Top tier AA status secured. Now what?

Usually when I start writing a post I have at least a rough outline in my mind.  Not this time.  This post is me “thinking aloud” on my laptop keyboard…

Recently I completed my “30,000 miles to nowhere” quest.  I signed up for the US Airways Preferred Trial (no longer available) and completed 30,000 miles of flying within 90 days in order to secure top tier status with US Airways in 2015.  The goal, though, wasn’t really to get top tier US Airways status, but rather to get top tier American Airlines Executive Platinum status.  Thanks to the impending merger between the two airlines, those with US Airways’ top tier Chairman Preferred status will be automatically granted top tier AA status in the second quarter of this year (i.e. sometime between April 1 and June 30).  You can read more about my mileage running for status experiences here: 30,000 miles to nowhere: Mission accomplished.

I could justify what I did rationally and explain how top tier status results in a bunch of valuable international upgrade certificates, free award changes and cancellations, free regional upgrades, expanded award availability, etc. (more here).  The truth is, though, I did it for fun.  It was like climbing a mountain.  It was there.  And, it was fun… much more so than I expected. 

So, back to the original question… Now what?  More specifically:

  1. Will I make good use of my 2015 elite benefits?
  2. Will I seek AA elite status for 2016?

How much value will I get from top tier status in 2015?

When I signed up for the US Airways Preferred Trial, I paid $400 extra to get high level Platinum status instead of Silver status for duration of the Trial.  I was happy I did.  I was automatically upgraded on almost every US Airways flight.  Most of these flights were around four hours long and included full meals in first class.  That made a huge difference in my flying comfort. 

Now, though, I wonder how much I’ll fly US Airways and American Airlines for the rest of the year?  Clearly, the more I fly them, the more value I’ll get from status.  I do travel quite a bit within the US, but since my closest airport is DTW (Detroit) and it is a Delta hub, I tend to fly Delta more than any other airline.  When possible, I always prefer nonstop flights over connections, and more often than not, that means Delta.  With AA / US Airways top tier status, though, maybe I’ll make an exception?

I also wonder if I’ll make good use of the system wide upgrade certificates.  US Airways offers 2 one-way international upgrade certificates each of which can be used to upgrade yourself and up to one companion.  So, its possible to use those certificates for a round trip flight for two.  AA offers 8 one-way international upgrade certificates, but does not include free companion upgrades.  So, the AA certificates can be used for four individual round trips, or two round trips with a companion.  Both types of certificates require flying on the carrier’s own metal.  US Airways upgrades are good only for US Airways flights and AA upgrades are good only for AA flights.  As the companies progress with the merger they’ll have to change that and allow upgrades on all AA / US Airways flights, but I don’t know when that will happen.  My wife and I have one international trip planned and, since it is a business trip for her, her economy flight will be reimbursed.  If upgrade space is available, we’ll almost certainly use the US Airways upgrades for that trip.  Beyond that, I have no idea to what extent I’ll use the rest of the upgrades.  After all, I have plenty of airline miles, so I can always book business or first class flights from the get-go. 

Ultimately, I think that the answer to the next question (will I seek status for 2016?) will determine how much I use the remaining certificates…

Will I seek AA elite status for 2016?

The top tier status I secured through the US Airways Preferred Trial will last through the end of February 2016.  In the meantime, if I want to keep status beyond that date, I’ll have to earn elite qualifying miles, points, or segments as follows:

AA_elite_requirements3

Elite qualifying miles and segments earned on AA and US Airways in 2015 will add together.  I’ve already earned 28,000 EQMs (elite qualifying miles) this year, so I know I’ll qualify for AAdvantage Gold status.  The benefits of that status are slight, though (found here).  Platinum status benefits are better, but only Executive Platinum status offers systemwide upgrades, expanded award seat availability, free award changes and cancellations, etc. 

It should be possible to earn up to 20,000 EQMs through spend alone.  I have a Citi AA Executive card which grants 10,000 EQMs with $40,000 calendar year spend.  All I would have to do is spend that much before my annual fee comes due about mid-year (since I don’t plan to renew).  Then there’s the BarclayCard US Airways card.  At some point this year, cardholder accounts will be converted to a BarclayCard AAdvantage Aviator card.  And, there will be two versions of this card: Red and Silver.  Most people will get the Red card, but some will be offered an upgrade to the Silver card.  The Silver card, like the Citi AA Executive card will offer EQMs for high spend: 5,000 EQMs at $20,000 spend and another 5,000 EQMs at $40,000 spend.  So, yeah… If I get the Red card and I spend $80,000 across the Citi and Barclay cards, I should get 20,000 EQMs from spend alone.  That will get me within a hair of Platinum status, but what about the remaining 50,000 EQMs needed for Executive Platinum?

