Tag Archives: american

Random Thoughts on 2/25/2014

1) American Airlines Executive Platinum status is awesome. I’m already 5/5 on systemwide upgrades, and I’ve cleared all domestic upgrades except for a Monday morning JFK->SFO flight that was booked one week in advance. This is making me want to maintain my ExPlat status more, but it still seems a little silly to me to try to do so.

2) You should always register for mileage promotions, even if you don’t think you’ll satisfy the requirements. I registered for AA’s double miles promotion to Tokyo and Seoul a long time ago, and what do you know, I’m currently in Tokyo and earned double miles on my flight from LAX to NRT. I’ll happily take an extra 10k AA miles, thank you very much.

3) Speaking of Tokyo, I really don’t understand the craze for popcorn here. Some of the longest lines I’ve seen in this city are to buy popcorn.

4) Club Carlson announced their devaluation last week. It could have been much, much worse. In fact, to me, this devaluation is largely a non-issue, since they didn’t really change redemption levels that much, and they didn’t touch the 5x earning on the credit card and free award night on any stay of 2 or more nights. Even at 70k points for the top tier, that’s 14k of spend to get two free nights on the credit card. What other hotel program can you get that kind of bang for your buck? Granted, the hotels maybe aren’t as aspirational, and the hotels are mostly concentrated in Europe, but Club Carlson is a great hotel program for people who don’t stay in hotels much and instead get points from credit cards.

5) I’ve got a trip planned to Vietnam and Cambodia later this year, and I’m trying to figure out how to get from Hanoi to Siem Reap in a reasonable amount of time. I think the answer is to either pay cash for a one-way ticket on Vietnam Airlines (~$240, which is more than I want to pay), or else to transfer some Amex points to Flying Blue to redeem for a one-way award (10k points). Unfortunately, the Flying Blue website isn’t displaying space on any of the Vietnam Airlines flights and instead wants to route me through Guangzhou, which means I’d have to call in to book and deal with the Air France call center and incur a phone booking fee. The phone booking fee and fuel surcharges would also seem to make the points redemption not as good of a deal. Anyone have experience booking on Vietnam Airlines or have an alternative that I haven’t considered?

Random Thoughts on 2/3/14

I’m going to be on vacation (actual vacation!) for the next two weeks, so expect more sporadic posts. In general, this blog is increasingly hard for me to update with real content given my work and travel schedules, so I’m not sure exactly what to do. I clearly don’t have the capacity to make it a one-stop shop like many of the other blogs, but I also want to write more than just trip reports, which is all I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks. I’m thinking of briefer posts that touch on things that are on my mind. I also have a number of friends who say they want to read my blog to learn more about the miles and points world, and I know that I do a bad job for beginners, so I’ll try to work on that.

Here’s what’s on my mind now:

1) I jumped on the Citi Executive AAdvantage card for 100,000 miles after $10,000 of spend in 3 months, $450 annual fee, and $200 statement credit. I got the card in the mail Saturday morning, went to CVS and bought 10 Vanilla Reloads, and am halfway to the minimum spend requirement. I love that I didn’t have to call Citi about the charge (on the other hand, I hate US Bank for constantly declining my Club Carlson cards). I’m debating whether or not to try to go for $40,000 of spend for the 10k bonus AA EQMs, as I’m mostly debating whether or not to try to hit AA Executive Platinum for next year. I currently have about 50k EQMs booked, but I just don’t know if it’s rational for me to really fly 100k paid miles on AA every year. I would probably just do it if there were a closer source of VRs to me, but I think I need to get in a car (which I don’t have) to find them reliably, which makes this proposition less appealing.

2) I really don’t think that you’ll be able to combine EQMs from American and US Airways for status on American next year. Most bloggers seem to think otherwise, but I don’t understand why since you can credit flights to either program for EQMs. Why would they allow this AND allow you to combine EQMs? Seems like too good of a deal to be true.

