Mileage Runs Debated on Video

Posted on: November 30th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Check out this hilarious YouTube video of two cartoon co-workers debating the merits (or idiocy) of mileage runs.

Personally I’ve never been a fan of the pure mileage run. They’ve always been way too expensive for me to undertake — flying just to acquire miles to redeem — since the cost per ticket calculation that suggests acquiring miles from flying is worthwhile generally doesn’t incorporate the opportunity cost of time, which I place at a pretty hefty premium given my disparate commitments.

That said, I am a fan of that short extra trip needed to bump up to the next elite level, especially if it’s for top tier, and especially if there’s a strong expectation of heavy flying in the next year.

And I am a fan of discretionary travel to see new places, experience new things, and change the scenery of life.

So you won’t find me doing many a straight-turn, but an extra weekend trip absolutely.

(HT: Upgrade: Travel Better)

What An Airline Merger Looks Lke

Posted on: November 30th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Back from India where I had undoubtedly the worst first class flight segment I’ve ever experienced, and it wasn’t even on United. That’ll make for a good story, as will the United flight I had where I prompted the flight attendant to give everyone in the cabin who wasn’t a non-rev a Skykit. But there were some real highlights of the trip, too.

But for now I’m catching up on ‘real work’ and so posting the past few days has been sparse. For that I apologize!

Meanwhile, courtesy of Kevin I share with you this photo of a United aircraft painted in its new livery, the name remains the same but the graphics are all Continental.

More Media for the Expedia Free Flights to New York, Cancun, and Las Vegas Deal

Posted on: November 30th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Scott Mayerowitz at ABC New Travel covers the story nicely.

I spoke with him yesterday, he had learned about the deal on this blog. I put him in touch with Matthew and Scott details some exploits on ths deal:

Next month, Klint, his brother and his uncle are all flying to Las Vegas and staying in two rooms at a five-star hotel. The total cost: $44. Throw in a $200 food and drink credit and they are actually making $156 off the trip.

…Then he started booking other trips for friends and family. Ultimately, Klint purchased 15 tickets, most of them for free.

Mayerowitz gets Expedia to say they’re honoring the deal, though they wouldn’t comment further.

The key takeaways from this deal, as with most, are:

  • I have no ethical problem with these. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. If a travel provider decides to honor an offer like this, I say that’s great, and I’d love to participate. If they aren’t going to honor it and they decide and communicate that quickly, there’ll be more deals in the future. Threats to sue are silly, you win some you lose some and move on. But you do win some, amazing experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have, and it’s worth raising your hand to say that if they’re being given out, you’d like to be one of the lucky few!

  • You have to act fast. The deals can last for days or hours or minutes. Don’t try to get it perfect, don’t consult with your whole family. If it’s refundable or uber-cheap, just book it. Not sure which dates you want? Book a couple, decide later. Remember, we don’t know how it’ll turn out until the deal is done, so don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Too often people can’t figure out their perfect trip, coordinated with friends, and they don’t book anything at all. But as long as it’s not expensive and non-refundable, you’re just ‘buying an option’ and can decide what to do with it later. Hey, sometimes deals are cancelled and those that got in on it are given travel vouchers as an apology, might as well sign up for those..

  • Don’t be greedy. Don’t just limit yourself to one necessarily, but don’t be like the guy who booked an Executive Floor room at the Tokyo Hilton for $3 for an entire year because it was near his office, got him breakfast and cocktails every day. That’ll breed ill-will, raise the costs to honor it, and frankly is just unsporting. If a travel provider wants to honor an amazing deal, say thank you, don’t stick it to them.

I posted this deal here on View from the Wing. I found it at Flyertalk. I figured I might get some heat for sharing it, since folks are pretty paranoid these days about ‘killing deals’. There’s usually someone at FLyertalk who will say they called the airline or hotel chain with a questoin while the deal is live, and everyone piles on with scorn and condemnation, figuring that person is killing the deal. When usually they’re just pulling everyone’s legs, for the reaction.

I do wind up learning about deals that don’t get posted here, sometimes because they don’t seem of broad enough interest or other times because they’re shared with me in confidence. I won’t ever breach a confidence. But if I learn about something publicly, then it seems to me that readers here have just as much right to the information as readers elsewhere, and it’s best to make information as broadly available as possible. Besides, the odds that this blog will kill a deal when the much more heavily trafficked (including by industry..) Flyertalk will not is a stretch to say the least. And deals always do die, that’s their nature, and another one comes around again.

Until the next one!

Free Cancun, Vegas, and New York Trips in the News

Posted on: November 26th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Our Expedia.ca special coupon for free trips made the news.

Was it an early Christmas gift or a massive error?

Deal hunters snagged nearly-free trips through Expedia.ca last weekend.

One traveller, Colin Campbell, booked a return flight from New York to Toronto just in time for Christmas Eve for $40, taxes included. It also included a few days stay in a hotel.

Expedia offered a $300-discount last weekend for a flight and hotel package to Cancun, Las Vegas, New York and the Mayan Riviera.

So for packages just over $300, the trip was almost free after the discount.

Some people bragged online about booking more than 10 trips before the discount was pulled offline.

