The news out yesterday about United Airlines adding a dollar spend requirement to their elite status qualification process had me note that it was likely my last year with 1K elite status. That raised some questions from readers based on how much I fly about how much I spend to get the status I’m at. The numbers actually came in a bit higher than I expected but I was definitely correct that I don’t pay enough to rate 1K. Not even Platinum, actually, and that’s at 150K PQMs booked this year (and 100K already flown).
I don’t often review my travel history in detail like this so it was an interesting exercise for me. I had seven "trips" which involved earning points in some form or another. Some trips involved more than one ticket or fare but I look at them as blocks of travel like that. Three of the trips were specific events where I wanted or needed to be at a particular place at a particular time. The cost of those trips is, not surprisingly, higher than for the other flights which were quite a bit more discretionary. The truly discretionary trips average out to ~4.5cpPQM while the less discretionary (they all are really discretionary, quite frankly) trips cost me ~7.5cpPQM. Yes, there are some mistake fares and sales in there, fares which I took advantage of in volume. I’m not ashamed of that at all.
Looking at future booked travel the numbers actually get cheaper, mostly because the future bookings right now are all very discretionary and purchased mostly because they were cheap.
Based on the numbers above I would not even qualify as a Premier Platinum under the PQD scheme. Even more interesting, however, is that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even qualify as a Premier Gold. Several of the flights I took, while on partners, were not on 016 ticket stock. Based on that aspect I would not receive credit for them under the new program. Adding up already taken travel AND future travel my 016 spend looks to be $5,792. Back out the taxes on those tickets and I’m actually not sure I’d make the $5,000 cut.
There are a number of people talking about just increasing their travel budget, earning the miles and flying even more to hit 1K with the new spend threshold. I suppose I could do that, too. I can probably spend a few grand more on trips and I definitely love the travel experience. But I don’t only every fly on United and I don’t want to only ever fly on United. I don’t want to only ever buy my flights through United. And I don’t really know that the benefits are worth it to my personal budget to do so.
I get why the airlines are going down this path and I actually don’t disagree with the reasoning. It sucks for me personally but such is life when playing in the margins.
If you want to see the full set of numbers I put it in a shared doc here.
A visit to Tokyo is, to me, incomplete without a stop at The Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, better known as Tsukiji Market. Early mornings in the market are packed with people (employees, shoppers and tourists alike) and the energy and action is hard to match. Or you could be like me and accidentally end up in the market on a day it is closed. Whoopsie.
My only morning in Tokyo on my most recent visit was a Wednesday and the market is closed on Wednesdays in the summer. It was not at all what I had planned for. The stalls were all empty. The doors to the shops just outside the market were all closed. And it was awesome.
The emptiness was eerie in many ways. The stalls were, for the most part, ready to go except for their daily supply of fish. But other supplies were out and prepped for the employees. It had an apocalyptic feel in some ways, though it really wasn’t a bad thing.
Plus, I got to see some awesome art on the doors of a couple of the shops.
Don’t get me wrong – I would have rather that the market was open during my time there. But the closed version was pretty cool, too. Definitely an experience that most people don’t get to have.
My biggest complaint is that the breakfast sushi is much better on market days, though at least I wasn’t waiting in line to get mine.
Certainly not what I planned for, but also not the worst market visit I’ve ever had. Such is the fun which comes when traveling without too much planning.
More photos from the visit on Facebook or Google+.
Money talks. The airlines have been clear about that for some time now, each tweaking their programs a bit to make it more and more obvious. Today’s major move comes from United Airlines which is matching Delta‘s plan to track spending as a part of qualification for elite status in 2014 (towards 2015 status). Much like Delta the rule of thumb will be 10 cents per PQM; you’ll have to spend $10,000 to be a 1K going forward.
The following charges count towards the spending requirement:
- Base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges
- Flights flown by United, United Express, or Copa Airlines
- Flights operated by a Star Alliance or a MileagePlus partner airline and issued on a United ticket (ticket number starting with 016)
- Economy Plus purchases
Similar to Delta there will be an exemption for $25,000 annual spend on a co-branded credit card. Unlike Delta, however, United will not allow the CC spend to get you in to 1K (DL does for Diamond). Also similar to Delta, the spend requirement only applies for members with a mailing address in the 50 United States.
I get why they’re doing this. It sucks for me personally and 2014 will likely be my last year as a 1K. But I get it. And for the few people holding out hope that Delta would reverse course, this pretty much seals the deal on that one.
Stays at Marriott hotels can now (and again) earn miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage program. The two programs were partners in the past took a bit of time off and now are together again. For the occasional Marriott guest this means one or two points per dollar spent at the various Marriott brands. And for folks with larger balances in the Marriott Rewards program those points can now be moved en masse out to AAdvantage.
