Food for Thought: 2016 Airline Loyalty

American Airlines Elite Status

Matt has an excellent post, Rethinking Loyalty, that, has been at the tip of my brain for a number of reasons, not the least of which being American Airlines’s AAdvantage devaluation.


I’ve been an American Airlines’ AAdvantage Executive Platinum for years. I first status matched from United 1K, back when United introduced the Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD) requirement, and I had just changed jobs, where flying United wasn’t as feasible. Since then, I’ve requalified via Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), and the following year, requalified via Elite Qualifying Points, I also shared a status update on that strategy, and I can tell you that I succeeded in July.

More and more I’m questioning whether I should requalify for AAdvantage Executive Platinum. I’ve got 1 trip booked that will give me 20k Elite Qualifying Miles under the new program, I’m trying to figure out what the opportunity cost is of getting the remaining 80k vs. just chasing whatever the best fare is, irrespective of airline. Up until now, my strategy was to attain AAdvantege Executive Platinum Status no later than the end of April, to ensure that I earn the most Redeemable Miles (RDMs) possible, before AAdvantage goes to revenue based earning, which would likely lead to fewer miles earned for me, despite the fact that I usually buy business class tickets (but cheap ones).

I was so close to pulling the trigger on this strategy, that over the weekend, I had found flights, that were crazy. Absolutely crazy. I was going to fly to Europe, so I could turn around and fly to South America, via the US, spend a weekend in Rio, fly to Sao Paulo (separate award), fly revenue to the US, then 2 months later, fly back to Sao Paulo, from there, fly to Europe via the US with a stop-over in the US for a couple weeks, then when I finally do get to Europe, I’d found another itinerary that would take us from Europe to Honolulu, via the continental US (I tried to go via Asia but it was much more), and back. Here’s an idea of what that would look like:

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

All told, that would generate in total, 100k EQMs, under American Airlines’ new program. Depending on my timing, I’d probably get a bit more than the standard RDMs, probably somewhere in the range of 200-350k, to be, well, not terribly exact.

Looking at the Opportunity Cost

If I pursued the above routing, it would take, nearly a week’s worth of leave, which I would say is my most precious commodity. The cost, even with all my travel hacking, would be $763 (for my existing Brazil-US fare)–lets consider this sunk cost, since it was paid before the devaluation was announced–plus probably $3-5k for the other fares, plus miles for repositioning to Europe (although that’s a push, since I need to use the miles to reposition to Brazil). The value of requalifying early means that I avoid any revenue earning, as I would have my status locked in by April.

Looking at the Alternatives and Associated Costs

So, looking at the alternatives, its kind’ve a hard decision:

  1. I keep an eye out for great mistake fares, or otherwise good deal premium fares that would get me to 100k EQMs before the end of the year.
    • Risk: I may not earn as many RDMs if I don’t reach 100k EQMs before AAdvantage goes revenue earning sometime around mid-year. I get greatest value as an Executive Platinum from the dedicated phone number and lack of any fees for making awards, so not getting as many RDMs is a huge hit.
    • Reward: I don’t waste leave / vacation time solely in pursuit of status.
  2. I consider giving AAdvantage Executive Platinum up, and chase the fares or destinations that most entice me, regardless of carrier.
    • Risk: My redeemable miles will be more diversified across multiple programs that may make it more difficult to redeem for premium air travel.
    • Risk: By going elite status agnostic, I’ll likely pay booking fees or cancellation/redeposit fees.
    • Reward: Potential for lower overall outlay for air travel for the year (but doubtful)
    • Reward: Diversified mileage balances, if in sufficient numbers, can insult me from future devaluations.

Food for Thought: 2016 Airline Loyalty

I’m not sure I’m ready to make a decision on the path forward. I think I’ve begun the process by identifying the risks and rewards of various courses of action. It’s perhaps not as in depth as I would like, but, I still have some time.

Circling Back

Of course you’re likely wondering why I’m linking to Matt’s post (if you took the time to read it, which I hope you will). Well, for starters, I think he raises a great point on the hamster wheel that is the pursuit of published status. The second part of Matt’s thesis, that is, finding ways to leverage the unwritten benefits, is something that I need to work on, and may eventually write a post on. Of course, I am starting to think that it is an annual thing for me to question the value of elite status, which I think is an important question to ask each year. It’s just, this year, the question isn’t nearly as clean cut–at least for me–as it was last year.

But for now, I ask the question:

Given the various options, what do you think is the best course of action?

4 thoughts on “Food for Thought: 2016 Airline Loyalty

  1. I have never been more than Gold on AA as far as status goes on any airline, and honestly the only reason why I bother with that is to avoid the $75 close-in booking fee. So my question is, if one could easily “print” miles in MS so that one can book into at least J, if not F, with ease, why would one bother status? Or am I missing some component of the equation?

    • @DL, thanks for your comment! The value I see from status, like I mentioned in the post, are the dedicated phone line, lack of any fees whether it is close-in booking, award redeposit, etc. This year, that’s saved me a couple thousand dollars at least. I also like the free domestic upgrades, but, well, I figure that won’t last much longer.

  2. On some airlines, doesn’t elite status give you access to more low level award seats? I am United 1K and I believe that’s the case for UA. So, if you MS but don’t have elite status, you could be depending a lot more miles.

    • @Mark – you are right. Elite Status does often give you access to more award availability, and in many cases, upgrade availability, so that is a potential loss. Especially if you travel a bunch.

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