My mileage run to Hawaii a couple weeks ago included 16 segments over five days and roughly 23,000 miles flown. It also included two nights on airplanes and a number of flights that had meal service. I showed some of the food from the longest segment – Newark to Honolulu – here but there were a few other United Airlines meals that offered up interesting dining options.
Three of my flights were during a traditional breakfast time. I had Phoenix to Houston, Dulles to Houston and San Francisco to Chicago and the choices on each were a bit different. I usually take the safe option at breakfast, opting for the cereal. I eat it dry which always seems to confuse the flight attendants but between that, the yogurt and the fruit I’m usually reasonably full for a few hours. On the Phoenix to Houston flight the cereal was served in a rather interesting way:
Tasted just fine and it was actually probably easier to eat this way, but I was still rather entertained with the service approach.
Meal number two, Dulles to Houston, was actually probably my favorite of the three. The offering was an egg sandwich. It was surprisingly similar to an Egg McMuffin. I’m not saying that it was delicious – airplane food rarely is – but it was definitely a different option from the usual I’ve had over the past few years.
The third meal is what I consider the traditional alternative to the cereal breakfast. I tend to avoid it but I figured I’d give it a try once just to make sure I still don’t really like it. Eggs, meat and potatoes seems like a great breakfast, I know, but the flavors just don’t work for me on this one. It was fine, I suppose, but not something I’ll likely be ordering again.
Two of the flights – Houston to Pittsburgh and Houston to Phoenix – were at lunch time. Apparently one of them was actually only at snack time, not lunch time, so the meal was the cold chicken breast salad plate, but an actual salad, not the pasta. The flight attendant made sure to ask everyone if they wanted the chicken or not so that it could be served vegetarian; that was a nice touch. I had the chicken and it was decent. Consistent with the other times I’ve had the same plate and reasonably good.
The other flight offered a hot lunch. I ended up with the "chicken parmesan roll" or something like that. It was, umm, interesting. It definitely had some flavors like chicken, tomato sauce and cheese. That said, I wouldn’t recommend ordering it if there is another option. Not particularly impressive.
These were all short-haul flights so I’m never expecting fine dining. And some of them didn’t completely suck. Sadly that seems to be the standard by which in-flight domestic dining is measured these days.
The wait is over. A couple months after carriers applied to provide service for four new slot pairs at Washington’s Reagan National Airport the DoT has announced the winners of the coveted operating permissions. And the winners are exactly what I predicted back when the applications were revealed:
JetBlue won their first choice of routes, adding service to their quickly growing operation in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Alaska Airlines won their first choice as well, with service to Portland, Oregon being approved. Austin, Texas had two different applications for service; both Southwest and JetBlue indicated that they wanted to add the destination. Southwest was awarded that authority. Virgin America won their only application, adding service to their hub in San Francisco. The route to SFO will be the only of the new operations with direct competition on it; United Airlines is also going to be operating on that route. Southwest will face competition on the proposed through-service aspect of their Austin service to San Diego from US Airways which will operate that route with a non-stop flight.
So no real surprises in the route authorities awarded. Probably for the best; the routes picked were the favorites because they made the most sense based on the economics of the markets. Still, every now and then I do wonder if the DoT has a sense of humor and would award something like the Colorado Springs application Frontier put out there.
I’m a huge fan of Istanbul and Turkey in general. I’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences there (even with attempted scammings twice) and between the architecture, food and people it is one of my favorite places to visit and one that I return to willingly, which is a big step for me. When a visit can be had on the cheap that’s an even bigger draw. And right now there are some great deals out there for travel from the USA to Istanbul.
The deals are for the shoulder season so look for travel in September or October for great weather and even better rates. Here’s what the fare calendars look like for October, departing a few cities in the USA:
New York City
In many cases the W fares on United Airlines aren’t too much more than these lowest fares (~$300 ex-EWR) and the upgrade inventory is plentiful. I’ve already confirmed my flat bed for a weekend in early October. It is going to be a lot of fun.
JetBlue has been experimenting for a bit now with the idea of bulk ticket purchases for a specific route. Back in February they offered up packs of flights between Long Beach and the Bay Area. Now they’re offering a similar deal for flights between Boston and any of the three Washington, DC area airports they serve.
The Boston-DC deal is only available in 10-packs and is priced at $699, plus $7 per departure for taxes. The $7 fee is payable when the individual flight is reserved. Like the California GoPacks the DC ones allow for booking up to 90 minutes prior to departure, last-seat availability and they are transferrable to any passenger. Travel dates on the pack are April 23 to June 27.
Unlike the California pack, the 10-pack deal in DC actually appears to be better than the currently available fares on almost all of the dates/routes I checked. There are a few flights available for less, but not many, even with a $62ish fare published between BOS-BWI. The fare is there but inventory is quite spotty. I was somewhat hesitant to recommend considering the California pack based on the pricing but the DC one looks to be quite competitive, especially with access to all three airports and about 16 daily flights in each direction.
