I love DFW airport. It’s my favorite connecting airport in the country (I’ll concede that it’s pretty far from downtown Dallas, but as a physical structure it’s great as an originating airport since you’re so close to gates once you arrive there plus baggage claim is quick to get to and efficient).

  • DFW has my favorite American Centurion lounge, it’s the only one with a spa (although the wine wall in San Francisco is great in its own right).

  • DFW has Cousin’s Barbecue, and it has banh mi. Though some folks like Pappadeaux, most of the good restaurant options are on the D concourse.

  • There’s ample seating, free wifi, and power throughout the airport. The DFW travel lounges are nice (they used to be sponsored by Samsung, and feature comfortable seating and televisions). I’ve never seen so many Starbucks in one place in my life.

  • They have a Minute Suites and two XpresSpa locations. There’s a yoga studio at D40, a walking path (D6 through D40), and my dog has taken advantage of the D concourse airside pet relief area on more than one occasion.

Now, I don’t always get the things that airport authorities do. Currently DFW has a “Healthy + Happy” campaign. They’ve pushed restaurants to offer at least one healthy menu item, and say that’s in place now at over 150 spots.

One component of this, that strikes me as both strange and cool at the same time, as part of the campaign they’re giving out free fruit every Tuesday in February.

The stands will be located near:

  • Gate A9
  • Gate D23
  • Gate E30

Hours are still being finalized, but are expected to be 10am – 10pm.

I suppose that picking Tuesdays… versus Sunday, Monday, Thursday, or Friday… is a cost saving measure or because the concourses would be too busy to take up the space with the fruit stand!

But if you’re passing through DFW on a Tuesday… free fruit!

Last week I wrote The Sordid Tale that Led to Skymall’s Bankruptcy.

Now we have Conan offering the ‘Adele’ rendition Skymall.

This is the end, my in-flight catalog and friend. Your absence pierces through my soul, like the corners of a square fishbowl.

(HT: Laura C.)

News and Notes from Around the Interweb:

On the whole I have personally liked how complicated frequent flyer programs are.

  • The more complicated they are, the greater the opportunities for identifying unintended value opportunity and the greater opportunities for arbitrage.
  • They’ve allowed the creation of businesses like this one to help guide folks through the morass.

Programs are so complicated the the people running them don’t understand them. Pre-interviewing an executive from a major frequent flyer program for a panel I moderated last year, the individual shared that they’re in meetings frequently talking about how to build something or change something and everyone in the room will come to a stopping place and someone will have to take an action item to look up how a feature of the program actually works, what the rules are. The group in the room, managing the program, doesn’t actually know or understand.

But when Delta creates three different metrics — qualifying miles, qualifying dollars, and redeemable miles — that accrue to a single flight, and five award redemption tiers just for coach, things are getting increasingly complex.

I’ve written in the past “How Do Normal People Ever Manage to Navigate Airline Bureaucracies.” In many ways I do this for a living and the number of roadblocks and airline mistakes I run into on a daily basis are mindboggling. It’s the combination of a surreal degree of complexity meeting technological ineptitude.

One simple example of this is how United award tickets for travel on partner airlines have a history of not ticketing and re-ticketing properly. And then you have to hang up, call back until you find someone willing to help with a make-good, usually opening up space on an airline’s own flights to complete travel that the airline fouled up in the first place.

While revenue-based frequent flyer programs were once touted as consumer-friendly due to their ‘simplicity’, United — which goes revenue based for earning in just over a month — has sprawling, complicated new and different charts for points-earning on each of their partners. Lucky reproduces the dizzying charts.

Just how byzantine have the programs become? Read on…

Alaska Airlines gave free checked bags to everyone with a Mileage Plan number in their reservation in January.

Now they’re running a limited-time offer of a free checked bag for their co-brand credit card holders from February 1 through April 30.

Checked bag fees are one of the pain points of flying that irritate passengers most.

