Monday, July 30, 2012

Status Qualification Strategy Time

If you haven’t thought about it already, you should start planning out your status qualification strategy.  With five months left in the year, you are quickly running out of time if you are trending below your goals.  Also, with this much of a heads up, you may be able to grab a good deal on some flights or hotels stays to top off your numbers (use ITA Matrix and try to force extra connections).
United Express ERJ-145 at MLI
I’m doing fine for United 1K status this year.  Flown and booked trips total about 96,000 EQM (elite qualifying miles), so I just need one or two work trips to close the gap and I am set.  I did my United mileage math in June and booked two mileage run trips to SJU to make sure I get to where work travel can close the gap. 
W South Beach Miami Room Upgrade
Hotels are not looking so good though.  I have given up on Priority Club status all together because of their recent award chart devaluation and my lack of hotel activity (7/60th of the way to Platinum and 7/20th to Gold both on points earned, it’s not happening).  I am safe at Hilton Silver because I have their Amex, but Gold is too far out of reach to bother.  Starwood Preferred Guest is my favorite program and I will pull out all the stops to keep Platinum.  Right now I have 19 of my 25 needed stays booked or completed.  This leaves me with 6 stays in 5 months, not unreasonable, but it will be a stretch.  I have been bouncing hotels all year to increase my stay count without needing more nights.  I may be able to grab another three stays from work travel, but the last three may come out of my pocket.  Not insurmountable, but the $40 / night Four Points by me closed, so it may get expensive to make Platinum.  It’s still better than finishing the year at a pathetic 23 nights.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Air Canada to Europe - A319 & 767

A friend from high school called me up late last month wondering if we could do a trip overseas in July.  My schedule had some flexibility to it so I started finding trips we could do on United MileagePlus miles.  We were able to settle on Barcelona, Vienna, and a half day in London for 60,000 miles; a very good deal. 
Air Canada A319 at Denver
The first leg of the journey was from Denver to Toronto to Barcelona.  My friend was originating in Chicago and we planned to meet at the international Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto.  I was flying an A319 to Toronto connecting to a Boeing 767 to Barcelona. 

The Airbus part of my flight was great.  There was plenty of leg room and a FREE video on demand entertainment system.  The system has a great collection of new and classic movies, along with games, a map, and music.  I watched The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly.  It happened to finish just as we were landing and made the flight go very quickly.
Air Canada's Free Video On Demand
The service was friendly too.  The lead flight attendant looked like a jovial lumber jack that could be in tourism commercials.  I also got a kick out of the bilingual announcements, as required by law, not the makeup of the passengers.

After landing it was a quick walk to the transfers desk, stamp in the passport, and a quick walk to the lounge.  To speed the trip, Toronto Pearson Airport has moving walkways that go faster in the middle than at the ends.  It was my first time using them and it was fun to see the clever solution to an engineering puzzle. 
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge YYZ Bar
The Maple Leaf Lounge is on the second level (my friend walked right by it and spent a while looking for me on the departures level) of the international terminal.  This is their flagship lounge and it has plenty of seating broken up into different areas so noise doesn’t travel and to give a more private feel.  It also has free wifi, conference rooms, showers, a business center, and of course self-serve bar and hearty snacks.  The drink spread was very good, but the food was superb.  Air Canada’s lounges have some very good soup offerings and this was no different.  There was also some very tasty pasta available that reminded me of grandma's. 

I left briefly to find my friend and check out the duty free prices.  We were able to locate each other and went to the lounge for a pre-departure toast to our trip.  Our flight had a maintenance delay, so we were able to make a few more toasts before departure.  The aircraft for the trip to BCN was a 767 that Air Canada had not converted to the new business class and video on demand in coach.  The seats also were not very comfortable, so before we pushed back, I knew I was in for a long trip.
Leg Room in Coach on 767, Where's the TV?
The meal service started soon after takeoff and I enjoyed a very tasty chicken dish. The brownie was also very good.  Soon after dinner, I tried to sleep.  It didn’t go well.  I went to the back of the plane to see if any sets of 3 seats were open to lay down on, but enough people already had that idea and I was out of luck.  I wound up taking a set of two free seats, built a pillow fort, and tried to fall asleep.  I don’t know why, but nothing worked.  I might have been out for 30 minutes tops.   After a seemingly endless struggle, I spotted land (Spain looks like the American southwest from the air) and we started our approach.  Landing took us over a few sights and we quickly taxied to the gate, so fast that the crew hadn’t finished the French version of the announcement.  I was soon off the plane, not rested at all, but excited to experience Barcelona.
Tasty Chicken Dinner on Air Canada 767

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quad City International Airport - MLI

I missed my connection in Moline, IL and I'm stuck here for 5 hours.  At least I have have a good view.  Too bad there aren't any flights for a while.  
MLI View from B10

Saturday, July 14, 2012

US Airways Club Changing Rooms

Due to scheduling complexities, I often need to travel on an overnight flight from Denver to the east coast for work.  I need to land fresh and ready for a full day of meetings.  This is challenging because Denver is less than three hours from the east coast, too short to sleep well.  It is further complicated because I need to look sharp in business attire.  The latter is solved by the US Airways Club changing rooms.   The rooms, located before the bathrooms, provide a large space to change from comfortable overnight wear into fresh business garb.  There is a chair, coat hooks, counter, tissues, and a mirror.  They are also kept very clean, offer good lighting, and a full door.  I love them and try to connect in CLT so I can use them. 
US Airways Club Changing Room in CLT
United Clubs don’t have these rooms, but I hope they are added to make overnight flying more tolerable.  The alternative is flying dressed up and landing wrinkled or changing in a bathroom stall, neither a good solution.  US Airways used to be my least favorite airline to fly (though I would fly them, unlike Spirit), but they have improved significantly over the past few years and are now at least tolerable.  
US Airways Airbus 319

