AC vs. AA comparison

Old Oct 4, 13, 10:43 pm
  #1  
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AC vs. AA comparison

Since I have received some PMs regarding my experience with AA, Iīve decided to post a comparison between AA and AC.

Iīve wanted to diversify my flying for a while due to the constant devaluations of the AE program, and the recent AA fast-track promo offered the perfect opportunity. Two TATL roundtrips and I would get AA EXP status until 02/2015.

While I have taken hundreds of AC flights over the last few years and think I know the product and FFP pretty well, Iīve only taken a dozen AA flights so far, so my experience with AA is somewhat limited.

Iīll focus on the following areas:

1. AA business class vs. AC business class
2. AA EXP vs. AC SE: upgrades
3. mileage redemptions AA vs. AC
4. AA EXP benefits vs. AC SE benefits
5. Conclusion
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Old Oct 4, 13, 10:44 pm
  #2  
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AA business class vs. AC business class

1. AA business class vs. AC business class

I usually travel by myself, so my priorities are:

- a fully flat bed
- privacy
- easy aisle access for all pax

I appreciate other pax may have other priorities such as holding your partnerīs hand for 10h, chatting up your neighbour or sleeping in the upright position, so Iīm sure some people will disagree with me.

old AA J seat:

somewhat varies depending on whether youīre flying the 767 (2-2-2 config in J) or 772 (2-3-2 config in J), but pretty terrible overall IMO.

Fortunately AA is in the process of upgrading their J product (though thereīs no definite timeline afaik). At least theyīre doing the best with the hard product available and hand out individual entertainment devices incl. Bose headsets on the 767 and 772 aircrafts, but itīs still quite mediocre compared to the AC pods.

Overall Iīd give the old AA seat a 4.5 out of 10 rating - and Iīm being generous here. Honestly, if I were paying for a business class fare (and hence had a choice between all carriers available on a given route), the old AA seat would be among my last choices.

AA new J seat:


I would give the AC J pods a solid 8 out of 10 rating. Some of the pods are getting tired, but overall itīs still a much better seat than the J seat used by many other TATL carriers.

Not only is the new AA J seat (there are plenty of photos and videos online, e.g. this video - starting at 2:00), a huge improvement over the old AA J seat, but itīs among the very best J seats out there.

AA has introduced a reverse herringbone layout on the new 77W aircrafts. The J seat offers all the benefits of the AC J pod, but is superior in several ways:

- itīs more spacious
- it has a small table to place snacks/drinks in addition to the fold-out table
- you can look out of the window more easily
- better IFE and larger screen as well as Bose headsets
- the pod is more private (higher walls)

I canīt really think of anything to complain about, itīs an awesome seat and easily deserves a 9.5 out of 10 rating.

food/drinks:

I donīt find the wine and champagne selection overly impressive on either airline (maybe thatīs because the same guy chooses the wine on both airlines).

Food probably was comparable with AC: appetizer, salad (completely frozen) and dessert (sundae on all routes - not bad, but gets boring after a while) were worse than on AC. Breakfast and dinner main course were slightly better on AA than on AC.

service:

Had an excellent crew on LAX-JFK in J (transcon 3-class service), but on the TATL flights service was quite unimpressive: no attention to detail, no drink refills, no personal interaction. FAs seemed to do the bare minimum required, FA woke me up on 1.5h before arrival on JFK-LHR despite telling her to NOT wake me up for the breakfast snack. Iīm sure there are better AA crews out there, but I wasnīt very impressed with the AA service at all.

Conclusion:

hard product: new AA J seat > AC J seat >>> old AA J seat
soft product: AC J > AA J
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Old Oct 4, 13, 10:45 pm
  #3  
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AA EXP vs. AC SE: upgrades

2. AA EXP vs. AC SE: upgrades

international upgrades:

What probably got me most excited about AA EXP status are the 8 SWUs - which are valid for a confirmed upgrade (from Y to J or J to F) at time of booking from any booking class. I figured: no more stupid Flex fares on AC and confirmed upgrades at time of booking = no more aerolotto. What else could I want?

Well, sadly, reality isnīt as great as I hoped.

