Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: United (page 1 of 4)

The Shortest Flight in the U.S. is at Our Doorstep

Did you know that the shortest flight in the U.S. is in northern California? I didn’t either until I saw the headline in a news piece recently.

United is connecting to Santa Rosa?!

When I first read about United adding the SFO-STS hop to their schedule, I thought they were insane. Are you really going to fly a route that people can drive in 90 minutes?

But then I sat back and thought about the market they are attacking. Sure, it is a super short flight. But it lets you avoid the hassle of driving (often in bad traffic) and paying for parking. Plus, if you’re local to Sonoma County, it’s an easy Uber ride to the airport. I can definitely see the appeal.

Not to mention Sonoma County is growing and demand for air service is increasing. The Charles M. Shulz Airport is looking at a desperately-needed expansion coming in 2019.

The flight time of the shortest flight in the United States? A mere 16 minutes in the air. United blocks it at 51 minutes. You spend more time taxiing than actually flying.

The shortest flight in the U.S. offers some great deals!

In contrast to flying out of Arcata, something that requires taking out a second mortgage on your house, there are actually some good deals out of STS. Not directly to SFO, but you can connect to a number of destinations cheaply. Examples, all one-way:

  • STS to LAX for $74
  • STS to SAN for $74
  • STS to SNA for $74
  • STS to PDX for $87

Most of those aren’t even United basic economy!

I’ve also looked at international flights that have either an outbound or return leg to STS rather than SFO. Generally, the price doesn’t jump too much if you decide to touch down among the vineyards instead of alongside the Bay. I’m hoping this holds out long enough for us to take advantage of it a couple times.

The flight above to Beijing is currently $489 flying nonstop from SFO. Adding the outbound from Santa Rosa only brings the price up to $538. Pretty sweet deal!

Next time you want to get out of Humboldt, consider taking the shortest flight in the U.S. out of Santa Rosa!

United cuts an Arcata flight, but switches to larger planes

United airlines has cut service to Arcata airport by one flight per day.  But don’t be too worried about the change. United is switching to operating larger aircraft between here and SFO and will be able to accommodate the same number of passengers per day.

The Star Alliance carrier has been in the process of retiring many of it’s small Canadair CRJ-200 regional jets. This small plane has been one of the primary aircraft United has used on the ACV-SFO route. The carrier is switching to the larger Embraer E175, which seats 76 passengers, compared to 50 on a CRJ-200. United is effectively replacing 3 of its CRJ-200 flights with 2 flights serviced by E-175 aircraft, keeping the number of daily departures the same.

The departure times for afternoon flights has adjusted slightly. Instead of a mid-afternoon departure and a second in the early evening, there will be one departure around 4:00 p.m. moving forward. Most afternoon flights starting in May have a scheduled departure time of 4:20. I want to know if this is a fluke, or some clever person making a gentle nod to the Humboldt subculture.

The two other United flights typically take off around 6:00 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.

Downsides of the change

One negative impact from this change is that there are now only a total of 5 flights in or out of Humboldt County each day. If any of these are delayed or cancelled, more passengers will be affected, and rebooking options will be more limited. Both United and PenAir have very poor on time performances in and out of Arcata Airport, so let’s hope they can improve this moving forward.

It’s a bummer to lose some schedule flexibility, too, with only 3 United flight options now. Hopefully the aircraft swap will mean better operations for the remaining flights. This news also comes on the heels of PenAir cutting a flight per day to Portland.

Personally, my feelings are mixed on the change. My last flight back to Humboldt with United was on an E-175. The plane was much newer and nicer. I was also in shock that we actually boarded via a jetway at SFO. Most of the time you have to walk outside at good ol’ gate 84 to a parked CRJ-200. I happily welcome the new aircraft, but I wish it wasn’t at the cost of a flight per day.

Increased Offer for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card!

Chase has temporarily increased the sign-up offer of the United MileagePlus Explorer Visa to 50,000 miles. The standard offer is 30,000 miles, so this is a significant increase.

The current offer will give you a sign up bonus of 50,000 MileagePlus miles after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months your account is open. You can also earn an additional 5,000 miles by adding an authorized user.

The card offers the ability to earn United miles, plus several other great perks, including:

  • Free checked bag on United operated flights (and any itinerary beginning with a United flight, as far as I am aware)
  • Priority boarding (group 2)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 2 United Club passes annually
  • 10,000 bonus miles after $25,000 in purchases in a calendar year
  • (Modestly) increased award seat availability reserved for cardholders
  • Primary car rental insurance (a great perk, in my opinion)

The card carries an annual fee of $95, which does NOT appear waived the first year. It typically is with the regular application.

NOTE: If you have opened more than 5 new credit card accounts in the past 24 months, it is *very* unlikely that you will be approved for this card. This is known as Chase’s “5/24 rule”.

