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It used to be that earning elite status on a legacy air carrier meant flying a requisite number of miles each year and earning tiered benefits along the way.
The advent of qualifying dollars over the last few years however, which require passengers to fly the miles and spend a certain degree of cash, changed that calculus, pushing many budget travelers out of the elite status ranks. Recently though, a new technique has emerged to help those budget travelers earn status once more: booking business class airfares.
The big benefits from business class airfares come in how airlines allocate rewards for each ticket. In general, economy tickets on most carriers earn elite qualifying miles (EQM) for each mile flown while redeemable miles (RDM) are earned as a function of the fare class. Many current economy tickets from San Francisco to Chicago, for example, would earn 1840 EQM (the distance between those two points), while RDM would vary depending on the price of the ticket.
Business class (and some very expensive economy) fares, however, often benefit from EQM and RDM bonuses, giving anywhere from 1.5x to 3x the normal rate of earning.
While these bonuses aren’t anything new, business class fares have dramatically fallen in price over the last year, making premium tickets affordable to the common traveling public. And some tickets are so inexpensive that the bonuses are quite lucrative.
A recent fare on Qatar Airways, for example, offered passage in business class from Europe to Australia for $1,340. Thanks to class-of-service bonuses, on American Airlines, a Qatar partner, that fare would earn 29,466 EQM and 43,217 RDM (Gold elite status on American Airlines is earned after flying 25,000 miles). Hainan airlines has regularly been selling business class fares from Los Angeles to China for under $1,500, yielding Alaska Airlines loyalty program members instant elite status with 28,000 EQM. And British Airways has aggressively been selling business class fares from the U.S. to London, earning partner members a 1.5x bonus on EQM.
Taking advantage of the bonuses, some frugal travelers have been carefully booking inexpensive business class fares and cashing in on the perks. And while not a traditional path to elite status, the passage is certainly more comfortable.