Business programs can be a valuable supplement to personal frequent flyer and frequent guest accounts.

An early offering was Southwest’s “Secretaries Program” which awarded free travel to administrative staff booking their bosses onto Southwest.

Of course that benefit derived to the individual and company programs in theory at least benefit and belong to the company itself, though in practice they often belong to the individual managing the account (since large companies may have their own corporate deals, and these programs are often designed for smaller companies).

I get good value out of American’s Business ExtrAA program where I accumulate points that can be used for free tickets and upgrades but I usually use them to gift AAdvantage Gold status and lounge memberships.

Starwood has had an interesting program for a long time, Starwood Preferred Business. Unfortunately the richness of this program is ending. Read More…

News and notes from around the interweb:

Frequent flyer programs do roll back changes — but don’t like to admit they’re wrong when they do it.

American did just that when they introduced a $5 online award booking fee that never went into effect. The idea was dropped, no announcement. Because it was stupid.

Here are five more heroic times when consumers won against frequent flyer program changes.

So as tough as it is to imagine in a time of United’s partner award chart devaluation, United’s impending shift to revenue-based mileage earning, following Delta doing the exact same thing… not to mention the evisceration of the Hilton HHonors award chart or American’s April 8 massAAcre

We’ve just seen another program walk away from a big devaluation they had announced! Read More…

Adam Carolla flies American in first class, Los Angeles to Washington DC.

He’s turned away from the Admirals Club. He makes a reasonable case that — like Alaska Airlines does — paid first class travel ought to access the lounge.

Certainly lounge access policies are confusing. I see passengers all the time who don’t even look like they’re trying to scam access get turned away because they don’t understand the rules. And got a question today from an international first class passenger asking if she gets lounge access. It has to be that the airlines are doing something wrong, not the customers, at that point. (Many foreign carriers print useless ‘lounge invitation’ cards to let customers know they get access.)

I once stood in front of Billy Crystal in line to access the club at LAX. The line was several people deep, and he asks his handler “isn’t there a way to avoid this?” It seems like American is failing if Billy Crystal’s man doesn’t know about Five Star service.

Carolla suggests first class meals should consist of only food that actually exists on the ground. If no one would want it on the ground, they don’t want it on the air. Don’t offer a leek omelette.

One of his guests explains that airline food is often “the dream of something fancy by someone who’s never had food before and never been in first class.”

Lower expectations and do a better job. That’s something US airlines should probably do. Although many international airlines actually do seem to do a pretty good job with food

Definitely an audio track ‘not safe for work’.

(HT: Fly and Dine)

Hilton is about to launch a revolutionary product that several chains have been talking about for years: an iPhone and Android app that will let guests check-in by phone, assign their own choice of room, and use their phone as a room key.

This gives the power of choice to customers, and cuts down on hotel staffing needs if it takes off. But there are several challenges, and one in particular that will make me wary of using it.. Read More…

United has a new, cute safety video they’re rolling out across the fleet.

I have a few thoughts. Matthew likes it. My feelings are more mixed.

  • At four and a half minutes it’s just too long. I want to be in the air already by the time the video is 80% done.

  • United CEO Jeff Smisek isn’t in the video. That makes the video better, and means they’ll be able to use it into the future.

  • Towards the end of the video, telling passengers to carry on just one bag and one personal item seems absurd given that they’re all already seated with baggage stowed when this is playing.

  • The kangaroo is great. The United captain scolding the French restaurant patron is bizarre, a sentiment perfectly captured by the Frenchman’s expression as he tries to walk into the bathroom only to find the door locked and a lavatory door ‘occupied’ sign appearing.

These are the greatest safety demonstrations ever. United’s new video is clever, maybe too clever, but doesn’t really approach any of the better examples of the genre.

If you’re going to do more than give safety instructions, do it well. Otherwise you’ve spent a lot of money, and your flyers start wondering why they had to give up garlic bread and ketchup to pay for it?

Not to mention how Clevelanders will feel about spending on this video, and not an Ohio hub. Perhaps United could have avoided soaking MileagePlus members and kept prices low if they’d have cut corners on the production values of the safety video?

Shooting on location is expensive, and now much more so if they’re redeeming awards to these exotic locales. And think of all the checked bag fees for the equipment..

What do you think of United’s new safety video?

Here’s a fascinating look, mostly in pictures, at The Tattered, Haunting Remains of Abandoned Airports.

    (Not JFK’s Terminal 2)

There’s a pictorial of Nicosia International Airport in Cyprus, which ceased operations with the Turkish invasion of 1974 and Yasser Arafat International Airport in the Gaza Strip, operational from 1998 to 2001.

