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 (a “P50 Benefit”). The list of available P50 Benefits on 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 and selecting a P50 Benefit. A selection must be made through 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

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.

Extreme Hotel Deals finds this rate, $41 per night, at the Marriott Brown Palace Denver on Fridays and Saturdays between May 8 and October 31.

Indeed, $41 is all-in with taxes and there are multiple room types available with breakfast even thrown in.

This is a well-regarded property, though I haven’t stayed there. It’s among the better ranked for the area on TripAdvisor, and part of Marriott’s “Autograph Collected”-branded properties.

I would wait several days after booking before making non-refundable travel arrangements around this rate to ensure that Marriott plans to honor the bookings.

Most of the deals I find at Extreme Hotel Deals aren’t especially useful to me, single night offerings where it’s unlikely I’ll be in a city when they’re available. Nonetheless I find their email list interesting at a minimum.

The Wall Street Journal covers plans for Hyatt, Loews, and Langham to launch new ‘lifestyle brand’ hotels in 2015.

Hotel chains have shifted their idea of luxury to meet what modern consumers want. Younger affluent customers aren’t necessarily looking for ornate or historical French design or formal service. Even Ritz-Carlton has tried to update itself.

W Hotels, I think, did a fantastic job catching the moment in the late 1990’s but has struggled to keep pace with the potential of the market or update itself to remain relevant. In trying to be “cool” and not just offer a luxury experience catering to a younger demographic, it winds up chasing its tail.

Here’s the thing about “lifestyle” brands. Cool doesn’t last. The Ian Schrager hotels aren’t great places to actually stay, at least anymore. The original W hotels are tired. Heck, the W San Diego was tired in 2009 — when the W Hong Kong has an LCD screen on the floor of the elevator wishing you a “good morning,” “good afternoon,” and “good evening,” how cool is actually physically changing out floor mats in front of the elevator in the lobby with those messages?

You have to constantly update to stay cool, and to start with you have to know what cool is. And what cool isn’t — it isn’t staff who are trained to act as though they are the cool ones, too cool to help guests or offer anticipatory service.

All of the chains have sought to capture this in some way, though. IHG has ‘Hotel Indigo’ which I don’t think has worked. Make no mistake, it’s their aim at a lifestyle brand.

“The Hotel Indigo brand is uniquely designed to reflect the local culture, character and history of the neighborhoods where our hotels are located,” said Adam Glickman, brand experience director, Lifestyle Brands, IHG.

It’s precisely that Indigo doesn’t get them where they want to go that they needed to go out and acquire Kimpton.

According to the Journal we can expect Hyatt to go big:

Hyatt has the most ambitious plan of the new entrants. The Chicago-based company this summer plans to open 20 lifestyle hotels in places like New York, Miami, San Francisco and Paris, according to people familiar with the company’s strategy.

My first reaction to this: isn’t Andaz their lifestyle brand?

My second reaction to this: isn’t Park Hyatt their take at ‘modern luxury’?

So Hyatt will give us a new lifestyle brand that’s differentiated from Andaz and from Park Hyatt. Surely there’s a niche there, as Starwood’s W hotels is different from both of those brands of course. But the proliferation of brands leads to its own potential for brand confusion. Customers have to identify the brand as being a part of the larger overarching brand and realize, even, that they should be booking at that hotel if they’re loyal to the larger chain or even give their loyalty program number if they happen to be booked at that hotel.

These are no easy tasks, and more attempts fail than succeed, but I look forward to seeing and experiencing the different attempts!

I went on television earlier today to talk weather and navigating flight delays and cancellations.

I’d sum up my advice as, expect the unexpected, be proactive, and be nice.

There are five basic things to do to travel well through flight delays and cancellations

Read More…

News and notes from around the interweb:

Inside Flyer magazine’s blog offers the story of Randy Petersen’s retirement from magazine publishing.

The magazine launched a number of other activities that continue and thrive today.

