Category Archives: American Airlines

Winter Vacation Plans Revealed

Winter vacation plans previews

For a while I’ve been hinting at a warm weather winter vacation for my wife and me.  We finally got the plans finalized and over the weekend I posted a few teasers on the ValueTactics Facebook page.

I showed a few screenshots of our online bookings.  I blurred out the locations but astute observers will notice the flights were on American Airlines and the hotel booking was at a Hyatt property.  So that narrows it down to about 1,850 destinations. . .


Most of those dots each represent dozens of Hyatt properties. (Courtesy of

Winter vacation plans revealed!

Some of you already guessed it on Facebook.  Good job.  🙂

In early March, we’re returning to the site of this February’s “Long Weekend in Paradise,”  the beautiful Andaz Papagayo Peninsula in tropical Costa Rica!

Relaxing in Costa Rica

Why Costa Rica?

The planning for this trip was similar to the last time we stayed at the Andaz Papagayo.  I can’t typically get vacation time in the spring so we’re limited to winter months.  In order to get somewhere unequivocally warm in December through mid-March you have to get waaaay south.

The Caribbean is a tough nut to crack when looking to redeem anniversary nights from the Chase Hyatt card.  The anniversary nights are only good at a category 1-4 hotel, which are hard to come by in the Caribbean and Mexico.  The eligible hotels in those regions aren’t anything special and aren’t worth the trouble of a short vacation, in our estimation.  I wracked my brain looking for other options but all paths led once again to the Andaz Papagayo.

This time around the planning was much harder than last time I predicted a phenomenon that finally appears to have come to pass.  With the Caribbean resort capacity severely diminished due to hurricanes, many vacationers have had to cancel or rethink their winter travel plans.  Those who decided to find alternative destinations probably opted for nearby areas that weren’t hit by the storms.  Those would include Jamaica, certain smaller islands, and Central America.

I literally couldn't have done it without a spreadsheet. It was like a linear programming problem!

I literally couldn’t have done it without a spreadsheet. It was like a linear programming problem!

We planned our last Costa Rica vacation only a week or two earlier than this year’s planning, but this year the award night and flight availability was very slim.  I was forced to make a spreadsheet just to organize it all.  Eventually the puzzle pieces fell into place and we ended up with a FREE 4 night warm weather get-away!

Keep or Cancel: Some Examples

Keep or cancel?  It’s the perennial question that comes up every time your credit card’s annual fee is due.  Should I pay the fee and keep the card?  Should I cancel it?  Or should I fish for a retention offer and base my decision on that offer?  All these questions can really be boiled down to one:  Will keeping this card another year be more valuable than the annual fee?

The answer to that question can be determined with some simple math, although assigning a dollar value to some card benefits gets a little subjective.  For example, the impact of cancelling a card on your credit score is hard to quantify.  Likewise, banks have different rules on how often you can get a sign-up bonus.  Keeping a card too long could hinder your future points-earning potential.  You need to consider these and many other factors when you calculate the value in each scenario.

Discussing all the different ways a card can provide value is beyond the scope of this post.  Instead, I will use a few recent examples of keep/cancel decisions that Nicoleen and I made to highlight some of the thought processes involved.

Credit cards on the chopping block.

All credit cards eventually end up on the chopping block.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum MasterCard

Recent action: CANCEL

The annual fee for Nicoleen’s Citi AAdvantage Platinum was charged on the May statement.  She’s had this card for 3 years and has never paid the annual fee.  The previous two times the fee was due she called and fished for a retention offer.  Both times she was successful in getting the fee waived or reimbursed.  We even got a few bonus miles out of the deal.

chaos pool

Citi phone reps are pretty easy to deal with, in general.  But I would still recommend finding a quiet place to make these phone calls!  This was not ideal, but it all worked out in the end.

