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.
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.
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.
Want to explore Norway this summer? Wideroe, the regional airline affiliated with SAS, is offering up an “all you can fly” package allowing unlimited* flights in their reasonably extensive network (more than 40 destinations) for a reasonable price.
They’ve split the country into three regions, with different pricing if you want to remain in one region ($485), two regions ($590) or the whole country ($690) over a two week window. Adding an additional week is $300 for any of the packages. Travel on the deal is permitted between 19 June – 27 August 2013; you schedule the first flight and the two week window begins then. The package even includes inbound segments to Norway from Aberdeen, Newcastle, Copenhagen and Gothenburg.
I’m quite tempted by the deal, naturally, though there are a couple bits holding me back. For starters, I’d actually want to spend some time at many of the destinations and even with three weeks to fly around that doesn’t leave much time to do both. And then there’s the part where actually being in Norway is quite expensive.
As for the * above, there is one limit on the flights: you can only book any one sector twice (i.e. a round-trip from the hub to a point and back). Some of the milk run routings in the center and north of the country could still yield entertaining routings and it isn’t like flying back and forth between two cities for several weeks would be particularly fun. I also have no idea if the flights credit to EuroBonus (and even if they do only some of the routes would be eligible). In this case it isn’t really about the points.
With the news out yesterday that JetBlue is working to fit some of their A321 planes with private “mini-suites” in business class I’ve started pondering just how that would work in the cabin layout. Given that they’ve historically tried to only add benefits at the top rather than remove from the bottom when they make changes (sometimes more effectively than others) it seems to reason that they’ll try to keep their industry-leading economy class pitch even while adding in the premium offerings. Can it fit??
Given that American Airlines plans to add 5 rows of single-seat F seats in the forward cabin of their A321s it shouldn’t be too hard for JetBlue to offer up a similar number of rows with a rather comfortable product. And, conveniently enough, 5 is the number of rows necessary to get the 12 “regular” business class seats and 4 mini-suites that the FAA filing calls for in that cabin.
For economy the spec’s call for 143 seats. That’s one seat short of 24 full rows of 3-3 seating. In the space to the rear of the 2nd door (2L/R) US Airways currently has 26 rows with 32″ pitch. Remove two rows from that layout and you get a full cabin of 34″ seats without too much trouble.
Of course, this layout also would mean no more Even More Legroom seats. With the addition of the premium cabin offerings that isn’t impossible but I’d be a bit surprised if that were the path chosen. It is a solid incremental revenue offering versus a full premium fare up-charge and the competition on those transcon routes all have something comparable. It is also not clear just how much galley space JetBlue will require given their current catering setup. If you move the lavatory at 3L to the back of the plane there is a bit more room to play with in the cabin. Another option is that they will revert to 32″ pitch for most seats. This matches the default in their E190 cabins and it is still quite reasonable for passengers, though not nearly as generous as the 34″ on the A320s (yes, the 2″ is noticeable). Putting 13 rows in the rear-most cabin lets the forward section of economy become a bit more spacious, up in the 35-36″ range by my math. If they cannot get the EML up to 36″ at a minimum I’d say it isn’t worth doing. But there’s also probably a reason I don’t work for an airline.
Odds are that none of these maps are accurate and that JetBlue will come up with something different for the planes. But I had a bit of fun speculating on the topic. Plus, I wasn’t all that far off when guessing about the UA 787 config a while back.
In a deal flush with excess capital letters, the new PEOPLExpress has confirmed the previously reported acquisition of XTRA Airways. XTRA is a Boise-based airline which is already certified by the FAA to operate Boeing 737 aircraft. PEOPLExpress has been struggling for the past 16+ months to receive FAA certification to operate in the United States. This acquisition will allow them to use the XTRA license to operate the flights under their brand name. Both brands will remain in operation, with XTRA continuing to serve the charter services market and PEOPLExpress focused on commercial operations.
PEOPLExpress is looking to launch as a new low-cost carrier based in Newport News, Virginia. Since their initial flurry of news last February the company has been reasonably quiet. Their hopes of building a new operation from the ground up was apparently waylaid by lack of FAA licensing, among other things. After spending the better part of a year trying to make that happen on their own the company switched up the approach, choosing to acquire another airlines which already has the necessary licensing in place. That’s faster, to be certain, though it also comes with some costs. On the plus side, acquiring XTRA means that the company has an existing charter business they can continue to operate as they work to build up the scheduled service operation.
Oh, and they’ve also indicated on their homepage that they expect to launch a new website soon. Because, as we all know, that’s key to a successful airline launch.
Man do I hate being right on this one. I’ve been saying for nearly a year now that the three major global alliances are losing their cachet in various ways, mostly do to the big three Middle-Eastern carriers shaking things up in the market. This time around, however, it isn’t one of those carriers making a splash; it is Delta.
Starting on 1 September 2013 flights on many Delta partners will no longer earn full credit towards Medallion (elite) status in the SkyMiles program. The partners are being split in to four tiers, with the differences between the tiers basically the bonus earning as an Medallion member, bonus earning for premium cabins and whether the miles flown will count towards Medallion status. Quite frankly, it is ridiculously complicated, way more than it should be for any program.
