Background about last year’s EXP challenge and the value of Executive Platinum status with American
Last year I was able to take advantage of a limited-time status challenge all the way up to Executive Platinum (top tier) for flying 30,000 miles in 90 days. At that time I was just starting a new job and time off was not an option, so it meant lots of weekend mileage runs and time away from home. On a Saturday morning, I would head to the airport and fly from the east coast(ish) through Dallas to the west coast(ish) sometimes Alaska in order to accrue enough miles to hit the status and land back on Saturday or Sunday night.
I value Executive Platinum (EXP) status at about $2000 because of the very generous (8) system-wide upgrades that can move anyone you choose from the cheapest coach ticket up to international business class (or business to first if you have a ticket in J class). I value each upgrade at $250 because if I were offered a business class seat on a flight of 8 hours of more overnight that’s what I would pay every single time.
There are some other perks in terms of domestic upgrades, and first-class lounge access instead of business on international flights regardless of class of service. From my departure city to most of my domestic destinations the flights are short and often on regional jets making the domestic upgrades a rare treat. The same marginal benefit for the “Flagship First Class Lounge” I used on a recent Chicago-Tokyo flight is rarely used, and the flagship lounge only slightly above the business class lounge. The real benefit for me are the system-wide upgrades (SWUs) and access to the Executive Platinum phone line which can really help when in a pinch.
When I mileage run I create a spreadsheet that shows the cost of the flight, the miles I should receive, and the value returned to me. The value comes from a few sources. For example, I value AA miles at about 2.5¢/per. The math is relatively simple. The cost of a trip to Europe is 40,000 miles and the amount I would pay before choosing to redeem miles is $1000 ($.025 x 40,000 = $1000). Flights under $1000 I generally book with cash, those that price over that amount I generally book with miles.
There are also Business Extra points which are in addition to your regular American Airlines Aadvantage miles, these I value at $.25/each on similar criteria. These reward your business for choosing American Airlines for flights and since I also have a business I have access to this program as well. Then there are credit card miles for the purchase of the tickets which also act as a “rebate” in the form of double miles when booking with that card.
If you are thinking about this challenge or value American/US Airways miles, you really should get this card. I carry it and as Barclays will no longer be the credit card partner once the two merge, this is a one last chance to get this card before it goes away. All told, my goal is to come out as close to even as possible between the amount I spend on the flights and the value the earned miles will return to me at a valuation of 2.5¢/per. One flight example might look like this:
EQMs = 9,180
RDMs = 18,360
Cost = $358
Credit card miles = 716
Total miles earned = 19,076 @ 2.5¢ = $476.90
Business Extra Points = 70 @ $.25 = $17.50
Total rebate on my $358 flight was $494.40
Less the cost of a hotel ($90) = $404.40
In this example I actually came out with more value in miles and points than I spent on the ticket. It doesn’t always work out this way, but sometimes it does. Some will dispute my valuation, but the value of miles is always subjective and very much a personal analysis of your buying and travel behaviors.
For me and my wife, we base the acquisition value on what we would typically pay for a given flight before burning the miles for a coach ticket (Europe example above, Tokyo is $1250, etc.). While cheaper deals can be found to Europe and Tokyo, they may not work for your travel dates so these are the top of the range for us on cash price tickets.
That being said, when we actually redeem those miles, they are almost exclusively for business class seats. That may give us a value of 4-6¢/mile but we would not likely pay that much for a business class seat, so we only value based on what we would spend in coach, and the additional value from the business or first class seat is just that – additional value.
As you can see, EXP status and mileage runs have a significant value to us and it has been hugely beneficial to have the status this year. But I know that I would not requalify this year and with the pending merger that left me in a precarious situation. The thought of dropping to Gold status without mileage runs makes me shudder and even with mileage runs I will only end the year on a combined 70k miles for both airlines.