Expedia won’t say whether the promotion was a pricing error.

Even Better Free Marriott Gold Offer — Stay Just 8 Nights to Extend Your Status Through February 2012

Posted on: November 22nd, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Again Via TM Travel World comes this Instant Marriott Gold offer for 90 days doesn’t require you to enter an Air China Frequent Flyer number and only requires you to stay 8 nights within those 90 days to extend your Gold status through February, 2012.

There’s a separate link for new members to join with Gold status and for existing members to upgrade their status to Gold.

Free Marriott Gold Status for 90 Days

Posted on: November 20th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Via TM Travel World, Marriott is offering free Gold status for 90 days.

The offer states valid through February 28, 2011, so you may want to wait until you have Marriott stays planned. On the other hand, Marriott could pull the offer at any time so you might want to play it safe and grab the status now. They do want an Air China PhoenixMiles number on the signup page, though, so you at least need to enter one. The offer includes bonus Air China miles for Marriott stays.

The offer is valid for existing and for new members, and is being marketing to Air China PhoenixMiles members but membership in the Air China program isn’t required (not that it would be hard to join if it were!).

Deviant Security Theatre Roundup

Posted on: November 20th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

New TSA Slogans:

  • If We Don’t Get Off, You Don’t Get On

  • We Love Your Fly, And It Shows

Alex Tabarrok reminds us that we tell children that their body is their own, they have the right to say NO, and that there are parts of their body that are private.

Authority figures, for example, may also use threats of violence to engage in abuse against adults, for example, “you will be blown up unless you let me touch your genitals and take naked pictures of you.”

Boing Boing brings us a children’s book, My First Cavity Search: Helping Your Child Understand Why He May Pose a Threat to National Security. Illustrated cover is priceless.

Tyler Cowen thinks an arbitrary and punitive TSA is good for consumers who remain willing to fly because it’ll cause other passengers not to fly, thus reducing congestion and improving the overall travel experience. I assume he’s being facetious. And of course this would be a very short-term view, as fewer passengers would ultimately mean fewer flights, fewer flight options, and equalized crowding on the flights themselves (airports would remain uncongested in the medium-term until airports began shuttering terminals as has happened in St. Louis as airlines have pulled back service there).

He also points to this musing on the sociology of the TSA:

Throughout my career — both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney — I’ve observed a consistent inverse relationship: the more petty a government officer’s authority, the more that officer will feel a need to swagger and demand that you RESPECT HIS AUTHORITAH. Your average FBI agent might search your house based on a crappy perjured warrant, invade your attorney-client emails, and flush your life down the toilet by lying on the stand at your mail fraud trial. But he doesn’t feel a need to vogue and posture to prove anything in the process. He’s the FBI. But God above help you when you run into the guy with a badge from some obscure and puny government agency with a narrow fiefdom. He and his Napoleon syndrome have got something to prove. And he’s terrified that you’ll not take him very, very seriously. When I call FBI agents on behalf of my clients, they’re cool but professional and nonchalant. When I call a small agency — say, state Fish & Game, or one of the minor agency Inspector Generals — they’re hostile, belligerent, and so comically suspicious that you’d think I was asking for their permission to let my client smuggle heroin into the country in the anuses of handicapped Christian missionary orphans. They are infuriated, OUTRAGED, when a client asserts rights, when a client fails to genuflect and display unquestioning obedience. They are, in short, the TSA.

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times editorializes: “Shut Up and Be Scanned” .. anyone actually still subscribe to the LA Times, wanna cancel?

Of course, it’s unclear that the TSA has ever caught a terrorist.

Megan McArdle recommends writing your airline when you choose Amtrak over flying because of the TSA. But that only works when the TSA isn’t scoping out the railways. Still, sound advice because the airlines are in a much better position to press the government for change than are individual passengers. But there’s a long way to go, airline executives show way too much genuflection towards government that is imposing undue costs on its business. Glenn Tilton, Chairman of United-Continental — whose sole accomplishment in nearly a decade was getting someone else to take over running the airline — has nothing but contempt for complaining passengers.

Glenn Tilton.. said it’s obvious passengers are upset but their security “is really the predominant interest.”

“I am personally aware of customer frustration because I’m getting e-mails to that effect,” Tilton told reporters at an Aero Club luncheon in Washington. “Clearly a number of people have put together an effort to make sure that we are aware of how they feel about it.”

Still, he said airline operations had not been affected by passenger cancellations to date and he praised the TSA’s screeners. “We know how difficult their job is,” he said.

Congressional leadership are apparently exempt from standard security procedures when flying commercial.

In the grand tradition of song as a form of protest, one suggestion I’ve seen is to sing during enhanced pat downs:

Chorus from Men at Work’s “Down Under”
Chorus from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”

You might also want to consider singing “Back in the USSR” as well.

Or consider “I Know What Boys Like”

I haven’t given much credence to concerns about radiation, I’m not convinced there’s been sufficient testing but I also know that ‘the dose makes the poison’. Still, Bruce Schneier points out that even though backscatter x-ray machines are expected to increase change of death by only 16 ten millionths of one percent, that’s still more than the risk of death from terrorism. And he points to Nate Silver on inconveniences of air travel pushing people to driving which is far more dangerous, and statistically attributes the equivalent of four full 737s a year in additional traffic deaths.

