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Battle of the Airlines: Why I think American Airlines is the best

Sept. 10, 2019
8 min read
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.

Further reading: TPG Special Report: The 2019 List of Best and Worst U.S. Airlines


AIRPORT PRINCESS JULIANA, SIMPSON BAY, GUADELOUPE - 2016/12/05: An American Airlines Boeing 757-200 seen landing at airport Princess Juliana just over Maho beach. (Photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
An American Airlines Boeing 757-200 seen landing in Saint Maarten (Photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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.

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Have I sold you on it yet? Well, here is why I'm sticking with American Airlines, at least for now:

High-speed connectivity

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® 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.

The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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.

Premium economy

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.

Related: Best Credit Cards for American Airlines Flyers

Oneworld alliance

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.

Excellent lounges

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.

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 image by (Photo via Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
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Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023