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[News] What You May Have Missed – May 15 – May 22

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#IHateTheWait – Let’s Talk About the TSA

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Ah, the TSA.

An important and vital role, but often criticized for they inefficiency, their inability to actually protect and be proactive, and their overall treatment of travelers, our nation’s Transportation Security Administration is about to face an onslaught of summer travelers.

Overall, I can’t say I’ve had horrible TSA experiences, but I know many others who’ve had nasty ones. The last time I sat in a really long line was over ten years ago in the summer of 2006, a month after the Transatlantic Liquid Terrorist Plot. At that point, we really did need to get to the airport 3+ hours before to make our flights.

Since then, I have flown a lot more, but have been relatively successful  in flying during less busy times of the day. Sometimes, even with strategy, there’s just nothing you can do or control: inclement weather, increased security measures, or any number of delays one faces at the airport.

However, the TSA has recently been in the news (and not for shady bonuses given to staff members who haven’t lived up to expectations), but for increasingly long wait times. And I’m talking wait times. Not the 15+ minutes or so you wait in line to get into a Trader Joe’s on a Monday at 6:00 PM.

We’re talking in excess of three hours. THREE HOURS. That’s longer than the flight between Chicago and New York.

Airpots across the country are feeling the wait, but most recently there has been an upsurge in flyers complaining. In fact, airlines are encouraging and promoting passengers to tweet #ihatethewait. Airlines are getting on board as well.

Just a few days ago, Chicago International O’Hare airport (ORD) saw monstrous three hour wait times. American Airlines, which along with United has a hub at ORD, is even looking into privatizing airport security with the City of Chicago. Here’s a nice graphic to sum up the issue:

Source
Source

One word: personnel.

Without digging too deep, or getting too nuanced, even if the numbers don’t look that drastically different, take a look at the number of increased passenger traffic–clearly security personnel are not keeping pace.

Here’s total passenger traffic at both O’hare and Midway airports: Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 2.07.07 PM

Aside from the fact that Midway saw some really tremendous growth in the past ten years, whereas O’Hare has fluctuated significantly–look at traffic in 2014 and 2015 at O’hare; it rose by an astounding 9.81%, yet there was a decrease in personnel. (Exactly the decrease the first chart does not give us, but eyeballing it, I’d say about 200 less personnel between ’14 and ’15.)

Now, if you were to say that they were more efficient so less personnel were necessary, then I’d agree–why not cut and save taxpayer dollars where we can? But that’s most definitely not the case.

So what can you do to ease the pain of long lines, or more importantly, not missing flights?

TSA Pre-Check, the cure all to long lines. This is where bloggers obligatory push the AMEX Platinum Card and Citi Prestige cards which come with Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check reimbursement. Are these cards with $450.00 annual fees worth it just for Global Entry/Pre-Check? No, definitely not. If you already have these cards and not redeemed your Global Entry/Pre-Check credit, sure do that. If you’re flying a lot this summer, then it could be worth it to just pay the $100 or $85 fee. I would say that for most, it is not worth it.

I, for one, only applied for Global Entry/Pre-Check because I had the cards and had no reason not to use the credit. But, even with all my flying, I would not have paid out of pocket for either.

What can you do?

  • Throw all your previous notions about airport security lines out the window. Literally. Assume a long wait. Be prepared for that and come early.
  • Other cards offer lounge access–if you are there early, take advantage of the lounge access. See full article here.
  • If you use your miles to fly business or first class, it will usually come with priority access of some sort or dedicated check in lines to get to the TSA agent a bit quicker.
  • If you are checking bags, consider paying the $2.00 – $3.00 tip to curbside your bags (only if the line is non-existent or short).
  • Travel leanly and logically. Take your laptop out before you get to the bins. Untie your laces. Every few seconds can help you and your fellow passengers.

#ihatethewait

-The Miner


Let’s Go to Europe This Summer – Greece (and its islands)

Category : Uncategorized

This is Part III in a series. See Part I: Let’s Go to Europe this Summer – Dublin and Part II: Let’s Go to Europe This Summer – Rome. All screenshots showing award space are reflective of the day posted.

Every summer thousands and thousands of tourists migrate over the Atlantic ocean and flock to European cities.

Though the ideal time would have been September 2015 to start looking at summer to Europe award availability, sometimes it’s hard to know summer schedules so far in advance.

Can we find any available now?

This week we’ll be looking at a few of the interesting Top 10 Trending European Summer destinations according to Kayak.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 3.01.53 PM

Before we get started, here are the search parameters:

  1. All travel will be searched roundtrip, originating in the United States
  2. Connecting flights are acceptable; direct are preferred
  3. All travel will be for two passengers in both economy and business, if available
  4. The peak months of travel to Europe, June and July will be examined.
  5. NYC will be used as the departure location as it has hubs for all the airlines; plus it is geographically the closest location to Continental Europe.
  6. Searches will be conducted on United (Star Alliance) Delta or Air France (SkyTeam) American or Alaska (One World)

Which Miles to Use?

Here are redemption prices to Europe. All values are roundtrip and in the thousands.

EconomyBusinessAbout Fuel Surcharges & TaxStopovers?CommentsTranfers from:
United60115 – 140None; avoid returing from LondonOn roundtrip and one open jawHigher price is partner award pricingChase
American60115Avoid flying British airways or returning from LondonNoneSPG
Delta60125All one-way flights returning from Europe have fuel surcharges; avoid connecting through MoscowNoneDelta award pricing is variable, but these are the lowest and most desirable redemption pricesSPG, AMEX
Air France50125No fuel on Delta & low when departing fromthe U.S.; highest when connecting through MoscowOne stopover and one open-jawAMEX, CIti
Air Canada’s Aeroplan60 – 75110 – 115No fuel on United, Brussels, Scandinavian, Swiss, Turkish and low on LOT PolishOne stopover or one open-jaw, or two stopovers on a roundtripEurope is diveded up into two regionsAMEX, CIti
Alaska60100Avoid flying British or returning from LondonOne per direction of travel, but no mixed airline awardsPricing based off of flying on AmericanSPG
Singapore55130Fuel surcharge on most except UnitedNot within EuropeSPG, Citi, AMEX, Chase

Overall, Star Alliance has the most options for getting to Europe from the U.S. United miles are really excellent option as they never pass on fuel surcharges. If you are going to leave from Europe, avoid London and other London-area airports at all costs. Fuel surcharges range between $150 – $300 depending on the class of service.

