Wednesday, July 31, 2013

United Listened to Me

Small changes can make a big difference, like having consistent branding on a website.  United listened to my complaint (or had the idea themselves, the result is the same) and updated their Star Alliance airplane image to one of their planes.  Now to take on some larger problems.
United Branded Aircraft

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Global Entry Pre Check Win

I finished my Global Entry registration this week and already am seeing the benefits (United paid for it, Platinum and 1K perk; otherwise $100 for 5 years).  Your Global Entry code also makes you eligible for TSA Precheck on all participating airlines, just enter your Global Entry code when booking or at check in. This is great because standard Precheck users are only eligible on a single carrier that sponsors their membership. This is a big win that will make flying US Airways today much more pleasant. 
Got PreCheck

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Interesting Fairmont & RIMOWA Promotion

I read a fun email from Fairmont offering two free RIMOWA carry on bags with a stay in a Fairmont Gold room.  The bags retail for $595 and I set to work trying to find a way to make it a deal worth doing.

As a member of Fairmont President's Club, we are pleased to provide you with an exclusive opportunity! Enjoy Fairmont Gold and Suite accommodations at select destinations across North America* and arrive in style with two RIMOWA Salsa Deluxe Cabin Multiwheel® cases. An offer this good doesn't come around often—get ready to pack your (new) bags!

I ran the numbers and the cheapest trip would be about $1200 for two from Denver ($400 air, $700 hotel, $100 car + incidentals). Search airport codes YQB, YYZ, BOS, PHX, YOW, BDA, SFO in ITA Matrix if you want to give it a try.  If I lived in Phoenix, the $700 for a stay-cation (I hate that term and concept) and the carry on bags would be worth while.  Oh well, there will be other promotions and I love my Briggs and Reilly bag.  It was fun to dream for a minute.
Another Deal Will  Come My Way

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bid Miles On Simulator Time

United is auctioning off 2 hours in a flight simulator and bidding is only at 123,000 miles (bidding ends tomorrow). This is a truly unique award because you can't buy this experience with money and shows the real value of frequent flyer programs.  This isn't a discount, but an opportunity that would not be available without miles and makes the unattainable accessible. 
United Airlines A319
UPDATE 7/26 - The auction wound up going for 135,000.  Not bad considering the two free flights to Denver would cost 50,000 miles plus maybe 15,000 miles for the hotel stay.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

British Airways Avios Award Chart

British Airways doesn't post their award chart, but lets you only price specific routes.  To save you the trouble of making your own award chart, here's the one I created.  The prices are for economy and are the same for British Airways, their oneworld partners, and Alaska Airlines.  Multiply by 1.5 for premium economy, 2 for business, and 3 for first.  Prices are per segment too, not total trip distance (find segment length or airport range), so avoid connections.  


Cost Max Dist
4500 650
7500 1150
10000 2000
12500 3000
20000 4000
25000 5500
30000 6500
35000 7050
50000 7500
25,000 Miles To Go SFO-LHR On British Airways

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

GVA-FRA-Sheraton Frankfurt Airport-ARN

I wanted to change my United award ticket after I started travelling and it was easy really.  A few caveats, I’m a 1K member, so there was no fee, (a fee may apply to general members), also I was not changing my city pairs or connection point, and finally I verified availability before booking.  That said, the process went smoothly really.
Lufthansa Cityline E190 Coach Seat Recline
Geneva was proving to be a bit dull, so I wanted to grab an earlier flight into Frankfurt.  I had booked an overnight connection and was happy to get to the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport in time to grab a bite in the outstanding club lounge.  Lufthansa had plenty of availability too, so it was looking promising.
Business Class Seats Lufthansa Cityline E190
The one complication was that I had no way to economically call United (this type of change can’t be made online).  Google Voice is charging for calls originating from outside the US and I never signed up for Skype.  Luckily my girlfriend was able to help.  I gave her my United number, pin, directions on the flight I wanted changed, and an overview of what to expect.  After a few minutes, I got an itinerary update from United and a reply email reporting success.  Easiest flight change ever, I didn’t even have to wait on hold.
Intra Europe Lufthansa Snack
Another bonus is that I went from coach on a full CRJ-900 to coach on a 40% full ERJ-190.  The E-190is a great 100 seat plane and there was plenty of space for everyone.  The flight from Geneva to Frankfurt was only an hour and light snack was served in coach.  It was a bumpy flight, but things went smoothly on arrival.  My bag quickly appeared at baggage claim and it was a quick walk across the terminal to the Sheraton. 

