For those clamoring for a travel ban, the U.S. has ordered that passengers coming from 3 West African countries are only allowed to enter via five airports.

Passengers coming from Sierra Leone, Liberea, and Guinea may only enter the U.S. at New York JFK, Newark, Washington Dulles, Atlanta, and Chicago O’Hare.

Those are the airports where $19 an hour EMTs will look for Ebola as passengers turn up.

And that’s where 94% of those passengers are flying through anyway.

So 6% of passengers coming from those 3 West African nations, who might have planned to, say, fly via some European city to Boston, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, or Seattle will have to re-route.

A travel ban is both unnecessary and likelhy ineffective, but politically it is sometimes helpful to “do something” and this, indeed, technically qualifies as “something.”

American’s 777-200s are being retrofitted, and the first one is now in service with a brand new business class that looks fantastic but no longer offering first class.

Since American’s 777-300ER aircraft got a new first class, that means the old Flagship Suites are being retired.

I reviewed American’s first class lounge at New York JFK at the start of the trip.

From the lounge I proceeded to the departure gate just as boarding was already starting to commence.

And there she was! It’s like a throwback to what feels like an earlier time. There’s great space, even some ingeniousness to the seat. They’ve enhanced the soft product over the past three years. But at its core is a large first class cabin (too large for modern economcis) with a seat that’s been left behind by the competition, with privacy provided only by passengers being angled away from each other.

Continue reading to see the full service elements of American’s international first class

In January 2013 the United Club Card lost one of its best, underappreciated benefits. Cardholders used to get Avis Presidents Club status, which you couldn’t even get through frequent rentals.

It entailed guaranteed availability and a guaranteed two car class upgrade, sometimes you’d do even better.

The benefit remained for the legacy (Continental) Presidential Plus MasterCard.

This was clearly a loss driven by the Avis side of the relationship. My guess was this was in advance of the revamp of Avis’ program which has been gearing up for big changes for an interminably long time and now finally appears about to happen.

United and Chase has now gone out and put together a relationship with Hertz.

There are benefits for United elites and for Chase’s premium (not United Explorer or legacy Visa Signature) cardholders: Continue reading to see what United elites now get!

News and notes from around the interweb:

USA Today asks but doesn’t really answer the question of why airfares are going up even as fuel prices are down from their peak.

The answer is simple, though the story behind the simple answer is a bit more complex.

Airfares are high because planes are full. When airlines are selling most of their seats, they can raise prices.

Airfares aren’t really directly related to cost, they’re set based on the supply of available seats and demand for those seats.

Of course, the number of seats an airline is willing to provide at a given price point is determined in the long term by its cost structure, among other things (like how easy it is to access gates and planes, which is related both to cost, structural limitations, and government regulation).

So the interesting question is why the high prices haven’t induced more capacity into the system. Why aren’t airlines growing quickly as they have during good times in the past?

And that’s actually an interesting question. One story here would be that the airlines have learned from past mistakes. They know that as soon as they start adding capacity and competing aggressively they lose money. So even if their individual incentive might be to do so, they recognize as soon as they do they’ll eliict a competitive response from other carriers.

Another piece of this may be industry consolidation — but not in the usual way people think.

Find out why fares are really higher, and who is being cheated, by reading on..

Yesterday I wrote,

My offer for IHG Rewards’ “Into the Nights” promotion — the most generous hotel offer in the market by far — has not changed. But others are reporting that the requirements for them to earn free nights are shifting after the promotion is underway. I’ve reached out to IHG to see whether there’s some sort of technical glitch, or something more nefarious going on.

IHG Rewards initially gave the wrong — too generous — offer to many members. Their intention to was target different offers to different members, but ‘too many’ (relative to their intention) got the super generous one that I got and still had.

Here’s what they were telling folks who complained about registering for an offer, staying at IHG Rewards Club hotels to complete the offer, and then having the rug pulled out from under them:

Initially you were not given the correct set of offers. Upon IHG Rewards Club Service Center realizing this error, the correct set of offers were assigned. The offers you now have are the correct set that have been personalized for you.” Here is a screenshot of the entire email.

