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Getting to Europe on points: Ultimate Rewards Vs. Membership Rewards

[This post is meant as an broad overview, not an in-depth look into each individual program.]

When it comes to traveling to Europe, which points program has better offerings: Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards?

Let’s compare redemptions popular European destinations to see which one comes out on top.

Before we begin though, let’s assume we want the best value for our money overall (points or miles + surcharges) and we want to fly in economy. Here are each program’s airline transfer partners that fly to Europe.

Ultimate Rewards: 

British Airways and United are the front runners here.

Membership Rewards: 

Now to the good stuff!

Paris

I picked Paris because it’s a pretty common European destination. What’s availability like with Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards partners?

With Ultimate Rewards:

Go ahead and throw out Virgin Atlantic since they don’t fly to Paris (they’d be great if we wanted to go to London). Throw out British Airways unless you want to pay the fuel surcharges they impose. The best option in this program for this redemption is United, by far.

Yellow and green means lots of space on United + partners!

Yellow and green means lots of space on United + partners!

 

30K miles + $77 to get to Paris one way

30K miles + $77 to get to Paris on outbound

 

CDG-JFK-United-Price

30,000 miles + $88 to fly back on Air Canada with a stop in YUL

United-Paris-Final

Final price: 60,000 miles + $166

I like how United always shows how much an itinerary would have cost if purchased. I like to always make sure I’m getting at least 2 cents of value out of each points. This redemption meets that criteria at 2.5 cents/point. Not much over, but if I really wanted to take this trip, I’d feel good about redeeming at the given rate.

With Membership Rewards:

So many choices: Delta, Aeroplan, ANA, Iberia… this could go a number of different ways.

We can go ahead and throw out Delta. Their new award chart recently devalued and would now costs 60,000 miles. Not bad, same as United, but we can do better.

Aeroplan offers flights in economy for 60,000 miles round-trip, too, but their fuel surcharges can be prohibitive. Throw them out, too.

Aeroplan award chart (the OLD one – US-Europe is still current, though)

That leaves ANA and Flying Blue, the program of… Air France. Logic would lead you to believe that Air France would be the best way to get to Paris, right? Let’s narrow this down a bit more.

50,000 miles on Air France with Flying Blue

50,000 miles on Air France with Flying Blue

 

Sounds pretty reasonable!

50,000 miles + $257

50,000 miles + $257

 

Alright, 50,000 miles + $257 isn’t terrible. At this point, it’s between Air France and United, with its price of 60,000 miles + $166. Is it worth it to pay $91 to keep 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points? Since 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth .02 each, or $200, the answer is YES. Air France (Membership Rewards) is winning!

Can ANA have a come-from-behind victory? Even if not, Membership Rewards is the way to go here.

ANA has a distance-based reward award. JFK-CDG is 3,635 miles.

ANA Award Chart

ANA Award Chart

 

We can see JFK-CDG would be just 22,000 miles each way, or 44,000 round-trip, already saving 6,000 Membership Rewards points over Air France’s 50,000 miles. ANA does NOT charge fuel surcharges on US Airways flights, so for 44,000 miles and a small copay, you could be on your way to Paris!

WINNER: Membership Rewards

Bottom line:

With Ultimate Rewards, the best award redemption we could find was on United for 60,000 UR points. With Membership Rewards, the best award we could find was on ANA for 44,000 MR points. By flying on Star Alliance partners through ANA, we save ourselves 16,000 points, which is pretty nice!

This is only ONE example of potentially hundreds. It all depends on availability, surcharges, and your own personal preferences. This example goes to show that it’s good to have a few different points currencies for all the various award tickets that are out there. As always, do what makes me most sense for you and be sure to really dig into the details of your preferred program as there are always little tricks and tips that can get you even MORE value out of them, and, to quote Million Miles Secrets (one of my favorite blogs)- travel BIG with SMALL money! 🙂

Trip Report: AA First Class AUS-JFK

Near the end of the trip to Alaska, we drove down to Seward for the day after checking out of the Sheraton, then headed to ANC. The airport is super nice, on the small side, but surprisingly stylish. The first trip was from ANC-DFW, and the second was DFW-AUS, both in AA Main Cabin ExtrAA.