The Sheraton Frankfurt Airport hotel is my favorite airport hotel in the world.  I even stayed there when I was visiting Frankfurt rather than going to a hotel downtown (the rail link form the airport is fast and reasonably priced).  The hotel service is very good and the club lounge has an outstanding breakfast (including omelet station) and dinner presentation.  The rooms are fresh and well maintained too.
Sheraton Frankfurt Airport Club Level Room
Things did not go as smoothly the following morning.  I was scheduled on the first flight to Stockholm at 7:10 AM.  The security lines were long and slow (last time I went through the First Class Terminal with no problems), so I didn’t have much time to grab a bite in the lounge (also packed with long lines).  I soon had to go to the gate and the plane was at a remote parking position so a bus ride was required.  I always like being one of the last to board so I am not stuck on the bus forever. 

That idea didn’t go well because the first bus filled up and pulled away with 12 passengers waiting for the next bus, which pulled up immediately.  Then we waited for 30 minutes until we were told the plane left without us.  We were rebooked on the next flight 2 hours later and given €250 cash vouchers (really, they just added $315 to my checking account).  I’m fine with being paid $100 an hour to sit in the Senators lounge and waiting for the next flight.
Lufthansa A321 Intra Europe Snack and Seat
The flight to Stockholm was fast and enjoyable with great views heading north.  The aircraft was a new A321 and the middle seat was empty.  The sandwich was good too.  Upon landing there was a cabin announcement apologizing to those that missed the earlier flight and informing us that our checked bags had already arrived.  I quickly grabbed my bag, bought a ticket for the Arlanda Express train and was heading into Stockholm.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Can you explain flying just to get “miles”?

Can you explain the manner by which some people are able to fly just to get “miles”?
Thank you,
Jack

Thanks for asking. It comes down to a cost/benefit analysis where the cost in terms of money and time is less than the benefits of status and award miles.   Flying for miles is a great way to boost award mile balances and elite status miles.  In essence, the purpose of the flight is the miles accumulated, not the distention.  Often times, I don't even leave the airport on these trips. It is not an especially efficient use of time and can cost 3 to 7 cents per mile flown, but I feel it is worth while (some of my friends think I'm crazy).
US Airways Jets at CLT
I flew to Puerto Rico six times last year and never spent more than 90 minutes on the ground.  On four of the trips, I took the same airplane I arrived on and was back in the air less than an hour after landing.  I flew because I was able to go 8,500 miles for $300.  These flights boosted my mileage balance and got me from mid tier status to top tier.  Each trip did take up a day and a half of my weekend, but I felt it was worth it.  I've also had shorter trips, like going to San Antonio to see the Alamo and then home, if the price per mile is low enough, I'm in.

The maximum price per mile to pay depends on the person and situation.  The first consideration is if the trip is needed to reach a status goal.  Status is incredibly valuable when flying, so spending a few hundred dollars to reach the next tier is very worthwhile because of better upgrade chances, shorter lines, waved fees, and a more pleasant experience overall.  The next consideration is the value of the award miles earned.  Each Puerto Rico trip netted 17,000 award miles and those are worth about 2c each, my flight paid for itself with the award miles earned.  Not every trip works out that well, but it does help offset the expense (if you just need award miles, credit card sign up bonuses are a faster and cheaper solution).
ANA 777's at NRT
The key to being able to fly for miles is finding cheap fares; I use ITA Matrix to search for flights.  It's a great tool to let you quickly search a specific airline (or alliance) across multiple dates and destinations.  They even let you sort by price per mile.  I like taking month long looks at 0 night flights to the Eastern time zone on United.  I also get tips from like minded coworkers on good trips.  If you have the time to invest, a multi-city reservation can be great.  Denver, my home airport, rarely has cheap flights and isn't very far from anywhere.  But I can fly to the east coast, then west coast, then east coast, then home to yield more miles at a lower average cost. Go to where the cheap fares are, then go from there to the other coast.  Nesting a trip within a trip like this helps control costs and reduce total time in transit.  Also connections are cost effective ways (sometimes only $3 more) to boost the distance; Houston or Chicago is always out of the way.

