Delta A320 had new storage bins and overhead utilities

I experienced a mildly space-age overhead bin situation this past weekend on a flight home on Delta.

I had booked economy seats home on Delta #1106 and we boarded as usual (zone 1 due to our Skymiles Credit Card). I knew we would have overhead bin space because we were getting on earlier than many others. When I got onboard, however, I quickly noticed a) there was more overhead bin space and b) the overhead fan, light, and attendant button looked a bit different.

The lighting working similarly to a Boeing 787 Dreamliner (smoothly transitioning off and on) and the place where there would normally be old-looking light switches and whatnot was replaced by something that looked brand new. In fact, there was one other major upgrade: when we reached cruising altitude, it told us when the Wi-Fi was available!

The only downside was this contraption was less centered for the three seats on each side so the aisle seat passenger will be reaching over the middle seat passenger to turn on/off lights and fans. My guess is no one will make a huge stink due to increased overhead bin space.

Pretty interesting, right?

Bereavement fares are important

What many people don’t know is that when unfortunate deaths occur many companies offer prices called “bereavement fares” in order to help you get to your destination and help the deceased to their burial or funeral location. Unfortunately, I had to go through this process recently when my grandmother died in Philadelphia and we attended her funeral in Montreal. While I was told to spend whatever I needed to in order to get there, I wanted to make sure that last minute travel would not be too much of a burden on who would be paying for it in the end.

I started by finding the best airline to fly directly from Boston to Montreal and, as it turns out, it was Air Canada. Their bereavement fare policy is actually quite generous and lenient in how you purchase tickets. I searched their website and found flights for $896 one-way in economy but when I called and gave them the required information, the costs dropped to either $441 or ~$250 one-way, a huge savings for when people are in need.

I also had planned Amtrak train travel using points before this all took place and had to get those tickets refunded. I called and was told that I could get all but a 10% refund as per their policy and if I faxed them an image of the obituary or funeral program I would get the last bit back. This is exactly what took place. Additionally, you should know that while not advertised easily, I found a site explaining that they will offer 25% discounts off tickets for bereavement.

Unfortunately, many American-based companies do not offer bereavement fares. A news article recently proclaimed the end of the program for a variety of the big domestic airlines. Delta still does, however, despite the fact that some of the fares may not be the cheapest (although they will be more flexible to changes).

So, in the end, it’s possible you will not be able to use these fares to help you get a loved one to their final destination, but it’s good to know to ask just in case.

Death of the Mileage Run?

Two days ago American Airlines announced that starting on August 1, 2016 their frequent flyer program, AAdvantage, will become revenue-based instead of mileage-based. This is a move that follows the other major carriers, Delta and United, who have done the same in recent history. It is definitely a big move as AA is the largest domestic carrier in the US and now all three of the top domestic carriers have similar rules.

With these major carriers imposing these changes, it seems that there is another nail in the coffin of the mileage run, a practice of flying to distant locations for cheap fares in order to gain miles for use at a later time. With revenue-based earning, the price of the ticket matters a lot more than the distance flown.

So what does this mean more specifically? Here is an example of a flight from New York’s JFK airport to London-Heathrow.Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.16.27 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.16.33 PM

 

Under the former system, 100% of the miles flown would be added to the purchaser’s account in any Economy class, as shown below. Since the two airports are 3,452 miles apart (as calculated by TravelMath), the total miles earned would be 3,452 * 2 = 6,904.

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According to American Airlines’ new rules, however, for that same trip costing  $881, the number is significantly less. First of all, only the “Base Fare” and “Carrier-imposed Fees” count towards mileage determination. Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.18.12 PM

So, only the $195 + $458 count, totaling $653. With the example shared on their announcement website, a low-level member of AAdvantage (read: most of us) would earn 5 miles/dollar. That totals to a whopping 653 * 5 = 3,265 miles, not even half of what was earned before.Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 9.22.34 PM

So, with this information in mind, it’s important to consider a) if earning points from flying is actually worthwhile in the future and b) perhaps we should put our miles on foreign carriers to get more leverage from them in the future.

United’s cheapest award booking

My wife and I are going to Detroit in June to attend a wedding and so I’ve been trying to find the cheapest flights available that matched our criteria. New York to Detroit is a well-traveled route (although not by international standards) with plenty of options for flights. Since Detroit is Delta’s second-largest hub I thought I would try them but came up with flights at inopportune times for over $300 each roundtrip.

Instead, I opted to check out my award travel options on United, knowing that they fly a lot to Detroit and I have their MileagePlus Explorer Card, guaranteeing me more options of award tickets. I wound up finding a sweet spot on their award chart:Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 7.38.41 PM

That asterisk next to the 10 in the Saver award was very useful. For flights below 700 miles United allows Saver awards for 10,000 miles one-way.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 6.45.06 PMI capitalized on this and immediately booked our flights. For a meager $22.40, we are going to Detroit for the wedding and getting free bags to boot due to award ticket rules!

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Persistence begets free stuff from Delta

My wife and I recently took a trip to San Francisco for a wedding and unfortunately our flight out on Friday night was delayed by about 2.5 hours. We booked the flight using points in a wonderfully convoluted way that I am very proud of. That being said, it was very annoying to be on a Delta flight, sitting at the gate for 2.5 hours as thundershowers passed overhead. Yes, we had an in-flight entertainment system (Delta Studio – lots of free movies to watch) with some good options, but we were not fed anything and I was getting hungry.