For the leg home, AUS-JFK, I used six 500-mile upgrades to get me and Jay into first class. The upgrade cleared while I was on the DFW-AUS segment, and I got my new seat assignment: 6F. Yay!

We went to Admirals Club across from the gate to wait for boarding.

 

Rum 'n' coke at the Admirals Club in AUS

Rum ‘n’ coke at the Admirals Club in AUS

 

After a huge rum ‘n’ coke, I boarded with quite a nice little buzz and found seat 6F. Jay was next to me 6E.

 

Thanks, American!

Thanks, American!

 

Nice amount of legroom

Nice amount of legroom

 

The picture doesn’t do it justice, but the seat was nice with wide seats and ample legroom. It was the older first class on the 737 – hardly any recline, but a very roomy seat. I was exhausted after three flights and still managed to sleep. The plane had the old paint job and old logos. It seemed worn, but looked 1000% better than the old coach behind me.

The flight to JFK was a touch over three hours, and soon after ascending, the flight attendants brought around their famous hot nuts. I had mine with a Heineken.

 

HOT NUTS!

HOT NUTS!

 

The flight attendants on this flight were amazing. Very professional and a perfect level of attentiveness. I was so struck, I tweeted @AmericanAir afterward to let them know.

 

Screen shot 2013-09-01 at 12.12.07 AM

 

I’m sort of in my honeymoon phase with American right now, so I think everything they do is just perfect. And, truly, the way they’ve chosen to restructure has been really wonderful. A part of me doesn’t want them to merge with US Airways. Banish the thought.

Shortly after the hot nuts, lunch was served. I had the option of BBQ chicken or beef salad. I chose the chicken. It was served with sides of broccoli and mac ‘n’ cheese, a cheese roll, small side salad, and a glass of white wine. It was actually pretty tasty, considering. I wouldn’t order it in a restaurant, but it got the job done.

 

2013-08-27 12.08.27

 

First Class cabin

First Class cabin

 

The first class cabin was full, and we sat in the last row. After lunch, I passed out until we landed at JFK. The flight landed on time, we taxied to the gate, then rushed home to pick up Fenwick. He was so happy to be with his pack again.

All-in-all, this was definitely worth using my “stickers” for. The reason I connected DFW-AUS was because I knew I’d have a better shot at an upgrade on the AUS-JFK route as opposed to the DFW-LGA route. That probably would’ve had a newer, better plane, but EXPs frequent that route and my chances to upgrade would’ve been pretty dismal. I’m happy I chose this routing. I got 1,000 miles for the 190-mile connecting flight (190 @ 500 min = 100% bonus) AND got upgraded on the flight home.

I love how on each flight I learn a little more about American’s company culture. And no, I really don’t miss the in-flight entertainment. I’d rather read and work on blog posts as I don’t have a TV at home anyway.

My next trip with American is in November to Santiago. It’s got a damn crazy itinerary of LGA-ORD-MEX-LIM-EZE-SCL-IPC-SCL-MEX-DFW-LGA – all in a week. But it’ll make me Platinum again next year, earn me around 40K RDMs, 30K EQPs, and it’s all in first/business. Goal for 2014: make EXP.

 

Trip Report: AA Main Cabin Extra LGA-DFW-ANC

I originally found this trip on The Flight Deal for $352 a person from NYC all the way to ANC. I’d just gotten the Citi AAdvantage Select American Express and it came with a $150 statement credit after buying my first American flight. I got two tickets, which came to $704, then was reduced to $554, or about 3 cents per mile – not only would I get to see Alaska for the first time, but that price was positively mileage run-worthy. Not to mention that I’d accrue nearly 20K AAdvantage miles in the process since I get a 100% mileage bonus for being Platinum, which I value at around $400. Schweeet!

I  held out hope that some twist of fate would land me an upgrade. But the day before, I checked out the first class cabin, and all the seats were already taken. Well.

Getting to La Guardia was easy enough via taxi, and once there, I breezed through security thanks to Pre-Check. GOD I love Pre-Check! There was no one in the line and it took literally 20 seconds. Right beyond security was the Admirals Club, and a few gates down was D6, our departure gate. We headed up to the Admirals Club using my American Express Platinum Card, had a few drinks and snacks, and I played a little Scrabble (my newest addiction). I didn’t take pictures. It was nearly empty and seating was easy to find. We got an entire huge room all to ourselves with a view of American planes on the tarmac. With that view, a rum & coke, and a game of Scrabble in front of me, I was in heaven.

