American Airlines Here I Come!

I consider myself a savvy traveler and have turned much of the lemons created by United Airlines' 03 March system integration debacle with Continental Airlines into lemonade. I've run into a fair number of problems and a great deal of frustration, but my record is good--I cannot recall the last time I've been stuck behind the curtain on a flight against my will.

Still, things are not working as they should on United and there are many policies and practices I find downright aggravating:

  • Prioritizing transactional loyalty over long-term loyalty, particularly regarding domestic upgrades
  • Ex-Continental pilots and flight attendants continuing to say flights are operated by "Continental" crews (a longer rant on this is coming in a future post)
  • Inefficient and unmotivated reservation agents, typically Ex-Cons, who are argumentative and inept

In came American Airlines, who offered gimmick-free status matches to UA elites in order to steal away business. I took advantage of the match and after waiting 12 days, was finally matched to Executive Platinum Status.


With Executive Platinum status comes a number of nice perks including:

  • Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades
  • 100% Award Mileage Bonus
  • Complimentary access to exclusive Preferred Plus Seats and Preferred Seats
  • Preferred seating on Alaska Airlines
  • Guaranteed Economy Class Availability
  • Waived Ticketing Service Charge
  • FlagshipSM Check-In at London Heathrow
  • Waived AAdvantage Award Change and Reinstatement Charges

That was all fine, but AA sweetened the deal even more for some of those who were matched to top-tier status by throwing in eight systemwide upgrades (expiring in Feb 2013).


Unlike United SWUs, AA's do not have any fare class restrictions, meaning I can buy a $700 fare to London and upgrade, whereas on United the cheapest fare might be $700 as well, but the cheapest upgradeable fare would be closer to $1200. That ultimately does not matter if I do not clear, but from what I have heard, Executive Platinum members have a pretty good upgrade track record on AA flights.

If you remember my comparison of first class dinners on US carriers, you will recall that American was not included. I have never flown in a premium cabin on American Airlines and have not flown American Airlines (other than American Eagle) since 2004. Therefore, I am quite looking forward to giving them a try.

My 1K re-qualification on United is already in the bag, so I am going to go out of my way to fly American when I resume my travel between Philadelphia and Los Angeles this fall. I will not re-qualify for ExPlat status, but if I like it, I may well pursue American next year.

United, you have been warned: I am not even overly disgruntled, but I am very open to switching allegiances if American can offer better service for a similar price. I'm not the most "valuable" United customer, but I have spend thousands of dollars on airfare this year and there are many in my boat. One vote changes nothing, but many votes bring about change, and many long-time frequent and valuable United flyers are giving the airline a vote of no confidence.

I look forward to the new adventure and also look forward to sharing my experience with you.


Nick May 15, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Welcome to the dAArkside

AA's domestic F > UA's domestic F...

Brad May 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Congrats Matthew. I'm not bold enough to jump yet for several reasons, but I'm interested to hear your experiences.

@Brad: I doubt I would have taken advantage of this if I had I not already re-qualified for 1K status. I am disappointed, angry really, at so many of the CO folks, but I'll get through it and I am not about to jump the Star Alliance ship.

But if AA totally blows me away, I'll finish up my last ~120K miles and hit MMer status on UA, then move on to MMer status on AA (much more difficult now, sadly, than it has been in the past).

I made the jump over to the dAArkside. I'm loving it. (But with YCA government faces counting as full fare for upgrades, and with full fare now trumping status for complimentary upgrades and 'paid for' upgrades with miles or other instruments trumping free, a DC-based non-gov't employee has a hard time with upgrades these days.) Even when my upgrades don't clear, I've got an exit row seat with wifi and they comp a cocktail and buy on board snack. The lounges are nicer albeit with less free food. I like the inflight meals marginally better, there are more flights with actual food. And EXP is ACTUALLY top tier with AA, vs UA where top tier is GS...

Andy May 16, 2012 at 08:01 am

No question AA is way better. The food alone blows UA away. But I worry that it I jump ship, they're just going to ditch all the good parts when they merge or come out of bankrupsy anyway.

Michael May 16, 2012 at 08:27 am

I still cannot figure out the "operated by a Continental crew/aircraft" announcements - what do they really think they get out of it? It's like listening to a stubborn 2-year-old have a temper tantrum. (And this is coming from a former CO Plat.)

Johnb300m May 16, 2012 at 09:26 am

Matt good for you. I've never had an issue with AA, but chose UA back in 2005. They've been awesome. But it's clear this org is NOT the dear friend I allied with so many years ago. Maybe things will get better when Smisek leaves and/or the CO staff that invaded 77 Whacker Drive turn over....

