Monday, June 16, 2014

Need Ideas To Spend Our American Airline Miles

As most of you LCD readers know, my family is pretty loyal to United Airlines. That being said, we do keep up to date with what goes on in the industry - such as the American-US Airways merger.

The reason we care about the merger is because in addition to the United miles we have earned, my family also has over 480,000 AA + US miles combined. That's enough for 3 round trip flights almost anywhere in the world all in FIRST class on any airline in the OneWorld Alliance, including Cathay Pacific, British Airways, LAN and Qantas as well as some codeshare partners such as Ethiad.

If you're not that familiar with the difference between business class and first class, then let's take a moment to clear things up a bit.

When Americans fly domestically in "first class," the seat and experience are probably closer to what international flights would consider business class. Domestic first class passengers get a marginally larger seat that reclines a bit more, additional leg room and an in-flight meal with free alcoholic beverages (beer, house wine, mid-tier spirits).

Perhaps they even get a shorter line to wait at check-in and at TSA security, but everything will basically look and feel exactly the same as the economy check in and security lines. This domestic "first class" is NOT what we're talking about here.

True international first class starts from the moment you arrive at the airport. Many of the foreign airlines have radically unique first class check in areas; some even with completely standalone first class terminals that look more like hotels than airports. Even further, some of the Middle Eastern airlines also offer their first class passengers a free chauffeured ride from their hotel/home to the airport.

Then after you check in, you head over to the First Class Lounge where you have access to higher end meal options, including a proper dining area that looks more like a restaurant. Again, think luxury hotel level features and amenities. For a detailed review of the world's best First Class Airport Lounges, check out OneMileAtATime's posts (Lufthansa in Frankfurt, Emirates in Dubai, Air France in Paris, Ethiad in Abu Dhabi, and Thai Airways in Bangkok).

Some airport terminals (especially those where that airline has a primary hub such as Lufthansa in Frankfurt or Thai Airways in Bangkok) will have additional first class passenger features such as a full bathtub to unwind between flights, a mini spa where you can get a free massage, or even a ride in a Mercedes across the tarmac to your plane.

And that is all before you're personally escorted onto the plane as the very last passengers to board. The entire flight will wait for you.

And since you don't need to secure your shared overhead space for your carry on, you can avoid fighting your way onto the plane with the "gate lice" who can't seem to comprehend the concept of a line.

Then when you board, you are personally identified by the first class cabin crew (usually the highest performing staff) who is staffed at a much more favorable crew-to-passenger ratio than in the other cabins. In fact, out of the 8-12 first class seats on a flight, there's a strong chance that only 2-4 of the seats will be taken so you may be outnumbered by the first class crew.

Then we get to the difference in seats. As you can see in the photo on the left, the Cathay Pacific business class seats are plenty comfortable. But when you see the Cathay Pacific first class cabin on the right, you can see that a single first class seat can actually fit two full-sized adults comfortably.

Now this is literally the definition of a first class problem, but the seats are set up to give a single passenger as much space as possible. That'd be great for the solo business traveler, but probably less so for a family with a young (but adorable) toddler. Somehow, I think if my parents and I were lucky enough to score 3 seats in first class, we would find a way to make it work.

So where should we go in 2015? We could try for Qantas to Sydney...

Or Ethiad to the Maldives...

Or British Airways to Dubrovnik...

Or Cathay Pacific to Boracay...

Or LAN to Rio de Janiero...

So many great choices!  Now we just need to find some vacation time from Five Star Painting IL.


  1. Speaking from experience (million miler on AA) and having done BA to Europe, Ethiad to the Middle East, and CP to Tokyo/Hong Kong, I absolutely recommend Qantas in First on the A380 to Oceania. Our trip of a lifetime was LAX-Auckland, renting a car and driving the length of both islands over a couple weeks knocking out bucket list things like bungee jumping, flying short hops Queenstown-Cairns-Ayers Rock-Sydney for another week, and then Melbourne-LAX return. Ate up the miles but the eleven course meal onboard (we asked for and were given both options for one of the ten) made it more than worth it... It's the only place we've been that we've said we'll absolutely repeat (just NZ the second time around).

    1. Thanks for the great idea. NZ is definitely on our short list!

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