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How I'm Changing the Way I Think About Economy Award Tickets (Not an April Fools' Post)

April 01, 2014
6 min read
How I'm Changing the Way I Think About Economy Award Tickets (Not an April Fools' Post)
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You'll see a lot of fake posts around the blogosphere today (Amex 1 million point Platinum card sign-up bonus today only - fee waived!), but I personally hate them. So if you're looking to be fooled today, you won't find it in one of my posts.

However, you may be surprised by the topic of this post; I'm changing the way I think about economy award redemptions. I think people think I'm a snob when it comes to travel - only to the finest hotels in first class or most cutting-edge business class (angled lie-flat seats - the horror!). True, I enjoy premium travel because I'm 6'7" and frankly, economy seats were not made for people my size. However, contrary to popular belief, I do fly economy quite a bit (I took economy trips to Cape Town, London and within Australia all within the last 6 months) and recently redeemed for an international economy award, and it has been changing the way I think about my redemptions.

Economy For Me!
Economy for me!

While premium cabin redemptions are great for the relative value (a $20,000 seat for 140,000 miles and $10!), I've seen availability shrinking over the years as the economy has rebounded and airlines focus on more on premium economy and business classes than first class. It is by no means doomsday (I've redeemed recently for first class to Australia, Maldives and Dubai all within the last 4 months), but you need to be more flexible than ever. And as my life becomes exceedingly more busy as I try to balance a blog that doubles in size roughly every 9 months and attempting to have a personal life, the timeframes and availability for trips becomes more and more demanding!

Case in point - a month ago a friend invited me to go to Fernando de Noronha - a tiny island off the coast of northeastern Brazil. The best way to go was Miami-Recife on an AA nonstop flight and then an hour long flight on either Azul Airlines (which is essentially the JetBlue of Brazil) or GOL. However, since this flight only operates 4 times a week, the business class cabin was sold out for my outbound. Economy tickets were $1600 roundtrip, BUT AA had released sAAver level off-peak (for Brazil: Mar. 1 – May 31; Aug. 16 – Nov. 30) economy awards at only 20,000 miles each way, which was great.

GOL - The jetBlue of Brazil!
GOL - Great for intra-Brazil travel

I sucked it up and got an exit row seat for free, lounge access because I'm oneworld emerald (though I didn't even use it because I got to the airport late) and guess what - I got to my destination at the same time (maybe even a couple seconds before) as the business class cabin! While my sleep wasn't as good as it would have been in AA's angled lie-flat business class product on this international 757, I still got a solid 5 hours and hit the ground running to explore the wonders of Recife for 5 hours before continuing on to my island paradise.

No imagine me at 6'7" trying to cramp into one of these seats to sleep...
Now imagine me at 6'7" trying to cramp into one of these seats to sleep...

So here you go, here are my Top 5 Perks of Flying Economy:

  1. Saving miles and money for even more trips (assuming you can get SAAver level - sometimes economy can cost more then business!)
  2. You're not tempted to eat sub-par airplane meals - I always eat a full healthy meal in airport and go to sleep vs. always being tempted to eat and drink more when in premium cabin. I just can't say no!
  3. Less carbon footprint
  4. Grounding yourself to realize how most of the world travels...and realizing that we are SO fortunate to even be able to travel at all
  5. The economy section of the plane lands slightly before business class! (I'm stretching it here!)

On my flight, only peak business class awards were available at 100k miles each way and I just couldn't justify that 5x difference and I'm glad I did not splurge, even though I have the miles to do it.

Bottom Line:

With limited time I'd rather get to a destination quicker to experience it more than simply have the pleasure of flying in a slightly less cramped space in a metal tube. On this trip I could have flown TAM to Sao Paolo and then to Recife and then Noronha, but that would have required a ton of more time in the air which means less time on the ground to be productive and enjoy paradise. That being said there are still amazing ways to maximize premium cabin rewards and I will still continue to do so to visit far reaching places of the world when possible, but to me- travel is about the destination and the experiences on the ground more than the mediocre dried-out salmon amuse bouche that you might get in an airplane.

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Tasty, but is it worth the extra money or miles?
Tasty, but is it worth the extra money or miles?

So stay tuned for my full AA economy trip report and also more posts on how to maximize economy class redemptions as well. We've covered them before, but with the ever-changing award chart devaluations and "enhancements" expect the whole TPG editorial team to focus on economy awards just as much as we help you all fly first and business class on the cheap! Also definitely check out some of my best tips on surviving economy on long-hauls!
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