Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Airlines (page 1 of 12)

Planning a last minute getaway to…Atlanta!

Before summer is over I’d been looking to book a weekend getaway for my older son and I sometime in August. In July my daughter and I headed to San Antonio to surprise a friend of hers. She was lucky enough to even experience first class for the first time.

Our middle child was a bit sad that he didn’t get to go. He expressed that he like a trip with “just papá” as well. I’ve taken the older two several places (SEE: visiting grandparents, Sacramento, southwest road trip, Paris and Luxembourg) since we adopted our three kids last fall, but the trip with my daughter was the first time I’d only taken one of them.

But I’d run into a wall trying to plan a trip. I wanted to include air travel, since he is already obsessed with planes (which is probably my fault). But this meant either forking over some coveted United miles to fly out of Arcata, or finding a decent enough fare deal out of the Bay for which we could use some travel vouchers from previous poor experiences (SEE: United’s problem is…everything).

Plus, there was the issue of timing. And the drive to the Bay. I didn’t really want to drive 5 hours each way for a trip of just 2-3 nights. If other costs could be minimized, then maybe. Things would have to align perfectly to make this work.

But then they did, thanks to a site I follow for fare alerts. Looks like we’ll be heading to Atlanta in a couple weeks!

Why Atlanta? 

Honestly, I was originally looking at Boise. It checked the most boxes. Boise offers decent summer weather where my son and I could enjoy the outdoors. Plus, it is not a super long flight, and we have both United and Alaska vouchers that could pay for most of it. It would also be both a new state and new city for me, so there was that appeal. We’d still have to get to and from the Bay, pay $50 out of pocket for airfare, and use up $500 worth of flight vouchers. That’s a lot for a 3-night trip. So I kept putting off booking.

Which turned out to be for the best. Near the end of July, The Flight Deal notified me of a fantastic sale from San Jose to Atlanta. Tickets were offered at $168 round-trip. A second check of the United website found them for even cheaper: $154. And this was *not* basic economy!

Given that we’d have to rent a car if we visited Boise, visiting Atlanta for a few days makes a lot more sense logistically. The mass transit options are a lot better. We could stay in the city center and have plenty to do.

With the tickets safely booked within the 24-hour free cancellation window, I confirmed with my wife that the dates would work. Georgia it is, then.

Putting all the deals together

The tickets cost us $307.20 for the two of us, but with a $300 United voucher, I only had to shell out $7.20 in cash. We’ll have to rent a car to get to San Jose, but I still have a small stash of Hertz points. The rental car should run us about $20.

As far as hotels go, I’m using a combination of Radisson points for our first night near the airport and then Hilton points for two more at a hotel in downtown Atlanta. We’ll have free breakfast those three days. Our final night will be at the Hyatt in midtown on a cash and points rate. I’m positioning myself to earn the 5-brand bonus free night.

The metro will cost us a few bucks, and we’ll have to pay for attractions. We’ll also need ~$60 for Amtrak tickets on our return to take us to Sacramento. My son actually has a doctor’s appointment in the Sacramento Area the day we drive home. Finally, Enterprise points will keep our one-way car rental cost home to just $28.

So, things aren’t free. But I can get them pretty close…

Cash back for the win

Given that we’ve lately been blowing through our budget (seriously…kids are expensive), I don’t have a lot of cash allocated for this trip. Luckily, I’ve been saving the cash back on my Citi DoubleCash card for months. I also have earned nearly $50 from Ebates. I should also have enough “miles” for a redemption using my Barclaycard Arrival Mastercard (SEE: Increased bonus of this flexible point travel card!).

Combined, this should be about $150 in cash back, which will put a major dent in the expenses listed above. I love being able to put together a trip to another city for a few days for next to nothing.

Anyone have ideas of where we should go?

Hartsfield-Jackson airport is the only thing I’ve seen in Atlanta, and I’ve seen it 7 times. Once I was even able to spend the night in the terminal (story for another day). So I really don’t know what Atlanta has to offer. On my list so far are:

  • The Georgia Aquarium
  • World of Coca Cola
  • Centennial Olympic Park
  • Botanical Gardens

If you have any other ideas, be sure to let me know. I’m about to break the news to my son, who I know will be quite excited!

