Last-Minute Elite Status Strategy in 2015: American Airlines AAdvantage
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It’s that time of year again. As the clock winds down on 2015 and we have less than two months left, many flyers’ attention turns to qualifying or requalifying for elite status. This week, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen covers the elite-status programs of the three major legacy carriers in the US, and how you can rack up those last-minute miles before we hit 2016.
Once you earn elite status and enjoy all the benefits that make the travel experience just a little bit easier (or a lot nicer, in some cases), it’s hard to give it up. That’s why flyers start to scramble toward the end of the year in order to make sure that they hit those mileage or segment requirements while there’s still time.
In order to help you strategize your year-end travel and spending, all this week, I’ll be covering the elite-status programs of the three US legacy carriers — American, Delta and United — discussing their qualification requirements and benefits, proposing some last-minute earning ideas, and picking out a few choice routes to help you make a successful dash to the finish line.
Before we get going, be sure to check out some of these posts for helpful hints and reminders about what you should be doing around this time of year.
- Comparison of Elite Status: Which Program is Best
- When Does Elite Status Reset and How Long Does it Last?
- Audit Your Mileage and Points Accounts
- When Will Elite Credits Post?
- Which Low-Tier Airline Elite Status is Best?
- How to Get Last Minute Elite Qualifying Miles Without Flying
- Tips to Qualify For American Airlines Elite Status in 2014
- Earning American AAdvantage Miles Without Flying
- Rumored Changes Coming to American’s AAdvantage Program in 2016
Also check out our American Elite Status Series from last year detailing the benefits of each tier as well as other unique program features:
If you have expiring elite perks you’re not going to be able to use yourself, consider posting them in our Expiring Elite Perk Exchange.
American Airlines AAdvantage
Today, we’ll start with the airline that runs the most classic frequent-flyer program: American Airlines AAdvantage.
I say it’s the most classic because, unlike Delta and United, American has not (yet) instituted spending requirements to earn elite status, so earning status is fairly straightforward and there are only three tiers to it, making it the simplest program among the legacies.
For details on American’s elite-status program, see this page. For an exhaustive review of the benefits of the program, you can check out TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Jason Steele’s post, What Is American Airlines AAdvantage Elite Status Worth?
As I mentioned, there are just three tiers to elite status in the AAdvantage program. Here’s how many miles, segments and/or points you need to earn each calendar year to qualify for each.
Gold: 25,000 miles or points, or 30 segments
Platinum: 50,000 miles or points, or 60 segments
Executive Platinum: 100,000 miles or points, or 120 segments
You’ll notice that you can qualify by earning either points or miles. For more on how American’s elite-qualifying points work, check out this post. The basic notion of it is that you earn a certain number of elite-qualifying points per mile you fly based on the fare code of the ticket you purchase. Discount economy tickets earn just half a point per mile, while certain business- and first-class fares earn 1.5 points per mile. Given the byzantine nature of this system, most people just pay attention to the mileage rather than the points in American’s system. However, if you tend to fly expensive fares either due to last-minute plans or the ability to purchase premium-cabin tickets, chances are that points-earning plays a big part in your elite strategy.
For help with a strategy that includes earning elite status based on points rather than miles or segments, read this post: Should I Earn AAdvantage Elite Qualifying Points or Miles?
You can find the entire benefits chart here, but below is a shorthand version with the major perks highlighted.
- 25% mileage bonus
- Unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades for flights of 500 miles or less
- 500-mile upgrades
- Designated elite phone customer service
- Priority check-in and boarding
- One free checked bag
- Discounted (50%) and complimentary (within 24 hours) Main Cabin Extra seats, and complimentary preferred seats
- Waived award ticketing and close-in booking fees
- 100% mileage bonus
- 500-mile upgrades
- Complimentary Main Cabin Extra and preferred seats
- Priority baggage handling
- Two free checked bags
- Oneworld lounge access
- 100% mileage bonus
- Unlimited complimentary upgrades
- Eight Executive Platinum systemwide upgrades
- Free same-day change on American
- Complimentary snacks and beverages in the main cabin
- Three free checked bags
- Waived award reinstatement fees
For a more thorough look at Executive Platinum’s perks, check out TPG’s post: 11 Reasons to Love American Airlines Executive Platinum Status.
Last-Minute Earning Ideas
Though time is short, if you find that you’re not quite going to make the earning threshold of your elite status tier, there are still some great options out there to put you over the top.
Double Points Promo
Back in April, American Airlines launched a promotion through the end of the year where folks who buy premium fares can earn double points. It equates to earning 2-3 points per mile flown instead of just 1.5. So if you’ve been flying a lot of premium fares this year or have some time left to do so and your points qualification is looking good, you might try to qualify this way instead of the more typical mileage/segment method.
If you tend to rack up a lot of charges on your credit cards, your spending could help you boost up to elite status as well. American Airlines fields two co-branded cards that let you earn elite-qualifying miles based on your spending.
The first is the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. Every calendar year you make $40,000 or more on purchases on the card, you earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles.
The other card that offers the opportunity to earn EQMs as part of its benefits package is Barclaycard’s Aviator Silver. Certain high-end cardholders of the former US Airways World MasterCard were targeted to receive this card instead of one of the more basic versions of the Aviator. While you can’t apply for this card (or any of the Aviators) anymore, if you have one of the Aviator cards, you can call Barclaycard and ask to be switched to this version. Many readers have reported success doing so.
One of the main reasons you might want it is that for every $20,000 in purchases you make annually, you can earn 5,000 EQMs (up to 10,000 per year).
