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Starting in 2017, American Airlines will require potential elite members to meet spending thresholds before earning elite status. For example, in addition to flying 100,000 elite-qualifying miles, travelers will have to earn 12,000 elite-qualifying dollars to reach Executive Platinum status.
For those new to airline spending thresholds, you might assume that everything that you pay American Airlines would count toward this threshold. However, just the base fare and carrier-imposed fees — but not baggage, seating and other auxiliary fees — count toward elite-qualifying dollars (EQD). This means that you’ll end up having to actually spend more than the stated spending threshold to get enough EQDs for elite status.
Since American Airlines doesn’t track how much you pay for partner flights, American Airlines is awarding EQDs for partner flights based on a percentage of the flight miles. One of the big questions unanswered in AA’s June 2016 announcement was what the rates for partners would be. Last night, American Airlines released these rates.
Most Oneworld partners have economy EQD rates ranging from 5% (for discount economy) to 20% (for full-fare economy). Beware that there are some partner airlines where the lowest economy fare class doesn’t earn any EQDs: Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Jordanian and S7 Airlines.
There is only one non-Oneworld partner that American Airlines will grant you EQDs on: Alaska Airlines. EQD rates for Alaska Airlines flights range from 5% to 15% for economy flights.
What do these rates mean? Generally, American Airlines is giving you credit toward your EQD requirement of 5 to 20 cents per flight mile on partner economy flights. If you can book flights at a cheaper rate, you’ll end up with more EQDs than what you actually spent for those tickets. However, the opposite is also true. You could end up “short” quite a few EQDs if you book a last-minute fare that books into a “discount” fare class.
Let’s look at some example bookings to calculate EQDs for different options:
|Airline||British Airways||Cathay Pacific||Qatar Airways||Japan Airlines||Alaska Air|
|From||Houston||Los Angeles||Dallas||New York’s JFK||Los Angeles|
|To||Johannesburg||Hong Kong||Amman, Jordan||Tokyo, Japan||Seattle|
^Price doesn’t factor into the EQD calculation on partners, but it’s listed for reference. AARP discount used on British Airways example.
As you can see, EQD earnings can vary widely depending on the airline and fare class. In the British Airways example — thanks to a sale fare plus the AARP discount — you earn more EQDs than the amount you paid for the ticket, even though the EQD rate is a seemingly-low 5%. For cheap long-haul economy flights on most partners, you’ll end up with the same result.
However, Cathay Pacific is one of the notable exceptions. Discount economy fares on Cathay Pacific don’t earn any EQDs (or award miles), so you’ll probably want to avoid crediting those Cathay Pacific flights to American Airlines. In the example above, a flight from LA to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific costs $834 but earns zero EQDs as it books into a discount economy fare class that has a 0% rate.
The Qatar flight option from Dallas to Amman, Jordan — as posted by The Flight Deal — is an example of these charts working out seemingly as intended. If American Airlines had codeshare flights for this route at the same price, you’d end up with about 737 EQDs after subtracting taxes and government fees. So, the 783 EQDs calculated using the flight miles and 5% EQD rate is in-line with what you would earn on a similar American Airlines flight.
For some variance, I looked into a close-in booking on Japan Airlines. Say you need to fly from New York’s JFK to Tokyo (NRT) in a few weeks. You might consider Japan Airlines’ nonstop from JFK-NRT due to JAL’s excellent on-board economy product. However, current fares are about $2,485 round-trip. Since you’re having to book a more-expensive fare class, American Airlines rewards you by applying a 14% EQD rate — rather than the 6% EQD rate for discount economy on Japan Airlines. This means you’ll get 1,883 EQDs, which is about in-line with the price you’re having to pay.
Premium Economy Flights
All Oneworld carriers with premium economy will earn between 20-22% of flight miles as AAdvantage EQDs. This means you’ll earn more EQDs than you paid for your flight if you can find flights that cost less than 20 cents per flight mile. This is actually a rather good EQD rate when considering premium economy fares on most of these airlines.
Remember that British Airways recently sweetened its AARP discount for “World Traveller Plus” premium economy. Now you can save $200 per person per round-trip by applying the AARP discount. Since AAdvantage EQDs from British Airways flights are based on flight miles, this discount won’t cut into your EQD (or EQM or award miles) earnings. So, it’s a no-brainer.