And Alaska is even good with checked bags, having offered a baggage delivery guarantee since 2009. They currently offer 2500 miles or a $25 discount on a future flight if they don’t deliver checked bags within 20 minutes. (Pro-tip: the miles are worth more.)

Alaska Mileage Plan miles are some of the most valuable of any airline.

Alaska believes that continuing to award miles based on distance flown rather than revenue will be a competitive advantage for them.

I continue to be vexed that the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card, which I have had several times, does not offer free checked bags as a standard feature of the product.

While the best card that Bank of America has for earning miles, it lacks in benefits other than the annual companion ticket. American, Delta, and United all have co-brand cards waiving checked bag fees, it’s strange that Bank of America hasn’t managed to add this feature.

With British Airways gutting their program — eliminating the principle that one mile flown earns one mile, reducing mid-tier elite mileage bonuses, and substantially increasing the cost of premium cabin award travel — I’ve had several questions about what this means for American AAdvantage frequent flyers since the two airlines aren’t just alliance members but are actually revenue-sharing joint venture partners across the Atlantic.

When American and British Airways introduced the transatlantic joint venture in 2010 there was some frequent flyer program alignment.

  • That is when American introduced US – London awards on British Airways (those has previously not been permitted with AAdvantage miles, so you had to fly from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean) but fuel surcharges started to apply on all BA awards. Previously American didn’t add fuel surcharges to those British Airways awards that you could book, such as Toronto – London – Johannesburg.

  • It’s also when mileage upgrades across joint venture airlines was introduced (using miles to upgrade on American, British Airways and Iberia).
  • British Airways introduced full mileage earning on all fares (the principle that ‘one mile equals one mile’), and they introduced three regular elite tiers up from the previous two. Mid-tier status earned a 100% bonus on flights, just like at American.

So there has been some coordination here between the two airlines. And many of the changes announced yesterday represent a rollback of precisely the things BA implemented when the joint venture launched.

What does this mean for American’s next move?

The Alec Baldwin story comes to us from the New York Daily News so it’s a bit hyperbolic.

The lead is that Baldwin “was bumped to coach on a red-eye home from Sundance” although reading the story he appears to have had a first class ticket but he changed flights onto one without any first class seats available.

Baldwin had been booked on a Delta flight out of Salt Lake City International Airport to Kennedy with his pregnant wife Hilaria, and their 16-month-old baby, Carmen. But according to a source on the flight, the family – who were weighed down with lots of Louis Vuitton luggage – switched flights last minute and ran into problems.

Apparently Baldwin is not a fan of Delta’s revenue management procedures.

So he and Hilaria and the baby moved back to coach. He was pissed and was overheard saying he will never fly Delta again.

United tends to fill their first class cabin before upgrades are handled at the gate, whereas American tends to hold back first class seats. As an American flyer and a top tier elite I like this because it means when I waind up changing flights such as due to irregular operations I still frequently wind up upgraded.

The former Capital One pitchman may not have been pleased but his famous temper didn’t boil over. He flew coach overnight from Salt Lake to New York and lived to tell the tale.

News and notes from around the interweb:

Hyatt introduced cash and points awards a little over a year ago. You spend part points, part cash, and the awards represent fantastic value for category 2 through 6 hotels.

By spending part cash for category 2-6 hotels, you’re ‘buying the difference in points’ for between 1.2 and 1.38 cents apiece. I consider Hyatt points worth 1.4 cents apiece.

But here’s the kicker: while standard award nights don’t count towards elite status with Hyatt, cash and points awards essentially count as paid rates which means that they:

  • Count towards elite status
  • Credit as stays or nights for promotional points-earning
  • Are eligible for Diamond Suite Upgrades, meaning they can be confirmed in a suite at time of booking (subject to availability) by Gold Passport Diamond members.

The cash cost to ‘buy the difference in points’ with cash and points awards for category 1 and 7 hotels is a whopping 2 cents a point. For category 7 that means instead of paying 30,000 points for an award per night, you pay 15,000… plus $300. That’s a significant premium I’m not especially inclined to pay.

