Monthly Archives: February 2014

Friday Roundup: Death Fares Dead; Ritz-Carlton Goes Kosher; Hawaiian & Qantas Cancel Flights

– American Airlines has eliminated its bereavement fares, which must mean people have stopped dying. So that’s good news.

– Ritz-Carlton is adding kosher catering at 11 of its hotels, including 6 in Florida, 2 in Atlanta, Battery Park in NYC, Grand Cayman and Puerto Rico. If you were ever curious where religious Jews go on vacation, it’s apparently those places.

– Hawaiian Airlines is dropping its Fukuoka nonstop service as of June 30th.

– Qantas continues to shrink its network, canceling its Perth-Singapore service as of July 22.

– The US is eliminating Visa fees for Chilean citizens visiting the US, which, one hopes, would mean the elimination of the ridiculous reciprocal visa fee for Americans visiting Chile.

– Welcome, Air Kazakhstan!

Bringing Your Kids to CVS to Buy Vanilla Reloads

Today, a very special episode of Online Travel Review….

We were in the Berkshires last weekend and I was pleasantly surprised to find an adorable little CVS on Main Street in Great Barrington. Because I live in Manhattan (a Vanilla Reload-free zone, for the most part), I get a wee bit excited when I see a CVS when I’m traveling elsewhere. So I do what any father would do on their vacation and I dragged my wife and 2 7-year-old children into a drugstore on vacation so I could buy myself some VR cards.

They have approximately 30 million of them on the rack so I grab 10 of them and, with children in tow, I walk up to the cashier. This conversation takes place:

Child 1: What are those cards?
Me: They’re for daddy.
Child 2: But what ARE they?
Cashier: How much would you like to put on that?
Me: $500 each.
Child 1: FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS??????? You HAVE five hundred dollars?
Me: What? Yes. I do.
Child 2: But what are those cards? Why do you always buy them?
Me: They’re for daddy – they’re like money.
Child 1: Why are you buying money if you already have money?
Me: You know how we went in first class to Hawaii? Remember that? That’s because I get these cards.
Child 1: You’re buying tickets to Hawaii?
Me: No.
Cashier: Wait, how many of these do you have?
Me: 10
Child 2: Why do you have so many? Why do you need 10? If it’s money, why don’t you just buy 1? Why do you put money on it if it’s money? Isn’t that just a credit card? Why are you giving them a credit card to get a credit card?
Cashier: (Calling someone over) – How many of these are we allowed to sell in a day?
Other Cashier: You can buy 4.
Child 1: Are you getting in trouble?
Cashier: Can I have your license?
Child 2: Daddy, are you in trouble? Why is she taking your license?
Child 1: Are you allowed to buy these? Why is she taking away the other cards?
Child 2: Are you going to jail?
Cashier: That will be $2072.38 (we bought other stuff)
Child 1: TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS?????? YOU HAVE TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS?
Child 2: HOW DO YOU HAVE TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS? You said we didn’t have enough money to get the big bag of Doritos! I want the Doritos!
Child 1: Why are you buying those cards for so much money? Can you afford that?
Child 2: Why are you buying money?

Then we walk out the door.

Anyone ever bring their kids with them to CVS?

Delta Will Move To a Revenue-Based Earnings Program in 2015

The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Delta will move to a hotel-like (or Southwest-like) revenue-based frequent flyer program in 2015. Inside Flyer has a great rundown on the changes that I don’t need to fully reproduce here. The highlights (such as they are):

– Those with no Elite status earn 5 miles per dollar spent or 7 miles if you use a Delta credit card.
– Those with Diamond earn 11 miles per dollar, 13 if they use a Delta credit card.
– Tickets on other airlines will earn a percentage of miles flown based on the fare purchased.
– Redemption rates stay the same, though you can now book one-way tickets.

This is absolutely awful news for everyone EXCEPT those who fly internationally on business class tickets. I look at it this way: a roundtrip ticket to LA from New York is usually around $400 – I’d earn a paltry 2,000 miles. If I book a business class ticket to Amsterdam, it’s around $7,000 – I would earn 35,000 miles with no status or a whopping 91,000 miles if I’m a Diamond using their credit card. It’s easy to see who they’re going after.