3) I am constantly reminded of how much United sucks and how good of a decision it was to switch to American. I helped a friend book a flight from Thailand to the US, and Thai decided to cancel one of his flights and move him to a flight that left him a 5-minute connection in Hong Kong. Clearly, this doesn’t work, but United didn’t even email him to tell him his itinerary was now impossible. Thankfully, I was able to fix things, but I honestly don’t understand how normal flyers deal with United.

4) More United bashing: a reader told me that a United agent told him about new restrictions that will be placed on United awards along with the devaluation. If this turns out to be true, I think anyone who burned most of their United stash will be very glad that they did…

Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


On my trip to Shanghai, I received 6 distinct VGML (strict vegetarian) economy meals/snacks on American Airlines. American doesn’t offer that many special meal options, but they have the basics.

First up was curried chickpeas with rice, broccoli, and a single carrot. This entree was the exact same entree as what I received on my flight on AA’s Flagship Service between JFK and SFO, but in a smaller portion and with sadder accompaniments. The carrots were still both mushy yet unchewable, a scientific feat if there ever were one, and they’re still serving a non-vegan margarine. But in all fairness, the entree is perfectly edible, except for the carrot.

I've had this meal before

I’ve had this meal before

For the mid-flight snack on flight number 1, I got some sort of wrap with wild rice and cranberries and other vaguely unidentifiable objects in it. It was confusing.

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Meal #3 served prior to arrival was some sort of pasta dish with cherry tomatoes and yellow peppers, but I have no idea what the white cheese-like curds were. They were flavorless, so that supports the idea that this dish was still vegan, but I can’t fathom why they chose to use flavorless unidentifiable white things as sauce instead of something like a basic tomato sauce. As a plus, the cantaloupe was sweet.

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All in all, the meals for my flight from ORD to PVG were unimpressive, but the meals on the way back were slightly better.

The fourth meal didn’t look promising, but it was surprisingly tasty. The couscous had flavor even without the tomato sauce, and the dessert was more interesting than a piece of fruit, but I’m not sure why they even bothered with the salad, and the bread roll was one of the toughest things I’ve ever tried to eat. I tried to rip off a piece with my hands and gave up.

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The mid-flight snack was a mini sandwich with pesto, green pepper, and squash. Somehow, the bread for this sandwich was edible while the bread that came with the previous meal was not.

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Finally, this wasn’t the strictly VGML meal since the flight attendant just gave me the normal meal as she said that the vegetarian meal was the same thing but much, much sadder. But again, given how terrible the roll in meal #4 was, I was surprised that the croissant and muffin were quite edible in this meal.

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Overall, I’d say that this was probably on par with the VGML meals I got on Air Canada, which is to say not that great. Surprisingly, I think that United does a pretty good job with their VGML meals.

Non-Thoughts on the AA Devaluation Scare

Since every other travel blogger has posted multiple times about this, I might as well throw my hat in the ring as well, but I’m not going to talk/speculate about the devaluation itself so much as write about things tangential to the devaluation.

1. So many blogs posted about the supposed devaluation, which I guess is fair since it would be major news if it were true, but so few added actual new information or perspective. Lucky was the one to break the news, and I think Gary has the best write-up, and those are two blogs that any miles enthusiast should follow. But I didn’t really get anything of value from any of the other countless blogs that wrote about it. Is this symptomatic of every blogger wanting to be a one-stop destination for travel news? Or maybe that many bloggers just don’t have anything new to say?

2. I read a fair number of people writing things like, “I’m soooo glad that I chose not to pursue Executive Platinum status because of this devaluation”, which I’m not sure I understand. Obviously, I am choosing to mileage run to get AA Executive Platinum, and I’ve already booked my flights, so I’m pretty committed. But even if the value of AA miles decreases, I think the primary value of status on an airline isn’t derived from the increased redeemable mileage earning rates. For one, Platinum status on American already gives a 100% mileage bonus, so you don’t get anything incremental by being Executive Platinum. But to me, the unlimited domestic upgrades, higher upgrade priority, systemwide upgrades, better customer service, international lounge access, and waived fees are much more valuable. So while the devaluation would certainly be unfortunate, I’m not sure why this would have that much of an effect on people’s choice to aim for top-tier status or not.