More T&Cs available on the page over at jetblue.com.
The recent addition of perimeter exemption routes for Washington, DC‘s National Airport included the provision that the four largest carriers were entitle to slots, assuming they gave up a non-exempt slot. Three of those four routes were announced previously, with Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Los Angeles being chosen. Up until now, however, US Airways has remained silent on their plans. They already hold perimeter exemptions for service to Phoenix and Las Vegas and, as of June 8, 2012 service so San Diego, California.
The new service will start as an evening flight westbound and a redeye eastbound. In mid-July the route switched to a morning flight westbound and a noon departure eastbound, arriving at 8:30pm.
DCA-SAN lv 5:40p ar 8:03p
SAN-DCA lv 11:00p ar 7:00a
DCA-SAN lv 8:55a ar 11:18a
SAN-DCA lv 12:30p ar 8:23p
Neither of the timings seem particularly fantastic for business customers, particularly on the eastbound times, but I guess they have their reasons.
It will also be interesting to see how this announcement affects the pending applications from the other carriers trying to get the slots. Alaska Airlines had applied to operate the same route non-stop while both Frontier and Southwest are hoping to operate it as a one-stop service via Colorado Springs and Austin, respectively. This definitely gives the DoT some interesting things to think about.
Washington, DC‘s National Airport is one of the "lucky few" airports in the country where the government has limited destinations which can be served. The so-called "perimeter rule" keeps the long-haul flights out at Dulles for the most part, but there are a few exceptions to rule and those are coveted by the airlines. As part of the most recent FAA budget authorization bill Congress has added a few perimeter exceptions to the pool at DCA and now airlines are scrambling to grab those slots. The filing deadline was yesterday, and here’s what the proposals look like.
The slots are split into two pools, one for legacy carriers and one for new entrants. In the new entrants category six carriers – JetBlue, Virgin America, Southwest, Air Canada, Frontier and Alaska Airlines have applied.
Alaska Airlines is going big with their application, hoping to offer transcon service from both their Portland, OR hub as well as San Diego. Virgin America is also hoping for hub service from San Francisco. Southwest is aiming to provide service to Austin, TX, with onward connections to San Diego and JetBlue has applied to serve both Austin and San Juan. Air Canada is hoping for Vancouver service and Frontier is looking to serve Colorado Springs.
There is some interesting overlap with the routes being requested and it seems somewhat unlikely that the DoT is going to approve such applications so perhaps the final approval will look something like this:
For the legacy carriers the access to beyond perimeter slots comes with a slightly higher price, as they have to give up service to a destination inside the perimeter to get the new service. On the plus side, the route authorities are more or less guaranteed given that condition so the DoT has less work to do there. Of the eligible carriers, Delta, United Airlines and American Airlines all made their intentions known a couple weeks ago, with service to their Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Los Angeles hubs, respectively. Apparently US Airways has decided to not apply for an additional beyond perimeter slot. They already have service to Phoenix and Las Vegas but it is still somewhat surprising that they haven’t tried for more.
The new routes should be interesting to watch, especially with the potential for competition on the LAX and SFO routes.
I’m generally a big fan of Scott McCartney’s The Middle Seat column in the Wall Street Journal so I was excited to read his post today about "Getting the Most Out of Your Frequent Flier Miles." I was hoping for some great insight into award pricing algorithms or inventory patterns. Instead I got a primer on how to not get any value from points. Such a disappointment.
There are a number of take-aways from the post but the main conclusion is this:
With domestic coach tickets, you generally get not much more than one penny per mile in value from airlines – that’s a $250 ticket for 25,000 miles. If the ticket now costs $400, you likely will have to pay 40,000 or 50,000 miles.
Not only is it simply wrong, but it is also very misleading in terms of getting the most from your points. Other than the programs of JetBlue, Virgin America and Southwest, (and also one option from Delta or American Airlines) the redemption rates are not tied directly to the selling price of the ticket. If there are no discounted seats left it is less likely that award flights will be available at the lower rates, but that’s tied to the inventory, not to the fare price. As the prices go up at the low end it actually means that the "value" realized for redeeming points is arguably higher since the cash option will be more expensive.
McCartney also picks a few random routes and tries to read into overall domestic award inventory based on his searches for economy class seats on one carrier for each route. His approach fails miserable in many ways.
First off, it appears that the searches he performed were based only on using the website of the carrier where the miles are sitting and then by just putting in the end points. This resulted in finding only a handful of seats for Boston-Ft. Lauderdale on Delta, Orlando-Seattle on American or Washington, DC – Austin on US Airways. For the Delta results this approach overlooks the issues that their website suffers from for award bookings; it is very limited, especially when searching for connections. For American I see very different results than McCartney did, with plenty of award seats open at the "Saver" level.