Free Flights to Cancun, New York, and Las Vegas

Posted on: November 19th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Expedia.ca (the Canadian Expedia site) has published a vacation package coupon — SAVE300 — that takes $300 off of any air/hotel package to Vegas, Cancun or New York.

Take for example a $260 airline ticket to Vegas, add two nights cheapie off the strip $20 hotel nights and that totals $300.

SAVE300 makes that $0.

Book by November 21, 2010 for travel through December 31. (But who knows, Expedia might pull this sooner.)

If multiple people are flying, book them separately so each gets the $300 off. (Yes that means there are hotel nights you never use.)

If you can get it to price at $0 don’t worry about the dates, just book whatever dates you MIGHT need. Use the ones you want and don’t worry about the rest.

Flyertalk thread and details as follows:

SAVE300 – C$300 discount voucher

Canadian bookings only. Book a flight + hotel package at an Expedia Special Rate hotel in Las Vegas, Cancun, Riviera Maya and Manhattan on www.expedia.ca from 12:00:01AM PT November 20, 2010 to 11:59:59 PM PT November 21, 2010 for travel between November 20, 2010 – December 31, 2010 and receive a C$300 discount on that booking off Expedia.ca’s current advertised prices for that flight + Expedia Special Rate hotel package.

You must use voucher code SAVE300 when prompted on the Billing & Delivery page during check-out to receive the discount. Limit of one voucher per booking. Discount cannot be applied post-purchase and is applied after applicable taxes. Valid for qualifying flight+hotel bookings only; new bookings only. No minimum night stay required. Travel cannot begin before November 20, 2010 and must be completed by December 31, 2010. Voucher has no cash surrender value.


Rules say Canadian bookings only but the Canadian site lets you book it from any airport and with US credit cards.

Update: Just did some real battle to get a trip booked. First one was fine except hotel I booked turned out not to confirm inventory at purchase, started over with a new hotel. Went back to book a second ticket and it knew I had already used the coupon. Signed out, started over, and had some different problems. Opened a different browser and it didn’t remember me, second purchase went through fine.

United Won’t Reduce Confirmed Domestic Upgrade Certificates for Top Level Elites in 2011 After All

Posted on: November 19th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

United is backing off of their just-announced changes to Confirmed Regional upgrade earning.

Earlier in the week they said that beginning in 2011, Mileage Plus members who flew 75,000 miles would receive 2 confirmable-at-booking domestic upgrade certificates (valid even on Hawaii and JFK-San Francisco/Los Angeles “p.s.” routes) and an additional 2 confirmable upgrades for each 25,000 miles flown after that.

The upshot was that 1Ks flying just 100,000 miles would earn only (4) confirmed domestic upgrade certificates, instead of the current system where they earn 2 in each quarter that they fly at least 10,000 miles on United for a standard total of (8).

But high-flying Premier Executives who don’t hit 1K would earn a couple, and 1Ks flying 175,000 miles per year would earn (10) so more than current.

There was much backlash on Flyertalk, though frankly I didn’t see the changes as a big deal or at all unexpected since United tried to take away confirmed regional upgrades when they introduced unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades.

Well, One Mile at a Time has the details of their updated changes.

But the upshot is that 2011 will see members earning both 2 confirmed domestic upgrades at 75,000 miles and an additional 2 for each incremental 25,000 miles flown and their normal 2 per quarter that they fly 10,000 miles or more on United. So a 100,000-mile flying 1K would under normal circumstances earn 12 confirmed regionals in 2011 instead of the normal 8.

And the earlier-announced changes would go into exclusive effect for 2012.

Again, not sure it’s a huge deal but I do like this change. Not because I’m agitating for more confirmed domestic upgrades but because I like more advance notice of program changes that take things away from at least a big chunk of eligible members.

United’s 100,000-mile flyers have put in a big investment of time, money, loyalty over the course of the year on the basis of published and promised benefits. It’s never been fair, in my view, to announce significant program changes after members have made that investment.

Terms and conditions of a program notwithstanding, note I am not claiming that a program lacks the legal right to implement a change. I’m just saying it isn’t reasonable to do so. And that it isn’t good for long-term member loyalty, either, because it demonstrates that a program is untrustworthy — Lucy, Linus, the football… work hard all year for a suite of benefits for the coming year, and just as you’re about to take advantage of them next year the football gets pulled and the benefits change. That diminishes trust in a program and breaks the ‘deal’ that programs make with flyers.

So I’m a big advocate that takeaways should be announced at the beginning of the year for the following year, not at the end. So I appreciate United making this gesture.

In practice many members have a hard time using their confirmed regionals since United has a tendency on transcon routes of holding back confirmable upgrade space until within the complimentary upgrade window anyway. But for those p.s. routes where unlimited domestic upgrades don’t apply, this is great for sure. And if you have the flexibility to pick and choose flights, it’s definitely a plus.

So thanks, United! You didn’t have to, but it’s great that you did — helps restore trust by putting off the implementation of this admittedly minor change by a year.

