Is Something Wrong With American’s Elite Qualifying Miles Calculations?

Sep 22, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week — Mondays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

Airlines have made it extremely complicated to figure out how many redeemable miles, elite miles or elite dollars you’ll earn on any given ticket. But this example from TPG reader Joshua doesn’t seem to make any sense at all…

According to two Itineraries I priced on aa.com, ORD-DFW-EZE round-trip would earn 12,174 EQMs, while ORD-MIA-EZE round-trip would earn 14,006 EQMs. How could this be when ORD to EZE via MIA is over 1,000 miles shorter than going through DFW?

TPG Reader Joshua

Sounds like something’s wrong, doesn’t it? Let’s start by double-checking Joshua’s calculations to make sure they’re correct. Here’s the distance (one-way) between Chicago (ORD) and Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE) when flying through American’s hub in Dallas (DFW)

IMG-ord-dfw-eze-gcmap
Map courtesy of gcmap.com.

6,088 miles multiplied by two because it’s a round-trip equals 12,176, which is close enough to AA’s 12,174 to call it accurate (the distances given by gcmap.com can vary slightly from an airline’s official distances, though they’re usually very similar). But how about the same trip when connecting through Miami (MIA) instead…

IMG-ord-mia-eze-gcmap
Map courtesy of gcmap.com.

Again, we’ll double the 5,603 miles to take the round-trip into account, which gives us 11,206 — just about 1,000 miles shorter. Yet American says this itinerary is somehow worth 14,006 elite qualifying miles (EQMs), which is 2,800 EQMs more than it would appear we should get. Are AA’s computers on the fritz?

Well, AA’s IT certainly isn’t the greatest, but in this case there’s another likely explanation. While we don’t have the exact tickets that Joshua priced on aa.com, we can deduce what’s happening here by taking a quick glance at American’s mileage earning chart…

IMG-aa-eqm-chart-may-2017

It’s those Premium Economy and full-fare Economy lines on the chart showing purchased fares booked in W, P and Y class that clue us in as to what’s going on. Since those fares are more expensive, they earn extra elite miles: 1.5 EQMs instead of just 1 EQM for each mile flown. And if we go back to our maps above, we see that the one-way mileage when going through Miami is 5,603. If you earned 1.5 EQMs in one direction because you purchased a ticket that happened to include a partial W, P or Y fare, that would come out to… an extra 2,801 miles, which is almost exactly the discrepancy Joshua found (the extra mile is again probably due to slight variations between AA and gcmap.com).

If you’re wondering, we also double-checked to see if this mileage discrepancy could have been caused by including a partner flight on the ticket, in which case those partner legs would be credited under AA’s corresponding partner chart. As it happens, on some American itineraries Oneworld partner LATAM operates the flight between Miami and Buenos Aires, and in that case, the ticket would be partially credited under this chart instead of the main American one…

IMG-tam-eqm-aa-chart

However, if LATAM were operating either one or both of the MIA-EZE legs in premium economy or business class, the math wouldn’t match up with what Joshua reported, as the numbers would be off either by roughly 2,200 EQMs (if he was on LATAM in only one direction) or 4,603 EQMs if it were both. We know for certain that LATAM doesn’t operate the flights between ORD and MIA, and other permutations of mixed fare classes — such as basic economy on one leg and business on another — don’t add up to 2,800 EQMs, so the original explanation is the likely winner.

As you can see, Joshua, elite mileage accrual calculations can be complex, but this should give you some ideas of what to look for when checking itineraries in the future. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, send us a message on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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