Monthly Archives: October 2012

20% Off Virgin America Promo Code – Good Through December 13

Get 20% off your next Virgin America flight through December 13th (start dates vary by city) when you use Virgin America promo code VS2020 (details here).

Some city pairs are available beginning November 2nd, some November 7th, and others November 13th.

October 31st Morning Roundup

In non-hurricane and non-Vanilla Reload news:

– Have you been dying for flights from the US to Azerbaijan via Belgrade, Serbia? You may be in luck. Azerbaijani Airways has been in talks with Serbia’s JAT Airways to launch service to the US via Belgrade starting next year. (I mention this solely because a friend and I have been obsessed with Azerbaijan for 20+ years because of an old SNL skit where Dana Carvey is playing Johnny Carson and repeatedly says “Azerbaijan.” I know, it’s not funny when you read it.)

– Delta will drop JFK-Valencia service and, equally unsurprisingly, Memphis-Amsterdam.

– A passenger who was drunk on an Indigo Airlines flight in India (and who reportedly threatened to hijack the plane when he was not served liquor) has been sentenced to life in prison.

– Two delivery delay stories: American will receive its first 777-300ERs about 7 weeks late, pushing the start date of that service back to January 31st. Initial flights will be between Dallas and Sao Paulo. Boeing says that United’s next 4 787s will be delayed, meaning that those of you who have booked flights from Houston to cities in the US to sample the new 787 service may be disappointed. United says they will refund your tickets if you schedule 787 flight is not flown by a 787.

– SAS swears it is not going out of business.

– Air Canada, it turns out, has a secret Global Services-type level of Elite status.

A Chart of How Many Miles You Need for an Award Ticket to Israel (Hint: The Best Option is to Fly to Jordan)

After I posted my Unified Award Chart a little while back showing how many miles it takes on US airlines to every region around the world, I received a few requests to do the same for flights to Israel, since Israeli flights have their own quirks.

Below is the table for how many miles it takes for an award ticket to Israel. A few things to note:

– The best option is to fly over using Flying Blue miles on Delta metal, as Flying Blue considers Israel to be part of Europe (whatever). It’s only 25,000 miles in coach for the one-way ticket, and you can transfer 20,000 Starwood points to get those miles. I wouldn’t use that for the return because they’ll tack on a ridiculous amount of fuel surcharges. The other drawback is that Delta’s availability isn’t great (understatement).

– If you go the Flying Blue route, you’ll need a flight home and the best bet there is to use Avios miles on Air Berlin, as it’s only 30,000 Avios points for the return flight. Avios doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on Air Berlin, so if you don’t have Flying Blue miles (or Starwood; or Membership Rewards points, which also transfer to Flying Blue) this is the best option.

– If you’re doing a longer trip to that region from New York, the actual best choice is to use LAN kilometers to fly to Amman, Jordan, on Royal Jordanian. LAN only charges the equivalent of 35,000 miles roundtrip in coach for the nonstop flight to Amman (100,000 in business class). You can transfer Starwood points to LAN, meaning it’s only 30,000 Starwood points for a roundtrip ticket to Jordan. That’s a great deal. To check availability I would call American Airlines, since LAN’s call center can be hit-or-miss (I’m being generous). You could add on a leg from Amman to Tel Aviv for 6,000 miles roundtrip (12,000 LAN Kilometers).

[table id=14 /]

Mario Batali Knows About Some Pretty Amazing Airline Lounges

The NY Times Magazine has a little blurb each week from chef Mario Batali about a seasonal drink he enjoys (during the summer it appeared to be “pour some wine over some fruit” pretty much each week.)

This week he writes:

“When I’m hanging out in an airplane lounge…I make a red beer…and add 4 shakes Tabasco, 1 tsp. Worcestershire, 3 oz V8 and squeeze half a lime then fil to the top with a cold pilsner.”

First, I assume “airplane lounge” is “airline lounge” and not 747 Braniff Place.

Second, I think I’ve been spending too much time in United Clubs, because, um, Worcestershire sauce? Tabasco? They have these in lounges?

