IHG Rewards is running a super generous free nights promotion. At least it’s super-generous for some, the specific offers a member will get vary. But the base offer is pretty good where three Holiday Inn nights booked carefully can be turned into two free nights at any Intercontinental Hotels Group property in the world.

Regarding the usefulness of these nights, I had already written:

IHG confirmed for me that these free nights work just list their co-brand credit card’s annual free night: usable at any participating IHG property (as long as reward nights are available)

But others were talking as though they thought the inventory would be more limited. This concern seemed to trace back to a Loyalty Lobby post that relayed word from IHG on the promotion terms and concluded,

This seems to imply that they have specific award inventory reserved for these free nights awards and it can be drastically different from the points based one.

A couple of readers asked me if I would reach out to IHG again to clarify. So I shot off an email last night:

Contra what you confirmed below I’m hearing that the reward nights earned through this promotion may not be like the credit card or points award nights in that they have their own limited inventory with less availability.

Can you confirm that indeed the free nights earned with this promotion have the same availability as reward nights on points and the free credit card night?

That obviously affects the value proposition of this promotion.

And I heard back fairly quickly — there’s no separate, special, limited inventory for these promotional reward nights:

I am confirming that the “free nights” earned with this promotion have the same availability as Reward Nights (using points to redeem for a free night) and the free nights are like the free credit card night.

But just to be double triple super sure (that I wasn’t misreading the reply), I asked back:

For clarity’s sake are you saying you are working to get confirmation, or that you are – with this email – confirming it to me? Sorry if I’m a bit dense!

And was told in response:

This email serves as confirmation. No worries!

There you have it, straight from the executive offices at IHG. No doubt some will remain concerned. I am not concerned.

This offer has been around since 2012, but I don’t think I’ve written about it since then. Most readers probably already have Delta Skymiles accounts, but there are always new readers and folks just getting into the hobby.

Overall I don’t recommend focusing on the Skymiles program, but if you’re hub captive in Atlanta, Detroit, or Minneapolis (or if you live in the Upper Midwest) then you’re going to wing up flying Delta. And it makes sense to get the most out of the tickets you’re buying anyway.

Here’s how to pocket 40,000 miles. Read more…

Head for Points writes about the increase in price that British Airways is pushing through for buying the middle seat next to you.

Truth is, this is something I didn’t know, just how inexpensively BA offered this in the past.

You would pay the same fare for the empty seat as for the one you were occupying, minus taxes. For short haul intra-Europe tickets this could be $10 – $100, since the bulk of the cost of these tickets is often in fuel surcharges.

A few weeks ago British Airways changed the method they use to calculate the cost.

  • They’ve set a minimum of £40 roundtrip on short haul flights and £300 roundtrip on long haul flights.
  • They’re basing the price on the fare you paid, not the fare at time of request. So requesting a blocked middle seat close to departure won’t increase its price.

You’re still reliant on BA to actually administer the benefit properly, which Head for Points says has been a mixed bag in the past. But it’s good to have a clear policy and benefit here, and at a relatively reasonable price.

The taxation of frequent flyer miles isn’t the only time travel butts heads with the IRS. Taxes on your tickets isn’t the only other place, either.

It turns out that Anchorage airport is being hamstrung by the tax code (HT: Julie D.)

It turns out SLEEPING PODS are a problem for the IRS. Here’s Why…

Travel Update reports that Marriott wants you to tip housekeeping.

[A]s many as 1,000 hotels in the Marriott system – Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Residence Inn, JW Marriott – are going to leave a special tip-reminder envelope for guests to encourage them to leave money for the housekeeper.

..Envelopes that contain the name of the person (usually a woman) will be left in some 160,000 hotel rooms in the USA and Canada, according to the AP’s story. The campaign is called “The Envelope Please.”

Now, tipping at hotels is one way to get an upgrade. (Here’s how to ask for – and get – upgrades.)

Tipping hotel housekeeping won’t get you much, maybe a cleaner room or extra toileteries. It’s about giving something to the people cleaning your room, rather than giving something to yourself.

