I Hate Trip Insurance

Posted on: December 28th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Only buy insurance for expensive items you couldn’t afford to replace. Most people shouldn’t buy extended warranties and shouldn’t buy travel insurance. If you can afford to replace the item, save the money from the insurance and self-insure.


Insurance for inexpensive items is generally a bad buy, that’s why it’s profitable for companies to offer, on the whole the premiums will be greater than the payouts. That’s true even after adjusting for adverse selection, a recognition that many buyers will be precisely the people who believe they’ll wind up with a valid claim.


You’re still betting that the company standing behind the warranty or insurance will be around to pay out. And you’re betting that you can make them pay out, without the effort in doing so being more costly than the value of the claim.


These are precisely the costs that people usually don’t factor, at least until their story winds up in the Washington Post:


“Eileen McGarry and her family were in the middle of their vacation on Grand Cayman in August when reports came in that Hurricane Dean was barreling toward them. They were ordered to evacuate their lodging amid news of impending disaster.

But their insurance denied their claim for the cost to get off the island, because they left the island too early.”


I save the money on travel insurance, all those times I don’t have claims the savings add up. Then I can pay the costs of an interrupted trip out of pocket and not have to rely on fighting a bureaucracy in hopes of recovering part of my costs.


This isn’t the same thing, by the way, as arguing against paying a premium for flexible airfare or hotel bookings. That’s a post for a different day.

Is that a spare battery in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Posted on: December 28th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

The TSA’s new rules on batteries are going to get plenty of press, and my thoughts will be hardly original.


Suffice to say that it took me awhile to figure them out, I can’t imagine how this will translate to the median traveler … and to TSA screeners who will be forced to understand the difference between lithium metal, lithium ion, and NiMH batteries and calculate watt hours of unlabeled batteries.

p1009047.jpg


Short version, you can no longer pack spare batteries in your checked bags. And you can only carry on two spare batteries (how will screeners know if you limit any single item going through an x-ray machine to two batteries?). And those spare batteries are limited by a formula that requires more chemistry than I remember from college, but the TSA assures that cell phone and laptop batteries for the most part will be unaffected.


To make matters worse, these new rules were announced today to go into effect on January 1. Holiday travel day, with folks already on the road who will be returning home with whatever spare batteries they’ve already packed. One of a handful of amateur days and the TSA will eb trying out new rules on an unsuspecting and unaware public.


And, oh yeah, I’m traveling on New Year’s Day. That’ll be fun.


Meanwhile in an unrelated development, the comically and cosmically inept Italian government has made a reasonable smart move in choosing to negotiate a sale of money-losing flag carrier Alitalia to Air France. Today, at least, Italian aviation policy moves were better than American ones.

The Joys of Domestic Holiday Travel

Posted on: December 27th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

I’m sitting in the American Airlines Aadmiral’s Club, flight delayed, waiting on inbound aircraft.This lounge doesn’t even sell food, which I’m lamenting at the moment (normally I abhor the practice). The only available snacks are three leftover donuts from breakfast (it’s 11:30am). There’s coffee and water. I’ve been sitting here for about 90 minutes and there hasn’t been a bartender yet (it’s 5 o’clock somewhere…besides, even a sods or virgin bloody mary would be nice). No newspapers on the rack, either.

I can access the lounge through either my American Express Platinum card or my British Airways status. But free wireless – a new introduction for American lounges – is only available to club members and those entering on day passes. One-time passholders get free internet, I do not. Thus I’m posting through my laptop and tethered blackberry.

As one prominent Flyertalk member is known to say, “The game isn’t as fun as it used to be!”

At least I’m not flying United through Chicago, my flight isn’t cancelled, and I’m heading to a warmer climate.  My upgrade (such as it is) cleared — which is pretty good considering I’m not a regular American flyer, but have lifetime status as a result of accumulating over a million lifetime miles in my account through promos.  See, there are things to be thankful for…

Tumi Winter Sale!

