Friday, August 30, 2013

Happy Labor Day Travels

Remember to bring extra patience if you are travelling this weekend.  Long lines and amateur travelers will be everywhere, but with a little patience, it should not ruin your trip.
Delta 737 at LAS

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Free Shipping Code at the Boeing Store

Free shipping until August 28 at the Boeing Store.  T-shirts are reasonably priced and I picked up a 747 shirt.  Use code SHIPP813 at checkout.  Now if only Airbus set up a US based store, shipping from Germany is killer.
Part of the Boeing Collection at NRT

Monday, August 26, 2013

What Is A Mileage Run?

I was at brunch recently with some friends of my girlfriend and someone asked what I do for fun. I mentioned that I recently took a trip just for the frequent flyer miles.  They looked baffled and then asked if I was serious (legitimate question, I frequently use deadpan humor).  I said I was serious and that I flew to Puerto Rico six times last year and never left the airport.  I then proceed to explain my logic for mileage runs.
United 737's in Houston
It's not the destination that matters, but the number of miles accumulated.  There are two types of miles, elite qualifying miles (EQM) and redeemable miles (RDM).  Elite qualifying miles only count for status and reset every year.  Redeemable miles are used for award travel and don't expire as long as your account is active.  I enjoy 1K status on United because it gets me upgraded on 90%+ of my United flights and waves a number of fees (Three free checked bags at 70lbs each, free award ticket changes, free phone reservations, free same day confirmed flight changes, etc.).  To attain this status, I need to fly 100,000 paid miles on United and their partners (US Airways mostly for me).  Since my job doesn't have me traveling more than 30,000 miles a year, I need to make up the difference.
US Airways CRJ-900 at CLT
I close the gap by buying tickets.  Home for Christmas, a trip to Long Beach for the Grand Prix, and a few other leisure trips doesn't get me much closer to 100,000 miles.  To close the gap I need to fly just to acquire the EQM's I need.  The destination doesn't matter, just time and money.  For time, I don't want to take any PTO to do this, so I am stuck with Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.  Money factors in both the cost per EQM and hotels.  Hotel stays tend to ruin the math, so I try to overnight in air.  To find the lowest fares, I spend a good bit of time searching ITA Matrix.  I like to find fares in the 5c -6c per EQM range.  My Puerto Rico trips last year were about 3.8c per EQM so I booked every weekend last September.  I'm less gung-ho on good, but not great deals. 
United Airlines A320 at LGA
People still think you are crazy.  No matter how rational your explanation, no matter how much the other person smiles and nods, they will still think you are crazy.  It's ok.  This game isn't for everyone, if it was you could never find an award seat or cheap fare.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Feeling Aspirational

I can't wait to fly a narrow body Austria Airlines jet again.  The service is great, even in coach, and either the departure city or destination city will be fun, but probably both will be cool.
Austrian Jets at VIE

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Does Your Ticket Pay For?

Everyone seems to be making money off airline tickets, except for airlines.  Here's a good graphic to illustrate.
Source: Airlines for America

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

King Nut Airline Products

I love airline food. As a kid I liked the free food in coach. The Pigeon Strudel I had on a Lufthansa flight was the best meal I had anywhere in 2011. Even snacks are good.  US Airways has a tropical fruit crunch that is outstanding.  I enjoyed it so much, I purchased 150 pouches from their supplier King Nut.  I also got two bags of mini pretzels and two bags of the new American Airlines mix (each bag has 25 pouches).  They ship UPS ground from Cleveland, so it's economical to place large orders.  
Airline Snacks

Saturday, August 17, 2013

$400 Cash Back From Chase

Note: I am not compensated for this post or for Chase referrals.

I signed up for the Chase Sapphire card and the 40,000 point bonus for spending $3,000 in three months (I have a business trip coming up, so that will help).  That's enough points for $400 in rewards or 40,000 United, Southwest, Hyatt, or Marriott points.  I like flexible cards, the SPG Amex is another example, and I could use a new sign up bonus.  I sign up for 4-6 cards a year depending on the offers to maximize my earning potential.  Some card have good bonuses, but are poor regular earners, so they don't all become long term daily cards.  Interestingly I haven't seen a negative impact to my credit score for having a number of short credit card histories.  The points game is only if you don't carry a balance, it won't pay back if you owe finance charges.
Cash Back or United Miles

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sunrise at CLT

I might be the only person who likes to be at an airport before the sun rise. Here's a glimpse of what most people miss.
767 at CLT

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hertz To Increase Award Prices October 1, 2013

In light of rising costs, we find it necessary to implement our first reward redemption point increase since 2008.  Beginning October 1, 2013, point redemption levels for Rewards will increase a modest 10-15% in the United States.