In general I hate tipping. I’d rather pay a room rate that allowed hotels to pay their staff at a level where they weren’t dependent on tips. In many parts of the US they actually do, although not in all cases, and being implored to tip isn’t differentiated based on the pay given to housekeepers which isn’t disclosed.

Even though I don’t like tipping, I’m an American and I travel a good bit in the U.S., so I tip — primarily to people doing tough jobs for what I presume are modest wages. Housekeeping certainly qualifies. If someone helps me with my luggage that qualifies, too, although I don’t love being pestered for help with my one rollaboard.

Still, I’m not sure I like the nudge. No doubt putting a specific woman’s name on an envelope in the room is going to work, guests who don’t use it are going to feel like jerks. I suppose that’s the point.

The campaign teams up with Maria Shriver who “believes plenty of guests don’t know the custom of tipping the housekeeper.”

An interesting experiment would be to compare average amounts left in the envelope with tips if those envelopes contained suggested amounts. If guests “don’t know the custom” is it really a custom? And if they don’t know to tip, do they know how much to tip? Tip each day or at the end of the stay?

Perhaps more tips for housekeeping is good, on a micro level (the individual housekeepers) it probably is but systemically I’m not so sure.

  • If customers systematically tip more, raising the wages of housekeeping, what will that do to actual wages hotels pay? I’m not sure those will actually rise on net over time. Hotels may be able to pay workers less precisely because guests will make up the difference.

  • I also wonder how Marriott will handle the tips — I’d guess that they will be pooled rather than being given to the individual named on the envelope… who may or may not wind up being the person who actually cleans your room.

Do you tip housekeeping? Do you favor Marriott telling you that you should?

Yesterday I got (multiple, cough) e-mails from Citibank about new benefits for their American Airlines co-brand products.

With an email subject line like “Important Information About Your Protection Benefits” I assumed they’d be taking away benefits so Citi really needs to get better e-mail subject writers. In fact with a subject line like that, I’d be just as likely as not to not even open the e-mail, except that I’d perversely interested in the minutiae of ancillary benefits. (Here’s how the credit card I used for the purchase paid for the cracked screen on my phone.)

And since so many of you have American Airlines co-branded credit cards, it seemed worth flagging.

Read about the new benefits being offered and what the catches are..

Mileage running for the redeeming miles, the idea that you could fly cheap fares and redeem the miles for expensive tickets, never made much sense most of the time or for most people. By the time you factor in the value of time spent in airports and planes – your opportunity cost – you were rarely saving money.

On the other hand, sometimes the flying itself was the enjoyment. Fares were cheap, promotions generous, and you’d get to see someplace new. The ‘pure’ mileage run, the straight turnaround in an airport, never made sense to me except in the most extreme cases – cheap fare during United’s quintuple miles offer years ago, long before their multiple hatchets to the award chart was one.

Mileage running for status from zero never made much sense to me. The amazing wanaflyforless once made American’s Executive Platinum status in something like 17 days from the start of the year without a double elite qualifying miles promotion. And he did it cheap. Why did he climb that mountain? Because it was there, and he could.

But in general the only reason you need elite status is if you’re actually flying anyway. And if you earn it one year so that you can enjoy it the next.. during the substantial amount you have to fly.

So mileage running for status only ever made sense to me at the margin. You’re already flying, say, 85,000 miles and the treatment is materially better once you fly 100,000. So you take a few incremental trips, see some places along the way, and make sure next year’s travel is that much more comfortable.

On Friday I highlighted a New York Times piece on the death of the mileage run. It was anchored to the shift programs are making towards becoming more revenue-based.

  • If you’re being rewarded a fixed number of points per dollar spent, you can’t leverage cheap fares to earn enough points which are then redeemed for really expensive trips. That’s not completely true, unless the program also goes revenue-based on the redemption side. But it’s certainly much more true than before, and it was already pretty true due to high overall airfares.
  • You have to spend a minimum amount to earn status, making it tough to earn status on the super-cheap. Of course it’s already tough to earn status on the super cheap with high airfares, the bar for minimum spend towards status already quite low, and customers outside the US and who spend on co-band credit cards have seen some exemptions.