(I’m cooped up because of the Hurricane, I think I’m starting to lose it…)

Get 20% Off All LOT Polish Flights

Sign up for a coupon on this page and you’ll receive 20% off your next LOT Polish flight (it’s set up so they need to hit a certain number of signups before you get the full 20% — otherwise you’ll get 15% — but I don’t see how they don’t hit the 30,000 signups necessary to reach the 20% threshold). You’ll get a coupon emailed to you on October 31st.

LOT has often been the least expensive business class option to Europe, though I’m noticing now that they seemed to have raised prices for flights once they introduce their new 787 service from Chicago (mid-January) and New York (early February). Those flights will feature a Premium Economy section and a flat bed in Business Class. With the 20% off coupon you’ll be looking at sub $4000 fares to Europe in business class which, depending on the market, is generally a pretty good deal (except to Frankfurt, where business class fares during the spring are under $3,000, which is amazing).

(Thanks Flyertalk)

I’m Not Saying You Should Sneak Into Cuba, But…

…there’s a new way to do it. Interjet is launching twice weekly service from Monterrey, Mexico, to Havana.

Not that you should do it, but if you WERE to sneak into Cuba, for those in the Southwest, this would be an easy way to get there. Just thought you’d like to know.

Dear United Airlines…

Dear United Airlines,

On May 30th, 2012, I flew from Auckland to Sydney on Air New Zealand.

It is October 25th, 2012, and, despite me filling out 2 sets of forms and calling you 3 times, the miles from that flight have not been credited to my account.

I realize that Australia is both on the other side of the International Date Line and in the Southern Hemisphere, so that may have something to do with the delay (May is winter in Australia, so maybe my points won’t post til winter in North America). I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

But now that the weather is getting cooler here, can I have my miles please?

Thank you.
The OTR Staff

…In Which I Give My 2 Cents About the Bluebird/Vanilla Reload Card Thing

If you’ve read any of the other travel blogs in the past week you’ve noticed some discussion about a new Amex prepaid debit card called Bluebird. If you haven’t, people are talking about it for this reason:

If you buy a Vanilla Reload card at Office Depot and put money on that card using your Chase Ink Bold card, you will get 5X points essentially for paying yourself cash. You can then use that Vanilla card to add money to your Bluebird card and with that, you can pay your mortgage, etc. Yes, I know that sounds confusing and ridiculous, but the very short version is that you can essentially pay yourself cash and get 5X Ultimate Rewards points for doing it. (See Frequent Miler’s blog for the full download on this if you care).

I’m starting to get questions about whether people should take advantage of this offer. As with all things credit card, it depends on your risk tolerance. I am staying away.

The risk is that Chase will notice what you are doing and shut down your accounts. Is it illegal to buy yourself cash and get 5X points for it? No. But there are enough reports of Chase shutting people down that it’s clear this is not what they had in mind.

We are all living in a golden age of miles, where we are basically able to get as many as we want through credit card bonuses and selected churning. I’m not taking a moral stance on this, but I am taking a risk-based stance on this: the whole scheme feels very risky to me, and while I’m sure lots of people are taking advantage and printing themselves miles, to me it’s not worth taking that chance.

Everyone has a different opinion on this – there are plenty of people who don’t like to open credit cards because they fear it will hurt their credit. To each his own. We’ve all decided what our risk tolerance is when it comes to our credit. For me, this is over my threshold. (Though let me give Frequent Miler all the credit in the world for figuring this out…)

Tuesday Night Roundup

A busy day of random stuff, so I thought I’d summarize:

– Openskies, the British Airways subsidiary that flies to Paris Orly from Washington, is re-launching service from JFK beginning March 31st. They previously flew all premium class, but they recently (re-)added coach seats. Their “Biz Seat”, which is better than domestic business class, generally runs around $1500 — a steal. You could also use Avios or AA miles (it’s considered Premium Economy), but you’ll be paying fuel surcharges. Blech.

– Aegean is buying Olympic Air, which is a shell of the former Olympic Airways. We’ll assume that Olympic kills its codeshare with Delta because of this and the combined Aegean/Olympic remains part of Star. This should help you if you wanted to get to some random Greek Islands using Star Alliance miles.

– KLM is rolling out Economy Comfort on its intra-European 737 fleet.

– Get 10% off your next Jetsetter purchase with code JET10OFF.

– The Hilton Amex is now 40,000 points after $750 in spend and an additional 25,000 points after $3,000 in 6 months. Details here.

