Monthly Archives: December 2013

And The Top Airline Stories of 2014 Will Be…

I’m down in Florida and I’ve gotten sick (along with my wife…and one of my children)…I’m a bit feverish and I dreamed it was December 30th, 2014, and I saw the following post on this blog about the top stories of 2014. I take no responsibility for these, since it was all a dream…

1) Frontier is the breakout airline of the year.
Indigo Partners bought the airline in October, 2013, and pledged to continue remaking the company into a so-called Ultra Low Cost Carrier (or as we used to call it, a Low Cost Carrier). Indigo Partners is led by William Franke, one of the guiding forces of the wildly successful turnaround at Spirit Airlines. I know you hate Spirit, but they are, along with Allegiant and US Airways, one of the 3 best-run airlines in the country. They were profitable every quarter through the economic collapse, and check out their stock – started the year at $17.50 and ended close to $45. Hate all you want, but their run a great business. Anyway, Franke was (along with Spirit’s operating team) one of the reasons for that success. He’s going to remake Frontier – which has already started moving in that direction – into a, if not copycat, a similar operation to Spirit. Check out what they’re doing with their service in Trenton and Wilmington (Delaware), trying out a bunch of point-to-point service to a mix of leisure and non-leisure destinations. Plus they’ve introduced leisure routes between cities like Lansing (MI) & Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. Even Spirit’s CEO admits there’s plenty of room for another Spirit-like airline to join the ranks. We’ll be hearing a lot of good news coming out of Denver in 2014.

2) Something has to give with Alaska Airlines
Alaska has played by its own rules forever, quietly being a driving force of change in the airline industry. They were leaders in online checkin, mobile checkin, kiosks, ill-fated flights to Siberia, and partnerships with other carriers allowing them to generate feed for their flights without the complexity of joining an alliance. Delta’s aggression toward the partner in Seattle suggests that some changes are afoot. I don’t think Delta will make a play to purchase them, but it’s a possibility. Could Southwest, which is still dealing with the AirTran acquisition, make a move for them? It wouldn’t be crazy at a different time, but probably not now. Could Alaska acquire Hawaiian Airlines as a defensive play? Maybe, but it doesn’t really solve anything. Could US Airways/American try to grab them in 2015 or 2016? That’d be my guess. But 2014 will be interesting for Alaska.

3) Etihad somewhat quietly and pretty suddenly becomes the 4th major airline alliance.
The airline community wondered whether the Gulf needed 3 massive airlines serving such a small population once Qatar and Etihad decided to take on Emirates. But while Qatar certainly seems to be replicating the global-domination strategy employed by Emirates, Etihad has taken a somewhat different approach. Sure, they’re attempting to fly to everywhere from Abu Dhabi. But they’ve made investments in a bunch of airlines: Air Berlin, Air Seychelles, Aer Lingus, Virgin Australia, Jet Airways, Air Serbia (formerly JAT Airways), and Swiss carrier Darwin Airlines, which will be rebranded at Ethiad Regional. That’s beginning to look quite a bit like an alliance. Do they take a 24.9% stake in Alaska? Hm, that’d be interesting.

4) Travelers who fly <50,000 miles a year, especially on cheap tickets, are going to reconsider their loyalty, and that's going to benefit JetBlue.
Airlines made significant changes to their frequent flyer programs in 2013 that were designed to reward very frequent travelers while at the same time devaluing their miles, especially on premium international routes. I think the outcome of that is that travelers who fly less than 50,000 miles a year have less reason to be loyal to one airline. Flying 35,000 miles on United (as I did in 2013) gets me roughly the same benefits as I’d get if I just had United’s credit card. Airlines haven’t exactly eliminated the lowest level of status, but they’ve made it much less meaningful. At the same time, JetBlue has invested in their premium transcon offerings, designed both to make Virgin America’s product pale in comparison and to provide an alternative to United and American on those routes, at a much lower fare. Plus it’s still so easy to print frequent flyer miles with credit cards that it’s not really worth killing yourself and paying extra to get an extra 8,000 miles (or whatever) by but-in-seats. I think JetBlue is the primary beneficiary here.