Featured image courtesy of tableatny under CC 2.0 license

Treating My Daughter to American Domestic First Class

My daughter and I spent last weekend in San Antonio with friends that we met while in Costa Rica on our adoption trip. We and the Minors were in Costa Rica at the same time, adopting our kids through the same agency. We were even staying at the same hotel while in country. They adopted a girl about our daughters age, and the two became fast friends.

Our trip to San Antonio was planned to get the girls together for the first time since all of us have been back in the U.S. (SEE: Planning a Surprise Birthday Trip). The trip was be short and sweet, as we flew out Friday and headed back Tuesday.

During our first flight on the way to the Lone Star State, my daughter remarked how cool it would be to fly in first class. I’d previously told her about my solo trip to Australia and how I’d flown in first class and business class on the two international long-haul flights (SEE: United Polaris First SFO to ICN: A review, AND: Asiana business class review Seoul to Sydney). Obviously, it sounded amazing to her. I had to break it to her that domestic first class really isn’t all that amazing. But it is certainly a step up from economy.

A case of perfect timing

A couple weeks before we booked our trip to San Antonio, I’d accepted a status offer from American Airlines. I wasn’t sure I’d even bother with it, as I basically never fly American, but I decided to jump on it at the last minute before the offer expired. The offer gave me American Gold Elite, the lowest tier status, and eight 500-mile upgrade certificates. The status is only good through September.

As it turns out, the offer worked perfectly for me. The cheapest flights out of Sacramento to San Antonio happened to be on American Airlines, and the status offer meant that I could apply my 500-mile upgrade certificates to our flights. As I ended up booking a flight for work on American Airlines as well, I ended up only applying 4 of the certificates to upgrade one leg of our outbound flights.

Honestly, as I was only a Gold member, I didn’t expect them to clear. Especially given that American A319s only have 8 first class seats.

But amazingly they did. I was excited, knowing that my daughter was in for a treat.

Springing the surprise

Our first class was on time and uneventful. We spent half an hour in the lounge in Phoenix, and then we headed to our next gate. I handed my daughter her boarding pass to scan for boarding. Once heading down the jetway, I asked her which seat she was in.

She told me “1F.” That’s it. Not another word. She had no idea what that meant. I see that I need to teach her some basics about seat numbers. Row 1 is pretty much always first or business class (unless you’re on my least favorite type of plane).

I’ve tried to clue the kids in to the boarding process and general plane etiquette. But they still have very little idea about seating. My son may have put two and two together on this one, but the fact that we were in row 1 didn’t even register with my daughter.

Until we got on the plane, that is, and she saw that Row 1 was the first class section. The excitement was instantly off the charts.

We had a great flight of ~850 miles to San Antonio. While I’ve recently flown United domestic first class on the ERJ-175, this was my first time on American (and it might be my last, as my upgrades on my work trip haven’t been clearing so far).

She enjoyed a glass of ginger ale, a rare treat, and I enjoyed a glass of wine and a nap. Wine consumption for me is pretty much limited to when I’m flying.

It was a real airplane nap, something I haven’t had in a while. I woke up super groggy after 45 minutes as we were coming in for landing. My daughter said I looked like I was dead while I was sleeping and that my tongue was hanging out. I’m going to hope that is mostly her own fabrication.

Conclusion

I had to break it to her that on our return we wouldn’t be flying in First. Can’t get to used to life of luxury now, can we? 😉

Complete guide to American Airlines reduced mileage awards

One of the lesser-known perks of holding an American Airlines co-branded credit card is the ability to book American Airlines reduced mileage awards. These will allow you to save up to 7,500 miles per round-trip depending on the card you hold and the length of the trip.

Save miles with AA reduced mileage awards

There are groups of cards that give you different levels of savings with the reduced mileage awards. Typically, the free or cheap co-branded cards offer less savings. There are also two tiers of awards. Because American Airlines already requires only 7,500 award miles for trips under 500 miles one-way, the savings aren’t as good on these routes.

