Middle Age Miles

My 2017 Journey to AA Executive Platinum Status

AA Executive Platinum membership card

As part of Middle Age Miles’ series of introductory posts, we look back in time to 2017 to review my strategies and thought processes as I achieved Executive Platinum elite status on American Airlines for the first time in my flying career.  We hope that this recap helps our readers get to know us better, and we also hope that the strategy review is useful for anyone who is planning to achieve any level of elite status during the last few months of 2018.

In 2017, for the first time ever, I flew enough (and spent enough!) on American Airlines to achieve Executive Platinum status.  I thought it might be interesting to Middle Age Miles readers to understand my thought process and strategies in getting to Executive Platinum, as well as my reasons for going out of my way to get there.

Background

Leading up to my 2017 run to Executive Platinum, I had flown enough to get to Platinum status in a few years, but I had never come close to getting to the 100,000-mile mark for Executive Platinum.  I have had lifetime Gold status for a while as a Million Miler on AA, with many of those first million miles coming from the very olden days when miles earned through spend on my Citi AA MasterCard counted toward Million Miler status.

Living in the DFW area, by necessity we are very tied to AA, such that elite status on AA is very valuable to Philly & me.  We took a handful of flights in 2017 on other carriers, including Delta, United, Alaska, and some international carriers, but the vast majority of our travel was on AA.

The benefits of Executive Platinum status looked very appealing to me.  The crown jewel of benefits would be the 4 systemwide upgrades (SWUs) that come with Executive Platinum status.  Eligibility for unlimited complimentary upgrades on domestic AA flights is also nice.  I also saw real value in having free same-day confirmed itinerary changes and free cancellation of award tickets.  Free same-day confirmed changes gives me the option to book the cheapest flight on a day and later change to one that would have been more expensive.  This can be a gamble, but it can also be worth hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.   And free cancellation of award tickets gives me free rein to book them without a second thought when I see availability, either as a place-holder or completely speculatively.  [Update: And it turns out that I have used all of these benefits during the first half of 2018!]

The Points Guy has taken on the very challenging test of placing a quantitative value on each level of elite status with AA.  In this article, TPG assessed the value of a year of Platinum status at $2,185; Platinum Pro at $3,430; and Executive Platinum at $7,360.  Looking at these values incrementally, TPG valued EXP as worth over $5,000 more than Platinum, and almost $4,000 more than Platinum Pro.  Frankly, I believe the difference between EXP and the lower status levels may be even greater.  For example, we typically fly about 3 round-trip overseas tickets each year, and to me the value of an SWU on one of those flights is more like $750-1,000.  Thus, for us, the SWUs alone are worth ballpark $3,000 to $4,000.

I also thought Executive Platinum status might be even more valuable in 2018 because there might be fewer people achieving the status.  AA had introduced a new spend requirement (EQDs) in 2016 that would impact its elite member rolls for the first time in 2018.  My hope was that the EQD requirement would result in a smaller pool of Executive Platinum members, and thus less competition for domestic upgrades (and for using SWUs on international flights).  [Update: I haven’t seen any reports on how the numbers worked out for AA on elite membership. Our experience has been mixed. We have received upgrades on only about one-third of our domestic AA flights in 2018. On the other hand, so far we are 6-for-8 in getting SWUs to clear in advance on overseas flights, and the last 2 are waitlisted with what I believe is a high chance of ultimately clearing.]

Achieving AA Executive Platinum Status

At this point, I’ll insert the chart of all of my AA mileage-earning flights in 2017, as this will be a useful tool to understand my thoughts and strategies that I’ll discuss afterwards:

Early in 2017, in the normal course, I did a few things to maximize my earnings, which later put us in a better position to get to EXP.  The two biggest examples were:

  • Getting the then-new Barclays AA Aviator Red card.  (Both Philly & I did this; note that the above chart represents my earnings only, but her path was largely similar.)  We would have done this anyway for the sign-up bonus of AA miles.  But I also recognized that the spend level threshold bonuses on the card, particularly the EQDs, could be of great help in attaining a higher elite status level.
  • Purchasing certain flights with Citi ThankYou Points (TYPs) in order to get the mileage earning on these tickets to code under AA’s “Special Fares” chart.  In short, AA uses the Special Fares chart to determine mileage earning when it cannot readily “see” the actual price of the ticket (such as wholesale fares, fares that are part of AA Vacations package deals, and some tickets purchased with points).  And the Special Fares chart is more favorable than AA’s regular chart for high-mileage, low-priced tickets.  (Note: We were also burning our TYPs on AA airfare in advance of Citi’s devaluation of TYPs from 1.6 cents per TYP to 1.25 cents in late July 2017.  So this strategy made sense from both perspectives.)  For example, you can see that I did NOT use TYPs to book lower-mileage, higher-priced tickets from DFW to Atlanta (ATL) in March or from DFW to Santa Fe (SAF) in May.

Basically, by mid-2017, I realized that Philly & I both had a reasonable shot to get to Executive Platinum, but that we would need to do some planning as well as achieve a little “extra” earning to get there.

