One of the advantages of passing thru Heathrow airport (LHR) in London is the chance to see some of British Airways big planes. Somehow I love the livery. I my opinion, the planes look bigger, but I am sure that just me… Here are some pictures I look on my last trip thru Heathrow.

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A closeup of a BA 767, which I was flying on.

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BAs workhorse for long-haul flights – a 747.

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a BA 777 passes bye.

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and the moneyshot – the new BA A380. I actually saw two pass bye my plane as we were taxiing.

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I wish I could have flown one of these – a BA Concorde. This is a retired plane parked on the tarmac.

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Virgin-Atlantic-A340-at-HKG.jpgEarlier today I heard an excellent interview of Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Airlines, and Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, on NPR. They had a lively discussion (Sir Branson more so than Mr. Anderson) on customer experience, what customers care about, the future of airline travel and yes, the Delta – Virgin Atlantic relationship. For those who may not know, Delta owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic, which it bought from Singapore Airlines. Furthermore, the two airlines announced a partnership last year which was a revenue sharing model with cross-benefits to each others frequent flyer programs.

You can listen to the entire interview here.

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Ever wondered what it looks like from the pilot’s view from inside a fighter jet? A Norwegian Air Force F16 pilot shared this awesome video he recorded. One can almost feel the Gs! (HT^ Yahoo News!)

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RMF: Recency, Monetary value and Frequency

CLV: Client Lifetime Value

These are two of the technical terms that Wharton Marketing professor Peter Fader uses in this excellent interview to explain Delta’s changes to their mileage program. As you may have heard by now, Delta is switching to a new earning program from 2015 where passengers earn miles based on the dollar value of their ticket and their Elite status, rather than actual miles flown.

You can read the article here (Credit: Knowledge@Wharton).

Here are a few key points I got from the professor:

  • Delta is not reducing what it gave travelers, it is giving the more deserving customers more (those who spend more)
  • Business travelers who pay high dollars for last minute short trips, and are hence worth more to the airline, will earn more rewards
  • Casual travelers and those trying to ‘game’ the system (think mileage runs) will earn less

I personally am still not sold to this model. United has taken a ‘hybrid’ approach where there is a revenue component to their new mileage program (already in play this year). They are trying to just ensure that their Elites have a minimum spend on tickets and that too on United, not on their partners. So, for United, the spend is a qualifier to get in the mileage game. For Delta, it is all about spend. I will have to do an analysis of my spend for last year (almost all business related, and expensive, albeit economy tickets) to see if I would have fared better on a spend based program than on a miles based. I did make 1K, which is United’s highest non-invitation level, so not much could have changed. United actually does have an invitation-only level called ‘Global Services’ which is entirely spend based. I am afraid that if Delta does well with the new model, other airlines will not be far behind. The airlines have always followed each other.

What do you think of the new Delta program? Does the good professor’s logical explanation change your thinking in any way? Do share by leaving a comment below.

 

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IMG_0620.jpgI am not in the 1% (yet). But due to my diligence with miles and understanding of the upgrade process, I fly in upper class more often than not. So, I am actually not sure what to make of this article by AP’s Scott Mayerowitz. While highlighting some of the awesome features available for upper class passengers on long international flights, those willing to dish out the cash or the miles, he actually uses the article to bash them. Is the fact that someone can afford to pay for the luxurious seats and benefits of upper class travel or has earned the status and miles to get upgraded, a bad thing? Why should it be used to call it out as one of the ‘excesses’ of the 1%-ers? Yes, I think benefits in upper class seats are getting better and the comforts in coach are getting worse, but still… The price differences between coach and upper class are getting more and more too. If I shell out $15,000 or 150,000 miles for a first class seat, it better be worth it. Check-in, lounge, seats, meals, the whole package.

Read the article here for yourself and let me know what you think.

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One of my favorite cards that I started using last year is the Barclaycard Arrivalô World MasterCard®. It earns 2x points on ALL purchases – travel related or otherwise. Most there cards give 2x only on travel related purchases or on their own websites/portals. There is also an ongoing promotion to earn 40,000 points after spending $3,000 within 90 days of getting the card. That is certainly a good kick-start!

