2019 Mileage Marathon - AA EP status runs
Last year, I did complete my 2018 AA EP status runs, but with the changes in the 2019 AAdvantage program it has become harder to make some inexpensive runs to get status.
What has changed:
Getting short-cuts via credit card spend has been reduced (but not completely eliminated), and at the same time program requirements ($15,000 annual spend) has gone up. Add to that I am temporarily traveling less this year than before, and I have quite a task before me.
Where I am at
Via Barclay Aviator MC spend, I was able to get 10,000 EQM and $3000 EQD. Add to that a very small amount of domestic business travel completed and right now I have...
- EQD = $6,353
- EQM = 21,107
That is very short of the EP requirements of EQD $15,000 and EQM 100,000.
I have two options:
1) Purchase a TON of low-cost long distance runs (which is exhausting, and takes the fun out of flying)
2) Take advantage of the AA business class multiplier, and spend the money on just a few quick trips (spending about the same $$$ and option #1)
I'm choosing to go with option #2.
As the value of a AA EP status is estimated to be $6500, then that is my budget. The trick is to spend well.
How I'll do it:
1) When the Max8 mess happened, I was in Miami (a big Max8 town for AA) and took advantage of that debacle -- I volunteered several times, and as a result I have some AA travel vouchers to use that will offset my business class flight costs. I have verified that their use counts toward EQD.
2) When flying American metal or OneWorld partner metal with American paper (which means that I have an AA purchased ticket with AA flight numbers even if it is a partner carrier), a discounted Business class ticket has a 2x EQM multiplier, and I get 100% EQD credit.
NOTE: it is critical that you fly AA paper with an AA flight number to get 100% EQD credit.
Should one of your flights have another carriers flight number designator, even if you purchased it via AA, then you may get only 25% of that EQD or less, depending on the carrier. Some will not even accrue any EQM! For exact info see: https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/miles/partners/partner-airlines.jsp
So, what will I do with this?
It looks like I will need to fly two round-trips to southeast Asia (20,000 miles - about as far as you can go on a planet whose circumference is only 24,901 miles ), at a business class cost of about $4,000 per flight (plus taxes & fees)
Since I have $2800 worth of travel vouchers, that means my spend will be about $5,200 to get to my goal.
Today: EQD - $6353 EQM - 21,107
Flight 1: EQD - $4000 EQM - 40,000
Flight 2: EQD - $4000 EQM - 40,000
TOTAL : EQD: $14,353 EQM - 101,107
Looks like that will get me there, throwing in a quick flight to Miami (or someplace for work) to ensure EQD $'s are complete.
I am open to any ideas that may accomplish EP status with a bit more fun. Did I overlook anything?
Thanks for the read. I will provide updates as they occur.
OK... here's where the rubber hits the road... or more correctly, the wing causes lift.
As I posted earlier, I was going to choose option #2, which meant two flights in business.
Playing the mileage run game has changed. Domestic US fliers are getting a raw deal under the new AA program requirements, while the real benefits go to international business (or first) flyers. This will show that clearly, and how to do it as inexpensively as possible.
Business class will have a 2X multiplier on your miles IF you are on an AA flight number. it's fine if you fly another carrier, as long as you have AA ticket stock and an AA flight number.
Also, if I read the various travel blogs correctly, it looks like a lot of people are saying that getting EP on AA is not something that they will pursue, leaving the possibility of more seats & upgrades for me! 😉
THE GAP: Today
I didn't fly as much as I wanted to this year due to a change in employment role. Next year, flying for business will increase again, so having EP status will help me do my job.
The current status is:
EQD: 8,711 EQM: 35,401
That would get me to Gold. And AA was "nice" to offer me to buy-up to Platinum for $1500. NO THANKS!
If I am going to spend money, it will be on a ticket!
THE FIRST FLIGHT: Shanghai
Even though I am in Denver, I looked for cheap flights business class flights to Asia from Los Angeles to save cost. I knew that I could use a few miles to get a miles flight from DEN-LAX-DEN.
I chose to use Google Flights and its Explore option to find a weekend flight in December. And to find an AA flight to Asia on AA metal and AA ticket is not a problem.
