AAdvantage Devaluation

The long awaited and much dreaded situation has finally come to pass, and I am not too happy about it. American Airlines has made some massive changes to their program, and they are worse than originally expected. 

At the beginning of the year AAdvantage points are going away, personally I don't see this as a huge lose, because they are changing Elite Qualifying miles (EQM's) to scale with class just like points used to do in the past, so really this change to me isn't a big deal. However, American just announces that EQM's are going to be cut on partner airlines. If you fly in discount coach on any airline other than American, you'll only earn 0.5 EQM's per mile flown. This seems a bit crazy to me for a few reasons. One is that these are your partners and many times I fly a codeshare, so they are marketed as American Airlines flights... yet they won't earn me the same miles, despite being considered an AA flight. Second, there are places I plan to fly, that are not serviced by American Airlines. Cape Town for instance is either a British Airways flight or Qatar flight, no other options in One World... so I get penalized because American doesn't serve this destination? Seems odd to me.

Next is the earning structure in the second half of the year for 2016. Miles earning is going to way of Delta and United. Despite American claiming they were "innovating" they apparently think innovation is a synonym with copying. Copying is exactly what they did, the earning structure is as follows.

  • AAdvantage Memebers - 5 Miles per $1 spent
  • AAdvantage Gold - 7 Miles per $1 spent
  • AAdvantage Platinum - 8 Miles per $1 spent
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum - 11 miles per $1 spent

So where do I start. First off, why is the earning structure exactly the same as United and Delta. This is a weird business practice that rides the edge of collusion, not to say this is whats happening, but it really is up with with price fixing. There is no reason to make all of your programs the exact same, especially when redemption rates on awards is different between airlines. I will never call this a back door deal without some good evidence, but they sure or skirting the fine edge on this.

Next, why is Platinum only 1 mile per $1 more than Gold. I fly alot to get from the 25,000 miles needed for Gold, to jump to the 50,000 needed for Platinum. Previously the bonus earn on Platinum was 4 times better than it was on Gold... now it's disturbingly low 14% increase... really I think that should be 9 miles at minimum.

The next change is that 12,500 miles will be required for each batch of 500 mile upgrades instead of the 10,000 it used to take. This is to slightly offset the fact that it is mildly easier to reach elite status now... not a huge deal. However, if you are Executive Platinum, they are cutting system wide upgrades from 8 per year to 4. This is huge, system wide upgrades allow one to upgrade one class higher on any flight in the world, cutting these in half severely degrades the worth of Executive Platinum.

On top of all of this, awards costs are jumping up significantly. Business class to Europe is jumping by 7,500 miles each way, and that's the best of the redemption jumps. Some are really bad, increasing by more than 60% in some cases for first class awards... that is insane.

I do enjoy that American is touting the really small good things that came out of this like the fact that awards under 500 miles in flight length now only cost 7,500 miles. This is a really really minor good outcome, it's 95% bad outcomes.

So to summarize, American has "innovated" by following the lead of Delta, I guess they didn't want United to be the only copy cat company. We will manage under the new earning structure, and since only a portion of my miles come from flights, we will continue to take aadvantage of all the other methods of getting miles to still fly in the super expensive, posh classes that are so very nice. Also, I am seriously considering flying more 1st class flights domestically in order to gain more points EQM's domestically since my many international flights next year may be hurt by the partner EQM cuts.

What are your thoughts on these changes?

I Hate Delta, Am I Being Unfair?

It's something that I have thought on occasion when I really lay into Delta... Am I being unfair to them? It's an excellent question, since most of my problems with them have to do with past experiences and their terrible loyalty program. It may be that Delta isn't as bad as I think they are.

First off, lets tackle the loyalty program issues. It sucks, point blank, there is no way around how absolutely awful Delta is to its loyal customers, and they just seem to be on a track to making it worst as often as they can justify... which is apparently all the time. Sadly it seems that United is mildly in love with Delta and just follows everything they do with their loyalty program, American seems to be picking up some bad habits too. It's an unfortunate to turn on the people who fly with them and give them much of the revenue that makes Delta the most profitable airline in the world.

