Relocating to DC from Chicago: Star Alliance or Skyteam?

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Miles/Points' started by WillyMac, May 8, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. WillyMac
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    WillyMac Silver Member

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    When you read the subject line, it may seem like an obvious answer, but I'm in a dilemma and would appreciate the expertise of flyers that use these programs and fly out of the DC market.

    I have been AA ExecPlat for four years straight, out of Chicago. My latest commute has been to MSP, so I've been taking long-haul trips to Asia and Europe to maintain my status. My better half and I are moving to Washington, DC, and the AA flight options are miserable. Unfortunately, I think I will have to pick a new airline.

    It is likely that I will be flying to MSP every week for the next year and a half, and from there, may also be flying to the SFO market occasionally. I realize MSP is a Delta hub, but I would think my flight options from DC would be more limited than if I flew United out of Dulles.

    I will be living in the district, so it would be preferable to fly out of DCA (Delta has a direct to MSP), but if necessary, I could fly IAD if Star Alliance was my program.

    I'm open to any suggestions or perspectives here. When it comes to personal travel, I prefer most of Western Europe (primarily Spain), Asia and South America. I like to by my tickets and upgrade using one of the premium instruments (VIP) and buy my partner's business class ticket with miles, so any talk of the availability of those options would be helpful, too!

    Many thanks in advance.
     
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  2. Aktchi
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    Aktchi Silver Member

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    If you can't put up with AA, then just the fact that you regularly redeem award tickets would seem to favor *A. In some respects AirTran seems to be the best choice. Anyway you seem to understand all the pros and cons, so it is simply a matter of deciding what you can live with. Good luck.
     
  3. kyunbit
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    kyunbit Silver Member

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    I would suggest you go with Star. US Airways has non-stops form DCA to MSP. And from MSP to SFO there is a direct flight on United. This will give you many more choices than Skyteam
     
  4. WillyMac
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    WillyMac Silver Member

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    I believe I'm leaning toward Star Alliance in this regard, especially since I've heard positive things about the award availability following the United/Continental merger. It seems like there's been a lot of buzz about improvements to Delta, and many of my colleagues that fly to MSP from other markets (even those served by AA direct flights) also recommend Delta.

    I do know this much: Delta has Woodford Reserve on their flights vs. Jack Daniels/Jim Beam on AA. :)
     
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  5. MSPeconomist
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    MSPeconomist Gold Member

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    AFAIK the UA MSP-SFO flight only operates once a day and generally not at a good time; it's been suspended and reinstated and moved around a lot. It also has a reputation for being a very tough upgrade. I wasn't aware that US does DCA-MSP nonstop.

    My perspective is that you should probably stick with DL for now, at least until the UA/CO merger mess is finished. As a survivor of the NW/DL merger, I would not want to go through that period again voluntarily. Also, DL has large lounges at both MSP and DCA. (UA now has reinstated their small lounge at MSP.)

    For international travel from DC, you can take the AF nonstop from IAD into CDG for EU connections; this flight is considered pretty easy for upgrades and award tickets, which would necessarily be at low mileage level as a partner flight. Alternatively (for not only Europe but also Asia), DL has frequent and good schedules from DCA into their international gateways ATL, DTW, and MSP from DCA. (There's also SLC service, but I don't know how good the schedules are for connections.)

    The bad news is that EUA to/from DCA is tough because of the many government tickets that are treated as "almost" full Y. This is not unique to DL.
     
  6. MSPeconomist
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    Welcome to MP. Do yo currently hold status on DL?

    Remember that if you switch to either AA or UA/CO, there aren't status matches. You would need to initiate a status challenge. If you do this, pay careful attention to the timing. Ideally, you would want to do this late enough in the year so as to have the new status through 2012 in order to give you a good chance of earning the status for the following year. It's getting late to earn status from scratch during 2011.
     
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  7. WillyMac
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    WillyMac Silver Member

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    Thanks for the recommendation. I could have a CO status match which I would then transfer to UA status. My company has a special matching program even up to their top tier (and we have to be validated as current employees for the match so it's not worth sharing the process here).

    I do not have any status with DL, but haven't dug into the challenge/match process as of yet. I was going to start investigating if I opted to join DL's program.

    And thank you for the welcome!
     
  8. MSPeconomist
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    MSPeconomist Gold Member

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    AFAIK DL is still matching status, although it would be very tough to get DM this way.

    Does your company let you choose airlines? Also, will some of your travel be government contract and hence require that their rules be followed?
     
  9. WillyMac
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    WillyMac Silver Member

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    I think I wouldn't make DM because I struggled before to hit the 100k EQMs for AA from Chicago.

    I do have some flexibility in my airfare selection, as long as it's not grossly overpriced compared to alternatives. None of my work will be government related (I'm a retail operations consultant), so thankfully those rules are out.
     
  10. GUWonder
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    GUWonder Silver Member

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    I still avoid IAD like it's the plague. Thus the aim used to be top-tier with AA and DL/NW and some mid-tier with UA and/or US. Since DL gutted the value of DL miles earned from flights to be used for flights, my DL status might as well bite the dust as partner programs and other redistribution of business works well enough for me.

    30-60 minutes more of additional ground transport time and the lack of a rail connection to IAD, and IAD = I Avoid Dulles.
     
