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It’s On: AAdvantage Platinum Status Challenge 2013

Man, I’m liking American a lot lately. Today, I called the AAdvantage desk about doing a status challenge for Platinum level, beginning May 16th. I’d been thinking about doing it for a while. I have three flights that end up in Easter Island beginning on the 18th, and since it’s all in first and business class, it’s more than enough to qualify me for Platinum. The rep carefully explained the terms of the challenge, which were the same as described here, so I knew what to expect. But it was still nice to confirm. She actually pulled up my flights and assured me that I’d be Platinum by the time I landed in Easter Island, which was very kind and thorough. Then she put me on hold.

When she came back she said, “I’m gonna help you out. I’m gonna go ahead and upgrade you to Gold so you’ll have a better trip and earn more miles on the way down there.” I was blown away. Now that’s something Delta would never do!

Per the Wiki linked above, I was prepared to pay $240 for the challenge. However, I was only charged $180. Perhaps this is a new thing? I chatted with the rep a bit about the upcoming merger, Explorer Awards, and thanked her profusely for the free upgrade to Gold. That’ll net me 7,000+ free miles in addition to the class bonus. Awesome!

The rep then said I’d get an email with more information, which came as soon as we hung up. Here’s the full text of the email I received from American:

Here’s the Info You Requested on Your Elite Challenge:
Thank you again for registering for an American Airlines AAdvantage elite Challenge. To help you meet
your goal, we are resending information on completing the Challenge. Additionally, if you wish to have a
receipt of the amount you were charged to register, please follow these steps:
1. Go to https://www.refunds.aa.com/
2. Locate the form “Request a Refund or Receipt”
3. In the field for “Ticket Number” input the MSR number I provided to you today
4. Input your Last Name in the next field
5. Select “Go” and the amount you paid is displayed
Now here are some tips to help you succeed:

  • Plan your qualifying flights to meet your goal within the 3-month time frame we discussed. Travel outside this time frame will not qualify toward your Challenge.
  • Be sure to fly on an eligible carrier. Points earned on qualifying flights on American Airlines, American Eagle, the AmericanConnection®carrier, British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines and Qantas (including eligible codeshare flights marketed by these carriers) count toward your Challenge.
  • If you upgrade, please keep in mind that points earned are based on the fare and booking code purchased, not the cabin in which you travel.
  • Learn more about point accrual and qualifying fares for each airline:
  • o American Airlines
  • o British Airways
  • o Iberia
  • o Japan
  • o Qantas
  • How can you determine what booking code is used for the fare you’re purchasing? Simply ask the booking agent, whether that’s your travel agent, corporate travel planner or AA Reservations representative. Or, even better, when you book your flights on AA.com, the Flight Summary screen displays the booking code in the same column as the cabin booked. 
  • Remember that the charge for your Challenge is nonrefundable — even if circumstances beyond anyone’s control prevent you from meeting the goal. 

A Challenge is intended for members who are in a hurry to get to the elite level they desire and begin
enjoying their benefits. Think of it as a shortcut to the status you would probably earn on your own
during the normal qualification period. Assuming you’re successful, please be prepared to meet the
normal criteria when it comes time to requalify for your status, since we offer limited opportunities to
earn status via a Challenge. We wish you every success in completing this Challenge.

Then I logged into my AAdvantage account and saw that I was indeed instantly upgraded to Gold.

Screen shot 2013-05-13 at 6.29.18 PM

 

Looking forward to being Platinum on American this time next week. 🙂 Amazing that I’m now Gold with zero American flights this year and will be Platinum after spending a little under $1,000 on a deal of a fare (+$180). The status will be good through the end of February 2014.

I did ask, out of pure curiosity if Executive Platinum challenges were still on the go. The rep told me they were not, and that they’ve stopped doing them altogether.

So that was my experience with American today. Very generous. Feeling good about making the switch. Can’t wait to post the trip reports next week!

AAdvantage Miles and Thoughts on American

So I am love love loving the AAdvantage program the more I get into it. I recently discovered that American has what’s called an “Explorer Award” – an award that permits one to make 16 stops in a RTW ticket for 150,000 AAdvantage miles.

