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When it comes to my travel plans, I like to be organized and I like to plan ahead and that’s why even though we’re not yet into October, I’ve already spent a couple of months contemplating my travel options for 2023. It’s also why I’ve already made a number of bookings for travel deep into next year. One of those bookings is a tier point run and in this post, I’ll explain what a tier point run is, why I’ve decided that a tier point run is necessary, and what I’ve booked.
What is a tier point run?
Although I spent over a decade with American Airlines AAdvantage as my primary airline loyalty program, the last six years have seen me focusing on the British Airways Executive Club and the Executive Club awards elite status based on how many “tier points” a flyer earns in a membership year.
A “tier point run” is a booking made in which the flyer’s primary purpose is to maximize the number of tier points they earn so that they have a better chance of earning elite status, improving their elite status, or requalifying for elite status for another year.
Often, tier point runs are taken purely for the sake of earning tier points with little thought given to the cities/countries being visited because people booking tier point runs usually want to earn as many tier points as possible while also minimizing the amount of time they spend away from home.
Why I booked a tier point run
I get great value out of my British Airways Gold Elite status and a review of my potential travel schedule in 2023 revealed that I am unlikely to qualify for that status without a tier point run.
What’s different next year?
Usually, I have no trouble earning British Airways Gold status organically, but my travel patterns are going to be different next year.
Unlike previous years, I’m not going to have many opportunities to fly in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2023, and that will leave me with just 6 months in which to earn the tier points that I would normally take 12 months to earn.
Also, the absence of any great value Qatar Airways fares between Europe and Asia (where have they all gone?!) means that I cannot simply incorporate a super-cheap Business Class Europe-Doha-Asia trip into my regular schedule and pick up 560 tier points without breaking a sweat (or the bank). I’ll be picking up tier points courtesy of some good Finnair deals to Asia, but I’m not picking them up at anywhere near the rate that I’d be earning them if Qatar Airways was offering great fares.
With just 6 months in which to earn the 1,500 tier points needed for British Airways Gold status and no sign that Qatar Airways will be bringing back any of its legendary Business Class deals to Asia, a tier point run seems almost unavoidable.
Why I value British Airways Gold Elite status
There are a number of reasons why I enjoy having Gold Elite status, but if I put aside the reasons centered around things that are simply “nice to have” and which are not really key, I’m left with 4 ways in which this status makes life better and/or cheaper for me.
- It gives me American Airlines lounge access when I’m flying within the US regardless of what cabin I’m flying in. That saves me from having to buy an Admirals Club membership or from having to spend annual_fees (was $450 at the time of writing) on the card_name (which offers Admirals Club membership as a benefit).
- Because I mostly book my long-haul flights with cash and because most of my short-haul bookings are reward bookings, Avios is my primary airline currency (a great currency for short-haul bookings) and Gold elite status ensures that I earn a 100% Avios bonus when I fly with British Airways. As I spend Avios almost as quickly as I earn them (to save on expensive fares that I would otherwise have to pay for with cash), that’s a very useful benefit for me to have.
- Gold status opens up extra short-haul Reward Flight availability and because I frequently fly on intra-Europe routes that get ludicrously expensive when schools are on vacation, this extra award availability saves me a lot of money every year (conservatively, I estimate that I save at least $1,000/year thanks to the expanded award availability that BA Gold elite status offers).
- Mostly, I get treated very well when I have to call British Airways to get things changed or sorted out. My hold times are rarely annoyingly long and even during the height of the pandemic when a lot of people were having no end of problems with British Airways, my experiences were, on the whole, good. I value not having my time wasted (while on hold) and having agents who always seem keen to help and I’m not sure that would be the case if I drop down to a lower tier.
For some, those reasons would not be enough to persuade them to go the extra mile to keep hold of Gold elite status, but after having thought things through, a tier point run made sense for me.
My tier point run
In one very important way, the tier point run that I’ve booked is different from a traditional tier point run – I’m not attempting to get back to my point of origin as quickly as I can. I’m using this tier point run to get me from my home in the UK to my home in Los Angeles while earning a bucket load of tier points… I’m just taking an unusually convoluted route.
