Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Reminder About the Most Underrated Frequent Flyer Program: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

This isn’t new news, but I wanted to call out one of the most (if not the most) underrated frequent flyer programs out there — Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. If you’re not familiar with Alaska’s program (and if you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, you may not be), the biggest benefit of their program is that they have a wide range of partners across alliances.

In fact, their partner airlines are so vast that by crediting points to Mileage Plan you are essentially getting the best of SkyTeam (if there is such a thing) and the best of OneWorld in one program. Alaska partners with Delta, KLM, Air France and Korean from SkyTeam and with American, LAN, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas from OneWorld. They also have partnerships with independents Icelandair and Air Pacific.

How is this useful? I think most frequent flyers try to consolidate their travel within one alliance, but sometimes that’s simply not possible, either because of the destination or corporate travel-related restrictions. If you’re a Onepass person (like me) you may still find yourself on Delta or American once in a while (as I do). Crediting those miles to Alaska will allow you to build up points within one program faster than if you sometimes credit to Delta and sometimes credit to American.

Alaska will give you Elite status on Alaska even if you earn miles on partner airlines. Sure, they offer Elite status at 20,000 miles if you only fly on Alaska, but if you fly on partner airlines you’ll still be able to earn Elite status at 25,000 miles even if you earn the miles on partner airlines. Elite status (MVP – their lower level) gets you unlimited upgrades not only on Alaska, but also on Delta (upgrades at 48 hours out on cheap tickets on Alaska and day-of on Delta). MVP Gold (40k miles flown on Alaska and 50k miles on partner airlines) gets you instant upgrades on a wider range of fares and a 72-hour upgrade window on other fares.

So yes, you can get Delta upgrades by flying on American.

When redeeming on American Airlines, you can take advantage of American’s off-peak award tickets to Central & South America as well as Europe, which offer roundtrip coach tickets to Europe for just 40,000 miles.

That’s a lot of flexibility both on the earning side (where you can earn on their partners – though some, KLM for example, do have restrictions on earning on the cheapest fares) and on the redemption side. For those who have to fly non-Star Alliance airlines, it’s a great place to earn your miles.

The biggest knock is that you can only use one partner on redemptions. So you cannot create a reward trip using both Delta and KLM (though you can use Alaska and 1 partner). That does knock out some of the more complex itineraries, but still – it’s not a huge drawback for most people.

Alaska does have a credit card (see here), though right now they’re only offering 25,000 bonus miles. From time-to-time they offer 40,000 bonus miles and the card is reportedly churnable every 4 months or so, which is helpful.

See the latest Amex promo codes to earn 75,000 bonus Membership Rewards Points.

Credit miles easily and save big on your flights with an Alaska Airlines credit card.

Would a U.S.-Based Airline Purchase Russian Planes?

The NY Times today has an article about the Superjet 100 aircraft made by Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi. The planes, which are meant to compete with Embraer and Bombardier aircraft in the 100-seat category, are a far cry from the Russian aircraft of years gone by (ie, I bumped my head when entering a Yakovlev-made aircraft flown by Cubana because they didn’t bother to make the entryway as tall as a human being).

Sukhoi has produced the plane with Western tastes in mind, both from a safety standpoint but also comfort, with upgraded lighting and large overhead bins. But also with the financial needs of Western airlines, as it costs about 1/3 less than similar planes (list price: $31 million).

Currently, only Aeroflot and Armenian airline Armavia have received the new planes, though Mexican carrier Interjet has ordered 15.

My question is this: will an American airline order a Russian-made airplane? Given the past history of Russian aircraft (ie, serious safety concerns), would Americans refuse to fly an airline that flew these? Or would most people have no idea? It took Hyundai almost 20 years before Americans really embraced their cars (and now they’re profitable and well-established in the U.S.). Could something similar happen with Sukhoi?

What do you think?

Earn 5X Membership Rewards Points on Purchases from 6 Retailers

American Express is offering 5x Membership Rewards points when you make purchases with your Amex from 6 retailers through September 30th. Click here to see the details, but the participating retailers are Neiman Marcus, Bed Bath & Beyond, Bloomingdales, Crate & Barrel, Target and Kohls.

Flight Returns to Moscow After Drunk Passenger Starts Dancing

A BMI flight from Moscow to London was returned to Domodedevo Airport on Friday after a passenger got drunk (on a 7am flight, mind you) started pulling eyeglasses off the faces of some passengers and, in the straw that broke the camel’s back apparently, began performing some sort of erotic dance on the plane. The crew decided she was a threat and turned the plane around, landing 90 minutes after departure back in Moscow. She is being held for examination in a hospital, though cabin crew said she was likely just drunk.

One Nice Thing about OnePass Miles: No Fuel Surcharges on Virgin Atlantic Redemptions

Until recently, one of the best uses of Membership Rewards points was to transfer 63,000 points into ANA’s frequent flyer program, which could then be used for a roundtrip ticket in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic from New York to London. Nice. However, ANA is now charging Virgin’s ridiculous ($500-$1000) fuel surcharges on those redemptions.