This time she wasn’t fishing for a retention offer.  She just needed to cancel.  One main factor dominated this decision.  Before I explain that factor, here are the basics of the Citi AAdvantage Platinum MasterCard:

  • This card earns American Airline miles; 1 point per dollar on regular purchases and 2 points per dollar on American Airlines purchases.
  • The standard sign-up bonus is 30k miles with a $3k spend in the first 3 months.  The fairly frequent increased sign-up bonus is 50k miles (and rarely 60k).
  • Annual fee is $95 but is waived the first year.  Historically it’s been a very easy card to get the annual fee waived just by calling.
  • The most noteworthy fringe benefit is free checked baggage on American Airlines flights.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard

Long before my time, this card was one of the most churnable miles cards out there.  There were several card versions and each had their own sign-up bonus.  Some people would open multiple cards in a year and have several accounts of the same card at once.  Citi was very lax with the rules on opening accounts and getting sign-up bonuses.  It was the Wild West!

By the time I got in the game, a more typical strategy for these cards was thus:  String along annual fee waivers in order to keep the account open for free.  Doing so helps your credit score by adding to both your average account length and your credit-to-debt ratio.  Some time after 24 months (Citi’s old minimum time limit between sign-up bonuses for a given card), close the account and open a new one for another 50k American Airlines miles.

But recent changes have made that strategy invalid. . .

The main factor

Late last year Citi dropped a bomb on credit card churners.  It wasn’t quite the MOAB that Chase dropped with their 5/24 rule, but it was disruptive enough to change my strategy on Citi cards.

The minimum time between sign-up bonuses is still 24 months, but it no longer applies to each specific card.  The 24 month timer is now shared among all cards of a given point type.  For example getting any Hilton sign-up bonus with Citi precludes you from getting the bonus on any other Citi Hilton card.

What’s worse is that the 24 month timer isn’t only reset by earning a sign-up bonus as it previously was.  It now also resets any time a card is cancelled or downgraded.  This is nonsensical to me because it incentivizes people to cancel their cards right after getting the sign-up bonus instead of continuing to use it for the following year(s).

The fact that it will be at least 2 years before Nicoleen can get any American Airlines co-branded card from Citi dominates all the other factors.  Any value she would get from keeping the card, even if Citi waived the annual fee, would pale in comparison to getting that timer going ASAP.  With Citi’s new bonus policy, cancelling this card was an easy decision.

NOTE: One silver lining of cancelling the Citi AAdvantage Platinum was that Nicoleen was able to transfer the credit to one of her no-fee Citi cards.  Therefore there will be no impact on her credit to debt ratio, which helps maintain a good credit score.

Barclaycard American Airlines Aviator Red

Recent action: CANCEL

Another American Airlines card and another history of having annual fees waived.  Like Nicoleen’s Citi card, I have successfully had the annual fee waived twice on my Barclaycard Aviator Red.  Usually my retention offers also came with some nice bonus miles for easy spending requirements.  Last year they waived my fee, gave me 5k miles, and bonus miles on my upcoming spending.

Barclay’s generosity with this card seems to be coming to an end, however.  According to reports on Flyertalk, retention offers are gradually drying up.  Nicoleen found this out first hand when she was offered nothing late last year.

A little about the Barclaycard Aviator Red:

  • The Aviator was originally the result of the American Airlines / U.S. Airways merger.  Barclay had a U.S. Airways card which was converted to the Aviator after the merger.
  • Until recently, the only Aviator Reds that existed were grandfathered U.S. Airways cards.  Now Barclay is taking new applications for the Aviator line of American Airlines cards.
  • Current offer is for 50k miles with no minimum spend, but the $95 annual fee is not waived the first year.
  • Notable fringe benefits are free checked bags on American, and 10% of redeemed miles refunded back every year.

Barclaycard Aviator Red

Other than the usual benefits of keeping a card open (credit score maintenance) the most compelling reason I had to keep this card was the frequent and generous bonus mile offers that came around.  –Read about some of these in this post.–  But without the annual fee waiver, the possibility of bonus offers definitely wouldn’t be enough incentive to keep this account open.

As expected, when I called I got no retention offers and decided to cancel.  I moved my credit to my Arrival card to minimize the impact on my credit score.  Now that the Aviator Red is available for new accounts, I may end up getting the card again sometime soon.  After all, I technically never got the bonus on this card, since my bonus was on the U.S. Airways card before the conversion.

More examples

Stay tuned for Keep or Cancel: Part II where I’ll show examples of cards we recently decided to keep.  I will explain what went into the decision and I’ll show just how much value we reaped from these cards to make them worth the annual fee.

