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I’m often asked how much I value elite status; while I no longer prize certain benefits (like lounge access) as much as I used to, in the long run elite status makes my travel smoother and more enjoyable, sometimes in unexpected ways. With the deadline for elite status qualification looming, this week TPG Contributor Nick Ewen discusses strategies to help you earn or maintain your status into the new year.
2015 is rapidly approaching, which means we’re also in the home stretch for elite status qualification. Once the calendar flips, the balances for all of your elite qualifying miles and segments (as well as dollars and points for certain airlines) will reset to zero. Fortunately, you still have time to (re)qualify, so this week I’ll discuss ways to get yourself over the elite status threshold for the domestic legacy carriers.
In today’s post I’ll focus on miles, segments, and points from American Airlines and US Airways. On Wednesday I’ll look at miles and segments for Delta and United, and on Thursday I’ll look at Medallion Qualifying Dollars and Premier Qualifying Dollars.
For starters, it’s important to note that the merger of American and US Airways makes elite status qualification a bit more complicated this year and next, as the airlines’ respective loyalty programs will not be integrated until the second quarter of 2015. At that point, your 2014 elite qualifying miles from both programs will be combined (if applicable) and used to determine your status in the new AAdvantage program.
As a result, there are three groups of flyers to consider when it comes to qualifying for elite status in 2014:
- Those who have flown (or will fly) only American in 2014;
- Those who have flown (or will fly) only US Airways in 2014;
- Those who have flown (or will fly) a combination of American and US Airways in 2014.
For the first two groups, elite qualification is relatively straightforward. If you fly only American in 2014, your elite status will be based on the current requirements. When the programs combine, your status will remain the same.
If you fly only US Airways, your status will initially be based on the current requirements of the Dividend Miles program, meaning that you will earn Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Chairman’s Preferred status. However, when the programs combine, your status will change to one of the three tiers shown in the image above. Dividend Miles Silver = new AAdvantage Gold; Dividend Miles Gold and Platinum = new AAdvantage Platinum; and Dividend Miles Chairman’s Preferred = new AAdvantage Executive Platinum.
The final group is more complicated. For those who fly both American and US Airways in 2014, your status for the first part of 2015 is based on the amount you credited to each individual program in 2014. However, when the programs combine in the second quarter, your status for the rest of the year (until February 2016) will be based on the total elite-qualifying miles you earned in 2014.
Example 1: Fly 20,000 miles with US Airways and 20,000 miles with American in 2014
- You’ll have no status for the first few months of 2015.
- You will then be upgraded to AAdvantage Gold when the programs combine (40,000 total elite qualifying miles).
Example 2: Fly 10,000 miles with US Airways and 45,000 miles with American in 2014
- You’ll have AAdvantage Gold status for the first few months of 2015.
- You will then be upgraded to AAdvantage Platinum when the programs combine (55,000 total elite-qualifying miles).
Example 3: Fly 105 segments with US Airways and 20 segments with American in 2014
- You’ll have Dividend Miles Platinum for the first few months of 2015.
- You will then be upgraded to AAdvantage Executive Platinum when the programs combine (125 total elite-qualifying segments).
So what does this all mean for the last few months of 2014? If you play it carefully, you can maximize your elite qualifying miles in both programs and potentially upgrade your status when they combine. Here are some ways to do that regardless of which category you fall into.
This is the most obvious and straightforward solution: take a revenue flight (or two, or ten!) with one or both carriers. It’s no secret that fares tend to be higher around the Holidays, but you might be able to score some good deals in the quiet time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even if you don’t have any scheduled trips, you can use the Mileage Run thread on FlyerTalk to find some great options. At the time of writing, there are fares posted for the following routes (though availability tends to disappear pretty quickly on these deals):
- AA: LAX-DCA for $270.60 (4,622 elite-qualifying miles)
- AA: ICN-MIA (via DFW, LAX, and IAH) for $871 (18,447 elite-qualifying miles)
- US: MCO-SEA (via CLT) for $265 (5,494 elite-qualifying miles)
Remember that you can choose to credit these flights to either AAdvantage or Dividend Miles, so choose whichever program will get you closer to qualification now. However, once the programs are integrated, the balances will combine to determine your new status for the remainder of 2015 (and through February 2016).
A couple of quick reminders:
- If you’re a regular traveler (with no status), you’ll earn elite qualifying miles based on the actual distance flown, regardless of which program you choose to credit the flight(s); if you currently hold AAdvantage Elite or Dividend Miles Preferred status, you’ll earn a minimum of 500 elite qualifying miles, regardless of how long the actual flight is.
- In addition to the traditional mile- and segment-based qualification methods, American gives you the option to qualify for status using Elite Qualifying Points. You earn anywhere from 0.5 to 1.5 points per mile flown, depending on the fare class you purchase. As a result, you may want to login and check your account balance to see if purchasing a higher fare class will earn you status faster than miles or segments. This applies to flights on American as well as US Airways, Alaska Airlines, and Oneworld carriers.
Use American’s Elite Status Boost
Just last week, American Airlines unveiled a status boost offer for those within 15,000 EQMs or 15 elite qualifying segments of a given status level. The prices range from $399 (if you’re within 5,000 miles of Gold) to $2,499 (if you’re 10,001 – 15,000 miles short of Executive Platinum). The status boost allows current elite members to simply pay to renew their status (though Executive Platinum flyers can only pay for Gold or Platinum status). You can get complete details here.
One of the nice things about this offer is that you don’t need to pursue it now; the terms of the promotion indicate that you have until July 31, 2015 to take advantage of it. However, you’ll also find the typical verbiage that allows American to pull the offer at any time. Since your status will be updated within 5 days of purchase, and since you should know your 2014 totals within the first weeks of 2015, there’s really no point in waiting beyond January.
