What Are The Biggest Questions in Travel? Your Sunday Open Thread.

This is a Sunday Open Thread The comments are yours to do with as you wish. Share whatever is on your mind.

  • How are you feeling about your miles and points balances?
  • What (anything) are you wondering, or what would you like to know? I often write posts answering questions from these threads.
  • What’s bothering you?

Most of the time what I write on a given day is really just ‘whatever pops into my head’ although sometimes the very best pieces are those prompted by reader questions. You’re always welcome to email me of course, but I’d love for you to share what’s on your mind here.

As always, I won’t promise up front to cover everything, though I’ll read and ponder everything that’s written here in the comments.

So ask questions, or just spout off, discuss, this is your open thread…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I just started the points and miles game in Jan of 2014. I booked my first flight to Bali via Hong Kong on Cathay flying First. Thank goodness for the Citi Executive 100000 mile AA bonus! The free weekend for the Citi Hilton was also a nice bonus as the Bali Conrad does not suck!

    My flight over takes me all the way to Bali, but my flight back is originating in Hong Kong. Of course I know flights in Asia are cheap, but is there any way to adjust my flight closer to travel date so I can fly from DPS instead of losing a day of vacation to getting back to HKG? I leave SFO May 12 and leave HKG May 26.


  2. Thanks for the “open mike,” Gary.
    Now that Delta is opaquing Sky Pesos, and United is making Mileage Plus less and less flyer friendly, I’m confident I’m not alone in wanting your advice on where an infrequent Delta flyer and United flyer should put miles earned on those airlines in order to derive greatest value.
    Last year at one point you suggested Air Canada’s and Singapore’s programs for UA earnings. Earlier than that — before Delta limited mileage earning on its lowest-priced tickets that could be placed in Alaska’s program — that’s what you’d recommended. Given all the Delta SkyMiles changes since then, is that still your recommendation, or do you think a different program is better?
    Thanks …

  3. I have to say, Gary, that I’m terrified to help my friends start on this hobby, because the devaluations are out of control. If I show a friend how to spend ~$300 getting a SW companion pass, suddenly it’s apparently going to be worth some vague amount less. Delta is off the rails entirely, and United is doing whatever Delta does, so what airline is left to star someone on? American? Aren’t they just set up for the biggest all at once devaluation of them all next year, “to stay competitive”? Do you trust Doug Parker with your miles?

    And hotel points aren’t much better, and as for bank points, Chase transfers to Korean Are a nightmare for a beginner, and BA might as well be United 2.0.

    I’m telling anyone who wants to start to get the IHG card with their spouse. At least it’s a nice weekend every year.

    The barrier to entry here gets higher and higher – what would you tell someone that you personally knew and valued about where to start?

  4. Ever hear of getting some points back from an award redemption – Just flew back from Hawaii tonight New Hampshire – all flights from phl to mht were canceled today and yesterday (on an Amtrak now)- when connecting at lax asked to be switched to nonstop to Boston – was refused – AA said they would have to charge me current redemption rates – AA had booked me on usair metal – usair pointed finger at aa said it was there award ticket /nothing they can do

    In end I got stuck at phl – still have no luggage

  5. I tried out Andaz Papagayo this week and absolutely loved it. Where should I start for finding other equally awesome hotels? (Amazing service, food and drinks, so nice and new, etc.)

  6. @Adam K

    I hear you on this. I am very intentionally vague when I describe this hobby to my friends so that they don’t jump in thinking its a cake walk with immediate access to the spoils. It takes great flexibility and patience, and a bit of risk. You have to be willing to work with your schedule to find dates that have availability. You have to be willing to hold out until just 1-2 weeks before a vacation, you have been planning for more than a year, for flights to open up and to be able to pull the trigger. And you have to be willing to risk having enough points on hand to makes those decisions while recognizing their value can be decimated overnight.

    With that said, when I start to introduce someone new to the miles game I don’t jump straight to first class travel but instead try to show the value proposition between cash back and an award point and how there is a potential to unlock that amount of extra value from award points if you are willing to accept the facts outlined in the above paragraph.

  7. @Adam -in a nutshell…the economy is cyclical, live in the moment, and roll with the punches. Anyone who isnt willing ot accept that isnt cut out for this game.

  8. @Brian: I think it’s pretty safe to travel to Moscow and St. Petersburg — as safe to travel as any other Eastern European country (well, maybe not as safe as Prague or Budapest but Buharest and Istanbul-safe). That said, I think the best time to go there is May and June: there’s still a winter going on right now and it’s not pretty. Wait till May or June — and go on!

