As I’ve mentioned probably a dozen times by now, I’m on an Executive Platinum challenge with American, and plan on switching about 100,000 miles per year worth of flying to them. While I’ve had a good understanding of American’s system for several years, I figured I’d share my thought process on them as I do more travel planning with them.
In the past I’ve always been a “pure” mileage runner. That’s to say that my flying domestically is exclusively on revenue tickets, while I redeem miles for international premium cabin award travel. While I have United systemwide upgrades, it can be impractical to use them as a leisure traveler, given that they require a minimum of a “W” fare to use (though my family members love them for travel on Lufthansa, where they’ve had pretty good luck upgrading day of at the airport). To Asia that often translates to a fare of at least $1,500 or so, at least from the east coast. It’s even worse from Australia.
One of the nice things about American is that their systemwide upgrades are valid on all fares, and you get eight of them per year. So as I look into potential mileage runs, I’m noticing that the best runs out there aren’t necessarily domestic ones, at least when everything is factored in. For example, just a couple of days ago, American launched service from Los Angeles to Shanghai, and through June they’re offering double miles on the route, even in discounted coach. The fares between Tampa and Shanghai are about $1,000 roundtrip all-in, which, while not cheap, isn’t half bad when you crunch the numbers.
They allow you to route from Tampa to Miami to Los Angeles to Shanghai, and back the same way. By my math, that’s about 18,650 actual flown miles. As a Platinum or Executive Platinum member you get a 100% mileage bonus, earning you 37,300 redeemable miles. Then as part of the double miles between Los Angeles and Shanghai promotion, you would earn double miles for those two segments as well, for an additional 13,000 or so miles. All in, you’re looking at about 50,000 redeemable miles for the trip.
Now, American doesn’t always have double miles offers on routes, though they do frequently when they launch new routes, much more so than United.
In other words, as an Executive Platinum member, for $1,000 bucks I’m looking at a vacation to Shanghai in business class, first class lounge access along the way, about 19,000 elite qualifying miles, and about 50,000 redeemable miles. If you conservatively value American miles at 1.5 cents each, you’re looking at $750 worth of redeemable miles, making the real “cost” of the trip $250.
Frankly, that sounds pretty darn good to me overall. So while Executive Platinum will likely cost me a bit more to achieve than 1K with United, this seems like a comfortable way to turn mileage runs into mini-vacations, something I haven’t found all that practical with United.
So as I write this I’m by no means trying to turn into an American cheerleader, because I’m not. United’s still my airline. But instead I’m just trying to give a United flyer’s perspective on American as I start to plan my trips with them. They’re a different “animal” in many ways, some good, some bad.