My Positive Experience Using American AAdvantage Miles to Upgrade Domestically

by on December 24, 2011 · 16 comments

in American, Elite Status

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I’m currently knee-deep in a status challenge with American Airlines due to my participation in the Oneworld Mega Do in January. American is allowing any participant who has status on another airline to do a challenge to get comparable elite status on them. Since I am a current Delta Diamond, they challenged me to fly 20,000 miles between October 9, 2011 and January 13, 2012 in order to attain the super coveted Executive Platinum status – which normally isn’t given or challenged to anyone. The prize is pretty worthwhile since I’ll get 8 super-valuable system-wide upgrades as an Executive Platinum – plus complimentary domestic upgrades.

I have a lot of travel planned in January, but my only issue is that I currently have no status with American, which means those 20,000 miles would have to be in coach, which is fine normally, but I can’t even select exit row seats – which is a non-negotiable aspect if my 6’7″ frame wants to ride in coach. I honestly just can’t fit in normal coach seats – especially if someone in front of me reclines.

So what about buying business class? Well that’s not a great idea either – my China trip would have been $6,000 and an upcoming San Francisco run would have been $2,700. Yikes.

Luckily, my buddy Rick the Frugal Travel Guy had a couple spare Systemwide Upgrades leftover and gave them to me for my China trip – so I was able to buy the cheapest coach fare at about $1,500 and get confirmed business class on all legs. Score.

However, I still needed to go Miami to San Francisco and San Francisco to New York and I wasn’t keen on shelling out $2,700 and I didn’t want to use miles to book an award because I want to take advantage of American’s Double Elite Qualifying Mile promotion that lasts until January 31, 2012. So I loaded up my ExpertFlyer account and pulled up upgrade inventory on the days I needed to travel and lo and behold there was plenty of space. For help using Expertflyer to find award and upgrade availability, check out this post.

So this allowed me to book the cheapest coach fares: a $190 Miami – Dallas – San Francisco fare and a $160 nonstop San Francisco – JFK and then use 30,000 miles and $150 to upgrade to confirmed business class on all legs.

American Airlines Upgrade Chart

My total cost: $500 and 30,000 miles instead of paying $2,700. So essentially those 30,000 miles saved me $2,200 or about 7.3 cents per mile. Since I’m getting double EQMs on this trip, I’ll net over 10,000 EQMs for the trip – and while 5 cents per elite mile isn’t great – this is a business trip I had to take anyway, so I can’t complain (plus it’s a writeoff!).

Note: everyone’s valuation of miles and business class vary greatly – but in my case I place extreme value on business class for flights longer than 3 hours and I have paid for discounted business class in the past since a regular coach seat isn’t an option for me. Once I have my Executive Platinum status, I’ll take more risks with upgrades clearing, but until then I love knowing that all of my double EQM and status challenge travel is confirmed in business class. Another factor for me is that I have way more miles than I personally use – especially since I pay for a lot of my travel to maintain my elite status (and since I don’t want to use miles for business trips).

FYI even if you find upgrade space on ExpertFlyer, you should still put your itinerary on hold and then call to ticket and process the upgrades all at once. My phone rep waived the $25 booking fee since I had put the reservation on hold on and I was calling to process the mileage upgrade which you can’t do online.

Of course I put the $500 charge on my American Express Premier Rewards Gold card which gave me 3 points per dollar on the airfare and I just hit the 15,000 point bonus for spending $30,000 within a calendar year. If you have this card, you should check to see if you are close to the $30,000 mark because the counter resets on January 1.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Cindy

    Maybe it’s just me, but whenever you say Delta Diamond, I think of a drag queen (how would THAT be for a marketing campaign?? Are you listening, Delta?). :)

  • Anonymous

    LOL… I could see that. She’d certainly be a southern belle just like Delta Burke!

  • Darren

    I cringed at your title… “he redeemed miles for a domestic upgrade?!” But then I read the post and fully understand. Great redemption for you & pre-congrats on your EXP status!

  • Vikas Nigam

    Quick question. After the case in Canada of the court recognizing the value of Aeroplan miles, do / will you be putting a value of the redeemed miles for your tax filing? I know you generally don’t like to use miles for business trips, but it sounded like you were doing that with the upgrade.


  • mattolo

    Hey Brian, I’m sure we would all love to know exactly how big your mileage totals are with all the referral bonuses, etc you must get :) Care to divulge how many Amex MR points and AA miles, etc you have in your accounts right now? millions? No problem if you want to keep this secret, just figured you must have a ton

  • FieldOfBurch

    Ironic considering I just wrote a post on using miles for domestic upgrades:

  • FieldOfBurch

    The Points Guy & Kyle: Thanks for the constructive criticism on my blog. I will work on proofing my posts.
    I really hope I didn’t upset you, Brian by posting the link. I am just starting my own blog and trying to gain readership.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if American Airlines will offer bigger bonus miles than 40k next year.

  • Anonymous

    40k for what?

  • Anonymous

    Hey I didn’t give any criticism and I don’t mind you posting your link as long as it doesn’t become spammy. Good luck with the site!

  • Anonymous

    Ha, I only have 200,000 AA miles.. have been using them up. As for the others, I’m probably lower than many of you.. have millions of miles and points but I try to use them as much as possible since they generally lose value over time

  • Anonymous

    No, I don’t include my miles on my taxes

  • Anonymous

    Citi website: “Earn up to 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles”

    Read on somewhere that there was a 70k bonus miles but I think it expired.

  • Anonymous

    There are 50k offers currently that give lounge passes as well. You can apply for two at once for 100k total

  • Anonymous

    Don’t want to miss a bigger incentive bonus for applying for the Citi AA card next year (2012).

  • FieldOfBurch

    Thanks for the best wishes. Someone had posted on my site “TPG was right about you and your posts. You don’t proof-read, do you?”
    So I thought maybe you were making a remark about my writing, or were upset with me. Either way, no worries.

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