During our time, InsideFlyer accomplished something that no other publication of its kind has–we left a legacy. Among the things InsideFlyer created, funded and willed to be relevant to the frequent flyer included the Freddie Awards, FlyerTalk and BoardingArea, along with its grandchild

On their consumer advocate legacy,

InsideFlyer beat back the introduction of a Saturday night stayover requirement on flight awards from United Mileage Plus in 2000, we led the rollback of the US Airways Dividend Miles elite change to drop status bonus miles, we provided the major funding and support for SaveSkyMiles which beat back an effort by Delta to offer fewer miles flown on discount fares in 2002 along with other related changes to that program and InsideFlyer championed the fight to have United honor the Continental OnePass Infinite Elite program at a higher elite level during the merger of those two airlines’ loyalty programs. We exposed and championed the infamous “LatinPass Run” that created a legend out of that offer and made mileage millionaires out of many. We made flying the Concorde available for thousands of readers when all they had to do was buy 21 subscriptions to the magazine in 2002 and we made a household name out of “The Pudding Guy”.

The ‘Concorde’ deal was that Inside Flyer ran a signup promotion offering Starwood Starpoints, and chose not to limit it to first-time subscribers or even ‘one per customer’. Starpoints back then transferred one to two into Qantas (and thus with double the transfer bonus) so 40,000 Starpoints was sufficient for 100,000 Qantas miles.

  • Inside Flyer cost $59.95 per year.
  • The magazine offered 2500 Starpoints per subscription
  • 21 subscriptions yield 52,500 Starpoints, which transferred to 125,000 Qantas points.
  • That was enough for a roundtrip ticket on the British Airways Concorde, New York – London, back then (though some folks chose to travel one direction in first class instead).

The Qantas award chart was so much better then… And many lounges and libraries received donated subscriptions to a frequent flyer magazine. I’m sure some were even donated to charitable entities for a tax deduction which reduced the cost basis of the Concorde award below the $1259 cost of the points.

Inside Flyer, in birthing Flyertalk, also paved the way for my own path into miles and points. And gave me the opportunity to meet some of my closest friends.

I wouldn’t have started this blog, or my award booking service, without being pulled into the miles and points world through the solar system that Randy created out of and around the magazine. I’ve even helped to defend someone from federal criminal charges related to miles and points, and as a result they stayed out of prison. In a very real way, then, the magazine actually saved a life of someone who doesn’t even know it.

To Randy Petersen’s news I can only offer congratulations.

I was very excited about 15 months ago when Coin launched for pre-order.

It looked so cool, one card that you load your other credit cards onto via an app. You could carry the one and swipe it, you flip between cards that it represents with a button. This would be convenient for cleaning up my wallet, and for managing gift cards I thought.

There’s no EMV chip, it holds up to 8 cards, and the two-year battery isn’t rechargeable.

Supposedly Coin was going to be shipping last summer but it’s going to be this summer before I get mine. I should probably cancel the order, though I’m curious to try it out, even though it appears to have been surpassed by other offerings that should be in the market at the same time.

I should add here that I’m not part of the Apple ecosystem, so ApplePay is out for me. compared ‘all-in-one’ cards. They note that Wallaby will choose what card to use for you, based on best rewards at a given store. It’s a tool to automate maximizing your category bonuses.

Several readers have recommended Plastc to me.

I just ordered it, my referral link gets you $20 off ($135 all-in after discount).

Plastc has chip and PIN technology, Bluetooth, and can hold up to 20 cards. It’s even water resistant, and it explicitly works with gift cards. They suggest putting work access cards on it too. The battery is wirelessly rechargable and the card is expected to ship this summer.

I’m looking forward to trying this out in my wallet, and hope that Coin ships to me soon too so I can compare.

Fuel surcharges are the bane of many frequent flyers, junk fees adding hundreds or even a thousand dollars onto award tickets by many frequent flyer programs around the world.

Airlines like fuel surcharges because:

  • Changing the fuel surcharge in a market can raise or lower every ticket price in that market, no need to re-file every single fare.
  • They allow an airline to raise price even with many fixed-fare agreements.
  • And, of course, because they can be charged to frequent flyers trying to redeem a captive points currency.

US frequent flyers — who don’t participate in mileage programs based outside the US — don’t have to deal with fuel surcharges very much.

