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We’re in the second half of the year, and that means one thing: the deadline for airline elite status qualification is quickly approaching. With limited time to qualify or requalify, it’s time to check your balances and take a few simple steps if you’re coming up short.
Today, I’ll offer up some last-minute earning ideas, and even suggest routes for a mileage run or two if you need a few final flights to finish out your year.
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.
- What is American Airlines Elite Status Worth in 2017?
- American AAdvantage Changes in 2016
- Is Elite Status Worth Being Loyal to a Single Airline?
- Strategies for Meeting Your Elite Status Goals in 2016
- Is it Easier to Earn Airline Elite Status With Miles or Segments?
- When Does Elite Status Reset and How Long Does it Last?
- 7 Points and Miles Tasks to Complete by the End of 2016
- Is the Mileage Run Dead?
- Earning Elite and Award Miles on American, Delta and United
American Airlines AAdvantage
American’s AAdvantage program has undergone huge changes in recent years, including a switchover to a revenue-based earning system, an award chart devaluation and the addition of a fourth elite status tier called Platinum Pro.
For details on American’s elite status program, check out this page. I’m not going to do an exhaustive review of the benefits of the program here, just a reminder of qualification requirements, perks and some strategies for earning the last-minute elite-qualifying miles or segments you need to achieve your status goals.
Tier Qualification and Benefits
One of the major changes to the AAdvantage program was the addition of a fourth mid-level elite tier called Platinum Pro, bringing the AAdvantage program into alignment with the elite programs of Delta and United.
Gold: This status level requires 25,000 elite-qualifying miles or 30 elite-qualifying segments plus $3,000 in EQDs (elite-qualifying dollars).
Here are the benefits:
- Earn 7 award miles per dollar spent on airfare (a 40% bonus)
- Unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades for flights of 500 miles or less
- 500-mile upgrades
- 24-hour upgrade window
- 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
Platinum: Platinum status requires flying 50,000 elite-qualifying miles or 60 segments plus spending $6,000 in EQDs.
- Earn 8 miles per dollar spent on airfare (a 60% bonus)
- 48-hour upgrade window
- Complimentary Main Cabin Extra and preferred seats
- Priority baggage handling
- Two free checked bags
- Oneworld lounge access
Platinum Pro: Platinum Pro status requires flying 75,000 elite-qualifying miles or 90 segments plus spending $9,000 in EQDs.
- Earn 9 miles per dollar spent on airfare (an 80% bonus)
- Unlimited complimentary upgrades
- 72-hour upgrade window
Executive Platinum: Executive Platinum status requires 100,000 elite-qualifying miles or 120 segments plus spending $12,000 in EQDs.
- Earn 11 miles per dollar spent on airfare (a 120% bonus)
- Unlimited complimentary upgrades
- 100-hour upgrade window
- Four systemwide upgrades
- Free same-day change on American-operated flights
- Complimentary snacks and beverages in the main cabin
- Three free checked bags
- Waived award reinstatement fees
American did away with its point system and simplified qualification so you just need to earn elite miles or segments, with the number of miles you earn based on the fare code of the ticket you purchase.
Also note that, although you earn award miles based on the money you spend on airfare and your elite status, you earn elite-qualifying miles based on the distance you fly and the fare class of your ticket. Also, you’ll need to take American’s recently added spending requirements into account when going for elite status.
Now, on to the interesting stuff…
Last-Minute Earning Strategies
Though time is limited, if you find 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. Unfortunately, American seems to have added this text to its policies on confirmed same-day flight change fees: “You cannot change your itinerary to a city with multiple airports or to a different connecting city.” So the time-tested (and time-consuming) method of re-routing to maximize mileage earning is no longer viable. However, there are still plenty of other ways to max out your earning before the end of the year.
Credit Card Spending
One great thing about the AAdvantage program is that some associated credit cards allow cardholders to earn elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) and elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs) just through spending — though it takes a lot of spending!
The first option 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. As of 2017, the qualification period for earning EQMs through this card is based on eligible purchases that post to your account during a calendar year, from January 1 to December 31.
You also have the opportunity to earn EQMs with Barclaycard’s AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard. For every $20,000 in purchases you make annually, you can earn 5,000 EQMs, up to 10,000 per year. Now, that’s a lot of spending, but if purchasing power like that is in your wheelhouse, it’s something to consider — especially if those 20,000 EQMs combined from both cards could help boost you to top-tier status. Plus, with the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red, Aviator Blue and Aviator Mastercards (in addition to the Aviator Silver), you can earn $3,000 in EQDs after spending $25,000 in a year. With the Aviator Silver, you can earn an additional $3,000 in EQDs after spending a total of $50,000, so if you put $40,000 on that card in a year you’d walk away with 10,000 EQMs and $6,000 in EQDs.
Especially if you’re booking cheap long-haul economy flights, it could be worth looking into American’s Special Fares chart to see if it can help you come out ahead with EQDs. With this system, you’ll earn a set number of EQMs and EQDs (and award miles) based on the distance of your flight and the fare class of your ticket — often, you’ll get significantly more EQMs and EQDs than you would with the standard chart. For example, this flight deal below would earn a whopping 1,993 EQDs:
When you book through travel portals such as the Citi ThankYou Travel Center and Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel as well as when you book through American Airlines Vacations and via a few other avenues, your flight should post as a Special Fare flight rather than a flight that uses AA’s standard earning chart.