Because of how I set out my bookings (i.e. because I make sure that all my long-haul fares originate in Europe and not in the US), I need to fly round-trip between London and Los Angeles in the first quarter of next year.
For most people, this would mean booking a simple itinerary like London-LA-London or, at worst, London-LA-London with a short stopover in either direction (for a change of aircraft).
Not for me.
This is the route that I’ll be flying:
That probably doesn’t look too bad, but it’s actually a little more complicated than it appears because there’s more than one booking within that itinerary and the map doesn’t show all the individual segments of the trip. Specifically, there are 3 bookings:
Booking 1 (a positioning flight)
This is a cheap Economy Class fare on British Airways that gets me from London to Budapest (to link up with booking 2) and then gets me back to London from Budapest at the very end of the whole trip.
Booking 2 (the main tier point booking)
This is a Business Class fare (BA and AA) that flies me from Budapest to Honolulu via London, New York, and Los Angeles and then takes me back to Budapest via the same stopovers.
Booking 3 (the booking that gets me home to LA)
This is an Economy Class booking with Southwest that gets me from Honolulu to Los Angeles (to get me home for an extended period) before taking me back to Honolulu (to catch the return portion of booking 2).
If you think that sounds complicated, take a look a the itinerary! 😁
- London – Budapest (overnight in Budapest) – BA
- Budapest – London (overnight at home in London) – BA
- London – JFK – Los Angeles (overnight at home in LA) – BA/AA
- Los Angeles – Honolulu (stay overnight in Honolulu) – AA
- Stay in Honolulu
- Stay in Honolulu
- Honolulu – Los Angeles (cash booking with Southwest)
- Stay at home in Los Angeles for a period of weeks
- Los Angeles – Honolulu (cash booking with Southwest)
- Honolulu – Los Angeles (overnight at home in LA) – AA
- Los Angeles – JFK – London (overnight at home in London) – BA/AA
- London – Budapest – London (end of the trip) – BA
The tier point earnings from the bookings look like this:
Booking 1 – 10 tier points
Booking 2 – 920 tier points
Booking 3 – no tier points (Southwest bookings cannot be credited to British Airways)
That’s a total of 930 tier points which gets me 62% of the way to British Airways Gold status.
Booking 1 – The Economy Class fare between London and Budapest – $105
Booking 2 – The Business Class tier point run – $1,738
Booking 3 – The Southwest round-trip Economy Class fare (HNL – LAX) – $257.
My overnight hotel stay at Budapest Airport will cost $84 while my three nights in Honolulu are booked using points and a free night certificate – 140,000 Hilton Honors Points & an IHG certificate worth 40,000 points.
The total cost of all flights and hotel bookings is $2,184 + 140,000 Hilton points + an IHG free night certificate.
How much am I paying for the extra tier points?
To work out how much extra I think I’m paying to lock in the extra tier points this trip will earn me, I’ve used a simple formula:
The total cost of the tier point run less the cost of what I would otherwise have paid to get back to LA (and then back to London) is the net cost of the extra tier points that I will earn.
Had I not booked this trip I would have probably booked London – Dublin – London – LA – London – Dublin – London to take advantage of some of the very good Business Class fares that have been available between Dublin and LA.
This would have earned me no more than 380 tier points and based on the fares that I’ve seen on Google Flights, I estimate that it would have cost me in the region of $1,700.
What this means is that I’ve paid $484 + 140,000 Hilton points + an IHG free night certificate to earn an extra 550 tier points and as those Hilton points and free night certificate are getting me a 3-night break in Hawaii (and weren’t about to be used for anything better), I’m happy with that deal.
I haven’t indulged in a tier point run in a number of years, but based on my projected travel plans for 2023, I decided that one was needed for next year.
While what I’ll be doing isn’t a traditional tier point run in the sense that it isn’t a trip which will see me spend a very short amount of time away from home (I’m doing the run as part of a trip to get home to LA), I’m still going out of my way (quite literally!) to earn as many tier points as I can to help shore up British Airways Gold status for next year.
It’s a little disappointing that I’m having to resort to this, but considering what my BA status is worth to me, I think that it’s probably worth it.