Monthly Archives: August 2013 - Page 2

A Bunch of Random Stuff I’ve Been Meaning to Mention

I’m backlogged on a few things I wanted to share, so I’m going to compile them all in a bunch of short tidbits for you here:

– These 2 horny morons were caught repeatedly engaged in unsuitable acts aboard an Allegiant flight and, upon landing in Las Vegas, were charged with a felony. They also didn’t pre-pay Allegiant’s $7 per person mid-air sex fee, so it’ll be $9 per person.

– Speaking of Allegiant, they’ll be flying outside their comfort zone when they launch new service to Islip (Long Island) and Newburgh, NY, among other cities this fall. Islip gets nonstop service to Punta Gorda, Fl, while Newburgh gets flights to St Petersburg-Clearwater. No word on when they’ll cancel those flights yet. Allegiant (smartly) has no issue with launching flights and ending them if they don’t work. Fans (?) of the late-great (great?) Skybus will note that Allegiant is not only launching service to Newburgh, a former Skybus stronghold (stronghold?), they’re also launching a flight to Portsmouth, NH, (to Orlando-Sanford), another city formerly served by Skybus. This is Allegiant’s first real push into the Northeast, and they’re happy to go to markets where even Spirit won’t delve (hi, St. Cloud, Minnesota).

– Speaking of Spirit, Spirit Airlines is launching nonstop once daily Dservice from Minneapolis to LA, Orlando, Phoenix and Tampa. This is an interesting move – this isn’t exactly like their move into Houston and Dallas since they’re trying non-leisure destinations from those cities. And they aren’t exactly shying away from competition either – Southwest flies from Minneapolis to Phoenix. Phoenix is also served by both Delta and United, and fares are already pretty cheap. Sun Country flies to LA and Orlando, though I’m pretty sure Spirit isn’t too worried about them. Delta has a monopoly to Tampa. If Spirit can make this work – fly from a sizable city to 5-10 leisure destinations, they can grow really quickly. There’s much more opportunity doing that than there is in flying Latrobe-Myrtle Beach.

– Delta is canceling its 3-year-old Seattle-Osaka route effective November 4th.

Hm, Is This An Offer for 15,000 Points for the Chase Freedom Card?

I just ran into this landing page (which you can find at this page) which offers 15,000 points for the Chase Freedom card after you spend $500 in 3 months. The offer we’ve seen forever is 10,000 points.

freedom

The “apply now” button goes to a broken page, but there’s nothing in any of the terms on that page that says the offer isn’t good. I’m not somewhere where I can make a phone call right now, but if anyone wants to call Chase at (877) 598-3843 and show them that landing page (https://www.chase.com/online/Credit-Cards/freedom-offers.htm), let us know how it goes.

Oh, and if you really want to torture yourself, see if they’ll give you the 60,000 bonus points for the Chase Ink Plus that they offer on this page, or the 60,000 bonus points they offer for the Chase Ink Bold on this page. Neither set of terms has an expiration date.

Let us know how that goes.

One Last Word about the US Airways – American Airlines Nonsense: You Probably Won’t Guess Who Is Responsible for Raising All Those Fares

I wanted to just share one last thing (“last” – yeah right) about the DoJ and the US Airways merger. There’s been lots written about how with consolidation has come an increase in average fares. Let’s take a look:

Check out this chart. It compares average Q1 airfares in 2000, and then again in 2013 for the top 100 airports in the US. You may remember that during that time period we have seen Northwest, Airtran, America West and others disappear, leaving us with 4 major airlines. Certainly we would have seen airfares jump significantly during that time period – with all that consolidation and a 4X increase in the cost of fuel during that period, right?

No. Of those 100 airports, only 16 show an inflation-adjusted increase in fares, and only 6 show a double-digit increase in fares (Sorry, Dallas-Love, Spokane, Reno, Houston-Hobby, Burbank, and Tulsa!).

Hold on – wait just one minute there. Those 6 cities have shown significant (or “significant”) increases in fares over those 13 years. What is similar about those cities? Hm. What is it? I can’t find market share info for Dallas-Love, but Southwest flies the 10 busiest routes out of there.

Spokane – no market share info, but Southwest flies 5 of the 10 busiest routes out of there.

