I cannot overstate how much plat you can make just from vendor loots in the "new" zones like The Serpent Spine or The Buried Sea. Defiant gear drops everywhere, but in these zones you will also earn enough to buy some as well. This can be a viable gearing strategy.
I would also look at Franklin Teek and his Hot Zone tasks. It will reward you back, shoulder and waist armors that will be an upgrade and platinum. He is on the Plane of Knowledge by the Guild Lobby door, just hail him.
I would also look at the Hero's Journey Achievements for the zone you settle on, like Blackwing Roost. For doing a set of tasks, you get armor rewards that are the same as Defiant, but free. You have a book you can click on, or try the /ach command or http://everquest.allakhazam.com/db/quest.html?quest=5553 These are basically a tier behind the best Defiant you can equip, but it's free and you know the reward going in.
With the AA boost.. I would very much do AAs as you go.. they come so fast! You could just run at a 50/50 mix or the like.. sometimes I run 90 or 100% to AA when I have things I want to buy before advancing. At 60, I stayed 90% to AA and dinged 61 before I could buy everything on my list.. ;p
I am told the Tank merc can handle multiple red con mobs (I've read claims of 5) until 60ish. Then they would need healing. I've not leveled an SK in the modern era so I'm not sure what the best strategy for you is.
I spend a lot of my time in the Hot Zones. Good coin, augs, quests with rewards you would use. We did a couple of LDoNs for old times, and some other instances. My priority right now is access.. I like places I can port right to, or near to. And then I have a casters.. so outdoors places I can mount are a plus.
Miss Jacky has such a guild - http://eqinsanity.com/wordpress/