I found this especially interesting, not sure how I hadn’t ever heard of it:

Objekat 505, or the Željava Airbase, one of the largest underground airports in Europe, on the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, constructed between 1948 and 1968. It was designed to sustain a hit from a 20 kt nuclear bomb.

When airports are decommissioned, of course, their airport codes get reassigned. But they continue to live on at least for a brief time as Avianca LifeMiles glitches.

(HT: Kevin B.)

As if things couldn’t get worse for United, their headquarters building has bed bugs.

Chicago’s most recognizable building has a tiny problem it is trying to shake. Bed bugs were found on the 16th floor of the Willis Tower which is home to United Airlines.

…The Willis Tower brought in K-9’s to detect the infestation and exterminators have visited the site several times. United says it will continue those efforts until the bed bugs are eradicated.

The Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, will hold the name of London-based Willis Group through 2024 based on their 2009 lease although United is now the largest tenant in the building.

I’m not sure whether bed bugs at United headquarters are better or worse than when a United Club at Dulles had rats, or when it had mice.

(HT: Julie C.)

Christopher Elliott does a service with his Travel Troubleshooter column. I may not always be a fan, but there’s no question that he’s helped out many consumers.. even many that were very much undeserving of help.

Today though he didn’t just help someone get compensation they likely didn’t deserve, he also appears to have cast unwarranted aspersions at a car rental website that helps with discounts — Autoslash. Read More…

I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. I do not write about all credit cards that are available — instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).

I’ve written about the Ritz-Carlton Rewards co-brand credit card occasionally over the past couple of years.

There have been a couple of really outstanding offers for it, like 70,000 points and no fee the first year, and 140,000 points while paying the steep $395 annual fee even the first year. But I haven’t seen either of those around in awhile.

We Fly Free says it’s still possible to get the 140,000 point signup offer, which surprises me since he gives the same promotion code that Chase told Frequent Miler that he was ineligible for a year ago.

The offer is for 140,000 points after $2000 spend within 3 months.

  • The card comes with Marriott Gold status the first year, and then you keep it by spending $10,000 on the card each year.
  • There’s a $300 airline fee credit as well that helps take the sting out of the annual fee.
  • There are also some fairly restrictive club lounge upgrade and $100 folio credits with Ritz-Carlton stays as well.
  • Concierge service that I’ve heard is now handled by the same company which takes care of Palladium card customers (which may even include President Obama).

You’re supposed to choose whether you want to be a member of Ritz-Carlton Rewards or Marriott Rewards. They don’t want you to be a member of both. The programs are almost identical except for the promotions.

Since you can get a 70,000 point signup bonus for the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, and that offers a $0 annual fee the first year ($85 thereafter), and you can generally only get one Chase card at a time I think there’s a very clarifying question to help understand this card’s value:

  • Assume that you can get full value out of the $300 statement credit, the net cost of this card is $95.
  • Leave aside all other benefits like Marriott Gold status and concierge, plus club upgrades that are reportedly tough to use.
  • Would you pay $95 for 70,000 Marriott points?

Of course if you don’t already have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, I think that’s the better card and also the better signup bonus (and Sapphire Preferred – like Ritz-Carlton Rewards – now offers primary collision damage on rental cars too). So I wouldn’t even entertain the question.

But on the whole I do see 70,000 points as worth $95… even if I don’t plan to take advantage of this offer myself.

There have been other intriguing offers for the card, like last year’s $200 gift card in addition to the statement credit.

No matter the offer, I haven’t been all that tempted, but I thought this would be useful to some.

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.

American, the largest US airline to Venezuela, is flying daily from Miami… with a 737. They shift up their schedule in the fall and return to flying New York JFK – Caracas just 5 days a week. Also with a 737. They bring back San Juan service too.

Delta is flying a 737 to Caracas four times weekly with a 737. United flies daily from Houston only, also with… a 737.

LAN is flying 2-3 times a week with a widebody from Miami, and of course there’s connecting service through Central America.

But much of the lift between the US and Caracas is just gone. And the story here is simple. Read More…

The Andaz Maui is certainly an upscale resort, but it can still be a value for what you get.

And most importantly for me, it’s much smaller than most of the big chain resorts. It’s not the sort of place where you have to head down to the beach at 8 a.m. to place a book on a beach chair if you hope to use one later in the day.

It’s a nice hotel, that offers a lot, and while it is part of a chain it doesn’t exude that ‘resort factory’ feel.

It’s still in a resort area, to be sure. It’s just down the street from Hilton’s Grand Wailea Waldorf property (itself a behemoth, albeit a nice behemoth). But once on property you get a much more boutique-y experience.

In that way it’s a contrast to the last two properties I stayed at on Maui, the Westin Maui and the Hyatt Regency Maui both in Lahaina, on the opposite end of the island from Wailea where the Andaz is located.

