Point Me to the Miles

Navigating the Path to Great Travel

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It’s March Madness and That Means One Thing–Tournament of Bloggers Time!

Disclaimer: There are literally hundreds of travel bloggers out there, making it tough to compare most of them.  Rather, these are the main ones that I know about.  In no way do I intend to slight any of these—they are being lauded by making the list, rather it is just a fun March Madness bracket.
And while it may seem un-objective to included my blog on the list, it seemed too fun not to, and in all fairness I seeded myself where I think belong—the bottom of the list.

As many of you may know I’m a huge sports nut, and consequently March Madness is one of my favorite events every, whether or not my favorite team got snubbed (again).

But sports is not what I am writing, so if it’s not your thing, have no fear, I still have a tournament you might care about.

In the spirit of things, I thought it might be quite fun to put together a tournament of travel bloggers. In this case, the results will be tallied by your votes over the next few weeks.  Again, I stress that this is just for fun, and not meant to slight anyone.

Below is the tournament field, which includes some of the best travel bloggers in the galaxy, with links to their blogs:

Deals We Like
EightBlack

First Class Flyer (Mr. Upgrade)
Frequent Flier University
Frequent Miler
Frugal Travel Guy
Frugal Travel Lawyer
Hack My Trip
Heather Poole
Hillary Stockton on Travel Sort
Indulge the Wanderlust
Johnny Jet
Just Another Points Traveler
Lee Abbamonte
Live and Let’s Fly
Loyalty Traveler
Lufthansa Flyer
Marshall Jackson
Mile Value
Million Mile Secrets
Mommy Points
Noob Traveler
One Mile at a Time
Paddy in the Big Apple
Perrin Post
Point Me to the Miles
Point Me to the Plane
Points, Miles & Martinis
Rapid Travel Chai
The Mr. Pickles
The Points Guy
Travel Blogger Buzz
Very Good Points
View From the Wing
Wandering Aramean
Will Run for Miles

And I realize EightBlack of FlyerTalk is not a travel blogger per se, but his trip reports on FlyerTalk are legendary, and thus certainly deserves to be included.

Just like the NCAA tournament, I decided to include a few play-in games to include a few more bloggers.  Seeding the field was a little difficult, but ultimately there’s some great match-ups, even in the first round:

Tournament of Bloggers (Excel File)

Tournament of Bloggers Bracket

You can vote for which bloggers move onto the next round by commenting on this post.

Arrival of My Delta Medallion Credentials!

For most airline and hotel programs, including Delta, the elite year technically begins March 1, when status ends for those who did not requalify.  Because of this structure, most programs  wait to send out their elite credentials until late February.

So while I hardly ever use my membership card and my luggage straps, but I certainly do feel important them.  And having a few snack/drink vouchers is nice, despite the fact that it is possible to get these essentially 100% of the time that I fly.  And it got me worried, maybe I missed re-qualifying for Gold Medallion status.  No problem you say–yea, I would definitely miss a 50% complimentary, First Class upgrade percentage in addition to free Economy Comfort (domestic, at least) and access to SkyPriority security lines.

To make sure, I logged on to Delta.com, thinking I may have been forgotten, and requested new membership credentials.  However, it spent out an error message saying that new ones had been ordered for me, and that I would receive them soon.

Suffice it to say, Thursday when I checked my mail I found this goody:

1-Gold Medallion

I’ve been meaning to post this along with some other pictures of my credentials and the nifty folder it came in, but WordPress seems to have other ideas–grr. 😦

So, I will cut right to the chase about what made me most happy.  As is usual, it came with 4 “Have One On Us” coupons.  The nice thing is that they don’t expire until December 31, 2014.  Considering I can easily conceivably get a voucher for every flight (by printing online… I might forget and print multiple copies…) so let’s see how many I actually.

Who knows, I just may need to have another Delta voucher contest!

Make Sure Your Status Does Not Get Forgotten

There are, in my estimation, three different types of emails.  They are the outstanding kind, as in “You’ve been upgraded on your flight,” the average “Make Marriott #1 in the Freddies” and the disturbing “Your bank account has been hacked.”

Thank you Starwood Preferred Guest, the email I received from you earlier today I would have to put in the latter classification!  Grrr…

Allow to me share the following email with you:

SPG Email

“Based on your current data, it looks like you might be short the necessary stays or nights to renew your SPG Gold status. “

Perhaps on the so-so level of elite status along with Marriott Silver and Delta Silver Medallion, but it is nice to receive preferred rooms, free late checkout and complimentary in-room internet.

Fear not, I knew this couldn’t be true.  As I have written about on a couple of occasions now, there are some great benefits to the American Express Platinum card.  One of those is complimentary Gold Status with Starwood, for as long as you are a cardholder.