I did an extensive search for TATL upgrade availability: upgrade from Y to J; each day 30 to 90 days in the future on 15 TATL flights; outbound and inbound = 1800 flights (which should be a decent sample size)

Shockingly I found upgrade availability on exactly 26 out of 1800 possible flights. Yes, thatīs a success rate of 1.5%.
Also all of those flights were to the East Coast (e.g. DUB-JFK, ZRH-JFK, MAD-MIA) and as much as I like flying, booking FRA-MAD-MIA-DFW-YVR isnīt quite what Iīm interested in, especially when the J product isnīt overly impressive.

To be fair, upgrade availability on flights to Asia is much, much better. Availability to South America also is reasonably good. But as I mostly fly TATL routes I was quite unimpressed.

While upgrades apparently sometimes clear anytime between making the booking and departure, itīs more common to be upgraded ~2 days in advance or at the gate. (A friend of mine upgraded me using his SWUs and I was upgraded at T-2 days for all of my flights - though I did put a lot of effort into finding flights with plenty of J availability).

Long story short: not much of an improvement over AC when it comes to confirming upgrades in advance. However, the ability to upgrade from any booking class is a huge improvement over AC. I donīt mind paying a reasonable premium in return for the ability to upgrade, but ACīs recent policy to charge at least twice the amount of the lowest fare just to earn 100% miles and a chance to upgrade is just ridiculous.

For those who are interested, upgrade availability from J to F is excellent on pretty much all routes (except those operated by the new 77W) though old AA F is only marginally better than new AA J IMO and F isnīt offered on all routes.

upgrades within North America:

AA has found a good compromise when it comes to upgrades within North America IMO. AA EXP members get unlimited free upgrades while lower status members have to use upgrade instruments (with AC there are no comp. upgrades and one always has to use upgrade instruments). Based on my limited experience it seems the domestic J/F quality is better than on UA which offers unlimited upgrades to all status members, but not quite as good as on AC.
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Old Oct 4, 13, 10:46 pm
  #4  
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mileage redemptions AA vs. AC

3. mileage redemptions AA vs. AC

The main advantages of AA:

- one-way awards are priced at 50% of a round-trip
- distance-based Oneworld Explorer awards are an excellent value in J and F if you want to visit several places and you can include as many OW carriers as you like
- redemption rates are quite reasonable overall
- no fuel surcharges (except on BA and IB)

The main disadvantages of AA:

- only one OW carrier is permitted in addition to AA on regular awards
- no stopovers permitted (except at the NA gateway city)
- routing rules are rather restrictive (e.g. no NA-South Africa awards via Asia or the Middle East)

Award availability isnīt overly impressive overall: Award availability on CX is very good, but thatīs about it. Not much award availablity on AA nor QF nor JL. BA award availability is terrible compared to just 1-2 years ago, but still ok on some routes. Overall there arenīt all that many OW carriers and the routing rules make it even more difficult to redeem miles. Thatīs not to say there arenīt some excellent redemption opportunities such as NA-Asia in CX F for 67.5k miles o/w, TLV-Asia in LY J for 30k miles o/w, Europe-Middle East for 30k miles in J o/w - just to name a few.

This is a huge difference from AC/AE where I can book an award with 10 segments (at a reasonable redemption rate) involving as many carriers as I like - and Iīve certainly maximized many AE award over the year.

With *A I can usually find an award on whatever route I need - it may require some creativity, but not once have I not found an award. Working with OW award inventory and more restrictive routing rules definitely is more challenging.
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Old Oct 4, 13, 10:46 pm
  #5  
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AA EXP benefits vs. AC SE benefits

4. AA EXP benefits vs. AC SE benefits

I havenīt really had AA EXP status for a long time, so I can only comment on published benefits:

lounge access:

AA is quite stingy when it comes to lounge access. They donīt only disallow lounge access on domestic flights (like UA), but donīt grant lounge access on any NA itinerary (except flights to MEX) - which excludes US-Canada itineraries as well.