Even if I earn 20,000 EQMs through credit card spend, I would need to earn 52,000 butt-in-seat miles to reach Executive Platinum status for 2016.  That’s crazy right?  Why would I even think about doing this if I don’t even know that I’ll get much value from the status?!! 

The answer is that the two questions are inexorably linked.  If I get good value from the upgrade certificates that will mean that I will have flown long distance flights in which I applied those certificates.  Suppose, for example, that I fly round trip to London, Hong Kong, and Santiago Chile on US Airways and AA.  I would buy economy fares and use upgrade certificates to (hopefully) fly business class.  My routes might look something like this (via Great Circle Mapper):

AA_ExecPlat_Quest 

The above routes would earn approximately 38,000 EQMs.  If I were to direct my usual domestic flying towards AA / US Airways for the rest of the year as well, I should be able to reach Executive Platinum status fairly easily.

Miles vs Points

To play devils advocate against myself (no offense to Julian)… this is ridiculous.  I have tons of airline miles to spend and I should spend them before they devalue!  So, if I want to fly international business or first class, I should simply book those flights as awards and be done with it.  Plus, chasing status has become a fools game in which airlines offer fewer and fewer perks while steadily increasing elite status requirements.  It’s crazy to jump on that treadmill!

On the other hand, I also have tons of Citi ThankYou points.  And, since I have the Citi Prestige card, I can use those points for 1.6 cents each towards paid AA / US Airways flights.  So, I could use ThankYou points to buy economy tickets and apply systemwide upgrade certificates to fly business class.  With that approach, I’ll earn both EQMs and redeemable miles for those flights.  It’s a win-win-win option, right?  Not really.  I don’t expect to see ThankYou points devaluing anytime soon.  AA miles, though, are ripe for devaluation.  Once AA has settled down from disruptions caused by the merger, I expect they’ll look to fine tune their award chart.  So, we should be burning AA miles rather than earning them!

The thrill of the hunt

Rationally, I shouldn’t do this.  I should be burning AA miles rather than earning them.  There are many good arguments against it and few for it.  But… the same was true for the US Airways Preferred Trial.  And, I’m glad I did it.  Never mind the benefits of elite status… I had a great time mileage running.  So, why not? 

Reader feedback

I’m looking forward to hearing (reading) what readers think.  Should I go for 2016 Executive Platinum status?  Why or why not?  How about you: are you in a similar situation?  What do you plan to do?  Please comment below.

 

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Rationally, I don’t think you should do it. But I’d have a hard time turning it down if it were me. It just seems like one year of exec plat is so short. How will you know if you really want to keep it until it’s kind of too late to earn all the miles. If you do decide to go for it, think about what made mileage running for this preferred trial fun, and try to replicate that as much as possible. It seems like part of what was fun was so many other people mileage running as well. I don’t know if that would happen in this case, since it’s much less focussed. I’m sure you’d be able to think of ways to make the mileage running fun (like meeting up with readers? doing “vacation runs” ala mommypoints?).
    For myself, I’m 10 tier points away from BA bronze status (their lowest tier) because of a cheap business class flight we took to Europe over the holidays. I’ve decided against trying to get those last few points, because I just don’t think I’d get much benefit from it. And I didn’t realize until very late that I would be anywhere near even entry level status. The only thing I’d appreciate is being able to choose seats earlier than non-status holders. But, every time we’ve flown with them as a family, they’ve done a great job of making sure we are all together anyway. So, it’s not really much of a benefit (if I’m honest) unless I want to get picky about which seats we have in the business class cabin, instead of just being happy with us being seated together.
    It does sound like fun, though. Getting on a flight just to do it.

  2. I think you should include in your analysis, as far as how much you have to fly in order to be worth it.

    First:
    You should use your miles that you earn “free” with your credit card sign-ups.
    Second:
    You should be able to use the any extra miles that you can easily make with MF.
    Third:
    If you for 100K, then you should be able to plan to burn the miles you earn with butt in seat.
    Finally:
    Then and only then, you should be able to justify flying ~100K or ~50K butt in seat.

    I respect that you are saying that you do it for fun. You really have to like and do a lot of flying to make this worth it.

  3. I am in a (sorta) similar situation inasmuch as I am deciding whether to even finish the challenge, which requires significant BIS miles I’d otherwise not fly.

