PointsHound, the hotel booking engine which also lets you earn airline points, has a promotion out through the end of March earning members 500 bonus miles in their airline program of choice for completing a new hotel booking. PointsHound currently has 5 partners available:
When the program initially launched there were some limitations in the earning scheme, most notably that bookings made via PointsHound were considered OTA bookings by the hotels and therefore not eligible for earning points in the hotel loyalty program as well. Earlier this month that started to change as the company introduced certain markets and properties where it is possible to earn both airline points at booking AND hotel points during the stay. That’s a big upgrade for people who like their hotel status just as much as their airline points.
The double earning is limited right now but expected to grown in the near future. Ditto for the collection of partner airlines.
Still no option to search directly for properties where the double earning is possible but that will hopefully change soon enough. In the mean time, at least worth looking in to again, particularly with the 500 bonus miles on offer right now.
n.b.- The link above to PointsHound is a referral link for me. I don’t know if it still actually does anything, but it used to offer bonus points for enrollment.
It seems that there is another opening in the world of airline loyalty program management; anyone care to apply for the job of Director – Loyalty Marketing?
Some of the job responsibilities include:
- Identify recurring issues for high-value customers and drive resolution working with Reservations, Pricing & Revenue, Online Experience and other departments
- Work with Marketing Analytics to design targeted loyalty programs for high-value customer segments
- Work with Promotions to identify target customers for promotions
- Manage administration of program rules (earning and redeeming miles, responding to customer questions) Coordinate with partner airlines on day-to-day program administration, including mileage credits, redemptions, and issue resolution
There are enough arm-chair executives out there that I figure someone should have a shot at this one. Oh, and the job location doesn’t suck, either. Hawaiian Airlines is the company in question.
Also of slight interest is that the position has actually been open for seven weeks now; I just noticed.
The route map for Hawaiian Airlines continues to expand westward. The latest addition to the carrier’s destination list is Taiwan with service expected to begin in July 2013. The 3x weekly operation will bring approximately 45,000 seats annually into the market. Taiwan is the eighth international destination announced in the past two years, all the result of the carrier taking deliveries of new Airbus A330 aircraft and growing their fleet.
For Taiwanese citizens a recent change to US immigration policies allows them to visit under the Visa Waiver Program meaning no need to pay the high fees or submit to the interviews associated with the visa issuance process. The exception applies for stays up to 90 days. And the new service from Hawaiian isn’t the only addition to the USA-Taiwan market. United Airlines previously announced that they would be shifting their connecting service via Tokyo to a non-stop operation from San Francisco starting in Spring 2013.
The frequent flyer program of Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t have a ton to recommend it. The earning rates aren’t great. Neither are the elite benefits. And, most notably, the award chart has very few great values to it. By many accounts there was actually only one tremendous award they offered: North America to anywhere Virgin Atlantic flies in Upper Class for 140,000 points. Note the use of the past tense there. The Virgin Atlantic partner award chart was updated in the past couple days (the old one was definitely there 3 days ago when the Virgin America partnership was announced), devaluing the awards by huge margins.
Here’s the old award chart, courtesy of MileValue.com:
And here’s the new award chart from the Hawaiian website this morning:
For starters, awards appear to be priced as to or from London, not from the mainland USA destinations Virgin Atlantic serves. This means getting past London from the USA now requires adding two awards together, one to get to London and then another to continue onwards. The Upper Class award from Los Angeles to London in Upper Class went from 100,000 points to 160,000; from New York City the rate only increased 25% to 125,000 points.
But if you want to continue on, say from New York City to Hong Kong or Mumbai, the rate is now 285,000 points, an increase of more than 100%. From San Francisco that rate is 320,000 points.
It is very, very rare that points ever increase in value. It has happened maybe once or twice that I can recall in the past decade. That’s why hoarding millions of points is rarely a smart move. But it is also rare that such dramatic devaluations as this one happen. Not unheard of, but definitely rare. All the more reason to spend ‘em when you get ‘em.
Members of Virgin America‘s Elevate program can redeem their frequent flyer points for travel to Hawaii and beyond under a partnership with Hawaiian Airlines announced last week. Similarly, members of the HawaiianMiles program can redeem their points on the Virgin America route network. The two carriers will also implement code-sharing on some routes and an interline agreement so passengers can check in once for travel across both carriers.
