Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - Year In Review

I easily reached my hotel goals in 2015, but then Starwood and Marriott announced a merger. My longer term goal (2 years away) of lifetime SPG Platinum status is now in jeopardy. I made United platinum even with limited work travel, including flights on Delta. This is better than expected and will be hard to maintain. 2015 also saw American and US Airways merge with little drama. Major award programs devalued their programs; since they all did it, I'm still a loyal and frustrated United flyer. 2016 will be a tough year with limited business travel more award program devaluations. I used my American miles to book a RTW trip in the spring, so there will be some fun from the miles game.
2015 Paid Travel - gcmap.com
2015 Total Travel - gcmap.com
Here's some highlights from 2015:

  • My DUB-LHR flight was delayed 4 hours and I chatted with the pilots in the cockpit for most of that time. I love the idea of the future pilot program, but my career plan needs an adjustment first.
  • While in England I enjoyed plane spotting at London City. I also had horrible food poisoning and didn't want to venture too far from my hotel. The UK forbids personal scanner use, so Channel 9 wasn't available.
  • Thanks to a Sheraton free nights promotion, I had a great long weekend in Hawaii. There was a $32 resort fee, so it wan't really free, but low marginal cost.
  • New Aircraft - Boeing 787-800.
  • New Airports - Dublin (DUB), London City (LCY), Edinburgh (EDI), Omaha (OMA), and JFK.
  • Favorite photos of the past year:
Dublin Morning Traffic
View From The Room - Sheraton Waikiki
Morning Flight from DEN to SFO
Runway 18 Center at CLT
EWR Doesn't Always Look Miserable

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Fun Photo

I'm grounded until 2016, so enjoy a fun picture from earlier this year.
CRJ at MCI

Friday, December 25, 2015

White Christmas

Here's hoping there isn't a white Christmas for everyone flying this weekend.
Good Luck With Clear Runways

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Protest Season

There's no better way to win people over to a cause than to add stress to their holiday travels by impeding access to MSP.  Good going guys!
Sorry Delta Flyers

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Post Hawaii Report

I caught a cold in Hawaii and was delayed 7 hours in SFO because of snow in Denver. Still a good trip.
Saw Many Airplanes on Tuesday

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sheraton Free Weekend Promotion

The Sheraton free weekend nights promotion worked out really well for me. Stay 5 nights at Sheraton and get a free weekend night, up to 3 free nights. I switched from a W to a Sheraton to maximize my earnings and got 3 free nights at the Sheraton Waikiki (not to be confused with the dump Sheraton Princess across the street).  Cheap airfare and a great club lounge made this a great promotion.
Great View
Evening View

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fear the "Exciting News Announcement"

I knew the subject line "Exciting News Announcement from Fairmont Hotels & Resorts" was bad news. Fairmont is being acquired by Accor hotels.  It's too bad because Fairmont has a wonderful rewards program that will not survive the merger. First SPG, now Fairmont; it's been a rough month.
Boo Industry Consolidation

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Good Premium Economy Review

I don't think the author flew in premium economy like I did, but the SMH has a good travel section and it's worth perusing on occasion.
Premium Economy is a European & Asian Thing

Friday, December 4, 2015

Aviation Geek Christmas Gifts

I'm having trouble finding good deals on gifts for airline geeks. The Boeing Store has a sale going, but nothing over the top. The Airbus shop is closed and US Airways is gone. I'll keep looking and share what I find.
Still Looking

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Fun Photo

December is a crazy travel month; many infrequent flyers paired with bad weather can create stressful airport situations. Remember to add your airline(s) customer service number to your cell phone. Phone agents can get you a seat faster than waiting in line for a real person will. Airline apps may be faster still.
Bad Weather is Coming

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Keep Spending AAdvantage Miles

Keep finding ways to spend American miles on long haul flights in premium cabins. The pending devaluation means you'll be fighting for the same space against more people. Good luck and stay persistent.
Old AAdvantage Chart and MD-80's Are Going Away

Friday, November 27, 2015

Cold in Denver, so I was day dreaming of warmer travel.
Airtran in Austin

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Travel Survival Guide

Just don't fly Thanksgiving week. The large numbers of amateurs will be immensely frustrating.
Go to Canada this Week to Avoid Thanksgiving Crowds