In other words, ha ha, tricked you!
Continue reading to see how IHG Rewards Club resolved this…

Christopher Elliott thinks that car rental companies are too quick to blame consumers for damage, and consumers too unwilling to own up to damaging cars.

Both claims are probably true.

  • As the last renter of a vehicle, a rental car company may assume you caused damage. But a car could have had pre-existing, undocumented damage or may have suffered an incident after the rental was returned.
  • If you ding a rental car, and the company doesn’t say anything about it, are you generally the first to bring it to their attention?

Although telling businesses they should stop doing what they’re doing, and consumers that they should behave differently too, is certainly tilting at windmills.

I know that I do not look for dings and dents. If they aren’t major, I won’t notice them picking up a car. And I don’t inspect the car before returning it, either.

I also generally rent from major brand full service rental companies — Avis and National are where I’ve had most of my rentals, but Hertz falls into the same camp. And generally speaking these major companies, renting and returning at the airport, don’t nickel and dime you for road wear. Small dings and scrapes happen, and are accepted more or less.

That doesn’t mean they have to be but these companies usually treat them that way.

The off brand ‘discounters’ and players like Enterprise are a different story entirely. It’s no surprise to me that the examples in Elliott’s column are rentals with Alamo and Enterprise.

I’ve rented from Enterprise before, but I never want to — first, because the paperwork has always taken interminably long, and second because there’s the collision damage waiver hard sell. The walk around the car of shame. “You’d better note any damage because you’ll be responsible for anything not noted.” I’ve been told that state law requires me to put down the full amount of my insurance deductible when I return the vehicle if there are any scrapes and I don’t take their insurance.

It’s simply not worth any savings to me to go through the hassle.

I always pay for car rentals with a credit card that comes with primary collision damage coverage. There are several now, including Chase Sapphire Preferred, United Explorer, and Diners Club.

If I didn’t have one of these, I’d probably rent with an American Express card and spring for their premium rental car protection, a much better deal than paying for a rental company to let you off the hook for anything your own insurance doesn’t cover.

If you ding up a rental car, there may always be some hassle. I worry less knowing that most of it is someone else’s problem in the end, my credit card company’s coverage and my own insurance coverage. And I rent from companies that seem to worry less about the minor stuff.

In the end there still may be disagreements. If there is a claim of damage, I may wind up in the middle of an argument or on the hook for ‘loss of use’ charges, a claim by the rental company that they need to b e paid not just for fixing the car but for the rental revenue they could have earned while the car was out of service. Any insurer should want proof that the rental location was sold out of cars on the days they want to be paid for (fleet usage logs), or else the company didn’t actually forego an opportunity to earn revenue off the car while it was in the shop. And disputes over that can linger on, so I could still wind up paying some rental days in the end.

And I’m cool with that, for the number of times I’ve probably had rocks hit my windshield or other road hazards scrape the car that I didn’t even realize, and neither did the rental company.

The Chase Ink Plus 70,000 point signup offer was advertised as running through October 19th.

Readers had ample warning that the offer was going to be pulled, but I noted this morning that the Chase site still had the application and offer live. So anyone that meant to sign up still could.

Some folks thought it might continue on for awhile since Chase was still advertising recently on television. I’m not sure the ad buys are all that well synced up and in any case probably assume instant action on the past of consumers anyway.

My own theory was that the website people simply hadn’t been working on this as a priority Sunday, so I figured the offer would get pulled today.

And indeed that seems to be what happened. Sometime early afternoon the Chase site reverted to:

If you find another offer for Chase Ink Plus above the standard (and very good) 50,000 point bonus please let me know!

The Supreme Court has granted cert in the case of City of Los Angeles v. Patel, meaning they will consider the Los Angeles regulation requiring hotels make guest records available to police for inspection.

The lawsuit is a ‘facial challenge’ to the regulation, meaning it argues the regulation is always unconstitutional as a violation of the 4th amendment, rather than the hotel owners bringing suit because their rights were violated in a specific case.

The initial court split 2-1 in rejecting the suit arguing that a facial challenge to the law can’t succeed because without a specific fact situation at issue they cannot know that the rule is always and everywhere unconstitutional. (They cite precedent on this, of course, the details of which are beyond the scope of this post or my existing set of knowledge.)

