10 Reasons I’m Considering Breaking Up With American

Filed Under: American

Earlier we learned about some major changes coming to the AAdvantage program in 2017. I was disappointed by the changes American announced last year which kick in as of this year. I wrote a post at the time about whether the changes impacted my loyalty to American, and my conclusion was as follows:

With these changes to AAdvantage, I view the program as competitive rather than industry leading. I’ll continue to have to fly a fair amount, and getting status with an airline still makes sense. In my case that will continue to be American, simply because it’s easy to qualify for Executive Platinum status, and I still value their partners for award redemptions, even if prices are significantly higher.

But I certainly won’t be telling people “oh, you have to fly American, they have a fantastic loyalty program.”

Now we’re seeing even more negative changes to the program, especially the new revenue requirement, without an opportunity to get it waived through credit card spend (at least as of now). While I wasn’t ready to drop American last time, I’m at the point now where I’m seriously considering it.

I’m considering either switching to Delta SkyMiles (which I now think offers the best elite program of the “big three”), or simply becoming a “free agent,” and buying the tickets I want, be it in cash or miles.

The way I see it, American’s loyalty program has gone from industry leading, to merely competitive, to being the least rewarding of the “big three” US programs. That doesn’t even address their inconsistent and disappointing onboard product, especially compared to Delta.

Here are 10 reasons I’m seriously considering dropping status with American:

American’s onboard product is uncompetitive

We’re now several years into the merger, and the “new” American still hasn’t announced plans to reconfigure the former US Airways A320s and A321s. This isn’t just a minor subfleet, but rather represents 170 planes.

These are outdated planes without power ports, entertainment, or Main Cabin Extra.

Not surprisingly American quickly announced plans to reconfigure the US Airways A319s, because they saw an opportunity there to add more seats by eliminating a row of first class.

I don’t mind flying these planes when I’m getting easy upgrades and earning valuable miles, but why would I choose to fly them if I don’t have to? The worse the program gets, the less likely I am to put up with American’s subpar onboard product.

American’s outdated ex-US Airways first class

Upgrade benefits have been decreased significantly

This year we’re seeing the number of systemwide upgrades which Executive Platinum members receive decreased from eight to four. On top of that, airlines are selling significantly more first class seats than before by lowering premium cabin fares.

So not only are we getting fewer upgrades internationally, but our chances of upgrades clearing on domestic flights have decreased as well.

Nowadays if you want a premium seat, find a way to pay for it directly, either with cash or miles.

American’s 777-300ER business class

Executive Platinum lounge benefits are being decreased

In February of this year I wrote about the changes American is making to their Flagship Lounges. Rather than having them be international first class lounges, they’ll instead be open to all business class passengers. Objectively it’s great news that they’re improving these lounges, but ultimately it’s another benefit of status which is being removed.

Previously if I was flying business class I’d have an advantage as a oneworld Emerald since I’d get access to the Flagship Lounge, which was better than the Admirals Club, which business class passengers otherwise get access to.

With the Flagship Lounges being rebranded, it doesn’t matter whether I have status or not, since I get the same lounge access in business class regardless.

The future of the program is uncertain

As members I feel like we’ve put up with a lot of uncertainty and inconsistency during the merger, and then finally last year we got information on all the negative changes coming for AAdvantage members. Now we get (mostly) more negative changes, before the previous negative changes are even fully implemented.

American has announced these negative changes with only partial information, though. They announced an elite qualifying dollar requirement without announcing whether there will be the opportunity to get a waiver through credit card spend. We’ve learned about the date the AAdvantage program is going revenue based, while we don’t actually know what partner mileage earning will look like after August 1, 2016.

I think reader RCB summed it up perfectly in a comment on a previous post:

The most frustrating part is that AA can’t seem to announce all of these changes at once. Stop making big changes every 6 months, announce some big changes and let them go into effect before you make more big changes. When the ball is constantly moving you are only going to frustrate your good customers and you are shattering our loyalty.

Premium economy is on the horizon

Soon American will be introducing premium economy internationally. As it stands, systemwide upgrades are valid for a one class upgrade, and I doubt we’ll see that change anytime soon. In other words, soon systemwide upgrades may only be valid for upgrades from economy to premium economy, or from premium economy to business class.

So not only have Executive Platinum members had systemwide upgrades cut in half, but potentially they’ll also become significantly less valuable.

American’s new premium economy seats

Business class is becoming affordable for leisure travelers

I have access to pretty easy upgrades, but I’ve still found myself pretty consistently paying for business class internationally. In the past year, I’ve twice paid under $1,200 for roundtrip business class between the West Coast and Europe.

With such low fares, and upgrades otherwise tough to confirm, it’s a no brainer.

Airlines are trying to change consumer behavior and get people to pay for the cabin they want to fly, even if it’s at a steep discount. With these kind of prices, it’s sort of the best option.

British-Airways-Business-Class-777 - 1
British Airways’ 777 business class

Revenue based mileage earning changes how I view loyalty

Nowadays earning miles based on dollars spent rather than miles flown is the new norm. While we can argue the merits of it all day long, I think it’s tough to argue with the fact that this transforms loyalty programs into discount programs.

As an Executive Platinum member I earn 11 miles per dollar spent on base fare. I value those miles at 1.5 cents each. In other words, the way I see it, I’m getting a flat 16.5% discount on the pre-tax/fee cost of my travel on American.

Just as airlines try to turn loyal consumers into individual transactions, my loyalty to an airline becomes transactional as well.

American’s phone service has deteriorated horribly

It sounds silly, because I avoid getting on the phone whenever possible, but American’s Executive Platinum phone customer service used to be incredible. Like, absolutely amazing and industry leading. The agents were friendly, competent, and made exceptions without batting an eyelash.

Back in the day the agents would even waive change fees on revenue tickets without issue. Then American closed their call center in Tucson, where most Executive Platinum agents were based.

Phone service for Executive Platinum members nowadays is hardly any better than what general members receive. For the most part the agents aren’t especially competent, and many are even rude. It’s not that I expect them to waive change fees, but even simple tasks take them a long time to complete.

I used to look forward to getting on the phone with American (it sounds crazy, but the agents used to be so friendly and good), while now I dread it.

It’s tough to earn miles, and there are no transferable points

Much like Delta and United, American AAdvantage now awards miles based on revenue rather than distance flown. Whatever.

One benefit of top tier status is that if you have waived change and booking fees on award tickets. It’s much tougher to rack up miles through flying nowadays, but at least you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Delta SkyMiles, and can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus. The way I see it, your elite status adds value to being able to transfer points, since I value miles with unlimited free changes more than I value miles without that option.


Meanwhile there aren’t easy ways to transfer miles to American from one of the three transferrable points currencies. Citi ThankYou points can’t be transferred to AAdvantage yet. I’ve speculated that this will happen eventually, but it still hasn’t.

Delta is a better airline, and SkyMiles is a better elite program

I’ve long given Delta credit for being the best US carrier, in terms of their route network, onboard product, service, etc. Seriously, Delta is the airline of the business traveler.

They have friendly employees (for the most part, though of course there are bad apples like every other airline), a great on-time record, planes which consistently offer entertainment, wifi, and power, superior lounges, and much more.

But now I’d argue that their elite program is also the best of the “big three” US carriers, as I’ll explain in a follow-up post.

Delta-SkyClub-San-Francisco - 8
Delta SkyClub San Francisco

Bottom line

There was the story years ago of American saving tens of thousands of dollars a year by removing one olive from each salad. No one is going to leave an airline over one individual change, which is how these cuts happen. But collectively they can add up.

American: with these changes you’ve removed one too many olives from your salad, to the point that I think consumer behavior is about to change.

Sorry American, but as much as you’d like to be, you’re not Delta. On the most basic level, you have an outdated and inconsistent onboard product which lacks entertainment outlets and power, and a mixed bag of employees. Many of your longhaul planes don’t yet feature flat beds in business class.

Your frequent flyer program was something which differentiated you. That’s simply not the case anymore, as I’ll show in a follow-up post.

It’s not even a topic which can really be debated anymore. Some could argue American’s program is as good as the competition under certain circumstances, but on the whole I don’t think anyone can argue they still have a superior program.

I hope that American introduces an opportunity to get the minimum spend requirement for status waived with $25,000 of spend on their co-branded credit card, including for Executive Platinum members. That might convince some people not to leave American, but on the whole I still think the program is now sub-par.

Where do you stand — does anyone objectively still actually think AAdvantage is better than MileagePlus or SkyMiles? Will these changes impact your loyalty to American?

  1. Really interesting post. As a non-status member flying out of DFW, I really have little choice. I’ve always felt, though, that Delta SkyMiles were worth less compared to other programs. Do you feel like even this has changed? My few Delta experiences have been better on-board, I agree with you. I do think American is making some small but good improves to business and first-class food options.

  2. Lucky you’ve been saying for years how bad sky miles is. Are you going to address the fact that it is your own option because you’ve been banned from United MileagePlus for life?!

  3. How oh how will AA live without you?

    Who would have filled those Beijing mistake fares?