5) You’ll hear more about Africa’s Asky Airlines
This one’s a little random, but I did have a fever. I’ve been interested in Africa’s crazy aviation situation, and Asky Airlines may become a bright spot. After Air Afrique disappeared 10 years ago West Africa was left without much point-to-point air service, in many cases making a connection in Paris the only way to fly between 2 cities 400 miles apart. Asky Airlines launched back in 2010 to provide reliable service to West Africa. They’re based in Togo, but it’s essentially operated by (and funded in part by) Ethiopian Airlines, a carrier that doesn’t nearly get enough credit for what it’s been able to do. They fly 7 aircraft (3 737-700s and 4 Q400s) to serve more than 20 destinations in West and Central Africa, and even the Q400s have a business class offering. They’re essentially acting as the West African arm of Ethiopian Airlines, and given that they turned a profit in 2013, they’re seeing some success. They’re looking at European operations in 2015 or so, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they’re either folded into Ethiopian or otherwise become a Star Alliance affiliate.

What stories will I have missed?

And The 2013 Worst Airport In America Is…

I’m curious which US airport you think is the worst – I hear lots about LaGuardia, and it certainly used to be the pits. But the new Delta terminal is actually really nice – pretty good selection of food options, the lounge is perfectly fine, nothing is too far away.

People will whine about JFK – I kinda get that a little bit, but again – Terminal 4 is quite nice (that’s not true of all the terminals), and the monorail between terminals is easy enough. It’s not great, but it’s certainly not the worst.

But you know which airport wins the 2013 OTR Worst Airport in America Award ™? That’s right, Miami. Mazel Tov.

Let’s see, what do we have in Miami:

– Huge multi-terminal airport making connections miserable? Check!

– Loooong walks that include escalators, which are always a joy when schlepping bags? Check!

– Signage that suggests the monorail to the car rental is just up ahead but it is, in fact, about a mile walk? Check!

– A waiting area for the monorail that is not air conditioned, so that after you’ve dragged all of your worldly possessions while still in your winter clothing from when you left New York you get to sweat your ass off in the 83 degree humidity waiting for the monorail? Check!

– A very long walk to find your baggage carousel? Check!

– Brazilians pushing you onto the monorail because apparently in Brazil there are no cultural norms around queueing? Check!

– The smell of Managua wafting through the monorail? Check!

I was about to describe Miami as a Latin third-world airport, except that I would be offending San Salvador, San Jose, Panama City and Managua Airports (the last of which has the added benefit of a pharmacy that will sell you whatever drugs you want without a prescription).

I would contend that no airport comes close in awfulness to Miami. Congratulations.

The OTR Marks Its 10th Anniversary

Last week marked the 10th anniversary for Online Travel Review…this thing started as a work project back in my days where someone was actually paying me to write about the airline industry and when I left that company, I took OTR with me.

This site is absolutely a labor of love. For anyone who has written (or tried to write) a blog, you quickly come to realize that it becomes all-consuming pretty quickly. On days where I don’t have anything to write about, I have a deep sense of guilt that I should have posted something. I’m constantly writing myself notes about ideas for posts. It’s always in my brain.

The blog world has changed significantly over the years. Driven certainly in part by the credit card affiliate situation, there are just sooooooo many blogs out there. And that means that actually coming up with a new take on something is challenging. This morning I woke up to I’m-not-even-sure how many bloggers writing about Hyatt eliminating stay certificates. I don’t need to be the 17th person writing about that. Which makes it more of a challenge to come up with new content that you’re not going to find elsewhere – since elsewhere is now everywhere. And without resorting to lists of credit cards or pictures of airplane seats. There are more than enough places for those interested in that to find it.

I really enjoyed putting together the weekly airline news quiz from last week, so we’ll see more of those. I’m excited by the idea of changing it up a little bit, and staying the hell out of the way of the same news you’ll find elsewhere. Like I said, last week’s quiz is one idea, the buzz-feedy 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Airlines was another. I promise – we’re going to mix it up here.

In any case, I wanted to thank everyone for sticking with this over the long 10 years. The best part of this adventure has been the interactions with readers – people have been absolutely amazing, and I can’t tell you how good it feels when I’m actually able to help someone out, allowing them to take a trip they never thought they’d be able to take.

