You Get What You Pay For On American: Introduction

Filed Under: American, Travel

Back in mid-March, American published a ~$450 business class fare between Washington and Beijing. I assume the fare was supposed to be ~$4,500 and they just left off a zero, though it was alive for quite a while, and hundreds of people managed to get in on the deal.


American ended up honoring the fare, probably thanks largely to the Department of Transportation prohibition on post-purchase price increases.

So I booked a couple of these fares, thinking they would be a great way to requalify for Executive Platinum status.

I’m on the first trip I booked as we speak, so figured I’d write a quick trip report about the experience, since I know many people are soon flying on the same fare.

As I explained above, the fare cost ~$450, so I ticketed the following in business class:

05/06 AA1200 Washington to Chicago departing 12:50PM arriving 2:00PM
05/06 AA187 Chicago to Beijing departing 5:20PM arriving 8:10PM (+1 day)
05/09 AA186 Beijing to Chicago departing 10:10AM arriving 10:00AM
05/09 AA324 Chicago to Washington departing 11:35AM arriving 2:25PM

For this particular trip, the intent was to do as quick of a turn in Beijing as possible. The fare had a three day minimum stay, meaning you had to spend a minimum of two nights in Beijing (since the “overnight” on the outbound flight counts as one night towards the minimum stay). I’ve been to Beijing before and was planning on staying longer on one of my subsequent trips, but this was as close to an “in and out” trip as I could do. My friend Tiffany was also joining me on this trip.

One of my favorite perks of being an Executive Platinum member is that I receive eight systemwide upgrades each year, which can be used to upgrade a one-way itinerary by one class of service. In this case I was able to use systemwide upgrades to confirm an upgrade to first class in both directions.

The return upgrade cleared at the time of booking, while the outbound upgrade cleared less than a week before departure.


For this particular trip my mileage earnings broke down as follows:


As far as hotels go, for this stay I decided to check out the new W Hotel Beijing Chang’an. On my last visit to Beijing I reviewed the Grand Hyatt Beijing, and on my next trip I plan to check out the Park Hyatt Beijing.


The paid rate at the W Beijing was 1350CNY (~$220USD), so that seemed like a better option to me than redeeming 16,000 Starpoints or even booking using Cash & Points, which would have cost 6,000 Starpoints plus $110USD per night (this is a Category 5 SPG property).


Anyway, I’m excited to share my thoughts on this journey, in particular on the American flights. As y’all know I wasn’t impressed by my recent flight in American’s new 777-300ER first class, so I was curious to see how American’s old 777-200 first class compared, given that it has been a while since I’ve reviewed it. Especially since American will be eliminating first class on these planes soon.

Anyway, while the crew was amazing (almost comically so), I couldn’t help but feel like I walked away from the flights having gotten exactly what I paid for…


Stay tuned, and safe travels to everyone headed to/from Beijing!

If you’ve flown American on one of these Beijing fares, what has your experience been like?

  1. I love your blog Ben, but it seems like you are stuck in an endless loop here. If you mileage run to get EXP and your 8 SWU certificates, but then you end up using them on next year’s mileage runs to once again qualify for EXP and get more SWU certs, isn’t that a bit of circular logic?

    I think you are a special case, since you love to fly these types of fares. I’m sure you make out like a bandit on using the EXP fee waivers for award ticket changes too, but I wonder how many people out there are stuck in this trap of earning status so that it will be easier to earn status the next year. Seems silly at some point.

  2. Who the heck cares. This is such a lame blog — lead people in and then not deliver a trip report. Someone short on page views this week? Lazy?

    And let’s get real here. Can’t trust anything u report about AA — good or bad. You are (or were) such the lap dog for AA. Everything u demanded from them you received – upgrades. waitlist clearances. Finally they pulled the plug on you and now you will have nothing good to say about them.

  3. Lucky – take one for the team and fly business class in one of your trips to Beijing since that’s what almost everyone reading your blog will fly for this mistake fare..

  4. I know it’s hyperbole, but come on now. Sure, you the food looks disgusting. But with the seat alone you still got much more than you paid for. Let’s just be real here.