I appreciate the letter from Hertz Gold Plus Awards announcing the pending awards program change.  Advertising changes well in advance puts Hertz in the top 5% of travel companies (plus Starbucks) because most programs announce changes on short notice or after the fact.  I am interested to know what the new award chart will look like and that is something that should be included, but 10-15% points inflation isn't frightening.  Hilton points lost up to 50% of their value earlier this year, so most program changes pale in comparison.  Hertz also included a tease of new value to soften to blow: 

We will be enhancing reward redemption options with new locations and expanded choices.

I'm a strong proponent of new awards, even if they don't maximize potential points value.  More options benefit the consumer and versatility has a strong value on its own. Besides, the best value for points isn't on an award chart, but the value of dreams.  Miles and points programs bring otherwise unattainable dreams within reach, even if the dream trip isn't taken.  Bora Bora or Baltimore, it's fun to dream and know points can make it a reality.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Heathrow Airport Boarding Game

London Heathrow is taking the fun out of cutting it close.  They are implementing a "Positive Boarding" system that will stop you before security if you are cutting it too close (30 minutes before departure in most cases).  This will help planes depart on time because the ground crew can start removing checked bags when they are alerted of blocked passengers.  Great idea, except, it misses it's true potential.
LHR Action
The first issue is that you can't check bags and then get so delayed at LHR before security to be within the 30 minute window.  All the fun stuff is air side and airlines won't take bags less than 45 minutes before departure anyway.  However, this does prevent the business traveler from maximizing their time by not waiting in the airport (I'm still excited to linger around LHR, the stores and lounges are top notch).  If you are cutting it close, but not within the 30 minute window, it just tells you to rush to the gate.  It doesn't however get you a skip to the front of the x-ray line pass or anything else useful to remove time from the process.  A skip the line (or queue if you prefer) pass would be a great value add of this system because the security wait can be interminable. The Positive Boarding system has potential, but not how it is set up now.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sheraton Stockholm & Lufthansa to Denver in Economy

The Arlanda Express train is a fast and economical (by comparison) way to go from ARN to the city center. I was only a few blocks away from the Sheraton Stockholm, home for the next two nights.  My parents stayed there a few years ago and liked it; it's also the only SPG property in town.  The hotel seems busy at all hours, luckily they honor the SPG elite lane and I was quickly checked in to a corner suite.  The room was a little bit dated and the air conditioning was woefully under powered (it also needs the air filter changed more frequently than the carpet is changed).  Luckily the windows opened, so I settled for a nice breeze.  The hotel is in a great location or tourism and work.
Sheraton Stockholm
The club lounge was the best part of the hotel.  Food and beer in Stockholm is expensive, so free food and beer are great.  The club lounge had an outstanding dinner spread with salmon, cold cuts, soup, and beer (wine too if you prefer).  The staff was also super friendly and kept everything in stock and the lounge was spotless. Breakfast was delicious too.
Sheraton Stockholm Club Lounge
I would return to the Sheraton if I'm in Stockholm again, but I hope the renovate the rooms before then.  I'd also like the Hilton to not be $400/nt so I can try the competition.
View From My Room
After my two days were up (royal palace, Vasa museum, wandering around), I was heading back to Denver.  My girlfriend was able to change my flights to remove a long stopover in Chicago and a short stop in Houston.  Originally booked for ARN-ORD-IAH-DEN I was now on a simple ARN-FRA-DEN trip with a brief, almost too brief, stop in Frankfurt.  
Lufthansa Coach Meal to Denver
The Lufthansa flights were very pleasant.  Their food is tasty in every cabin and the flight attendants are always superb.  It was especially nice for me because I got an exit row (these seats open up to general customers 48 hours before departure) and had no seat in front of me.  It made for a relaxing and comfortable flight home, even without a personal TV.
Lufthansa Coach Exit Row Seat 33K 747-400
Customs clearance in Denver went very quickly.  The US citizen line was short (usually the case when flying a foreign carrier) and my bag was one of the first to pop up.  A relaxing end to a relaxing trip.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bumpy Flights

Spokane (GEG) always has a bumpy arrival and departure. Yup, that's the only thing of note from my recent business trip, DEN-PHX-GEG-DEN.  On a more interesting note, I'm planning another trip around the world with US Airways miles. It looks like United, Air China, Lufthansa, Asiana, and Turkish are all possibilities in business class.
Air China, United, Lufthansa