Bi-Weekly Update (October 3, 2016)

analyticsFrom my site’s analytics I know that the Andaz review was a very popular post.  If some of you are wondering if free luxury travel is something you can attain too, take a look at Nicoleen’s and my monthly points totals.  I give the breakdown every month so you can see what an average household (I think our income and spending is close to average) can expect to earn as far as points and miles go.

Here are our totals for September:

  • earned 23,094 airline miles
  • earned 102 “other” points
  • earned 4,013 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • earned 658 Citi Thank-You points
  • earned 3,164 hotel points (accidentally omitted from June update)
  • redeemed 5,937 “other” points for $59.37 cash

New ValueTactics Blog Posts

Hotel Review – BUILDING 7-73 is a bit of a joke, since the “hotel” is actually a lodging complex on an Army National Guard base.  Reading this review and the following one highlights the vast range of accommodations available on this planet.
Hotel Review – Andaz Maui at Wailea is the first of several posts reporting on our recent trip to Hawaii.  If you haven’t read this post, please check it out- the photos alone are worth a look!

Credit Card News

Nicoleen called for a retention offer on her AAdvantage Aviator Red from Barclaycard just before the annual fee posted.  The agent said he had no offers for her but she was “likely to have some available on the account after the annual fee hits.”  He told her to call back after the AF posts and try again.  Helpful agent!

I can’t get away from American Airlines AAdvantage miles bonus offers!  This offer came by mail and e-mail within the last few days:

I’ll definitely take them up on it, especially for the grocery store bonus.  I’ve been using my Chase IHG Platinum Rewards card for the 3x it earns on groceries.  But 3x AAdvantage miles are worth more in my book.

Website Update

I promise I’ll revamp and update the left column (for you desktop users) “results tracker” sidebar by the next bi-weekly update post. I should also probably change the name to the “Semi-Monthly Update” since it’s really been twice a month rather than once every two weeks. We do strive for accuracy here at ValueTactics 😉

As always, keep track of the VT FB page for updates! Expect to see some more trip reviews from the Hawaii trip online soon!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

An AAvalanche of Bonus Miles Offers

American Airlines miles (AAdvantage miles) are some of my favorite points and miles. American typically has very good award seat availability, including premium cabins. AAdvantage miles are also easy to come by, partly because of some good credit card sign-up bonuses, and partly because of the frequent bonus offers promoted by American’s co-branded cards. I’m currently drowning in a flood of these bonus offers from the 4 AAdvantage earning cards that Nicoleen and I have open. (I know I just mixed metaphors – avalanches and floods – but I couldn’t resist the “AAvalanche” pun for this post’s title!)

Whenever I get e-mails or mailers for these bonus offers, I always weigh the benefits with the effort.  Not all bonus offers are worth pursuing.

Barclay Aviator’s 3×500/15k Bonus Offer

I’ve noticed that the Barclay Aviator card tends to have the best offers on a consistent basis.  The best type is their 3×500/10k, 3×750/15k, and 3×500/15k bonuses.  These are all variations of the same offer, whereby you spend at least $500 or $750 in three specific consecutive months and get either 10k or 15k American Airlines miles as the bonus.  The best is obviously the 3×500/15k bonus because for $1500 in spending you end up with 16,500 miles.  That’s close to the return you get on some sign-up bonuses!
Despite needing to spend $8,500 to meet the minimum spends on my current card sign-up bonuses, I’ve decided to fit this bonus offer in.  It’s that lucrative.

Barclay Aviator’s Category Bonus

The second Aviator deal I got a mailer for was a category bonus.  After activating the promotion, I will earn 3x miles on gas, restaurant, and home improvement store purchases.  This is pretty good, as far as category bonuses go; gas and restaurants are very common purchases.  Nicoleen got the same offer for her Aviator card.  And the best part is that purchases in these bonus categories also count toward the 3×500/15k offer I just mentioned.
3x AA
…but wait, there’s more!

Barclay Aviator’s 1k/5k [retention] Bonus Offer

Now, for the triple dip…
In late May, in the middle of my 3×500/15k spending, I realized it was time to either cancel my card or have the annual fee waived/reimbursed.  When I called Barclay to try for a retention offer I was pleasantly surprised to be offered not only an annual fee waiver, but also an additional miles bonus offer!  The rep said if I spend $1k in the next 90 days I will get an additional 5,000 miles.  This will be easy since I’ll be automatically meeting that spend by taking advantage of the other offer.  That makes 21.5k miles for $1500 in spending (PLUS whatever extra I get from the 3x categories)!