Here’s why the Andaz Maui is my favorite hotel on the island, the things I like best about it, and also the drawbacks you should watch out for in deciding to stay there. Read More…

Virgin Atlantic and Bank of America are back with their standard biggest signup bonus. The most recent links for this offer don’t work any longer.

They used to offer the card as an American Express (one of those oddball American Express cards not issued by American Express). Now it’s a MasterCard.

It’s advertised as a signup bonus of up to 65,000 miles but I wouldn’t think about it that way.

Reach rewards faster with up to 65,000 Flying Club bonus miles in the first year with the Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard® credit card from Bank of America.

The offer is:

  • 20,000 Flying Club bonus miles after your first retail purchase
  • 25,000 additional Flying Club bonus miles after you spend at least $2,500 in qualifying purchases
  • Earn up to 15,000 additional bonus miles upon anniversary — 7500 after $15,000 spend and 7500 after $25,000 in spend.
  • Earn up to 5,000 Flying Club bonus miles when you add additional authorized users to your card (2500 per cardholder up to 2)

So adding two authorized users and spending $2500 on the card gets you 50,000 points. There’s a $90 annual fee, and it applies even in the first year. Definitely worth it, in my view, for 50,000 points.

I do not think it’s worthwhile to put the spend on the card required for the additional miles. So think of this as a 50,000 point singup offer.

There are some unique benefits of MasterCard and this card is being issued as a World Elite MasterCard. Those have much better travel benefits than simple World MasterCards do.

One of those benefits is free status with Avis, National, and Sixt car rental programs.

One of the popular uses for Virgin miles in the past was converting to Hilton at one-to-two, 50,000 Virgin miles would yield 100,000 Hilton points. But the ratio nhas been devalued to 1-to-1.5. And Hilton devalued. 75,000 Hilton HHonors points doesn’t especially appeal to me, but some folks will find that useful.

Still, Virgin miles are fairly easy to acquire. Points transfer into Virgin from both American Express Membership Rewards and from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

I’m not a fan of Virgin Atlantic miles, although I have a ton. This offer is strong enough that it has tempted me many times. But I’ve never redeeemed the points. That’s why I put together a list of the great ways to redeem Virgin Atlantic’s miles.

Of course where paid travel would entail a fuel surcharge, Virgin adds that to the cost of an award ticket.

They’ve reduced fuel surcharges on economy awards but those aren’t the awards I’m looking for.

What’s more, departures in a premium cabin originating in the U.K. entail a substantial tax — on top of the surcharges. So Virgin award tickets often aren’t cheap.

A story that has gotten some play but not nearly enough is that the system for issuing US passports and visas has broken down.

Passport issue times have slowed down, and visa issuance has broken down as a result. Foreigners looking for permission to travel to (or return to) the U.S. are stuck waiting.

Problems began July 19, although it wasn’t the year’s first system crash.

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) at the State Bureau of Consular Affairs “is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system,”

…The issues, she said, have resulted in significant backlogs. Visas are approved, recorded and printed through the CCD. “Until the system comes back online, we are unable to print visas.

While H1B status can be approved for 3 years (renewal once), the length of time that any given country’s citizen is given on their visa depends on where they’re from. Citizens of most of the world get their Visas for 3 years. That’s true for places like Pakistan. Citizens of Mexico only get visas one year at a time. So a colleague is down in Mexico renewing his visa (or else he wouldn’t be able to travel outside the country and return, as he does tend to need to do). And he’s stuck there. He writes,

I am still in Mexico. The US Bureau of Consular Affairs has been dealing with technical issues that prevents US Consulates to print Visas. That includes mine. There is nothing wrong with my petition/file. It is a worldwide system problem. If you want to be “amused”, look here:

A reader looking for advice on changing flights due to the issue writes,

I have some friends who are in Guangzhou, China now finalizing an adoption. They are working in getting the baby a US visa, but apparently the US consulate there is having technical issues and they have been delayed several days.

The State Department says they’re working on it.

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible.

This is a very big deal, for obvious reasons, and so I will refrain from the obvious snark.

Among hotel chains, Hyatt Gold Passport has the best elite breakfast benefit and Hilton has the easiest breakfast benefit to get.

Perhaps the most generous elite offering was the Park Hyatt Aviara which wound up comping their Mother’s Day $95 per person buffet.

Here are the very best breakfasts I’ve been provided for free as a result of elite status — the hotels that are the most generous, how they do it, and the lessons we can draw. Read More…

The Park Hyatt New York is one of the more anticipated luxury hotel openings of the year. It has 210 guest rooms and is accepting reservations for August 12 and beyond.

