Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Local (page 1 of 3)

How to consistently fly for $270 or less round-trip out of Arcata

Flying out of our local regional airport can be a pain due to delays and cancellations. But it can also be extremely convenient, if things go smoothly. The only problem is…flights can be outrageously expensive.

Which makes using miles to fly in or out of Arcata a winning proposition almost every time since it represents a great value for your miles. If you’re interested in scoring a couple free flights, there are a couple great credit cards you can pick up that will earn you two round-trips out of our local airport.

But if you already have those card and/or are looking for another way to bring the cost of flights down, the Avianca LifeMiles program presents an interesting option. I’m going to be candid and state that this strategy is probably more of an intermediate level

Leveraging Avianca LifeMiles short-haul awards

Avianca LifeMiles has one of the best award charts for short-haul domestic awards within the United States. As a member of the Star Alliance, you can redeem your LifeMiles for flights on United Airlines. The LifeMiles chart breaks the U.S. into three regions, and flights within each region are only 7,500 miles one-way. You can even include connections (although the LifeMiles site seems to choke on itineraries that include more than 1 connection).

The “United States 3 zone” includes the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming. Oddly, Montana is in “United States 2”. But you can still fly to almost all the western states from Arcata for only 15,000 miles round-trip, an excellent deal (SEE: 3 reasons I am SUPER excited for the new LifeMiles shorthaul awards).

This is where the cost of miles can sometimes outweigh the cost of flights. Say you are interested in flying from Arcata to Jackson, Wyoming, an often expensive destination. Two round-trip tickets will probably run you $1,100 at the cheapest. Using LifeMiles for an award on this itinerary presents excellent value.

But what if you don’t have any LifeMiles?

How buying miles is actually cheaper than buying a ticket

It is extremely rare that I will ever advocate buying miles. In general, don’t do it. There are other ways to accrue them. But if you fly from Arcata frequently, this is one instance where buying miles could make some sense.

One of the most recent LifeMiles sales offered miles with “up to a 125% bonus”. The bonus for 1,000-50,000 miles purchased was 100%, so we’ll roll with that number. Let’s assume you want two round-trip tickets within the western U.S., which will cost you 15,000 miles each. Purchasing 15,000 miles will give you an extra 15,000 miles, enough for both tickets. Every 1,000 miles costs $33, so the total price will come to $495 for the miles you need.

Each ticket will also be subject to a $25 award ticketing fee (dumb, but it is what it is), and taxes of $5.60 each way, which is the TSA fee. Doing the math, each ticket will therefor cost $283.70. This is 50% or less of what many tickets to Jackson, Wyoming cost. Definitely worth buying miles in this case, if you would otherwise be looking to pay cash.

Even better, LifeMiles are fantastic for awards close-in, when prices are both high and United is charging you the obscene “close-in booking” fee of $75 for general members. The return on a LifeMiles purchase is even better in these cases. An added benefit is that United award availability is often better close-in.

So although I don’t typically advocate buying miles, this is one case I would consider it if I would otherwise need to pay cash for a ticket. You just need to ensure that there is sufficient award space to book the ticket you need.

Budget for flights with a monthly subscription

If buying a bunch of miles at once isn’t for you, LifeMiles offers a very unique option: a monthly miles subscription. It’s truly one-of-a-kind. I’ve never heard of another airline loyalty program that offers this feature.

In most cases, a subscription like this is silly. You pay a monthly fee, and they add miles to your account at a rate that isn’t really worth it in most cases. However, if you’re looking to fly a few round-trips per year out of Arcata and want a way to budget appropriately for them, this might just be something that interests you. It will also let you break out your flight “purchase” into manageable pieces through the year.

Avianca LifeMiles offers several subscription options, but two in particular stand out to me:

The “Plan 1,000” is a manageable cost and offers you one round-trip for $19.49 per month, with 1,000 extra miles to carry over per year. The “Plan 2,000” give you two round-trips per year, plus 2,000 carryover miles, for just under twice the cost. Visit Club LifeMiles for more info

Two other ways to accrue LifeMiles

There are a couple other ways to accrue LifeMiles. You have a few different credit card options. The Citi ThankYou Premier is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou points, which can be transferred to LifeMilesat a 1:1 ratio. That’s how I topped off my own LifeMiles account most recently.

There are also two Avianca LifeMiles co-branded credit cards offered through Banco Popular. Haven’t heard of them? I hadn’t either. But the sign-up bonus was amazing when I got the card (SEE: My highest credit limit ever came with…what new card?). And the news just broke last week: the 60,000-point offer is back (read about it here)!

My words of caution

I’ve personally had no issues redeeming LifeMiles for a couple trips. It’s been totally painless through the LifeMiles website, and ticketing has happened quickly through United. It even easy to add the flight to your United account to select seats, check in via the app, etc. But there are numerous stories of people who have had nightmarish experiences with Avianca LifeMiles.