    Shorting AA stock ASAP

  4. What happens to those of us with Lifetime Platinum status? Do we get to keep that or will that go away as well?

  5. I’m even thinking of putting all my eggs in uniteds basket after they upped my status last month to platinum granted its not the best but now we have 3 dirty shirts on the floor and we must decide which on is the cleanest to wear ! I’m very upset about this and I am about to burn my 250,000 aa miles before they find a way to screw me out of them even more ! I hope feta is still doing status challenge after August (so it will continue through the best year ) as I may match my aa or ua platinum and try delta out but I still have a slight bad taste from them !

    Airlines will soon learn that making these changes is not too terribly smart they made money before and had a loyal following Now they are loosing the loyal following part !

    I wish the big 3 from the gulf would start domestic routes here !!! I don’t know much about their programs but their hard product is worth paying for no matter the class of service . The only way one can stomach our (USA) big 3 is if your elite and get a few perks !

  6. @ Bob — You get to keep lifetime Platinum status, it’s just slightly less valuable since Platinum is prioritized behind Platinum Pro.

  7. I agree with you about American and my go to carrier is now Delta and I live near Seattle. I’ve flown Delta to DFW and its a very good experience. Their first class fares are some of the cheapest in the business which is attractive for me as I dont do miles CC etc. I think that Delta is even better than Alaska which considering where I live is sacrilege :). The changes AA is making are about $ it’s always about $. They will go too far and have to re-trench. Given how much you fly I think you’re making the right decision in switching to DL. I think your points are spot on Ben always enjoy your reports

  8. @lopere if you dont like the site don’t read it ie go away you are not offering anything productive. Be smug somewhere else

  9. Curious that MileagePlus was left off this list. Chase points are easier to accrue than MR points and United miles are now the most valuable mileage currency left. United isn’t Delta yet in terms of onboard product but they’re closing the gap pretty quickly.

    Definitely makes me think about going back to United.

  10. I think you’re experiencing a little bit of “grass is greener on the other side” with regard to Delta. Their operation is unarguably excellent compared to the competition, but their loyalty program is cutting benefits left and right, too. Spend a few weeks on the Delta forum over at FT – the frequent flyers there will give you a piece of their mind about what’s happening to SkyMiles. You’ll probably come up with a decent on-paper argument for SkyMiles in your subsequent post, but after actually flying lots with Delta, I think you’ll have the same grievances as other DL flyers.

    Lots of frequent flyers (certainly not all) are now going in the direction of being a “free agent” – with everything going revenue-based and airlines copying each other’s loyalty programs almost tit-for-tat, that’s what many are realizing makes the most sense. Being loyal to a specific program isn’t nearly as valuable as it used to be.

  11. I am having the same thoughts about DL in 17. My question for you is why “switch” instead of being a free agent crediting to AS since their miles still hold value? What value do you see in holding status with either AA or DL when you can find reasonable F fares if you don’t want to fly in an exit row in back? These are the thoughts running through my head for my own status future.

  12. With all the facts currently on the table what carrier would you recommend based on loyalty out of NYC (mostly to LAX and SFO)?

  13. @ Ben — Problem is, you can be sure Delta will now take the next step in the race to the bottom sooner rather than later. Delta’s requirements for 2018 elite status (to be earned in 2017) have not been announced, although rollover MQM language was updated last week to include rollover from 2016 MQMs to 2017 MQMs. My money is on the elimination of the Diamond MQD credit card spend waiver VERY soon. Once that happens, you might as well just buy the cheapest first class ticket and fly on whoever….

  14. @Ben, did you also see that upgrades are going to be ranked by status, and then by EQD in the past 12 months? YIKES

  15. Great point about phone service – it is now abysmal . This is especially a problem because AA has very few award partners available for booking via their website.

  16. Yet again, Lucky, you aren’t being transparent *AT ALL* with your writing. You can’t “consider” all three of the major players in the US because you are banned from one of them – so why not just say that instead of constantly hiding that fact? Your lack of transparency as a writer is really one of your largest cruxes – if you just simply said, “Because I can no longer fly UA, I really can only choose between Delta and AA,” then your blog readers would respect you a lot more. It’s really just pathetic at this point that you find it necessary to not just write a damn blog post about the UA thing and so that you, as a “writer,” would be much more honest and transparent. The longer you hold out on this fact, the more and more you lose trust in your audience, which, as a “writer,” is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing you can have.

  17. I agree with each of your points, but I do think that the elite call desks are WAY better than the general line. I have been Gold for 2 years, and I can’t tell you how much better the Gold desk is than the general desk. Calling the general number is horrendous 90% of the time and passable 10%. Gold is great 10% of the time and competent (the level above passable in my arbitrary ratings) 90%.

  18. I don’t see how Skymiles is any better. They don’t even publish an award chart, only has a select few partners worth redeeming for, and zero chance to redeem for 3-class first. And a whole bunch of pesky YQ to go with those award tickets.

    UAMP has absolutely $0 YQ on any award ticket, has 3-class F on a variety of partners, and as long as you have any elite status, you KNOW you can get last domestic seat for 25,000 miles one-way, regardless of how outrageously high the cash fare is.

  19. I have to agree Lucky. I could have written your post myself – not as well I’m sure.

    I am a Longtime AA customer. I remember being Platinum flying those dang MD80s every other day.
    I remember when as a Platinum the AA gate agents and Stewardesses would notice I was a big time frequent flyer and provide extra service. I will get my 1 million mile deal in about 2 months.

    After that … probably start flying United or Delta. Why?
    #1 is the phone service has just gone to crap… And I don’t mean moderately crap I mean TOTAL CRAP.

    I had 1st class upgrades for me and the SO in January. I grabbed seat assignments early and got two seats apart from each other. Ok no problem I will call American Elite line and get two seats next to each other. After being on hold for about 5 min I had one of the rudest call center reps I have ever talked to on the line. It was so bad that I had to ask if this was the frontline call center or the elite line. This gal could not care less. And then after fiddling with the keyboard for 2 seconds she informed me primly “the seats are under Airport control”… Er how is that lady the flight leaves in 18 hours.

    Silence then “Sir I can’t change your seats it’s under Airport Control” I replied that is impossible if there is a glitch can you call the airport and get this straightened out. (btw I was flying out of a MAJOR US AA hub…) No I can’t do that for any status. Ok let me talk to a supervisor… (pause) and then I’m talking to some “supervisor” who was just as rude and would not lift a finger to help me.

    M’kay – I get on the AA site and change my seats myself (so much for “Airport Control”)
    Take your pick she was “lying”, “didn’t have access due to Computer problems”, “wanted to get on to a customer doing reservations to earn money”. or whatever but that was like the WORST phone experience outside of government I have ever had. And it was something that WAS POSSIBLE online so the excuse they used was bogus

    I’m venting a bit but still it’s no secret AA is now made up of prior America West and US Air personnel. Employees known for their lack of customer service. Is it any wonder that the old AA has gone to crap?

    Time to punish AA for a bit and then they will inevitably realize they ran off their frequent flyers and sweeten the pot. But I bet that at least for International I’m gone for good. It will be JAL, KLM from now on.

    Angry Flyer

  20. I’d agree with you but Delta not even posting a reward chart and the stories of them changing the prices on mileage redemption flights during the checkout process is troubling to me. At least with American I know the chart and there is no guessing on how much a reward ticket will cost.

    I don’t think this is a race to the bottom. Its more of a race to charge for things they didn’t charge for yesterday. They are taking away the benefits they rewarded loyal customers with and now making money on those items. Its frustrating as there really isn’t anywhere else to turn.

    United and Delta are basically equal with their programs now with slight deviations for each.

  21. @ lopere – allowing the comments through? Like not participating in censorship should garner some sort of award? Lucky considers himself a writer, which is fine, I have no issue with that. I have issue with the fact that he is deliberately withholding information from his readers, which seems a bit unethical, and brings up issues of trust. It makes me question everything he writes when it comes to his reviews because who knows what other information he is withholding. The only excuse he could have is some sort of NDA with UA, which in that case, I would understand, but I highly highly doubt that is the case.

  22. What about foreign options? Does BA make sense or would it be better to stick to a US based carrier like AS?

  23. Ben, starting last year I decided to move all my flights to AA to achieve Executive Platinum status. Right now I have 81.000 EQM miles, so I need only 19.000 more until the end of this year to achieve my goal. With all these changes, I’m really considering changing my airline. You said Delta is a better airlines and has a better program, but is SkyTeam a good alliance to have status? Wouldn’t Star Alliance or OneWorld be a better choice? If I go SA, would you say United is the best choice to have elite status? Considering that my main goal earning miles is to redeem on business/first class awards on great airlines (Singapore, Qatar, Etihad, etc..). Thank you!

  24. Can someone enlighten me on why Lucky can no longer fly on UA anymore? What was the ban for?

  25. The thing I love about Delta is that Skyclubs often stay open until after hours due to crying/stranded Delta passengers, which is great when I have a flight that leaves T4 at an odd hour.

    They’re perfectly tolerable when the wheels don’t fall off (figuratively speaking), but when they do, they are. the. worst.