When boarding rolled around, we went to the gate and I boarded with the other Platinums. It was one of the new planes in the livery, a 737-800 with the controversial new paint job. The first class cabin had 16 seats, but they really were all taken. I guess LGA-DFW (both American hubs) is a popular route. I had seat 8A, at the front – a Main Cabin ExtrAA seat. They advertise it as having more legroom and being more comfortable somehow, but I really didn’t see what the big deal was. I liked being closer to the door… I thought it came with a free premium beverage or something. Nope. They charged me for my white wine and I got one of their “hand made” sandwiches, which was actually pretty good, if a bit messy. They need to work on their packaging/presentation for that. And throw in a free drink to assuage the shame after walking through first class.

Anyway, we sat down and waited to take off. And waited. And then the A/C had to be fixed. Uh oh. TripIt Pro (which I got for free with my Barclay Arrivalcard) sent me an alert that we wouldn’t arrive to Dallas until 3:35. My flight to ANC was at 3:25. Fuck. I immediately researched alternate routes from DFW-LAX-ANC and DFW-PDX-ANC. There was hope, but I’d be getting in several hours late. So…

I tweeted to @AmericanAir.

 

Tweets from @AmericanAir

Tweets from @AmericanAir

 

I told them in advance that I was worried about missing my connection. Before I left LGA, while still on the plane, they wrote me back and said they’d monitor my flight and have me rebooked on the next flights heading to ANC by the time I landed. At that point I was already blown away. Anxious to leave, but soothed knowing I had options. And that’s what really felt the best. Knowing that it would be taken care of.

 

Goosenecks over Texas

Goosenecks over Texas

 

But then, the maintenance guys were able to quickly fix the problem and we pushed off. Even still, the connection would be tight at just 23 minutes. I feared I’d have to run all the way through Terminal C from gate 36 to 2.

 

Landing at DFW

Landing at DFW

 

The flight was nice enough. Pretty quick, smooth. Thoughts about “Main Cabin Extra” are above. We got to the gate and I leapt out like a gazelle ready to run. Someone called my name as soon as I walked off the jetway. It was a lady from American, standing in front of a cart. WHAT?! She hugged me, and told me to hop in and DROVE US TO THE GATE. I was blown away by this level of service. She said she recognized me from my Twitter picture and had been contacted about the tight connection. If we missed it, she had backup flights ready to go. Amazing, amazing, amazing.

We pulled up to C2 just as boarding began. Even with no upgrades, I was stunned at the level of service and professionalism American showed me today. Me, a lowly Platinum!

So now I’m on flight 279 to ANC on an old Boeing 757. Man, you can really tell this plane has seen better days. It’s got the old first class cabin, but I’ve got a great seat with tons of legroom – seat 10F – again, in Main Cabin Extra. And we’re flying over the Rockies right now. It’s gorgeous. And my birthday is in just a few days. Maybe I can convince American to upgrade me on the flight home. 🙂 I must say, I do like the new planes a lot better than the older ones.

 

Ample legroom in Main Cabin ExtrAA

Ample legroom in Main Cabin ExtrAA

 

But wow. I am just so very impressed with American right now. Would Delta have done this? That’s what I keep asking myself. But it doesn’t matter now. I’m resolved to keep flying American. I want to be a Million Miler and everything. And EXP next year. This trip to ANC puts me about 10K closer. Now if I could only repeat it nine more times.

Big kudos and thanks to American. They transformed a potentially stressful trip into a great customer service experience. As I heard EXPs being thanked, I wanted to be one of them. Soon enough. Wish I’d gotten in on that promo they had up for a few hours. With my upcoming trip to Santiago and Mexico City, I would’ve been a shoe-in. But that was a fluke. Small moves, small moves.

