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American Airlines flight photos AAbove the California Storm

Blame El Niño. Heavy rain diverted the incoming American Airlines flight from Monterey Airport to San Luis Obispo airport, about 135 miles south. A three hour delay leaving MRY meant I missed my PHX connection to DCA last Thursday afternoon.

As an American Airlines Executive Platinum member I was rebooked with complimentary First Class confirmed upgrades on American Airlines PHX-DFW and DFW-DCA National, Washington D.C. The main problem was I arrived 12 hours later than originally scheduled and spent all night hanging out in airports.

I hate business travel.

This is the first year I have held AAdvantage Executive Platinum status. I spent about $1,700 on American Airlines tickets last July to fly three trips to Europe in September and fast-track to AA ExPlat 100,000 EQM status by flying 30,000 EQM. After this past week’s trip to Washington D.C. I have surpassed 50,000 EQM butt-in-seat miles.

Since reaching AAdvantage Executive Platinum I have been upgraded for five complimentary domestic First Class flights.

AA skies-1

California Skies Above the Storm December 3, 2015.

My 12:40pm flight from Monterey to Phoenix ended up departing around 3:40pm. Monterey is farther west than southern California and the colors of sunset were unusually intense and vivid. I snapped several photos and I could hear the woman seated in the row behind me praising God for nature’s colorful beauty.

AA skies-2

Staring out the window of an aircraft in flight is one of my most enjoyable experiences when there is pleasing imagery to see.

AA Sunset

This was the start of my travel in the first hour after departing Monterey.

Can I get a Do Over?

Monterey, San Jose, San Francisco airports

Last Thursday I felt like a business traveler. I rarely travel for business in the typical type of business traveler style. I don’t go to many meetings. Travel and planning travel is my business and I share many of my travel experiences and travel planning experiences on Loyalty Traveler. I am fairly casual about my travel.

My wife questioned my rationale when I told her I was flying out of Monterey airport. “Don’t they have direct flights to D.C. from San Jose?”, she queried me.

Well, actually airlines don’t have nonstop flights from SJC to Washington D.C. American flies via PHX, DFW, ORD. Every airline takes you via somewhere else.

San Francisco has nonstop flights with Virgin America and United. That is 110 miles drive each way and most flight schedules mean driving with rush hour traffic through Silicon Valley without car pool lane access to reach SFO and come home again. I did that drive from SFO to Monterey three days before this trip to D.C. when we returned from Stockholm, Sweden.

American Airlines MRY-PHX Phoenix at 12:40 pm meant I could be at the airport with minimal effort and walk right onto another plane in Phoenix, where my Executive Platinum elite had already given me a free confirmed First Class seat for Phoenix to Washington National Airport DCA. No need to redeem 500-mile upgrades or AAdvantage miles.

After the plane diverted to SLO before reaching Monterey Airport, the new departure time for the AA Phoenix flight became 3:20pm. With two hours before flight departure, I left the Monterey terminal with my carry-on computer bag and camera murse and walked back to my car just as the rainstorm seemed to be at its initial peak intensity.

I can leave my home in Monterey, go to the airport, park and be checked-in for security in 20 minutes. The driving wind and rain in Monterey persuaded me to change my coat choice from Swedish rain coat to a snow/rain parka for Washington D.C., where low temperatures were forecast from mid-30s to low 50s. The coat change ended up being a mistake since the daytime temperature was perfectly adequate in D.C. over the weekend with only a light coat or sweater. I ended up dragging my heavy parka around for the weekend and the only place it was suitable attire was in Monterey during last Thursday’s storm.

Monterey Road Wash

So after the flight departure moved to 3:20pm, I drove home in the rain and sat around 45 minutes before time to go back to Monterey airport.

Start my car and there is a horrendous whining sound. Turn off the car. Turn on the car again to hear the same sound. Glance around at the car’s dashboard. Notice the front windshield defrost light is on. Turn off front windshield defrost. Roll down driver’s side window to go for alternative defrost mode using outside air. Not really working as the windshield glazes over with condensation on the inside, while the windshield wipers are rapidly clearing the condensation from the outside. Fortunately, only about five minutes drive to airport as window condensation grows thick on the inside of the car, rain is pounding me from outside the car through the open window and I stop the car on the street, waiting for an oncoming car to pass so I can make a left turn for airport parking.  Directly beside my car, the oncoming car hits a road puddle and a bucket full size wall of water smacks me in the face and soaks my head and the driver’s seat of my car.

