My days as an Executive Platinum member are officially numbered. On January 31, I will no longer hold top-tier status with American Airlines, dropping from Executive Platinum (EP) - past Platinum Pro and Platinum - down to Gold. It was a great a run and fun fact, 2017 was the first time I reached an airline programs highest, published loyalty status. And, I also never imagined it would be with American as I'm primarily a San Francisco-based flyer.
Having enjoyed EP status for all of 2017, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the program, what I liked, and what I didn't.
American Airlines AAdvantage Program
For those not familiar, AAdvantage is the loyalty program for American Airlines. Without getting into program details, AAdvantage underwent a major overhaul in 2017, going from 3 to 4 status levels overnight and shifting from a distance-based program to dollars-spent. This change took place shortly after I hit EP in early-2017, which was concerning, but I managed to weather the changes and actually found the impact to be minor.
Today, AAdvantage status is determined based on a combination of how many miles flown (EQM/Elite Qualifying Miles) or how many segments flown (EQS/Elite Qualifying Segments) and how much you spend (EQD/Elite Qualifying Dollars) in the qualifying year. This method of calculating status is no longer new, as all major US carriers have shifted towards this model.
Here is a screenshot of the program tiers and current qualification criteria. For the most up-to-date information, I encourage you to familiarize yourself at aa.com/aadvantage.
What I love about Executive Platinum Status
When I decided to go for EP status in 2016, the AAdvantage program was still solely based on distance flown, which made it the most desirable US airline loyalty program. To qualify for EP status, flyers would have to reach 100,000 miles flown (butt in seat miles) or 120 segments without a minimum dollar spend. One could fly 60 roundtrip flights between San Francisco and Los Angeles and reach EP status. Not having to reach a minimum dollar spend was the biggest driver for me. And, so, after a dozen transcontinental and international flights, I reached EP status on December 22, 2016 and was on my way.
1. Easy Upgrades
San Francisco-based frequent flyers will agree: American's route network out of the Bay Area is terrible compared to United and Virgin America. The airline offered far fewer nonstop destinations and frequencies to each. However, what made American most compelling was - and continues to be - their transcontinental product. Exclusive to San Francisco and Los Angeles - New York-JFK routes, American deploys the only three-cabin transcontinental product onboard a dedicated fleet of Airbus A321's. These routes are easily the airline's most lucrative and popular domestic flights, and having top-tier status is imperative to an upgrade.
Of the 40,000 miles I flew in 2017 with American, I can confidently say upgrades are quite easy to come by even on transcontinental flights. I could almost expect to be automatically upgraded 72 hours ahead of departure on non-transcontinental flights, particularly on the short hauls. It was great.
2. oneworld Emerald Status
I believe the oneworld alliance operates the nicest lounges in the US, particularly the shared oneworld Business Class and oneworld First Class lounge at LAX. Having oneworld Emerald status will grant instant access to these spaces, even if you're flying in Economy. I will be writing a review of the oneworld lounges at LAX shortly.
And while we're on the topic of oneworld, I believe their collective team is the strongest of the three alliances with strong presences in New York, Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong, Sydney, and Tokyo. I only wish I covered more cities during my time as EP.
3. 4 Systemwide Upgrades
Before AAdvantage's overhaul, all members who reached EP status would receive 8 one-way Systemwide Upgrades which could be used to go from Economy to Business Class, or Business Class to First Class. Unfortunately, the overhaul dropped the number from 8 to 4, with the option of earning an additional 4 once you've flown over 50,000 miles.
Despite dropping the number of coupons, I found these passes to work incredibly well. I used my passes to fly to Tokyo and London, and could confidently rely on my upgrades to be cleared. It was great.
What I don't love about Executive Platinum Status
It was pure luck that I reached EP status in 2016, as my job required a significant amount more travel than years prior. However, that quickly changed in 2017 and I was not able to re-qualify. While there are many things I enjoy about American and EP, there are also equal amounts of challenges.
1. Onboard Service
While American's hard product has seen a significant improvement, I'm afraid their soft product continues to be sub-par in comparison to their counterparts in Asia. Truth is, I would much prefer to enjoy my flights with delicious food and world-class customer service than not.
2. AAdvantage Miles
I did not redeem a single AAdvantage mile since I started accruing them in 2016. For starters, American releases very little award seats on their own metal, which is almost embarrassing. Furthermore, it's not possible to redeem miles for partner flights through their website except British Airways and Finnair. However, airlines like Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines must be booked through their customer service line, which I dread calling. I would be a very happy camper if I could bypass their call center and book award seats directly on their website.
2017 was a great year of flying for me as it was the first time I reached top-tier status with an airline. And, to my surprise, it was with American. Executive Platinum status truly offers flyers a taste of the good life with easy upgrades, promotions, and access to the best US lounge. However, the program is far from perfect with lacking onboard service and invaluable miles. While I had a great run as an Executive Platinum member, I've decided to hop off this hamster wheel and shift my focus on the new Alaska Airlines, which I was able to receive an instant status match for 2018. So, it's time to bid American a farewell, and say hello to Alaska.