 

Done with Delta

delta-sucks

 

I read Rene’s blog post about this year’s changes on Delta Points and it got me thinking. Not about Delta, but about American. How they haven’t cut anything from their loyalty program this year. How good they are about upgrading elites. And how nice ‘n’ easy it was to achieve Platinum status after only one trip this year. In all reality, I will hit Platinum again for next year, although Executive Platinum is my stretch goal. And even if I don’t, their Elite Rewards program makes me want to continue flying with them even if I don’t hit the 100K mile/point threshold.

Delta, by contrast, has fierce upgrade competition in New York, despite expanding their presence and perhaps because of it (I’m thinking the new T4 @ JFK). They’re switching to MQDs in 2014. And they have American Express as a credit card partner.

At this point, the only downside to being loyal to American is the inability to transfer in miles from an outside program, like you can with United and Delta (from Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, respectively). American will be the only legacy airline that doesn’t have an outside transfer program linked up to it. That, and the tiny regional jets they like to fly out of JFK. But that’s soon changing as they beef up their fleet.

This post isn’t meant to bash Delta, but rather to extoll American. Which means, by default, that I guess I’m done with Delta. I tried it, but it didn’t work. I loved how they have a nonstop from LGA-MEM (my hometown), their aircraft, and route network. And I’ve got to give it to them: their on-time performance is amazing. 

Their airline partners are “just OK.” American, though oneworld is a much small alliance, has more premium partners (Cathay Pacific, Qantas, British Airways, Etihad, JAL, LAN) and they have generous earning privileges when flying them. Delta really wants you to stick to Air France, KLM, Aeromexico, or Virgin Atlantic (the ones they co-own!), otherwise you get… pretty much nothin’.

That’s the root of it all right there: American is generous and Delta is getting more and more stingy. No doubt there will be further hacks to Skymiles in 2014. I have hopes for AAdvantage, merger and all.

For now, the images below can summarize my feelings for me. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen.

 

delta-fuck-off

 

fuck-you-delta-ted

Booked: London on Virgin Atlantic in October

I’m a HUGE Tori Amos fan, and have been looking forward to seeing the musical she’s been working on, The Light Princess, for a while now. Well, tickets went on sale this past week and I was able to snag some good seats to both her talk beforehand and the show itself – in London. Which meant I had to get myself to London.

Luckily, ol’ Deltoid just entered into a partnership with Virgin Atlantic – and award space (in economy) is great. I had the pick of about 5 different flights each day, all at the low-level cost. There was nothing in business or Upper Class as it’s called, but that’s fine because I’d like to hoard my Skymiles to go down to Patagonia on Aerolineas Argentina in the near future anyway.

And the point – to get to London – was quickly addressed. I booked some great flights on Virgin Atlantic and cannot WAIT to see the musical. My out-of-pocket cost was 120,00 miles and $369 for two flights. Not bad for crossing the Atlantic.

Cheep! (Most of it is GB tax.)

Cheep! (Most of it is GB tax.)

This, for me, is the true value of points and miles. Being able to pop over to London for the weekend to see this show is something I’ve been looking forward to for a few years now. The day came, I bought my tickets, and I’m able to go without paying very much at all. Now we just need to find a place to stay for two nights, which should be pretty easy. Then head to JFK, enjoy the flights – and the show!

Looking forward to flying on VA metal. It’ll be my first time. Trip report and show report to follow! October 18th!

 

Booked: MEX-LIM-EZE-SCL-IPC-SCL-MEX in November

CRAY

CRAY

 

I am SO looking forward to this crazy-ass itinerary. Basically, I get to SCL for a night, fly to IPC and back on the 25th, then get chill out in SCL for another two days. Then, I head up to MEX and will hang out there for two days before returning to NYC.

It’s all on LAN, in business class, which will earn me a heap of miles and points on American.

MEX-LIM-EZE-SCL-IPC-SCL-MEX

  • 14,051 miles (plus 100% bonus)

  • 21,077 points

Only regret: just one hour in EZE. Le sigh. I really wanted to check out the Amex Centurion lounge there, but I might not have time to even leave the gate area.

But how cool is it that I get to fly to IPC twice in one year? And that this business class ticket was just a hair over $1000?

 

Can’t wait to check out Santiago, Valparaiso, and Mexico City over Thanksgiving!

First upgrades on American as a Platinum

I took two flights on American last week as part of my courier work: IND-ORD and ORD-LGA.

