My 2017 Elite Status Strategy: Should I Move from Alaska AIrlines to American Airlines?

Buenas dias everyone,

Since my travel has started ramping up in 2017, I decided it was time to sit down and look at my strategy for earning airline elite status in the coming year. Which means…spreadsheet time!

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 1.08.27 PM

A portion of my elite status planning spreadsheet

Where I am Today

I currently have Alaska Airlines MVP Gold, United Airlines Gold, and Virgin America Silver elite statuses. I’ve already credited a couple of trips to my Alaska Airlines account (two on American Airlines and one on Delta). Most of my confirmed flights later this year are on American Airlines or other OneWorld carriers. 

Programs to Consider

I didn’t bother looking at Virgin America since I rarely fly them, and if I do, I can just credit the miles to Alaska Airlines. So I considered Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, and United Airlines as potential programs to pursue 2017 status.

Judging the Merits

  • Alaska Airlines:
    • I really like the company and have been an elite with them since 2007. My status gets me benefits on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta (until May), and Virgin America, and I get double redeemable miles for all of my flights.
    • However, I rarely fly Alaska Airlines, and with the Delta partnership ending and mileage earning on American Airlines now very difficult, it would be hard to maintain status.
  • American Airlines:
    • I have two tickets booked in long-haul business on Qatar this year, plus a long-haul one way flight in full-fare economy on JAL, which will go a long way towards earning status. I can use my Alaska Airlines status to get preferred seat assignments, and I get priority boarding and free bags with my Citi and Barclays AAdvantage credit cards. I also have lounge access with my Citi Prestige card until June, and there are American Express Centurion lounges in Dallas and Miami.
    • American Airlines doesn’t have a nonstop from Mexico City to Chicago, which is one of my most frequent routes, and their prices for travel to Chicago via Dallas are rarely competitive.
  • Delta:
    • Their joint venture partner Aeromexico has a hub in Mexico City, which means nonstop flights to most major cities in the US. I have an American Express Platinum Charge Card which gives me Delta lounge access when traveling on Delta, as well as a Delta Platinum American Express Credit Card which gives me priority boarding and a free checked bag. EQD waiver because I live in Mexico.
    • Aeromexico’s pricing is unpredictable – sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s terrible – and elite benefits are pretty limited (though this may improve with their expanded partnership). I also rarely fly SkyTeam airlines, and most of the ones I would (including Aeromexico) are also partners with Alaska Airlines.
  • United Airlines:
    • Nonstop flights to Chicago and DC (but at Dulles), two of my most frequent destinations. I currently have Gold status which gives me more redeemable miles and lounge access when flying on an international Star Alliance flight. EQD waiver because I live in Mexico.
    • Chicago prices are usually very expensive, and I find that United rarely makes sense for my travel plans.

Crunching the Numbers

I sat down with the aforementioned spreadsheet and put in as much information as I currently have about flights that I have booked or can reasonably expect to take. I know that I’ll be traveling to Chicago several times this year, plus a trip to Berlin over the summer, my current round-the-world trip, and a roundtrip ticket from Bali to the US on Qatar.

It quickly became clear that because of those Qatar flights, AA has a major advantage here: the QR flights alone plus my current trip will give me enough miles and EQDs to hit AAdvantage Platinum status, even if I don’t credit any other flights to AA. If I’m able to take some flights to Chicago on American and/or fly to Berlin this summer on a OneWorld carrier, I should be able to hit Platinum Pro comfortably, and may even be able to reach Executive Platinum.

By comparison, crediting everything possible to Alaska would barely get me to MVP status for the year; crediting everything possible to Delta would barely get me to Silver Medallion, including the 10,000 bonus Medallion Qualifying Miles I got from my Delta Platinum American Express Credit Card. There’s no scenario where I could even hit Silver on United this year.

Should I do a Status Challenge?

American Airlines offers the opportunity to do a status challenge if you hold elite status with another program – this Flyertalk post shows the current requirements. A Platinum challenge costs $200-$500 depending on whether you want to have status while completing the challenge; a Gold challenge is somewhat less expensive. Once the challenge starts, you have to earn 7,000 EQMs + $1,000 EQDs for Gold or 12,500 EQMs + $2,000 EQDs for Platinum.

The main catch here is that only flights on American Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, and Qantas are eligible – so my Qatar flight on this trip wouldn’t help me. Between my AA and JAL flights I would be close by the end of this trip, but would need to book one or two more flights on AA to push me over the edge – and by the time I do that, I’ll have hit Gold on my own anyway, and should be able to reach Platinum on my own with another Qatar flight in May. So I don’t think the incremental benefit of having status two months early is worth the extra $200, especially if I can continue leveraging my Alaska status and AA credit cards in the interim.

The Verdict

American seems like the obvious choice for me this year, so that’s where I’m going. It feels weird to be moving away from Alaska, the mileage program I’ve called home for so long, but hopefully AAdvantage will treat me almost as well – and if I’m able to reach the upper tiers, having the chance for upgrades on AA flights will be a very nice benefit.

UPDATE

Two days after this post went live, I got an email from American inviting me to participate in a status challenge for free! Unfortunately my flight to Madrid won’t count, but any travel between now and the end of May on qualifying carriers will help me accelerate my status earning. I’ll definitely hit Gold, and I think I can at probably swing Platinum by the end of May – we’ll see what happens!

AA Targeted Status Challenge Details

 

What are your elite status plans for 2017? Any words of advice for someone moving to AAdvantage?

4 thoughts on “My 2017 Elite Status Strategy: Should I Move from Alaska AIrlines to American Airlines?

  1. Rob

    AA EXP here. I’ve got status and tons of miles but award availability for int’l sAAver awards is non-existent. It’s nice to get the upgrades but SWUs don’t clear until hours before flights.

    I won’t be chasing EXP anymore so it’s almost funny to hear someone who does.

    Good luck.

    Reply
  2. Sean

    AA is such a joke now dude. Prepare for disappointment. I have been EXP for over 10 years and they have finally fallen the the failed programs of Delta and United. Unless you (or your company) are spending big bucks on full fare coach or Biz/First, it is worthless. I agree with Rob above…I won’t be chasing it this year, in fact I Googled just the opposite as I am considering jumping ship to Alaska. AA now has 33% less seats in the front, and I actually had system wides I couldn’t even use. I am based in Hawaii, so Alaska may be ok, just not too excited about a lot of partner connections and terminal changes, but AA is out of control. Ever LAX flight sits for 30-60 minutes waiting for a gate, horribly tight connections, and now has such a massive presence that they are in multiple terminals. Don’t get me wrong, I love AA for the people, but the bean counters and execs got it all wrong, they forgot the customers are the ones spending the money…the greed got the best of them.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Chasing American Airlines Elite Status and Knowing When to Stop

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