While this is a disaster for mileage runners, sadly enough I earn most of my miles these days via credit card spend (and I suspect you do, too). We’ve seen devaluations for years, and I’d guess United will match this at some point in the next 2 years. Even if United moved to this program, I suspect I’d still fly them to hit mid-level Elite status to guarantee myself Economy Plus seat access. Flying has been the most difficult way to earn miles for a while now – it’s just gotten more difficult.

The Kama Sutra of Sleeping in Coach

I flew 2 overnights last week – I used a systemwide upgrade on my flight down to Brazil and slept pretty well in the United 767-400 BusinessFirst seat. On the way back I slummed it with the smelly masses back in coach (well, I slummed it in Economy Plus, to be honest). I was on a 2-seat side, and I had no one sitting next to me. I was originally sitting next to someone, but as we were finishing boarding I eyed an empty row 3 rows ahead of me. Let me take this time to send a brief message to the guy who was sitting across the aisle from me:

Oh, hello there. I see you. I see you eyeing that empty row. You just stay. in. your. seat. That row is mine, my friend. Oh, what was that look? You don’t LIKE that I slithered 3 rows ahead and slipped into that cozy seat and put my laptop, ipad, ipod, magazine, book, ipad charger, laptop charger, magazine charger, apple core, loaf of bread, and whatever else in the seat next to me so as to say to you, ‘don’t even think about it.’ Oh, I know you were thinking about it. I assume that’s why you were staring at me when they announced that the boarding door was now closed. You know you lost. Enjoy 9 hours next to somebody, sucker!

OK, I’m back. On a daytime flight an Economy Plus seat with no one next to you is basically business class without the champagne. You have a ton of legroom and more seat width than you’d have in business class. No, the recline still stinks, but you can angle yourself against the wall and stretch your feet all the way out. Delightful.

But on an overnight, well – not so much. I struggled for 9 hours to find a position that was comfortable. Given my problems, I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned in The OTR Kama Sutra of Sleeping in Coach ™.

Position 1: The Erect Businessman
Pretend someone is sitting next to you. Or, if it’s easier, have someone sit next to you. Do not recline because you are stuck in row 20 on a United 757-200. At least you’re in an exit row and have some legroom. Stretch your legs out fully while sitting fully erect. Nod off. Every ten minutes awaken when your head slams down into your chest. Alternate with being awakened when you find yourself drooling on your seatmate.

Position 2: The Sideways Z
Find yourself an aircraft configured with 2 seats together. Ensure nobody is next to you. Lean on the window with your body while you curl your legs up on to the seat next to you, so as to form a ‘z’. Awaken when your legs are asleep, approximately 7 minutes after entering the Sideways Z.

Position 3: The Well-Hung Traveler
This will work in a 2- or 3-seat configuration, but the 2 seater will work better. Lie down with your head toward the window and extend your legs over 2nd seat so that they are hung in the aisle. Feel the sensation of lying down in a cozy bed. Then enjoy having no sensation at all when your leg falls asleep. Alternatively, feel the sensation of a catering cart nearly cutting your legs off at the knees.

Position 4: The Mile High Club
Sort of a reverse Well-Hung Traveler. Place your feet by the window and stack up pillows on the aisle seat. Lie down with your head in the aisle seat and your feet by the window. Feel the catering cart as it clubs you in the head when it’s time for morning croissants.

Position 5: This Is a Song About Up and Down (Remix, feat. Cookie Monster)
The traveler places their head on the window seat and puts their legs down on the ground and angled into the aisle seat in front of them. Feel the rush of sleep come over you at 3:30am as you’ve been trying 5 different positions. Awaken 17 minutes later with your body on the floor, wondering how you got there.

Position 6: The Bottom Feeder
There are times not to be picky. Get off your seat and lie on the floor. Sleep.

Position 7: The Wet Lotus
A modified Erect Businessman. Fall asleep in upright position with legs extended forward. Prior to this, drink a bit of your drink but leave a near-full cup on your traytable. Fall asleep. Awake with a start and bang your legs into the tray table, spilling the drink onto your lap.

Position 8: The Headless Horseman
Place your head between your window seat and the window. Prop up 6 blankets, 7 pillows, 2 carry-ons, and 7 in-flight magazines in the gap between the window and the seat. Fall asleep. Awaken 8 minutes later when your jenga-like structure collapses, flinging debris into the row behind you and trapping your head in the gap between the window and your seat. Panic when it appears your head has been lopped off.