Here’s the breakdown on the two options:
You’ll earn two AAdvantage miles per $1USD spent on all qualifying transactions at these participating brands:
- JW Marriott®
- Autograph Collection® Hotels
- Renaissance® Hotels
- Marriott® Hotels
- Marriott Vacation Club®
You’ll earn two AAdvantage miles per $1USD spent on room rate only at these participating brands:
- The Ritz-Carlton®
- Gaylord Hotels®
You’ll earn one AAdvantage mile per $1USD spent on room rate only at these participating brands:
- AC Hotels
- Courtyard by Marriott®
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott®
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott®
- Residence Inn by Marriott®
- TownePlace Suites by Marriott®
- Marriott Executive Apartments®
You can convert Marriott Rewards points to AAdvantage miles:
- 10,000 points = 2,000 miles
- 20,000 points = 5,000 miles
- 30,000 points = 10,000 miles
- 70,000 points = 25,000 miles
- 140,000 points = 50,000 miles
American is also now a participant in the Hotel + Air packages Marriott offers. A seven night stay at a Category 5 hotel should cost 150K points (4th night free, 25K/night) but with the package you can get 50K AA points AND the 7 nights for 200K Marriott points, only 60K more than the 140K it takes to transfer to the 50K AA points from the chart above. Yes, you need to have a whole lot of Marriott points to get to that bonus, but if you have them it can be a tremendous value. Note that if you plan to redeem at a Category 1 or 2 hotel this program is probably a bad value.
Finally, as part of the new partnership launch the two companies are offering 500 bonus AAdvantage miles for stays at any Marriott which are credited to an AA account from July 15 – August 15, 2013. Not sure why the wait to start, but it is there.
Always good to have more partners. Added bonus in this case is that the partnership is a pretty fair one.
The TrueBlue program has gone from one of the most strict in terms of points expiry to one of the most generous and their customers don’t have to do a thing to take advantage of the change. Rather than requiring earning activity via travel or the co-branded credit card once per year to remain active points simply do not expire now. At all.
From the email I received this morning announcing the change:
[M]embers have expressed concern that accounts must stay active for points to never expire. So, we did something about it.… Starting today, you can hold on to your TrueBlue points until you’re ready to redeem them. No activity requirements. No asterisks. No expiration dates. Just points, glorious points.
This is a significant change and one which should make many customers very happy. The lack of black-out dates and dollar-based redemption approach already make spending TrueBlue points quite easy, assuming you’ve accumulated them. Now the accumulation part gets a bit easier, even for just the occasional traveler.
That’s a win to me, though I do wonder if there will be any appreciable change in the numbers related to their AmEx CC holders.
As of 1 October 2013 Aeromexico is changing their award booking buckets to align with (most of) the rest of SkyTeam. Economy awards will book in to X and business class into O. This change has exposed the new business class bucket to one of the data sources I use for the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools which means I can now offer easier searching and alerts for Aeromexico award seats. Here is a sample search result screen:
From what I can see so far the X inventory for coach awards isn’t available via this source so those searches won’t show but I’ll keep an eye on it.
Give it a try and let me know if you run in to any troubles. And remember that this is only for travel after 1 October 2013.
Think you know how to get in to the seat with the best views for your flight? Odds are that Karim Nafatni has you beat. It turns out that having a great eye for photography, combined with being an airline pilot, works together very, very will for capturing incredible images.
Seriously, the HDR shots he has from in the cockpit are ridiculous. Here are a few:
Sunburst Over The Clouds by Karim Nafatni
The View From Up There by Karim Nafatni
Seriously impressive stuff.
And thanks to Jeff for turning me on to this.
There are many stories out over the past couple years describing how profitable and valuable a premium economy cabin is to airlines. Turkish Airlines gave it a go, adding Comfort Class to their 777-300ER planes, the aircraft they use on their longest flights where such an offering would likely be in the greatest demand. The net result for them: It didn’t work. Company executives have confirmed that they are going to be removing the Comfort Class product in the coming months; rumors of these cuts first surfaced last October.
The Comfort Class cabin was larger than comparable offerings by most competitors, featuring 63 seats across 9 rows. The reviews I’ve read were mixed, for the most part, with some complaining that it isn’t sufficiently close to business class to justify the premium charge. My only experience was quite pleasant, with a mostly empty cabin (thought that’s not good for the company, obviously) and only a modest surcharge for the upgrade (~$275 for IST-JFK).
The company blames the products failings on the limited deployment and inability to make a similar product work on their narrow-body planes. Indeed, they only have it on the 77W fleet so a very, very small portion of their aircraft. But it is hard to believe that they couldn’t come up with a hybrid option for the shorter flights. Why not just a blocked middle seat like EuroBiz on most other carriers? Or maybe that’s too much of a benefit given that it is what business class is selling for in many cases. But Turkish actually has bigger seats for biz on their smaller planes; they could make it work.