Redeeming Points

I recently made my first redemption of Braclaycard points. It was straightforward as it could get. I redeemed points to my for travel expense I had already made. There are other options too, that I shall discuss later.

For redeeming points for travel expenses already made, you need to pick the option that says ‘Pay yourself back for travel’.

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When you go into this option, it takes you to a page that lists all the recent travel related expenses made on your Barclaycard card. All you have to do is select the expense you want to pay for with points and then follow the next steps to redeem. Barclaycard is currently giving 10% of any points you redeem back, for all travel expenses you redeem points for. That makes the redemptions even more attractive. The rate of redemption is a $1 for every 100 points redeemed, or at $0.01/point. This is not an excellent rate, which would be $0.015 or better, but is the best rate to get for such redemptions.

Another redemption option is for straight cash back. You get the cash back as a statement credit.

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The redemption rate for this is horrible. You get $0.5 for every 100 points redeemed or a rate of $0.005. I would never pick this option, unless I am really strapped for cash and needed to pay my credit card bill. Or at the end, when I am closing my card and have no travel related expenses to redeem some left over points on. Remember, you don’t get a check in the mail by picking this option. You get a statement credit on your card.

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Last set of options are for Gift cards and merchandise.

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Again, not good rates for these at all. The only benefit of these options, especially the gift card option is that you can redeem points for gifts. These include travel related gift cards. I can hence help pay for someone else’s travel, without charging my card. The options are not great, but a good selection.

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While Barclay Arrival card options for redemption are excellent, I would love to see one added – being able to redeem points for airline tickets directly. Just like I can do with SPG points. But the 2x earning on every kind of expense more than makes up for this limitation.

Apply Here:Barclaycard Arrivalô World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases

 

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Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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United is adding a new non-stop route to Australia – Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL). It will be using a 787-9 aircraft. United already flies to Melbourne, but it is via a stopover in Sydney (SYD). The current route is LAX – SYD – MEL. Or the alternate SFO – SYD – MEL. Once this non-stop route starts in October, United will terminate the SYD – MEL leg. LAX – SYD and SFO – SYD will remain.

This will the schedule (Hat tip – airlineroute.net):

UA098 LAX2130 – 0815+2MEL 789 4
UA098 LAX2230 – 0915+2MEL 789 x24

UA099 MEL1115 – 0650LAX 789 x46
UA099 MEL1515 – 1050LAX 789 6

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A few weeks ago I stayed at the Hilton Docklands Riverside in London, UK. It is a typical Hilton in London. Nothing great to report, except its location and ferry access from the river. It is a far cry from the luxurious Hilton at Heathrow airport, terminal 4, which I reviewed earlier. IMG_2277.jpg

Location

The Hilton Docklands Riverside is conveniently located across the Thames river from Canary Wharf, a business downtown area with many companies, office complexes and restaurants. This is a pretty well connected part of London. The Jubilee line comes to Canary Wharf and on the Docklands side, there is the Canada Water train station, which has both Underground and Overground lines serving it.

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The coolest part of the Hilton is the ferry to Canary Wharf. The ferry is free for hotel guests and runs every 10 minutes almost all day. It is a short ferry ride and it is beautiful, especially at night with the lights on the Canary Wharf side (pictured). My meetings were in the Canary Wharf area and I had dinner there. So, I ended up taking the ferry multiple times. It gave an excellent view of the area and some cool high speed catamaran boats on the river.

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The rooms in the hotel were unfortunately rather small. Although that is not atypical in London City (or most of Europe, for that matter). What was more disconcerting to me were the corridors. They were narrow and wound their way in a zig zag manner thru the rooms. There was not a single straight corridor anywhere. While I did not feel unsafe at anytime, it was kind of disorienting when one had to take a turn every few yards.

The lobby was spacious. There were two restaurants attached to the lobby. One was a Costa Coffee and a full service restaurant. I had breakfast in the restaurant. It was included in my room rate. There was a good English breakfast buffet – scrambled and boiled eggs, baked beans, ham, cereals, breads and (delicious) jams.

Rating: I would give it a 3.5 out of 5. Will stay there again for the location, if I have business again in Canary Wharf. Ferry ride counted for the additional .5.