Sometimes it will make sense or be necessary to book two one-ways. Practically, this means you’ll lose that stopover.

Coach redemption prices are pretty reasonable across the board. The cheapest are on Singapore, United and using Alaska miles to fly American metal to Europe. (They still price out awards like the old American award chart.) 

In terms of business, they are also pretty standard, but if you want to avoid fuel surcharges, that usually means when redeeming Star Alliance miles you’ll be limited to United flights and the occasional SAS, Swiss and Brussels planes. Lufthansa, with the exception of booking on united, can run $300+ in fuel surcharges.

If you’ve been saving those Delta miles, business class to Europe represent a great redemption at 62.5K one way, 125K roundtrip. You can fly on solid partners like Air France, Alitalia or Virgin Atlantic.

Award Availability: New York to Athens (and the Islands)

Athens, or Greece in general, is a peculiar award destination.

Greece does have a major airline carrier, Aegean Air, which is part of the Star Alliance, but they do not have any direct flights to the United States or North America. In fact, from what I can tell, they have never operated flights that go across the Atlantic.

Even with miles, it’s a seasonal destination for United (Newark), Delta (JFK), American (out of Philadelphia), Air Canada (Montreal and Toronto):

Seasonal North American routes to Athens
Seasonal North American routes to Athens

But from within Europe:

Intra-European routes to Athens
Intra-European routes to Athens

That being said… Most people are heading to Greece to go to the islands. Let’s look at top three busiest airports, outside of Athens, in Greece by passenger traffic (and the ones we’re all familiar with and able to pronounce!):

  1. Heraklion – HER
  2. Thessaloniki – SKG (not an island)
  3. Rhodes – RHO
  4. Though not top three, Santorini (JTR) is a popular, if not pricey, destination in the Grecian Islands

Click the links to see their list of destinations. As you’ll see, many are seasonal.

Back to North American Departures…

Assuming you can find availability direct to Athens on a seasonal flight from New York (JFK and EWR) or Philadelphia, or the Canadian gateways, you may need to connect via Athens. Or, if you get on a flight to Europe, you may have to make a connection in Athens also to get to your final destination (if that’s the islands).

Let’s look at award availability!

One World

I’m not too optimistic on the outset here for any month this summer… You’d have to get on that direct flight from Philadelphia to avoid going through London (and injuring high fuel surcharges). We already know availability to Madrid, Helsinki and Berlin are limited. Theoretically, if you found availability via those One World partner hubs you could create the itinerary from Madrid, Helsinki or Berlin to Athens or any of the Greek islands.

Philadelphia – Athens – Philadelphia (June, Coach and Business)

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.40.36 PM

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.40.45 PM

Philadelphia – Athens – Philadelphia (July, Coach and Business)

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.42.11 PM

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.42.22 PM

As you can see, there are no non-stop flights from Philadelphia to Athens. Because you cannot search Iberia award availability via the American search engine, you won’t see all the options. It’s also easier to search one leg at a time: New York – Madrid, Madrid – Athens, Athens – Madrid, Madrid – New York, etc.

Alas, do not despair if you have American miles you’d like to use. There is some coach availability via Madrid on Iberia to Athens. Use the Qantas search engine to find those flights. Be sure to click the exact date (and not just rely on the flexible date calendar). Many flights will be routed through Dubai! (You can also do a day-by-day search on British Airways).

Skyteam

I’ll spare you the screenshots and wasted word count: there is no non-stop saver space on Delta in either direction of travel or coach or business class.

There is some business class space in June and July from New York to Athens via Moscow. Typically, I would avoid flying partner Aeroflot via Moscow because of the high fuel surcharges, but if the first leg is on Delta the taxes will come out to $130 (better than $300, but still too much).

Because it’s Europe, and it’s Skyteam, the return will incur fuel surcharges regardless of the airline you fly. Avoid it if you can.

Star Alliance

Not surprisingly, Star Alliance will probably yield the best results (as it has in our previous installments) in both classes of service. Additionally, you may find availability via a European destination to get directly to one of the above islands, in addition to Athens. So, without further ado…

New York – Athens (Coach & Business, June/July)

Of Dublin and Rome, this represents the most options in June and July, it seems.
Of Dublin and Rome, this represents the most options in June and July, it seems.

Athens – New York (Coach & Business, June/July)

There's even decent space in July!
There’s even decent space in July!

Non stop from Newark – Athens – Newark

Coach only, but some direct from Newark to Athens for 2 passengers in the beginning for June
Coach only, but some direct from Newark to Athens for 2 passengers in the beginning for June
Also in coach, but some direct from Athens to Newark in Coach for 2
Also in coach, but some direct from Athens to Newark for 2

Now using this direct award availability, let’s see if we can piece together an itinerary to one of the islands (Santorini, in this case):

 

30,000 per passenger, 60,000 total
30,000 per passenger, 60,000 total

Yes! It’s possible. To find something similar, search one leg at a time. You could also fly from New York (or Chicago, Miami, etc.) to Europe and then catch a partner flight to Santorini, Heraklion or Rhodes. In this case, you also have a connection that’s about 19 hours. You would get in early enough to see of Athens before you head off to island paradise.

And here’s some connecting availability to Rhodes from North America:

Chicago – Rhodes (June, Coach/Business)

Some of these have two stops--One in Athens and one in Europe.
Some of these have two stops–One in Athens and one in Europe.

And here are some limited options, coach and business from Chicago to Rhodes with one stop (so Chicago – Europe (-Athens) – Rhodes)Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 8.53.55 AM

Summary

Lots of screenshots, lots of words, but a lot of availability.

I hope this paints a picture of the beautiful availability if you want to head to Athens or Greece’s islands in June (and somewhat in July). Try your hand at piecing together itineraries–it can be helpful for more complicated award bookings.

-The Miner


Product Changing with Bank of America

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Historically, Bank of America has been the most churner friendly bank. Up until about a year ago, it was possible to open up five (yes, you read five) Alaska Airlines credit cards and earn the bonus in the same day.