But is it ever possible to redeem points for a room here? Is Hyatt playing games? Read More…

My favorite barbecue – anywhere – is Black’s in Lockhart, Texas.

I believe barbecue is all about the meat, and that meat is brisket. Sauce shouldn’t be necessary, it just hides the taste of good barbecue.

I’ve had Franklin Barbecue in Austin and it is amazing. Technically perfect, even. But I find Black’s brisket more flavorful.

Austin-area barbecue has to be the most densely competitive enclave in the world, and that makes nearly all of it excellent. ‘Bad’ barbecue for the region is still ‘good’ in some objective sense, or at least relative to what you’ll find in most places.

I was excited to try the new Terry Black’s in Austin, only just opened.

This isn’t Black’s. This is Terry Black’s. And the subtle distinction underscores a huge family dispute. The two members of the family that opened up on Barton Springs in Austin worked in the business in Lockhart, but did this on their own. Their uncle Kent Black drew up a cease and desist order over their planned use of the Black’s name, and so they changed it to name the new location for their father Terry Black.

Kent Black is supposed to open his own Austin location on Guadalupe later this summer, and also offer a food truck. Their plan is to bring in the meat from Lockhart, while Terry Black’s cooks on-site.

I ordered brisket, pork spare ribs, and sausage (to share). They had disposable plates and most people were using those. They do have butcher paper, however.

There’s paper towels and sauce at the tables, get your own drinks once you order a cup and bring over plastic utensils such as to cut the ends off of a sausage.

The brisket was, on the whole, fairly dry. It was good, the bark was nearly perfect, but it wasn’t nearly as good as Black’s in Lockhart. Just not moist enough, unless you ate only the fattiest pieces.

The sausage just wasn’t juicy. I tried the jalapeno cheese sausage. It was extra large, but lacking in flavor.

The pork spare ribs, though, were sensational. Some of the best I’ve tried. They were sweet, falling off the bone, seasoned perfectly.

Unfortunately, Black’s in Lockhart is known for their beef rib (in addition to brisket of course), but while the beef rib was on the menu in Austin it wasn’t available when I was there.

Bottom-line is this was good barbecue, but it wasn’t great barbecue. I don’t think Franklin is worth the 3 hour wait, so this place fills a niche for bus-your-own-tray barbecue in Austin-proper (no need to drive out to Lockhart). But overall I would rate Lambert’s downtown as better. And the ‘real’ Black’s in Lockhart as better still.

Skift reports that JetBlue is considering a first checked bag fee.

The challenge they currently face is that they need upgrade their tech to offer different fare options.

A fee may be part of JetBlue’s new fare structure, Powers said yesterday, as the New York-based airline creates classes of tickets whose price would include services such as one free piece of checked luggage. While fliers could still choose a cheaper seat, they would have to start paying for any baggage, not just their second suitcase.

Only in the airline industry is adding a fee considered not nickel and diming customers.

“If you chose to buy a bucket without attributes and show up with a bag, you probably should pay for it,” Powers said. “It’s a terrific way, and in a JetBlue-friendly way, of monetizing all the excellent product attributes we have without doing what we’re absolutely opposed to — nickel and diming and gouging customers.”

I don’t love Southwest (and even more the case after they devalued their points), but I do love that:

  • They offer first and second checked bag free to everyone.
  • They offer a companion pass which credit card signup bonuses and hotel points transfers can help you earn.
  • Their awards redeposit without penalty.

Southwest was even earlier to the internet game than JetBlue, largely because of JetBlue’s novel earlier investment in inflight live tv.

JetBlue’s performance has lagged the industry this year. But just like United managing by doing what Delta does, it’s not clear that undermining your unique selling proposition will make you more attractive to consumers.

Still, I suspect that JetBlue hasn’t gotten enough credit from consumers for not charging these fees. If they don’t earn extra business or a revenue premium foregoing the revenue, it’s hard to justify continuing to do it.

Registration is required and you can earn 1000 United miles per stay up to 5 stays through October 31 at JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Gaylord Hotels and Marriott properties in the U.S., Mexico, and some Caribbean islands.

One nice thing is that you don’t change your earning preference to miles, you can still earn your regular Marriott points for your stays. Only bookings made by September 5 are eligible for the bonus.

This offer extends the United-Marriott tie-in that includes reciprocal elite status and seems to be meant to encourage United members to participate in Marriott Rewards.

Existing Marriott members link their United and Marriott accounts and then register. New members enroll for Marriott Rewards, link their United account, and register for the promotion at the same time.

(HT: Loyalty Lobby)

News and notes from around the interweb:

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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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Editorial Note: The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine and not provided by any bank including (but not limited to) American Express, Chase, Citibank, US Bank, Barclaycard or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.