The Economics of Mileage Running to Requalify for AA Executive Platinum Status: To China or not to China

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American AAdvantage Executive Platinum Mileage Running
AA 787 parked at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport.

American AAdvantage Executive Platinum Mileage Running

Last year I took advantage of an American Airlines promotion and earned 30K EQMs to get Executive Platinum status through February, 2017. To earn those miles I took advantage of some cheap first class fares between the U.S. and Panama. I even tacked on a trip to Cuba to see Havana before air travel was opened up to Cuba this year. It was great.

Normally I wouldn’t have considered requalifying for Executive Platinum status, but a few things conspired to get me close enough to think about it. British Airways had those amazing Avios buy down business class fares. I earned 50K redeemable miles flying one early in the year and then my family and I enjoyed a week in France & Spain in March as well.

Those two flights alone netted me about 36,000 elite qualifying miles. Then, as the year went on with business and other travel I managed to claw my way up to about 55,000 EQMs. This of course is nowhere near 100K so my thoughts of going for Executive Platinum again were dashed. Then, when coming back from China in October I found a cheap one-way fare from Shanghai to Las Vegas via Dallas where I was able to use a systemwide upgrade. Suddenly I was up to 63,000 EQMs.

Going for the (Executive) Platinum

63,000 and some change is where I sit today. 37K EQMs to 100K is a lot, but it is on the edge of doable. In fact, I actually have a somewhat affordable strategy. In December Hainan Airlines is launching their direct service from Las Vegas to Beijing. In response to their low fares, other airlines including American have a good deal on that route. AA is pricing as low as $535 roundtrip.

Roundtrip flights on American would go via either Dallas or Chicago. Simply connecting in either city on the way to/from Beijing only gives 16,000 EQMs. That would leave me short by about 5,000 if I did two roundtrip flights. That is too much. Naturally I started playing with routes and was able to get the following craziness to price out.

LAS-LAX-CLT-DFW-PEK-DFW-CLT-LAX-LAS

That is a lot of flying, but the cost is only $568 ($33 more than the normal roundtrip) and it comes in at 21,000 EQMs. If I earn 21,000 on the first trip, then the second trip can just be a normal roundtrip via Chicago or Dallas to earn the other 16,000. My plan to earn the status with two trips will work, but is it worth it?

American AAdvantage Executive Platinum Mileage Running
A lot of flying. Courtesy of GCMapper.

Things to Consider

  • Before the recent changes, I would have earned 42,000 redeemable miles for the first trip and 32,000 for the second trip. Spending $1,100 for 74,000 miles would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately I will only earn about 10,000 redeemable miles combined for these flights if I go. Boo.
  • I currently have enough systemwide upgrades to ensure I will be upgraded on three legs in either direction so I will be most likely flying up front. Upgrade space isn’t available, but I have chosen flights with almost all business class seats available on the long haul and domestic upgrade space is easier to come by.
  • Starting now, elite status only goes through January of the next year. Since I currently have status through February, this mileage run would only give me an additional 11 months.
  • The first trip would have to be booked with cash due to its complicated nature, but I could use part of my wife’s Sapphire Reserve credit. Since the second trip is just a simple roundtrip, it could be booked through Citi ThankYou at 1.6 cents per point.
  • I will earn 4 more systemwide upgrades for use next year when re-qualifying. So I will be using 4 to gain 4. A wash.
  • Instead of flying via CLT on my first run, I could go via NYC or MIA to avoid the old US Airways 321s that I hate. Unfortunately the best I have been able to do with those cities is about 19K EQMs, which would mean I would have to do stretch routings on both runs plus the CLT route is the most efficient time wise.

How I’m Leaning

American AAdvantage Executive Platinum Mileage Running
One way to earn EQDs not based on fare is to find cheap flights on partner airlines. Premium cabin flights pay a lot more.

I already had plans to return to Japan to visit Tokyo Disney as part of my year of Disney where I am visiting all of the Disney parks in the course of 12 months. I think I can tack on a cheap PEK-TYO flight to do this on my second trip. That is making me lean towards doing the run, but it is a lot of flying.

I could also opt to do the runs in January/February and tack on a couple of other trips to try to re-qualify in 2017 which would give me status through 2019. The only problem I see with that is the new Elite Qualifying Dollars requirement. I don’t spend $12,000 a year with American and while I could get $6,000 of that through credit card spend and perhaps fly partner airlines to make up the rest, it sounds like more work than I am willing to do given the diminishing value of the status.