Position 9: The Sexy Librarian
Don’t try to sleep. Bring a bunch of books and read. Don’t fall asleep. Land. Go home. Pass out in bed.

United Airlines Will Launch Nonstop 787 Service Between Los Angeles and Melbourne

United Airlines will replace its Sydney-Melbourne tag service with nonstop 787-900 flights between LAX and Melbourne, Australia, 6 days a week beginning October 26th. Unfortunately I’m not seeing any dates where 2 reward seats are available on the new route.

The aircraft is configured 48 in BusinessFirst, 63 in Economy Plus and 141 in Economy.

From a comfort and amenity standpoint, the 787 is 30 years ahead of the 747 that currently flies LAX-SYD-MEL (though there is coach award availability on that aircraft). That LAX-SYD flight will move to a 777-200 in March.

Targeted: Double Miles on All United Flights

United has sent a targeted offer (check here to see if you qualify and to register)
for double award miles on all flights booked February 19 through May 31 for travel March 1 through May 31.

You can earn a maximum of 50,000 bonus miles with the promotion.

The offer is good on fares in these buckets: F, A, J, C, D, Z, P, Y, B, M, E and U.

A Few Notes about My Recent Travels…

I’m still catching up on my life after being away for a few days (seems it takes longer to recover from travel the older the kids get, no?) I thought I’d pass along a few random notes from my trip today to Orlando and last week to Sao Paulo:

– On the flight last week we pulled away from the gate at Newark and headed toward the runway. We stopped for a bit and were then told that a brakelight was malfunctioning. We returned to the gate, a SWAT-team of mechanics came on board and quickly determined that they weren’t going to fix the issue in 10 minutes. Luckily an extra (?) 767-400 was parked at the airport and 2 hours later we boarded that plane. I mention that background for this reason: We began boarding that plane at 12:30am with gate agents saying, “If we aren’t off the ground at 1:20am, the crew times out. So hurry.” They (we?) boarded a full 767-400 and had us IN THE AIR in 35 minutes. I don’t mean we boarded in 35 minutes, I mean we were off the ground. Moral: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

– Most of the business class cabin still elected to eat dinner at 1:30am and the crew was kind enough to keep the lights on in the cabin until 2:30am so those folks could get a thorough view of the food they were eating. Moral: bring eyeshades.

– That was quite possibly the first time I had ever faced a significant flight delay and 100% did not care. I had basically no plans on the other end that day. Moral: if you just chill out during a delay, it goes much faster.

– I had originally planned to spend the first night in Asuncion, Paraguay, and had gone as far as too book the tickets and hotel. I would have missed that connection anyway, so this point is moot. But I mention this because a week or so before that flight I thought I should check the weather in Asuncion: it was 109 degrees. And not a dry 109. Moral: I have no idea.

– My flight this morning was at 8:55am and for reasons that aren’t so obvious right now I thought I could get picked up at my apartment at 7:30am while it was snowing and make it to Newark Airport on time. When I was saying goodbye to my wife at 7:30am she asked what time my flight was. I told her it was at 8:55am, she laughed at me. Well, Sooz, who’s laughing now? I arrived at the airport at 8:41am, went through TSA Pre lane, cut in front of the people waiting to put their crap on the x-ray lane (MY FLIGHT IS IN 5 MINUTES!), and ran to gate 92 like my ass was on fire (?). I arrived at 8:46 and, because I had apparently the world’s most wonderful gate agent, they let me on the plane. Bravo. Moral: Just because your wife is right doesn’t mean you can’t get on the plane.

– I accept that part of my fate as a United Silver is that I will never again see the front cabin of the plane. Except, apparently, for flights from Newark to Orlando, where I was upgraded. Moral: I’m so unappreciative, apparently, that I jeopardized that by showing up at the gate at 8:46.

– I basically spend all 365 days of last year agonizing over the fact that given my presumed travel schedule, I would not make United Gold this year (I care mostly about being able to choose Economy Plus seats when I book, which I cannot do as a Silver). I was constantly re-calculating my chances, booking connections on US Airways to get extra miles in here and there, and I was still wildly short. I considered mileage runs and in the end just accepted my fate. Contrast: My wife got an envelope from United last week that contained her Silver Elite card. Susan, to me: “Huh, look at that. I didn’t know I made Silver.” Moral: Opposites attract.

