How I Earned Points and Miles Worth $538 on a $581 Trip
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
In late October, AAVacations launched a promotion offering 20,000 bonus miles for travel packages to Asia and the South Pacific booked by Dec. 26. These bonus miles alone are worth $280 based on TPG's latest valuations — but I was able to get much more value from a recent AAVacations package I booked during this promotion. In total, I earned points and miles worth $538. My total out-of-pocket cost? $581. In this article I'll spell out exactly how I did it.
The 20,000 bonus miles alone make booking an AAVacations package a smart choice if you're going to book a round-trip vacation to Asia or the South Pacific before the end of the year. However, AAVacations packages that show an asterisk next to the fare code during booking code as special fares. This means that you'll earn elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs) based on the flight distance and not on the price you paid. Until AA guts special fare earnings in 2019, you'll want to book special fares when the cost per mile is less than 10 cents. In my case, I booked a round-trip covering 13,176 miles for just $581 — a cost of just 4.4 cents per mile.
Let's start with the basic award miles. I earned 7,250 redeemable miles on my flights from San Francisco (SFO) to Beijing (PEK) via Los Angeles (LAX), and I took home 7,705 award miles on my flights from PEK back to SFO via LAX. I earned more award miles on my return because my LAX to SFO segment booked into a higher-earning fare class. These award miles are worth $209 based on TPG's latest valuations. I also earned 1,000 base miles for booking an AAVacations package and 20,000 bonus miles for booking an AAVacations package to Asia. So in total, I earned $503 worth of AAdvantage miles on a package that cost me $581.
Granted, I earned 120% bonus miles for being an Executive Platinum elite with American Airlines. But even if I didn't have any status with American Airlines, I still would've earned 21,000 miles from booking through AAVacations and 6,758 award miles. These 27,758 miles are valued at $389 using TPG's latest valuations.
Credit Card Points
My flights and two nights of hotel cost $581 through AAVacations using the 10% discount on the non-flight portion of the package given to Citi cardholders when they start their search on this page. Although the discount is for Citi cardholders, I was still able to use my Chase Sapphire Reserve to get the card's excellent trip delay protection. This gave me 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent, so in total I earned 1,743 Chase Ultimate Rewards points — which are worth $35 based on TPG's latest valuations — on the $581 purchase.
Elite Qualifying Dollars
While this isn't actually an "earning" component, a package like this can also help with elite status qualification. The already lucrative 20,000 bonus miles promotion for travel packages to Asia and the South Pacific make for an excellent year-end mileage run if you're able to book inexpensive special fares. As can be seen above, I earned 1,371 EQDs from a flights and hotel package that cost less than half of that "spend."
AA Business Extra Points
AA's Business Extra program gives 1 point per $5 spent on flights operated by American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia. Since I received 1,371 of EQDs for my flights, I'll earn 274 points through the Business Extra program for these flights. TPG doesn't include AA Business Extra points in his valuations though, so I won't assume any value for these points. However, these could be used for a variety of rewards once I accumulate enough points, including an Admirals Club day pass (300 points) or a one-segment upgrade within North America (650 points).
A Word of Caution
If you're excitedly preparing to book mileage runs for 2019 using the 20,000 bonus points promotion and AAVacation's special fares, a word of advice: hold up. Last month, we got bad news that AA is slashing special fares earnings starting in 2019, meaning that award miles and EQDs won't be nearly as lucrative when booking through a portal or AA Vacations for flights departing in January and onward. Specifically, the cheapest special fares (booking codes Q, O and B) will earn just 5% of flight miles as EQDs and 25% of flight miles as award miles. Both of these rates are half of the current earnings.
So, if you want to take advantage of special fares and the 20,000 bonus miles for AAVacations packages to Asia and the South Pacific, make sure to book by Dec. 26 and complete your travel by Dec. 31. Note that the 20,000 bonus miles are only given to the primary traveler on AAVacations packages, so if you're traveling in a group you'll want to book each traveler separately — which may result in some unused hotel rooms — so that each person gets the bonus miles.