Instead, however, it appears they’re going to try to simply improve (and expand) both the coach and business class offerings to make up for it. From a personal perspective it is a shame; I think they priced their Comfort Class at the right point to be a great value for the customer. Then again, that’s probably why it failed as a product.
Just a couple weeks ago there was discussion bout how to beat the Qantas fuel surcharges on many awards, thanks to their new partner Emirates. It should come as no surprise, really, to learn that the two carriers have come to an agreement on resolving the split in their charges. Also, no real surprise that the agreement is not entirely in customers’ favor, though it also isn’t all bad, depending on how astute a customer you are.
Photo from the Qantas/Emirates flyover of Sydney Harbour courtesy of Qantas
Emirates and Qantas have agreed to match their YQ fuel surcharge fees in shared markets. For customers this means no more using the EK flight numbers to avoid the fees, even if redeeming Qantas points. The change will take effect with tickets issued from 1 July 2013. For Sydney to London the fee will increase from $150 to $460, quite a raise. That rate is still #300 lower than the current Qantas rate, however. And Qantas has agreed to drop their fees to match the now raised Emirates numbers; that’s the silver lining in this, at least as much as there is one.
Qantas will also be changing the calculations for their charges to account for the cabin of travel as part of the fee. Premium class travelers will now pay more than customers traveling in the back of the plane. In some cases (notably Oz-SE Asia and Oz-Africa) this change means an increase in the fee paid for premium cabin customers. Australian Business Traveller has a chart with the new numbers on their site.
For the uneducated this change might appear to be a good thing. After all, many QFF redemptions just got cheaper than what their customers thought they could get. For those in the know, however, this is just another loophole closing and fees going up. Bummer.
In all my prior visits to Tokyo I somehow managed to never visit the Akihabara neighborhood. I’m not entirely sure why; after all, I’m a fan of electronics and random markets, preferably with small, crowded alleys full of random stuff. And Akihabara has plenty of all that stuff, plus lots of other shops to explore. Fortunately, my most recent trip gave me the opportunity to right this wrong.
We didn’t stray too far from the train station in exploring the area. Part of that was trying to not get lost (I did have a flight to catch not too much later) but much of it was because we didn’t need to in order to explore pretty much all the neighborhood has to offer. Right next to the train station is the warren of tiny shops, creating a maze of diodes, transistors, switches and just about everything else electronics junkies could want. Think of it like a super-sized version of the back section of a Radio Shack. There is one of everything there, including a lot of things you probably didn’t even know you needed. It took a lot of self control but I managed to not buy anything as I toured.
After the market area we aimed for Super Potato, one of the more famous shops in the neighborhood.
Super Potato is packed floor-to-ceiling with classic gaming goods. It is a chain of stores but the Akihabara location is the most famous and, once you find it and ride the elevator up to find the shop, it is pretty easy to understand why. The store covers three floors, all crammed with vintage goods. We started at the top and worked our way down; floor number 5 was the arcade. The dozen or so machines in the room leave it too small be a top-notch arcade. Unless, of course, playing 80s and 90s-era games is your thing. Here it is all about the vintage, not modern games. For a couple of minutes we played Varth, a 1992 game I’d never seen before with a decidedly 8-bit feel.
The lower floors are where the shopping really happens, whether it be for games, consoles or merchandise. There was a stack of 30+ GameCubes tucked in one corner. The shelves were filled with cartridges for everything from the Nintendo Family Computer (known as the original NES in the USA) to GameBoy to Nintendo 64, with plenty of other systems and eras mixed in. They had consoles for sale, too. I think a working GameBoy was going for JPY 7900, around $80. It seems that just about anything game related which was ever sold in Japan is available on floors three and four of the shop. Thousands of titles stocked the shelves; each game looking for a new home.
After visiting Super Potato it was on to the Hirose Entertainment Yard, known by the acronym HEY. This was another multi-story affair but quite a different experience from Super Potato. The floors were much larger and there was virtually nothing retail about the place; it was all about the modern games and the people who play them. Many of the guides we read suggested that HEY was one of the sites where we could find locals who are expert gamers. We went searching for such, in addition to dropping more than a couple of our own JPY100 (~$1) coins into the machines.
It was roughly noon on a Wednesday; that’s probably not prime gaming hours, but we found a few guys playing at HEY. Watching them was impressive. They barely moved, intently focused on the screen with their eyes darting back and forth but their bodies perfectly still. Their fingers tapped away at the buttons and the joystick moved but barely any other motion. It was somewhat surreal. Compare that to our play, where body english was a big part of our efforts. Then again, these guys got a lot more play time for their Yen so maybe there is something to it.
And then, alas, it was time for me to head off to the airport. Like many of my trips this was a quick one and I didn’t have time to explore more. No maid café nor cat café visit this time around; maybe next time. Also on the list for next time is a visit to the animation museum in the neighborhood. I actually really want to see that, unlike the cafés.
Here are some of the resources I used in researching the visit: