Was Earning BA Gold Status Cheaper Than Earning American Airlines Executive Platinum?


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Late last year I wrote a post in which I concluded that simple mathematics suggested that I shouldn’t credit my 2018 flights to the American Airlines AAdvantage program. Now, almost a year to the day since I wrote that post, I’ve finished my flying for 2018 and it’s time to see how that decision played out.

The Explanation

As I said last year, I’ve been doing my best not to be one of those flyers who’s great about complaining about an airline’s loyalty program but keeps continuing to use it nonetheless…so it was time to give up on the American Airlines AAdvantage program for the purposes of airline status.

The AAdvantage program has made it very clear that it doesn’t want flyers like me (flyers who attain top-tier status by getting maximum value out of cheap fares and upgrades) and that’s fine…that’s the programs prerogative….just as it’s my prerogative to move on to a different program out of which I may get better value.

The introduction of minimum spend criteria for American Airlines status has been the killer for me because it has made it a lot harder to reach the dizzying heights of Executive Platinum status (EXP).

AAdvantage Executive Platinum

Flying 100,000 miles in a year isn’t all that hard when you have an understanding partner and/or if your job involves a lot of flying…..but hitting the 12,000 Elite Qualifying Dollar (EQD) target that EXP requires (it will be 14,000 EQD from next year) is tough if you’re someone who predominantly books cheap fares.

It was time for a change and that change saw me crediting most of my oneworld flights to the British Airways Executive Club (BAEC).

The way the BAEC hands out status means that it’s possible to book some very cheap (relatively speaking) Business Class flights while earning a substantial number of credits (Tier Points) towards elite status….and there’s no minimum spend threshold that needs to be reached.

This same flights would also earn a substantial number of credits towards American Airlines elite status (Elite Qualifying Miles) but, because there’s a secondary requirement to hit a minimum spend target as well, you need more cheap fares to get top-tier status with American than you do if you’re hunting top-tier status with BA.

So how did it go?

The Results

I’ve flown 44 segments this year and the route I’ve traveled the most is between Los Angeles and London.

  • My flights across the Atlantic were either taken in Economy Class, Premium Economy or Business Class following an upgrade from Economy Class. I didn’t pay for a transatlantic Business Class fare this year.
  • All my short-haul flights bar one were flown in Economy Class and all my flights to/from Asia were flown in Business Class.
  • I relied heavily on my two trips to Asia to earn the bulk of the Tier Points I needed to get Gold Status with the British Airways Executive Club.
  • My British Airways Executive Club membership year has just ended (the BAEC doesn’t run to a calendar year) and my final Tier Point count was 1,525 (you need 1,500 for BA Gold status).

My tier point count would have been higher but for two things:

  • I credited a few flights to AAdvantage because I wanted to top up my account for a redemption I was looking to book.
  • An incompetent telephone agent failed to change my details correctly and one of my bigger trips was accidentally credited to AAdvantage rather than the BAEC.

As well as 1,525 Tier Points I also earned some Avios (I haven’t bothered to work out exactly how many) and the flights I credited to American Airlines earned me some Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) & Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) too:

I will end the year with British Airways Gold status which, from a oneworld perspective, entitles me to all the same benefits as American Airlines Executive Platinum status…and that’s what I was shooting for.

But how would things have looked had I credited all my flights to the AAdvantage program? Did I really save money by crediting my flights across to the BAEC?

Yes.

By my calculations I would have earned 101,397 Elite Qualifying Miles and 9,401 Elite Qualifying Dollars had I credited all my 2018 oneworld flights to AAdvantage and that would have left me short of top-tier status.

I would have earned enough EQM for Executive Platinum Status but I would have been approximately 2,600 EQD short of the spend requirement.

The Big Question

I have to admit that I would have got closer to the EQD spend requirement than I forecast at the end of last year and that brings up the following question:

Do I wish I had credited my flights to AAdvantage and then taken one or more extra trips to get me across the spend threshold?

No.

Qatar Airways 787 Business Class

To earn an extra 2,600 EQD without having to do multiple trips I would have had to either….

  • Find another great Qatar Airways Business Class fare between Europe and Asia or
  • Find a good British Airways/Finnair/Iberia Business Class fare between Europe and LA

Both would have cost me at least $2,000 once everything is taken into consideration (positioning flights, accommodation, taxis, dining etc…) and I don’t value the benefits of AAdvantage Executive Platinum status that highly – I value my time and my cash more.

There was a time where I valued American’s Systemwide upgrades very highly but, not only is upgrade availability very hard to confirm at the time of booking nowadays, the way upgrades are now cleared at the airport puts cheapskates like me at a huge disadvantage.

American’s systemwide upgrades are nowhere near as appealing to me now as they once were.

One could argue that I’ve also given up a lot of AAdvantage Miles in favor of fewer Avios (which are also worth less)….but I don’t mind.

AAdvantage Miles are still a currency I like to collect but I can do that pretty well via credit card spend and, added to that,  I’ve recently been getting very good value out of Avios on some of my short-haul flights so they’re actually coming in more useful than I expected.

Bottom Line

By crediting my 2018 flights to the BAEC rather than AAdvantage I ended up with the status I wanted for 2019 (oneworld Emerald) and I saved myself around $2,000 and a few days of travel.

I probably didn’t end up saving quite as much as I expected to save but I still saved a good chunk of cash and I spent less time on the road than I would have otherwise had to – that’s a win in my book 🙂

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6 COMMENTS

  1. I’m curious, how do you feel about loosing out in complimentary domestic upgrades? It looks like you flew very few domestic flights though. For me that would be the downside of not crediting to AA. I hit the miles and spend yearly mostly on work trips, but all are coach class tickets and 90% is domestic. Since I get about 70% complimentary upgrades that’s a lot to loose. That being said I’ve also wondered how crediting someplace else might benefit me.

    • Good question.

      Most of my domestic flights are not on American any more so the lack of Y to F upgrades doesn’t really affect me – if it’s a transcon flight I’ll usually book Business Class with miles and if it’s a shorter flight I’ll book with the most convenient carrier or, as often is the case, anyone but AA 🙂

  2. While I have remained quite loyal on the AAdv side, I’m surprised that you seem to have missed the highest benefit of the BA Gold vs any AA Elite+ status: Unless I’m entirely wrong, with any OneWorld Elite+ status other than AAdv, you now get full AdmiralsClub entry, in fact on any level AA or OW ticket in the USA. In addition, you obviously also get BA lounge status at LHR (and elsewhere), which isn’t a bad deal! And add to that the superrrrrb aspects of the “LHR T5 First” section (truly fabulous), available to OW Emeralds of any airline, and you’ve got a home-run. Only the “USA3” charge membership fees for their FF Clubs, whereas almost all European airlines offer it as part of any Elite+ startus, usable at almost any lounge in that Alliance’s network (as long as you’re flying in-network), to give their clients the incentive to stay loyal.

    • You’re correct about the Admiral’s club entry benefit but as I rarely fly with AA domestically it doesn’t mean all that much to me.

      All the other benefits you mention are valid too but not specific to having BA status. That’s why my target for this year was to secure the cheapest Oneworld Emerald status available.

    • BA Gold doesn’t offer an equivalent of SWUs (sadly) so that’s probably the biggest difference.

      If you’re based in the US and fly with American a lot then BA Gold is useful for getting you into Admirals Clubs but, overall, BA Gold is only really useful for oneworld Emerald benefits. There are niche benefits (like expanded Economy Class award availability) but nothing I’d consider significant.

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