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As most of you know by now, a few months back American’s AAdvantage program became revenue based on the earnings side, meaning the number of miles you earn for a ticket is based on how much the ticket costs, rather than the distance you fly.
This is a negative change for a majority of members, since most people are earning fewer miles under the new system. However, some people traveling on expensive tickets are coming out ahead under the new system.
Mileage earning on partner airlines works differently, however. Since American can’t easily track how much some partner tickets cost, miles are still being awarded based on the distance flown rather than the dollars spent. However, earnings rates have generally been adjusted on partners to more closely mirror what they’d be under a revenue based program (in other words, discounted economy fares earn fewer miles, while full fare first class tickets may earn more miles).
Just as an example, here’s what they are on British Airways, which is one of American’s closest partners:
Accruing American miles based on the “special fares” chart
While American in theory awards miles based on revenue for their own flights, they also have a “special fares” chart, in cases where American can’t easily calculate the revenue on a ticket. Here’s what that chart looks like:
Here’s how American describes this special fares chart:
Some fares (such as bulk or consolidator fares) earn award miles and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) at a modified rate based on a percentage of the distance flown as determined by the booking code.*
Special fares are often purchased through a specialized agent, third party or as part of a package including air transportation and lodging.
Generally when you’re booking travel through a portal using points (for example, if you’re redeeming points earned on the Citi Prestige® Card through the Citi travel portal, or points earned on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card through the Chase travel portal), miles would be accrued under the above “special fares” chart. This doesn’t happen 100% of the time, but does seem to the way it usually works.
In many cases you don’t even have to pay for the ticket entirely with points for it to accrue using that chart. For example, take a flight between Los Angeles and Hong Kong through the Citi travel portal, which has a fare of $717.86.
You can choose to redeem just one Citi ThankYou point towards the cost of that ticket, meaning you’d pay one Citi ThankYou point plus you’d pay $717.84.
How you can greatly increase your mileage earning on American
Let me demonstrate this in the form of an example. Let’s look at the above $717.86 roundtrip economy ticket between Los Angeles and Hong Kong on American (which is a pretty normal fare nowadays):
Under the new system you earn miles based on the base fare, which in this case is ~$620 roundtrip (the rest is taxes). That means if booking directly with American you earn:
- 14,494 elite qualifying miles
- 3,100 redeemable miles as a general member (five miles per dollar spent)
- 6,820 redeemable miles as an Executive Platinum member (there’s a 120% bonus)
- ~$620 elite qualifying dollars for travel in 2017
However, if we booked that same ticket through the Citi travel portal and redeemed just one ThankYou point for the ticket, you’d earn:
- 14,494 elite qualifying miles
- 7,247 redeemable miles (50% of the distance flown)
- 15,943 redeemable miles as an Executive Platinum member (there’s a 120% bonus)
- ~$1,449 elite qualifying dollars for travel in 2017 (it’s calculated as 10% of the distance flown)
So just by booking through a travel portal you’re earning more than double as many redeemable miles and elite qualifying dollars. At least that’s how it usually works. Sometimes these tickets still accrue miles based on the revenue, but that seems to be the exception rather than the norm.
You’ll want to crunch the number for each trip on a case-by-case basis, but in many instances you’ll come out way ahead by intentionally booking a “special fare.” This is especially true for cheap trips to Asia, or really any cheap fare covering a far distance. For short or expensive flights you’re generally better off still collecting miles under the revenue based system.
Regardless, this is a great opportunity that I hadn’t put too much thought into up until now, though I’ll certainly be booking a lot more tickets through the Citi travel portal, redeeming just one mile towards the cost of a ticket.
One thing I’m not sure of — and hopefully some readers can chime in — is if booking travel through one of these portals without redeeming any points would also make you eligible for accrual under the “special fares” chart.
Has anyone been booking travel through a portal in order to accrue miles under the “special fares” chart?
(Tip of the hat to The Points Guy)