That would be a great reason to take a few months off of work to just travel. It’s pie in the sky  for me at this point, but considering my balance is about half of what’s needed, I still have some time to think about it. I do, however, think it’s a tremendous value, and a way to see many cities for dirt cheap and save a lot of miles doing it.

aadvantage-balance

 

So far, I have about 77,000 AAdvantage miles. So I’d need 73,000 more. That sounds like a lot, but it’s totally do-able. The motivation is definitely there.

Orrr, I could make an award booking, like a weekend in Vancouver on Cathay Pacific, or maybe pop over to Europe for a long weekend this summer. But nothing beats the intoxicating thought of traveling all the way around the world.

I’d wanna hit Prague, Vienna, Tokyo, Sydney, Auckland, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Santiago, and some great Canadian city before slithering back to New York. My heart explodes just thinking about it.

 

The other thing is that this, along with my upcoming trips to Easter Island and Alaska on American, have got me really considering switching my loyalty over. I just dread what the US Airways merger is going to bring. But in another way altogether, I’m genuinely curious, too. American also just released some awesome elite rewards, so more than ever, I’m considering challenging for Platinum status.

Delta continues to spiral down while American seems interested in being a better airline. Sure, they both have their pitfalls. American can be stingy with upgrades for lower elites, but on Delta they’re pretty much impossible. There’s the issue of American’s tiny regional jets out of NYC. But their miles are a hell of lot easier to redeem. Harder to earn, true, but the fact that Delta partners with Amex really bugs me because Amex is a stingy, bitchy little company (more on that later).

Anyway, thinking of all these wonderful options, including an award redemption Delta could never touch, makes me think about what I want for myself in the future. I did slash do like Delta, but I can feel myself starting to sing a new tune. After my upcoming trips, there will be a few really fierce trip reports… then more comparisons. The only wild card here in US freaking Airways. I said it one and I’ll say it again: I Hope US Airways Doesn’t Ruin American’s Culture.

Got the Staples Rebate Checks, But Not the AAdvantage Miles… Yet.

See original posts here and here.

So I did get those darn Staples checks after all. Yup, two checks for $250 each. Buying that software helped me to meet the minimum spend on my Citi AAdvantage Amex, and I’ve received my 50,000 bonus miles + $150 statement credit for my upcoming trip to Alaska. All good things. But, I clicked through the AAdvantage shopping portal before buying the software, and to date, have not received the additional 1,000 miles. Grrr.

I wrote to them a week ago, and immediately received an auto-reply that said to give it an additional 4-8 weeks for research and processing. So, I’m still holding out hope that I make good on my original post and get 1,500 free AAdvantage miles.

Now that my balance is reaching 70,000 miles, I’m torn between an awesome redemption or saving up for an around-the-world Explorer Award. TO BE CONTINUED.

 

American Express Vs. Chase: Why Chase Is Winning

Quite simply: signup bonuses with no BS.

I’ve been hating on Amex a lot lately, and with good reason. I now have four Amex cards, three with Amex as the actual issuing bank, and with two of those three, I’ve had to make numerous phone calls, write emails, and send tweets to their support team about not getting a signup bonus. After a lot of back and forth, they usually award me a fraction of what I missed out on as “good will”, but it always leaves a bad taste behind and is like pulling freaking teeth with them.

In my opinion, if an Amex cardmember holds the Platinum Card, their most premium card offering with a hefty $450 annual fee, any other cards should automatically come with an enhanced signup bonus. Something extra. Instead, we see this sentiment in a lot of the T&C:

Eff u 2!

Eff u 2!

What?! Why? That’s so stupid to punish people for wanting to open more cards. This is where Chase excels.

They have a few cards that feed into their Ultimate Rewards program the same way Amex has multiple cards that can be linked to Membership Rewards. But Chase doesn’t impose rules on signup bonuses with multiple cards. You can get a Freedom, a Sapphire, an Ink, and whatever else you want to get and get the FULL bonus on all of them. If anything ever goes awry, just give them a call and it’s taken care of almost instantly.

