Southwest Economy or American First-Class Award Redemption?

I’ve mentioned earlier this year that I decided to splurge miles on first class for our flights from Tampa to Seattle. I won’t rehash  my reasons for doing so. Not to mention, these are my miles and I don’t owe anyone an explanation for being so darn fancy. But I will give it  anyway.

As I’ve said in my referenced post, economy saver flights (12,500 miles one-way) were not available. So, I burned a good portion of my stash on first class instead at a cost of 25,000 miles one-way. At the time, Southwest schedule hasn’t come out yet, and  I  wanted to lock in my flights as soon as possible. Our cruise was already booked and we had zero flexibility. Well, Southwest has recently opened their schedule through beginning of August. Out of curiosity, I decided to check what one-way flight from Tampa to Seattle is running at.

southwest tpa-sea

Not too bad, actually. Since we live 1.5 hours from Tampa, morning flights would be out of the question. As you can see, the cheapest option is a flight at 3:05 PM which runs at 12,918 points. That’s pretty good and is comparable to saver economy pricing on legacy carriers. But it gets in at 9 PM, which is midnight  Florida time.

Of course, if I only had enough Rapid Rewards for that flight, I would take it in a heartbeat. But the thing is, I have about 120K and  would pay 18,337 points per person to get us to Seattle at a reasonable hour. We have small children who get super cranky when tired. Our AA flights are supposed to get us to Seattle a little after 7 PM local time. Also, since we are booked in first class, there is an option of free stand-by to get on an earlier flight.

So, we have 18,337 Rapid Rewards points in economy vs. 25K AAdvantage miles in first class. For 7 hours of flying, I honestly think the second one is the winner, but only if you happen to have a decent amount of AA miles. Guilty! No, it’s not millions or anything even close. But as I wrote in Monday’s post, this program is becoming obsolete when it comes to my parents’ flights from Belarus to US. Sure, our family can probably use AAdvantage to get to a major Europe hub, but only if we can find 4 seats on the same flight.

That’s not a guarantee because as I’ve mentioned earlier, availability is drying up, even on partner airlines. I call it “Doug Parker” affect. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about it, I assure you, it’s really not that important. What’s important is that miles in all US-based programs are becoming less  valuable as the number of major players decreases. In a  way, I hope AA adopts revenue-based system similar to Southwest. At least families will know for a fact that their efforts to collect miles will not be in vain when the day of reckoning (redemption) is upon them.

Then, of course, we have an upcoming award chart devaluation. To me, it makes no sense to hoard miles I already have in my possession. I would rather make my family comfortable right now. Is it a bit short-sighted? Maybe. But I honestly feel that the premium is not outrageous here, considering the fact we’ll get free food, more legroom and more comfortable seats on a fairly long day of flying.

My husband absolutely hates economy and airplanes, period. He does enjoy looking at them and can actually pilot a small aircraft like Cessna. But flying commercial messes him up for days. It’s gotten to the point that he will only agree to one flight per year. I realize it seems nuts to most folks in the hobby but the truth is, that’s a totally normal travel pattern for majority of American families.

We plan to visit my relatives in Europe  every other year, so that doesn’t leave room for too many air trips. Since I am your typical fifties’ housewife and  don’t like the idea of traveling without my husband, I’m OK with letting go when it comes to miles.  So, here we are, booked in first class with no regrets.

I’m fancy (this time) and proud of it!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not opposed to burning miles or points on fancy seats or hotels. This is up to each individual to decide. Everyone’s situation is different. You may be short on cash but happen to have 1 million miles. I think it’s absolutely fine to splurge in this particular case. It doesn’t mean you should, and some flights are so short where the difference won’t be as pronounced.

But if you really want it, why not? Who is to say what is wasteful and what is not? If there is an algorithm on optimal usage of miles and points, I would love to see it. The only currency that has absolute value is cash. That’s why it’s my favorite and the one I go out of my way to collect.

Sometimes you may find that only standard level is available and it costs double the amount in miles. Your first urge may be to just save the miles and pay cash. It might be the right course of action, bot not necessarily. If you’ve acquired the miles via sign-up bonuses and minimal effort, consider parting with them if your (real) savings account is low. Once again, there is no right or wrong answer here, but I do recommend you disregard the standard gospel of “get 2 CPM or pay cash.” That’s for rich folks, and if you are one of them, why are you reading my blog anyway? OK, I’m kidding, you can stay.

I admit, part of the reason I burned miles on first class is because I know for a fact my husband will enjoy it. And why pretend? I will enjoy it as well. I better! I burned a huge chunk of my miles on this baby. An American baby.

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4 thoughts on “Southwest Economy or American First-Class Award Redemption?

  1. I agree. Sometimes convenience is just very valuable. I also burned extra miles on AA so I did not have to switch planes twice on my way back from Frankfurt. I get worried that my husband will go on strike if a flight that should be about 10 hrs. ends up with 25 hrs because of layovers.


    • Hilde, I couldn’t agree with you more! I do whatever it takes to prevent my husband from going on strike. At this point in time I don’t mind burning more miles to get convenient schedule. When you have small kids, it can make or break a vacation. When we were younger and carefree, we did 6 AM flights. We didn’t have a lot miles back then, so it was the issue of going vs. not going.


  2. I had the same thought process recently. We burned 75K AA miles for first class LAX-SFO then SFO-JFK business class on the Trans Con flight. My wife is pretty excited to fly fully flat bed for nearly 6hrs and it will be very convenient for our 3yr old son. This may be our only opportunity and my wife has yet to experience fully flat bed business class, so I thought why not!


    • @Rich Why not indeed? Fully flat bed business class sounds nice! Ours are just reclining seats, but they sure will make the flight more pleasant. Well, for us, that is. I hope my kids will behave and don’t disturb other first-class passengers who paid a premium for their seats. Enjoy your flights and don’t think twice, 6 hours is a long time to be on a plane. Plus, AA miles are becoming less valuable, and the trend will continue, I’m sure. I honestly think eventually, all airlines will adopt Southwest model which will make it impossible to redeem for first class without paying a fortune in miles.


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