Hard to believe, but this is the story of my final mileage run of 2011.
I had several goals for the year; one of them was to requalify for Platinum Status with American Airlines. To do this I would need to earn at least 50,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) for the year. As of the middle of September I had 46,489 miles and needed only 3,511 to reach my target. I would exceed that with this mileage run.
My itinerary was fairly straight-forward. Austin to Chicago to Seattle to Chicago to Austin. I’d leave Austin early in the morning, getting back shortly before midnight. I’d spend the whole day in the air or at an airport — no time to go into town.
The day started easily enough, my first flight was at 8:30 which gave me time, by mileage run standards, to sleep in. For so many of my trips I’ve had to get to the airport at 5 a.m. for a 6 a.m. departure; on this day I would not need to get there until shortly before 7:30.
I arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International, cleared security, relaxed for a while in the Admirals Club, then boarded my flight to Chicago. Normally, I like to sit in the exit row since it gives me extra legroom, but I didn’t do that on this flight. I had a short 40-minute layover at O’Hare and wanted to get off the plane as quickly as I could, so I reserved a seat near the front of the coach section in aisle 9. It wasn’t as roomy as I’d like but I knew I’d be able to get off the plane several minutes earlier once we landed at O’Hare.
We left Austin on time and it was a delightfully uneventful flight; no turbulence, the pilot never had to turn on the seat belt sign — it was one of the smoothest flights I have had in a long time. We landed at O’Hare on time and I quickly made my way through the terminal for my next flight — no time for me to stop at the Admirals Club today!
Boarding had already begun when I got to my gate. I got on the plane and took my seat near the front, again in aisle 9. I had a short layover in Seattle and wanted to be able to get off the plane as soon as possible. We departed and once again I had an uneventful flight, at least it seemed that way until we began our descent to SeaTac. We were supposed to land at 2:10 p.m. Almost an hour before that the pilot told us to prepare for landing. He explained that we had found a strong tailwind and would land 40 minutes ahead of schedule.
That was great news, I was glad to hear it, I’d have more time on the ground in Seattle. And then I realized that might not be such a good deal.
Good news: We arrived in Seattle 40 minutes early due to a strong tailwind.
Bad news: We’d need to fly back to Chicago, into what would now be a very strong headwind. I might miss the connection to my Austin flight.
Once we landed I had enough time to visit the food court, where I watched some of the flight operations. The food court at SeaTac is one of the best places I know to watch aircraft land and take off.
After a few moment I started to walk to the gate, stopping at the bagel shop whee I got a bagel and cup of coffee to go, and then walked to the plane. I planned on eating the food before we left, but no such luck. As I got to the gate I heard the gate agent announce that they wanted to load the plane as soon as possible and depart early due to the wind conditions. So, I boarded the plane; we departed almost 15 minutes early.
I have to say the flight to Chicago was one of the most enjoyable I have had in a long time. I was back in aisle 9, sitting on the aisle, the middle seat was empty, and a man had the window seat. Once we took off and I finished my food he and I started talking and never stopped talking for the entire flight. We had some things in common (we both had served in the military and had stories to share); he was fascinated by the concept of doing mileage runs, and I was fascinated by his job with security at Tiffany Jewelers. We had a great time together and Scott, if you are reading this, thanks for the great conversation!
We landed in Chicago 15 minutes late. I had planned to eat at the food court but there was not enough time so I stopped at McDonald’s, grabbed a shake and made my way to the gate where they had already started the boarding process. I made my way to my seat on the exit row. Although my reservation was for an aisle seat there was no one else in the row so I moved over to the window and got some shots of our take off and Chicago at night.
The plane landed in Austin shortly before midnight, I was home by 12:30 a.m.
It was a good weekend. I passed the 50,000 EQM mark on the flight from Seattle to Chicago, so while I earned the 25% Gold bonus on my miles for the first two flights, I got the Platinum double mile bonus for the two flights coming home.
I flew 5,388 miles. How far is that? If I had flown from New York to Los Angeles and back to New York that would only be 4,950 miles, so, I spent a lot of time in the air. I earned 8,757 miles, that gives me 105,000 miles in my account. My ticket cost $281, I paid 3.2 cents per mile. That’s more than I would normally pay, but it was worth it to reach Platinum status which will give me double miles on all flights until February 2013. In addition, when we fly to Rome we will have access to the Flagship Lounge at JFK, and the other OneWorld lounges (British Airways) at Rome for our trip back home.
