Friday, June 29, 2012

Southwest Attacks Frontier in Denver

Now that Southwest / AirTran has won the battle with Frontier in Milwaukee, the next battle will be fought in Denver.  And it appears Southwest is looking to win the war in Denver by poaching Frontier’s most valuable customers.  I, like most other Rapid Reward members in Colorado I suspect, got this email today:
“We have an exciting opportunity for Colorado Rapid Rewards Members who have tier membership in Frontier EarlyReturns®!  From now through August 31, 2012, EarlyReturns Ascent or Summit members can get complimentary Rapid Rewards A-List Membership!  And as an added bonus, we'll even give you complimentary AirTran Airways® A+ Rewards® Elite status.  That means you can gain elite status in two frequent flier programs!”
Southwest Status Match Offer
Southwest wants to eliminate competitors.  That’s why they purchased AirTran and are dismantling it.  Next on their list is Frontier, an airline without a strategy or deep pockets.  It is an easy target.  Southwest doesn’t want to agitate United in Denver because UA will go broke to defend the Denver hub and the airline’s customers don’t overlap well.  Frontier can’t afford competition and their low cost customers can very easily become Southwest’s.  Look for Frontier to return fire; they can hold off Southwest in the short term, but are doomed if Southwest lays siege to Denver.

US Airways Company Store Sale

The US Airways Company Store is having a 40% off sale on all clearance merchandise.  The discount is made on their end after the sale, so it won't show in the check out total.  Trust them, it works.  Use the code JULY4 for the discount.  With the discount, you can buy a Pacmin Dash-8 model for $90 or an America West teddy bear for $1.38  Free shipping on orders over $75 too!
US Airways Store Discount

Thursday, June 28, 2012

US Airways Star Alliance Award Blocking

I just got off the phone with US Airways reservations and am furious.  I found a flight on Swiss in business class with availability, confirmed on and ANA, that I wanted to book.  The US Airways agent found the connecting flight fine, but the Swiss long haul flight came back empty.  US Airways must be blocking Star Alliance awards from their reservation system to save cash.  This is frustrating and devalues their award miles.  I'll have to call back on the first of the month and try again in Q3.
US Airways is heading backwards

Mitchell Gallery of Flight - My Favorite Airport Museum

Quite a few airports have museums or historical displays and most are quite interesting.  San Francisco Airport’s museum is the most famous and accredited; they have changing exhibits spread across the airport.  A recent favorite of mine was TV’s over time and historic racing motorcycles.  SFO has a large budget and lands high profile exhibits worthy of any museum.  The disappointing aspect is there are rarely aviation themed displays. 
Early Television at SFO Museum
Classic Racing Motorcycles at SFO Airport Museum
Milwaukee has a permanent museum dedicated to aviation.  Most of the items are related to Milwaukee aviation or local famous aviators.  The Mitchell Gallery of Flight is my favorite airport museum.  The displays are relatively static (the Midwest meal service display is gone and an Airtran case is new) and generally interesting.  The museum is located in the main terminal outside security, can’t miss it.  The celebration of flight is everywhere and makes me enamored of the museum.
Mitchell Airport Museum, Milwaukee
Billy Mitchell Portrait
There is an impressive display on Billy Mitchell, famous WWI aviator and military aviation pioneer.  There is also a display of the evolution of flight and the growth of Milwaukee’s airport.  Jim Lovell, Gemini and Apollo astronaut and Naval aviator, has lent two cases of personal items from his flying career to display.  Most airlines operating from MKE have cases with model planes and information about their service.  Unique artifacts and models abound. 
Midwest Express, Now Aviation History
Mitchell Airport Museum Displays
Phoenix’s museum tries to be a local art gallery.  SFO tries to be a downtown museum.  ORD has a Hellcat bomber and a small case on Butch O’Hare.  Other airports follow suit with little or nothing on display, but only Milwaukee dedicates their museum (well Montevideo too) to the wonders of flight.  The Mitchell Gallery of Flight is worth a visit and don’t be surprised if you spend 15 or 30 minutes looking around.
Capt. James Lovell's NASA Gear on Display at MKE

