Best Frequent Flier Program?

Sep 13th, 2005, 11:16 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 32
Best Frequent Flier Program?

I live in San francisco, and am a AA Frequent Flier. The program's great, but I'm finding that maybe signing up for United is a good alternative to have.

A few questions about United:
1) Is United's Mileage Plus good?
2) Can I earn miles faster with AA than United?
3) What is the best Credit Card option with United - I see that the annual fee for Platinum is the same as the next lower tier.

Anyone that can provide objective feedback on United - greatly appreciated! Also, which US airline has the best, fastest frequent flier program besides SWa?

ALSO, I'm thinking of traveling to Europe - is United or American best to travel to London? I think AA is, but just want to make sure.

Thanks all!
wilsm79 is offline  
Sep 14th, 2005, 03:19 AM
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Miles are generally earned one mile for each dollar spent on a credit card - sometimes there are various promotions, but that is the general rule.

So you can't earn miles faster on one airline versus another with just a credit card.

If you fly with any frequency, I recommend getting a credit card on the airline you most frequently fly - that way you charge the flight, get miles for flying plus miles for charging.

The best airline for redemption is obviously one which flies where you want to go. For example, SWA is great for earning and redeeming, but since we fly out of Boston, it is useless to us.

As an aside, I personally can't stand UA - have found that in a world of poor customer service, they are at the bottom. Maybe it has something to do with the phone customer service person arguing with me that Wyoming was not part of the US.

gail is offline  
Sep 14th, 2005, 04:47 AM
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wilsm79......I see you have 2 posts, so Welcome! I am from LA and I have found that sticking to one airline reaps the best benefits.But, YMMV....what is good for me may not be good for someone else.And my airline of choice is not UA.I didnt do any research at all when I started flying.It just happened that I ended up on AA.Then it was pointed out that if I wanted to achieve elite status and rack up the miles, I should stick to AA.You will not find me on Flyertalk.I have precious little time even to spend here.But may yield more specific answers to your questions.In any case, best of luck,Happy Flying....Stephen
BeachBoi is offline  
Sep 14th, 2005, 05:27 AM
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Seeing that San Francisco is a hub for United, that could make good sense. I live in Florida and United has terrible connections and high prices here. American has a hub in Miami. Anyone living near Newark or Houston has gotta love Continental.

Do check the yearly fee on the credit card. Continental just sent me an application for a credit card with bonus miles. However, the yearly cost of the card was $85. No thanks, Continental. After four years that would be $340.

If you don't fly that much I would recommend getting a cash back VISA card and buy your airline ticket.

I'm down to three airline cards now and try to fly at least once on each airline.
wally34949 is offline  
Sep 14th, 2005, 06:22 PM
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Thanks for the welcome.

I'm an AA frequent flier, but am considering signing up with United too. I just wanted a comparison between the 2, to see which was best - specifically from a United point-of-view.

Personally I love AA. Never had a bad experience with them.

But being I'm in SF, I'm wondering if I should sign up with United too given its a hub....

Also, see my post about Delta - I'm curious to get everyone's thoughts on this. I think it's a very important question out there for the next year.


wilsm79 is offline  
Sep 14th, 2005, 08:07 PM
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1) Yes, the United Mileage Plus program is excellent.
2) Probably not; could be the other way around. In addition to frequent mileage bonuses the program offers several elite qualifying mile bonus opportunities.
3) Can't help with the cc decision.
mrwunrfl is offline  
Sep 14th, 2005, 08:13 PM
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What do you REALLY mean by "signing up"? All FF programs are free - you can sign up with as many airlines as you want, with a few exceptions like BA.

The only good long-term way to earn a lot of miles is by flying - a lot. Sure some credit cards or whatever will give you some bonus miles, but it's usually a one-time deal. And unless you buy a lot of stuff for yourself or your business, it'll cost a whole lot of money to earn a free ticket.

Now, the way to earn big miles is to fly a lot, with miles deposited into one FF program. That means at least 25,000 seat miles or so-called Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) to become an elite.

If you fly enough a year to do that, then the FF game is for you. If you don't fly 25K per calendar year, my suggestion is to forget about it. Just buy the cheapest/best ticket for each trip. And get a cashback credit card (or one that can earn points that can converted into various FF miles), instead of a credit card tied to one single airline.