Reno: Southwest has 56% market share.

Houston-Hobby – Southwest has 85% market share.

Burbank: No market share info, but Southwest flies 6 of the 10 busiest routes from there.

Tulsa: I don’t have recent info, but from what I can tell they had the largest market share with roughly 35%.

Dear God, no. No. Those evil, evil passenger-hating fare-raising bastards at Southwest Airlines are causing all of this trouble, while the other poor, poor consumer-loving executives at Delta and United have been driving down fares for 13 years? It can’t be! It just can’t!

Oh, and while we’re talking about fares. Remember flying back in 2000 when things were really crazy? And it used to cost $2,200 to fly transcon at the last minute? I can fly nonstop to LA tomorrow for (a still admittedly ridiculous) $1200.

And in advance? You can fly NY-LA for $325 roundtrip, sometimes less.

It seems to me that the cheapest fares in many markets are hovering around where they’ve always been. The top fares in those markets that were ridiculous have come down a bit. And the vast middle range of fares has crept up in many cases. To the average leisure consumer, they can still fly from New York to Florida for $99 each way much of the year.

Consolidation has not caused fares to go up – unless you’re stuck in a market served by Southwest.

The Department of Justice Has Some Wacky-Ass Reasons for Wanting to Stop the US Airways – American Airlines Merger

I’ve been reading through the ridiculous complaint filed by the Department of Justice taking a stand against the US Airways – American Airlines merger. The whole thing boils down to their belief that the consolidation will cause undue harm to the American people because airlines will raise their fares to levels where they can consistently actually make money.

Some key points from the complaint:

– They say that “even a small increase in the price of airline tickets, checked bags, or flight change fees would cause hundreds of millions of dollars of harm to American consumers annually,” which is probably true, only it’s not 1 person paying hundreds of millions of dollars annually. When you look at the 700 passenger emplanements annually, I’m pretty sure those travelers (and the businesses paying those tickets) can suck up any added cost.

– They say that US Airways will currently price connecting flights lower than nonstops served by competitors, but that that will stop after the merger, since American doesn’t currently have that strategy. Except that the airline will be run by the executives currently running US Airways. And that’s why you’d stop this? To (at best) help people who would prefer to save $25 to make a connection?

– “American had a standalone plan to emerge from bankruptcy poised to grow. American planned to expand domestically and internationally, adding service on nearly 115 new routes.” Har har har. AA had a plan to grow like Nixon had a secret plan to get us out of Vietnam.

– It appears that the whole complaint rests on the DoJ’s belief that the airline industry is healthy, and will continue to be healthy going forward. This is unproven. Yes, the industry is in the best shape it’s been since deregulation. For the first time airlines are acting as rational competitors, something that would likely continue with 3 major carriers, rather than 4. Plus, Despite what the DoJ says in their complaint JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit do help to provide competition in many markets. So it boils down to this: if you think the industry is great, and will continue to be great, then this merger will only raise prices and eliminate service. But if you think the industry needs further restructuring to keep it healthy (something that would certainly be in everyone’s benefit), you’d want this merger to go through.

– They quote US Airways management extensively, suggesting that they have spent the past 10 years trying to reduce competition, encourage consolidation, and otherwise act in an anti-consumer manner.

– They call out Washington Reagan National as one area of concern – that because of the limited slots available there, the combined carrier will have 69% of the available slots. (They also note that there are a handful of markets outside DCA where AA and US are the only players – Charlotte-Dallas, for example) I think DCA is where we’ll see the horsetrading to get the merger through. US will divest slots at Reagan to whatever the DoJ considers to be a reasonable (or “reasonable”) level, and eventually the carriers will combine.

So this was a complete shock, as there have been no signs that the government had any issues with this merger, especially considering on how few city pairs they served as the only carriers. I’m just disappointed that the government thinks the airline industry should return to the unstable years that brought about the reduced service they’re now complaining about.

(Disclosure: I own a very small amount of US Airways stock)

All Austrian Airlines Long-Haul Aircraft Now Converted to New Business Class

Austrian Airlines announced that they have completed upgrading their Boeing 767 and 777 aircraft to their new lie-flat business class. The seats, which are similar (if not exactly the same) as those found on SWISS (and soon to be found on JetBlue) offer a staggered layout so 4 of 5 passengers in a row get aisle access (and you can see my very quick overview from my trip on Austrian here).