Not with Amex. They’re notorious for their Financial Reviews and for not awarding bonuses… at all. They’re also really slow and claim to have to “research” your claim. Not only that, but their Membership Rewards program has lost a few key transfer partners in the past couple of years, along with a few other consumer unfriendly changes while Ultimate Rewards continues to improve.

There are a few sweet spots with Membership Rewards. For me, it’s the British Airways Avios. They’re a transfer partner for both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, which is pretty fantastic. Membership Rewards also transfer instantly to Delta, which would help me out a LOT with my dream trip to Australia if Amex would ever give me the points I deserve as a customer and card holder.

It goes beyond this, though. It’s about how the customer starts to view the company after a while. I’ve been screwed over by them a few times by now to the point where I’m thinking of switching all my spend over to Chase and giving Amex the finger. I wish it weren’t like this, though. Delta is pretty much forcing their customers to have a co-branded Amex to avoid the upcoming dreaded MQD component of the SkyMiles program, and I love having lounge access with the Platinum Card. But Chase always treats me so right while Amex continues to kick me to the proverbial curb.

So to Chase, I’d say keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working, and it’s so great. I have such a positive association with the company at this point. And Amex. Oh, Amex. Step up your game, because you’re getting your butt beat. I look forward to the day where I’m down to just the Platinum Card. In fact, Delta’s bid for more revenue is kinda sorta slowly driving me over toward American. But that’s a post for another day, and that post will be highly speculative.

When I think of Chase: I trust them, like them, want more of them.

When I think of Amex: Starting to shudder, need energy to deal with them, apprehensive about continuing to use their products. TOO. BAD.

Winner = Chase, hands down. Thoughts, anyone?

Best Credit Card for American AAdvantage Miles

Right now, as of writing this on a cold, damp day in Brooklyn, the BEST credit card for quickly accruing AAdvantage miles is this one: 

 

Citi Select® / AAdvantage® American Express® card

Citi Select® / AAdvantage® American Express® card

 

Here is the link to the application. Note that it goes directly to the landing page and does not specify the terms of the application, but here they are:

  • 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 within four months
  • $150 statement credit on an American flight (I used mine to book a trip to Anchorage)
  • 2 Admirals Club lounge passes
  • $85 annual fee waived the first year

You also get the usual perks:

  • 1 free checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • 10% of miles redeemed back (up to 10,000 miles per year)

Note that this card does carry a foreign transaction fee of 3%. So don’t pack it when traveling internationally.

There are two versions of this card, those being a Visa Signature and an Amex. The both have the exact same signup bonus, but I picked the Amex.

Here’s why: Small Business Sunday. Amex gives you $25 to spend for FREE every year at nearly any small business. I now have four Amex cards, so that’s $100 worth of free gifts from local businesses. And that’s pretty amazing. Amex also gives you the opportunity to sync your card to your Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook and offers lots of perks and statement credits for checking in, tweeting, etc. Having a Visa Signature gives you access to concierge service and the Visa Signature Hotels collection, but since I already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, I don’t need another card with the same perks. I’d much rather have the $25 credit, which, when you think about it, brings the annual fee down to just $60. The ability to have access to sales and promotions throughout the year is also just a really nice way to stay engaged with the card. And, all else being equal, that’s why I picked the Amex version.

About the signup bonus: the link above is the exact same one I used to apply. I was a little leery about not getting it, but I’m close to making my spend, and called Citibank to confirm I’d get a statement credit before I booked the Anchorage trip. The rep went over the details of the signup bonus, and they were exactly what’s written above. 50K miles, club passes, $150 statement credit. When she told me, I hit the “Pay Now” button as I had my flights pulled up on aa.com at the same time. Also of note was that the call was answered immediately with no hold time. Pretty nice.

This offer will probably not be around for much longer, and 50K is as generous as the signup bonus gets. The usual offer is just 30K, so if you’re thinking of getting this, I’d go ahead and pull the trigger on it. As with all offers, YMMV, so make sure you keep an eye on your AAdvantage account when you expect the miles to post.

