Media Coverage of Department of Transportation’s Mistake Fare Ruling

Posted on: November 30th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Nicholas Kralev continues to show that he’s the most well-informed and lucid of travel writers. His column this week in the Washington Times is on the Department of Transportation’s ruling to require British Airways to make customers whole to the extent they incurred costs as a result of BA cancelling a ‘mistake fare’ from the US to India.

Kralev understands and points out what the rest of the media which have covered the India mistake fare story failed to understand — that the $40 base fare actually generated $370 in fuel surcharges, which with tax meant a ~ $550 ticket, only a few hundred dollars less than the next best available fare at the time.

I’ve commented before that when I know there’s an airfare mistake, I iwll buy it, and then wait and see whether an airline decides to honor. If they do, great, I get a wonderful trip out of it. And if they don’t, wel, you don’t get ‘em all and that’s fine.

But a $550 ticket is hardly an obvious mistake, and I do believe British Airways ought to have honored it in this case.

What’s The Real Problem With Hilton HHonors’ Coming Devaluation?

Posted on: November 30th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Loyalty Traveler takes on the excuses and explains the concern over Hilton HHonors coming devaluation.

In creating a new higher redemption category 7, Hilton is expected to push most hotels up a category making most hotels cost more points in 2010 than they did in 2009. And Loyalty Traveler notes

the Hilton chain is allocating a much larger proportion of their hotels to the upper tier categories relative to the other four hotel chains’ loyalty programs.

He goes on to explain,

The primary objection to the Hilton HHonors changes, in my opinion, is not the addition of a new higher category 7 to the Hilton HHonors reward table. The hint from HHonors representatives that the changes will result in a large scale shift of hotels upward within the new categories is the truly objectionable aspect of the changes if they turn out to be true.

The distribution of hotels within the hotel categories is the primary concern around the proposed restructuring of HHonors category changes.

I still consider it egregious that they’re raising points requirements at a time when occupancy and room rates have seen such significant decline.

Travel Tech/Gear: Compact Power Strip Now a Standard on My Packing List

Posted on: November 28th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

I get bombarded with requests from PR shops to try out products in the hopes that I’ll blog about them. Usually the products are useless. The less a product sells itself, the more it seems that companies hire outside flacks to sell them. Sometimes I’ll write back and agree to try whatever they’re offering, but they usually don’t warrant posting about — like the travel snuggie knockoff with a snapping pocket that comes with a hard and lumpy neck pillow and an inflatable seat cushion. Cute idea but not anything I’d ever travel with, even if confined to long-haul coach.

But here’s one I’ve appreciated, and have added to my standard electronics packing list, accompanying my pocket router, power adapters, etc: the Outlets To Go Power Strip (Available at Amazon.com for ~ $14.)

I hate that hotels, older hotels in particular, never seem to have enough power outlets. And the ones they do have are completely taken up by the lamps by the bedside. Or the lamp on the desk taking up the only outlet there. And between my laptop, cell phone, iPod, and wireless router I do have power needs. I’ve even considered carrying power strips along with me when I travel, but never did.

A perfect example of where it was useful is at the older Prince de Galles hotel this past week. Just plugged in an eletricity outlet adapter into the wall and then plugged in the power strip.

This item is small enough for travel, though, and designed for compactness. The power cord wraps right around the small power strip and plugs into itself. The outlets are well spaced so that they’re all usable, and it has a USB plug-in as well.

The only complaint everyone seems to have about this device is the bright blue indicator light showing the device is on. Yes, it’s too bright, but really didn’t bother me a bit.

Hotel Prince de Galles 52 Euro Mistake Rate Stay

Posted on: November 28th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Last year the Prince de Galles hotel in Paris had a mistake rate of 52 euros per night (they intended to load a 520 euro rate). It was only available for up to 4 nights, the week of Thanksgiving.

I’ve just returned from the hotel, and had a lovely stay.

