Comparing First Class at American Airlines and United Airlines

Taking advantage of my status match to Executive Platinum status this year, I used a few eVIPs to try out their first class service from Seattle to Dallas for the first time. You may say, “What a waste,” but it was the only way to upgrade Megan with me, and I haven’t had the opportunity to use them on an international flight. Finally, if I’m going to switch a large portion of my business over to American, I want to at least know what my experience will be like.

I wrote earlier about my impression of flying in economy class as an Executive Platinum member. Pretty good minus the seat. Certainly you get better recognition of your elite status, though I was less comfortable compared to United’s EconomyPlus. Main Cabin Extra is a long-needed development at American Airlines.

First Class

My assessment of first class was much the same: great service and food but the seat left me wanting. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was not as good as the ones I’m used to. Maybe I’m just not used to it. I complained for a while about pm-Continental’s first class seats, and now I agree that they’re better than pm-United’s. So tastes change.

So let’s get back to where American is better. WiFi for one. I was productive during most of my flight. Not too productive, since I was fooling around on Twitter, but it was nice to have the option. I appreciated the better quality Scotch. I really do prefer Scotch to a gin and tonic, but sometimes I can’t stomach another glass of the Dewar’s that United serves.

The meal was also better. Greasier, sure, which I know helps with re-heating things on an airplane. But it was good. I had a chicken potpie that easily beat the sad-looking cheeseburger or shrimp salad from United. I was hoping for something with some spice, like those enchiladas that Ben always takes pictures of, but I was happy.

Admirals Club

Upon arrival at DFW we took the train to our connecting terminal and walked over to the Admirals Club. I had just received my American Express Business Platinum Card in the mail, so I breezed through showing my card and my boarding pass. Update: American Express will be ending its partnership with American Airlines on March 22, 2014.

“Wow” is all I can say. It was the only Admirals Club I’ve ever been to, but it beat the lounges I’ve seen at every other United hub, including San Francisco, Newark, Houston, and Dulles. I especially liked the food for sale. Nothing amazing, but it was reasonably priced and available.

picture of airline lounge

My biggest frustration with airport clubs is that most force you to make do with carrot sticks and pretzels. I’ve been known to sneak in a decent pastry on early morning flights.

I also appreciated the service we received. It wasn’t too crowded, so the bartender was actually visiting people’s tables and taking their orders, bringing back food and drinks. That’s what we should all expect if we’re paying roughly $400 a year to get in.

picture of Admiral's club menu

The Regional Jet

Finally, it was on to Amarillo. We took along a Panini from the club, but I was still hoping for my Executive Platinum snack and drink benefit. I wasn’t sure if I would even get anything since the entire plane was economy class, so it’s not like I missed an upgrade.

Fortunately it seems Executive Platinum members DO receive a drink and snack on regional jets. Unfortunately the options are limited. No Marcus Samuelsson spiced nuts, which I became quite fond of on an earlier trip. Instead I got a big honkin’ bag of almonds. (At least they were almonds. I hate cashews, which everyone seems to think are fancy.)

Conclusion

Other than a few learning experiences, getting used to a new airline, I was pretty pleased. I still wonder about economy class. Would I really be able to shift the majority of my business to American Airlines knowing that I will be stuck in those uncomfortable seats? I can’t help that I do a lot of travel with a companion. That’s how I fly. And it means I’m not going to get upgraded all the time.

One nice thing about American Airlines is that at least you can purchase 500-mile upgrades to use for yourself or a companion. I do very much like this opportunity because it means that I can use my status as an Executive Platinum member to get a free upgrade and use 500-mile upgrades for Megan.

This may work out better than the current lottery system United seems to favor. Do I give up my upgrade to stay with Megan, or do I put us on the list and risk that only one of us gets to move forward? I hate uncertainty, and it’s the biggest complaint I have with United right now.

About 

Scott created Hack My Trip while traveling on a budget during graduate school and continues to share his thoughts on better travel. He maintains elite status with American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hyatt, and Starwood.
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  • http://www.batteredluggage.com/ W Brian Duncan (aka IPBrian)

    Come to the DarkSide young Scott!

    To be fair, the DFW Admirals club is one of the better ones. Though they are generally nice for a domestic club.

    I don’t have any experience in this area, but I have it on good authority as long as you and Megan are on the same PNR, she inherits your status. Its just that you will be passed over if they can’t upgrade BOTH of you.

    • Scottrick

      I was under the impression she would always need 500-mile upgrades, but that she would at least be processed at my EXP level. Something to check with AA directly, I guess.

  • Linda T

    My husband often got upgraded with me even when I was Platinum. Just be sure to book the flights together and put in a request for both of you at the same time. I was surprised how often both of us were upgraded! Now that I’m EXP, hoping it is even more often!

  • http://twitter.com/mikehamilton mikehamilton

    Hi Scott, your upgrades will be free, but you’ll need to have a bank of 500 mile upgrades for your partner (who will also be recognized on the upgrade list as EXP). Since you don’t earn the 500 mile upgrades as an EXP, you can just buy them with miles (something like 8 for 35k miles). I have more miles than I know what to do with, so that works for us (my wife comes frequently with me).

    As for getting passed over, everytime it’s been the two of us and only one seat, they always call me up and ask which one of us wants the upgrade. I take the seat by name (since it won’t cost me the 500 mile upgrade) but let her sit up there.

    • http://twitter.com/mikehamilton mikehamilton

      Plus, I’ve had success still getting the free drink in the back when I tell them that I let my wife sit up front.

    • Scottrick

      The new United doesn’t ask. The old one did. That’s what really annoys me about trying to get a companion upgrade with them.

  • Linda T

    Yes, that’s right, if you are on the same PNR, you both are treated as same status. If you don’t mind splitting, you can tell them when it goes to the airport list that you will be willing to split and get one upgrade if that is all there are.