It was booked into K class, which doesn’t earn complimentary upgrades. I arrived at IND a little early and asked to get on the next flight. The agent re-booked me into Y class (as a full fare) for the entire trip back and took four upgrade “stickers” out of my AAdvantage account.

Whatever about the stickers. I knew she was wrong, but loved being re-booked into a higher fare bucket.

Then when I got to ORD, I was actually supposed to fly back to EWR, which I despise. I noticed a shit ton of flights headed for LGA and asked if I could do to SDC onto the next LGA flight. The agent rebooked me (staying in the Y fare bucket), and my upgrade cleared instantly. I flew first class on both segments with instant upgrades both times. Easy peezy (and to LGA).

I knew they should’ve used three upgrade stickers instead of four. I called the Platinum desk, they answered on the first ring, and gave me back two certs instead of just one – for the trouble – although flying in first was really no trouble at all. I took the certs and enjoyed the upgrades.

All-in-all, loving American’s service. They seem more willing to do more “behind the scenes” stuff for higher tiers than Delta will, and with no cost. Delta is all about the nickeling and dime-ing these days.

Content to stay with American.

Although, I must say, Delta makes it so freaking easy to earn MQMs with credit card spend. Especially with the newest offer to get 20K MQMS with the Platinum Biz card. Damn, that’s nearly Silver right there. But oh well, can’t win ’em all, right? At least American lets you qualify on points instead of just miles – which might end up being my saving grace if LAN keeps pumping out these cheap deals to South America.

 

Trip Report: LAN Flight 841 SCL-IPC Premium Business Class

Also see:

As soon as I landed in Santiago, I only had 15 minutes to connect to the Easter Island flight. Shit! Luckily, all planes were being held because of intense fog on the ground at SCL. I ran through immigration and customs like a madman, and thank god SCL is a small airport. I got my passport stamped, paid the stupid reciprocity fee of $160 and sped along to the gate, where my friend Chris was waiting to board (he landed in Santiago the previous evening).

After the lovely flight down from Miami, I settled in to seat 3A still catching my breath. The lady in seat 3C had just experienced the same mad dash, and we got to talking about our plans on Easter Island. She ended up being awesome! We spent most of the trip hanging out. So funny how stuff like that happens.

Anyway, this flight was nearly identical to the previous one: same hard product, very similar menu and service, although a smaller amenity kit with just socks, eye mask, and shoe/laundry bag.

The flight was a hair over five hours, and I spent most of it watching “Life of Pi” which is about 2 and a half hours. So that, getting into airspace, and landing, was pretty much the whole flight. The movie was so good. Dear god. I cried like a little bitch at the end when the tiger walked into the jungle… My seatmate was asleep by this point. Good thing she didn’t see me dabbing the tears out of my eyes.

2013-05-19 12.19.24

Middle. Of. Nowhere.

 

Right after the movie, we started descending and I got my first glimpse of Easter Island. I got a feeling of such complete happiness and gratitude that it shook me to my core. Easter Island is a place I’ve always wanted to visit and it was this flight that made that dream a reality.

Stepping out of the plane was surreal. My first impression was that it was much hillier and lusher than I’d expected. I thought it would be more… barren.

My ride to Easter Island

My ride to Easter Island

 

Freshly arrived at IPC

Freshly arrived at IPC after 20 hours of travel

 

Since this was sort of a “test” of American’s international partners, I’d say the LAN business class hard product really impressed me. The food was so-so, but not a deal breaker at all. I’m really looking forward to having more reference points as this was my first international biz class experience (!). I will say already, though, that I LOVED the lie-flat seats and can see why the other bloggers bitch about the angled seats so much.

Next up, gratuitous pics of a (surprisingly) tropical island!

Just booked: JFK-LAX-NAN-AKL-SYD-MEL-AUH-CAI-JFK

And I’m super freaking excited about it.

So the title is a bit of a fib: I have a flight alert and fare tracker set for LAX-NAN and will buy it if I have to, and I haven’t gotten the initial JFK-LAX but am not really so worried about it.

This is what the trip will look like:

25,000 miles and all around the world

25,000 miles and all around the world

 

So far, I’ve used 132K miles per person and gotten over 6 cents of value out of each one. This trip would be nearly $17,000 if bought at retail price.

