Here’s My Strategy for Keeping Elite Status With American

My paid travel has been relatively light so far this year, I’ve flown far more award miles so far than paid miles. Of course we’re only six weeks into the year, and that balance is about to change.

But I care a great deal about my American Airlines Executive Platinum (100,000 mile flyer) status. So to make sure I’m in a position to keep it I’m doing all I can — and I don’t really mileage run, the cost of my time is just too high independent of the cost of tickets.

I prefer to mileage run from home. With credit cards.

My US Airways MasterCard gives 10,000 elite qualifying miles after spending $25,000 in a year. I’ve done that, and my 10,000 status miles have already posted.

So now I am working on earning elite qualifying miles through the Citi American Airlines Executive Card. It’s their expensive card that comes with lounge access, and I have it also. (I wonder why…)

I have to put $40,000 in spend on that card and I will earn 10,000 American AAdvantage elite qualifying miles.

And I am completely confident that qualifying miles earned both in US Airways Dividend Miles and in American AAdvantage during 2014 will combine to count towards 2015 elite status with American.

I’m thrilled that the US Airways card issued by Barclays is going to stick around (for existing cardholders only) after the two airlines merge. I do not know that its benefits remain the same, but having both cards could be a mechanism over the next 2-3 years to earn 20,000 qualifying miles per year based on spending, rather than just the standard allowable 10,000 qualifying miles.

And for folks who aren’t going to generate enough spending (a combined $65,000!) to earn qualifying miles from both cards, the US Airways offerings gives you 10,000 status miles at a lower spending threshold and lower annual fee than the Citi Executive card.

For me, I figure the extra credit card spending for status miles is a cheap way to avoid having to buy up 10,000 qualifying miles towards status.

Once I’m through with the $40,000 spend requirement for 10,000 qualifying miles with the Citi Executive card, I may turn to the Hyatt Visa where $40,000 spend will help me with 10 qualifying nights towards keeping my Gold Passport Diamond status…

The funny/ironic thing? In the end I probably won’t need the extra nights or extra qualifying miles at all, I certainly didn’t in 2013. But I’m pretty conservative by nature and value my status quite a lot. I don’t want to get into the year and find myself behind.

Are you as elite status-obsessed as I am? Do you take measures like this to ensure you’ll maintain your airline or hotel status?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Do you anticipate that the combined airline will have some sort of status purchase option going forward, as US now does all the way to Chairman and as AA has toyed with this year?

  2. @JetAway- American’s offering was really only new this year in that you could top off to Executive Platinum and not just buy back Gold/Platinum. I expect there will still be some kind of buy up/buy back because in some way it’s been a part of both programs.

  3. I assume you will collect the bulk of your miles from non credit card bonuses in AA. If so, the gamble is that you will “waste” 25k in spend you could have used for other purposes. I collect US miles, so for me, the extra 10k EQM require 40k in spend. That’s a lot of spend for me. What is the basis for your high confidence that EQM will count from both?

  4. I thought I had read somewhere that USAir and AA EQMs would _not_ be combined for status. In your post, your wrote that you are “confident” this would happen. Has this been officially confirmed or is it just your well-educated guess? I’m hoping you are right, because I have both cards, and I’m currently working on the $40K spend on the AA card.

  5. To answer your question at the bottom, no I am not as elite status obsessed as you are. I have held at least DL Silver status for 4 years now, and am currently both DL Silver and AA Plat (Thanks to the targeted offer late last year that was incorrectly offered to anyone). I would imagine that come 2015 whenever the 2014 status expires I will be without status on any airline. And, I’m OK with that. A nice perk to have, but I have probably paid more to remain loyal since having status than any amount of value I’ve gained from having it. So, I stop chasing and will just go with the best itinerary at the best price for me.

  6. Me three. I read that EQMs will definitely not be combinable. Are you betting on a mistake?

  7. Don’t forget that that $65k spend put on those two chards has opportunity cost: surely if that wasn’t an option, there’s an alternative for that spend, such as putting it on the SPG Amex. The difference in the value above what you value AA/US points is the benefit you’re forgoing by going for those CC EQM.

    I prefer to just look for cheap fares, use my SWUs on them, and earn EXP it by flying. I’m already booked to 103,994 EQM on AA this year for $3,300 with legitimate trips (but absurd routings) to Shanghai, Beijing, 2x Hong Kong (confirmed in J for DFW-HKG 77W w/SWUs), then 2x LAS-PHL US MRs. Even if you fly a lot on award miles, finding low fares and going legitimate places isn’t that hard, especially if you’re flexible on dates, and EXP is very attainable.

