In a Snap, I Drop United and Switch to American

I was clinging to my experiment with United as my secondary airline and frequent flyer program. This week I snapped.

(Update: and then I read the outrageous, sneaky, arrogant move by Delta to remove its award charts.) Delta was, and continues to be, my primary. I am Diamond Medallion for this year, next and on the way to 2017, marching to 2 Million Miler and as I have some paid business class travel, SkyMiles 2015 has some value to me. At Diamond earning levels many domestic trips come out roughly break-even revenue-based 2014 versus distance-based 2015. I dislike Delta’s arrogance, however in-flight experience and operations are good. SkyMiles awards have overall improved for me in 2015, and would improve a lot if Chinese airlines dumped their international fuel surcharges as they have been forced to do domestically.

I originally started with United mid-2013 as a counterpoint to Delta, the appeal:

  • Star Alliance partners with good business class award availability for trips for my wife (partner prices jacked up, and she threatened to divorce me after putting her on a United flight)
  • Star Alliance partners with destinations for my far-flung travels in economy (still good)
  • Good earning rates on partner airlines (gutted on Jan 15, 2015)
  • I live closer to Newark than LaGuardia or JFK
  • Same-Day Confirmed on international flights
  • Assumption, as a 1K, that I would regularly get upgrades (almost never happened, and they fly decrepit planes out of EWR)
  • Hope that they wouldn’t copy Delta in every detail of revenue-based earning (They are the consummate Chinatown knock-off)
  • Million Miler program with real value at 1 Million Miler, even with companion benefits (except before I started they had already knocked out all partners but Copa, and Copa is on the way out now, too)

My experience:

  • Operationally unreliable to the point that I stopped booking United for business trips unless I could arrive the night before or at least 6-hour buffer.
  • Decrepit planes, clunky facilities, dowdy uniforms that make no one look good.
  • Careless, disgruntled service, though last few flights have seen an improvement.
  • Massive upgrade lines where even as a 1K I am rarely even within a shot of upgrades, despite often flying odd times and odd route. Maybe it is an EWR thing, seems there are thousands of consultants and pharma execs from the wilds of New Jersey that are always stacked in front of me.
  • Derivative management in a race to the bottom, copying competitors with no originality. Like a private equity firm has taken over and stripping the company into a death spiral.

Into 2015 I persisted, stopping at Platinum status for fee waivers since I got little benefit from 1K. Then partner earnings were slashed in a stealth non-announcement, mimicking Delta’s earlier disregard for customers with a nearly no advance devaluation.

United Platinum Premier 2015

I have flown AA a few times in my life, however I received a well-timed email of an offer to immediately enjoy Platinum status through May 15, 2015 and an extension of that status by flying “12,000 elite-qualifying miles or points on American, US Airways and other select airlines*.” The ‘select airlines’ do not need to be codeshares and include a number of partners, “*Eligible airlines include American Airlines, American Eagle, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Qantas, US Airways, US Airways Express, US Airways Shuttle as well as eligible codeshare flights.

Try the offer page, why not see if you are targeted for Platinum or Gold? The code is HV1P2 for both, though you need to be targeted. There is a variant, reported by Travel Codex, code HV1TI, that allows earning Gold, Platinum or Executive Platinum at reduced levels however does not come with status while you go about it.

AA Platinum Status

I had previously shied away from AA status challenges because of the participation fee and that you don’t have that status while on the challenge. I may still call AA, given my Delta and United status, to see if they can tweak my promo for some fast-track to Executive Platinum.

I so happen to have a business trip to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress in March. I had been struggling with Delta and United. Trying to get their flights or partners with codeshares was hopelessly expensive. All SkyTeam partners were out of my league. Star Alliance had workable options on TAP, but oh wait, those earnings were just gutted. Swiss as well, but same dilemma of crap earnings and no million miler credit.

However, there were numerous OneWorld options on AA, BA,  and Iberia that were the cheapest available and within company policy. My business trips from NYC the past year or so I have generally found OneWorld options priced the most competitive.