I want to go to AA too. But from BDL-ORD (80% of my travel) AA is always 25% more expensive and it's all Eagle flying. If AA ever brings mainline to Hartford, I'm gone. In the meantime, enjoy AA! Can't wait to hear about it.

Tim RC. Anderson May 16, 2012 at 10:25 am


I hear ya. United has been a nightmare. But for me it is the attitude problem the entire airline and staff seem to have that is really pissing me off. They are arrogant, smug, lazy, rude and don't seem to care or realize that their airline is fast becoming a third world carrier, and they offer nothing like European or Asian service levels.

But 2 things stop me jumping to AA for now:

  • I fly to Sydney a lot. On AA I only earn .5 miles and status miles on a light of discounted coach tickets.
  • Can't use AA SWU to upgrade Qantas flights to Sydney
  • Not sure if I can use AA miles to upgrade Qantas flights? (If I can - I'm sure it is WAY more than UA requires)
  • AA has terrible business class product. It's angled, cramped, tiny, and terrile. I hate it. UA I own;t find nearly as tight, it is 100% flat and newer and looks and feels nicer. CO style BusinessFirst is even better.
  • AA won't have new Biz Class for 2-3 more years.

Maybe then I jump.

robert May 16, 2012 at 03:15 pm

AA's domestic first class consistently has more legroom than UA's ... the food seems to be similar but the legroom is consistently better ...

AS May 17, 2012 at 01:38 am

If you aren't a top tier member, AA royally sucks. No more than 20% of your travel is in premium cabins unless you buy upgrade certificates. You'd do materially better as a mid-tier on DL or UA.

@AS: I think this is an excellent point. With the old e500 "sticker" system on AA, being a mid-tier elite is not all that special. It is nice for the golds who don't mind paying for the stickers, but truly the ExPlats have an added advantage over the others.

I think one thing I am going to love about AA is the wi-fi. United really needs to work on that.

@Robert: I'm looking forward to trying on of AA's ghetto 757s!

@Tim R.C. Anderson: All good points. You are making the right decision now, IMO.

@Johnb300m: That's really odd to me. Is AA consistently 25% more expensive? You just don't see that too often anymore, at least on the routes I fly!

@Michael: The jejune "This is a CO crew" announcements will be the subject of a post today!

@Andy: That is a concern I have as well, which is why I have hedged my bets by already re-qualifying for 1K.

@Gary: Sounds like the grass is greener on the other side. I look forward to AA--hopefully I won't wind up behind the curtain, but if I do I'll know I'll be taken care of. Do you think there is any chance UA will start treating YCAs like AA does? As someone who used to fly on YCAs, I sure appreciated them, but I do consider them "unfair" to someone who pays a lot more for a regular M or B class ticket.

@Brad: We'll see how this experiment goes.

@Jimgotkp: I look forward to testing your hypothesis!

@Nick: Thanks!

Bryan May 17, 2012 at 05:06 am

Sadly I must agree with that the odd announcements about the crew being CO are a bit on the childish side. I recently flew DFW-IAH-HNL-GUM-MNL due to a last minute business trip and the cheapness of the fare...yeah my company is cheap. On IAH-HNL-GUM every announcement was Continental this or that. They were even still using Continental pins on their uniforms, right next to the UA one's of course. Agreed with Michael's post above that its "like listening to a stubborn 2-year-old have a temper tantrum". For an annual *G like myself it comes off as childish and unprofessional. Given the extremely shotty and poor service that they offer anyway I fail to understand what ground they think they have to stand on. I will be interested to read how the AA switch goes as I am DFW based.

Johnb300m May 17, 2012 at 10:43 am

@ Matthew: Yes, up until the past few months out of BDL, AA used to be much more expensive, with all Eagle flights. My routes are very ORD-centric, so UA used have that cornered. After march, AA, UA, even Southwest are all around the same price now. (I think it's a BDL issue) With that difference, if I'm going to be gouged by everyone, I'd rather my money now go to AA with the whole UA mess.

John777 May 17, 2012 at 10:51 pm

@Gary -- Do Gold and Plats on YCA fares trump ExPlats not on full fare, or do you mean they put them at front within their status?

@John777: I'll answer your question: on AA, my understanding is that YCAs do not get upgrades. Gary--please correct me if I am wrong.

John777 May 19, 2012 at 07:08 pm

From Gary's latest blog post it seems the government YCA fare situation is now the case at UA, not AA.

@John777: That is correct--AA does not treat YCAs as full fares, while UA does.

Good luck, looking forward to your blog posts.

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