Monthly Archives: September 2013

It’s Just So Simple!

It’s just so simple! You can breeze through security by signing up for TSA Precheck. Simply hope that if you are a frequent flyer with certain airlines that they have reached out to you and asked you to be a member of TSA Pre. Then you’ll be automatically enrolled in TSA Pre so the next time you fly, you’ll breeze through security. It’s so simple! And if you’re not flying the airline that granted you the TSA Pre access, just fill in your TSA Pre number when you book your flight with the other airline and you’ll have TSA Pre access when you arrive at the airport. Not a frequent flyer? Just enroll in Global Entry, pay the $100 fee, and you’ll be given TSA Pre access, lickety split! Right after you send in the application. And set a date for an in-person interview. And get to the airport for the interview. Then, you’ll be whisking your way through security, like it’s 1987. Unless the airport you’re going to doesn’t have TSA Pre, then you won’t zip through security. Or if your boarding pass doesn’t say that you have TSA Pre for this particular flight, then you should stand in the regular security lane, removing your shoes and belt. It’s just so simple!

It’s just so simple! Just show your Star Alliance Gold card at any United lounge the same day you’re flying on a Star Alliance carrier, and you’ll be enjoying free internet, snacks and relaxation before your flight, regardless of what class of service you’re flying! Unless you have Gold status with United or with US Airways, in which case you will not have access to United lounges in the United States. But don’t worry! If you’re flying TO the United States on an international flight in business class with Star Alliance Gold generated with United and you’re connecting to a domestic First ticket, you’ll still get access to the lounge because of the business class ticket on the in-bound flight. Unless one of our staff isn’t aware of that and just looks at your onward ticket in domestic First Class and doesn’t let you in. If you flew from LA to New York on a first class ticket and are continuing onward to London in coach, you are out of luck, unless you have Star Alliance Gold status with an airline other than United or US Airways, in which case you are in luck! Welcome!

It’s just so simple! Fly with one of our many alliance partners and you’ll earn valuable miles with our airline that help you get elite status and earn free trips! Please note, certain lower fare class tickets earn 25% or 50% of actual miles to earn toward your frequent flyer program. Certain Lufthansa fares will earn no miles toward the frequent flyer program and will earn no miles toward Elite Status. Certain Premium Economy fares will earn no miles or elite status even though they cost more than regular coach fares. Lufthansa “P” fares will generally require multiple phone calls to our airline to convince our representatives that the P fare was, in fact, a discount Business Class fare, and not a promotional non-point-earning coach fare. Similar phone calls will need to be made any time you fly Premium Economy.

It’s so simple! Use your hard-earned miles to upgrade your next international flight! Upgrades are easily redeemable to move yourself from coach up to the comforts of business class. We’ve summarized the few simple rules into this easy-to-read chart.

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We hope these few reminders showed you just how simple it is to fly with us!

Air Zimbabwe Returns to the Skies

I have a fond memory of flying a very, very, very empty Air Zimbabwe 737-400 from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg during my honeymoon roughly two hundred zillion years ago. My then-new wife and I, along with 4 other people, spread out across the old bird and enjoyed the quick hop with little fanfare. I mostly remember that part of the trip for when a taxi driver dropped us at Victoria Falls Airport and remarked how nice it looked. The taxi driver said, “Oh, wait til you get inside – there’s nothing in it,” which was correct and summed up the craziness of that country.

About a year and a half ago Air Zimbabwe closed down, its last jet seized by creditors leaving the once-great nation without an airline (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given how poorly Air Zimbabwe had been run).

But that’s not stopping the little airline that could from relaunching. The Wall Street Journal has a piece today (or if you don’t have a subscription, Google “Air Zimbabwe Tries to Get Back on Its Feet” for a free link) about the airline re-starting service to Johannesburg. The website also says they fly to Bulawayo (also summing up Zimbabwe: there is an online booking tool, but it’s broken). Yet another part of the website mentions flights to Beijing, which clearly isn’t possible, as their 767 has been sezied for quite some time.

