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?