Posted on: December 26th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Naturally after Christmas means after Christmas sales. So the twice-yearly Tumi sale is back.


Tumi is, on the whole, my favorite luggage but the standard pricing is rather prohibitive. Some report success trolling overstock types of stores like TJ Maxx, but I tend to just wait around for the Summer and Winter sales. This go-round, though, the sale items seem a bit limited… especially for rolling luggage.


EVReward shows the best referral offers for Tumi purchases, personally I’ll take 5 American Airlines miles per dollar spent as a nice way to cap off the deals Tumi is offering on dscontinued styles and colors.


(Definitely start any of your purchases with that American link.)

20% Off and Free Shipping at W Hotel Store

Posted on: December 24th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

bliss_small.jpgThrough December 31, promo code G2X8P is valid for 20% off and free shipping at the W Hotel Store.

Now, that’s not the time to buy W Hotel Beds. I bought mine under a 40% off deal, and I believe beds come with free delivery to begin with.

But it’s perfect for purchasing Bliss products. The W/Bliss partnership served its purpose with me, they’ve hooked me on their soaps, shampoos, etc. And it turns out that the W Hotel Store offers quite reasonable prices on them. Shipping can be a killer, though. But 20% off and no shipping cost makes this the go-to place for Bliss products.

Luggage Deals

Posted on: December 23rd, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Luggage Factory has some pretty good deals on TravelPro bags, like the 22″ carryon for $49.90 and the 28″ rolling bag for $69.90.

As far as I can tell there are no additional rewards for shopping with them, check out their coupon page and other free offer banners (there’s a free toiletery kit for spending $150 or more, but it’s not worth hitting the spend threshold just for the bonus).

TravelPro isn’t Tumi, but assuming the items are genuine ithey’re unheard of prices for good bags.

How to Request United to Manual Sell an Award Seat

Posted on: December 23rd, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Further to my recent posts about United’s filtering of award seats (here and here), a reader asks:

I have a DEN-IAD-AMS in C on the 27th, but I’d rather go LH DEN-FRA-AMS.
It SHOWS Availability on ANA, but I cannot get UA to pull up a seat.
Any ideas?

There’s no foolproof way to circumvent StarNet but what you want is for the agent to do a manual sell of the segment you’re looking for, essentially sending a message to the other airline asking if there’s availability, and if there is then it should come back as confirmed. But agents aren’t supposed to do this, really.
I suggest asking something along the lines of,

I talked to another agent today about a different itinerary, and she said there were some problems with the award booking system and she’d have to request the flights manually. I gave her the flight number and then it confirmed.

In other words, non-threatening. And there’s at least some chance you’ll get the flight you’re looking for (if it shows up as being available in other systems).

Update: Score! This reader writes back,

Yahoo!


I tried 6 times, and finally got an agent to do it.


She said she wasn’t supposed to do a “manual request” and that they had been scolded for doing so, but she did it! Now Luftansa all in business class! Much better routing!


Thanks so much!

Looking on the Bright Side

Posted on: December 22nd, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Online Travel Review has a Christmas message for travelers: complaints aside, the world looks pretty good.

We can travel basically anywhere in the world on a whim. Average roundtrip airfares between New York and London were about $6500 (in today’s dollars) back in the 1950s. I could fly there for $500 in 2 weeks. Despite rising fixed costs, airfares continue (for the most part) to be incredibly affordable in ways that most other countries can only dream about. It’s changed the way we keep in touch with friends, go on vacation, and do business. We’re all better off because we can fly off to Michigan to visit friends for $150, when driving the same route would cost about $180 in gas.

Frequent flyer programs and the growing airline alliances have allowed us to visit roughly anywhere in the world for free — and it is truly free for many of us, as we accumulate those miles on our companies’ dime. 20 years ago Albania was closed off to the rest of the world. This summer, I called Continental, used 50,000 miles (thanks to work trips to Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta, mostly), and 10 days later was on a plane to Tirana on a Skyteam partner. If we can stop complaining for a moment, think about how insane that is. The world has become accessible in a way it never has before.

