Monthly Archives: January 2011

1 Excellent Reason to ALWAYS Get Miles for Every Flight or Stay

I’ve heard plenty of people say that they don’t bother signing up for an airline or hotel loyalty program because they don’t travel much, or they never stay at such-and-such chain.  I’m writing to say that those folks are missing an opportunity.  Here’s why:

We’re going away in late February and we needed to get a hotel room near the airport the evening we arrive, and the evening before we leave.  I didn’t want to spend much since we’re basically just sleeping there.  Then I remembered:  I have 30,000 Radisson Gold Points points sitting in my account for when I stayed at the Radisson Danbury in 2000.  Yes, 11 years ago.  I never stayed at a Radisson before then. I haven’t stayed at a Radisson since then.  I’ve gotten emails for 11 years from them harassing me about using those points, and there they sat.  Until now.

In February I’ll be using those points for 2 nights worth about $250.  You never, ever know when you’ll end up in a situation where a few points will come in handy.  Always, always sign up for the loyalty program and take the points.

Just 29,000 Miles for Premium Economy Award Ticket from New York to Europe

Air France is offering half-price reward tickets between New York and all of Europe (offer is good in both directions).  Tickets are just 25,000 miles round trip in coach (plus $350 or so in taxes, depending on destination).  Yes, I realize that is ridiculous.  And yes, now that I’m looking Aeroflot has round trip tickets from JFK to Moscow for $428, taxes included, during that period, making this a terrible deal.  But what if I told you that Premium Economy on Air France is only 29,000 miles round trip?  Now it’s interesting.

You may be thinking, “Gee, I don’t have any Air France miles.  What good is this?”  You can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points into Air France 1-for-1.

Book by 2/26 for flights by 2/28.

Alaska Airlines Is Retiring the Horizon Air Brand

Horizon Air, the regional air carrier for Alaska Airlines, will lose its own identity when Alaska retires the Horizon Air brand from its Q400 fleet in February.  Horizon had been flying both its own routes and serving as a regional carrier for other airlines (primarily Alaska, which is owned by the same company).  This will change in February, though, when the smaller carrier moves entirely to a regional carrier operation flying under the Alaska colors.

If you are a fan of their on-board microbrews, don’t fret – they’ll still serve good beer.

Woman Caught at Airport with 44 iPhones in Stockings

Chalk one up for the new full body scanners:  A woman at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport was caught trying to smuggle 44 iPhones into Israel by stuffing them in her stockings under traditional Georgian clothing.  Security officials noticed she was walking funny (because she had 44 iPhones in her stockings) and approached her.  She said she wasn’t feeling well, and security said they could help her out, just as soon as she passed through the full-body scanner.  She obliged, and was caught with the phones.

This is the 24th time the scanners have caught people trying to smuggle items into Israel since they were installed in October.

(thx, D-lux!)

How to Get Miles for Free Flights Using Credit Cards: An Introduction

I want to preface this by saying that there are several other websites out there you should visit to learn more about earning miles from credit cards (View from the Wing and Frugal Travel Guy, among others – though FTG’s blog is, how do I say this nicely, a bit crude in its usability and right now I will make an offer to Rick who runs the site: I will gladly help you move your site to WordPress or Squarespace, where you can manage it easily and your visitors will have a vastly easier time using the site.  Contact me if you’re interested.  My help and WordPress are both free.  Squarespace is great and cheap.)

That said, credit card companies have been escalating their offers recently for signup bonuses for airline cards and it’s certainly worth considering applying for credit cards to earn miles to be used for free flights.  For those new to the game, a few basic FAQs I thought would be helpful:

– Everyone new to this asks this question:  won’t applying for credit cards hurt my credit score?  Answer: Yes.  And No.  Yes, you’ll be dinged for a few points for each time you apply (whether you are approved or not).  But if you are approved, you will also gain points for having unused credit.  The short answer is:  If your credit is good and you are not applying for a mortgage for the next 1-2 years, you should be fine.

– I’ve heard about churning credit cards.  Can you explain?  Until last year, Citibank allowed you to apply for American Airlines Citibank cards and get signup bonuses over and over again.  The process of getting a signup bonus, canceling the card, and then re-applying was called churning.  This was a windfall for many, as you could earn several hundred thousand miles a year just for churning.  Citibank put a stop to that last year, and though many of us wept, it makes sense.  Chase, which is associated with most other airline cards, allows you to earn a bonus once a year (for the most part).

