Battle of the Airlines: Why I think American Airlines is the best
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Editor’s note: It’s no surprise that TPG writers and editors have favorite airlines. So we decided to do a battle that covers the top four U.S. carriers. Check out the September 9 episode of the Miles Away podcast to hear us defend our airlines. And click on the links below to read which airlines we chose and why.
Further reading: Podcast: TPG staffers debate their favorite airlines
Further reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think Delta Air Lines is the best
Further reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best
Further reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think United Airlines is the best
TPG Senior Points and Miles Writer JT Genter explains why he’s sticking with American Airlines — thanks in large part to its close ties to the Oneworld alliance.
I have the unenviable task of defending American Airlines. That’s not easy considering the airline is embroiled in conflict with its mechanics and flight attendants, a laggard in many operational measures and its about to restart the ironically-named “Project Oasis” that’s cramming more seats into — and pulling inflight entertainment screens out of — most aircraft in its domestic fleet.
Have I sold you on it yet? Well, here is why I’m sticking with American Airlines, at least for now:
In mid-2019, American Airlines completed its satellite-based Wi-Fi retrofit project, resulting in more than 900 aircraft in its mainline fleet currently operating with high-speed, satellite-based Wi-Fi. Currently, only five Boeing 757s and its Embraer E190s (that are supposed to be retired by the end of 2019) are the only mainline aircraft that don’t have high-speed Wi-Fi.
I’m now able to stay reliably connected and work efficiently when flying domestically. That means I don’t have to book flights outside business hours and I can stay on top of the news during the day while in flight. Plus, thanks to my CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®, I’m able to get 25% off all Wi-Fi purchases. The statement credits that I get from my monthly Gogo subscription alone more than makes up the annual fee of this card.
However, the connectivity on AA’s international fleet could be improved. The Panasonic-based connection is often a frustration. On more than half of my flights using Panasonic, the connection is so bad that I’m given a full refund of my purchase price.
Another way that American Airlines could improve on its connectivity is by fulfilling its promise — since retracted — to enable free messaging for all passengers. However, if AA provides free Wi-Fi planewide, that would be sure to reduce speeds. As someone that relies on fast Wi-Fi onboard, I’m personally not in favor of that.
American was the first U.S.-based airline to introduce a true premium economy product back in October 2016. In April 2019, AA completed its retrofit project, adding the new premium economy seats to all of its Airbus A330-200, Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft. Currently, AA has a total of 3,025 seats on 128 aircraft. That’s substantially more than either Delta or United — the latter of which just launched its Premium Plus cabin in March 2019.
Even better, American Airlines has been giving its top-tier Executive Platinum elites a chance to try out the new cabin for free on certain long-haul flights. If there are empty seats in premium economy, American Airlines is upgrading EPs into the cabin for free at check-in. I’ve had the chance to fly premium economy to China in late 2018 and to Sydney in June 2019. This perk isn’t guaranteed and could be pulled at any time, but it’s been great.
One of my favorite perks of being an American Airlines elite is when I’m not flying American Airlines. AA is in an alliance with some of the best airlines in the world — including Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qatar. That means the miles I earn flying AA can be redeemed for amazing awards on these partners.
Thanks to Oneworld’s three-tier elite structure — compared with two tiers for Star Alliance and SkyTeam — my AA top-tier elite status means that I’m treated as a first-class passenger when flying alliance partners, even when flying in economy. That means perks like access to spectacular first-class lounges when flying through Hong Kong, Sydney, Tokyo, London, Los Angeles and Kuala Lumpur.
Speaking of lounges, American Airlines is in the midst of investing a significant amount in its domestic and international lounges. Refreshed Admirals Club lounges continue to come online with ample seating, power and high-speed internet. However, AA should improve the amount of “real food” at these clubs. I’d be happy to never eat another cheese-cube-and-hummus meal again.
With the opening of the DFW lounge in May 2019, American Airlines has now opened five Flagship Lounges. These spacious and well-designed lounges at most of the airline’s international gateways are some of the best airline lounges I’ve experienced in the U.S. Since it’s designated as a business-class lounge, AA mid-tier Platinum elites and higher can enjoy this luxury when flying internationally — even if they’re flying in economy.
Earn elite status through partners
This is critical to maintaining my loyalty to AA. With the new requirements to earn 15,000 Elite-Qualifying Dollars (EQD) to earn top-tier Executive Platinum status, I wasn’t sure if I’d re-qualify in 2019. Then a very special sale happened. Between flights on Cathay Pacific, Malaysia and British Airways, I accumulated 15,449 EQD and 95,183 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) by March 12 before stepping foot this year on an American Airlines plane.
Since then, I’ve been able return to flying American Airlines domestically and internationally without having to worry about how much I’m spending. And I’m able to score upgrades on these AA flights through American Airlines’ upgrade system.
One perk that definitely keeps me with American Airlines is its upgrade policy. Top-tier Executive Platinum elites get unlimited upgrades when flying in North America through its 500-mile upgrade program. That’s even true on award flights, although the upgrade priority on award flights is lower. Mid-high-tier Platinum Pro elites also get unlimited free upgrades within North America on revenue flights.
If these elites don’t get an upgrade into first class, they’ll hopefully still be sitting in extra-legroom economy, which AA calls Main Cabin Extra. AA’s mid-tier Platinum elites and higher are able to select these seats for free at booking. Bottom-tier Gold elites get to select these for free at check-in. Unlike on Delta, elites don’t have to be upgraded to these seats — which could end up leaving an elite in a middle seat.
Top-tier Executive Platinum elites get four Systemwide Upgrades (SWU) that can be used to upgrade a passenger on any paid flight to the next cabin of service. Although there are fears that this perk could be limited to upgrading from economy to premium economy, you’re currently able to use SWUs to upgrade from economy to business class.
While I understand many EP elites are frustrated with not being able to use these upgrades, it’s never been an issue for Katie and me. By using ExpertFlyer, we are able to know when upgrade space is available and then either book our flights at that time or call the EP desk to ask them to manually process the upgrade. Using this method, Katie is still batting 1.000 on getting SWUs to clear on long-haul international flights — including on AA’s two longest flights: Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles to Hong Kong — and my record is almost as good.
Featured photo via Shutterstock
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