The Admirals Clubs Iīve visited were quite unimpressive: Theyīre marginally better than United Clubs IMO, but the booze offered is worse than anything Iīve drunk at university, comp. snacks are pretty non-existent, one needs to stand in a line to get a soft drink and other amenities are limited (i.e. no showers, no printers etc.).

The nice thing about AA EXP status is that it grants access to OW F lounges (assuming one is travelling on an intīl itinerary) which generally are much better than *A business class lounges. Iīm certainly looking forward to visiting the BA/CX/QF F lounges during my future trips.

additional award availability:

AA apparently offers some additional award inventory to AA EXP members, however one needs to call the EXP line and specifically ask about it; itīs not searchable online.

Even though the AC IKK benefit isnīt what it used to be, it still seems much better than what AA offers.

other benefits:

- no fees for AA EXP members whatsoever when redeeming miles is a big advantage over AC
- AA waives some other fees (such as phone service fees for revenue tickets) for EXP members
- AA offers a snack and drink to EXP members when stuck in Y which is a nice gesture
- AC has an excellent concierge program for SEs (incl. being able to call the concierge team directly at any major airport - which is a huge benefit IMO) while AA agents seem to be more empowered than regular AC agents to fix things during IRROPs
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Old Oct 4, 13, 10:47 pm
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Conclusion

5. Conclusion

Doing the AA EXP status challenge was absolutely worth it. The 8 SWUs, ~50k AA miles and top tier Oneworld status / access to F lounges for the coming 18 months in return for ~$1700 is a great deal in itself, but Iīm sure Iīll actually shift some of my TATL business from AC to AA.

Thereīs one main reason for this: AA hasnīt taken every opportunity to devalue its FFP and is spending money to massively improve the onboard experience while AC has been constantly devaluing the FFP (often without any advance notice) and the 777HD J product didnīt exactly increase my confidence that the AC product is improving at all.

How much business AC will lose from me will very much depend on how insane AC Flex prices are, how much they screw up the FFP and what kind of business class product theyīll introduce on new planes such as the 787.
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Old Oct 5, 13, 12:37 am
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Very informative, well though out, series of posts Jasper! Thankyou for posting! ^
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Old Oct 5, 13, 2:26 am
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Sound observations

My flying patterns make my conclusions different, but the substance of Jasper's message is accurate. For a Canadian, AA is not the obvious choice. One reason is that most trips begin with a flight to a US hub, while AC offers nonstops from its hubs. Living in Toronto, AC offers better routings and total travel times than AA.

For me, AAdvantage is the difference that keeps me with AA. No scamcharges, cheaper redemptions (J to Asia is 110,000 on AA, but 125,000 on AC and rises to 150,000 in January!), F lounges (BA F in BKK is yummy!), 100% bonus, SWUs applicable against the lowest fares: these are the main attractions.

My flying is all leisure, mostly to Asia. 5 trips to BKK make high status easily attainable on AA and all my SWUs have always cleared. I agree that the old J seats on AA are crAAp.

But the numbers tell the story: on AA I can buy the cheapest fare every time (usually $1,500 YYZ-BKK), earn nearly 40,000 RDMs on each trip, pay only $124 in taxes when I fly on points, in J, on Cathay. Total annual cost on AC would be higher and the average class of travel lower.

Now what am I gonna do with my 250,000 Aeroplan Miles?
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Old Oct 5, 13, 5:27 am
  #9  
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Originally Posted by Jasper2009 View Post
I did an extensive search for TATL upgrade availability: upgrade from Y to J; each day 30 to 90 days in the future on 15 TATL flights; outbound and inbound = 1800 flights (which should be a decent sample size)

Shockingly I found upgrade availability on exactly 26 out of 1800 possible flights. Yes, thatīs a success rate of 1.5%.
Are you including hidden EXP systemwide availability in those numbers (I suspect not)? I regularly benefit from that and you won't see it on the web site or Expert Flyer. The agent has to input your account number to see that availability, so it would require talking to an agent for each and every one of those 1800 flights you researched to see what is available that may be hidden from public view.

