Showing posts from 2013

some frequent-flier basics (part six: a real-world example!)

It's December and I've been invited to a friend's birthday in Europe late June of next year. Because I'm always trying to live my "earn and burn" mantra, I'd like to spend some of the 200,000 British Airways "Avios" miles I've got in my account. (I'm not-so-secretly hoping I can find a seat in First or Business Class!)

He doesn't know yet where he's having the party, but I have old friends in London I want to see and I'll take a cheap no-frills airline flight to Barcelona or Lisbon or wherever the party ends up being. Flights to Europe in summer are pretty hard to snag reward seats for, so I'd really like to book the transatlantic part as soon as possible.
I dutifully checked Wikipedia (like I mentioned in Part 2) and found out that my local area (New York City) has two airports with direct flights to London. London has 3 major airports I could potentially fly home from. I hopped on to Kayak to see what it would cost to fly…

NEWS: Delta pulling out premium seats on international routes and replacing them with Economy

Delta is set to make record profits this year, but that's not necessarily good news for you if you like flying in premium seats for a good deal. Delta frequent flyer miles are generally regarded as the worst in the industry because reward seats are difficult to find and when you do find them, they require a huge number of miles – hence their unofficial nickname of Delta SkyPesos. 

Now that they're finding routes with the lowest number of paid premium seats and replacing them with economy, reward seats are going to be even harder to come by.

I've actually flown Delta by choice a couple of times because their domestic first class is identical to everyone else's yet it's priced 30% cheaper. Also, they had fleet-wide wi-fi long before United.

Until United finishes retrofitting their fleet, Delta is still a good choice when flying domestically on short-haul routes where you don't care much about miles or when you're paying for first class out of your own pocket. 


NEWS: United is going to stop displaying award space for their partner Singapore Airlines

One of the great thing about airline alliances is that you can use your points from one airline on any of the partners. When you're on searching for a mileage redemption reward between New York and Frankfurt, for example, you see results for United-operated flights as well as flights from Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. You're free to book whichever one suits your needs and interest. 

Unfortunately, United has decided they're going to start hiding the results from Singapore Airlines from the search results. The flights are still available, but you're going to have to call United and pay the $25 "talk to an agent" fee in order to redeem your miles for one of those flights. 

When a United mileage member flies on Singapore (or any partner airline), United has to pay cash to the partner airline for transporting you. When that same person flies on United, there's no payments to be made. You'd think that these partner agreements would all end up …

NEWS: British Airways now adds "travel companions" to their Household Accounts

While I've mentioned that very few America airlines have the concept of family accounts, several international ones do. British Airways have offered a family plan option on their Avios points plan for some time now, but the big downer was that with a family mileage plan you could only redeem tickets for people in your family. 

They've just updated the plan now, so your "family" can use its points to buy tickets for up to 5 "travel companions". Perfect for nannies, cabana boys, or that work bestie that you're taking to Mexico for her "dirty thirty" celebration!

more info on

NEWS: Norweigan airlines launching Boeing 787 service to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Orlando

Norweigan Airlines is beginning service to LAX, Oakland, and Orlando airports starting in March of 2014 as they take delivery of new 787 aircraft from Boeing. This could be a great way to get an inexpensive fare into Europe and then take one of the smaller, low-cost European carriers on to other points on the continent. 

I'm a big fan of the 787 for several reasons
the interior air pressure and humidity is higher than most airplanes so you don't get as dried out and stuffy-nosed as you do on normal planesthe ceiling heights and layout of the overhead bins means you have much more headroom no matter what you're doingthe plane was designed to be much quieter in the cabin, so you have less stress from the sound of the engine droning for hours on endthe windows are 30% larger and have an electronic tinting feature so it's easier to see outside if you want tosince they're brand-new, you can be assured that the planes will have the most modern amenities on boardthe economi…

NEWS: Southwest Airlines offering $2 iMessage-only wi-fi

I love in-flight wi-fi. But there are times when it's just not worth it to me — maybe my workload is light, or maybe i have a good book. Southwest Airlines is now rolling out a super-cheap wi-fi option where you can use Apple iMessage onboard for $2 (versus the normal $8 you'd pay for full wi-fi). 


Why I like EMV chip cards

Whenever we travel to Europe, there's always a few instances of what we call "card roulette" — where you're standing at a machine (like, say, a Paris Metro machine that doesn't take cash or coins) and you just start jamming different cards into the machine hoping one of them will work.

While many restaurants and shops have swipe readers, there are an inconvenient number of places where you're going nowhere fast without a chip card.

I got a British Airways visa card a couple of years ago primarily because it was the only major US card that had the chip, but that's slowly changing over time. Their card is 'chip and signature' (meaning that you still have to sign a piece of paper for the transaction) whereas most European cards are Chip and Pin (meaning that you have to enter a PIN code to complete the transaction.)