As for your London trip, if you're flying coach, then the simple rule is that non-stop is always better than one-stop. SFO-LHR means UA, BA (no AA miles on this flight) or Virgin (you can earn CO miles).
rkkwan is offline  
Sep 15th, 2005, 03:33 AM
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Agree with above - but if you mean by "sign up" geting an affiliated credit card and you actually charge and/or fly a lot, then it is generally better to stick to one than end up with 15,000 useless miles on 6 different airlines.
gail is offline  
Sep 15th, 2005, 04:21 AM
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Interestingly enough the current Consumer Report magazine came out with rankings for airline FF programs.

1 AA
2 NW
3 Alaska
4 DL
5 US
6 CO
7 UA
8 America West

I don't have this issue so I really don't know what factors were used for this rating, but Consumer Reports is a fully independent organization and their magazine does not sell adds. The organization is supported by donations and magazine sales only, so it will be hard to argue that they may be playing favorites.

The website is a pay site so I can't give you a link to the article.
AAFrequentFlyer is offline  
Sep 15th, 2005, 02:07 PM
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I just read the fine print on the CR rankings. In a nutshell...

-Testers sought to book economy award seats on the airlines' four most popular routes (w/in the 48 states), plus Hawaii (or alt route for SW and JetBlue, which don't fly there) without paying extra miles. The checked for certain days in July, September and Christmas holiday. They deducted points when securing the tickets required using more miles (standard awards), different dates, or suboptimal departure times.

-Test was for non-elite flyers; they did not account for the impact or rewards of status

-They list some other program details for comparison purposes - i.e., miles required for award, number of partners, blackout dates, charges for phone booking, etc. - but it appears the basis for the rankings is mostly the test described above.

I'd call it an interesting, but not comprehensive evaluation.

For the OP, I've been a UA MP member for 10 years, and I have a pretty sizeable balance of AA miles as well. Since I rarely travel for work these days, I bunch all my travel on United or Star Alliance partners to ensure at least a minimum level of status - which enhances the benefits of membership (e.g., Economy Plus seating). I've generally been happy with both programs. I've redeemed more miles with UA in recent years, and for the most part, I've been able to get what I want. I like UA's partner network to Europe - lots of options.
ms_go is offline  
Sep 15th, 2005, 02:39 PM
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As an AA elite, I hate to speak heresy but if I were starting over again I'd probably look real hard at UA's plan rather than AA's.

My main reasons for this are twofold. First, as a west coaster, I am appalled at AA's continued ceding of its operations to LCCs or to Alaska. North-south coverage on the Pacific coast is virtually gone, given over to Alaska; transcontinental service is being reduced from SEA and SFO and SAN; only LAX (thanks be to the SAG contract) continues to receive first-tier attention from AA. All others increasingly are being sent to Dallas or... Dallas (maybe Chicago) for their connections, while Jet Blue and Song and whoever flies to NYC or Boston, etc.

Second, AA's recent elimination of "MRTC" - coach legroom - makes their coach service no better than anyone elses, except United's where if you have FF status you can sit in economy plus and not have your knees in your chest for hours on end. All alone, this would be a perk that would make me seriously reconsider my FF loyalty.

Meanwhile, Star is moving ahead on other fronts, like allowing cross-carrier upgrades using miles (UA isn't part of that game yet but likely will be) while AA and One World could care less. Star is expanding, so if you want to go to central Europe, as well as the edges, you have way more choices than with One World (UK, Spain, Finland), and Star's coverage to the Pacific Rim from California and the PNW is streets ahead of OW's, even counting Cathay Pacific's excellent service.

All of which is not to say AA's program is any slouch. Mileage accrual is excellent, some of the OW awards one can earn through AA are much more cost-effective than their UA/Star counterparts. The elite challenges are great for beginners.

And United is, after all, still in bankruptcy, and we may not have seen what it will look like upon emergence from Ch. 11 next year (?)

And I think in general AA offers a better in-flight experience all things being equal, although the past year has seen erosion of conditions in the back, for sure. But ditto UA.

Much depends on your travel habits. If you go to Europe a lot, your choices from SFO don't help your AA FF account very much. If you fly up and down the coast, then an Alaska membership (which has relatively easy elite qualifying standards and lots of inter-airline partnerships, including AA elite-qualifying agreements) might be a good choice. If only AS would update their fleet and buy a good wristwatch.