– Is there a way to maximize how many miles I get?  The biggest thing people forget to do is to apply for both a personal and a business version of the credit card.  The Delta Amex just offered a bonus of 45,000 miles when you got a Delta Skymiles Amex (now expired).  But you could also get a Business Delta Skymiels Amex (just list your business as Your Name Consulting).  You’d get an extra 45,000 miles for that.  And have your spouse do the same.  Assuming you can meet the spend threshold (in this case, $3k over 3 months), you’ve just earned 180,000 by spending $12,000 on your cards.  Not too shabby.

– Are all offers that lucrative?  Well, no.  The generic signup offer tends to be around 25,000 miles.  But we’ve seen some doozies lately:  British Airways had a 100,000 mile bonus (both you and spouse could get that); American Airlines is still running a 75,000 mile bonus for $4,000 spend in 6 months.  And they offer 3 cards.  Get all 3, and it’s 225,000 points.  Have your spouse do the same, and it’s 450,000 points.  You can’t do this if you’ve ever had a Citi AA card before, however.

– How can I learn about new offers?  Follow the blogs I mentioned above.  These offers come up all the time – the biggest problem is finding out about them.

– Any other advice?  Yes.  I think this is most important:  You HAVE to keep track of the cards you’ve signed up for, what you’ve spent on them, and when the first year free expires.  Set up an excel spreadsheet and calendar reminders.  Spend only what you need to on these “churned” cards, then move on.  But you’ll need to keep close track of that, and of when you need to cancel the card.  I generally cancel after 11 months, to keep the maximum amount of credit open.

– Do you have a favorite miles card?  I’m not really an expert on this (see above, as each of those blogs has plenty of posts about the “best cards”), but my day-to-day card is the Starwood Amex.  The points are transferable into many airline programs with a 5,000 point bonus for 20,000 point transfers, plus they’ve got a wide range of hotels.  I’ve been happy with it.

Good luck…

Passenger Finds Beverage Cart in Aisle, Goes Nuts

A passenger on an American Airlines flight from Rio to JFK yesterday lost it when he got up to go to the bathroom and found a beverage cart in the aisle blocking his way.  He apparently had to go pretty badly, as he kicked over the cart and punched the flight attendant.

Passengers wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him for the remainder of the flight.

Which begs the question:  did he get to go to the bathroom?  He obviously had to go pretty badly.   So many questions…

(Thanks, Dlux)

Marriott Comes Clean: No More Porn in Hotel Rooms

(Hat tip to Lucky, who says this story has no effect on his choice of hotels)

Marriott Hotels announced that they are yanking porn off the pay-per-view choices in the new hotels they are building going forward.  The hotel chain says that adult pay-per-view revenues have dropped over the years, though their explanation seems to leave open the possibility that they’re taking a moral stand against the content.  Those interested in adult entertainment in hotel rooms will be restricted to the 482,234,102 porn-related pages to be found on the Internet.

(On a side note, I was recently at a conference and met with a salesperson from a vendor we work with who noted that he purchased the $34.95 all-day-porn package available in our hotel room because “it was a good deal.”  I did not shake his hand when I said goodbye.)

Delta’s Kinda Cool Bump Auction

(Personal note:  Longtime reader/former roomate/close friend D-Lux will love this:)

Delta has done away with the old system of asking people on crowded flights at the gate if they will take a $300 voucher to move to a later flight.  You used to hear announcements where gate agents begged for volunteers at increasing amounts until they got the number of people they needed off the plane.

Not anymore.

Delta has now implemented a silent auction system for bumps that would please the hearts of economists everywhere.  In short:  when a flight is in risk of being oversold, they ask every passenger at check-in (kiosk, online, etc) what amount they would take to be bumped off the plane.  In effect, it’s a silent auction.  The airline then knows exactly who they will bump and how much it will cost them.  The airline gets to pay market rate, and you don’t deal with the mad pushing and shoving that occasionally erupts during a bump situation.  It is brilliant, and I expect we’ll see most airlines follow suit asap.

Delta Cancels Planned Service to Luanda, Angola

I try to write about new service to Africa here because I think the economic growth of the continent is, in part, dependent on nonstop air service to the US (which, 10 years ago, basically did not exist).  Delta has really led the charge, opening routes across the continent.  They were planning on launching 1-stop service from Atlanta (through Dakar) to Luanda, Angola this week, but due to lack of demand they have canceled the route.  That’s a shame, but business is business.  I do wonder, though, if their abandoned Cape Verde mini-hub idea would have helped expand African service because the 757s they could have used would have required fewer sold seats to be profitable.  Guess we won’t know.

