Delta Miles for Free Hair Loss Consultation

Posted on: July 31st, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Through August 25th you can receive 20,000 Delta miles for a free hair restoration consultation.

If you actually graft (the minimum required amount of) hair onto your head that’s another 150,000 miles. But the consultation is free, and over at Flyertalk there are reports of folks with full heads of hair getting the consultation done in 10 minutes without pushback (“I have lots of hair but a family history of hair loss, I’m worried and thought I’d should talk to someone early.”).

Delta Second Checked Bags Will Be $50

Posted on: July 29th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Joe Sharkey points out Delta’s announcement that they’re doubling the fee for domestic second bags to $50.

Gee, maybe they’d make even more money if they increased the checked bag fee to $1 million.

These changes will apply to customers who purchase a ticket on or after July 31, 2008, for travel on or after Aug. 5, 2008.

OpenSkies Kills Coach to Expand “Prem+” Cabin

Posted on: July 29th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

OpenSkies, which announced plans to fly between New York-JFK and Amsterdam in addition to its Paris-Orly launch destination, is now planning to remove all its (30) coach seats.

This makes it exclusively a premium class carrier — pulling 30 seats in back in favor of 12 additional “Prem+” seats which are akin to previous generation business class seats still being flown across the Atlantic by Delta (and others). Of course, their business class product is similar to the big brother British Airways’ ‘next generation club world’ lay flat seats.

Every Friday, Flyertalk is giving away Prem+ tickets.

Two OpenSkies inaugural flight trip reports can be found here.

Personally I’m in favor of anything that increases international premium class lift. More supply pushes down price and make it more accessible, including spreading out demand and freeing up award seats on other carriers. So bravo!

Hotels.com New Frequent Guest Program

Posted on: July 27th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Loyalty Traveler outlines the new Hotels.com rewards program called Welcome Rewards. Basically one free night up to $400 for every 10 nights booked at an eligible property (each of wihch must be at a rate of at least $40).

That’s pretty good value for folks who aren’t brand loyal. In most cases you give up in-hotel points-earning in a hotel’s own program for the rate booked at Hotels.com. So these can be either-or, Hotels.com program OR Starwood points/stay credit.

Folks coveting elite status for the upgrades won’t find this useful. But if you bounce around chains, you may see a free room night more quickly via Hotels.com than from your various hotel loyalty programs. And you can chase the best rate, independent of brand loyalty now. Loyalty to the booking site matters under this program, not loyalty to hotel brand.

The online booking agencies are beginning to get serious about their loyalty programs. To date they’ve been fairly unrewarding, at least in my experience with the Orbitz and Expedia VIP programs (a special customer service number, some marginally useful benefits at best, and some extra marketing emails). And Expedia’s tie-in with Thank You Rewards is better than nothing (and better than Loyalty Traveler suggests — $5000 in spend should earn you $150 in travel, not a $50 gift certificate if you use the program correctly). But this is undoubtedly the strongest move to date.

More on Delta’s 3-Tiered Award Pricing

Posted on: July 27th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Jeff Robertson of Delta’s Skymiles program had this to say on Flyertalk about the coming introduction of three-tiered award pricing in the near future:

We are finalizing all of the technology testing right now around the new award structure, and although we’ve had a few hiccups, it appears to be on target for an early September soft-launch.

We also intend to announce the new award structure and award levels in the next 10-14 days, which will include three different levels based on availability. The first lowest level will be similar to the Saver awards today, the second tier will be expanded availability (varies by market but generally around 50% of all available seats systemwide), and a last seat availability level that goes back to “last seat on the plane.”

American, United, Continental and Alaska have all recently announced some award level increases, which we did integrate into the new award structure. We did not however make any adjustments to the D48 – 25K mile award level. Bottom line, there are a couple saver level increases, however the new expanded availability tier is always lower than SkyChoice today, and the new last seat levels are almost always higher than SkyChoice today.