3. Before I started working, I used to think that companies were well-oiled machines where everything was vetted multiple times and people didn’t make mistakes. While that may be true of some companies, I don’t think it’s true for most places. Just like how I think it’s incredible that air travel even exists given all of the complexity and moving pieces to maintain thousands of flights a day, I’m surprised that we don’t see more mistakes like the one by AA today. Perhaps I’m just naive, but I think the simplest/likeliest answer for all of this is just that companies make mistakes, and this is an example of a mistake. Will frequent flyer programs be devalued in the future? Of course. But I don’t buy all of the cynicism and fear that other bloggers are selling.

Breaking Down 2 Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


I’ll stop with posts about this promotion soon, I promise. But I thought I’d share my specific plans to get 30,000 EQMs by the end of the year to get American Airlines Executive Platinum status.

Since I have a full-time job, minimizing time outside of the office is one of my primary concerns. I also don’t currently have any status on American, so I’d prefer longer, international trips to shorter domestic ones as I won’t yet get any complimentary upgrades on those domestic segments. Together, this means that I was looking to take as few trips as possible over weekends to international destinations.

My first search was for Shanghai. I’m based out of SFO, and SFO-ORD-PVG and back is over 17,000 miles, which gets me well over halfway to the goal of 30,000 miles. There were fares for $1044, or just under 6 cents per mile, and thanks to a generous FTer, I was able to use a 10% off promo code to get it down to $948. I’ll have 26 hours on the ground in Shanghai and miss only a single day of work.

I still need to apply for a Chinese visa, which costs $140, but I figure that I can amortize that cost over the trips I’m sure I’ll take to China next year. For lodging, there are a large number of options, but if I want to minimize my out-of-pocket expenses, there are a couple of Shanghai hotels on the latest Points Break list, which means I could get a night for only 5,000 Priority Club points (roughly $35).

With only 13,000 miles needed to get to 30,000, there are a lot of destinations that would supply sufficient mileage from SFO like almost anywhere in Europe or Asia that’s not Great Britain. I ended up choosing Helsinki, partly because there were fares for a little over $800 or just over 6 cents per mile, but also because it’s another city I’ve yet to visit and I have a couple of friends who’ve been there recently and enjoyed the city. I’ll be flying SFO-JFK-HEL, but unfortunately, the JFK-HEL segment is a codeshare operated by Finnair, so the 10% off AA promo codes don’t apply.

No visa is needed for Finland for US citizens, so no extra costs there. I’ll have about 2.5 days in Helsinki and miss one day of work (the other day I’d miss is Veteran’s Day), so I’ll need 2 nights of lodging. I haven’t figured out exactly what I’m going to do, but I think I might apply for the US Bank Club Carlson (FT link) credit card in my next round of credit card applications, which would enable me to get 2 nights at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel or Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel for only 44,000 points since the second night would be free thanks to the credit card.

My two trips to get to Executive Platinum

My two trips to get to Executive Platinum

So in total, I’ll visit two new cities in two weekend trips to get Executive Platinum status for next year. The airfare was about $1800, the Chinese visa will be $140, I’ll probably spend about 50k hotel points for three nights of lodging, and I’ll miss two days of work. I’ll also end up netting about 45,000 redeemable miles, which I might conservatively value at around $700. All in all, seems like a pretty great deal, no?

First Mileage Run to AA Executive Platinum Status Booked!

We’ve finally received email confirmation: American Airlines is going to honor the “Fast Track Your Way To Elite Status” promotion, much to the delight of people who registered in time and to the chagrin of many current AA elites.

