The Shortcut to Free Admirals Club Access

We all know the dreaded airport experience. You know, the one where your Uber gets you there late, you get herded through TSA security lines, and you get stuck behind the person that forgets to empty out their liquids. Even once you’re through security, you’re stuck in an overcrowded terminal and can’t find anywhere to sit by the gate.

Thankfully, premium travel rewards cards have helped make this process much better. With things like TSA Precheck credits and lounge access, you can largely avoid these annoyances. However, that’s not always the case when it comes to lounge access.

The Problem

While I’ve yet to find an airport without Priority Pass lounge access abroad, that’s not always the case in the US. This is especially true in hub-captive cities. Take Charlotte for example. 90% of the airport’s flights come from American. With dominance like that, it’s no wonder that there aren’t any other airline lounges in the Charlotte Airport.

Have Priority Pass? Unfortunately, that only gets you access to Minute Suites. There’s often a lengthy wait and even if you’re able to get in, that’s just not a proper airport lounge. (Side note: Charlotte’s also scheduled to get an American Express Centurion lounge sometime in 2020, but I’m pretty sure Winter arrived quicker in Game of Thrones than this lounge ever will.) If you don’t have the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card or pay for a lounge membership, you’re SOL. Thankfully, there’s another way though.

Enter British Airways

British Airways First Class

Ok, so you’re probably reading this wondering, “How the heck can British Airways help me get lounge access?” Well, even if you’re not, I’m going to answer anyway.

Like American Airlines, British Airways is a member of the Oneworld Alliance. The alliance members offer each other reciprocal benefits. What does that mean? Basically, if you hold status with one airline in the alliance, other alliance members will give you benefits. For example, if you hold top-tier Executive Platinum status with American, you’ll also have Oneworld Emerald status.  The same goes for British Airways Gold status.

This gives you access to Oneworld first class lounges around the world. That’s a pretty awesome benefit if you ask me. Unfortunately, top-tier status at American doesn’t do anything for you in terms of domestic lounge access. It seems silly, but that’s the case with all of the major US carriers.

However, if you hold Silver or Gold status with British Airways, you will have access to American Airlines lounges on flights within the US and abroad. If you’re doing this as a two-player game, you only need one person to hold status with British Airways. Both levels of status include one guest for lounge visits. In addition to lounge access, you’ll get other perks such as priority check-in and boarding, free seat assignments, and extra baggage allowances. Unless you’re based in New York or Los Angeles, you’re probably not going to notice a huge difference between BA Silver and Gold status.

But Wait, It Gets Better

Free lounge access for over a year is great, but what if I told you that you could get it for even longer? Thanks to British Airways “soft landings” for elites, that’s entirely possible.

A soft landing just means that if you fail to qualify for status the next year, British Airways will only drop you down one elite level. If you earned Gold status and didn’t credit a single flight to BA the next year, you’d still have Silver for a whole additional year. If you qualify for Gold half way through the year, you’d have free lounge access for another 2.5 years. That’s incredible.

How Do I Get Silver Status?

Cathay Pacific Lounge Food

Enjoy free steamed buns at the Cathay lounge with BA Silver status

Earning status on British Airways is a little different than with US airlines. British Airways uses a system called tier points to determine your status level. Unlike status in the US, it’s actually pretty straightforward. You earn tier points based on your booking class and the distance of your flight. The longer your flight and higher your booking class, the more points you’ll earn. There’s no spending requirements, PQPs, MQDs, or XYZs. You can even earn tier points flying on Oneworld partners like American, Cathay, Japan Airlines, Qantas, and Qatar. You’ll need the following to earn status with British Airways:

  • Bronze: 300 tier points and 2 British Airways segments
  • Silver: 600 and 4 British Airways segments
  • Gold: 1500 and 4 British Airways segments

If you’re worried about the British Airways segments, it’s actually not too hard. You’ll only need one connecting or two direct round trip flights to accomplish that. If you’re visiting Europe, those segments are pretty easy to get. BA typically offers a bunch of cheap flight options with Europe. We just booked a day trip to Milan for £48 round trip.

The Tier Points Sweet Spot

Ok so if you just take a longer flight in a premium cabin, you’re set, right? Well, not necessarily. See, that’s the easy way to do things, but it’s not necessarily the most effective. To get the most bang for your buck, you’ll need to remember one magic number: 2,000.