After a enterprising blogger post about that, the deal effectively was killed. That being said, it’s still possible to open up two personal and one business card products in the same day and earn the bonus. In fact, you can earn the bonus multiple times a year. Not as good as five in one shot, but I’ll take it.

So how is this relevant?

Well the Alaska Airlines cards from Bank of America comes with a $75.00 annual fee. Annual fees the first year are really annoying. Especially for cards that don’t have such great benefits. The Alaska card’s sign up bonus is all it is good for.

Open the card, get the points, and cancel the card, right? Not anymore.

After the beans were spilled about the five-in-one-day method, Alaska and Bank of America began clawing back (that is taking back awarded miles) bonuses for cardmembers who opened the card and then just cancelled them. Now, the Alaska Airlines mileage program is one of the best in this game. Their program is the swiss army knife of mileage programs: they partner with 17 other mileage programs, across all major airline alliances and some non-alliance airlines like Hainan, Icelandair, and Emirates. They’re redemption rates are also great. So you can see why these points are so popular. I’d say $75.00 is worth it!

You don’t even need to spend any money to earn the bonus

There is no spending requirement, just paying the annual fee, to earn 25,000 points
There is no spending requirement, just paying the annual fee, to earn 25,000 points

(Now, there is a backdoor link to get 25,000 bonus miles + $100.00 Statement credit after spending $1,000 in three months, effectively canceling out the annual fee–but they don’t always honor that if you get approved for multiple cards in the same day).

When I opened two Alaska cards in June 2015 I had intended to cancel them after the miles posted, so as to not pay the annual fee. And then the hammer fell with news about the clawbacks and even threatening to charge cardmembers for the value of the redeemed flights(!) surfaced. I kept them open, earned the bonus and paid the annual fee–and then threw them in my drawer–my graveyard of credit cards, where they go to die and collect dust.

Earlier this month I received a friendly reminder from Alaska that my annual fee for this cardmember year was due soon.

The card does not have strong earning capabilities. I could have just called to close the card. What’s the benefit to keeping it open?

Sure, my credit report and overall credit. Not worried about that.

When I apply for another Alaska card–which I’m sure will be soon–I’ll have this credit line to bring over to the new application to get approved for the new card!

But that mean’s paying an annual fee… right?

WRONG

Bank of America will convert your Alaska airlines card to one of their no-fee Bank of America cards that either earn cash back or points. Your account on your credit report and credit limit remain the same, you just receive a new card with different earning structure and no annual fee.

Bank of America reps can be difficult when it comes to converting your product. Here’s what I recently did and have done in the past to have them approve the conversion:

  1. Call the number on the back of the card;
  2. Ask for a retention bonus (because the earning isn’t strong, you don’t use it as much as you thought) because you cannot justify paying the annual fee;
  3. If they do not come back to you with a reasonable and agreeable offer, ask to downgrade it to a no-fee version
  4. They will offer you a lower fee non-Visa signature version–decline that;
  5. Push them and ask for the Bank of America no fee cards. Come prepared: they offer the BankAmericard Cash Rewards, BankAmericard Travel Rewards and BankAmericard. (NOTE: You will not earn the sign up bonus on these cards when you convert).
  6. They may say it is impossible. HANG UP AND CALL AGAIN. Or push the rep and say that you’ve done this before. He/she will then tell you they will put the request in. Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 6.04.07 PM
  7. Wait for piece of mail indicating your request has been approved (7 – 10) days.

I’d hold off applying for an Alaska card now. At some point in June, the offer will go up to 30,000 points after spending $1,000 in three months.

Good luck!

 

-The Miner


Let’s Go to Europe this Summer – Rome

Category : Uncategorized

This is Part II in a series. See Part I: Let’s Go to Europe this Summer – Dublin.  All screenshots showing award space are reflective of the day posted.

Every summer thousands and thousands of tourists migrate over the Atlantic ocean and flock to European cities.

Though the ideal time would have been September 2015 to start looking at summer to Europe award availability, sometimes it’s hard to know summer schedules so far in advance.

Can we find any available now?

This week we’ll be looking at a few of the interesting Top 10 Trending European Summer destinations according to Kayak.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 3.01.53 PM

Before we get started, here are the search parameters:

  1. All travel will be searched roundtrip, originating in the United States
  2. Connecting flights are acceptable; direct are preferred
  3. All travel will be for two passengers in both economy and business, if available
  4. The peak months of travel to Europe, June and July will be examined.
  5. NYC will be used as the departure location as it has hubs for all the airlines; plus it is geographically the closest location to Continental Europe.
  6. Searches will be conducted on United (Star Alliance) Delta or Air France (SkyTeam) American or Alaska (One World)

Which Miles to Use?

Here are redemption prices to Europe. All values are roundtrip and in the thousands.

EconomyBusinessAbout Fuel Surcharges & TaxStopovers?CommentsTranfers from:
United60115 – 140None; avoid returing from LondonOn roundtrip and one open jawHigher price is partner award pricingChase
American60115Avoid flying British airways or returning from LondonNoneSPG
Delta60125All one-way flights returning from Europe have fuel surcharges; avoid connecting through MoscowNoneDelta award pricing is variable, but these are the lowest and most desirable redemption pricesSPG, AMEX
Air France50125No fuel on Delta & low when departing fromthe U.S.; highest when connecting through MoscowOne stopover and one open-jawAMEX, CIti
Air Canada’s Aeroplan60 – 75110 – 115No fuel on United, Brussels, Scandinavian, Swiss, Turkish and low on LOT PolishOne stopover or one open-jaw, or two stopovers on a roundtripEurope is diveded up into two regionsAMEX, CIti
Alaska60100Avoid flying British or returning from LondonOne per direction of travel, but no mixed airline awardsPricing based off of flying on AmericanSPG
Singapore55130Fuel surcharge on most except UnitedNot within EuropeSPG, Citi, AMEX, Chase

Overall, Star Alliance has the most options for getting to Europe from the U.S. United miles are really excellent option as they never pass on fuel surcharges. If you are going to leave from Europe, avoid London and other London-area airports at all costs. Fuel surcharges range between $150 – $300 depending on the class of service.