That court wasn’t holding that the rule was constitutional in a given circumstance, or otherwise appropriate — just that there wasn’t a valid challenge to the law in this case, as the police hadn’t actually used the law against the hotel owners.

On appeal, the 9th Circuit disagreed and ruled that the law was invalid because:

  • Requiring hotels to give police access to their records is a search
  • The search is unreasonable because there’s no judicial review, no opportunity to challenge police requests for access in court.

The Supreme Court will hear:

(1) Whether facial challenges to ordinances and statutes are permitted under the Fourth Amendment; and (2) whether a hotel has an expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment in a hotel guest registry where the guest-supplied information is mandated by law and an ordinance authorizes the police to inspect the registry, and if so, whether the ordinance is facially unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment unless it expressly provides for pre-compliance judicial review before the police can inspect the registry.

I am not a lawyer, let alone a fourth amendment scholar. Lawyers among my readers can certainly offer in the comments whether my read of the regulation and what the courts have done so far is accurate.

I’ll just suggest that hotel guest records have a long history of being held to a strict standard of privacy and discretion, there certain seems to be an expectation of privacy that ought to be recognized in a fourth amendment context.

If a law can require a hotel to collect and keep data, and authorizes an agency of government to inspect the records, it ought to be for a reason which advances a clear legitimate purpose, and that purpose ought to be disputable in front of a judge.

The hotel may be required to keep records on their guests, but the hotel and guest have established a trust relationship.

When you need a replacement room key, you have to demonstrate your identity to a hotel. They won’t even generally reveal the room number that a guest is staying in, even if you have a legitimate reason for asking. There’s personal protection reasons for this, and discretion.

The details of a guest’s stay at a hotel have a long tradition of being private, and the best hotels have exercised the greatest discretion. Every hotel chain has a data privacy policy as well.

Whether or not a facial challenge on fourth amendment grounds is appropriate, though, is a question I’ll leave to the lawyers.

News and notes from around the interweb:

Tomorrow Virgin American will run an 80% bonus on purchased miles.

They declare it ‘their biggest point bonus ever’ although they ran an 80% bonus about a year and a half ago, too.

The offer will run 9am to 5pm Eastern tomorrow, Tuesday October 21.

With this offer you’re paying about 2.9 cents per mile, which sounds high but Virgin America’s currency is somewhat deflated compared to most mileage programs.

Virgin America’s points are worth 2.2 cents apiece towards Virgin America travel, so it’s not a good deal to buy points and redeem them on Virgin America. But it can be a good deal to top off an account towards a specific award.

For instance, 30,000 miles is enough for a one-way San Francisco – London award in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic, but that purchase will need to be paired with $600 in taxes and fees.

Still, less than $1500 all-in for a one-way Virgin Atlantic business class flight isn’t bad as far as those things go.

And it can also be useful for short haul Singapore Airlines awards, although note that Virgin America has access to limited Singapore partner inventory and not Singapore’s generous offerings for its own members.

Point purchases are processed by, so to answer a common question about such transactions they do not post as travel or airfare to the credit card used for the purchase (and thus won’t earn applicable category bonuses).

(HT: Frequent Flyer Bonuses)

The Chase Ink Plus Business Card limited time offer of 70,000 points after $5000 spend in 3 months, $95 annual fee, was scheduled to end yesterday. The card’s banners promoted yesterday as the end date. My link stopped functioning for it.

But they haven’t pulled it from the Chase Ink Plus Card’s site yet.

I suspect that:

  • These different links are managed by different people
  • So a Sunday end date may work for some internally, but not across the whole company

I do not know when this link will be removed, it could be soon. So if you meant to apply for the card and either forgot or just didn’t get around to it, you still do have a window.

BigCrumbs is offering is offering 2% cash back on American Express Gift Cards today only.

That’s not the biggest bonus offered, but shopping portals have been removing Amex gift cards from their rebate offerings so this is the best we’ve had and my guess probably the best we’ll see. (TopCashBack still has them – at 1.5%.)

Keep your personal orders under $5000 every two weeks to avoid the hassle of order cancellation, or scale it if you have a tax ID and make American Express for business orders.

