My crazy route to Vegas. Am I done with mileage running?

8

The majority of this post was written while flying the final leg of my latest mileage run.  Last year, I decided to seek top tier American Airlines status by signing up for the US Airways Preferred Trial.  During the 90 day trial period, I flew 30,000 miles in order to secure US Airways Chairman’s Preferred status.  That status, then, converted to AA Executive Platinum status when the AA and US Airways frequent flyer programs merged.  Most of those required 30,000 miles were flown back and forth between Philadelphia and Las Vegas thanks to a fantastic $75 round-trip fare sale.  When that was done, I had secured top tier status for 2015 (good through February 2016).

About a month after completing the Preferred Trial, I bought a round trip business class ticket to Beijing, thanks to a crazy $450-ish mistake fare.  Between the miles flown for the Preferred Trial, the Beijing flight, and a number of ordinary domestic flights, I found that I was within striking distance of re-qualifying for 2016 Executive Platinum status.  To be sure, I was looking at a couple of long distance strikes, but it seemed that I was close enough that I should consider it.

Mileage running for status isn’t something I usually advocate, but there are circumstances where it makes sense.  In my case, it’s tough to justify mileage running with AA since my closest airport (Detroit) is a Delta hub.  But, since I blog full time, I have the freedom to do things that wouldn’t necessarily make sense otherwise.  If nothing else, the activities give me more to write about.

The real reason I had decided to go for it was that the trips I had taken so far had been fun.  The flights back and forth between Philadelphia and Las Vegas were frequently populated by people I knew who were also mileage running.  We had a great time hanging out in the air, in the AAdmiral’s Club in Philadelphia, and in the Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas.

mileage running
From left: Greg the Frequent Miler (that’s me), Keri from Heels First Travel, and Julian the Devil’s Advocate mileage running from Vegas to Philadelphia

And, even though I was on my own for the Beijing trip, I loved it.  I wrote about it here: One day in Beijing. Fewer words, more photos.

mileage running to Beijing
I took a break from mileage running to conquer the Great Wall of China. Yippee!

My Mileage Run to TravelCon

To earn extra miles (EQPs, actually), I took a circuitous route to get to Vegas for TravelCon 2.  I had booked an inexpensive round-trip first class flight from San Juan Puerto Rico to Las Vegas.  In order to get to Puerto Rico from Detroit (and back), I booked another round trip flight, in coach.

In all, my route was as follows:

  • Thursday:
    • Detroit to Philadelphia
  • Friday:
    • Philadelphia to San Juan
    • San Juan to Philadelphia
    • Philadelphia to Las Vegas
  • Sunday:
    • Las Vegas to Philadelphia
    • Philadelphia to San Juan
  • Monday:
    • San Juan to Miami
    • Miami to Detroit

mileage running to TravelCon

According to gcmap.com, the entire route adds up to 11,725 miles.  The segments booked in economy add up to 4,220 miles and should result in half as many EQPs (2,110).  The first class segments add up to 7505 miles and should result in twice as many EQPs (15,010).  If I hadn’t done the mileage run and had flown more directly to Las Vegas in coach, via Phoenix perhaps, I would have earned only 1,926 EQPs.

All of the flights were pleasant enough.  I was upgraded, in advance, on all of my coach segments. My Friday flights to and from San Juan were especially nice since they were aboard an internationally configured A330 with true lie-flat seats and a solid in-flight entertainment system.  After deplaning in San Juan, I got right back on the same jet for the return.  I could have even picked the same seat as before, but I tried another one just for kicks.  For the record, I couldn’t tell the difference.

mileage running PHL-SJU A330

Most of the rest of the flights were aboard crappy old US Airways planes with no power outlets and no seatback or overhead entertainment.  My Monday flights were slightly better on AA metal 737s which had power outlets and overhead entertainment screens.  Most of the flights also had the ability to stream movies and TV to your own device for a fee.  Unlike Delta, AA doesn’t appear to waive the fees for premium cabin passengers.

Before the trip, I imagined myself getting lots of work done on the flights.  I figured that I would bang out a bunch of posts, get caught up on emails and blog comments, and even start working through my to-do backlog.  Even if the mileage run wouldn’t be fun, it would be productive.  Somehow that didn’t happen.

The flight from Detroit to Philadelphia was too short to get much done.  And, the internationally configured A330 upon which I spend most of the day on Friday didn’t have wi-fi.  I used that as an excuse to watch movies, read, and take naps instead.  On the long flight from Philadelphia to Vegas I could have gotten a lot of work done, but I happened to be seated next to a guy who dabbles in the points & miles hobby (I learned that he was a View from the Wing reader).  We talked through much of the flight until I realized that I had to work on my TravelCon presentation.  On Sunday’s flight from Vegas, I did get some work done.  I was extremely tired and managed to accidentally publish a post that was intended for Monday.  So, then I wrote up another post and correctly scheduled it for Monday morning.  That was good, but it didn’t feel much like getting ahead.  On Monday, the flight from San Juan to Miami was too short to work (what with meal service, and everything), but I managed to write about half of this post on my flight back to Detroit.

Mileage Run Fatigue

Now I find myself on the tail end of my latest mileage run thinking that it can’t be worth it.  My layover in Philadelphia was fun, and TravelCon was great, but the extra flying was tiresome and unproductive.  I’ve written before that, with Delta, I can maintain high level status entirely through manufacturing spend with Delta branded credit cards (see: How to manufacture Delta elite status).  In this way I can enjoy the perks that go with high level status without any unnecessary flying.  With AA it’s possible to manufacture up to 20,000 EQMs (by running up spend on both the Citi AAdvantage Executive card and the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Silver card), but that’s not even enough for bottom tier status, let alone top.

I do like the perks of AAdvantage Executive Platinum status (especially complementary domestic upgrades, system-wide upgrade certificates, and free award changes), but I don’t usually fly nearly enough revenue flights to be able to maintain top tier status, and I don’t want to be forced into extra flights to nowhere to make up for it.

This year, I’ve already booked and paid for one more flight to nowhere (Chicago to London and back).  If my calculations are correct, that flight will be the one that gets me over the hump and qualifies me for 2016 Executive Platinum status.  Since I’m so close, and this flight is already paid for, I’ll go ahead and complete the mission.  I seriously doubt, though, that I’ll do the same next year.

2016 AAdvantage program changes

There have recently been widely circulated rumors about upcoming changes to the AAdvantage program beginning 2016.  In brief:

  • No more EQPs.  Instead, premium cabin bookings will earn extra EQMs.  This should make qualifying for status easier than before.
  • Fewer upgrade certificates: Executive Platinum members will receive 4 system-wide upgrade certificates instead of 8.
  • Later in 2016, AA will move to revenue based mileage earning (just like Delta and United).  This will make mileage running less rewarding than before.
  • There is no word yet of whether AA will change their award chart as well.  I would be very surprised if they don’t, but one can hope.

The expected changes, summarized above, did not influence my decision to stop mileage running after this year.  I had already made that decision before reading about these changes.  If anything, I think that mileage running to top tier status will be easier under the new system.  Without EQPs in the mix, it will no longer be necessary to make a deliberate decision whether to qualify through EQPs or EQMs (but EQSs, Elite Qualifying Segments, will still be an option).  Once revenue based mileage earning kicks in, mileage running will become less profitable, but not more difficult.

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