For HawaiianMiles members the redemption chart is based on the distance traveled and the cabin redeemed for. There will be three cabins available for redemption: Main Cabin, Main Cabin Select and First Class. Here’s the award chart:
The rates aren’t particularly attractive though it also isn’t clear if the seats are inventory-controlled or not. If not then the rates wouldn’t be quite as bad, but it seems unlikely that is actually the way it will be run.
For Elevate members looking to redeem on Hawaiian Airlines flights the award rates aren’t quite as easy. Awards range from 3,000 points for a one-way inter-island trip in economy up to 150,000 points between Manila and some mainland US destinations round-trip in first class. In most cases the one way rates are half price of a round trip, plus 10-20%. Similarly, first class awards are generally double the coach award, plus 10-20%. You can look up the rates using their tool here.
There are more than 450 city pairs in the partner chart for Elevate members redeeming on Hawaiian metal and I’m not entirely convinced that there aren’t a few bugs in the chart. It probably shouldn’t be fewer points to get from the mainland to parts of Japan via Honolulu than just the Honolulu-Japan segment, for example. That said, I’m pretty sure that is actually a case where the one-way rate is loaded as a round-trip into HNL, not that the mainland destinations are especially discounted. And there are a couple other places where the round trip price is loaded at the same price as the one way rate, too. Oh, and the destinations in the South Pacific look particularly attractive to me in terms of points required.
Not all city pairs can be mixed on awards, so you cannot fly from JFK anywhere beyond Hawaii, for example. And if you want to fly in First Class from JFK to Maui you have to book JFK-Honolulu plus Honolulu-Maui. Likely the same number of points because of the way they are calculating connecting trips versus non-stops but still strange. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of quirks in this award chart.
How much is too much when it comes to the searching for more points for less money? Is there even such a thing? It seems that finding that line – and choosing to not cross it – is becoming a harder and harder challenge for many. In pretty much every situation where there is a "too good to be true" deal it is because someone made a mistake. A missing digit or a misclassified product code or something of that nature. And there are some who feel that the only appropriate response is to buy in bulk. Not just to support the next trip or to get a few points. I’m talking about buying 40 or 50 tickets on a mistake fare. Or trying to buy hundreds of millions of points at a 90%+ discount.
That’s right: HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS.
And, not surprisingly, once the mistake was discovered, the vendors weren’t too keen on paying out those points. Naturally, a lawsuit has resulted. Filed in mid-October, the suit seeks to compel US Airways, Hawaiian Airlines and the companies which operated their online shopping portals to deliver somewhere between 180-200,000,000 points to a group of 26 customers who took advantage of the situation.
There are a couple familiar names on the plaintiff’s list, some who are known for taking deals to the extreme and some who have routinely suggested that when mistake fares don’t get honored that’s the way it is. And now they are joined in the lawsuit, suggesting they might actually feel otherwise when it is their personal benefit at stake.
My view on the situation is a simple one: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.
The people who take a deal to the extreme are, in general, doing no one any favors. And they’re doing a disservice to the communities that they claim to be members and supporters of. A shame, really. Rather than representing the frequent flyer community as rational, motivated customers they just appear greedy and selfish.
There are plenty of online booking sites for hotel rooms. So how do you launch a new one and expect to attract customers? For upstart PointsHound the answer is one which speaks to my soul: POINTS!
The company aims to reward their customers by providing airline points in return for booking through the site. And, depending on just how often you use the site to book your awards, the amount you earn can be pretty nice.
Here’s how the company describes their approach:
You might be thinking, "this sounds too good to be true, how are you able to do it?" It’s pretty simple. Just like a other online travel agencies, we get a commission from hotels when you make a purchase. Instead of keeping that money – like almost all other sites do – we bonus it back to our members in the form of miles and points. The more your purchase on your site, the higher your earn rate becomes.
So, as long as 100,000 of the world’s top hotels are happy to pay commission to attract new customers to send their way, Pointshound will continue forging relationships with leading loyalty reward programs so we can fund mileage bonuses back to our members.
The company currently has arrangements with United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Delta and AeroMexico; they have indicated that other programs are coming soon.
Run a search on the PointsHound site and, in addition to the room rate, hotel name and other usual details you’ll also see the number of points you will earn in your preferred program as part of the search interface:
Switch programs and the earning rate might change, too:
If you’re completely points obsessed this is a pretty interesting approach and it opens up many hotel properties which are not part of the major chains to customers looking to collect airline points. Keep in mind that, as an OTA, booking through PointsHound will, in most cases, preclude earning in your normal loyalty program.
But is it a good value?