  26. @Lucky when are you going to address that Delta is your only option now due to the lifetime United ban? I bet you the Points Guy will be pushing people to move from AA to United soon

  27. LMAO; Delta is just the same as any of the Big 3! And there is no difference between them. Just wait a couple months and watch your free upgrades go to their “new” premium economy class that they are sure to announce.

    Oh and btw have your ever tried to use your delta skymiles???? Try and get back to me.

    This basically means that people who mileage run on cheap tickets are done finally and people who spend thousands on tickets will finally have some breathing room when it come to other elites.

  28. What’s the story about being banned from UA/MileagePlus?? Sounds juicy! Seems like people know something I don’t, would love to learn more 🙂

  29. It is strange that this post is still skewed towards US carriers elite programs. Maybe u fly domestic Y really a lot, and hence u need to have Y upgrades.

    UA has not made peace with u, so if u have to kick AA out, it has to be DL.

    But else, u shld really compare to non-US elite program. BA gives lounge access for US domestic flights. A really good alternative to AA while staying within 1-world.

    But still, i would enjoy ur switch to DL as we finally get to read more abt skyteam.

  30. Where you mention that the fact that the Flagship Lounges are going to all business class, don’t be surprised when American gets rid of first class altogether, since in terms of innovation they only innovate after Delta and United innovate first, and American’s innovation is copying the other two.

    American’s first class cabin days are numbered…irrespective of their re-branding on certain select routes on their 777-300s.

  31. @ Keith — Goodness, you really have an axe to grind, since many of your comments seem to revolve around this.

    I won’t be discussing my situation with United further, and I hope you can respect that. I’ll simply say there’s a lot of misinformation out there surrounding it. If that makes me an untrustworthy source, I certainly see why you’d feel that way, and respect that. Perhaps my site isn’t for you then.

    To clarify, the reason I didn’t discuss United’s program instead of Delta’s program is that I think Delta has a far better value proposition (I have no problem discussing United otherwise — I’m doing a post shortly about status match opportunities, and will certainly mention the options available through United as well).

    But seriously, this just comes down to the frequent flyer program and to the product. Look at United’s onboard product. They don’t have any planes with direct aisle access from every seat in business class, while all Delta widebody planes have direct aisle access from every seat in business class. United Polaris? That’ll be rolled out over the next six years.

    In terms of their frequent flyer program, United doesn’t waive the revenue requirement for top tier elites through credit card spend, doesn’t offer sizable elite qualifying miles for credit card spend, doesn’t offer rollover miles, has inferior lounges, has fare restrictions on their systemwide upgrades, etc. Sure, they work for some people, but objectively I think Delta’s program nowadays is better in most ways, and I’ll expand on that in a follow-up post which has a side by side comparison.

    Yes, you can redeem MileagePlus miles for international first class which I think is great, but the costs are high. I’d note that in most cases you can get better value through LifeMiles, and those miles can be purchased at a lower cost.

  32. I agree completely. I was a charter Delta DM, and switched to the non-revenue aa program even with sub par service. I’ll go back to delta now.

  33. Agree with Keith regarding Lucky’s lack of transparency about UA. It diminishes the credibility of otherwise well-written articles like this. Lucky, please be more forthcoming about your limitations on UA or at least mention it in passing.

  34. I’m definitely a Delta fanboy, but I would say that some of the complaints you have might just be life. Delta has a large fleet of ex-NW A319s and A320s which are in similarly bad shape to the ex-US A320s and A321s, and the Delta merger completed a lot longer time ago. They are finally being updated, and they have at least had Comfort+ seating for a long time, but don’t have in-seat IFE (only wifi-based streaming IFE) nor power. So Delta’s fleet is hardly perfect, though I do think on the whole it’s probably better than AA’s.

    The whole “drips and drops” announcements of negative changes is also no better than Delta. For a while it felt like Delta made a negative change with little warning once a month or more, mostly on minor things but a few more substantial changes as well. Lately there have been a number of positive announcements, so perhaps we’re on an upswing, but it’s far from being a stable program the way AAdvantage was for a long time.

    That said, I do think Delta is running a great airline these days. I honestly look forward to flying on them, and would even choose them over many European carriers in longhaul business class. And Lucky, while Delta may not treat top elites quite as well as AA once did ExPlats, the elite treatment can be quite good — the Diamond phone agents and even many of the Gold and Platinum agents are excellent, and the elite program seems to be getting better overall.

  35. Lucky, please be more forthcoming about your limitations on UA. When united had a mistake fare, you were the only one defending them, while everybody was using it to their advantage(trying to get on their good side?). Now you are not even trying to go to them. You defense does not make sense since nobody fly’s on them by their own choice(redeem miles on their partners).

  36. One BIG problem with Delta. You can’t redeem for F awards.

    Second problem with Delta, its hard to value their miles at more then about 1.2 cents.

    Third problem, no upgrades on discount economy fares. So great fares may not be upgradeable if that is what your hoping to get out of the loyalty program.

    It is a real shame that all 3 carriers really only offer discount programs. I am flying less now but with less stress about upgrades clearing now as I only buy on longer then 2 hour flights business/first class. And I am spending less money then ever. Just like you I have been enjoying $1200-$1500 European fares, and $1700 Asian fares without availability issues like before. For credit card points I have switched to a cash back. I think that is where the best points now are.

  37. Is that minimum spend required to to be on tickets bought with American directly? They cannot know how much I spent on partner tickets, right? So those of us who do only 4-6 flights on AA directly and collect many of the miles on partner airlines won’t get any status anymore…?

  38. @ the people who are against redeeming Delta miles.

    I mostly fly United but just glancing around for Delta flights, redeeming round trip in the states for 25k is pretty easy. Tons of available flights to do it.

    Internationally I find a lot of flights available for First Class with using 62.5 miles (which isn’t that bad really).

    I don’t get where all of this, “It’s so hard to book award flights on Delta.” Comes from. I get that people hate that their award chart isn’t published, but come on. All of us that have been doing this for a while have a general idea what the chart should be, and you can EASILY find flights that at good mileage points and there is a lot of availability out there.

    It’s like it was mentioned once on the internet and now everyone believes that’s the case.

  39. DL certainly has the best product over.
    1. Fully flat direct aisle access on all Intl widebodies.
    2. Full fleet of updated international 757s
    3. They’re in the process of updating the current 738s to have AVOD and other interior changes.
    4. Domestic 757s are almost done and from my experience, is quite an impressive mod.
    5. ex-NW A320/A319s are about half way (maybe more) through the modification process. Although the A320s aren’t getting AVOD immediately, it has been announced they will be getting it.
    6. The MD90s/MD88s/717s are actually quite nice even though there are no PTVs. Plus expect the MD88s to disappear as C-Series arrive on the property.
    7. In terms of the RJs, the CR7s are being redone (pretty nice experience on CLE-LGA two weeks ago), CR9s are next on the list (a good majority of them are new as it is) and the Embraers are nice jets. Unless you’re flying to the middle of nowhere it’s very easy to avoid the CR2s and E145s.
    8. Friendlier agents and employees in general in my experience.
    9. Excellent route network. ATL is not as bad as some people make it out to be, T4 is recently renovated in NY, DTW has an excellent facility, MSP ranks highly on a consistent basis, etc.

    So maybe AA will be worth going back to once they get their on board product up to a competitive status or DL drastically changes their program.

    And obviously, excluding the real reason Lucky is excluding UA, UA falls under the “worst of both worlds” category.

  40. O.K., this is more suspensful than a cliff-hanging reunion episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Somebody spill the beans – why is Lucky banned from United?? I’m dying to know.

  41. I think your analysis misses one big factor and that is the nature of your week in, week out flying and if it is domestic or international primarily. UAs E+ policy is currently way better than DL or AAs and with no prem Y yet announced l hope it stays that way for the near future. As the airlines figure out how to maximize F sales and domestic upgrades get harder the realty is you are going to find your butt in your ticketed cabin more often. You might as well go in knowing you are going to like what you can get.

  42. Do what I’ve done. Stop chasing status altogether.

    I get most of the perks of status in two other ways:
    1) Using status matches to maintain status with foreign airlines (which has the added benefit of domestic lounge access);
    2) Using co-branded credit cards to “plug the holes” on alliances with which I don’t have status.

    It took a while to reconcile myself to this, for one reason — complimentary domestic upgrades. But seriously, analyze your travel patterns and consider how valuable domestic upgrades are:
    a) a majority of my travel is international anyway;
    b) a majority of my domestic travel is either sub-3hrs or JFK-LAX/SFO. My foreign airline status entitles me to free Main Cabin Extra seating so, on a short flight, I frankly don’t miss First Class. And on JFK-LAX/SFO, free upgrades almost never clear any more, MCE on the AA 321s is really good, and if I really need business class, there’s Mint.

    Every few years, I might buy a cheap business class round-the-world ticket on partner airlines to get fresh status and start matching again. But chasing domestic status has become a fool’s errand.

    Play smarter.