Citi cards code these purchases as cash advances, so you pay for the privileges and don’t earn points. Don’t use a Citibank credit card to buy American Express gift cards.

The Forward Cabin reports on new gift card limits at CVS effective October 27.

  • No more than $2000 total per person per day
  • ID required for purchases of $300 or more

Purchasing Vanilla Reload cards with a credit card ended April 4. But CVS has still been a useful place to buy prepaid cards.

They’re placing new limits on the purchase of those cards, and it’s pretty clear they’re doing it because of concerns over fraud or federal financial reporting rules.

That’s why they’re hard-coding limits of $2000 per single transaction into registers for purchase of prepaid cards, and why the memo to store managers warns about ‘structuring’ or breaking up larger transactions into smaller one. The memo warns that structuring to avoid reporting requirements is illegal, which points to the concern or motivation for this change although it’s rather oddly places as there are no such reporting requirements for sub-$2000 transactions.

A little over a week ago I explained how to have your credit card company cover your expenses when your flight is delayed or cancelled. Thanks to your credit card roadside assistance is available, too.

Sherman asked for a rundown of credit card roadside assistance benefits.

Credit Card Roadside Assistance Benefits

You probably have free or reduced cost roadside assistance available to you, even if you don’t realize it.

Some insurance companies offer it. Car manufacturers do too, especially with luxury brands. Most importantly, credit card roadside assistance is very common.

Now, I have a AAA membership for the hotel discounts. Over the course of a year I definitely save much more than the membership cost by booking AAA rates. And I do pay for membership even though I could easily get away with not doing so.

If I didn’t have AAA membership, which would be my go-to for roadside assistance, I’d look in my wallet for credit card roadside assistance benefits.

What Each Card Network Offers

Keep reading to see what benefits your cards offer!

News and notes from around the interweb:

Pearls of Travel Wisdom suggests that the American and US Airways frequent flyer programs will be combined by year’s end. That’s 2014.

I believe this is wrong.

While they could always beat their timeline (although I’ve never known an IT project to finish under cost and ahead of schedule), public statements on integration are:

  • Frequent flyer programs combine first half of 2015 (my bet is end of first quarter, although that could be aggressive — at one point I understood they were looking at late 2015).
  • Single operating certificate in the second quarter of 2015 (target late April)
  • Passenger service system (single reservation system) late 2015.

The biggest challenges here are IT/data. I don’t think they actually know when the programs will get merged, they have targets but will do it when the IT is ready and working right.

On all of these things, sooner is better. American’s leadership wants the ‘merger synergies’ which means reducing duplication in systems and starting to see more and more benefits from combining operations in terms of revenue. Senior executive compensation is tied to achieving those.

But they don’t want to screw it all up the way United/Continental did (and US Airways/America West did).

When the merger first got the go-ahead, I said there were 10 things to expect. Those are generally holding up pretty well.

Here’s how the merger is doing overall.

Yesterday American Express came out with a 35% bonus on transfers to Virgin Atlantic. But Virgin Atlantic has the worst miles and hits you with fuel surcharges.

Today they came out with a 50% bonus on transfers to Starwood Preferred Guest. Starwood points are awesome, but you’re still only getting 1 Starwood point for every 2 Amex Membership Rewards points. There’s the occasional person that’ll find some value in this offer. But most should hold onto their Amex points.

There’s now also a 33% bonus on transfers to Hilton through November 30.

Oddly, I don’t see the bonus when using Google Chrome.

But it does come up for me using Internet Explorer.

In any case, especially after Hilton’s massive devaluation last year (and that was after program changes during the Great Recession that was ‘the worst devaluation in 17 years’), transfers to Hilton aren’t going to be great value.

That doesn’t mean you never transfer Amex points. The only way you’ll get meaningful value out of your points is to transfer them. There’s no value in collecting them for their own sake (the simple aesthetic of seeing a big balance).

But it’s worth remembering basic principles. Keep reading to learn how to get the most value out of your American Express points…

When Etihad’s Airbus A380 takes to the skies, it will include the most luxurious accomodation by far in commercial aviation — in addition to what looks to be an amazing first class, there will be a single three-room “residence.”

