I’m off to South Africa to visit the Kruger National Park again. Last there about two and half years ago, so am overdue for a visit. I try to get back to the Kruger every two years. I never tire of being in the park with the African wildlife, and I like to keep updated on incremental changes to infrastructure, rules, conservation practices, and procedures that come with time. Readying for the trip, I got a jolt of ugly reality this morning when I phoned American Airlines to inquire about a long-withheld upgrade.
As I explained in early February, I burned 180,000 AAdvantage frequent flyer miles this trip to travel in Business class on oneworld partner Qatar Airways to get to Johannesburg, connecting to Qatar’s gateway cities in the US, of course, via American Airlines. What I didn’t know then was just how mean American Airlines was in dispensing the AAdvantage award travel.
AA agents have advised me for seven months to keep calling to see if an award seat opened on my initial leg from RDU to PHL, which is on a 2-class RJ. I dutifully phoned again and again, perhaps 20 times altogether, but no dice.
But then today a candid and well-informed American Airlines agent told me why the RDU/PHL leg never opened in First class for me. It is because the original agent back in February “charged” me 30,000 miles for one way Raleigh-Philly in coach using AnyTime pricing, and then charged another 150,000 miles for the Business class award on Qatar and AA for PHL/DOH/JNB/DOH/JFK/RDU. The agent today finally explained clearly that I can never get upgraded on the RDU/PHL award because it is strictly in Coach, even though charged at the highest possible AnyTime (30,000 miles) award level in that market.
(Of course my 36 banked 500-mile upgrades are worthless to help as well (I asked), as they are always worthless on AA, a classic Catch-22.)
Turns out that AAdvantage partner award travel to South Africa on Qatar in their world-class Business cabin was priced at a reasonable 150,000 miles all-in from Raleigh (RDU) to Johannesburg round trip when I sought to book the trip seven months in advance. But my outbound route will be Raleigh-Philadelphia using AA on a separate AnyTime award for 30,000 miles, then Philly-Doha-Johannesburg (Qatar), returning Jo’burg-Doha-JFK (Qatar), then JFK-RDU (AA), all allowed in Business class for 150,000 miles.
The agent who originally booked me never explained the 180,000 miles was 150 + 30.
New York (JFK) was not my first choice of connections coming home. Qatar did their part by ensuring award seats in business were available from Philadelphia to Doha going, then Doha-Jo’burg-Doha, and finally Doha to Philadelphia returning. But American Airlines said back in February that they could not clear me for award travel on the short domestic leg from Philadelphia to RDU returning, not even in coach. That’s why I ended up traveling Doha-JFK and JFK to Raleigh. American said award coach seats were available JFK/RDU, but not PHL/RDU. (Note: the itinerary originally had me returning through Boston, but AA moved me to JFK some months ago on account of reshuffling their BOS/RDU connections.)
No award seats at any level seven months in advance in the Philadelphia to Raleigh market? Yet Qatar is honoring their partnership agreement for award travel. Knowing how stingy American Airlines has become with award seats, it sure makes it hard for me to book AA when I have a choice.