The TSA Emperor Has No Clothes

Posted on: November 18th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Flyertalk member kokonutz asks a series of (not-G rated, as he’s wont to do) questions:

Is it illegal to moan with pleasure when the TSA fondles your junk?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Is it illegal to get wood from a good rub?

Is it illegal to tip for a good rub?

Is it illegal to request a happy ending?

Is it illegal to keep going through security, exiting then regoing through security so you can get your junk rubbed a lot?

He follows up with more:

Is it illegal to say at the start of the rub down, ‘You can do everything. But I don’t kiss on the mouth.’?

… Is it illegal to request hot oil with your rub down?

Perhaps my favorite idea for fun at the checkpoint is this:

Please be sure to print this (.pdf) on a good color printer. then leave it in your front pocket where it will readily be discovered during a thorough groin grope. If the TSO has any issue about the content, simply get defensive and tell him your medical status is none of his business and if he had changed his gloves he has nothing to worry about anyway.

Now, I don’t actually believe any of this stuff is useful in terms of effective protest.

It goes without saying that the nude-o-scopes (or retaliatory ‘enhanced’ groping for non-compliant passengers) is not a meaningful contribution to security.

  • The backscatter (nude-o-scope) machines don’t see inside body cavities. Terrorists know this, and where they can hide ‘dangerous’ items even if they get picked for the full body imaging.

  • The machines aren’t particularly widespread yet. Even where they exist, they frequently aren’t available at all screening lines. (Weekend before last in Seattle they were at two of three lines, I just chose the line without the machine.) They don’t screen everyone, in most cases just whomever is next after the last person exits the machine. Everyone else in line while the nude-o-scope is in use just goes through the standard metal detector.

  • Terrorists can send several people through security, most won’t get scanned.

  • Security resources are being focused on people in general, at random (unless a screener thinks you’re cute, in which case they’re likely to flag you as a favor to their buddies, as a friend relayed to me about her experience a couple of days ago). That’s hardly the best use of resources and diverts focus from real threats.

But at the same time, the TSA gropers have no decision-making authority. Making their life difficult doesn’t get us anywhere. And at the checkpoint is probably the wrong place to assert yourself, you don’t have much power there, it’s essentially a martial law zone and that’s not where any given passenger has the most leverage.

So what we do need is media scrutiny, and more importantly a constituency that politicians need to be responsive to or more to the point are afraid not to be responsive to.

Some pilots are pressing for an exemption. They may well get it. They say they’re not a threat, they could even crash planes if they were and don’t need to take anything dangerous through security. But as commenters on this blog point out, that would just create a way to fake credentials in order to circumvent ‘security’ procedures. And there’s not a real logical reason to exempt pilots afraid of radiation and not very frequent flyers (pilots usually only go through security once a day for all their flights, don’t work that many days a month, so aren’t the most frequent folks to pass through security — they’re just an organized constituency and a union so they have a bit of pull with the administration).

Remember the long-gone puffer machines? They didn’t work. But that wasn’t enough to get rid of them. We needed a new boondoggle, something more expensive for an interest group to profit from in order to push them out. Those companies were then incentivized to make the case to their members of Congress.

So my belief is that we need media scrutiny over how bad the status quo is. And we need something that a constituency will benefit from in order to push for change. And we need a plausible narrative to offer about how the replacement is even better for security.

See, I’ve been around DC too long and have had too many friends work for Members, for campaigns, and for lobby shops. And it’s abundantly clear how the political process works from here, even if it’s not how the process is covered in the media. It’s mostly a kabuki game.

An interest group makes friends with an influential member (or members) of Congress. They deliver campaign cash, or a block of voters, or volunteers. They become important. Or they just utilize the services of someone with a long-term relationship to the influential Member(s). It’s not that the Members are easily bought, but in the context of large bills small favors are easy to do. Even Republicans who campaigned against government spending don’t want to give up to the power to do favors for their friends (earmarks). Eric Cantor needed to credibly signal his commitment to do favors in advance of this month’s earlier elections, in order to raise cash from corporate contributors, so he announced that he’d favor earmarks even before the voting.

(As an aside, there’s no special reason why we’d get good outcomes without these influences. But it’s difficult to get anything done sans them. And getting rid of campaign cash just shifts the influencers, not the influence, to those who get out the vote more effectively from those who contribute, or to those with insider connections over those who aren’t as well-connected but can rent their access. There’s not an easy solution to remove ‘influence’ and not an expectation of better policy even if you could, as long as some people are deciding what others can and cannot do, and how to spend their resources.)

If you’ve ever gotten a direct mail piece asking for your response and including a dollar bill in it, you’ve seen reciprocity at work. It comes cheap. A small favor is done for us, we feel obligated to return the favor. Members’ friends take care of them, are their friends, and let them know when something is needed in return. It’s just helping out someone you know and trust.

Of course there are limits to this process. There has to be an on-face reasoonable narrative about how the request beenfits the public good. So the person isn’t asking to benefit themselves, they can speak from the perspective of having unique knowledge of a situation, and offering their advice on how to make legislation ‘better’. And if the Member is questioned they need to be in a psotion to articulate a reason for their earmark or other legislative language insertion. The on-face reasonable narrative is key.