TPG actually earned a whopping 20,000 EQMs by maximizing his spending on both these cards earlier this year. You can find out more about how he did it in this post.
Now that’s a lot of spending, but if purchasing power like that is in your wheelhouse, it’s something to consider.
Last year, American Airlines offered elite customers who would otherwise fall short of requalification the chance to buy a “boost” back up to their status. The airline has not announced intentions to do so again this year, but it’s probably a good bet that it will, though it might be more expensive this time around. See this post for information on how it worked last year.
Boosting up to Gold status would cost you $649, while Executive Platinum status could cost you between $1,199-$2,499 depending on your other flight activity that year.
In general, these prices were pretty outrageous — especially if you were close to requalifying — and you might have been better off just taking a few mileage runs if you had the time. But if you didn’t and you couldn’t make elite status on your own before the end of the year, at least this was another option. Again, American hasn’t announced if it will offer this option for 2016 elite status, or what the prices will be if it does, so stay tuned as we near the end of the year.
A status match or challenge can also be a great shortcut to bypass the normal requirements. You can read more about how these work here, but the gist of it is: With a match, you can provide an airline with proof of your current status with a competitor and hope it’ll match you to their equivalent status. With a challenge, you have to fly (and usually spend) a certain amount within 90 days and you get status for the rest of the elite-status year.
For some tips and strategies, check out the post, How to Challenge for AAdvantage Platinum Status.
American Airlines’ business program, Business Extra, is completely separate and distinct from the AAdvantage program for individuals. With Business Extra, companies earn 1 point per $5 spent on American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia flights (even when purchased directly from either carrier) and flights on Finnair, Japan Airlines and Qantas, so long as the tickets are marketed by American Airlines.
Among the possible point redemptions is the ability to bestow Gold status on employees for 2,400 points. So your company would have to spend $12,000 on airfare per status gifted. That might seem like a lot, but remember, companies earn it across all registered employees’ travel that’s credited to the Business Extra account, so if you work for a big company that participates in the program, chances are there’s Gold status out there just waiting to be requested. And as we say at TPG, it never hurts to ask!
Mileage Run Scenarios
So there are a lot of options to rack up last-minute miles, points and just plain outright status, but your best option might still be to fly. Granted, airfares tend to shoot up at this time of year thanks to the busy holiday travel season. However, there are still some deals out there, and if you can travel either over Thanksgiving week itself, or in the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are some downright bargains.
If this course is of interest to you, don’t forget to check The Flight Deal and the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk for cheap fare news and ideas. In the meantime, here are a couple options I recently found that should give you an idea of what to look for.
Note that I’m finding options where you can complete the mileage in one trip, since time is of the essence at this point, but you can find more options if you’re willing to travel on multiple dates.
1,000 miles short: It might seem silly, but some people do indeed miss out on elite status by as few as 1,000 miles. The good news is that it’s easy to avoid, especially if you already have elite status because American guarantees elites at least 500 miles per flight even if the distance is less than 500 miles.
West Coasters can do a quick run from Los Angeles to San Francisco for as little as $119 round-trip this December. You could leave first thing Saturday morning and be back in time for brunch! Total EQMs: 1,000.
The same is true for flyers out of AA’s Dallas hub. You can get to Austin and back in a single morning for just $91. Total EQMs: 1,000.
For you former US Airways flyers out there, I found round-trips between Philadelphia and Atlanta for as little as $75! Total EQMs: 1,330.
5,000 miles short: You might be thinking the transcon routes from New York to San Francisco or Los Angeles, but those flights are running around $400 in December. Instead, if you’re a Miami-based AA flyer, you might want to consider a trip out to LA during the first weekend of December for $237 roundtrip. Total EQMs: 4,700.
Netting you about the same amount of miles, you could make two quick roundtrips between Dallas and San Diego for $107 each ($214 total). Total EQMs: 4,684.
10,000 miles short: There’s still enough time to rack up a few very cheap short trips to hit this mark, but if you’re looking to do it in one go, I’d suggest looking for flights either from the West Coast to Asia (especially Japan, and there are a lot of cheap flights from various US origins to Jakarta, though segments on JAL within Asia do not earn full mileage with these).
If you already have a Brazilian visa, I also found a few great options to São Paulo, including this one from New York-LaGuardia to GRU via Miami. It costs just under $600. Total EQMs: 10,338.
I also found flights from San Francisco to São Paulo via Dallas and Los Angeles for just $565. Total EQMs: 13,231.
And then just for an added bonus, there seem to be some great fares from Boston to Asia (mostly China and Hong Kong), including this one from Boston to Shanghai via Chicago for just $653. Total EQMs: 15,848.
Just a quick section on flight segments in case that’s your preferred method of qualification. I find that the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk is the best place to get ideas, even if the entries are a bit of a jumble.
From there, I go to Google Flights to the Multi City booking link and manually enter a few cities and dates and see how the itinerary comes together. Google Flights dynamically prices things out, so you’ll often see the airfare rise or fall slightly.
Here’s a sample trip I put together with Phoenix as a starting/end point going to New York and Charlotte via Raleigh and LA.
It finally priced out at $379 and all I had to do was click the “Book” button to head over to AA’s site.
That took me to the finalized itinerary where I just had to enter passenger information. Sometimes this doesn’t quite work out, so you might have to manually enter the flight dates and times in American Airlines’ multi-city search and that usually does the trick. But this one came through smoothly and I got six segments over the course of a weekend for $379.
Not the most amazing value, but play around with it for yourself and see what comes up when you piece together an itinerary because you might be surprised at some of the values.
Have any other great tips for qualifying for elite status at the last minute? Feel free to share in the comments below.