Beating the year-end deadline for elite flier status


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I fly a lot on US Airways for work. So far in 2014, I've flown about 96,000 miles. That's easily enough for Platinum level, but not quite enough for Chairman's level, which I'd really like to get. I'm not sure I'm going to make it to 100,000 miles by the end of the year. What options do I have for making that happen? -- Robert

Answer Dear Robert,
When it comes to achieving or maintaining elite status on an airline, people who fly a lot usually have a good handle on what they need to do to qualify and enjoy perks such as free upgrades, waived fees and priority boarding. But in the case of US Airways and American Airlines, things can get a little confusing. The two airlines merged in December 2013, but they are still in the process of combining their frequent flier programs and other aspects of their operations.

In October, the airlines announced that in the second quarter of 2015, they will allow frequent flier members to combine miles. But for people with elite status -- Gold, Platinum or Executive Platinum on American; or Silver, Gold, Platinum or Chairman's Preferred on US Airways -- the combination of the programs will not take place until the end of 2015. 

Until then, the airlines have established some interim rules on how to handle perks on each other's flights, including the perk most elite travelers are interested in: upgrades. One problem is that US Airways elites are accustomed to free domestic upgrades (space-permitting), while American elites below Executive Platinum have to pay for them, unless they've bought a full-fare coach ticket. The cost of upgrading is $30 per 500 miles.  

The way they resolved this issue is to allow American elite fliers of any level to receive free upgrades on US Airways flights, while US Airways elite fliers below the Chairman's Preferred level have to pay for upgrades on American flights. 

The top level of American's and US Airways' elite flier programs also have the first crack at upgrades and are more likely to get them.

The bottom line for you, Robert, is that achieving Chairman's Preferred this year has the added perk of getting you free upgrades on American flights instead of paying for them. That could be a big deal, depending how much you plan to fly on American flights.

Unfortunately, the miles for achieving elite status are the actual miles you fly in a calendar year, so even if you can earn frequent flier miles another way -- such as with a credit card -- those don't count toward elite status. 

You have two options to get to that 100,000 threshold by the end of the year. One, you can actually fly the miles. Find a cheap fare if you can that will get you the 4,000 miles you need.

Or two, take advantage of a US Airways offer to buy your way into Chairman's Preferred, for people who are close. Most airlines now offer these programs, though they can be pricey. For instance, US Airways allows you to "boost your status" if you're within 15,000 miles of your target. In your case, going from 96,000 to 100,000 would cost $1,199. 

Be sure also to look at the number of flight segments you have flown in 2014, as an alternate way to reach Chairman's Preferred is to fly 100 flight segments (the requirement will be hiked to 120 segments in 2015). Sometimes you can do this without reaching 100,000 miles.

Many people will probably look at these levels and think (rightly) that they're out of reach, but most of these programs start at around 25,000 miles flown per year. Just as they are doing on earning frequent flier miles, some airlines are starting to introduce spending requirements to qualify for elite status. But that has not happened to all programs -- at least not yet.

See related: Should I 'boost' my frequent flier miles on an upcoming trip?

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Published: December 23, 2014

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