  5. “Stay tuned, and safe travels to everyone headed to/from Beijing!”

    Thanks for wishing me safe travels when I get on a China Eastern 737-700 rickshaw tomorrow afternoon.

  6. Why are you (and other mileage runners on this fare) wasting a system wide when you’re already in a premium cabin?

    Maybe it’s just an RDM run for you, but I see many others doing it purely for the EQMs and then burning a system wide.

  7. I know it’s a personal blog so you’re entitled to write whatever you want. However, you’re also making money with ads on this site when you have high viewership. So if you don’t want to keep alienating yourself and losing viewers, listen to the comments and write something useful to average Joes.

  8. You paid $450 and you got that nice seat and all of the miles! The mediocre food causes you to claim that the entire trip was worth $450??? I know you’re being humorous but really this is going overboard.

    That is quiche, right?

  9. That’s an AA International First meal??? pmsl

    Maybe instead of “Going for great”, they should use “Making BA meals look appetising”

  10. @Tom, I was about to write the same thing! The point of getting EXP is to get 8 SWUs you can use on… mileage runs to… qualify for EXP… to get the 8 SWUs…?

    (This is, of course, similar to the usual problem in the miles-and-points world, which assumes that the point of travel is to go from airport lounge to airplane to hotel back to airport lounge.)

  11. @Lucky, try Singapore Airlines, that’s really “You get what you paid for”
    There is basically no chance to get upgrade on Singapore

  12. (From another Tom)

    Jonathan, of course, is today’s winner of my coveted Best Post of the Day prize. There’s nothing I can add to that, really. Sometimes humor just happens.

    But what completely kills me here is that you’ve actually, truly found the perpetual motion machine, i.e., you’re earning more in miles than what you actually spent for the tickets, assuming a 1.75 cents or so valuation. That’s very impressive. Any physicist out there would tell you that this is completely, 100% impossible!

    The “circularity” argument above, by the way, is absurd: you get more “mileage” (ha, ha) out of EXP status than practically anyone else on earth. As all who read this blog regularly know full well.

    Good luck “in” China; I’d actually pay good money NOT to have to go there . . . .

  13. My experience with AA business was terrible on a recent trip to Zurich. The equipment was fine, it was the new lay flat seats (can’t remember the aircraft) but the service was unbelievably bad and the food was literally indelible. So bad that I asked to purchase a salad from the back (they said “no!”). I’ll avoid AA for international from now on (domestic is just fine). I was really surprised how bad it was. I was grateful for the comfortable seats, but everything else was worse than coach.

    Wish I had gotten in on the China deal though–that looks fabulous.

  14. Tom #1 here. @Tom #2, I agree that the cost in dollars in more than covered by the value in earned points. The problem is that it takes 72 hours of your life to do the earning. Let’s do the math and I’ll assume 2cpm to make it easy. 45,000RDM at 2cpm=$900. The ticket cost $450, so in three days, you earn $450. meh. For Lucky, it makes sense, but for most people the value is marginal if you have no interest in going to Beijing.

  15. Plus you have to buy (with cash or miles) positioning flights to DC… and you’re stuck in Beijing for three days. We solved the latter problem with a detour to Seoul… at the cost of even more cash or miles.

  16. @Ben #1

    Are you comparing a desk job to travelling to China for 3 days? What’s the “boring” case scenario? Stay at the hotel or stroll down Beijing and get $150 a day? I’ll do that..

    It also helps you get status!

  17. Lucky, I have been reading your blog for 5+ years and am a huge fan. So please don’t take this the wrong way. But when I saw this report, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Not another one…” How many times have you reviewed AA F, and yet we are still waiting for reports from your trips last year (Iceland, Portugal to name only a few)? I appreciate that this is your blog and you are entitled to do whatever you want with it, but to be perfectly honest, from the perspective of a faithful reader your reports are starting to feel a bit less uniquely interesting and a little more rinse and repeat. Lately, I have been enjoying reports from Nick and Tiffany more. And that makes me just a little sad.