With that gone, if you’re looking to fly Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic, I thought I’d pass along a friendly reminder that if you redeem Continental Onepass miles for flights on Virgin Atlantic, they do not assess the fuel surcharge. Roundtrip coach awards are 60,000 miles (not a bargain) while Upper Class awards are 100,000 miles and, unlike flights from Newark to London on Continental, there’s actually really good availability on Virgin in Upper Class. And until September 30, you can transfer those Membership Rewards points to Continental for the Virgin redemption.

You can search for Virgin Atlantic rewards to New York on Continental’s site, but they do not seem to have availability on their site for Virgin flights to other cities. You can sign up for a free Flying Club account with Virgin Atlantic and use their tool to search availability on their site, then book directly with Continental using Onepass miles.

The Biggest Change in the Airline Industry in the Past 10 Years: Capacity Control

Airlines in the United States continued their conservative growth announcing that they will shrink capacity by .5% in the 4th quarter compared to the same period last year. In the 3rd quarter they only increased it 1.1%. This is a major, major shift in how airlines have operated compared with 5-10 years ago.

Domestic capacity has dropped 10% compared with the 4th quarter in 2007 and international has been reduced more than 5% in that time period. Even with the recession, that shrinkage has allowed airlines to keep fares high with 6 of 13 domestic airlines in the black for the first half of 2011.

For years airlines threw capacity into the market with seemingly little regard for the financial implications. They frequently skirmished on fares and threw excess capacity into markets in a bid to gain market share. That rarely happens anymore, certainly in part to the lack of new entrants in the marketplace driving down prices in a bid to make a name for themselves. With no new entrants making ridiculous pricing and capacity decisions, there were no crazy competitive responses. In addition, with Delta and United emerging from bankruptcy and the former taking over Northwest, while at the same time fuel prices going through the roof, airlines truly focused on smart growth and right-sizing their businesses. And, incredibly – considering how bad they’ve been at this in the past – they have maintained the slower rate of growth, preferring to take seats out of the market and keep fares higher rather than try to grow by underpricing themselves.

Mix all that together, and it appears the industry is in the best position in years. No, they’re not all profitable. But fuel has as much to do with that as anything. It’s more amazing that half the airlines ARE able to turn a profit with fuel where it is. Smart capacity control has been a major factor in making that happen.

China Southern to Launch First Domestic A380 Flights

For all of you A380 freaks out there, China Southern is launching domestic flights on the A380, which I believe is the first time an A380 is being used for domestic scheduled service. The big bird will be flying Beijing to Guangzhou Oct 17-26 and Beijing to Shanghai Pu Dong October 26-28. Future schedules have not yet been released.

Japanese airlines had long used 747s (outfitted with 450+ seats) on domestic routes, but this is, as far as I can tell, the largest aircraft used on a domestic route, with 506 seats on the plane.

Did a Boston-Based Folk Singer Get Kicked Off a United Flight Because He Was Reading a Book?

A folk singer from Boston named Vance Gilbert says that after he boarded a United Airlines flight on August 14th he took out a book about World War I aircraft and started reading. Shortly thereafter, 3 crew members from Shuttle America, which operated the United Express flight, came on the plane and asked Mr. Gilbert to come with them. They then asked him about the book of planes, examined the book, then let him back on the plane. Gilbert then says that he “silently wept” during the rest of the flight.

Gilbert posted this on his blog, and the Boston Globe has picked up the story. This both seems incredibly bizarre yet also plausible. I’m not exactly sure why he was so upset by it – crazy security-related stuff happens all the time, but for its part United said they are looking into the incident.

American Airlines Million Miler Program Changes

I was just about to write about changes to the American Airlines Million Miler program, but then I saw that literally every blog in the universe had beat me to it, apparently because nobody else has a job. So I’ll send you to Lucky’s site to read what he has to say, because why should I just copy it here?

But if I WERE to just copy it here, I would tell you that you can now only earn miles that count toward Million Miler status by flying or by using their credit card. Goodbye to partner miles counting toward the million mile status.

Go read everyone else’s thoughts on this. Or stay here and read about why I think airlines should revenue manage the miles you earn on a flight. Your choice.

$400 Off OpenSkies Flights — Get Business Class Tickets to Paris for about $1500

Flash sale site RueLaLa is offering $499 OpenSkies vouchers for $99 (effectively a coupon for $400 off an OpenSkies flight). OpenSkies flies all-business class service from Newark and Washington to Paris-Orly. Flights are good through March 31st. OpenSkies often runs specials that knock the price down to between $1200 and $1500 round trip. Currently, tickets this fall are about $1900, so you’re looking at $1500 roundtrip to Paris in a great seat. I’d definitely wait to book until fares drop – they always run specials.

The voucher must be purchased by August 28th.

If you don’t belong to RueLaLa, you can use my invite code here.