Sometimes it will make sense or be necessary to book two one-ways. Practically, this means you’ll lose that stopover.

Coach redemption prices are pretty reasonable across the board. The cheapest are on Singapore, United and using Alaska miles to fly American metal to Europe. (They still price out awards like the old American award chart.) 

In terms of business, they are also pretty standard, but if you want to avoid fuel surcharges, that usually means when redeeming Star Alliance miles you’ll be limited to United flights and the occasional SAS, Swiss and Brussels planes. Lufthansa, with the exception of booking on united, can run $300+ in fuel surcharges.

If you’ve been saving those Delta miles, business class to Europe represent a great redemption at 62.5K one way, 125K roundtrip. You can fly on solid partners like Air France, Alitalia or Virgin Atlantic.

Award Availability: New York to Rome

One World

American flies from both New York (JFK) and Philadelphia to Rome (FCO). With One World, you can connect to rome via Madrid, Berlin or Helsinki. I’d avoid going through London due to high fuel surcharges.

Coach from New York-Rome-New York in June

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 2.40.21 PM

Based on our Dublin route, this seems pretty consistent. Some of these dates are direct, but many go through Philadelphia. You’ll notice the return has higher fuel surcharges ($84.00), but nothing like going back from London.

Business from New York-Rome-New York in June

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 2.45.00 PM

Not surprising–nothing in business for two. I also checked on AA and via Madrid, Helsinki and Berlin. Nothing.

Coach from New York-Rome-New York in July

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 2.44.09 PM

Several dates on the ex-NYC, and only one (!) returning.

Business from New York-Rome-New York in July

I’ll spare you the screenshot. Nothing.

Overall, unless these dates work for you exactly, you’re probably better off with other carriers and miles. And forget about flying premium.

Star Alliance

United operates one daily direct flight from Newark to Rome. As you’ll see, there’s plenty of availability for two passengers in all classes of service (even first class on United metal!). More premium options if you connect, of course.

Coach/Business from New York-Rome-New York in June/July

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 2.57.06 PM

Coach/Business from New York-Rome-New York in June/July

Plethora of business and first class space returning from Rome in June.
Plethora of business and first class space returning from Rome in June.

Overall, if you want to fly United’s aged but comfortable business class, or Lufthansa’s new business class via Frankfurt, there are lots of solid options. And remember, if you book using United miles (regardless of who you are flying), you can hit up a few more cities by taking advantage of the stopover.

 

Sky Team

Alitalia, the national carrier of Italy and major hub in Rome (FCO), is a member of Skyteam. They have a solid business class. Let’s see how much availability there is across the pond…

Coach from New York-Rome-New York in June

New York - Rome (Coach)
New York – Rome (Coach) – June

 

Rome - New York (Coach) - June
Rome – New York (Coach) – June

Business from New York-Rome-New York in June

New York - Rome (Business) June
New York – Rome (Business) June

I would not recommend book this flight–after takes on the roundtrip, you’ll owe around $450, if not more.

Rome - New York (Business) - June
Rome – New York (Business) – June

Coach from New York-Rome-New York in July

New York - Rome (Coach) June
New York – Rome (Coach) July

Great availability on the outbound, but less so on the return (only 6 days at the saver level):

Rome - New York (July) - Coach
Rome – New York (July) – Coach

Business from New York-Rome-New York in July

As with June, business class fuel surcharges are too high to justify the flight… There is one day: July 11 from Newark – Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Rome that has business class seats on Delta. Get it now!

It’s unfortunate that all Alitalia and Delta direct space is booked in all classes of service. These awards that originate in New York or the U.S., but don’t show up on Delta, should be bookable. You may just need to call them in (and avoid fuel surcharges). Remember, one-ways from Europe using Skyteam miles will incur high fuel surcharges, almost on par with flying British Airways out of London.

Summary

I was disappointed that there wasn’t better availability on Alitalia and Delta, but not surprising considering that (as of this writing) it’s May 16 and the summer travel season is almost in full swing–and who wouldn’t want to fly direct?

You can’t go wrong with United. Plus, there’s a lot of direct availability to take advantage of; because of the nice direct availability on United metal, you can’t go wrong using any Star Alliance partner miles.

Later this week we’ll look at availability going to… Athens.

-The Miner


Let’s go to Europe this Summer – Dublin

Category : Uncategorized

This is Part I in a series. All screenshots showing award space are reflective of the day posted.

Every summer thousands and thousands of tourists migrate over the Atlantic ocean and flock to European cities.

Though the ideal time would have been September 2015 to start looking at summer to Europe award availability, sometimes it’s hard to know summer schedules so far in advance.

Can we find any available now?

This week we’ll be looking at a few of the interesting Top 10 Trending European Summer destinations according to Kayak.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 3.01.53 PM

Before we get started, here are the search parameters:

  1. All travel will be searched roundtrip, originating in the United States
  2. Connecting flights are acceptable; direct are preferred
  3. All travel will be for two passengers in both economy and business, if available
  4. The peak months of travel to Europe, June and July will be examined.
  5. NYC will be used as the departure location as it has hubs for all the airlines; plus it is geographically the closest location to Continental Europe.
  6. Searches will be conducted on United (Star Alliance) Delta or Air France (SkyTeam) American or Alaska (One World)

Which Miles to Use?

Here are redemption prices to Europe. All values are roundtrip and in the thousands.

EconomyBusinessAbout Fuel Surcharges & TaxStopovers?CommentsTranfers from:
United60115 – 140None; avoid returing from LondonOn roundtrip and one open jawHigher price is partner award pricingChase
American60115Avoid flying British airways or returning from LondonNoneSPG
Delta60125All one-way flights returning from Europe have fuel surcharges; avoid connecting through MoscowNoneDelta award pricing is variable, but these are the lowest and most desirable redemption pricesSPG, AMEX
Air France50125No fuel on Delta & low when departing fromthe U.S.; highest when connecting through MoscowOne stopover and one open-jawAMEX, CIti
Air Canada’s Aeroplan60 – 75110 – 115No fuel on United, Brussels, Scandinavian, Swiss, Turkish and low on LOT PolishOne stopover or one open-jaw, or two stopovers on a roundtripEurope is diveded up into two regionsAMEX, CIti
Alaska60100Avoid flying British or returning from LondonOne per direction of travel, but no mixed airline awardsPricing based off of flying on AmericanSPG
Singapore55130Fuel surcharge on most except UnitedNot within EuropeSPG, Citi, AMEX, Chase

Overall, Star Alliance has the most options for getting to Europe from the U.S. United miles are really excellent option as they never pass on fuel surcharges. If you are going to leave from Europe, avoid London and other London-area airports at all costs. Fuel surcharges range between $150 – $300 depending on the class of service.

