[Travel] Not all miles are equal – the difference between award miles and elite qualifying miles and when to care

Estimated read time: 2 minutes


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 70,294 other subscribers



I was getting ready to leave bitter cold Iowa for a content marketing workshop that I was holding in much-warmer San Diego.

There was bad weather heading our way and construction at LAX so American Airlines was offering reroutings, including, the following, which is the text from a Facebook post I wrote:

With construction at LAX I was tempted by American to switch to San Diego – Charlotte – Cedar Rapids. That’s some extra elite qualifying miles, but trading first for middle seat in the way back not so tempting. | Always ✅ the seat map before last minute switcheroos. #travel #wheelsup

Another option offered was San Diego – Miami – Chicago – Cedar Rapids. Just out sightseeing here. LOL. Sticking with the original red eye out of LA.

Some people wonder what elite qualifying miles are. A quick definition:

Those are the miles that help us frequent fliers earn status. For example, we need 100,000 EQMs to make executive platinum on American Airlines.

Those are mostly butt in seat miles. A flight from Cedar Rapids to Dallas gets me roughly 700. More if I paid for first class. There’s a bonus.

That same flight also gets me award miles. Those are the miles I can use to book upgrades, trips, etc. I also earn them through my credit cards – in fact most of my award miles come from credit cards.

Award miles are nice and certainly I want as many of them as possible, but EQMs are harder to get because you actually have to fly a ways to get 100,000 miles – namely 100,000 miles. #math

A few months ago I was flying Cedar Rapids – Chicago – Albuquerque for a weekend in warmer weather with my daughter. Due to the weather in Chicago they rerouted us through Dallas.

Not a problem and we got first class on all legs. But the EQMs were less than the other routing. No problem. I called and they gave me the original EQMs. I did lose 500 award miles but gained 1,500 EQMs back.

Well worth it.

Award miles are usually awarded based on ticket price and a multiplier based on status. For example, executive platinum earns 11 miles per dollar spend.

Both types of miles have value but which one is more valuable to you at the current time depends on the personal situation.

Most people seem to use the term miles when they mean award miles. That’s fine but there’s real value in EQMs as well.