  43. Because of all the changes to AA, I did a status match from Exec Platinum to Gold MVP 75k, so I can earn miles (and the 125% bonus). I can still fly on American (useful for all my south american flights) and accrue mileage based on distance. The only thing is that upgrades are limited to Alaska flights. If you have the Executive Mastercard you still get Admiral Club access. The only thing i’m really missing is the SWUs but I feel it’s worth it for the extra miles that I can redeem. Would you consider crediting everthing to AS? Or do you need more OneWorld perks?

  44. “Airlines are trying to change consumer behavior and get people to pay for the cabin they want to fly, even if it’s at a steep discount. With these kind of prices, it’s sort of the best option.”


    If you’d asked me 10 years ago whether I’d ever pay for business class tickets, I would have laughed. Why do that when you can get upgrades so easily? The airlines have smartened up. Fortunately, they’ve also realized that they can sometimes charge less for business class than they used to, and that has allowed me to fly business class almost as much as before.

    (PS: For those of you obsessed with Lucky’s saga with UA: WHO CARES??? If you think his blog is biased, fine, but why obsess about it? It’s a source of information like any other on the web, and all sources of information are biased in one way or another. Your job as an information consumer is to look at multiple sources before concluding anything, and certainly before buying anything.)

  45. Would you really give up One World status for Delta and Sky Team? Why not look at BA or CX programmes?

  46. The UA comments are definitely interesting.

    “I won’t be discussing my situation with United further, and I hope you can respect that. I’ll simply say there’s a lot of misinformation out there surrounding it.”

    What information has been discussed (did you write a post about it)? How do some people know about this but others don’t?

  47. Ben,

    I’ll take the bet– please DO switch to Delta for a few months and give us the unvarnished view.
    My take remains that Delta’s simply an unreliable business partner (I waited nearly an hour in DC the other day to simply do ‘bag drop’ for Delta) and they will continue to find ways to ‘game’ even their best customers. They SAY they are the best, but I don’t necessarily think the story Delta tells reflects reality. After my bag drop ordeal the other day (and a two hour security wait– no ‘premium line’ and no ‘Pre=Check’ open…) my inbound DL flight was then two hours late. DL site says “100% ontime”, whereas the FlightStats database shows only 70%. DL lies about “ontime” and “cancellation” rates, plain and simple.

    I simply don’t believe a thing DL says– and I think they will drive you insane after 3 months of chasing Diamond on the them. But, please do it and give us the “I switched and here’s what happened” story…

    And, yes, AA phone support is ATROCIOUS these days. It’s really much worse since the merger.
    I’m trying to use Systemwides for next month’s trip to LHR and it’s excruciating doing it via “EXP phone support”.

  48. The noose is tightening, folks. The airlines are going to reward passengers who pay real money for real seats on their aircraft and add real money to their bottom line.

    Folks here are desperately switching their loyalty every year as they cling to a gravy train that is rapidly accelerating out of the station. Your days of top status, lounge access and upgrades in exchange for a few thousand dollars of spend on a couple of mistake fare tickets are over.

    Suggest that folks start looking for road-warrior jobs at companies with generous travel policies if they want to continue to stay in the airlines’ good graces. That’s the only group the airlines are interested in rewarding, so find your way into it.

  49. Interesting post as everything you do I go check your site out almost every day! I understand why you are disappointed but shouldn’t you also take into consideration the people who spend a lot of money (as I am flying once a month to Europe business class sometime with my whole family). It can be seen as unfair that someone who spends much less than me gets as many miles as I do and makes it harder for me to redeem on the flights I want? It seems that revenue-based programs are the most fair (Starbucks even caught on 😉 )

    All the best I hope to meet you on a flight one day!

  50. I just got the email from AA on the changes. The issue that I am most upset about is the changes to the upgrade list. Now Upgrade priority will be based on a 12-month rolling EQD total, sorted by elite status level.

    I will be going back to Mileage Plus.

  51. For those that really care, the Rolling Stone article on Lucky talks about his being banned from United. http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/ben-schlappig-airlines-fly-free-20150720?page=5 (tl;dr: alleged gamification of United apology vouchers. It’s not really that interesting.)

    As for Delta, the two main issues for me is that their miles are worth less, and their route network doesn’t work for me. As a West Coaster I travel through e.g. Chicago often enough for work, and using a stopover for SFO-ORD isn’t worth it; and my parents live on Long Island, so flying UA through Newark is a non-option. So, AA for me, for now, although I’ll likely switch to AS once their VX merger is done.

    But, apart from that, they’re a good choice for the traveler who doesn’t care about FF status. My sister is a perfect example; she flies Delta mostly, lives in NY so their route network is excellent, and earns just enough miles to score the free transcon, and is pretty happy with them. Note that Lucky is distinguishing the FF *elite program* from the mileage earning and redemption, of which Delta is subpar (except in the occasional business class sweet spots).

  52. @Bgriff Having flown on one of those Delta A320’s in F I must say it was the worst domestic F experience of my life. I literally could not even open my tray table when the seat in front of me reclined. This was during meal service and when I asked the FA for assistance I could tell she was pretty embarrassed. Kudos to DL though for offering a substantial mileage credit when I wrote in. While I am mostly loyal to UA, I’ll continue to fly with DL, but will certainly avoid those legacy aircraft.

  53. Accruing status on DL will not get you an upgrade on the Transcon routes, FYI. Turns out those aren’t eligible for upgrade (perhaps they will be to comfort plus, I haven’t flown JFK-SFO or JFK-LAX since that became a new fare class). But if you or your employer only pay for coach tickets, it is coach you will be seated in, no upgrades to biz class.

  54. “Now Upgrade priority will be based on a 12-month rolling EQD total, sorted by elite status level”

    So you mean that AA will upgrade those who spend the most money on their airline?


  55. I’ve been buying AA premium seats for a while now. I fly international from the West Coast to Europe and cost has continued to drop on international J with advance purchase. I’m conflicted about the value of status at this point. For me, having award ticket availability in premium cabins is about the only benefit I still use. Every third international flight is a premium cabin award ticket. Delta has better international business class seats but it’s cost is typically higher for my routes. Hopefully, AA will step up their game and reconfigure their wide body planes sooner, rather than later.

  56. I think, not many people find some cheap business class.
    But it still important to have a program because like you said we can buy tickets with miles on partners airlines, Cathay for American so why you not do a statut match with a OneWorld program?

  57. I think airlines devaluing loyalty programs is a positive trend. Once they’ve eroded all loyalty they might have to actually compete on the product, service and price…

  58. I completely agree that AAdvantage got a lot worse over the last year. but, sorry, I don’t see how Delta is the better option: SkyPesos is still a miserable program: no award chart and closest to revenue-based redemption; ridiculous actual redemption rates for premium cabins; worst partners – I’d take Cathay or SQ over the Chinese carriers any day…
    Loyalty is dead, free agent is the way to go: get PriorityPass via CitiPrestige, buy the best value business class ticket you can find and enjoy the trip!

  59. @Bgriff “Delta has a large fleet of ex-NW A319s and A320s”

    You said it. My favorite route was switched over recently to a ex-NW DL319 and it’s truly miserable. Cramped, old, dirty, noisy, and pax facilities poor repair. When it was on a DL 737, the experience was much better. At least the employees are much better at DL (though there are stars at AA as well).

  60. Why not move to a non-US based program? OZ has an excellent *A qualification requirement, and so does TK. Sure, they don’t provide E+ upgrades on United, but if you are only looking to get lounge access and are already thinking of purchasing J class tickets with cash, the better option is to use a program that awards you per mile instead of per dollar.

    I am not sure about OW carriers, but I think AB, EK and JL are great programs too, no?

  61. So how long before Gary posts about how Lucky is wrong about Delta Skymiles and partially wrong about AAdvantage?

  62. Worst thing about DL is Skyteam, literally a collection of airlines people actively avoid. Obviously there’s a few good products like KE F, but you can’t redeem miles for those. It’s not bad if you’re mainly flying domestically or DL metal overseas, but other than that they’re bit of a joke. Oneworld is still by and large the best alliance when it comes to rewarding loyalty, with emeralds getting F lounges, F redemptions, F check in, etc.

    Forget comp domestic upgrades and go with a foreign airline like BA, you’re getting free AC access when flying domestically (granted, credit cards give you the same) and you can still select MCE seats for free, and honestly, on AA is there really much of a difference between MCE and F? Maybe meals on long flights, but they’re gross anyhow. Perfectly reasonable compromise. Also worth mentioning how hilariously easy and cheap it is to get status, have a look at FT’s TP run thread.

  63. @ Owen – It’s a bit of a moving target. In my case, the most useful has been Qantas, but that was a limited-time offer for residents of certain countries. Search google and flyertalk for the latest best match offers, and keep your eye on these blogs.

  64. I don’t have an axe to grind, I’m just really disappointed. I’ve followed your blog for years, and have always loved the reviews, but the fact that you won’t even mention your UA ban is a flaw on your part, especially when you are a miles blogger. You miss out on an entire potential market by not discussing UA, and I find it interesting that you said you won’t go beyond what you’ve already said when you really haven’t said anything.