    I’m just hoping they do the “Elite Rewards” again this year. 150k of flying an effectively earn you 15 SWUs!

  8. I thought I read that they won’t be combining miles and I thought I read it in AAs website.

    The issue of combining is more complicated than it seems due to things like EQPs. Since you can credit EQMs to either airline, there isn’t a need for them to do this soon, ie in 2014.

  9. Absolutely.

    I have the (no longer available?) United MileagePlus Visa Signature Platinum Class (that’s a mouthful) card that give me 5,000 PQM for $5k with United, and 5,000 PQM at $35k spend. I think I can do the other 90k miles with my business travel and perhaps an Asia mileage run/vacation to burn my GPUs as well.

    It’s going to be tough; I’m doing 35k miles of award travel for much the same reasons as you, I imagine. I have BOS-FRA-BKK-TPE in mostly first, including Thai A380 which I am very much looking forward to. And then BOS-DUB-IST-MLE, but that’s just business due to the airlines.

    I noticed when I booked the MLE trip that United offers Premier Accelerator on award tickets; I never noticed that before. I had the options of 50k or 75k PQMs! That’s a very fast way to make 1K, but the price was what you’d expect — about $0.10/mile. That’s clearly not worth it to me.

    I’m also going to be putting $40k on my Hyatt Visa for the 10 nights credit, although I’m already at 12 nights for the year so should make Diamond even without. I may keep an eye on that as the year progresses and favor my Chase Sapphire card instead.

    My biggest annoyance is having invested in United miles for the past several years. I was at nearly 1.9m miles before my recent bookings, and even now I’m still above 1.2m. They’re just so hard to spend efficiently, especially when I’m trying to make my mileage. I was thinking I’d bank them for partner first award travel once I had less work travel, but the devaluation changed all that….

    A related question — is it ever possible to book “standard” awards on StarAlliance partners? I’ve only ever seen results at the “saver” level, which are obviously much more constrained in availability.

  10. I was just explaining this exact conversation to my wife tonight. I now have two AA elite cards, I got the second for the 100K bonus. I also have both Us Air cards. I was wondering if I spent 130K if I would get 40K Elite points. Although I need to make sure I top off my SPG card. Now on the other hand the SPG card has been a favorite but lately I have stayed in some really under maintained SPG properties. It may be time to change to Hilton and Hyatt.

  11. @Alan Just keep an eye on the FT Mileage Runs forum and
    My fares for this year to EXP: $630 PHL-PVG, $64 LAS-PHL, $448 PHL-PEK, $120 PHL-PSP, $445 LAX-NRT (mistake fare), $747 SFO-HKG, $668 SFO-HKG.

  12. Yes Gary, rest assured there are others just as obsessed with airline status.

    I’m a spend machine to maintain my Delta status. I hold both a personal Delta Platinum and a business Delta Reserve to maximize my MQM miles that I can earn by spend alone. A whopping $110,000 combined spend on the cards nets me 50K MQM so I am Gold no matter what. Spend takes me about 1/2 year or less depending on how I spread my business spend across some Chase cards. A decent MQM rollover and a few flights and I am Platinum no issues.

    I would need to do a bunch of mileage runs to hit Diamond and so far the benefits of Platinum are good enough especially now that I’m not stuck in upgrade queue hell by purchasing business class flights almost all the time (thankfully billable to my clients).

  13. @amol

    They said miles won’t combine in 2014 but did not say won’t combine for 2014 elite status. Vague at best.

  14. To several commenters I am betting very strongly that elite qualifying miles earned through American and US Airways will be combined for 2015 status, I would be truly shocked if that did not happen.