Once we reached San Francisco and I had a good night’s sleep, I sent an email through Delta’s complaint system detailing the unfortunate events of the flight, as well as the fact that when we arrived, half of my wife’s clothes were wet and we had to pay ourselves to dry them at the hotel.

To their credit, the Delta representative who gave feedback, sent this letter:

I understand how upsetting it was to be delayed. We know your eager to get where you are going, and it’s difficult when you have to wait. This is definitely not what we want our passengers to experience. On-time performance is one of our top priorities, but clearly you didn’t get to your destinations on time.

I recognize that the wait would have been more comfortable if snacks and beverages had been provided on Flight 0431. Please understand that when the aircraft is on an active taxiway, or even at the gate, beverage and snack service may be limited or discontinued due to aircraft movement or imminent movement for safety reasons. This decision is made by the pilot in command. Our number one priority is the safety and security of our passengers and crew.

To make matters worse your wife’s clothing that she was going to wear for the weeding celebrations were wet.   This is not the experience we want our passengers to go through. If I was in your shoes I would be upset too.

I’ve passed your comments directly to the Airport Customer Service and Reservations Sales teams, so they can consider your experience when making needed changes to improve our service.

Delta Choice Gifts
As a goodwill gesture, I’m sending two $50.00 Delta Choice gifts. You will receive two Delta Choice gift codes, from delta@deltachoices.com in separate emails within three business days and can select the gift cards of your choice within 60 days of receipt. Included in the gift option are several merchants that you will be familiar with as well as our new Delta gift cards. Once redeemed, the gift cards have no expiration and may be used by anyone you wish. You will want to add this email address to your list of accepted addresses. Our Delta Choice gift code emails will include a customer ID and instructions on how to redeem each gift. Please check your spam folder if you don’t see the emails in your inbox. Most certainly, this gesture is not intended to place a value on this unsatisfactory experience. Rather, this is meant as a heartfelt apology for not meeting your customer service expectations.

I hope your return flight on October 12th was more pleasant. We look forward to seeing you on another Delta flight soon – hopefully one without a delay.

So now my wife and I have two $50 gift cards to spend on a variety of options – things like Amazon.com, the Gap, Macy’s, Barnes and Noble, and more. I am impressed that Delta handled this so quickly (3 day turnaround including the weekend) and the response is definitely adequate for our frustration.

Using Virgin Atlantic miles to book a Delta award flight

My wife and I are traveling to San Francisco in October for a wedding of some good friends but had an issue where our miles seemed not to work as well as we would have liked them to. Originally I tried to book United flights but all the saver availability (25,000 miles roundtrip) seemed to be out for the flights that we wanted. Since I have the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card (contact me for a referral) we are still able to purchase the standard award level (50,000 miles roundtrip) for these flights, however. That would have been our best option.Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.07.38 PM

With this reservation, our cost/mile usage would be 1.05 cents/miles. The Points Guy values United miles at 1.5 cents/mile so this would not be the best use of our miles.

Then I remembered a critical component of travel with miles and points: booking awards with partner airlines. I’ve written previously about using British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights because it’s so easy to do – simply use their website tool to find availability. There is something to be said, however, for simply “phoning it in.” Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.14.25 PM

I remembered that Virgin Atlantic has partner airlines in Virgin American and Delta and that roundtrip flights within the Continental US are only 25,000 miles roundtrip (plus the $5.60 September 11th fee). I called them up and found that while there was no availability for Virgin America, the Delta option was wide open. I put a hold on the flights that we wanted that will stay in place for 48 hours.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.22.32 PMIn the meantime I transferred 50,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account into my Virgin Atlantic account and just waited. In theory it should be instantaneous and in reality it took about three minutes for the miles to show up. So, in the end I am able to book the following Delta flight with only 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for my wife and me:

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In this new scenario, our points/mile ratio is 1.87 cents/mile. The Points Guy values these miles at between 1.5-2.3 cents/mile so we are right on the money.

All in all, not bad for a day’s work of savings.

 

How I used British Airways Avios to book a cheap trip to Toronto

In September my fiancée and I will be going to Toronto for my cousin and his fiancée’s wedding. Yes, I admit that was a confusing sentence. Suffice it to say that we needed two roundtrip plane tickets from New York to Toronto. Since we are paying for much of our own wedding at the moment we are trying to reduce costs as much as possible. I did some research and found the cheapest plane tickets at a fairly undesirable time:

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Instead of spending $215 x 2 = $430 for the plane tickets (and then $25 for checked luggage according to their website) I decided to look into spending British Airways Avios on a plane ticket for the flight. This is a well-known use in the Miles and Points community because Avios are spent on a distance-flown basis. For flights below 650 miles (like NYC->Toronto) it costs only 4500 Avios each way for an Economy ticket. BA partners with American Airlines and recently TAM for this route so I did some research and found the following flights that we are taking:

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And the greatest part of it all, it costs so little:

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In reality the price is actually $122 because I had to book over the phone (there was an error on the website). But that’s okay – we each get a free checked bag according to the rules of TAM and we will be flying a Boeing 767. This is a turbo-fan, wide-body plane as opposed to the propellor plane we would have had with Delta.

Overall a good bargain, eh? (Full disclosure, British Airways is changing their award chart on April 28, 2015).