  65. The 3US carriers are still not as bad as British airways though. What a joke of an airline. I agree that Delta offers a much better product though.

  66. The AAdvantage program going revenue based sucks big time. I have a long transatlantic flight which would have given me some 12,000+ miles round trip and now it is devaluated to a mere cross-country stint (I will get some 5,000 miles even with the gold “bonus”). What a load of crap. The ONLY way to earn miles effectively is to sign-up for cards and drop them 11 months later, and repeat the cycle. Flying itself? Negligible contribution, so why bother flying AA?

  67. The consolidation in the airline industry – and others – serves one constituency: the company and it’s shareholders. This entire discussion reminds me of why I avoid Black Friday with national retailers, etc. and either “opt outside” with REI, or participate in Shop Small Business after Black Friday around the holidays. Bigger (reference to the Big Three US airlines) is rarely better – only frequency and perhaps where you want to go.

    There was a great article in Time magazine about a growing crisis in capitalism and the airline industry is a microcosm of that, with frequent fliers getting the shaft. Indeed, AA is falling right into their slot in the race to the bottom, as the big three choose greed over serving customers.

    Times are changing.

  68. The Upgrade priority is a big change. The time of ticketing was an advantage when flying AA, but now it is a rolling EQD total. At least UA is fare code within elite level.

  69. I still think DL’s secret weapon is Pay With Miles, especially as a DM. Pay just enough cash for the fare to get full MQM, then upgrade to J with a regional or global cert.

    Sky Club access for DMs is also a very lucrative benefit, which means Lucky may not have to make serious rearrangements to his credit card lineup.

  70. If anyone from United Corporate reads this blog, I think it is time to get your act together and offer Lucky a pardon. Now is the time to lure him back…

  71. Match to AS MVP75K.
    Give up domestic upgrades
    Still have free priority seating
    125% mileage bonus.


  72. After flying AA for 40 years and watching the changes a I am concerned but this extends to all mileage programs. I find it interesting how it seems in the last six months the deals for points or miles seem to have exploded…these were once seen as “currency” but they depend on the rules of the redeemers and as you can see those rules are changing and devaluing these points or miles…I suspect you will see that in reality they have not changed as the higher bonus are balanced by the lower redemption value. Now to AA:
    AA has a huge amount of “debt” buried in their miles held by membership. They have the freedom to change the rules at will and thus reduce their “debt”. The idea of loyalty in today’s world is much eroded and of little value. Look at your own posts about the great deals to be found everywhere…this results in spreading the cash around different programs not based on loyalty but on value. I believe AA, as well as others, see this change and see a serious competitive field where loyalty is becoming weak.
    Finally class. The real travelers of first class were the rich. Price was not an issue. But these rich no longer fly commercial…they fly leased or membership leased. The real dollars come from business class where olives are served instead of caviar. Imagine the savings on the service differences between first and business. So I think you will see more reduction of first class and conversion into business class seats. Conversion from business to premium coach. The biggest savings being, as you already mentioned, the significant reduction in cost to the airline of upgrade certificate usage.
    Loyalty in business is becoming transparent…more so as global forces and choices enter the market place.

  73. I agree with many of the comments. At this point, status is far better earned on a foreign carrier. Yes, you won’t get complimentary upgrades, but those are increasingly scarce anyway as they reduce cabin size and decrease the difference in cost between economy and first class.

  74. This is by far the best discussion I have seen. Thank you guys! Ben if there is misinformation out there, you need to provide your correct version. I have no idea what’s going on but sounds eventful.

    It does not matter you pay or free upgrade, you will have same carp service in first class with AA. I just did Mexico city to Dallas in First with AA, rudest cabin crew. Seriously why bother?

  75. Flew American 10 days ago from Seattle to Dublin with transfer at O’Hare on a business class ticket. Got call 12 hours before flight out of Seattle that it was canceled and I was switched to a later flight in a different cabin class. Later flight allowed one hour for connection at O’Hare.

    I was near the airport so I went to American ticket counter and advised them of concern about one hour for time connection. They got me on an Alaska flight as an alternative but in economy.

    I would have expected some kind of email follow-up with an offer of a partial refund duebto change in cabin class, but didn’t hear from them.

    I did go online and sent in a complaint because the web site did not have an obvious way to submit the request under refunds.

    As for the business class seat on Airbus A330, I would rank the business class experience behind Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Delta. I won’t look again for American business class sales and will look at other Alaska partners for Europe flights. I won’t fly American to Australia or New Zealand.

    Don’t care about their FF program. Nothing they offer could beat Alaska.

  76. In 2016, I am about 60k EQM work travel, 30k leisure travel, 10k for the credit card. Maybe 4 segments for the year out of 80 or so will end up on DL or WN, the rest on AA/AS.

    In 2017, assuming the same work travel patterns, my 60k of work travel will end up being:
    – 25k on DL on routes where DL is superior in every way if you’re stuck in coach
    – 15k of AA flying credited to BA when I get get a good deal to buy up to A for a connecting flight and get 120-270 tier points, and
    – 20k on AA when my last year of upgrades will clear.

    My 30k of leisure travel? 10k on BA in WT+ or J so I can qualify for BA Gold, 10k of award travel, and 10k of just not flying anywhere, maybe a driving vacation, maybe just staying home.

    So AA will lose about 55k of my current 90k of flying, plus their profit from 45-50k of credit card spend. And I’m not a pure leisure traveler…

    I’m not sure which consulting firm AA hired to figure this amount of genius out.

  77. AAdvantage is a loyalty program. As an EP who flies more than 250K miles a year with AA I have given them my loyalty. And thanks to the loyalty of all the AAdvantage members American is one the leaders in profitable airlines. How to they replay their most loyal flyers – they slash our benefits when they start making record profits.

    So I vote with my dollars. I am already EP for next year (I flew over 100K miles in the first 100 days of this year). United did a status match with me today in under 2 hours. I am now 1K on United for the next 90 days and all I have to do is fly 30K miles in that 90 day period to keep that benefit through January 2018.

    Honestly, even without the devaluation of the AA program I was considering this change. I am just tired for rude, unhappy flight attendants and gate agents, old aircraft and Wifi that doesn’t work. Maybe this is for the best.

  78. Switch to Delta, be in that program for a year or more, and then let us know how it all works out. You know the grass is always perceived to be greener on the other side. In reality, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

  79. Try as I may, I can’t possibly bring myself to read the repetitive and (some) snarky comments. I have respect for Ben and don’t care about the nasties. I guess you don’t know Ben. Your loss.

    I went for a million miles on AA the easy way, when it was possible and did 75% of it in one year. I was formerly treated to wonderful service with the Gold phone line. I was recently treated so rudely by an agent that I was amazed. I only treat agents with respect BTW. Availability for awards is down to zip so the value of my miles is diminishing. Certainly AA had taken a nose dive in the customer service arena. I blame the US Air work mentality.

    Ben, the one big factor missing in the discussions of the bloggers (all) is the fact that we have very different profiles and need to have information that deals with that. The frequent business travelers, who fly on the company’s buck, and use the status earned for upgrades and miles for vacations are only one group. Loyalty to and status with a single program is certainly one profile, as such. They may be your most important readers.

    However, I am representative of another group – no business travel at all. We earn our miles and status differently. We probably are more likely free agents taking opportunities where they are presented at any given time. Chasing annual status is getting really tough for us with the revenue based programs. Therefore, my lifetime gold AA status is probably all I will ever attain on any airline.

    Having said that, I am not an unhappy camper because I can managet lounge access with credit cards and only fly in the front of the plane because of working hard to accumulate miles any way possible.

    Those like me don’t really care much about which program we utilize at any given time. I just put my miles to work and fly the world as much as I want. Loyalty to a single program has become less and less important as we are treated worse and worse. How can the airlines miss this point?

  80. Great Rolling stones article! Ben makes a million bucks a year off blogging! Who knew eh? Banned from United Airlines for life yikes! However it does sound like he gamed the system a bit much. I have a buddy in Dallas that got banned from AA for selling his EXP upgrades.

    Anyhow played golf today with a buddy who does 250K a year on Delta. He said forgetaboutit! Like Tony Soprano! Go with whatever airlines has the best fare. He just starting flying Emirates off my recommendation (he loved them) It’s all about being a free agent now. I have AA PLAT for life but now after today forget it. Whoever has the best C Z J A or F fare is my new friend.

  81. Interesting, informative, well-structured post. Screw the haters.

    i must get really lucky on the AA phone line. I have no status, but have always had great service when dealing with agents about reward tickets.

    The delta no-award-chart gripe is interesting to me. The AA chart prices are so seemingly random, the chart is almost pointless. Looking at a ticket for july, my one way ranged from 15k to 62.5k depending on the day. Even SAAver or AAnytime were significantly different from day-to-day.

    I’m looking forward to the Delta reviews and comparisons!

