Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: United (page 1 of 6)

Flying United always reminds me why I love Delta

One of the pains of living where I do is the fact that United has a monopoly on our tiny regional airport. They offer three daily departures to San Francisco, one to LAX that just started recently, and another to Denver will start next year (SEE: United adds another nonstop destination out of Arcata!).

The convenience of our airport cannot be understated. Even though it is 45 minutes from home, that is much better than a solid 5 hour drive to San Francisco, Oakland or Sacramento. But every time I convince myself to try flying United out of Arcata yet again, something goes wrong (or must I bring my kids along to make everything magically go right?).

Why I dislike flying United

I’ve flown United more times than any other airline, and they have cause me the most pain. Nearly half of my United flights to date have either been substantially delayed or outright canceled. While their on-time performance has improved lately, I’ve had enough bad experiences that I will choose not to fly them if timing is critical.

Sure, avoiding a drive to the Bay is nice. But it would also be nice to arrive at my destination on time. And even if it takes me just as long including the drive, at least I have control of the situation. I’d rather hit the road for a few hours than sit at O’Hare with rolling delay updates.

Contrast this with Delta where I’ve experienced a single short delay and a single misconnect. The latter was many years ago and due to a large thunderstorm over Atlanta that caused a good number of planes to either enter a holding pattern or divert. Delta offered me a hotel voucher and meal voucher in that instance. As I was only 16 at the time, offering me a hotel voucher became an impossibility. I spent the night in the terminal. The Delta agent was over-the-top apologetic about the situation and gave me extra meal vouchers.

Contrast that with United, who doesn’t really care if they inconvenience you. When we experienced a 3-hour mechanical delay on Alaska Airlines back in January, the airline proactively sent us a text apologizing for the delay and informing us that they would be sending us a $100 voucher for the inconvenience. The $100 was in excess of the cash value for our tickets (SEE: Turning 20,000 Amex points into 25,000 Alaska miles and $500). This immediately changed my outlook.

With United, they’re just happy if they get you there…someday. Or they’ll send you a survey regarding your experience that deletes everything you’ve entered the moment you click submit. Ok…maybe I’m getting a bit too cynical.

I should mention United has made things somewhat right by handing me a voucher or two over the years when everything goes completely wrong. Usually it’s not for much.

Call me a control freak

One difficult aspect of air travel is that so much is out of your control. It’s nice when things go right. Stepping on a plane in Arcata, making a tight connection in San Francisco, and enjoying a pleasant flight to the east coast while getting some work done is awesome when it happens.

But then there are the times when everything goes wrong. So many times I’ve arrived at the gate just in time for the delay announcement. Or we sit on the apron forever waiting to take off. Or the plane has to turn around and head back to the gate due to some mechanical issue.

In short, I tend to want to have control of travel when possible. And for me, that means flying a carrier other than United. Due to cost, I can’t always justify driving to Sacramento or the Bay Area to fly with another airline for work. But I can justify it when I must be somewhere on time. When feasible, I leave town to catch a Delta flight out of Sacramento. It may be slightly longer. But it is also so much less painful.

My pipe dream is having a direct Delta flight to Salt Lake City once again. I’d choose them whenever possible. Although I’m excited United is adding another nonstop destination next year, I’m still hoping we will one day have a second carrier again.

United adds another nonstop destination out of Arcata!

After the launch of United’s nonstop Los Angeles service earlier this year, I didn’t really think another nonstop flight was in the cards for our tiny airport. I’ve dreamed for the day we might have other options. But I figured that would remain a pipe dream.

Well…in a rather unexpected move by United Airlines, our tiny, local airport *is* going to see another nonstop destination!

United adding Arcata to Denver service

Starting in June of 2019, United will provide a once-daily service between Arcata and United’s Denver hub. This will take Humboldt from a single option this spring to three different nonstop flight options in about a year’s time. Connections in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver

The flight will be a night-turn, similar to the new schedule for the Los Angeles flight. The regional jet serving the route will leave Denver at 7:00 p.m., landing in Arcata at 8:50 p.m. It will return to Denver the following morning at 6:30 a.m.

The schedule is fantastic for work travel. United offers connections in Denver to many midwest destinations, which may turn people’s two-stop itineraries to one with a single connection. A healthy layover in Denver would provide enough time to have a nice lunch at the Timberline Grill before catching a connection (SEE: Timberline Grille Denver Airport Review).