    @Geff, thank you for what you’re doing and for your questions! And I would like to learn from you! Yes, I’m still interested in knowing how you manage to do so much in 24 hours )) And as for miles question: how to redeem those miles. Can you give more ideas and examples? Stopovers? The secret routing? For instance, the throwaway ticketing and hidden city ticketing works just fine with miles and with some companies — that way I saved 15K miles on my return flight from Hawaii! (yes, I’m flying coach!)

    And how’s the redesign is coming along?

    Thank you once again!

  9. New to miles/points since October. Have earned enough AA points to take our family of 5 to Europe thus far. Ready for next round of CC app’s, hoping to help cover the amount of hotel we’ll require.

    1)Can you recommend which Chase card to begin with? Ink or Sapphire?
    2)does the miles discount that comes with the AA CC apply to off peak awards?

  10. Anyone thinking of going to Russia should read what the US State Department says about the Visa situation there.

    You are required to carry your Visa, not just your entry Visa, but also your EXIT Visa, with you 24/7. If you lose it, or are mugged, it takes a minimum of a month to get it replaced. During which you are not allowed to leave the country !

    In fact, most hotels won’t even want to rent you a room, since you don’t have a valid visa, which they are required by law to make a copy of when you check in.

    Weather conditions delay your flight or train even 1 minute past your exit visa time frame? Once again, you are facing a month long extension of your stay.

    So you feel lucky, (traveler), do you?

  11. Gary, what do you think would be a ‘worst-case’ scenario for US/AA miles devaluation after the programs merge in Q2?

  12. Do you think it’s worth taking young kids (currently ages 2 and 4, probably would travel within next 2-3 years) to Moorea? They had a great time in Hawaii but not sure whether it’s worth going there with them. I’ve never been to French Polynesia and don’t want to travel without them so it’s either there or some other destination. They’ve flown the U.S to Japan several times and done okay on the flight.
    Also you you think it’s worth redeeming AA miles for 4 coach seats to Tahiti? I understand they only release 2 premium cabin seats at a time. Current have 300,000 AA miles and am saving them up for a special trip with them. The alternative would probably be 4 premium class to Europe or Asia. (Will probably get another 100,000 potentially via credit card spend on starwood amex in next 2-3 years) Thanks for your thoughts.
    I’ve been lucky enough using the techniques in your blog so we’ve mainly flown business class to Japan with the kids when we go yearly. When we traveled last year the older one who was 3 at the time started screaming “make it into a bed” when we flew back Hawaii to Portland on Alaska airlines. He was spoiled by the outgoing business class flight to Tokyo.

  13. Is domestic capacity ever going to increase, even a little? Try flying from BOS to LAX every week in coach on a crappy 737….

  14. I went to Moscow/St. Petersburg as part of a group in 2011 (with a very high quality outfitter) and felt very safe. Getting your visa is cumbersome; the outfitter made the process much more straightforward. I recommend that all but the most savvy travelers go as part of a group, at least the first time.

  15. I know you’re focussed mainly on US programmes and opportunities but I moved from the US to Australia a little while back and have been starting the game again over here.

    I’m building up a huge balance of qantas points because that’s very easy. Pretty much everything you do in Australia from breathing upwards can earn you qantas points. As a result one world and other qantas partner redemptions can be really hard to do. On the flip side, building up other currencies can be hard. Virgin Austrlia doesn’t have nearly the bonus opportunities although redemption and/or transfer to Singapore and ethical would be handy. Amex is the only major transferable currency, but the partners are limited here; the banks all have transferable currencies but again with limited partners and crappy redemption rates.

    So my question to you, any thoughts on how I could build up stocks of skyteam and star alliance redeemable miles?

  16. What do you think the chances are of Citi ThankYou Rewards adding AAdvantage as a transfer partner?

    What are your thoughts on using the Citi Prestige and Barclay AAviator Silver for getting AAdavantage points vs a combination of Citi Executive and Starwood AMEX?

  17. I wish to understand how business class flights booked with Avios points and different One World partners can be put together to form a single itinerary with a common luggage limit. Imagine, for the sake of example, that the longest leg is JFK-MAD on Iberia booked by transferring Avios points to Iberia. The other legs are YYZ-JFK booked on American using Avios points at BA and MAD-LHR booked on BA using Avios points at BA. So long as none of the layovers are more than 24 hours, does this count as a single itinerary and is the baggage limit for all the flights determined by the JFK-MAD leg?

    My actual routing would be YYZ-JFK-CDG and my goal would be to transport as much stuff as possible making business class bookings as necessary using Avios points but minimizing fuel surcharges.

  18. Regarding Hilton Platinum status, in my experience you won’t get executive lounge access in many Hiltons with just Gold status anymore. Such was the case in my last two trips to Copenhagen and Tokyo. Given Hilton’s devaluation, the points being charged for the hotels can be excessive without lounge access. Without my Diamond status, I question whether I would have received executive lounge access on recent trips to Rome and Madrid.

