Chasing American Airlines Elite Status and Knowing When to Stop

Buenos dias everyone. Last weekend, I was doing some trip planning for May, based on the following parameters:

  • I’ll be in Washington DC for work from April 29–May 5
  • My partner and I want to go to Japan in early May to see the wisteria at Ashikaga Flower Park and the Ghibli Museum (we have tickets for May 13). Dates are still up in the air because we’re waiting for him to get his university class schedule
  • I have a meeting in New York City on May 20th
  • I have a Qatar business class mistake fare booked from Denpasar to Los Angeles on May 26 that earns nearly 20,000 Elite Qualifying Miles and 2,600 Elite Qualifying Dollars each way towards AAdvantage status
  • I need to be in Providence for the graduation of one of my best friends on May 28, and then have a work meeting in Boston for several days afterward
  • I’ll be away from home for a month from mid-June to mid-July

I was racking my brain trying to figure out a way to make this all work, and came up with the following options, which I sent to my friend Jon, a fellow travel hacker and food blogger:

A flight map illustrating the following routing: MEX-SFO-TPE-NRT-HKG-NRT-JFK-NRT-HKG-DPS-LAX-BOS-EWR-MEX

Option 1: stay in Asia after my partner leaves, fly to NYC for meeting, fly back to Asia, return to US on QR mistake fare then go straight to Providence/Boston, return home June 1 or 2. Over 44,000 miles in less than a month

A map illustrating the route MEX-SFO-TPE-NRT-DPS-LAX-BOS-MEX

Option 2: stay in Asia after my partner leaves, participate in meeting via teleconference (10pm-5am Japan time), return to US on QR mistake fare then go straight to Providence/Boston, return home June 1 or 2

A map illustrating the route MEX-SFO-TPE-NRT-MEX-JFK-CGK-DPS-LAX-BOS-MEX

Option 3: leave Asia with my partner, be home for 3-4 days, fly to NYC and then to Indonesia afterward, return to US on QR mistake fare then go straight to Providence/Boston, return home June 1 or 2

A map illustrating the route MEX-SFO-TPE-NRT-MEX-EWR-MEX-BOS-MEX

Option 4: leave Asia with my partner, be home for 3-4 days, fly to NYC for meeting, fly home, be home for another 5 days, fly to Providence/Boston, return home June 1 or 2. Cancel QR mistake fare.

He wisely dismissed the third option, since it was basically an expensive mileage run to make the QR J fare work, and asked me an important question: as a MEX-based traveler, how much would the incremental benefits of higher AA status be worth to me?

As I predicted back in February, I reached AAdvantage Platinum status last month through the status challenge I received. No reasonable combination of travel plans will get me enough Elite Qualifying Dollars to hit Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum before the challenge expires on May 23, so at this point, it’s a question of qualifying through the regular tiers by the end of 2017. If I were to reach Executive Platinum, the main benefits I would receive are:

  • 4 systemwide upgrade certificates (SWUs)
  • Free award changes and cancellations, and enhanced award availability on AA flights
  • Free same-day confirmed flight changes (all elites get free same-day standby)
  • Unlimited complimentary upgrades on AA flights (this also comes with Platinum Pro)
  • Access to First Class lounges on international OneWorld itineraries (Platinum gets me Business Class lounge access)
  • More redeemable miles earned

However, I’ve already noticed that chasing AA status has warped my travel planning – there’s been a couple of times where I’ve booked a more expensive or less convenient flight to be able to fly on American instead of Delta or United. And I didn’t necessarily choose American to pursue status because it’s the best program for me – like I mentioned in January, United and Aeromexico offer better service to most of the places I travel – but rather because it was the most achievable given the cheap longhaul OneWorld fares I had already booked.

So, I’ve decided to go with Option 4 and cancel my Qatar flights. That means that I’m unlikely to get beyond Platinum this year (my other booked OneWorld trips only put me at about 43,000 of the 75,000 miles needed, and 4,800 of 9,000 EQDs). And that’s okay. I’m not a highly-paid consultant who’s on the road constantly – spending time with friends and family is worth more than flying in circles or going out of my way to try and get higher status than I already have.

That probably means I’ll be taking some more flights on United this year – where I have Gold status, their equivalent of Platinum – and maybe even Delta and Aeromexico. I’ll see who has the best flights for where I need to travel, and then figure out my status options based on that, instead of the other way around. And if I’m close enough to another status tier by the end of the year, I might do a mileage run – but I’ll make that decision at a time that makes sense.

Do you think I made the right decision? What would you have done in my situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Chasing American Airlines Elite Status and Knowing When to Stop

  1. Marty G

    I’ve been an AA Exp for 2 years because of work and I don’t care if I reach it this year. I sometimes will do a mileage run or two just to hit EXP, but after their devaluAAtion and cutting SWU’s, it’s just not appealing. Older fleet, disgruntled employees, just not anything special to me anymore. I’d rather fly someone else than deal with the same mediocre service for my loyalty.

    Reply
  2. Robert

    You made the right decision.

    My comments (as an EXP) on the perks you mentioned:

    4 systemwide upgrade certificates (SWUs)
    (Rarely useable, even hours before a flight with open cabin)

    Free award changes and cancellations (True), and enhanced award availability on AA flights (Bwhaaha)

    Free same-day confirmed flight changes (all elites get free same-day standby) (True)

    Unlimited complimentary upgrades on AA flights (this also comes with Platinum Pro) (Not guaranteed, especially in/out DFW and CLT)

    Access to First Class lounges on international OneWorld itineraries (Platinum gets me Business Class lounge access) (True)

    More redeemable miles earned (Barely, I earned about 7k miles on a r/t TPA-PVG)

    I’m 80k miles away from 2M and I have no intention of going for it. That’s 30 years of chasing and I’m done with AA.

    What’s the point of loyalty and points if they keep moving the goal posts, raising the mileage needed and, most importantly, never having inventory available?

    I’ll try to get matched/challenged to another carrier, go after a SW companion pass and use Amex points for international travel.

    Reply
  3. Shawn R.

    AA elite status and AAdvantage program benefits previously were superb. Now? AA’s continued benefits devaluation, including food and beverage service (if not completely eliminated from first class) is a joke! As for elite status challenges and paying “full fare” first class tickets to reach challenge requirements is such a waste of time, money, and further tarnishes AA brand and products. Further, providing insightful feedback, from a 20 year relationship, is wasted energy. From my past issues, AA genuinely doesn’t care; although I am slightly amused of their new “cut and paste” complaint response systems, for elites and their belief of effective resolution processes.

    American has identity problems, much like McDonalds…..

    Reply
  4. Mser

    Doesn’t seem you travel anywhere near enough to justify paying the additional premiums and spending hours of additional time on less than optimum flights. No way would I bother if I were in your shoes.

    Reply

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