Beyond that, there was one glaring issue with Delta that I had problems with many times... Atlanta. Atlanta is a horrible airport in my opinion. Since it is the worlds busiest airport, it takes very little weather to completely back the airport up for hours. Transferring to any other flight takes the better part of an hour in most cases because of the sheer size and method of moving between gates.

Then there is the Delta staff... useless is about the only way I can describe it. Remember this is my experience from 5+ years ago, before I was a very seasoned traveler. Before I knew that carry on baggage was the only way to go, when I used to check luggage. At the time my company told me to take a company computer with me on my vacation... "just in case"... I took it, and vowed to not open it once. Since I was already overloaded on my personal carry on luggage, I checked the bag. As happened every single time I fly through Atlanta on my way home... my bags were lost... EVERY TIME, no exaggeration there. Well, once my bags were returned, my laptop bag was rather light, like missing a laptop light. 

A Delta employee had stolen the laptop, and worse yet, Delta customer service didn't care. They just told me over and over that I wasn't supposed to check electronics, that they can't put me in contact with a manager... and the Delta employees were yelling at me, and hanging up on me. I remained calm the whole time, after all it wasn't my personal computer. It just struck me as odd that their excuse was that I wasn't supposed to check something, not that their employee was wrong to steal something. I wonder what would happen if I checked a camera, or a spare phone... is it ok for them to steal that too?

After Delta I started flying US Airways almost exclusively and stopped checking luggage. My experiences with US Airways were always good, never did I have an issue with US Airways, and never have I had an issue with American Airlines. To this day I refuse to fly Delta... though I did just grab a Delta credit card last week. I'll use them on an award flight, but likely little else. I will actually pay double a domestic fare, to avoid flying Delta... I did it last week. 

Reviews of their actual flights show them as a great airline... my experiences are not the same though, and I wonder if I should give them a chance. Really though, I'd rather fly American, get my miles on American and maximize my award travel for now. We'll see what the future brings, but for now Delta rarely is even an option to consider for my flights.

So, am I being unfair to Delta? Have they changed?

Off To France

As you might have gotten an idea from yesterday, I am indeed going to France in the middle of November. This seems to be about par for the course on my French trips, last year I was in France about this same time. My job requires me to periodically travel to France where the experiment we are working on is under construction. While in France we work with the team there to resolve issues, see what progress we are making and meet with people we wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to. Never underestimate the power of a face to face meeting, one week in France can get you more information than a year of remote meetings.

Travel is always interesting when going for work. I live in Philadelphia, so I always am trying to take all of my flights from Philadelphia. This can sometimes be a fight as work is in New Jersey closer to Newark, so many people want to fly out of Newark instead. My flying out of Philadelphia also has the added benefit of putting me on American Airlines, my preferred carrier. The downside is that my job doesn’t allow for premium travel, can’t say I blame them, as a tax payer I wouldn’t want other government officials taking premium travel all the time on my dime.

I have found that booking travel through another person can be frustrating. Since I travel so much, my experience with making and booking flights is fairly extensive. There are many tricks to finding good routing and getting in and out of the airports you want for as little money as possible. When you add a middle man into that mix it become far more difficult to get exactly what you want. Personally I tend to be more flexible with my bookings so I can find cheaper fares, better flights, but also a flexibility to spend a marginal amount of money extra to put you on the plane you want. There is a up and down side to everything and often spending an extra $50 can get you a better flight, a better layover, and a much better aircraft.

With all of this in mind, I have unfortunately lost the chance to fly on my dream aircraft, the 787-8 Dreamliner. The change came for cost reasons, a justified change, but one I personally would have made for what I consider to be a nominal extra cost. Instead of taking that brand new 787 which I designed, I will be taking an A330-300. While the A330 is a nice aircraft, and I have enjoyed it in the past, this is a plane I have flown a number of times. There really isn’t anything too terribly exciting about the aircraft for me.

Though it can be frustrating to add a person into the mix for you travel arrangements, I still am very grateful to be able to fly to France. It is for work, but it’s always nice to visit the world for a job, it’s a chance I never thought I’d get.

