Category Archives: American

Breaking Down 2 Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


I’ll stop with posts about this promotion soon, I promise. But I thought I’d share my specific plans to get 30,000 EQMs by the end of the year to get American Airlines Executive Platinum status.

Since I have a full-time job, minimizing time outside of the office is one of my primary concerns. I also don’t currently have any status on American, so I’d prefer longer, international trips to shorter domestic ones as I won’t yet get any complimentary upgrades on those domestic segments. Together, this means that I was looking to take as few trips as possible over weekends to international destinations.

My first search was for Shanghai. I’m based out of SFO, and SFO-ORD-PVG and back is over 17,000 miles, which gets me well over halfway to the goal of 30,000 miles. There were fares for $1044, or just under 6 cents per mile, and thanks to a generous FTer, I was able to use a 10% off promo code to get it down to $948. I’ll have 26 hours on the ground in Shanghai and miss only a single day of work.

I still need to apply for a Chinese visa, which costs $140, but I figure that I can amortize that cost over the trips I’m sure I’ll take to China next year. For lodging, there are a large number of options, but if I want to minimize my out-of-pocket expenses, there are a couple of Shanghai hotels on the latest Points Break list, which means I could get a night for only 5,000 Priority Club points (roughly $35).

With only 13,000 miles needed to get to 30,000, there are a lot of destinations that would supply sufficient mileage from SFO like almost anywhere in Europe or Asia that’s not Great Britain. I ended up choosing Helsinki, partly because there were fares for a little over $800 or just over 6 cents per mile, but also because it’s another city I’ve yet to visit and I have a couple of friends who’ve been there recently and enjoyed the city. I’ll be flying SFO-JFK-HEL, but unfortunately, the JFK-HEL segment is a codeshare operated by Finnair, so the 10% off AA promo codes don’t apply.

No visa is needed for Finland for US citizens, so no extra costs there. I’ll have about 2.5 days in Helsinki and miss one day of work (the other day I’d miss is Veteran’s Day), so I’ll need 2 nights of lodging. I haven’t figured out exactly what I’m going to do, but I think I might apply for the US Bank Club Carlson (FT link) credit card in my next round of credit card applications, which would enable me to get 2 nights at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel or Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel for only 44,000 points since the second night would be free thanks to the credit card.

My two trips to get to Executive Platinum

My two trips to get to Executive Platinum

So in total, I’ll visit two new cities in two weekend trips to get Executive Platinum status for next year. The airfare was about $1800, the Chinese visa will be $140, I’ll probably spend about 50k hotel points for three nights of lodging, and I’ll miss two days of work. I’ll also end up netting about 45,000 redeemable miles, which I might conservatively value at around $700. All in all, seems like a pretty great deal, no?

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First Mileage Run to AA Executive Platinum Status Booked!

We’ve finally received email confirmation: American Airlines is going to honor the “Fast Track Your Way To Elite Status” promotion, much to the delight of people who registered in time and to the chagrin of many current AA elites.

I received the following email today, confirming my eligibility for the promotion as I don’t currently have elite status with American.

What a nice email to get in your inbox

What a nice email to get in your inbox

Although I’ve deemed it mostly irrational for me to take advantage of this promo, I just booked my first mileage run, which will get me over halfway to the 30,000 miles needed for Executive Platinum. I’ve got another mileage run in mind which will get me the rest of the way there, but I’m now just kicking myself for not playing that silly Planes game a couple of weeks ago and getting a 10% off AA flights promotion code…

Should I Mileage Run for AA Executive Platinum Status?

Last week, there was a very brief period of time when you could sign up for an apparently untargeted promotion that offered American Airlines Gold status after flying 6,000 miles, Platinum status after flying 12,000 miles, and Executive Platinum status after flying 30,000 miles between September 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013, as long as you didn’t already have elite status on AA. And these requirements are for elite qualifying miles, not even elite qualifying points (which are harder to earn if you fly discounted coach since most coach fares only offer 0.5 points per mile), which makes the promotion that much better.

