American Airlines and Frequent Flyer Miles
I was not expecting to get a call from the Executive Platinum desk at American Airlines this week.
This year (2009) has been really tough on our travels – we moved, we did a ton of things before the move, we got busy with the daily minutia of life and we forgot to, gasp, travel much!
As someone that even wrote a book on travel, I was certainly not proud to admit to these calls but alas here it came!
“Hello Mrs. Brock, this is the AA Executive Desk”
“Oh yes, hi. How can I help you?”
“Well, we were just wondering where you are spending the holidays next year. We haven’t seen you fly as much this year.”
“Uhm. Oh. Yeah I am fine. I am sorry. We moved this year – and well they have cut corporate travel. You know? But has it really been that long since I flew? I suppose it has been – gasp – months…”
So I assure the nice lady at American Airlines that I will start flying again – especially with the fantastic use of ExpertFlyer, which my husband so smartly puts to amazing use for us and you should totally try it. It helps us accumulate those frequent flyer miles. No way I can make Executive Platinum again this year! What a sad realization after going strong for 3 years in a row. For I do believe traveling is the essence of all prolific living!
No matter how much I do, it does not satiate the hunger or pacify the restless heart. Funny how little I have written about something that sits at the core of what planted the initial seeds of this site in my mind.
That is about to change as we embark on a new plan to renew the Executive Platinum status, and to fly the 100,000 miles a year with no sweat.
In the last 3 years, I have enjoyed tremendous benefits from flying American Airlines. Through ups and downs with economy and tighter securities and changing policies at airports, they have done right by us through and through.
Most of those benefits were a pleasant surprise, and with a little planning, and a lot of awareness of AA’s programs, you can reap amazing rewards from your Exec Platinum status. And on that topic, there is no one more qualified than my travel agent (and husband) Andy.
He has agreed to be co-contributor to this post to share his knowledge (without which I would be neither Executive Platinum nor savvy enough to know what to do with the title). And now I turn it over to Andy for the rest of this post. Thank you babe!
Through 2005 the airlines we flew were dictated by the cheapest fare…period. As such our travels at that point were spread across multiple airlines.
But in 2006 Farnoosh began frequent cross-country trips for business, and American Airlines (AA) had the most flexible schedule out of our home airport (RDU) so the decision was made to fly exclusively with them. A by-product of focusing all of your flying on one airline is the faster accumulation of frequent flyer benefits.
The most well-known benefit is the ‘frequent flyer mile’, usually redeemed in large quantities for free flights. And while flying does help build the frequent flyer mile stockpile, an even greater benefit is gained: The more you fly with an airline, the more recognition you obtain from that airline as a good customer.
AA has three tiers of recognition, each coming with a defined set of benefits. The top tier is called Executive Platinum, and it has several benefits that we consider much more valuable than the ‘frequent flyer mile’.
In the last 5 years, we have flown hundreds of thousands of miles with the availability of best seating and best of upgrades, thanks to ExpertFlyer.
My husband, thankfully, insisted that we need this service and boy has it paid off. Imagine flying FIRST from Asia to North America. You won’t regret this investment if – and only if! – you are a serious traveler and demand comfort along the way!
Benefit 1 — Upgrades:
Flying within the United States, the Executive Platinum (EXP) member gets unlimited first class upgrades as long as space is available. This benefit speaks for itself; the seats are wider, the service is better and the overall experience is just that much more comfortable. Domestic first class (F) is an enjoyable experience when compared to the alternative of domestic coach (Y), but the gap between F and Y is much more pronounced when flying international.
As an EXP you are given 8 upgrade coupons a year to use on any flight operated by American Airlines, including all international destinations. If you buy a ticket in coach from Chicago to Paris you can use these coupons (if space is available) and upgrade into Business Class, a substantial upgrade in not only service but also ticket price. The upgrades can be shared, so 8 upgrades per year means Farnoosh and I can take 4 upgrades flights together every year.
Starting your trip to Tokyo sitting in a seat that reclines into a flat bed for that nice nap after being served a four-course meal is wonderful experience. We have been fortunate enough to fly in international business class between the US and: Tokyo (NRT), Frankfurt (FRA), Brussels (BRU), Paris (CDG), London (LHR), Milan (MXP) and Rome (FCO).