It’s a solid product, and it’s nice to see you don’t have to try to determine whether you’ll be stuck with the old seats.

For those keeping score at home, Austrian flies 4 777’s and 6 767’s.

Airline Association: If Delta Can’t Make Money Flying to Guyana, We Don’t Want Anyone Flying to Guyana

You want your obscure airline fair trade fights? I’ll give you your obscure airline fair trade fights…

The airline trade association Airlines for America has asked the US Department of Transportation to oppose applications by two airlines to introduce nonstop service from JFK to Georgetown, Guyana, following the departure of Delta from the route.

Delta joined a short line of carriers (Universal, North American) to try to make the JFK-Georgetown route work, but to no avail. So two airlines – Caribbean Airlines (based in Trinidad, and currently serving JFK-Georgetown via Trinidad) and a new entrant, Fly Jamaica, have asked to jump in and serve the route. Godspeed to both.

But the AfA says that allowing those two airlines would be unfair competition (inasmuch as having no US carriers flying the route represents competition) because neither of those airlines is a flag carrier of the United States nor Guyana. They also blame Caribbean Airlines for “forcing the cancellation” of Delta’s flights because they were receiving fuel subsidies from Trinidad & Tobago (US airlines defeated by evil Caribbean overlords!)

This is all nonsense and what affect any of you, but I always find this kind of nonsense interesting…

American Airlines 3-Class A321 Service to Launch in January

American Airlines announced launch dates for its new 3-class A321 service between JFK and LAX beginning in January. The aircraft will be configured with 10 First Class seats (1-1); 20 Business Class seats (2-2-, also lie-flat); 36 “Main Cabin Extra” coach seats; and 36 regular coach seats. I know this sounds pretty much like what JetBlue is doing, but (I’m 99.5% sure) those announcements were unrelated to each other.

AA will begin rolling out the A321 on January 7th (AA 133 and AA 181 JFK-LAX; and AA 118 and AA 10 LAX-JFK), with 6 of their 9 daily flights switched over by the end of January. JetBlue will offer 4 daily flights on the route.

Given the upgrades on AA, Delta, and JetBlue on their transcon routes, I’m curious what UA will be doing with their Newark-LAX (and SFO) flights. They’re rolling out upgraded cabins to replace their old PS aircraft on transcons from JFK, but their Newark flights (9 daily to LAX) are served by a mix of 737s and domestic-configured 757s (with an occasional international 757 thrown in for good measure. As United Elites know, upgrades are difficult-to-impossible on those routes from Newark so the front cabin is full of paying passengers (apparently). United (Continental, really) always considered Newark to be a different market than JFK, so perhaps they don’t see much competition on the routes (Virgin America has a few nonstops, and AA offers 1 daily nonstop on a 737). It looks like they’ll be keeping EWR-LAX in the current domestic first class configuration and leaving it at that.

Any chance UA upgrades transcon service from Newark?

The Chase Reconsideration Line Phone Numbers; Or Yes, Banks Do Influence Some Travel Blogs (Including This One…But Not Anymore)

On Monday afternoon of this week I posted links to the Amex SPG 30k deal. Later that afternoon I received an email from Amex (or, more specifically, from a 3rd party that manages the affiliate relationship with Amex) saying that I was violating the terms of the affiliate agreement I have with Amex (via the 3rd party).

I wrote that I didn’t post affiliate links, I posted direct links to the signup pages. They wrote back saying that those were not official links, which I took to mean that those who signed up earlier than the Tuesday “official” release day may not receive the 30k bonus. I took down the links because I didn’t want to be responsible for people not getting the bonus they thought they would receive.

The next day I received an email from the third party saying they were dropping me from the affiliate relationship because I had posted content that was unauthorized. Specifically, they wrote I made a “non-compliant posting of this promotion.” That’s when it occurred to me that I made an error – they didn’t ask me to take down the links to protect the readers, they were just trying to control the content on the site.

I will speak only for myself here, but I have had other run-ins with the credit card issuer police in the past – they have asked to have a few things removed, primarily taking issue with posting links to landing pages that were not “official” offers (this used to drive Chase nuts), and around encouraging people to call the credit card company to match bonuses received by others. Generally I pushed back and that was the end of it; on a couple of occasions I removed the content because I felt I had made my point.