In this case we have ‘security’.

And so we have these nude-o-scopes we’re now being subjected to.

It’s not enough that people object to the invasion of privacy. Because the folks charged with implementing the policy need to save face. They can’t admit they were wrong or they lose credibility and capital. In order to back down they have to have a consistent way to do it while furthering their publicly stated objectives. So something ‘better’ for security can replace the current disaster, but the current disaster can’t simply be dismantled. Too many politicians, bureaucrats, and interests are wedded to it to simply yield without a major uprising or shift in power (in which case, the new powerbrokers can shut down a project that then embarasses their predecessors and punishes their backers — if indeed those backers were solely aligned to a single party).

And that’s how Washington works.

Meanwhile the people are told to trust their experts. The nude-o-scopes can’t save images, so we shouldn’t be concerned. Except that they can save images but the feature can’t be made functional. Except that it can. But then we’re supposed to believe it’s just ‘a few bad apples’ and it’s not reasonable to expect or be concerned.

We need more media. We need an interest group to benefit from pushing for a new less-intrusive model. But shenanigans at the checkpoint — while making us at least feel as though we have some personal illusion of control over a situation where we otherwise have almost none — does little to affect change.

BigCrumbs for Getting Cash Back on the Online Purchases (including Air and Hotel) You Make Anyway

Posted on: November 18th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Over the summer I reminded folks to get cash back rebates for their online travel purchases. I’ve used mostly FatWallet and eBates for this.

But I’ve long seen lots of references to Big Crumbs, which seems to offer cash back from stores the others don’t and frequently more cash back than the others as well.

But even I have a limit to the deals and strategies I pursue, I often just follow what I know and what I’m used to rather than expending the energy to pay attention to yet another site. And I never bothered to sign up, even though I was likely losing out on rebates as a result and even though the signup process takes no more than a couple of minutes.

Then this morning I read Frugal Travel Guy channeling Flyertalk’s Bikeguy, who happens to be a Greatguy (and who hosted me a couple of years back to speak to the annual “Ann Arbor Art Fair DO”). And it finally hit me, I was missing out.

1) Using their portal to get to the official website of hotel chains, and getting a percent back of what you book.

Marriot – 4%
InterContinental – 2.4%
Choice – 4%
Best Western – 4%

Hotel stay credit as well as money back is a good thing.

2) Now, for all airlines, book through the expedia link for 1.6% back on every booking.

Will work for car rentals, as well.

For flights under $200, use the Travelocity link, as it pays a flat $3.20.

I use ebates now for Expedia at 1%, I’ll certainly switch to BigCrumbs for a 60% better cash back rate. And might as well start there for my hotel bookings as well. Plus they even have eBay cash back.

BigCrumbs has become really popular in the Flyertalk MilesBuzz forum because folks have been using it to purchase Amex cards for use on the US Mint site as part of their coin churning regime. (Some have tried to use multiple, different cards for purchase as a way of circumventing purchase limits and also to minimize any risk of having the purchase treated as a cash advance. I’m not really doing the coins thing because it’s not as easy as it once was, and even then carting pallets of coins to the bank is above my personal pain threshold.)

In any case, BigCrumbs to get cash back for your online shopping is a great site to add to the repertoire. Especially because when I often search EV Reward for the best mileage and cash back earning options for the purchases I’m going to make anyway, I see BigCrumbs with the best earning ratio but ignored it because I wasn’t a member. But I should have been…

Now, I do have a Big Crumbs signup link that earns me some credit for folks who use it. I signed up using Frugal Travel Guy’s link. Signing up through a referral link costs you nothing, and of course you can sign up and then give your link to others as well. There’s a multi-level marketing element to their plan, for sure, but they pay out so that’s pretty attractive. If you’re going to sign up anyway because it’s useful, then using my link to do so is certainly appreciated although of course not required!

Animated TSA Nude-o-Scope Illustration

Posted on: November 18th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Via Lucky, a Taiwanese animated take on TSA nude-o-scopes and ‘enhanced’ pat downs. I especially love when the TSA animated groper takes the opting out passenger into a private bedroom and sexy music begins to play.

US Airways and ‘Starnet Blocking’ — Is US Airways Preventing Members from Booking Award Seats That Lufthansa Is Offering?

Posted on: November 16th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

I mentioned on Sunday that redeeming US Airways miles for Lufthansa transatlantic flights has been a challenge over the past couple of weeks.

Flights that Lufthansa is offering to partner airlines are showing up to US Airways reservations agents as unavailable. I’ve tested this on a number of routes and dates and found this to be the case — bookable with Continental or Aeroplan miles, but US Airways says not available.

At first I assumed it was an IT glitch of sorts, something I’ve seen and experienced with US Airways in the past. Or just agents who didn’t know how to search for what I was asking about or who didn’t know what they were doing. I’ve frequently asked about first class awards and the agent will say nothing is available — when the agent was looking for business class space and not first class. US Airways doesn’t have a first class cabin, most agents don’t wind up checking for first class very often, and some don’t’ even know the difference. So they search out “I” (business class award) inventory instead of “O” (first class award) inventory. Solution there is hang up, call back.