There’s not a demarcation between pre-revenue based at United and Delta and a new revenue-based world where mileage runs no longer make sense. They aren’t didn’t for most people most of the time, and that became increasingly true as average airfares have risen and mileage award charts have gotten more expensive (making the rewards — in terms of redemptions — for the runs relatively less valuable).

That doesn’t mean that it never at any time makes sense to get on a plane for the miles anymore.

  • American hasn’t gone revenue-based at this point.
  • You can still credit Delta flying to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
  • You can credit United flying to Singapore Airlines and other carriers that will reward you with full flown credit even on low fares.
  • You can still credit partner flights to MileagePlus and earn based on fare class ticketed rather than price paid.
  • There are still mistake fares out there, where you can rack up flown miles towards status cheap — and then get out of the minimum spend requirement via residence or credit card spend.
  • Those trips at the margin can put you over the top towards status, and if you’re still going to fly a lot next year this can make real sense.

But those are some pretty limited cases, at least or especially for those who place a non-zero value on the time spent up in the air.

Though some have disagreed with my take that the ‘era of mileage running is over’ (which is different than saying there are no mileage runs that could ever make sense), I think it’s really fair to say that 2014 is very different than 2004. The idea of the mileage run has gotten gradually less rewarding.

I’ve spoken with several American Airlines flight attendants that are embarrassed by what they’re being asked to serve.

I feel for them, genuinely. As one said to me, “What we used to serve wasn’t great, but it was better than this.”

Dallas – Orlando clocks in at 985 miles. It used to get a meal. Now…

Gone are meals from my DC – Miami flights as well.

United is moving to meals on flights over 800 miles. Delta is at 900 miles, American now 1000. That’s an improvement for US Airways customers… but the issue is both whether there’s a meal and what that meal is. I used to say that US Airways elites are hungry Now many American elites are too – and some by choice.

Anecdotally flight attendants are getting lots of complaints from customers. They’re the ones serving the meals snack baskets, so they’re the ones bearing the brunt of customer displeasure. When of course there’s nothing a flight attendant can do.

You can let American know what you think, it may not matter but it carries a greatly likelihood of mattering than taking your frustration out on your flight attendants will.

This won’t help the case, but I will still fly American. Delta’s miles remain terrible, though the airline operation is very good. Their route network doesn’t match my needs either. Furthermore, United and Delta prioritize full fare over status within the upgrade queue. As a DC-based flyer United doesn’t make sense unless you work for the government, despite a hub at Washington Dulles – every government employee Silver on a YCA fare will trump a 100,000 mile flyer on a mid-priced fare.

So I’ll need to learn to adjust my behavior. Eat before the flight. That just means more concentrated work time onboard thanks to Gogo inflight internet.

But seriously, people, your flight attendants shouldn’t bear the brunt of the decisions made by US Airways management.

I had to check a bag this morning. I don’t do that often on domestic flights. Since I’d have to visit the counter anyway, I didn’t bother checking in via a mobile app.

My first segment was already upgraded to first class, but my connecting flight wasn’t. When the agent checked me in, I dropped off the upgrade list. I didn’t check the upgrade list once I had been checked in That is a rookie mistake.

I didn’t ask about my upgrade at the club. I boarded my first flight and pulled up the mobile app and figured I’d look at the upgrade list, since I was within the window to see it at that point. My name wasn’t on it.

I didn’t think this would be a big deal. I knew there were still two first class seats available, they were just being held until the gate. I’d stick my name on the list when I landed.

By the time I landed, though:

  1. My connecting flight was delayed.
  2. There had been an aircraft swap from a 737 to an MD80. That has 10 fewer coach seats and the flight was already oversold.
  3. To accommodate passengers, they processed the upgrade list – while I still wasn’t on it.
  4. Since there’s no ‘C’ seats in coach on the MD80, I had to be moved.
  5. I was moved to an aisle in ‘regular’ economy.

