Economics of the AA Elite Fast Track Promotion
Back in September for a brief moment in time, American Airlines opened up an opportunity to fast track to elite status. It was supposed to be a targeted promotion, but it seems that anyone who registered while it was public was eligible. A couple of years ago I did a similar promotion and earned Platinum status with a single flight to Paraguay, but this time I wanted to go all the way for Executive Platinum.
Related: AA Elite Fast Track FAQ
Since this promotion relied on elite qualifying points, I figured the easiest way to get to the 25,000 EQPs needed was to fly in first/business class since those fares earn 1.5 EQPs per mile flown. As I shared awhile back, I ultimately decided to meet the requirement with a couple of crazy mileage runs down to Panama.
For the first mileage run, I tacked on an award ticket to Cuba. During my second visit I checked out the canal and old city in Panama. Both trips were fun and I had the added advantage of flying in first/business class the whole way. My second mileage run even had two segments on the 321T from SFO-JFK and one segment on AA’s lie flat business on a 767 from MIA-JFK.
Cost of the Tickets
To book these tickets, I employed a couple of different methods. My first ticket down to Panama cost $768.60 and my routing was LAS-JFK-MIA-PTY-MIA-JFK-LAS. I paid $250 of the cost with American Airlines gift cards I had sitting around from utilizing the airline credit on various Amex Platinum cards. This meant my cash outlay was $518.60. Not bad at all, but I wanted to avoid paying cash out of pocket for the second flight.
Since I have a Citi Prestige card, I wanted to use ThankYou points to book the second trip to Panama. Of course the Citi engine would price out more direct routes, but I was trying to make this as long as possible and it struggled to find the itineraries I needed. Thankfully after several hard fought days of playing with their site, PDX Deals Guy and I figured out how to get a decent price/itinerary combination. Ultimately I was able to get SFO-JFK-MIA-PTY-MIA-JFK-SFO for 55,600 ThankYou points all in.
So to sum it up, my cost to reach Executive Platinum status was $250 in American Airlines gift cards, $518.60 in cash and 55,600 ThankYou points. I also used a $129 United voucher (from the falling roof panel experience) to re-position to SFO. This voucher would probably have expired if I didn’t use it, so I have chosen not to consider it in my cost analysis.
How Much Did I Earn?
So now that we know how much I spent, lets look at what I got back in return in addition to the status. American Airlines pays out a 100% mileage bonus once you reach Platinum, so I was able to rack up quite a few miles between the class of service and elite bonuses. Plus, they are running a premium cabin bonus as well which helped. Here is how much I earned for my two trips to Panama.
- Trip 1 LAS to PTY via JFK & MIA: 21,834 miles
- Trip 2 SFO to PTY via JFK & MIA: 29,636 miles
- Total Miles Earned: 51,470
The second trip earned more miles because I started it at Platinum which meant I earned a 100% bonus for the entire itinerary. It also was slightly longer flight wise and I earned a higher bonus for flying on the 321T as part of their promotion.
Adjusting the Costs
I spent 55,600 ThankYou points and earned 51,470 AAdvantage miles. I could try to assign a value to each and break that down, but that would be a step too far in my opinion. Given the upcoming devaluation, I would say AAdvantage miles are still slightly more valuable, but I’ll just call it a wash. I wiped out points in one currency for a very similar value of miles in another another currency. That leaves my cost at $250 in gift cards and $518.60 in cash. (Plus the United voucher if you want to count it.)
What I Received
In exchange for my money, I received 8 systemwide upgrades, I will receive complimentary domestic upgrades and a number of other benefits including no award cancellation fees. (A big one for me!) Thanks to the big British Airways business class sale, I will also receive a 100% bonus on two flights to Europe this year, which amounts to another 25,000 miles I would not have earned without the elite status.
It is also important to add in the experiences. I had always wanted to get to Cuba and this promotion brought me there via Panama. I was also able to visit Panama for the first time and was able to see a ship pass through the canal. As an aviation geek it was nice to fly the A321T in business class and even the new AA 767 business class with lie flat seats. (But no IFE. Seriously American?!?) Oh and I even got to meet a couple of readers who were doing a similar mileage run! That was awesome.
I knew the AAdvantage Elite Fast Track was going to be a great promotion for me, but I think I am getting even more value than I had originally thought. Being able to use the ThankYou points made this even better and I have no regrets cashing in the gift cards, the United voucher or paying the $518.60 in cash. In the end the value I have and will receive more than offsets that cost.
Perhaps the best part of mileage running to Panama was the experience of doing it. Sure there were a lot of long tedious flights, but none were too uncomfortable and I even had a great travel companion (PDX Deals Guy) on the second leg. Being able to see Cuba and the Panama Canal made the entire experience worth it even without all of the other perks! No regrets & #nobucketlist!