How I got started…

As I mentioned, I had gold status for the past two years based on minimum flying (25,000 miles a year).  So I was familiar with the benefits and with trips home it only required one or two “extra” trips to visit friends.  In fact, I had gained my status originally through a Gold Challenge.

American Airlines offers challenges to Gold (lowest tier) or Platinum (middle tier) with no challenge for their top tier, Executive Platinum, although there are a few individuals who report that they get the Executive Platinum challenge.  I learned about these challenges by reading the Flyerguide Wiki. Basically you pay a fee depending on when the challenge starts. If it starts in the 1st half of the year the fee is 100 or 180 for gold and platinum respectively and if it starts in the 2nd half of the year 120 or 200. The reason why it costs more in the second half of the year is that it will grant you status for not only that year, but the subsequent membership year (which ends in Feb). For example, it is May 2011 (1st half of the year) and you start the challenge, when you complete it you will have status until Feb 2012. However if you start on say July 1st (2nd half of the year) you will have status until Feb 2013, which is why it costs more to start the challenge at the later part of the year.

In order to complete the challenge you must fly 5000 Elite Qualifying Points for gold or 10,000 EQP for platinum. Points are very different from Elite Qualifying Miles and are based on the fare class that you purchase your ticket. Now for all intensive purposes, I am a student. My time is not very valuable and I have a smaller budget. Every plane ticket I buy is the cheapest possible so on deep discount fares I only earn 0.5 EQP per flown mile. As a result to complete the Platinum Challenge I would need to fly 20,000 miles, however if I started buying more expensive fares, I could earn up to 1.5 EQP/mile. This would mean I’d only have to fly 13,334 miles. Click here for a summary of fare classes.

As I’m writing about my experience for the year, this will be part story-like. In March 2011 it was my 25th birthday and I had flown home to see some family and friends. I had booked a flight BUR-DFW-ORD (Burbank-Dallas Ft. Worth – Chicago [O’hare]) and on the return from ORD-STL-LAX. This cost $270.80 for 2037 + 2092 = 4129 miles, which was fine for an actual trip, however on the way back from chicago I was not scheduled to arrive until 10:50 p.m., which if any of you live in LA know is difficult to find public transportation home. If I was delayed at all, I would miss the fly away, which would put me back at Union Station past the last gold line back to pasadena.

Because of this I decided to see if I could get to LAX earlier. As a gold (at the time), I am allowed the benefit of standing by at no additional charge, however when I called the Customer Service desk they said that there was no way I could get onto any of the flights as they were all overbooked due to weather from the previous day. Oh how you and silly I was to listen to this…. Anyway, I decided to take advantage of a Same Day Confirmed Flight Change (CFC), which comes out of the “E” Inventory class, really reserved for employee travel or CFCs. This however is not free for any elite on American Airlines, but allows you to confirm a flight change, which can be valuable for upgrades or simply re-routing. This inventory usually only exists when flights are pretty open. In my case I was able to re-route from ORD-JFK-LAX to get to LAX at 8:00 p.m., which is just enough time to catch public transit back to Pasadena. Note: I had to call the AAdvantage desk a few times to find an agent willing to re-route me because none of the ticket agents at O’Hare were willing to do this. But as you will see Your Miles May Vary (YMMV).

Why did I do this? Well 1) I was able to get back to Pasadena early to finish packing for my move the following morning at 7:00 a.m. 2) I was able to collect more miles. ORD-JFK-LAX is 3,215 miles, whereas ORD-STL-LAX is only 2092 miles (with elite minimum). As a result I got almost 1,000 EQMs for only $50 and I got to go to JFK.

So in summary:

BUR-DFW-ORD (2037 EQM)
ORD-JFK-LAX (3215 EQM)
Total EQM: 5252 EQM
Listed Cost: 270.8 (Actually: 257.26 due to 5% back on the credit cards) + $50 (CFC, Actually $47.5 after credit card).
Actual Cost: $304.76

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