On our most recent trip, the Paris regional machines (pic) refused my BA card (as well as all my swipe cards), yet the Metro machines (pic)

My Chip + Signature Chase Sapphire Preferred Arrived!

In November, Chase started offering a free replacement card with EMV chip and signature technology for Sapphire Preferred cardholders in the US. Just call the number on the back of your card and they'll express you a new card along with a mailer to return the old card in (metal doesn't shred very well!)

If you don't have a Chase Sapphire yet, please consider using my affiliate link to sign up for one. 50,000 bonus points after you meet the minimum spend, and I get a 10,000 mile referral bonus! I've had one for several years now and the two biggies for me are the double miles on dining and travel, plus it can transfer points to a bunch of places that my Amex can't: United Airlines, Korean Air, Southwest and Amtrak. Our 2015 First Class trip to Asia happened largely because of this card. 

UPDATE: Barclays now offers a USA credit card with Chip+PIN functionality!

some frequent-flier basics (part five: what are your miles worth?)

In the greater frequent flier community there's much debate about what a mile is worth but generally speaking they're worth something around 2¢ depending on which airline they're from. 

When you're pricing out a potential flight you can quickly tell how much your redemption is worth by dividing the number of dollars it would cost to buy the ticket by the miles needed(this is another great reason to look for the flight on before starting an award search). 
Let's say your flight was pricing out at $400 and you look on and find a Saver redemption for 12,500 miles each way (for a total of 25,000). Now just do the math:
$400 ÷ 25,000 = $0.016

So 1.6¢ per mile is a decent redemption rate because you're generally in the ballpark of 2¢. Many frequent fliers aim for 6¢ per mile or more, but the only way you'll ever see a redemption rate that high is if you're booking international business or first class. Domestic economy it's quite difficul…

some frequent-flier basics (part four: searching for redemption)

So now that you know route and the current going rate if you pay for the flight, it's time to log in to the airline's website and start looking at availability and mileage costs. Make sure you have all of the necessary personal information handy: all travelers' full names, dates of birth, frequent flier number, passport number and expiration date (for international flights) so if you find a great deal you can grab it before someone else does.

In this example, I'll show Log in with your user name and password, since many of the fees and seat choices will change if you're a member of their program. Select your dates and destinations, make sure to click the Award Travel button, then click Search

Flight availability and pricing is shown for all 3 classes of service – Economy, Business, and First (most domestic flights only have 2 classes whereas international flights tend to have all 3 classes). Direct flights are shown first (both United and Partner flights…

some frequent-flier basics (part three: award charts)

So in the previous step you found the price to purchase the ticket you want, now it's time to see if you can find a mileage reward seat.

Most airlines publish award charts with fixed redemption rates between regions (e.g., 50,000 miles for flights between North America and Europe). Additionally, most have a concept of a "Saver" reward and a "Standard" reward. Like finding low fares, finding Saver rewards often requires planning a trip pretty far in advance, flying at the very last minute, or flying at an unpopular time of day, but the reward is that you can get the flight for a lot fewer miles — often half of the Standard award. (Some have "high", "medium", and "low" but the concept is the same).

A few airlines (Virgin America, JetBlue) do away with the whole award chart and simply use a flat rate to convert your miles to cash (usually at a rate around 1.5¢ – 2¢ each) and you then pay the current price for the flight you want. So if…

some frequent-flier basics (part two: preparing to redeem)

So you've flown a few times, banked a few miles and you're ready to redeem your miles. Here's how I usually start the process:

First, visit the English-language version of the Wikipedia page for your home airport (keep in mind many larger cities have two airports) and scroll down to the Destinations section. There you can quickly see every single route that's available and which airline it's on. This can save you time hunting for a direct flight that doesn't exist! 

Visit and price out the ticket. Kayak has a ton of very powerful options to help you find exactly the ticket you want at the price you want. Check the Nearby Airports option if you're willing to travel to another nearby airport for more options. (I also uncheck the Priceline and comparative search options since they just open up a ton of windows that I don't need to look at.)
One of the big reasons I go to first is to make sure I'm not passing up a great deal on a…

some frequent-flier basics (part one)

A good friend was considering getting into the points game so I spent some time writing down a few of the basics. I realized how much I'd learned over the past couple of years and how many of my own misconceptions were shared by many, many others out there on various frequent flyer forums so I'm starting at square one here:
Most Airlines have some kind of loyalty program where you're awarded miles (sometimes called "points") based on how far you fly how much your flight costs. (UPDATE: In 2015 most of the US carriers switched their plans around so you earn points based on ticket cost instead of distance). Some airlines give you bonus miles if you buy an expensive ticket (like business class), others give fewer miles (e.g., 50% of the distance flown) if you buy a steeply discounted ticket. Some also award bonus points if you have Elite Status with them. You can also earn miles when you fly with a partner airline (e.g., you can earn United miles when you fly with L…