Each award level is combinable, and with availability on a flight by flight basis on our website, we move the pricing of an award seat a lot closer to the pricing of a revenue seat. What we anticipate will happen, is that far less “choice” seats will be taken and far more “expanded” tier 2 seats will be taken in combination with saver seats. Moving forward, the only people who should really be using “choice” are those who plan last minute when the flights are full, or who are trying to find awards seats during the most peak special events (e.g. Super Bowl).

(Additional linebreaks mine for readability.)

So we get 3 award tiers, they’re coming soon, and we get award chart price increases at the same time. Stay tuned…

Alaska Increases Award Prices and Introduces Partner Fees

Posted on: July 26th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Following on recent minor cuts from the Alaska Airlines frequent flyer program (here and here, and admittedly most would find them minor..) Alaska has announced some pretty significant changes to their Mileage Plan program effective November 1. Here’s the bad news:

  • Domestic coach awards will now cost 25,000 miles, even when booked online. The old award was 20,000 miles, which they recently limited to those awards booked online. Now at 25,000 miles they’re just like everyone else, no longer special.
  • Unrestricted awards and first class awards get more expensive. Unrestricted coach is 55,000 miles! Unrestricted domestic first class is now 100,000 miles!
  • Partner award fee. $25 to book on one of their many partners, they learned this trick from Delta. It stinks, but I can live with it, the Alaska partner desk really is helpful and they partner with the major players in both Skyteam and oneworld.
  • New three-tiered award structure. Here’s another one they learned from Delta, and they may even get it rolled out first. Coach awards come in three flavors, the usual saver (will it become even more restrictive?), a middle-tier between saver and unrestricted, and the massively expensive last seat availability category.
  • The ‘AS50′ award — which for 15,000 miles offers 50% off a paid ticket up to $250 (and used to offer 50% off without a cap) — will no longer earn miles.

Now, Alaska does throw one itsy, bitsy teeny, weeny bone in here: they’re expanding the less expensive intra-state awards beyond just Alaska. So if you want to fly coach within California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, or Washington it’ll be just 15,000 miles roundtrip.

Alaska has gotten pretty restrictive with its award availability the past few years. First class awards on transcons are really hard to come by. It makes sense that they’re cutting from their program, they’ve been flying full so prices go up. I first explained this five years ago.

But the bottom-line is: pay the $25 partner, book your award seats on Alaska’s partners, especially international premium class itineraries. Those are the best value out there, even more so with these changes.

6000 Free Thank You Points for Citi Checking/Savings Accountholders

Posted on: July 26th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

MyCardBlog points to a Citibank offer of 6000 free Thank You points. This appears to work for anyone with a Citi checking or savings account. (If you aren’t enrolled in Thank You Points, they’ll enroll you.)

Here’s the offer they reproduce:


We’d like to take the opportunity to show our appreciation for your business with a $50 gift card, redeemable with 6,000 thankyou points. If you’re not currently a ThankYou member, we’ll enroll you so you will get the points. Just give us a call!

We can talk about as much or as little as you like. Mostly we’re just looking to know what we can do to make your banking life easier. No matter what, your time will be well spent. (Of course, what you do with the $50 gift card is entirely up to you.)


The instructions, per MyCardBlog:
Call Citi at 1-866-422-1443 by 08/08/08 and mention code ATTS. After some short questions (less than 2 mins), you can get 6,000 thankyou points in your account at thankyou network in 90 days.

First, the questions are really just identifying you and they aren’t a survey, it’s more customer service soft-sell. They’re going to ask you whether you’d like any other accounts, e.g. whether I wanted a savings account. Then they asked if there was anything else they could do for me. And they promised me the points within 90 days.

Second, you should never use 6000 points for a $50 gift certificate. If you have an eligible account for fixed point redemption (and you should — get an Expedia Thank You Points account and combine your accounts into that one) you can get 3 cents a point in value.

Frugal Travel Guy mentions this offer as well.

Garuda Indonesia to Join Skyteam Down the Road?