I still wouldn’t put it past Starwood to conveniently “forget” that I have status in their program, so I logged in to my account.  Fortunately, it showed both my current stay activity for the year (0) and status, so I figure it is current and will stay that way.

Account Pic

The lesson is, it may not have indicated any status at all, so if you are a lifetime status member or depending on a credit card for your status, it’s a good idea to check annually and ensure your loyalty programs have your elite status noted.

So I Watched An Episode of Tom Stuker’s Reality Show…

Next to Ryan Bingham in the movie Up in the Air, one of my favorite frequent flyers happens to be Tom Stuker.  For those that may not know, in 2011 Mr. Stuker reached the 10 million mile mark on United–and of the bonafide, excruciating butt-in-seat kind.  If that wasn’t enough, he went out and flew 1 million last year alone.

UNITED CONTINENTAL HOLDINGS, INC. TOM STUKER
Which was certainly enough to earn lucky Tom a signed plaque, a catered party at the airport, and his name emblazoned on one of United’s aircraft. ” I’m flying the Tom Stuker today” sure has neat sound to it!

Anyway, the reason for the intensive travel and the TV show both is Stuker’s highly acclaimed ability to turn struggling car lots into money-making machines overnight.  Here are a few impressions I have after watching the first episode of Car Lot Rescue:

-It’s a neat show for folks that like reality TV involving turning around a business, similar to Hotel Impossible and Spike TV’s Bar Rescue which I really enjoy.

-The episode I watched involved a car dealership ran by thugs who thought that fighting a customer was the best way to win trust and respect.

In the end, I was wondering how much might be staged as the employees made a 180-degeee change, although…

-Their job security was threatened.  In order to teach them hard work and customer respect, he had them work for a hotel as bellboys.  If they had failed, they would have been terminated.  It was a neat shout out to the loyalty industry.  And as I mentioned, I was in disbelief watching them instantaneously turning on the customer service charm.

-Dude is fiery, which I suppose comes with the territory.  This surprised me because from some interviews I had seen with him he seemed pretty calm and quiet.  He has no problem yelling and cursing out wayward employees.

-He is also incredibly focused at what he does.  It’s good to see he hasn’t let the fame and perks/drag of relentless travel phase him.

-The show originally was to be known as “Car Lot Cowboys,” which I liked better, but I suppose it was better for SpikeTV to follow with the “Rescue.” Reference, and it conveys the shows purpose.

-I started kicking myself.  It had been announced he would be at the 2011 Chicago Seminars which I attended, and I walked right by him in his famous cowboy hat and didn’t even realize it was him until I saw a photo MommyPoints had taken with him.  Would have loved to have met him, but I didn’t realize the hat was his trademark.  Shame on me!!

Some Thoughts on Flagship Carriers

While doing award booking some research for a client of mine, I found myself looking up Ethiad Airways, then I grew quite curious as I read the words “flagship carrier” on the airline’s Wikipedia page.  It’s a term I had come across before, though not one I had particularly paid much attention to.

While I am no economics expert by any stretch of the imagination, I do have a basic understanding of flagship agreement companies.  They occur when an airline is run or privately held by a particular country, and are therefore a direct representation of that country.  In exchange, these agreements benefit the airline with preferential treatment by the government, including tax breaks.

What I did not realize however is how many are still in existence.  I found it quite amusing to scroll through Wikipedia’s flagship carrier list, as I learned of some airlines, and even a few oddities.

For example, did you know that Ethiad and Emirates are both the flag-ship carriers for the United Arab Emirates?

Or that Scandanavian Airlines (SAS) is the flag carrier for three different countries (I suppose it makes sense) – Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

Finally, I want to fly “Our Airline.”  If you find yourself flying to Nauru, you can mess with folks:
1 “What airline are you flying?”
2 “Our airline”
1 “We don’t have an airline.  Really, which one?”

Dream of American-US Airways Merger A Reality

“AMERICAN AIRWAYS”
About two years ago, I had somewhat prophetic dream, which seems to be a recurring theme in my life.  Perhaps I should play power ball…

Anyway, my dream featured a swank airline, with lavish red decor, plush seats, and tons of legroom.  The name of the airline coincidentally, happened to be American Airways.  I then remember regaling my adventures on said airline to a colleague of mine, who remarked how fortunate I was to fly such a fine airline.  Then I woke up.

Having been drawn into the world of travel hacker already, my immediate thought was “There is no such airline!”  Or so I thought.

American Airways

American Airways (?)