Why apply for the United MileagePlus Explorer card?

This is one of the better offers for this card. The sign up bonus is worth two domestic round trip tickets, or you can have one round-trip to Europe with just a small amount of spending (60,000 miles).

The 50,000 mile offer usually comes around at least once per year. Sometimes it is accompanied with an annual fee waiver, which would be a slightly better offer than this one. Still, 2 domestic round trip tickets for $95 is a great deal.

For those local to Humboldt, this is one of the best airline cards you can have, if not the best. United offers the most flights out of Arcata, and the award availability is generally pretty good.

How to apply

The application link is here. However, if you are really interested in the card, I would love it if you would leave a comment, see my Twitter referral link, or send me a note via the Contact Me page to let me send you a referral link. I’ll get a bonus and you’ll get the same offer. 😉

2 Best Airline Credit Cards for the Humboldt-Based Traveler

Living in Humboldt has it’s benefits. The climate is mild, traffic isn’t an issue, and the redwoods are at your doorstep.

But there are definitely some downsides. One of the biggest of these is how hard it is to travel anywhere either quickly or cheaply.

We have one local commercial airport. It is the Arcata-Eureka Airport (IATA code of ‘ACV’), and actually located in McKinleyville, just to be confusing. It also bills itself as an international airport, which I find hysterical.

The Arcata-Eureka airport is our only air connection with the outside world. Currently, the airport is served by about 7 flights per day by two carriers.

Flights out of ACV are typically quite expensive. It may be more convenient to fly out of Arcata, but for a family heading across the country on vacation, driving to the Bay Area to catch a plane is usually the better call.

Luckily, you can have it both ways: convenient and cheap. You just need to amass some award miles.

Earning award miles for flights out of Humboldt

The two carriers that serve ACV airport are United and PenAir. United has been flying to the area for years, while PenAir is a relatively new addition. Both carriers offer flights using award miles.

Here are two great credit cards to help you get started toward your first free flights out of ACV:

  1. United Mileage Plus Explorer Card – This is the best card for the Humboldt-based traveler in my opinion. United offers the most fights in and out of ACV, and they are the best for connection options. All United flights out of Arcata head to San Francisco, one of United’s hubs, and United is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can use you United MileagePlus miles earned via the credit card to fly all over the world. The card typically comes with a 30,000 mile sign-up bonus, but an increased bonus offer of 50,000 miles is typically available at least once per year (currently ongoing). Best airline credit cards HumboldtThe card does carry a $95 annual fee (typically waived the first year…not on this 50k offer), but it does offer some perks, such as 1 free checked bag on United-operated flights, priority boarding, and a slight increase in award seats (some award seats are only available to United credit cardholders). If you fly in and out of Arcata even twice per year, it is worth having in your wallet.
  2. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card – While the flights out of Arcata are operated by PenAir [**UPDATE: PenAir left as of 8/7/17, so this option is off the table**], awards are available on these flights using Alaska miles. The easiest way to earn Alaska miles is by signing up for their credit card through Bank of America. The typical offer is 25,000 miles, and the card fee is $75 annually. However, you can often find an increased offer of 30,000 miles, sometimes even with a statement credit of $100 after a certain amount in purchases. This effectively nets you $25 and the 30k miles.

    Boarding a PenAir flight at ACV

    Alaska miles can be used on PenAir’s flights out of ACV to any destinations served by Alaska Airlines. The only direct PenAir destination from Arcata is Portland, but Portland is one of Alaska Airlines’ hubs, allowing you to connect to many other destinations. You certainly won’t have the extensive network offered by United, though. Additionally, Alaska flies out of Santa Rosa, which is a much easier airport to get to from Humboldt than either San Francisco or Oakland. Alaska is the actual carrier out of Santa Rosa (rather than PenAir like at ACV), so you can use miles to connect to flights on Alaska’s other partners, which is a huge benefit.

How much award space is available out of Humboldt?

Award space on United is generally very good, as long as you are not looking for last minute seats. Periods around holidays and in mid-summer fill up early as well. Here is a sample of the award availability between ACV and SFO for April and May:

Wide open award availability between ACV-SFO

There is still at least 1 economy award seat (denoted by solid blue line) all but one day over the two months. I can typically find at least 8 award seats available for at least half the dates over this period as well!

Remember that this is just for the leg between ACV and SFO. Availability may not be as good for other legs of an itinerary. This still gives you a taste of how easy it is to fly in and out of Arcata using United miles.

How about PenAir?

[**UPDATE: PenAir left as of 8/7/17, so this option is off the table**]

Award space out of ACV on PenAir using Alaska miles recently went from very good to fairly abysmal. After Alaska made some changes to their award pricing structure, award flights from ACV to basically anywhere in Alaska’s network now cost 30,000 miles one way! Which is a complete and utter ripoff. I’ve reached out to Alaska via Twitter twice regarding the issue.