But something different does seem to be afoot, and does only seem (so far?) to be affecting Lufthansa transatlantic flights.

Not surprising, Lufthansa’s availability is just downright outstanding, it’s available so often that US Airways must be just bleeding cash to Lufthansa for the frequency with which they’re booking those seats. And as cheaply as US Airways prints miles (with generous bonus promotions even on purchased miles), they really do want to be redeeming on their own metal on not so frequently on partners.

United has been the pioneer of ‘blocking’ award seats, implementing a system to prevent their agents from seeing the space that’s otherwise being offered. What happens is that the agents say it isn’t available, which isn’t quite true, the airline just doesn’t want to pay their partners for the seats that are available. And it winds up as quite an awkward situation, where the agents (intending to be helpful) explain that the partner airline just isn’t making the space available, when that’s just not true at all.

But United hasn’t done much blocking at all the past six months. United used to refuse to book awards across many of their partners, whenever they were expecting to hit their quarterly budgets for buying the seats from their partners. In early May the practice seemed to lift and became an issue for only about a week and a half since that time. I do hope it’s gone for good.

Hopefully US Airways isn’t picking up the practice, blocking the generous inventory that Lufthansa makes available. It’s still a little too early to tell exactly what’s happening, and especially until US Airways comments. But from what I’ve seen I’ve certainly experienced the blocking. It’s not that US Airways can’t access the seats, either. When they enter the city pairs they’ll see the space not available. But if the agent will manually request the space from Lufthansa, it’ll come back confirmed. That’s something which worked without any difficulty for me this evening.

This is definitely in the category of ‘developing….’

But with all the miles they’re printed it’s certainly been something I’ve worried about, and is also why I’ve burned through a bunch of my US Airways miles this year for first class awards to India and South Asia.

United and Continental Elite Program Changes for 2011

Posted on: November 16th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Others already blogged the details while I was in meetings today (e.g. here and here) but still worth noting that United and Continental have announced changes for 2011, mostly aligning their upgrade programs.

The two programs operate separately in 2011. And just as United moved to and end of January the following year for status expiration, Continental will follow suit. Then they’ll merge the programs for 2012.

When they do there will be clear differentiation between 25,000, 50,000, 75,000, and 100,000 mile flyers.

Put a different way, United’s top tier is 1K at 100,000 miles flown. Continental’s top tier is Platinum at 75,000 miles flown. Clearly a combined entity wasn’t going to have a 75,000 mile top tier, just too easy to reach that and would mean too many top level elites (who were thus frequently unsatisfied with consistent delivery of upgrades).

So the question was, were they going to have 4 tiers (which was US Airways’ solution to a similar problem when it was acquired by America West) or were they going to go with United’s levels?

Thus far we only know that there will be four mileage levels for determining upgrade status. Whether the 75,000 mile level will be a separate tier between Premier Executive and 1K is unclear, versus just being a ‘plus’ on top of regular Premier Executive. Ultimately whether or not they call it this I’m expecting that in practice this will amount to being a four-tier program.

Oddly, they’re increasing the number of segments required for top tier from 100 to 120. That’s a lot of enplanements, I’d prefer to qualifying flying premium cabin long-haul thanks! Those segment qualifiers have it rough and now even rougher.

Continental will be adopting United-style systemwide upgrades — 6 earned at the 100,000-mile flyer level with the same fare restrictions (valid on W or higher). Global Services stays at the revenue-based true top level. And miles credited to Onepass and to Mileage Plus in 2011 will be combined to determine 2012 status.

And the biggie — a change to Confirmed Regional upgrades. Currently United 1Ks earn 2 domestic upgrades confirmable at booking from any fare (subject to upgrade availability) for each quarter in which they fly 10,000 miles or more, up to 8 confirmed regional upgrades per year.

Going forward, United and Continental elites will earn 2 Confirmed Regionals at the 75,000 mile level and an additional 2 for each 25,000 miles flown thereafter.

This is an upgrade for Premier Executives who fly 75,000 miles, they’ll get confirmed regionals for the first time.

This is a downgrade for those just squeaking into 1K status, they’ll get 4 Confirmed Regionals in a year instead of 8.

United tried to get rid of the Confirmed Regionals when they introduced their ‘Unlimited Domestic Upgrade’ system, and there was a backlash. They’ve been looking to restrict these and they’ve found a way. It’s not crazy, not all that surprising, even somewhat reasonable. But it is a takeback from most current 1Ks, though high-mileage 1Ks can earn even more of them than before (e.g. fly 175,000 miles and earn 10 instead of the previous 8).

Most of the above is pretty much as-expected, and several positive elements have come about lately especially the introduction of one-way awards on partners on United while retaining roundtrip awards with stopovers, and the ability to make changes to an award after departure of first flight (a la Continental). United hasn’t done much Starnet blocking in the past six months, I’ve really only seen it as an issue for about 10 days during this period. So I certainly hope it stays that way.

