Getting to Know American Airlines As a Newly Minted Executive Platinum

Thanks to American Airlines’ generosity, participants in the upcoming Oneworld MegaDO were able to participate in a fee-free status challenge. Normally, American charges for challenges and offers them only up to Platinum. MegaDO participants had reduced flying requirements and could match existing status with other airlines up to the top-tier Executive Platinum level.

And I’m now an Executive Platinum. The requirement was 20,000 flown miles on American within three months, which isn’t bad, except that the flying had to be completed by January 13 and it was mid-December before I decided to jump in and do it. American’s double elite qualifying miles promotion meant that any of the flying I did in January would could double towards re-qualifying for Executive Platinum, making it easy to keep the status for two years based largely on my flights in January.

With that, I held back and waited for a Virgin America sale which American matched, and I grabbed four roundtrips to the West Coast and a Florida roundtrip, all but one of the West Coast trips to be done in an 8 day period in January. Add in another trip I need to take later in the month, positioning flights for the MegaDO and the MegaDO itself, and I’m not just an Executive Platinum but also will end the month with over 60,000 qualifying miles.

The travel has been interesting to say the least, running into Billy Crystal last weekend (he followed behind me through security, was the only person not asked to go through the nude-o-scope, and then waited behind me to get into the AAdmiral’s Club while musing over what it would take to get Concierge Key status). On my last flight I followed American Idol judge Randy Jackson being escorted by American’s Five Star service. In the lounge he wound up talking to Reba McEntire. He wound up on my flight across the aisle in first class. Ahead of me was a pre- or early teen female aspiring pop star (accompanied by a handler) that I didn’t recognize but that Mr. Jackson stopped by several times to talk to during the flight. She practiced her signing inflight, it wasn’t very good, but fortunately my noise cancelling headphones did the trick.

While I had some minor quibbles with service along the way, like the inconsistency with which pre-departure beverages are served in first class and that my ice cream sundae was freezer burned on one flight, overall I was extremely happy. In fact, other than that one sundae the rest of the food has been quite decent compared to what I’m used to in domestic first class, and on transcons there’s even a printed menu still. Everyone has been friendly. And inflight wifi has changed my life.

I purchased a GoGo monthly pass. A majority of my flights have had wireless internet, the MD80s all do and many of the 737s do, I only wish they all did and especially wish the 737s with wifi had seat power, and that those with seat power had wifi, a frustration magnified by my need for a laptop with better battery life. As it stands, I power my screen down nearly all the way and at times have to bring it up close to my face to read the screen, if I want it to last much fo the flight.

There’s no question I got great value out of the $34.95 monthly pass, especially when a transcon is $14.95 and I had internet on at least three of those plus on several mid-con flights as well. Frustratingly, GoGo now requires you to cancel the service at least 7 days before the end of the month to avoid being charged for that next month. Since that’s a new requirement, it’s not something driven by technology or system limitations, it’s presumably a way to eek out an extra month’s revenue from customers intending to leave the service. Still, even though I’ll fly with wifi less in February than in January, the service will still pay off and I’ll likely keep it.

I never really knew what I Was missing with the service so regularly. A five hour flight taken during the business day can be stressful because by the time I land I’m hopelessly behind and it can take hours to catch up. Now I land more rested and relaxed because I’ve been able to plod along during the flight. Ironically, I’m better rested because I’ve been working, and certainly my productivity is increased tremendously thanks to GoGo’s wifi. And I love their tagline as you log in, “Can’t wait for 10,000 feet!”

My first flight had pretty slow wireless connectivity, all of my subsequent flights were better (wonder why?), and I admit I don’t really understand the low levels of adoption. Surely this is the future.

I’m no longer a Starwood Platinum, but the Sheraton LAX remains the best airport property. Not missing a ton without Platinum status there, they do give Platinums bigger rooms but mine were still comfortable and with free large bottles of water which is nice. I also didn’t miss the club lounge, where I’ve found evening spreads to be among the weakest I’ve seen, and I generally wasn’t around for breakfast except to take advantage of the Starbucks in the lobby (which always seems to open a few minutes late, though admittedly 5:30am is early).

Thanks to the nearby Avis I had a 55 mile Infiniti M37 and an 800 mile Volvo S60. Those facilitated seeking out some good Mexican food, and of course the obligatory In N Out run.

Of course, I could have avoided the car entirely and just hopped the Parking Spot (Sepulveda location) bus from the airport, the In N Out is right next door, then taken that bus back to the airport for the Sheraton bus. (I wrote about this back in 2008.) Not really what I wanted to do though, but a common tactic during extended LAX layovers for sure.

Wonderful thing about the In N Out isn’t just the good fast food burger, and for some the animal fries, but sitting outside watching landings of strange foreign aircraft at LAX.

Great thing as an Executive Platinum is that – in contrast to, for instance, United’s 1K level – it’s actually top tier status. United has Global Services, that program started outside of Mileage Plus and there used to be even Global Services members who weren’t 1Ks as well. But it’s become the new invitation-only top tier, and 1K is more like what Premier Executive used to be back in the day. American’s revenue-based recognition program, Concierge Key, is really a service program and doesn’t’ impinge on the AAdvantage elite program.

Upgrades generally clear. American holds back more first class seats until the airport which means it’s often possible to change flights at the last minute and still get an upgrade.

And their 8 ‘systemwide’ international upgrades are valid from any fare, rather than requiring a higher fare buyup which often equates to buying a lottery ticket, you spend money for the chance at upgrading but of course if your upgrade doesn’t clear the extra cost of the higher fare isn’t refunded to you. (Delta’s minimum fare requirement – M fares are nearly full fare – is particularly heinous here.)