It was a good weekend. Now that I have hit my goals for 2011, it makes no sense for me to spend any more money on mileage runs for this year. I’ll spend that money instead on 2012 flights to help me earn status for that year. I look forward to doing mileage runs again next year!
I had two mileage runs left for the year; this was the first of the two. While my itinerary said this would be a trip to Portland and back, my route was actually much stranger. Austin to Dallas to Portland, and then the trip home; Portland to Seattle to Chicago to Austin. I’d fly out at approximately 8 a.m. and land back in Austin at midnight.
I’ve said many times that one of the best features that American Airlines offers is the flight notification service. Give AA your cell phone number and you’ll get a call two hours before departure to let you know if the flight will be on time, and which terminal and gate it will depart from. On several occasions I’ve been at the terminal and the flight was moved to another gate or cancelled; I’ve received the call from the flight notification system before the gate agent has made the announcement; this made it possible for me to avoid the rush once the other passengers get the word.
A few years ago I was in Chicago with tickets for a noon flight the next day. The notification service called me at 9 o’clock the night before to let me know that my flight had been cancelled. Less than an hour later it called again to let me know which flight I had been rebooked on. This was a great service.
Where am I going with all this? I’m trying to put into context what happened to me on this trip.
My flight to DFW was scheduled to depart at 7:50 a.m., so I went to bed the night before expecting a call at 5:50 a.m.
At 2:15 in the morning my phone rang, waking me and my wife. In our household a call in the middle of the night never means anything good; someone has been arrested, has been in an accident, or has died. I staggered out of bed and ran across the room to answer the phone but did not get to it before it went to voice mail.
I looked at the screen and saw that the call had come from American Airlines. Since my flight would not leave for another five-and-a-half hours, there had to be a major problem for me to get the call so far in advance. I waited for my voice-mail notification. Finally it came on and I quickly entered my password to hear the message. MY flight schedule had indeed changed and I was glad to get the advance notification until I heard what it was: My 7:50 a.m. departure had been changed to 8:00 a.m.
Come on American! You call me in the middle of the night, five-and-a-half hours before departure to let me know my flight would be leaving ten minutes later? I could understand that if the flight had been cancelled, and might even understand if it had been changed to ten minutes earlier, but not ten minutes later. Tell me about the change once I get to the terminal, and I won’t even notice it. Even better, have us board for a 7:50 departure and hold us for ten minutes… But don’t call in the middle of the night to let me know about such an inconsequential change.
And that was the start of the trip.
I got to the airport just after 6:30, cleared security and went up to the Admirals Club. I walked in and the AAngel behind the desk immediately greeted me by name! I was amazed, I had not flown in almost three months but she remembered me! I was so impressed that I immediately went to the Club’s business center, visited AA.com and left a very positive comment about the AAngel.
Shortly after that it was time to go to my 7:50 flight that was now scheduled for 8:00. I got to the gate and saw they were already boarding Group 3! I quickly boarded and went to my seat. A few moments later the pilot announced “Everyone is on board so we’ll leave a few minutes early.” And with that we pushed back from the gate at, wait for it, 7:50.
I had the normal quick flight to DFW where I transferred to my Portland flight. Although I only had 50 minutes for my transfer, that is not a problem at DFW. The Skylink rail can get you from any gate to any other gate at the airport in 10 minutes or less.
I boarded the plane for the flight to Portland; it was a Boeing 737-800. In years gone by that wold have been an MD-80, but American Airlines is phasing those out and thankfully replacing them with the 737.
It was an uneventful flight to Portland, I took advantage of the opportunity to both catch up on my reading and sleep.
We arrived a few minutes early at Portland and I made my way to the commuter terminal for my flight on an Alaska Airlines Q-400 to Seattle. Alaska Airlines has been very proactive in reducing its carbon footprint, increasing its recycling efforts and being a “green” airline. This plane, which they called “comfortably green” is an example of that, using less fuel and creating less pollution than the small commuter jet it replaced.
I had a short wait at the commuter terminal before boarding my flight to Seattle. I am always impressed by Alaska Airlines: on a short flight in a turboprop plane, they serve beverages including complimentary wine and beer, and give out snacks too. I can’t remember the last time I had a snack on American.
We made the trip to Seattle in less than an hour. I had almost an hour and fifteen minutes before my flight to Chicago, so I decided to visit the Alaska Air Lines Board Room.