Salt Lake City still on my wish-list

While I heartily welcome any additional air service, what I’d really like to see is service from another airline, specifically Delta and specifically Salt Lake City. Delta has become my favorite domestic airline, and it would be amazing if I could fly them locally. They briefly offered this service over a decade ago, but discontinued it after only a year.

Beyond Delta, I’d happily take an Alaska connection to Seattle, or an American connection to either Los Angeles or Phoenix. Any other airline would provide needed competition.

Still, I’m thankful that our area is getting more air service. I’m sure I’ll end up flying the hop to Denver once service begins.

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

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. 😉

My Kids Magically Fixed United

Let’s face it…traveling anywhere when you live on the beautiful California Redwood Coast is a chore. I have a love/hate relationship flying out of the Arcata airport. The convenience cannot be understated. But that is when things go smoothly. When things go wrong, and they go wrong far too often, it can be a major pain in the neck (SEE: My Second United Horror Story).

Lately I’ve taken to booking out of a bigger airport if time is of the essence, typically if I am flying across the country for work. But for our recent trip to the Southwest, convenience won.

Flying out of Arcata Airport worth the deal

For our trip to the Southwest, I booked last minute tickets for a steal: $91 and 22,500 Avianca LifeMiles for all three of us. The beauty of this plan was that we got to fly out of Arcata. The nerve-wracking part of the plan was also that we were flying out of Arcata.

Over a total of about 15 flights that I’ve flown in or out of Arcata, no fewer than 3 have been canceled. A solid 20% cancellation rate. That’s horrible. Delays or cancellation have thrown a wrench in our plans enough times that I literally prefer driving to the Bay to fly most places these days.

Given this experience, there was a bit of trepidation as our trip approached.

Wait…this was an Arcata flight, right?

I kept my eye on the United app during the day of our planned departure. The previous legs serviced by our aircraft were on time, so things were looking good. Our plane landed at the Arcata Airport right on time while we were still driving north. It looked like everything would go smoothly. And there was no fog to stop us this time (SEE: My Second United horror story)!

Boarding was quick in Arcata, as the plane was barely half full. Amazingly, there wasn’t any message from the captain stating the SFO tower had requested we stay on the ground. Too often they don’t have a spot for us and the flight gets delayed until SFO air traffic control can slip our landing into the incoming traffic. This time we were off the ground well ahead of schedule.

Maybe it was because we’d taken off “backwards”. On all other flights in or out of Arcata, the everything is operated off of Runway 32. This time we took off in the opposite direction, from Runway 14. This allowed me to get the shot of the airport as we circled around to the west.

Besides a little turbulence, the flight was fantastic. We were even in economy plus, and I had two seats to myself, so there was room to spare. These ERJ-175s are a much better ride than the tiny CRJs. I couldn’t believe it when we arrived in San Francisco a ridiculous 29 minutes early.

This has never happened on any flight I’ve taken out of Arcata. I’m pleased if we are even remotely on time. Had we really just flown the same little route that is so constantly plagued by delays???

I told the kids this was the best flight I’d ever taken out of Arcata. They didn’t seem to care in the slightest. Figures their first time flying outta here would go more smoothly than I’ve ever experienced.

Being treated like we’re in first class

To top things off, the service was ten times better than it’s ever been. While the flight attendants pretty much never offer drinks on the short hop to the Bay, they do bring by snacks. The offering consisted of only pretzels…unless you were my kids. The flight attendant offered them the last two stroopwafels from the morning. Lucky ducks. All they did was munch snacks and stare out the windows.

Then near the end of the flight the first-class flight attendant brought me two more snacks: Oreos and gummy bears. Do kids hardly fly? Or do the Skywest FAs single them out for special treatment? I’ve never really observed either. It’s like they knew we try to limit our kids sugar intake and were working against us.

To top it off, the flight attendant on the plane to Tucson handed me an small bag of Haribo gummy bears for the kids. I didn’t even know they had these on the plane! Or maybe they were her own. I have no clue. I just know people kept handing me candy for the kids, our flights were empty, and far more ahead of schedule than I’ve ever seen them. If this is the new United Airlines experience, sign me up every time.

Conclusion

I’m not sure what happened to the old United Airlines I’ve come to love endure, but this was definitely my best flight ever out of Arcata. And a great start to our week-long road trip.

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