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Point Me to the Miles

Navigating the Path to Great Travel

Where Am I Headed?

As I write this fun teaser, I am sitting in an airport in the wee hours of the morning, about to embark on a fantastic trip.  Here is my vantage point from which I write:

Where

As a fun little game, I have decided to give away Delta Have One On Us Vouchers to the first individuals who can answer these two questions:

1) For some of you, this should be fairly easy–what airport am I in?  I can tell you it is the home airport for another very-well known blogger.

2) Much harder, where am I headed?  If it helps any, there (may) be a couple of right answers.  That said, guessing the continent doesn’t count–be specific as possible.

Enjoy!

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Earn Miles and Points for Speeding?

You are driving merrily down the road when the back of your car is lit up with those eery RED and BLUE alternating police lights.  TROUBLE!!

I had this unpleasant experience, in which I was issued a fast driver award.  And what was the first thought in my mind?  Not “Slow down and drive safe.”  Rather, “I can’t even earn miles and points on this ticket!”

But traffic tickets done’t have to be the end of the road for earning miles and points…

As it happened, I ended up going to my state’s DMV website while trying to if contesting it would be worth it.  While there, I noticed a handy option — pay online!

The State of Washington Allows You to Pay Traffic Tickets Online

The State of Washington Allows You to Pay Traffic Tickets Online!

In the end, I was able to submit online payment via credit card, and a day later I was notified that my payment had been accepted.  Ultimately, I was another step closer to completing a spending requirement on my Hyatt Card.

This made curious to see if you can you use a credit card to pay traffic tickets in all 50 states, and thus earn points/miles on the payment.  Anway, I now (unfortunately) know this is the case in the state of Washington.

After some research, and a lot of help from DMV.org, I have compiled a list of how each state accepts credit card payments.

I quickly discovered that most states offer an online payment option. While that option varies from state to state and even from court to court, they are there for anyone that is not required to attend court. A couple of things to note for online payments:

1) There is often a convenience fee: sometimes it is a flat fee, others it is a percentage of your ticket.

2) Most states only accept Visa and MasterCard, although a few also accept Discover.  So if you are wanting to to use an American Express, good luck!

Here is the list, with payment methods:

As thorough as my list may be, it is always best to check with the court who issued the ticket’s payment policies–your mileage (literally) may vary!

My (Belated) Freddie Awards Post

I suppose I am a little late in finally getting to it, but I did have the wonderful opportunity to attend the Freddie Awards few weeks back, as a guest of the fabulous Mr. Randy Petersen.

TITAN LIMO

But before I get ahead of myself, it might be nice to put out a plug.  Thanks to Million Mile Secrets post on Titan Limo, I was able to book a ride from the airport to my hotel (just down the road from where the Freddies were held) at a discounted rate.

I suppose you would call me an extrovert, and I’ve been driven by folks from every corner of the globe, so I generally make small chat when I can.  During the course of small talk, I blurted out a loaded question, though at the time thought it was innocent:  “Do you enjoy doing this?”

Agaffed, my driver admitted “No I don’t!  I’m the owner, but all other available drivers are busy!”  I was immediately humbled to be driven by the President of the company, and it was fairly smooth ride.  So if you are in the DC area, Titan Limo is well worth it!

One additional tidbit is that they are starting their own loyalty program, which will usable in a number of major cities across the US through their various connections.

THE FREDDIES

After a quick shower, I decided to be adventurous and walk a mile or so from the Ritz Carlton to the USA Today headquarters, where the Freddies were hosted.

I entered on the tail end of the cocktail reception, but was able to hobnob with a number of blogger friends, old and new.

Freddie Awards

Freddie Awards Cocktail Reception

The food was decent-good but not spectacular.  And while the ceremonies may have left a little to be desired, I really don’t think I have the right to complain:  I was enjoying a complimentary dinner and drinks, as a guest of Randy.

IMG-20130425-01128

IMG-20130425-01129

The award part went by like a blur, and the winners were:

EUROPE/AFRICA:

HOTELS

Best Hotel Promo – Le Club Accorhotels
Best Hotel Redemption Ability – Starwood Preferred Guest

Best Hotel Customer Service – IHG Priority Club Rewards

Best Hotel Elite Program – Starwood Preferred Guest

Hotel Program of the Year – Le Club Accorhotels

AIRLINES

Best Airline Promo AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue
Best Airline Redemption Ability –
AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue

Best Airline Customer Service – SAS EuroBonus
Best Airline Elite Program –
AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue
Airline Program of the Year –
AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue

CREDIT CARDS

Best Loyalty Credit Card – Flying Blue American Express Card

MIDDLE EAST/ASIA/OCEANIA

HOTELS

Best Hotel Promo – Taj Hotels & Resorts InnerCircle
Best Hotel Redemption Ability –
Hyatt Gold Passport

Best Hotel Customer Service – Hyatt Gold Passport

Best Hotel Elite Program – Hyatt Gold Passport

Hotel Program of the Year – IHG Priority Club Rewards

AIRLINES

Best Airline Promo – JetAirways JetPrivelege
Best Airline Redemption Ability –
Virgin Australia Velocity

Best Airline Customer Service – Emirates Skywards
Best Airline Elite Program –
Virgin Australia Velocity
Airline Program of the Year –
Virgin Australia Velocity

CREDIT CARDS

Best Loyalty Credit Card – JetPrivelege HDFC Bank Credit Card

AMERICAS

HOTELS

Best Hotel Promo – Marriott Rewards
Best Hotel Redemption Ability –
Marriott Rewards

Best Hotel Customer Service – Marriott Rewards

Best Hotel Elite Program – Hyatt Gold Passport

Hotel Program of the Year – Marriott Rewards

AIRLINES

Best Airline Promo – American Advantage
Best Airline Redemption Ability –
AviancaTACA LifeMiles

Best Airline Customer Service – Southwest Rapid Rewards
Best Airline Elite Program –
American Airlines AAdvantage
Airline Program of the Year –
American Airlines AAdvantage

CREDIT CARDS

Best Loyalty Credit Card – Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card

Just as it did  last year, Marriott did very well, and I still think it is a very undervalued loyalty program given all that it offers.  As a hardcore loyalist myself, I think the “Best Hotel Customer Service Award” was very well deserved.

And to some degree AirFrance surpised me with how well they did.  It’s a good frequent flyer program, but never struck me as spectacular.

And Avianca continues to make strides in my book, with their easy to gain miles, and lauded redemption ability.

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.

Monday Travel Funny: Corrine Brown–No Other Explanation Required

The following doesn’t relate to travel, but after a friendly bit of jawing with “Gata” fan Wandering Aramean, I was reminded of the following video of my “favit” alum of all:

And before you Flor-i-duh fans start trying to talk smack, please refrain until you’ve won 6 national titles in football, in addition to a long history of relevance!

Off to the Freddies and Frequent Traveler University!!

I am getting ready to head to Washington DC for the Freddie Awards tonight, and Frequent Traveler University this weekend, and am really looking forward to it!

For those not in the know, the Freddie Awards are the Academy Awards of the loyalty program industry, so it should be a fantastic time mingling with execs and other travel bloggers!

I will be donning a stylish Indiana Jones hat this weekend, so if you see me, please say hi!

And if you are not able to make it, I will be doing my best to keep up via the Twitter!

(Coincidentally, there are a lot of disgruntled elites on my departing flight who missed out on the upgrade, so I am sure glad I put my miles to use for me by using them to upgrade!)

Flight Changes =/= Re-ticketing

The other day I called US Airways to modify an existing award for a client. I needed to make some flight changes while still keeping other flights. This should have been a fairly simple and straightforward process.

I talked to one agent and was told that I would have to cancel all of the already existing flights and then repurchase new tickets. I was not fond of that answer, so I spoke to another US Airways agent who again told me what I wanted to do would require re-ticketing for all flights. After talking to MULTIPLE agents, I still did not believe this was my only option. I asked to talk to a supervisor who then told me “ The need to re-ticket is not quite true. We can do this, and I need to address this with my agents.” After working for a short while with the supervisor, I was able to modify my client’s award without needing to re-ticket.

I learned some valuable lessons from this experience. First, flight changes do not require re-ticketing. It is actually quite simple to change one flight to the next without canceling any previous flights. Second, I learned that US Air agents lack an understanding of their own protocols. Next time, I will ask for a supervisor after the first agent is unsure!

Tournament of Travel Bloggers Final Four

The Elite Eight round of my Tournament of Travel Bloggers has concluded and I am prepared to announce this round’s winners. Once again, we had a tie that was to be determined in a random coin toss.

Here are your results…

One Mile at a Time decimated Wandering Aramean

View from the Wing defeated Johnny Jet

With a tie in the final stretch, Just Another Points Traveler called heads with Perrin Post getting tails…. The victor of the tie breaker was…. Just Another Points Traveler!

Heather Poole defeated Mommy Points

Voting is now open for the Final Four!

Delta Goes Above and Beyond For Me

I mentioned otherday just how addicted I am to travel hacking, and more specifically elite status.  Well, I just wanted to share one more example.