Hotels do not always offer cash and points awards. Continue reading to see which hotels offer cash and points, which do not, and how they make that choice..

In offering commentary on the major changes coming to the British Airways program, Lucky concludes,

This change is pretty in line with what I expect from airlines in 2015:

  • British Airways is being less rewarding to those on lower fares
  • British Airways is being more rewarding to those on expensive fares

“British Airways is being more rewarding to those on expensive fares” is what they want the narrative to be But I don’t think it’s quite accurate:

  • Discount business fares earn less starting April 28
  • Silver elites earn less
  • Premium cabin redemptions cost more

So it’s not at all obvious that expensive fares come out ahead. For many it’ll be a wash (flexible business and first class fares earn more, but then redeeming for the same costs more) and for some (discount business fares, and silvers) it’ll be negative because they’ll earn less and it’ll take more miles to redeem.

I don’t see this as especially generous for premium cabin travelers at all. Instead, premium cabin travelers don’t get devalued more or less, while lower fare travelers receive less.

That may be all well and good, but it’s a different narrative.

When Delta announced their revenue-based frequent flyer program, they wanted the same narrative – rewarding the customers who spend the most. But the details didn’t really bear out the way they were telling the story.

  • Customers had minimum spend requirements at the time for elite status of 10 cents per mile, while having to spend an average of 20 cents per mile on tickets just to break even on mileage-earning.
  • Maximum points earning was capped so the highest fares wouldn’t actually earn more than merely high international business fares.

And at the time that was even before sharing a thing about the redemption side of the program.

Airlines are getting less generous in rewarding flying with planes full, they don’t need to spend marketing dollars to fill last seats on the plane so those low fare seats aren’t getting the frequent flyer investment. That’s a reasonable business strategy, but it’s a different story entirely from increasing rewards to premium passengers.

Some folks were surprised when American Express … because that terminal is slated to be replaced in 2021.

Back in December I wrote that stacking bureaucratic projects would inevitably delay the project’s completion.

I don’t think anyone believes that the new terminal will really open in 2021.

Here, I think, is another great example of just how delayed aviation projects get. Funding for new runway lights at the three New York airports was allocated in 2007 and the project has not yet been completed.

The idea is that “red signals to warn pilots of another plane nearby.”

I don’t often find myself in agreement with Senator Chuck Schumer. But here he has a reasonable point.

“The FAA must get this working, ASAP. New York’s airspace is the busiest in the nation, yet JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Airports have been sent to the back of the FAA line for installation of this critical runway lighting system,” he said. “We cannot wait for a deadly collision to occur.”

The FAA says “the system will be complete at LaGuardia this spring, at Newark this fall, and at JFK in two phases this year and next.”

Eight to nine years for runway lights that will warn of collision with other aircraft. But they’re going to build a new terminal in seven?

I noted several changes to Starwood Preferred Guest terms and conditions yesterday in addition to the change to make Platinum 50 night member Suite Night Awards an option (introducing other choices that a Platinum could pick instead if they prefer).

One of those changes was to distinguish between base and bonus points earned by elite members in the SPG Pro program.

I couldn’t figure out why the change in terms there, but as Chris Holdren from Starwood explained, it makes perfect sense.

A Starpoint is a Starpoint is a Starpoint. When we introduced SPG Pro last year, we simply wanted to clarify the terms and conditions to account for earning calculations based on “base points” in any potential future promotions.

If they run bonus promotions for SPG Pro, they want those point bonuses to clearly be on ‘base points’ rather than on full points earned including the higher earn rate for elites.

Simple question, easy answer, that should have been obvious to me at the time I asked!

Hat tip to reader Joe C. and via SlickDeals, Chase is promoting a limited-time offer for the United Explorer Business Card of 50,000 miles after $2000 spend within 3 months.

There’s a $0 fee the first year, then $95.

Like the personal Explorer Card, this comes with:

And also of course access to last seat availability when redeeming at the exorbitantly priced standard award tier (non-cardmembers and non-elites have access only to expanded inventory, not last seat, at higher award prices).

