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Posted by Ramsey Qubein on Tuesday, August 2, 2011
By Ramsey Qubein
Special to Airfarewatchdog.com
Airline employees deal with a lot of flack from irritated, tired travelers. And travelers deal with a lot from grumpy, underpaid employees. But, there is this blissful place in the middle where travelers and airline employees can coexist happily. It’s like the chicken and the egg, which comes first. It is something I experienced first-hand when I spent a day working undercover as an airline gate agent. I realized that when you treat passengers with respect, they respond in kind. Often, weather, mechanical difficulties and other irregularities can throw a wrench into everyone’s plans and disrupt peoples’ happy moods, but for the most part, people just want to go about their day without disruption. A smile is a traveler’s best friend.
While complacency has certainly crept into the airline industry in more than one place, there are still loads of friendly employees floating around the system with their own smiles and positive attitudes. This type of behavior should be reinforced and rewarded. Travelers are quick to take pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard) and complain about a poor airline experience, whether it is directly to an airline or the FAA. But few travelers take the time to commend employees who show exemplary service and caring. Chalk it up to good old human nature where we love to complain. Some airlines like Delta and US Airways do try and make it easy for frequent travelers to reward employees for excellence with special certificates.
The funny thing is that airline employees are becoming immune to the I'm-going-to-write-a-letter-about-you statement as it is so commonly used as a threat. What they don’t hear is, I'm-going-to-write-a-letter-to-say-what-a-good-job-you're-doing. And many of them deserve to hear a word of praise. If you have had a positive experience with an airline employee, take five minutes out of your day to visit one of the links below and share your experience. The airline employee will probably be recognized (yes, most of the time, the accolades do make their way down the food chain to the actual employee). Typical benefits include early time off or even special recognition from supervisors.
Who knows! You may run into that same employee again sometime (especially if they are at your home airport), and they will be so appreciative that you helped them. In fact, they will be even more inclined to help you in the future.
Posted by Ramsey Qubein on Thursday, May 12, 2011
By Ramsey Qubein
Are you finding it hard to use your Delta Sky Miles? You're not alone. Some frequent flyers refer to SkyMiles as "SkyPesos" because they continue to lose value. Also frustrating to frequent flyers, Delta's relatively new three-tiered program of Low, Medium, and High does not list all of the "Low" award options during a search.
Low awards are the lowest price mileage award ticket. Medium awards (the most common on Delta's online availability calendar) charge a premium in miles, but are available on almost every flight, making them popular for people who want to travel at specific times. High awards are the most expensive, but are available for every seat even if a flight is almost sold out. So if you really have to be somewhere and want to use miles, the High award is sometimes the only option.
What Delta.com does during an award search is price out the cheapest options. Problems arise when connecting flights have different availability (the Low award is available on the first flight from Orlando to Atlanta, for example, but only High awards are available on the connecting flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles). The web site prices the mileage needed according to the higher award. All of a sudden, that ticket you thought was going to "cost" 25,000 miles from Orlando to Los Angeles is now 80,000 miles! That's because Delta.com prices it according to the highest availability. If you have the patience to play around with it, or have flexible travel plans, you can still find decent award availability.
While Delta's IT professionals are working out kinks to make the site easier to use, travelers should be careful to not waste their miles unnecessarily on "High" awards. There are much better uses for your Delta miles.
Delta has a partnership with V Australia (part of Richard Branson's Virgin group) offering some of the best award availability to Australia from the West Coast. V Australia flies nonstop to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney from LAX, and award seats using Delta miles are easier to find on V Australia than on Delta's nonstop to Sydney. The cost is 150,000 SkyMiles for Business Class and 100,000 for Economy Class.
Or put your miles towards a trip to Tahiti on either Air Tahiti Nui or Air France, both of which offer nonstop flights from the West Coast. No other airline alliance offers two convenient methods of heading to French Polynesia. To find availability on these awards, you have to call Delta's reservations line. The cost is 150,000 SkyMiles for Business Class, and 100,000 for Economy Class.