Many credit cards offer a savings of up to 7,500 miles per round trip for itineraries over 500 miles and 2,000 miles per round-trip for itineraries of less than 500 miles. Here is the list of credit cards that offer these savings:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Select MasterCard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver World Elite MasterCard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Red MasterCard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Business MasterCard®

This reduces the cost of a typical round-trip saver award from 25,000 miles to only 17,500 miles, and makes using your miles for domestic economy tickets far more lucrative. The cool thing is, some of the same cards that offer access to the American Airlines reduced mileage awards also offer 10% of your miles back when you redeem them, so you’re looking at a net cost of 15,750 per round-trip.

Here are the credit cards that give you access to a 5,000-mile discount for awards over 500 miles and 1,000-mile discount on round-trips itineraries of less than 500 miles:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold MasterCard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Blue MasterCard®

Holding one of these cards will let you book a ticket to one of the listed destinations for only 20,000 miles per round-trip. A hop of 500 miles or less will only cost you 14,000 miles round-trip.

The cool thing is, you don’t have to book a round-trip award. If you book a one-way, the savings are simply half of the round-trip savings.

There are some other cards included in both of the lists that offer access to the American Airlines reduced mileage awards, but I’m not sure they are offered anymore. I don’t recognize them. I believe all the ones listed are the products that are currently available.

How to find a qualifying award

American Airlines offers a good number of destinations every month on their reduced mileage award chart. There are some major airports that never make the list. But they typically offer several dozen destinations every month. The chart is updated every other month, and you’ll only ever find the current month and the three upcoming months included. Don’t expect to be able to lock these in way ahead of time.

Head over to the American Airlines reduced mileage award page to view the list of destinations offered. The first paragraphs explain the discounts and process, after which you’ll find the table of current reduced mileage destinations. Note the months in the header at the top and then scroll through the list (or use the web page search) to find your destination. The green checks indicate that a destination is available for the reduced mileage price for that month.

American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards

For example, if I’m interested in flying to Akron, Ohio, I can book a reduced mileage award for any of the months shown above. I can also fly out of any nearby airport served by American Airlines, which for us would be Santa Rosa, Sacramento, San Francisco, or Oakland. It doesn’t matter if your origin airport isn’t on the chart; all that matters is the destination. If I’m interested in flying to Albany, notice that I can only book that at the reduced mileage price for flights in September.

The current list for September 2018 is a gold mine. Most of the airports shown on the list are available for reduced mileage awards this month, which comes to a total of over 100. Chances are you’ll find the destination you’re looking for if you’re willing to travel outside of peak summer season.

Some people have previously reported that if your origin is included in the reduced mileage list for a given month, this gives you reduced mileage prices anywhere in the U.S. Not all agents would abide by this, but by using the “hang up, call again” (HUCA) trick, you could typically book them.

However, I don’t see this in the terms. Everything refers to the destination being on the list. Only the destination airport has to be on the list for a one-way or round-trip. The origin doesn’t seem to play into the equation at all. I could be wrong on this, though, or the terms could have changed such that they are now in line with my understanding. In any case, you’re more than welcome to try to see where you can get with an agent. Some airports are routinely available, and it would be amazing to fly for reduced mileage prices much of the year.

How to book a reduced mileage award

You have to call reservations at 800-882-8880 to book American Airlines reduced mileage awards. However, you’ll first need to make sure there is space available for the award you want, and I suggest doing this online. Head to aa.com and look for MileSAAver space. You cannot use the reduced milage award codes for standard awards.

You’ll also need the award code for the credit card you hold. You can find these on the American Airlines reduced mileage awards web page. The agent will ask for a code when you go to book the award.

My experience booking a reduced milage award was pretty painless. I called American Airlines reservations, spoke our date, origin and destination into the automated system, and was connected with an agent within only a few minutes. I explained that I wanted to book a reduced milage award. The lady was completely familiar with the process and asked for the code. She spent a minute confirming that our destination was on the list, and our tickets were booked a minute or two later.

The reservation service charge is waived for these awards since they are not bookable online, which totally makes sense.

Final notes on the American Airlines reduced mileage awards

American Airlines reduced mileage awards offer fantastic value for families since you can fly round-trip domestic itineraries for so much less. A family of 5 flying to a reduced mileage destination only needs 87,500 miles rather than 125,000 miles. Given that some of the American Airlines co-branded cards sometimes offer a sign-up bonus of 60,000 or even 70,000 miles, an application plus some spending can easily get free flights for the whole family.