Passengers scheduled on Delta flights to Luanda will be moved to Air France service through Paris.

A Quick Trip Report: Amsterdam

I know how everyone loves trip reports.  Here, I’ll throw you a bone:

January 9: Newark – Copenhagen
SAS A330, Business Class

I’ll be honest: I took an Ambien in the lounge a bit too early, which I realized when I sat down in my near-lie-flat seat, picked up a magazine, and the words did not come into focus.  Oh, I tried, but they floated there, moved around, rearranged themselves.  That’s when I thought, “oh right, I usually don’t take the Ambien until I’m already on the plane.”  Oops.  We took off, I reclined, and I woke up in Copenhagen.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  I have no idea what people complain about on any business class trip, especially to Europe.  Reading reviews online, you’d think that some business class service is like spending a month at Guantanamo.  You get a decent night’s sleep, and a few hours of quiet.  What is there to complain about?  (Or, frankly, let’s not fetishize the first class experience either.)  Airplane food gussied up is still airplane food (yes, even on Singapore), and even a genuine lie-flat first class seat is not a bed.  It’s a seat that you can move into a 180-degree angle.  I’m reminded of an old Simpsons episode where Milhouse’s father is talking about how great it is living in a singles community after separating from his wife:

Milhouse’s dad:  I sleep in a racing car, do you?
Homer: I sleep in a big bed with my wife.

No matter how supposedly-cool a first class cabin is, it’s not like sleeping in a big bed with your wife.

January 10: Copenhagen – Amsterdam
SAS A319, “Business Class”

I have the boarding pass, so I know I was on this flight, but I was still in an Ambien haze so the only memory I have of it was that “business class” on intra-Europe flights is actually just coach with the middle seat blocked out.

January 13: Amsterdam – Copenhagen
SAS MD-80, “Business Class”

Again, intra-European coach/business hybrid.  They did serve some food, though I’m not sure why, as the flight was 50 minutes.  I had a 4 hour layover, so I hopped the Metro and walked around Copenhagen.  No complaints.

January 13: Copenhagen – Newark
SAS A340, Business Class

Another thing people complain about that I don’t understand is the pre-departure drink.  It isn’t offered quickly enough, or something else — I’ve read many-a-comment on pre-departure drinks.  But here’s the thing:  didn’t we just spend an hour in the lounge before the flight?  How thirsty can you possibly be?  And while I’ve been in the crappiest lounges in the world (Colombo, Sri Lanka, I’m talking to you) and the best lounges in the world (Singapore First Class Lounge in Singapore, I’m talking to you), the fact of the matter is this:  sitting inside in a lounge is, without hyperbole, 47 billion times better than sitting outside in the terminal.  I remember that Singapore Airlines’ lounge offered a lovely spread of sushi, among other eats.  But when I think about it, wouldn’t that just make it $20 better than the Colombo lounge, where nothing was offered?  Really – I probably ate about $20’s worth of fish, yet I felt like I was being pampered.  Pampered with $20 worth of food.  Sad, really.  I’ve come to appreciate the lounge, regardless of what they’re offering.

We boarded.  I barely slept the night before, so I reclined by seat, slid down because it’s an angled seat, cursed that I was uncomfortable, then slept for 4 hours straight.  Watched Winter’s Bone (great).  Got hungry.  For the past year I’ve been bringing my own food on board, even on long flights when I’m up front.  I decided that I want to eat when I want to eat; I’ve also decided that 99% of the time a sandwich from Subway is better than whatever heavily sauced concoction they’re serving on the plane.  Although I missed the meal service on this flight (airplane food, perhaps with a Scandinavian bent) they do keep snacks in the galley for your snacking pleasure.  I retired to the galley for a little nibble and discovered that one of the choices was a reindeer and margarine sandwich.  I have one – and only one – rule of flying: never, but never, ever turn down a reindeer and margarine sandwich.  Which is funny, as that rule has never really been applicable.  But there it was, staring at me.  I couldn’t pass that up, and in 30 seconds I was at my seat, halfway through the finest snack SAS had on offer.  If I told you that it tasted exactly like a reindeer and margarine sandwich, you would remark that that was not a helpful description.  But I would insist that that is exactly what it tasted like because, forgive me, that is exactly what it tasted like.  Sandwich completed, I read for 4 more hours, landed, and went home.

In short:  SAS was perfectly fine.  I have no idea what people complain about.