Upon seeing the promo, I immediately started looking at ways to fly 30,000 miles in the last 4 months of the year. I think I can do it for roughly $2500 in total (including visa and other travel costs) over the span of two trips, and I’d only miss a single day of work while getting the opportunity to spend a day each in two new cities/countries. The $2500 also doesn’t account for the miles that I’d earn for flying, which I think would be roughly 45,000, given the bonuses that I’d earn after hitting the Gold and Platinum thresholds.

But does this actually make sense for me to do? I currently fly about 75k miles a year, but I don’t fly at all for work (well, except for 181 miles last year; can you guess the route?), so pretty much all of my flying is for leisure based on the cheapest available fares with minimal regard to alliances or status. Since I’m based out of SFO, this does mean that I’ve hit silver status for the past two years on United, without necessarily trying to do so.

Normally, this would make me think that I should just aim for Executive Platinum, as I imagine that I can just switch most of my flying to oneworld next year (see? the promotion is working! they’ll get incremental flying/revenue out of me), and I’ll surely see more upgrades flying AA as an Executive Platinum than the zero I see as a United Silver flying out of SFO. And the Amex Platinum card offers free AA lounge access when flying American, so that’s an added perk.

I feel like the biggest benefits, though, to getting Executive Platinum are the 8 system-wide upgrades and the oneworld Emerald status, which gets you into all first class lounges internationally. Except for the fact that I wasn’t planning on paying cash for any of my international tickets next year, so I don’t think I’d be able to take advantage of these benefits easily.

I already have two lengthy international trips planned on award tickets, and I was planning a third with my US Airways miles before they leave Star Alliance (although I guess that last part might not be happening now). And since I have a full time job and limited vacation, I’m not sure how many more international trips I’d realistically take, which makes the upgrades and the oneworld status less valuable.

Unless, of course, I just started flying a bunch more just to take advantage of the benefits. But this doesn’t seem very rational on my part, but I imagine this is the intent behind the promotion. Doesn’t it seem brilliant if they can get someone like me who doesn’t fly at all on AA to end up flying 90,000+ miles on them in the next year because of this promotion?

I’m personally still waiting to get written confirmation from AA that I’m eligible for the promotion before booking anything. And I imagine that if they say that I am eligible, I’ll act irrationally, book my two mileage runs, and then end up flying AA next year much more than I would have otherwise.

Review: American Airlines Flagship Service First Class New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO)

American Airlines 179
New York (JFK) to San Francisco (SFO)
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
Depart: 10:30am
Arrive: 1:45pm
Duration: 6h 15m
Aircraft: Boeing 767-200
Seat: 3D

American currently has their first class cabin on the flagship transcontinental routes (such as LAX-JFK or SFO-JFK) arranged in a 2-1-2 fashion. This means that the best seats for solo travelers are the middle D seats. I was debating between 2D and 3D, but a very friendly and knowledgable lounge attendant recommended that I go with 3D as it’s not the bulkhead and usually has less cross traffic (people sometimes use the space in front of the middle seats to get between aisles).

My seat, 3D

My seat, 3D

Seats 3A and 3B for comparison

Seats 3A and 3B for comparison

Plenty of leg room

Plenty of leg room

Seat controls

Seat controls

This lounge attendant also explained to me something I was curious about: my flight was selling only 1 first class seat, but the seat map showed only two assigned seats. She told me that the flight was pretty heavily oversold in both economy and in business, but the first class cabin on these routes is never oversold, so in a sense, the first class seats were used as a buffer for overselling business. And when I boarded the plane, they did need to ask for volunteers, and the first class cabin was filled with only 2 passengers who had paid for first–myself included–and 8 op-ups (there are no complimentary upgrades on this route). (Perhaps a note for people looking for oversold flights: my check-in agent also remarked that the early morning flights from JFK to SFO were constantly oversold, and she didn’t know why revenue management kept on doing it.)

This meant that instead of a nearly empty first class cabin, it was completely full. What was also kinda interesting was that both the other paid first class passenger and myself pre-ordered special meals, but only mine was actually boarded onto our flight. I’d be super angry if I were him, considering that they catered 8 first class meals for people who weren’t even in first, but they couldn’t manage to cater his kosher meal request…

Onto the flight itself: At each seat was a very large pillow and a nice blanket, which was more a genuine duvet than the staticky “blankets” that I’m used to on other domestic carriers like US Airways. The flight attendants served pre-departure beverages, and in general, I’d describe the service as adequate. They seemed to do what was required of them, and they were decently friendly, but I honestly felt like I received better service in coach on Lufthansa than I did in first class on this flight. It was quite similar to the service I received on United Business flying from SFO to ICN (although thankfully there were no noticeable body odor problems from the flight attendants).

Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants distributed the in-flight entertainment systems, which were Galaxy Tabs and noise-cancelling headphones. I appreciated that the headphones were truly noise-cancelling, but one problem I had with the entertainment system was that it was supposed to remain plugged in while in use, but the plug got extremely hot. So hot that I almost burned myself when removing it.

In-flight entertainment system

In-flight entertainment system

While I ordered a special meal, I did take pictures of the normal menu.

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My VGML special meal was okay, but it was simply a business class vegetarian meal served in first. I would have preferred the normal salad from the first class menu served without the chicken, as opposed to the kinda gross salad I was served as a starter. Seriously, who puts such contentious ingredients in an airplane meal? Capers, olives, artichokes, and mushrooms?

VGML first course

VGML first course. Can you spot the non-vegan items?

VGML main

VGML main

The main was edible but dry for an attempt at chana masala. And the carrots were actually inedible. Somehow, they managed to make the carrots mushy yet unchewable. That’s scientific innovation right there.

/startveganrant
My biggest problem with the meal, though, was that not everything in the meal was actually vegan. The vegetarian meal for American is coded as VGML, which is a vegan meal on pretty much every single airline (VLML is often used for vegan lacto-ovo meal, or what people normally consider vegetarian). But the margarine, while not butter, contained whey, which is an animal by-product, and I’m also pretty darn sure that the ranch dressing was not vegan either. Also, why did the cookie have to be wheat-free as well? Vegan baked goods are hard enough to get right as is, but adding gluten-free to the mix makes everything taste like cardboard.
/endveganrant

I tried to get some sleep on the plane and was mostly unsuccessful, but that wasn’t due to lack of seat comfort. Although it’s technically a recliner seat, the seats recline very far back, and you have plenty of room to stretch your legs. I’d probably prefer a seat like this to some of the angle-flat seats I’ve flown.

Seat in reclined position

Seat in reclined position

Is first class worth the premium over business class on these routes? Maybe if you’re taking the red eye. But based on the flight product alone, I don’t think the in-flight experience is significantly better to justify the premium. Considering the Flagship Check-In Experience and access to the Flagship Lounge, it’s perhaps more worth it. And of course, I’m more than happy to fly in first as a free one-way 😀

Review: American Airlines Admirals Club New York JFK

Since I was already in the American Airlines Admirals Club anyway while visiting the Flagship Lounge (the Flagship Lounge is located within the Admirals Club) at Terminal 8 in JFK, I decided to take a tour of the Admirals Club to see what the differences were between the two.

The physical amenities were largely the same: a fairly large room, lots of seating, and ample electrical sockets (why is that last part so hard for so many lounges?). The two clubs share the same shower rooms, which are pretty nice, and the Admirals Club also offers computers for use, as well as a children’s room, which the Flagship Lounge does not have.

Lots of seating with views of the tarmac

Lots of seating with power ports and views of the tarmac

More seating

More seating

Business area

Business area

Sign at the children's room

Sign at the children’s room

The Admirals Club clearly had more people than the Flagship Lounge, but it still didn’t feel crowded. This could have been due to the fact that it was a Tuesday morning, which I doubt is a particularly busy travel time, but it was a lot less hectic than the United Club in the International Terminal of SFO.

The biggest difference was in the food offerings. Understandably, the Admirals Club is a domestic business class lounge while the Flagship Lounge is a first class lounge, so the free food offerings were little more than fruit, snack mix, and some pastries for breakfast.

At least there are yogurt-covered pretzels

At least there are yogurt-covered pretzels

Breakfast?

Breakfast?

There was, however, a pretty wide selection of food to purchase. I’m not familiar with the other food options in the terminal, but I was a little surprised to see so much on offer, and I have no idea if it was any good.

Prepared foods for sale

Prepared foods for sale; would you really buy that sushi?

