To challenge or not to challenge, that is the question


I’m going to China in a few weeks. On a premium fare which, if credited to the AAdvantage program, will earn a whole lot of elite qualifying points. So many, in fact, that on the outbound half of the trip I’d meet the qualifications for the Platinum challenge which AA offers. I currently have no status in the program and have been considering the value of paying for the challenge; I’m not entirely convinced I should bother.

Pros

  • Platinum status means shorter hold times on the phone and some reduced fees. I also get 100% bonus reward miles and bigger bonuses on the long-haul premium fare segments. This ticket booked into I class so that’s 1,000 bonus points as a Platinum member versus none as a regular member. Plus the ~7,200 bonus points on my return routing.
  • Future international trips in 2015 would get lounge access. Not that I have any booked or planned, but odds are some will come up. No idea if they will be on oneworld partners or not.
  • Future trips in 2015 on AA would get Main Cabin Extra access for free at time of booking rather than only at check-in time.
  • Having status in two alliances does make life a little easier when it comes to planning travel. But I’ll get AA Gold on the return flight so I’ll have at least something either way.

Cons

  • Paying $200 for ~8,200 miles seems like just an OK price of ~2.44 cpm.
  • My other AA/oneworld trips which I know of for this year all come before the China trip, not after it. That means no taking advantage of the benefits for those trips.
  • Getting an additional ~22k EQPs or 26k EQMs to reach Platinum for 2016 is certainly possible, and I’d have the Platinum status during those flights, but the value proposition there is much harder to calculate.

Other Options

  • Or, instead of crediting to the AAdvantage program I could credit the flights elsewhere. Putting 19,000+ Avios in my account would be a nice boost and worth more if I manage to redeem for short-haul awards. It is unlikely that I’ll get the 4 BA segments necessary for status in the Executive Club program.
  • The Alaska Airlines MileagePlan program is also an option and upcoming trips would be enough to earn me MVP status in that program. The advantage there is that it includes some benefits on both American and Delta (being on the east coast I don’t find myself flying on Alaska Airlines very often), but the Delta benefits are eroding and the future of the American relationship is unclear. Plus, the bottom tier status there doesn’t get me all that much which AA Gold wouldn’t similarly offer.

At the end of the day I fell like the status options are just wallet candy, not something I’ll get true utility from. And odds are that the Avios are better for my redemption patterns, though I’m still sitting on a pile from the BMI days and haven’t managed to burn them very quickly. Maybe I just need to travel more to solve that problem.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

7 Comments

  1. Seth, I am thinking through whether to go for a Plat challenge on AA as well. I’m currently AS MVPG, and also NYC based so I earn only through DL/AA travel, and I agree that the benefits are being eroded on DL. I’m leaning towards AS over the challenge as it avoids the challenge co-pay, and as MVPG, I already get to choose MCE seats at booking. If you were MVPG already would the decision be easier?

  2. I agree, did a challenge in 2014 and had status all last year. found myself about to make some marginal decisions in Nov-Dec to re-qualify and decided to stop. You get on a treadmill and start to make decisions you would not normally make. Like you, i have a lot of travel options and points. Sometimes just doing it “because” is only getting you a card “trophy” for your wallet… The AA ExecPlat perks are GREAT and I loved flying them last year. They were that good! and upgrades to PEK, HKG and NRT were worth a lot of money.. and.. was upgraded on all but 1 or 2 domestic segments.. BUT, i travel 1st class on points all the time, and i don’t really care about flying domestic on SW, it works for me… So in the end, i think your hit the nail on the head, it is a margin call..

  3. Unless you eventually plan to reach EXP and have to put a lot of miles on AA, I would pass. In my opinion lower to mid elite levels and to some degree even the higher levels have become more marketing tools than of much real value to a clearly thinking customer. Perhaps AA is better than most at providing value because they are still distance based, but that will surely be changing soon.

  4. Not sure if you knew this, but if you pay for the Platinum challenge, you are granted Gold status for the duration of the challenge. This might make the AA/oneworld flights before your China trip a little more tolerable, mainly for the Main Cabin Extra at check-in.

  5. Another Con is that you can only do the AAdvantage Challenge so many times (or so few) every 5 years. I’m unsure of the exact number; however, I have done the challenge twice and AA said I was ineligible. The AA Customer Service supervisor with whom I spoke said I will be eligible in 2016.

  6. I found your comment about the ‘future of the American’relationship’ to Alaska as ‘unclear’ interesting. Of course, any frequent flier program relationship between two carriers can change or even dissolve with no notice–so on this basis, any such relationship is ‘unclear’. Certianly the AS and DL relationship is on ‘life support’ and few expect it to stay in its present form for long. However, it seems as of late that the AS and AA relationship has stregthened in the recent past. Is there something in particular that you’ve seen that makes this relationship particularly in peril?

  7. Alaska is a great program, why not credit it there, as you state, you’ll get *some* benefits on AA and DL as well. Sounds like that’s a better match for your travel habits.

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