As most of you probably know by now, American announced some major changes to the AAdvantage program on Monday, which more or less make the loyalty programs of the “big three” US carriers the same. It’s sad to see the lack of innovation, though at some point it’s liberating — people can now choose the airline which works best for them based on the onboard product and route network, rather than frequent flyer perks.
I’m considering switching to Delta SkyMiles, though I did note there are still some advantages to AAdvantage (pun intended). A lot of people said “well, it’s because you’re a cheapo and don’t spend $12,000 per year on American.” That’s not the case, as I certainly do (unfortunately).
It’s not the revenue requirement that bothers me, but rather that if the program isn’t going to be differentiated, then I’d rather not fly an airline which offers a sub-par onboard product, especially as I find myself on an increasing number of ex-US Airways A320s and A321s.
As I continue to analyze the AAdvantage changes, something interesting occurred to me in regards to the revenue requirement for status.
What we don’t know about elite qualifying dollars
We already know the annual spend thresholds required for status, which only include the cost of airfare before taxes and fees:
- AAdvantage Gold: $3,000
- AAdvantage Platinum: $6,000
- AAdvantage Platinum Pro: $9,000
- AAdvantage Executive Platinum: $12,000
We don’t yet know if any sort of a waiver will be offered through a credit card. I highly suspect it will be offered, given that both Delta and United offer similar waivers. What’s less certain is whether or not top tier status can be earned with a credit card waiver:
- Delta lets you waive the revenue requirement for all status levels by spending $25,000 on their co-branded credit card
- United lets you waive the revenue requirement for all status levels except top tier by spending $25,000 on their co-branded credit card
So that’s still a mystery for American, though I suspect we’ll find out what their policy will be in the coming months, with plenty of time before it’s implemented.
Furthermore, I’d note that American won’t waive the revenue requirement for members registered outside the US, as other programs have done.
A trick for minimizing the EQD requirement on American
There may be a way to spend significantly less on status while still satisfying the elite qualifying dollar requirement. Specifically, check this out (bolding mine):
EQDs will be awarded based on:
- Ticket price (base fare plus carrier-imposed fees, excluding any government-imposed taxes and fees) on American-marketed flights
- Flights marketed by oneworld carriers and Alaska Airlines will earn EQDs based on a percentage of the flight distance and the fare class purchased
With the addition of EQDs, we’ll remove the rule that 4 segments must be traveled on American or American Eagle during the qualifying year to receive elite status.
So for flights marketed by other airlines, you’ll earn elite qualifying dollars based on a percent of the distance flown. This is similar to Delta’s policy, but different than United’s policy.
Let’s look at what this means in practice at Delta. If you’re crediting Air France flights to Delta SkyMiles, you earn elite qualifying dollars at the following rates:
Just so we have another data point, flights on China Eastern accrue Delta EQDs at the following rates:
What this means for American AAdvantage
It’s interesting to note that in the case of Delta SkyMiles, partner flights in discounted business class seem to earn EQDs at the rate of 30-35% of the distance flown. What this means is that if you take a journey of 10,000 miles, you’d earn $3,000-3,500 worth of elite qualifying dollars.
Since American copies almost everything Delta does, I’d assume they’ll have similar EQD earning rates for travel on partners.
In April I wrote a post entitled “Why I’m More Tempted Than Ever By Qatar Airways’ Business Class Fares.”
In that post I explained that flights marketed and operated by partner airlines will continue to accrue mileage based on distance flown rather than the cost of a ticket. But this also has interesting implications for elite qualifying dollars.
Take the following fare, from Casablanca to New York:
The cost of the ticket is ~$1,833, and it covers a distance of 20,548 miles. Under current earnings rates, an Executive Platinum member would earn:
- 30,822 elite qualifying miles
- 46,233 redeemable miles
Starting next year, elite qualifying dollars will also come into the picture. Assuming you earn 30-35% EQDs based on distance flown on discounted business class fares, you’d also earn ~$6,165 to ~$7,191 worth of elite qualifying dollars. That satisfies more than half of the Executive Platinum revenue requirement.
Similarly, I recently booked an ~$1,150 roundtrip business class ticket on British Airways between San Francisco and Rome, connecting in London. That covers a flown distance of ~12,500 miles, so if you earn 30-35% elite qualifying dollars per flown mile, that would get you $3,750-4,375 towards the spend requirement for status with American.
In both instances, that represents EQDs at more than triple the normal rate.
There are still a lot of unknowns, like what kind of an EQD waiver will be offered, and whether it will cover top tier status (as is the case with Delta), or just lower tiers (as is the case with United).
We also know that American will offer EQDs for travel on partner airlines based on a percentage of distance flown, though we don’t know the exact amounts yet. Assuming it’s similar to Delta, it sure seems like a good strategy could be to find cheap premium fares on partner airlines, for the purposes of increasing your EQD total.