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fairmont Rewards Chase Credit Card Program

Fairmont Presidents Club (FPC) is less about rewarding spend and more about customizing the onsite experience (I did score a four night stay in Barbados from them for spending 61 nights in a year along with 4 other free nights and several meals, so it is somewhat rewarding).  Since free nights are awarded based on number of nights stayed, not dollars spent, this model doesn't work for a credit card points program. Rather than fit into FPC, Chase made up their own program.  I confirmed with Fairmont that FPC is not switching to Chase's model and all hotels will be ranked the same in FPC.  I don't think Chase's chart is the most rewarding award chat around, but it isn't terrible. The sign up bonus is two free nights, not bad, but I don't need to stay at a Fairmont any time soon, so I won't get the card.  Also, The Plaza in New York has special rules constraining awards, so don't plan on booking a free night there soon.
View from Outside the Fairmont San Francisco
Here's the trick for booking The Plaza.  There is a limited number of free nights Fairmont is allotted at The Plaza per month. You can call Fairmont, find a month that's open, usually six or more out, and book a room for the number of nights you want.  This holds those free nights for you.  Call back later and shift the reservation to another time that month when your plans are finalized, the nights are yours and you can use them any time that month.  There is no fee and as long as standard rooms are available on your new dates, no hassle.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Heineken Slushy - United First Class Drink

The Heineken Slushy is an off menu drink item for United Airlines first class customers. It's a frozen can of Heineken that comes out in a slushy consistency.  United puts their beer on top of the ice in the catering carts and if the beer sits there long enough, you get a Heineken slushy.  I've only had these as pre-departure drinks and only with Heineken.  Some passengers may find it a nuisance, but I like the humor of it.
United Airlines' Heineken Slushy, Off Menu

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spending Miles On Short Notice

Yesterday a friend sent me a note saying he has July off and was wondering if I would like to go on a trip.  Absolutely was my answer (not taking summer classes, so I have a bit of free time).  I started looking on for long haul award flights to see where we can go (long haul flights are the biggest constraint in planning, getting from your home city to the gateway airport is easier).  The key here is tracking the results, because you can only search one day at a time.  Here’s an example of my tracking format.  Dates are on the left and the different routes across the top.  I track the class availability in the cells with a little code for cabin and connections (Y for direct coach, Cc for connecting Business, Y(UA) United 747 coach warning).  The data can change at any time, but it is static enough to not need to refresh daily, but just before calling to book.
Availability Tracking Example

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

World's Most Valuable Boarding Card from Austrian Airlines

"World's most valuable boarding card" is one of my favorite ongoing promotions by an airline.  Austrian Airlines wanted to promote a free stopover in Vienna, similar to Iceland Air and others, but Austrian took the extra step of turning their boarding pass into a tourist discount card.  Discounts are available at numerous attractions, shops, and restaurants around town.  Here’s the current list.  The promotion has extended to other Austrian destinations too.  If you are going to Vienna (my favorite capital in Europe), I recommend their Vienna Card too.
Nice View Of Vienna

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lets Play On The Slide

Is American offering rides on the slide?  Count me in!
American Airlines 757 With Emergency Slide Deployed

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

There's No Hope

I'm traveling for work this week and there is no hope for an upgrade.  Two US Airways segments then three Delta segments; I'm doomed to coach.  I'll be going through Milwaukee and Frontier's recent move to stop almost all Milwaukee flying is having an immediate impact by limiting my options and increasing my costs.  I never knew how much I depended on Midwest Express until they disappeared.  They also gave out warm cookies in coach, I could sure use one this week.
US Airways A319 at CLT