I’m excited to continue getting to know an airline that I haven’t flown a ton in the past, despite 3 million miler (and lifetime Platinum) status with them. And especially because their miles have become increasingly valuable for aspirational first class awards.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I’m writing this from an AA737 with WiFi and it does have power–they all do as far as I know, but some are AC and some DC–do you mean that they don’t all have AC power? It is annoying to travel with both chargers, but not the end of the world.

    See you on the MegaDo.

  2. Here are my thoughts on AA as someone who is still “residual” EXP but changed to DL a couple of years back and hasn’t looked back. And a couple of flights in the past couple of weeks have re-enforced these views:

    1) Their planes are old and dirty. Sure they have new ones on order but that’s the AA of 2015 not 2012. Last flight I had the toilet was literally held together by tape

    2) Coming from UA, AA might impress you with wi-fi. However they are absolutely miles behind DL. I even get WI-FI now on DL’s CRJs. DL are miles ahead of all the competition here

    3) Service is much, much better overall on DL. Friendlier staff, frankly on the whole younger, more energetic, and certainly more service oriented

    4) AA’s EXP line is unbeatable. I will miss this. DL’s agents are much lauded but I find the Platinum desk pretty good but AA EXP is for sure better

    5) Drink service is better on DL, and on long trips you at least have a chance of in flight entertainment. AA’s drink service is poor, no IFE on pretty much all flights, but food is good

    6) Sure eVIPs can be used on any fare but that is simply because AA’s biz product SUCKS. I can guarantee you if and when AA ever have a real biz product then you will see restrictions on use of upgrades. Personally I’d rather use miles to upgrade to a real biz product say by booking BA’s WTP.

    7) AA miles may be more valuable. But this is a red herring to me. I accrued > 400k on AA last year flying about 5k miles. I accrued > 650k on DL flying 75k miles. Miles from flying are not the biggest part of the equation. Frankly I really don’t know why we continue to call these frequent flyer or even loyalty programs they are just marketing programs primarily driven by credit card companies.

    Overall I have been very happy with my switch to DL and will stick with them for forseeable future. For sure it is often down to person likes and dislikes and for sure where you live is important but I walked from AA and have not looked back

  3. I completely agree about wifi being critical. It is so nice feeling all those flight hours are not wasted work hours.

  4. Gary, do you feel the same happiness about having switched to AA (vs UA) when it comes to international travel? It seems like AA’s network is significantly smaller compared to United’s, other than South America.

  5. To be clear, (1) I wouldn’t say I’ve switched, just that I’ve flown a bit of their domestic product and been impressed, (2) This is commentary on their domestic product, while I’d certainly survive their international business seat it’s also not lie flat, (3) their international upgrades are only useful on their more limited international route network. So there are downsides to American. My post was really just about sharing my joy and experience dervied from being an Executive Platinum for the first time.

  6. I totally agree with the assessment on in-flight wifi. I was commuting between CLT-LAX for a few months last year, and having wifi on those 4-5 hour flights was incredible.

    I have no idea why there isn’t a much, much, much higher useage rate than what the numbers currently look like.

  7. I really do hope that AA & Delta do NOT merge, as it would most likely be the end of American Advantage frequent flyer program. DL’s program is great for domestic flyers, but it ia truly awful for international travelers with very expensive fares reI do not fly AA, but I have left it open as an optional program depending upon what happens to the new Mileage Plus program.

  8. I really do hope that AA & Delta do NOT merge, as it would most likely be the end of the American Advantage frequent flyer program. DL’s program is great for domestic flyers, but it ia truly awful for international travelers with very expensive fares required for SWU fares. AA’s SWUs are stellar and the best of any loyalty program as they provide 8 and are valid on any fare.

    I do not fly AA, but I have left it open as an option depending upon what happens to the new Mileage Plus program. However, it appears that Continental’s employee relations model of having empowered and satisfied employees is what will be coming to the new United, and it may very well end up being a better company.

  9. I’ve been an EXP for about 10 years. I have tried all the others but keep coming back to American. I am sure if I was in a hub that was with another airline I would get used to it. In general, I have found American to be most accommodating and the EXP desk to be excellent. On the international side, they have found/opened award space based on me being EXP. Gary, good luck with it. I am currently also Plat on US Air this year. I will fly them when the routing is convenient. Their product isnt as good as American despite newer planes

  10. Next time you are in the LAX area, instead of making an In & Out run, try the Godmother sandwich at Bay Cities Deli. You will not regret it. You heard it here first. All you others that know this sandwich, you know what I’m talking about. Make sure to pre-order your sandwich or you could be in line for an hour.

  11. AA seems to have lots of celebs. I saw Joan Rivers at the Admiral Club this morning (Sunday), She was by herself. Over heard the Five Star agent came to tell her about her departure gate and when she should be boarding, which she replied “come get me when it’s time”. I too enjoyed the Wifi, however, I’m only batting 50% 3/6 of my flights all 737s. Thanks for the reminder to cancel 7 days prior.

  12. Gary, you mention, “American holds back more first class seats until the airport which means it’s often possible to change flights at the last minute and still get an upgrade.”

    My experience has been that when I change flights as a standby I have to give up my upgrade and usually don’t get upgraded. Do you mean that you fly standby and get upgraded, or that you pay the $50 for a confirmed change, and then get upgraded?

  13. Gary Leff leaves SPG Platinum?
    Sounds like Hyatt finally wooed you away 🙂
    That’s something I never thought I would see
    I’d certainly like to hear the reasoning and the reality about life after Platinum SPG …………
    Welcome to AA!

  14. I agree after being Plat with Starwood I have stopped staying there much of the time. The customer service is just not there…oh love the heavenly beds but not that much. I’ve been Plat for years and even called and talk with them about the issue and they never even got back to me….so I guess they didn’t care.

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