One thing does come to mind though, how did we ever use travel agents? The ability to plan all of this travel on my own is half the fun of the trip for me, I enjoy the travel planning as much as the travel… maybe in another life I would have been a travel agent.

A Dreamliner Come True

This has been a topic before, but I have gone through quite a bit of effort to attempt to plan my next few trips to happen on a Boeing 787-8. Since was a lead designer on part of the wiring for this plane, I've been itching to get on board this aircraft type. 

Right now I am putting together a trip to France for my day job, I will be flying through London and have the opportunity to overnight in London on my return flight. Fortunately for me, one of the outbound flight options is to fly with British Airways on an American Airlines code share. The flight from PHL to LHR is flown out of Philadelphia around 10:30pm every night on board a British Airways 787-8. Work may have just granted my wish a bit earlier than I had expected.

While I will still be pushing for another flight next year to take place in business class on board a 787-8, flying economy to London will be a treat. I did have the chance to look this flight up and unfortunately the very desirable seats are already taken, but there are still some available with extra leg room. Also, this is a fairly short flight for a trans-Atlantic, clocking in at only 6hrs 30min to London. Flying the reverse direction will be slightly longer, but I'll be covering that direction on an American A330-300, something I have flown plenty of times with US Airways.

This is a dream aircraft for me, it represented 4 years of life designing this aircraft, and I'm excited to have this chance. Granted this is not set in stone yet, plans could change, but I am pushing for this flight and will hopefully have it locked in within the next few days.

The Case For Leg Room

It seems that lately there are more and more stories of violent outbursts, arguments, and ill feeling on airplanes. Many of these arguments stem from leg room associated with reclining seats. This issue seems to spark major debate from many people. Some say its a right to be able to recline, some say that it is problematic.

It's difficult to approach this subject without generalizing, but I will attempt to make my case here. Much of the voices on the internet I have read seem to be in the camp that the recline feature is there so it is a fundamental right. That is a good point, but many people appear to be unable to look at it from the other point of view, people who are tall tend to get hit by this issue far more often.

Now I will be the first to admit, this is far less of an issue on domestic flights. Really I rarely get upset by seat reclining on a domestic flight, the only annoyance in this case tends to be the incredible amount of space you lose with your tray table when someone reclines the seat. I have even had a tray table come close to crushing my computer when someone quickly reclines the seat. Once again though, domestic fights seem to be of little issue for me.

International travel is a big problem though. Being tall myself, I need leg room to stretch out for multiple reasons. The big one is prevention of DVT, I know people who have had DVT issues seriously impact their health for the rest of their life. This is a huge problem and the more the airlines try to pack in people, the more of an issue it become as it is harder for people to move properly and prevent these health issues.

Beyond health issues is basic comfort. The taller you are, the more of an issue the reclining seat become. Personally I am 6'2", on my recent flight to Seoul I had a man in front of me who ignored the flight attendant and kept reclining his seat even on takeoff and landing. The 777-200 has a wonderful metal bar across the back of the seat to support the pocket, this bar came squarely under my kneecap. To avoid that pain, I would shove my feet as far under the seat as possible, the man then proceeded to kick my feet repeatedly even though they were not in his foot space, still unsure how he managed this the entire flight. I was sandwiched between his long recline and his flailing feet.

I must also take this chance to make it known that I did have knee surgery when I was 18, I am fine now but putting my knee in an awkward position for a long period can become painful for me. At one point in the flight I got up to use the restroom and was quickly met with a painful knee that I hadn't felt in nearly 10 years. 

This may be less of an issue for people who have shorter legs, but I want people to realize that this is an issue for those of us with longer legs. Don't just automatically write us off as complainers, it can be a big problem for me.

All of this said, this does not justify resorting to violent action at any point. I will always suffer in silence, but some people take the frustration to a physical level, this is never ok, and at no point should this be tolerated. The airlines need to take some action here to provide not only a comfortable environment, but also one that reduces medical risk like DVT.