My go-to program for most hotel stays these days is the Hotels.com Welcome Rewards program. Rather than points you get a 10% credit after 10 stays. Plus you can earn an additional 5-5.5% back through an online booking portal. That’s a 15% return. Hotels.com has similar inventory to PointsHound and similar prices:
For a night at the Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel this coming Saturday I can earn 1,010 Hawaiian points, 960 United points or $27 in a mix of cash rebate and Welcome Rewards credit. That puts the per point value around 3 cents each, and that’s based on my "Level 2" earning rate. The rates get better the more you stay but they start off lower. In the end, the value proposition is just OK. It definitely could be worse, to be sure, but it isn’t completely horrible.
I also have a couple minor complaints about the UI but nothing which makes it an unusable site the way I hate RoomKey.
PointsHound is definitely an interesting play in the market. They’ve got a lot going for them and a focus on a market segments which is, to be certain, highly motivated and loyal. It just remains to be seen if that loyalty can be focused at PointsHound.
n.b.- The links above to PointsHound are referral links for me. You earn 100 points for signing up and I get 500 if you actually complete a booking.
Think for just a minute about the amount of complexity involved in pricing out any given flight itinerary. You’re dealing with thousands upon thousands of flights, a few thousand airports and hundreds of airlines, all with their data in a massive system. Fortunately the interfaces passengers work with simplify things dramatically, but that doesn’t mean it is actually simple. I just booked a mileage run for the first weekend in November to wrap up my qualifications for the year. And given just how complex it is to book, much less try to explain, I figured a real world example would be useful. Here goes!
I decided on a trip to HNL based on the fact that it is about the number of miles I need and it is relatively cheap. At $532 round trip this will be, by more than $100, the most I’ve paid for flights to Hawaii. And at 5cpm it is not quite great as a mileage run. Alas, I’m running out of time in the year and longer stays (for cheaper fares) or more circuitous routings aren’t viable. So I start with a generic search on ITA between NYC and HNL:
I get a calendar of options and the November 3 departures look reasonable (again, no more weekday travel for me this year so I’m stuck paying the premium):
The Hawaiian service is pretty awesome and if I was actually looking for a vacation I’d be booking that. But I’m not.
I like the United Airlines option so I start to drill down:
Those are the only two-stop options shown and the price on them is not at all competitive. Ouch.
Don’t give up hope at this point. ITA has an internal timeout on their systems. If you give it too generic a search (like I did here) it will go for the easy options rather than the more interesting ones. We have to give it a bit of encouragement.
Here’s what my next search looks like:
Note the UA UA UA+ on the second line. This tells the system to search for trips which have at least three flights marketed by UA (including codeshares) and the + at the end means anything else after that is acceptable. I also put in specific dates as I’m pretty sure that’s the right weekend for me to be gone. This search gives a ton of results the initial search missed, including the fact that 2-stop options really can be priced right:
Getting closer now, but still not exactly there. For the outbound I want to fly from LaGuardia. It is a bit cheaper to get to and the timing on the LGA-IAH flights means I can actually sleep in more on Saturday morning. On the return, I want to force the HNL-IAH flight, both because it means more miles and because it lets me connect to the IAH-EWR flight scheduled to be on the 787 on November 5th. And since HNL-IAH-EWR has R inventory open for upgrades I definitely want that route. To mix LGA and EWR I switch to multi-city. I also add IAH in the return routing details which forces that as a connection point:
I get a number of results for the outbound:
Choosing the 9am departure (yes, tight connections, but I’ll take the sleep and deal with a misconnect if it happens; I’m not at all worried since I don’t really have to get to Hawaii at any particular time) I get the following options for the return:
Choose the return I want (hooray, Dreamliner!) and I get the final itinerary:
As complex as it was to find the flights I want, making the booking is almost more difficult. It turns out that LGA-IAH-SFO-HNL is not a logical routing and, with all the other options for the same or less money and way less travel time involved, most online booking sites aren’t all that interested in offering it as bookable. Now it becomes a game of tricking the systems to offer the trip I want.
Once again, multi-city search comes to the rescue. I started with LGA-SFO, SFO-HNL, HNL-EWR. I could get the LGA-IAH-SFO flights I wanted but it wouldn’t add the non-stop SFO-HNL from there. And the price was coming out a couple hundred dollars high. I switched the query to LGA-IAH, IAH-HNL, HNL-EWR and the flights I wanted magically bubbled to the surface. A few clicks later and I now have a confirmation email from United. And a few clicks after that, confirmed seats up front on the return with an RPU debited from my account. Not too shabby.
