Middle Age Miles

Our Plans and Strategies for AA Elite Status in 2019

We used SWUs from AA Executive Platinum status to upgrade to business class from Philadelphia to Prague last summer

This article is Part 5 in our 5-part series on Middle Age Miles about earning and enjoying elite status on American Airlines, and Executive Platinum status in particular. Our 5 articles are:
Part 1Lessons and Strategies from My 2018 Journey to AA Executive Platinum Status
Part 2Diary of a Mileage Run, 2018 Edition: Seattle-to-Phoenix and Back
Part 3The Value We Get from AA Executive Platinum Status
Part 4: Combining 2 Tricks for Massive Savings and AA Elite Qualification Miles/Dollars – Originate in Europe & Buy Biz Class Partner Tickets
Part 5: Our Plans and Strategies for AA Elite Status in 2019

Introduction and Background from 2018

For the past 2 years, Philly and I have qualified for Executive Platinum (EXP) status on American Airlines. It’s truly been nice to have, and as we discussed at length in Part 3 of this series, we’ve gotten a lot of value out of it.

Importantly, the value we’ve gotten from having EXP status has fit into our “normal” unaltered-behavior travel patterns. But that said, we’ve certainly had to go out of our way to earn enough Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) to reach EXP to begin with. In each of the past 2 years, we’ve needed benefits from credit card spend and, in my case, a mileage run in order to qualify for EXP.

Our Extra Costs of Attaining EXP Status in 2018

Last year (2018) the qualification requirements for EXP status were 100,000 EQMs and 12,000 EQDs. Here’s how we qualified:

You’ll notice that we barely crept over the 100,000 threshold for EQMs. Doing so required earning EQMs through credit card spend. Philly earned 10,000 EQMs with $40k spend on her Barclays AA Aviator Silver card, as did I. In addition, Philly earned another 10,000 EQMs with $40k spend on her Citi AA Executive card. My last few EQMs also required a short mileage run between Seattle and Phoenix.

With respect to EQMs, you’ll notice that we were both well short of the 12,000 EQD requirement if you count only our “normal” flying. Each of us needed the 3,000 EQDs we got for $25k of credit card spend on our Barclays AA Aviator Silver cards to cross the 12k EQD threshold.

[We went ahead and spent $50k on both of our Aviator Silver cards to get another 3k EQDs. We didn’t need these for EXP qualification purposes, but they were relatively easy to get through additional inorganic spend using a Plastiq promotion, and they would move us up the priority list for domestic first class upgrades.]

In addition, even within what I’ve called our “normal” flying, we did spent some money and time to get additional EQMs and EQDs for EXP qualification purposes that we wouldn’t have otherwise done:

  • We purchased domestic first class on 6 segments, when we normally would have purchased economy
  • We purchased Premium Economy (PE) tickets on our London trip (DFW-LHR) to get 1.5x EQMs (almost an extra 5,000 EQMs) and a few extra EQDs
    • We might have done this anyway, even aside from qualification purposes. The price premium for PE over Economy was only about $200 each, and we certainly might have paid that for extra comfort in case our SWUs didn’t clear. But we definitely needed these EQMs, so we’re going to “count” this as extra expense for qualification purposes.
  • I flew extra DFW-LAX legs in connection with our Quito (UIO) trip
    • This earned extra EQMs. It actually saved money, but it cost me some time.
  • I also flew DFW-to-Seattle (SEA) on a trip that was otherwise canceled, to use the ticket and pick up the EQMs and EQDs

All in all, it appears that we spend about $1,700 extra for Philly’s EXP status and about $1,450 for mine, broken down as follows:

[A couple of notes here: One, to see how we assess the “net cost” of credit card spend, see our previous article on Big-Spend Credit Card Bonuses & Benefits for 2019 – Yes, No or Maybe?, and scroll down to the sections on the Barclays AA Aviator Silver and Citi AA Executive cards. In short, we assess a “net cost” of $125 per $10k of spend. Two, I haven’t assigned any “cost” to my time. I’m a travel/credit card/points-and-miles blogger after all; this time is just me doing my job.]

Was the Extra Cost Worth It?

Given that we quantified the incremental value of EXP status over Platinum at $4,100 each and the incremental value of EXP over Platinum Pro at $3,025 each, we don’t feel bad at all having spent an extra $1,500 or so each in order to qualify for EXP. In fact, it seems like we made the right decision to go for EXP in 2018.

AA Moves the Goalposts for 2019

Unfortunately, AA has made it more difficult to re-qualify for EXP status in 2019. The EQM requirement is still 100k. However, (a) the EQD requirement has been increased from 12k to 15k; and (b) AA has reduced the number of EQDs you can earn through credit card spend from 6k down to 3k. On the latter point, now we’d have to spend either $50k on a Barclays AA Aviator Silver card or $25k on a Barclays AA Aviator Business card to earn an additional 3k EQDs.