LifeMiles also doesn’t present you with all the options that the United website does, which means that a United award itinerary you’ve found might not be bookable with LifeMiles . I would *always* check for the itinerary through the LifeMiles site directly to ensure that your flight is an option presented. Since award seat availability varies, there is always the potential you could end up with miles that don’t work for your specific trip. If you’re locked into specific dates, I would be hesitant to go this route.

LifeMiles also doesn’t like awards with more than one connection. With connections in San Francisco, Los Angeles and (starting next year) Denver from ACV, you still have a great number of one-stop destinations available. There is also a workaround to this which I will cover at a later juncture, as it is a bit complicated.

All that said, if you have some flexibility of destination and dates, LifeMiles should work just fine. Be proactive about searching for award availability. It changes daily, especially when you get less than 3 weeks out. I find United sometimes releases a significant number of seats. As mentioned above, LifeMiles are a better option for a last-minute getaway since you’ll avoid the United close-in award fee, but you’ll still have to pay the $25 LifeMiles award fee.

Conclusion

If you’re willing to jumps through these hoops, you’re looking at much cheaper flights out of Arcata, up to half off of many itineraries in the western U.S. There are almost zero times I would suggest buying miles. This is one of the very, very few exceptions for which I’d even consider it, and even then, weigh the decision carefully. Still, the ability to fly round-trip out of Arcata for only $270 could be entirely worth it.

Questions or worries about this method? Hit me up anytime through my Contact Me page.

Avianca aircraft image courtesy of JTOcchialini via Flickr under CC BY SA 2.0 license

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.

Wandering through Old Town Sacramento

Having made numerous drives to the foothills of the Sierras to visit family, I’ve passed through Sacramento many times. However, I’ve never actually stopped and truly visited our state capital. My last pass through Sacramento involved arriving on a bus from Reno and catching a train to San Francisco after United canceled my flight. Not a very fun experience.

old town sacramento

It was definitely a lot more fun getting to see the historic section of Sacramento a few weekends ago with our older two kids. We spent some time wandering the streets during our first afternoon in the area, followed by a second visit the next day to see the California Railroad Museum and walk the area some more.

General info on Old Town Sacramento

Old town Sacramento is sandwiched between Interstate 5 and the Sacramento River. I wondered what impact the freeway would have on our experience, but it honestly wasn’t too bad. It is elevated and shielded well enough.

The main section of Old Town Sacramento is  roughly 4 blocks by 2 blocks. You can lazily walk the whole circuit in 20 minutes. There are plenty of neat old buildings and shops to browse, like in any historic downtown.

Parking is fairly easy, but you will have to pay. We spent $4.50 the first day at a metered spot in one of the lots on the south end of Old Town Sacramento. The second day I footed the full $10 at the garage that sits underneath the freeway, which is enough for as long as you’d like to visit. Parking is one of those things I hate paying for and try to avoid. But sometimes it’s not possible.

Walking the Tower Bridge

After wandering around for maybe fifteen minutes, I decided to take the kids to the bridge first before hitting some shops on our way back. The Tower Bridge across the Sacramento River is at the south end of old town, and it affords some pretty cool views of the area.

The bridge is over 80 years old and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a vertical-lift bridge, and I believe it is still operational.

From the bridge we got great views of Old town. Everything right up on the river is significantly elevated due to the flooding sometimes experienced by the Sacramento River. If you want a fascinating read, check out this article on the California Megaflood, a disaster that no one every talks about.

There is actually a hotel right in the middle of Old Town Sacramento: the Delta King, located in the historic riverboat bearing the same name (which you can see in the photo above). If you have the money to shell out, consider booking a stateroom as part of your visit. Not sure you could get any cooler than that!

After a jaunt across the bridge and back, it was time to hit up a few of the shops.

First up: candy, of course

With these two kids addicted to sweets, it makes perfect sense that the first shop we visited was Candy Heaven. I made a point of telling the kids that we were “window shopping”, if that is possible with candy.

I’m not sure if it is typical for Candy Heaven, but they offered each of us two free samples from any of the bins with a certain color tag. To the kids chagrin, these were generally the smaller of the candies. I had to remind them that the store was giving them to us. For free. After probably 15 minutes of scouring every corner of the store and deliberating, they finally settled for a couple pieces of assorted hard candy.

Later, we ended up getting a couple caramels as a snack in a different store. This was after a visit to a toy store as well, that had a neat old arcade and some trains clattering above your head in different areas.

Food Old Town Sacramento

We didn’t eat in old town our first evening, although there were a good number of places to choose from. Our second day we hit up a pizza place called Slice of Old Sacramento. As far as pizza goes, it was good. Price was fair. Pizza is one of the few things that I’ll judge a bit harshly, so I’m sure most would enjoy it. We passed up another place called Annabelle’s Pizza and Pasta based on its poor reviews.

I made good on a promise to get the kids ice cream on our second day. There is a great little place that is part of Candy Land (not Candy Heaven) on complete other side of Old Town Sacramento. the kids promptly shared their ice cream with each other. No germaphobes in this house.

There are a number of other cafés, bars, and ice cream places to choose from, including a Mexican place and a Chinese establishment. So you really have your pick.