I've cleared 100% for 12 years running now including 8 systemwides this year, and I'd say that 90% of those have cleared at booking, though I'm not flying during the summer for the most part. I recall one flight they opened up 3 seats for my party when Expert Flyer showed "0". This year they opened up seats for me from both Frankfurt and Dublin. As you gain some more experience with the EXP program you'll hopefully be able to utilize these perks.
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Old Oct 5, 13, 7:23 am
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Excellent comparison of the things I value- on board esp seat and all aisle access in J.

From the middle of the continent, my choice needs to include an evaluation of DL (on board folks, not redemption's!) and potentially BA now that AC's 'business decisions' have opened the door to new experiences.
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Old Oct 5, 13, 7:53 am
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Nice comparison.

I will get AA Exec Plat in Nov and like the 767 seating in F (angle flat) for some of their MIA-NYC, LAX-MIA flights.

On another note, my least favorite AA hub, MIA!
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Old Oct 5, 13, 8:23 am
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I flew 5 AA flights in J/F this summer.
MIA-LAX - flagship 777 F - pretty good seat that swings around, food was pretty good. Decent IFE. But the plane itself was pretty dirty.

LAX-Hawaii-LAX - a 757 right out of 1975. Dirty, disgusting, uncomfortable "F" seats - pen markings all over seats, made me actually appreciate AC
The flagship lounge in LAX actually very nice, lots of food and drink. Crews were cheerful and attentive (a nice change from AC/UA)

LAX-JFK - flagship 767 F - for transcon F - it was pretty ghetto. Seats didnt even go flat. Plane was pretty beat up and dirty (I understand they are replacing these)

JFK-MIA was cancelled while we were about to pull out. They claimed weather related. The only problem with that was not a single cloud in the sky, and all other planes taking off. There was no weather at MIA either.
This was an outright lie. Rebooked at the AAdmirals club, but no offer of compensation or hotel. Was stuck overnight at JFK at my own expense on a paid F ticket, as a OneWorld elite, due to their lies.. It took them 4 hours to unload bags from the cancelled flight too. Was sent a measly $100 in compensation a month later.

Next day flight, on their new 757 intl configured business seats (4 rows 2x2).
Great seat, but again, plane was disgustingly dirty, there were old kleenexes and food bits between the seat and the wall.
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Old Oct 5, 13, 9:27 am
  #13  
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Originally Posted by tom911 View Post
Are you including hidden EXP systemwide availability in those numbers (I suspect not)? I regularly benefit from that and you won't see it on the web site or Expert Flyer. The agent has to input your account number to see that availability, so it would require talking to an agent for each and every one of those 1800 flights you researched to see what is available that may be hidden from public view.

I've cleared 100% for 12 years running now including 8 systemwides this year, and I'd say that 90% of those have cleared at booking, though I'm not flying during the summer for the most part. I recall one flight they opened up 3 seats for my party when Expert Flyer showed "0". This year they opened up seats for me from both Frankfurt and Dublin. As you gain some more experience with the EXP program you'll hopefully be able to utilize these perks.
Thanks for the info! Indeed, I only searched for booking class C. I was aware that high-value EXP members are sometimes upgraded (at time of booking) even when C=0, but was unaware of a hidden upgrade inventory. Is this indeed inventory accessible by any EXP? If so, I wonder why they would have two subsets of inventory and hide one of them?
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Old Oct 5, 13, 9:36 am
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Originally Posted by yyzAAguy View Post
My flying patterns make my conclusions different, but the substance of Jasper's message is accurate. For a Canadian, AA is not the obvious choice. One reason is that most trips begin with a flight to a US hub, while AC offers nonstops from its hubs. Living in Toronto, AC offers better routings and total travel times than AA.
Iīd say that AA is as much of alternative to AC as UA (assuming all airlines fly to your destination, AAīs TPAC coverage is quite limited), but indeed, connecting via the US is not as convenient as flying non-stop ex-Canada.

Previously Iīd fly Europe-Canada-US on AC reasonably often eventhough it wasnīt the most convenient option. For those flights (and the odd flight to South America and the Caribbean) AA seems like an excellent alternative.
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Old Oct 5, 13, 9:42 am
  #15  
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Jasper you forgot one pertinent comparison, the looks of the crew and agility.
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