I wound up in regular economy not in first class because I didn’t check the upgrade list.

Now, I’m flying a lot more economy these days thanks to British Airways 4500 point short-distance awards on American and US Airways (and >making full use of the Royal Jordanian website while doing it). But that puts me into Main Cabin Extra with additional legroom.

I’m typing this post with the passenger in front of me reclined. And let me tell you, it’s tight. Although clearly it’s possible to use a laptop even in coach (and I carry a big laptop, since I’m a one machine kind of guy — my work computer, travel computer, and entertainment device all in one.

And it’s not so bad for a short sub-1200 mile flight. In fact, just the little kindness that is the flight attendant approaching me unasked to see whether I’d like a complimentary cocktail and sandwich (as is American’s policy for top tier elites) makes the whole experience seem that much more civilized. The chicken cobb sandwich was at least as good as what I’d have gotten up front.

Nonetheless, it seemed worth a reminder to do what I forgot or became too complacent to bother with: always check the upgrade list when you think you’ve been added to it.

In light of IHG Rewards changing it terms to say they’ll cancel your account if you register for promotions that they let you register for, some recent reports of Chase shutting down accounts for ‘abuse’, and an unreasonable rogue auditor at American, it seemed worth repeating advice I gave about five months ago on how to handle things if your loyalty program account gets audited.

It’s not fool proof advice — that is, if you’ve actually broken rules in a serious way you can’t always save your accumulated mileage balance when you get caught.

But it’s useful to understand what triggers audits, and what you can do if you get audited.

You’ll also want to see:

Read on to learn how to protect yourself!

News and notes from around the interweb:

There’s been a bit of a stir over Air Hollywood’s Pan Am dining experience — eat dinner on board a replica of a Pan Am 747. A $200 ticket gets you a business class seat for cocktails, dinner, and a movie. And a $300 first class ticket gives you a first class seat for cocktails and the movie, and the upper deck dining room for your meal.

Pricey, but very cool and probably worth it for a unique evening out experience if you’re in the Los Angeles area while it’s happening. Cocktails, dinner, and a movie in at a unique venue doesn’t come cheap.

    pan am dining
    pan am dining

Here’s the site to buy tickets and the upcoming dates:

    pan am dining

What I find most interesting, though? These aren’t the only people dressing up as Pan Am crew and serving dinner! Pan Am Fine Dining Near You, Keep Reading..

Extreme Hotel Deals outlines an opportunity to generate vouchers for free flights.

Bravofly is a Swiss-based set of online booking sites. The Russian and Ukrainian versions of their site has a rewards program, Bravofriends, that will give you credit just for referring people — no purchase necessary.

You’ll need Google translate to use the site unless your language skills are top-notch.

Here’s Extreme Hotel Deals’ referral link, I’m not using my own. They outlined the deal and they deserve some props. It’s no cost to sign up using a referral link, feel free to leave yours in the comments so someone might use it.

When you open an account you get a $30 voucher a roundtrip flight. Site site has a $20 service charge, so it’s a net of $10.

Each friend who creates an account generates $1.30 for you. Signup is easy and quick. People without real friends or even social skills can probably still scale this.

Extreme Hotel Deals notes that you shouldn’t use translation on the redemption page when you use your credits (16 digit codes you’ll receive by e-mail) at check out or you’ll get an error.

There doesn’t seem much limit, though it will be interesting to see how they handle things when people generate hundreds of referrals and redeem tickets. I wouldn’t count on this working, and go enforce this against a Swiss company’s Russian website.

Pilot and priest joke.

A priest dies and is waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Ahead of him is a guy who’s dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans.

Saint Peter addresses this cool guy, ‘Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven ? ‘

The guy replies, ‘I’m Jack, retired airline pilot from Houston .’

Saint Peter consults his list. He smiles and says to the pilot, ‘Take this silken robe and golden staff and enter the Kingdom.’ The pilot goes into Heaven with his robe and staff.