It’ll be from Dec 24th, 2013 to January 7th, 2014. It includes Christmas in Fiji, New Years in Sydney, stopovers in New Zealand and Melbourne, and a quick trip to see the pyramids on the Gaza strip in Cairo.

So how’d I book it? Segment by segment, and with a combination of AAdvantage, MileagePlus, and Avios miles.

The breakdown (notice there’s no Delta!):

JFK-LAX: will most likely use AAdvantage miles when I earn a few more, or maybe MileagePlus if necessary

LAX-NAN: would like to use AAdvantage miles for this. Might have to purchase it, and it would be the only leg I’d have to buy. However, it’s only $750 right now and would net me a nice amount of miles as I’m Platinum on American and the flight is on Air Pacific. Still, I’m holding out for award space.

NAN-AKL: 17,500 x 2 (so 35,000) MileagePlus miles on Air New Zealand

AKL-SYD: 9,000 AAdvantage miles for one and 10,000 Avios for the other – both on Qantas

SYD-MEL: 4,500 x 2 (so 9,000) Avios on Qantas, baby. Wonderful redemption rate!

MEL-AUH: 45,000 x 2 (so 90,000) AAdvantage miles for Etihad business class to Abu Dhabi

AUH-CAI-JFK: 60,000 x 2 (so 120,000) MileagePlus miles transferred in from Ultimate Rewards. Includes a 17-hour stopover in Cairo, then back to NYC in business class on Egyptair.

All-in-all, a very good award IMHO. 5 new countries, four new airlines, and two new business class products (I didn’t feel the need to book the short hauls in business) – not to mention an amazing life experience! This is exactly why I’m so crazy about collecting points and miles: I can go on awesome trips like this and actually 1) afford them and 2) travel in style. And the best part is that, with a little strategic planning, you can really maximize what you get for free.

As a litmus test, I went and found the exact flights over on Kayak and priced out how much the itinerary I booked would cost on the retail market. Here’s what I found:

FIJI

 

When I factor in the two remaining legs to book, I estimate this itinerary will be over $17,000. Cray!

Here’s where I was able to extract even MORE value out of this booking aside from the goal value of 2 cents per mile:

  • Having the Citi AAdvantage Select card gives me 10% of redeemed miles back per year, up to 10,000 miles. I just redeemed 100K miles and will get 10K back – making my cost here only 90K miles. I value 10,000 AAdvantage miles at roughly $200, so it’s totally worth paying the annual fee of $95 to get those miles back.
  • The Barclaycard Arrival came with a $440 signup bonus, which I will redeem for the taxes, booking fees, and fuel surcharges. This means that there was literally ZERO out-of-pocket expense in booking these awards. Amazing.
  • My partner has a Chase United Explorer card which gave us access to Saver awards even when the site told us none were available. That’s huge.
  • I just need to add that this booking really shows the value of Avios. I know the program gets knocked quite a bit, but I was able to get some great value out of it. I also am factoring in the flight times into the equation. I had the pick of literally dozens of flights – all for free. Having all those choices is something I really loved.
  • Lastly, thinking of this award booking as one project instead of individual segments really helped me justify the “not amazing” redemption values of some segments. The first on Air New Zealand, for example, only got 3 cents of value per mile. However, on the Etihad segment, I got over 13 cents of value for each mile. That is a huge WOW. By thinking of it this way, the average value of all my miles really came into focus.

 

Very much looking forward to the flights, trip reports, and of course all the amazing new places. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia, and my heart is bursting with excitement and gratitude at being able to actually do this. More soon as always.

Trip Report: LAN Flight 7701 MIA-SCL Premium Business Class

First of all, let me begin this post by saying how much I loathe the Miami airport. Walking from the D concourse over to J just about killed me. Anywho, after lounging around in the unremarkable America Club “J” for an hour or so, boarding time rolled around. I was excited to experience and brand new premium product, a new airline, and after that, a country I’d never visited before. Safe to say I was beyond excited for this flight.

Boarding was lovely. I strolled right in and sat down in seat 3A. Shortly after, I had a glass of wine and waited to pushed back from the jetway.

 

2013-05-18 22.31.30

So much leg room!

