Forgive me if this turns into a bit of a ramble, but I’ve recently come to the realization that earning American Airlines Elite Status by Mileage Running is not dead, it is just different now that AA has implemented a revenue requirement to the AAdvantage program.
Pre-2017 Mileage Running
Prior to American Airlines implementing a revenue requirement to the AAdvantage program, points enthusiasts would search (often on Flyertalk’s Mileage Run Forum) for the cheapest possible AA marketed flight that would yeild the most possible miles flown. The ratio of Mile Flown and Price paid is known as “Cents Per Mile” and the goal of any quality Mileage Run was to find flights that were under 5 cents per mile. Considering all one had to do was to fly 100,000 miles, prior to Jan 1, 2017, it would cost just $5,000 to attain Executive Platinum status if every flight flown was exactly 5.0 CPM. Easy enough right?
On Jan 1, 2017, while most of us were stumbling home in a drunken stupor, American reset everyone’s AAdvantage accounts as they do every year, but this year, customers found a new circle to fill known as Elite Qualifying Dollars. In order to reach Executive Platinum status with American, AAdvantage members now have to reach $12,000 in EQDs AND fly 100,000 miles or 120 segments! Even worse, if you buy an AA marketed flight, you only earn EQDs for the base fare paid, excluding taxes and fees. So chances are you will need to pay much more than just $12,000/year due to the additional taxes.
I will mention that through Co-Branded AAdvantage credit card spending you can make a sizable dent in the EQD requirement, but for now I won’t include this in my analysis.
Flying Partner Airlines
Since American Airlines is part of the OneWorld alliance there are plenty of possibilities to earn EQMs or EQDs when traveling on OneWorld partners. In the past, it would be best to search for AA flight numbers to earn 100% mileage credit regarless of fare paid, but now that may end up hurting you! Now when you fly on flight with a partner flight number (ex. CY831) and credit miles to the AAdvantage program you earn EQMs and EQDs based on the partner earning charts.
If you look at the charts closely you’ll notice they offer extremely low earning rates on discounted economy tickets. For example, I’ll use a flight from LAX to LHR on British Airways. The flight is 10,912 miles, books into the “O” fare code, and costs $554 (currently). If you booked BA flight numbers, but would earn approximately 5,000 EQMs and 500 EQDs. If you book with AA flight numbers you earn 10,912 EQMs, but just 350 EQDs. The choice would come down to if you cared more about EQDs or EQMs, but each has their drawbacks.
Cabin Economy Solution
If you look closely at the Partner Airlines earning rates, you will notice American awards AAdvantage EQMs and EQDs based on distances flown rather than price paid. The catch is that you must book that airlines flight number (book through their website) because if you book with an AA flight number you will earn based on AA rates.
Example: Cathay Pacific Premium Economy from New York, US to Auckland, NZ (basically the further flight I could piece together). Right now you can book NYC-HKG-AKL-HGK-YVR-NYC, a distance of approximately 28,200 miles, for $2,231.00! Now seeing that $2,300 number may seem outrageous to old school mileage runners, BUT given Cathay’s earning chart you earn 1.5 EQMs per mile flown and 0.2 EQDs per mile flown. In total, taking this flight would earn 42,300 EQMs and 5,640 EQDs! This flight alone would put you very close to earning AAdvantage Platinum status.
Sure the $2,231 price tag seems steep at first, but if you convert the miles earned to CPM you get very close to the 5 CPM threshold of years past. Also, for this to work, you have to fly some pretty grueling 10+ hour flights, but at least you are in Premium Economy, right? Plus if you end up flying the HGK to AKL flights you will be greeted by a fresh Airbus A350 and who doesn’t get excited about that!
Currently, American lists Cathay, JAL, LAN, Qantas, and TAM as airlines with Premium Economy cabins that earn EQMs and EQDs at favorable rates and may be worth monitoring for discounted PE flights.
I think January 1, 2017 was a rough day for American loyalists who woke up and finally saw the EQD requirement. Personally, I had every intention of ditching American when they first announced the revenue requirement since I do not spend (or have the ability to spend), $12,000 on AA flights annually, but after some digging found that there are still ways of attaining top status for much less than $12,000. It seems that Status Chasers just may once again be able to pay just $5,000 – $6,000 to attain the coveted Executive Platinum status from American Airlines.
Personally, I plan on flying at least 30,000 miles for work which will make doing one of these insane mileage runs worthwhile to attain Platinum Pro. I just hope Cathay has a sale on PE flights between now and the end of the year.