  15. Gary, Having multi US cards and Multi Exec cards will the 10K elite miles counts on each card I have?

  16. @leonard and @Tony
    The terms of the AA Exec card are quite explicit
    Even if you have more than 1 exec card you will only get 10k EQMs
    For those of us with grandfathered US cards
    10k Bofa Visa
    10k Bofa Business Visa
    10k Barlays MC
    10k Barclays business MC
    we hit 40k
    a 10k AA Exec = 50k EQMs
    All we need are 50-60k on AA/US (crediting to US to be conservative)
    Then there is the CO PP card = 375k every other year = 75k EQMs = permanent Platinum on UA
    Lastly, 2 DL Plats, and 1 DL DR= 70k MQMs for 160k spend every other year + minimal flying = Permanent Platinum Medallion = free award changes
    Of these the hardest to get via cards is AA EXP and for that there is the backup plan of lifetime Plat 2MM
    I estimate that 375k alternate years for UA
    with 100k for US + 40k for AA AND 160k for DL = 300k
    will give lifetime status on all major alliances
    The opportunity cost is 7500$ cash back lost for UA alternate years less value of at least 6000$ for the 375k miles = real cost 1500 for free cancels for 2 years and free upgrades
    For AA and DL it is less expensive
    US 100k = 2000$ cost + 300$ fees
    AA 40k = 800$ cost + 450$ fees = 3500$ for half way to status
    Less value of 140k AA miles = about 2500$ minimum = 1000$ for half way to status
    DL 160k = 3200 lost cash back + 150+450 = 3800$ for 2 yrs.
    The DL miles here are 70+70+90 = 230k miles = worth at least 2300$ = so real cost of “buying” DL PM is about 1500$

  17. @ffi
    Thanks for the info on grandfathered US cards. Have you successfully gotten multiple 10k elite qualifying miles on usair in prior years?

    For me, the opportunity cost is very high, as I could get my wife the American Executive card, where 10k spend plus $250 would get 100k miles.

  18. is there a list for us newbies of how may eqms you need for each airline? thank you for your great informative posts!

  19. Maybe it is me but I dont see any stratedy,all I read was you will spend the ths reqd amt to get the EQM, call me dense but isnt tHat what everybody is trying to do?so what is the difference? unless you are just showing how easy is it for you to spend those amount and able to qualify earlier than normal spender like us. isnt strategy is a steps on how to acieve zomething and if all you gavd to do is spend that is not a strategy but a norm. Maybe it is just me not understanding the blog.

  20. @margiec Yeah, at each airline’s web page, besides knowing how many miles each airline requires, why not learn about the program themselves…

  21. @Beachfan
    I know the bofa cards work this year and am reasonably sure they will work in Jan 2015, but they may not after March 2015 or whenever the programs merge as one.
    So my advice to those with old cards is to use them first to get the EQMs and then later use the AA Cards later in the year.
    In the meantime for those who want to goose their flying status with spend, focus on US and not AA first.
    The downside is that US Status is less valuable than AA Status especially with the SWUs, so for the true flyer, focus on AA, for the spender on US for now, while the opportunity exists.
    I suspect that BofA will go away, but Barclays will stay for 3-4 yrs.
    Whether the spend EQMS survive is another issue as I posted earlier.
    I think AA would be wise to at least follow UA version of allowing spend to count for EQMS. DL is even better.
    DL is the most profitable of the 3 and they know this backdoor and allow DM with just cards. All they do is to focus on the true high spender (40k+) and still look after the rest with the older “medallion” status levels.
    Allowing “elite flying miles” to identify the true high value customer is a hit and miss. Spend counts even on cards, as it generates loyalty for later flying. Real high value people who throw free money at them on high last minute premium fares are the cream and since they have a lot of discretion, they need to be identified, while not throwing the rest under the bus. So I think DL has it right and so does UA with GS, while AA does not truly distinguish their best customers from good customers

  22. Like some have said getting status is getting way over blown. When all the new rules kick in I’m going for the best priced tickets. While your spending thousands on MS and running around to use it I’ll be sitting on the beach enjoying a drink thinking about all the work I could be doing, NOT. I don’t live on a plane so it’s easy for me to say, no more milage runs, just time on the beach in South or Central America.

  23. Jim — one size definitely does not fit all. I travel about 40 to 60k each year for work, often 500 to 1000 mile segments at a time. The ability to get an EQM boost to a status that ensures high percentage of free upgrades is huge for me. Whether it is by mileage running if deqm come along or taking advantage of credit card eqms, is a priority that makes a meaningful difference to me.

  24. I have retired from mileage running. It helps that I have A3 and LT plat on AA.

    I do not miss it one bit.

  25. You can pay for many aspects of elite status… but, not all. You can buy early boarding and better seats…but, not for elite phone line access, better treatment, etc. I value elite status but it’s not as valuable since you buy aspects a la carte.

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