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Category Bonus

Nicoleen and I both have the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card, our other American Airlines miles earning cards.  We both got a mailer with a category bonus through June.  Any spending at home improvement stores, home furnishing stores, computer & electronics stores, and department stores, will earn us 3 miles per dollar spent.  With the spending requirement on the aforementioned Barclay offers, plus all the spending we have to do for my last round of card apps’ bonuses, we probably won’t be taking aadvantage of this offer.

One thing to note however, is that my last retention offer on this card last June is still in effect.  Any month I spend $1,000 or more on this card, I get a 1k mile bonus.  If I were in a different position and was going to actually put some spending on this card, the two offers would stack.  This means my month could look like this:

$400 normal spending = 400 miles
$600 spending in bonus categories = 1,800 miles
>$1000/month = 1,000 mile bonus
Total for month: 3,200 miles

When it rains, it pours.

It’s inconvenient to get bonus offers when you’re in the middle of making some sign-up bonus spending requirements.  But if the offer is good enough (the Barclay 3×500/15k deal) it might be worth the hassle to work it in to your strategy.

One thing’s for sure: I’ll be looking for ways in the near future to start burning my wellspring of American Airlines miles. 

Possibilities, possibilities! 🙂

American Airlines 777-300ER First Class JFK – LHR

This post is part of a series reviewing our 2015 Anniversary trip to Europe.  For a full list of the posts in this series, and for an overview of the trip, check out the index page.

300erstripOur entire itinerary was planned around this flight, the showpiece of the whole “surprise Nicoleen” plan.  I had actually wanted to book us business class seats (50k miles one-way) on the same flight but none were available at the saver award level for the entire summer.  First class saver seats were only 12.5k miles more however, and I wanted access to the 777-300ER’s premium class stand-up snack bar, so I searched for first class saver seats.  There were only a few saver level first class seats available, and only one date had a pair of seats.  Luckily that date worked within our other constraints, so I booked them (62k miles one-way, each).

But before I get to the flight…

Having been delayed on our ORD-JFK flight, we only had an hour to spare at JFK before boarding began for our transatlantic flight to London-Heathrow (LHF).  While Nicoleen would have been happy to stop by the Admiral’s Club for a beverage, I was determined to see both lounges we had access to, American’s Flagship Lounge and Admiral’s Club.

At JFK both American Airlines lounges share a lobby area in Terminal 8.  An elevator takes you from the concourse up to the lobby where the staff at the desk check your privilege and point you toward whichever lounge you have access to.  (Click here to go to American Airlines’ page on lounge access requirements.)  We were waived through to the Flagship lounge and politely reminded that we didn’t have much time before boarding would begin.

The JFK Flagship Lounge struck me as long and narrow.  It has a nice big window along one entire side, looking out over the tarmacs and runway.  My visit was brief so I didn’t get to explore every nook and cranny, nor take advantage of all the amenities.  The JFK Flagship Lounge was much more crowded than our experience at the Chicago O’Hare Flagship Lounge, but this very well could have been due to the time of day more than anything.  The food seemed more picked over and old as well, but not deplorable by any means.  I made a small snack of chicken, cheese, and olives, grabbed a beer, and scarfed it down while Nicoleen watched.  She was worried about making the flight, so she went ahead of me to board.

After my quick snack I took a walk through the Admiral’s club and found it to be even more crowded than the Flagship Lounge.  During my quick walk-through I saw no noticeable differences from the Admiral’s Club we walked through at ORD.

On to the flight…

After my brief snack at the Flagship Lounge I had to scurry down to the gate for boarding.  By the time I got there nearly everyone had boarded.  I don’t personally put much value in early boarding; I have a back issue that makes sitting painful so for me the more time spent upright, the better.  I was warmly welcomed by the attendant and shown to my seat, 1A, where I found Nicoleen settling in across from me in 1D.

Seconds after sitting down I was handed a bottle of water and offered champagne, which I accepted.