I’ll leave you with 2 really stupid pieces from the first week of OTR 10 years ago. For some reason I found fake conversations to be funny. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Here’s to 10 more years…

MEALS AT MEALTIME – December 14, 2003
When you fly on Continental, Gordon Bethune, their CEO, appears on a little video introducing the flight, saying that they provide a wealth of amenities, not least of which is “meals at mealtime.” The Blogalot Theatre Players will now present a scene where Harry Hamlin will portray Michael Kuzak of LA Law cross-examining Mr. Bethune (played by Glen Campbell) in regards to the flight I took last evening from West Palm Beach to Newark.

Michael Kuzak: Good afternoon, Mr. Bethune.
Gordon Bethune: Good afternoon.
MK: Last night’s flight from West Palm Beach to Newark departed at 7:25 pm, did it not, sir?
GB: Yes, I believe it did.
MK: And what time would you say you eat dinner?
GB: Um, around 6 pm.
MK: May I remind you, sir, you are under oath.
GB: OK, around 7:30, 8 pm.
MK: And you would categorize dinner as a meal?
GB: Sometimes.
MK: Sometimes?
GB: OK, I will stipulate that dinner is a meal.
MK: And you would describe “meal time” as the time when you eat a meal, would you not?
GB: Yes, I would.
MK: Alas, then, 7:30 or 8pm is, in fact, mealtime.
GB: In some cases, yes.
MK: Then why, good sir, would you serve only drinks and pretzels in first class at mealtime.
GB: Well, I wouldn’t say that 7:25 is mealtime.
MK: Did you not just say that it was mealtime? I can have it read back to you.
GB: OK, yes it is mealtime. I admit it, I lied. Lied! I said we’d serve meals at mealtime and we served a snack (and a terrible one at that) at mealtime. I’m sorry!
MK: Isn’t the whole problem with the airline food situation that YOU JUST DON’T KNOW IF THERE’S A MEAL? People like Southwest because you know there won’t be a meal. The problem is when you have to guess.
GB: I have seen the error of my ways. I shall serve meals at mealtime in the future.

And…scene.

LARRY KING ON ESTONIA – December 14, 2003

I haven’t had a Friday fare special in a while, as the Friday fares haven’t been so special (I’m SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO clever!).

Anyway, Frommer’s is reporting that Finnair has $299 r/t fares from NYC to all of Scandanavia, as well as the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia). This is quite a steal.

You may have objections to these trips due to the cold. That’s valid. So, I will address them in the form of a hypothetical conversation between you and Larry King…

You: I mean, of course it’s $299. It’s unbearably cold in Scandanavia during the winter. Not to mention dark.

Larry King: Scary Movie 3 is the sleeper hit of the fall! I can’t wait until Scary Movie 4. Tonight, Pamela Anderson and Tammy Faye Baker.

You: That may be true, but won’t I freeze to death? I mean, it’s certainly colder and darker there than it is here in New York.

Larry King: I went to the opening of the new musical Taboo last night, and I proclaim it the biggest hit on Broadway! Tonight, Howard Hessman and Nipsy Russell!

You: Indeed. But I’ve also heard it can be quite beautiful there during the winter. Sure it’s a bit coldish, but there are fewer tourists and you have the whole place to yourself.

Larry King: I can’t stop listening to the new Clay Aiken CD! I tell ya, he’s gonna be the next Engelbert Humperdink! Tonight, Steve Garvey and Hugh Downs discuss the Laci Peterson murders.

You: Right. In fact, I’ve heard that Tallinn is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe—a 1,000 year old medieval city still intact. And dirt cheap. I guess $299 IS a great deal.

Larry King: I don’t know about you, but I think Good Morning Miami should win an Emmy for Best Laughs! I can’t stop watching! Tonight, Adrien Zmed for the full hour!

You: Uh huh. Thanks for tipping me off about the low fares. I can’t wait to go!

Larry King: Carlsbad, New Mexico, what’s your question for Loni Andersen? Carlsbad, go ahead.