Posted on: July 25th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

This is hardly a done deal. In fact, I’d be surprised if it actually happens. But apparently Korean Air is supporting Garuda Indonesia’s bid to join Skyteam.

Garuda is banned from flying to the EU (Indonesian carriers in general are said to have questionable safety standards, though I recognitze that some of these decisions are made for show or other political reasons and may not reflect current safety issues — it’s surprising, for instance, that Ariana Afghan Airways is allowed to fly anywhere .. but then they benefit from US pressure.

At least Garuda would give Skyteam members an additional option to Bali and Jakarta, since Continental Micronesia s pulling out of the former.

Free Blue Plus status and 4500 miles for new bmi members

Posted on: July 25th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

bmi keeps cycling their offers for new members to join, this one has been around awhile but is pretty good, Blue Plus status and 4500 miles just for joining.

Blue Plus doesn’t benefit you meaningfully on bmi’s partners, but actually flying bmi you get lounge access and you don’t pay for buy on board meals.

Plus free miles are nice in a program that (a) doesn’t filter out Star Alliance partner award availability like United does, (b) has a lovely cash and points award chart which lets miles go a long way, (c) permits one-way awards, and (d) still gives 600 miles minimum per segment (so it’s where I credit my shorthaul United and US Airways flights).

Best Rate Guarantee Doesn’t Always Mean the Best Rate, or Every Day

Posted on: July 25th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

The Best Rate Guarantee blog writes the up changes to the TripRewards Best Rate Guarantee program. Some are reasonable, some less so, though naturally none make the program stronger for consumers trying to use it.

As many here know, the Best Rate Guarantee program by TripRewards (now Wyndham yadda yadda) has been the strongest among the hotel chains. Find a lower rate, get a night free at the property, and not too many hassles involved.

Now they say the lower rate needs to be at least 25 cents less (no more $69.99 rates beating their $70 price). Fair enough, but it was a good trick for sure! The rooms are now non-transferrable. Perfectly fair. But they’ll now limit you to one a month (of course if you travel with a spouse or friend it amounts to two a month). They want to limit their exposure, of course, but do they guarantee their site has the lowest rate or not? They still offer the strongest guarantee among the chains, but they’re making it ever so slightly less lucrative. No more hotel hopping to live rent free, that’s for sure! And they’ve added a new clause where they can cancel rooms which had valid claims in the event of fraud or abuse, which preusmably they get to define, I don’t like the ambiguity here – it just strikes me as a weasel clause.

All that said, I’ve never use their Best Rate Guarantee because I tend not to like to stay in Ramada and Days Inn properties. But that’s just me. It’s a great value for those who do, and the Best Rate Guarantee Blog is a great place to learn more as well as uncover opportunities for those great stays. (Though it’s unclear to me that the changes in rules are being driven by that blog as they claim, as opposed to places like Flyertalk, but I’m willing to go with it.)

A New Aircraft for a Classless Workers Paradise

Posted on: July 25th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Via North Korea Econ Watch, here are photos of Air Koryo’s new Tupolov 204. Beijing wouldn’t let the old Russian clunkers land, so they insisted on new Russian clunkers. Nice to see China acting as aviation safety regulator given (ironically for a nominally communist state) their market power over Pyongyang.

I especially cherish the photo of Air Koryo’s business class cabin while the back of the plane disembarks.

Frequent Flyers Try to Save US Airways Dividend Miles From Itself

Posted on: July 24th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Ever since US Airways announced the end of elite bonus miles, I’ve been telling folks that they should keep earning miles in the Dividend Miles program… by every means except flying.

Sure, they’ve introduced new award redemption fees. Those are annoying, but they just make it impractical to redeem miles for domestic coach tickets. US Airways miles are still useful for redeeming Star Alliance awards, their award chart is almost as favorable as United’s (and better than most Star carriers), and unlike United they don’t generally filter out otherwise-available award seats their partners are offering. (United prevents members from redeeming seats that partners like Lufthansa and Thai are offering because they don’t want to pay for the seats, US Airways would probably do the same but my guess is their IT system is too primitive, they were too cheap to use a standard reservation system after all).

So earn those miles, but no elite should credit flown miles to the program. Every other major mileage program offers their elites bonuses for flying. US Airways will stop on August 6th. In my view, US Airways elites should add their frequent flyer number to their reservations if forced to fly US Airways… hopefully score an upgrade… and then change the account number at the airport once the upgraded boarding pass is safely in hand. Bail for another frequent flyer program. (Most will choose United, but for flights under 500 miles consider British Midland which still offers 600 miles minimum per coach segment).

My advice to give up on US Airways for crediting flight miles is not universally shared. There are some who care enough about the airline and the program to try to save it from themselves.

Enter… Save Dividend Miles.

A similar effort worked with Delta, which reversed damaging changes to its own program about 4 years ago.

The Save Dividend Miles folks want to get US Airways to reverse the changes which make it the worst program for frequent travelers in the United States. They want to keep flying US Airways and earning elite status. And they want to do other travelers a service — draw attention to the harm this change will cause before other programs follow suit in an industry that seems to mirror what other carriers are doing regardless of whether it’s beneficial for them or not.

US Airways members can sign a petition and have the number of miles in their account cumulatively represented by the project. And they offer some guerilla tactics for getting the attention of US Airways customers, such as handing out boarding cards in lounges, leaving them there, and even “leave these cards in Business/First lavatories, on tray tables, in seat pockets, and in inflight magazines.”

Delta was derided in 2003 for [D]riving [E]very [L]oyal [T]raveler [A]way. And they didn’t take away elite bonus miles…

Spirit Ends Web Convenience Fee for Online Bookings

Posted on: July 24th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Upgrade: Travel Better notes that Spirit has reversed one of the more absurd fees in a recent spate of absurd airline fees – a $10 (roundtrip) “web convenience fee” for booking online.

“It’s your cash register, stupid!” not some previously bundled service in need of unbundling (and even there, most airlines would do well to read a simple Tyler Cowen illustration on how bundling can be both profit maximizing and good for the consumer).

Oh, and as I’ve noted previously, I go out of my way not to fly Spirit.

Typology of Those Favoring Airline “Re-Regulation”

Posted on: July 24th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Megan McArdle offers a trenchant observation about those who call for greater regulation of the airline industry (I hesitate to call it ‘re-regulation’ as commercial aviation is already among the most heavily regulated industries). 

Like everyone else, I hate the delays and various indignities of flying.  On the other hand, I like the fact that it’s costing me $100 to fly to Tampa to pick up my car in two weeks; absent deregulation, that trip would cost a lot more than twice that amount.  I think it’s telling that complaints about deregulation of the airlines come almost entirely from three groups of people:

1)  People who have no idea what they are talking about
2)  Affluent people
3)  People who fly a lot for work

The third group, especially, would like to basically cut the bottom out of the market, so that coach is a vastly more pleasant experience.  They don’t care that this will raise prices, because they aren’t paying for the tickets–most of them probably don’t particularly care if this means that they fly less.  But of course, the only way to raise the level of service is to raise the cost, which means a lot of people who don’t have jobs that send them hopping from city to city wouldn’t be able to fly at all.  Remember the Brady Bunch trip to the Grand Canyon?  You young people may not remember, but that’s what all family vacations used to look like.  You may climb into the back of a station wagon for a two day trek to Canada, but I’ll take flying,

Her number three is precisely what I called out Richard Posner on back in April.

And it’s little surprise that the “Business Travel Coalition” is calling for re-regulation, oddly because of how important commercial aviation is to the economy.

Meanwhile, for Matthew Yglesias, labor-management class warfare is Maslow’s hammer; and he seems to think that business travel is a nail. Folks who fly for work in less pleasant conditions than previously have ‘gotten a pay cut’ which somehow generates surplus profits that translate into more executive perks ‘like corporate jets and first class tickets.’

I suppose that if class warriors abandon consumers who couldn’t previously afford to fly in favor of fighting battles for capitalist middle managers and salespeople, that’s really a victory for proponents of markets. But it also displays a lack of understanding of the specific facts of air travel as it currently stands.

First, because the purchase of premium class tickets has taken a hit this year, Yglesias’ executives are buying fewer first class tickets rather than more.

And second, because domestically it’s more likely that those middle managers flying incessantly are the ones who will be sitting up front rather than their bosses, as roughly 90% of domestic first class seats are upgrades awarded to frequent flyers rather than paid first class tickets. And those frequent flyers can board first (thus securing overhead bin space) and sit in their choice of aisle or window at the front of coach if they can sit in front of the curtain (on those carriers that still separate the classes via a curtain).

Meanwhile, Yglesias draws no connection to the increased flying driven by lower prices and greater worker productivity that drives incomes. Strange, indeed.

(Both links via Economist’s View, which has an excellent overall post on why airline service isn’t as bad as you think, I don’t endorse all of the particulars but the post is 90% correct.)

Update: Kevin Mitchell writes in the comments that the Business Travel Coalition has not called for re-regulation.  I take him at his word that reports to the contrary mischaracterize his position.

30,000 Priority Club Points Each for Personal and Small Business Visa

Posted on: July 23rd, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Chase is still offering 30,000 Priority Club points and first year free for their Priority Club Visa. What’s new is that they are also offering 30,000 Priority Club points for their co-branded small business Visa as well.

Now, 30,000 points used to be enough for a free Intercontinental night. Alas, except when PointBreaks are available (at 5000 points per night!) this is no longer the case — the standard Intercontinental room night is now 40,000 points. But 30,000 is enough for two nights at most Holiday Inn properties, so the offer isn’t bad. And with no fee the first year (don’t keep the card past that point, it’s not a great place to put spending), and points generated for you after first purchase rather than after reaching a spending threshold as some of the airline cards now require, this is a pretty reasonable deal. 60,000 total Priority Club points for little effort, which also is enough to generate Platinum status to boot (quite useful when staying at Crowne Plaza properties, far less useful at the median Holiday Inn, most of which don’t have a lot of upgraded rooms so you may wind up with just a free cocktail or breakfast coupon).

Priority Club points also transfer to miles, 60,000 points will yield 12,000 miles in tons of different airline programs though this usually isn’t the best use of the points by any stretch.

Chase cards are generally no longer churnable, so you may not be able to get the bonus miles if you’ve already received them on a previous card of the same type. But you can get the small business card if you’ve only had a Priority Club personal card before. And if you’ve never had either, you can sign up for both. We all have small businesses after all in the modern world, we’re just temporary employees contracting for ourselves! Your Name & Associates or Your Name Consulting works quite well.

Northwest Unpublished Discounts on Unrestricted Awards

Posted on: July 23rd, 2008 by: Gary Leff

As reported on Flyertalk, Northwest is in the process of testing different award pricing options and various itineraries may show less than the usual published pricing for awards without capacity controls. When the usual domestic ‘PerkSaver’ 25,000 mile awards are unavailable, ‘PerkPass’ may price at 40,000 miles rather than 50,000 — or more precisely, 20,000 miles each way instead of 25,000. Similarly, there’s a report on unrestricted awards pricing at 70,000 miles to India instead of 90,000.

This is an improvement for those who would otherwise be in the position of booking an unrestricted award. My guess, though, is that they’re working on their systems towards the goal of aligning them with Delta, which currently offers three levels of awards at different mileage price points. The testing may have to do with preparing their systems for three pricing levels rather than two, and they may be collecting data on the level of bookings generated by the mileage ‘discount’ (relative to unrestricted pricing).

Ultimately harmonization with Delta Skymiles is bad. Very bad. But this one change may benefit some Worldperks members in the meantime.

Orbitz Discount Codes

Posted on: July 23rd, 2008 by: Gary Leff

Orbitz is offering discounts on qualifying hotel stays and vacation packages targeted towards the gay community but usable by anyone.

