Monthly Archives: June 2013 - Page 2

2 Free Tickets Deal Is Back for Chase Southwest Visa Cards

From time-to-time Chase offers a 50,000 point bonus (good for 2 tickets) on their 4 Southwest Airlines credit cards. It’s been gone for a bit, but it’s now back. I don’t have time (some of us have jobs!) to type all the details here about free companion tickets etc, but for all 4 of these cards you’ll get 50,000 Rapid Rewards points after $2000 spend in 3 months:

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card
$99 annual fee not waived

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Card
$69 annual fee not waived

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card
$99 annual fee not waived

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Business Card
$69 annual fee not waived

(Thanks, Slickdeals)

Priceline Rewards Visa No Longer Offering 2% Cash Back for New Accounts

One of my long-time recommendations for your credit card strategy is to put everyday spend on a 2% cash back card (when you’re not trying to hit minimum spend for a bonus), and for this I’ve recommended the Priceline Rewards Visa card, which had offered 2% cash back on all purchases.

Well, that’s gone now. I was just recommending that plan to a friend and noticed that the application page for that card no longer shows 2% cash back (it’s 1% now). I don’t know if they’re changing existing customers to 1% (I would imagine they will at some point), but this is a bummer.

This leaves the Fidelity Rewards Amex as the last 2% cash back card with no annual fee. With those cards, for every $2,500 you spend you’ll get $50 to deposit in an eligible Fidelity account (Cash Management Account, Brokerage Account, Fidelity-Managed 529 Account, Retirement Account). While these cards have no annual fee, there is a 1% foreign transaction fee.

If you spend a lot overseas, you may want to consider the Capital One Spark Cash Business card — it offers 2% cash back with no foreign transaction fees. HOWEVER, they do charge a $59 annual fee after the first year.

Huge bummer about that Priceline card.

A Few Notes about the Return Home from Moscow…and the Austrian Airlines 777 Business Class Seat

I wanted to share a few notes from the return home from Moscow yesterday. I had flown over in Premium Economy on Aeroflot, and I returned home via Vienna in business class on an Austrian Airlines 777 with their new flat seats. Here are some random pieces of information I thought I’d share from the trip:

– There is always traffic in Moscow, and now matter how early you leave your hotel, you haven’t left early enough. For example, I had a 545am flight from Domodedovo Airport, roughly 30 minutes from where I was staying in the city. It took me about an hour and 25 minutes. And I left a 3am.

– There will be crazy lines of people at that airport because they scan your bags as you enter the actual airport. My father, who is the king of this, will be proud to know that I just marched up to the front of the line and got my bags scanned.

– This is what a “glass of wine” looks like on Aeroflot:

– At the gate next to mine in Vienna, there was a flight leaving for Erbil, Iraq. Wondering who was traveling to Iraq nowadays, I sauntered over to see who was boarding. In case you were wondering, the line was composed entirely of Iraqi families, and the baddest-ass American military contractor types I’ve ever seen. There would be no trouble on that flight.

– This is what the “free newspaper assortment” looks like on Aeroflot (I was probably the 3rd person on the plane):

– This is what Premium Economy looks like:

– Which certainly seems nice enough. However, every single aspect of that seat was uncomfortable. It’s in a shell, so it slides forward, which is not the same as reclining. The window seat was too far from the window to actually lean my head on the window, so I went and gathered about 14 other pillows and blankets from the empty Premium Economy section to build a pillow tower, which actually kinda worked. Except when…

– …I tried to stretch out my feet next to me, which you really can’t do because this actually-rather-sharp piece of metal is between the 2 seats:

– We can talk all day long about First Class Suites and whatnot, blah blah blah, but I had the best sleep I’ve ever had on a plane in “intra-European business class” (ie, coach) on Austrian Airlines from Moscow to Vienna. I had stayed up the night before to catch that 3am taxi, so by the time I got on the plane, I literally passed out before we started to taxi and woke up once we landed. Any seat is comfortable if you’ve been up for 24 hours.

– This is what the Austrian business class seat supposedly looks like:

– And this is what it looks like after I’ve been in it for 30 minutes:

– Everyone always takes pristine pictures of their seats in business class, but that’s pretty much what my seat always looks like after a few minutes. I will admit here: I am a slob.