I am headed to the Freddie Awards and Frequent Traveler University (BTW—please hit me up there!!) next weekend.  In order to make it to the Freddies on Thursday evening from the West coast, required booking a slightly more expensive fare, in this case a K fare.  The great thing about K fares on Delta is that they are eligible for mileage upgrades.  Now ever since I became a Medallion on Delta I have strayed from them, as my complimentary upgrade percentage has been just north of 50%.  But considering I was already in a K fare and I knew from experience that the route I was flying could be a tough upgrade, I decided to pull the trigger and use 12,500 miles to “upgrade” my experience.

Only problem was, the upgrade space on the outbound from PSC to MSP wasn’t available.  I decided to go ahead and waitlist anyway, with the additional flight upgraded as well.  I wasn’t even sure if it would clear, but I though it would at least improve my upgrade chances, and at best I would receive an email confirming the upgrade.

But to my astonishment and delight, I received a phone call from a Delta agent, confirming that the upgrade had indeed cleared, and asking right away if I would prefer window or aisle.  It may be a small  thing, but in my opinion this is where Delta really excels, especially for elites such as myself.  I was taken back that they valued me enough to take time to contact me, and help in personally securing the upgrade.  It’s good, common sense!

Maximizing Hotels Series: Introduction

Introduction

Rather searching for specific trip or to commit to a loyalty program, choosing a hotel can be confusing.  Which is the best for me?  Which chain can hep me navigate the path to great travel?  While your miles (or in this case points) may vary depending on your situation, I decided to tackle this question, in a quantitative and qualitative manner.

In order to start with a fair and balanced platform for comparison, this series will cover a basic overview of some of the major hotel loyalty programs, including the following in no particular order:

  • Accor Hotels
  • Choice Privileges
  • Club Carlson
  • Hilton HHonors
  • Hyatt Gold Passport
  • Jumeirah
  • Kempinski
  • Marriott Rewards
  • Priority Club
  • Ritz Carlton
  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • Wyndham Rewards
  • Miscellaneous (Fine Hotels & Resorts, Virtuoso)

For each chain, the series will grade the properties and loyalty program on a scale of 1-10 , based upon their performance in the following metrics:

  1. Property Footprint
    That is to say, how large of a reach does the hotel chains have. A strong indicator of this is how many different locations a brand covers.  Chains that have larger portfolio of properties, like Marriott and Priority Club, generally tend to have hotels in smaller cities and towns (ie Fairfield Inn, Holiday Inn)
  2. Customer Service
    A little subjective perhaps, but definitely an important part of the loyalty industry.  Hotels can have the utmost of amenities and luxuries, but awful customer service can royally ruin the entire experience for guests.  Without care for their customers, hotels will inevitably fail.
  3.  Amenities (Cleanliness, Club Lounges, Spa, Design, etc.)
    Fairly broad, but also important.  In addition to décor and general cleanliness, it includes how frequently a hotel offers standard features and extras like club lounges, spas, and recreational facilities.
  4. Elite Recognition
    This category of evaluation covers a hotel program’s elite perks, ease of attaining status, and opportunities for status challenges.
  5. Earn Rate
    Essentially, how many points per dollar one earns for staying at a particular hotel.  In addition, it includes the ability to earn points (and often elite credit too) from other activities like dining, spa treatments, and planning meetings.
  6. Promotions/Bonuses
    Does the chain offer convincing, meaningful promotions that rewards stays with free night certificates and additional points?
  7. Redemption Ability
    Simply put, is it easy to put points to use for award stays, especially aspirational ones?
  8. Credit Card Opportunities
    What affiliated credit card offers does the particular chain have?  Does the points bonus justify signing up for the card, and does it convey elite status to the cardholder?
  9. Transferability & Alternate Redemptions
    Are miles able to transferred from airline frequent flier programs and vice versa?  What is the transfer ratio from credit card partners?  Also, can points be used for alternative redemptions such as suite upgrades, paying for flights with points, renting cars, etc.
  10. User Friendliness (Website, Phone Service)
    What does the face of their chain look like?  Is the website easy to use and navigate, and is information presented in a clean, detailed manner?  Also, how easy is it to contact the chain via phone, email, or social media?  Doesn’t sound like it would be a huge issue, but certain hotel chains that won’t be named require a fax to claim missing stays…

Finally, as any loyalty program has both strengths and weaknesses, the series will conclude with the best of each chain by listing some notable properties for redeeming points.  Specific, geographic regions will include:

  • US & Canada
  • The Americas
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Oceania

 

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