So I made the leap, accepted Platinum status, and booked the trip. Now I need to learn about AA.

Why take up AA during a merger?

The best year of the Delta-Northwest merger was the year of the merger integration. There was all kinds of love, promotions and communications. Exactly a year after the combination, everything stopped and I have hardly heard anything or received any meaningful promotions since.

American is wooing customers. It may only last a year or so, however I am happy to trade operational hiccups for hopefully a bonanza year of goodies.

Most important of all

I have a foam AA plane on my desk and now I can say I am an AA flyer. 🙂

AA Foam Plane

Readers, what do you think?

What do I need to know about AA? OneWorld? Is this a good strategy? By the way, I have heard interesting things about Asiana as an alternate Star Alliance program, any experience with that?

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  • medichill

    What do I think? I think I need one of those planes!!

    I am in the midst of my CP challenge on US Air to soon be EP on AA. Having been a WN domestic flier, it has been a challenge to learn the “ins and outs” of AA/US but I’m getting there! Good luck to you.

  • I’m curious your experience with AA. I have been a frustrated United flyer for multiple years. I recently achieved MM on United and was ready for a change. I recently completed the Preferred trial with US so I now have OW Emerald status. In my 30,000 miles or so (all on AA) in the last few months, I have had all manner of delays and other issues. I prefer United’s IT platform, especially the app with the ability to make flight changes. AA requires a call.

    I am strongly leaning towards sticking with United. They have better coverage internationally by a long shot, and domestically, they work just as well for me. The main exception to that is I’m able to fly nearly 100% mainline on AA.

  • I’m curious your experience with AA. I have been a frustrated United flyer for multiple years. I recently achieved MM on United and was ready for a change. I just completed the Preferred trial with US so I now have OW Emerald status. In my 30,000 miles or so (all on AA) in the last few months, I have had all manner of delays and other issues. I prefer United’s IT platform, especially the app with the ability to make flight changes. AA requires a call.

    I am strongly leaning towards sticking with United. They have better coverage internationally by a long shot, and domestically, they work just as well for me. The main exception to that is I’m able to fly nearly 100% mainline on AA.

  • Joediver

    I got the same offer. Have been 1k for 5 years out of ORD and agree with all your complaints. So far I’m enjoying the “soft landing” to AA. I’ll probably make Executive Platinum for 2016. It takes 21 days from the sign up date until you get the 20 upgrade certificates but they seem to have a good program.

  • Henry K

    Hope you enjoy AA out of EWR and attempting a non-stop. Next year when AA and US Air adopt the Delta/United model of awarding miles based on spend, I also hope that works out for you.

    I have no problem with United and am quite pleased with staying 1K.

  • PedroNY

    welcome to AA, it’s a great choice. You will enjoy it. I know it may seem like a hike, PHL could be s potential option for you. Especially, award redemptions in U.S. Air metal to Europe, without fuel charges. Enjoy.

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Henry K – my hesitation all this time was an assumption this will only be a one-year play, however with partners not counting toward MM on UA, my travels sticking on UA would similarly be only about the short-term. I have to go back to LGA and JFK, fortunately not too inconvenient for me unless PATH follows through on their threat of canceling overnight train service. I would like to keep UA Platinum for the fee waivers, but I found no compelling reason to be 1K.

    @Joediver – so far my experiences are only calling phone agents on some things and that part of AA is not impressive.

    @Brad – not assuming AA will be great. My rule for all the US carriers is to try to fly international partners and try to connect overseas, but that’s because I connect in places I would be happy to be stranded. The limited AA network from NYC has been a concern and I don’t expect it to be my domestic airline.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @medichill – if I give up on AA I will see gift it to you. 🙂 I am learning the website is crappy, lesson today was that stringing together segment by segment on a revenue ticket one-way results in errors and getting transferred to web support is a waste of time.

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  • Hope that AA service and reliability doesn’t disappoint you, and that at the very least, you find some value in their miles. Better yet, hope to see you on a flight!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @aadvantagegeek – now I need your blog more than ever, when will we see a return of posting?