The resurgence, which an airline spokesman says has led to 90% load factors (hahahahahahaha, maybe), is due in part to $10 million in government aid propping up the carrier, and a resurgence in foreign tourism (Zimbabwe is cheaper than neighboring Zambia, though I feel like I’m splitting hairs when I write that). They even hope to resume flights to London come November.

With the (slow) growth of (a handful of) budget airlines in Africa (Fly540, etc), it’s hard to believe that government-supported unprofitable messes like Air Zimbabwe still exist (I’m looking at you, Air Gabon 747)

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Tuesday Roundup: JetSuite, Air New Zealand to Antarctica, and More…

A few quick ones:

– Heard of JetSuite? Me, neither. They’re a private jet membership something something. I mention them here because each day they run a handful of random specials for $536 where you and a few people can fly private on a short route. What does that mean? Earlier today they had a deal where 6 people could fly from Islip to Boston (today – that’s little notice, I know) for a total of $536 on a private jet. Kinda awesome, right?

– Norwegian Air has “summoned” Boeing management to Oslo to discuss the seemingly neverending problems they’re having with the 787. “Boeing to the principal’s office….now”

– Air New Zealand is planning to fly 2 charter flights to Antarctica, where they will land a 767 on an ice runway for the first time. This is also noteworthy because ANZ was involved in a horrific crash during a flight-seeing trip over Mt. Erebus in Antarctica in 1979 that killed 257 people.

– French police seized 1.3 tons of cocaine packed into 30 pieces of luggage on an Air France flight from Caracas to Paris on September 11.

Southwest Increases Number of Points Required for Wanna Get Away Award Redemptions (In 2014)

Southwest even does a good job when announcing bad news:

Southwest will increase the number of points-per-dollar required for Wanna Get Away (cheap fare) award redemptions from 60 points per dollar to 70 points per dollar, beginning with redemptions made after March 31, 2014. That means the 50,000 points you get with your credit card signup (assuming the 50k promo is in place) will now be worth $714.28 instead of $833. Points required for other types of fares (Anytime & Business Select) stay the same.

Unlike many other airlines, at least Southwest has given a large amount of notice rather than springing this on the unsuspecting public at the last minute.

Full text of the announcement:

We want to inform you of an upcoming change to the Rapid Rewards® Program that will affect the number of points needed for reward travel. Wanna Get Away® reward flight bookings made on or after March 31, 2014 will require 70 points per dollar. This is an increase from the 60 points per dollar currently required. Anytime and Business Select® reward flight redemption rates, as well as the points per dollar you earn when flying, will remain the same as they are today.

Rest assured, Rapid Rewards will continue to provide industry-leading benefits that you enjoy today—including unlimited reward seats, no blackout dates, and points that don’t expire*. We hope you understand that in order to continue providing these benefits, we must make changes to the Rapid Rewards Program from time to time.

Thank you for your continued loyalty, and for more information about redeeming points, please visit southwest.com/redeem.

50 Answers to Your Frequent Flyer Questions

Techcrunch ran an article a bit ago called “The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Starting and Running Your Business” – it was probably the best thing they’ve ever run.

With full debt to that article, I thought I’d answer 50 questions about the frequent flyer world.

1) What frequent flyer program should I focus on?
United. If you’re never going to redeem miles to Europe I could be convinced about American. But United.

2) So only sign up for United?
No – always get miles when you fly, regardless of the program – you never know when those 4,000 miles will come in handy.

3) Which hotel program should I focus on?
Unless you’re traveling 150 nights a year, they all kinda suck at this point. Priceline your rooms and use the savings to bribe the clerk to move you into a suite.

4) There are NO good hotel programs?
Starwood is good, but earning via hotel stays is awful. They have the best range of hotels around the world. Hyatt is probably the most lucrative, but they have so few hotels that it doesn’t matter.

5) What’s the value of a mile?
The first mile you earn is worth next to nothing, the last miles before you earn an award are worth a lot.

6) How many stopovers to I get on a domestic award ticket?
None, except on Delta, where you get 1.