A third valuable use of SkyMiles is an intra-Asia award ticket. While the value has diminished from past years, there are still decent awards within North Asia. North Asia includes China, Japan, and South Korea. For example, roundtrip flights between Japan and Korea are 15,000 miles in Economy Class and 30,000 in Business Class. Short-haul routes within China (less than 800km) are 12,000 miles in Economy and 15,000 miles in Business Class. Longer intra-China flights tack on more miles and diminish the value although this always depends on the actual cash cost of the ticket you are considering.
Posted by Ramsey Qubein on Wednesday, May 11, 2011
By Ramsey Qubein
US Airways is offering an excellent promotion for travelers looking to get the most value from their miles and points. Convert your hotel reward loyalty points to US Airways miles (for free), and earn a 25% bonus. US Airways Dividend Preferred members receive an additional 25% bonus on all transfers. Even better, if you have a US Airways-branded credit card, you get another 25% bonus. That’s a total bonus of 75% on your miles.
So why is this such a great deal? Let’s say you have 125,000 Marriott Rewards points, which you could convert to 50,000 US Airways Dividend Miles per the standard conversion. But with this promotion, you can get up to a 75% bonus. That’s 37,500 more miles, bringing you to a total of 87,500 miles! Remember US Airways has an excellent award chart. It costs only 90,000 miles for a roundtrip Business Class ticket to Japan, which has a value of anywhere from $4-8,000! Essentially, you are exchanging 120,000 Marriott points (which would net you three nights at the Marriott Marquis in New York’s Time Square/possibly a $600-$1,000 value) for something of much higher value. This offer is only valid until May 31, 2011, and the bonus only applies to the first transfer after registration.
If you don’t have the US Airways MasterCard or Visa, you can apply here. And, yes, there are bonus miles for applying. Perhaps you’d like to travel to Australia for 110,000 miles instead?!
If you aren’t a Dividend Miles Preferred Member, you can purchase a trial elite status valid for three months for $200. It’s certainly worth it if you are transferring a lot of hotel points to miles!
Keep in mind that every hotel program assigns a different value in the conversion to airline miles. Another excellent value is the Starwood Preferred Guest program, which gives a free 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points transferred to an airline. So if you transferred 20,000 SPG points, you would get 25,000 Dividend Miles, plus a 75% bonus on top of that. That comes to 40,000 miles total, enough for a free ticket to Hawaii!
Posted by Ramsey Qubein on Monday, April 25, 2011
By Ramsey Qubein
Unsure of the airport code for your next destination? Wondering why Orlando's airport code is MCO or Kansas City's is MCI. Be careful not to confuse the two or your Disney-bound family may have to settle for barbecue instead.
What's the story behind these three letter codes? Well, they are decided by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to simplify and standardize the network of airports across the globe.
Some are easy to decipher, as they use the first three letters of the city or a combination of letters are an obvious abbreviation (such as OAK for Oakland). Others refer to the airport's official name like JFK for New York's John F. Kennedy International, originally known as Idlewild; CDG for Paris' Charles de Gaulle International. Some are less obvious, such as MCO for Orlando International Airport, formerly known as McCoy Air Force Base. Kansas City's MCI comes from its originally intended name of Mid-Continent International Airport.
Cincinnati's, CVG, which refers to its geographical location in Covington, Kentucky (just across the state line from downtown Cincinnati) and Maui's Kahului International Airport's OGG code named for aviator Captain Bertram Hogg, become clear only to those who dig a bit deeper to discover the origins of the code.
Have you noticed that there are no IATA commercial airport codes that begin with N or K or W? This is because codes beginning with K and W are reserved for use by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to be used as four letter identifiers for radio and TV stations across the country. Codes beginning with N are reserved for use by the Navy.
Airportcodes.org is a handy site to find any airport's three letter code.
This all makes for fun trivia, but it also confuses people when making airline reservations. What if you're trying to book a ticket and want to check fares to a city that has more than one airport, such as Chicago or the New York City area? Some web sites allow you to search an entire metro area with one abbreviated code, but others make you check airport by airport if there is more than one in that area. To make your search easier, there is a set of universally recognized identifying codes used to refer to an entire airfare market with one search. These are not official IATA codes and are not used by airlines, but can help you when looking for the cheapest ticket to your destination.
Here's a list of the most commonly used codes. Not all web sites accept them, but those that do (like Orbitz and ITA Software) make the travel booking process a lot easier. Try them out for yourself…you may just find a cheaper fare with a combination of airports than you might have otherwise.
BJS Beijing, China
Each code searches all of the metro airports in that area. Remember that not all web sites accept these codes, but it can make the airline booking process a lot easier when you start with these comprehensive codes.
Posted by Ramsey Qubein on Wednesday, February 23, 2011
By Ramsey Qubein
Airline loyalty programs provide a host of perks for frequent flyers, but is it ever worth forking over money for miles without flying? Most domestic airlines offer a purchase miles program, but the costs can be pretty steep. Some airlines allow you to top up your account in conjunction with a paid flight, but those miles can be even more expensive. So when is it ever worth it to pay outright for miles?
Selling loyalty miles is a huge money maker for airlines since it is essentially costing them nothing to give you miles. While they do cost the airline a small amount (since they are now a liability on its balance sheet until you redeem them), it is a great way for them to build ancillary revenue. Ahh, there’s that famous term that is so prevalent in today’s airline industry. Yet, this may be a wise move on your part. Let’s examine.
Typically, it is advised to value each mile at two cents when redeeming them for award travel. Obviously, the value of a mile skyrockets when using it for international Business or First Class seats instead of an expensive domestic Economy seat. But, everyone’s needs are different. Be sure to think about your intention of using miles before ever purchasing mileage as that would be an expensive venture.
Buying miles to spend on mileage tickets that are not the traditional “saver” priced awards is another major no-no. This is the airline’s way to rid you of your valuable miles while improving their balance sheet’s bottom line in a jiffy. When it’s comes to paying 50,000 miles or $2,000 for a last-minute Economy Class ticket, well that may be a different story. But, most of the time, the double-priced mileage tickets are a very poor value.
The price for purchasing mileage varies, but is usually 2.5 cents to 3 cents per mile plus tax and service fees. But, that outlay can be worth it when you are close to having enough miles for an award that you need. If you need just a few to reach the next award level, then go for it. It is often advised to spend your miles as fast as you wisely can since airlines are constantly adjusting their mileage charts (almost always in one direction…up!). Each year, awards become more expensive. As more miles are issued, it is only a matter of inflation. Hence, mileage prices must go up.
Airfarewatchdog.com advises taking advantage of bonus offers and sales when mileage programs offer them. Here are a few good deals at the moment.
US Airways is offering a 75%-100% bonus on purchased miles through 3/31/11. This is a tremendous bonus for those looking for overseas premium class awards. Remember US Airways is famous for offering off-peak awards to Europe and Hawaii (January and February each year) and to South America and Hawaii (in March or May plus October each year) for as little as 35,000 miles in Economy and 60,000 in First/Business. That’s quite the bargain putting a business class ticket at less than $900 if buying all the miles! Less, if you already have some in your account.
Here’s a great deal for bonus Delta SkyMiles. If you are a member of American Express Membership Rewards, transfer your miles to Delta between now and 5/31/11 and receive a 50% bonus. This offer is valid for those who have never transferred miles to Delta before, but this can be a great way to top off your Delta account without having to spend anything other than the taxes that AMEX charges to complete the transfer. If you insist on buying more Delta miles, do so before 3/31/11 to get a 50% bonus on your purchase.
Continental Airlines and United Airlines are ready to capture your cash by offering bonus miles for sale upon check in for your flight. These offers are almost always a bad idea as they are far more expensive than they should be. Resist the urge as you could be paying more than four cents a mile for them.
Try to avoid the temptation of glossy advertisements selling miles. It’s always cheaper to earn them with flying or other transactions. But when promotions abound, be sure to weigh the value of what you are redeeming for; sometimes, it is cheaper to buy the miles and redeem them right away.
Posted by Ramsey Qubein on Tuesday, February 22, 2011
By Ramsey Qubein
Thinking of switching your preferred carrier, but don’t want to miss out on the upgrades and elite frequent flyer mile bonuses you earned this past year? Well, then the airline status match is your new best friend. Airlines are in the business of competing for your business. Frequent flyer programs truly build loyalty with their elite frequent flyer members who will often pay more to fly with their preferred carrier in hopes for a first class upgrade, bag fee waivers, and elite bonus miles.
