Not that it is such a big surprise, but I revealed in my year-end review yesterday that I requested and received a status trial as an Executive Platinum member with American Airlines AAdvantage. I didn’t have my hopes high because I already received an outright status match in 2012. American doesn’t normally offer any kind of match to EXP, so why would they offer it to me a second time?
For whatever reason, they did. And if you plan to request one yourself I suggest being honest and understanding. I pointed out that I appreciated their first effort, didn’t find it worthwhile at the time, but was reconsidering. I said I was willing to complete an accelerated trial to earn the status if they wouldn’t award it up front. And I said I was willing to do without the 8 eVIP systemwide upgrades. It probably also helped that I already had a couple tickets booked with them for late February.
My offer was that I would receive Executive Platinum status up front, but no systemwide upgrades until I completed the trial. The trial status would last less than three months, until my return from that trip already booked. And to keep my status beyond the trial, I had to earn 25,000 Elite Qualifying Points.
Oh, and I have to fly on American Airlines or a few select partners. Alaska Airlines won’t count. This is a problem for someone living in Seattle.
Elite Qualifying Miles vs. Elite Qualifying Points
Most airlines keep two tallies of your frequent flyer miles. The first are redeemable or award miles — the sort you actually use to book trips. You may earn them from flying or from credit card spend or from any number of other sources. The second are elite qualifying miles. These are the ones that determine your elite status (which may in turn offer a bonus multiplier for earning redeemable miles faster). EQMs are almost always based on the distance you fly.
A few exceptions exist to earn EQMs faster. Elite members usually get a 500-mile minimum even for the shortest trips. And full-price economy class fares and business and first class fares usually get a 25% or 50% bonus. But I don’t worry about these bonuses because I so rarely pay for more expensive tickets; I can earn EQMs more affordably by flying more often on cheaper fares.
American Airlines is different from most other carriers in that it does not award bonus EQMs for expensive fares. Instead it keeps a third tally: Elite Qualifying Points. Every fare class earns the same 1 EQM per mile flown, but the cheapest will earn just 0.5 EQP while the most expensive earn 1.5 EQP. Others are in the middle.
The takeaway message is that when an elite status trial or challenge requires earning a certain number of EQPs, it is very difficult to do so on the cheap. The least expensive fares will probably earn only 0.5 EQPs per mile, so my 25,000 EQP goal would require 50,000 miles of travel in roughly two months’ time.
What Am I Going to Earn Anyway?
Before planning any kind of mileage run, I decided to figure out what I was already going to earn. I knew I had a trip to Austin to book. Megan and I were thinking of visiting Chicago. And I had a trip to St. Thomas that was already booked. Austin is 3,540 miles round trip, and though that’s the non-stop option on Alaska (not eligible) I could pay a couple dollars more to route through DFW on American. Chicago is 3,442 miles, but I don’t want to assume I ‘m going to book that. Also, since I would probably book discounted fares, these two trips would still earn roughly 3,500 EQPs total.
Fortunately that trip to St. Thomas is an L fare that earns 1 EQP per mile, and omitting one flight on Alaska Airlines, I will earn a total of 7,280 EQP. I think this is the only number that’s safe to rely on right now. Plus, almost any trip that would earn 15,000 EQP could probably be modified to earn 18,000 EQP.
My goal, then was to find a way to earn 17,720 EQPs as easily and quickly as possible.
Planning the Status Run
Amol suggested a few ideas like booking a World Traveler Plus fare to London on British Airways. I’d previously considered some very cheap first class fares to Managua, which were no longer for sale. Eventually I settled on another of Amol’s ideas: fly business or first class between Honolulu and San Juan. You’d think it would be more expensive given that both are tropical destinations in the middle of winter, but air travel is typically priced based on the demand between city pairs. These people are already living in paradise and don’t need to visit another one.
I found a reasonably cheap fare of $1,500 that booked in business and first class — a distance of 13,257 miles and almost 20,000 EQPs with the 50% fare bonus. Plus I was able to route through LAX and JFK to travel on the new Airbus A321T and earn 15,000 bonus AAdvantage miles. It’s still not the best mileage run in the world, but it will be convenient, comfortable, and give me a week of flitting between beaches.
The most annoying part was finding my way to Honolulu to start this trip. Fares on Alaska and American were relatively high, and Delta wanted to route me through Salt Lake City (I could always credit Delta to Alaska’s Mileage Plan). I ended up booking United via San Francisco, which was the cheapest option, and redeeming a compensation voucher to cover most of the ticket.
I’ve already confirmed my upgrades on all four segments using two of my regional upgrades as a Premier 1K member. Now, I plan to change the frequent flyer number on the reservation to US Airways with the hope that at the end of the year I’ll earn another 6,154 miles toward American’s Executive Platinum status. But this is mostly a guess that there will be some kind of dual earning program during 2014; one hasn’t yet been announced.
It will be my most luxurious mileage run yet, speaking as someone who usually flies to Indianapolis or Kansas City in the middle of winter and hopes for a complimentary upgrade. But altogether, the positioning flight to Honolulu, the Honolulu-San Juan status run, the trip to St. Thomas, and still-to-be-booked trips to Austin and Chicago will earn almost 35,000 elite qualifying miles in the first two months of 2014 — well on my way to 100,000 EQMs needed to keep my Executive Platinum status in 2015.
Yes, even though I’m completing the trial by earning EQPs I still plan to earn my status for the rest of the year through traditional EQMs. I just can’t justify paying the premium for expensive fares all year round. But I’m lucky that in this instance most of the pieces fell into place.