How I Plan On Requalifying For Status This Year

Reader Jake asked the following question via email:

I know you have status with Alaska and American, and I was wondering if you could share your strategy for requalifying this year?

Jake is correct, my two primary airlines are American and Alaska, and last year I requalified for Executive Platinum and MVP Gold 75K:

Benefits of American Executive Platinum status

As of now I love American Executive Platinum status, and find it to be probably the best top tier status for any US airline. Being an Executive Platinum gets me:

  • Eight systemwide upgrades per year that I can use to upgrade any revenue fare class
  • Unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades (which almost always clear)
  • 100% mileage bonus on all revenue miles flown
  • Access to international first class lounges when traveling on international transoceanic flights as a OneWorld Emerald
  • Award change and redeposit fee waivers

There are lots more benefits, but those are the ones I value the most.

Benefits of Alaska MVP Gold 75K status

Since moving to Seattle I’ve started flying Alaska, which is tough to beat in terms of convenience thanks to their domestic route network and frequency with which they operate many routes. What I value most about being MVP Gold 75K with Alaska is:

Why I plan on requalifying for status with both American and Alaska

I think the value in American Executive Platinum status is obvious.

While I’m sure the program will be devalued somewhat once American and US Airways create a single loyalty program, as of now the program is ridiculously generous. Given that I’m about to move into hotels full time I’ll be doing as much flying as ever, and Executive Platinum status with American is a no brainer.

Alaska is tougher, at least on paper.

I’m leaving Seattle (at least technically), and for that matter even when I lived in Seattle only about 25% of the miles I credited to Alaska were actually for flights on Alaska Airlines. So a vast majority of my Alaska miles are credited from partner airlines, like Delta (remember that crazy Brazil trip?).

So the value that comes with status — unlimited upgrades, a great same day change policy — is useful, but not something I take advantage of for 75,000+ miles per year of flying.

However, Alaska miles are so valuable and they have so many partners that I can’t help but continue to credit miles to them as a “backup” program.

So what’s my plan for requalifying with both American and Alaska?

American Executive Platinum status requalification — DONE!

Last year it was late in the fourth quarter before I requalified for Executive Platinum status. This year I was done just two months into the year, mostly thanks to dumb luck.

How? There are consistently great paid first and business class fares between the west coast and the Caribbean/Central America. These are the rule rather than the exception.

Last year I saw some ~$800 business class fares between Seattle and Managua, which allowed routings through Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. I booked them maybe nine months ago, so at the time they were hardly noteworthy. The connection times were convenient though, and given that I was so far behind on my requalification for 2013 I booked a couple of trips, and then booked a handful for 2014 as well.

This was really more laziness on my part than anything else, though it has worked out surprisingly well.

Mileage-Run-Routing

Roundtrip the routing is 11,066 base miles. Since it’s paid business class you’re earning 1.5 elite qualifying points (EQPs) per mile flown, for a total of ~16,600 EQPs roundtrip. That’s about five cents per EQP roundtrip, which is pretty tough to beat for paid business class.

But in and of itself that’s not that unusual, and there are many similar premium cabin fares still available between the west coast and Central America.

What I couldn’t have expected at the time is that American would start A321 service between New York and Los Angeles, and simultaneously offer two promotions.

First they offered 15,000 bonus redeemable miles per roundtrip between New York and Los Angeles. This mileage run incorporated the New York to Los Angeles flights in both directions, so qualified.

American-AAdvantage-Bonus-Miles

But then on top of that American also offered double elite qualifying miles on the route for paid first or business class.

So in the end for an $800 paid business class ticket I was earning ~41,000 redeemable miles and ~22,200 Elite Qualifying Points.

I had booked four of these tickets for 2014, so that got me to almost 90,000 EQPs for $3,200… all-in paid business class. The 160,000+ redeemable miles I picked up along the way were just the icing on the cake.

American-AAdvantage-Summary

If I had realized at the time it would be this lucrative I would have shared it, though it was purely dumb luck that it worked out this well. A similar paid business class fare is still available, though it no longer allows routings connecting in Los Angeles and New York.

So I’ve requalified for Executive Platinum status with American already, at a value that I’d say is tough to beat.

Alaska MVP Gold 75K status requalification — I have a plan!

I was really excited when American announced their new route between Dallas and Hong Kong, which commences in June:

  • It’ll be American’s first route to Asia on the 777-300ER, which features their new business class product and wifi
  • I receive eight systemwide upgrades per year for being Executive Platinum, and you can’t beat using them on American’s new longest route
  • Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities in the world

As I wrote about in January, American was releasing a ton of confirmable business class upgrade space, so combined with very reasonable ~$800 fares I couldn’t help but lock in a few roundtrips and confirm them in business class.

Rather than crediting those miles to American I might as well credit them to Alaska. My Executive Platinum requalification is already taken care of, and if I credit to Alaska I still earn the 100% mileage bonus. On top of that when I requalify for MVP Gold 75K I earn 50,000 bonus redeemable miles, so I come out ahead by doing this.