Another theory is to fly as far away as you can, Singapore and Sydney are good bets, and make a small vacation out of it.  I doubt I would enjoy flying to Singapore to turn right around, but a day or two in town would be a fun way to stretch my legs.  One long trip could save a few weekends of domestic hops.  Again the goal is to acquire miles, the final destination is a secondary concern. 
Frankfurt Action
Flying just for miles is a strange concept for most people, but it's a logical and cost effective solution for flyers needing extra status or award miles in their account.  Jump on cheap fares when you find them, they rarely last. Keep your goals in mind and plan out how to reach you target.  50,001 miles gets you the same status as 68,750 miles.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

You've been selected for Smart Check-in - Aloft SPG Program

This sounds interesting, I'll let you know how well it works when I get the card in a few weeks.

Congratulations — you've been specially chosen to participate in Smart Check-In, an exclusive program at select AloftSM hotels. Sign up now to enjoy this innovative and convenient check-in process! Here's how it works: 
• You'll be sent a special Aloft-brand SPG® card that will double as a room key, allowing you to bypass the front desk and go straight to your room whenever you stay at participating Aloft hotels.
• On the day of your arrival, we'll send a message to your mobile device containing your room number.
• When you arrive at your participating Aloft hotel, skip the front desk and go directly to your room. Just touch your Aloft-brand SPG card to the door to unlock it — you'll be checked in automatically and have full access to the Aloft front desk throughout your stay.

To reserve your spot in the Smart Check-In program, please respond within 10 days. You'll also be invited to fill out a short survey following each stay to tell us about your experience with Smart Check-In.

Thank you and congratulations on being selected for this exclusive program!

IATA Global Passenger Survey

Take the IATA Global Passenger Survey and help shape the future of air travel.  The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is the international airline trade body and helps shape policy and products.
MUC International Gates

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pic of the Day

Will the US Airways legacy paint schemes will survive the merger?  I hope so, they are fun to spot when travelling.
US Airways Allegheny Tail

Thursday, July 4, 2013

I Disagree: The Dumbest Fee in the Airline Business

I just read an article titled "The Dumbest Fee in the Airline Business" and I was anticipating a good laugh at a foreign carrier fee for oxygen masks or something like that.  Instead I read a long complaint about standby fees on domestic carriers. 

"Charging a change fee to fly standby when a passenger is already at the gate seems not only avaricious but also disadvantageous for the airline.  
The charge could easily mean that a plane departs with an empty seat, which immediately becomes worthless. It also denies the airline the flexibility that comes with an empty seat on the next flight. Possibly that seat can be sold. Possibly it can accommodate a passenger who missed a connection. Possibly bad weather or congestion or a mechanical failure will delay that flight, pushing all the passengers onto future flights, creating unforeseen complexities and expenses for the airline."
US Airways A320 Take Off
The core of the author's argument is that free standby lets everyone win.  Except it doesn't.  The airline wants to maximize their revenue and they do that partially by charging more for flexibility and comfort.  A passenger will pay to get on an earlier flight if they are at an airport, everyone's time is worth something.  The problem is, everyone's time is worth something different and the value of an individual's time changes depending the situation (business vs leisure travel or grumpy vs relax mindset). This makes it impossible for airlines to charge each person the most they are willing to pay for a service.  One option would be a reverse auction at the gate for standby passengers, but this is complicated and time consuming (big problem when the plane is loaded and ready to go).  So airlines just set a flat fee they think will maximize their revenue (this includes the cost of so called "unforeseen complexities and expenses for the airline").  A simple and intuitive solution for customers and staff.
US Airways Airbus
The fee system does mean airplanes will fly empty seats when there are passengers around to fill them.  Though it sounds like lost revenue, it isn't.  It's likely that many seats fly empty no matter what on a given day. Airlines don't have to fill every seat to maximize revenue either.  One seat sold for $400 on the day of travel is better than selling three for $125.  That's why same day bookings are so expensive, sort notice bookings are price inelastic.  Maximizing revenue can be done without filling every seat.

