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Elite status challenges can be a great way to fast-track to a higher tier, and they can be an especially good option if you’re able to qualify on cheap fares. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr explains how he’s earning top-tier American status for just over $1,000 thanks to a targeted status challenged and a business-class mileage run.
Back in May, my American AAdvantage account was targeted with a fast track to elite status challenge. If I earn 35,000 American EQMs before September 9, I’ll have Executive Platinum status through January 31, 2018. I was particularly impressed that status would be granted all the way into 2018, so I decided to undertake the challenge. Today, I’ll recap my recent eight-segment mileage run to Panama City and explain how after flying one more round-trip ticket, I’ll have earned top-tier American status for a total cost of $1,170.76 and 99,333 points.
Executive Platinum Status Basics
Earlier this year, fellow TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen valued Executive Platinum status at $7,490, assuming you can travel enough to take full advantage of the perks. There are several benefits, but what I am most excited about are the four systemwide upgrades and unlimited complimentary upgrades on flights within North America, the Caribbean and Hawaii. With all the recent cheap fares to Europe and Asia, I could look for a flight with A or C fare classes available, book the cheap ticket and then instantly confirm an upgrade into business class on a transoceanic route. I can do this four times!
The other benefits of Executive Platinum — such as skipping long phone wait times, priority check-in and boarding and a 100% mileage bonus — are all nice, but I believe the rubber meets the road with unlimited upgrades in eligible regions and four systemwide upgrades.
Mileage Run Toward Executive Platinum
Over the long Fourth of July holiday weekend, I earned 28,062 EQMs on a mileage run spanning eight flights, including four domestic transcons. The routing was a well-known (and still bookable) cheap round-trip business-class ticket originating at LAX and flying to Panama City (PTY) via JFK and MIA.
You can still find the fare for ~$700, but given my inflexible work schedule I had to travel on the more expensive holiday weekend. I’m based in the DC area so I also had to book a round-trip ticket to LAX to begin and end the run.
Here’s a breakdown of the routings and costs:
- IAD-LAX-DCA (positioning) “I” fare business class: 61,333 Wells Fargo points (treated as a revenue booking by AA)
- LAX-JFK-MIA-PTY-MIA-JFK-LAX booked in A and I business/first fares: $1,170.76
Time in the air: 30 hours 9 minutes
Door-to-door time: 76 hours 29 minutes
EQM Earnings: 28,062 for a total of $1,170.76 out of pocket, or 4.17 cents per mile
Redeemable miles earned: 40,576 or 2.89 cents per mile
You can book this routing with an immediate turnaround in PTY, but I figured I wasn’t going to fly all that way and not see Panama City for at least one night. It ended up being the correct decision, as I was very impressed with the city and thoroughly happy with the $89 room I booked at the Hilton Panama. I was even upgraded to a waterfront junior suite thanks to my Hilton Diamond status.
Mileage Run Highlights
Over the mileage run, I had the opportunity to upgrade for 15,000 miles and $175 to fly the A321T first class from JFK-LAX. The product has been on my list to try for quite a while, so I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity. TPG has reviewed the product a few times, and I’ll say my experience with the Flagship lounge, ground service and the plane’s hard product was just as fantastic as expected.
The service, on the other hand, was quite awful, with a flight attendant who was obviously having a bad day. She couldn’t remember anything I asked her for, was upset to be at work and was tasked with training another attendant. Plus, someone spilled an entire glass of red wine in the first-class lavatory, and after I walked into a sticky situation and notified the attendant, the wine remained in the lav for the rest of the flight. That was definitely a first for me.
In another interesting moment, our pilot for the PTY departure came to the front of first class and introduced himself as “Captain Fast Eddie” and promptly invited three ladies from first class to come take photos in the flight deck. On another leg, I got lucky and caught a repositioning flight for a 777-300ER from JFK-MIA and my ticket happened to book me into a Flagship Suite for the 2.5-hour flight — talk about a nice bonus. Despite the disappointing service on the A321T leg, the rest of my flights were uneventful and staffed with professional crew.
Besides the different AA equipment I was able to fly, I also had fun in the airports. I visited the Flagship Lounge in LAX and the Admirals Club at Gate D30 in MIA; had a shower and breakfast (twice) at the Centurion Lounge in MIA; and briefly visited the Copa VIP Club in PTY courtesy of my Priority Pass membership.
Even after my PTY run and two short flights earlier in June, I’m still 6,122 EQMs short of the 35,000 required to complete the fast track challenge. I found a $608 business-class round-trip ticket from DC to Puerto Rico which I can fly in one day and earn 7,544 EQMs, putting me over the goal with a little room to spare. I’m going to book this flight with Citi ThankYou points earned with my Citi Prestige Card. I can redeem points at 1.6 cents each toward American Airlines tickets, meaning I’ll spend 38,000 ThankYou points for the ticket. Because these tickets are still counted as revenue flights by American, I’ll earn EQMs and redeemable miles.
After adding up all three tickets I’ll fly to complete the challenge, I’ll spend $1,170.76 and 99,333 points to achieve Executive Platinum status through January 31, 2018. This could have been even cheaper if I was able to fly on dates where the PTY fare was around $700! Overall, I’m very excited about the ability to enjoy top-tier American status for 18 months at this cost, and the Panama mileage run ended up being a lot of fun as well.
Are you planning to work toward Executive Platinum or any other status with a mileage run or status challenge?
While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.