When you use systemwide upgrades with American you can still credit to a different airline, unlike when you just waitlist for a complimentary domestic upgrade.

Bottom line

It’s kind of nice to be so far along with status requalification this year, meaning I won’t do anything insanely irrational like the eight flights between the US and Brazil over 10 days, as I did last year.

For the past 18 months or so I’ve been suggesting that mileage running for status doesn’t really make economic sense anymore, at least not for those of us who pay for our own travel. However, the redeemable miles are of course still incredibly valuable, and the miles certainly rack up much more quickly if you have top-tier elite status, so it’s still a bit of a catch-22 for me.

As long as American offers their Executive Platinum members eight systemwide upgrades with no fare restrictions I’ll continue to go for status with them, since it’s just too good of a deal to pass up. And this year they’ve been especially good to me… so far!

How are you guys progressing with elite status for the year? Is it still worth it, or are you sticking to buying miles and/or flying whichever airline is most convenient?

Comments

  1. I think I *should* be about halfway to requalifying for EXP, with another 30k scheduled already (including a November flight to HKG on the 77W via DFW). I still see the value in status, especially after flying through LHR on BA in Y (which is just as painful as I remembered) this weekend and getting fast track through security. I also got the chance to fly the QR 787 this past week, great plane; but haven’t seen the miles book to my AAdvantage account yet.

  2. When did AA announce DEQMs for LAX/JFK trips? Maybe i missed it!

    Congrats, but it sure would be nice if you shared this kind of stuff sooner than after the fact.

  3. Hi Lucky,
    Congratulations on re-qualifying for EXP so quickly! You say that “There are consistently great paid first and business class fares between the west coast and the Caribbean/Central America. These are the rule rather than the exception.” Would you please share with your loyal readers the best way to check for these deals? For example, is there a way to configure Matrix Airfare Search to check for all AA flights that fall into this category? You noted an amazing (if short-lived) deal on business class tickets from LAX to EZE a while back, but that was, I think, posted by another blog first. It would be great to know how to search for these low-cost business fares systematically. Many thanks.

  4. Hi Lucky,
    I am more and more tempted to switch from UA to AA from all your posts. You had status with UA before, right? Can you comment on how one should decide between One World or Star Alliance? Thanks.

  5. So if you can use a systemwide upgrade on AA and still credit AS, I assume that means you could do the same thing with miles + copay, right? What are the mechanics? Do you put your AS FF number in the reservation from the beginning and just call in to do the upgrade? I’ve been hoping to make that work with miles + copay for HNL-east coast, but haven’t had a chance to try it yet.

  6. So, if your requalifications are all set, what are you going to do the rest of the year? You said that you are going to fly more this “sabbatical” year, is it going to be mainly on miles or are you going to credit miles on a third company?

  7. +2 @ Brian. DQM for JFK/LAX–that was target, right? RIGHT??

    (I’m about to leave for my first flight as AA PLT, down from EXP, in about 5 years, grumble grumble)

  8. @ Brian @ LTL @ Susan — I actually don’t know that it was ever announced. There was a targeted EQP promotion, but I didn’t realize there were going to be double miles as well until they posted. I wouldn’t keep that from y’all!

  9. @ WrightHI — Yup, as long as space is available that would work. You can also enter your Alaska number when you check-in.

  10. @ Carlos — Not sure yet, actually, but will likely keep accruing miles with American and Alaska, as I found both so valuable.

  11. Thanks, Lucky. That old post is quite helpful. Do you know of a way to set a search on ITA that runs automatically and sends an alert to when discounted fares are posted by the airlines?

  12. Well done!!! I travel domestically and almost exclusively on WN. My WN status is A-List Preferred and I have the Companion Pass. A-List Preferred is current through 2014, and I’m about 50% re-upped for it (about 90% for A-List). My Companion Pass status was valid through 2014, and I managed to re-qualify through 2015 at the beginning of this month. Like you, it was more “right place/right time” than any real skill. Here was my strategy –

    – got the SW branded business card from Chase. With the 50K Rapid Reward Point sign-up bonus plus the actual spending on it and my existing SW branded personal card, I earned about 63K in points through the close of the February card statements.
    – converted some orphaned hotel points I had with Choice Privileges and Best Western into SW RR Points and netted 15K more points (hotel points converted into RR points count toward Companion Pass qualification).
    – bought 4K points via the redemption of e-Rewards.com “currency” (it’s an online survey site and I’m a survey junkie)
    – stayed 20 nights at Hyatt properties (while also working the Hyatt Diamond Match Challenge and the Endless Possibilities promo), but never more than 1 night for each stay. SW awards RR points per stay not nights so it’s important to “sleep around” if that’s practical – 12K RR Points.
    – 4 affiliated car rentals – 3K points.
    – balance was revenue flights and taking the opportunity on those to “buy-up” to business select whenever the cost was less than $40 more than the base fare.

    I needed 110K Rapid Reward Points earned in 2014 to re-qualify for the Companion Pass through 2015. Through today, the WN website says I have earned 116,036 Companion Pass qualifying points.