Sometimes it will make sense or be necessary to book two one-ways. Practically, this means you’ll lose that stopover.

Coach redemption prices are pretty reasonable across the board. The cheapest are on Singapore, United and using Alaska miles to fly American metal to Europe. (They still price out awards like the old American award chart.) 

In terms of business, they are also pretty standard, but if you want to avoid fuel surcharges, that usually means when redeeming Star Alliance miles you’ll be limited to United flights and the occasional SAS, Swiss and Brussels planes. Lufthansa, with the exception of booking on united, can run $300+ in fuel surcharges.

If you’ve been saving those Delta miles, business class to Europe represent a great redemption at 62.5K one way, 125K roundtrip. You can fly on solid partners like Air France, Alitalia or Virgin Atlantic.

Need a refresher on which points transfer where? See here!

Award Availability: New York to Dublin

One World

When flying One World partners to Europe, your best bets are on Finnair (connecting in HEL), Air Berlin (connecting in TXL), Iberia (connecting in MAD), or going direct on American. In my experience, American and Iberia have the best availability. Finnair rarely has more than 1 seat. (Also, for Dublin, going direct is the fastest option).

alaska jfk-dub summer

Availability is not so good for the outbound, but there’s some decent availability for two passengers in coach coming back.

alaska coach roundtrip on aa

How about business? Not one day in either direction for June or July. Pretty standard for American.

No business class seats for two passengers in either month of June or July.

No business class seats for two passengers in either month of June or July.

To be thorough, I checked for direct flights from JFK to Madrid and Berlin (so on Iberia or Air Berlin), to then connect to Dublin–No business class seats either. Not surprising.

Star Alliance

Specifically for Dublin, United is non-alliance partners with Aer Lingus, the flag carrier of Ireland. They have a solid business class product and are a fun airline to fly. Maybe we’ll have more luck!

Here’s connecting flights from New York to Dublin:

Non-stop:

Believe it or not...

Believe it or not…

And for the way back (I’ll spare you a screen shot) there is currently tons of premium and coach space. Less when you want to go direct, but still better than I expected.

Overall, Star Alliance looks pretty good! There’s decent availability (you may just need to scroll down!) on a lot of the connecting flights in both directions. Not as much premium space, but some if you can be flexible.

Skyteam

There are no direct flights, but there's some availability via Paris.

There are no direct flights, but there’s some availability via Paris.

For June, there's plenty of options to go back... But be wary of the fuel surcharges.

For June, there’s plenty of options to go back… But be wary of the fuel surcharges.

Not as good as June, but still via Paris for July.

Not as good as June, but still via Paris for July.

Have fun living in Dublin ;)

Have fun living in Dublin 😉

Unfortunately there are no direct flights on Delta from the U.S. to Dublin, but there are options to connect via Paris or Rome. You’ll run about $200 per passenger (roundtrip) in fuel surcharges.

As you can see, there are no saver flights in July to return from Dublin. Have fun living there.

And as far as business goes, you’ll pay almost $400 roundtrip in fuel surcharges. It’s not even worth looking at.

Please note: I did not search Delta, as they were not pulling up any of these flights. Sometimes Air France shows phantom availability. Be sure to click through your date to make sure that flight is pricing out correctly. 

Alright, I get it, but which miles are the best to use?

If you you’re willing to go coach (for reference, the flight from New York to Dublin is about the same time as flights from New York to Los Angeles are), your best off using your United miles as you’ll get the stopover and open jaw. If you need to split up because you do not have enough miles, either United or America are good options for either direction (in coach). In business, go with United and Star Alliance miles, preferably on United flights if using miles from Aeroplan or Singapore.

-The Miner


Easy Status Match to jetBlue Mosaic Status

Category : Uncategorized

[Disclosure: I may earn compensation if you click on any external links].

I rarely write about status matches or challenges because they’re usually unattainable for the average scheming joe, but in this case…

The cat’s out the bag.

jetBlue is running a promotion for frequent fliers with other airlines to match their current elite status to jetBlue’s top (and only) tier of status, Mosaic.

So why is this relevant?

If you have any of these other statuses you can request to be matched to Mosaic.

  • Virgin America: Elevate® Silver, Elevate® Gold
  • Alaska Airlines: Mileage Plan™; MVP® Gold or MVP® Gold 75k
  • American Airlines: AAdvantage Platinum® or Executive Platinum®
  • Delta: SkyMiles Medallion Gold, Platinum or Diamond
  • Southwest Airlines: Rapid Rewards A-List Preferred or Companion Pass
  • United®: MileagePlus Premier Gold, Platinum or Premier1K
  • Emirates: Emirates; Skywards‎ Silver, Gold or Platinum

Regular readers will already know the value of the Companion Pass (click the link to read about what it is in detail), but for those who don’t… The companion pass can be earned by:

  • Flying Southwest for 110,00 miles
  • OR, earning 110,000 miles via credit card sign-ups.

Though it is technically not supposed to work, credit card sign ups do work towards earning the companion pass. And right now both cards (the Premier and Preferred) are at 50,000 for $2,000 spend each. After opening up both cards and meeting the required spend, you’d have 104,000 Rapid Rewards points. With just another $6,000 in creative spending, you could be on your way to the Companion Pass.

And Mosaic status (if it lasts that long!).

What’s so special about Mosaic status?

I have not flown jetBlue in years, but as a holder of the Companion Pass with Southwest, I had nothing to lose. So I submitted my information (make sure you have a TrueBlue account before hand!) and was granted Mosaic status through the rest of 2016 within twelve hours of submission.