  18. @Lucky

    SK is having a sale this weekend on Europe to US flight

    Cheapest seems to be the SVG-IAH Privateair operates flight at NOK 9999 around 1350 USD

    Book by end of Sun 10 of May fly May 25 to Aug 31

    Also connecting to other cities from 1999 USD

    Weekend offer!
    Houston to Stavanger, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Frankfurt and Aberdeen fr. 1999 return

    Sale fares also available from Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Denver, Dallas, El Paso, Jackson, Lafayette, LA, Miami, New Orleans, Orlando, Pensacola, San Antonio, Savannah, St. Louis, Tampa & Tulsa!

  19. There could also be aspirations for lifetime status to be achieved fairly early in life. I can see where many would choose these mega-runs for such a goal.

  20. @ Andrew — I appreciate the feedback, though it has been over three years since I’ve reviewed American’s old first class. I recently reviewed their new first class, but this is a different experience and also to Asia rather than Europe. Once I wrap up this report I’ll pick up on one of the other reports, though.

  21. @ Greg — Because American’s old 777 business class has angled seats, while first class is fully flat. I value that greatly for such a long flight.

  22. @ Bob — Of course. Post title was intended to be tongue in cheek, but also a sad reflection on the state of American’s first class.

  23. @ Tom — Totally valid point, and there’s something to be said for the status “hamster wheel” many of us find ourselves in.

    That being said, I don’t typically mileage run anymore. I do well over 100,000 miles of “necessary” domestic travel per year, and for that Executive Platinum status is valuable to me. In this case I would have probably just let my systemwide upgrades expire otherwise or had a sub-optimal use, but I couldn’t say no to this fare.

  24. Wait so you still have your Sri Lanka airlines trip posts along with your Maldives trip reports to right, and it has been what, a month since that trip happened?

    If we ‘stay tuned’ how long will we have to wait for this trip report?

  25. I saw the Y fares a week later going for $700-800. If you got exactly what you paid for what about those folks in the back? Did they somehow get a better value? I’m kicking myself for not buying one, but I did snag one for my daughter who is over there right now having a blast.

  26. Lucky, when is the cross-country Amtrak trip report coming? 🙂

    (no, seriously… it would be awesome).

  27. Man, the tone of the commentary here leaves a lot to be desired! When did this become “bust on Lucky day?” There’s a hundred “trip report with photos” blogs/YouTubes out there, if you dont like this one, go try another. Ben, have some pork dumplings or something cool in Beijing and enjoy.

  28. @Flyinryan

    While I do agree that Lucky does have some ‘haters’ out there who bust on him for what seems to be very petty reasons or out of jealously, I do see why with this particular blog how he is getting some negative feedback, especially when the name of the blog, has it’s own snarky inferences.

    The bottom line is that Lucky was able to seize on by his own admission, a few erroneous fares and pay 1/10 of the actual cost. Not to mention being able to capitalize on miles and points rewards on said erroneous fare; so complaints about a subpar meal or the suggestion of lackluster service in this instance comes across as not being happy with leaving well enough off alone.

  29. @Tom #2 – what a totally ignorant and asinine thing to say. By all means, stay out of China, better yet, off this planet in general.

    As for this post, I really don’t get these type travel blogs sometimes. Are they meant for the wealthy who can actually afford business or first class on the regular and pay for it? Because then you can make an argument that you may not be getting your moneys worth. But when you’re traveling on mistake fares, getting upgrades, and speak down as if you slumming it in FIRST CLASS, you just come off sounding like a snobby entitled ahole. Most of the folks who can luck out occasionally with these mistake fares, or is able to achieve status through work travel or other means, would rather enjoy any sort of upgrade over economy. Maybe you ought to do a couple trip reports on what it’s like back there w/the masses, refresh your perspective a bit?

  30. If you got what you paid for then you would have been dropped out of the plane over Canada.

  31. @ Dub Z – if you don’t get this travel blog then maybe you should read the ‘About Lucky’ section towards the bottom right of this page, especially the sentence “He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences.” That’s a clear statement of the context in which the trip reports are undertaken & presented, so I don’t understand why you think Ben -or anyone who blogs about premium travel – needs to fly in cattle class occasionally to “…refresh [their] perspective a bit”.

