Living in Tokyo on a tourist visa means I have to leave the country every 90 days in order to renew my visa status. Like the U.S., gay relationships are not legally recognized in Japan. This means that unlike our straight married friends, my partner and I can’t obtain a dependent resident visa for me. I worked when we first moved to Japan, so I had a work visa for the first two years we were here. But since I’d rather eat dog shit off a dirty street than continue working at some god awful teaching job in Japan, I must leave the country every three months.

My partner and I signed up for the American Airlines AAdvantage Award program even before we knew we were moving to Japan. We were planning a spring vacation in France and Italy and there was this amazing deal to Europe (free ticket) provided you first fly round trip twice from New York to California. Sign us up!

Back then, we sat in economy class and were thankful. Upgrades and visits to the Admiral’s Club were for frequent fliers, and since neither one of us had a job that required us to travel frequently, our plane trips were relegated to the twice a year vacations and Christmas holiday variety. That changed when we moved to Japan.

American Airlines partners with several major carriers in their One World Alliance–Japanese Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas among them. Perfect if you live in Asia. It wasn’t long before my American Airlines Advantage status went from commoner to Gold to Platinum status. Now, the miles I rack up flying from Tokyo to Texas to New York and back again go towards free round trip tickets on any One World Alliance partner airline, upgrades to business class during international travel and upgrades to first class during domestic U.S. travel. I get into any Admiral’s Club (or partner club) provided I’m on a One World international flight that day. I no longer have to wait in any long-ass economy class lines at the airport, and I always get free meals and drinks on the plane. What a deal! The price? American Airlines demands loyalty.

If I don’t travel on a One World Alliance flight, I feel like I’m pissing money away. Thankfully the alliance is so vast that I’ve only had to do that once since I’ve been a member–Berjaya Air between Singapore and Malaysia. Hold on to your cookies folks! I never prayed so hard on a flight.

Occasionally, I fly economy back to Japan in order to rack up miles for a free flight. When I do this, I’m always reminded of why it’s a good idea to be loyal to American Airlines. You see, when you sit in business or first class, you are golden. You’re a Jewish mother’s favorite son. Your shit doesn’t stink. You’re a king. When you travel in economy class, you’re a rancid turd. You’re a red-headed stepchild. You’re an untouchable. The differences in amenities and treatment is night and day.

Business or first class flight attendant:

“I see that you have requested the vegetarian meal.”

Economy class:

“Who requested the veggie meal? You? OK.”


“Have you decided what you’d like to drink this evening?”


“I can’t break a twenty. Do ya have a five? I’ll come back after you look.”


“Would you like the ice cream parfait or the cheesecake?”


“Dessert? Fuck you.”

Now that American Airlines has started a new fuel service charge and will soon begin charging extra for checked bags, all other U.S. carriers are bound to follow suit. I say, pick an airline, sign up for their award program, remain loyal and reap the benefits of a necessary symbiotic business relationship. The alternative is just too damn scary.