The purser offered us a choice of several newspapers and quickly moved onto getting our meal orders.  As I have previously stated, I’m not much of a wine connoisseur but I do enjoy good wine (in much the same way as a dog “appreciates” a good steak – he doesn’t quite understand why it’s good, but he still likes it).  With some guidance I chose one of the whites and was not disappointed.

Another little bonus for flying in a premium cabin is the amenity kits often offered.  Although not in the cool iPad case bag I had expected from previous reports, the kit had all of the goodies I was expecting:

The meal service
After knowing about this trip for months and having the meal choices available online for over 30 days, you’d think I should have been able to order quickly.  As it happened, I think I was still debating the food options after Nicoleen had ordered.  I settled on the Thai chicken starter, creamy carrot soup, the salad of mixed greens with artichokes and feta, the seared halibut with gremolata, and the royale chocolate mousse cake for dessert.

I should have probably skipped the snack at the Flagship Lounge because I was fairly well full by the time the fish came, but oh well; I’m a sucker for free food!  Overall the food was pretty good.  The Thai chicken and salad were excellent, and the soup was interesting (unexpectedly spicy!), but the fish was a bit dry and rubbery and the seasoning was nothing to write home about.  The presentation was good but I found a piece of dried on food stuck to a piece of silverware…not something you’d expect to find in a first class service.

A cool feature of this first class cabin is that the footrest doubles as a jump seat, complete with seat belt, so that you can dine across from your traveling companion.  The tray table is deep enough for two place settings.  We weren’t planning on doing this however, due to Nicoleen’s baby belly.  She was plenty happy to enjoy all the room her own seat afforded her!  The purser never mentioned this as a possibility though, which was the start of a series of not being shown or offered many of the amenities this flight had available.

After dinner
According to other reviews I had read on this first class cabin, we were supposed to be offered pajamas and slippers (yes- to keep), an amenity kit in a cool bag that doubles as an iPad carrying case, and turn down service.  Nicoleen started watching a movie and I purchased the in-flight wi-fi so I could send a few e-mails saying “I’m sending this from an airplane!”

Side note: One of the biggest “problems” about flying in these cool lie-flat first and business cabins is properly splitting your time between sleeping, which is actually possible with these seats; and enjoying all the other entertainment, eating, and drinking options.  I would have loved to have milled around at the stand-up snack bar or ordered some beers and watched a movie (in comfort, for once!).  On the other hand, I had a rare opportunity to get some real, quality sleep on a flight due to the lie-flat seat.  It was tough to divide the time.  This conundrum brings to mind some valuetactics wisdom: The value of paying extra (miles or dollars) for premium cabins, especially with lie-flat seats, vastly increases as the length of the flight increases.

After a while I started wondering about the stand-up stack bar I was enamored with, and was part of the reason I wanted to fly on this aircraft.  It is located between the first and business class cabins, and when I went to check if it was operational I found the flight attendants assembling the snacks.  I was told that it was almost ready but that I didn’t have to use the lowly business class area; I could go to the first class galley for the first-class only version (which I had not read anything about).  So I went up in front of first class and found the purser and another attendant putting the finishing touches on the snacks there.
777-300ERsnack1This would have been great had I not been completely stuffed after eating about 5 meals’ worth of food in the past 12 hours!  I wanted to see the “real” stand-up snack bar though, so I deigned to walk among the plebeian masses and stepped between first and business class to that area, which had mostly the same snacks as the first class gallery but looks waaaay cooler:
777-300ERsnack2777-300ERsnack3After checking out the snack bars I decided I’d better get a few hours sleep on this overnight flight.  I was surprised we hadn’t been offered pajamas or slippers yet and I was worried that maybe American Airlines had dis-included them as part of the first class service.  I asked the purser about them and he reacted as if his memory had just been jogged.  He quickly produced a set of jammies for me and asked what size Nicoleen would prefer.  She was already dozing off so I told him I wasn’t sure, and he gave me two sets in different sizes and told me to just give her both to keep!

At this time the purser seemed to remember that turn down service was supposed to be included too, and offered to do so as I changed into the pajamas in the bathroom.  None of the other 6 passengers in first class received pajamas or slippers to my knowledge.