American Airlines used to have an Admirals Club in Seattle, but it closed a few years ago. No one seemed to know if if closed due low use, or because the airport raised the rent too high. Since then there has not been a similar club at SEA that I could use. But now there is. A month ago American and Alaska announced an agreement: Admirals Club members could use the Alaska Airlines Board Rooms in Portland and Seattle as long as they were flying out on American Airlines that day.
I found the club and went to the desk to check in. I had to give the representative my Admirals Club card and my boarding pass for my departing flight. She wrote down all the relevant information, returned the items to me and wished me a pleasant day.
I went into the club; there was a stairway leading to the second floor, but I checked out the ground floor first. It was very similar to an Admirals Club; there were comfortable seats, big screen TVs, and a row of tables by the window that all had electrical outlets for charging your phone, laptop, etc. It seemed a perfect place from which I could call home, except for the sign that said the downstairs area (where I was) was the quiet area, if I wished to make a call I should go upstairs.
I decided instead to get some food. The club had a wider selections of beverages, sodas, coffees, and teas than the Admirals Club. Like the Admirals Club they offered complimentary alcoholic beverages. They also offered a wider selection of complimentary snacks, including soup, salads, and a selection of cookies and crackers. I took advantage of the food (I wasn’t going to get any food on my flight to Chicago), charged my phone, then went to my departure gate.
I got there just as they were ready to start the boarding process. The gate attendant announced that the flight was overbooked and they needed someone with flexible travel plans to volunteer to be bumped. That caught my attention! Then I heard the deal: they would put the person up overnight in a hotel near the airport, then fly them to Chicago the next morning, and would give them a $300 voucher. Three hundred dollars for a delay of more than twelve hours? As soon as I heard that I lost interest and boarded the plane.
As expected, the plane was packed. I used my time on board to read from my Kindle and take a quick nap. We arrived in Chicago on time and I made my way to the food court for dinner. I’ve been to the O’Hare food court many many times and always seem to end up at McDonald’s. I resolved not to do that this time. But when I go there I saw how little time I had and ended up getting a combo meal from McDonald’s. I ate it quickly and walked to my gate, thinking I had plenty of time.
By the time I got to the gate for my Austin flight, they were already doing final boarding! As I walked up to the gate, the gate agent greeted me by name.
“How do you know my name?” I asked.
“Simple,” he replied. “We only have two passengers who have not yet boarded, and you don’t look like a Susan.” Good one, thanks for the laugh!
We had an uneventful flight to Austin, arriving ten minutes early. I was home by 12:45 a.m.
It had been a good trip. I earned 5,315 EQMs, and a total of 6,643 miles. My ticket cost $264, so I paid 3.97 cents per mile. That’s not great, but it left me within 3,500 miles of 50,000 and Platinum status, so I was willing to pay a bit extra to earn that recognition. One mileage run left, and I’ll have Platinum status again.
Earlier this year I achieved a milestone with American Airlines when my lifetime AAdvantage miles total passed one million miles. Although I knew it was a long way off, I looked forward to eventually reaching the two million mile mark and earning lifetime Platinum status. However, a recent change by American Airlines in the way that it tracks mileage will make it almost impossible for me to accomplish that.
In the past it didn’t matter how I earned my miles, they all counted towards the one million mile total. I could earn miles by flying, by collecting bonus miles for my elite status, by eating lunch at a restaurant that is part of the AAdvantage Dining Program, by shopping at the AAdvantage eShoping Mall, by charging items on a CitiBank AAdvantage MasterCard. It didn’t matter how I earned the miles, they all counted towards my lifetime total. On December 1, 2011, that will all change.
Under the new plan, American will only count base miles for a flight towards the lifetime status. Right now, if I fly 1,000 miles, I earn 1,000 miles for the flight plus an additional 250 miles as my 25% Gold bonus. A flyer with Platinum status would earn the 1,000 base miles, plus another 1,000 as the 100% Platinum Bonus. All of those miles count towards lifetime status. Under the new plan only the base 1,000 miles will count, the bonus miles will no longer be included.
Under this new system, if you want to earn 1 million mile status, you’ll need to actually fly 1 million miles. For many people, myself included, this will make it much more difficult to reach those elite goals.