  82. DL has had more time to work through its merger with NW and integrate and standardize its planes, though as noted still has some bum Airbuses…not to mention that huge fleet of MD90s. AA has been at it for a year…and UA is still a mess after three years (or has it been four?) admitting finally that it has the worst business class seat in the air (tied with BA) and will only start changing for real over the next few years. Don’t know the UA story, but any complaint about losing the Flagship lounges is now matched by UA changing its F lounges into Polaris lounges. AA will still have an international F service for a while longer, UA is phasing it out. If AA does introduce a Spend reduction tied to its credit card, then as UA and DL have had to do, non-US residents should be relieved of the spend requirement, as they have no access to an AA credit card…that’s why those other carriers do this.

    We all knew this was coming, though AA really should have phased all this in as of January 2017 instead of mid-year. And it should have been able to tell us how partner flights will be credited. As for moving to AS, yes it’s still a very good program with fine benefits if you fly throughout the west coast. And for sure those AA flights will not credit at 100% mileage…look for revisions to partner earning charts in the coming months for AA flights.

  83. Oneworld is inherently 50000x better than Skyteam. The airlines, the first class lounge access, etc.

    The only people who complain about these changes are the people who try to get the most perks for the bare minimum amount of money. The rest of us who pay for business/first class seats on a regular basis no longer have to fight for upgrades with the guy who spent 1/10th of what we did. “Skymiles is the best program” is a very difficult statement to take seriously, seeing how they don’t even have an award chart and just charge whatever they very well please for a certain route.

    These changes are not a surprise at all, and are simply matching the competition. The majority of loyalty programs around the world are revenue based, and why shouldn’t it be that people who spend more money should get more? The grass always seems greener on the other side; so have fun.

  84. Hi All,

    In response to the haters, aka those who take offense that Lucky hasn’t revealed details regarding his United lifetime ban and didn’t mention them in this post, I say this: If he thought United was a serious contender for his loyalty, he would’ve mentioned them. I’ll let you in on a little secret that further explains the absence of United in his post: No one actually wants to fly United.

    Personally, I value airline experience over loyalty programs. That’s just me. I am a college student studying film, and find myself traveling mostly within the U.S. for film festivals and other events. I will be the first to say that SkyTeam is weak AF (and I’m not talking about their only good partner, Air France … get it? So funny, I know). I’ve been faithful to Delta for about two years — here’s why:

    1) Employees. It’s easy to tell when someone enjoys what they do and when they do not. Almost every employee I encounter on the ground or in the air genuinely seems to enjoy what they do, and it comes through in their work. For me, this is one of the most important traits of any good business. Delta runs one of the biggest ships in the business, and they consistently deliver on quality service. There will always be someone with the “I was stranded in ATL for 72 hours” story, but let me say this: I would bet there have been more horror stories born out of ORD and EWR than anywhere else in the world (#UnitedSucks).

    2) Phone support. I am only a Gold Medallion (might make PM this year, which is kind of cool) and I can honestly say I enjoy calling Delta. I rarely wait more than a minute, if at all, and nine times out of 10 the customer service rep is quick, knowledgeable, and friendly. Again, they really seem to enjoy what they do. One time, I wanted to plan a fairly complicated trip and called Delta to ask a few questions. I happened to get a rep who was so giddy about maximizing miles accrued that she spent almost an hour on the phone excitedly trying different routes for me. Many times I’ve had change fees slashed in half, and, occasionally, waived completely. While SkyMiles are not the strongest currency, I really do believe that Delta’s phone support showcases something important: They still go out of their way to award loyal customers.

    3) Hubs. Have you ever been to Detroit? It’s SO nice (the airport, not as much the city itself). Atlanta is huge, and I do try to avoid it, but there are many great food, relaxation and entertainment options if a layover is necessary. JFK’s remodeled Terminal 4 is great as well.

    4) Website and app. For some reason this isn’t highlighted nearly as often as quality customer service, even by Delta fans, and I have to say it’s one of my favorite parts of the airline. Sure, Delta doesn’t post an awards chart, but otherwise, their website makes so much sense. Have you ever tried booking tickets on American’s site? Sheesh. I really appreciate good technology, and honestly, American’s website and app are a joke. AND let’s not forget about their lack-of-confirmation-email problem. “Click, just spent $400 on a ticket. There it goes. Do you know where? Nope, who knows. Surely didn’t receive any kind of email whatsoever.” Lastly, I think it’s the ultimate compliment to say that sometimes I almost prefer booking my tickets via the Fly Delta app because it’s so easy to use. The website works just as well, but the app is great for on-the-go bookings and updates. Especially as a young person, I love how Delta is genuinely tech-savvy.

    5) Food. Just last week, I was upgraded to First and the flight attendant informed me that the day’s meal option was a burger. “Oh, great,” I thought. “A burger on an airplane, how good can it be?” Honestly, it was pretty good. Sure, airline food will never be quite as good as restaurant-quality cuisine, but the bun was fluffy and toasted, the lettuce was crunchy and the meat was fine. And this was a late evening flight. Try getting late-night food on American. Even in Comfort+™, Delta does a good job with food. The Luvo wraps between LAX and JFK are so good, especially with the nice side of hummus and grapes.

    6) Reliability. In the last two years, I’ve flown approximately 50 segments on Delta. Only once did I have a cancellation (for weather), and three times was delayed (again, for weather, which is excusable). Getting delayed or cancelled is never great, but the app keeps passengers fully apprised of changing information.

    Anyone out there want to challenge me on United?


  85. We obviously aren’t going to resolve the DL-vs-AA-vs-UA-thing here. I’d truly, honestly, like to see Ben try to do the switch (no cheating. no “I’m a famous blogger” when booking tix with the phone people) and see how it goes on DL starting with No Status.

    My case remains that they are all equally mediocre on a clear day, with no delays in their major hubs and no ATC holds in the system.

    Where it goes meltdown-bad for me on DL is always because of an old broken-down DC9/MD8x or a thunderstorm in ATL or snow in MSP… and how they TREAT you once their misery spills over onto me.
    I really think the DL rules are always stacked against you on an IRROPS day… and that’s where you start hearing about DL-unique “rules” regarding routing and fare-classes and re-booking limitations and inventory they’ll willingly re-book you on. The fact that you usually can’t even get a seat assignment on the airline is exacerbated 100X when they are in IRROPS.

    I have no beef with the in-air DL people, but the ground staff are simply the worst. Not enough of them got fired/RIF’d during ‘the bad times’ and they make it their job to make the ground experience miserable on IRROPS days.

    AT the end of the day, it’s a ‘service business’ and what counts is how they service you when things go bad, not when there are no problems.

  86. I was looking for an excuse to end 12 years of top tier flying … American West then US the American.

    Flying coach as an ex plat regularly, earning less points and needing more points… I appreciate AA working hard to give me no reason to justify the road any longer.

    Sad it want on my terms though. It wasn’t arrogant accountant-marketing strategy.

  87. I’m not surprised that Lucky has fallen out of love, and turned sour, on AA. He doesn’t really mention it, but I think AA’s move to priority sort upgrades on airline spend is a also a big death nail for him. Despite suggestions to the contrary, Lucky doesn’t spend big dollars on airfare (he’d easily be outclassed by a lot of regular corporate business class travellers, whose companies cough for flexible fares), he only pays for flights when they are at their cheapest or leverages points (which he also only accumulates at minimal cost).

    So all these changes hurt him and travel hackers like him the most. It’s closing time at the buffet, so to speak.

    All that said, I can’t imagine Lucky abandoning AAdvantage altogether. As a OneWorld scheme, it is the gateway to a lot of First lounges still (which Star Alliance and Skyteam don’t offer) and redemptions still have sweet points. So whether this is just a dummy spit for now, time will tell – I guess if we start seeing a series of Delta reviews written by Lucky then we’ll know.

  88. I phoned the EXP line today and canceled just shy of $20k in bookings on the spot. It felt amazing and the rep said a few other people had done the same in reaction to the announcement. I will rebook that travel tomorrow and a cursory search shows I will save approx $5k!

    I personally average $15-18k in AA spend per year but my actual expenditure when you consider I usually travel with my wife or a colleague its more than double that.

    I have been loyal to OneWorld since the day I was born only taking a non partner flight when traveling to somewhere without any oneworld service nearby, even then I would pay more for separate tickets to fly as far as I could on oneworld. I estimate that I have spent at least $50k just taking oneworld over the other options over the past 4-5 years alone.

    I earn my income freelancing and my contract I provided to clients stipulated that I would only travel non oneworld airlines if there was absolutely no way to get where I was going on oneworld. My contract also stipulated that absolutely all domestic/Canada/Caribbean/Mexico travel had to be on AA metal even going as far as flying between Bogota and San Salvador via DFW once. Today I sent an update to all clients stating that effective August 1st absolutely no travel may be booked on AA metal with the only exception being for travel to an area where I would have to drive over 150 miles from an airport served by another carrier or where travel time is over 4 hours longer on all other carriers (I can’t actually imagine this ever coming in to play though)

    I can’t wait to experience a bunch of other airlines products. It will be quite liberating to be able to book what is simply the cheapest business class fare. I will be more comfortable and will save tons of money (there has been countless times where I have taken AA in economy over a similarly priced business class fare on another carrier)

    Break ups are generally difficult but when you are cheated on countless times over the past year it is not only easy, it feels amazing!