Yes, it's totally staged. I had just crawled into bed and was not sleeping.

Yes, it’s totally staged. I had just crawled into bed and was not sleeping.

Upon waking we were offered a small breakfast, which we both declined.  It was a rude awakening after only 3 hours of sleep or so, and the remainder of my flight was spent gathering up all my strewn-about belongings to prepare for landing at EuroAirport (MLH).

In the end we had an amazing time on this flight.  But I was a bit confused that I had to specifically request some of the amenities, and I was not as impressed as I should have been by the meal service.  Let’s look at all the things we weren’t told about or offered without asking:

  • Seat operation
  • Pajamas and slippers
  • Turn down service
  • Companion dining configuration
  • Stand-up snack bar

I don’t know if it was just this particular purser, crew, or just an off day for American’s service, but I finally understood why many other bloggers and reviewers talk about how American carriers are just not up to par on service in their premium cabins.

Overall first class experience
Among all the stages in our first class itinerary (the American Flagship Lounge at ORD, the Flagship Lounge at JFK, both domestic first class flights, the 1st class JFK-LHR flight, the Galleries Lounge at LHR, and the BA flight to MLH), we felt like the lowest experience to expectations ratio was on this transatlantic long-haul flight.   The service was by no means horrible, but neither was it exceptional…which it should be on an international first class flight.  I’ll never complain about flying first class for virtually no cost, but had I paid the full retail $9,821 for this booking, I would have justifiably felt a bit ripped off.  As they say the hard product delivered, but the soft product fell short.

American Airlines First Class ORD – JFK

Our flight from Chicago (ORD) to New York (JFK) was delayed on the tarmac, which made me nervous about making our connection to the “important” flight, the transatlantic on American’s semi-new 777-300ER.  The estimated delay went from 45 minutes to 5 hours back to 35 minutes, for an eventual departure between 1 and 2 hours late.

The first class cabin in the Boeing 737-800 was about what you’d expect on a long-ish regional domestic flight.  The seats up front were in a 2-2 configuration as opposed to the 3-3 in economy.  The seats were comfortable and the seats we selected, 6E and 6F, in the last row of the cabin afforded us a semi-private feeling.

Besides more legroom and more comfortable seats, the first class seating on our American Airlines 737-800 offered the unanticipated benefit of some extra in-flight shelf space.  In addition to the normal fold out tray table, our drinks and small electronic devices were welcomed by several mini trays.  These were surprisingly useful and convenient; your personal space bubble isn’t invaded by a big slab tray when all you want to do is set your drink down.  They were also, as Nicoleen pointed out, very cute.  (As cute as a piece of aircraft seat hardware can be I suppose.)

Yes, that's a super old Blackberry phone. I use it as an mp3 player)

Yes, that’s a super old Blackberry phone. I use it as an mp3 player)

Shortly after take-off we were offered hot nuts.  I had read about this American Airlines specialty and was always confused why people even bother mentioning this little snack.  Well, now I know why!  The heated mixed nuts are surprisingly more yummy than room temperature mixed nuts.  Besides the increased yumminess, being served something warmed up that’s normally just thrown into a ramekin makes you feel pampered 🙂  (It’s the little extras, ya know?  Like crushed ice in urinals…sorry you miss out on that little joy of life, ladies.)
hot nuts

The meal choices were hot pasta or a cold chicken salad.  I had pre-ordered the chicken online, and Nicoleen opted for the pasta.  If I were a more experienced traveler, I would have remembered the general rule of thumb for cheap food: Never order the meat when there’s another option available.  The salad was pretty good, but the cold lemon chicken was, well . . . nasty.  I suppose it didn’t help that I was still stuffed from the lunch I had in the Flagship Lounge at ORD.  Nicoleen enjoyed the pasta.

The "cold chicken salad" was actually cold chicken AND a salad.

The “cold chicken salad” was actually cold chicken AND a salad.

While I would never pay the extra miles or cash for a first class seat on this short a flight, as part of a longer itinerary it was sure nice to have the upgraded seats and service. The little perks like early boarding and disembarking, complimentary in-flight drinks, a more private in-flight bathroom, and of course the hot nuts made our otherwise grueling itinerary (24 hours of travel including 3 layovers) much more tolerable; even enjoyable.