Next, it’s the priest’s turn. He stands erect and booms out, ‘I am Father Bob, pastor of Saint Mary’s for the last 43 years.’

Saint Peter consults his list. He says to the priest, ‘Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the Kingdom.

‘Just a minute,’ says the good father. ‘That man was a pilot and he gets a silken robe and golden staff and I get only cotton and wood. How can this be?

‘Up here – we go by results,’ says Saint Peter. ‘When you preached – people slept. When he flew, people prayed.’

Hope that added a (modest) smile to a Saturday afternoon.

I’m too young to really remember Air Florida, although I know stories of Air Florida.

Mostly I remember that Howard Stern went on the radio in DC ostensibly asking them for a one-way ticket from Washington National airport to the 14th Street Bridge, a day after the crash of Air Florida flight 90 caused by improper de-icing.

After several failed resurrections of Pan Am and this summer’s rebirth of PeoplExpress, it seems like harkening back to the glory days is sort of “been there, done that.” And of all the names to resurrect…

    Air Florida returns

A return of Air Florida is now on the table.

Air Florida is a privately-held start-up carrier, incorporated as a Florida Corporation In 2014. The company has filed for registration of all logos and indicia of the iconic carrier (Air Florida 1st, 1971-1984), and will operate initially as a public charter carrier.

So what’s the business strategy?

While Air Florida will indeed provide leisure travel services from under-served airports In the Northeast and Midwest to various destinations in our home state. Many of the cities in our launch service will become focus cities upon further expansion. The carrier will offer connecting flights and point-to-point service between Northeast and Midwest destinations.

They are going to offer service to Florida from ‘under-served airports in the Northeast and Midwest’ because Florida is a tough place to get to from the Northeast apparently.

    Air Florida returns

And when they start service in those cities they’re going to grow them into mini-hubs. Air Florida wants to fly between the Northeast and Midwest. Because that makes sense.

In addition to providing both low-fare leisure and business travel, a key philosophy behind the start-up is a return to the original Air Florida’s K.I.S.S. (Keep It Sweet & Simple) principles. Air Florida does not intend to add hidden or ‘A La Carte’ fees to its fares, but will work to keep fares low while offering our customers what should be expected in air travel.

They’re going to be a low fare carrier offering full service without extra fees. In other words, they will have full costs but not full revenue.

And they are going to have a laser like focus on their customer base of leisure travelers. No, business travelers. No, leisure travelers. Ok, both.

They’re looking to launch next year with service from St Petersburg, Daytona Beach, and Fort Lauderdale to Gary, Indiana (“Chicago”), St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Allentown, and Worcester.

Yeah, that’ll work.

American Airlines posted a travel agent advisory about how it has updated fare class for US Airways.

For tickets issued starting today for travel beginning on September 17, US Airways has worked to align its fare classes with American.

US Airways is shrinking its economy fare buckets from 15 down to 12. T, U and R will no longer be US Airways economy fares.

us airways fare classes

T, U, and R are ‘special classes’ on American. T is a coach award, U is a business class award, and — while I haven’t had occasion to search this recently — R has been a booking class for upgrades to business class on domestic 3-class flights and on two-cabin transborder flights.

It strikes me as a little strange to see the US Airways ‘R’ bucket transition to ‘E’ because that is a special class with American as well. E is used for employee travel, and for same-day confirmed changes. Perhaps American will be using that bucket in a different way going forward.

Tickets issued before today, regardless of travel date, use the same buckets they were issued into. The mapping of fare classes matters for changing such tickets and determining whether there’s inventory in the original booking class.

A minor step in many ways, but merger progress continues.

Here’s the new Southwest livery.

    southwest livery

I’m not sure what was wrong with the old one. I don’t know anyone that buys airline tickets based on the paint job of the planes. I get that you need to paint planes when airlines merge, to put the right company name on them. And the composite materials of the Boeing 787 didn’t work with American’s old unpainted metal finish so they needed at least those planes which they hadn’t gotten yet to get a new paint job. Still, I’m a bit of a skeptic.

