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:
- Will I make good use of my 2015 elite benefits?
- 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:
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):
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?
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.