Those days are over.

I’m not suggesting that there is some vast conspiracy (as some have suggested) to get bloggers to shill for credit cards. For the most part, the bloggers you’re reading are writing about credit cards because they believe they offer a great way to earn points (myself included). But part of the arrangement of having a direct affiliate relationship with the banks is that they can tell us to take down content they don’t like. And because there are really only 3-4 issuers with credit cards of much value, it’s hard to say no to them when they ask. I’m not saying bloggers don’t say no to them (and I know several instances where bloggers have told the credit card companies that they specifically will not take down content the bank didn’t like), but I am saying that, especially with bloggers doing this full-time, it’s become more difficult to say no to those requests when the majority of your income comes from a couple of companies.

I am lucky that I can (and will continue to) make a little income off the OTR, and I’m even more lucky that I have a regular job. With that flexibility comes the ability to make my own decisions. And the decision I’ve made is that I will be upfront about what is being asked of me by banks. I’m regretful that I wasn’t clearer about the Amex SPG situation earlier this week, and I’m really pissed at myself for taking the content down. It won’t happen again.

To the end, you may have noticed that the Chase Reconsideration Line phone numbers have disappeared off a number of blogs because Chase asked them to be taken down. As my first bit of penance, I will publish them here:

Application Status: 800-432-3117 or 800-436-7927

Reconsideration (personal cards) 888-871-4649 or 888-245-0625 or 888-609-7805

Reconsideration (business cards) 800-453-9719

I feel better now.

Alaska Airlines Will Add In-Seat Power This Fall

Alaska Airlines announced that it will add in-seat power outlets on its 737-700, -800, and -900 aircraft this fall.

In addition to in-flight wi-fi, Alaska said they will soon announce a provider for in-flight streaming of movies, TV and music to wi-fi-enabled devices.

Is the British Airways Travel Together Ticket Really a Good Value?

Gary at View from the Wing writes today about the British Airways Visa which is a great card to get for a number of reasons:

– 50,000 points after $2,500 spend; no annual fee first year

– Those 50,000 points can be used for 10 short-haul one-way tickets on American.

– They’re usable on LAN and AA to South America with no fuel surcharges.

– You can use them on Aer Lingus and Air Berlin with no fuel surcharges.

– Great redemption rates when used on AA to the Caribbean; Central America; and Hawaii (from the West Coast).

Gary also likes the Travel Together ticket you get from BA after you spend $30,000 on the card in a year. You basically get a 2-for-1 award ticket redeemable on BA metal. In short, if you and your spouse each get a card, and one of you puts $30k in spend on the card, you’ll have enough points for 2 award tickets from the East Coast to London in First Class. However, you have to pay fuel surcharges for each person on those tickets.

That is no small thing: taxes on EACH ticket on a roundtrip First Class sample booking JFK-London are $1,153. Each. Those award tickets will cost you $2,306. Oh, plus if you had put that $30,000 spend on a 2% cash back card you would’ve earned $600, so those tickets are actually costing you $2,906. It’s not just London – flights to Rome are $1,027 each.

So if you wanted 2 premium class tickets to Europe without a crazy amount of spend (or fuel surcharges), what can you do?

– You and your spouse could each get the SPG personal and business cards. When you hit the minimum spends ($5k for each card), you’ll have more than enough to transfer to ANA, which you can use to redeem for surcharge-free flights on United to Europe. Just 63k from New York to London, or 68k round trip from the East Coast to Europe.

– But that would still require $20,000 in actual spend. I would go this route: each of you get a Sapphire Preferred and an Ink Bold. You can hit the minimum spends on those buying gift cards – $3,000 spend gets you 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points for the Sapphire Preferred, and $5,000 gets you 50,000 points with the Bold. Add $2,000 additional dollars in spend and you can transfer those 100,000 points to United, where you can get a surcharge-free ticket to Europe in Business Class. Plus you can put your regular spend on whatever your preferred card is.

There are certainly lots of people who are happy to spend $2k+ for 2 First Class tickets to Europe. But for those of us who don’t want to do that it’s good to know there are other options.