    I seriously hope this crushes AAs back pocket, I know my personal cancelations and past spend mean nothing to them but I hope that if enough people do it they will realize how stupid they are for screwing around.

  89. Lucky – do you (or any other readers of this post) think that AAdvantage miles are still valuable for premium travel with partner airlines and/or originating internationally?

  90. @Keith. Why do u need Lucky to tell youyou whether you should switch to United? Arent you smart enough to make your own evaluations and conclusions? A blog is just an opinion, form your own like I do.

  91. I am also curious why you would not look at a foreign carrier in OneWorld which is such a clearly better alliance that Skyteam. With the exception (sometimes) of Delta I avoid most Skyteam carriers, and the Oneworld lounges in nearly every airport (Possibly except ICN where KE have their main operation) are hands down better. While CX Marco Polo and BA Executive Club are also revenue-based, they do not have specific revenue requirements.

  92. @AARON

    Yeah you need to actually fly more to get a sense of it. No offense intended, but most of us DL-haters fly over 200k miles a year.

    It’s not how good it is when things are going well. It’s how they treat you when the broken 757 comes in two hours late, busts your cxn and you get stuck in ATL again with a voucher for a hotel with no rooms a no food. DL did that to me 4 times in 2014. Never again.

    And, a burger? Really? In F/C?

  93. As a PHX based flyer, AA’s loyalty program caused some otherwise irrational behavior on my part when it came time to choose between AA and Southwest. Now, there really is not much reason to avoid Southwest anymore. I imagine I’ve been fairly lucrative for US and now AA, paying $400 or more for last minute one-ways to LAS or DEN or SFO, but when the time or price is better there is really no need to avoid business select on these short hops. It’s actually quite liberating.

  94. I find most FF programs these days to be so filled with conditions that I’d just rather buy business class tickets where and when I need them, then use the points later for flying friends and family around. I’m still stymied how I can be the second highest level of Air Canada Altitude, for example, yet only Star Alliance Silver. Just shopping for the lowest fare on the best quality airline from now on.

  95. @Lucky sez: “Delta is a better airline, and SkyMiles is a better elite program.”

    Only the first half of that statement is true, although not for long in view of UA’s new visionary CEO’s determination to undo $mi$ek’s damage to the operation side of UA. This means that now that the gutting of the dAArk side has just been completed, UA MileagePlus unquestionably reigns again as the better FF program among the US Big Three…really.

    The notion that “SkyMiles is a better elite program” is laughable considering that it is AA’s copying of Skymiles that has just turn AAdvantage into the FF that you are now considering leaving. Think about that and you might think twice about leaving AA. DL will be worse because at this point they are only nominally in the FF business 😉

  96. I have never had a business trip so I’m a pure leisure traveler. Given all the US based programs have become revenue based, I will just fly whichever airline has the best price and route.
    The past two years I have flown Delta as my main domestic carrier and I’m overall happy with that decision. I actually think that skyteam reviews could be vastly improved on this blog so it’s a wise decision on Lucky’s part to start flying Delta and redeeming skymiles for J flights on Aeroflot, Vietnam, Saudia, Tarom, etc.
    Everyone says skyteam alliance is weak but if you are based in JFK and mainly fly to CDG, MXP, FCO, SVO, NBO, ICN or other skyteam hubs, then you’ll see how cool and strong skyteam is!

  97. I crack up every time I read the pitchfork posts from catty queens against Lucky. Y’all are just jealous that he has a successful business and was able to monetize the thing he loves: flying. It’s a good old case of professional jealousy. I don’t care about his ban from UA. Over the years, he’s provided all of us (his loyal readers) with countless tips, tricks, etc. that we *ALL* took advantage of. I’d venture to say a ton of people reading this blog and criticizing Lucky are folks who’ve bought mistake fares or taken advantage of other “loopholes” or “sweet spots” that he’s blogged about. Go out and do something good for someone today, rather than trying to tear down a guy. The irony is that your venomous posts against him only draw more traffic to his site…and more ancillary revenue from clicks! ha ha! Thanks for being fabulous, Lucky…and I’m also considering a breakup with AA and becoming a free agent crediting AA/DL/soon to be VX to Alaska Air. “Sorry AA…I’m just not that into you AAnymore…”

  98. I’ve been an Executive Platinum for more than 15 years in a row and as I spend much more than $12k per year, the changes in the program won’t affect me at all. However, your comments on the deterioration of the services provided by AA are extremely accurate. The Admirals are overcrowded and mostly in shambles (it’s true that there’s some renewal on the way), the phone services for elite members are most useless and it’s common to have a very rude person, if not a bored one if you’re lucky, on the other side of the line.

    On board the crew in the business class is generally inattentive and the ones at the first class think they’re your pals. Once, due to a wrist injury, my wife, flying without me, needed a little help to put her carry on in the overhead bin (and she was flying first class in the 777-ER). Not only didn’t she get the help that she needed but she had to hear from the steward (a male) that he didn’t do it for anybody. She was helped by another passenger in horror from the attitude of the crew member. I could go on and on with a lot of things that I’ve been seen but to me this fact is the portrait of the general deterioration of the services provided by AA.

    Changes in the loyalty program are acceptable and necessary. Personally, I think that it became too easy to be an Executive Platinum and as someone else commented, I feel that changes are necessary, provided the services improve as well.

    As a side note, American apparently is ignoring or it’s not saying that once the changes are implemented it’ll be necessary 132,000 miles to renew the Executive Platinum status ($12,000 minimum expenditure X 11 miles per $1 spent). The required 100,000 miles applies only to people who have other status, but once you’re Executive Platinum it’ll always be 132,000 miles to renew. For instance, if you’re a Platinum member you’ll have to spend at least $12,500 to become an Executive Platinum (and that’ll be 100,000 miles under the new schedule).

  99. @Gus I guess these changes are forcing people to be rational. These are corporations, not people who will love you. I cannot fathom why anybody would do what you did. Going BOG-DFW-SAL? Really? Waste of time. That said, I’m jealous – what do you freelance in that allows you to create these contract terms?

  100. J Cool,
    I think you need to aquaint yourself with the difference between Elite Qualifying Miles and Redeemable Miles.

    Elite Qualifying Miles are still awarded the same way they are now, you can earn Executive Platinum with 100k miles in an Economy Seat or only 50k miles in a First Class seat. Difference now is you will need not only the qualifying miles but also the dollar spend. If you spend less than $30k on AA per year you are worse off in this new scheme.

  101. @Jason,
    I understand how companies work, I run my own company and if I treated my clients the same way AA treats its customers I would have gone out of business a log time ago.

    As for my work I am a photographer. I only know one other who sets his own travel terms and he requires all travel on Delta. It’s ballsy but I got fed up with clients wanting to send me on a different airline for every trip. Sure I have probably lost some work because of it but it’s work I probably don’t want anyway and even with my contract im still far too busy so it works for me.

    With regards to BOG-DFW-SAL it actually wasn’t terribly bad, the direct was sold out and options via PTY had long layovers or were poorly timed.

  102. Gus,
    It seems that in the new system only the 100,000 EQMs won’t do it. AA says that the EQDs are part of the requirement. Thus, under the new system, once you’re an ExecPlat you are required to spend at least $12k to renew your status, and that’ll give to you 132,000 EQMs. That’s just what I tried to point out.

  103. J Cool,
    Read again. There is nothing about 132k EQM anywhere in this.

    You need 100k EQM plus 12k in spend which will give you 132k RDM. Again there is a major difference between EQM and RDM and only one of them is awarded based on dollars spent.

  104. “There’s nothing cheap about loyalty”- Ryan Bingham

    Those words have never been so true. Loyalty = $$$$ now

  105. For those who speak of AA “elite desks”, it is common knowledge there is but one “desk”: Executive Platinum agents are in fact a separate group, albeit not at all the same since LAX was closed (a number of LAX agents moved to TUS), and when after that TUS closed (a number of agents chose not to move yet again) and BDL closed. So now we have a dearth of those knowledgeable agents who were helpful. Those I asked for by name are retired now, my loss.

    Platinum and Gold “desks” are merely prioritized lines into the general scrum of the phone bank for non-status and non-EXP or CK elites. There are no specially trained agents, just the same ones trained to pick up on a Platinum line call before a Gold line call, etc. It’s another AA marketing gimmick that there are Platinum and Gold “desks”; it will be interesting to see if they keep up the appearance of “desks” when they roll out Platinum Pro next year.

    Lucky, thanks for the reasoned article.

  106. Good discussion!

    One thing that has not come up is airlines like JetBlue who offer Mosaics no change fees, no cancellation fees, and no same day change fees & same day changes book in to any Y seat!

    I realize you have to live in a JetBlue city for this to be meaningful…

    However, the no change fee policy really gives me priceless flexibility and ease of travel!!! I don’t understand why more people are not as excited about no change fees or said another way why you are happy to pay a legacy airline $200 every time you make a simple date change?????!!!!!

