Status Challenge Opportunities in the American Airlines/US Airways Merger

While we don’t know the specifics regarding the future loyalty program of the post-merger US American Airwayslines, here are some things we do know:

– We know that the loyalty program will have to match up with the 3 oneworld alliance tiers. There still might be 4 tiers within the program, but the top tier will definitely correspond to OneWorld Emerald.
– Before the airlines officially merge, there will be a period when elites will have cross-airline benefits, i.e. American AAdvantage elites will have benefits on pre-merger US (pmUS) and US Airways elites will have benefits on pre-merger American (pmAA).

I am actually intrigued by this, especially since I was looking to switch some flying to American before the merger was announced. As we find out more about how the merger will affect the loyalty program and elite status, I wanted to discuss my ideas for status challenges in the medium-term of the merger timeline.

The suspected timeline

If recent history is a harbinger of things to come, we can use the timeline of the recent United/Continental merger as a guideline to determine how the loyalty programs may act.

May 3, 2010 – Merger publicly announced
10 months later – Miles transferrable between CO OnePass and UA MileagePlus
16 months later – New program details announced
22 months later – New combined program in place (OnePass shut down)

Thus, we might not see miles and benefits transferrable between the two programs until the end of 2013, possibly early 2014. This means that status for this year that expires in early 2014 may not be as useful as status earned for 2014 that expires in 2015.

US Airways Status Challenges

It is currently possible to go from 0 to top-tier with US Airways. This makes it the better value proposition between the two. In addition, it’s highly likely that the program will keep the AAdvantage name, so it’s best to utilize a soon-to-be defunct program that will eventually be gobbled up by the other program.

1) Trial Preferred Status

This, to me, seems like a decent way to achieve top-tier US status (and therefore, top-tier AA status) for a combination of minimal cash and minimal flying.

The first thing to do is to sign up with US Airways for a preferred status trial. The options are:
Trial Silver – $200
Trial Gold – $400
Trial Platinum – $600

Keep in mind that a 7.5% tax is added to these prices. You will be granted the level you buy for 90 days, during which you will have to fly a set number of miles on US Airways operated flights to keep a status level:

-Silver: Fly 7,500 miles or 10 segments
-Gold: Fly 15,000 miles or 20 segments
-Platinum: Fly 22,500 miles or 30 segments
-Chairman: Fly 30,000 or 40 segments

The key here is that you can achieve a status level higher than the trial status you bought. For example, I can buy trial Silver for $200, then fly 30,000 miles on US metal to achieve top-tier Chairman’s status. The only rule is that I have to at least achieve the challenge for the trial status I bought in order to keep the status. Thus, I can’t purchase trial Platinum and fly only enough for Gold.

If I were to sign up today and complete the challenge, I would have status until February 28, 2014, which might not have much overlap with the merged programs. Thus, it might be best to wait until after this summer when Trial status challenges are good until February 2015, which is when the merger might be complete.

2) Buy up to Preferred

US Airways also currently sells status outright. You can buy Chairman’s level for $3,999 (though if you have just 1 PQM or 1 PQS with US Airways, the price drops to $2,999). Keep in mind that you only get the Preferred miles, not any other redeemable miles. As of now, bought status is only good until February 2014, so again, there might not be much overlap there with the AAdvantage program. We’ll see if the program is still around come this June.

American Airlines Status Challenges

Unless you are targeted for an Executive Platinum challenge, you cannot achieve top-tier with AAdvantage through a status challenge.

However, if you are interested, you can achieve AAdvantage Gold (the mileage equivalent of US Airways Silver) or AAdvantage Platinum (the mileage equivalent of US Airways Gold) through challenges.

You have to call in to AAdvantage to sign up for a challenge. When I called them late last year, the prices for $120 for the Gold challenge and $240 for the Platinum challenge. Challenges begin on either the 1st or the 16th of the month and last for 90 days.

Challenges that begin before June 16th of a year last for the rest of the year and the following year’s first two months (so challenging on June 1, 2013 means you’ll have status through February 2014). However, challenges that begin after June 16th give you status for the rest of the year, the entire following year, and two months in the year after that. Beginning a challenge on July 1, 2013 and completing it will give you status through February 2015. Thus, given the suspected timeline, it might be best to wait until this summer.

Instead of using miles to calculate challenge requirements, AA requires you to fulfill points requirements. Gold requires 5,000 Elite Qualifying Points in 90 days while Platinum requires 10,000 EQP.

Deep discount fares early only 0.5 EQP for every mile, so you would need 10,000 miles on deep discount fares to achieve Gold. Discount fares earn 1.0 EQP, while premium fare earn 1.5EQP. There are several good premium fares on American Airlines that can be searched with ITA, so Platinum status can be achieved with just 6,667 miles of flying on a 1.5EQP fare.