Friday, June 8, 2012

United Airlines A319 First Class Lunch / Dinner

Even the flight attendants are excited about the shrimp salad.  It’s also the most consistent offering for lunch or dinner, so you won’t be surprised like with strange looking wraps.  I was flying from John Wayne to Denver around lunch on a United Airbus A319.  The first class lunch offerings on the two hour flight were a warm wrap or a cold shrimp salad, both came with soup.  I went for the salad.  It has six peeled shrimp on a large collection of lettuce and other salad parts.  It is a filling portion size and fairly colorful and diverse.  It came with two vinaigrette dressing cups, croutons, small side of fruit, roll, and a delicious gumbo soup.  United’s soup is superb and the gumbo, Cajun something at least, is the best yet. 
United Airlines First Shrimp Salad Lunch
The flight was fairly bumpy once we got over Colorado.  The crew made a quick and friendly service in the 8 person first class cabin.  Once the turbulence started, everyone took their seats and buckled in tight.  We also had an aborted landing due to unfavorable winds.  On the glide in, the engines suddenly wound up and we gained altitude and made a 90 degree turn.  We landed on the second try and the cabin applauded (this was more unsettling for me than the textbook go around just executed).  The cockpit crew explained what happened once we pulled onto the taxi way and made this irregular operation seem commonplace.  The professionalism of United’s pilots is second to none.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Priority Club Visa, No Thanks

Priority Club mailed me (I do enjoy direct mail) an offer for 80,000 bonus points for signing up for their Chase issued Visa.  Three years ago I would have jumped on the offer (, but not today.  Priority Club recently devalued their award chart by letting Intercontinental hotels go for up to 50,000 points, up from a cap of 40,000.  Crowne Plazas are more expensive now too (my ‘if all else fails’ chain of choice, not bad really and nicely scatted around Europe).  IHG hotels were my backup chain up until awards went up in price (Hilton is now #2).  I also had some poor experiences at some of their flagship properties.  A new Holiday Inn Express will still be a good stay, but I can't get excited over earning points with them now.  I still have 150,000 to burn, so I’ll have 3-30 nights (award nights range from 5k to 50k) before I’m broke and thinking about their credit card.
The Craptastic Intercontinental Santiago Chile

Monday, June 4, 2012

What is a Point or Mile Worth?

What is a point / mile worth?  It’s a simple question with a complex answer.  A mile or point in every program will have a different value too.  Also, miles might not have any value until a certain number are collected.  Ultimately the value is different for each person, but here are my answers and how I got to them.
Jets Lined Up at FRA
Miles and points are a currency that can be exchanged for goods and services.  These goods can also be purchased for cash, making it a simple equation: Total Value / Total Points = $x.xx per point.  If a flight to Europe is $1,000 or 50,000 miles, then each mile is worth 2c.  The denominator will always be known, but the numerator gets fuzzy when you are buying awards that you would never buy with cash.  A first class trip to Europe costs $13,000 or 135,000 miles; yielding almost 10c per mile in value!  But I would never pay $13,000 to fly to Europe, so what is it really worth?  Priceless is the best answer, but it doesn’t help with the math.  I just total the perceived value of the experience and that’s the value.  The means a first class award is more like 3-6c in value; still a good deal.

Do the math for yourself and use your answers to decide if to spend miles or cash.  For example, I would use miles to book a $450 domestic round trip, but use cash for a $300 ticket.  It’s a gray area for borderline redemptions.  I’ll lower my threshold if my balance still has a large number of miles.  Also, if your credit card doesn’t earn at least 2c in value for every dollar spent, just use the fee free Fidelity Amex. It has 2% cash back on every purchase and cash is accepted by any airline.
Sun Rise at ORD
SPG – 3c
Starwood Hotel (SPG) points are my favorite.  With the Cash & Points redemption option, SPG points are consistently worth about 4c each, while full points awards run 2-3c.  The SPG Amex (business card has the better sign up bonus) earns one point per dollar and two points for spending at SPG hotels.  Points can also be transferred to about 30 airline programs with a 25% bonus for every 20,000 points transferred.  This makes the SPG card better for earning American or Delta miles than the airlines’ own credit cards.  SPG is my favorite program and currency because of its high value and flexibility. 
W South Beach Miami Hotel View
Drawbacks: There aren’t SPG hotels everywhere and the top level hotels cost too many points to have any value.  The cobranded credit card is an Amex and not everyone takes those (like my local liquor store).  Mile awards with United and Southwest are poor value. 

Minimum balance of 4,000 needed to achieve top value.