 

Another Possible American Airways Logo

Another Possible American Airways Logo

THE RUMOR MILL
Then late 2011, amid restructuring following their bankruptcy, rumors began to circulate about a potential merger.  While a number of bloggers rambled on about what this may mean for all parties, things eventually seemed to be dying off, or so we though.  Which is why I didn’t pay it any attention or think about mentioning here on my blog.

Nevertheless, this deal apparently will be coming to fruition next week, according to USA Today.

A DAY DREAM OR A NIGHTMARE?
I am certainly no economist, but I have to wonder what value this will serve, post-bankruptcy.  Perhaps in dealing with their creditors and breaking in a little more revenue, but American may be spreading itself a little too thin.  I mean does an airline that has hubs in Dallas, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York really need hubs in Charlotte and Philadelphia?  And a larger operation does not always equate to a better operation.

An additional concern with this merger would be whether or not award redemptions would become devalued.  As with the Continental/United merger, these deals seem to combine policies of both airlines.  Take for example one of the sweet spots of US Airways awards-being able to book a First Class ticket to Asia, with a stopover in Europe for 120,000 miles roundtrip.  I don’t think there is any guarantee this would continue post-merger.

Or from the American side of the house, their customer service has gained their agents the title of “AAngles.”  Who knows how this will work when integrating a disgruntled US Airways work force.

Additionally, what I find most intriguing is who will run the new American.  While AMR (American’s parent company) CEO Tom Horton will still be on staff, it seems American is looking to inject new blood into the company by putting current US Airways CEO Doug Parker in charge.  Oversimplified?  Quite possibly, but as par for the course when the business side of frequent flier programs comes up, Gary of View from the Wing is quite adept at explaining the concepts, and this case is no exception.

Finally, on a personal I invested in US Airways miles a few years back for a future redemption, and think now would be a swell time to use those miles.

Doubling Up on Hilton HHonors Miles

UPDATE 1/30/2013:  I did get a little confused on the transfer ratios.  Usually, the transfer ratio is 1,000 Membership Rewards points to 1,500 Hilton HHonors points.
So while American Express is indeed offering 2,000 Hilton HHonors points for every 1,000 Membership Rewards points transferred through January 31, this is still worth it going forward.

______ _______ ________
While considering hotel options for an upcoming trip, I was considering using Hilton HHonors points before my Gold status from last year expires.  Yet, I don’t have a lot of points so was considering transferring points from American Express.

That’s when I accidentally discovered a loophole for accumulating double the Hilton HHonors points.

Ordinarily, American Express points transfer at a 1:2 ratio in increments of 1,000 points.  So if you transfer 2,000 American Express you will end up with a measley 1,000 American Express points.

AMEX to Hilton__BAD

Bad Transfer Ratio…

The key is to going from an awful exchange to an absolutely incredible exchange starts with Virgin Atlantic.  Membership Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles.

Convert AMEX to VA

Per Hilton HHonors points transfer page, miles transfer at 2:1 ratio.  Or 20,000 miles for every 10,000 Hilton HHonors points—a spectacular value!

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles to Hilton HHonors

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles to Hilton HHonors

To put that in perspective, if you transferred the 75,000 American Express points you may have earned from the recent American Gold Business card you would be able to turn them into 150,000 Hilton HHonors points.  Enough for up to 3 free nights in a Waldorf Astoria or  Category 7 (the highest award category).

Delta Allows Some Elites to “Fly” Through the Atlanta Airport

You step off of a plane to find yourself in the sea of chaos and humanity known as Atlanta International Airport.  You don’t have much time to make your connection, but then a surprise comes.

An airline employee greets you by name, and then whisks you down a set of stairs to the tarmac.  From there you are ushered into a $70,000 Porsche, which peacefully delivers you planeside to your connecting flight.

This is the life for certain Delta elite fliers, according to the Wall Street Journal.  While this is likely the first public news release, this topic had already been posted on FlyerTalk several months back.  Still, this was a unique look at the service, with some interesting insight.

For example, this service is not necessarily for Diamonds—as some lucky Platinums have received this service.  Rather, it gives the ultimate thrill ride to only a dozen or of the highlights.  Additionally, it aims this service to those with tight connections, but this must not always be the case as some elites have been delivered directly to the rental cars, personal vehicles or even their hotel.

What I found most interesting is that this service actually saves Delta money.  Keep in mind Delta didn’t purchase the Porsches—they were donated.  According to one of the personnel who escorts these lucky frequent fliers, between 25 and 35 frequent fliers are saved from missing their connections every day.

While this service is offered by a couple of foreign airlines like Emirates and Lufthansa, this exceptional level of service is likely to distinguish Delta from other domestic US carriers.