7) How many stopovers and open jaws do I get on an international award ticket?
United: 1 stopover and 2 open jaws (ridiculously generous). Delta: Open stopover and one open jaw. American: Open jaw allowed. Stopover only allowed at North American gateway city. US Airways is disappearing.

8) What do I do with Avios points?
Fly short-haul flights for 4,500 miles each way. And mid-haul flights to Central America and the Caribbean.

9) What shouldn’t I do with Avios points?
Don’t fly to Europe or Africa on any airline other than Air Berlin or Aer Lingus because the fuel surcharges are ridiculous.

10) Sometimes I fly Delta, sometimes I fly American. What should I do?
Put the miles toward Alaska’s program.

11) Everyone knocks Delta’s award availability. Should I bother getting Delta miles?
If it were me, I would earn toward Alaska if I flew Delta. You’re giving up some upgrades (possibly) but you’ll actually be able to use the miles.

12) I’ve heard you have to book business class tickets to Australia 330 days in advance. Is that true?
It is on Qantas. But you can usually get business class award seats to Australia on United much of the year (see Q.1)

13) Do angled business class seats really suck as much as people say?
No. They’re perfectly fine for a day flight. At night, don’t fully recline and that way you won’t slide down.

14) Should I get lounge access?
Get it because it’s relaxing, don’t get it because you think the food is good.

15) What credit card should I use as my everyday card?
Depends: Do you use miles to redeem for international travel? If so, get the Sapphire Preferred. Do use use miles for schmancy hotels? Get the Amex Starwood. If you don’t do either of those, get a cash back card — the Barclays Arrival card if you spend more than $40k/year or the Fidelity Amex if you don’t.

16) What credit cards are churnable?
American Airlines Business cards. Alaska Airlines cards. US Airways cards.

17) What’s the cheapest award to London?
Move Membership Rewards points or SPG points into ANA and it’s 63k points for business class on United.

18) What’s the best way to use miles to Hawaii?
Probably on United, though if you’re on the West Coast and you’re booking early enough in advance you should use Avios points on American or Alaska.

19) Isn’t air travel so much worse than it used to be?
No.

20) But they used to serve food?
It was terrible food.

21) And free drinks!
If you can’t go without a drink for 7 hours, the state of air travel is not your biggest issue.

22) Will I find lower airfares if I wait til the last minute?
No.

23) How far in advance should I book my flight to get the best airfare?
45-60 days.

24) Should I buy that ticket now, or should I wait?
I think of it this way: What’s the lowest fare I expect to pay on the route? How much more is it now? How high could it possibly go? I think of the difference between the lowest fare it can be and the price it is now as an insurance policy against the price going up to the highest it can go.

25) Will those tickets to Florida get cheaper for my Christmas trip?
Yes, but you have to check frequently, because they will also get more expensive.

26) Is it unsafe to fly Airline X?
No. All airlines are safe.

27) Even African ones I’ve never heard of?
It is safer than driving from Bujumbura to Malabo.

28) What’s the best airline?
The best airline for what?

29) You know, the best airline?
OH, the best AIRline? Singapore. Or Emirates. Some people say Cathay. That doesn’t really help you if you’re flying from Cincinnati to Houston, though.

30) I think airline X is the WORST!
Worse than driving from Spokane to Memphis?

31) How can I get to Tahiti on miles?
Use Delta miles to fly Air Tahiti Nui or Air France from LA.

32) Is it worth the extra miles for international First vs. international Business class?
If you have infinity miles, then yes.

33) Can I transfer miles to my parents’ account?
No. Well yes, but it’s really expensive and not worth it.

34) Should you use your own miles to upgrade your parents on their flight to Paris.
Yes, they’re your parents.

35) My friends use their miles to fly business class to Florida from New York. Isn’t that stupid?
No, there are no stupid uses of miles. Well, never using the ones you have is pretty stupid.

36) What are the 10 best credit card offers this month?
Probably the same as the 10 best credit card offers last month.

37) Isn’t it miserable flying to Europe in coach?
Not as miserable as not going to Europe.

38) Best advice given repeatedly about frequent flyer miles?
Always keep checking back to see if seats have opened up.

