How To Use American’s Special Fares To Reach Elite Status Faster

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As I mentioned previously, over the coming days and weeks you’ll see the occasional post from a fellow reader who has applied to write for OMAAT on an ongoing basis. It’s possible that posts will still be in the publication queue after we’ve announced our decision, so we’ll be publishing these anonymously. We hope you enjoy the different perspectives!


Between elite benefits being cut, sub-par service, reward devaluations, and upgrades becoming harder and harder to come by, there has never been a better time to be a free agent frequent flier.

While it may sting for many of us falling short of top-tier status in a specific program like we have for years, the lack of incentives the airlines have given us to be loyal to them the past few years has in turn allowed us to become more loyal to things like schedule, convenience, and price.

Some of us still have our preferences of course — or are captive due to living near a certain airport hub — but diversifying one’s approach to flying has quite a few benefits in this day and age.

Just ask Ben how nice it is to have the flexibility to be AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold, and Delta Platinum Medallion, when it comes to planning travel or crediting flights nowadays.

Pushing for Platinum

We’re almost through the first quarter of the year (hard as that is to believe) so everybody should have a general idea of how they’re tracking towards requalifying for 2019 status… and what steps we might want to take so we’re not scrambling to put in a few mileage runs in late December.

While I have plenty booked to the point that it shouldn’t be an issue to maintain my status with Delta, going for AAdvantage Platinum with American is starting to make some sense too. If nothing else, being able to secure oneworld Sapphire status would be a great perk to have in my back pocket in the future.

By planning ahead, having elite status in two different programs may take a little extra work up front but there are a few shortcuts one can use so you don’t have to spend days at a time on a plane.

When it comes to AAdvantage in particular, the use of so-called ‘Special Fares’ could help you reach that next status milestone sooner than you think.

Leveraging Special Fares

Here’s how American describes Special Fares: “Special fares are often purchased through a specialized agent, third party or as part of a package including air transportation and lodging.”

Typically these come from travel agents, online travel agencies, or vacation packages American itself sells but it also applies in many cases to tickets booked when redeeming Amex, Citi, or Chase points, through their respective websites.

While not every flight codes as a Special Fare when redeeming points this way, the vast majority of bookings made with Chase Ultimate Rewards do and I’ve had some good success with Amex’s travel portal in the past as well. You can check out this post on Frequent Miler for a lot more detail on how to decode some of the fare rules.

While you are much better off booking directly with American when it comes to short flights and/or expensive tickets, you can wind up coming out way ahead if you strategically go the Special Fare route when it comes to cheap long-hauls. That’s because miles and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) are awarded based on good ol’ fashioned distance instead of the base price of your ticket.

Planning a trip

I’ve been searching for a late summer vacation that could double a bit as a mileage run to get me a little closer to my goals before work starts to pick up in the fall.

American’s new non-stop from Dallas to Reykjavik has been on my radar since it was announced and there are some decent fares out of Chicago in late August that I’ve been eyeing. That could suit both of my goals and give me the opportunity to spend some time checking out the new Centurion Lounge that will open in Dallas in the coming months as well.


While not technically a mileage run, 4.4 cents per mile isn’t too shabby for a place I’d like to visit this year and even in economy the flights aren’t too long to manage in the back of the plane.

Earning miles

Looking at the above itinerary, all of these flights book into the ‘Q’ class and would normally calculate miles off the $291 fare and carrier-imposed charges. That would result in earning the following when booking directly on American’s website:

  • 291 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs)
  • 9,088 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs)
  • Between 1,455 award miles as a base AAdvantage member and up to 3,201 award miles as an Executive Platinum

If we’re able to book using Special Fares though, the earnings change:

  • 909 EQDs
  • 9,088 EQMs
  • 4,544 award miles as a base member and up to 9,997 award miles as an Executive Platinum

That’s right, on top of earning over three times the number of EQDs, this would also net you more American miles as a regular AAdvantage member than Executive Platinums would earn if they booked directly.

Ben values these miles at 1.3 cents each so that’s an increased return of at least $40 when using Special Fares.

Booking flights

If you wished to redeem American miles, this same itinerary in economy would require 60,000 AAdvantage Miles roundtrip plus $35.01 in taxes. If you wanted to upgrade to business class, that would cost a whopping 115,000 miles roundtrip — and you’d likely need to take a much longer connection flight to Iceland through London (on British Airways) given limited availability.

In this case though, we’re going to utilize a stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with our Chase Sapphire Reserve® to pay for the trip in order to secure a Special Fare. The cost is the same $401.51 through the Chase Travel Portal and works out to a grand total of 26,767 points — a rate of 1.5 cents per Ultimate Rewards point.