Both of those are questionable, but the US Airways one is the most egregious bad advice of the three:
And if you’re in Washington, D.C., and have US Airways miles you’d like to use to go to Austin, Texas, get ready to pay a heavy price—besides the $25 processing fee that US Airways charges for a “free’’ ticket. For the 10 months in the rest of this year, there are only five days when US Airways offered a flight to Austin at its basic mileage price.
In addition to only searching on US Airways’s website, McCartney ignores the fact that Dividend Miles can be redeemed for flights operated by United Airlines. Checking the award calendar there it is clear that finding an award seat from DCA-AUS is actually a rather trivial task on most days for the rest of the year. Yes, you’ll have to call in to book it, but that’s a small penalty for saving 25,000 points.
Sorry, Scott, but you missed the boat BIG TIME on this one.
US Airways has announced their intentions for new service at Washington, DC‘s National Airport thanks to the 42 slot pairs they received from Delta Airlines in exchange for the slots at LaGuardia. The carrier will be adding service to 11 cities, 8 of which do not currently have flights to DCA. These are the first of two sets of routes which will be added by the carrier.
The routes in green – Little Rock, Birmingham, Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Tallahassee, Fayetteville, Jacksonville and Islip are all cities with no service to DCA currently. The cities in blue are additional frequencies from US and the red are new to US but with other competition on the route.
I’ve gotta say, comparing this map and the one Delta put together for their LaGuardia service, that this looks pretty pathetic. Maybe I’m completely ignorant in the world of route yields and these are all markets with huge amounts of pent up demand for service which will result in great revenue premiums on the routes. I’m betting more that they’ll be cool lines to fly once for the aerophile in me.
Oh, and US Airways has also indicated that they’re increasing from 175 current daily flights to 230+ as part of this swap, though the swap only included 42 slot pairs. It is not clear where the 20 missing slots are coming from.
Delta has scheduled a big event to announce their plans for the new slots at LaGuardia now that the deal with US Airways is finalized. They’re expected to announce, among other things, many of the details for the routes they plan to serve with the new slots. Funny thing is, the information is already loaded in the timetable. So if you don’t want to wait for the press release, here are some of the new frequencies to look forward to:
- LGA-DFW: 6x daily
- LGA-MIA: 4x daily
- LGA-BTV: 3x daily
- LGA-GSO: 3x daily
- LGA-ORF: 4x daily
- LGA-RIC: 5x daily
- LGA-BUF: 6x daily
- LGA-ROC: 4x daily
- LGA-SYR: 5x daily
- LGA-MHT: 2x daily
- LGA-SDF: 1x daily
- LGA-DAY: 2x daily
The first two are going after American Airlines hubs and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. The Miami service will be on MD88s (useful for keeping the AA folks comfy, I suppose) while the DFW service will be on E70/E75s which is probably right for the market size but it may be hard to shed the "regional" stigma, even if it isn’t really so bad with a first class cabin and in-flight internet on those planes (both works in progress, but both happening). In related news, perhaps my theory that jetBlue should use all their LGA and DCA slots to attack American at DFW is looking like even less of a good idea.
There are a few other destinations also coming, including Wilmington,
DENC (Damn, that was an awkward mistake), which adds that state back on to the Delta route map. Of interest on the ILM route is that they seem to think the LaGuardia flights are useful for international connections. Apparently they don’t hate the Van Wyck nearly as much as I do.
These numbers represent only about half of the frequencies that Delta acquired so there will certainly be more to come as things shake out.
Chatting with some folks today about JetBlue‘s new DFW-BOS service got me to thinking. And that’s never a good thing. JetBlue paid a king’s ransom by some accounts for the eight slot pairs each at LGA and DCA. They’re going to need to realize some serious profits on that investment. So they’re going to want to go to markets where there are high yields and limited competition. Both airports are limited by perimeter rules in terms of flight distances that can operate so it is basically Texas or east (and not even all of Texas works) for the routes. So what would I do if I were sitting at the white board working on routes?
A somewhat disturbing and almost certainly untenable option came to mind: Attack DFW.
Assuming you could get another gate or two at DFW, why not attack the American Airlines hub? JetBlue has already shown that they’re willing to attack a little bit, putting 3x daily on DFW-BOS starting next year. Why not go all-in? Sure, they don’t really own any market share at DFW. Or LGA. Or DCA. But they could try, right?
It wouldn’t be a half-assed effort like Spirit Air‘s gambit. We’re talking about a total of 19 daily frequencies, all to major business cities and all where the competition is VERY limited. US Airways flies E-Jets 3x daily on the DCA-DFW route. US, Spirit and Frontier all list DFW-LGA but they all fly it as a one-stop direct flight. Seems like there could be a lot of fun to be had with some new blood bringing competition on these routes.
Then again, it would require the additional gate at DFW. And the stage length is a bit high for fleet utilization and yield management. Still, showing up at DFW with that much lift would be an incredibly entertaining challenge to the incumbent.
Another great option would be service from Austin, connecting folks from the west coast, too, but that’s just outside the perimeter at both LGA and DCA. Sad.
Besides, what else are they going to do? Fake shuttle service?