We are not happy with these changes, as they make it much more difficult for us to re-qualify for EXP in 2019. We reviewed the changes in detail in our earlier article, American Clamps Down on Executive Platinums.

Strategy for 2019

With that background and thinking about the 2019 changes, it’s time to assess our strategy for re-qualification in 2019. To analyze this, we need to consider the following questions:

  • One, what does our “normal” flying for 2019 look like?
  • Two, if our “normal” flying will leave us short of 100k EQMs and/or 15k EQDs, can we make it to those thresholds at all? For the one of us who has a full-time job, time off is still a limiting factor.
    • This gives rise to another sub-question – if limited time prevents Philly from re-qualifying, would it make sense for me to re-qualify even if she couldn’t?
  • Three, if our “normal” flying will leave us short, what strategies can we employ to help us get up to 100k EQMs and 15k EQDs?
  • Four, if our “normal” flying will leave us short, what will it cost us to get up to 100k EQMs and 15k EQDs?
  • And five, what is EXP status worth to us? More than the extra cost to get there?

Let’s take question five first, because we’ve already covered the topic of how much EXP status is worth to us, in detail, in The Value We Get from AA Executive Platinum Status. As we mentioned earlier, we quantified the incremental value of EXP over Platinum at $4,100 each, and the incremental value of EXP over Platinum Pro at $3,025 each.

Next, let’s assess what at our “normal” flying for 2019 will look like, as best we can tell right now:

One Big-Earning Round-Trip European Ticket – In our previous article, Combining 2 Tricks for Massive Savings and AA Elite Qualification Miles/Dollars – Originate in Europe & Buy Biz Class Partner Tickets, we explained in great detail how we purchased round-trip business class tickets between Europe and the US for big EQM/EQD earning. We also explained how extra points and benefits other than EQMs/EQDs, in and of themselves, justified the extra cost of this ticket (plus we were saving a bunch by strategically originating in Europe!), so we’re not going to count this as an extra cost.

Earnings: EQMs 22,704; EQDs 2,825

We’re looking forward to a return visit to the spectacular Terrace of Infinity at Villa Cimbrone in Ravello (Amalfi Coast), Italy

Philly’s Regular Work Trips to Seattle – At this time, Philly expects to take one work trip a month from DFW to Seattle. I tag along with her on these trips since Middle Age Miles daughter Maria is at the University of Washington, and besides, I just like to go. I use Amex/Chase/Citi points or some other strategy that has discounted costs but will earn me EQMs and EQDs. (Sometimes, I can use Citi points or some other technique to earn extra EQDs under AA’s Special Fares chart; we discussed this in more detail in Lessons and Strategies from My 2018 Journey to AA Executive Platinum Status (scroll down to strategy #7).)

Anyway, we’re looking at 12 round trips, 3,318 miles each, at a rough average of about 340 EQDs per trip based on past experience.

Earnings: EQMs 39,816; EQDs 4,080

Hopefully we’ll get some good weather on some of our trips to Seattle, so we can see Mount Rainier in the distance

One More Round-Trip Ticket from Europe to USA, in Premium Economy – For the past several years, we’ve taken a trip to Europe in November or December, and we expect to do the same this year. We’ll try to employ the same strategy as with our other ticket, originating in Europe in July and returning from DFW to Europe in Nov/Dec. Our best guess is that we’ll purchase PE tickets, as (a) we don’t think the price premium over Economy will be too much; (b) it’s a much better back-up to be in PE if our SWUs don’t clear; and (c) we’ll earn 1.5x EQMs. We’ll use our current best estimate of what we would earn on this ticket.

Earnings: EQMs 16,000; EQDs 1,500

Cyprus is on the short list of possible destinations for our November/December trip
[image courtesy Cyprus.com]

Other Planned/Expected Travel – We have an assortment of about 10 other domestic trips on our agenda for 2019 for family events and weekend trips (including college football in the fall!). None of these are huge in and of themselves, but they add up. We can tally up the EQMs on these trips pretty easily, but we have to make an educated guess about EQD earning.

Earnings: EQMs 14,900; EQDs 3,150

We’re looking forward to another visit to Notre Dame Stadium this fall!

And, that’s it. All of these trips and flights are highly likely at this point, with perhaps the biggest wildcard being if Philly ended up traveling less for work. So, here are our estimated “normal” travel totals for 2019:

Estimated Earnings from “Normal” Travel During 2019:

• EQMs – 93,420

• EQDs – 11,555

The good news is that our “normal” travel will put us within striking distance of re-qualifying for EXP status in 2019, especially given that we can earn 3,000 EQDs from credit card spend. And we shouldn’t have to spend much “extra” (beyond the net cost of the credit card spend) in order to reach the EXP thresholds.