That said, Mark F emails this photo, which looks to me like a British commuter rail train.

    southwest livery

Southwest is supposed to be more like a(n admittedly ‘fun’) bus in the sky, rather than a train. So I think they got the new Southwest livery wrong.

    Southwest Airlines: We’ve re-branded to be more like British commuter rail.

Do you like it?

Icelandair is a bit of an enigma, several US flights to Iceland and beyond, not a terrible way to get to Europe and often inexpensive — and also offering the most service to an interesting destination.

For a short while they had a partnership with Alaska Airlines which provided incredible value and drama, and dirt cheap first class awards to Hawaii. Mix a reasonable award chart for Alaska Airlines travel with selling miles for low, low prices and a feeding frenzy ensued. Alaska redemptions were pulled, and then brought back in early 2013.

Unfortunately this partnership ended June 2013. Most US customers have had few realistic options for earning and redeeming miles when flying Icelandair.

There is one way to make real use of otherwise-stranded Icelandair points, as SanDiego1K emails me.

We flew to Iceland last week. A friend had suggested that I sign up for Saga Club even though it will likely be the only time I fly IcelandAir…

You get no free food in coach with IcelandAir. However, I noticed prices given in both local currency and Saga points on the return. This is also true for their duty free catalog.

You can use points from your outbound flight to buy food or duty free on your return.

The [Flight Attendant] wanted me to have a card, which I didn’t have. She asked for a printout from the website. For some reason, she though my boarding card was insufficient, though I had to provide my passport to travel with said boarding card. But in the end, she took the number.

They value the points at about $.01/mile. Thus, for [Boston-Reykjavik], 2413 miles, I got roughly $24 credit. The flight attendant also took my credit card as backup. She had no way to check my points balance, and this ensured payment.

The program is here and it will work most easily if you sign up for the program far enough in advance of travel that you’ll actually have your membership card to show the flight attendant (which is a requirement).

Josh Barro writes one of the best mainstream pieces on the current state of mileage runs for the New York Times.

It’s a practice known as a mileage run: Buy a low-price airline ticket, in this instance $537, and fly not because you want to go anywhere, but to earn redeemable miles and progress toward elite status on your preferred airline. The core logic behind mileage runs is that airline points have a relatively fixed value, but the cost to accrue them can vary widely, so a low fare for a long trip can reap outsize rewards. Only when you’re taking a mileage run is connecting through Istanbul to get to Amsterdam better than flying there nonstop

When the New York Times comes around to the party that mileage runs are dead…

There are used to be (?) two reasons to mileage run: Read on..

When the American and US Airways merger got the final go-ahead, I said there were ten things to expect. So far things are playing out pretty much… as expected.

One of those things was the US Airways-ization of American. New leadership said that American’s service standards would survive But what that turns out to meean is a meeting in the middle for meal times — American was at about 2 hours, and US Airways at 3 hours 30 minutes so the new standard is 2 hours 45 minutes.

But it’s US Airways’-style food.

Yesterday was my first time flying on a meal route on a flight qualifying for food since new American meal standards went into effect September 1.

Since I was on a meal flight it’s still catered with mixed nuts, but with a new presentation.

I had the beef enchiladas rather than the pasta.

And we were promised we’d get to keep warm cookies! (There had been rumors in American’s catering shop of chocolate cake replacing the cookie.)

It turns out though that it’s a different cookie — smaller, no choice of kinds, and not nearly as gooey or delicious.

My own working hypothesis is that by changing the meals — and in general feedback I’ve heard is very negative, though the enchiladas were fine — they’ll discourage customers from actually eating them. And then they’ll be able to declare that customer feedback has made it clear that first class passengers prefer uncomplicated service and the ability to work uninterrupted by a full meal. So changes to better meet their needs will entail even more meal flights replaced by the ubiquitous snack basket.

That is, unless United gains traction by broadening its meal window

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