The past year has been quite strange as an American Airlines Elite. When I first decided to remain loyal to AA the reason was simple. I could continue to purchase the cheapest, longest mileage ticket, and still earn AAdvantage elite status. Then American played follow the leader and converted to a revenue based loyalty program. I thought the days of flying American were over. I never spend anywhere near $12,000 on airfare. However, there is a loophole. The loophole is American Airlines Special Fares.
What Are American Airlines Special Fares?
Special fares are fare codes assigned to tickets when purchased through various alternative methods. These methods included AA Vacation fares, tour packages, cruise fares, fare consolidators, or fares purchased from credit card travel portals, etc. Special fares are not available when purchasing tickets through Priceline or Hotewire.
Essentially, special fares are fares purchased when the actual cost of the fare is not officially known. When purchasing a vacation package, for example, you are paying a single price for airfare and hotel stay which means you don’t know the actual price of the airfare. When using credit card points to pay directly for airfare you don’t actually know how much the credit card company is paying for the ticket. This won’t count however if you use cash to pay for airfare through a credit card portal.
Why Special Fares Matter?
Special fares do not follow the traditional earning guidelines for earning AAdvantage Elite Miles. These fares remain distance based in nature. Below is the American Airlines AAdvantage earning chart based on special fare code sold.
Now as you can see from the table above there are some instances when buying a special fare would earn more AAdvantage EQMs and EQDs than when purchasing a standard fare. Likewise, there are some cases where buying a special fare is less beneficial.
American Airlines Special Fare Analysis
For the purpose of this example I am going to use a flight I recently took from Los Angeles (LAX) to London (LHR) Nonstop on American. The total distance traveled is approximately 10,912 miles round-trip.
First Class (A Fare Code)
Standard Fare: Right now a round-trip first class ticket from LAX to LHR costs $7,687. If you purchased a standard first class ticket directly from American you’d end up paying $7,387 for the fare and the rest would be taxes and fees. For this flight, you’d earn 7,387 EQDs, 21,824 EQMs, and AAdvantage award miles would be dependant on status and irrelevant for this post.
Special Fare: If you purchased this ticket as a special fare, you’d earn EQMs and EQDs based on the distance flow. So you’d earn 21,824 EQMs, but just $3,273 EQDs.
Generally, the math will hold up on any premium fares, especially when traveling shorter distances. Unless you are able to find an incredibly discounted business class fare it will almost always be better to pay for the premium cabin ticket outright than to purchase a special fare.
Discount Economy Fares (O Fare Code)
Standard Fare: Currently discount economy fares to London from Los Angeles are just $588. Under the current AAdvantage earning rates, you would earn $350 EQDs and 10,912 EQMs. If you flew this trip 10 times you’d have the full 100,000 EQMs to earn Executive Platinum, but only $3,500 EQMs.
Special Fare: If you purchased the same ticket, but were able to buy a special, distance based fare, the earnings significantly better. In the LAX to LHR r/t example, a special fare earns $1,091 EQDs and the full 10,912 EQMs. Even after flying 10 of these trips you would still not earn Executive Platinum, but you would have enough annual spend to reach American’s new Platinum Pro status.
American Airlines Special Fares are important to have in mind when booking your next trip. There are many trips where it won’t make sense to buy a special fare, but if you are an old school distance based mileage runner, American Airlines special fares may be the key to earning AAdvantage Elite Status in 2017.
Purchasing special fares can often be tricky as well, especially for the first time. After I made my first special fare booking I could not tell if I indeed purchased a special fare or a standard fare when checking AA’s website. Finally today, the miles from the first leg of my journey posted my attempt at purchasing a special fare is a success!