– Lucky at One Mile at a Time wrote a perfectly wonderful overview of the service on this plane, so I don’t feel the need to add anything here. Service was great, and the “coffee menu” they offer with 10 different types of coffee preparations is pretty cool. I will note (as he does as well), there are 2 slightly different types of seats in the cabin. Every other row is either a 1-2-1 configuration or a 2-2-2- configuration. I sat in the single seat in a 1-2-1 row. You have a ton of room because you have the whole thing to yourself. However, the area where your feet go when you lie down is oddly small, and after a couple of hours my feet felt, if this is possible, claustrophobic jammed into their little cubby. The side-by-side seats have, for some reason, more room for your feet. But if you’re traveling with someone you don’t know, you are a tad close to them for my own comfort. If you’re traveling alone, you’ll be left with a choice of whether to lie down with squished feet, or lie down and cuddle with someone you don’t know. Your call.

A Few Words about My Aeroflot Flight….And a Caution about Premium Economy

I’ve spent the past 2 weeks having this conversation:

Someone: You’re flying Aeroflot? Are they safe? Aren’t they the worst airline in history? Don’t they fly old, rickety Russian airplanes?

Me: No. They’re pretty much the same as any mid-level airline anywhere. They’re pretty much what you’d get if you flew a US airline to Europe. I promise.

It was with that in mind that I arrived at my gate in advance of my first journey on Aeroflot – a Premium Economy ride on a new 777-300 from JFK to Moscow. I had stuck up repeatedly for this airline I had never flown, and I now I had an odd air of pride as I strode down the restaurant-free halls of JFK’s Terminal 1 toward my gate.

When I checked in, I was told our 7:10pm flight might depart a bit late, so I showed up at the gate area just before 6:30pm – the time my boarding pass said the flight would be boarding. Apparently the other 300 folks preparing to board the plane saw the same thing because, nearly in unison, at exactly 6:30pm, nearly all of them lined up at the gate.

And there they stood.

And stood.

And stood.

No grumbles, no complaints, no whining. They stood.

And at 7:30pm, a full hour after 300 people had been standing in line in front of the gate agents, who neither changed the boarding screens to reflect the now-obvious delay, nor made an announcement to tell the fine passengers of Aeroflot 103 that they need not stand up for 1 hour in advance of boarding, one of the gate agents began speaking to the line – not over the intercom, mind you, but rather directly at the line – in Russian, which caused about 125 of those people to scurry roach-like to an area on the other side of the gate. And there they stood.

I was perplexed at this point, as I speak no Russian, and the gate agent made no announcement in English. The security staff standing around spoke, from what I could tell, neither Russian nor any English. A young American woman approached one of the People Who Spoke No Language, asking, in a far more polite manner than I am saying right now, “What in God’s name is going on?” to which the Person Who Spoke No Langugage replied, “11to34.”

After some discussion among the handful of Americans I was standing near, it was determined that they had gone and divided the scrum of 300 into 3 groups: a group with young children, a group in rows 11 to 34, and the remaining people (I’m not certain the aircraft has more rows than 34, so I’m not sure exactly who comprised the remaining group.

A few minutes later, the giant mass of Russians, who had stood for more than an hour with unbelievable patience (due, I would assume, to the fact that they, themselves, or their parents had stood in lines for hours solely for a loaf of Russian bread, so how bad is it really to wait an hour and fifteen minutes to board a plane?), were told “CHILDREN!” by the gate agent, which I assume meant that families with children could now board. And so they did.

While at the same time, one of the People Who Spoke No Language starting allowing the not-11-to-34 group to board, forcing a confluence of families, babies, strollers and now-hurrying Russians to enter the aircraft, all while leaving those of us in 11-to-34 wondering what was happening, as we are now halfway through the boarding process, on a flight that is clearly going to be an hour late departing, and the sum total of the announcements we have heard in English is “CHILDREN!”

Following CHILDREN! and not-11-to-34 we uneventfully make it on to the plane. The Premium Economy section, which features 2-4-2 seating (rather than the 3-4-3 found in the back), ample legroom (maybe 38” pitch?). reclining shell seats, and a footrest, holds 48 passengers, but only 8 of us have shown up for this flight. (The business class seats are angled lie-flat, in case you were wondering). All cabins offer a really great IFE, with a TON of movies to choose from. Your fears about an Aeroflot flight’s comfort (at least in Premium Economy) were unfounded – the IFE is as good as I’ve seen on any US airline.

I sat down in my seat and started to get settled, and I found it strange that no announcements at all had been made in English (and now that I think about it, I’m not sure any were made in Russian either). I was getting settled, putting my stuff away, and suddenly we begin to pull back from the gate and head out to the taxiway. Passengers are walking around the cabin, storing their crap, while others, I later see, are still in the bathroom as we’re heading down the taxiway. Staff and passengers are completely unphased, so I decided I’ll just go with the flow and talk on the phone until we’re up in the air.