American has quite a few sweet spots in their award chart, including a discount for cardmembers every quarter and 10% of redeemed miles returned every year. This can really add up to some great discounted trips. I really love the idea of taking Qantas to Australia, airberlin to Europe, or Finnair to somewhere in Scandinavia. Of course that’s just the trip of the iceberg. I wish AAdvantage miles were easier to earn. Nevertheless, this card is a huge step in the direction of a great award booking, and, in my opinion, the best offer available at the time of writing.

Booked: Anchorage in August!

Yes! Thanks to this alert from The Flight Deal, I went ahead and pulled the trigger on this one. It’ll be a trip for my birthday, which is August 26. 🙂

As with everything travel-related, I had a few reasons for going through with this one:

  • Great deal, obvi. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska
  • I just got the Citi AAdvantage Amex and called to confirm I’d get a $150 statement credit. I will, which made it a no-brainer. I also get 2 miles/dollar spent, and this counts toward the minimum spend to get 50,000 more AAdvantage miles
  • I plan on being Executive Platinum by that time and hope to get upgraded automatically, or can use e-certificates to upgrade the fare
  • It’ll will net me about 10,000 RDMs and EQMs, nearly halfway to a free R/T domestic trip
  • I have BusinessExtrAA, and get points there, too

Check out this sweet itinerary:

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 9.14.27 PM

 

Looking forward to the trip, and to seeing how American fares on a long-haul flight. Be sure to sign up for The Flight Deal’s daily newsletter – they’ve been on fire with the great deals lately!

Update: Kaspresky Staples Rebates

See original posts here and here.

Valid

Valid

Looks like it’s gonna go through. I chatted the Help Desk on the rebate site, and they say I have to wait for 30 days – they want to make sure I don’t return it. But after that, the checks should come in. Thus giving me 1,500 free AAdvantage miles. But since it’s helping me to meet spend on my new Citi AAdvantage Amex, the real haul is way more.

Excited that it’s clearing just fine. That being said, I’ve got this software if anyone needs it… :p

Looking forward to getting those checks in early/mid April!

 

I Hope US Airways Doesn’t Ruin American’s Culture

Don't eff this up

Don’t eff this up

Being on a Delta flight today made me realize I’ve quite gotten used to the style of Delta. Everything from the blue seat covers to the logo to the service offered by the flight attendants. There’s a certain no-nonsense, practical attitude that just feels right – it’s what I like most about travel on Delta metal.

That being said, I’ve quite warmed up to American Airlines over the past year. I think their upgrade policies are a lot more lenient than Delta’s, and as an Executive Platinum later this year, I really look forward to putting that to the test. Although it’s a bad comparison, I’ve been Silver Medallion on Delta and have taken all sorts of flights: hub, non-hub, short-haul, mid-haul, direct, etc. Never once have I received an upgrade. Compare that then, with the free upgrade I received on American over Christmas with no status and on a discount economy fare. How did I do it? I asked. Nicely. I’ve tried that with Delta a few times, and they laugh and roll their eyes cuz it ain’t gonna happen.

So, to the point. I’m warming up to American. But the things I see in US Airways, I don’t like at all. I know they have crazy generous routing rules with their Dividend Miles award redemptions, but what about service at a basic level? They feel stingy to me, nickel-and-dimed to death, and the markets they serve are places I don’t consider destinations. If I stick with American instead of Delta, I may connect in Charlotte or Philly every once in a while. I just hope US Airways doesn’t ruin the generous and attentive vibe that American has worked really hard to develop over the past few years.

I love that most of American’s FAs are “career” flight attendants. They run a tight ship, and I like that. They are also eager to serve snacks and meals in biz and first cabins, and overall just feel more open. I really dread Doug Parker stepping in and removing a lot of the things customers have gotten used to, introducing more fees, and overall cheapening the “New American.” I also hope US Airways simply fires all of their phone agents instead of combining them with American’s responsive crew.