I received the following email today, confirming my eligibility for the promotion as I don’t currently have elite status with American.

What a nice email to get in your inbox

What a nice email to get in your inbox

Although I’ve deemed it mostly irrational for me to take advantage of this promo, I just booked my first mileage run, which will get me over halfway to the 30,000 miles needed for Executive Platinum. I’ve got another mileage run in mind which will get me the rest of the way there, but I’m now just kicking myself for not playing that silly Planes game a couple of weeks ago and getting a 10% off AA flights promotion code…

Should I Mileage Run for AA Executive Platinum Status?

Last week, there was a very brief period of time when you could sign up for an apparently untargeted promotion that offered American Airlines Gold status after flying 6,000 miles, Platinum status after flying 12,000 miles, and Executive Platinum status after flying 30,000 miles between September 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013, as long as you didn’t already have elite status on AA. And these requirements are for elite qualifying miles, not even elite qualifying points (which are harder to earn if you fly discounted coach since most coach fares only offer 0.5 points per mile), which makes the promotion that much better.

Upon seeing the promo, I immediately started looking at ways to fly 30,000 miles in the last 4 months of the year. I think I can do it for roughly $2500 in total (including visa and other travel costs) over the span of two trips, and I’d only miss a single day of work while getting the opportunity to spend a day each in two new cities/countries. The $2500 also doesn’t account for the miles that I’d earn for flying, which I think would be roughly 45,000, given the bonuses that I’d earn after hitting the Gold and Platinum thresholds.

But does this actually make sense for me to do? I currently fly about 75k miles a year, but I don’t fly at all for work (well, except for 181 miles last year; can you guess the route?), so pretty much all of my flying is for leisure based on the cheapest available fares with minimal regard to alliances or status. Since I’m based out of SFO, this does mean that I’ve hit silver status for the past two years on United, without necessarily trying to do so.

Normally, this would make me think that I should just aim for Executive Platinum, as I imagine that I can just switch most of my flying to oneworld next year (see? the promotion is working! they’ll get incremental flying/revenue out of me), and I’ll surely see more upgrades flying AA as an Executive Platinum than the zero I see as a United Silver flying out of SFO. And the Amex Platinum card offers free AA lounge access when flying American, so that’s an added perk.

I feel like the biggest benefits, though, to getting Executive Platinum are the 8 system-wide upgrades and the oneworld Emerald status, which gets you into all first class lounges internationally. Except for the fact that I wasn’t planning on paying cash for any of my international tickets next year, so I don’t think I’d be able to take advantage of these benefits easily.

I already have two lengthy international trips planned on award tickets, and I was planning a third with my US Airways miles before they leave Star Alliance (although I guess that last part might not be happening now). And since I have a full time job and limited vacation, I’m not sure how many more international trips I’d realistically take, which makes the upgrades and the oneworld status less valuable.

Unless, of course, I just started flying a bunch more just to take advantage of the benefits. But this doesn’t seem very rational on my part, but I imagine this is the intent behind the promotion. Doesn’t it seem brilliant if they can get someone like me who doesn’t fly at all on AA to end up flying 90,000+ miles on them in the next year because of this promotion?

I’m personally still waiting to get written confirmation from AA that I’m eligible for the promotion before booking anything. And I imagine that if they say that I am eligible, I’ll act irrationally, book my two mileage runs, and then end up flying AA next year much more than I would have otherwise.

Review: American Airlines Flagship Service First Class New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO)

American Airlines 179
New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO)
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
Depart: 10:30am
Arrive: 1:45pm
Duration: 6h 15m
Aircraft: Boeing 767-200
Seat: 3D

American currently has their first class cabin on the flagship transcontinental routes (such as LAX-JFK or SFO-JFK) arranged in a 2-1-2 fashion. This means that the best seats for solo travelers are the middle D seats. I was debating between 2D and 3D, but a very friendly and knowledgable lounge attendant recommended that I go with 3D as it’s not the bulkhead and usually has less cross traffic (people sometimes use the space in front of the middle seats to get between aisles).