Monday, November 23, 2015

70 Quid to Skip the Queue at Heathrow

I would gladly pay £70 to skip all queues at LHR, but the $105 only gets you out of the passport line. United Kingdom’s Registered Traveller Service gives users a faster immigration experience, similar idea, but different process, to Global Entry. I don't fly to the UK often enough to make this worth while.  Also on my last two visits, the immigration line was one or two people long.
British Airways 777

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015

American to Devalue March 2016

You'll earn fewer miles for flying, miles will be worth less when buying award tickets, and the program will be more like Delta and United. Not surprising or welcome news. Cash in your miles while they still have their current high value. Good luck, everyone else will be going after the same limited space on Qantas or Finnair.
Time is Fading on AAdvantage Award Value

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Starwood to be Purchased by Marriott

Darn. I heard the rumors that Starwood was for sale, but I was betting on a small chain like Hyatt or private equity to buy them. Starwood announced today that Marriott would be acquiring them. I don't like this for a few reasons. I'm two years away from lifetime platinum status and it's likely that this benefit won't continue. I also get Marriott status from their United partnership, so I will lose a back up program and there will be tons of extra elites fighting for upgrades and awards. Marriott's awards program isn't as generous and provides worse value than SPG. Ultimately I like my SPG program as it is and don't want it changed. If I wanted to be a Marriott elite member, I would be. 
Westin Hotel at Denver Airport

Friday, November 13, 2015

British Airways Premium Economy Review

What is premium economy?  Premium economy is not on US carriers. Economy Plus, Main Cabin Extra, and Comfort+ are all economy with a little more room, 2-6in, to the row in front.  Many foreign carriers are installing a new cabin on long haul flights for premium economy.  Lufthansa describes it as: “A new travel experience between Business Class and Economy Class on long-haul flights: enjoy more comfortable seats, more service and more extras.” British Airways promotes: “a more comfortable, relaxing experience on longer routes and proof that a premium service doesn't have to break the bank, wider seats and more legroom, small, intimate cabins with expert, attentive service, delicious meals and full bar service, personal entertainment system with noise-reducing headphones, [and] larger free baggage allowance.”
Seat and Amenity Kit
Premium economy is a class between economy and business class, but is it a step up from coach or a step down from business class? The Qantas A380 upper deck has business, premium economy, and economy seats; 6, 7, and 8 seats per row respectively.  A British Airways 777 has 8 wide premium economy and 9 wide coach. The cabin is like economy in most ways.  There is no lounge access and the seats reline far, but are not close to flat.  The food service is improved, but still a single course.  The drink menu is the same as coach and the business class bathrooms at the front of the cabin are roped off.  Luggage isn’t expedited, general security lines are used, and passengers are directed to the general check in line. This is definitely an improved economy experience and not a Spartan business class service.
Premium Economy View
I enjoyed my British Airways World Traveler Plus experience.  I was originally booked on a 747-400 with the first version of premium economy. I misconnected in Heathrow because of a 4 hour fog delay. The delay was great, the Captain invited passengers into the cockpit to chat and kill time; it was a wonderful and rare experience. I was rebooked on a 777-300ER to Houston with the new cabin style. The service is the same, but the TV is better, there are more power outlets, and other little enhancements. I barely made the flight and was greeted with an offer of OJ or Champagne. I settled in to my seat in the last row with limited, though still ample, recline. The TV was large and clear and the seat next to me vacant.  I settled in and enjoyed the meal service. Bar options are the same as coach, Red Label rather than Black Label. The seat was comfortable for the 10 hour trip and I landed in Houston refreshed. As an added surprise, my luggage made it with me to Houston (United left it in Houston for the night while I went to Denver). 
Premium Economy Meal
Good trip and a great option when business class can’t be booked.  It’s also a great upgrade option, often $300ish dollars more than coach one way.  If you set your expectations that it’s an improved coach, you’ll be delighted with the value.
No First Class, but Ample Premium Economy

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

American Airlines Award Space to Australia

Premium cabin award space to Australia exists! Not on Star Alliance and Sky Team will send you via China or Korea (I couldn't find one day with space on Virgin Australia), but oneworld has direct space on Qantas. There isn't much, but a few days a month have a business class seat and first class space is available once every month or two. It's worth planning a trip around space availability to not go in coach or via Asia.
Great Program to Fly Qantas
The AAdvantage award chart to Australia / New Zealand is very good value. Almost too good. I wouldn't be surprised if prices are raised soon actually. One way in business class is 62,500 and first is 72,500 miles. Delta charges 80,000 miles for business class and United and Air New Zealand don't have premium cabin space, so their quoted fare is meaningless. Book a ticket while you can. American also permits members to hold award tickets for free, so place the flight on hold while you assemble the rest of your trip to go with the premium cabin leg.
Going to Australia? Going Coach.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ryanair Business Plus Fare - Not Bad