On check-in I was upgraded to a deluxe room on the top floor with a large balcony looking out over Paris (and if you crook your neck and look right, a view of the Eiffel Tower). I did check availability, figuring that the hotel wouldn’t provide much of an upgrade – as a result of the rate and of this being Paris, after all. The hotel wasn’t offering any suites at all online, for any of the four nights of our stay. And they were in fact sold out for our last night. So though I asked about a further upgrade at check-in, I had to believe them when they looked and tried to move some things around but concluded that nothing in fact was available.

The hotel room itself was quite small, with a nice bathroom of a good size. The balcony was probably a third the size of the room, at least.

The room wasn’t in the best shape, the hotel had to replace the battery in our door lock in order to be consistently able to get back into the room. A fuse blew in the room one morning while I was getting ready, but they fixed the problem without much difficulty. The toileteries were Luxury Collection branded. Toilet paper in the room really ought to be upgraded, it was pretty rough (think Scott tissue). Housekeeping didn’t touch the bathroom on our second day.

But the hotel was always friendly. I never received any attitude from the hotel, as some have reported. Everyone was genuinely warm. While service was reasonably good, it certainly wasn’t above and beyond. I used the concierge to make several restaurant reservations for me a few days before arriving at the hotel. They confirmed everything in advance by email. I never did receive anything from the concierge during my stay about these reservations. A proper five-star hotel, in my view, ought to reconfirm everything day-of and provide me with a re-confirmation. Normally that’s not a big deal, but I arrived at one of the restaurants where I ahd a lunch reservation to find that they had closed for the week. A proper high-end concierge service would have been proactive enough to avoid that.

Prices at the hotel are high, but not stratospheric as I had expected. Internet is 22 euros per day. Coffee service for one from room service is 10.50 euros. Still, I think a bit lower price point might actually generate more revenue for the hotel by enticing guests to order more services.

The hotel is located right next door to the Four Seasons George V, on l’Avenue George V off the Avenue Champs-Élysées. It’s a very upscale neighborhood, but there are some reasonably priced restaurants and cafes a few blocks from the hotel. While the Eiffel Tower is walkable (a good walk), it’s otherwise not close to the sights. But a Paris metro stop is a couple blocks from the hotel, and the subway is one of the easier ones to navigate of major world cities, so I’m fairly unconcerned with location in Paris.

Briggs & Riley Baseline 20″ Carry-on

Posted on: November 28th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Back in August, Lucky reviewed the Briggs & Riley Baseline 20″ Carryon. What caught my eye was this:

Briggs & Riley sent me one of their bags to try out on my recent trip to Asia.

So I admit, I shot an email off their to rep and said I’d love a free bag, too. And I gave it a spin on my Thanksgiving trip to Paris.

Like Lucky, the bag seems pricey to me at a retail price of $369. But they’re running it at $100 off currently and that seems much more like it.

They market their Simple as that warranty, which I’ve only heard good things about, they really will fix any problem with your bag for free for life if you bring it or send it in.

To many, that makes the price worth it. I admit, I’m a “$25 leather carryon from Nathan Road” kinda guy. Those don’t come with any sort of guarantee, I burn ‘em up and toss ‘em. And even at $100 off, I could buy 10 cheapie bags for the price of this Briggs & Riley bag. That’s hard for me to swallow. And yet I’m hooked  It worked perfectly for my four night stay in Paris, with room (and weight, given Air France’s generous carry-on rules and an overzealous checkin agent) to spare.

Best part of the construction is the wheels on the outer corners of the bag, my $25 bags always tended to tip easily but this bag never did. There’s a large pocket on the back of the bag for small items, and though they market their “SpeedThru pocket” on the front I used this back packet for my freedom baggie. The interior of the bag is extremely well laid out. There are compartments for toileteries and a garment sleeve for packing a suit, and velcro attachments to keep things in place.

It still feels pricey to me, but comparable Tumi and even Travelpro bags will cost as much. I travel enough to get value out of a more thoughtful design, and this bag fits the bill. Is it better than a ($595 retail) Tumi Alpha? Probably not. But I’ll be using this bag regularly going forward.

Which is Worse for Award Redemption, Delta or Delta.com?

Posted on: November 25th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Hunter says Delta.com has gone off the rails. And he calls the Delta.com helpdesk “We’re a Bunch of Monkeys Chained to Phones.”

