For many years I detested flying. Flying meant airports, and airports meant:

  1. Arriving way too early
  2. Stand in line to check-in at the counter
  3. Stand in line to go through TSA screening
  4. Standing in line to board the plane
  5. Worrying if my carry-on will fit on the plane even though I paid for a seat
  6. Wondering if my seat will have more than 1 inch of legroom beyond my knees

Thankfully, there is a better way that doesn’t involve buying first-class tickets or flying 500,000 miles a year. A combination of modern infrastructure, like mobile check-in, and airline elite status, like American Airlines Gold (the first tier of Elite status in the AAdvantage program), completely redefine what the flying experience is.

Before jumping into how different flying is with elite status, there is an important question to answer: is achieving American Airlines Gold status feasible for a non-business traveler?

Yes. Like many airline status programs, American Airlines Elite Status (called AAdvantage) renews on a yearly basis if you meet certain criteria. Of the available criteria, most people achieve status by flying a certain number of miles. To earn American Airlines Gold, you need to fly over 25,000 miles within a calendar year.

While this number may sound high, for reference, a round-trip from Los Angeles to Boston may net 5,200 miles. You can take a few long flights, or many short flights. As long as the total sum of miles flown is over 25,000 miles in a calendar year, you will be able to earn Gold status. Check out this flight calculator to see how many miles you might get for a specific flight path.

Knowing that achieving Gold status is feasible, is Gold status worth it?

Yes. Regardless if you are a frequent flyer or occasional traveler, American Airlines Gold is worth earning and changes the flying experience for the better. Here is how:

Best Benefit: Priority Boarding

General boarding often means a large group of people slowly inching toward the gate waiting for their group to be called. Everyone wants to make sure their carry on fits into the overhead bins before the plane fills. No one wants to put their bag 10 rows away from their seat.

Time is the most valuable thing I have. The value of standing in line waiting to get from a seat at the gate to a seat on the plane is, to me, effectively zero. Gold status almost does away with standing at the gate entirely:

  1. Elite status members board the plane before everyone else. Even on a large flight, there are not that many Elite status ticket holders. You can sit at the gate, wait for your boarding group to be called, and walk right up to the gate and board. The time that was spent standing in line is now yours again.
  2. Since you board first, your carry on will always fit into the overhead bin above your seat. No need to worry about checking a bag at the gate, or putting your bag 10 rows behind your seat. The bag is in the overhead above your seat meaning you get on the plane without worrying and get off the plane efficiently. More time saved!
group of people in airliner
With Gold Status you don’t need to wait in lines like this one.

Skipping lines is often associated with a business-class experience, with good reason. On a large international flight with hundreds of passengers the standard boarding line can take quite some time. With Gold status, you can get the priority benefits for any ticket you buy on all American (and OneWorld) flights. Best of all, less time standing means more time doing anything else of value like getting food or working.

Money Saver: Preferred Seats and Free Seat Upgrades

Often at the check-in counter I would previously have to ask if there are any seats better than those on my existing ticket. Particularly as someone taller than 6ft, even a couple extra inches of legroom go a long way toward flight enjoyment. More often than not, this meant spending more money during ticket reservation to get a Main Cabin Extra seat, American Airlines’ version of premium economy.

Gold status brings multiple seat-related rewards that resolved all my previous complaints:

  1. At booking, preferred location seats in regular economy are free. Plus, certain rows are often reserved for Elite status members until 24 hours before the flight. Effectively, this means you get a FREE upgrade and almost always have seating options in a favorable location.
  2. Starting 24 hours before boarding, and space permitting, you can upgrade to a Main Cabin Extra seat for FREE. This is one of the best monetary benefits of Elite status, as a Main Cabin Extra upgrade can cost 20% of the ticket cost for each leg of the flight.
Seats with a ★ are reserved for Aadvantage members until check-in starts. Seats with a $ become free for Aadvantage members when check-in starts.

With Gold status, I can get the extra legroom and premium experience for the price of a regular economy seat even on long-haul international flights.

Time Saver: Priority TSA Screening

Often the worst part of the airport experience is TSA screening. Especially on busy days at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, get ready to standing in line for quite some time. If you don’t have TSA pre-check or GlobalEntry, you are always prepared to spend time waiting in the TSA line.

Luckily, Gold status members can use the priority TSA lanes where American Airlines has them available. For almost every flight I’ve taken across multiple airports after having Gold status, the time spent standing in the TSA screening line has been less than 5 minutes.

Gold Status Is Worth It

In summary, Gold status means:

  1. You don’t need to stand in line very long for check-in
  2. You don’t need to stand in line very long for TSA screening
  3. You don’t need to stand in line to board
  4. Your carry-on bag will always be in the overhead bin above your seat
  5. You save money and get the seats you want, often with a free upgrade

Gold status has even more benefits that do not apply as much to my travel, like additional bonus miles for each flight (faster rewards) and a free checked bag (save money). You can read all about American Airlines Elite status on the AAdvantage program page.

If you are able to obtain American Airlines’ Platinum Status, Platinum Pro, or get the right credit card, you get lounge access for free in additional to all the benefits of Gold. This completes to transformation of the airline experience from a dreaded necessity to a civil encounter. Skip the lines, relax in the lounge, board the plane before everyone else.

Finally if you are wondering why I chose American Airlines as an airline I wrote about that too: Why I Still Choose American Airlines After 100,000 Miles.