The major points of our strategy were:

(1)  We converted both of our Barclays AA Aviator Red cards to Silver.  [You cannot apply directly for the Silver card; rather, you have to get the Red card first, hold it for at least 90 days, and then convert it to Silver.  Fortunately, we had both gotten Aviator Red cards in the first quarter of 2017.]  The Red card included a benefit of $3,000 EQDs upon hitting a spend threshold of $25k, but conversion to the Silver card opened up additional EQM and EQD earning possibilities:

  • 5,000 EQMs upon hitting $20k spend in the calendar year (and spend made while the card was a Red card does count)
  • $3,000 EQDs upon hitting $25k spend in the calendar year (same as the Red card, and you can’t double-dip)
  • An additional 5,000 EQMs upon hitting $40k spend in the calendar year
  • An additional $3,000 EQDs upon hitting $50k spend in the calendar year

I ended up earning 10,000 EQMs and $3,000 EQDs with the Barclays AA cards, and Philly earned 10,000 EQMs and $6,000 EQDs.  All of these ended up being necessary for us to earn EXP.

    Barclays AA Aviator Silver MasterCard

(2) Philly applied and was approved for the Citi AA Executive MasterCard.  This card comes with a benefit of 10,000 EQMs upon hitting a spend threshold of $40k during a calendar year.  (It also comes with an Admirals Club membership for the primary cardholder and Admirals Club access for up to 10 AUs. This was very valuable to us, and timely.  Citi had cut Admirals Club access as a benefit of the Prestige card in late July 2017.)  She indeed earned the 10,000 EQMs from this card, and they were necessary for her to earn EXP.

Citi AAdvantage Executive MasterCard

(3) Looking at our planned travel for the rest of the year (and including the earnings from credit cards), it looked like Philly would need an additional 25,000 to 30,000 EQMs to get to 100,000.  Part of this gap would be bridged by a round trip to Europe around Thanksgiving.  I was also going to need an additional few thousand more EQMs than Philly, because she would earn 10k EQMs with the Citi AA Executive card that I would not get.  With that in mind, the next pieces of our strategy were:

(4) For our Thanksgiving trip to Europe, we found that AA had good pricing on Premium Economy seats from DFW to Paris.  AA was in the early stages of introducing Premium Economy, and its price differential for Premium Economy over regular economy was roughly $150 round-trip.  This made it a no-brainer to choose Paris and buy PE seats, which would earn 1.5x EQMs.  This trip would now earn each of us 14,844 EQMs.  (We also paid for the tickets using Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points. This was during the time when I still had the 50% MR rebate on a Business Platinum card I’d upgraded in April 2017. It was a perfect use to burn the MR points before the 50% rebate devalued to 35% a few months later.)

(5) For the next piece of the puzzle, Philly still needed about 14-15,000 EQMs.  I twisted her arm and talked her into a Date Weekend in Maui (trip report to come!), with business class seats back and forth.  We would do this in mid-December, and it would be our last trip of the year.  The business class tickets earned 2x EQMs for a total of 14,864 EQMs on the trip (the outbound was direct but we changed planes at LAX on the return).  The tickets weren’t cheap – a little over $2,000 (again paid for using Amex MR points!) – but they would get us to Executive Platinum … plus we’d get to fly business class to Maui!

(6) And finally, I needed to bridge a few thousand more miles to get myself to EXP.  Basically, I would need a mileage run.  I must have looked at dozens of possibilities, and I was very happy with the one I found.  On a day in early November when Philly had all-day business meetings in Seattle, I could make a one-day mileage run from SEA to JFK and back.  This would generate 4,844 EQMs and 226 EQDs (my all-in fare was only $265, and again I paid for the flights using Amex MR points with the 50% rebate).  This turned out to be a fun and unique day, which I chronicled in a “Diary of a Mileage Run” article that will post tomorrow.  After that, I was only a few miles short, so I booked another one-day mileage run in early December from SEA to San Francisco (SFO) and back, for 1,356 EQMs and 114 EQDs (once again paid with Amex MR points with the 50% rebate).  [If you’re paying very close attention, you might notice that the SEA-SFO mileage run wasn’t technically necessary for me to get to 100,000 EQMs or $12,000 EQDs. The answer to that riddle is that my Dec 12-13 trip to Tallahassee (TLH) was a work trip that was last-minute, and very uncertain even up to the day I left for TLH. I could not count on making that trip in my EXP calculations.]

I made it to Executive Platinum!!!

So, by the end of the day on December 17, success! – Philly and I had both qualified for EXP elite status for the first time.  We definitely spent more on AA than we otherwise would have, in order to qualify.  That said, almost all of the additional “spend” came from our points balances, so our additional cash outlay was relatively small.  And I have to say, for us, the benefits of having EXP status in 2018 have far outweighed our incremental cost to achieve the status.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my journey (and Philly’s!) to Executive Platinum.  I really wanted to make it, both for the benefits and to be able to blog about it to inform and hopefully inspire Middle Age Miles readers.  We will continue to report on our experiences as an Executive Platinum member on Middle Age Miles.


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