AA Credit Card Strategy

Right now, our options to earn extra EQMs and EQDs through credit card spend are:

  • Barclays AA Aviator Silver card (both Craig & Philly have this card):
    • 5,000 EQMs with $20k spend
    • another 5,000 EQMs with $40k spend
    • 3,000 EQDs with $50k spend
  • Barclays AA Aviator Business card (only Craig has this card now):
    • 3,000 EQDs with $25k spend
  • Citi AA Executive card (only Philly has this card now):
    • 10,000 EQMs with $40k spend
Barclays AA Aviator Silver Mastercard

Analysis for Philly – It seems to make sense to spend $50k on Philly’s Barclays AA Aviator Silver card. This would earn her 10,000 EQMs, which would put her over 100,000 EQMs based on our estimates. It would also get her to within 450 EQDs of 15,000 (and we’ll find a strategy to make up the rest as needed). Along the way, we’d also earn a Companion Certificate for at the $30k threshold, which we’d receive after paying the 2020 annual fee.

There appears to be no need for Philly to put big spend on her Citi AA Executive card this year based on these estimates. Another 10k EQMs are unnecessary, and even if she earned them, she’d remain way short of the 150k EQM requirement for earning extra SWUs.

Another option might be for Philly to get a Barclays AA Aviator Business card and put $25k spend on it. At this points, I’d be anxious about this. Given our current estimates, she’s going to need the extra 10k EQMs she’d get from spend on the personal Silver card anyway. It’s also hard for her to get additional EQMs by mileage running given her full-time job commitments. Plus, we’ve put a few thousand in spend on this card in 2019 already.

Net cost of this spend would be $625, given our $125-per-$10k-spend metric, which isn’t too bad.

Analysis for Craig – For me, an extra 3,000 EQDs appear to be much-needed, and we could earn them by spending $50k on the personal Aviator Silver card or $25k on the Aviator Business card. I’m leaning toward the Business card, given that the spend requirement is $25k less (and therefore the net cost would be about $300 less). Also:

  • Even though I’d still have an EQM shortfall of about 6,600 based on our current estimates, it’s very possible that we’ll have another trip or two that we’re not currently anticipating that would close this gap. Also, if needed, I have the time to make up the difference with a mileage run or two (and a mileage run might generate extra Middle Age Miles content, too).
  • I’d get an extra 5% AA miles by spending on the Business card instead of the personal Silver card, which helps offset the net cost a little bit (extra 1,250 AA miles for $25k spend, worth about $15.62 at our baseline value of 1.25 cents per AA mile).
  • If we spend $25k on the Business card, we could then spend $5k more and earn a Companion Certificate. A net cost of $62.50 for $5k spend would be worth it to get the Companion Certificate.

All that said, I think I’m going to defer this decision as long as possible, just in case something changes such that I would need the extra 10k EQMs that I could earn on the personal Aviator Silver card.

Conclusion and Other Strategy Points

Our conclusion here is a happy one – Despite the very negative changes imposed by AA this year, for 2019 our “normal” flying will get us close enough to re-qualifying for EXP status, such that we can close most if not all of the gap through credit card spend alone. [Some day when Philly is not traveling so much for work, I suspect that this situation and our strategies will be much different!] And the net cost of that credit card spend will be far, far less than the value we get from having EXP status.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to utilize the strategies we outlined in our earlier article, Lessons and Strategies from My 2018 Journey to AA Executive Platinum Status, to make sure we’re maximizing our EQM earning and especially our EQD earning. A few of these strategies deserve an extra comment:

  • It looks like we won’t need to use paid domestic first class flights to earn 2x EQMs this year (strategy #1). But this is a nice trick to always keep in mind for AA elite status purposes in general, so we want to be sure to remind Middle Age Miles readers of it.
  • We can still use AA miles to travel when we find a good deal (strategy #4). We already have a Saver-level business class ticket from DFW to Rome (FCO) booked, and we have our eye on a very high-value use for two Business Extra Anytime awards during college football season.
  • We will continue to use the AA Special Fares chart to earn more EQDs when we can (strategy #7). It’s always worth it to earn more EQDs, even aside from qualifying for EXP or other elite status, because AA uses rolling 12-month EQD totals to determine priority for upgrades.
  • And as we mentioned earlier, we are likely to purchase Premium Economy seats on one European round-trip ticket, even though we’ll be trying to upgrade with SWUs (strategy #8). This can be a relatively “cheap” way to earn extra EQMs if the price differential between PE and Economy is modest, and if our SWUs don’t clear it will be a more comfortable way to travel. We definitely wanted to remind Middle Age Miles readers one more time about this trick as it can be very useful.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our thought-process and strategy article on planning to re-qualify for AA EXP status again in 2019, as well as our entire 5-part series on earning and enjoying elite status on AA, and EXP status in particular.

Please let us know if you have thoughts, comments or questions on this article and our strategies. We look forward to hearing from you in the Comments!

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