Sunday, April 23, 2017

Some great deals on Business Class fares to Europe


As I've mentioned before, in spring you can often find great deals Business Class fares for summer travel to Europe. Some years, like last year, they're harder to find, but I just now snagged a June round trip from New York to Berlin on Scandinavian for $2200. It's a one-stop itinerary via Oslo, with the long leg in their new(ish) lie-flat seat on an A330. I bought directly from SAS's website using my Amex Gold card for the 3x airfare bonus.

SAS lie-flat Business Class
$2200 isn't a great fare, but it's definitely a good one. The rest of the year these flights are usually in the high $3000s. With all of the recent mileage devaluations, this flight would have set me back 140,000 United miles. Using the mileage math, that comes out to 1.6¢ per mile when the flight is $2200. Since I'm always aiming for 2¢ a point at the bare minimum, doing this with miles didn't make sense.

Furthermore, I'll earn nearly 20,000 miles for this flight (split between Amex and United), and I wouldn't have if I'd redeemed miles instead of paying. That effectively lops another $300-ish off the price. I don't chase status, but this would also move you closer to your next elite tier and the reward seat wouldn't.

I just priced out several other dates throughout the summer and there's lots of seats in low $2k's – in August there were even cheap seats on direct flights on United and Delta. I tried a few other destinations and from New York it looks like Prague, Paris, Madrid and Warsaw had flights around the $2500 mark. Again, good but not great.

If you've been thinking about going to Europe this summer, you might want to poke at Google Flights for a few minutes and see if you find a Business Class bargain.


June
July

August


I should add here for the nerds that my dates were super inflexible, so I was unable to find any Saver Business seats on a United-operated flight, which would have been only 115,000 points – 1.9cpm at $2200. And since I've had pretty crummy experiences with United internationally, I honestly think I'd rather take SAS with a stopover for 140k than United on a direct flight for 115k…

Also, for the life of me I couldn't get the Amex travel portal to show these fares so I won't get the extra point for booking through them.  




Monday, April 10, 2017

A few tips from our recent emergency trip

We had a family emergency last week and had to find a flight to Seattle from New York City in a big hurry. We all know that as the flights fill up, the prices go up. But I'd forgotten that if you're buying TWO (or more) seats, they're both billed at the price of the most expensive seat

(FYI the flights were so full because the airlines had already issued a weather-related travel waiver for Saturday - meaning that lots of people were trying to leave a day early)

 

TIP 1: Sometimes it's cheaper to book two separate tickets!

In my specific example: if I searched for two seats, they were $1800 each. But when I changed the search to just one seat (on the very same flight), the price dropped to $718. Once we purchased that seat, the other seat (the last one one the plane) jumped up to $1800. Now at $1800 all kinds of terrible domestic point rewards start to make financial sense. What I ended up with was a 3¢ per point redemption (60,000 points) – not great but given the circumstances I'll take that over paying $1800.



If you're looking several months out for a flight, this likely won't apply because both seats will be in the same fare bucket, but if you're looking on a very full flight, it's probably worth it to do a price check.

Keep in mind now that all of those prices are for a ONE WAY flight. We still had to get home when the emergency was over (and we had no idea when that was going to be...). Flying home we had quite a few more options and all of them much more reasonably-priced.

 

TIP 2: Some domestic Economy Class seats are better than others


For a domestic flight with my husband, a 2-abreast seating area in Economy is largely indistinguishable from First Class. Except for a few of the premium runs between SF/LA/NYC, nothing about the domestic First experience warrants much extra money. We realized a while back the most of what we liked about domestic First is not having a third person trying to crowd in between our wide shoulders and generally "invade our space".

The problem is that most of the domestic planes are in a 3+3 configuration in Economy. Aside from smaller regional jets, the exceptions are:
  • Airbus A330 (American)
  • Boeing 717 and 767 (American, United, Delta)
  • MD-90, MD-80, and MD-88 (American, Delta)
  • Embraer 170 and 175 and 190 (United, JetBlue, Alaska)
  • Bombardier CS100 (Delta)
An A330 or 767 on a Domestic route is pretty rare, but if you use Kayak.com you can quickly check for this by clicking 'More' next to 'Top Filters' and check the 'Wide-body jet only' option. To look for the others, you can click 'Show Details' next to each of the flights that work for your time and budget and see if any of them match.

In our case we noticed that one of the Delta flights from Seattle to NYC was actually a 767 with a 2-3-2 configuration that continued on to Madrid after stopping in New York, so we bought two seats together and saved ourselves about $1000 over paying for First.

Use the 'More' button to look for wide-bodies

Show Details to look at the plane type

found a 767 with 2-3-2 seating!

 

TIP 3: Quickly view and filter every flight available to your destination with FlightAware.com


A much nerdier option is to use FlightAware.com to search a particular route and then filter the list by plane type. (Note that FlightAware converts your airport selection to the official airport code before searching - e.g., JFK becomes KJFK). Once you see the search results for a specific airport, you can use the "[cityname] area?" link to expand the list to a whole area (e.g., JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark).

