Why I’m Considering Buying US Airways Club Access — Even Though I Already Have Access (Hint: Just for Elite Qualifying Miles)

This morning Lucky wrote about an offer of 5000 elite qualifying miles for buying a US Airways club membership.

5,000 Preferred-qualifying miles: new & existing members*

Earn 5,000 Preferred-qualifying miles when you buy or renew an annual membership by May 31, 2014. Enroll or renew online or call 800-828-8522 and use promo code NM500 for new memberships or CR500 for renewals.

Here are the prices for club membership:

I already have access to US Airways lounges and to American Airlines lounges.

  • Through March 22, I can use my American Express Platinum card.
  • I have British Airways Gold status, that will soon be downgraded.
  • I’ve signed up for the Citi Executive card that comes with lounge access… and a 100,000 mile signup bonus.

And if I didn’t already have club access, I could redeem Business ExtrAA points for a membership, it’s one of the less expensive redemptions that program offers.

So why in the world would I want or need this? Because it is a surprisingly cheap way to straight-up buy elite qualifying miles.

So far I’m behind on my domestic travels, I usually do over 200,000 flown miles a year between award and paid including over 100,000 miles paid on a single airline (this is my third year as an American Airlines Executive Platinum).

My strategy to keep the status, assuming my travel doesn’t pick up substantially, is:

  • I already put $25,000 of spend on my US Airways MasterCard. That earned me 10,000 elite qualifying miles with Dividend Miles.
  • I then decided to put $40,000 of spend on my Citi Executive card. The first $10,000 was needed to earn the 100,000 mile bonus. Hitting 40,000 earns me 10,000 elite qualifying miles.

I am betting of course – I believe a very safe bet – that American and US Airways qualifying miles earned in 2014 will combine towards 2015 elite status.

Now, US Airways has historically been the most generous in allowing you to straight-up buy status. They’ve limited the ability since March 1, it is no longer possible to have just one flown mile and pay $2999 for top tier elite.

The program is still around but as I understand it purchases don’t actually increase your elite qualifying mileage total. Instead, they reduce the number of elite qualifying miles you need for a higher status level. As a result I’m not betting that these ‘buy up’ miles will get combined with American.

That leaves (3) additional options for achieving elite status with American [again, assuming that US Airways and American qualifying miles get combined for next year’s status].

  1. This club membership offer, which for me — without US Airways status — would mean paying ~ 10 cents per qualifying mile for 5000 miles.
  2. An American Airlines buy up at the end of the year, of course there isn’t a guarantee that American offers it again to include the ability to buy up to Executive Platinum. The latest offer was the first time they went that far.
  3. Mileage running.

Someone taking an incremental trip just to earn the miles (the loosest definition of a mileage run) can certainly do better than 10 cents per mile earned. Scouring fares, being flexible to fly what’s cheap, you can probably be disciplined and get the miles for half that price.

But I’ve only done two sets of true mileage runs in my entire life — a trip at the end of 2001 to ensure 2002 status, and incremental trips on American to achieve Executive Platinum status for the first time through a status challenge that spanned the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 and, since double elite qualifying miles were on offer, get a head start towards my 2013 status.

The reason why is that the cost of a ticket isn’t the only cost of a mileage run, and I don’t just mean that there’s sometimes hotel or visa expenses incurred. I’m talking about the opportunity cost of the time. And I consider time to be expensive.

Now, I enjoyed the 2011-2012 mileage runs I did. I hadn’t really done that in a long time and I wanted to switch over to American, so I saw it as having a great deal of value going forward. Plus I had no other reasonable alternative means at the time to get the status I wanted, and it was part of a group adventure (oneworld MegaDO) that I was doing the challenge.

But take someone with a $100,000 salary. They earn about $50 an hour. Roughly speaking an 8 hour travel day ‘costs’ $400 worth of their time.

This isn’t actually true. It could be more or less — $50 an hour is an average rate of pay over the course of a full year. Whether someone’s incremental time is worth more or less than that depends on a whole lot of circumstances. But it’s still a useful exercise to think in terms of trade-offs.

That $300 ticket may really “cost” at least $700 for such a person, unless of course the mileage run itself is a high value form of leisure.

And my scarcest resource? Time. So buying a club membership could be meaningfully cheaper for me than doing even an inexpensive mileage run.

And it’s also cheaper than buying up 5000 miles towards Executive Platinum through American’s end of year program, using current prices (again, this might not be offered next year and the prices might not be the same).

In fact, that price was $1199, or 24 cents per mile.

This offer of qualifying miles with club membership isn’t cheap, and it’s hard to guess at this point whether I’ll need it… which is why I probably won’t do this.

But for a certain set of folks, it could be worthwhile, entirely apart from getting lounge access. I’m almost one of those people.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Another potential benefit: If the combined airlines uses US Airways’ special dividend miles benefits, once you hit 85,000 EQMs, your spouse gets lounge access through February 2015 if you actually paid for a membership.

  2. Does having the Citi AA Executive card also allow you access to US Airways lounges? I didn’t realize that was the case, if so.

  3. I’m guessing are able to spend 65k on cards so quickly because you do the company purchases on your personal card… About 99% of us are not in the same boat

  4. Gary – how confident are you that US Air and AA EQM’s will be combined? I’m doing the same thing as you are RE: CC spend to earn EQM’s, and I’d be pretty disappointed if I’m 10k EQM short of EXP because they don’t combine. Have you heard this from a reliable source, and do you anticipate any announcements one way or the other soon?

    Thanks!

  5. I agree 100% about the $50/hr cost of one’s time. I would consider this to be the minimum value I would put on it.

  6. Sounds like it works in your case. The biggest problem is that I need this promo in the fourth quarter as I’ll know where I stand by that point.
    @C Diddy, yes the Citi Exec AA card gives you lounge access to AA and US. Basically because AA is now allowing AA lounge members access to the US lounges so it carry’s over.

  7. Yup, I did this last year too, even though I had the Platinum card, because I figured it was cheaper than a mileage run. For a CP, it’s only $325 or 6.5 cents per mile. I’m glad they offered this now, because I drop from CP at the end of the month, but between extending CP for an extra month and offering this deal, it lets me buy EQM for almost mileage run numbers. One advantage to having club membership is that I believe it allows access to star alliance (soon to be one world) lounges other than Admiral’s Clubs. I’m not sure that the citi exec. credit card does that. Also, last year, it was not just 5,000 EQM, but we also got 5,000 RDM. Not sure if that will be the same this year, but it’s a nice bonus if it happens.

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