 

Wine and nuts (I drank the water)

Wine and nuts (I drank the water)

 

After takeoff, amenity kits were distributed. I didn’t take a picture of it, knowing I’d get three more by the time I returned home. I will include pics in a future post, but must say it was a nice one. Face cream, hand lotion, lip balm, comb, toothbrush and toothpaste, pen, socks, ear plugs and eye mask were all included. It was from Ferragamo, an Italian brand, and was based around “memories from Tuscany” or something similar to that. Odd for a South American, an specifically Chilean airline, but whatever. I thought they’d have something more regional, but certainly not complaining!

 

Dinner menus were handed out next.

 

Nom!

Nom!

 

I got the salad, soup, steak, and fruit. The steak was only so-so. A bit tough and overcooked. All the other stuff was nice, if a touch run-of-the-mill. There were some nice touches and I appreciated the presentation.

 

2013-05-19 00.43.44

First course

 

After dinner, I pretty much passed out till we got to Santiago. The lie-flat seat really does lie all the way back. I watched “Oz: The Great and Powerful” and then slept for a few hours. I awoke to the flight attendant tapping my leg. Then she brought out breakfast, which I’d ordered before the movie. It was too dark to take pics, but it was my first experience with Juan Valdez instant coffee. Unbeknownst to me, it would not be my last. Chile LOVES instant coffee. The breakfast was that kind of pre-packaged airplane food, but certainly not terrible. Soon after, the plane landed.

We de-planed at Santiago late after being delayed in Miami and also due to some serious fog at SCL. Then I ran like a bitch to catch my flight to Easter Island. And that’s when the fun really began.

Trip Report: AA Flight 1769 JFK-MIA First Class

Writing right now from the lovely America Club “J” (quotes not mine), near gate 5 in the J concourse of MIA. It’s basically a large open room with a lot of screaming babies AKA HELL. When I came in, I noticed there were two directions to go from the checkin desk. To the right was the catchall lounge. And to the left, the First Class and Business Class lounge (two separate rooms). I’m in the First Class lounge and it feels anything but. The food offerings are alright: finger sandwiches, soups, and cookies, and the drinks are behind the bar. They ain’t got power outlets for shit, though there is a lovely view of the skyline through the large windows. At least the wifi is fast. I suppose this is only marginally better than sitting at the gate, but not by much.

America Club "J"

America Club “J”

N-E-WAYZ

The flight down to this pit called Miami was wonderful. Very relaxing. As a “business” customer, it definitely did all the things that I wanted in a flight. For one, we landed over 40 minutes early, which was pretty sweet. The service was immediate and attentive, but never overbearing.

The flight started with pre-departure OJ and water. I downed an OJ and settled into my seat. I in 3J and was one of the last to board. We were supposed to board at 2:25pm. I left the Admirals Club at 2:27pm (which was next to the gate) and walked out to find they were already making last boarding calls. WTF? Has American somehow sped up their boarding process?

Anywho, I pre-ordered the Thai chicken wrap, which was brought to me right after the hot nuts were distributed. I was addressed by name, which was nice. The wrap itself was fine. The pita was a bit mushy, but overall OK.

Thai chicken wrap

Thai chicken wrap

 

Afterward, we were given dessert cookies and I had a glass of chardonnay. By that time, I typed on my computer for a few minutes and we were already descending. Incredible! Now, if Miami had been my final destination and I was flying American for business, I’d rate this flight 5 stars. Quick, easy, quiet, and early. Wonderful. However, I’m connecting in Miami and am thinking of switching over from Delta to American. Even still, this flight gave me everything I wanted. The food could’ve been a bit better, but the service was top-notch.

The seat laid back really far and was very comfortable. I had a lot of room to stretch out my long legs!

Seat 3J (sorry it's blurry)

Seat 3J (sorry it’s blurry)

All stretched out

All stretched out

 

This is not the “new” First Class product, but it was perfectly serviceable, especially for a flight only a bit over two hours.

I’m liking American. It could grow on me to feel as comfortable as Delta does now.