My seat, 3D

My seat, 3D

Seats 3A and 3B for comparison

Seats 3A and 3B for comparison

Plenty of leg room

Plenty of leg room

Seat controls

Seat controls

This lounge attendant also explained to me something I was curious about: my flight was selling only 1 first class seat, but the seat map showed only two assigned seats. She told me that the flight was pretty heavily oversold in both economy and in business, but the first class cabin on these routes is never oversold, so in a sense, the first class seats were used as a buffer for overselling business. And when I boarded the plane, they did need to ask for volunteers, and the first class cabin was filled with only 2 passengers who had paid for first–myself included–and 8 op-ups (there are no complimentary upgrades on this route). (Perhaps a note for people looking for oversold flights: my check-in agent also remarked that the early morning flights from JFK to SFO were constantly oversold, and she didn’t know why revenue management kept on doing it.)

This meant that instead of a nearly empty first class cabin, it was completely full. What was also kinda interesting was that both the other paid first class passenger and myself pre-ordered special meals, but only mine was actually boarded onto our flight. I’d be super angry if I were him, considering that they catered 8 first class meals for people who weren’t even in first, but they couldn’t manage to cater his kosher meal request…

Onto the flight itself: At each seat was a very large pillow and a nice blanket, which was more a genuine duvet than the staticky “blankets” that I’m used to on other domestic carriers like US Airways. The flight attendants served pre-departure beverages, and in general, I’d describe the service as adequate. They seemed to do what was required of them, and they were decently friendly, but I honestly felt like I received better service in coach on Lufthansa than I did in first class on this flight. It was quite similar to the service I received on United Business flying from SFO to ICN (although thankfully there were no noticeable body odor problems from the flight attendants).

Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants distributed the in-flight entertainment systems, which were Galaxy Tabs and noise-cancelling headphones. I appreciated that the headphones were truly noise-cancelling, but one problem I had with the entertainment system was that it was supposed to remain plugged in while in use, but the plug got extremely hot. So hot that I almost burned myself when removing it.

In-flight entertainment system

In-flight entertainment system

While I ordered a special meal, I did take pictures of the normal menu.

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My VGML special meal was okay, but it was simply a business class vegetarian meal served in first. I would have preferred the normal salad from the first class menu served without the chicken, as opposed to the kinda gross salad I was served as a starter. Seriously, who puts such contentious ingredients in an airplane meal? Capers, olives, artichokes, and mushrooms?

VGML first course

VGML first course. Can you spot the non-vegan items?

VGML main

VGML main

The main was edible but dry for an attempt at chana masala. And the carrots were actually inedible. Somehow, they managed to make the carrots mushy yet unchewable. That’s scientific innovation right there.

/startveganrant
My biggest problem with the meal, though, was that not everything in the meal was actually vegan. The vegetarian meal for American is coded as VGML, which is a vegan meal on pretty much every single airline (VLML is often used for vegan lacto-ovo meal, or what people normally consider vegetarian). But the margarine, while not butter, contained whey, which is an animal by-product, and I’m also pretty darn sure that the ranch dressing was not vegan either. Also, why did the cookie have to be wheat-free as well? Vegan baked goods are hard enough to get right as is, but adding gluten-free to the mix makes everything taste like cardboard.
/endveganrant

I tried to get some sleep on the plane and was mostly unsuccessful, but that wasn’t due to lack of seat comfort. Although it’s technically a recliner seat, the seats recline very far back, and you have plenty of room to stretch your legs. I’d probably prefer a seat like this to some of the angle-flat seats I’ve flown.

