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An Open Letter to Joe Sharkey

(I really didn’t want to write about the New York Times’ airline coverage two days in a row, but they brought it on themselves)

Dear Joe,

I read your column It’s the Golden Age of Flying. (Just Don’t Forget the Gold) in the Times today, and I was sad to hear that a sticky-fingered child was sitting next to you on your recent flight to Tucson.

You had several complaints in the article about the state of air travel today. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought it would be good to help you overcome all of the difficulties you address in your piece. Let’s go through them one-by-one:

– You allude to yesterday’s ridiculous article about international business travel by noting that the “hoi polloi” will never get to enjoy that first class flight to London on British Airways because it costs $18,000. That’s true. But if you don’t want to spend $18,000, you could have opened 2 American Airlines credit cards and earned 150,000 miles (now 100,000 miles for 2 cards) — enough for that round trip first class ticket to London. And you didn’t even have to pay the annual fee. It’s your call — 2 credit cards or $18,000.

– I was saddened to hear about your lack of status on any airline and how that caused you to have a less-than-adequate trip between New York and Tucson. You’ve mentioned flying this route in other columns, so you must take it several times a year. You note how you had to board among the last groups, and had to sit in cramped quarters way in the back of the United flight you took through Denver. That is a bummer. But that is easily avoided — simply credit one of your roundtrip flights of 3,000 miles to Star Alliance partner Aegean Airlines and you’ll get Silver Status on Star Alliance, which will give you priority boarding and free checked bags. See, it’s not so hard to earn status and get those perks.

– You did offer a suggestion about how to have more comfort in coach: “Obviously, the best is buying a higher fare ticket and opting for the few miserable inches of extra legroom you get in premium economy sections.” I wouldn’t say that’s the best way. You can buy a cheap ticket on United and buy-up to Economy Plus if you have no status on United or Continental. That won’t cost you much on a cross-country flight, and you’ll get 4-5 additional inches of legroom. Or if you fly that route a few times a year, it may be worth the $425 option to buy Economy Plus for the year. That’s not for everyone, but it basically guarantees you a comfortable seat for a year. Or fly JetBlue (not to Tucson, they don’t go there, but to other airports, and their regular seats give you 3-4 additional inches of legroom compared to Continental for no added cost).

– You sort of brush aside the perks of airline credit cards, though you do quote an analyst saying that airlines see credit card customers as someone making an investment in the airline (to which you respond, “Well, let me think about that investment for a bit. Just how much is it worth to avoid the child with the sticky palms?”). The answer to your question is $0. The United Mileage Plus Explorer card is free the first year. You’ll get priority boarding benefits and your first bag is checked free. Sure, it’s $95/year after that – you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it for you. Frankly, I’d just keep crediting the 1 flight to Aegean and keeping the Silver Status on Star.

So, while it’s sad you had to sit in the back next to a sticky kid, there are lots of ways for you to avoid that situation with very little effort. After you take up this advice, you can give thanks for never boarding last again.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Online Travel Review

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  1. I’m a not so frequent traveler who’s never held status on any airline (although for 2012 I may be going the Aegean route) but have learned to use credit cards to my advantage to get by pretty well.

    Tonight I’m flying IAD-IAH on CO with a return on Sunday. I have no status and might be dreading dealing with the hassle, were it not for the fact that I carry the OnePass Plus credit card, which means I’ll use the EliteAccess checkin line, check my golf bag for free, and board immediately after the elites and before the rest of the masses. I think I’m going to be just fine.

    But I don’t really mind him writing articles like that in the NYT…means there’s more perks for the rest of us!

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