The OTR Quiz: What Happened In Airlines This Week

Let’s try something fun (?) using the new quiz tool I just got. Find out if you’re a complete airline dork with the OTR Airline Quiz (TM). Good luck!

[WpProQuiz 1]

Thursday Roundup: Biman Bangaldesh, Delta, 3% Cash Back on Amex Gift Cards and More

Biman Bangladesh will launch twice-weekly JFK – Birmingham (BHX) – Dhaka service beginning in the spring with a 777. Fares will be available in January and will start at about $150 each way between New York and Birmingham (that’s $150 plus taxes, so about $23,000).

– A man says that his Delta flight confirmation code was H8GAYS.

Etihad may save long-struggling Alitalia.

– Delta is adding Seattle – Juneau and Seattle – San Jose service. The big story in US aviation this year is the US Airways – American merger; but I think what Delta is doing in Seattle is a close runner-up. Sure, airlines go after each other all the time. But I cannot think of an instance where one of the airlines in a strong formal partnership (like Delta and Alaska) has decided to go after the partner so viciously. I don’t understand it at all. I really feel like I’m missing something.

– For those of you who like to manufacture spend through Amex Gift Cards, TopCashBack (referral link) is now offering 3% back. (If that means nothing to you: you can buy Amex gift cards and get 3% cash back thru Topcashback. It costs $3.95 per $500 card, but the $15 you’d get back more than makes up for it. Shipping is $8.95, but they offer a $99/year free shipping option, which you’ll see at checkout. You can use that option for free for 3 months, then cancel. The biggest drawback to this whole scheme is unloading all the gift cards you buy. Some CVSs allow you to purchase Vanilla Reloads with them, but many do not. Otherwise, unload $1k/month through Amazon Payments, or just use them as you would another Amex). Whew.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Back to 40,000 Points, But With Lower Spend Threshold

The Chase Sapphire Preferred bonus had been at 55,000 points (with an authorized user) and a $125 annual fee, but that offer has recently disappeared.

Just wanted to alert everyone that the new best offer is for 40,000 points after $2,000 spend in 3 months (that’s down from $3,000 in the past), and a $95 annual fee that is waived in the first year.

Blah blah blah 2x points travel restaurants 7% etc.

Non-affiliate application link:

Up to 15,000 Bonus Miles for Flying United PS Service

United is offering up to 15,000 bonus miles for flying roundtrip PS service between New York and Los Angeles or San Francisco. You’ll get 15,000 miles for flying BusinessFirst (J, C, D, Z, Pclass round trip, 10,000 miles for flying full-fare economy (Y and B), and 5,000 for flying most discounted economy (M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S) – that excludes the most discounted economy fares. You’ll receive half the miles if you only fly one-way.

Purchase by March 31st for flights between January 7th and March 31st.

Register here.

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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Airlines

Not to get all Buzzfeed on everyone, but I thought we’d do something a little different today…

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I’d Like to Trade 3 Expiring United GPUs for 2 2014 United GPUs

Hi OTR readers. I have a trip coming up in February for which I’d like to use 2 United Global Premier Upgrades. I don’t have 2 United Global Premier Upgrades for 2014, unfortunately.

I do, however, have 3 United GPUs that expire January 31st, 2014. I would love to trade those 3 expiring GPUs for 2 GPUs for next year.

If anyone is interested, shoot me an email at jared (at) onlinetravelreview.com

Thanks!

Sometimes First Class Is Cheaper Than Coach

I was doing a search last night for flights to the Dominican Republic in April over Easter break and I was reminded that coach class is not always your cheapest option. Check out this screenshot:

us
(Click to see it larger)

Note that a non-refundable coach ticket on US Airways is $559 while a non-refundable first class ticket is $435, or $124 cheaper (that’s each way).

This (obviously) doesn’t happen often, but if I’ve seen any pattern at all to its it’s that this occurs during very busy periods on leisure-focused routes where there’s high demand for coach seats and little demand for paid first.

So the next time you’re looking at an $800 flight to Florida or (as we were in this case) a $1500 trip to Punta Cana, check out the first class fares – we were pleasantly surprised.