2,000 miles is the cut-off point where the amount of tier points you earn jumps significantly. For flights under 2,000 miles, you’ll earn 5-20 tier points in economy and 40-60 tier points up front. However, for flights over 2,000 miles, the numbers jump significantly. Economy flights will earn anywhere from 20-70 tier points while you’ll earn 140 in business and 210 in first.

Not sure how long your flight is? GCmap is a great tool to check flight distances. British Airways also has a really helpful calculator to determine the amount of tier points you’ll earn on a flight. Just enter in your departing and arriving airports and airline and it will tell you each class. If you have a connection, you’ll need to calculate each leg separately.

Maximizing the 2,000-Mile Rule

To show how much of a difference this can make, let’s use LA to London for example. A non-stop between the two cities comes in at 5,456 miles. If you flew in business class, you’d earn 140 tier points each way, or 280 round trip.

That’s not bad, but we can do better. Instead of flying direct, let’s add in a connection in New York. LAX to JFK is 2,475 miles, while JFK to London is another 3,451 miles. Instead of earning 280 tier points for the round trip, you’d earn 560. That’s nearly enough for Silver status from one flight!

This works especially well on flights between the West Coast and Europe. It also works well on Qatar Airways flights between Europe and Asia. Want to find the most effective options, but don’t want to do all the research? Points to be Made has an incredible guide on 2,000-mile tier point options.

How We Did This

Like I mentioned above, Qatar Airways flights between Europe and Asia are a great way to rack up the tier points. That’s exactly what we did. We booked a cheap Qatar Airways business class fare from Sweden to Singapore. With a connection in Doha, that gives us 280 tier points one-way or 560 tier points round trip. Not bad for one flight, eh?

We also have a long-haul flight on American and some short round trips planned on British Airways. We’ll easily cross the threshold over the next few months and reap the benefits for at least a year and a half.

For those of you thinking, “But what about the miles??” – well, don’t worry. You actually earn more crediting Qatar Airways cheap business class R fares to British Airways than American. While people love to knock British Airways Avios, they’re great for upgrading to premium cabins and short domestic flights on American.

Final Thoughts

On the surface, earning elite status with a foreign carrier may seem like a crazy idea. However, if you’re hub-captive or value domestic lounge access it can make a ton of sense. British Airways Executive Club is one of my favorite ways to do that.

If you’re able to reach top-tier Gold status, you’re looking at a minimum of two years of lounge access and various other perks. For something that can be achieved with just a few flights, it’s a no-brainer to me.

Do you plan on using this hack for free lounge access?

Author: Stephen Hoechst

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7 Comments

  1. I’m really not sure how this is either “free” or a “shortcut”. This is only valid for someone who can take the required BA flights.

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    • Everyone can decide what makes the most sense for them. Personally, this is something that works well for us and we only needed two flights to do it. Hopefully someone else finds use in it too.

      This isn’t for everyone in the same way that Star Alliance status probably doesn’t make sense for someone based in Atlanta. It’s up to you to decide what’s best for your situation 🙂

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    • I think that the author is a little slow when it comes to words… you’re exactly right, there is nothing free about it and it’s not really a shortcut as he still has to earn all of the miles that are prescribed in the requirements of the program.

      Post a Reply
    • This option makes a lot of sense to me! Even though I have a lifetime Admirals Club membership (bought in 1984 – one of my best purchases EVER, qualifying for Executive Platinum has become increasingly difficult.

      Since I travel to Europe several times a year, usually in business class, but sometimes in First if the fare isn’t ridiculous, this is a no-brainer to qualify for Emerald Status. Connecting in the US can also mean First Class travel, and those of us who do not live in online hubs often have triple connections to European cities. I can easily see how one could get silver status on one round trip.

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  2. After reaching tier status on BA do you still have to put your BA FF Number on tickets to get lounge access or can you go back to crediting flights to AA and just show your BA status card for lounge entry?

    Post a Reply
    • You can change your FF account number on the ticket at any time. You should be able to get in with just the card, but to be safe, I’d add it for lounge access and change it once you’re in.

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  3. Keep in mind that the two BA segments may be codeshares (i.e., if you’re connecting on a domestic AA flight to a BA transatlantic it’ll count as long as the connection has a BA flight number) or IB flights too.

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