Thursday, December 19, 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.
  1. 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. 
  2. I hopped on to Kayak to see what it would cost to fly there in Business Class, making sure that I chose "NYC" and "LON" as my cities (rather than "JFK" and "LHR") so my search results would show flights from ALL the airports in those cities.  Right now it's looking like $3869 per person ($2700 fare + $1169 in fuel surcharges and taxes!!)
  3. I logged in to my British Airways account to search for flights on my desired dates.
  4. The results tab shows that I have quite a few options including a few in Business and First. (NYC-London is very heavily traveled route, so the availability is quite good). BA also shows flights with their partners (e.g., American Airlines).

    TIP: If you're having trouble finding a ticket, use the 'View Calendar of BA availability' button to quickly see the whole month at once and save yourself a ton of clicking.
  5. Looking over the various departure times I remember that it's a lot better to sleep on an overnight flight to Europe, so I look for something leaving in the evening and landing in the morning.
    BA availability chart

  6. Once I've clicked my desired flights the price appears: 80,000 points plus $1169 in fuel and taxes (the same as when I priced it out on Kayak).
    Total cost of trip displays below.

  7. Doing my math is see that my 80,000 miles will save me $2700 (since I'll have to pay $1169 fuel+tax no matter how I buy the ticket). So $2700 ÷ 80,000 = $0.034 (3.4¢ a mile). Since we know that anything above 2¢ is a good redemption, I'm happy. But as I mentioned before, it's very difficult to get above 2¢ flying in Economy so don't hold your breath waiting to find it.

    TIP: while doing this math is helpful to see if you're making good use of your miles, it's important to do a reality check here — if you would NEVER pay $3869 to take that flight, these miles aren't really saving you that much money. Your miles might be better spent buying 2 (or 3 or 4) economy tickets instead of one glamorous one. Only you can decide what the right "math" is for your situation.
  8. Once I've found my seats I move on to booking. British Airways is annoying in that they charge everyone except their top elites a fee to pick your own seat on the plane. I usually visit seat guru and plug in my flight numbers to see if their expansive seat map inventory shows a particularly good (or bad) seat and then decide from there. 
  9. Bust out the credit card to pay the fees (which are higher than any other airline's) and I'm all done :)

other resources

<< back to part 5

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

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. 

more info here

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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 balancing each other out in the end, but apparently United doesn't think so with regards to Singapore. 

No doubt about it, this is irritating. 

(Also Note that also doesn't show award space for their partner LOT Polish airlines, either).

more info on flyertalk

Singapore Air A380 on the JFK-Frankfurt route

Monday, December 16, 2013

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!

Take your family AND your friends with you on BA award flights now!

more info on

Sunday, December 15, 2013

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 planes
  • the ceiling heights and layout of the overhead bins means you have much more headroom no matter what you're doing
  • the 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 end
  • the windows are 30% larger and have an electronic tinting feature so it's easier to see outside if you want to
  • since they're brand-new, you can be assured that the planes will have the most modern amenities on board
  • the economics of the plane mean more direct flights between smaller markets. 
787 headroom – and Mr. Z is 2m tall (6'5")!

press release here

Saturday, December 14, 2013

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). 


Friday, December 13, 2013

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) worked just fine. I don't think any one card is a silver bullet for the card roulette problem, but I feel like its a much better better item in my arsenal when dealing with fussy foreign card readers.

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

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!