California Railroad Museum

The California Railroad Museum is located on the northern end of Old Town Sacramento in a large brick building. Part of it is actually an old roundhouse, which is extra cool. There are several locomotives and railcars on the first floor, a good number of which you can explore.

The museum is part of the State Parks, and admission is $12 for adults and half that for kids 6 to 17. Children under 5 are free. I’ll cover our experience at the railroad museum in its own post.

Conclusion

The state capital of California is definitely worth visiting for a couple hours. Make it a solid half day or more if you visit the California Railroad Museum. You could easily combine some time in Old Town Sacramento with a morning at the Sacramento Zoo, or maybe touring the state capital, if your kids are up for an completely full day of seeing the sights.

Santa Rosa Airport Expands to Meet Crushing Demand

Unlike our local Arcata-Eureka Airport, passenger demand at Charles M. Schulz Airport has seen an huge increase over the past several years. Which has been met by a noticeable increase in both flights and airlines serving the small airport.

What hasn’t changed much is the size of the airport. And it needs to. Badly.

Expansion plans have to be altered

Currently, Santa Rosa/Sonoma County Airport is way too small for the number of passenger passing through on a daily basis. Contrary to the loss of service that has been experienced by many airports, Sonoma County has seen strong and steady growth. Numbers jumped this year as more airlines added service after the airport’s $55 million runway expansion project was completed. The airport is poised to see at least a 20% jump in passenger numbers in 2017.

This unprecedented increase has prompted changes to the plans that were initially proposed for the STS expansion. The plans had to be redrawn to deal with both the influx of new service and more passengers. A temporary tent structure will accommodate the crush of passengers until the terminal expansion is completed. Financing for the new expansion project was approved by the County supervisors in September.

STS is a great option for Humboldt travelers

Santa Rosa isn’t all that far away in the scheme of things. Given that the Willits bypass is now in place, you can typically make it nonstop from the Eel Valley to Sonoma County Airport in about 3.5 hours. Sure, it’s a lot longer than the 45 minute trek to ACV. But there are definitely benefits.

First, fares are *much* cheaper. If you’re a family of 4 looking to travel to D.C., you could save upwards of $300 per ticket versus flying out of ACV. Sure, you might save even more flying out of SFO, but you’d be adding another 90 minutes to your drive and more in parking fees. Not to mention generally more in hotel if you’re planning to stay the night.

Second, you have options. Charles M. Shulz Airport is served by Alaska, American, Sun Country, and United. It used to be served by Allegiant on a couple routes. Now that United flies the shortest flight in the U.S. to SFO, a huge United hub, Santa Rosa Airport really is a gateway to the world. You can connect to many destinations across the country and across the globe with only one stop.

Conclusion

I’ll definitely admit that I didn’t like my last experience flying out of STS, and things may be painful in the interim as the airport goes through it’s planned expansion. But looking ahead, I’d say that Sonoma County is an great option for people flying out of northern California.

Au Revoir, Pen Air: Humboldt is Again Stuck with ONE Airline

In a depressing move, PenAir notified our local Arcata-Eureka Airport that they will no longer be flying the ACV-PDX route. And they are dropping it fast. The last flight will be this coming Monday.

This leave us with just United Airlines as our only commercial option (yet again). Getting out from behind the redwood curtain just got a bit harder.

PenAir’s reason for leaving

It seems to be impossible for our area to keep a reasonable amount of commercial air service. My first guess when hearing the news was that the route wasn’t particularly profitable due to the rural nature of our area. The single flight I took on PenAir to Portland didn’t have that high of a load factor (SEE: The Pacific Northwest Stopover “Trick”). However, the United flights I’ve been on are almost always very full (and very expensive).

Turns out that the economics of the route had nothing to do with PenAir’s decision to axe it. The program director for the Humboldt County Aviation Division called the route “very successful”. So what is the problem?

Airlines need pilots

PenAir, like other regional airlines, is suffering from a pilot shortage. Horizon Air (another regional airline that flies under Alaska’s wing) had to cut some flights due to their pilot shortage in June. Pilots are retiring by the hundreds per week, and we can’t seem to fill the ranks with new talent fast enough.

PenAir actually cut all non-essential air service routes in the lower 48 states. This means you can still fly to Portland from Crescent City (an EAS airport) on PenAir, although for most of Humboldt County this is roughly a 2 hour drive north. Hardly ideal. Might as well drive to SFO.

Conclusion

This is sad news for Humboldt. I really liked the new little airline we acquired last year, and had hoped to fly them again. I’ll continue to hold out hope that we will pick up a new option. Three flights per day on United is hardly much of an option (plus they break guitars).

I want to add that if you’re young and considering a career, consider becoming a pilot. The investment isn’t all that much different than a moderately expensive university, but the demand for your skills will not be going away anytime soon. The world will need 637,000 new pilots by 2036 to fill the projected increase in air travel. North America will need 117,000 of those. Airline pilots make good wages, so the multi-year investment should be entirely worth it.

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