Thursday, July 12, 2012

United Orders New 737's

United ordered (full press release here) 100 of Boeing's new fuel efficient 737 MAX airplanes to start updating the current fleet.  Deliveries will begin in a few years.  United also ordered 50 737-900ER jets to replace some 757's in the fleet with deliveries starting next year.  This is a good move for United to lower operating costs and I bet they got a great price on the planes because Boeing is hurting for narrow body orders.  I prefer the Airbus interior so I'm not jumping for joy on this move.  Also the 757 has 4 more first class seats than the 737-900ER and boarding is done through the middle door, so first class has a very private feel.  
United 737 MAX, photo from United Airlines
Strange that this was not announced at the Farnborough Air Show going on right now.  Airbus loves to announce orders at airshows to show off in front of the press.  Boeing prefers to announce orders as they come, but the timing and order size would make this an air show highlight.  Maybe a missed opportunity by United and Boeing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

WestJet Has Been Profitable Every Quarter for 7 Years

WestJet today announced its selection by Aviation Week as a top 10 international airline. The study ranks airline carriers across the world by their annual revenues, using financial and operational data to rate publicly traded airlines in five different performance categories. WestJet is the only Canadian airline and one of only two North American airlines to appear on this year's list.  In May, WestJet announced record first-quarter net earnings of $68.3 million, the airline's 28th consecutive quarter of profitability.
WestJet 737 Taking Off
I doubt any airline will win the Nobel Prize for economics any time soon.  But WestJet, Canada’s “preferred airline” (their words), has been profitable every quarter for the last 7 years and that is something special.  WestJet operates a fleet of 737 to 76 cities.  No CRJs and no wide bodies.  Sounds like Southwest.  Unlike Southwest, they fly to several countries allowing them to serve additional profitable markets for both business and leisure (you can be a pure play domestic airline in Canada, but you need to focus on the way up north, like First Air and Canada North).  WestJet also codeshares with American and Delta to bring in more traffic and offer more destinations for customers without changing their fleet make up.  These WestJet guys have quietly found the formula for a profitable airline.  That might be worth a trip to Stockholm after all, on a code share partner of course.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

ITA Matrix Search Game - Most Minimum Connections

I read that some airport pairs require a minimum of 20 stops to travel between.  This seemed stunning, so I went to ITA Matrix flight search trying to see how many minimum connections I could find between two cities.  My personal best so far is 9 connections for Grayling, Alaska (KGX) to Tezpur, India (TEZ).  
Canada may be a good place to start looking
Can you do better? The ITA Matrix search game is born. Post your best pairings in the comments; it’ll be a fun game.

Friday, July 6, 2012

California Pacific Airlines - Who?

There’s a new airline in town, well in Carlsbad (San Diego north), California.  California Pacific Airlines (CPA) is a startup looking to make Carlsbad the low cost airport for San Diego.  They plan to have service to Vegas, Phoenix, Cabo, San Jose, Oakland, and Sacramento.  The airline will operate E170 jets in an all coach configuration.  I’ll put the over under on their survival at 14 months, if they ever get off the ground.
Great Lakes Puddle Jumper, Close Enough
The SoCal air market is already very crowded and filled with low fares and high frequencies.  CPA seems unlikely to generate much connecting traffic or traffic originating at their spokes.  They do have an interesting marketing position focused on Carlsbad’s low costs to customers and convenient location to people north of San Diego; SAN is amazingly convenient for locals.  I don’t think there will be enough traffic though to sustain their operation.  The big airlines all work out of SAN (40 mins south), Long Beach (75 mins north) and LAX (90 mins north) with more destinations and frequencies and unless you live right in Carlsbad, it will most likely be worth the drive to catch a flight.  I haven’t written an obituary yet, but I’m tempted to start soon.

UPDATE 12/14/14:
I have a feeling the airline is done before it ever took off.  The flycpair.com domain name expired and is now up for auction, current price $65.

Delta Skymiles Amex Card Fills Mileage Balance Gaps

I am not the biggest fan of Delta, but SkyMiles are becoming more useful as Delta’s domestic network grows.  I’m not going to be flying Delta to collect SkyMiles (all my Delta and American flights are credited to Alaska), so their Amex card seems like the best route to earning miles. 

There is currently a lull in the credit card sign up game.  No one is offering the 50,000 to 100,000 point sign up bonuses any more.  Since I am unable to grab large numbers of miles, my new strategy is to strategically fill some gaps in my miles balances (I have a large pile of Starwood points that transfer to most airlines, so I’m never really in trouble, but I am hesitant to use them unless as a last resort).  SkyTeam is my largest gap so I picked up the Delta SkyMiles Amex to fill that gap.  It has a decent sign up bonus and no fee the first year.  It is a perfect fit for my needs. 
Delta Flight at MKE
I still recommend the Starwood Hotels Amex above all others.  If you don’t have it, you should grab it first.
Delta CRJ Needs a Visit to the Paint Shop

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Frontier Airlines Discount Coupon Code

Frontier Airlines is offering 18% off all domestic flights ("excluding Alaska and Hawaii, the freak states" -The Simpsons) now through July 5th.  Use code Birthday18.  Full details are available. I think this is a standard sale (not targeted to any area), not a retaliation to Southwest's recent attack on Denver.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Guess the Dysfunctional Airline

"The pilot of a(n) Guess The Airline passenger plane seated his mother in the cockpit for a domestic flight, refusing to take off without her after he could not get her a free ticket."

Guess which dysfunctional airline would let this fly.  Read the full story here.
I Love the Departures Board at FRA, My Blog, My Pictures