Beware the Temptation of American’s DEQM
Mommy Points announced yesterday that American Airlines has extended its Double Elite Qualifying Miles (DEQM) promotion until June. Although there was a similar promotion earlier this year for all travelers, this one is exclusive to routes between San Francisco (SFO) or Los Angeles (LAX) and either Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) or Chicago O’Hare (ORD). Edit: Orange County (SNA) has been added as a third California airport. Flights between DFW and ORD do not qualify. You also must have a California, Illinois, or Texas address on file with your American AAdvantage account.
I do meet all these requirements even though I fly almost exclusively on United. My AAdvantage account was opened years ago, and I never updated the address when I moved to Seattle. Back in the beginning of the year, I calculated it would cost just under $2,000 to get top-tier Executive Platinum status with AA by flying to SFO and and then going back and forth to Chicago for a week. This also involved stacking with the other DEQM promo for all members, giving me triple EQM (TEQM), but I called it off because I couldn’t quite stomach the idea of traveling that much for status that I might never use.
Yes, AA has its eVIPs that are both more abundant and more flexible than my United systemwide upgrades. Domestic upgrades are also a little easier because only top-tier elites get them for free and lower tiers must redeem credits for specific flights. And we all know that AA has been making a significant effort to improve its service to retain passengers during its bankruptcy proceedings.
But I do not agree with the idea that giving everyone who flys with American elite status is going to save the airline. Even casual flyers are going to end up with low-tier Gold status, and anyone who makes a modest effort could get Executive Platinum. One of American’s problems is that it has a weak route network, especially in international markets. All these extra elite flyers and redeemable miles will be chasing seats are services that are designed for much smaller demand. If you already fly AA, by all means make a run for it and get the top-tier status you’ve always envied. You’re going to need it! But I have no incentive as a United loyalist to switch sides or even partially divide my travel spending.
Register at American Airlines with promotion code DEQ11. All travel must be booked and complete by June 30, 2012.
Remember, always consider the value of the benefits you will receive–and your ability to use them–as part of any plan to use mileage runs to obtain elite status.
“Direct” Flights and Other Nonsense
Darren at Frequently Flying reminds us that United Airlines, having adopted many of the practices of its merger partner Continental Airlines, calculates award miles for direct flights based on the physical distance between the two airports, not the actual distance traveled. Recall that “nonstop” flights are actually nonstop, but “direct” flights only share the same flight number and involve connections and even plane changes. Sometimes this doesn’t matter. Perhaps you’d have to make a connection anyway.
But if your two flights happen to have the same flight number, beware! As a hypothetical example, let’s say a direct flight from Seattle to Boston connects in Chicago. You would only earn the number of miles assuming a nonstop flight to Boston in a straight line even though that detour to Chicago is significantly longer. (Sometimes direct flights even backtrack!) Just take a look at these two options, with a difference of 91 miles flown but not earned on the direct flight. Bigger detours to places like Houston could result in differences of thousands of miles.
If you care at all about how many miles you earn, stay away from direct flights. This silly scheduling practice shows no sign of going away soon, but hopefully United will realize how absurd it is to apply this reduced earning policy to such trips.
The World is Getting Smaller
And even if you are traveling on separate flight numbers and earning the full number of miles traveled for each segment, the Wandering Aramean tells us that United has initiated an effort to shrink the globe. Some might say this is a nefarious plot to slowly devalue its MileagePlus program. 😉 Distance calculations are performed according to the great circle map (GCM) calculations, and you can get a third-party approximation of how many miles your trip will earn by using the Great Circle Mapper tool online.
Published distances on many routes have decreased by single digits, meaning you’ll earn less even though those cities haven’t necessarily moved any closer together. United claims that this is due to a broad effort to recalculate all of its distance data from scratch with the merger taking place rather than simply copy what other airlines have been publishing.
But the other airlines are flying the same distance, too, aren’t they? And as Seth points out, Chicago can’t get closer to both Portland, OR, and New York City. Hopefully this will be better clarified in the near future, but I don’t think it’s a serious problem. Premier 1K status can be earned by flying 100K miles or 120 segments. If you were to earn that status on segments (much harder) and the GCM distance was cut by 10 miles (most are smaller), that would mean losing 2,400 redeemable miles and 1,200 elite miles each year assuming a 100% elite bonus.
In the meantime, I’m happy to report that all of my redeemable and elite miles have finally posted and are accurate. They appeared, disappeared, were manually edited, automatically edited, and finally make sense. So there are definitely glitches out there. United gave me 10K miles for my patience when my 1K card didn’t show up before leaving for Bahrain and my seats were downgraded to standard economy, so I think that will take care of any single-digit changes in GCM distance for the next several years.