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Standing in line at the American Airlines ticket counter in Shanghai, I overheard a passenger talking about a mysterious travel deal I didn’t even know existed.

With just one flight, he said, you can get immediately upgraded to Platinum Status on American by calling the airline in advance and asking to participate in its “Platinum Challenge.”

Platinum status at American Airlines means:
** More bonus miles that can be used for upgrades on all your flights
** No checked bag fees
** Priority check-in at the ticket counter
** Free admission to the American Airlines Admiral’s Club lounge at the airport on all your international flights
** Free first-class upgrade credits every 10,000 miles you fly
** Priority boarding

I have priority boarding status on Delta, and it’s been a lifesaver, lately. Since airlines have introduced new fees for checking bags, everyone is trying to cram as much as they can into their carry-on bags, so there’s less space in the overhead bins.

I’ve seen passengers argue with flight attendants over valuables they want to keep with them in the overhead, after being told they have to gate check their carry-on because there’s no more space.

And I’ve seen people forced to store their carry-on in overhead bins much farther back than the row they’re seated in. They have to wait until the entire plane unloads before they can collect their bags.

So it’s really nice to be able to board first.

You won’t find the Platinum Challenge on American’s website, though. I checked. But after finding a few blog sites that talked about it, I called the airline to investigate. Here’s what I found out…

First and foremost, you have to call the airline customer service department and ask to take part in the Platinum Challenge. Once they register you, you have 90 days to accumulate 10,000 points.

Points are accrued according to the number of miles you fly. If you buy a discount ticket, you only accrue 0.5 points per mile. But regular tickets accrue a full point, and full-fare and business-class tickets accrue 1.5 points per mile.

Here’s how to calculate the number of points you’ll earn per flight:

On the American Airlines website (www.aa.com), put your flight details in and search by “Price & Schedule.”

When you’re given a choice of departing and return flights, click on “flight details.” That will show you how many miles there are in each leg of your flight. Add up all the miles from your departing and return flights to find out how many miles you’ll be flying total.

Once you know how many miles you’ll be traveling, you need to figure out how many points those miles are worth…

Let’s say you’re flying from LAX to Panama (PTY) for our upcoming workshop in Panama City…

If you put LAX to PTY, December 4-11 in the search box, the next screen tells you that the first leg of your flight to Miami is 2,342 miles and the second leg from Miami to Panama is 1,151. That’s 3,493 miles there and 3,493 miles back. At one point per mile, this flight is worth nearly 7,000 points and you’re more than half way toward that 10,000 point goal.

Now here’s the trick: it’s hard to tell from this screen whether or not the flight you’re looking at is a discount fare (that is, only worth half a point) or a full-rate fare. And that’s important to know, because you don’t want to be spending an arm and a leg on a flight just to rack up points.

After choosing the legs of the flight you want, scroll down to the “Fare Summary” box. Under “Total Price,” click on “View Fare Rules and On-Time Flight Information” to see what kind of fare your ticket is.

** G, N, O, Q, and S class fares are deep discount fares so they only earn 0.5 points per mile.
** H, K, L, M, V, and W are still discount fares but they earn 1 point per mile.
** And A, F, P, D, I, J, B, and Y are all premium fares that earn 1.5 points per mile.

If you’ve got more than one flight planned in a 90-day period, you might want to consider trying the American Platinum Challenge to get the upgraded status. That, or one international ticket. One flight from LAX to Paris or Shanghai will score you enough points for instant Platinum status.

Happy Travels!

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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