Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Quick Note about Seat 4E on United’s 757-200

I flew to Amsterdam last night (for work) on a United 757-200 – booked in coach (you’re welcome, company) and upgraded using systemwide upgrade (I have enough miles that I know I won’t be buying any tickets this year, so I might as well use them for work). The front cabin was nearly empty, which I’ve never seen before on this flight – only 5 of us were sitting there, so I had no one next to me. Flight attendants were dressed wearing orange ties and headbands in celebration of Queens Day here in the Netherlands (two of my co-workers flew over on Delta, and they blew up orange balloons and batted them around the cabin after they landed).

The flight was fine, but I wanted to point out one thing about the front cabin on the United 757: all of the seats are pretty much the same, though I chose an aisle seat if one is available so I dont’ have to climb over someone to get to the bathroom. I did discover last night that all 16 seats aren’t exactly created equal. I was in 4E (4F next to me was empty). I had a glass of wine and a Tylenol PM and because I used the OTR Anti-Jetlag Method ™ – waking up at 4am the day before – I was pretty much asleep by 7pm (we had a 6pm departure). A bit later I turned over and saw that there is a light above the bathroom at the front of the coach cabin that was right in my sight line when I turned over. Then I was like a moth – the light was the only thing I could see. I have no idea why, but it became incredibly distracting, which I realize is ridiculous, but I’d have open my eye and there was the light.

This all sounds nutty, I know, not least of which for 2 reasons:

1) There are eyeshades in the amenity kit; and
2) I could’ve just gotten up and moved to the seat next to me (4F) and that would’ve been the end of it.

But I know I will sometimes wake up next to my wife and some part of her leg will be touching me, and I’ll be thinking, “ich, can you just move over?” but I won’t say that, and I’ll sit there annoyed that she’s in my space, when the easiest solution is for me to move over 3 inches. But when you’re tired and disoriented I don’t think to myself that I should move over 3 inches.

That’s how it was last night – the solution was right there in front of me, and I even thought to myself, “just move to the next seat.” But the voice in my brain responded, “why should I have to move? Why is that light there????” The answer, of course, is so people can see where the bathroom is. I was being ridiculous (to myself), and I did eventually fall asleep.

This is the long way of saying: I’d choose any seat other than 4E on the United 757-200 (international configuration) if you have the choice.

For Many People, the Air France Award Ticket Changes Are Good News

Last week Air France announced changes to their Flying Blue program that, if you’re a half-full kinda person, are fantastic or, if you’re a half-empty kinda person, represent a devaluation. Here’s the deal:

– Coach tickets from the US to Europe will see their currently-ridiculous fuel surcharges slashed to 50 Euro each way (roughly $65) from about $200 each way.

– Business class tickets from the US to Europe increase in cost from 100,000 miles to 125,000 miles. Fuel surcharges (obnoxious) stay the same on the trans-Atlantic portion of the trip, but they’ll throw in the fuel surcharges on any connection for free (in other words, flights to Paris will have the same surcharge while flights to, say, Oslo will be slightly lower).

– Increase cost of premium economy ticket to Europe from 75,000 to 100,000, with a reduction in surcharges from $240 each way to about $145 each way.

Yes that stinks about business class (and premium economy) tickets increasing the number of points required, but let’s be honest — why were you redeeming Flying Blue miles for tickets on Air France? The surcharges are completely ridiculous – you have plenty of better options if you want to transfer Starwood or Amex points into a program to get to Europe.

However, the reduction in surcharges on coach tickets to Europe is a pretty big deal, because it opens Air France up as a redemption partner (I considered a $400+ surcharge to be ridiculous for a coach ticket). With the lower surcharge, you’re looking at 40,000 Starwood points for a roundtrip coach ticket to Europe (I know, I know, bloggers act as if coach doesn’t exist.) For those interested in visiting Israel, Air France considers Israel to be part of Europe, so that’s a bargain there, too.

Plus, several times a year Air France offers 50% off deals for award tickets to Europe, meaning there will (likely) be opportunities to grab a roundtrip coach ticket to Europe for 25,000 miles plus only $130. That’s a great deal.