That's what happened in this situation, US Airways tried to maximize their revenue, not fill an open seat as an end to itself. The customer knew there was a fee when booking (or could easily have known) and decided to buy anyway, so there should not really be any disappointment (they are asking to receive something of value for free, how often does that happen?).  If flexibility is so important, buy a flexible ticket, if not, don't complain about not getting something for nothing.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Intercontinental Hotel Geneva Review

Other than being expensive and having the UN, I had no specific expectations about Geneva. I was booked for five nights at the Intercontinental Genève, two blocks away from the UN.  The rooms and public spaces are superb.  The hotel is older, but appears to have been recently renovated and exceptionally maintained.  For 35,000 points a night, it's a bargain.  The staff is helpful and the hotel is on the 5 bus line with their own stop (public transit is free for hotel guests and top notch).  The wireless internet is free, but everything else costs a fortune.  I also had to change rooms mid stay due to 'security concerns of a visiting delegation' that required an entire floor.  That's a first.
Intercontinental Geneva King Room
Intercontinental Geneva Bathroom
Geneva sights to see are the UN, the lake, and the old town center.  That's about it. The UN tour is well worth the hour or so.  The Palais des Nations is an interesting design.  The old building from the 30's has an amazing art deco design and is very impressive.  The new building from the 60's is a typical architectural disaster; the design is almost nauseating.    The tour guides are friendly and informative and it was fun sitting in on a conference and using the interpreter earphone devices to listen in on the live translations.  
UN Geneva
UN Geneva
UN Geneva
Geneva is a small city and easily navigated. There is a pleasant path along the north side of the lake from the botanic gardens, a short down hill walk from my hotel, to the city center. I poked my head in a McDonald's and confirmed the Big Mac Index was right, Switzerland is expensive. It's also pretty.  The lake is peaceful and the mountains are a great backdrop.  The old town is pleasant and there are plenty of windows to look in at watches, watches, and more watches. Nice place, but one day I was there was a public holiday and everything, including retail, was closed.
Lake Geneva
Water Taxi Included in Free Transport Card
Even with the EBACE13 conference, five days proved too long to stay in Geneva (it would be more fun with an expense account or state sponsor to pick up the tab).  With some help, I was able to change my flights to get out of town earlier than planned, but more on that process in my next post.

Monday, July 1, 2013

British Airways Cabin Classes

How many cabin classes does British Airways have?  Right, eleven.  No really, eleven. Four are standard for intercontinental flights, three are unique to Openskies, one is for their A318 service from London City to JFK, two are for intra-Europe flights, and one is for UK flights. Confusing, right?  Well the intent is to be as clear as possible and set realistic expectations that they can deliver on every time.  Each class has a different service level and seat combination.  The seat differentiation is great because they want to deliver on their promises. United took forever to upgrade their business class from recliners to flat seats, but you couldn't be certain what you would get and the prices were the same.  British Airways wants to avoid seat disappointment  especially with business class customers, hence there are five classes that could be considered business class if the differentiation was not as thorough.
All Eleven Cabin Classes
I'm sitting on about 100,000 British Airways miles (Avios to use their branding) and itching to use them on a unique experience. I think Club World London City would be the most interesting use, except it's impractical for me because then I would need to go to LGA or EWR to get a flight home. World traveler Plus, especially their new configuration, would be a fun and new experience. US carriers don't have a true premium economy section, but rather have basic economy with a few extra inches of room.  Trying out a new and innovative product would be a blast.  I also want to fly on a Speedbird; that's British Airways' ATC call sign and the coolest in the industry.
Speedbird a IAD