The Truth About Codesharing

THE ARTICLE
I ran across an article recently, on Christopher Elliott’s blog addressing the subject of codesharing.  Not often am I repulsed by an article, but I when it is flawed.   And Mr. Elliott, with all due to respect, had written a piece with blatant errors.  I will give him some credit—he is a consumerist, and not necessarily a points junkie, so I will give him a little leeway.  Still, the article is riddled with false statements.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS CODESHARING?
But I am skipping ahead, and suppose I should first explain what codesharing.  The US General Services Administration (GSA) offers a decent explanation, (GSA), but essentially it is a commercial agreement between two (or more) partner airlines, to jointly operate the same flight.  The result is it allows an airline to put its two-letter identification code (i.e. “DL” for Delta) on the flights of another airline, as it occurs both in the reservation system and at the airport.

For example, a domestic flight within the US may include KLM and AirFrance Flight numbers, while being operated by Delta, complete with Delta Flight numbers, as all of these airlines are members of the SkyTeam Alliance.  Or to go with a OneWorld example, as the article in question does, an American Airlines Flight AA 6127 is actually operated by British Airways, as noted on American’s website:

1-AA

THE SEAT GURU EXAMPLE
Granted, the intricacies of codes haring could be quite vexing to your average passenger, especially with say, seat selection.  But, as I detailed in a recent post, Seat Guru is an incredible tool to use trying to select a perfect seat, even if the flight is operated by another airline.

Afterall, you don’t want to pay extra like the passenger in question, and receive a “poor” experience:

’These preferred seats were behind the wall of a toilet. So for nine long hours we heard flushing, door opening and closing, people standing in line to get to the one of only two bathrooms in coach. I could not even sleep.’

 On the American Airlines website, it didn’t note the toilets. But on the British Airways site, she says, they were clearly highlighted, and she would have never paid extra for the seats.”

Or maybe if they just used SeatGuru….

AND OTHER FLAWED INFORMATION…
Christopher goes on to talk about the incident in detail and how the passenger requested a refund, but was denied.  It never hurts to ask, though I have found out having status doesn’t hurt either.  Anyway, the struggles of this poor soul are not where my beef lies.

It really begins when he sets out debunk some supposed “myths,” which I will address:

Myth: Codesharing gives you access to more destinations.

Fact: No it doesn’t. The airline you’re booking a ticket with is still flying to the same number of cities. Its codeshare “partners” are serving the rest and allowing your airline to claim those destinations as its own. That is a lie.

In reality, codeshares do grant you access to more destinations.  The fact that airline partners serve additional markets that other airlines (or a single airline) don’t, means more location and thus greater access.  If his point was that a single airline does not serve more destinations, I suppose this would be true, but he is really just splitting hairs.

Myth: Codesharing allows you to collect and redeem more award miles.

Fact: Oh really? Try redeeming your hard-earned frequent flier points for a flight and tell me how that goes. Unless you’re super-flexible or have an encyclopedic knowledge of programs and codeshare partnerships, you’re going to feel like a sucker for having bought that argument. It’s worthless scrip.

Yes, codesharing indeed means that I can redeem American Airlines miles for flights on Cathay Pacific.  It’s still a bit of a hidden gem, but evidently Mr. Elliott has not heard of my award booking service.  Or , on a more famous note, the services of others  like Gary, Lucky, and Matt.  The only thing required to redeem them is a destination, and you can leave all the hassle of booking to us!

Myth: Codesharing improves service.

Fact: No it doesn’t. Codesharing allows your airline to offer substandard service and blame a partner airline for its own incompetence.

It may improve service, it may not.  Really it just depends on the airline, the people you are dealing with, and likely whether you have status or not.  I will say though, that if you probably would get much better service on Thai, than on their codeshare partner US Airways.  Just a thought.

CONCLUSION
Bottom line is that, while confusing, codesharing does more good than harm.

For A Limited Time: Huge Membership Rewards Points Bonus for American Express Platinum/ Gold Sign-Ups

I am not sure how long it will last, but American Express has announced some of the largest sign-up bonuses for their Platinum and Gold cards, in over a year.  Currently, their respective (targed) bonuses are 100,000 and 50,000 Membership Rewards, respectively.  The links to their applications are below, although you may need to go through CreditCards.com, per Lucky.

Platinum

Premier Rewards Gold Card

The Terms & Conditions state that you are not eligible for these offers if you have “had this product within the last 12 months or any Consumer ZYNC®, Green or Gold Card account within the last 90 days.”  That said, it never hurts to try! 🙂

I covered both the Platinum and Gold card benefits, in my credit card post about a month ago, and they certainly have some solid benefits, in addition to their MEGA bonuses..

Tip of the hat to The Points Guy.

 

 

 

 

 

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