PenAir award prices for ACV-PDX-SEA

My wife and I were looking at visiting friends in Montana this spring, but there are no reasonably-priced award all the way through May. The previous price was 7,500 miles, which is a great deal. But 30,000 miles one-way? Not so much.

We could have flown both of us round-trip for what a one-way flight now costs most dates!

Conclusion

If you are interested in accruing miles to travel from Humboldt, I highly recommend one or both of these cards. In addition to the personal cards, both offer a business version as well. If you make a lot of purchases as part of your business, consider getting a business credit card to help earn free travel!

As I will always reiterate, use credit cards responsibly! Any rewards you gain will be immediately offset if you get hit with interest and late fees. Annual fees can be worth paying, depending on your situation and the value of the rewards or points gained. Any other fees are not.

If you’re interested in accruing travel rewards using credit cards and don’t know where to start, consider coming to the first Humboldt Travel Hacker Seminar in a few weeks.

Getting the full pat down from the TSA at Arcata Airport

Thus far in my flying career, I’ve had very few notable incidents with the TSA. Sometimes the giant millimeter wave machine will erroneously say I have something in my back pocket or on my chest, and the Mr. TSA man will have to make sure I’m not carrying a hidden box cutter. Lately, security has actually been fairly painless when I’ve traveled.

But that all changed yesterday morning. I started things off with a full pat down from the TSA.

Of course my bag appears suspicious

I was headed off for a 5-night stint in Australia, eager to experience my first flights in a true international premium cabin. I had even managed to book seat 1A in the nose of a Boeing 747-400 (so geeky, I know). I was flying SFO to Seoul Incheon (ICN), and then ICN to Sydney, Australia (SYD). To start it all off, though, I had to make a quick connecting hop from our local Arcata-Eureka airport.

I arrived at Arcata-Eureka airport with about 50 minutes until our scheduled departure, and about 20 minutes until boarding. Security at the airport is a single line for the single departure gate, and is usually very quick and easy.

But not yesterday. I put all my stuff in the bins as usual, careful to leave my laptop in a bin by itself. The first TSA agent asked if I had any liquids, and I said yes, and that they were really tiny. She said that was fine and ushered me through.

I had no problems passing through the metal detector, but I knew something was up with my bag. The lady manning the x-ray machine stared at it for a long time. When it did come out, another agent promptly took it aside. Not good.

No, I don’t have explosives in my bag

After identifying it as mine, the TSA lady opened up my bag. My wife had packed me a substantial amount of homemade snack food, and she asked what a few items were. It was understandable, considering the homemade fruit roll ups do look a little suspicious.

She did an explosives swab of one of the bags, and I could tell it came back negative by the sound the machine made. After pulling out a second paper, she did a swab of the interior perimeter of the bag and inserted it into the machine.

Which set off a series of beeps a few seconds later that I had never heard before. Great. That can’t be good.

Another TSA agent came by, explains that my bag had tested positive for explosive residue, and informed me that he had to give me a pat down and that my entire bag would have to be searched.

At this point I was screaming inside my head, “Really, people?!?! This is the tiny Arcata Airport! Do I honestly look that suspicious to you?”

But instead I just said, “OK,” keeping my explosive reaction to myself. I wanted to say, “OK, whatever, this is why I can’t stand you guys,” but I kept my feelings to myself.

So I just stood there, holding my arms straight out to each side while TSA man gave me a full pat down while TSA lady searched my entire bag for the explosives that I supposedly had stashed in their somewhere. If there were any, I wasn’t aware of them. Maybe my wife makes explosives in her spare time and somehow forgot to inform me of her strange hobby.

The entire ordeal lasted about 12-15 minutes. A few people were staring at me, but by the time my full pat pat down from the TSA man was over, I didn’t care. I just wanted my bag back with enough time to pack it neatly before having to run onto the plane. It was almost boarding time. I hadn’t expected to burn this much time or have this much difficulty getting through security.

Fortunately, we were soon airborne, leaving my TSA troubles far behind.

Ok, I guess I should be thankful for the TSA

I do understand the need for airport and aircraft security. I really do. But the methods of the TSA often boggle my mind. And their statistics on what gets through them are less than stellar. Undoubtedly, they were just following protocol, but I didn’t have to like it. This is the first time I had ever set off the explosives scanner, and I hope I never do it again.

I have heard so many stories of people’s hands causing false positives for the explosives screening, especially if they have been on or near a farm. The whole thing is really a farce, anyway, since the TSA doesn’t even check everyone’s hands, just a random sample.

What about you? Do you have any crazy TSA stories?

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