As a result, airlines want to steal elite members from each other. They typically offer status matches to certain tiers within their program. What is required is usually a copy of one’s current elite credentials and account activity. Some airlines are more lenient than others especially when a traveler is paying higher, more lucrative fares. Others offer challenges requiring new members to show they will be loyal by flying a certain amount within a specified time period to maintain a status level for the whole year. Be aware that some airlines limit the number of challenges available per member within a certain period of time so be sure to ask as it varies frequently.
As the end of February nears (typically the time when elite status with most airlines expires although United/Continental now have a January 31 deadline), think about your upcoming travel this year. Will your current carrier be the best for you? Or have you been considering a switch to another carrier? Here's the low-down on the five legacy airlines and how they handle elite status matches.
AA does not offer an outright status match opting instead to challenge new members to fly a certain amount within a period of time. These are offered on a case-by-case basis. The airline offers the challenge for all but their top tiers although these are sometimes granted an exception based on the types of fares paid and number of trips taken. To ask about a challenge from your current carrier, call 1-800-882-8880. There are fees involved with American (big surprise). At press time, the cost is $120 for a Gold challenge (lowest elite tier) and $200 for a Platinum challenge (middle elite tier). The gist of the challenge is that one must fly 5,000 miles within three months or 10,000 miles within three months to earn Gold and Platinum status respectively. Challenges must begin on the 1st or 16th of the month. Typically, American does not offer elite status during the trial period meaning no upgrades for new American flyers until they complete the challenge successfully.
CO has been aggressive about targeting new flyers. After the airline switched from SkyTeam to Star Alliance, it offered status to all SkyTeam’s Delta elites with ease. These days, the merger with United may change things, but at press time challenges are being granted on a case-by-case basis by emailing email@example.com. They typically require mileage earning of 10,000 for Silver status, 17,500 for Gold status, and 35,000 miles for Platinum status within 90 days. Qualification on segments is also available at a level of 15 segments, 22 segments, or 40 segments respectively. Status is granted immediately for the trial period allowing participants to experience the benefits immediately. Plus, no fees to participate! More information here. If you have participated in an elite challenge within the past five years, you are ineligible for this offer.
Delta Air Lines
DL offers immediate status matches based on various factors including current travel with one’s existing airline. To qualify, fax your airline statement with a request to status match to 1-404-773-1945. The airline typically only offers matches to Silver or Gold, the lower two of its four elite tiers. It takes a few weeks to process, but if approved, the status appears immediately and is good for the remainder of the elite year. No fees and no “challenge” requirements making it the easiest of the legacy airlines!
UA offers an elite match program, which is pretty much in line with its new merger partner Continental (UA actually convinced CO to switch to its current policy recently). The airline offers status matches to an equivalent level with one’s current program and requires a certain number of miles to be flown within 90 days to maintain that status. During the challenge period, one gets the status automatically allowing upgrade and elite bonus miles opportunities. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to qualify, but visit United for more information first. No fees are required to participate, which is nice. In the past, only status for the lower two tiers of the program (Premier and Premier Exec) were available for match. In 2011, one can match up to 1K status, which is their highest tier based on miles flown.
US offers a similar trial challenge program to American’s, which requires a fee. It costs $200 to make a run for Silver, $400 for Gold, and $600 for Platinum. The fees for this program are a bit expensive, but worth it for those who have immediate travel needs on US Airways. The requirements in place include a trial period of 90 days flying 7,500 miles or ten segments for Silver; 15,000 miles or 20 segments for Gold; 22,500 miles or 30 segments for Platinum. It is open to anyone even if you don’t have elite status with another carrier, which is a nice perk for new flyers. To participate, call 1-800-428-1775. For more information, visit US Airways. This is one of the easiest, but most expensive elite trial programs out there.
First Class upgrades, bag fee waivers, and bonus miles can be had by all if a little advance study on your travel plans is in order. All of a sudden, taking to the skies doesn’t seem so bad.