39) Those fees are annoying.
They’re here to stay, get over it.

40) Should I bother with all that Vanilla Reload stuff?
If you have to ask…

41) Who has the best domestic first class cabin?
No one.

42) That’s not true.
At this point United, American and Delta all fly very nice business class cabins transcon from JFK.

43) Isn’t Virgin America so cool?
Sure, but it doesn’t earn me miles so I won’t be flying it.

44) That Hilton devaluation really stunk, didn’t it?
Yes. But you know what’s worse? Getting rid of the Hawaiian Airlines credit cards, which allowed all of us to print Hilton miles. It just took a little longer to print the miles — until they did away with the cards entirely.

45) Ooooh, look at me! I’m on a plane!
Wrong blog.

46) It’s really bothering me that you won’t give any hotel programs any credit.
Fine – Hyatt has a great program with fantastic redemptions, including for suites at a reasonable rate. They just don’t have enough properties.

47) You haven’t mentioned much about US Airways – I thought you loved them.
I do – but with the impending merger we don’t know what will happen with their program.

48) Do all airlines let you redeem for one-way awards?
No – Delta and US Airways require round trip.

49) Any foreign frequent flyer programs to keep in mind?
Yes – if you don’t fly United often, credit your first 3,000 miles each year to Aegean Airlines and you’ll get Star Alliance Silver status, which gets you free checked bags.

50) Any last words?
Even if you don’t fly much, get the credit card for the airline you fly most often (or get Star Alliance Silver through Aegean) — flying with no status at all while having to pay for bags is just offensive.

Ryanair: We Are Going to Try Not to Hate Our Customers in the Coming Months

I have about 1 minute to write something, but Ryanair’s outspoken CEO is admitting that perhaps, just a wee bit, the airline may have treated its customers, just perhaps, not as well as it could have.

“‘We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily’ irritate people,” CEO Michael O’Leary is quoted as saying in a Reuters article today.

Here’s one thing that recently irritated people:

A front-page headline in the Irish newspaper The Daily Mail on the morning of the shareholder meeting said, “Ryanair sinks to new low,” after a Dublin surgeon was charged 188 euros, or $254, to reschedule a flight days after his entire family was killed in a fire in England.

Classy!

In any case, O’Leary says that the airline will focus on customer service over the next 12 months (rather than blabbering about how they are going to charge people to go to the bathroom).

O’Leary made the remarks about the cultural changes at the Ryanair shareholder meeting, where shareholders spoke of seeing customers crying at the airport after dealing with Ryanair staff.

Don’t Forget about Norwegian If You Need a Cheap Flight to Europe

Just a quick reminder: Norway-based lowfare airline Norwegian is expanding their US service to include JFK, Orlando, Ft Lauderdale, Oakland and Los Angeles in the coming year. And that means that there are some old-school low fares to Scandinavia available.

In the springtime, JFK – Oslo is about $500 round trip, taxes included. But perhaps more useful is that, unlike nearly every other airline flying trans-Atlantic, their fares are priced one-way. While United is charging $1900 for a one-way ticket to Oslo, Norwegian has fares around $236 (taxes included) for select dates through May. Return flights always seem to be a bit more.

But if you need a cheap trip over to Europe – keep them in mind. You may find it worth buying the cheap ticket over, and then use miles for the return. Or if you’re super cheap you can get that $236 ticket for about 19,000 Ultimate Rewards points (don’t let anyone pooh-pooh how you use your points…you want a 19,000 point ticket to Europe? Go for it).

Flights are available to Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Many flights are on 787s, though they’re going to charge you about $70 if you want a seat selection and some food.

ANA Offering 30% Mileage Discount for Air New Zealand Award Tickets (Just 63,000 Miles Round Trip in Business to Auckland)

This is actually a really good deal:

ANA is offering a 30% discount off the miles required when you use your ANA miles to redeem on Air New Zealand. ANA, you may remember, has a mileage-based chart that has some pretty solid redemptions on it (hello, New York – London for 63,000 miles in business class). This offer opens up another great opportunity: roundtrip tickets from LA to Auckland are just 42,000 miles in coach and 63,000 miles in business class – about half what you’d pay if you were redeeming United miles. Plus, ANA does not add ridiculous fuel surcharges to Air New Zealand ticket.