– I actually had the Seinfeld situation with my rental car at Avis. When I got there, they did not have any cars, despite my having a reservation (“anyone can TAKE a reservation….it’s the HOLDING the reservation…”). This conversation (more or less) ensued:

AVIS: We only have a minivan.
Me: I don’t want a minivan
AVIS: We also have a pickup truck. You want a pickup truck?
Me: No
AVIS: We have a sled.
Me: No.
AVIS: It’s being pulled by a pack of dogs.
Me: No
AVIS: We have a plank of wood with 4 midgets rolled up into balls underneath it.
Me: No
AVIS: Oh wait, we do have a midsize car.
Me: I’ll take that.

Moral: Anyone can take a reservation.

Presidents’ Day Roundup: Barclays Arrival, Scoot, Cuba, PeoplExpress

A few little things for your Presidents’ Day reading pleasure:

– As every other blog on the planet has noted (sorry – I slept in this morning!) the Barclays Arrival card will be upping its minimum spend to earn the $400 bonus from $1,000 to $3,000 at some point in the near future (It’s $3,000 as of February 20). Barclays generally makes you wait 6 months between apps, so if you haven’t gotten another Barclays card in the past 6 months, now may be the time to consider. My affiliate link here.

– Poor, poor PeoplExpress — not the old poor, poor PeoplExpress, the new one that has been trying to fly out of Newport News, VA. They were buying Xtra Airways and then were said to have purchased Ryan International Airlines as a way of getting an operating certificate. It now appears that neither of those purchases has gone through, meaning that it is pretty unlikely we’ll ever see them take to the skies.

– Looks like California Pacific also will never launch.

– I hope you didn’t want a Cuban visa, because they’re not issuing them right now.

– Singapore-based lowfare airline Scoot will launch 787 service to Japan, Australia and Taiwan this November.

Mmmmm….Cold….

I’m finishing up my 3rd day with awful Internet access, but I wanted to pass along this photo from the Brazilian Upper Middle Class Refugee Camp (oh, sorry – you know it as United Club, Sao Paulo Airport). This is what they’re serving at the buffet:

Guarulhos-20140214-00042

(Sorry about the quality of the photo from my 1982 Blackberry)

I’m shocked that there isn’t a Flyertalk thread titled, “PM-UA Had Colder Meat.”

Can’t wait to get home to my normal-temperature meat.

Yes, I’m Excited

I’m standing in line at security at Newark Airport a couple of minutes ago. A gentleman who is of my religion, though dressed in more traditional religious garb, approaches me as we wait to go through security:

Him: Are you excited?
Me: (Looking around) Hm?
Him: Are you excited?
Me: (Looking around again, as I don’t know this person and if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that if someone you don’t know speaks to you in the airport, it’s probably not good). I’m sorry?
Him: Excited? Are you?
Me: (Looking at him as if I’m in a dream where I’m in Azerbaijan and I don’t speak the language and he keeps repeating: Czezbauki zhavesta krazna? Czezbauki zhavesta krazna? Czezbauki zhavesta krazna? Um…Should I be excited?
Him: Yes!
Me: Oh. (pause) (pause) (pause) (OK, sir, I’ll bite). Why should I be excited?
Him: Because you’re going to Israel!
Me: (Having seen the Spanish Prisoner I’m a tad weary of being told I’m going to a different destination than the one I’m expecting to be going). What?! Oh – wait, no. Sorry. I’m not going to Israel.
Him: Where are you going?
Me: Sao Paulo.
Him: Are you excited about going to Sao Paulo?
Me: Uh, sure?
(Pause)
Me: Are you excited about going to Israel?
Him: Of course!
Me: Oh.

And that was it.

Although I’m sure he was just wondering if I was excited to be going to Israel, I’m also 13% sure that upon arrival in Sao Paulo tomorrow an agent will pull me aside and ask if anyone – anyone at all – has approached me to ask if I was excited to go to Israel, and if so, can I please come with him. And then my family doesn’t see me for 13 years.

Susan – you should feel free to re-marry after 4 years.

Have a great night everyone.