Our first use of these upgrades occurred on our flight Chicago-to-Frankfurt; the flight was nearly full and space was unavailable for our upgrades until the very last minute…in fact we had taken our seats in coach when the flight attendant came to escort us to our seats in Business Class.
As this was our first experience in Business Class, walking to the forward cabin with our luggage from the cramped coach cabin was surreal; I kept expecting the flight attendant to say she had made a mistake and we needed to return to coach.
We sat down in these massive seats that reclined 20 different ways, were given amenity kits and asked what type of drinks we wanted. It was so overwhelming that I refused to get comfortable until the plane had taken off and we had reached cruising altitude…only then would I accept the fact that they weren’t going to toss us back into coach!
Not much explanation is needed for how pleasant the experience is during the flight because we have all dreamed of comfortable seats and tasty food during our days stuffed in a coach seat; the most unexpected benefit for me was how refreshing you feel after the flight even when your body clock should be turned upside-down.
I cannot sleep on airplanes; the best I can do is a half-awake trance but it seems much easier to land in Paris at 7:00am, hit a morning cafe and stay up all day when you have more room for that trance.
Over the years we have experienced good food and great comfort using these upgrades while maintaining that sense of appreciation and excitement each and every time because we plan to travel internationally many more times than we can upgrade!
Benefit 2 — Airport Lounges:
Another perk AA provides EXP members is the use of certain airport lounges when flying internationally. This benefit takes advantage of the fact the AA participates in a larger airline alliance called ‘Oneworld’; members of the Oneworld Alliance include British Airways, Qantas and Cathay Pacific among others. These airlines provide reciprocal lounge agreements around the world, so AA EXP members can visit lounges (even first-class only lounges) run by all of the Oneworld alliance airlines.
Unlike domestic AA lounges, international lounges run by other airlines are typically nicer with a more extensive food and drink selection. I do not usually mind the time spent waiting in international airports because there is such a nice lounge in which to pass the time.
Taking the red-eye to LHR and making the difficult transfer to Terminal 5 is all worth it to get to British Airways First Class ‘Galleries’ lounge while waiting for my connecting flight to the continent: lots of food options, comfortable chairs, soft lighting, the quiet of it all…the opposite of everything you think of when you imagine waiting at the airport.
And in our trip back from Hong Kong I got us to the airport extremely early so we would have time to sample the first-class section of ‘The Wing’, Cathay Pacific’s lounge at HKG. An airy feel, spa-like shower facilities and wait staff walking around taking orders for any kind of made-to-order food was hard to leave behind (especially for the coach experience of HKG-NRT).
It is places like these that make the occasional flight delay much more palatable.
Benefit 3 — Shorter lines:
Everyone is familiar with lines at the airport; being EXP helps to drastically reduce the amount of time waiting in those lines. EXP members are allowed to check in for all flights using the AA First Class check-in, which is useful for our international travel and those rare times we check luggage.
Also, most airports with a substantial AA presence allow EXP members access to a fast-lane queue through the security checkpoints. This benefit is moderately useful at RDU, but flying out of LAS on a Sunday as we frequently do, we find that this benefit saves us hours a year at one airport alone!
And of course the faster one gets through all of the lines, the sooner one can comfortably wait in the lounges.
As with most things the Internet provides Invaluable sources for understanding the complexities of the AA program; the Flyertalk website contains forums for not only airline programs but most every other travel-related service like hotels and rental cars.
We used the resources of the AA Flyertalk forum to educate ourselves on not only how to achieve and use EXP status but how to navigate the skies of AA as passengers. For instance, learning which airports are best for European connections (not LHR) and which DFW’s Admirals Club has the best showers (Terminal A) make our travels much less stressful.
Although we have not done so, there are even forums devoted to the ‘mileage runner’, people who fly solely for obtaining frequent flyer miles and the elite status that comes with them…an advanced topic to be sure!
As a complete bonus in our weekend getaway, upon landing in London’s Gatwick Airport, we were escorted to a line which let bypass the customs and immigration lines completely, as though we were royalty themselves, and let us inside the airport exit doors in less than 3 minutes after leaving our aircraft seats!
Now that is something worth flying and traveling for! American Airlines, Executive Platinum, get here because here we come!
Disclaimer: I have affiliate links in this post to products and programs I full and proudly endorse.