I wholeheartedly endorse all of the above — except the advisability of flying to Albania in coach. Egads.

Who to fly, which program to earn with?

Posted on: December 22nd, 2007 by: Gary Leff

For top-tier elites, those that fly 100,000 miles a year or more, the best benefits are with United and American.

United’s 100,000 mile flyers get (6) international upgrades a year valid on most fares and confirmable at booking (subject to award space availability).  In addition there are up to (8) confirmed domestic upgrades a year, and that’s on top of the upgrades earned by lower level elites (4 500-mile upgrades per 10,000 miles flown on United or United Express).

American’s 100,000 mile flyers get (8) international upgrades a year valid on most fares and confirmable at booking (subject to award space availability, but most importantly these are exempt from American’s required ‘buy up’ requirement to pay cash in addition to miles for international upgrades).  Unlike at United, domestic upgrades are ‘unlimited’ with no upgrade coupons required.

For award redemption, in my experience, American is the best when it comes to seats on its own flights.  For overall award redemption, including partners, American is up there along with United and USAirways (because both are members of the Star Alliance and offer outstanding international redemption options).  United does filter out availability from some partners, while in my experience USAirways does not.  So while USAirways requires more miles than United for many redemptions (eg 90,000 United miles gets you business class from North America to Asia, on USAirways it’s 120,000 miles) availability is sometimes better with USAirways (just about everything else about them is frustrating, though!).

While Northwest, Continental, and Delta are great for domestic upgrades of elites, which are automatic and unlimited subject to availability. they are all subpar when it comes to award redemption.  On the whole award availability lags far beyond United, American, and USAirways.  International upgrades are almost nonexistent (except for Northwest elites flying far more miles than required for Platinum).  Continental’s on-board domestic product is probably tops in the U.S. (though I’m pretty happy with United) and far above Northwest, Delta, USAirways, and American.  So for the purely domestic flyer with 75,000 miles a year or more to earn platinum — and who can book travel at Continental.com so that even discount fares count 100% towards status, there’s a pretty good reason to fly Continental.

Generally speaking, I would only accumulate miles with Northwest, Continental, or Delta if I was flying those carriers regularly and working towards elite status for my domestic upgrades.  And even then I would only credit actual flight miles to those programs (and possibly credit card miles using one of the Continental or Delta cards whose spending can contribute to status).  I’d credit all other partner activity to another program.

This last point cannot be stressed enough.  Who you fly is often dictated by where you live and where you fly.  But you don’t have to collect all your miles in one program.  Push all your flight miles to a single program if you’re able to make elite status, and earn miles with a single program until you reach your award goals, but then it’s worthwhile to accumulate miles elsewhere so that when it comes time to redeem you have more than one program to choose from.  Perhaps United doesn’t have the award seats you want, but American does.  That’s a big reason why I’ve never been turned away from an award I really wanted — I have so many programs to choose from, chances are that one of them can help me.

Dinner at The Source

Posted on: December 22nd, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Last night I had dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s new restaurant in DC, The Source. It’s attached to the Newseum in Penn Quarter, which hasn’t opened yet, and it’s across the street from Capital Grill.

Wolfgang Puck

Brand new place, I don’t think it’s even been reviewed in the Washington Post yet.
Verdict: outstanding. Not quite in the league of CityZen, either in terms of service or quite the same heights of cuisine. But really excellent nonetheless, especially with so many good trendy places having fallen recently (IndeBleu and Zengo are classic examples of the phenomenon).There really is something to the idea that the best places seem to burn out quickly, perhaps after six months or a year, so it’s best to go to good new places early. Don’t know whether the excellence here will last, but the food was definitely worthwhile. Thanks to Tyler for the recommendation.

Price point is probably a little bit higher than the median fine dining restaurant in DC, appetizers are $14 – $20 and entrees $30 – $60. Desserts are $10.