    I have already received big ROI with over $700 saved by signing up for the silver trial, and that is actual $ I would have had to otherwise lay out. No “paper savings” there.

    I am WELL short of CP/EP, I need roughly 24,400 miles (would prefer 25,000 to be safe) but here’s the kicker. I need to be done traveling by March 1. That’s right, 12 days from right now. Worse, I have no MR’s booked and haven’t found much that fits the bill.

    I do have extensive travel in after the trial ends in March and from June to EOY2015. It would be great to have top tier, but at the same time If I simply let this deal go I am a free agent, so to speak.

    From a pure dollars-to-benefits perspective, I should probably do it, but the thought of 25k BIS in 7-10 days kinda stinks.

    A) Any thoughts suggestions on good MR’s that get me to “nowhere”?
    B) Is there a better way to get where I want to go (e.g., top tier status)?

    Thanks for all the comments, & help!

  4. What are your other options? What are your other airline status levels, and are *they* worth preserving? Can you burn your miles on flights you *want* to take?

    There comes a time when you *have* to use your loyalty currencies. Use them in ways that make you happy or, even better, make others happy. Take one or more loved ones on a memory-making trip…or send them off on their own if you can’t join them! Perhaps making those paid trips for status will let you build up enough of a balance to take everyone at once on awards…

  5. I’m in the middle of doing exactly that. Here is why I’m doing it:
    1) The miles flown during the trial for US also count towards AA (nice head start!)
    2) I was able to snag tickets to HKG from YYZ for $540 (around $0.03 per mile)
    3) This may be the last year you can earn AA status based only on miles. Granted, if they add a revenue requirement they might waive it based on CC spend but we are not 100% sure.
    4) I’ll be earning double RDMs. Basically after flying 100k miles I’ll get 200k redeemable miles.
    5) My total cost will be between $3,000 and $3,500. That will give me 2 years of Exec Plat, 2 + 8 + 8 SWU upgrades (18 total), unlimited upgrades in domestic trips, all fees waived (useful for me and my family when they travel with me), and some other perks like lounge access, free bag ,etc.
    6) I love to fly so I don’t mind going to airports and sitting on planes 🙂

    Do it!
    Cheers,
    Angel

    • @Angel – I generally feel the way you do about the whole thing. However, I think the 3cpm or even 4cpm deals are gone for my time frame.

      @Tracy S. – No other airline status right now. These 25k BIS miles are the only miles I don’t “want” to fly, I can easily burn miles on many trips I have planned later in the year.

  6. Same conundrum for me. Miles rich, yet tempted by the freebies that come with status. You will indeed find yourself taking a connecting flight on AA rather than the nonstop on Delta, or paying $50+ more for similar connecting flights.

    Ironical for me, because after years of paying a bit extra (in multiple currencies – time, money, RJ rather than jet) to stay Platinum on United I decided to take the Milenomics advice to “be your own elite.” However, right at the end of the year a planned trip overseas fit in perfectly with an AA platinum challenge … and I bit. So now I have status to defend on American and I can’t say it doesn’t become a consideration in looking at every single future itinerary.

    Part of me wishes I had gone cold turkey on status. The other part recognizes that there is some value, particularly in seat selection or IRROPs. But yes, complicating this is the sense that this is the year to be BURNING AA miles, not accumulating even more, and I don’t fly enough to do both.

  7. AA out of DTW is awesome if you actually fly a lot of revenue flights. I’ve not once come close to missing an upgrade as EXP, ever, out of DTW as an EXP since 2009.

    That being said AA miles aren’t worth what they used to be. Award availability isn’t any better than Delta these days, and good luck trying to get premium flights on many partners (LAN, Qantas, etc). EVIPs rarely clear in advance and often not at all on many longhaul flights. Yeah you get 8 but that just means the competition is fierce.

    I just finished my 30K to nowhere though. Too good of a deal to pass up especially considering I want EXP to have an award fee waiver on the many award trips I plan to book and modify as the year goes on. Burn!!!!!!

  8. Just wanted to say a big thank you for that post about signing up for the Trial Preferred before it closed down. I will be a Chairman’s Preferred by Sunday (going on a recreational trip this weekend that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise but am only 3,000 miles short of 30K EQM). The big question for me is whether my wife and I should to try to requalify for 2016. By the end of March, my wife and I will be just shy of 50K EQM.. We have two more planned trips for the remainder of the year which will bring us to roughly 75K EQM for 2015.