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  11. JetsettingEric
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    JetsettingEric Silver Member

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    If you're DCA based, i would choose US Airways, especially with the slot swap with DL is gaining momentum. I don't recall a direct to MSP - but it should give you plenty of flexibility (US at DCA and UA at IAD) should you need to fly anywhere else. I would cross DL off the list from your comment about upgrading internationally - DL requires a very high fare class for this to work. US gives their chairman 2 one-way upgrades off of any fare plus a companion on the same PNR. In addition - it is likely the easiest to obtain top tier from due to the number of promos and ways to obtain EQMs (credit card spend, promos (grand slam)). they've also done many accelerated promos for status, where all miles count as EQM, their Race to Preferred where everyone is basically enrolled in a challenge, and the Hop Skip and Jump to preferred which gives you status or a bump in status for flying new routes.
     
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  12. kyunbit
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    kyunbit Silver Member

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    +1
     
  13. tassojunior
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    tassojunior Silver Member

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    US

    They practically own DCA and you can buy status for $200 for a while and get it long-term by meeting a few challenges. Their off-peak rewards are pretty good too.

    Skyteam rewards are hard out of DC.
     
  14. WillyMac
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    WillyMac Silver Member

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    This is all great information. I appreciate it very much!

    The greatest problem I'm struggling with is the 8 VIP upgrades offered by AA each year - especially since they made them available for all fare classes. It's almost tempting enough to try to connect through ORD each week.

    What do you all think is the likelihood of the slot swap occurring at DCA for DCA-MSP? Wouldn't Delta hold on to that since it's going to their hub, or is it proposed that US and DL swap entirely?
     
  15. MSPeconomist
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    If the slot swap occurs, DL will somewhat cut back its operations at DCA, but I would consider it highly unlikely that they would totally eliminate the DCA-MSP nonstop route. They have the government contract, which seems to be very lucrative, IIRC RT coach fares around $900. They might cut frequencies on all exDCA routes, perhaps by using larger aircraft to maintain capacity, or they might cut the less frequent nonhub routes that can be served instead by connections.
     
  16. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    Unless the only thing you care about is MSP non-stops, avoid Delta. Ex-DCA upgrades are very tough because DL prioritizes full fare over elite status, and treats government fares as full fare, so government employee silvers trump even Delta Diamonds on anything other than full fare. As a Northwest Platinum a couple of years ago I had three consecutive DCA-SLC flights where there were a couple dozen people ahead of me on the upgrade list at the gate, and I also missed many DCA-ATL upgrades even.

    DC-based, you have more non-stop options with United from IAD and US Airways from DCA than on anyone else.

    You'll pretty much always clear an AA upgrade ex-IAD.

    We don't yet know whether the CO or UA upgrade process will win out.

    The US Airways inflight product is pretty mediocre. United has (and the combined UA-CO will have) economy plus for when your upgrades don't clear. American has some inflight wifi at least. Delta is the most pimped out product.

    If you care about award redemption, accrue with a Star ALliance progrma... followed by AA and DL is at the bottom. Although for specific redemptions, either can be best (AA to South America, DL to Australia or French Polynesia).

    All depends on what you value most. I'd go with a Star program though in almost all cases. Or stick with your EXP status and connect...
     
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  17. MSPeconomist
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    While this is largely true in spirit, some of the details aren't quite accurate.

    BTW, my worst upgrade failure ever was being #18 on the waiting list for a gate upgrade using a government fare MSP-DCA; supposedly the upgrade list contained fifty-six people. This was a DC-9 plane with 16 FC seats. Every other time, probably fifty flights in all, I've always gotten the upgrade on this route at my window as either a NW PE or DL DM, using the cheaper government fare more that half of the time, the expensive one a few times, and a midrange coach fare (H, Q, K) for the rest.

    The DL system upgrades "full Y" fares upon ticketing if upgrade inventory is available for all elites. However, not all Y fares are considered to be "full" Y.

    There are generally two government fares on this route. The slightly more expensive (IIRC, it's maybe a difference of $50 on a roughly $900 RT fare and works for the last seat on the flight) is treated as "almost" a full Y according to NW Chisholm agents and DL DM agents in SLC. What this means in practice is that if upgrade inventory is available, the upgrade happens overnight after the ticket has been issued.

    Note that many government agencies avoid issuing tickets--as opposed to making a reservation--until a day or so before the outbound flight, so many government travellers miss upgrades even at their windows if they're not able to convince the agency or Sato Travel to issue the ticket early. After a close call when I discovered on my way to the airport that my ticket had never been issued, I've learned to always request that the ticket be issued early (which some government and Sato staff don't understand) and I verify that this has been done, but I am clearly a small minority in this matter.

    However IME government agencies will try to use the cheaper government fare if it's available and there's no compelling reason to use the more expensive and more flexible one. The cheaper government fare is not treated as close to full Y at all. It upgrades at the normal window, assuming that the ticket has already actually been issued. It seems to be treated as about an H fare, but I haven't been able to verify exactly how it compared to published H fare class fares for priority.

    The bottom line is that this route is very elite heavy, especially at prime times for business travel, and has a chunk of government "almost full Y" fares, but upgrades are not impossible for top tier DL elites on either the cheaper government fares or normal published fares. However, to the extent that DL succeeds in monetizing domestic FC, all bets are off.
     
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  18. legalalien
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    legalalien Gold Member

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    That certainly would make my choice a lot harder. UA stocks Jim Beam Black Label, which ain't half bad, though pending 'alignment' of beverage offerings with CO may change that.
     

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