No one ever says anything nice about Ryanair. News stories always focus on how awful they are to customers and what miserable management they have. Then the news story paradoxically ends that Ryanair is the most flown airline in Europe. Ryanair's popularity always seemed strange if they were with anti-customer pariah that should be shut down by regulators. I flew them from EDI to DUB two weeks ago and it was fine. 
Boarding at EDI
I booked the Business Plus fare type and paid $107.  The Business Plus fare included a checked bag, seat selection, ticket flexibility, a free boarding pass at the airport, and a few other items I didn't use.  This was about a $60 premium over the basic fare, but it was about a wash after adding bag and seat selection fees. On board I had an exit row seat that did not recline (like every seat). The leg room was good and the flight landed on time (Ryanair is the most punctual airline in Europe). I didn't order any food or beverages in flight. The experience surpassed my diminished expectations because the crew was friendly and nothing bad happened. There is a noticeable service difference between Ryanair and legacy European carriers, but with tickets starting a $12, people should not even expect punctual flights.
Tail Logo

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dawn at DUB

I had a four hour delay in Dublin last week due to fog in London. I enjoyed it even though I missed my connection to Denver. There was great morning light and a little haze in Dublin and it made for great pictures.
Dublin Airport at Dawn

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Love Actually Opening

Tis the season for Christmas movies. I don't particularly like Love Actually, but it does have a good opening sequence showing the arrivals hall at London Heathrow in 2003. Having been through there two weeks ago, I can say it's much different. The only people looking at passengers coming out of customs are drivers. Friends and family are still around, but they are spread out and staring at their smart phones. Interesting how things change so quickly.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

British Airways 747 Business Class Review

I had about 100,000 British Airways miles to start the year, mostly left over from buying money for credit card points. I wanted to spend my miles before British Airways devalued their award chart (advanced notice to members helped me save their value) and booked a trip to the UK and Ireland.  I would go business class over and premium economy back. I had the miles for round trip in business, but wanted to try a true premium economy product (Premium economy review).  I booked on BA.com and payed a large fuel surcharge fee. I didn't mind because this was my best shot at an interesting looking business class.
Business Class Seat - Upper Deck
I flew on a 747-400 from Denver to London Heathrow. BA has a strained relationship with the 747. It was the long haul workhorse for many years, but they are retiring the fleet for 777, 787, and A380 aircraft. There are already a dozen or more in the desert being scraped. Since the fleet is being retired, BA is understandably not updating the interiors or going beyond basic maintenance. That was until I read yesterday that 18 747's will be upgraded with more business class seating (and less economy) and new TV screens.  Great news once the upgrades start, but I flew on one that was, at the time, slated for parting out.
The lack up upgrades was evident. The aircraft interior looked tired, almost worn out. The TV system had an older, low def, flat screen with some bright hot spots scattered about. The aircraft also needed a good vacuuming and a cleaning crew with more attention to detail. Once settled in my rear facing seat, it was comfortable and drinks were served as doubles. 
Not Going To Be Parted Out Just Yet
The dinner service was pleasant and ended about two hours after take off.  This left me not tired with 5 hours until breakfast and landing.  I took a trip down stairs to stretch and make small talk with other people who couldn't sleep. The crew had some whiskey bottles and light snacks left out for the business class cabin at the bottom of the stairs by the second door. I enjoyed making myself a drink and munching to pass the time. Eventually I went back to my seat and got a short and restless nap in before breakfast. The Denver flight arrived at LHR terminal 3, so customs was a breeze and I had a quick bite at the AA arrivals lounge (nothing like BA in terminal 5 of Lufthansa) before hopping the underground into London. Good trip, but it showed that BA was not giving maximum effort on the Denver flight.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

British Airways Devalues!!!

The best value on the British Airways award chart was short distance direct flights around the USA.  4,500 and $5 would buy a trip from DC to New York.  British Airways agreed that this was good value and decided to eliminate it.

