How I screwed up my end of year AA mileage run

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AA mileage run progress to Executive Platinum

Flight deals, especially the really great ones, rarely last long.  Once a great deal is publicized, it’s a race against the clock to find and book the deal before its too late.  Often, I miss these deals because I’m not at my computer at the time, or I find out about it too late, or the deal simply doesn’t work for me.  When I do catch the wave of one of these deals, it’s exciting.  My heart beats faster as I rush to capitalize.  Unfortunately, as adrenaline surges, logical thinking declines.

Early in the year, when AA mistakenly offered a business class round trip fare to Beijing for only $465, I jumped on the deal.  By the time I learned about it, some blogs had already declared the deal dead, but I found a few dates still available.  The harder part was finding dates where I was also available to travel.  That didn’t leave many options, but I found one.  It was a very short trip: I would arrive in Beijing on Wednesday and depart on Friday, but I booked it anyway.  My adrenaline clouded thinking suggested to me that 2 to 3 days in Beijing would be enough.  In reality, I ended up having only one day to explore Beijing.  I arrived in China late Wednesday night and flew home Friday morning, so I had only Thursday available for sightseeing.  Still, with a little planning, I was able to cram in a pretty full tour of Beijing into that one day, and I was very happy I did it.  You can read more here: One day in Beijing. Fewer words, more photos.

Recently, it happened again when three British Airways promotions overlapped (see: Ignoring terms and flying cheap via 3 stacked promos: BA sale, AARP discount, and Avios promo).  I paid $446 plus 30,000 Avios for a round trip business class flight from Chicago to London.  In exchange, I earned about 43,000 redeemable AA miles and lots of elite qualifying miles and points.  This time I purposely booked my flights back to back so as to be away from home and family as little as possible.  I flew to London on Saturday and returned on Sunday.  I plan to write up my flight experiences soon, but this post is about my attempt to re-qualify for elite status.  That’s where my clouded thinking screwed me up…

Reach elite status faster

This year, since early April, American Airlines has offered bonus Elite Qualifying Points (EQPs) for business and first class fares.  They have long offered 1.5 EQPs per mile flown for business and first class, but they would now give even more: a total of 2 EQPs per mile for discount business or first class and a total of 3 EQPs for full fare business or first class.

AA mileage run EQP Promo

AA mileage run EQP Promo Reach elite status faster

With AA, you can (for now) reach elite status through miles flown (EQMs), number of segments (EQSs), or elite qualifying points (EQPs).  Thanks to my flight to Beijing, as well as first class flights from and to Puerto Rico, each of which resulted in 2 EQPs per mile flown, I was reasonably close to re-qualifying for AA Executive Platinum status with EQPs.

All year, I’ve maintained a spreadsheet with all of my planned flights and expected EQM and EQP earnings.  For flights booked in discount business class, I multiplied the expected miles flown by 2 in order to calculate EQPs.  For flights booked in discount economy, I divided the miles flown by 2 since those flights earn only .5 EQPs per mile.  Up until now, my actual EQPs and EQMs earned have tracked closely to my spreadsheet, so I was pretty confident that this final mileage run to London would secure my Executive Platinum status.  It was a business class flight, so I followed my usual routine of doubling the flown miles to estimate earned EQPs.

Here’s the thing…

The combination of deals I took advantage of to book this flight were specific to British Airways.  That is, I could fly American Airlines, but I had to book through BA.  My adrenaline addled brain was aware enough of this distinction to check the AA website, but it didn’t fully comprehend what it read.  The fine print read:

*Offer applies to AAdvantage members who purchase and fly on eligible published-fare First or Business Class tickets booked in F, A, P, J, R, D or I on flights marketed by American Airlines and operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, Japan Airlines or Qantas. Flights marketed or operated by other codeshare partners are not eligible for this promotion.

I read “and operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, Japan Airlines or Qantas” and thought I was good to go.  In fact, I booked the outbound operated by American Airlines and the return operated by British Airways.  What I failed to notice was the very important “and”.  The terms state that flights must be “marketed by American Airlines and operated by American Airlines, British Airways, …”  If the “and” had been an “or”, I would have been fine.  But any rational reading of the terms makes it clear that the flight must be marketed by American Airlines.  Period.  But my flights were marketed by BA.

A delayed surprise

I flew to London and back on the weekend of December 12th and 13th.  Each morning afterwards I eagerly logged into my AA account expecting to see over 100,000 EQPs (that’s how many I need to re-qualify for Executive Platinum status).  Flight credit finally posted on Thursday.  I now had a total of 97,409 EQPs.

I was 2,591 EQPs short!

I quickly realized that the extra .5 EQPs hadn’t posted, but I didn’t know why.  I tried to bring up the terms of the EQP promotion, but the web page for the promo had been taken down (I later found it cached, here).

I called the Executive Platinum desk and explained that I was missing the bonus EQPs.  The agent put me on hold while he looked up the terms of the promotion and discussed it with a supervisor.  In the meantime, I found the cached webpage for the offer.  Eventually, both of us reached the same conclusion: I had screwed up.  I asked if they could make an exception for me.  The agent said no, but in a very nice way.  I spoke with a supervisor and asked again.  The supervisor’s “no” was blunt and unfriendly.  Both agents told me that I would have a chance to buy back my elite status for $1,199, but they couldn’t otherwise do anything to help me.

Ugh

The weekend before my London trip, I flew to California to present at Frequent Traveler University Advanced.  I flew AA discount economy.  If I had paid more for full fare economy or for first class (even just one-way), I would have earned enough EQPs to secure Executive Platinum status.  In other words, if I had figured out my mistake earlier, I could have fixed it at relatively low cost.  Now I had to decide whether to cram in one last mileage run, pay for status, or give up entirely.

One last flight

I’m traveling with my family to Florida right after Christmas.  Our outbound flight is in December and the return is in January. We had booked flights on Delta with miles, and we had booked our outbound and return flights as separate one-ways.  Since these flights will take place during the height of holiday season, I couldn’t find cheap economy flights.  Instead, I had booked first class awards, at saver level: 25K miles per person one-way.  Thanks to my Delta Platinum status, I was able to cancel my portion of the outbound flight without penalty.  Delta gave me back my 25K miles plus $5.60 in TSA fees.

Instead of the outbound Delta flight, I booked an AA first class flight.  Most AA flights from Detroit route through Charlotte, but via Great Circle Mapper I realized that I wouldn’t earn enough EQPs that way.  Instead, I found a flight routed through Philadelphia.  Great Circle Mapper says that the route through Philly is 1446 miles.  Assuming I correctly earn double EQPs, I should get 2,892 EQPs.  Combined with my current total of 97,409 EQPs, I should end the year with 100,301 EQPs.

The one-way price for the flight came to just over $700 (remember: this is during holiday season and I had zero time / date flexibility).  I used ThankYou points to pay for the flight.  Thanks to my Citi Prestige card, I get 1.6 cents per point value when points are used to book AA flights.  So, my total point cost came to just over 44,000 points.  I’ll earn AA miles from the flight and, of course, I got back my 25,000 Delta miles, so the net cost to me wasn’t too bad.  It was certainly far, far cheaper than buying my status from AA for $1,199!

Now, here’s to hoping that nothing goes wrong…

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