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].
- This club membership offer, which for me — without US Airways status — would mean paying ~ 10 cents per qualifying mile for 5000 miles.
- 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.
- 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.
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