FlightAware has much more advanced options



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Beware hotel resort fees


During our recent trip to Hawaii, we found ourselves suddenly in need of a hotel in Kona. I fired up Kayak and Hotel Tonight and Hilton Waikoloa Village was the cheapest option. But once we arrived it became clear that quoted price of $256 was just the beginning.

The hotel has a mandatory $30 a day "Resort Fee" per room. For that $30 you get:


On top of the resort fee, you have to pay $30 a day for parking. Since it's on a private road there's literally no option to park in a public space and then walk to the hotel. The only parking lot is a full 20 minute walk from our room, so it's clear that you're supposed to spring for the valet option which costs even more. (And if you're not a complete cheapskate, you can also add in a tip for the valet each time s/he fetches the car for you as you come and go).

Now, given how far away your car is, you're also somewhat captive there, and they completely take advantage of this fact: a single, Don Julio silver margarita was $17 before tax and tip. So you're going to be paying midtown Manhattan prices for literally everything.

Now, add standard hotel and sales tax, and our price out the door (without bar or food tab) was more like $330 a night.

When we booked our previous hotel in Honolulu, I used my AARP discount to save as much on our base hotel rate as the resort fee they tacked on. Unfortunately Hilton's AARP rate for same-day, peak reservations wasn't any cheaper than the normal rate. I wish hotels and rental cars were subject to the same laws that airlines are about publishing prices, but given our current political environment, I doubt this will happen anytime soon.






Sunday, March 19, 2017

Trip Report: New York to Honolulu on Delta 495 JFK-HNL First Class

PROS
  • Wi-Fi (with some freebies for T-mobile customers)
  • Very competitive fare in First
  • Lie-flat seat
  • Great service
  • Surprisingly good food and bev
  • Personal air vents
  • Convenient time – leave JFK at 9am, land HNL at 3pm. Direct 10 hour flight

CONS
  • Lots of vacationers = Noisy flight
  • Seasonal, so both United and Hawaiian's prices jump up when service ends in mid-March

(NOTE: the return flight was nearly identical – crew, plane, and even a bunch of the passengers, so no need for a separate review. It's a redeye leaving HNL at 5pm and landing JFK at 9am. Menu from that flight is in the food section)

 

How I did it

$1712 per-person round-trip. Details here, but the short story is that there's basically zero premium cabin award seats on this route, and none at the Saver level. I'll earn a total of ≈ 8,000 Delta miles and 7,000 American Express points for this flight (i.e., around $225 worth of points).

 

Boarding

The gate agent was fantastic at managing the chaotic gaggle of gate lice into two orderly lines: premium and everyone else. Disabled and Diamond Medallion members were allowed pre-boarding.

We boarded at the center of the plane so that made boarding a bit more calm than on, say, JetBlue Mint where everyone boards by walking through First. That said, it's still a 40 person First Class cabin with lots of tourists, families, and old folks so it was still pretty hectic. This 767 has an updated cabin with modern overhead bins and lie-flat seats. Delta's seats are very open so they don't feel as private as some of their international competitors. The window seats in odd-numbered rows feel a bit more private than the even-numbered ones.

A Westin pillow and blanket were waiting for me at my seat, as was a Tumi amenity kit, a bottle of water, and a packet of almonds.

Pre-departure Mai-tais, orange juice, and water were served (Who cares if it's 9am!) Menus came out and I was greeted by name when the FA came to take my order.

Westin pillow and blanket, Tumi amenity kit, headphones, almonds, and water at our seats

an ethernet jack?!

yay for gaspers!
40-ish people in the First Class cabin

seats are fully lie-flat but the leg hole is a little tight...

Mai-tai at 9am? Don't mind if I do!


This plane also has new, higher-speed GoGo Wi-Fi – $9.95 for a whole-flight pass or $3 for 30 minutes. T-Mobile users get free text and chat plus one free hour of internet access.

T-mobile customers get a few free Wi-Fi perks

Food

Lunch was served about 90 minutes into the flight. The flavors were more interesting than I was expecting... maybe all this Food Network mania in the US is finally improving the national palette. I had the lamb and it was quite tasty. I also had the ice cream because nothing on vacation has calories, right? The tray table is innovative, but its design requires you to move everything off of your workspace to open it.

Lunch menu (click to enlarge)
Beverage menu
I had the lamb

Cuban sandwich for pre-landing snack
Chocolate ice cream
An hour or two after the first meal service the flight attendants came through with a snack basket. For the pre-landing lunch I had the cuban sandwich and another Mai Tai, both were tasty. Delta's food has been hit and miss for me, but their hot sandwiches have all been consistently good.