That’s a bit below the 1.7 cents Ben values Ultimate Rewards points at but it allows us to earn miles for our flight and get us that much closer to earning elite status. That’s the best of both worlds and you could even apply an American systemwide upgrade to sit up front too.

Bottom line

The move to revenue-based frequent flier programs has certainly changed the points and miles game quite a bit the past few years but there are still several tricks you can use to maximize everything from miles to earned to how you go after elite status.

Both Delta and United also have their own special fares charts that you can explore as well but American’s Special Fares can be hard to beat under the right circumstances and with some advanced planning.


As a reminder, this post was guest-written by a fellow reader. Feedback is appreciated, but please keep the comments kind and constructive.

Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. 1. Special fares don’t seem to work on international itineraries. Flew LAX-SYD-LAX last year twice, didn’t work.

    2. This year I flew MIA-LAS-MIA on a special fare in January, it didn’t work. Then, I flew it again on Tuesday and it did work.

    3. It seems if you can find the word “wholesale” in the fare rules, it usually works…

  2. Lucky, I really don’t understand your logic. If you just want oneworld sapphire status, then go for 600 tier points for BA silver. That’s a much easier and less expensive way of doing so, and you get access to flagship lounges in the US.

  3. A first class post.

    I am pretty well informed and knew these opportunities existed, but this completely set it out for me in a digestible format.

  4. Whenever I’ve booked a special fare via chase/citi travel portals, it shows up as expected in my account where it cannot show fare info. Once applying a SWU and having the ticket re-issued seems to remove to “special fare” aspect and credit was applied based on ticket price. Might have just been bad luck (only done this a few times) or might be that ticket reissue “fixes” the fare info on AAs side.

  5. Awesome post! This is exactly what I was looking for to reup my Platinum status. Do you know the list of places where you can get these kinds of fares?

  6. I haven’t been chiming in too much on the guest posts, but this is the first one so far that taught me something new. Bravo.

  7. If I book through the Chase UR portal, and only use URs for a small traction of the ticket cost, will this still work?

  8. Doesn’t AA offer fewer benefits than to people with the equivalent status on partner OW airlines? I’m curious why you’d want to achieve OW Sapphire on AA rather than, say, BA (where it’s easier to earn). Or is the general irrational hatred of BA blinding people?

    Incidentally, not all FF programmes are based on the calendar year: BA’s is a year from the date you first joined.

    I don’t think I’m the target market for this post, but I don’t know anyone (since my granny died) who uses phrases like “this day and age” or words like “nowadays”. And I’m *really* old. Fascinating archaisms.

  9. For all of last year this “trick” worked great for me, both with Citi TYP booked fares as well as Chase UR. As of this year, I’ve tried using both and I get credited EQD and RDM based on fare info now. Are there simply now that many more fares booked via these portals that don’t count as special fares anymore?

  10. @John- read the top of the article… Lucky didn’t write this article haha.

    Also, for someone based in the USA, Sapphire Status thru AA is more valuable as AA gives more perks to their members then one world elites.

  11. I just flew DEN-LAX-HKG and HKG-LAX-DEN with special fare using Chase UR. I upgraded HKG-LAX-DEN using Miles and CoPay and all the legs were still consider special fare. I got 16k EQM, 1.6k EQD and about 11k Award miles(8k + 3k for being gold). The tickets cost me 550.

    I got gold through a promotion and needed 7k EQM and 1k EQD to keep my gold for the year so the special fare let me keep my gold status. If I book more tickets to HKG, about 3 more times this year I’ll hit platinum. Too bad I can’t find more tickets to HKG for 550 haha.

  12. Guest forgot to mention that you can also book this by paying cash in substitute of points. So you can pay cash value and one UR point to keep your atash of points for something more valuable if needed.

  13. Personally I find BA silver status easier to aim for and more advantageous for a AA flyer as it gives unlimited lounge access when flying AA domestically including the fabulous Qantas lounge at LAX.

    interesting trick though if you want AA status and point earning.

  14. This is the kind of content I’d like to see from the new OMAAT writer. It would be good to add how the writer searches and books special fares.

    The intro (about being spread over several programs and looking to optimize the chance of getting status in a program) really resonated with me. I’d love to see more articles geared toward that kind of traveler who is trying to squeeze the most out of everything!

  15. Writing: 8/10
    Content: 7.5/10. ( It is niche in some ways, and not useful for audience outside US. But a good try.)