Not to say American is all roses. In NYC, it’s a competitive market, obvi, and American loves to fly little regional jets out of LGA and JFK. Why, I’ll never know. They also don’t have a lot of transfer partners (I’m thinking Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards here). And their Admirals Clubs are set up to make you spend money, whereas I feel Delta is freer with the booze and snacks. Little things. But it’s the little things that end up mattering the most, right?

I’m cautiously watching from the sidelines as Delta implements a revenue component to their status program, and as American’s will undoubtedly take a few blows when it fully combines with US Airways. It’s not a question of if, it’s one of how much. Until then, I hope the “New American” doesn’t become worse.

I also cannot freaking wait to use Avios on the places US Airways flies. 2014 will certainly be interesting for the FF community.

Dilemma of the Day: Which Caribbean Island?

St. John, USVI

 

Just what the subject says. As part of the signup bonus for the shiny new British Airways Visa Signature that I got during my recent App-O-Rama, I will soon get at least 75,000 Avios – and hopefully 100,000 Avios. They’re great for short hops or some mid-haul jaunts under 1150 miles. The caveat is that they can only be used on places where Oneworld has routes. So no Philadelphia, no Burlington, no Portland (Maine), no Albany… surprising, right? But then I pulled up the American Airlines route map and the British Airways Avios Calculator to see where all I could go on the East Coast. My eyes drifted toward the equator, and I saw St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, and St. John just sitting there all lined up like a row of temptresses.

For 20,000 Avios R/T in economy, American will fly me to:

  • St. Thomas (STT)
  • St. Maarten (SXM)
  • St. Kitts (SKB)

But NOT St. Croix (and St. John doesn’t have an airport). I haven’t experiment with other islands yet, but I did notice it was the same rate to Cancun, though I’m not really interested in going there. Even though it’s not a short- or mid-haul, 20K R/T to visit the Caribbean from New York is pretty good, right? And it’s much less points the further south you start out from. Which brings me to my dilemma. Which Caribbean island should I visit first? I’ve been to none of them and don’t know where to start. I know they’re all probably amazing, but which one is best for a beginner? The research continues, into the islands as well as into the value of Avios.  I’d love to go sometime between April and June.

This redemption really got the thinking when I saw it, so I thought I’d share. It might be old news to some, but sure brought a warm feeling to imagine those bright, sandy beaches. Really liking Avios right about now. And open to ideas!

Thinking of doing an American Airlines Status Challenge

So I got in on the awesome fares to South America during American’s great fares that emerged around Valentine’s Day. I’m going to Easter Island, Chile in May. So excited. Round-trip in business/first class was a touch over $1,000. Check out this sweet itinerary:

There...

There…

and back...

and back…

 

So now I’m thinking of doing a status challenge on American Airlines.

You only need 10K points to get Platinum during a challenge, but there are reports that 20K will get you Executive Platinum.

Points are calculated as miles flown * fare class.
So 15,088 * 1.5 = 22,632.

Here’s the info I found:

Challenge (AA) – FlyerGuide Wiki

Here are the LAN earning rates, by class, on American:

http://aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/earnMiles/travel/airlines/lan.jsp

And the miles calculations:

Screen shot 2013-02-17 at 1.43.03 PM

 

I’ll also get 25K+ redeemable miles for another free domestic R/T at some point in the future based on the fare classes.

I’ve read that an Exec Plat status match is $250 – well worth it for the unlimited domestic upgrades and the 8 system-wide upgrades on ANY fare class. I’ll also earn 2 500-mile upgrade certificates on this trip (one for each 10K points earned), too.

So when I saw the fare and trip for the first time, I thought:

• EASTER ISLAND
• Exec Plat Status
• Eight system-wide upgrades
• Two upgrade certs
• Free domestic R/T
• and all in biz and first class

Can’t beat that with a stick.

I think there are still goes good fares to Buenos Aires and Santiago. You can play around on the Matrix and see what comes up.

matrix.itasoftware.com –> such a good tool.

American’s giving Delta a run for their money (literally) with this one! Excited to experience their premium products. And if all goes according to plan, I may switch the bulk of my flying over to American. At least until the ahem, MERGER goes through.

Thoughts, anyone? Are my calculations correct?