I did want to note one quirk about flying Premium Economy: Aeroflot is a SkyTeam airline, so I had originally given them my Delta Skymiles number to earn credit. But then I started thinking that it might be prudent to see how many miles Skymiles will credit me for my A-class Premium Economy ticket. The answer, as you probably have guessed by now, is Zero. Zero miles. It earns fewer miles than an economy ticket. Why? Because, that’s why. Air France/KLM Flying Blue allows for earning on a Premium Economy ticket, and I called Aeroflot to change my number so I could earn on this flight. I bring that up as a word of caution in case you’re ever flying Premium Economy – make sure you actually earn miles for the class of service.

Also, while that Premium Economy seat would be quite comfortable for the return trip where I’m just sitting and reading, it was quite awful for sleeping. You can’t lift up the armrests, so you can’t stretch out. You can’t lean your head on the side of the seat next to you because it’s a shell seat. I was up about 137 times during the night, and only partially because they kept the lights on for 3 hours, then woke us up with 2 hours left in the flight to serve some sort of snack. Like I said – in the beginning when I was reading and watching a movie, it was great. Sleeping? Not so much.

Spirit Airlines: You Want Wine in a Can? You Got Wine in a Can?

I’m not sure why I find it hilarious that Spirit Airlines is offering Wine in a Can (aka, the Spirit Airlines of Wines), but I do. I’ll just paste the press release:

Friends Wine In A Can today announced their partnership with Spirit Airlines. Starting this week, the company is serving its innovative, canned wine product on all Spirit flights. The “Fun Wine Collection” provides customers of legal drinking age the opportunity to experience new flavors such as Friends White and Strawberry Moscatos.

Friends Wine In A Can is entering the U.S. market, bringing a fusion of European style and thinking to the States and encouraging Americans to think outside the bottle. Consumers may have had wine and wine coolers, but Friends Wine In A Can is bringing a fresh way of thinking about wine in a new “Fun Wine” category. This new category is defined by delectable wine products in a convenient, environmentally-friendly container with six percent alcohol content.

“We are excited to introduce Friends Wine In A Can as a new ‘Fun Wine’ category with Spirit Airlines,” said Joe Peleg, Friends Wine In A Can CEO. “We believe that great tasting wine can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime, and with Spirit Airlines we are taking wine to the clouds.”

“As the first airline to offer this new category of wines, we are pleased to roll out Friends Wine In A Can, providing a fun new experience for our customers,” said Scott Robillard, senior manager onboard experience for Spirit Airlines.

Wednesday Roundup: Delta Walkin’ In Memphis; Allegiant Profile; Is Fastjet Already Screwed?

Sorry about the roundups the week – I’m traveling today and it’s been a bit nuts. In any case:

– The Wall St Journal has a really interesting article about Allegiant, which is just a butt-kicking juggernaut (if you don’t subscribe, go Google “From Toledo to Profitability” and you can get to the article from there for free. Most insightful tidbit: it has competition on only 17 of its 203 routes. Virgin America (which is slightly larger and probably hopeless), has competition on all of its 35 routes.

– Delta is going to shrink Memphis down to just about nothing at the end of the summer. Northwest ran about 200 daily flights from there during its peak, but the hub’s days were numbered when Delta purchased the airline. It currently runs about 96 daily flights, and will shrink that down to, gulp, 60. More than 200 jobs will be eliminated.

– The auditors of Fastjet, which is hoping to be Africa’s first successful lowfare carrier, have expressed concern about the financial state of the airline. It is considering selling its stakes in its Tanzania and Ghana operations to cut losses and raise capital.

Tuesday Roundup: Hilton Ends Room Service (In 1 Hotel); New Sochi Flights; More

– The New York Hilton is eliminating room service, claiming that for some reason people no longer want a $42 piece of toast and coffee delivered to their room.

– Aeroflot will offer 12 daily flights between Moscow and Sochi on February 5-7 and February 24-25 for the Olympics.

– In case you were wondering, United Express 4352 from Cincinnati to Newark is the most delayed flight in America.

– What’s the world’s longest flight going to be once Singapore ends its Newark – Singapore nonstop service? Qantas’ Dallas – Sydney flight at 7,454 miles. However, Turkish just announced that in the next 3 years they’ll start flying a 777-300ER from Istanbul to Sydney – an 8,076 mile trek.

– There will be one less way for Oneworld flyers to get to Spain: Iberia is suspending its Boston – Madrid route beginning in October.