A few final things to note:

  • The terribly (might I say AAwful) $75 close-in booking fee still applies to itineraries 21 days out or less.
  • The discounts only apply to awards within the United States. Even if you live at an airport on the list where flights should be at reduced cost to anywhere, don’t expect to head to Europe with a mileage discount.
  • You can actually apply the discount to business and first class domestically. I’m just never interested in premium cabin domestic awards, so details like this tend to slip my mind.
  • Finding American Airlines award space might be a real issue at times, but it can be done. Don’t expect to see wide-open awards to any of these destinations, but expect to be able to make something work if you are flexible with your dates.

Hope you make great use of the American Airlines reduced mileage awards!

Featured image courtesy of Grant Wickes. 

Getting the Dreaded “Flight Canceled” Notification: What to do now?

A canceled flight is never fun. I’ve had (probably) more than my fair share of them, mostly flying out of Arcata. But they have happened in a couple other situations as well.

The most recent was at the beginning of our trip to Paris and Luxembourg for a week. We were booked on KLM 606 from SFO to Amsterdam. This was not only the cheapest ticket at the time, but it was also operated by a 747. Since I don’t ever want to pass up an opportunity to fly on the “Queen of the Skies”, and the schedule worked well for us, this is what I’d picked for our trip.

While I was half-expecting the connecting flight into Paris Charles de Gaulle to be canceled due to the routine French pilot, crew and air traffic controller strikes, the cancellation of the KLM flight came out of the blue. At least they gave us more than 24 hours notice.

What to do if your flight is canceled

First, don’t panic. In most cases, there are multiple options. In some cases, it might mean some quick and expensive choices, such as when I had to drive to the Bay to catch a flight for work (SEE: My Second United Horror Story). But this usually isn’t the case.

Second, act immediately. Don’t wait for the airline to get back to you with options, if their notification asks you to wait. Pick up the phone and try to get an agent immediately. If you have the ability, you should pursue two options at once. Typically, I pick up the phone immediately since it usually takes at least several minutes to get a person on the other end of the line. But at the same time, I start finding other options.

Sometimes, you’ll be offered a link for rebooking through the airline website or app. My two experiences using this with United were a bust. Both times it wanted to re-book us on a flight over a day later. This is why I suggest picking up the phone right away.

At the same time, I go to the airline’s website and Google Flights (SEE: 6 reasons Google Flights is the BEST flight search engine) to do my own research. If seats are still showing for sale, a flight still likely has seats left (although airlines sometimes *do* oversell flights). While waiting on hold, find some potential options that work for you. Think outside the box. If you are booked on United and there aren’t any of their flights available, see if there are any options on another carrier. United is unlikely to fly you on American or Delta, but the big airlines do have interline agreements with each other. Also consider other area airports at either your origin or destination that could work.

In my case, I did exactly what I just described. I called up Delta and headed to my computer to find options.

Being proactive works

The Delta agent initially offered me two options: an 8:30 p.m. departure nonstop to CDG on Air France, or an 11:00 a.m. departure on their own metal with a super tight connection in Salt Lake City. Neither were especially appealing. While the nonstop flight sounded nice, I didn’t really want to hang around the airport all day. I’d rather get to Paris. The super tight connection would also be risky if anything went wrong. We’d have to get rebooked again.

The agent mentioned that there was an earlier departure to Salt Lake City, but it was at 7:45 a.m. We’d have to wait around at SLC for over three hours. That wasn’t ideal, but I was leaning toward it. She put me on hold again to look for any more options.

By that time I’d made it to my computer at work where I was frantically searching Google Flights. Two options stood out to me: a routing through LAX to connect to an Air France flight, or a 8:10 a.m. departure to Seattle to another Delta flight. This still wasn’t ideal, but the connection time was reasonable. Plus, at SeaTac we would be able to hang out in the lounge instead of in the terminal. I figured 2.5 hours would be easier there. Plus, I despise LAX.