United – 1.75c
United miles are the best in the air.  They are part of the Star Alliance (25 airlines and growing) and have a few other strategic alliances for miles redemption (Aer Lingus has great availability to Europe).  Their reservations people are very good and the website can be used to find and book complicated award trips.

Minimum balance of 12,500 needed to achieve decent value.
United Airlines Jets at EWR Sunrise
American – 1.5c
American is a oneworld partner and doesn’t charge excessive fuel surcharges on awards.  They allow one way bookings and have a decent award chart.  American availability, coach and first, to most places not over the Atlantic, is second to none.  Good off season discounts and a cheap oneworld partner chart (80,000 miles in first London to Australia).  oneworld coverage is spotty and fuel surcharges pop up on European carriers.

Minimum balance of 12,500 needed to achieve decent value.

Delta – 1c
Delta has a three tier award chart and every time I want to redeem, my flight is in the second or third tier, destroying the value of my miles.  They are a Sky Team partner and Virgin Australia partner, so It’s best to redeem miles with Air France/KLM or Virgin Australia.  I wound up cashing in my miles for Economist subscriptions, 3,200 for a year or 3c in value.  Not bad considering my options.

Minimum balance of 25,000 needed to achieve decent value or 3,200 for a year of The Economist.
Not Every Trip Is Glamours
Alaska Airlines – 1.6c
I credit my Delta and American flights to Alaska.  Alaska isn't part of an alliance, but are partners with most airlines you would want to fly not in the Star Alliance.  The award chart is downright cheap in places too.  The flexible earning and redeeming of miles makes Alaska a great program to have miles in.  One ways are allowed and there is a cash and points option.  Partner awards have to be a single carrier plus Alaska to get you to the gateway city.  Not Star Alliance good, but close.  Other than flights and credit card spend (not a good deal), it’s hard to earn miles with them (SPG transfers mostly).

Minimum balance of 12,500 needed to achieve decent value.

US Airways – 1.7c
Star Alliance member with a reasonable award chart (more reasonable than UA to Asia in business).  Only allow round trips.  Can’t book partner awards online, so be prepared for an hour long call with reservations.  Great deals on off peak awards.  The Mileathon promotion runs annually and is a great way to stock up on miles.  US Airways also runs frequent mileage purchase promotions.   I constantly fear award chart devaluation. 

Minimum balance of 25,000 needed to achieve good value.
Use BA Miles to Fly LAN Around South America
British Airways - .5c or 2c
BA is great for short one segment trips on American or LAN.  BA has a distance based award chart, allows one ways, and has partner booking online.  For long flights (less generous pricing), connections (each segment is charged, not total distance), premium cabins (x2 for business, x3 for first), or trips in Europe (steep fuel charges) don’t bother.  Good deals are found mostly in the America’s. The scary high fuel charges take the value out of any BA, Iberia, of Finnair award.

Minimum balance of 4,500 needed to achieve decent value.

Other Carriers – 0-10c
Southwest will sell any seat at 60 points per dollar so they have a fixed value of 1.67c per point (not bad really).  Other airline programs can be anywhere.  My Frontier miles might only be good for a magazine subscription.  Foreign carriers could have no value or tons of value, depending on if you need to use those airlines.  If you are going somewhere only Emirates flies, then those miles will be worth much more.  It’s too subjective for me to give a definitive value.
Southwest and US Airways Jets at ABQ

Friday, June 1, 2012

US Airways 100% Bonus on Purchased Miles

US Airways is selling miles with a 100% bonus again.  A trip to Asia in business class (or around the world award) is only $1,575.  That’s cheaper than the coach fare in some cases.  Great way to stock up on miles, but don’t sit on them too long.  US Airways has been selling miles like mad for the last few years, so this may be a prelude to an award chart change (the price of purchased miles has increased, so that may delay the points inflation).  Or they could be laughing all the way to the bank if Star Alliance awards cost them less than what they sell miles for, but only they know that.  This move also generates liquidity, so not a bad way to stay out of the bond market.
US Airways Airbus Tails at Phoenix
Offer good until June 30, 2012.  Maximum of 50,000 bonus miles can be earned with the promotion.  You need to make a Dividend Miles account before purchasing.