American Airlines Flagship Lounge – Chicago (ORD)


After revealing to Nicoleen that we had first class tickets by skipping the huge check-in and security lines at MSP (major wife points scored!), we had an unremarkable flight on an American Eagle regional jet to Chicago O’Hare (ORD).  Our itinerary had been readjusted a month prior to traveling, and we were now arriving in Chicago at 6:00 AM for a 6 hour layover.

Fortunately for us, our first class award booking granted us access to American’s Flagship lounge in Terminal 3.  The lounge opens at 6:00 and we arrived at 6:10, the day’s first customers.  This was especially nice for me because I was able to get a few pictures of the empty lounge with all the day’s consumables untouched.

The main hallway, complimentary newspapers

The main hallway, complimentary newspapers

One of the seating areas

One of the seating areas

The beverage buffet, opposite the food buffet

The beverage buffet, opposite the food buffet

The Flagship Lounge is the first class version of AA’s Admiral’s Club, which we visited and briefly walked through before departing ORD.  While the Admiral’s Club would have been a nicer place to spend a layover than the general terminal seating, from what we saw the Flagship Lounge is a very definite step up from the Admiral’s Club.

flagship_ord_breakfastBreakfast in the Flagship lounge was an assortment of fruit cups and yogurt parfaits, hot pan quiche Florentine, and a scrambled egg/bacon/potato dish.  There was also the regular assortment of whole fruit, instant oatmeal, and cold cereal.  The coffee machine makes virtually anything you could want, and the full bar of juice, soft drinks, wine, beer, champagne, and hard alcohol is open the entire day, including breakfast time.

Eventually a few more travelers made their way into the lounge.  Nicoleen moved to a seat nearer an electrical outlet (somewhat hard to find) and I went to the business center to write a ValueTactics post.  The business center features private computer desks with granite counter tops and ethernet ports.  Several desks have computers available for use.  There is also a free printer available.
computer-station redo
Shortly before noon the breakfast became gradually replaced with lunch.  The lunch consisted of a variety of pre-made sandwiches, several appetizers, and sushi rolls.  The shrimp cocktail and the hummus and pita appetizer were especially tasty, but the sandwiches were so-so.  All the lunch food was made better when washed down with a refreshing Amstel Light!  (They even had non-alcoholic O’Doules, although Nicoleen wasn’t in the mood for NA beer that early in the day).
I can’t comment on the wine and champagne selection because my opinion would be pretty worthless.  I can tell the difference between an $8 bottle of wine and an $80 bottle; but I probably couldn’t tell the difference between a $40 and $80 bottle.  I’m just not that fancy.  I know beer a little bit better, and I was happy with the selection.  Besides the aforementioned Amstel Light, there was also Corona, Heineken, Samuel Adams, Sapporo, Guinness and several others.

The hard alcohol selection at American Airlines Flagship lounge in Chicago O'Hare

The hard alcohol selection at American Airlines Flagship lounge in Chicago O’Hare

The lounge eventually filled up, primarily with Asian travelers awaiting a flight to Beijing.  Even at the peak of the attendance while we were there the Flagship Lounge was never crowded.  The bathrooms were clean and tastefully decorated.  Besides the food, drink, and comfortable chairs, the lounge also provided major newspapers and had several TV viewing areas.

To access American’s Flagship Lounge you’ll need to be traveling on a first class international flight with American or a oneworld partner airline, be a oneworld Emerald member, or have American Airlines AAdvantage platinum status and flying internationally.  It’s complicated and confusing, but it’s worth it to know the access rules well.  We were almost denied access because our last leg was in business class, until I pointed out to the desk lady that out long-haul flight was first class.  Here’s the link to the official American Airlines page outlining access rules.

AA’s Flagship Lounge at ORD was a great way to spend our 6 hour layover.  If I had to complain about anything it would be the slight dearth of outlets.  The food was fairly good (especially the breakfast), the chairs were comfy, and the layout provided a quiet, intimate atmosphere.  The unlimited beverages, including some decent booze, was definitely a plus (although common to most lounges) and would have been even more valuable has 50% of my party not been pregnant 🙂  Overall this lounge made our long layover enjoyable, started off our long itinerary in comfort, and generally exceeded my expectations.