Prior to August 1, American awarded miles based on the distance your flight. 1 butt-in-seat mile = 1 award mile, with bonus for elite members. As you may know, American now awards miles by fare paid, not distance flown. The dollar amount eligible for miles accrual only includes the base fare and carrier-imposed fees (i.e. government taxes and fees will not count). Miles are awarded as such:
- General AAdvantage Members: 5 miles per dollar
- Gold AAdvantage Members: 7 miles per dollar (40% bonus)
- Platinum AAdvantage Members: 8 miles per dollar (60% bonus)
- Executive Platinum Members: 11 miles per dollar (120% bonus)
Depending on the type of fare you pay, this could be good or bad. The idea behind the change was that business travelers, who often pay more for last minute tickets or flights with desirable departure times, will earn more miles for the higher fares they pay. The change was considered a blow to many leisure travelers, who may actually go out of their way to fly American, but the (relatively) lower fares they pay resulted in less miles earned.
Earlier this month, I took a trip from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles on American Airlines, and I decided to do a little experiment. I partially paid for my ticket with Citi ThankYou points, and it looks like this is actually a little workaround where you can still earn miles by distance flown.
Let’s look at my itinerary:
The Citi Prestige card allows me to redeem points for American Airlines flight in a 1 ThankYou Point = 1.6 cents ratio. I redeemed 394 points to make my account balance even (I definitely have OCPD…), which translated into $6.3 of the fare. I paid the rest in “cash” with my credit card. If I booked through American, the ticket would have cost $209.08.
As I mentioned, only base fare + carrier imposed charges are eligible to earn miles. Sadly, I don’t have the breakdown for this flight, so let’s be generous and pretend the entire amount counts towards mileage accrual for this illustration. Under the current, revenue-based earning system of American Airlines, I would have earned:
- 1,045 miles as a General AAdvantage member
- 1,463 miles as a Gold AAdvantage member
- 1,672 miles as a Platinum AAdvantage member
- 2,299 miles as an Executive Platinum AAdvantage member
What about under the old system, where you earned miles based on distance flown? The total distance flown with this routing was 4,438 miles. If I flew this route before August 1, I would have earned:
- 4,438 miles as a General AAdvantage member
- 5,548 miles as a Gold AAdvantage member
- 8,876 miles as a Platinum AAdvantage member
- 8,876 miles as an Executive Platinum AAdvantage member
Tickets Booked with Citi ThankYou Portal are “Special Fares” and Earn Miles Based on Distance
Obviously, under this new system, the number of miles I earned was drastically lower. I fully expected to earn just 2,299 miles, but something interesting happened. It appears that tickets booked with the Citi ThankYou portal was deemed a “special fare,” which earns miles under the following scheme:
Instead of the 5/7/8/11 miles per dollar, elite members earn miles on “special fares” based on the bonus percentage. I booked a discounted economy ticket, and the math worked out like this for my itinerary:
- 2,219 miles as a General AAdvantage member
- 3,107 miles as a Gold AAdvantage member
- 3,406 miles as a Platinum AAdvantage member
- 4,882 miles as an Executive Platinum AAdvantage member
And that is exactly what happened. I traveled 4,438 miles on my entire ticket, and as an Executive Platinum member, earned a 120% bonus over the “50% of distance traveled” rule according to the table. This totaled to 1175 + 2350+ 1360 = 4,885 miles. (Thanks AA for rounding up!)
It’s still not as lucrative as it was before August 1, but also way better than what I would have earned with the current revenue-based system. And this is true across all AAdvantage members, regardless of your elite status.
Now, of course, this is just one example. The flight I booked was almost unusually cheap, but even if the flight was twice as expensive, I’d still come out ahead with the (partially) distance-based method.
Can you satisfy or bypass EQD requirement easier with this trick?
Starting next year, American has added a new requirement for achieving statuses. In addition to flying a number of miles or segments, you also have to meet a spend requirement. For example, you must spend $12,000 elite-qualifying dollars to earn Executive Platinum status.
An interesting aspect of the table I showed above showed that you also don’t earn elite-qualifying dollars the same way when you book with a “special fare.” However, this might not be a bad thing. Even with the cheapest discounted economy ticket, you still earn 10% of the miles flown as EQD. For example, flying a 1,000-mile flight would yield you 100 EQDs.
This means that if you fly 120,000 miles on flights booked as “special fares,” you will earn the $12,000 EQDs needed to achieve Executive Platinum status. Assuming this is all you do, you won’t actually have to spend $12,000 on American to earn that status. Instead, you can consider this as a slightly higher butt-in-seat threshold, since you would have to fly 20,000 miles more than what is required for others (100,000) to earn Executive Platinum status. You will technically still be fulfilling the EQD requirement, but in a pretty indirect way.
Of course, there are plenty of other ways that you can more or less “bypass” the EQD requirement. For example, flights booked with partner airlines have separate earning schedules as well, and you could earn higher EQDs that way. But this shows that even if you only fly with American (i.e. no partner airlines), there is still a way you could earn top status without spending $12,000.
What did I learn from my experiment?
I think it boils down into a few things:
- Citi ThankYou portal allows you to use a combination of points and cash to pay for a ticket. Even if you are just using a couple of points, tickets booked from their portal appear to be counted as a “special fare,” and earns miles with a distance-based method, albeit with some deductions.
- You would have to do the math to see if you would come out ahead by booking with the Citi ThankYou portal. With a fare that is more expensive, you might actually earn more points with the revenue-based method. In that case, you will want to book directly with American.
- Even if you have no intention in using the “trick,” it’s still worth knowing that tickets booked on the ThankYou portal might not earn award and elite-qualifying miles the way you think they would. In some cases, this can even work against you: if you have a (discounted economy) flight at $1,200 that is 6,000 miles long, like a transatlantic flight, you will earn $600 EQD instead of the $1,200 EQD you otherwise would.
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