Tomorrow (Fri, Dec 6th) I'm flying DEN-LAX-PVG-LAX-DEN. I will be back in Denver on Sun Dec 8th. I will have an overnight in Shanghai before my flight back.
I purchased a business class ticket, and since this is a two-class configuration, business class actually gets the "Flagship Service" treatment.
Now, I have a risk: My DEN-LAX-DEN flight is not in the same record locator as LAX-PVG-LAX. And that means that if my DEN-LAX outgoing flight has a problem, then AA can tell me that missing my Asian flight is my problem.
THE SECOND FLIGHT: Dubai
While Shanghai is cool (and I already had a China Visa, and I've been before), that still left me VERY short of my EP goal.
And I felt that I had really spent more money than I wanted to... so I had to get more "bang for my buck".
With that in mind, I stopped looking at Google Flights, and instead looked at ITA Matrix. https://matrix.itasoftware.com/
Wow! Google flights was great, but this is like adding a superchager to your searches.
While it's a bit intimidating at first, I was able to quickly learn what I needed:
* Use advance controls
* AA+ - any combination of flights, as long as it is an AA flight number
* "nearby airports" - set to 2000 miles!
* minmiles 10000 - at least 10,000 miles one way.
* Business or first
* Look a month in advance, rather than a specific date.
Crazy, right? Considering the circumference of the earth is about 24,000 miles, I am saying that I want to fly to the other side of the planet, and back, in a weekend. And I picked Mumbai as my target city, as 2000 miles from Mumbai would cover most of asia.
Fri Dec 27th - Sun Dec 29th
I mean... who does that, really?!!? And even more insane I will be in Dubai for all of 2 1/2 hours. That's it. Get off the plane in Dubai, maybe clear passport control (if required) and back on the same plane.
I have enough time to grab something to eat in the clubs (if I want) and grab a shower here or there.
I have an upper level 747 business seat on British Airways for the SFO-LHR-DBX-LHR segments. A concern is that while I look forward to flying a 747 again, the reviews say that it is a very tired interior. We'll see.
But the details:
Now that is really bang for the bucks.
AND... since I had $2800 in Vouchers (thanks Boeing Max8 debacle), that brought my actual cost down to $1663.35 -- Just about what AA wanted for me buying up to Platinum!
Vouchers are actually counted as money spent by me. So even though it was AA's money, it is MY money!
Still: If I had planned ahead earlier in the year for this, I could have taken a longer trip... but this is all about just getting to the goal targets.
SUMMING IT UP:
This will bring me in for 2019 with the following stats
Which means... I could have been better that this. I've spent $,1240 more than I should have, but that is what I get for waiting 'till the last minute.
Now that I know ITA Matrix, I can bring in my goal on-price in 2020!
OK... First of the two trips done.
I have to admit, I felt a bit unprepared for this as I had NO idea what to pack for a mileage run that was this short, AND for this long of a distance. Let me tell you: I overpacked!
While I only had a computer backpack and a rolling bag (none checked), I could have gone much lighter, and will for my second upcoming trip. To a certain degree: forget about a change of clothes (except for underwear, sock and t-shirt) as you really do not have time to get dirty! 😆 No surprise here, but dressing in layers is the trick.
LEAVING FRIDAY MORNING... Arriving at the DEN airport, I went to the AAdmiral's lounge and renewed my membership. I used $200 from my AmEx Platinum airline credit, and $250 airline credit from my AmEx Hilton card, that meant that my out-of-pocket cost for my membership was $50.
The flight from DEN-LAX was uneventful. The trick was my LAX-PVG flight: getting from Remote Terminal 5 to Terminal 4 gate 41 was a brisk event, as I only had 45 minutes from landing to take-off.. Sadly no time for the flagship lounge, and they were already boarding group 5 by the time I got to the plane.
The window seat, 3L was awesome, as was the crew. I'm 6 foot tall and the lie-flat business seat had plenty of room. While I brought entertainment with me, the various movies and TV on in-flight entertainment was sufficient. (Check out TV shows "Fleabag" and "Frayed"... not the usual expected in-flight fare.)