Underlying idea is mostly Asian-influenced (as if nobody has ever done Asian fusion before, but The Source does it well). Incorporates Indian flavors also, such as in the short ribs I had last night. The lamb stir fry appetizer was outstanding to boot.

New Look and Feel to the Site

Posted on: December 22nd, 2007 by: Gary Leff

View from the Wing has a new look and feel, and a new URL. Please update your RSS feeds, and check out the other blogs at BoardingArea.com.

9,999 Bonus Miles with Budget

Posted on: December 19th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Budget car rental is offering 9,999 Continental Onepass miles on rentals of five consecutive days or more through January 31, 2008. Reservations must be made at Continental’s website at least 24 hours in advance with discount code (BCD code) U072506.

Flyertalk discussion is here, and note that some folks are finding a higher price than otherwise best available when renting under this offer.

25,000 Bonus Miles for 6 Car Rentals

Posted on: December 19th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Northwest’s Drive Your Way to 25K promo offers 25,000 bonus miles after registering and completing

    six (6) car rentals, for three (3) days or more per rental, of a mid-size or larger vehicle between December 10, 2007 and March 10, 2008with National Car Rental.

Flyertalk discussion is here.

Discounted Business Class Awards to Spain

Posted on: December 19th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

For travel between January 1 and March 12, American AAdvantage is offering discounted redemption on Iberia, the best deals being business class from either Boston or Washington, DC to Madrid for 60,000 miles instead of the usual 90,000.

If only my plans were taking me to Spain in March instead of April!

Details of Alitalia’s “New” Program (And How You Lose All Your Already-Accumulated Miles)

Posted on: December 19th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Alitalia has come out with details of its ‘new’ frequent flyer program. Really, it’s just a tweak of the old one, but by ending that one and starting fresh they get to completely flush out their existing mileage liability and hose their customers. Welcome to Alitalia!

As previously reported, the current program ‘ends’ December 31 — that’s the end date for accumulating miles to add to existing ones, which must be redeemed by June 30th or else they disappear into the ether. Alitalia will match your existing miles in the new program, however, if you take two Alitalia flight segments in the first six months of 2008. Partner flights don’t count, so if you earned Alitalia miles on an Italy trip and you’re in North America you pretty much have to go back to Italy if you want to extend your miles.

The new program is called the ’2008 – 2010 edition’ so they seem to be putting folks on clearer notice that they’re going to pull the same trick again in a couple of years. At least they’re more upfront about it this time, instead of burying the possibility deep in their terms and conditions. Their FAQ says they may end the program in 2010, but that they also may not.


There are now 3 elite levels (at 20,000 – 50,000 – 80,000 miles)instead of just two, and midtier status is required for lounge access (both Alitalia and Skyteam partner lounges).


One way awards (but for more than half the cost of a roundtrip) are introduced.

And Mileage accrual is now based on fare class, so the cheapest fares earn less than flown miles and full fare coach or business class earn up to 300% of flown miles with generous minimums.

All in all, it isn’t really a “new” program .. Just more revenue-based and with a new top tier.

Amex Plat Free Virgin Silver Status

Posted on: December 19th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

American Express Platinum has a new benefit, Silver status with Virgin Atlantic. (Centurion gets Gold status, and Virgin is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, so this relationship isn’t suprising.)


Since the signup offer is online, it’s unclear to me what kind of verification takes place that the person signing up is an actual cardholder. I imagine there’ll be a file sent by Virgin to Amex of those who have signed up, and some matching process will likely occur in the future, but all this remains to be seen.


Silver status comes with 2 free upgrades each for the Heathrow and Gatwick Express, a mileage bonus on Virgin Atlantic flights, and Premium Economy checkin privileges when flying Virgin in coach. Not a ton, but better than a hole in the head.

On Lufthansa’s Newly Acquired Stake in JetBlue

Posted on: December 16th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Joe Sharkey suggests a motivation for Lufthansa’s purchase of a stake in JetBlue: slots at New York-JFK in advance of Open Skies.