Until December 31, 2016 - Sweet
Until December 31, 2016 – Sweet

Mosaic Status entitles fliers to:

  • First and second checked bags free (jetBlue added check bag fees late last year);
  • Fee waiver on change and cancellation fees;
  • Redeem miles at a reduced rate for extra leg-room seats;
  • Expedited security screening lines;
  • Early boarding;
  • Complimentary alcoholic beverages onboard;
  • 3 extra TrueBlue points per dollar on top of the general 6 per dollar;

The ones in bold are most interesting to me.

I rarely check bags, but the ability to cancel and change without a fee is huge. And to check out those ‘Even More Space’ seats? Who knows.

TrueBlue points are a points currency similar to Southwest Rapid Rewards. They’re based off of the price of the ticket. Depending on the time of year and route, there are definitely some steals. So the best time to redeem would be if jetBlue has a sale.

jetBlue also has many nonstop from their hubs (FLL, JFK BOS) to the Caribbean.

You can transfer points from American Express or earn them from one of the three new jetBlue credit cards from Barclay’s.

Click here to sign up for the TrueBlue Status Match.

 

-The Miner


May the 4th Be With You: Fly the Star Wars Jet on Miles!

Category : Uncategorized

May the 4th be with you.

Today is  special day for Star Wars fans worldwide: today we celebrate everything Star Wars by cleverly changing the word “Force” (as in the Force in Star Wars… If you don’t know what that is, stop reading now. No. Really.) to “Fourth”–as in May 4th!

In a cross promotional effort with Disney (yes, they now own Lucasfilm), ANA partnered to bring some of the coolest looking airplane livery in the GALAXY. Sure it’s samples cross branding promotion, but it’s pretty sweet nonetheless.These beauties are still flying. There are three jets: R2-DR, BB-8 and a generic ‘Star Wars’ themed plane. Here’s what they look like:

 

3 star wars ana jets
ANA – Star Wars livery
Courtesy of Bloomberg - R2-D2 on the ground
Courtesy of Bloomberg – R2-D2 on the ground

And on the inside:

Yes - That's a Yoda puppet (in business class)
Yes – That’s a Yoda puppet (in business class)
ana rd2d inside
R2-D2 Headrest covers! – You can’t make this stuff up!

Using Miles

ANA is a Star Alliance partner. This means you can use ANA, United, Singapore or Air Canada’s Aeroplan miles to redeem for flights on ANA metal.

If you look closely, there are some good deals to be had. Most interestingly is that all ANA flights are roundtrip values  this could be helpful for you, but may not if you’re hitting multiple countries. On our recent trip to Japan we flew from Beijing to Tokyo-Haneda using the United award listed as 15,000. Had I looked closer, I may have used Singapore miles depending on final award taxes.

Light green represent best value redemptions
Light green represent best value redemptions

The roundtrip restriction has always tripped me up and prevented me from using ANA miles.

Redeeming United miles for Tokyo-Sydney in first class, even roundtrip, represents an incredible value. However, on North American based routes you’re better off using ANA miles. Hand over fist they’re always cheaper redemptions in each class of service.

I’ve omitted one route: Tokyo Narita – Singapore. Why? ANA’s new chart is in Japanese and I couldn’t identify the region Singapore is in. If I had to guess, It wouldn’t be much more than the Tokyo Haneda – Beijing (PEK) route.

Fuel Surcharges (YQ)

Ah, fuel surcharges. Pesky fuel taxes that airlines pass on to each other. United is one of those airlines that never passes them on so if you have United miles you can book any of these flights without YQ and only the airport and airline taxes.

  • United – Never passes on fuel surcharges from the partner carrier you’re flying on
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan) – Always passes on fuel surcharges; highest on Asia-Europe routes. Lowest on Asia-Asia (Singapore, China); moderate on Asia-U.S. and Asia-Oceania.
  • Singapore – Always passes on fuel surcharges; highest on Asia-Europe routes. Would/should roughly mimic Aeroplan’s fuel surcharges (in Singaporean dollars, not Canadian dollars).
  • ANA – Has recently lowered YQ; see more details here. Typically ranges between $40.00 (Japan-China) and $115.00 (Japan-Oceania); most expensive is Asia-Europe.

If you’re flying one way, your best bet is to use United miles on many routes. For roundtrips I’d probably go with ANA considering their significantly lower YQ.

Booking these routes and relevant rules:

You can book all of these online with the exception of Singapore, which must be called in to book partner awards. But, on these routes you’d be better off using other miles that are not Singapore. With ANA you may have an easier time calling it in, or you can create an account and search here.

  • United – Allows a stopover and open-jaw on roundtrip tickets; mixed partner awards allowed
  • Singapore – One stopover allowed on roundtrip tickets; three additional stopovers allowed at $100 per stop.
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan) – Two stopovers on roundtrip tickets; mixed partner awards allowed
  • ANA – One stopover allowed on award tickets, except those leaving from Japan (all are roundtrip); open-jaw allowed.

Back to Star Wars… And Award Availability

Here are the routes with flight numbers (NH is the airline code for ANA) and which livery is on each route. (Please note: I used United for all award searches because of the easy to use calendar. However, they may inconsistencies in award availability. Confirm space with checking Aeroplan.) For the sake of consistency, all routes have been searched roundtrip for two passengers in March 2017 (pretty far from now–so availability should be good, right? Right?!) as nonstop. They originate in Tokyo (HND or NRT) with the exception of the North American routes.

R2-D2

Haneda-Beijing (Flight NH961 & NH962) – Overall this route has pretty good available on ANA and other Star Alliance partners in both business and coach (no first is operated). But, I had trouble finding coach seats on NH 961.

There are only business class seats available on the Star Wars jet
There are only business class seats available on the Star Wars jet

Haneda-Paris (Flight NH215 & NH216) – As you can see from the calendar, there’s solid availability on this route, too. In both directions. There is no first class offered on this route.

HND - CDG, NH 215
HND – CDG, NH 215
CDG - HND, NH 216
CDG – HND, NH 216

Haneda-Sydney (Flight NH879 & NH880) – There is no first class on this route either. Finding availability was easier from HND to SYD, and a bit tricker on the way back.

The top is the selected Star Wars flight and the return is almost 3 weeks later--the last day in the calendar to see two seats on NH
The top is the selected Star Wars flight and the return is almost 3 weeks later–the last day in the calendar to see two seats on NH 880

BB-8

Narita-Chicago (Flight NH114 & NH113) – There are coach, business and first class seats on this route. Here’s a snapshot and the operating flight you want.

The box in red is what you want.
The box in red is what you want.

Narita-Houston (Flight NH174 & NH173) – Availability in all classes of services looks pretty great. First and business are lie flat.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 11.55.39 AM

Narita-New York (Flight NH104 & NH103) – Availability is also good far out in all classes of service.

Business and then first!
Business and then first!

Narita-Singapore (Flight NH801 & NH802) – Only the outbound is pictured (so you can see the calendar), but the trend as in other routes remains the same. And there’s a first class! Business on the return, NH 802, is harder to find. Could be the timing of the flight.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 12.00.09 PM
Narita-Washington DC (Flight NH2 & NH1) – For fun, I looked close-in and here’s what I found… Availability is scattered, but overall decent in all classes of service.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 12.24.10 PM

Of course flight award availability is hard to predict, but if you follow these steps and do your research you should be able to see some trends. And from what I’ve seen on these routes ANA has solid availability overall. Coupled with some great award redemptions ANA miles are a solid award currency to use for routes that are to, through or from, Japan.

You can keep up to date with the routes and flight numbers that operate the Star Wars plans on ANA’s dedicated Star Wars Jets page.

Obligatory Star Wars and Aviation References and Puns

“Do or do not, there is no fly” – Capt. Yoda

All Nippon Airways = ANA = ANAkin

Regarding the recent news that first class cabins induce air rage: “First leads to anger; business leads to hate; economy leads to suffering.”

“These Boeing and Airbus aircraft completed their transpolar-Kessel runs in 12 parsecs.”

“ANA landed first”

May the Force Be With You.

 

-The Miner

 


Get 1 Week or 1 Month of Free Hotel Nights With These Limited Time Credit Card Offers

Category : Uncategorized

There are currently four Hilton HHonors cards in circulation. Two of these cards are no fee, and two are with a fee. AMEX issues two and Citi issues two.

The Citi Hilton Reserve (annual fee) has not changed it’s bonus in forever–it’s quite good, at two weekend night certificates at any Hilton worldwide. The caveat is that they can only be used on the weekend which makes them a bit restrictive. But, many people have vacations that happen over the weekend so if you’re creative you can get a great use out of them.

Three of these cards have limited time offers and are the historic highs for each product. By limited I mean two of them are expiring tomorrow. And remember with AMEX these are once in a lifetime so get them while they’re at their highest.

Here’s a breakdown:

BankCard (link)Annual FeeSign-Up BonusSpend RequiredMinimum Base PointsSub-TotalsOffer Expires
AMEXHhonors None75,000$1,0003,00078,000TOMORROW
AMEXHhonors Surpass$75.00100,000$3,0009,000109,000TOMORROW
CitiHhonors None75,000$2,0002,00078,000Soon
CitiReserve$95.002 Weekend Nights$2,5007,5007,500Standing
Totals $8,500272,500

Notice–the first two card offers expire tomorrow! So get on this now!

You’ll notice that three of these four products will earn more than 1 point per dollar. Both AMEX and the Citi Reserve product earn a minimum of 3 points per dollar spent, so after hitting the minimum spend, you’ll have more than just the sign up bonus. You can see that in the sub-totals column.

If you opened all these cards, you’d have 90 days from approval to spend… With the exception of the Reserve card, which you’ll have 120 days to reach the spend requirement.

That’s a lot of spend, but it’s also a lot of nights.

Order of Applications

If you can reach the spend in 90 – 120 days…

Day 1:

  • AMEX Surpass
  • AMEX HHonors – No fee
  • Freeze Experian – Citi often times pull’s multiple credit bureaus. Then apply for the Citi HHonors – No fee as this is a limited time offer.

Day 9/10:

  • Citi requires 9 days from one application (denials are included) before you can apply for another
  • Your Experian will still be frozen – Apply for the Citi Reserve

If you cannot reach the spend in 90 – 120 days:

Go for the first three cards and then after that, apply for the Citi Reserve as that offer is always the same.

How many nights can you get?

Now that we got the churning stuff out of the way, what does 272,000 HHonors points and 2 free weekend nights get me?

HHonors has an inflated award chart, so their top tier property will be about 95,000 points; whereas Hyatt’s would be 30,000.

For reference, here’s Hilton’s chart:

The section in red is where you want to look--notice the variability.
The section in red is where you want to look–notice the variability.

Here’s my recommendation: spend $3,000 extra on any of the cards except the Citi HHonors – No fee card. $3,000*3 points = 9,000 points. 272,000 + 9,000 = 281,000. This would get you four nights at a 70,000 point per night property.

Why 70,000 for 4 nights and not almost 3 nights for 285,000 points at a 95,000 point per night?

Because…

Hilton also gives members  a 5th night free on 4 nights booking. 

So if you went above 70,000 points you’d get 3 nights and not unlock that free, 5th night.

So far you have 5 free nights. AND Two weekend Reserve nights. That’s seven free nights.

Of course you could always go at lower level properties, but if you want to get aspirational that’s a pretty sweet deal.

Best properties?

Unfortunately Hilton does not have a category list (because it changes so often) of their properties. Here are some resources (most are not updated) that are a good jumping off point:

It’s nearly impossible to look at every property, but for some context to help narrow your search:

  • The Hiltons in big cities will cost more points
  • Waldorfs and Conrads are usually the higher end properties, so they will usually also cost more cash and or points
  • Hilton points are valued at roughly $0.50 each. (Reminder on how to value and determine between cash and points.)
  • There are 4,661 Hilton properties Worldwide and on six continents. You can find one nearly everywhere.
  • You could definitely use these points at lower level properties (almost a month at category 2 hotels–not including free nights!)

Here are some solid redemptions that are 70,000 or less:

  • Hilton Seychelles – 70,000 points or $310 in off-season
  • Conrad Seoul – 60,000 a night or $285 a night
  • DoubleTree by Hilton London Hyde Park – 50,000 points or $310 a night
  • Hilton Moorea – 70,000 (or 80,000 a night) or  $574 a night.
  • Apparently the famous Grand Wailea (a Waldorf) can be found for 70,000 a night–I’ve had no such luck!

