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At the beginning of last month, I highlighted a pretty amazing Tier Point run that was available for travel between London and the West Coast and, at the time, I said that I was tempted to make a booking for 2021. Well, a few weeks passed by, the fares for the trip didn’t disappear (this trip is still bookable), and the temptation to jump on such a fantastic deal grew to such an extent that I couldn’t hold out any more – the deal was too good to miss so I had to book.
Although I usually spend at least half my life on the West Coast, I’ve arranged my trips between my homes in the US and the UK in such a way so as to make sure that I’m always starting my trips in Europe. Premium cabin fares departing from Europe are noticeably cheaper than those departing from the US so this tactic saves me a lot of money year after year.
This trip starts out in London but, as you’ll see in a moment, it involves two separate bookings.
The map doesn’t really show the full nature of the trip as it doesn’t show the backtracking that is involved – there are a total of 8 segments to be flown:
There are two separate great deals on offer which make up this trip:
- A great British Airways Business Class fare between London and Sofia
- A great oneworld Business Class fare between Sofia and Los Angeles
To build this trip required two separate bookings.
London – Sofia – London
The outbound flight is the first flight of my overall itinerary while the inbound flight is the last. The total cost of these flights was £223.74 (~$280).
Sofia – London – JFK – Los Angeles – JFK – London – Sofia
Note: It’s possible to book this fare without a layover in New York in either direction for the same cost. I deliberately inserted layovers in New York to ensure that I earned as many Tier Points as possible.
Ideally, I would have liked to have made this booking through British Airways (BA offers better Avios earnings for bookings made through its website as compared to the earnings from bookings made through partner airlines) but I was forced to book through American Airlines as BA’s website refused to price up the itinerary I wanted, and the BA call center quoted me a price that was nearly double what I eventually paid.
Earning Tier Points
British Airways awards tier points on a segment by segment basis, and the number of tier points offered depends on the distance traveled in each segment.
There are two key things you need to know here:
- London – Sofia is one of the few British Airways short-haul routes long enough to offer 80 Tier Points (most offer just 40) and that’s one of the reasons I managed to increase the number of Tier Points offered by this Europe – USA trip.
- Due to the odd way that British Airways Tier Point bands work, all these flights earn the same number of Tier Points (140):
- London to New York
- New York to Los Angeles
- London to Los Angeles
Had I chosen to fly directly between London and LA I would have earned 140 Tier Points in either direction but by adding in a layover in New York, I’ve doubled that to 280 Tier Points in either direction. I have no need to visit New York, I’m just changing aircraft there to maximize my Tier Point earnings.
This is the segment by segment breakdown of the Tier Points this trip will earn me:
Ordinarily, British Airways Gold status requires a flyer to earn a total of 1,500 Tier Points in a qualification year but thanks to the one-off rule introduced last week, my target for Gold Status in 2021 will be just 1,125 Tier Points.
880 Tier Points is a little over 78% of the way to my 2021 target.
In the interest of clarity, I should disclose exactly how much this trip will be costing me and show why it may cost a little more for others.
The total cost for both sets of flights is approximately $1,555 but it should be noted that there’s an overnight layover in London between the 2nd and 3rd segments. This won’t cost me any more cash as I have a base in London (I just need to factor in the cost of transport to/from Heathrow) but others may have to factor in the cost of an airport hotel if this is a trip they want to replicate (this shouldn’t be expensive as at least one of the Holiday Inn properties is usually available for under $70/night).
Comparing To American Airlines AAdvantage
A few years ago I finally decided to abandon the Amerian Airlines AAdvantage program (in which I had enjoyed top-tier status for the best part of a decade) because it became increasingly clear that the British Airways Executive Club offered the more economical path to top-tier status. This trip really helps highlight that point.
The main booking in my trip (the one with all the long-haul sectors) has cost me ~$1,275 and will earn me 720 Tier Points. That’s enough Tier Points to get me 48% to British Airways top-tier status under normal conditions and 64% of the way under the exceptional conditions in 2021.
Per American Airlines, this is what the same booking would earn me if I credited it to the AAdvantage program:
As a percentage of what is required to earn American Airlines top-tier status (under normal conditions*) this is what those numbers represent:
- Elite Qualifying Miles: ~29%
- Elite Qualifying Dollars: ~8%
*American Airlines has not announced reduced earning criteria for 2021.
Even if you compare the elite qualifying credits this itinerary earns in both programs under standard, normal conditions, you can see how much easier (and therefore cheaper) it can be to earn British Airways top-tier status compare to AAdvantage Executive Platinum status. As someone who primarily values the oneworld benefits that both statuses offer equally, aiming for status with BA is clearly the best option for me.
My inability to pass up a fantastic deal has seen me book a longer-than-normal set of flights to get me back to Los Angeles from the UK…but it should be well worth it. Essentially, this itinerary will get me within touching distance of the top-tier status I like to earn every year and so will give me more time to try out other airlines (outside of oneworld) and review a few cabins that haven’t yet appeared on Traveling For Miles. I’m looking forward to that.
Would you be tempted by a trip like this or does it sound like too much work? (no judgments will be made!)