I’m lucky, I hit the 1 million mile mark a few months ago, and will keep that status. But I no longer have any hope of reaching the 2 million mile mark. I’m 980,710 miles away from that goal. If I fly 50,000 miles each year, enough to earn Platinum status, I won’t hit the 2 million mile mark until the year 2031. In other words, it isn’t gong to happen.
There is one other way to earn miles; AA will give one mile per dollar spent on the new Citi ExecutiveSM / AAdvantage® World Elite™ MasterCard® credit card. This is the new CitiBank/American MasterCard that has a $450 membership fee. Purchases made on this card between now and December 2012 will count towards the one/two million mile level. If I was close to the two million mile mark, I’d apply for this card. But I am 980,000 miles away and, in my circumstance, it’s a better deal for me to use my Starwood American Express card for my purchases to build up Starwood points rather than AAdvantage miles.
I’m not an expert on the way other airlines track lifetime miles, but messages I have seen on FlyerTalk and MilePoint indicate that American’s old plan was much more generous than those offered by other airlines, The new plan brings them closer to the industry standard.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am glad to have all the miles I earn because I can still use them for free travel. It doesn’t matter how I earn them, they will count towards travel, but not towards my lifetime miles.
So, I am both glad and lucky to have earned my 1 million mile status. I had hoped to eventually hit the 2 million mile mark, it’s too bad that I won’t.
This has been a good year for me. After flying less than 25,000 miles last year and losing Platinum status with American Airlines, I am in very good shape to requalify for it this year. Why is that important to me? With Platinum status I’ll earn double AAdvantage miles on all of my trips through February 2013 rather than the 25% bonus I have been earning while Gold.
I need to earn 50,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) to become Platinum again; I am currently at 41,174 EQMs, leaving me 8,826 miles short of my goal. My next two mileage runs, both scheduled for September, will put me over that line.
The first trip is Austin to DFW to Portland to Seattle to Chicago to Austin. I’ll fly out early Saturday morning and return late that evening. I’ll spend the whole day in the air or in a terminal, there will not be enough time for me to go into town at any of these locations. I’ll earn 5,315 EQMs, leaving me 3,511 short of my goal. Since I have Gold status for this trip, I’ll only earn 25% bonus miles for a total of 6,643. The ticket cost $264, so I am paying 3.97 cents per mile. That’s not bad for a Gold flight. If I was Platinum I’d earn 10,630 miles at 2.48 cents per mile.
There is an interesting story to how I found that route. I used AA.com to look for a round trip flight to Portland. This was one of the itineraries that came up. According to the AAdvantage computer this is a round trip flight to Portland, coming home via Seattle and Chicago.
My second mileage run is Austin to Chicago to Seattle to Chicago and back to Austin. Once again, I’ll spend the entire day in a terminal or in the air. I’ll leave early Saturday morning and be back that evening. I’ll earn 5,398 EQMs for this trip, giving me 51,187 miles for the year and Platinum status. My cost for this ticket is a bit higher, $280.80. I’ll earn 25% bonus miles for the flights to Chicago and Seattle, but will pass the 50,000 EQM mark on the flight between Seattle and Chicago, so I will earn double miles for those two flights. So, I’ll earn a total of 8,771 miles at a cost of 3.19 cents per mile. If I was Platinum for the entire flight I’d pay 2.6 cents per mile.
I’ll pay more than three cents per mile on both of these trips. Normally I’d say that is not a great deal. But by investing that money now I’ll have Platinum status and earn double miles on all flights through February 2013. Given that, I’m happy with what I am paying for these trips.
It’s late August, almost two-thirds of the way through the year, and a good time to look at my numbers for the year, and also review future plans.
These are my numbers for 2011 listed on AA.com:
- YTD Elite Qualifying Points: 19,131
- YTD Elite Qualifying Miles: 41,174
- YTD Elite Qualifying Segments: 37
- Miles Towards Elite Upgrades: 22,743
- Program to Date Miles: 1,018,631
- Total Available Award Mileage: 88,631
Some of these numbers are important to me, some not.
My Elite Qualifying Points don’t matter. I need to earn 50,000 to reach Platinum status, so I need 30,000 more points. Since I usually fly with a discounted ticket that only earns half a point per mile, I need to fly more than 60,000 miles in the 4 remaining months to earn Platinum based on points. That is not going to happen, so I don’t pay much attention to this number.
The important one for me is YTD Elite Qualifying Miles. I only need 8,826 more miles to reach 50K and earn Platinum status. That’s a big deal to me!