We’re going to be making a change to the Executive Club pricing structure for shorter reward flights originating or terminating within the United States of America. From 2 February 2016, reward flights will start from 7,500 Avios, instead of 4,500 Avios, plus taxes, fees and carrier charges (“TFCs”) from $5.60 USD.

Only those reward flights that currently cost 4,500 Avios for a one way flight in Economy, 9,000 Avios for Business Class and 18,000 Avios for First Class plus TFCs will increase; to 7,500 Avios, 15,000 Avios and 30,000 Avios plus TFCs respectively. All other Avios reward flight pricing will remain the same as it is today.

International Hotels

A mark of a good international business hotel in Europe is more than just the local outlet type available at the desk.  The Sheraton Edinburgh has US, UK, and EU style plugs available.  They also have a 5V USB outlet too.  
Scotland Is Still Part of the UK, So This Works

Monday, October 26, 2015

Plane Spotting at London City Airport

Heathrow and Gatwick aren't the only two commercial airports in London; there's London City too.  All three airports serve quad jets too, pretty cool.  The Arvo is much smaller than an A340, but both are fun to watch on take off.  There's a park by Royal Albert DLR stop that provides some excellent spotting opportunities too.
Quad Jet Leaving London City

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Happy Travels

I hit my 2015 United status goal this week. It nice to know I can relax for two months before the race starts again.
United A320's at Denver

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Delta Checked Bags Guarantee Miles

I earned more Delta miles from my checked bag arriving late than from flying to JFK and back. My $410 flight, plus tax, yielded 2,050 miles while my bag arriving 25 minutes after parking at the gate earned 2,500 miles. Delayed bag miles don't post automatically, passengers need to submit a request at Delta.com/bagsontime.  Free miles, so take them if you can.

We're committed to providing you with reliable and on-time baggage service every time you fly. That's why we're backing your bags with a guarantee: if your checked bag doesn't arrive at the carousel in 20 minutes or less after any domestic flight, you are eligible to receive 2,500 bonus miles. Just complete the below form no later than three days after your flight's arrival. Requests should only be submitted after your flight.
Bags Are Always Slow at Denver

Sunday, October 18, 2015

United Miles Buy Beer

0.7c per mile is not the best value available in frequent flyer programs.  Even with recent devaluations, 6c per mile is possible without too much effort.  To earn that high valuation, one needs 100,000 miles or maybe more.  For those who earn from one or two trips a year, such a large balance is inconceivable. 1,430 miles is achievable, but award tickets usually start at 12,500 for a domestic one way flight.  Rather than save for a few years, infrequent flyers can cash in their miles for a beer at Newark airport. This is a great way for people extract quick value from their flights. Just because it isn't the best value, doesn't mean it's not good value.
At Airport Merchandise Awards
Lufthansa has been doing this for years with their WorldShop in Frankfurt Airport. They have good selection in store and let you order online for in store pickup. They'll also let you pay with a mix of miles and Euros. United isn't close to Lufthansa, but it's a start.
I Love Lufthansa

Friday, October 16, 2015

New United CEO Has Heart Attack

New United CEO Oscar Munoz had a heart attack yesterday and is in a hospital recovering. I wish him well, but the company must be more of a mess than imagined. 
United Airlines Jets at EWR

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Picture Post Again

I'm writing a post about pricing, but it's taking a while. I'm going through my marketing textbooks even.  Until then, enjoy a picture.
Landing at LGA

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Turned Out Well

Newark is a miserable place, but at least something good came of my layover there.
I Like This Picture

Friday, October 9, 2015

Window Seat Woe

I tried really hard to get a window seat on my flight to Australia.  For almost 14 hours, I had a view of water or darkness.  I still enjoyed it because I was able to scream "Land Ho!" in my mind like a sailor in Captain Cook's fleet.  I also enjoyed the plane spotting on the ground. One of the requirements for window seat fun is a clean window.  The CRJ-700 I flew last week into Charleston had filthy window and took some of the fun out of my flight. I did drink the aircraft out of Miller Lite.  A minor accomplishment on a regional jet, but I am still proud.
Write a Maintenance Ticket for Cleaning

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bad Idea From United Airlines

United has had plenty of bad ideas since the Continental merger. In an effort to continue the trend, they offered me a 31 minute connection at EWR.  This isn't their worst idea of 2015, but it's not close to a good idea.
Want a 31 Minute Connection at Newark? No.  No I do Not.