Gee, Hunter is just realizing this. And he actually flies Delta. I do my best to avoid it, though in my case it’s because on Delta ful fare trumps status in the upgrade queue and the idiots treat cheap government fares as full fare. I live in DC, where everyone but me is flying on a government fare. But that’s beside the point.

My beef with Delta.com is its award search. Delta occasionally publishes premium cabin international inventory for award booking without paying extortionate double or triple mileage pricing. But its website would never know it. Flights that actually have ‘low’ price awards will still price at the medium or high mileage levels on Delta.com. Don’t believe me, or don’t want to call Delta to verify this? Just check out award inventory on the Northwest website.

Fortunately for Skymiles members, NWA.com is still available online for a short period of time. And you can book some awards there, and at least search for awards there to guide you in calling Skymiles with specific flights you want to redeem for.

I recently coached someone through a redemption with Delta miles. He wanted to fly business class to Singapore. Every single day for months Delta.com priced the itinerary at 370,000 miles per passenger. Now, he wasn’t even trying to get a regular ‘ol 120,000 mile award. he was prepared to pay 240,000 — which the “mileage calendar” said should have been available on most days. But the Dela website would never book it. Northwest, on the other hand, had no problem finding the seats at that price.

There’s also an ongoing thread at Flyertalk on award inventory disappearing when elite members log in. The theory, though I don’t buy it, is elites have more miles in their accounts so they get charged more miles for awards. Personally I think that the Delta IT system is just hopelessly broken. It’s sad, Northwest had a great platforum, but it’s being shelved. And Delta even once had a better (read: actually functional) system than they do now. Conspiracy theories abound that this is intentional on the part of Delta, but I can’t imagine that’s the case.

Still, having searched and searched for premium cabin award availability across the Pacific I can say that they very rarely offer more than one business class seat on any given transpacific flight. Their partner Korean seems to follow the same approach. So for me — valuing transpacific flying as I do — they are just not an option. Most days, most flights, will cost double miles for business class. And their regular pricing will get me first class on a set of proper Asian carriers via several programs I participate in. The Skymiles program is just not attractive to me, and that’s when their IT system actually works.

Which isn’t to say I won’t ever accumulate Skymiles. Last summer they were giving out 10,000 miles for each one-day car rental from Avis or Budget. And they gave me 20,000 miles for getting a hair loss consultation with Bosley. And I’ll even transfer a single point in from Starwood to generate a partner credit towards a mileage bonus.

But — as perhaps the person in the world today booking more award tickets than anybody else — I can say that Delta miles are the least useful of any major North American program, and that their website is next to useless in pricing out international premium cabin awards.

Department of Transportation Rules British Airways Is Responsible for Mistake Fare

Posted on: November 25th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Last month I said that Wandering Aramean was going a bit far in suing British Airways over their failure to honor a mistake fare to India.

Apparently the Department of Transportation disagrees with me.

Wandering Aramean posts an update with a Department of Transportation ruling: “We believe that all airlines should accept some responsibility for even the erroneous fares they publish.”

The DOT contends that British Airways should compensate consumers to make them whole. And British Airways is offering to reimburse customers for expenses incurred as a result of the mistake fare.

British Airways is prepared to reimburse you for penalties imposed by an airline or ground service provider as a result of your cancellation of air or ground arrangements in reliance on your cancelled British Airways booking. British Airways will also reimburse those passengers who necessarily incurred added air fare costs in restoring a pre-existing booking or reservation from the United States to India if that booking or reservation was abandoned as a result of making the cancelled booking on British Airways. Further, if you have incurred any other out-of-pocket expense, British Airways Customer Relations will make appropriate reimbursement to you in circumstances where the losses were caused by reasonable reliance on a British Airways flight booked between the U.S. and India on October 2, 2009 and its subsequent cancellation.

An interesting DOT precedent for future mistake fares, indeed.

US Airways Holiday “Big Bonus” – Up to 250% Bonus on Shopping Purchases

Posted on: November 24th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Through December 30, US Airways is offering their “Big Bonus” promotion.

Participating stores are listed on the promotion website. Each purchase you make earns you a progressively larger bonus on all of your purchases.