See JT Genter’s post on Special Fares for more information on how your earnings are determined according to this chart and to decide if you’ll come out ahead by booking a Special Fare or a standard fare.
Buy an Elite Boost
For the past few years, American Airlines has offered elite customers who did not requalify for their status tier the chance to buy a “boost” back up to their current status.
If you think you might be targeted, keep an eye on your email, or log in to the AA elite renewal page to see what your offer is. I wouldn’t rush into buying anything, and if you fly more before the end of the year, maybe you’ll get a different (better) one. In late 2016, I personally received an offer to “extend” my Gold status for another year for $599, which I didn’t find very tempting.
A status match or challenge can also be a great shortcut to bypass the normal requirements if you know you’re not going to make it the usual way. Although American typically doesn’t offer outright matches, it does offer a consistent method of status challenges, and note that you’ll still have to do a fair amount of flying. There are occasional partner offers to take advantage of as well.
Here are the two current challenge options:
- Gold: Earn 7,000 EQMs/8 segments plus $1,000 in EQDs in 90 days; $140 fee
- Platinum: Earn 12,500 EQMs/16 segments plus $2,000 in EQDs in 90 days; $200 fee
Only flights marketed and operated by AA, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines or Qantas will count toward status earned through a challenge. You also don’t enjoy status right away; you’ll need to meet the requirements of your selected tier before you can take advantage of elite benefits.
To register, call American at 888-697-5636. Just note that you can’t participate in a challenge if you currently hold status with the airline.
Also note that, if you have FoundersCard, you can enroll in a free American Airlines Platinum status challenge. By doing so, you’ll enjoy Platinum status for three months (through December 17, 2017), and you can extend it through January 31, 2019 if you enroll in the AA Business Extra program and earn $2,000 EQDs and 12,500 EQMs (or 16 EQSs) by December 17.
Like several other airlines, American has a program specifically for businesses called Business Extra. It’s completely separate and distinct from the AAdvantage program, which is 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 confer Gold status on employees for 3,200 points. To put that in perspective, a company would have to spend $16,000 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 corporation that participates in the program, there might be a Gold status out there just waiting to be requested. It never hurts to ask!
Mileage Run Scenarios
As you can see, there are a few options to rack up last-minute miles or just plain buy back your status, but your best option might still be to fly. While you earn award miles based on spending, remember, you still earn EQMs based on flight distance and fare class, so you can rack up a ton of EQMs, if not award miles, even on cheap airfares.
If you’re traveling on an AA partner airline, be sure to check out this post on how you’ll earn EQMs. This is especially worth looking into if your last-minute involves booking cheap fares with Oneworld airlines; with the changes to the AAdvantage program, you’ll be awarded EQMs at a rate of 50% of the miles flown for discount economy tickets, which in some cases is an improvement over the previous EQM-earning scheme.
Be sure to check the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk for cheap fare news and ideas. In the meantime, here are a couple options that should give you an idea of what to look for.
1,000 miles short: It’s sad, but some people miss out on elite status by as little as a 1,000 miles (or even less!). The good news is that it’s easy to avoid this pitfall, especially if you already have elite status, because American guarantees elites at least 500 miles per flight, even if the distance is under 500 miles.
East Coast elites can spend a morning and just $123 flying back and forth between New York and Boston to earn 1,000 EQMs.
Those who need to fly an actual 1,000 EQMs could fly between the airline’s hubs in Dallas and Chicago for a mere $77 and earn 1,604 EQMs.
5,000 miles short: Need to earn a few more miles? Look for a quick turnaround from coast to coast like this cheap one-day Los Angeles-Miami round-trip that’s going for just $274 and would earn you 4,684 EQMs.
10,000 miles short: As you can see, you could make the case for making a lot of quick hops to score a large haul of miles. But if you’d prefer a single long-haul, there are also great options.
I’d suggest looking for flights either from either coast to Asia, especially China if you have a visa, because there are tons of cheap airfares available, including this round-trip from Los Angeles to Shanghai for just $597 that would net you 12,970 EQMs.
Or you could fly from New York to Jakarta via Los Angeles and Tokyo on American and JAL (which earns full AAdvantage elite-qualifying mileage because it’s an AA-marketed and ticketed flight).
This would cost $777 and earn you 23,080 EQMs.
If you qualify based on flight segments, the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk is the best place to get ideas, even if the entries are a bit of a hodgepodge.
From there, you can use Google Flights’ 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 New York as the starting/end point with legs through Charlotte, Atlanta and Detroit.
The total came to $375.20 and six segments in a single day.
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 American AAdvantage strategies of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 75,000 miles are worth $1,050. In addition, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) toward elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. As of July 23, 2017 this is the only card that offers Admirals Club lounge access so if you are an AA flyer this card might make sense for you. Aside from lounge access the primary cardholder will receive a Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years, first checked bag free for up to 8 travel companions on domestic itineraries and a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights.
- Limited time offer: Earn 75,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $7,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
- Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you*
- Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
- Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year*
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases*
- First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation*