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Point Me to the Miles

Navigating the Path to Great Travel

Archive for the category “Delta”

How Not to Win Customers and Influence Travelers

I’m writing this post from the confines of the semi-amiable skies at 30,000 Feet on Delta Flight (DL) 1823 from Detroit (DTW) to Seattle (SEA).  And service has been over-the-top… well, for the most part.

This is the 2nd flight I’ve been on today, and I’ve noticed that the service has been quite friendly, almost in a weird way.  I watched passengers disembarking in Detroit be told “You have a nice and wonderful day.”  And on my flight to Seattle, during boarding passengers were greeted with “Happy Tuesday to you!”  Maybe a little weird, but don’t get me wrong, it makes sense.

After recent United’s fiascos (LeggingGate and Dragnet) and American’s Whack-A-Mom ordeal, the decision to make a loud and clear that an airline cares about their customers, is a FANTASTIC idea.

All that said, shortly after takeoff I witnessed something that had me offended for the sake of another passenger.  The flight attendant took dinner orders from Back to Front since it was an odd flight (as opposed to Front to Back for an even flight, Hence Front Even/Back Odd or FEBO).  When finishing by taking a meal order from a passenger in the row in front row, there was only one meal option.  After the passenger voiced slight displeasure, the flight attendant uttered literally the WORST statement I’ve ever heard voiced to a customer in an airline’s premium cabin:  “You could BUY an item from the back.  To say that bothers me is an understatement, it literally SICKENS THE HECK out of me.

Look, I think offering an item in place of the only remaining option is a creative solution.  But to offer a premium cabin customer, who I suspect is an elite frequent flier and therefore one of an airlines most important customers is absolutely disgraceful.  Suggesting to a customer seated in a premium cabin that they can hand over even more money for something, doesn’t attract more customers, and demands apology.

Delta, if you want to distinguish yourself from two of your biggest domestic competitors, I would strongly recommend changing course.  IMMEDIATELY.

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Some Thoughts on Security and TSA Pre-Check

I am heading back from the East Coast today after a fun weekend enjoying the Freddies, Frequent Traveler University, and even a visit to Blue Duck Tavern (more on that in a later post).  I jumped at the chance to fly out Baltimore, in part due to being cheaper, but also because it was a city I had not visited.  Despite being home to the despicable Ravens (grr)  it’s a neat city.

Anyway, when I arrived at the airport this morning I was excited (and hopeful) about using TSA Pre-Check.  Though I am not a Global Entry member, and haven’t officially been signed up by Delta, I’ve never been denied from using it, thanks to my Gold Medallion (SkyPriority) status.  The regular security line was decent in length earlier, with 50 or so folks in the cue, and perhaps a good 20 minute wait.

I confidently approached the Pre-Check line and the scanner beeped (approved I assume?)  While there was nothing on my boarding pass denoting that I could use TSA Pre- Check, I had no issues getting through.

What felt peculiar, and the point of this post in fact, is that I felt an impulse to remove my jacket, shoes, and all objects from my pocket.  As I started compulsively discarding my personal effects into a plastic bin, the TSA agent reassured me that I would be fine.

It reminded me of how life has changed in an age of global terrorism and consequently how conditioned I have become to this behavior, and how difficult  it must be to adapt for folks that can recall the “grandiose” days when this was not an issue.

It’s somewhat dehumanizing to admit to, but I suppose it a result of environmental conditioning.  It’s sad to think that the world around us has been compromised  enough for this to be thought of as normal.   Granted, the added security, despite its frequent downfalls, I think most would agree the security screening process has increased air travel security.   Though I can remember clearly times when it was rather easy to reach the gate of an airplane, the majority of my air travel has been post-9/11.  Heck, even when visiting the Smithsonian this pas weekend I fully expected the take off the discard the pockets operating procedure.

And I juxtapose myself against the experiences of those much older than myself.  Void of priority screening and/or TSA Pre-Check, the entire process must come across as quite invase and intrusive.  On a recent, while I drew no attention from the TSA, a roll of quarters in my mom’s carry on had them rummaging through her belongs for a good 10 minutes.

While I am grateful I made it through security in under a minute, I am mindful of the changes that have occurred and how others have been impacted.

Delta Takes a “Sky”Fall With Revenue-Based Changes

Well, I suppose I should adorn myself with sackcloth and ashes.  I might as well start mourning the death of the Delta SkyMiles program, though it’s been rumored for quite some time.

According to a Yahoo Finance press release, Delta will make some revenue-based changes to their award program, beginning next year.

“These changes are a result of considerable research that we’ve conducted including conversations with hundreds of customers, many of whom expressed a desire to see the Medallion program truly target our best customers,” said Jeff Robertson, vice president – SkyMiles. “Adding a revenue component to the SkyMiles Medallion program ensures that our most valued customers receive the best program benefits and a more exclusive experience.”

Evident in this statement is the fact that Delta (unfortunately) wants to transition to more controlled transparency.

For starters, the M fares (more premium coach fares) will no longer earn a 50% mileage bonus (redeemable and elite qualifying).

Even worse, Medallion elite qualification will be dependent on miles (or flights) flown AND the amount spent on flights, which Delta calls Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs).

According to this model, here are the requirements for the various tiers for 2015 Medallion elite qualification will be as follows, with the current requirements emboldened:

  • Silver – $2,500 in Annual Spend + 25,000 Medallion Qualify Miles(MQMs) OR 30 Medallion Qualify Segments (MQSs)
  • Gold – $5,000 Annual Spend + 50,000 Medallion Qualify Miles(MQMs) OR 60 Medallion Qualify Segments (MQSs)
  • Platinum – $7,500 in Annual Spend + 75,000 Medallion Qualify Miles(MQMs) OR 100 Medallion Qualify Segments (MQSs)
  • Diamond – $12,500 in Annual Spend + 75,000 Medallion Qualify Miles(MQMs) OR 100 Medallion Qualify Segments (MQSs)

While I do think having airline status is important, I am afraid they will make having status on Delta not worth the money it costs.  To put it in perspective, in maintaining Gold Medallion status this past year via about ~$3,000 on Delta flights and receiving a Delta Platinum AMEX sign-up bonus.

Under the newer model, earning/maintaining this status would have cost me nearly twice that. A lot to pay for considering my First Class upgrade percentage was a little above 50% in 2012, not to mention free checked bags, free Economy Comfort seats, and priority check-in and boarding.

And granted, more changes—particularly to SkyMiles redemptions, may come.

Of course, the one exclusion to these rules is to spend $25,000 on a co-branded American Express.  However, this is probably a bad idea, as it is best to diversify your miles, and SkyMiles are slightly lacking in value.

Even though Delta has finally made this information public, there are still some questions I have about this transition:

  1. Does Delta really expect this to increase business?  While a fair number of elite frequent fliers fly a particular airline only because their company has a contract with that airline, it seems to fair to say that they would retain about the same level of business.  Or even worse, a lot of elites like myself-who CHOOSE to be loyal to Delta will drop switch to a different airline.
  2. Will competitors look to scoop up such elite frequent fliers?  If say United offered me 1K or even Premier Platinum status to switch, I would be all in.
  3. In this revenue-based model, will tickets bought with vouchers earned for denied boarding not count toward your annual spend requirement?  If so, I might have to take a lot of red-eye flights between hub airports…..
  4. Given the $25k in co-branded credit card spend exception; is it conceivable that more Vanilla Rewards gift cards may be purchased in the coming year?

 

Head nod to The Pointsy Guy

30 SkyMiles Per Dollar at 1-Flowers.com!

For some the Holiday Season, can become Grumpy Season.  What’s the answer to make things more cherry, even though you know you’ll be spending time with weird Uncle Bob?  More miles!

Now through December 31, when you make a purchase through 1-800Flowers.com, use promo code 48DE, and you will be able to earn 30 Delta SkyMiles per dollar.

1-800 Flowers.com

The fact of the matter is that 30 mile per dollar shopping portal deals don’t tend to last long, so if you are unsure of what to get someone on your gift list, I would go to 1-800Flowers.com.

Delta “Have One On Us” Coupon Winners

Thanks to everyone who participated in the “Have One On Us”  contest.

And the winners are:

(DRUMROLL…)

Reader Harv, who commented “I like Delta because they fly nonstop DTW to MCO and I am so flying this month.”

And Creasian, who responded “(I) Love Delia’s first class area… Though I never sat there. :(”  Well, hopefully the coupon will “upgrade” your next flight.

I have already emailed you guys.

Enjoy having one on me!

Georgia on My Mind: Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Atlanta, GA (ATL)

Introduction
Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City, UT (SLC)
Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Atlanta, GA (ATL)

As I mentioned, out of my 3 flights, only one had an upgrade that had cleared, so I was watching the upgrade lists for the other two like a hawk.

On transcontinental  flights, upgrades clear at the gate as opposed to the booking window, so about 19 out of 24 First Class Seats showed as available before I checked in 24 hours out.  As my flight loomed nearer, I was around 25th or so on the upgrade list, so decided to try my luck on a later flight.

I went on to Delta.com, and noticed that the next flight out, arriving in Atlanta about an hour later, seemed to have better availability.  So after getting off the plane in Los Angeles, I headed straight for the Delta SkyClub.  I inquired about same day confirming, and was told I would be 15th out of 17 or so, two hours out from departure.

I had not utilized the same day-confirm benefit yet, courtesy of being a Gold Medallion or higher, so I decided to take advantage of it and play upgrade roulette.

In the end, I was about 19th or so on the upgrade list, so I missed not one but TWO.  #FirstWorldProblems.

Delta 1554
Los Angeles (LAX) – Atlanta (ATL)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Depart: 2:45 PM
Arrive: 10:02 PM
Duration: 4 Hr 17 Min
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 26D (Economy)

Fortunately, after re-booking, an Exit Row seat opened up.

757-200 Seat Map

Matter of fact, I suppose I was lucky, because while the window seat was occupied, the middle seat was not taken so I had some extra room to spread out:

My Seat Arrangement

One nice thing about the Exit Row seats, compared to Economy Comfort seats, is that because of the amount of space in between seats, there is an extra fold-out table in the arm rest, in addition to the one in the back of the seat.  So between those and, and the two shared tables in between my row-mate and I, I had a whole FOUR tables and a seat to spread out my stuff!  Boy, am I really spoiled!! 🙂

When I first started seriously flying, I always liked the longer flights because of all of the entertainment options.  And with personal Audio/Video Displays, I certainly wasn’t disappointed!  It’s always amazed me that an plane can stream live TV while in the air, and I was able to watch the evening news shortly after take off.

I suppose it’s gotten worse since they require payment for some movies and TV channels in the main cabin, but between ESPN, Discovery, and even a New York Giants game, I was pretty content on the entertainment front.

In covering, Delta’s “Have One On Us” policy, I shared how I like to push the envelope maximize my experience by attempting to use it for the purchase of perishable food.  Well, I tried again, asking for an exception and it seems the new line is “The system won’t let us scan it.”  I wasn’t ready for this answer, and suppose next time I will plan asking “Well can you make an exception and forget to ring it up?

As it was, I ended up using it for a Flight Delights snack box, which isn’t a bad deal, as reviewed in greater depth by Double Wides Fly here.  While maybe not supper-quality, it more than makes up for it in the sheer quantity of food, and it filled up my stomach indeed.

I think one think that sets First Class apart, is the usually attentive service, compared to lousy (and almost non-existent) service coach.  However, on this flight, the flight attendants seemed to be fairly reasonable about refilling drinks and offering snacks throughout the flight.  Unlike some flights–even in First at times, I didn’t find myself hitting the call button when I needed a drink, and was pretty satisfied.

I managed to chug away at some work and a blog post on my laptop during the course of the flight, and we ended up landing in Atlanta right on time.

When we hit the ground, I turned on my phone, and discovered I had a surprise waiting for me in Atlanta…

Georgia on My Mind:Salt Lake City, UT (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)

Introduction
Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City, UT (SLC)
Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)

I had about an hour and a half between flights, so I headed to the SkyClub–which was conveniently located along my way, between Gates B and C.

SLC SkyClub

While in there, I heard a charming interaction between a father and young daughter, which went as follows:

Father: “I’ll buy you a drink.”
Daughter: “I thought they were free!”
Called out!

I headed over to the gate, where boarding had just begun, so despite using the SkyPriority Lane to board, I had a to wait a few minutes before making the wonderful left turn into the First Class cabin of the Boeing 757-200.

Delta 1299
Salt Lake City (SLC) – Los Angeles (LAX)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Depart: 11:15 AM
Arrive: 12:16 PM
Duration: 1 Hr 1 Min
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 1D (First Class)

I had been sitting for about 2 minutes when the purser came by to offer me a pre-departure beverage.  I took a Glenlivet on the rocks, sat back and enjoyed myself.

While I generally have enjoyed watching the parade of passengers pass by me, I am starting to appreciate the quick and peaceful surroundings afforded in the forward cabin of the 757-200, where the main entrance/exit is behind you.

Anyway, as far as my seat itself, I had the bulkhead in Row 1, which I know some do not like.  I find that the legroom is adequate, maybe a little bit extra, and I have something I can prop my feet against.  Being close to the lavatory doesn’t bother me, as my nose isn’t real sensitive and I take advantage of it often.

Seat 1D

I should also mentioned that this happened to be one of Delta’s longhaul-configured aircraft, as evident by the leg rests on the seats.

I noticed a metal bar running the width of my seat on the floor, and realized it was the foot support for a leg rest, meaning it was an angled-flat seat.  So in addition to a button on the arm rest for the seat recline, there is a second one for raising the leg rest.  These seats, as opposed to lie-flat seats, can be uncomfortable for sleeping, but on a shorter flight it was perfect for reclining.

At just under 2 hours, this flight did not include a meal, but rather a snack basket and drink service.  The flight attendants were good about providing drink refills, and we were landing before too long.

Why do the flights I get upgraded on always have to seem too short?

Georgia On My Mind: Pasco to Salt Lake City

Introduction
Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City, UT (SLC)
Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)

I made it to the airport about an hour before my flight’s (early) departure of 6:35 AM.

In the past my usual routine has been to jump straight into the SkyPriority line, courtesy of my Gold Medallion status on Delta.  However, I have learned that if I want to print my boarding pass–which I needed to do in this case, I would be sent to one of the kiosks. I know they do this to make it “easier” and require fewer ticket agents, but it sorta irks me.  Not that I am an elite-ist, but generally it means those with status are not helped immediately and still have to wait a little bit at times.

Evil Kiosks

Anway, one of them opened up right away, so I went ahead and printed my boarding pass, then used the Sky Priority cue to drop off my bag.

At most airports, my Delta Gold Medallion status Whether using the elite check-in line, or not they will simply re-direct you to the kiosks to print boarding passes, which I needed to do, unfortunately.

Check-In

I headed through the single security lane (which hopefully they will add to soon, as part of a proposed airport expansion in Pasco, if anyone cares)  and to the gate area.

While, my Salt Lake to LAX upgrade cleared at the Gold Medallion window essentially four days out, my other two flights had not.  This had me watching the upgrade lists like a hawk, especially since I could tell I was close to clearing.

As it turned out, I was #3 on the list for 1 First Class seat on the flight to Salt Lake City.  Ahead of me on the list was a couple, and I noticed the gate agent call them both over, and inquire about their status.  While they both claimed to be Gold Medallions–meaning they were likely booked on a higher fare class than I was, the agent informed them that only the husband could be upgraded.  This led me to check with the agent myself, and he informed me it was still possible, but didn’t appear likely.

I went ahead and boarded, noting there was still an empty seat in First.  More and more of the boarding process went on, and still an empty seat.   After most passengers had boarded, the same agent came over to me and said he would check on something… He went further back in coach, and upgraded the wife to the empty seat in First.  RATS!!! Oh so close, oh well!

Delta 3359
Pasco, WA (PSC) – Salt Lake City (SLC)
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Depart: 6:35 AM
Arrive: 9:09 AM
Duration: 1 Hr 34 Min

Aircraft:  CRJ-900
Seat: 5B (Economy Comfort)

While obviously disappointed about barely missing an upgrade, it didn’t make a huge difference because it was a fairly short flight (only up in the air for about an hour) and there was no breakfast service in First, anyway.

Plus, as crazy as it sounds, I probably had more legroom than anyone else on the plain–including First Class, considering I was in the first row of Coach, where the configuration changes from 3 to 4 across:

Seat 5B Legroom on a CRJ-900

As a side note, this is considered Economy Comfort now, which costs an extra $15-$25 (I think) if you do not have Gold or higher status, on Delta.  While these Delta elites can select Economy Comfort immediately after being ticketed, if status you lack, you can request these seats within 24 hours of departure, or time of check-in.

As I learned from my seatmate, an Alaska Gold MVP, is not only is there upgrade reciprocity for Alaska elites on Delta, they are not able to select Economy Comfort for free, until 24 before departure.

Like most Regional Jet flights, there wasn’t much excitement, and just enough time for a drink and snack service.

Delta Makes More Unfortunate Changes

BACKSTORY
Back in March, I posted about the rumors of Delta overhauling their SkyMiles program into a revenue-based system.  I argued that Delta miles are already referred to as “SkyPesos” for a reason, and felt that this policy would be-humanizing because you passengers would become the rate they pay.  I was then humbled when I received kudos on FlyerTalk for this post.

In fact, it may be helpful to read the FlyerTalk thread my post, and Brian’s post to understand the major disadvantages of such a system.

DELTA’S CHANGE
Well, I am quite frankly afraid Delta may be taking another step down that road.  As of September 1, 2012, special or so-called “unpublished” fares will earn miles at a reduced rate, (see below) for both redeemable and Medallion Qualifying (elite) miles.  These fares are usually purchased through an agent, a third party, (i.e. Hotwire) or are part of a group rate.

Unpublished Mileage Earn Table

Examples of Fares Earning Reduced Miles:

  • Student fares
  • Consolidator fares
  • Flights included as part of a cruise package
  • Discounted tour packages
  • Group fares

Also, special and unpublished fare tickets will not be eligible for bonus miles or MQM promotions.

Fares Still Eligible for Full-Mileage Accrual Include:

  • Corporate/Government Fares
  • Sport/University Fares
  • Purchases made through Delta Vacations
  • “Unpublished” fares in the Asia Pacific Region

TERMS & CONDITIONS
Delta’s policy goes into effect September 1st, for travel booked on or after this date.  So if you booked unpublished travel now for September or later, you would still accrue mileage on these fares at the normal rate.

According to Johnny Jet, Delta will implement this policy as such:

“Unpublished fares, when ticketed, will be matched with an account’s ticket designator, resulting in the adjusted mileage accrual rate.”

The full Terms & Conditions of Delta’s new policy can be found here.

ANALYSIS
I making this move, Delta may be ultimately be taking a step in the wrong direction.

First, Delta is losing something quite unique about their program:  Unlike United and American Airlines, full mileage could be accrued on these special fares.  While Delta has been lambasted for their broken award booking engine, declining number of meaningful partners and cheap miles, it was a unique selling point for the program.  I guess all good things must come to an end.

Second, making earn rates dependent on the fare (and by extension cost) is the first step in implementing a revenue-based loyalty system is having.  Which is exactly what Delta is doing in this case!

Sure, unpublished fares form a small subset of Delta’s inventory, but who’s to say they would stop here?  All loyalty programs are starting to look for creative ways to get miles off of their books, and giving out less is a good way to start.

NOT JUST DELTA
And finally, I don’t think this is just a Delta problem.  The fact that Delta is not the first to adopt this policy is a bit concerning.

I have heard rumors that much of the airline industry may be headed to a more revenue-based system.

Airline loyalty programs started out in the 80s as a marketing strategy to fill planes. Since then, airlines de-regulations, mergers, the ease with which can earn award miles have pushed airline capacities to the max.  Naturally, award capacity controls had to be introduced to keep the airlines profitable.

But this still doesn’t change the capacity, and the economic downturn is driving airlines to squeeze out every penny possible.  Now I will admit I am no economist or business analyst, but it seems that one of the solutions to doing so would be to limit award tickets by making it harder to redeem.  In other words, there is a higher cost, because of greater demand.

Therefore, it seems fully plausible to expect three outcomes:  Devalued award charts, decreased earning potential—at least for flight activity, making long-haul award more expensive by pricing them based on how much the paid fare would be.

For example, a First Class award ticket valued at $15,000 that once could be redeemed for 100,000 frequent flyer miles might require 1,500,000 miles in a revenue-based model.

CONCULSION
The fact Delta and others have taken the first step toward a revenue-based system should cause some apprehension.  We are already seeing this full-blown revenue-based model from programs like Virgin Elevate and Southwest Rapid Rewards, and unfortunately many of the other airline programs may soon follow suit.

Tip of the hat to JohnnyJet and ThePointsGuy.

Delta Changes “Have One On Us” Voucher Policy

In an age of increasing airline expenses, it is getting harder and harder to get a quality snack or libation for free on board a plane.  Heck, Allegiant Air charges for water.

VOUCHER INTRODUCTION
One of the benefits of having Delta Medallion status (at least Gold and higher) is receiving “Have One On Us Coupons” as part of my elite membership packet.  I have only used half of mine this year, so I suppose I should make it a point to use them before they expire!

Delta Have One On Us Coupon, From Elite Member Packet

American Airlines provides similar recognition for the elite members.  While excluded from Gold and Platinum members, Executive Platinum members are entitled (using the flight manifest) to receive a free snack and beverage on board when schlepping it in coach.

THE ONLINE CHECK-IN…
For some time, Delta has been in the practice of including additional “Have One On Us” vouchers to elites checking in online, who have not yet been upgraded on at least one of their flight segments.

Typical Have One On Us Coupon From Online Check-in,
Courtesy of Points, Miles & Martinis

There is some variation in how the system works, (this is Delta, afterall) but in order to receive the voucher, you may need to check-in using their phone app first, before checking in again online.  Anyway, in the unfortunate event I had not been upgraded at all, I never had a problem getting it to show up on my boarding pass when printing it out online.  I almost, expected it would become a standard benefit.

THE CHANGE-UP
However, there are new reports out that it is not working every time now.  I searched but I could find nothing directly from Delta that could confirm this, but it seems the online check-in system did not operate as they intended, and receipt of these vouchers will be much more random now.

Judging from one comment on the thread, and from my own observations, Delta may be cracking down on abuse of this in order to save themselves some money.  The Terms and Conditions have been updated to now state “Duplicated or altered coupons will not be accepted. This coupon cannot be sold, bartered, transferred, redeemed for cash or exchanged for any items other than the listed items.”  The word “transferred” has recently been added, implying this practice occurred far too often that Delta would have liked.

HAVE PASSENGERS TAKEN THIS TOO FAR?
Back in June, (when a delay caused me to get an instant upgrade on a later flight) I was sitting at the gate area before my first flight, and overheard a mother of 2 gripe about purchasing food.  Realizing my posh surroundings in First Class would render my voucher unnecessary; I decided to do them a favor by offering them my voucher, suggesting they use it for snacks.  I guess that makes me a felon in the eyes of Delta.

While these vouchers—whether as part of Delta’s elite member packet, or for online check-in, do specifically state they are for non-perishable items only. While not all flight attendants are willing to make this exception, I have found some flight attendants may quite be willing to allow these vouchers be exchanged for perishable items on their EATS menu.

On one occasion, I received initial push back from a flight attendant about doing so.  I kindly asked if she could make an exception, and she responded “I really don’t care.”

ALTERNATIVES
So, if you find yourself at a loss of free snack/drink coupons, you are in luck because there are some alternatives.  Obviously, you can apply the $200 annual credit from the American Express Platinum card to receive free drinks/snackboxes, etc.  In addition, as Money and Map points out, it is possible to receive “Have One On Us” vouchers using SkyBonus points.

The SkyBonus program is the corporate version of the Delta SkyMiles program, and even if you don’t have your own company per se, you can still sign up.  And if you use the promo code SB2012NEW, you can receive 25,000 Bonus Points, 10,000 of which you can redeem for 10 beverage coupons.

So even if you are not currently frazzled by Delta’s lack of coupons for online check-ins, this is still relevant to navigating the path to better air travel.

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