Another good opportunity is Air New Zealand’s Los Angeles – London service, which clocks in at just under 11,000 miles, meaning you can get a coach ticket for 38,500 miles or a business class ticket for 59,500 miles. A great deal.

You can transfer points into ANA from Starwood (plus that 5,000 mile bonus for transferring 20,000 points), or from Membership Rewards.

Tickets must be booked by December 15th and travel completed by December 19th. Only good on ANZ metal, and while domestic connections are included, the offer is not good on itineraries ONLY within New Zealand.

Full details here.

Where Are the Good Values with the 40% Transfer Bonus from Membership Rewards to Virgin America Elevate?

Amex Membership Rewards is offering a 40% transfer bonus when you move your points to Virgin America’s Elevate program until September 30th. That means that 200 Membership Rewards points translate to 140 Elevate points.

No, I didn’t know what the hell that meant either. But that’s why you’re reading this, isn’t it? I thought I’d post some of the more reasonable uses for this promo:

VIRGIN AMERICA

Transcon flights on Virgin America in coach are roughly 13,000 points roundtrip, which rounds up to 19,000 Membership Rewards points. Not bad. First class are a ridiculous 140,000 points. We won’t even discuss that.

Short-haul (SFO-LAX, for example) are 4,500 or so Elevate points round trip, or about 7,000 Membership Rewards points (even better than Avios!)

They allow redemptions on 4 partners: Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Hawaiian Airlines, and Singapore Airlines. you can do the calculations for the number of miles you need here.

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA

Redemptions on the 2 Virgins (?) include ridiculous fuel surcharges, so we’ll skip those. Well, except for short- and mid-haul routes on Virgin Australia. Trans-Tasman routes are pretty reasonable: Sydney-Auckland is 16,000 Elevate, or 23,000 Membership Rewards points for round trip in coach (plus $180). Better than the 35,000 that United charges (though they have no fuel surcharges). Flights within Australia are also reasonable: Sydney to Gold Coast, for example, are 6,000 elevate or 9,000 Membership Rewards points (plus $36 in fees) for a roundtrip ticket (the same as it’d cost you for Avios.

HAWAIIAN AIRLINES

Good value on inter-island flights: 5,000 Elevate points, or 8,000 Membership Rewards points for a roundtrip ticket within the islands. I believe this is the best-priced award option within Hawaii. Hawaii to the West Coast is 20k Elevate/29k Membership Rewards (worse than Avios, better than most airlines). Good value to Pago Pago (American Samoa) and Papeete (Tahiti) from Honolulu — 20k Elevate/29k Membership Rewards roundtrip in coach.

SINGAPORE AIRLINES

Great value on Singapore Airlines from New York to Frankfurt: 20k Elevate or 29k Membership Rewards (plus $144 in fees) for a roundtrip coach ticket. Business is 70k Elevate /100k Membership Rewards (nothing special). Houston-Moscow, though, is much more expensive. Flights to Asia are about on-par (perhaps slightly more expensive) than you’d find on other airlines.

A Few Friday Deals (Travel and Non-Travel): 13% Off Living Social, 40% off Puma, 50% off Hotels.com

I’m about to launch a new cash back shopping site (details in the next week or 2), but I thought I’d pass along a few great offers:

– Living Social is offering 13% off any purchase until Saturday September 14th at 3am Eastern time (11:59pm Pacific on September 13th). (August 20th) only from 7pm to Midnight (Eastern Time). Click this link, then enter code FRIDAY13 in the promo code box.

Hotels.com is offering up to 50% off hotels for travel through October 21st when you book by Midnight eastern TONIGHT, September 13th (short notice, I know). I see that Circus Circus in Vegas is just $26, for example (is it worth $26?). Click on the Make Friday the 13th Your Lucky Day banner for all the 50% off properties.

PUMA is offering 40% off everything on their site through September 16th. Go to PUMA and use code PUMAFAM13.