  • American adds them to awards on British Airways (and to a very modest extent on Iberia)
  • Alaska adds them to awards on British Airways
  • Delta adds them to awards on some partners – like China Southern and China Eastern – and to travel originating in Europe.

United doesn’t add them at all.

But for European programs, and those based in Asia Pacific, they can be huge — hundreds of dollars each way. The idea is that miles cover the fare only and the frequent flyer has to pay taxes and surcharges.

They generally make economy travel redemptions foolish, as you spend points and have to find availability, don’t earn miles, and still wind up paying much of the cost of a paid ticket.

There are some tricks to reducing fuel surcharges on award tickets.

Reader Petra shares the news that the Philippines has banned fuel surcharges for tickets originating there. And with the price of fuel falling we’re starting to see a few carriers eliminate fuel surcharges, but some airlines just have a sneaky way of renaming the fee since ‘fuel surcharge’ no longer has much credibility with the price of fuel dropping dramatically.

But if you know where to start and end your award trip you can avoid fuel surcharges entirely.

Read More…

I’m not sure what rock I’ve been under, that the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort was sold and is now B Ocean Resort.

The Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort has also been sold, but it hasn’t been reflagged.

Starwood of course lost the iconic Diplomat hotel outside of Fort Lauderdale to Hilton.

But seeing the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort leave the fold struck me, in part because it flew the Sheraton flag since 1956. The Sheraton Beach Resort is the former Sheraton Yankee Clipper, and the Westin Beach Resort is the former Sheraton Yankee Trader.

Both hotels received makeovers in recent years, in my view the Westin a nicer one than the Sheraton. But it’s the Sheraton that holds the most memories for me because it’s where I stayed as a high school debate coach during the 1995 national finals.

The Sheraton had its own style, such as it is.

It is of course shaped like a boat, and looks out over the ocean.

The bar — most recently a coffee shop — is where I also got to know the effects of gin. For some reason straight Beefeater and rocks was particularly inexpensive in the bar years ago, and the older coaches enjoyed that I could keep up and then some with what tasted like water… until it didn’t. (Fortunately the bartender never carded there..)

I didn’t spend nearly as much time at this hotel as I did at the Diplomat. Yet it seems somehow wrong that it should be anything other than a Sheraton.

If you write a travel-related blog, you’re supposed to have a sense of adventure,. This post is how my sense of adventure is actually outweighed by risk, legal risk, that most will never face. Hear me out, and I’d love it if you just tell me I’m being paranoid. I’d love it if you’d help to change my mind on this.

There’s virtually no legal risk for the average American in traveling to Cuba now, it would seem.

While the categories of allowable travel haven’t changed, it’s no longer required to obtain a special permit from the US government to travel. Americans have a general license, and those who do go are presumed to fall into an eligible category.

As for as those categories go, I arguably could go as a ‘journalist’ and blog the trip. I haven’t consulted with legal experts, and I’m not certain how well-tested that area of law is.

Even MasterCard will allow US-issued cards to be used for payment in Cuba starting March 1.

So it’s for all intents and purposes open season for Americans to travel to Cuba, even if it isn’t strictly legal for all to do so. And even if scheduled flights by US carriers to Cuba are on hold.

Here’s the concern I have, and how the legal grey area of Cuba travel might come up. Say you’re being investigated by a US attorney for completely unrelated activity. For the purpose of this hypothetical post, let’s say the investigation is for ‘structuring’ bank deposits in a manner that appears to avoid the required reporting of amounts over $10,000.

You have a pretty good case you weren’t doing what you were accused of. The prosecutor offers you a deal, because they know their case is weak. You’re inclined to roll the dice with a jury. But during discovery, the US attorney’s office comes to learn that you traveled to Cuba — and may not have fallen into an allowable category to spend money there. So if you don’t take the plea, the prosecutor will pile on with charges … for something that most Americans would get away with.

Put another way, it looks fine to travel to Cuba — unless you catch the ire of a prosecutor for something else entirely. And then every grey area move you’ve made is on the table.

I suppose I’m super cautious by nature. Heck, I could be a lot more aggressive on my taxes than I am. But I don’t think I’m ready to travel to Cuba. Many others, of course, will be!

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