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Very interesting story on NPR. The story covers Spirit Airlines – the worst airline, as rated airlines by fliers. The article talk about how ‘hate fliers’ are common on Spirit – people who hate Spirit Airlines and its aggressive fees, but fly it anyways, because of its low prices. The most interesting part of the story to me however, was an interview with Ben Baldanza, CEO of Spirit. He called Spirit Airlines the ‘Dollar General’ of Airlines. He said that some airlines are like Nordstorm, JetBlue is like Target, but Spirit is ‘Dollar General’!

Mapping Airlines to Store Chains

That got me thinking – which airlines are like which store. Here is what I came up with. What do you think?

Leave your Airline to Store mapping below.

 

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Spring-Airlines.jpgAsia is the next frontier, when it comes to massive airline expansion. All the major cities in the Western world have been connected to each other by air. There is really not much growth possible in the West for new routes. Yes, there are new routes coming up connecting cities across continents, but not within them. The work is done. That is certainly not true in Asia. It is just beginning.

Million person cities

From Istanbul to Indonesia, Asia has more cities with a population of more than a million people, than the rest of the world put together. China and India alone have a 150 such cities. All of them are not yet connected to the rest of the world or to each other by air. This is the next frontier for airline growth. As reported on Bloomberg, mainly thru the Gulf carriers in the Dubai Air show and new Asian carriers thru the Singapore Air show, new aircraft orders for Asian carriers exceeded $200 Billion!

The New Asian carriers

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The largest growth seen today is from carriers in the Gulf – Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Saudia, Oman Air, to name a few. But the new unexpected growth is actually coming from brand new carriers in Asia – mostly Low Cost Carriers (LCC). THAI International has Smile. ANA has Vanilla Air AND Peach Aviation, Singapore has Tiger and Jet Airways has JetLite. And the growth has not stopped. Singapore Airlines and Tata Group in India is launching a new LCC in India.

These carriers are fueling the future growth of the airline sector in Asia and will be the next area of growth on the planet. Over the next decade or so, the Gulf airline will soon grow to capacity and go into a status quo of just replacing aging aircraft, like the Western carriers do today. For the new airlines in the Far East, the growth has just begun. With more than a third of population of the world now living between India and China, but having less than half as many aircraft serving them than serve the entire US, there is still a long way to go. What’s more, the population in these countries and those surrounding them in the rest of Asia, has not slowed growing either. According to Mckinsey, China will have 221 cities with a population of over a million by 2025! Footnote to compare – Europe has and will have only 35!

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Have you travelled on one of these new Asian LCCs? Is there reason to ‘Smile’ with ‘Vanilla’ and ‘Peaches’? Leave a comment below and share your experiences.

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Most airlines have a good selection of special meals one can order when traveling internationally. United has many such good options. Unfortunately, they appear to consistently lose my special meal requests. On 4 out of the last 10 international flights I have taken, no special meal. More importantly, in all cases the FAs and Purser insisted that there was not even on oder on their records. Hence, I never requested it. Chicago, we have a problem.

The first time this happened to me, I wrote it off. Mistakes do happen. The 2nd time, I called United and they said that the request was on my reservation and there must have been a mistake. The third time, I was upset. I insisted that I had requested a special meal and the Purser actually accused me of lying – ‘everyone says that’, he said. The last time was on a flight last week. Again, no special meal. The Purser acted like she was looking at a printout and said again – ‘no, you must have forgotten requested it’. I called United the next day and they said that the request was on my reservation. I asked them to file a complaint and they did and gave me a complaint number too. So far, I have not heard from United.

I have had other occasions when my meal was not there, but in those cases, I was upgraded at the gate. All I had to do was let the FA know that my meal was probably still in Economy. Sure enough, it was and they got it and served it to me on a plate.

United obviously has something broken. Is it that the Pursers have been trained to say that there was no request made when the meal doe snot make it on board? I hope not. I think the requests get lost somewhere in the upgrade process. One thing in common in all cases was that I was upgraded – well in advance of the flight. The request is on the reservation but does not always make it to the upgraded seat list. It obviously does sometime, as I have received my special meal in BusinessFirst on most flights.

Mystery? Am I on the only one? Has anyone else had an issue with Special Meals on United? Were you in Economy or Upper Class? Do leave a comment so we can compare notes.

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