Stores shopped at:

Bonus earned:

1 50%
2 100%
3 150%
4 200%
5 250%

If you make 5 purchases from eligible merchants by December 30, then all of your purchases earn a 250% bonus.  The bonus will apply to a maximum of your first 10 purchases (based on posting date of those purchases).  No registration required.

If you’re already going to make several purchases, which will qualify you for the maximum bonus, great.  If not, just make a handful of small purchases to get up to the 250% bonus level.  For instance, if you don’t already have one create a ThanksAgain account via US Airways and purchase a restaurant.com gift certificate for $2 using coupon code THANKS, donate $2 to GAIAM through the US Airways Shopping Mall, spend $4.27 for an 18″ headphone extension cable from Bose, and buy a $10 gift card from Barnes and Noble.  (Thanks to Flyertalk member vysean for the suggestions.)

With those four under your belt, those and your next six purchases will all receive a 250% bonus.`

Vinesse Wine Club should earn 7,500 points, a new Sharebuilder account should earn 10,500, and TrackItBack will earn 140 miles per dollar.  Even FTD flower orders will earn 70 miles per dollar.

Clearly the best holiday bonus out there, even if they’re planning some silly changes to their award chart.

Randy Petersen Calls Out US Airways For Egregious Changes to Their Award Chart

Posted on: November 23rd, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Randy Petersen‘s opening remarks in the December, 2009 Inside Flyer are on US Airways’ planned changes to their award chart going into effect in January.

Bottom-line, Randy points out that US Airways is especially stingy in making awards available on their own flights to Dividend Miles members. They’ve gone from redeeming 9.1% of their miles flown as award tickets down to a meager 4% — less than half the rate of Continental, which has never been known as especially generous on awards.

And already US Airways imposes transaction fees just for redeeming an award. Those fees are often as much as the cost to the Dividend Miles program of the award seat itself. Their change fees are uniquely high among their peers (think $250).

Now that an award seat in business class to Europe can cost as much as 350,000 US Airways Dividend Miles, they’re even imposing blackout dates — there are several days a year when you can’t even squander your miles that way.

The real outstanding question is how this will all effect Star Alliance partner award redemption. My guess is that the award chart pricing will go up some, US Airways isn’t likely to charge less to redeem business class awards to Europe on Lufthansa for instance than on their own flights. But otherwise I’m hoping it won’t change partner redemptions at all.

And if that’s the case, then from my perspective this is much ado about nothing — because you shouldn’t be redeeming your US Airways miles to fly on US Airways anyway. Rather their 120,000 mile award from the US to North Asia (as far South as Hong Kong) in first class is mighty tasty. And they permit Atlantic routings as well (North America to Hong Kong would be 125,000 miles in first class — charging the higher Europe to Asia pricing). Plus no award blocking as practice by United, they’re a great option for Star redemptions — for now.

The problem of course is that with moves like US Airways is making, coupled with their past inanities (like temporarily abolishing elite bonus miles), one simply does not trust them as a place to accumulate miles. I love them for allowing 3-day award holds and transferring points into an account or buying points when they’re offering a 100% mileage bonus as they are through the end of December. That is, they’re great for putting an award on hold with no miles in an account, and putting miles in the account only to ticket. But I sure don’t want to accumulate too many miles over there. In fact my account and my wife’s account are both pushing 160,000. We’ll definitely need to grab a redemption soon.

The Extremely Limited Use Rate for Inflight Internet

Posted on: November 22nd, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Runway Girl makes some assumptions about AirCell’s inflight internet usage and costs, thinks they’re doing very poorly — people just don’t want to pay for inflight internet — but projects they’ll break even in three years.

She thinks they’re getting six users per flight on average, even with all of the giveaways going on. On short hops I suspect usage is quite limited. It’s a real step forward on mid-cons or longer, for sure. But it is interesting that paid adoption continues to be so low, whether Runway Girl’s numbers are plausible or not.

Flyertalk is Down Again, Hopefully Back Up Soon

Posted on: November 22nd, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Stay tuned. I pinged the Internet Brands folks this morning, their tech folks are working on the outage, “Hopefully fixed in minutes” though that was 15 minutes ago.

