In an unexpected move, American Airlines (AA) has announced that it will double the amount of Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) that its AAdvantage members can earn on trips ticketed and taken between March 18 and June 15. American’s offer is a huge benefit for those trying to maintain or exceed their current elite status!

This promotion makes a huge difference for me: I need to earn 50,000 EQMs this year to maintain my Platinum status. I currently have a little over 18K EQMs, so I need another 32,000 to stay Platinum. That is a lot of miles!

However, with this bonus, I only need 16,000 to remain Platinum, a much more manageable number for me.

American offered this same benefit last year after the chaos caused when they grounded their MD-80s for several days, a move that caused major problems for hundreds of thousands of travelers. Once that problem was solved they offered double EQMs as a show of appreciation to the people who continued to fly American. I took advantage of it and the bonus EQMs helped me get to the 50,000 EQM mark much faster than I would have ordinarily done.

This year, there has not been any problem to compare to the MD-80 grounding. So why did they do this?

As the global economy endures the worst downturn in decades, the number of people flying has dropped. American and the other airlines thought this would be a profitable year as the price of fuel dropped from its high of last summer, and service reductions created fewer empty seats on their flights. They did not expect the number of fliers to drop this year.

They have not only been hurt by fewer fliers, they have also been hurt by who those fliers are: many of them were business fliers who travel on short notice and buy full fare tickets, frequently in Business or First Class. The airlines make a lot more money from those travelers than they do the vacation traveler that buys a deep discount coach ticket four months in advance. As the number of business travelers drops, so does the airline’s profit margin.

My guess is that this double EQM promotion is done to get those business travelers back in the air. Only time will tell if this will work, but in the meantime, I am going to try to do as many mileage runs as I can between now and June 15. Double EQMs is too good a deal to pass up!