Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Month: February 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Airfare Pricing Makes No Sense

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Airfare pricing is a conundrum. Who invented their pricing algorithms, anyway? They obviously work, since the airlines are making good profits these days, and prices are obviously driven by market demand. But sometimes even that doesn’t explain the nonsensical pricing. There seems to be at least an underlying “traveler convenience” factor that enters into the equation.

I recently booked a round-trip ticket from Arcata/Eureka to Las Vegas for $672 on United. This is easily enough for two people to fly from SFO to NYC round-trip, assuming the tickets are booked the same number of days out as I booked my ticket. Doing the math, the latter flight is roughly half the cost for 4 times the distance!

Here is an even better example. When I was exploring flights for my trip to Utah (via the above flight to Vegas), I spent some time perusing flights to other places using Google flights (which is a fantastic tool, by the way…more on that some other time). I found that I could book a round-trip ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong for slightly less than it was going to take for me to fly from ACV to Vegas. That trip is over ten times the distance! Insane!

Taking this a step further, I priced out three ticket options on United and found that the prices make absolutely zero sense. My example round-trip routes are (1) Arcata/Eureka (ACV) to San Francisco (SFO), (2) San Francisco to Hong Kong (HKG), and (3) the combined route of the two: Arcata/Eureka to Hong Kong. The combination ticket uses the same flights as the other two, and they are all over the same dates in April. Let’s examine my three examples:

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Sample itinerary from ACV to SFO, departing 04/04 and returning 04/08.

  1. ACV to SFO – This fare is always robbery. At about 270 miles, it is a short hopper that operates 3 or 4 times each day. For this example, the fare is a whopping $604.20!! No way I would ever pay that out of pocket.

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    Sample itinerary from SFO to HKG, departing 04/04 and returning 04/08.

  2. SFO to HKG (via NRT on return) – Over the date range the fare is $769.46. For a non-stop transpacific flight, this doesn’t seem all that bad at first glance. That is, until you examine the combined route…

    acv_to_hkg

    Sample itinerary from ACV to HKG, departing 04/04 and returning 04/08.

  3. ACV to HKG (via NRT on return) – The combination of the flights prices out at a tempting $562.06!! Why?!? Why is this the case? This is not only less than the sum of the two flights (which you would expect), but it is less than either individual flight, including the short hop from ACV to SFO. Utter madness.

You would think that a flight from Point A to Point C would be roughly the sum of the cost of Point A to Point B and the cost of Point B to Point C. Yet, in the magical world of airfares, this is simply not the case!

Best Western $25 Gift Card For 2 Stays

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Best Western isn’t even on the radar of many travel bloggers. Most of them have their favorites chains, and one that is comprised largely of fairly generic, 2-star road motels just doesn’t make the cut. The “elitists” often choose SPG (think the points guy), others Hyatt, and my favorite travel couple is all about maximizing IHG. What a lot of people overlook is that there are nearly as many Best Western hotels as there are IHG hotels worldwide, and the geographic coverage is better than you’d think.

I find that Best Western is plenty good for me. Even though the hotels are independently owned and operated franchises, they offer consistency in regard to service and cleanliness. Some even have character and history. I have yet to stay at one that I would not recommend. When all I want is a clean room and a bed to sleep in, Best Western is a safe bet. They also almost universally offer free breakfast.

Since Best Western matched my IHG Spire status to their Diamond status through the ‘No Catch’ status match form, earning points is slightly easier. Diamond provides a welcome bonus, an extra 30% on points earned, and the potential for room upgrades. They also have a co-branded credit card issued through First Bankcard that I will likely consider applying for sometime in the future.

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Best Western’s current promotion: get a $25 gift card for 2 stays.

Through May 8th, Best Western is running a promotion where you can earn a $25 gift card for every 2 separate stays, up to a total of 5 gift cards! When added to the points already earned from the stays, this is actually a pretty good offer. For my two stays/three nights in Utah that cost a total of $218, I will be getting ~2,600 points (worth about $13) and a $25 gift card, for a total value of about $37. I’d say that is a decent return, especially on an average rate of $73/night. The promotion was enough to tip the scales for me; I was initially looking at other options. Hopefully I can capitalize on it again before the promotion ends.

Utah Bound

Life can surprise you. If I had been told three weeks ago that I would be headed to southern Utah today to perform a field survey, I would have laughed. But that’s exactly what has happened. Our Great Basin regional manager called me out of the blue to ask if I could put together a proposal for a small project that would require my expertise. Because time was an issue, I fast-tracked the effort, and just over a week later I was informed that we won the work. I had my flight booked within minutes. Fast forward several days, and I am typing this in the air somewhere over the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the second leg of my flight from ACV -> LAS.

Cruising over the Sierra Nevada. So glad to see some snow!

Last-minute flights out of Arcata-Eureka aren’t cheap (actually, nothing out of there is cheap), and I could just as easily have flown San Francisco to Hong Kong as Arcata-Eureka to Las Vegas for the same price. My economy ticket came to $672. Even though it’s rolled into the project budget, this still disgusts me. United’s prices can truly be robbery. In any case, it is still a better deal than a rental car and 10+ hours of driving. The higher price does earn me more miles, and I can’t complain about that.

The trip is a mere 3 night stay with two long days of work sandwiched in between. Both hiking in Zion and lounging around a pool in Vegas for an afternoon are out of the question. But I don’t mind. It’s a new place, and a welcome adventure. Not to mention it’s my first real field work. Ever. This is what I am most excited about. Travel is just an added bonus.

