If you don’t want to read the entire post, at least read the “Double dipping for triple elite qualifying miles” section, where I show you how you can achieve top tier status on American for under $2,000 in just over four days.
I get an email at least once a day from someone saying “OMG, you’re the coolest person ever, how do I get into mileage running?” Okay, maybe the first part isn’t true, but the second part is. And as much as I’m a mileage run “evangelist” and think they’re awesome, my answer for the past year or so has been the same — “are you really sure you want to get into mileage running?”
The issue is that over the past couple of years we haven’t seen any great promotions, airfare has been on the rise, and routing rules aren’t nearly as generous as they used to be. In other words, in the past I could fly from Tampa to San Francisco via Washington, Orlando, Denver, and Portland in each direction, for $240 roundtrip. Now I’m lucky to fly from Tampa to Chicago to San Francisco for $300 roundtrip. Obviously that almost doubles the cost per mile.
So for those of you that are completely new to the game and have asked me when to start mileage running, the answer is January 1 on American. American announced a double elite qualifying miles promotion yesterday, which is valid through January 31, 2012.
First let’s go through the basic benefits of why you would mileage run. If you’re going to go for it, you really should aim for Executive Platinum status, which is American’s top tier.
What are the benefits for achieving Executive Platinum?
- Unlimited domestic upgrades, which will almost always clear (I’ve missed one upgrade this year)
- Eight systemwide upgrades that can be used to upgrade any revenue fare. This is where the real value is. You’re literally getting four roundtrip international business class tickets for the price of coach per year. So far I’ve upgraded roundtrip tickets to Barcelona, Delhi, London, and Madrid, all on $700-1,000 coach fares.
- International first class lounge access when traveling on an international longhaul flight. Most airlines give you business class lounge access in those instances, though by being a OneWorld Emerald member you get access to first class lounges in those cases. That includes lounges like the Cathay Pacific Wing in Hong Kong, British Airways First Class Lounge at London Heathrow, Los Angeles Flagship Lounge in Los Angeles, etc.
- 100% redeemable miles bonus when traveling on revenue tickets
- No phone booking fees or award booking/redeposit fees when using miles out of your account for yourself
- Amazing phone customer service. The American Executive Platinum desk is hands down the best in the industry. These are supervisors that are actually empowered to make exceptions for you, and their value can’t be underestimated. In my experience, more so than at any other part of the company, they appreciate your business.
So how do you qualify for Executive Platinum status?
Qualifying for Executive Platinum takes one of the following in a calendar year:
- 100,000 elite qualifying miles (EQMs)
- 100,000 elite qualifying points (EQPs)
- 100 segments.
So while the double elite qualifying miles promotion is already in full swing, since status is based on a calendar year, you’ll want to wait till January 1 to start mileage running, unless you think you can earn 100,000 elite qualifying miles in the next two weeks (which, trust me, you don’t want to do).
It’s worth distinguishing between elite qualifying miles and elite qualifying points. Most airlines only have elite qualifying miles, so this makes American a bit unique.
American awards one elite qualifying mile per revenue mile flown, be it “cheapo” coach or full fare first class. This is the balance that they’re doubling during the double elite qualifying miles promotion. This means that to qualify for Executive Platinum through the double elite qualifying miles promotion you have to fly 50,000 miles, be it in discounted coach or full fare first class (unless there’s an extra promotion you’re stacking on, as discussed below).
American’s elite qualifying points are based on how high of a fare class you’re booked in. If you fly a deeply discounted coach ticket you’ll only earn 0.5 points per mile flown, while if you fly full fare first class you’ll earn 1.5 points per mile flown.
So completely ignore elite qualifying points for the purposes of this promotion, because they’re not being doubled. A lot of people prefer to mileage run on discounted first and business class tickets, and while that’s great, this promotion won’t help you with that goal in any way, since you’re not earning bonus elite qualifying miles for a paid first or business class ticket.
American’s Status Challenges
American offers status challenges whereby you can pay a fee to essentially be “fast tracked” to an elite status tier. They only offer challenges for the Gold and Platinum tier, which must be completed within 90 days, and not top tier.
The Gold challenge requires 5,000 elite qualifying points (10,000 miles flown in discounted coach), while the Platinum challenge requires 10,000 elite qualifying points (20,000 miles flown in discounted coach). You only get the status after completing the challenge, and the cost for the challenges are $120 and $200 for Gold and Platinum, respectively. Chances are this won’t be worth it for most of you.
It takes 20,000 flown miles in discounted coach to complete the Platinum challenge. After having flown 20,000 miles in discounted coach you’ll have earned 40,000 elite qualifying miles through this promotion, so you would only be 10,000 elite qualifying miles (5,000 flown miles through January 31) short of outright earning Platinum status. If you are planning on going “all in,” it’s worth noting that it can take a few weeks for the double elite qualifying miles to post, though the status from a challenge should post right away. So if that’s a factor for you, be sure to keep that in mind.
What routes to fly
Keep in mind that you don’t have to go all the way to Executive Platinum in January. You can take things slow if you want. I will say that flying 50,000 miles in a month isn’t nearly as tough as it sounds. I’ve done it many times before, and it really isn’t that bad (though admittedly if you’re just getting started, much of it will be in coach). If you live on a coast, you’re generally best off sticking to transcontinental flights that you can route through Miami. It shouldn’t be too tough to fly 6,000 elite qualifying miles per weekend (for a transcon routed through Miami), which translates to 12,000 miles through this promotion.
If you were to take just one of those trips each weekend in January, you’d already be right at the cusp of Platinum status. Then you’d have 11 months to fly 50,000 miles, which really shouldn’t be that tough.
You can also conceivably do same day turns, so if you’re self employed or don’t have a traditional schedule, how about a trip every Tuesday and Saturday for the month? You could still be home five days a week, and you’d be right at the cusp of Executive Platinum status. That’s basically Executive Platinum in eight days with minimal spend.
Double dipping for triple elite qualifying miles
If you live in Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, you’re as lucky as they get. American is currently offering double elite qualifying miles for travel between Chicago/Dallas and Los Angeles/San Francisco, for residents of Illinois, Texas, and California (meaning those with an address on file with AAdvantage in one of those states). Here’s the real shocker — the two promotions are combinable, so you can earn triple elite qualifying miles for travel between these cities. Let’s break that down a bit further. A roundtrip between San Francisco and Chicago is 3,692 miles. Through this promotion those miles would be tripled, so you’d be earning a whopping 11,076 elite qualifying miles per roundtrip.
Best of all, fares are presently $99 one-way between San Francisco and Chicago, so a roundtrip costs $219 including tax. Given that you need nine roundtrips to achieve Executive Platinum, that’s top tier status for $1,971. As if that’s not sweet enough, they’re also offering double redeemable miles between San Francisco and Chicago, so you’d be earning a ton of miles as well.
Even better, you can conceivably do two roundtrips a day, meaning you could achieve Executive Platinum status in just over four days.
Enjoy effortless requalification
This is what I love about American. While getting to Executive Platinum might be a pain, once you have it I don’t think there’s an easier airline to keep requalifying on. This is because you can almost completely requalify on international trips in business class. Just take four “fun” trips to Asia a year, and in many cases you’ll already be sitting at 80,000 miles for the year. Then just do a few domestic trips and you’ll be all set for requalificaiton, and will have earned eight more systemwide upgrades and another year of Executive Platinum status. With Delta and United, on the other hand, there are fare restrictions on the systemwide upgrades, so it’s not even nearly as practical to travel internationally for fun getaways/mileage runs.