I’ll Give Credit Where It’s Due…A Chart of ANA’s Fuel Surcharges (Not Mine)

I will give full credit where it’s due: The Points Guy has put together an enormously helpful chart listing out the fuel surcharges ANA charges for award travel on partner airlines. It dispels some of the misconceptions people (ie, me) had about where they charge a surcharge.

ANA can be a great redemption option because of their mileage-based award chart, which offers some really fantastic bargains (22,000 miles from New York to the Caribbean; 68,000 miles for business class from the East Coast to much of Europe), and because it’s a transfer partner from Membership Rewards and Starwood.

The short version is that they have negligible-to-reasonable surcharges when redeeming on United (except to Asia), US Airways, Air New Zealand, and Air Canada. This is really great news for those of us in New York — European and (many) Caribbean trips are very reasonable.

In any case, I need to give Points Guy and enormous amount of credit — that post took a LOT of legwork. Thanks much.

US Airways Giveth Back (Free Wine) and Taketh Away (Lower Change Fees)

A couple of pieces of news from US Airways:

– They’re matching United’s annoying $200 domestic change fee and $300 international change fee. As a US Airways shareholder, I say, “Good for you!” As a human being I say, “seriously? $200 for a domestic ticket?”

– If you like wine, and you find yourself on US Airways flying to Europe put away your $6 (or whatever) because the find folks in Phoenix have decided that wine will be free on trans-Atlantic, Israeli, and Brazilian flights.

Ethiopian Airlines Will Be First to Put 787 Back in Service

Ethiopian Airlines said that it would be the first carrier to put the 787 back in the air, with scheduled flights to resume on Saturday, April 27th from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya.

Ethiopian has 4 787s delivered, with another 6 on the way. Unlike several other airlines flying the 787, they said they experienced no issues at all with the new aircraft, though it withdrew the planes from service to comply with the FAA’s mandate.

United to Operate 1-Time 747 Service SFO – HNL

(Airline dork warning)

We old folks remember the days of smoke-filled 747s flying around the US (as in this advertisement). Sure, it made no sense whatsoever to have Delta flying 747s between Atlanta and Miami (though they did). But I think for many of us around my age, 747s represented the pure cool-factor of air travel. That this amazing, odd-looking machine could somehow pick you up in New York and fly you to Tokyo.

There are no longer any scheduled 747 domestic routes (as far as I’m aware – please correct me if I’m wrong, though I don’t think I am), so tomorrow will (possibly) be a treat for someone:

That’s a prelude to me telling you that a United 747 is making an infrequent (though not entirely extinct) trip tomorrow from San Francisco to Honolulu with the big bird replacing a 777 on flight 300. Congrats if you’re on it.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Offers 3X Points at Restaurants the First Friday of the Month

Title says it all…Chase Sapphire Preferred has an ongoing promotion starting in May where they give you 3X points at restaurants on the first Friday of each month. The way they present it on that linked page suggests you need to book through Opentable, but it’s actually good at any restaurant.

So, How Was My Quick Trip to Orlando?

I will now have a pretend interview with myself about my quick trip down to Orlando:

Q: Hi, Welcome to the program.
A: It’s great to be here, thanks.

Q: So, how was your trip to Orlando?
A: Oh fine, thanks for asking.

Q: That’s it, fine? Wasn’t it your decision to post something here?
A: Oh right, yes. I flew down on United, back on United and was upgraded both times. I stayed at the Westin Disney Swan.

Q: Anything to mention about the flights?
A: Sure – I intentionally picked my flight down because it was on a 757-200 with an internationally-configured business class. That’s always kinda nice. But sadly, they swapped it out for a brand-spanking new 737-900, which literally had the smell of a new plane.

Q: Oh, that was kinda disappointing, wasn’t it?
A: It wasn’t a huge deal, but there is a big difference between the front cabin in those two planes. Also, United will sometimes fly newly delivered 737-900s without IFE, which was the case with this new plane.

Q: You’re not actually complaining about sitting in first class, are you?
A: No, not at all. But I can at least admit that I’d prefer the lie-flat bed seat to the actually kinda nice new seats on the 737-900. Though to be honest I went to see a play on Saturday night (Lucky Guy with Tom Hanks – 1.5 Stars) and the seating was quite cramped, and yet I sat there for 2 hours and never really thought about it. But if people sit on a 1-hour flight with 30″ pitch, they go bananas (self included). Not sure why that is.