    Lets take last night. I was running late to a dinner because of work, and also I had to give a ride to someone to the dinner. I just cancelled my JetBlue flight for Monday night, and flew the backup flight I had for Tuesday morning.

    Sure, as an AA EXP I could have gone to the airport and probably gotten an agent talked them in to booking me for the next day but with JetBlue or even Southwest or Alaska or Vigin America its just so simple and as an elite (cardmember also with VX) you totally don’t have to worry one iota about change fees.

    Also I think JetBlue’s same day policy allowing changes to any open Y seat is industry leading, and why don’t they get more credit for this? They just actually enhanced it so sy you have a 6:00am flight Monday morning, you can start making same day changes at 6:00am on Sunday. You can also change connection points, change co terminals, make as many changes as you want, etc. Its great!

    Yes I miss the upgrades somewhat but I’m literally saving thousands of dollars on change fees I change my flights almost every time for short east coast trips.

    Also there Mint is good and its expanding out of BOS!

  107. J Cool,
    Are you seriously that stupid that you cannot understand that you will not need to earn 132k EQM to get EXP.

    Go and read it again. Dollars are directly related to Redeemable Miles and have absolutely no correlation to Qualifying Miles.

    If you fly 100k Qualifying Miles and spend only $8k you wont be an EXP. If you fly 50k Qualifying Miles and spend $50k you wont be an EXP. You will only be an EXP if you fly 100k Miles and spend $12k which will result in 132k REDEEMABLE miles.

  108. I’m that stupid, thank you, and your last sentence ALMOST summed it up. However, your math is short because if you spend $50k you’ll get anything between 250k EQMs and 550k EQMs depending of your status. My whole stupid point was pointing out that AA’s new schedule doesn’t make sense due to the minimum required EQDs. Sorry that I bugged you.

  109. J Cool,
    You still don’t get it. Your dollar spend has no correlation to your EQM. So $50k does not equate to 250-550EQM it equated to 250-550 RDM.

    EQM are still based on miles flown.

    Please stop posting misinformation and have a read of the details.

  110. I’ve had an AAdvantage card (formerly US Airways card) and fly out of PHL, so I’ve been pretty wedded to AA, especially since they have the most direct flights to places I generally go. I’m a lowly Gold status person; if they don’t let me spply credit card miles to the qualifications I might not even make the grade for that next year. Bummer, if so.

    US Airways was better in so many ways…

  111. J. Cool and Gus. – so I think this is how it would work for me, considering in this example, that i fly between LBB and SEA. in the example i am making the assumption that the average fare without tax is $350 rt.
    Prior to the change (Old Way)
    LBB DFW 282 + 718 =1000
    DFW SEA 1659 + 1659 =3318
    SEA DFW 1659 + 1659 = 3318
    DFW LBB 282 + 718 = 1000
    Total 8,636 miles and EQM’s of 4,318 miles.
    So the old program was 100,000 EQM’s 100,000 divided by 4,318 miles = 24 round trips = 103,652 EQM’s. $350 times 24 round trips = $8,400 Thus in 2017 I would not qualify for EXP. (96 segments)

    Thus in Order to quality for EXP i would have to spend $12,000.
    Thus $12,000 divided by $350 equals 35 round trips rounded up.

    Thus i met the spend Requirement of $12,000 and 140 segments.

    So i guess its going to take a rocket scientist to figure all this out?

  112. Lynn,
    At least you are closer with your assessment. There is no need to do 35 round trips, you could do your regular trips and a trip in business class to asia for example and knock it out. There is no requirement ever to earn more than 100k EQM per year.

  113. Lucky, Do you think AA will/should add another Million Miler Tier since they have added a fourth tier to the mileage program? United has one of the best programs compared to AA which even after 3 Million Miles, one only gets a few upgrades.

  114. I recently switched from AA to DL. The change was forced on me because my business flights are now (at least for a year) predominately to an airport that AA does not serve. DL happily matched my status and I have not been disappointed. As a lowly AA Gold, I got no upgrades did to needing to earn halfway to platinum just to get the stupid 500 mile coupons. I once flew on a plane with empty first class seats while I was an “elite” member in coach. DL upgrades me about 1 in 3 flights on average as Silver and I’ll be Gold soon and might make Platinum this year. Having to take many business trips that are about 1000-1500 in distance but about $1,000 per flight, the revenue based earning is better for me. With Starwood Platinum, the crossover rewards are icing on the cake.

    The only downside I see now is DL’s lack of an award chart and seemingly high miles cost to redeem for international flights. Though since I am earning miles faster on DL than on AA, maybe it will not matter.

  115. I broke from American after 20 years of loyalty when they decided to be disloyal to their program. My last three flights I booked by price shopping. The savings far exceeded the value of miles that are now worth much less to me. I actually flew Jet Blue for the first time and loved it. I personally think American tried to scale back their program too much this time, and I just didn’t see spending more on my ticket to be loyal anymore.

  116. I was US Airways Chairman for 10 years, now EP. 200 segments, 250,000 miles and >$40k in spend. A successful US Airways bought a failing AA and has now adopted everything that sucked about AA. We had the best FF program and perks of anyone. Free club, free club for the SO, unlimited and frequent upgrades on award travel, a great CS line, easy to find award flights. In 2014 I was upgraded on 100% of my domestic flights. AA just does not give a crap about loyalty, and does not have to. They make too much screwing us on all of their fees and credit cards. There is no real difference in the big 3. We just have to suck it up, pay more, and keep your mouth shut. Just see the new AA “Best Flyers” advertising program.

  117. I have been ExPlat for years now and I think it now time for me to jump off of what I like to refer to as the new US Scare. With US Scare leadership the soft product that was generally decent has fallen by the wayside. The last 6 months of travel has been disgraceful for me. Everything from system issues, upgraded and then having being told it was a system glitch, meal service has also gone down the.

    I am to the point that if I need to fly international I will fly on that country’s carrier. Domestically, I fly to Hawaii a lot so I will go to them, but if I need to make a connection maybe I will look at Virgin America and go with Alaska for anything else.

    I am lifetime multi million with United and American. United is the Continental with different brand. American is US Scare with a different brand. I am done with both. I will give my millions of miles away to others at this point.

    It is clear to my that neither American or United wants or needs loyal customers. If they did they wouldn’t lower their service standards as much as they have.

  118. To all experts:

    Quick question, I’m 2.500miles short to get EXP this year. As changes (unfortunately) are on the horizon, should i try to get the missing miles or should I let it go? I will fly lots in 2017 (international & business), but undecided if I will have a disadvantage to stay on Platinum and not have gone for EXP. Any advise is appreciated? …still can do a flight tomo…. THX

  119. @DIDI

    Have had EXP for years and hit my number last month. I personally think the Systemwides (now only4) are worth it still if you go overseas so I did persist and get EXP. .

    But, the mileage accrual is very anemic anymore so I’m status challenging to AS where the program is clearly better in 2017. I will use my Systemwides for European trips on AA but switch over to Alaska for everything else.


  120. I flew American earlier this year on a round trip business class ticket from Seattle to Dublin with a connection at O’Hare.

    They cancelled the flight from Seattle to O’Hare due to not having a plane available and put me on a later flight in a lower class due to not having a seat and they flight they put me on had a one hour connection time for the only flight of the day to Dublin.

    I had to get switched to a codeshare Alaska flight because I didn’t trust them to get me there on time.

    I thought the business class flight would be a reasonable quality flight experience. I have to say that it was the worst business class seat and flight I have ever had.

    I am glad I do not have to fly American and won’t fly them again. I am glad I never had their frequent flyer program.

  121. your comments are SPOT ON!!! I have over 700,000 miles in my aa account. Been a LOYAL customer for over 15 years travelling 95% of the time on American 50% FC and the other half coach. Not only booking for myself, but also my employees and family members. As a small business I really relied on the program to help us offset some costs on last minute trips. I invested a LOT of travel and money into AA now only to see my balance as worthless as a bag of Venezuelan currency.

    Not only has the service deteriorated, but the recent Advantage program “IMPROVEMENTS” are a complete disaster and have DESTROYED any allegiance I ever had to American.

    Over the past 6 months it has become nearly impossible to use miles for upgrades or tickets. Even if your lucky enough to find a date that is not blocked out….and would normally be a 25K first class award…..they are GONE…and the ONLY ones you can find are at the 60K or more level. Good luck on the lower mile economy tickets too…..gone most of the time to be replace by high mile tickets………WORSE….if your lucky enough to find any of the above, its usually a horrible route often with 3 legs and terrible house, and 50% of the time, one or more of the legs is not even first class even though your using FC high mile awards!

    Also used to use MILES+$$$ to upgrade from economy to first….GONE!!!! Have not been able to get one in half a year.

    When I go in and look at seats, these planes are EMPTY….so they are blacking them out until the last moment….literally the last moment, because the last time it happened, it was upgraded an hour before flight time.

    I’m DONE with American….now I just look for the least expensive fare and book with that airline….there is NO VALUE left with their Advantage program .

    And dont get me going about their stupid 10 group boarding….how dumb.

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