  • three or four nights save $40 with promo code GAYPRIDE40
  • five or more nights save $100 with promo code EQUALITY100.

Book by August 31 for travel through November 15.

If You Didn’t Believe the Airlines Had to Keep Flying to Support The Underlying Credit Card Business…

Posted on: July 22nd, 2008 by: Gary Leff

United is getting a cash injection from the issuer of the United Visa to keep it going through to better times and lower fuel prices.

UAL Corporation (Nasdaq: UAUA), the holding company whose primary subsidiary is United Airlines, today announced that it reached an agreement in principle with its Mileage Plus co-branded bank card partner, Chase Bank U.S.A., N.A. (“Chase”), and Paymentech, one of its credit card processors, to extend the term of their respective agreements.

As part of the transaction, United will receive a payment of $600 million from Chase, which relates to the advance purchase of frequent flyer miles and the extension of the contract. The company also expects this transaction will improve cash flow by about $200 million in the next two years.

In addition, the level of reserve or holdback that United is required to maintain under its credit card processing agreement with Chase / Paymentech L.L.C. has been reduced to $25 million. This reduction will result in the release of approximately $350 million in previously restricted cash.

As a result of its agreement with Chase, the company expects to increase its cash position by approximately $1.2 billion

(Emphasis mine.)

Previously United’s co-branded credit card issuer provided debtor-in-possession financing and exit financing for the carrier’s bankruptcy. And Delta’s co-branded partner, American Express, provided half a billion dollars in prepurchase of miles in a vain attempt to keep the airline out of bankruptcy.

Not All Baggage Fees are Created Equal

Posted on: July 22nd, 2008 by: Gary Leff

The Washington Post has a helpful up-to-date chart on current airline baggage policies.

Southwest stil doesn’t charge for the first or second checked bag. Airtran doesn’t charge for the first, and discounts the second if you prepay online. Delta, and Continental don’t charge for the first, but do for the second.

Personally I expect that Delta and Continental will eventually join the leaders. Unless they see significant bookings coming their way driven by the lack of fees — and the fees are sufficiently conoluted for most passengers to make sense of so I doubt it — they’re walking away from revenue if they don’t. I do see the opportunity for a clever ad campaign to differentiate their products, but in the end all the evidence I’ve ever seen on coach travel is that the driver of airline selection is price, nearly to the exclusion of everything else, so it’s a question mark whether such a campaign could ever succeed.

Elite status and flying in a premium cabin generally exempt flyers from these fees. The trick here is that any status gets you what you need, including alliance partner status. And companions on the same reservation usually get the waiver as well. United is the most generous: gifted Premier Associates benefit from the waiver, and all passengers on the same reservation benefit from that member’s status.

Northwest’s Odd $44 Award Fuel Surcharge for Hong Kong Departures

Posted on: July 20th, 2008 by: Gary Leff

A week and a half or so ago Northwest announced fees for award redemption. They call them fuel surcharges, but fuel surcharges are really part of the cost of a ticket. And with awards they aren’t even tied to the fuel surcharge imposed on paid ticket, they’re made up fees imposed based on the region of travel for your award.

$25 for flights within North America, $50 transatlantic, $100 transpacific, $75 intra-Asia (unless travel originates in Hong Kong, in which case it’s $44), and $50 on all other itineraries.

The $44 fee for award travel beginning in Hong Kong struck me as strange. My hunch was correct, it is a bit of an anomaly. Turns out that there’s a law in Hong Kong which prevents them from imposing fuel surcharges on award tickets that are higher than that imposed on revenue tickets.

Kinda shows that the emporer has no clothes, if they’re adding higher fuel surcharges on awards than revenue tickets in other markets, doesn’t it? Nobody should call it a fuel surcharge. It’s an award redemption fee. It’s a cash co-pay. Mileage tickets are no longer free tickets on several US carriers, they now offer only ‘miles and money’.

The holdout carriers — such as United, Continental, and Alaska (I’ll even throw American in there, since their minimum fee is just $5) — should be applauded.

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