Wi-Fi was kinda spotty on the trip over the Bearing Straits, and Wi-Fi was important as I did not book my hotel until I was up in the air. I chose the JW Marriott Shanghai at Tomorrow Square primarily because I wanted to take the Maglev train and subway (which I didn't do in my last trip to Shanghai). I was able to google the directions to the hotel from other travel bloggers.
ARRIVING SATURDAY AFTERNOON... Passport control was uneventful, changing $100US to local currency was easy (and ATM's were available, so I could have used them), free airport Wi-Fi allowed me to send an email to my wife that all was well and arrived safely.
The Maglev hit "only" 300KM, and was really a pleasure. Transferring to the subway #2 line was a bit confusing, but I think that was more culture shock than actual real challenges. It was easy to purchase both tickets for the Maglev and subway as there were always signs in English. Coming into stations on the subway, various stops had the names available in English as well. Tomorrow Square stop, exit 11 out of the station, and out onto the street and across the street to the hotel.
Check-in at the JW was smooth (I used Bonvoy points), an elevator to the lobby on the 35th floor, with an upgrade to a 47th floor corner room that looked toward The Bund. Nighttime lights reminded me of a mix of Times Square and Vegas, but they very politely turned down the lights late at night.
The exec lounge was nice, and the buffet breakfast in the main restaurant the next morning was fantastic (at least, for my one night stay).
Communications tip: I had Avaya IX Workplace client on my cell, and once connected to the hotel's wi-fi, I was able to call home and speak with my wife... no need to buy a local SIM card.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON RETURN... Back on the subway and Maglev, feeling like an old pro at this point... check-in required as PVG does not do electronic boarding passes... a quick stop in Cathay Pacific's first class lounge for a snack... and then off to the flight at gate 77, and into seat 3L again... where I few with the same crew back as I did on the flight there. Surprised they were!
There was a tailwind and the pilot took advantage of that and actually flew over the North Pacific and STILL got in early!
I had time for the AA Flagship lounge, so I grabbed a shower (and THAT is the BEST thing about the AAdmirals Clubs!!!!!), and freshly made-to-order Pad Thai, then off to Terminal 5.
TIP: If you have time before your OUTGOING international flight, I would absolutely recommend the LAX Qantas Lounge more that the AA lounge... but it is ONLY a departure lounge, not an arrival lounge. Since my LAX-DEN flight was in a different record, I could not say that I was continuing from an international flight. so no freshly prepared-to-order seated meal for me. 😐
I left Shanghai at 4:30 PM Sunday... and got into Denver at 7:30 PM Sunday. It's not often you get to feel that you have had 4 days in three day's time.
Having done this in coach before, the difference in flying Business is amazing. I was able to get right back into things on Monday without problem.
FF Miles added: 35,640
AA is now offering me to buy-up to Platinum Pro for about $2000... however I've paid less (out-of-pocket cost) for the upcoming trip that will get me to EP... so three days of flying to look forward to!
I can say that 2019 is done, and my 2020 EP status is secure.
Here is my end of year status screenshot: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ENH17cyUcAAZKYj?format=jpg&name=4096x4096
Sitting on a plane to go to the other side of the world was not as tiring as I thought, until I had returned to the USA and flew the two domestic segments in first: ORD-MIA-DEN.
Clubs... So many clubs, they blurred. Since I never left the airport, the clubs were much the only thing that I saw on the trip. The LHR AA Flagship first was great, and the LHR BA Galleries shower was the worst. (my fault... I had access to the BA Galleries first lounge, but missed it as I was in such a hurry.)
Still, to be in Phoenix, San Francisco, London, Dubai, Chicago, Miami and Denver... all in one three day weekend... amazing.
Nothing that I have experienced lately compares to BA Business - Club World - Upper deck on the 747. If you meet someone that complains about that... just punch them for me. I cannot recommend this more, and suggest that if you can book it before 2023 when BA retires the 747.
Since EP status was valued at $6500, and I spent $4900 (out of pocket) for the two trips (plus the business travel earlier in the year that was company paid), I feel that I have saved my status and have a hell of a story to tell as well.
As I said, with proper planning and use of the ITA Matrix, 2020 flights should be much more reasonable. After all, I have to find a way to use these systemwide upgrades!