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?
Some restaurants in Europe—especially in Italy–routinely charge a couple of euros for your table setting that includes silverware, plates, tablecloths, and glasses. And I’ve noticed a charge for bread creeping onto American menus. Is the custom creeping across the Atlantic?
In Italy, a charge of three or four dollars per person is called pane’ e coperto, or “bread and cover.” The occasional restaurant in England and France will do the same, but from my experience, Italy is the leader in this regard.
But at a restaurant in LA and another in Minneapolis recently, I noticed a charge for bread. Now, folks who don’t want bread might very well applaud this. After all, why should they subsidize the cost of your bread if they don’t want bread?
Interestingly, this is the same argument airlines use when defending baggage fees. If you don’t check any luggage, why should your ticket price be the same as someone who does? Why should you subsidize the cost of baggage handlers if you’re just using a carry-on bag?
I can argue both sides of the issue. But don’t be surprised if some restaurants begin copying the Italians.
Yesterday I described the car service that links to your credit card and smartphone to provide you with a sedan on short notice in 25 countries and 67 cities. It’s called Uber, and what you pay depends on how many cars are available at any moment.
That means a ride during non-prime time can cost just a bit more than a local taxi. But if demand is high, the price can be eight to ten times as much, which you’re told before you commit. Uber says the higher the price goes, the more likely more drivers will hit the streets.
Talk about supply and demand!
One customer wrote no line that he is black and he finds Uber a godsend because cabbies in NYC often refuse to pick him up even if he’s in a suit and tie. Others said even though their smartphone showed the driver about to arrive, sometimes a driver abandoned the call for inexplicable reasons.
And what works in Atlanta, with its not-so-efficient transportation system, might be less valuable in Manhattan with it subway and army of cabs.
But Uber and a rival service, Lyft—spelled L-Y-F-T, are worth a look.