It’s not clear to me how partial ownership gives Lufthansa access to these slots, though. Lufthansa may well get a board seat or two, but they still have to act in the best interests of JetBlue shareholders writ large. And it’s non-obvious how that means Lufthansa will be able to transfer or buy slots that they couldn’t otherwise have come up with an arrangement for.

But then I might just be naive in the ways of international airline finance. Me, I’d never put $300 million into an airline even if I was an airline. (The old joke rings true, “What’s the quickest way to become a millionaire? Start out with a billion dollars and invest in an airline.”)

Slaying the StarNet Dragon

Posted on: December 16th, 2007 by: Gary Leff


Last week I described United’s system for denying awards on its partners, StarNet. Airline partners offer award seats, United won’t book them, and its representatives say the award “isn’t available.”

I didn’t manage to get United to book first class award seats between Bangkok and Europe. But Lufthansa seats were easier to secure. I knew the flights I wanted, the ANA award search tool showed them as available. And when the United outsourced customer service rep said she couldn’t “see” the flights I gave her the flight numbers and she entered the request — they came back confirmed.

The best hint, it seems, that United is ‘filtering’ an award for a given flight is that the rep won’t just say “there aren’t any award seats on that flight” or “all I have is coach on that flight.” They’ll sometimes say “I don’t see that flight in the system.” I had that happen one time with ANA’s flight 1 between Tokyo and Washington-Dulles. (Like “flight 1″ doesn’t exist, after ANA has been flying it for over twenty years.)

So one limited data point is that when United reps “can’t see” a flight, a manual request for the flight may just come back confirmed. That usually happens in a minute or two tops.

In the end, after battling the StarNet dragon for awhile, I have my two North America to South Asia first class award tickets via the Atlantic — with two visits to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt and a visit to the Thai Airways First Class Spa in Bangkok.

The Chase Churn is Over

Posted on: December 16th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

For years frequent flyers got mileage-rich signing up for the United Visa fee-free the first year, scoring the signup bonus, cancelling, and then signing up again. Chase, which issues the card, finally closed that opportunity.

However, lesser known to the frequent flyer universe, other Chase cards could continue to be ‘churned’ — the Priority Club, Marriott, British Airways, and Southwest Visas, for instance.

That appears to be no more. There are confirmed reports with the British Airways and Priority Club Visas that Chase is sending repeat cardmembers a letter saying that they won’t be getting the signup bonus miles. I assume this extends to all Chase products, or at least to all Chase mileage products.

It’s a sad day, indeed. Chase joins American Express at (quite reasonably) refusing to give out signup bonuses more than once, although the small quirk with Amex is that if you sign up for a more lucrative offer than in the past I’ve seen them give out the difference between the new and old offers as a signup bonus the second time.

Citibank’s American Airlines credit card products can still be churned however. The personal and business Mastercards are quite churnable, and I assume that the American Express (issued by Citi and not Amex) and the Visa are as well. So that’s several hundred thousand miles in potential bonuses a year, all with first year free offers.

The Bank of America products have always been churnable — the USAirways Visa (soon to go away), the Alaska Visa, and the Hawaiian Visa are the ones that come to mind. Bank of America doesn’t frequently offer fee-free years at signup, however.

I have seen reports that the USAirways Mastercard from Juniper Bank is churnable. Now that I’m past my first year (with the very lucrative first year bonuses) and well into my second fee-free year, I’ll probably try it in the coming months myself — if only to see if I can get another first year of 50% bonues on all spend, signup miles aside.

Korean Air Skypass Introduces Expiring Miles

Posted on: December 15th, 2007 by: Gary Leff

Miles earned on or after July 1, 2008 will expire after five years.

Previously, miles never expired.

The announcement claims that miles in the majority of international programs expire after 18 months or three years. What they don’t say is that any activity in an account with most of those programs will extend the validity of those miles another 18 months or three years.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with this new change to Skypass. Instead, they’ve gone the route of programs like Cathay Pacific AsiaMiles — use ‘em or lose ‘em.

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