American Airlines First Class

I got to Phoenix, ate dinner and boarded a First Class flight to DFW after a two hour layover.

AA First 2     AA First-3

Listen to the Music. Earphones provided in AA First Class. No video entertainment and limited music stations.

AA First-1     AA First Breakfast

Plenty of leg room and hot breakfast too.

Arrived in DFW just before 2am and wrote a blog post for Loyalty Traveler during the 3.5 hour layover. Arrived in DCA and made it to the Washington Hilton hotel in time to shower, change clothes and head to the lobby to meet the Hilton staff.

What is a First Class Upgrade worth on a domestic flight?

This question is for readers.

When I decided to spend most of September flying to Europe three times to earn 30,000 EQM and fast-track to AAdvantage Executive Platinum elite, I said I would evaluate the ExPlat benefits I receive.

In the past two months I have visited airport OneWorld Alliance First Class lounges four times in LAX and London Heathrow when flying on international tickets. I have had five complimentary upgrades to First Class on US domestic flights. DFW-DCA and DCA-PHX last week offered meal services. This has me thinking about how I value the benefits received as an Executive Platinum member.

  • How much is a First Class Upgrade worth on a domestic flight?
  • How much is a lounge visit worth?

I’ll give my two First Class flight segments with meals about a $50 value in my opinion. I think the First Class upgrade on a flight like PHX-MRY is maybe a $25 upgrade where the seat is marginally better in the front and a drink and snack is the primary differentiation between First and economy.

For me the upgrade value depends on the kind of aircraft and the specific features of First Class that are actually better than economy class. The nice aspect of complimentary upgrades as an Executive Platinum elite for my flights is my 500-mile upgrades can be used for Kelley’s domestic travel on American Airlines.

I’d say I have received about $200 in upgrade value in the five First Class upgrades received as AAdvantage Executive Platinum since September. I’ll say each lounge visit is a $20 value solo, $30 with my wife. About $110 value.

Looks to me like my flights in the past two months have picked up about $300 in AAdvantage Executive Platinum benefits. That value will rise quickly once I redeem a couple of SWUs. I’ll probably value those at about $250 for a transoceanic flight and I have eight to redeem over the next 14 months.

Of course the bonus AAdvantage miles earned as an Executive Platinum are a good value too. Even though I fast-tracked from 0 EQM to 30,000 EQM for Executive Platinum elite in less than four weeks, I have actually completed 52,000 EQM with AAdvantage since September. The miles have been rolling in.

Loyalty Traveler’s Hilton@Play weekend in Washington D.C.

1. Introduction: Thanks Hilton. Nice week to be in Washington D.C.

2. Hilton@Play in legendary International Ballroom Washington Hilton Elliot Root/Neon Trees concert.

3. Tour of Washington Hilton Hotel – this hotel has seen a lot of D.C. history since it opened in 1965. This is a major hotel for Presidential events. This is the hotel where President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981.

4. American Airlines – Above the California storm. There were some intense colors in the sky on the flight from Monterey to Phoenix. My three hour flight delay meant an all-night journey to reach Washington D.C. At least my AAdvantage Executive Platinum status meant a free upgrade to First Class on my economy class ticket.

5. Smithsonian National Zoo – less crowded than the typical American shopping mall on a December Saturday with some beautiful animal photos.

6. The National Mall – Black lives matter. I specifically wanted to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial since it opened shortly after my last visit to D.C. in February 2011.

7. Washington D.C. Embassies Run – Walking around D.C. and seeing so many foreign embassies gave me an idea for a D.C. mileage run. How about visiting all the foreign embassies in Washington D.C. for a photo shoot? I thought it might be a way of saying I traveled to all these countries in quick and easy fashion. Then, I learned from this article that foreign embassies in D.C. are not actually considered foreign soil, simply inviolable space in all these places. Anyway, this piece is a trip activity idea with a couple of embassy photos to share. My wife said my plan would not work since I would not be able to go to the door of different embassies for photos. There were no barriers to the front door for most of the foreign embassies I saw.

1 Comment

  • Brian Cohen December 10, 2015

    Staring out of the window of an airplane during a flight is one of my most enjoyable experiences too, Ric — whether or not there is pleasing imagery to see; and unless I am in a hurry to get out of the airplane upon landing for whatever reason, I am a window seat person.

    I suppose that if we ever travel together, we might have to choose who gets the window seat and when.

    I sent you a text; but you had not responded. If you could get back to me, please…

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