Elite Qualifying Segments: some qualify for elite status by flying a lot of segments. I need 23 more flight segments to earn Platinum. That won’t happen.
Miles Towards Elite Upgrades: I’ll earn four additional upgrades when I reach 30,000 miles for the year, That is within reach, I only need to fly 7,257 miles to reach that goal.
Program to Date Miles: it’s exciting to see that I have passed the one million mile mark. I’ll have Gold status for the lifetime of that program. My new goal is lifetime Platinum at 2,000,000 miles; I need to earn another 981,369 miles to reach that goal, it’s so far off that I can’t worry about it at this time.
I have 88,000 miles in the account that I can use for travel. That’s a good starting point for next year.
My goal for the rest of the year is to earn Platinum Status, the quickest way for me to do that is by flying an additional 8.826 miles. That’s a reasonable number that I can reach with two mileage runs. Now I need to find those trips and book them.
NOTE: In the time since I wrote this post, American Airlines has changed the way it calculates when an AAdvantage member has one or two million miles. See this post for more information.
Since January 1 I have made several mileage runs, I have used my American Airlines credit cards, I have eaten in restaurants that are part of the AAdvantage Dining Program, and I have even made online purchases at the AAdvantage eShopping Mall. All of those items brought me very close to hitting one of my goals, one million lifetime AAdvantage miles. This doesn’t mean I have flown one million miles, it simply means that I have earned that many miles using every program American Airlines offers. All AAdvantage miles count towards this total.
My wife and I flew to San Diego last week for four days. After we arrived I checked my miles and saw that I had reached 998,000 miles. That meant that my return flight from San Diego to Dallas would put me over the one million mile mark. Or so I hoped.
Actually, I reached that mark even faster: bonus miles for purchases and dining were added the next day, putting me at 1,000,417 miles. I had reached my goal!
Today I received an email from American Airlines.
Happyflier, You’ve Reached a Major Milestone in the AAdvantage Program
Congratulations on earning 1,000,000 AAdvantage miles!
Whether you eagerly awaited this achievement or didn’t realize it occurred, I want you to know that we think it’s an accomplishment worth celebrating. As a special thank you for your loyalty, you will soon receive a new elite-status membership card with the distinctive Million Miler emblem. For a review of the wide range of benefits associated with your membership, view the Elite Status Benefits chart online at aa.com/elitebenefits.
Plus, your new Million Miler status entitles you to AAdvantage Gold membership for the lifetime of the AAdvantage Gold program, regardless of your annual elite-qualifying activity. Of course, if you meet the criteria for a higher level, then you will be recognized accordingly.
Every one of the 1,000,000 AAdvantage® miles you have earned is an indication of your support, and we thank you for your commitment to American Airlines and the AAdvantage® program.
AAdvantage® Loyalty Program
There are two key points in that message. The obvious one is confirmation that I have indeed reached the million mile mark. The other one is the comment about earning lifetime AAdvantage Gold status. Even if I don’t fly at all in the coming year or two, I will keep my Gold status.
I’d rather have Platinum status and earn double miles for all my flights, lifetime Platinum comes at the two million mile mark. I’ll earn that status later this year after I fly another 8.800 miles and reach 50,000 miles for this year. But even if I never do that, I will remain Gold and have the important benefits that status offers. There are many advantages, but these are the ones that are most important to me:
- I have a better choice of seats including exit row seats with the extra legroom
- I can check in at the First Class ticket counter at the airport
- I don’t have to pay luggage fees
- At most airports I can go directly to the front of the TSA security line
- I can board the plane before the non-elite coach passengers, making it easier for me to find room for my bag in the overhead compartment
- I get a 25% bonus on my miles (fly 1,000 miles, earn 1,250 miles)
- I’ll pay a reduced price when I renew my Admirals Club membership
Those are valuable benefits that I take advantage of every time I fly; I’m glad to know I will have them from now on. At least I hope I will. American sets the rules for the AAdvantage program and can change them at any time they want. They can eliminate Gold status tomorrow, replacing it with Silver status or something similar and say the only way to earn lifetime Silver is to fly 650,000 miles. If they did that I’d be out of luck and would have a long way to go to earn that status. I hope they don’t change, and there is no indication that they will, but I understand that they can if they want.
In the meantime I am thankful for reaching this goal, a number I once felt was far out of my reach. Now, I have to hit my next goal for the year by flying at least 8,826 miles between now and the end of the year to earn Platinum status for 2012.