For reference, here are a few images of the Admirals Club at JFK:

2013-05-18 14.24.23

2013-05-18 14.24.30

2013-05-18 14.27.46

 

 

Right now, I’m letting my thoughts evolve about American, life, and the state of travel in general (god that sounds dramatic). My next two flights are on LAN, not American, but I figure it’s good to see what their partners are like. Looking forward to that lie-flat seat in Premium Business in a few hours. I’m sleepy!

Btw, here’s my view for the next hour or so:

Happy travels!

Happy travels!

It’s On: AAdvantage Platinum Status Challenge 2013

Man, I’m liking American a lot lately. Today, I called the AAdvantage desk about doing a status challenge for Platinum level, beginning May 16th. I’d been thinking about doing it for a while. I have three flights that end up in Easter Island beginning on the 18th, and since it’s all in first and business class, it’s more than enough to qualify me for Platinum. The rep carefully explained the terms of the challenge, which were the same as described here, so I knew what to expect. But it was still nice to confirm. She actually pulled up my flights and assured me that I’d be Platinum by the time I landed in Easter Island, which was very kind and thorough. Then she put me on hold.

When she came back she said, “I’m gonna help you out. I’m gonna go ahead and upgrade you to Gold so you’ll have a better trip and earn more miles on the way down there.” I was blown away. Now that’s something Delta would never do!

Per the Wiki linked above, I was prepared to pay $240 for the challenge. However, I was only charged $180. Perhaps this is a new thing? I chatted with the rep a bit about the upcoming merger, Explorer Awards, and thanked her profusely for the free upgrade to Gold. That’ll net me 7,000+ free miles in addition to the class bonus. Awesome!

The rep then said I’d get an email with more information, which came as soon as we hung up. Here’s the full text of the email I received from American:

Here’s the Info You Requested on Your Elite Challenge:
Thank you again for registering for an American Airlines AAdvantage elite Challenge. To help you meet
your goal, we are resending information on completing the Challenge. Additionally, if you wish to have a
receipt of the amount you were charged to register, please follow these steps:
1. Go to https://www.refunds.aa.com/
2. Locate the form “Request a Refund or Receipt”
3. In the field for “Ticket Number” input the MSR number I provided to you today
4. Input your Last Name in the next field
5. Select “Go” and the amount you paid is displayed
Now here are some tips to help you succeed:

  • Plan your qualifying flights to meet your goal within the 3-month time frame we discussed. Travel outside this time frame will not qualify toward your Challenge.
  • Be sure to fly on an eligible carrier. Points earned on qualifying flights on American Airlines, American Eagle, the AmericanConnection®carrier, British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines and Qantas (including eligible codeshare flights marketed by these carriers) count toward your Challenge.
  • If you upgrade, please keep in mind that points earned are based on the fare and booking code purchased, not the cabin in which you travel.
  • Learn more about point accrual and qualifying fares for each airline:
  • o American Airlines
  • o British Airways
  • o Iberia
  • o Japan
  • o Qantas
  • How can you determine what booking code is used for the fare you’re purchasing? Simply ask the booking agent, whether that’s your travel agent, corporate travel planner or AA Reservations representative. Or, even better, when you book your flights on AA.com, the Flight Summary screen displays the booking code in the same column as the cabin booked. 
  • Remember that the charge for your Challenge is nonrefundable — even if circumstances beyond anyone’s control prevent you from meeting the goal. 

A Challenge is intended for members who are in a hurry to get to the elite level they desire and begin
enjoying their benefits. Think of it as a shortcut to the status you would probably earn on your own
during the normal qualification period. Assuming you’re successful, please be prepared to meet the
normal criteria when it comes time to requalify for your status, since we offer limited opportunities to
earn status via a Challenge. We wish you every success in completing this Challenge.

Then I logged into my AAdvantage account and saw that I was indeed instantly upgraded to Gold.

Screen shot 2013-05-13 at 6.29.18 PM

 

Looking forward to being Platinum on American this time next week. 🙂 Amazing that I’m now Gold with zero American flights this year and will be Platinum after spending a little under $1,000 on a deal of a fare (+$180). The status will be good through the end of February 2014.

I did ask, out of pure curiosity if Executive Platinum challenges were still on the go. The rep told me they were not, and that they’ve stopped doing them altogether.

So that was my experience with American today. Very generous. Feeling good about making the switch. Can’t wait to post the trip reports next week!