Continental’s award routing rules are still more generous than United’s (Continental allows a stopover and an open jaw on roundtrip awards, not just one or the other, and they don’t enforce ‘maximum permitted mileage’ restrictions on routings). My personal bet is that United’s more restrictive approach applies. But then Continental didn’t have one-way awards, and as long as they don’t have Starnet blocking (preventing members from booking award seats being offered by partner airlines) it’ll be a reasonable tradeoff.

Now we just have to find out what the combined airline is going to do about Economy Plus — which really is the biggest elite benefit for low tier elites who regularly fly in coach — and that’ll answer much of whether the combination is on net positive or negative. Personally I’m betting they keep it, it’ll be tough to get rid of and unpopular. But the Continental bean counters may be a tough sell on that one. And I’m also hopeful that at least on ultra-long haul and high-end premium routes that they keep international first class, something Continental hasn’t offered.

US Airways’ Uninspiring Holiday Shopping Promotion

Posted on: November 16th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Last Holiday Season US Airways offered one of the greatest mileage promotions of all time to encourage shopping through their online mall — up to 250% bonus on earned miles which when paired with an offer from TrackItBack yielded 140 miles per dollar spent without having to leave your computer.

Judged against that standard, almost anything will appear disappointing. So it’s no surprise that this season’s promo doesn’t get the juices flowing. (Actually, it’s not even as lucrative as their back to school promo was just a few months back, which is rather surprising.)

This holiday offer (registration required) is for up to 4 additional miles per dollar spent, based on how much in total you spend through their shopping portal between November 15 and December 30.

  • Spend $100 to $249 and earn 1 bonus mile per dollar
  • Spend $250 to $999 and earn 2 bonus miles per dollar
  • Spend $1000 to $7999 and earn 3 bonus miles per dollar
  • Spend $8000 or more and earn 4 bonus miles per dollar

Total bonus miles are capped at 100,000 — which would mean spending $25,000 through their shopping portal.

Meh.

Meanwhile, Webflyer has a list of most of the promotions that mileage shopping portals are offering for the holidays.

A New Twist on National Opt Out Day

Posted on: November 16th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Jeffrey Goldberg recommends a twist to National Opt Out day, where folks are trying to get passengers to refuse nude-o-scope screening en masse on the day before Thanksgiving, perhaps the busiest travel day of the year.

Like Lucky I’m somewhat torn over the concept. I’m not sure that the TSA really cares, lines are bad enough on such a heavy travel day, and clogging them up further will likely inconvenience passengers more than it will TSA gropers.

Moreover, I’m not certain it’s even individually rational to opt out at this point, since the TSA has started their retaliatory ‘enhanced’ pat downs designed to be worse than the nude-o-scopes in order to push folks to accept their backscatter fate.

Personally I generally just try to fuss with my stuff long enough for someone else to be invited into the machines and then I simply slip through the standard metal detector. Great for me, not great for making a point about civil liberties.

Still, I much like Goldberg’s idea for Opt Out Day: men should wear kilts. And better yet, do so while going commando.

If you want to go the extra extra mile, I suggest commando-style kilt-wearing. While it is probably illegal to fly without pants, I can’t imagine that it’s illegal to fly without underpants.  I If you are Scottish, or part Scottish, or know someone who is Scottish, or eat Scottish salmon, or enjoy Scotch, or have a vestigial affection for “Braveheart” despite Mel Gibson, you can plausibly claim some sort of multicultural diversity privilege — the term “True Scotsman” refers to soldiers who honor their tradition and heritage by wearing kilts without drawers underneath. (This photo illustrates the possible consequences of the “True Scotsman” kilt-wearing very well.) 

(HT: Lawson who has been known to view the kilt as proper attire for formal occasions.)

Free WiFi on US Airways, American, and United

Posted on: November 15th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Dan’s Deals flags free wifi codes for United, US Airways, and American.

When flying AA use code: HPAA

When flying United use code: HPUNITED

When flying USeless Airways use code: HPUSAIRWAYS

Expiration of the codes is unknown.

Now, there isn’t a whole lot of wifi going on at US Airways and United, but it’s reasonably widespread at American.

And of course, with Airtran, Delta, and Virgin America wifi is free from November 20 through January 2 anyway.

(HT: Frugal Travel Guy.)

Free Priority Club Platinum Status

Posted on: November 15th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Jared Blank of Online Travel Review passes along a link for free Priority Club Platinum status. Plus stay 5 nights within 90 days after signing up and they’ll kick you a $25 prepaid lodging gift card.

The offer requires opening up a new Priority Club account, so it’s for new members only.

Now, Platinum status doesn’t get you a whole lot outside of perhaps Crowne Plaza properties outside the United States. It’s supposed to get you upgrades but that doesn’t often mean much at the median Holiday Inn, though it’s frequently offered me one free breakfast during a stay and maybe a coupon for a free cocktail and appetizer as well. The bonus points are useful, of course, for in-hotel earning.

Return to the The Jefferson Hotel, Richmond — Better This Time

Posted on: November 13th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

Last November I reported on my mediocre stay at the famed Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.