Also, in recent months, certain joint-venture partners are open for use on American Airlines status challenges. That means you can fly on British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines, or Qantas in order to fulfill a challenge. Note that Premium Economy fares earn 1.50EQP on British Airways, Japan Airlines, and Qantas, which may provide a cost-effective path to status.

It might be best to wait

Since I am interested in a shortcut to top-tier status on the eventual merged airline that’s a part of OneWorld, it seems best to wait until this summer when status challenges give status through February 2015. As it is, current status challenges only give those who qualify status through February 2014, which might not give enough time for overlapping benefits. The value proposition at the moment isn’t as great, though it might increase beginning mid-way through the year.

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  • Mark J

    I just completed a platinum challenge on American, it cost me $200

    • Ninmurai

      The price of the AA challenges are highest in June and drops as the year progresses, which reflects on the amount of time you have to use the benefits of your fast-tracked status.

      • Ninmurai

        Sorry, July, not June.

    • AKold

      I called last summer and was told it was $240, which may correspond to the fact that challenges in July give you status the longest time, thus having a higher fee.

  • Joe Cheung

    Does it say anywhere online that you can achieve higher status on US even if you only pay for the lower challenge? I’m having trouble finding it

    • Scottrick

      If it did, that would defeat the purpose of advertising three different prices for challenges at each level. My guess is that this is a glitch that lets you save $400. If you want screenshots and stuff to be absolutely sure of getting the Platinum challenge, you’ll have to pay more.

      • Joe Cheung

        Oh ok, but people have done it before obviously, got it, thanks

    • AKold

      This is through anecdotal evidence. One clue is that they say you can achieve Chairman’s status but don’t actually provide a trial for it.

  • nambrot

    Is there ever a reason to do a challenge before June?

    I will do a cross-atlantic flight in March on IB which incures 3500 points, so I’m wondering whether I should try to go for the AA Challenge, but I feel like there is not much value if I can’t achieve status for the next year, which seems likely as I am not as much of a frequent traveler as I’d like to

    • AKold

      It’s really up to you, but keep in mind that any status garnered before halfway into the year will only last through February 2014. If you do a GLD challenge for AA Gold status, you’ll only have it for until then, and will need to get 25K EQM/EQP before Dec 31, 2013 to keep it through 2014.

      • nambrot

        Thanks for the reply, Ill probably not do it because of the limited status validity.

  • Travel Summary

    Do you get the upgrade certificates if you buy status outright with US?

  • Marshall

    I am going to do an AA challenge for platinum status.
    Flying business class JFK to SCL on May 12 and DFW to EZE on May 30. Will get 19,600 points with bonus. Once Platinum, will get 33, 250 for 2nd flt. Will this qualify me for Platinum with AA thru 2/2015? I have read that status obtained thru challenge before 6/16 only gives status thru 2/2014. However, will additional points on 2nd flt then give status thru 2/2015?

    • AKold

      The AA biz fares to South America are a great way to get status! Just make sure it’s an AA-coded flight, as LAN-coded flights are not eligible. You’d only receive status for the rest of the year if you meet the challenge (until 2/2014). However, if you get 50,000 EQP all together in 2013, your status will go through to 2/2015. EQPs do not get a 100% bonus like redeemable miles do, so I don’t think you’ll get 33,250 EQP for a DFW-EZE roundtrip in business.

      • Marshall

        Thanks for your response. My thinking was that by the time I did the DFW to EZE in business (10470 miles * 1.5 points = 15,705 EQP * 25% bonus = 19,631 miles) I would be Platinum from the JFK to SCL flt and would get points = 1.5 times the miles which would then be doubled thru the 100% bonus for Platinum status (11098 * 1.5 = 16,647 EQP * 100% bonus = 33,294 milies). Are you saying the 25% & 100% bonus is ONLY for miles but not for EQPs? So, I would only have 32, 352 EQP (Gold thru 2/2015, not Platinum) and 52,925 miles? ALSO, since I have already booked the ticket to SCL, which will give me Platinum status, will AA give me the status early? I have read that they might give me gold status early if I do the Platinum challenge & already have the tickets booked. Thanks for your help.

  • William

    What do you think would happen in a dual-status scenario when the programs are merged (e.g., if a person was concurrently AA Gold and US Airways Chairman)?

    • Scottrick

      When United and Continental merged, you got the higher of the two statuses during the transition. Eventually, EQM from one program were added to the EQM from the other program, but that required time to set up.

      My guess is in 2013 you will at some point benefit from the higher status on both airlines, but they won’t be combined. There will be an announcement near the end of the year that miles flown on either airline in 2014 will count toward status for 2014 and 2015.