I’ve written on and off lately about my AAdvantage in Atlanta experiment. In short, I’ve been flying American more. It has more to do with convenience and price than some conscious effort to avoid Delta or Southwest, both of which I booked flights with over the weekend for travel in the next month or so. American has proven to be relatively reliable, the convenience of exclusive use of the T concourse in Atlanta is undeniable, and having an Admirals Club that is not over-subscribed and steps from the gate is great too. That said, those are not the the three things I’ve enjoyed most during my AAdvantage in Atlanta experiment. So what are they?

An upgrade system that works – I am a lowest tier lifetime Gold member of AAdvantage. I am sure flying a non-hub airline in the shadow of a giant airline hub operation has something to do with this, but my upgrade success rate has been nothing short of miraculous. I recognize that a lot of my upgrade struggles with Delta are market specific, but when you make something “free for all” you create unlimited demand that can’t possibly be met. As a result, my typical spot on most Delta upgrade lists lately has been in the 20-something of 60-something area as a Platinum Medallion (75K) tier. On flights where I am less certain of success using American’s 500 mile upgrades, spending miles and a $75 co-pay on just about any fare secures me an upgraded seat.

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Lite Bites on shortish flights – I’ll catch some heat for bringing up food and AA, but hear me out. Once upon a time I averaged 200K+ miles a year with a high percentage of that being international travel. Nowadays, my travel life is more mundane. I’ve called myself a mostly pedestrian domestic flyer and I’m OK with that. My typical flights are between 500 and 1000 miles. At the 700 mile mark, one of I’ve hit a bit lately, I appreciate the new tappas plates, and I always love the ramekin of mixed nuts. That’s just about perfect for me. On longer flights, American has made some improvements (reversed negative changes) in first class catering with more improvements to come.

American is ExpertFlyer Friendly – I realize I’m probably in the minority here, but I really love being able to make maximum use of ExpertFlyer. I’ve posted before that Delta’s knee-jerk (or just jerkish?) actions toward such a useful tool for people that fly really annoyed me and resulted in my first real written complaint to Delta in …well….since I don’t know when. During my AAdvantage in Atlanta experiment, I’ve successfully used EF to monitor award inventory on a flight I want, grab an aisle seat when I was trapped on a window seat, and generally just make better informed travel decisions. I’m fairly sure Delta doesn’t see its target high-value customer as someone who cares about ExpertFlyer, and I”m OK with that. I’m also OK with the fact that I like being able to use EF to travel better and American permits me to do so. I should probably also add AwardWallet access in here somewhere too, but I’ll stop at just three favorite things.

What happens now? Only time will tell. I haven’t picked up the phone to sign up for American’s Platinum challenge yet, and I probably won’t. I booked flights on both Delta and Southwest over the weekend, so I’m not all-in with any airline right now. That said, American got a lot of things right during my recent travels, these are just three.

-MJ, July 14, 2015