Since the prices are quite high, consider hopping on a quick mileage run instead. For example, the aforementioned Orlando to Seattle run would get you over 5,000 EQMs. If you’re within 5,000 miles of an elite level, this flight would be much cheaper than spending $399 – $1,199 to boost your status. However, if your schedule for the next 6 weeks won’t allow a final trip (or two), the status boost at least gives you another option.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that the status boost will not bump up your actual EQMs or EQSs on American; the fee simply bumps up your status. This is especially pertinent given the upcoming integration of the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles programs. If you do take advantage of this offer, it won’t help boost your balance when your American and US Airways elite-qualifying earnings are summed in the second quarter of 2015.
For example, if you have 21,000 EQMs on American and 26,000 PQMs on US Airways (good for Silver Preferred status), paying $399 to boost your status will help you qualify for Gold on American, but it won’t actually give you the additional EQMs. When the new AAdvantage program begins, your 2014 activity will still only be good enough for Gold (21,000 EQMs + 26,000 PQMs = 47,000 EQMs).
Enroll in US Airways Trial Preferred
US Airways used to offer a similar program, but unfortunately they got rid of their Buy Up To Preferred program. However, they still offer the Trial Preferred program, where you can pay $200-$600 to get temporary elite status for 90 days. During that trial period, you must fly a certain number of miles or segments to qualify for status that will last (in this case) through February 2016:
- Silver (new AAdvantage Gold): 7,500 miles or 10 segments
- Gold (new AAdvantage Platinum): 15,000 miles or 20 segments
- Platinum (new AAdvantage Platinum): 22,500 miles or 30 segments
- Chairman’s (new AAdvantage Executive Platinum): 30,000 miles or 40 segments
You could pay $200 for temporary Silver Preferred status, book the aforementioned mileage run from Seoul to Miami and back, and enjoy US Airways Gold status (and then AAdvantage Platinum status) through February 2016, all for less than $1,100 out-of-pocket. That’s a pretty good value proposition!
Keep in mind that this trial offer does not expire at the end of the year, meaning that if you enrolled on November 20, you would have until February 18, 2015 to hit the above thresholds. It also only applies to flights on US Airways and American Airlines (including US Airways Express and American Eagle), so if you have any paid Oneworld flights, they won’t count toward earning status.
Credit card spending
Both American and US Airways offer co-branded credit cards that let you earn elite qualifying miles. The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard gives you 10,000 AAdvantage elite qualifying miles after you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. Meanwhile, the US Airways Premier World MasterCard also gives you 10,000 elite qualifying miles after you spend $25,000 in a calendar year, though these apply to the Dividend Miles program.
However, there’s a big caveat with these offers: the miles must post in 2014 to count toward this year’s elite status qualification. It doesn’t matter if you hit these spending thresholds tomorrow or in a week or on New Year’s Eve. If the elite miles don’t post to your account by the end of the year, they will count toward your total for 2015.
This is important because both cards claim that there’s a lag between meeting the spending requirements and actually earning the miles. The T&C of the Executive AAdvantage card claims, “EQMs earned as a result of this offer will be posted to the primary cardmember’s American Airlines AAdvantage® program account 6-8 weeks after meeting the $40,000 purchase requirement.” Meanwhile, the T&C for the US Airways card indicate that the miles will post “4 to 8 weeks after the Purchase Requirement has been met.” Unfortunately, we’re already inside the 8 week mark, meaning that there’s a fair chance the miles won’t post to your account in time to count for 2014.
That being said, if you’re close to the thresholds, it may be worth trying anyway. For example, I signed up for a Delta Platinum American Express back in September when it offered 15,000 bonus MQMs (again, I’ll discuss Delta and United elite qualification tomorrow). I hit the spending threshold for the bonus on September 21, and my first statement closed on September 24. The bonus miles posted to my SkyMiles account on September 26, a delay of only 2-5 days. At worst, any elite miles that carry over will give you a boost for your qualification next year.
Though American has discontinued their Elite Rewards program, US Airways is offering one last round of their Special Dividends rewards ahead of the merger. By hitting intermediate thresholds between Silver, Gold, and Platinum Preferred, and for going above and beyond Chairman’s Preferred, you can actually gift status to a family member or friend. Here are the different levels where this happens:
- 35,000 PQMs or 45 segments: gift Silver Preferred for 90 days
- 85,000 PQMs or 105 segments: gift Silver Preferred
- 125,000 PQMs or 150 segments: gift Gold Preferred
- 150,000 PQMs or 180 segments: gift Gold Preferred to an additional member
- 175,000 PQMs or 210 segments: gift Gold Preferred to an additional member
- 200,000 PQMs or 240 segments: gift Gold Preferred to an additional member
You’ll need to make these selections in the first part of 2015, since Special Dividends will be going away when the two programs fully combine. However, gifted status (other than the 90 day Silver Preferred status) will be valid through February 2016, and in the second quarter will be converted into the corresponding level in the new AAdvantage program.
Options from the past: will they be back?
In past years we saw other ways to bump up your elite qualifying mile balance toward the end of the year, like American’s double EQM promotion and US Airways’ 3,000 PQM promotion for new club memberships. The first one is not coming back, and we’ll likely never see such a lucrative promotion again. I would also be surprised if the second offer came back as well, simply because the airlines have so much going on with the integration. However, in 2012 the offer was announced on December 10, and was only valid for four days, so there’s definitely still time for it to return. I wouldn’t count on it though.
We’re clearly getting into crunch time, and if you haven’t given any thought to your 2015 elite status on American and/or US Airways, now’s the time to start! You still have 6 weeks or so to bump up those balances, and hopefully this post has given you some strategies to help make it happen.
How do you plan to (re)qualify for AA/US status this year?