Conclusion

As of now I have that 21K EQM flight on hold through tomorrow and with the holidays approaching I need to make my decision pretty fast since fares skyrocket in the second half of December. I do feel the value I get from Executive Platinum is very good and thus feel the cost of the flights is worth what I am receiving as long as I can fly up front with a systemwide upgrade. With that said, the time it takes to fly to Asia and back needs to be considered. That is somewhat offset by my desire to go to Japan once, but it still is a lot of time and energy.

What do you think? Is it worth mileage running now that American’s benefits have been cut, their on-time performance is terrible and the earnings are a fraction of what they used to be? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


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25 COMMENTS

  1. This is why I switched to Alaska. At least mileage running makes sense if you are earning something. It is much trickier, but at least LAN credits 100% and any business class fare on sale would be a great run. Thanks for your excellent blog.

    • Dare, I’m thinking of switching too. Do you still get same day standby perks and other benefits on AA flights? What about lounge access on international stop-overs? Thanks

  2. Love the last-minute hustling Shawn!

    Although I am not the biggest fan of American with their cuts, you have already identified one of the greatest tricks to get more EQM’s and EQD’s by flying partners! This trick works very well for another alliance TEAM where I am booking lots of trips around end of year.

    The 4 for 4 SWU’s is an ugly proposition and certainly not the best value for Mileage Running. Personally, I would hold on to the 4, get the additional 4 and use them for a trip with the family.

    Don’t lament over the reduced redeemable miles earnings; it’s just the way it is going to be from now on. Earn RDM’s other ways…EQM’s at the cheapest rate. Heck, you need to be an Elite somewhere, right?

    Go for it!

  3. I want to replicate that exact itinerary as I am in the same boat….what tool do you use for booking that complicated itinerary? The AA website doesnt seem to want to make it work? May I ask how you did it? THANKS

    • If you are there for less than 78 hours you don’t need a Visa in advance. They’ll let you in on a transient Visa. Ive had a few friends use the transient Visa, however you have to fly in and out of the same airport (this may have changed though).

      • For a transit Visa you need to be travelling through China on your way to/from different countries. You cannot fly US – China – US without a Visa. If you flew US – China – Hong Kong – China – US you could transit during both stopovers if you wanted.

  4. Ok. I’m a newbie at this. I have 60,000 eqm on American so nowhere near executive. I had given up but…how do you get miles from partners. I took a few flights on Alaska this year. Not enough to get me to executive but it would get me closer. Also, where do you find these bargain rates to run miles up and how do you link them with aadvantage?

  5. DFW is my ‘home airport’. Been EXP for over 10 years. Just requalified EXP on EQM’s for the first time. AA benefits and perks have changed, and while not for the better, what’s my alternative?

  6. Very creative, but sounds exhausting. Here’s an alternate idea: LAX-SFO-MIA-UIO-MIA-LAX in 1st class – $1,100, double miles due to fare class, so 17.6k miles RT. Do that twice, and you’ll be 1700 miles short, which can be meet with a quick RT to ORD or other inexpensive destination of your choice.

    Granted, it’ll cost you double what you propose but you won’t need to burn 4 system upgrades, probably worth the $1000. You can also book on ThankYou.com (but more expensive) and redeemable miles are calculated as percent of miles flown (Special Fare).

    Good luck!

  7. “I could also opt to do the runs in January/February and tack on a couple of other trips to try to re-qualify in 2017 which would give me status through 2019. ”

    If you did this, you’d still need to re-qual in 2016 no? As the EQM counter gets reset on Jan 1 even though you have status until Feb.

    • Yes it would reset. The 2017 idea would entail more runs, but the idea is instead of earning these 37K EQMs now, if I did it next year it would count towards status for 2 years. I don’t think I am going to do it, but if I did I would do 4 runs to get to Platinum Pro at 75K and then work my way up to 100K through normal flying. With Platinum Pro I would get domestic upgrades although I would admittedly be lower on the list than Exec Plats.

      Either way I don’t want to commit to the AA program for two years nor do I want to run 4 times in Jan/Feb so I think two flights this year is probably my preferred option.

  8. Dumb question:

    How are you able to identify which flights have business fares so quickly? Are you using Google Flights or specifically looking at an AA partner airline?

    Also, is there any benefit to qualifying for Executive Platinum so early in 2017? I’m wondering how you are able to get that (ExecPlat) status for two years instead of just one.

    Thanks.

  9. Asia twice in the span of six weeks is a tedious, especially with Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon. Getting a head start in 2017 would be my preference. Good luck Shawn!

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