The residence offers:

a single or double occupancy 3 room cabin with double bed, 2 dining tables, lounge room, private shower suite (4 minutes of water) and dedicated butler. The Residence is 125 square feet.

The living room has a reclining sofa, dining tables, and a mini-bar as well as a 32 inch television. A door separates the living room from the bedroom and shower room. The bedroom has a 27 inch TV.

The Residence can be booked with miles.

Cranky Flier thinks the Residence is clever because it makes effective use of otherwise dead space.

[T]he A380 normally has a lot of wasted space at the front of the upper deck. There is a big staircase that goes downstairs at the front and that leaves awkward areas on each side that can’t be used for seating. Most airlines have failed to find anything great to put there.

Here’s what Qantas does with the space, quite common amongst carriers:

Etihad is known presently for their onboard chef concept in first class. This is something their CEO did back when he ran british midland as well. It’s hit or miss, the idea is one of the flight attendants is designated chef and has actual restaurant experience. Some are quite good, others aren’t, it’s a matter of personality, talent, and motivation.

With the Residence the idea is to take it a step farther, and offer the guest or guests of the Residence a butler trained by the Savoy hotel in London.

It’s more or less your own private flight attendant, not dissimilar when you’re the only person in a first class cabin (although in that case you have more than one flight attendant to yourself).

It’s not quite as exotic as it sounds, either, becoming a Residence butler entails two weeks of instruction and one week at the Savoy.

But the very first class of Etihad Residence butlers have graduated.

The 13 graduates hail from Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, Romania, Slovakia, South Africa, Tunisia (one each) and the United Kingdom (three).

Etihad claims,

“The flying butlers will provide a level of service that no traveller has ever experienced in commercial aviation,” said Aubrey Tiedt, Etihad Airways’ vice president for guest services.

And the Savoy, under contract with Etihad, echoes the sentiment,

Sean Davoren, the Savoy’s head butler, praised Eitihad’s first crop of graduates, saying they combined “the discretion of a traditional English butler with the efficiency of a 21st-century personal assistant”

After three weeks. Really?

Other butlers are skeptical.

“There’s not a lot for a butler to do on an airplane,” said Robert Wennekes, who runs the Netherlands-based International Butler Academy and who has worked in the industry for 35 years.

“A butler is an executive manager of a household. I’m sure these stewards do a wonderful job, but it misses the point.”

I suspect like the Etihad onboard chefs, and like service in the Middle East generally, this will be good but somewhat hit-or-miss and likely over-promise and somewhat under-deliver. Not that I wouldn’t like to give the Residence a shot!

Dulles Passenger in Homemade Hazmat Suit Goes Viral (Get it? ‘Viral’)

    dulles passenger in a hazmat suit

A photo of a traveler in a homemade “hazmat” suit at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., is making the internet rounds as hundreds of real suits are selling out online.

The female passenger was spotted sitting down in an airline terminal and dressed in what appeared to be a full-length white onesie, topped with a blue rain poncho, blue latex gloves and a white face mask.

This doesn’t actually seem all that strange to me. Maybe I’ve just flown enough in Asia where it’s common to see a decent percentage of passengers wearing surgical masks.

Maybe we don’t need an ebola travel ban. We just need to to practice safe travel.

Which strangely reminds me of the old Capitol Steps tune, “Little Doc Koop” (to the tune of the Beach Boys’ Little Deuce Coop).

It used to be I’d tumble with my lady loves
But now I only let them date me wearing rubber gloves
I used to give the girls whatever they’d ask
Now I only let them kiss me through a surgical mask
You gotta listen to Koop, you don’t know what they got
(Listen to Koop, you don’t know what they got)
The other evening with my honey I abruptly awoke
I worried I was sleeping with a thousand folk
I told her in the future when we snuggle up,
She has to wear a.. (suit of armor…)

After all, Ebola spreads by sapping and impurifying our precious bodily fluids.

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View from the Wing is a project of Miles and Points Consulting, LLC. This site is for entertainment purpose only. The owner of this site is not an investment advisor, financial planner, nor legal or tax professional and articles here are of an opinion and general nature and should not be relied upon for individual circumstances.

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