When the agent came back, she said she’d only found the two options originally quoted. I don’t know if she was being lazy, or maybe she had just ruled out all the early flights. I asked if there was an 8:10 departure to Seattle that connected to Delta flight 34. She found it easily, to my utter lack of surprise. Had I not done my own research, we would have been stuck with a risky 35-minute connection at SLC.

Everything worked out smoothly

The only real loss was that of our morning. Instead of having a stress-free late morning arrival at SFO, I had to get the kids up and moving pretty early. We flew out at 8:10 a.m. instead of the originally scheduled 1:55 p.m. KLM’s cancellation is also grounds for an EU261 claim, which will net us $700 (SEE: My EU261 claim is approved! But for how much?). We also landed in Paris ahead of our originally scheduled arrival, which gave us more time in Paris (although it meant we had to drag ourselves through an entire day on no sleep).

Featured image courtesy of Tom Page via Flickr under CC 2.0 license

Getting My First Complimentary Upgrade Ever

A few weeks ago I attained airline status for the first time ever. Due to the completion of a Marriott Platinum challenge (SEE: Fast track status: how to sign up for a Marriott Platinum challenge), I was granted Marriott Platinum status, which also gives United Premier Silver status as a published perk (the two programs offer a set of reciprocal benefits).

This coincided nicely with a work trip. I’ve flown Delta lately when headed east, which is my personal preference. But this time I couldn’t justify the expense and time of the drive to the Bay. So United it was out of our tiny local airport. At least this could be my first-ever shot at an upgrade.

Upgrade to First? Yes, please

When I checked in, I was told I’d be placed on the list for complimentary upgrades. I had high hopes for my first flight of the day. Only five first class seats were booked, leaving seven available for upgrades. There can’t be *that* many people with United status flying out of Arcata, can there? But I’d have to wait until the next day to find out.

Much to my surprise, the confirmation came within the hour. I received an automated email from United saying I’d been upgraded, and that my new seat was 4A. Score!

I had understood this wouldn’t be processed until the day of travel. But the news was happily welcomed. I’d even landed in one of the awesome seats along the left side of the plane that is both a window and an aisle seat. This really couldn’t be any better.

Flying in first for thirty-seven minutes

I was among the first to board the next day, and I got to gaze out the window and watch the other passengers climb the ramp to the plane. The flight attendant brought me an orange juice while I waited for everyone else to take their seats. It was a lovely Humboldt County morning.

We departed on time, and the flight attendant began beverage service as soon as we reached 10,000 feet. I requested a coffee. Unlike the economy experience, it came in an actual mug.

The flight attendant also brought around a basket loaded with snacks. We could pick what we wanted. I opted for just a stroopwafel.

The flight is a super short hop. I’ve done it many times in economy, and it’s a totally enjoyable experience on the ERJ-175. But it was super cool to be up in first this time. Even after all my flight segments, this was (amazingly) my first time traveling in domestic first class. I’ve traveled in international business class and first class once each, which is a different world entirely.

The misplaced focus on airline status

In the majority of cases, airline status is something that should be earned 100% organically. That is, if you have to expend extra effort or money to achieve status, you probably aren’t flying enough to really enjoy the benefits.

Even after saying this, I am on track to earn Delta Gold Medallion status this year. A couple work trips, plus our trip to France (paid with mostly points, but a cash fare), and some extra medallion qualifying miles (MQMs) from card bonuses makes it a fairly easy target. I’m losing a bit on opportunity cost, as Delta miles aren’t quite as valuable as other currencies. But it’s still something I’d like to shoot for while it is within reach and won’t cost any extra cash out the door [SEE: How to earn airline elite status without flying (a lot)].

Keeping it real

Although I could certainly get used to traveling like this, I have to remember that status won’t last forever. And it won’t always send me to the front of the plane. But even though it was just a 37-minute hop from Arcata to San Francisco, it was still super cool to sit in the front of the plane without shelling out either miles or cash. The ERJ-175 may be the nicest ride in domestic first class, too, even over larger aircraft. The ‘A’ seats are also by themselves, giving you both a window and aisle access.

Will I get upgraded again? Why, yes. I’m currently waiting to depart on the second leg my current trip, and I had another upgrade clear. Maybe it will be hard to go back to economy after this. 😉

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