With the above methods you could get one week of free nights at a aspirational hotel or 28 days at a lower category Hilton. Either way, the time to apply is now.

-The Miner

 

 


Mobile Award Booking? There are apps for that!

Category : Uncategorized

With everything we do going increasingly mobile, I find myself checking in for flights, changing seats and searching award and cash tickets on my mobile apps quite often. As this is a blog about miles and points (!), I’ll be taking a more critical look at the best apps for searching and booking award tickets. These reviews are based on the most current iOS version of the applications.

Here’s the summary.

A: Exceeds Expectations

  • United
  • Aeroplan
  • Southwest

B: Good

  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines

C: Needs Improvement

  • jetBlue

D: Failed – Take the Class Again

  • British Airways
  • American Airlines

United Airlines

This newer and cleaner version of the United app was released with the launch of the new website a few months Not only does it look slick, it’s functionality is fluid. In my experience, it shows the same award space as the website does.

Pros:

  • Calendar feature which is similar to website, showing saver and non-saver economy and business/first class award space
  • One-way, multi-city, and roundtrip functionality
  • Flag/save flights
  • View seat-maps

Cons:

  • Sign-on required for search and booking
  • Full miles required in full for booking; no complete speculative bookings
Yes; it's a calendar! Just like the website.
Yes; it’s a calendar! Just like the website.

Air Canada’s Aeroplan

This is actually a new app that I think Air Canada nailed with its development. Even if you don’t redeem miles on Star Alliance partners, just take a look… I think this is almost tied with the United app. (Their airplane flying over instead of a typical rotational buffering search is pretty neat).

Pros:

  • Though there is a search calendar, it is not as clear what days have availability like United’s does.
  • Clear that it is a mixed parter award or operates on one carrier
  • Clearly shows if it’s a mixed class award
    IMG_6860
    Star Alliance airline icons!
IMG_6858
Cool flyer over search functionality!

Cons:

  • This is a con with the mobile app and the website. You cannot search city co-pairs/co-terminals. So you would have to search EWR/LGA/JFK separately. This is particularly frustrating with Star Alliance partners when originating or returning to the East Coast, as those airports have flights for non-United flights. United is dubbed at Newark; Lufthansa flies to both Newark and JFK, for example.
  • Sign-in required to search

Southwest

Southwest really upped its game with the launch of this new version of their app. Not only is is modern and slick, it features a nice top rolling bar to quickly scan dates. Sure, it could use a calendar but the trend is not to. That being said, here are some pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Scrolling day search to easily change dates
  • Easy display of award prices
Notice the dates on top - that scrolls either direction to go up or down in dates.
Notice the dates on top – that scrolls either direction to go up or down in dates.

Cons:

  • None for award bookings!

Delta

Delta also has an great looking app, and loses to United because it’s lack of award calendar feature. It’s definitely my go-to for Skyteam award bookings. It has a lot of great features, so this is an excellent app, even without the calendar.

Pros:

  • No sign-on required for search
  • Easy day change search
  • Speculative award bookings
  • Swipe between coach and business/first
  • Shows in-flight features and amenities
  • Delta has dynamic award pricing; when clicking on flight details you can see the Delta fare class.
If this was a saver level flight the fare class would be (N); though you cannot see it, this flight would cost 47.5K Skymiles, as opposed to the saver price of 30K.
If this was a saver level flight the fare class would be (N); though you cannot see it, this flight would cost 47.5K Skymiles, as opposed to the saver price of 30K.

Cons:

  • No calendar

Alaska Airlines

The Alaska Airlines app also went through a refresh when Alaska had a brand refresh. It’s a sleek app that has all the basic requirements, but like the others, could tighten up its calendar search function. And though most people probably do not book multi-city award tickets via their mobile devices, it’s a fun feature to have when searching around and planning a trip. What I love above this app is something I love about Alaska: it shows the same award availability as it does online. Alaska is a non-alliance partners with many airlines, and it makes searching for American airlines flights easy (unlike the American app does not!)

Pros:

  • No sign-on required for search
  • Airport co-terminal reminder
  • ‘Change cabin for more options’ reminder
  • Easy display of award/fare rules and breakdown of price
One of the most unique of the in-app features I've seen.
One of the most unique of the in-app features I’ve seen.
Reminds you to change cabin for further award options.
Reminds you to change cabin for further award options.

Cons:

  • No multi city option
  • Clunky calendar search feature

jetBlue

It may be it ranks as “needs improvement” for me because I rarely fly jetBlue and rarely conduct award searches. But, in limited experience I was not overly impressed.

Pros:

  • Initial option to sign in or continue as guest
  • Ability to view and select seats
  • Shows options to buying up from basic economy fares to “blue plus”
Nice reminder!
Nice reminder!

Cons:

  • Often errors out when searching one-way itineraries that include a non-U.S. portion.
  • Calendar function similar to British Airways
  • Sign-in required to make speculative booking

British Airways

This app is in desperate need of a refresh. British Airways has long needed a functional calendar search, as opposed to day-by-day; this carries over to the app and hinders its functionality for the user. I’m not sure if there’s anything I actually like about the application, it’s just a necessary evil as no other application allows you to search OneWorld space effectively.

Cons:

  • Frustrating sign-on system; sign in required to proceed
  • No calendar; day-by-day search similar to BA website and slow to load each day (like the site).

American Airlines

The American Airlines app has lacked the ability to search award tickets. Their websites page is quite good, but this is shameful. For whatever reasons, even when booking revenue tickets, you’re sent to their mobile site (which is also clunky). Up your game, American.

Cons:

  • Cannot search award tickets. ‘Nuff said.
When booking a flight on their mobile app, you're redirected here. You cannot even do Award searches.
When booking a flight on their mobile app, you’re redirected here. You cannot even do Award searches.

I use them all, but my top choices for booking by alliance would be:

  • Star Alliance – United
  • SkyTeam – Delta (the only option to go with)
  • OneWorld – British, but when searching for American flights I use Alaska