Seat in reclined position

Seat in reclined position

Is first class worth the premium over business class on these routes? Maybe if you’re taking the red eye. But based on the flight product alone, I don’t think the in-flight experience is significantly better to justify the premium. Considering the Flagship Check-In Experience and access to the Flagship Lounge, it’s perhaps more worth it. And of course, I’m more than happy to fly in first as a free one-way 😀

Review: American Airlines Admirals Club New York JFK

Since I was already in the American Airlines Admirals Club anyway while visiting the Flagship Lounge (the Flagship Lounge is located within the Admirals Club) at Terminal 8 in JFK, I decided to take a tour of the Admirals Club to see what the differences were between the two.

The physical amenities were largely the same: a fairly large room, lots of seating, and ample electrical sockets (why is that last part so hard for so many lounges?). The two clubs share the same shower rooms, which are pretty nice, and the Admirals Club also offers computers for use, as well as a children’s room, which the Flagship Lounge does not have.

Lots of seating with views of the tarmac

Lots of seating with power ports and views of the tarmac

More seating

More seating

Business area

Business area

Sign at the children's room

Sign at the children’s room

The Admirals Club clearly had more people than the Flagship Lounge, but it still didn’t feel crowded. This could have been due to the fact that it was a Tuesday morning, which I doubt is a particularly busy travel time, but it was a lot less hectic than the United Club in the International Terminal of SFO.

The biggest difference was in the food offerings. Understandably, the Admirals Club is a domestic business class lounge while the Flagship Lounge is a first class lounge, so the free food offerings were little more than fruit, snack mix, and some pastries for breakfast.

At least there are yogurt-covered pretzels

At least there are yogurt-covered pretzels

Breakfast?

Breakfast?

There was, however, a pretty wide selection of food to purchase. I’m not familiar with the other food options in the terminal, but I was a little surprised to see so much on offer, and I have no idea if it was any good.

Prepared foods for sale

Prepared foods for sale; would you really buy that sushi?

Snack foods for sale

Snack foods for sale

Menu part 1

Menu part 1

Menu part 2

Menu part 2

Overall, I thought it was a fine domestic lounge, with the key selling points being ample space and power ports. I’d be curious, though, if any of you have tried the food-for-purchase options in the club. Are they any good?

Review: American Airlines Flagship Lounge New York JFK

Another perk of flying first class on an American Airlines three-class transcontinental flight besides Flagship Check-In is access to the Flagship Lounge.

The Flagship Lounge at JFK is located within one of the Admirals Clubs, so when you enter, you need to get specifically let in to the Flagship Lounge.

Entrance to the Admirals Club

Entrance to the Admirals Club

The first thing I did upon getting into the lounge was get a shower room. The Admirals Club and Flagship Lounge share the same set of showers, so it’s feasible that you might have to wait for one, but it seemed like there were plenty of shower rooms available.

Shower with Dermalogica dispensers

Shower with Dermalogica dispensers

Not sure why there's a phone next to the toilet...

Not sure why there’s a phone next to the toilet…

The shower was good: I liked the Dermalogica products, the towels were reasonably fluffy, and the water temperature and pressure were good.

Back in the lounge, there was plenty of seating available, and it never got crowded. The lounge also offered some nice views of the tarmac.

Lots of seating

Lots of seating

Business center

Business center

Nice views of planes

Nice views of planes

The food selection was also pretty good. It was nothing fancy, but there was a typical hot food breakfast buffet as well as some tasty cold options. There was also plenty of alcohol available, if you wanted to drink in the morning.

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The best part of the lounge, though, was the service. I couldn’t find the New York Times at the newspaper rack, so I inquired at the desk about it. The agent told me that the delivery for that day hadn’t come in yet, which was a little disappointing, but an hour or so later, I was hand-delivered a New York Times by a different agent. Nice!

The American Airlines Flagship Lounge at JFK is the nicest domestic lounge I’ve been in. There’s lots of space, it doesn’t get crowded, the food is good, and the service was spot on.