– Some consolidation in the Icelandic low-fare market: WOW Air has acquired Iceland Express. The Iceland Express brand will disappear, which doesn’t matter much in the US since they discontinued their very cheap flights to Iceland a year ago.

7 Lessons For Credit Card Planning

I’ve been working with a bunch of people lately with my free credit card planning service, and I’m seeing that the same issues keep cropping up when I speak with people who are trying to figure out the best credit cards for their needs. I thought it would be helpful to pass along a few ideas for planning your credit card strategy which will work for those just starting out and those with half a million miles sitting in their accounts.

Lesson 1: Have a specific trip in mind.
I think this is really key to starting out with credit cards – there are a lot of cards out there, and lots of ways to earn miles. It helps tremendously if you have a specific destination so you can build toward a specific goal. I know that may sound obvious, but I hear a lot of “I just want to build up a bunch of miles.” That’s fine, but you’ll get a much better return if you’re focused, say, on a trip for 2 to Paris.

Lesson 2: Get a card that earns Hilton points with every churn.
Unless you’re extremely picky about which hotel you stay in, your best bet for earning hotel points is through the Hilton Hhonors program. I have a handy chart of 9 credit cards that you can get to earn Hilton Hhonors points. You should always include (at least) 1 of these in every churn you do. You’ll find you’re basically printing Hilton points, which, unless you have some sort of massive aversion to Hilton hotels (or need to stay at their highest end hotels, which require an absurd number of points) you’ll be happy you have.

Lesson 3: Don’t even bother with Delta
Yes, Delta Skymiles have a few specific destinations where they can be valuable (Gary lists them out here) but those are few and far between, and if you end up not taking a trip to one of those destinations, you now have a bunch of pretty much useless miles. I’ve had several people come to me with a hunk of Delta miles in their account wondering about how they can get that balance up for an upcoming trip. Invariably I tell them to forget about the Delta miles and focus elsewhere.

Lesson 4: Get the US Airways credit cards.
There is basically no reason NOT to get the US Airways Mastercard (here). 40,000 miles after first purchase, and the first year fee is waived. That’s a free off-peak trip to Europe for doing nothing. Again – there is absolutely no reason why you would not get this card.

Lesson 5: Diversify – It helps with long-haul premium awards
This may sound slightly different than the advice that is typically given around frequent flyer miles, where people suggest you focus on one program. That is true for actual flying (so you can earn Elite status), but when it comes to credit cards you’ll often find that having 40,000 miles here or there will come in handy down the road. For example, there are plenty of occasions where your best bet is to fly, say, to Europe using Air France miles on Delta metal (with points you transferred from Starwood) and back using United miles. Or American. Perhaps you want to go business class to Asia but can’t earn enough miles on United through credit cards for the 120,000 miles you need. Why not go one-way on Star Alliance using 60,000 United miles and back on Cathay using 55,000 American miles? For those with lower spend, it’s easier to earn those bonuses without putting a ton of spend on the card. Breaking up long-haul premium awards into two different one ways can make life easier (perhaps that should’ve been its own lesson.)

Lesson 6: Starwood has lots of uses beyond hotels
I almost never use Starwood points to stay at a Starwood hotel (except for some occasions where I’ll use cash + points for a stay), but those points are incredibly valuable to top off for an award in a program where you’re a bit short. Or to transfer to Air France Flying Blue because it requires only 20,000 Starwood points for a one-way ticket on Delta to Europe (with no fuel surcharge). Get the Starwood Amex — those points will be useful for you at some point.

Lesson 7: If your dream trip is to Europe, focus on Star Alliance carriers
Because American charges fuel surcharges on BA and Iberia flights to Europe, their miles are less valuable for flights to Europe than United miles, as they do not charge fuel surcharges on any of their partners to Europe. If you want to go to Europe, focus on getting points on United and US Airways (that US Airways MC I mentioned above + a US Airways business credit card = 1 free ticket to Europe). They have a bunch of partners and availability (certainly in coach, but even in business especially on Lufthansa) is pretty good all year round.

Obviously, there’s tons of nuance around all of these suggestions (which is why I offer my free service in the first place), but the tips above should be helpful as you think about getting miles for your next trip.