  19. @AlohaDaveKennedy said: “Given Hilton’s devaluation, the points being charged for the hotels can be excessive without lounge access.”

    We hear statements like that repeated again and again in the echo chamber that is the travel blogosphere. However, the purported cataclysmic “devaluation” of Hilton Honors points is and has always been a myth that never squared with reality. True, Hilton charges a lot for rooms in “raw” points, but, at the same time, it is also very easy to earn loads of Hilton points from paid stays. If you earn most of your points from general credit card spend and sign up bonuses, then Hilton, IGH, Club Carlson or Marriott are not and have never been good programs for you. Their room rates in “raw” points are too high. You’d be better off trying Hyatt Gold Passport or SPG.

    For those who earn most of their points from paid stays, Hilton offers a very competitive value because it is the ratio of award room rates (i.e., “raw” points charged for a room) to how many basic points one earns per spend, called Spend Per Free Night (SPFN), which is the key metric for objectively judging or comparing the hotel loyalty programs.

    Therefore, what you need to do is to compare Hilton’s SPFN with the same for the other major hotel programs. Doing that and including points that one earns from on-property spend on co-branded credit cards shows that Hilton offers a better SPFN value than Marriott Rewards, Hyatt Gold Passport or SPG, in that order, with SPG having by far the worst SPFN value of any program. The only hotel programs with better SPFN values than Hilton Honors are IHG and Club Carlson, with the latter being dirt cheap by any measure.

    In short, that Hilton charges a lot of “raw” points is true, but this is balanced by the great ease with which one can earn loads of HHonors points. Therefore, it is simply not correct (read: silly) for people to keep blaming Hilton “devaluation’ for all their troubles. That awful “devaluation” of HHonors points is and has always been a myth.

    Gary has done the math and can confirm the above, or you can just go to the link below for a step-by-step demonstration (you’ll love glossy charts):


    I did not mean to pick on you. Just trying to set the record straight.

    G’day 😉

  20. Just looking for ideas to get an award ticket in a premium class from PHX to ZQN(or at least AKL) and back. This would be for late Jan. 2016. I have quite a few points in a lot of ff programs except for Delta. I wouldn’t mind a stop in Fiji so I was thinking using Alaska miles for a flight on Fiji Air from LAX to NAN to AKL. I heard that you can do a stopover on a one-way on Alaska Airlines. Does anybody know how to do that? Do you have to call the airline?

  21. @Jeremy – complain to customer service by email. During irregular ops American and US Airways should accommodate passengers on each others’ flights and you shouldn’t have to cover difference in fare (including in miles).

  22. I’m new to this and my goal is to take our family of 4 snowskiing Dec 26 2015, to either Vail/Denver or Whistler/Vancouver in economy class. Memphis is undergoing a transition from being a Delta hub a couple of years ago to Delta drastically reducing flights, but still being the biggest name here, along with newcomer Southwest (to limited cities), AA, United and Frontier. No British Airways here which I keep reading about having such great award tickets. My question is how do I know which airline to start targeting since delta has no award chart, SW doesn’t show flights past August, etc. I just opened a Chase Saphirre Preferred (transfers to SW and United), and am thinking about the United card with 50K bonus. That would tie us into United though to try to get 4 tickets by Dec. SW will probably have the cheapest flights though, but who knows how many miles they will require during peak Christmas. Maybe I should target SW? But Delta in the past has had the most flights to choose from. Any tips?

  23. I missed this post yesterday but hopefully Gary is still monitoring it.

    Is there any update on Air France canceling people’s Flying Blue accounts and their booked trips for transferring points from partners like Amex Membership Rewards? You posted about this about a month ago and I haven’t heard a peep from you since on the subject. I have a trip coming up I was thinking of booking through AF. Even though my Flying Blue account is about a year old, it has no activity what-so-ever and I don’t want to risk losing the Membership Rewards.

  24. @Robert Hanson, WHAT A BUNCH of baloney! There’s NO such thing as “special EXIT visa” — same visa you use for entry will work for exit. The issue here is that that said visa should be valid for whole duration of your stay (unlike US visas that are needed for entry only and you can enter on the last day of visa validity and stay for a year).

    Overstaying visa by a day could lead to problems — but not “overstaying by a minute”.

    Also: if you’re in airplane, you’re already outside of Russia. You’re leaving the country on border patrol — in fact, you can stay as long as you like in the international zone, that’s exactly what Snowden did: he stayed in the international zone for 3 months, without any visas 🙂

    All in all, apologies for my candor, I think you’re writing about a subject that you’re not confident to write about. Sorry.

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