For avoidance of doubt, this isn’t my link, but it’s a good offer for the United small business card from Chase.

It’s been more than three years since British Airways upended their program, charging separately for each flight segment and basing award price on distance.

The November 2011 no-notice changes meant that the British Airways program was no longer very good for long haul premium cabin travel. But it became useful for short non-stop flights, such as on partners like American and Alaska Airlines (and later, US Airways).

This time we get three months’ advance notice of changes.

The good news for US-based members of the program who transfer points in from programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards for short non-stop domestic flights is that nothing will change, mercifully enough.

Although one of the great uses of British Airways points – upgrades when flying BA – will get more expensive.

The changes are going to hit earning points through flying, and will hit redemption in premium cabins for medium-haul and long distance flying the most — while reducing the mileage price further for coach trips on British Airways.

Continue reading to see the bloodletting over at BA…

This EVA Air promotion has an interesting twist. Use the link for the promotion and if you aren’t already a Hilton HHonors member you get 1000 points just for signing up.

Plus it’s an excuse to write out the name of the Taipei-based Star Alliance member airline’s mileage program name: Infinity MileageLands!

No need to focus on EVA Air, though, or on its Infinity MileageLands program. Just know you can register here for a Hilton HHonors account and get 1000 HHonors points for doing so.

(HT: Frequent Flyer Bonuses)

This morning I flagged that Starwood had updated its terms and conditions to reflect new options for Platinums staying 50 nights.

There will be new choices that members can pick in lieu of taking Suite Night Awards (the ability to express preference/priority for upgrades 10 nights per year). In other words, the Suite Night Award benefit will become one of several choices instead of automatic.

I had reached out to Chris Holdren (Starwood’s Senior Vice President for Starwood Preferred Guest & Digital) yesterday, before the update to the Suite Night Award terms and conditions. He has since shared with me some additional details (line breaks added):

On the Platinum 50 night benefit, we are changing this on March 1 to provide a selection of choices for our members who stay with us 50 nights a year. Suite Night Awards will remain as one of the choices.

We’re encouraging members who stay with us more than 50 nights prior to March 1 to wait for the new choices before making a selection, but if a member would prefer to choose Suite Night Awards prior to March 1, they can do so by calling our Platinum Concierge desk.

We’ll be announcing the new options closer to the March 1 date and believe these new choices will have great appeal and value for SPG members. Our upcoming choices, however, do not currently provide a percent off redemption or bonus point option.

I asked specifically about rumors I had heard, whether members “could choose points or redemption discounts instead” and he notes that members aren’t going to be offered “a percent off redemption or bonus point option.”

We’ll have to wait until closer to March 1 to find out exactly what the choices will be!

News and notes from around the interweb:

In addition to revealing new choice benefits, making suite nights an ‘option’ at 50 night level, Starwood’s terms and conditions updates contained a few other changes.

Rules Now Allow 24 Hour Check-in Requests Online Instead of Just By Phone

Platinums who stay 75 nights in a year are eligible for ‘Your24‘ .. a 24 hour check-in clock, based on availability. If you check-in at 11pm, you wouldn’t have to check out until 11pm. (And if you check in after 9am you’re still eligible for 4pm late checkout.)

Starwood’s terms now say that this benefit can be requested with your reservation online, no longer having to call Starwood for the request.

Distinguishing Between ‘Base’ and ‘Bonus’ Points for Elites Earning in the SPG Pro Program

The new SPG Pro program “SPG Pro Travel Professional Booking” will award points for a maximum of 15 guest rooms per night instead of 9.

Points-earning in the SPG Pro program has been changed as well to distinguish base points and bonus points. Regular earning is one base point per $3 spent. Golds and Platinums earn 1 base point and half a bonus point per $3 spent, instead of just ‘1.5 points’. Platinums who spend 75 nights with Starwood earn one base and one bonus point per $3 spent, instead of 2 base points.