Still, the lure of Economy+ in UA would probably be the clincher for me.

If I wasn't an AA junkie...
Gardyloo is offline  
Sep 16th, 2005, 01:45 PM
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Like Gardyloo I've always liked flying American, but since I travel out of N. California, I'm pretty much stuck with using UA most of the time. It would be great if AA increased their presence here. Anyway, United is really not that bad and with elite status I can generally get an upgrade. When I can't, since I am 6' 4", economy plus seating really does make traveling easier.
Travelermebe is offline  
Sep 16th, 2005, 05:43 PM
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Gardy, thanks for the opinion! Great comparison between UA and AA.
wilsm79 is offline  
Sep 17th, 2005, 07:39 AM
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We use our bank's "reward" system that allows us to accumulate points that can be used on any airline with no blackout dates. There is also a cash back option.

This week I booked two tickets for the Wednesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend for 25,000 points each. I never could have done that in an airline FF program.

The downside is that the miles you acutally fly don't count, just the dolars you spend.

Our bank is M&I, the largest in Wisconsin, but small compared to the big national players; it's only in the top 50 in the US. There are also offices in Arixona, Florida, Minnesota and Missouri.
abram is offline  
Sep 17th, 2005, 10:39 AM
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IMHO, with so many (free) credit cards now offering 5 cents back for every purchase at supermarkets, drugs stores and gas stations and 1 to 2 cents everywhere else, you are probably better off dollarwise using that kind of card than using a FF miles card to obtain airline coach/economy tickets. On the other hand, if you use FF miles for upgrades on purchased tickets, or for free business or first class tickets, particularly for international travel, you are better off dollarwise with a FF miles card.
ET is offline  
Sep 17th, 2005, 09:14 PM
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So,I bit the bullet and signed up with UA's FF program. I got the Visa Signature, 20,000 bonus miles which was nice. $60 annual fee, so not too bad.

Has anyone used the NEW AMERICAN EXPRESS program that allows you to book travel with any ariline with your AMEX pts.

Good or Bad? I think it's a rip off. You spend 1 dollar for 1 point, but the AMEX rewards don't give you the rewards accordingly like the airlines do.

If I have 40,000 AMEX points, it doesn't earn me a great free trip like it would with the airlines on this new "Any Airline" program.

Also, I think AMEX's basic Member Rewars program for Airlines, and other items sucks. AMEX is suppossed to be this classic elite card beyond Visa and MasterCard - at least their advertising says so. I'm in the Ad business, and I think it's far from that. You need 40,000 pts. just to get an Economy COMPANION class ticket to Europ for example.

Interested in everyone's thoughts on the AMEX program(s).

wilsm79 is offline  
Sep 18th, 2005, 02:10 PM
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all depends on where you mostly fly !

I would vote for United and Star Alliance which also include Lufthansa with so many connections through Europe.
Give a look at also for mileage options !

I never had problems with United/Lufthansa
Fabio is offline  
Sep 21st, 2005, 05:16 PM
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I think it depends on where you fly from and the routes/reach of each carrier. I fly out of SF and I've been Premier with UA for a few years. I agree with most of what ms_go said.

I do think American has better customer service and I have to say that I've found it fairly easy to redeeem American awards over the years. United's move to send their Customer service overseas hasn't helped.

In addition I've recently found that most of the itineraries I've been looking at are cheaper on AA.

However, having said all of this UA still offers premium economy which I can get for myself and my husband. From SFO, UA offers 2 direct flights a day to London which is a route I frequently fly and I have little or no interest in travelling indirectly on AA.

I love the Star Alliance and the range of destination and I'll probably stick with UA because this year I may finally hit the 50,000 mark and get a 100% FF mileage bonus!
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Sep 21st, 2005, 07:40 PM
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About Consumer Reports -- they have trouble sometimes keeping current with changes in things like this. For example, I'll bet that comparison was done before AA started charging the fees for international upgrades, before AA rescinded the More Room Throughout Coach, etc. etc. And how (other than do you keep track of how tight things have gotten re: getting upgrades, seats, etc.?

Seems to me empirically, there has been a downward trend with AA, in terms of accommodating FF who aren't gold or platinum -- both in attitude and in actual arrangements. All airlines are feeling the pinch, but I think wilsm79 will be better served by UA Mileage Plus.

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