American Airlines Brings Back Elite Status Buyback And Also Debuts The Limited Purchase Of “Phantom” EQMs, But Is It Worth It?

American Airlines has traditionally allowed people to purchase status at the end of each year if you missed the qualifications by some narrow or wide margin.  But, they’ve never allowed the straight purchase of EQMs.  Despite this recent announcement about additional options to earn status, they still don’t.  With a recent announcement, they’ve essentially added more levels to the elite buyback program to entice more folks to purchase.  And, in some cases I think it’s a pretty good deal.  Others, not so much.  Let’s take a look, level by level:

Gold Level:

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If you’re within 5,000 miles of Gold it will cost you $399 to retain Gold status.  You’ll need to be Gold, Platinum or Executive Platinum to take advantage of this offer.

If you’re not within 5,000 miles of Gold status, you can essentially buy Gold status for $649.

Some of the benefits of Gold status that have tangible value are things like a 25% bonus on miles flown, access to upgrades (though you’ll have to buy 500-mile upgrades to get a ton of value out of this benefit if you don’t fly a lot) and access to extra legroom seating.

For a traveler who knew they had a decent number of flights they wanted to upgrade (and were likely to clear those upgrades) or secure extra legroom seating for, paying $399 to retain Gold status is likely worth it.  At $649 it seems like a much tougher equation for me.  You’d likely need 3 to 5 trips where you could take advantage of the upgrades and/or extra legroom seating to break even on this proposition.  The occasional traveler is unlikely to have 3 to 5 trips in mind that are certain to be in their future.  Business travelers who might be shifting alliances could certainly find value here as a cushion while they try to earn benefits on a new airline.

Platinum Level:

 

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 10.44.38 AMYou’ll need to be at least Platinum currently to take advantage of the Platinum boost or renewal offers.  If you’re within 5,000 miles of Platinum it will cost you $699 to boost up, $899 if you’re between 5,000 and 10,000 miles away.  If you are more than 10,000 miles away, it will cost you $1,199 to retain Platinum status for 2014.  While there are a number of improved benefits at the Platinum level, the easiest ones to assign relative values to are the 10)% bonus miles for flights flown and the access to extra legroom seats in coach at time of booking.  I think both of these are much more valuable than Gold and if you’re planning to fly in the neighborhood of 50,000 miles last year you’re much more likely to get value out of this offer.  If you just value the AAdvantage miles at 2 cents a piece and fly 50,000 miles next year then those miles are worth about $1,000.  The increased upgrade percentage and access to extra legroom seats also makes it much more likely to get the correct value out of the prices for Platinum boost or renewal.

Executive Platinum Level:

Elite Status

American Airlines won’t let you buy Executive Platinum if you’re not within 10,000 miles of requalification.  A boost of less than 5,000 miles will set you back $1,199 where a boost of up to 10,000 miles will cost $1,799.  Executive Platinum members enjoy unlimited free domestic upgrades as well as the listed benefits for Platinum.  Additionally, they get 8 system-wide upgrades each year that can be used to upgrade to the next class of service on virtually any American Airlines flight.  These are hugely valuable and likely to cover the price of the boost on their own if used for international travel.

But, should you be a buyer at any of these levels?  I’ve outlined the scenarios where each has value.  But, I think Gold seekers have the toughest choice.  The prices to retain status are high in comparison.  But if you were to try and book 10,000 miles worth of mileage runs you’re also only getting a 25% bonus on miles flown.

I think there are many scenarios where the Platinum renewal options make sense, and likewise at Executive Platinum.  But, if you were less than 10,000 miles away from Exec Plat, you could likely book mileage runs and pick up 10,000 miles for roughly $700.  Along with those trips you’d also pick up another 20,000 redeemable miles (10,000 for miles flown plus your 100% bonus.  Again, valuing those miles at about 2 cents, that’s $400 in value.

So, that leaves some of us with a question.  Is it worth somewhere between $799 and $1399 in value to get to spend roughly 2 less days on the road?

That’s a darn good question.

It also brings up another good question for me personally.  American called me a couple weeks ago and intimated that they might be willing to let me fudge if I came up just short of 100,000 miles this year.  Does the fact that they’re now selling the ability to do so change their mind?

 

 

 

 

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