I should note that I also use a couple different tools to compare the offered routings and figure out how many miles I’ll earn. In some cases the 6am flight might be worth many extra miles, making it more viable. Or adding an extra connection. In this case, however, adding the extra connections didn’t help enough to add the extra time to my trips. One tool is the one I built for comparing Star Alliance programs. If you have specific fare classes and operating carriers it can give you pretty good details on the earning rates. The other tool I use is the Great Circle Mapper. I find it easier and faster for quickly comparing routing options on the fly. Knowing that I would earn an extra 99 miles with the SFO connection rather than the LAX connection was a good nugget of data.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post I think that this one is a bit pricey for a mileage run. That said, I do get to fly a 757, 767, 777 and 787 and the return can be confirmed in long-haul Business seats (777 is the old UA but still good enough for sleeping on the redeye) and, more importantly, it is the right number of miles on the right dates. And I get the 787 on day 2 of service, in BF, no less. All in all, not such a bad deal. Adding the ORD connection on the return would have meant 260 more miles but also getting home later than I want and not the aircraft I want. I’m going to pass.
It sounds complicated in terms of building the routing out with ITA but with a bit of practice it does get easier. Give it a try and if you run in to trouble feel free to ask.
Folks flying between Hawaii and the mainland can look forward to new meal choices on Hawaiian Airlines, including more island flavors and free drinks. The airline announced a revised Mea Ho’okipa’ (translation: I am host) inflight service philosophy. The current focus is mostly on the dining options.
We’re bringing back the ‘good old days of flying’ by making inflight dining a pleasant part of the travel experience, while showcasing the products and promoting the ambiance that makes Hawai’i so special.
Apparently one of the key factors in the the "good old days of flying" was free drinks. Passengers will now receive a complimentary glass of wine to go with their lunch or dinner meals. There will also be a free rum-based signature cocktail offered during the snack/beverage service 2 hours out from landing in both directions. This is comparable to the mai tais offered by Alaska Airlines on their Island service. Hawaiian was already the only carrier offering free food in economy on all flights to Hawaii; now they’ve got free drinks, too. Not too shabby.
The updates will also see flight attendants assigned to specific zones, allowing for more personal interactions with passengers and changes to the buy-on-board menus to feature more island flavors in the selections. The cheeseburger will be disappearing in favor of a Kalua pork sandwich, for example.
I rather enjoyed the service on the JFK-HNL flight I took back in June. The food was decent and the flight was reasonably comfortable. Upgrading the meals and adding free drinks certainly isn’t going to hurt that opinion.
Read more about the new service announcements at Fodors.com, too.
Aloha NYC: On board the inaugural flight JFK-HNL
Hawaiian Airlines is growing their long-haul service offerings in a big way, with Auckland, New Zealand as the newest destination announced. The carrier will be offering service between the South Pacifica capital and Honolulu three times weekly starting on March 13, 2013. Flight schedules have not been announced but the carrier has indicated that the trip will be flown on their 767-300ER aircraft.
Auckland is the eighth new long-haul destination announced by Hawaiian since November 2010. Other options include Tokyo, New York City and, also starting in early 2013, Brisbane, Australia. These route additions have come as Hawaiian is adding to their long-haul fleet; they’ve taken delivery of several A330s over the past two years and eventually expect to have 22 of these aircraft in their fleet. Even with the scheduled retirement of the 767-300 fleet the new aircraft have opened up opportunities for Hawaiian to reach into new markets, something they are pursuing aggressively.
On both the Brisbane service starting in November 2012 and the Auckland service Hawaiian will be the only US carrier operating to those cities. They will also be the only US carrier flying to New Zealand; United Airlines recently indicated that they will scuttle their planned Houston – Auckland route before it ever takes flight.
The airline has noted the significant tourism opportunities in both directions for these destinations. Going after such markets is, in many ways, flying in the face of recent industry trends which have focused more on business-heavy routes. Given Hawaii‘s location in the Pacific and what destinations they have within range it is not surprising that they are going in this direction; there aren’t a lot of other business destinations to be found. Said CEO Mark Dunkerley in a statement:
New Zealanders are avid travelers and we believe the introduction of new nonstop flights with our winning brand of service will be welcomed in meeting pent-up demand for a Hawaii vacation. At the same time, our new service will offer Hawaii residents easy access to the natural wonders and Maori culture of New Zealand.
With 40,000 seats annually between the islands the opportunities for passengers to have these experiences is growing significantly.