4 Things I Like About Alaska Airlines

Alaska airlines has an excellent reputation. A seven metric ranking by the Wall Street Journal show Alaska consistently leading the pack of major U.S. carriers in nearly every category. Their frequent flyer program can be very rewarding, as they are one of the few U.S. carriers that still accrues points based on miles flown and not on dollars spent. They have generally good redemptions, although better flights often seem to come at a premium number of miles (although maybe this has been mainly due to the routes I have been looking into). In any case, a savvy rewards travel enthusiast can easily extract over 2 cents per mile in redemption value.

Having both recently taken my first flight with Alaska and become a whole lot more acquainted with their frequent flyer program, I would like to offer four things I really like about the top-ranked U.S. airline:

  1. They serve Santa Rosa Sonoma County Airport. Yes, this is a completely personal reason why I like them. Getting out of Humboldt County is difficult. Either you drive….or…you drive. Honestly. The closest airline option for me is United out of Arcata-Eureka (ACV), but even that is an hour drive from my home, and prices are typically steep (>$500 round trip anywhere in the U.S.!). Alaska provides the next most convenient option, a decent 3 hour 45 minute drive south to the northern end of Santa Rosa, but pricing is much more within the realm of reason. The drive really isn’t bad if you’re used to it, and stopping at Santa Rosa sure beats going all the way into the Bay Area.
  2. They have both a unique and sizeable set of transfer partners. I love the array of airlines that partner with Alaska. They have some good options in both the Oneworld and SkyTeam alliances, including Delta, American, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, and Qantas. If you are looking for luxury, they also partner with Emirates. A first-class one way from North America to Asia can be had for a mere 100,000 Alaska miles. That sounds like a lot, but it is a whole lot better than some other options.
  3. (Fairly) easy churning of their co-branded BofA card. While the Alaska Airlines Signature Visa issued through Bank of America doesn’t offer a huge sign-up bonus, you can literally get it more than once within a matter of weeks (although lately I have been hearing that they are cracking down on this a bit more). There is no official 12, 18, or 24 month ineligibility period. Yes, you pay the $75 fee, but it’s like buying 25,000 MileagePlan miles for $75. Fantastic deal. In theory, you could grab the card 4 times in a year, and “buy” a first-class redemption on Emirates for $300.
  4. Their image is just cool. Who doesn’t like that iconic Eskimo face on the tail of every plane?

I hope to fit Alaska airlines into future travel plans. Southwest is still my favorite U.S. carrier, but Alaska has impressed me. The use of their co-branded Visa card also opens up significant reward travel opportunities. Check them out. I’ll soon be applying for another of their Visa cards (or two).

The Berkeley City Club: A Review

Location: Berkeley, California

Overall Rating: 9/10

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Image courtesy of GoldStar.

Sometimes Expedia really comes through. I use them mostly when the major hotel chains with which I have rewards membership are overpriced and I am looking for a cheap deal. The site and map functionality is the cleanest and best of any ‘online travel agent’ type of website, in my opinion. They can also offer some killer deals. Such was the case when I was booking a night for a recent visit to our Berkeley office. All the IHG hotels in the area were over $200/night, and the SPG options were even higher, so I was out of luck with my go-to chains. Expedia offered me a few choices within walking distance of the office: the Quality Inn for $180, a smoking (icky) room in the Knights Inn for $130, or this place called the Berkeley City Club for $150. It had very good reviews, so I figured I’d take a gamble and book it.

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Interior of the ground level of the Berkeley City Club.

I didn’t realize what a gem I picked. The hotel is on the list of historic hotels of America, and the interior of the building is beautiful. I had seen from the online photos that the building looked historic, but I was even more impressed than I expected. I was checked-in by a pleasant desk agent who gave me a bit of info about the hotel and breakfast, and then handed me my room key. A literal metal key. I haven’t stayed at a hotel using real keys for quite a while.

The room had the antique feel that I have only experienced in a few hotels. An old radiator was still present along one wall, and the bathroom was tiny, but both of these things just added character to the place. I wandered back down the hall and out of the building to grab dinner, noticing that the elevator floor indicator was the old vintage type, a metal semicircle with an brass arrow that slowly moved as the elevator traveled up and down. This place was great.

I grabbed dinner from an Italian place down on Shattuck, and headed back to my room after wandering around for several blocks. I’m not crazy about Berkeley, but I figured an evening walk and some fresh air would be nice. Once I was back in my room, bedtime came quickly since my body was still on Eastern Standard Time.

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Morning view from my room.

Morning came too soon as well. One night is simply not enough for my body to adjust back to California time. I woke up at 4:30 feeling fairly refreshed. Waking up early gave me a great excuse to use the pool, which opens at a very early 5 a.m. Pool usage extends beyond just hotel guests, as the Berkeley City Club offers sells memberships, and they have a full changing room and showers. The morning swim was nice, and the pool itself was unique and elegant as well.

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The pool. Image courtesy of the Berkeley City Club.

The hotel also offered a free continental breakfast for guests, and it was an decently good selection of pastries, fruit, and yogurt, with the usual beverage offerings of coffee, water, tea, juice, and milk. Everything was definitely good, but nothing stood out.

As I was checking out, the lady at the desk remarked about how deep of a discount I had gotten on my room. As it turns out, when I initially was booking the room on Expedia, it came to about $165 after tax. After I had logged in and entered my payment info, the screen refreshed and said the price had changed and the new total was now $150 and change. I am not sure what happened, but it was definitely a cheap rate for the place, and the front desk was definitely surprised. Considering this is a 3 star historic hotel in the Bay Area, I am surprised that the rates weren’t over $200. I’m gonna chalk it up to lucky timing.

Overall, it was a short but great stay. Don’t be afraid of third-party booking sites like Expedia. Sometimes they can be the best way to go. My only after-the-fact complaint is that the Club doesn’t code as a travel purchase. Heads-up on that little detail.

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