time activate a challenge to keep you flying in style for over a year.  For even more insight on travel challenges and matching—and how other airlines handle it check the out The Points Guy. Safe Travels!



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