Will I Still Earn American Airlines Elite-Qualifying Miles and Dollars for Partner Flights?

Dec 11, 2018

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

Qualifying for airline elite status is a time-consuming and expensive proposition, as it requires you to carefully keep track of your elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) and/or elite-qualifying segments (EQSes) as well as your elite-qualifying dollars (EQDs). All three US legacy carriers use a similar elite qualification system, though if you’re flying with United or Delta as opposed to American you’ll be earning PQMs and MQMs, respectively. TPG reader Daniel wants to know if he’ll still earn EQDs for flights on partner airlines…

I’m an AAdvantage Platinum elite. If I buy tickets from a partner airline will I still earn EQDs, or do I have to book through AA to earn EQDs for partner travel?

TPG READER DANIEL

There are two factors that determine how many EQM, EQD, EQSes and redeemable miles you’ll earn on each flight. The first is which airline operates the flight, and the second is which airline markets the flight.

Take this flight from Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR), in the Y economy fare bucket. It costs the exact same amount whether you book through British Airways, Iberia or American Airlines.

 

If you were to book through AA, even though the flight is operated by a partner airline, you’d earn miles just the same as if you were flying on AA. This works out to 1 EQM per mile flown and 1 EQD per dollar spent on base fare (excluding taxes). Since I’m a Gold elite with AA, I’d also earn 7 redeemable AA miles per dollar spent on base fare.

If you booked the exact same ticket through the BA website instead and credited the flight to your AAdvantage account, you’d earn EQDs based on the following BA partner chart:

As you can see from the chart below, you’ll come out ahead booking directly with American Airlines.

Booking

Airline

Cost EQMs EQDs EQSes Redeemable Miles
AA $2,683 3,953 $2,654 1 13,270
BA $2,683 3,953 $790 1  3,953

The main difference is that for AA-marketed flights (or United or Delta marketed flights) all your earnings other than EQMs are based on revenue, not distance flown. With partner award charts, your earnings are almost entirely distance-based. This means that if you’re booking a cheap long-haul flight, you might end up earning more EQDs and even redeemable miles by booking through a partner.

It’s also worth noting that not all partners are treated equally. AA, United and Delta all publish separate earning charts for each of their partner airlines, and the variation can be pretty significant. Take a look at AA’s partner earning chart for flights marketed and operated by Cathay Pacific.

Even if you’re shelling out for a paid first-class ticket, which can easily cost $20,000, the maximum number of EQMs you can earn is 1.5x. Even in business class, you’ll earn a minimum of 2x with British Airways. We’ve also seen a number of partner earning devaluations over the years. Airlines are looking to capture a larger share of the booking revenue by incentivizing you to book directly with them dis-incentivizing you to book with their partners.

Bottom Line

Daniel can rest assured knowing that he will earn EQDs if he books flights through a Oneworld partner and credits them to his AAdvantage account. Depending on the specific partner and the length of the flight he’s taking, he might even come out ahead that way. Before booking, though, you should always compare your options. If different airlines are charging the same amount for the same ticket, you can pick the one that best facilitates your personal goals, whether that’s earning the most redeemable award miles or knocking out your last elite qualifying requirement.

Thanks for the question, Daniel, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

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