The return flight is a redeye. We had a 3 hour layover from our flight from Kona, so I decided to skip the in-flight meal and instead eat at the fabulous Nico's Pier 38 (which is quite close to the airport, actually). Once we were airborne I went straight to sleep. Besides taste, the other reason for skipping in the flight meal is that a 3pm dinner in HNL is right around my normal 9pm dinnertime in NYC and I've found that the timed-fasting thing really does help with my jetlag.

Had some fairly restful sleep and woke up 90 minutes before landing.  Gotta say the breakfast was the best I've ever had on an American airline. The fruit was so perfect I thought I was on ANA or Korean!

Pre-landing oatmeal breakfast
Return flight menu

On both flights we all got chocolate-covered macadamia nuts just before landing.

aww nuts!

On the ground

Lyft and Uber are both quite popular in Honolulu. Lyft isn't allowed to pick you up at the airport; neither is Uber, but apparently they're doing it anyway.  Both can drop you off at HNL no problem. Prices are similar to New York or San Francisco.





Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Next trip to Japan on ANA with Virgin Atlantic miles?

We love Japan and have been wanting to go back, but it's tough with American employer standards for annual vacation days 😜. At this point we're hoping for a couple of weeks in Autumn and I suuuure wouldn't mind repeating our ANA First Class flight! We're both fresh out of United miles, though, so that means we'd need to either:
  • transfer Chase points to United and do a partner redemption, or
  • transfer Amex points to ANA and redeem with them or
  • something a bit more obscure...
Well, looking through one of Reddit's travel forums today I was reminded of an option I'd completely forgotten about: Virgin Atlantic. Not only are their partner redemptions for ANA very reasonably-priced, Virgin can accept incoming transfers from both American Express AND Chase Sapphire. According to this link and this link, the transfers are instantaneous.

Apparently people are using United.com to check individual dates for ANA availability and then calling Virgin to book (they don't have online partner reward booking yet on Virgin's site). Again, I've never done this myself (this person has), but it sounds like a great option despite their recent devaluation and new peak dates policy.

So I created a new Flying Club account, searched United for Saver First Class availability on ANA and called Virgin's main US number. I had a live person on the phone with about a 5 minute wait and he was able to confirm the availability and price: 120,000 Virgin miles + US$85 for a round-trip flight in First! (United charges 220,000 points + $11 for that same ANA flight!). The agent offered to put the flight on hold for 72 hours until my points could be transferred in.

Sadly, though, a family emergency arose and the dates I'd chosen didn't work any longer, but I wanted to mention it since it's such a great deal compared to booking that very same flight with United.

Once I get new dates for the trip I'll definitely keep this option in mind!





jetBlue Plus MasterCard 10% point rebate is for primary cardholders only

One of the perks of the JetBlue Plus MasterCard is a 10% rebate any time you redeem JetBlue points for travel. My husband and I are in a family pool, and I'm a cardholder on his MasterCard account. I was looking at his points activity, and yep, his 1100 point Even More Space upgrade had a rebate a few weeks later called "B6 CoBrand Card Redemption Bonus".


A few months ago, I had redeemed 42,000 points for a trip but saw no such rebate. After a call to both JetBlue and Barclays I can confirm that only the primary cardholder gets the 10% rebate. ☹️

As I've mentioned before, we set up the family pooling with me as Head of Household, and that was a mistake. The customer service folks at JetBlue were very kind about helping me finally fix that mistake today, but they made sure to point out that doing all of this point moving and changing the Head of Household was something they only did for people with Mosaic status. Non-Mosaic members can only change their family pool once a year, so they'd have to just close the family pool altogether and open a new one under the new Head of Household member's account.


Mosaic has a few unwritten perks...

Related
Which JetBlue card should you get?



Sunday, March 5, 2017

BEWARE: Deceptive advertising on American Express Travel's website

I have an American Express Premier Rewards Gold card which I often use for airfare because it has a 3x category bonus for airfare. Amex offers an additional point if you book your flight through their travel portal, giving you a total of 4 points per dollar spent on airfare. When I was booking our Hawaii trip, I noticed that one of the itineraries has this "Featured" box around it, indicating that I'd get 2x points (versus the normal 1x point, I thought). Imagine my surprise when the trip only earned the normal amount of miles...

Well, after a long and drawn out conversation with the staff at American Express, it's their position that the wording in this box does NOT mean 3x points + 2x points for 5x points. They stand firmly by the fact that I was only entitled to 4x points on this trip – the exact same amount I would have earned for a non-"featured itinerary". I was logged in as myself when I booked, so there's no excuse for singling out certain flights as earning more when they don't.

As far as I see it, Amex tricked me out of 3424 points (I bought two tickets at $1712 each). The searches I screen-capped here are from today, so they're still doing this.

Itinerary listing – some are highlighted as earning more







When you click the question mark in the listing, this is the explanation


UPDATE: And their explanation from their Twitter account after seeing this post:
So I get 4x no matter what, and the "Featured" means nothing...