Searching for cheap status with oneworld airlines


Yesterday, Greg wrote about manufacturing Hyatt Globalist status. Later in the day, I saw a fare sale with a super cheap domestic fare: just $59 round trip from Baltimore to Charlotte on American Airlines. That led me to find a few other routes with the same pricing (including Philadelphia to Charlotte and Phoenix to Las Vegas). When I checked it out via Google Flights, I found that same-day turns (where you fly a complete round trip in a single day) could be booked for $54 round trip on each of those routes. I knew that meant that I could get the flights for next-to-nothing with my Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa thanks to the Visa Infinite Discount Air perk. If I could fly two people round trip for seven bucks, that has to be the ultimate mileage run, right? I’ve never been one to chase airline status, but if it could be had really cheaply maybe I’d give it a go. While it wouldn’t quite be manufacturing status like Greg, could I put together cheap airline status by leveraging this perk? It turns out probably not.

American Airlines Planes

The fares

Cheap fares were available on several routes as noted above, but here I’ll stick with Baltimore Washington (BWI) to Charlotte (CLT). Google Flights shows that route available for $54 on a same day turn nearly every single day in January and some of February (and also a couple of days this month, not shown here):

Click the image to go to Google Flights, but keep in mind that prices could change at any time.

I knew that meant these flights would cost almost nothing via the Visa Discount Air program. This discount program used to be available on a couple of Visa Infinite credit cards, but to my knowledge, the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa is now the only easily accessible card for US citizens that will continue to carry this benefit (and even then, calling it easily accessible is a bit of a stretch since you can no longer apply for the Ritz card but should be able to product change an existing Marriott card that has been open for at least a year). The Visa Discount Air benefit gives you $100 off when you book two or more passengers on a round trip domestic economy class itinerary through the Visa Discount Air website. This benefit is repeatable and uncapped. You can read more about it in this post: Bet you didn’t know: a repeatable companion airfare discount — but note that post references the CNB Crystal Visa, which is set to lose the perk on January 1st. At this point, the Ritz card is keeping the benefit as far as we know.

Sure enough, that means that booking these fares for two passengers makes them nearly free.

You’re seeing that right: seven bucks. For two passengers. Round trip.

Years ago, I caught a Ryanair sale in Europe for 3 Euros each way on many routes. At seven bucks for two passengers round trip, American beats the cheapest flights of my life with this discount.

My next thought was that despite the short distance, there has got to be a mileage run to be made out of this, right? Obviously the distance is short, but some programs allow elite status qualification based on segments flown. At $3.50 per segment, perhaps one could buy status with a bunch of same day turns.

Unfortunately, as you can see above, these fares are basic economy.

No status here

I spent a bunch of time combing through various oneworld airline websites trying to figure out how these fares would credit in terms of elite segments. I started out by using ITA Matrix to determine that the fare class was B and then I used the site to see which programs award miles for B-class tickets. It turned out to be slim pickings.

I knew that there was a possibility that wheretocredit was missing something info or something was incorrect, but I started with the airlines that are listed.

With regard to partner airlines, Iberia’s site suggests that you’ll earn elite points (segment credit) on “All their flights”.

However, see the second sentence under the table: “Iberia reserves the right to exclude fares from earning Elite Points and Avios”. That sentence combined with a Flyertalk report that B-class earns no tier points with British Airways made me less than confident that the basic economy fare would earn elite points with Iberia Plus. Furthermore, since these flights fall into the shortest bracket, they would earn at most 15 elite points per segment. You need 2,250 Elite Points for mid-tier Gold status. Best case scenario, mid-tier status would require flying 150 segments — or 75 round trips. No thanks.

My next stop was Finnair. They have a handy online accrual calculator where you can put in your flight information and see what you’ll earn.

Swing and a miss there as these flights would earn precisely nothing.

I’d read a TPG post about earning status with Malaysia Airlines Enrich via segments flown, so I went to the Malaysia Airlines website to see their table for earning miles on American Airlines flights.

Unfortunately, B-class isn’t listed at all in the table and therefore looks like it would not earn anything when credited to Malaysia Enrich.

Unfortunately, the same story repeated itself over and over with all of the oneworld airlines I tried. I didn’t find one where I was confident it would be possible to earn segment status credit with B-class fares.

Credit to American?

It’s worth noting that these segments could of course be credited to American Airlines, but you would only receive credit for 0.5 segments per basic economy segment and you’ll furthermore still be subject to elite qualifying dollar minimums in order to earn status ($3,000 for Gold status, $6,000 for Platinum, and more for higher levels). If you’re already spending enough on American to meet the elite qualifying dollar figures, you are likely close enough to the number of miles required for status that you wouldn’t be considering qualifying via segments.

Bottom line

I find these super cheap fares fascinating with the Ritz-Carlton Visa. I often find myself jealous of those who live in a market where they could potentially fly to another city for lunch for less than it costs to take a taxi to the airport. However, this ultimately caught my eye for the potential of an elite status run and it does not seem that there is any merit to these basic economy fares from that standpoint. That’s not to say that the Visa Discount Air discount can’t be beneficial in working your way towards elite status, just probably not with these particular fares.

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