Hyperventialting…

Update: as of 10:20am Eastern, Flyertalk is back online for me.

How Many Mileage Millionaires Are There?

Posted on: November 20th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

According to this CNN.com article (disclosure: yes, I’m the lead for the piece) 300,000 people have earned at least 1 million miles in a frequent flyer account. I’m surprised the figure is that low, actually.

Win “Up in the Air” Tickets In Exchange for Your Questions about Frequent Flyer Miles

Posted on: November 20th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

No, I don’t actually have tickets to give away. (Although I did post an offer last week for free tickets…).

Rather, Wendy Perrin is running a contest.

Not only are we giving away ten pairs of tickets to the movie screening but, in keeping with the spirit of the film, we’re also going to solve your most frustrating frequent-flyer-mile problems.

It’s actually the Flyertalk Challenge: you pose your questions on Wendy’s blog and ten questions will be picked as winners. The people posing the questions get free sneak preview tickets to Up in the Air in New York City and Flyertalk founder Randy Petersen will answer the questions.

Now, Wendy says that the questions will be answered by Randy “his team of mileage magicians over at Boarding Area.” So, umm, perhaps you’ll get my answer too!

Which you’re welcome to post here in the comments to this post. You can get me unfiltered, and maybe get Randy’s response as well. Then we can compare. Call that the Flyertalk challenge — hah!

United’s 2010 Elite Choice Rewards

Posted on: November 19th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

United elites can read the good news over at Lucky‘s blog about the 2010 Elite Choice rewards being offered to folks who fly more next year than their current status level required.

As a 1K, for example, I could get 25,000 redeemable miles for passing 125,000 elite qualifying miles and another 25,000 redeemable miles for passing 175,000 elite qualifying miles. That’s quite an incentive! Other options include nominating someone to Premier or Premier Executive (yes, you heard me right) status. The benefits get even better for those at lower status levels.

There’s even the opportunity for really high mileage flyers to nominate gift 1K status.

Update: The Global Traveller lays out just how lucrative this promo could be for an “extreme mileage runner.”

United’s Flight Attendants Speak Out About Complimentary Domestic Elite Upgrades

Posted on: November 18th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

This Flyertalk thread points to United’s flight attendants union’s statement on the airline’s plan to offer complimentary domestic upgrades to elite passengers:

Unlimited Elite Customer Upgrades – Say Goodbye to First Class

…United had previously announced their intention to implement this program last month to United’s elite customers, and is just another kick in the teeth to Flight Attendants and other loyal employees.

My thoughts.

1. It’s true, without upgrade certificates there will be more passengers upgrading, and fewer seats up front for employees.

2. That hardly seems like a kick in flight attendants’ teeth.

3. If United’s flight attendants provided more consistently high levels of service they mght attract more passengers. Whoops, I guess those passengers might achieve elite status and steal flight attendants’ first class seats. Better not do that, then.

4. Or, wait, maybe more passengers would mean more flights, more planes, more flight attendants, better job security and higher pay. Oh, wait, That has to be wrong.

5. As one Flyertalker said, this is much ado about nothing: “they can still nonrev into three cabin F, especially intl.”

Should You Redeem Your Miles for Breast Implants?

Posted on: November 17th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Once upon a time there were mileage offers for donating blood. Last summer I earned 20,000 miles for a hair loss consultation. Plenty of folks went for Lasik eye surgery consultations this year for Delta miles as well.

So mileage earning certainly has become intertwined with all parts of life.

Now, mileage burning has as well. Finnair has introduced a new redemption option: Breast augmentation. Bloomberg has more.

Breast implants, hair replacement surgery or a face-lift performed by the Nordstroem Hospital in Helsinki are among the newest offerings in the carrier’s Finnair Plus loyalty service, according to the program’s Web site.

“Finnair contacted the hospital,” Mikko Tuomainen, the airline’s director of loyalty programs, said in a telephone interview. “The idea was to incorporate partners and services from all walks of life.”

About 1.3 million flyers are enrolled in Finnair’s loyalty program, Tuomainen said. Earning the 3.18 million points for breast augmentation surgery requires 120 round-trip, business- class flights between Helsinki and New York, according to a points table on Finnair’s Web site. Miles earned with the airline are valid for five years.