  32. So to clarify, when you said that the crew was “comically amazing”: does it mean the lavatories were cleaned after every use? Wine bottles were presented with complementary food pairings and detailed explanations of vintages and tasting notes? Food prepared to right temperatures? Turned down service offered proactively? Offered to answer questions about visa/paperwork requirements on arrival? Crew bowed after every interaction? FA recited a compilation of punch lines from “2 Broke Girls”? Crew put you up-to-date with the latest shade on shade thrown in “Real Housewives”? Please do tell. 😉

  33. Perhaps some people just love the experience of flying, but trips like this, to me, are pointless. Spending all that time and money – yes, even though it’s “only” $450 – for basically a nothing trip to China. For what?? To earn miles … or “status”?

    You want status? Figure out something meaningful to do with your life and maybe you’ll achieve it.

  34. Are you going to review Air Serbia anytime soon? They are like the only European airline that has 2-2 in business in an A320.

  35. Don’t forget that Lucky’s net cost is likely under $300; by writing about the trip, it becomes a tax-deductible business expense for him 🙂

  36. People complaining about Lucky “complaining” about the meal on a mere $450 fare forget just one thing. Most people flying this route most of the year are not going for $450. They are paying real $, and are getting the same lousy food.

    It sounds like Lucky at least got decent service on this flight. Our AA FC flight last March NRT-LAX had us wondering if we somehow ended up on AMTRAK, what with nearly inedible food, and very rude FAs. Failing to be offered an after dinner drink, my wife walked up to the galley to request a glass of port, and the FA said “sure, I’ll be at your beck and call the whole flight”.

    Note that my wife had to walk up to the galley to request what should have been offered, did not use the “call button”, and made her request politely. The FAs attitude was basically “you’ve had your dinner, no go sit down and leave us alone.” This on a flight that sells for over $8,000 one way. 🙁

  37. Just finished my trip I don’t think you need more then 3 days to tour Beijing

    The flight to Beijing service was pretty bad and meals were small portion I did order kosher meal that is….

    On the return the flight attendants were really nice and very professional and courtesy had a kosher meal on the return as well and was very solid and filling

  38. “You want status? Figure out something meaningful to do with your life and maybe you’ll achieve it.”

    Daaaamn. Tough love on comment #30something on a free blog for aviation geeks. Geeze man, Should Lucky do something more meaningful like anonymously write disparaging comments on free blogs? Come on doood!

  39. I love to travel and taking photos, I started my travel blog few years ago to share my trip reports and photos so others can follow my footsteps. Then, I found out about One Mile At A Time and other blogs that teaches how to travel for free or less. I enjoyed learning from them and appreciate all the work they did to stay on top of the latest traveling news! I wish there’s a site out there not only show how you get there for less but also what to do there for less….combining travel “hacking” and travel blogging. I guess both type of bloggers operate very differently. Meanwhile, if you are craving for trip reports and photos, check out my blog:


  40. @ Notgonnasay — Can’t say I have immediate plans to fly with them, but maybe at some point.

  41. LOL so many lucky haters, I like his commentary if I didn”t I would STOP reading them. But from comments here and Lucky’s report on Air France I am flying them to Paris next year. It is on my $ dollar so probably only Business but I sure as hell wont fly AA or UA. 🙂 Thanks Lucky keep them coming ignore the haters

  42. Looks a lot like my WELL DONE grilled fillet on LHR-LAX 109 2 days ago in F. What a joke. Sent it back and had chicken that was equally disappointing. I showed the head purser and she even indicated that the steaks are pre-cooked so trying to get it mid-rare was almost impossible. 108 a week prior the steak was great – though looking back I can probably tell that it was pre-cooked too, however still came out mid-rare somehow (maybe due to originating LAX?).

    Either way – what a joke for F food…

  43. Oh I remember when I got $50 RT MIA-HKG flights in 1998 because UA left off a zero. I bought 5 of those when I was a student 🙂 Great investment….Oh the good old days….

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