    It seems really tempting to mileage run/ credit card spend for the remaining 25K EQM but not sure if it is worth it without planned trips (especially if it takes away from vacation time) given the guaranteed Platinum status for 2015.. I think it really depends on how frequently we get upgraded with the SWU, particularly on the longhaul international flights where I think most (?) of the value of being a EXP comes from.. We are starting to build up a good reserve of RDM which we would otherwise consider using, but given that you can’t use them and earn EQM on a flight they are not worthwhile right now (unless we use it to upgrade which I find that AA prices to a ridiculous number of miles).. Right now I would say we would lean towards mileage running the remainder as the cost for 25K EQM would probably be around $1500-2000 or so? And if we are getting upgrades on the longhauls, then it definitely would be worth that amount for our flying in 2016.

    Interested to know if anyone else is in our situation where they would be 20-40K short of 100K and would mileage run the remainder for the SWU.. regardless thus far it has been nice to be upgraded on the domestic flights pretty consistently (although US Airways first class domestic has been OK thus far, probably worth $25 per flight).

      • Leaning towards mileage running the final 20K or planning some trips I wouldn’t have otherwise taken. I think another full year of top status would be pretty nice to have. Also it allows me to try a status match in late 2016/ early 2017 to a different airline program in the case I find Executive Platinum status not worthwhile (i.e. many SWU requests not clearing)..

  9. Hi Greg,

    It was great meeting you on the LAS-PHL runs!

    In response to your question about whether doing the remaining 70K EQM this year is worthwhile, I would say yes, if you view it as mini-vacation trips for almost no cost after you factor in the value of the miles & perks earned. You can buy cheap transatlantic or transpacific fares for a 2-3 day trip, and upgrade to business class (just be sure to choose the dates wisely and purchase a few months in advance). While I can’t routinely justify using >100K miles for a 2-3 day trip with no specific purpose, spending ~$5-900 for a ticket and earning 20-40K miles, plus getting a few days in a fun city, is definitely worthwhile.

    I think AA miles will be worth at least 1 cpm in the future no matter what. Plus, when the devaluation gets announced, you should have EXP status and thus will be able to book multiple speculative CX or JL F awards for use in the subsequent 12 months, and even if you only fly say one set of awards, that is ~270K miles for a pair of round-trip tickets so you’d want a healthy AA mileage balance 🙂

    BTW, I think this will be the final year (or almost the final year) people will be able to do this – AA is certainly going to devalue their program either in 2016 or 2017. But the program will remain generous for the next year or two while the merger issues are being worked through, and this is the time to take advantage of that for really great travel values.

  10. I second the emotion! I decided to do the 30KTN and have 13K so far with a LGA-DFW-HKG rt coming up March 9-12.

    I have been a WN flyer and never experienced first class, if you don’t count WN’s exit row seat with the leg room 🙂 On one of my legs from the last MR I was upgraded to First. Others might be used to this but you can’t tell me that boarding early, having the FA introduce herself and offer you a beverage, bring you a bowl of warm, mixed nuts (great with my Sam Adams in a real glass), give you a warm, moist towel and then provide a meal, warm cookie and more drinks isn’t worth it! Heck, I would have paid at least $20 for food and one drink in the aiport!

    Plus, I am surprising my family by burning some upgrades for an award trip I booked to London this July. Priceless! (alright, there is a price, but I think it balances out).

    My experience is that there is always 2-3 really good mistake fares or MR discoveries each year which I will be able to take advantage of to continue my status in the future. And if I can get Lifetime status? That will be super awesome when the kids are done college and the wife and I just want to travel.

    Plus, I love to fly! I know it’s not for everyone but I just like everything about flying. I’m not forced to do it (I travel for business but make my own schedule) and even when things go wrong they aren’t too bad.

    I always appreciate your careful analysis of each travel situation but in this case I’ve thrown common sense and rational judgement to the wind and decided to go for it. And I’m so glad I did!

  11. LOL, look what just arrived in my email (I signed up on December 12th):

    “Congratulations on becoming Dividend Miles Silver Preferred status, and thank you for participating in our Trial Preferred program. This is a very special place, and we’ve made sure the rewards you will enjoy reflect that.”

    No time like the present!

  12. One note – you could still use AA miles usefully in combination with TYP. Use TYP to book a revenue ticket, then use AA miles+copay to upgrade the ticket to J/F. This requires the same fare bucket (A/C) to be open as EXP’s SWU. Sure, SWU are “free” to use, but in some cases it’s nice to burn down miles, especially on multi-segment trips.

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