Help a Reader: Where Should I Spend My 100-150K Miles Annually?

I received the following question from Peter and he (and I) would love additional feedback beyond what I provided. First, his question:

I fly 200K – 250K for business (mostly China) and try to divide it between UA and AA to keep my top tier status with both. I will turn 40 soon and don’t want to spend the rest of my life in the air. That brings me to the question which FF program should I stick to when I cut down my “butt in seat miles” to about 100K-150K/year.

I prefer StarAlliance because I can use miles on more airlines to destinations that I like, but AA is getting better (customer service, meals, planes, …) and I have access to Flagship lounge, I get SWU on any fare and my domestic upgrades clear 80%, UA only about 50%. I fly LAX-PVG a lot and both airlines have great connections.

If you would pick one program, which one would it be?

I think it’s pretty difficult to narrow down a succinct “this airline over the other” answer, as each person is different and might value certain benefits of a frequent flier program and airline more heavily over others.

Here are the main considerations I replied with and asked Peter to ponder:

Lifetime Status: If he is closer to a lifetime status tier with one carrier over another, I recommended focusing his 100-150k per year on that carrier. Given the likelihood that all U.S. airlines will add a revenue requirement to attain elite status each year (a la Delta), I think it’s an important consideration to lock-in some status now, even if it’s not top-tier.

American-US Airways Merger: As we’ve seen with the Delta-Northwest and United-Continental mergers, frequent flier programs change. American is indeed very generous currently with SWU applicability on all international coach fares and has a pretty good record – based on trip reports – of excellent service (which has been my experience compared with United). Will a Doug Parker-run American destroy some of American’s allure and generous frequent flier program perks?

Alliance Strength: Peter admits Star Alliance is his preferred global alliance and I have to unapologetically agree. Star has the greatest number of truly premium carriers and I certainly value my United miles greater than my American miles for worldwide redemption opportunities.

Service Matters: American’s AAdmirals Club, particularly at LAX where Peter seems to be based, is far stellar to the United Club. Here’s a look at the Flagship Lounge, for example. And in my experience, more of American’s flight attendants seem to have a truly genuine desire to provide exceptional customer service than United’s.

I think it’s almost a “wait and see” game with how American evolves in the merger with US Airways. But if I were Peter, I’d definitely focus that 100-150k on a single carrier for top-tier status. Would it make sense to split it? What are your thoughts?

Related posts:

What the New American AAdvantage Program Might Look Like

Why an American-US Airways Merger Worries Me

American Flagship Check-In and Lounge at LAX

Comments

  1. Or you could potentially do 100k on AA to maintain exec plat status, and 50k on United so you are Star Alliance Gold. Then go with whatever airline ends up being the best a few years from now. That way you hedge yourself.

  2. Awesome post and I must admit I am somewhat incredibly jealous of Peter since he must be close, or may even have LT Elite status with UA and AA. 😀

    I would add a couple of points.
    Regarding LT Elite status: UA’s is far superior. 1 Million Miles gets you straight to Star Alliance Gold (top tier)/UA Gold Status (2nd tier) and if Peter ends up flying 4 million miles he will get the coveted Global Services status for life. AA will not even give lifetime Executive Platinum, much less Concierge Key status. Although I would hold on tight until after the merger to see how they revamp the AAdvantage program before deciding.

    Regarding alliance strength, fair enough Star is stronger, but only in number of carriers. When it comes to quality, oneworld seems to be heading in the right direction. By adding Malaysia and Qatar, oneworld will have 3 out of the 6 5-star carriers. If rumors that they may add Hainan come true, then it will be a whopping 4/6. Star does have Asiana and Singapore, but availability for premium cabin on the latter is very limited when using UA miles.

    Those are my two cents I suppose. Hope it is helpful 🙂

  3. I am ua 1k, Aa excutive platinum, I like 8vip upgrades lot, I think he could fly lax/ord/pek, pvg/ord/dfw/sfo/lax on Aa this two month for 900usd include tax, I had 3tickets this route in these 2month, just do little milage run will let he keep both ua 1k, and aa excutive platinum.

    Aa domestic fare is little bit higher than ua, last year aa has double milage for all flight, he could easily qualify for both. Good luck.

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