Snack foods for sale

Snack foods for sale

Menu part 1

Menu part 1

Menu part 2

Menu part 2

Overall, I thought it was a fine domestic lounge, with the key selling points being ample space and power ports. I’d be curious, though, if any of you have tried the food-for-purchase options in the club. Are they any good?

Review: American Airlines Flagship Lounge New York JFK

Another perk of flying first class on an American Airlines three-class transcontinental flight besides Flagship Check-In is access to the Flagship Lounge.

The Flagship Lounge at JFK is located within one of the Admirals Clubs, so when you enter, you need to get specifically let in to the Flagship Lounge.

Entrance to the Admirals Club

Entrance to the Admirals Club

The first thing I did upon getting into the lounge was get a shower room. The Admirals Club and Flagship Lounge share the same set of showers, so it’s feasible that you might have to wait for one, but it seemed like there were plenty of shower rooms available.

Shower with Dermalogica dispensers

Shower with Dermalogica dispensers

Not sure why there's a phone next to the toilet...

Not sure why there’s a phone next to the toilet…

The shower was good: I liked the Dermalogica products, the towels were reasonably fluffy, and the water temperature and pressure were good.

Back in the lounge, there was plenty of seating available, and it never got crowded. The lounge also offered some nice views of the tarmac.

Lots of seating

Lots of seating

Business center

Business center

Nice views of planes

Nice views of planes

The food selection was also pretty good. It was nothing fancy, but there was a typical hot food breakfast buffet as well as some tasty cold options. There was also plenty of alcohol available, if you wanted to drink in the morning.

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The best part of the lounge, though, was the service. I couldn’t find the New York Times at the newspaper rack, so I inquired at the desk about it. The agent told me that the delivery for that day hadn’t come in yet, which was a little disappointing, but an hour or so later, I was hand-delivered a New York Times by a different agent. Nice!

The American Airlines Flagship Lounge at JFK is the nicest domestic lounge I’ve been in. There’s lots of space, it doesn’t get crowded, the food is good, and the service was spot on.

Review: American Airlines Flagship Check-In JFK

A little while ago, I used American miles to book a first class flight from SFO to BKK. Since I live at the international gateway city (in this case, SFO), it’s easy for me to add a free domestic one-way prior to the flight, so I took advantage to have my actual itinerary be JFK to SFO in American Airlines three-cabin first class at no additional cost, and then fly SFO to BKK several months later.

One of the perks of flying first class on an American three-class transcontinental flight is the Flagship Check-In experience. They currently have this service at Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), and New York (JFK), and you can access it by being a ConciergeKey member or a Five Star Service customer, or flying first class on a three-class transcon flight or an international flight (including on oneworld carriers British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines, and Qantas).

Upon arriving at JFK, I was first a little bit confused by the Premium Check-In area, which is NOT where you want to go if you’re eligible for Flagship Check-In. The Flagship Check-In area is located to the far right area of Terminal 8.

Premium Check-In area, which is not Flagship Check-In

Premium Check-In area, which is not Flagship Check-In

This is where it's at

This is where it’s at

At the entrance, there was a woman standing guard who had a mobile device where she looked up my name to see whether or not I was eligible to use Flagship Check-In. I was at the airport quite early since I was pretty jetlagged and had nothing better to do, so I was a little bit nervous that my name wouldn’t yet be on the list, but she did find my name and I was let in.

The Flagship Check-In area is sparsely but elegantly decorated. There were only two other passengers present while I was checking in, and given the fact that the area is located behind frosted doors and a guard, the experience feels very exclusive.

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The check-in process was quick, and I had a friendly chat with the agent who was checking me in. I’m not entirely sure why there’s seating in the check-in area, as I’m not sure when it would be used.

After exiting the Flagship Check-In area, you’re immediately deposited at a segmented-off security line, which is equivalent to TSA PreCheck security. From what I saw, it looked like everyone with Flagship Check-In gets to be in this line, regardless of whether he/she is normally eligible for TSA PreCheck. Since there’s no removing things from your bag or removing your shoes and it’s just a metal detector, the security process was quick and painless.

Overall, I thought that the Flagship Check-In experience was great. It was quick and efficient, and it felt like a nice respite from the bustle of the rest of the airport.