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TPG reader Ahmed Tweeted me the following question this week:
The 2014 elite-qualifying year is still young and we’re still in a time where you can be flexible when strategizing which airlines to fly as you think about 2015. It’s the perfect time to think about changing alliances, it’s better to do it earlier in the year so you have all year to achieve that top-tier status. Now, you can status match or challenge after July 1 for 2015, but it is more difficult to fully retain elite status and hit the amount of miles you need to keep it going. Not only that, but challenges can be difficult because they only give you a 3-month window to hit your mileage requirement, so if your travel plans do end up changing and you don’t fly as much as you thought you were going to, you could waste that opportunity. So what I would recommend if you’re going to switch is to do so earlier in the year so you can hit the mileage/segment requirements on your own without having to pay for a match or challenge.
In terms of Ahmed’s question, I would have said that if you were just focusing on mileage redemptions, United would be my top choice – the main reason being if you want to use your miles to fly to Europe, the fees are going to be much lower on United awards (on United or on other partners like Lufthansa) than on American awards, many of which route through London on AA or British Airways, or through Spain on Iberia, and incur carrier-imposed surcharges in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
However, United is drastically devaluing their miles come February 1, with some mileage redemptions increasing almost 90%, so American will probably be the better mileage program afterwards. That being said, American and US Airways are merging this year, and they could also devalue their mileage programs as well. But even if they do, I don’t think it will be nearly as bad as what United and Delta are both about to pull, so your miles are probably better off there.
I would also say Executive Platinum is the better top-tier elite status because of valuable benefits that United does not match, including complimentary upgrades on transcontinental routes where American is operating some of its beautiful new planes. United gives its 1K’s 6 restricted Global Upgrades compared to American’s 8 potentially ultra-valuable Systemwide Upgrades that can be used on any paid fare, and American’s generous system of Elite Rewards.
In general, Executive Platinum is a better elite status, and certainly lately in my personal experience American has been a better airline and customer service experience than United. So I’d say go American, but feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.