Business Class Flights
While economy and premium economy rates are rather similar across partners, business-class flights are where we see some divergence. Overall, the EQD range for business is between 14% (Japan Airlines discount fares) and 40% (Finnair full-fare), with most rates between 20-25%.
For most business class rates, this isn’t a great EQD mileage earning rate. However, if you can book one of the incredible flight deals we post, you could earn a lot more EQDs than the price you paid for your flight. Let’s take a look at some examples:
|Airline||British Airways||Cathay Pacific||Japan Airlines|
|To||Venice, Italy||Hong Kong||Tokyo, Japan|
^Price doesn’t factor into the EQD calculation on partners, but it’s listed for reference.
Back in May, there was an incredible flight deal from Houston (IAH) to Venice (VCE) for $1,058 on British Airways. If you booked one of these flights for 2017, here’s your EQD earnings: 11,102 flight miles x 25% rate = 2,776 EQD. That means you’ll end up with nearly 3x the EQD that you’d earn if you were able to book these flights through American Airlines for the same price (which wasn’t possible anyways thanks to the AARP discount).
If you’re in Los Angeles (LAX) and looking to travel to Hong Kong (HKG) in style, Cathay Pacific business class is an excellent — albeit not cheap — choice. Right now, the cheapest nonstop in Cathay Pacific’s business class is about $5,000, but you’ll earn just 3,622 EQDs from this route if you booked with Cathay Pacific flight numbers. Since American Airlines is launching a nonstop on this route in September, AA isn’t selling its codeshares on Cathay Pacific at the same price. So, you’re left with the choice of earning less EQDs while flying on Cathay Pacific or flying on American Airlines flights.
In an even more extreme example, Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner flights from Dallas (DFW) to Tokyo (NRT) are running nearly $6,000 round-trip in business class. But, due to the insufficiently low EQD earning rate, you’d earn just 3,206 EQDs when crediting these flights to American Airlines. So, make sure you’re factoring this into your elite status planning.
First Class Flights
International first class seems to be fading out for many US carriers, but some of American Airlines’ partners are still offering first-class flights. If you’re paying for international first class, you probably don’t have to worry about meeting spending requirements. But, for the sake of completeness, here’s the EQD earnings for first class on AA partner flights.
American Airlines generally will credit 30% of flight miles as EQDs on its partner first-class flights. The only exceptions to this is on Alaska Airlines — which ranges from 20-35% — and Finnair. While Finnair doesn’t have a first-class cabin on its planes, it sells first-class tickets on American Airlines and British Airways. If you find and book a full-fare first class ticket with a Finnair flight number, you’ll earn 60% of flight miles as a credit toward your EQD requirement.
30% is actually a rather low rate when you consider the fares of some first-class flights on AA partners. Cathay Pacific first class nonstop from New York’s JFK to Hong Kong (HKG) seems to be perpetually on sale for $29,225 round-trip. It’s rather sad that you’d only get 4,843 EQDs from this flight.
Impact for Booking Flights
The elite-qualifying dollar requirement adds yet another wrinkle to booking flights. Now, you’ll want to consider EQD earnings for each option, in addition to the award mileage and elite-qualifying mile (EQM) earnings. This gets especially interesting when multiple airlines (i.e. American Airlines, British Airways, Finnair and Iberia) all offer codeshares on the same flights.
Generally, booking with American Airlines flight numbers is going to result in the best elite-qualifying miles and AAdvantage award mileage earnings — especially since American Airlines just devalued award mileage rates on partners. However, when there are excellent flight deals, you may end up with more elite-qualifying dollars by booking partner flight numbers rather than American Airlines’ flight numbers.
You’ll have to figure out which option will work best for your situation. If you’ve got plenty of EQDs through work travel but need EQMs, book that part-mileage run, part-vacation through American Airlines. If you’ve been traveling for cheap and need to boost your EQDs, you might want to forgo the extra EQMs and award miles to meet the spending threshold by booking the flight through a partner.
These new EQD rates make the American Airlines AAdvantage program even more complex. However — unlike the changes American Airlines just made to partner award-mile earnings — at least American Airlines released these EQD rates more than 5 months before they’ll go into effect. So, travelers have a couple of months to comprehend how these rates will impact their elite-status earnings for 2017.
What do you think of AA’s new partner airline EQD rates?
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