Americans love to talk about the weather as evidenced by the success of The Weather Channel and a new rival that DirectTV is starting up. I’ve lately been struck by how relative weather is to what you’re accustomed to.
I lived more than 35 years in Washington, DC, where winters are so mild, the federal government and schools close down when three inches of snow hits the ground. Bread and milk disappear from store shelves. The last 10 years I’ve soldiered through Minnesota winters, where the morning TV weather reporters make happy talk when the temperature will be above zero in January. A foot of snow doesn’t close schools or government.
But I also spend a lot of time in Los Angeles where locals don down ski vests when the thermometer hits 60 degrees and worry about driving on those rare occasions when it rains.
Not only does travel deliver new experiences in sights, sounds, smells, cuisine, art, language and a dozen of other things, the outlook on something as basic as the weather varies, too, and it’s great fun to see how one man’s spring-like weather is another’s bitter cold.
But I’d still rather be in SoCal in January.
Four of this country’s biggest airlines—American, Delta, United, and US Airways—are digging in their heels about the entry of the low-coast carrier called Norwegian that’s begun offering deeply discounted fares between the US and Europe.
This is going to get messy.
You might think an airline called Norwegian flies out of Norway, and it does. But it wants to hire lower-cost pilots out of Asia so it established a subsidiary in Ireland that is part of the European Union, which Norway is not. The EU has an Open Skies agreement with the US that allows airlines to fly between treaty countries at will
US airlines, along with the US-based pilots’ union, are opposing Norwegian’s application in Ireland to obtain a permanent EU license. Meanwhile, the airline is already flying between Europe and New York and Ft. Lauderdale. Service to LA, San Francisco/Oakland, and Miami is to follow soon with fares at less than $600 round trip. That includes all taxes and fees.
And with US carriers charging hundreds of dollars more, well, you get the picture. Are Asian pilots less qualified than European or US pilots? No. But this is a radical move, and it will be interesting to see who wins this one.
I remember when frequent flyer programs were invented. And while I embraced them immediately, lots of travelers ignored them, likening them to a fad like CB radio or bell-bottom trousers. Programs were simple then—you flew, you got miles. Now airlines micromanage and study them with the intensity of a jeweler.
When the programs started, there were no elite levels. All flyers were created equally. Those days are long gone. And even basic rules are constantly shape shifting.
Take Delta. Beginning March first, even Delta’s most elite flyers won’t get automatic upgrades even if space is available on trans-continental flights between JFK and LA, San Francisco, and Seattle. Even a Diamond Medallion flyer (that’s someone who flies Delta at least 125,000 miles a year) will have to use miles or an upgrade certificate to enjoy those trans-con, lie-flat seats.
But if you’re flying Delta to Hawaii from the West Coast, medallion upgrades are offered. Maybe that’s because United does the same. However, if you board a Delta flight from the East or Midwest and it stops in, say, Los Angeles before continuing to Hawaii, you’re not eligible for an upgrade.
Some days it takes a student of mileage programs to puzzle it all out.
I wanted to us this “Travel Minute” to remind you that if you’re thinking about a flight this year and you have United Airlines miles to burn, you should book before February first. That’s the day United ups the number of miles you’ll need for some award tickets.
There’s no change in the 30,000 miles you need to get a coach ticket in the 48 states—that excludes Hawaii and Alaska. But if you want a round-trip, business class ticket for travel in the US, it’ll take you 50,000 miles today, 57,500 next month.
The big jump is the cost of a first class ticket. That’s 67,500 miles now, 80,000 after February first. And if you’re shopping for first class space on one of United’s alliance partners, what costs you 80,000 miles through the end of January will cost you 42% more—110,000 miles after that. United, by the way, blames the big increase in miles you’ll need for a first class ticket on its Star Alliance partners on the demands of those airlines.
It’s simple: If you know you’ll want a United ticket or a first class ticket on one of its partners sometime in 2014, book now.
Cast a gimlet eye over those gifts you received during the December holidays. See anything you’re not crazy about? An ugly sweater or tie? That inspirational calendar? Here’s how to turn it into 1,000 frequent flyer miles.
This is a clever marketing ploy to get us to pay attention to a website I’ve mentioned before on the air. It’s called Rocketmiles.com, and it’s a site that rewards you with thousands of miles if you book a hotel through Rocketmiles. If you collect frequent flyer miles in programs by American, United, Alaska, and other airlines, you can easily pick up an extra two or three thousand miles by booking a hotel this way.
And until the end of this month, if you send a non-perishable gift you didn’t like to Rocketmiles, they’ll give you 1,000 extra miles with your first hotel booking. Pretty creative, I think.
How are prices? I checked out a stay at the Santa Monica Loews for this coming weekend. Rocketmiles quoted me $318 a night and offered 4,000 miles on American. I went to the hotel’s site and found the same price, so why not book through Rocketmiles and pocket the miles?