  16. Special fares work internationally. I flew JFK-HKG last September using AA Vacations and flew ORD-PEK through AA vacations this year. The only thing to watch out for is if you use SWUs as I did on HKG, because AA reissues ticket, after travel credit may be given on normal pricing. I was able to get it corrected, which resulted in over 50 percent increase in EQDs.

  17. @ Tony

    It may be more valuable to you, but the better US lounge access on non-AA OWS might be more valuable for someone else.

    Swings and roundabouts, maybe?

  18. I haven’t commented on any of the guest posts because they have been pretty disappointing on the whole but I would never want to individually disrespect those that tried and put time/effort into their submissions, but this is more along the lines of what I’m hoping you’re looking for. I learned something new with this post, it was written in an engaging enough manner, and the writing style isn’t too jarring of a departure from what we’re used to on this blog. Great job!

  19. Flights on the TY Portal have coded as special fares for me, but flights through Concur (our company’s OTA) have coded as regular fares.

    I can’t recall if I’ve flown on AA with tickets from Student Universe or STA, but they also generally code as special fares. My United tatl to Switzerland (where special fares earn $0 EDQ even though the ticket is issued by United) will allegedly earn almost 15,000 redeemable miles per their calculator.

  20. Just beware, booking through the TYP and UR portals might get you stuck in Basic Economy if you’re booking coach tickets, and there’s no way to force the system to give you a different fare code. Yes, you might still get more EQDs and redeemable miles, but you still have to deal with the same crappy features of Basic Economy. Try the Amex travel portal instead; last time I checked, they block Basic Economy fares altogether. Or just use AA Vacations.

  21. Great post. Also, by focusing on economy flying in order to earn Platinum status, it adds valuable diversification to this forum. (As we know, Lucky’s focus is on First Class. This is an observation not a criticism, it just reflects his stage in life as a pro traveller.)

    Take away points fro the article and comments: Find a cheap AA fare; purchase at Chase portal either points or points+cash; do not use SWU.

    Re the SWU: Are you any safer using it if you buy the fare from AA vacations instead of Chase portal?

  22. Doesnt work!!! Please be aware!!! I did this about a month ago with chase UR points and got the EQD and Miles from the price I paid NOT THE DISTANCE.

    PLEASE UPDATE THIS!!

  23. I think that Elias is rigth! Could you please double check the info? It is vey important always give rigth info!

  24. I guess nobody reads who the author is anymore, and assumes Ben wrote it. Nice post “guest”, I assume you are one of the new hires 🙂 -cheers

  25. Nice interesting post. However, I am still boycotting American Airlines. I am still Gold with them, due to flying I did last year when I was Exp. Let them fly other people. Ha. Alaska Airlines, Jet Blue, and foreign airlines for me. BAH HUMBUG.

  26. I need help to keep my Platinum Pro. I need to get 19,500 EQM’s and 2900 EQD’s to keep my Platinum Pro. Must do this by May 25, 2018.

    Any help or guidance anyone can give is greatly appreciated.

  27. A caution — if you try to upgrade a special far ticket using miles or instruments they do something that usually changes it and you lose the benefit of miles based EQD.

  28. Lucky writes: “Between elite benefits being cut, sub-par service, reward devaluations, and upgrades becoming harder and harder to come by, there has never been a better time to be a free agent frequent flier.”

    Yes – I will think about terrible the FFPs have become as I fly to and from Europe next week in SWU upgraded J on a sub-$500 discount coach fare. The 4th SWU I’ve cleared in 2018, and continuing my record of never having missed a SWU or Miles+Copay upgrade during my several years of EXP status on AA…

    The blogosphere has convinced itself that the US FFPs are awful – doesn’t mean that’s actually true.

  29. @Bob, so how many miles did you earn on your flight. Yeaaaaa, right. AA won’t be getting any of my business any time soon. You can fly AA, I will fly elsewhere.

  30. TBH, Hotel programs are working a lot better than before and Airlines are worse. I have been EXP and frankly the effort and spend required nowadays, not to mention how much I’d have to fly on USAirwAAys to get it is a non-starter. I am EXP and you are too, the minute you spring for a first class fare. It’s a lot cheaper to chase that, and a lot less hassle (domestic). Plus I am not married to one lousy choice. Foreign carriers (all alliances) have more space for awards than AA, and better service and don’t force BA and the stupid charges. Miles are easy to earn with credit cards for that. Chasing elite is more a psychological thing today, and when I feel the old bug creep in, I have to give myself this same argument each time. Besides, from what I hear being EXP isn’t all that any more since the destruction of the EXP desk. Dear AA- you reap what you sow. I’ve been at 2.975mm for 3 years now because I wouldn’t know what to do with 4eVIPs.

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