I’m actually not sure the meaning of the difference between a base point and a bonus point here, how it would matter to a member, since status isn’t earned in the program based on ‘base points’ and I don’t see any other way in which a base point is more valuable or different than a bonus point. But the terms now draw this distinction, and I’ve reached out with the question.

Yesterday I wrote that Hyatt would be launching a new ‘lifestyle brand’.

All of the major chains want one, they’re all trying to build one. They’re notoriously difficult – the notion of cool changes, it needs constant updating, and major lodging corporations aren’t always well-suited to capture whatever it is that that is.

And when they build these brands, they can wind up adding to brand confusion with too many choices that aren’t clearly differentiated in consumer minds or aren’t well tied to the main brand (can you name all of Marriott’s brands — such that you’d always know when to add your Marriot Rewards account number, or if you’re a Marriott loyalist know to choose each of their brands over a competitor?).

I suggested yesterday that I wasn’t sure how an upscale lifestyle brand fits in with Hyatt’s existing portfolio, where Andaz is already a lifestyle brand and Park Hyatt is modern luxury.

Now we know the way they’re going to try.

Continue reading to see Hyatt’s new brand revealed..

Starwood updated its terms and conditions to detail a new offering for Platinum members who stay 50 nights in a year with the program, allowing them to choose Suite Night Awards or something else.

What Are Suite Night Awards?

For the past 3 years Starwood has offered (10) ‘Suite Night Awards’ — an opportunity to confirm an upgrade up to 5 nights prior to arrival, rather than at check-in.

These aren’t confirmed upgrades in the sense that Hyatt offers them to Diamonds. They aren’t confirmed at booking, where you get to guarantee them at the time you make a reservation. These should be thought of as ‘an opportunity to express a preference for when you get upgraded’, ten nights a year where you get to have priority for your upgrades.

The problem seems to be that many members express priority at the same times, because while no doubt there are members making great use of these many have also been frustrated with their use. At the end of 2013 Starwood even extended unused suite night awards to give members a better opportunity to use them.

The thing that is revolutionary about the Suite Night Award process is that it’s managed by SPG based on published inventory from the hotel, so their algorithms determine who gets the upgrade instead of the vagaries of an individual property (choosing not to upgrade members) or check-in agent. No doubt there are hotels that play games with their inventory, but centralizing the actual assignment is an improvement for most.

Platinum 50 Night Members Can Choose Other Benefits Instead of Suite Night Awards

For those who don’t value suites, or who are frustrated with their experience trying to use Suite Night Awards, they’ll be able to choose other benefits instead.

Here’s what the new terms say:

9.4.a. Choice of Additional Benefit (50 Eligible Nights). A Platinum Preferred Guest who has 50 Eligible Nights in a Qualifying Period is eligible to receive one additional benefit from the list of available benefits listed at www.spg.com/P50 (a “P50 Benefit”). The list of available P50 Benefits on www.spg.com/P50 is subject to change at any time. Once a Platinum Preferred Guest becomes eligible to receive a P50 Benefit, he/she must choose his/her P50 Benefit by visiting www.spg.com/P50 and selecting a P50 Benefit. A selection must be made through www.spg.com/P50 and may not be made through a Customer Contact Center. All P50 Benefit selections are final and may not be changed after they are made. In the event that an eligible Platinum Preferred Guest fails to select a P50 Benefit by January 14th of the year following the applicable Qualifying Period, such Platinum Preferred Guest will receive 10 Suite Night Awards. “Suite Night Awards” may be redeemed for advance confirmable upgrades for select, premium rooms or standard suites on a per room, per night basis, subject to availability and the applicable terms and conditions set forth on www.spg.com/P50

What Are the New Benefits?

The ‘P50′ benefit website doesn’t detail the new benefits yet.

My understanding, and I have an email in to Chris Holdren at Starwood on this now, is that the choices will include bonus points and award redemption discounts.

The website will be up for making choices ‘in March’ — they need to ready this quickly since there will be Platinum 50 night members qualifying in mid-February at least.

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