What’s going on here?
Once not long ago, America’s airlines facing bankruptcy and needed cash badly. Credit card partners helped them out by purchasing–in advance of when they needed them–tens of millions of frequent flyer miles that the credit card companies dole out to customers who use their cards.
But the airlines are profitable, so they’re cutting back on the perks they’ll offer airport lounge members. Delta decided a few weeks ago it would charge even passengers who held club memberships to bring in guests. Perhaps to quell the outrage, Delta’s clubs have begun upgrading their offerings—shrimp cocktails on the house after five along with pasta and soups. Sandwiches at lunch. Odwala juices in the afternoon.
In retaliation, American Express is opening its own clubs called Centurion Lounge (pictured). Platinum and black cardholders get in free, other Amex cardholders pay $50 per visit. They’re more lavish than your average airline club. Not only is the food selection more elegant, all drinks are on the house.
Vegas and Dallas clubs are open, San Francisco and LaGuardia are next.
Two luxury travel web sites are drumming up some publicity with a search for a discerning traveler willing to spend a year traveling to the world’s most luxurious destinations and filing brief resorts on how they’re doing.
VeryFirstTo is a web site that strives to tell subscribers—it’s free, by the way—when new, high-end stuff comes on market. A new fragrance, watch, tie, or hotel—VeryFirstTo alerts you so you can keep up with the keeper uppers. LTI stands for Luxury Travel Intelligence, a site that promises to “empower the affluent traveler.”
Both sites want a person of refinement who appreciates the best in life and can give it a sniff. You’ll travel the world for a year with a budget of a cool million dollars. You’ll check out the new Aman hotel in Venice, eyeball the crowd at the newly expanded Hakkasan nightclub at the MGM Grand in Vegas, and spend some time at Richard Branson’s private island home and resort on Necker Island (pictured) in the Caribbean to see if, as the press release says, the food “has improved.”
The downside: You don’t get paid. Here’s where to find more details.
Delta disappointed some of its frequent flyers earlier this month when it announced that beginning in 2015, the number of miles you earn will be based on the cost of your ticket, not how many miles you actually fly. The more your ticket costs, the more miles you get. Trust Spirit Airlines to do just the opposite.
Spirit Airlines is America’s discount carrier with attitude. It offers low base fares but a bushel full of extra charges for just about everything but emergency oxygen and use of a plane’s lavatory. And it’s proud of that.
It’s also very promotion minded, announcing “weiner fares” when former Congressman Anthony Weiner was revealed to have sent photos of his private parts to women. There was that MILF sale, which stood for “Many Islands, Low Fares.” Those are just two examples.
Spirit saw a chance with Delta’s announcement. So now, if your ticket costs less than $36 one way, Spirit will give you 1,000 bonus miles. Between $36 and $65 gets you an extra 500 miles. And between $66 and $99, you get 250 bonus miles.
For Spirit, this has little to do with making money and everything to do with reinforcing its brand as the low-cost alternative.
Quite clever, actually.
There are many countries where, even if you’re not on a volunteer vacation per se, helping out by reading stories or playing games with kids in orphanages is a perfectly wonderful idea. But in Cambodia, especially around popular tourist areas such as Siam Reap and the capital of Phnom Penh, unscrupulous adults recruit kids–sometimes yanking them out of school–to serve as objects of pity in sub-standard orphanages.
The motive is to pull on your heartstrings and separate you from some of your cash. Little of which benefits the kids.
A number of articles on the subject written by employees of non-profit organizations in Cambodia brought this to my attention recently. So I had John Lowrie on my weekend show recently. He works with a number of development organizations there—has for 13 years. He’s very familiar with the orphanage scam and strongly suggests you check with World Vision or Friends International to see if the orphanage you’re invited to visit is legitimate.
Do good, but do right.
Among the numerous fees that airlines have come up with, that baggage fee seems to irritate travelers the most. Maybe because we’re so accustomed to not having to pay for a checked bag. Here’s how to avoid paying to check a bag.
The standard rate for a checked bag these days is $25 for the first one—unless you’re flying Spirit. Then it’s $21 if you check your bag on line before your flight, $30 if you do it at the airport. Spirit, of course, is famous for charging for carry-on bags, too: on line, $36; at airport, $50; at the gate, $100.
Here’s your strategy. If it makes sense, fly JetBlue. Your first bag is free. Southwest allows two bags at no charge. Achieve elite level on a major airline, and your first bag is free. Send your bulky but lightweight items ahead via the post office or via ground shipping with FedEx or UPS.
Almost every airline-affiliated credit card gives you a free bag if you charge your ticket on their card. That’s why I carry credit cards for Delta, United, American, and US Airways. I travel enough that the annual fees are reasonable compared to baggage charges.
Plus, I get double miles for every dollar I spend on airfares and preferential boarding.
Last option: Pack wisely and just take a carry-on bag.