Hardly a good redemption value at almost 3.2 million points for an 8000 euro procedure, however.

1500 Point Amtrak Small Business Program Signup Bonus

Posted on: November 17th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

According to Free Frequent Flyer Miles, if you sign up for Amtrak’s small business program by December 31, 2009 using promo code DEC09 your new account will receive 1,500 bonus points. You’ll also receive 25% of the points earned by individual travelers (such as yourself) that are linked to the account. So it’s like a 25% earnings bonus.

You’ll need a taxpayer ID to identify yourself as a unique business, and of course most of us have one of those, we usually just call it a social security number…

United is Bringing Back Confirmed Regional Upgrades for 1Ks Next Year

Posted on: November 17th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Ok, technically they never went away. But when United announced their plan to go to unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades next year, they were going to drop confirmed regional upgrades for 1Ks from the mix.

As I noted at the time,

As speculated yesterday, confirmed regional upgrades go away. Currently 1K members get up to 8 of these a year (promotions aside) and they’re good for confirming a domestic (including Hawaii) upgrade at time of booking from any fare. While there are no more 500 mile upgrades to worry about, there are no more special domestic confirmed upgrades either, there will be far fewer upgrades at booking and more upgrades pushed to the complimentary upgrade window.

Of course any Mileage Plus member can use miles to upgrade domestically, elite or not, but mileage upgrades will have a co-pay next year — and in the case of Hawaii the co-pay is hefty.

The loss of confirmed domestic upgrades for 1Ks was a big one, especially with mileage upgrades requiring a cash co-pay next year.

So bringing these back is a huge benefit for 100,000-mile flyers. As United explained

1K® members will continue to earn Regional Upgrades
Sometimes no change is good news. After our last announcement, we heard from our 1K members how much they value their Regional Upgrades. To thank them for their ongoing loyalty, we’ve decided to continue issuing Regional Upgrades to 1Ks, even after the Unlimited Domestic Upgrades program launches.

Like Lucky, killing confirmed regionals meant that I considered American’s Executive Platinum status to be more valuable than United’s 1K (since Executive Platinums get 8 international confirmed upgrades per year valid on any fare, compared to United’s 6 valid on most fares). Adding back the (up to) 8 confirmed domestic upgrades may just tip the balance back.

Go United!!

Now if they’d only get rid of Starnet blocking (their practice of refusing to book mileage awards on their partners even when the partner airlines are offering them award seats), Mileage Plus would be the clear winner among loyalty programs.  No other Star Alliance carrier (including North American partners Continental, Air Canada, US Airways) engages in this practice.

Continental and United Will Offer Reciprocal Upgrades and Preferred Coach Seating Mid-2010

Posted on: November 17th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Continental and United will offer reciprocal upgrades starting “mid-2010.” Full details are on Flyertalk.

United 1Ks and Global Services will get complimentary upgrades on Continental behind Continental’s Platinums but before Golds. (Premier Executives come after Golds and Premiers come after Silver — good luck with that unless United’s lower tiers are flying on major holidays.)

Continental Platinums and Golds will get complimentary upgrades on United after United’s Premier Executives. (Continental Silvers will get complimentary upgrades on United after Premiers, but in theory before employees.)

Continental elites will get economy plus on United. United elites get ‘preferred seating’ (the same awful coach seats at the front of the plane) and Premier Executives and above can pre-reserve exit rows.

(Via Lucky.)

bmi Introduces Family Accounts and Confirmed Upgrades for Gold Members

Posted on: November 17th, 2009 by: Gary Leff

Here’s the Flyertalk discussion.

bmi is following British Airways’ lead, allowing you to pool miles from pre-registered accounts. This option begins December 1, you can link up to 8 accounts, and they don’t require that family accounts actually share an address. Moreover, even those under 18 can now join bmi Diamond Club is they’re a member of a family account.

bmi is also changing their space available upgrades to electronic confirmed upgrades, valid on any fare and on bmi flights only, exercisable within 7 days of departure.

Definitely positive changes!

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