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Unexpected Upgrades and Qantas Lounge Access at LAX!

After a brief vacation, I had to get back to the office in NYC earlier than expected. I had booked an economy ticket (booking class L) on the 11:50pm American Airlines red eye out of LAX Sunday night, arriving at JFK around 8:30am Monday morning. 

Now, even with Executive Platinum status, complimentary upgrades to business on these premium transcon routes are by no means guaranteed, and rarely happen long before departure. The best I've done is for a Friday 4:30pm departure out of LAX, when I was upgraded around T-55 (55 hours before departure). But since American changed its upgrade rules in mid-May to take into account elite qualifying dollars going back to August 1, 2016 (which is about $35,000 for me), I decided to take a chance.

This time, T-100 and T-55 came and went with no upgrade.  With 4 seats still available in business (J4) and first class totally empty, here's the series of events:

  • T-66: AA releases 1 discount business seat (I1)
  • T-45: AA releases 1 economy to business SWU/cash-plus-miles upgrade seat  (C1)
  • Between T-45 and T-40: AA releases a second C seat (C2) and 2 additional discount business seats (I3)
  • Between T-40 and T-35: Both C seats vanish, but still J4
  • Between T-25 and T-18: I get upgraded; 3 other empty seats in business  
  • T-3.5: 2 empty seats in business; first is still totally empty! 
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I hopped into the still-being-renovated Admirals Club in T4 at LAX. I began chatting with the agent, who told me that economy was way oversold. At first, I didn't believe her: just hours before, the seat map in economy was showing more than half empty. It did not immediately occur to me that this could be an ideal operational upgrade situation. After entering the club, I quickly realized finding a seat would be a problem. So I decided to take the short walk to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and check out the oneworld business lounge, which I knew I would have access to since I was traveling in business on a 3-cabin transcon.

Then, on a whim, I walked past the entrance to the business class lounge and down the hall to the Qantas First Lounge. I'd heard stories of AA Executive Platinums getting access when flying business on a 3-cabin premium transcon. I walked in and presented my business class boarding pass, which the agent scanned. She seemed momentarily puzzled, looked at my boarding pass, and said tentatively: "So you're oneworld Emerald..." 

Then she asked me for my AAdvantage account number, typed it in, and welcomed me into the club. Success! 

I refrained from taking too many pictures — the lounge was actually decently full with passengers traveling on the late Qantas flights to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, and the late Cathay flight to Hong Kong. But I snapped a quick photo of the entrance to prove my admission:

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I was modestly hungry, so I sat down for dinner service. I had the salt and pepper squid and a blue cheese panna cotta salad with watercress, celery, green apple, and pecans — both were delicious. I drank an iced latte, since I had work to do and knew I'd have to work on the flight. For dessert, I had the mango sesame mousse, a lighter option that really hit the spot. I had terrific service, so — and I know people feel differently about this, and that's fine — I left a $20 tip. I had contemplated trying to take a shower, but I no longer had time. Around 11:10pm, I headed back to Terminal 4.

The area around Gate 49A was hectic. When they called for business class passengers, I stepped up, but the boarding pass scanner beeped and flashed a red light. Apparently someone else had been assigned to my business class seat in 9C. The agent worked for about 30 seconds at the computer, printed a boarding pass, showed it to me, whispered "This is better," and I was on my way...to a first class seat in 5A!

Every seat in first class ended up being full, along with business and economy. So unless someone bought a seat or upgraded themselves from business to first between T-3.5 and the point at which the upgrade list goes to airport control, that means all 10 first class seats were op-ups.

American has apparently (finally) rolled out their updated Cole Haan amenity kits on the premium transcons:

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And it looks like these are a slightly updated version of the Bose QC line of noise-cancelling headphones:

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They served an abbreviated dinner service, with a burrata salad and a choice of various snacks. I chose the crab cakes, which was also served with Haagen-Dazs ice cream and a pretzel role (my top choice).

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In any event, this whole process raises a question: How does AA decide who to give an op-up to? I had already been upgraded from economy to business, but maybe my status and EQDs played a role?

After a couple of hours of work, I snapped a photo of the sunrise on the far horizon. It was about 2:20am Pacific Time, and the sun was just rising on the east coast.

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After landing at JFK, I headed to the newly (partially) renovated Concourse B Admirals Club, where I got yet another surprise...stay tuned!

 

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