Since I “divide my time” between New York City and Los Angeles, I fly trans-continental quite often, and usually on American Airlines because, after all, they have the most flights and the newest planes (those Airbus A321T’s). And for a couple of years, I used miles to either fly free in business or first class, or to upgrade from economy to business for 15,000 AAdvantage miles plus a $75 co-pay each way. Like many people, I earned those miles with credit card purchases and buying stuff on American’s shopping mall.

It used to be easy to find 25,000-mile business class awards each way, and even easier finding 32,500-mile first class seats on non-red-eye nonstops, especially at the last minute (3-5 days ahead of travel). In fact, it was almost a sure bet that if you searched for award seats in the week before travel you’d find availability for “SAAver” awards (requiring fewer miles) on nonstop flights, and not just on the red-eyes.

But that was then, and this is now. Now, it’s almost impossible to find award seats on nonstop flights between the two cities unless you’re willing to pay American’s new, higher “prices” for an “AAnytime” award:  at least 60,000 miles for business, and 85,000—sometimes 130,000­–­each way in first.

Which goes to show you that hoarding frequent flier miles is a fool’s game. Airlines can charge whatever they want whenever they want, and love to change the “rules” on a whim.

Now if you want to find award seats LAX to JFK at lower mileage levels, you’re stuck flying from Long Beach to, say, Phoenix, and from there to LaGuardia; or via Nashville or Charlotte. And sometimes even with connecting flights, you’ll be on a red-eye.

I recently did an extensive search for nonstop LAX JFK and JFK LAX on and couldn’t find a single date for nonstop flights unless I was willing to fork over the new higher mile requirement. And even then, most of the flights were red-eyes.

Face it: American’s trans-con service is a great product, and they’ve lowered their one-way business and first class fares considerably from what they used to be (thanks mostly to Jetblue’s Mint first class service which sometimes goes for as little as $599 each way). So AA is probably selling seats rather than giving them away.

What about free upgrades if you have Platinum or Executive Platinum status on American? That’s a no-go too. These days there are often 10 to 20 people on the upgrade list, and one or maybe two people get upgraded, most often Exec Platinum members.

I know, I know, first world problems. But it does make me wonder if collecting frequent flier miles is worth it anymore. And if Aadvantage members, at least those who fly between New York and LA frequently, feel like they’ve been taken for a ride.

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