While a grand hotel, there were significant problems:

  • Noise from our upstairs neighbors, including hearing them walking around above us
  • Exceptionally slow service in the hotel’s casual restaurant
  • Valet parking dinged my car door

The Assistant General Manager proactively called me the day after my stay, asked me about the stay, apologized and asked to comp a future night. I finally took her up on the offer, a full year later.

I was given a small suite, similar though a bit smaller than my room last year.

It was perfectly fine, the only thing that last year’s room had though was a bigger shower with three showerheads, one of the best showers I had experienced. I had no complaints about this one, however. And more importantly than anything else, I couldn’t hear upstairs neighbors walking around. (I was rather surprised, actually, to be put in a second floor room considering the specifics of my complaints last year — I would have imagined they’d have put me on the top floor so no one was walking above me, but it turned out not to be a problem at all.)

Toileteries are Molton Brown, which I do like (and long for the days when they were a Westin brand standard).

Since one of my complaints was about a meal in a hotel restaurant last year, they extended dinner in their upscale restaurant Lemaire.

I ordered the foie gras appetizer and my wife ordered the potato soup.

I had the crab cakes, she the bison rib eye, and we shared a side of mac and cheese.

The food was all high quality. The foie was excellent, though the brioche toast was burnt. The soup was nicely poured tableside. The mac and cheese had very high quality cheese, though I wish it also had a bit of truffle oil, it could have been really outstanding.

For dessert I had the maple and coffee crème brulee and she had the pear cobbler

We actually weren’t fond of either and neither of us had more than a few bites. The maple and coffee just didn’t work, and after a few bites was an unpleasant flavor. The cobbler was way too dry, the ice cream on top didn’t even get soaked up by the cookie on top which was just too solid to accept it.

Verdict is that the food was good, though disappointed by the desserts, and very happy at the usual price point — appetizers in the low teens, most entrees in the $20s and I suppose I was even surprised to see all desserts at $7 when I’m used to at least $9. I was disappointed in the cheese selections (Tillamook cheddar and Brie aren’t especially interesting options) which is why I went sweet. If I had it to do it again I might have just had a second appetizer instead of dessert.

There were only two strange or unpleasant interactions that detracted a bit from the stay.

First, I called for a wakeup call at 5 a.m. We went to retire early and were in the room at 8:30pm when housekeeping came by to turn down the room, so we declined the turndown service (though they still offered us the chocolates). Well, we were asleep by 10 p.m. and looking forward to 7 hours’ sleep.

At 10:30pm the phone rang, though not entirely awake what I recall of the conversation was the hotel confirming our 5 a.m. wakeup call was set up and asking me to also re-confirm that we didn’t’ want turndown service. I don’t know what to make of the interaction, both things were – I thought- already taken care of. I guess after our last stay they wanted to be really sure… but they did wake me up in order to do it.

And finally, while I was checking out my wife had called for the car. She went outside with our bags and waited for me to finish up at the front desk. Checkout took a little while — there were some customers checking in who were confused by their reservations, one of whom left but left behind their bags right at the desk. So it took just a bit for the staff to get to me. Meanwhile, the valet saw my wife simply standing out by the car and told her she couldn’t, that she had to move, that they were just too busy for her to be waiting. She told then it would ‘be just a minute’ and the valet replied, “Will it be just a real minute?” Seriously?

Indeed, it was only a minute or so more and I was outside with my bags, loading up the trunk, and we were off. But a strange last impression fo the property.

In the truest and most important test, though, the Jefferson passed — we were there for the Richmond marathon and I had pointed out the Marriott that was directly situated at the start line. My wife said that next year she’d just assume stay at the Jefferson again.

It’s a perfectly nice property. I think they still miss a bit on some of the little things, they probably suffer simply by comparison to their grand reputation but are certainly the choice place to stay in the area.

US Airways 100% Bonus on Purchased and Gifted Miles Extended Through November 30

Posted on: November 13th, 2010 by: Gary Leff

The US Airways 100% bonus on purchased or gifted miles that was supposed to expire November 15 has apparently been extended to November 30.

The landing page for buying and gifting miles still says the bonus expires November 15, but if you choose either buy or gift miles the terms on conditions on each of those pages now list the expiration date of the bonus as November 30.

Now, some folks are a little bit nervous about US Airways miles at the moment since they’ve been having difficulty redeeming awards between the US and Europe on Lufthansa that are being offered to other Star Alliance members. The fear is that US Airways has implemented some sort of blocking scheme, similar to what United had in place for years, when they don’t want to pay the partner airline so much for their seats (and Lufthansa availability is on the whole too good, many partners wind up buying seats from Lufthansa in large quantities). Of course it’s too early to tell what’s going on there, it could well be an IT glitch, we’ll figure it out for sure over the coming weeks I’d imagine.

But it doesn’t actually matter for the purposes of this bonus. Since US Airways agents will put awards on hold without your having a sufficient mileage balance, you can first secure the reservation and then and only then buy the miles you need to support that reservation. In that way, as long as you’re using the miles right away, it becomes a virtually no risk offer.

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View from the Wing is a project of Miles and Points Consulting, LLC. This site is for entertainment purpose only. The owner of this site is not an investment advisor, financial planner, nor legal or tax professional and articles here are of an opinion and general nature and should not be relied upon for individual circumstances.

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