    To set-up my 2016 requalification sprint, I’ve also canceled by SW branded personal credit card so I can re-apply for it again in 2015 and earn a 50K points jump-start.

  13. Wow Ben, I learn something new from you almost everyday! I would love to join the OneWorld Alliance, but I am based in GUM and the only OneWorld Carrier flying here is JAL. The schedules are not convenient for me. The first class lounge benefit while flying coach is what caught my eye, but after analyzing, its just a hassle to “re-position” to the major OW Hubs. Or maybe I just need to see it from your perspective(s)! I will re-qualify for UA’s 1K in April, which is a first for me. I usually re-qualify during the third quarter of the year.

    On a different topic, have you, or are you close to reaching million miler status with your preferred programs? You fly a great deal and I figure you’re pretty close or well on your way to receiving your life time benefits.

    I hope the new AA frequent flier program does not go the way of UA and DL. I hope they allow you to continue to redeem your system wides with no fare restrictions. On the UA side it becomes a pain looking for those upgradeable fare types. Ugh!

  14. @Lucky – I had confirmed SWU one of the recent flight with AA and when I called in to add Alaska Air mileage Plan, the rep said I would lose my upgrade, and since I am using AA benefits, I need to credit my miles to AA 🙁 Is this true? Doing at the check-in had its own problems, as the check-in agent did not do it correctly and the miles got credited to AA :(. Any solution on how to make it work in future? What about unconfirmed SWU upgrade where you are waitlisted?

  15. When the US/AA merger was announced, I decided to focus on BA. I’m based in PHX, and usually pay to fly in business or first, so the lounge access is valuable and BA gold is faster for me to achieve than US CP or AA EXP. BA is my only nonstop option to Europe, so I fly them a fair amount.

    With their staggered end of year, my year ends in April and I’m gold and shod easily earn it next year as well.

    I’m flying on CX in a few weeks… You mention your love of Hong Kong… Do you have a preferred guide or blog post with recommendations for the city? It’s a work trip but I have an extra day or two to see a few sights.

  16. lucky,

    Really enjoyed reading this article…so how about a new topic? Starting at ground zero, and in the face of new changes on the horizon for frequent flyers….What strategies would you employ to achieve a premium level with any carrier; with whom, and how? Obviously, once one achieves elite levels it is easier to requalify or move up…but please provide a strategy for a traveler who has no loyalty program and map a course for 2014 to achieve an elite level permanently (at least for a year, not an introductory trial)

    I know it would be welcome help!

  17. @ murtuza — You’ll only want to change the mileage number once your upgrade is confirmed. I always just change the number at check-in, find that to be easiest. Just make sure they put in the right number.

  18. @ trust778 — Out of Guam it’s tough to beat Star Alliance, so I don’t think it makes sense to switch. I’m almost million miler with American — definitely started too late with them, since they used to count all earned miles towards lifetime status, and not just flown miles.

  19. @ John Delta — That’s a great idea for a future post. Generally speaking I firmly believe that nowadays you’re much better off strategically buying miles than going for status, so I think it’s tougher to outline a strategy for achieving status when it really doesn’t make sense.

    Delta and United have elite qualifying dollars, while the future of American’s program is somewhat uncertain given the merger, so I wouldn’t want to recommend flying them only to have them adopt a revenue based program next year.

    So generally this isn’t really a time that I would get into the “status game,” unless there’s a compelling reason.

    Hope that makes sense.

  20. After several years as a 1K I am throwing in the towel. Just ain’t worth it, I find myself so low down the upgrade list sometimes it’s silly, and I’m usually not even on the cheapest fares. I’m almost at 1 million miles with UA, but thinking of starting from scratch on another carrier. However being based in A UA hub makes that difficult.

  21. You are too crazy! Well we all are…but this is your job, and it pays for you. So basically it is a business expense!

  22. @Nick
    As an sfo based flyer, I quit 1k last year and jumped to Aa for the reasons you mentioned. I did wait to make it to 1MM before bolting.

    It is rare I don’t get an upgrade on aa but it does cost the time of connecting, instead of taking the UA nonstop. Traveled to rdu and bos last week. Each leg took 2 to 3 hours more on aa with connection than the UA nonstops. But I did sit in first. A big trade off.

  23. Quick question. Was the AA promotion last year where you receive extra miles and a possible extra upgrade at different junctures a one time thing? Haven’t seen it mentioned lately so did not recall if it was a permanent part of the program now or not. Thanks and congrats on achieving AA EXP again so early. I just hit Gold and have flights booked to put me over Platinum. Wish I were done:)

  24. I have a marketing job that takes me all over the US. Lucky for me I live in Seattle and Alaska now has non-stops to every area of the country I need to travel to. I easily have become a Gold 75 member and 98% of the time I fly first class for coach fare. I also have a Alaska Visa and book my flights on their business site called Alaska Easy Biz, which gives me even more FF miles. This year it is First Class on Emirates to Rome!
    Pat

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