Most surprising in the changes is that flights on Korean Airlines – also a member of SkyTeam – will no longer earn any credit towards elite status. This is on top of the changes which went into effect in March where many fares suddenly earned reduced Medallion credit. It is also, to the best of my knowledge, the only bilateral alliance partnership where no credit can be earnt towards elite status. That’s pretty crappy. To be fair, some KE flights carry a DL code and booking under the DL code can earn MQMs, but that is a very limited subset.
Last October, in discussing the Middle Eastern carriers and alliances I wrote this:
The real value for the airlines likely lies in the anti-trust immune operations. These tend to follow alliance lines but they aren’t exclusively so. And just being part of an alliance doesn’t guarantee participation. In other words, the real money comes not from the alliance but from having the right partners and government approvals.
Delta is putting this to work in a big way. Their joint venture partners (plus Alaska Airlines) are where the best earning happens. Other partners earn at lower rates. Delta isn’t the first to take such an approach. United changed the earning rates on premium cabin fares earlier this year, with non-JV partners earning no bonus while JV partner flights can net significantly more points. Similarly, United doesn’t offer elite bonus mileage earning on non-JV partners.
UPDATE (18:49 EDT 5 June 2013): It turns out that Delta and Korean do have an ATI in place for their trans-Pacific operations and they have for more than a decade now. Based on that this change makes less sense, but such is life.
The global alliances promise benefits like interline agreements for ticketing and bags, reciprocity for elite status benefits and some joint marketing efforts. But that’s all. They do not promise seamless award redemption or earning rules and they never have. Yes, they are good for customers but only when it comes to actual travel, not necessarily where the loyalty programs get involved. And it has always been that way. Delta is stretching the boundaries here, but it is nothing all that new.
This change is bad news for members of the SkyMiles program, to be certain. It also moves the line in terms of what competitors can change while remaining “better” than the other options. But Delta is not the first to pursue this approach to the programs and they won’t be the last. Ultimately it comes to this: If you want your business to be rewarded by a partner then you need to do business with them in a way which lets them also benefit. The more they benefit, the better they will reward you.
The good folks at RouteHappy seem to have been quite busy lately trying to make it easier for passengers to find the best flight option. That’s not necessarily the cheapest, despite what many customers think and it is an uphill battle to convince them otherwise but the good fight is being fought. The latest salvo from RouteHappy is a couple of updates to their search results interface, introducing two new features which make comparison shopping quite a bit easier.
We have side-by-side comparison for nearly every type of product out there, but not for air travel. Well, we used to not have it for air travel. Do a flight search on the RouteHappy site and choose up to four flights for comparison (tick the box at the top right of the search results first to be able to start the compare process); the results look something like this:
Not only are the prices and happiness score readily visible but now comparing the various amenities for the trip is an easy scan, as you scroll down the page:
Hover your mouse over any of the icons and you get more details as to why the flight is rated that way:
Happy & Cheap
Earlier today I found myself in the midst of a conversation on Twitter with John (works for RouteHappy) and Mary (brilliant in the world of in-flight passenger comfort) and we got to discussing how all too often passengers won’t pay even a trivial sum for significantly increased comfort during a trip. In that specific case the example was regular economy versus a very reasonable up-fare to a proper premium economy product. RouteHappy doesn’t tackle that problem quite yet, but they do have a new filter screen which lets you go for not just price but a combination of price and comfort. Here’s a random search I did, sorted by price, and the first few results returned:
Not a lot of happiness there though the round-trip fares are reasonable for the market. Clicking on the “Happy & cheap” filter option, however, changes things up a bit. Rather than 64 options to sift through there are only two:
It turns out that for less than $20 difference in price the happiness factor can be significantly increased (not to mention that JetBlue offers 1 free checked bag, making that total trip cost actually cheaper than AA if you’re paying for bags). Also, the JetBlue flights are non-stop (that adds to the happiness score) and offer more legroom.
I’m still not entirely convinced that many passengers will pay the little bit extra it can sometimes cost to have a significantly better travel experience, but at least now they don’t have the excuse of not knowing that the option was available. RouteHappy is making sure that everyone can know their choices.
Best Western has become the first US hotel chain to plant their flag in Myanmar. The company is planning to take over management of the Green Hill Hotel in Yangon, the largest city and hub of nearly all commerce and tourism activity. The property has 189 rooms and is located outside of the old city portion of town, though it is reasonably close to the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the city’s top tourist sights. The core of the city is located further south, towards the river and the ferry terminal.
The Green Hill Hotel, soon to be managed by Best Western, is outside of the city center
Best Western sees the deal as an opportunity to increase the value of the hotel in many ways. Glenn de Souza, VP of International Operations for Asia and the Middle East sees quite a bit of potential:
We are confident that Best Western International’s proven track record in the Asian hotel market, along with our highly skilled management and staff, will enable the Green Hill Hotel to not only increase occupancy and average rates, but also broaden its geographical guest mix.
The hotel scene in Yangon (and all of Myanmar, really) is quite a mixed bag. There are very few high quality properties or even what would be considered 3-star hotels in the rest of the world. Those which do exist are often priced at the very high end of what it reasonable for the quality of the product offered. The other options are generally less expensive (though not always cheap) but the offerings are less than spectacular, even at the lower price point. Combined with the significant recent increase in tourism and getting a decent room at a fair price in Yangon is quite a challenge. It seems that Best Western hopes this move will allow them increase the prices. That’s great for the hotel operators but not necessarily so for visitors. Then again, if the quality of the rooms increases as well then maybe not so bad.
Plus, I suppose this means an opportunity to earn and redeem points eventually.