In this post I’ll go over a few of the differences I’ve seen based on my experience so far of being a United 1K member and an American Executive Platinum member. I’ve been a 1K member for several years. In fall 2015, I did a status challenge with American and received Executive Platinum status for 2016. As I’ve been flying I’ve started to notice a few of the differences in these two programs and how they work. Here are my observations.
American offers free upgrades on any flights including international flights to their Executive Platinum members. American also gives you eight systemwide upgrades (but they are changing it to four starting in 2016) and 20 500-mile upgrades for flights longer than 500 miles. With the status, if you don’t get upgraded and you fly in economy on domestic flights American will provide you one free food/snack item and one drink. Flight attendants might know your status and they will offer you something complimentary to eat or drink. If they don’t or if you are on a busy flight, you just have to show them your Executive Platinum card (on your app is okay). You can also earn EQM from American’s partner airlines with no minimum spending requirement.
United only gives you free upgrades on domestic (non P.S.) flights for 1K members. You get six systemwide upgrades and eight regional upgrades. For international flights, you need to request an upgrade using your systemwide upgrade coupons. United won’t offer free food if you are in economy. They will give you drink coupons you can use for drinks though. You can only earn EQM on United’s flights or partner airline that carry a United flight number. You also need to spend $12,000 a year to qualify for 1K.
Both United and American allow you to use their lounge when you travel internationally. With American’s partner airlines, you can access their first class lounges with the Executive Platinum status. I don’t think United’s partner airlines offer that.
The Star Alliance only has two status levels: silver and gold. You can get gold status if you have a gold, platinum, 1K, or global services status on United. One World has three status levels: ruby, sapphire, and emerald (highest). Only Executive Platinum can get emerald. With emerald, you can use the first class counter check-in at the airport (even if you don’t fly first class or business class).
On balance I feel like I got more upgrades on American on domestic flights.
United does a better job in terms of technology including their website and mobile app. With United, you can check-in online for all your flights on your itinerary 24 hours prior to your first flight. For example, if your flight is at 6 AM from EWR to DEN then at 3 PM from DEN to SAN, you can check-in at 6 AM the day before for both flights. With American, you cannot do this. American only allows you to check-in 24 hours prior to the first flight, then you have to check-in separately for your other flights.
United also shows you where you are on the upgrade list and how many seats are available as early as 24 hours prior to your flight. You don’t see this data on American. You will see only an upgrade list 4 hours prior to your flight on American.
United allows you to use their mobile app to watch TV shows and movies on some flights. American doesn’t offer this.
United has made it easy for you to see how many EQM you will earn from your flights. On American, the system doesn’t show that. The only way I see American EQM info is by clicking on the “upgrades” button on my mobile app for a particular flight.
United is very consistent with their international business class seats. They are pretty much the same on all of United international flights (all lie flat beds). American has many version of their business class seats depending on which aircraft you are on. Part of the reason for this is that American recently merged with U.S. Airways and their aircraft have different configurations than the legacy American aircraft. Regardless, I like the business class seats on American more than those on United. Newer business class seats on American have more privacy and direct aisle access to every seat. It looks like United will be going that direction as well with their new Polaris business class seats but it will take a long time for United to roll them out across their whole fleet.
Food in business class is comparable on both airlines. I have never flown in international first class yet, so I cannot yet compare that class of service across the two airlines.