Q: Now someone was telling me something about something before the show about noisy kids on the plane?
A: Yes, that was me. People complain about babies on planes, but in reality babies aren’t (always) the problem. There were 2 4-year olds sitting 2 rows behind me who, let’s say, did not use their inside voices while on the plane. I had 2 hours of fantasies about what I wanted to do to them.

Q: So the flight was fine. How was the hotel?
A: I can’t really give much of a review, as I spend nearly all of my time in a conference room. But the Swan & Dolphin is a gigantic resort, though I was never really able to find where to grab something to eat. Also, it could use some upgrading. Check out these delightful photos. Here’s the sign by the elevator welcoming me to the Preferred Guest floor:

Q: That’s seen better days.
A: Yes it has. Or how about the ceiling in my bathroom:

Q: Lovely
A: It really wasn’t a bad resort, but the rooms could use a little facelift.

Q: And how was the flight home?
A: I did get the 757-200 with the international business class seats, which are comfortable and have a wide range of TV/Movies that makes 2 hours fly by.

Q: Thanks for coming today.
A: You’re welcome. I’m here all the time.

Results of a Churn, and Some Back to Basics Credit Card Churn Advice

I’ve been shying away from writing about my credit card churns primarily because I don’t think it’s all that interesting to read about what cards other people have applied for. But I thought I’d share today because sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics.

Most of the cards my wife and I applied for were done because we’re considering going to Hawaii in August, and I wanted to bulk up on Hilton Hhonors points. Yes, I know, they devalued the program and blah blah blah. But there are still a whole bunch of ways to get Hilton points, so even though some of the best values are gone, there are still lots of ways to use those easy-to-mint points. We were looking at the Hilton Waikoloa on the Big Island — you can get the Presidential Suite for 95,000 points a night (reviews of that property are ALL OVER THE PLACE —- if you have any feelings about the resort one way or the other, I’d love to hear about it).

In any case, we focused on building up our Hilton balances, and then I filled in with some others. For me, I got about Hawaiian Airlines cards and the Citi Hilton cards for the Hilton points. I grabbed the US Airways card (35k miles) – I had cancelled my previous US Airways card last month and there’s no reason not to jump back in there. And I always like to add a Chase card, so I got the Ink Plus (I canceled my Ink Bold last month). I was approved for each.

For Susan, I grabbed the Hawaiian B of A card and the Citi Hilton cards for the Hilton points. I got the US Airways card for the same reasons above. And I got her the United Explorer card (55k) because she was eligible for it (I was not because I have the United Club card). She was approved for all of them, except the B of A card, which we are waiting to hear back about (though I have asked my darling wife, who is sitting next to me right now, to please call them and just confirm that she will be approved, but that was 3 days ago and we’ve been busy, etc, and I’m pretty sure she’s not going to call).

You may note that I did not apply for the Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Airlines card for my wife, and that is because about 9 months ago I was a complete and utter moron and, through a turn of events too uninteresting to detail here, I neglected to pay a $6 charge on her last B of H Hawaiian Airlines card, leading them to cancel her card and put a note on her credit report that she had a delinquent payment for 6 months. This was 14,000% my fault, and the only consolation I have is that she is still being approved for credit cards, despite my idiocy. Out of respect for B of H, I did not re-apply (though I bet they’d approve her).

And this is where I thought I’d go back to basics for a second. A friend of mine wrote me last week saying that after getting well over a million miles through card churning, he has now been cut off by all card issuers. It turns out he had been applying for cards pretty much willy-nilly (technical term) over the past year. I wanted to take this opportunity to remind the veterans and, more importantly, make sure the newcomers know some of the very basics of card churning:

– Group your apps together and apply on one day every 3-4 months. Please don’t be greedy.

– Only apply for 1 Chase card at a time.

– US Bank doesn’t like churners, so they’ve been turning people down with good scores apparently because of the churn. Don’t take it personally.

– ALWAYS keep cards open for 11 months.