This lead me to a US Airways Status challenge
Some months ago I convinced the Sherpstress of a speculative move that could pay off huge for us. Though I was already EXP I was going to buy a Preferred Status Trial at the Silver level for $200, then book enough flights to make Chairman (equivalent to EXP) knowing that next year there would be a merger of the two programs at some point in 2015. If that track got delayed in any way, I would have just 2 SWUs to use for myself and 2 companion SWUs for the Sherpstress and only on US Airways flights (nothing to Asia or South America) which would not be worth it for us. It was a big gamble to spend not only the money on the challenge itself, but the flights, the hotels, and the time away from home.
I was able to knock it out on just two trips this year, one to Hong Kong and another to Bangkok due to some amazing fares and the ability to fly on American metal using some EXP SWUs from this year.
Everything went well (trip reports may come from those once I get caught up on everything else) and I currently hold both EXP and Chairman Status through February of this year, Chairman through Q2 of next year, and EXP after that merged programs through Feb 2016.
But it gets better
From February of 2015 I will have another 2 US Airways SWUs and companion SWUs to use before the integration in the following couple of months, at which point if they are unspent they will be lost. There is no way I am letting these go to waste. They are far easier to use than AA’s SWUs but the route network is significantly limited. Find the right flights and burn them as soon as you get them.
Once integration occurs I will have another 8 SWUs available for any flight on both AA and US to use by February 29th of 2016. That’s far better than I could have hoped for, and I am really glad it’s what was delivered. There is no question that between now and the integration the New American Airlines is the most valuable for frequent flyers.
And you can do it too!
Preferred trials are still available for as little as $200 for Silver, $400 for Gold and $600 for Platinum. During the trial/challenge you do not have to have status on any airline prior but you cannot participate if you already have US status, though you can if you have American status. During the trial period (90 days) you need to fly a certain number of segments or miles to retain the status level you have purchased (though you get that status as soon as you buy the trial). Here is how many miles or segments are required:
I suggest only buying a silver trial. The cost is the lowest at just $200, and you will earn and retain whichever status you achieve. For example, let’s say you buy the silver trial but fly 31,000 miles, though you only paid for the silver trial you would still earn and retain Chairman’s status. The only advantage to buying a higher status level is if you anticipate flying lots of short flights and want a better chance to clear upgrades (they are ordered by status level).
I gambled that this would work out and translate to EXP for next year, but after the announcement this week from American, you no longer have to gamble. This is a sure thing. And it can be extremely affordable. Others were able to post quicker than I have regarding this inexpensive route to the most generous elite status available among US carriers but to my knowledge I am the only one that has actually completed it already (finished in September prior to the announcement). I say that not to brag, but rather to attest to my readers that it is not an experiment, but rather a guarantee.
Less money than you think
Some have posted that this can be had for less than $2000 which would certainly be a bargain, (those routes involved 6 coast to coast trips). I would argue that you can do it even cheaper than that. Houston to Hong Kong via Dallas on American Airlines can take you from zero to Platinum status in one weekend for $882 (17,200 miles).
Add a flight to Rome over another weekend via Philadelphia for $837 for another 11,360 miles and you’re there (though I would probably repeat back to Hong Kong for nearly twice the miles and only $45 more).
You may be able to find an even cheaper route than I did, I am sure they are out there, but I (like many others) am restricted to weekend travel and would prefer to invest as little time as possible in obtaining this status, including time searching.
Remember that only flights on US Airways, American Airlines and their connector airlines (Envoy, American Eagle, etc.) count. A codeshare flight with an AA flight number on a British Airways airplane will not count.
Not going to last…
American Airlines did not mention this in their release this week, and to be fair after beating around the bush I had to confirm with them outright that this would be valid.
Despite that confirmation, American has closed other loopholes like being able to outright purchase status on US Airways and has already started to reduce the bonus amount for purchasing Dividend miles. I imagine this opportunity will close soon (much like the Hyatt Diamond Challenge), so you should take advantage of this right away. Additionally, the quicker you start and complete the trial the faster you will have access to the US Airways systemwide upgrades (two one ways) and the companion upgrades (must be on the same PNR).
Good luck, hope to see you next year in the front of the plane.
Disclaimer: If you determine that a US Airways card is right for you and your financial situation, I will benefit from a sign-up using the link above. That being said, I would not advise anything that I do not take advantage of myself, and I carry this card, as does the Sherpstress and it holds no weight in my recommendation.