– Err on the side of caution.

Sure – you can be as aggressive. You can apply for more cards more frequently. But please, exercise restraint. I’ve been doing this for years following those few simple rules, and (except when I neglect to pay a $6 bill) I’ve had no problems getting 2 mortgages and – knock wood – I’ve yet to be turned down for a card. If you play it safe, you’ll be printing yourself miles for years to come.

POSTSCRIPT
I have been asked to include this statement: My wife did, in fact, call BofA with very little prompting, and she was approved for the card.

I also take full responsibility for the missed $6 charge, though allow me to stipulate that it does not make up for the 15,000 Amex points we have lost because the very same wife went 3 years without paying a single Corporate Amex bill on time.

A Roundup of Less Expensive Ways to Travel to Europe on Miles

Most airlines (as you can see in my chart) require roughly the same number of miles to get to Europe. But not all airlines…

There are good deals out there that we’ve talked about before piecemeal, but I thought it would be helpful to have all of these in one place. If you’re thinking about a trip to Europe this summer, you’re probably fretting over the (once again) ridiculous fares to get there. Don’t give up hope (yet) – these options represent some opportunities to get there even if you don’t have a ton of miles in your accounts.

Aer Lingus to Dublin using Avios points. British Airways Avios only requires 25,000 points for roundtrip flights on Aer Lingus to Ireland from Boston (50,000 for business class) and does not impose fuel surcharges. Flights from New York and Chicago are just 40,000 points round trip. Coach availability from Boston is fantastic, and pretty good from New York. You can look up availability on Qantas’ site, though I would still call British Airways to check because there were days where Qantas wasn’t showing business class availability but the BA agent I spoke with said she did have a couple of seats available. And don’t bother looking on United’s site — they show availability from Boston but not from New York.

United and US Airways to Europe (and Israel) using ANA miles. ANA apparently no longer charges fuel surcharges on US Airways and United Airlines flights, which is fantastic because of their mileage-based award chart. That means New York – London is just 38,000 ANA miles in coach or 63,000 in business. Most of the rest of Europe is 43,000/68,000. Israel is 60,000/90,000. You can get miles into your ANA account by transferring from Starwood or Membership Rewards. If United shows Saver award availability, you can book using ANA miles.

Air Berlin to Dusseldorf and Berlin using Avios points. BA just charges 20,000 Avios points each way in coach (40k in business class) for Air Berlin flights from New York to Dusseldorf and Berlin. and there are no fuel surcharges.

Delta to Israel using Flying Blue miles. Availability is poor, of course, but if you can find availability on Delta for their nonstops to Israel, Flying Blue considers Israel to be part of Europe so it’s only 50,000 miles round trip — and they don’t impose fuel surcharges when flying on Delta metal. Plus, unlike Delta, you can book a one-way. You can check availability on Air France’s website.

Emirates to Milan using JAL miles. The service doesn’t launch until October, but as Lucky pointed out, if you use JAL miles (transfer from Starwood) it’s only 39,000 miles roundtrip in coach or 63,000 in business class.

British Airways or American Airlines using LAN points. LAN does not charge fuel surcharges on Oneworld partners, so you can fly to Europe on BA or American Airlines without paying the surcharges that Avios would impose. This is helpful because LAN has a distance-based award chart. Note that these are in Kilometers, but basically to most of Europe it’s 30,000 miles (60,000 KMs) roundtrip in coach and 70,000 (140,000 Kms) in business class. And you can even redeem for Premium Economy seats, which is helpful if you want to fly Openskies to Paris. You can transfer to LAN from Starwood, and you’ll get the 5,000 mile bonus with a 20,000 mile transfer. With LAN, if you transfer 20,000 Starwood points you’ll earn 50,000 LAN Kms.

US Airways off-peak. January 15 – February 28 US Airways only requires 35,000 miles round trip to fly to Europe.

American Airlines off-peak. American requires only 20,000 miles each way when you fly to Europe Oct. 15 – May 15. And if you fly over to London on American and connect onto BA, the surcharges aren’t bad at all. And there are no fuel surcharges on AA metal (or Air Berlin).

Did I miss any great redemption options?