That Time When 40 Spider-Man Cosplayers Filled A Jetstar Plane

Screen Shot 2017-06-23 at 11.56.19 PM.png“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is scheduled for release next month and to celebrate the event, budget airline Jetstar recently unveiled its brand new Spider-Man-themed “Spider Jet” airplane in Japan. They didn’t stop there, though! As another part of their summer marketing campaign, Jetstar also encouraged Spider-Man cosplayers to enter a contest in order to be on Spider Jet’s maiden flight. The one stipulation was

Continue reading “That Time When 40 Spider-Man Cosplayers Filled A Jetstar Plane”

What are “Preferred” seats on Delta and why pay extra to sit there?

Knowledge is power, or so Schoolhouse Rock taught me during my youth.

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While flying home from Charlotte on Delta, I knew that we’d be on an MD-88 aircraft.  I generally don’t mind this type of aircraft for shorter flights because it has a 3-2 seating arrangement. With that, I can choose to sit on the side with two seats and then Sharon can have the window (her favorite) and I can have the aisle (my favorite). Plus we have the bonus of not needing to worry about who will sit in the middle seat. One of the downsides of that plane is the overhead bin on the two seat side is smaller and doesn’t fit many carry-on bags. Everyone has to put their larger bags on the side with three seats, since those are larger bins and those who board later usually have to gate check their bags because all the space has been taken.

I didn’t want to have to gate check a carry-on bag if I didn’t absolutely have to, so I found a way to board the plane with one of the first boarding groups. Here’s how I did it:

Continue reading “What are “Preferred” seats on Delta and why pay extra to sit there?”

The pleasure of changing or cancelling a flight with Southwest Airlines

I’ve written before about how much we’ve traveled on Southwest recently and even how we haven’t paid for a flight on Southwest Airlines since 2015.  Well, the time eventually came when I had to book a ticket on Southwest with cash instead of miles. I just didn’t have enough Southwest miles left to cover the cost of the flight for both of us on this trip.

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Photo By Brian from Toronto, Canada – Southwest 737, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2271529

17761038_1121957987914685_4477871181367452954_oWe are flying to Chicago for a weekend to see Hamilton  (Again. Don’t hate us.) and I know I cleared these dates with Sharon before I booked the airline tickets. But sometimes life happens and plans change. This time we needed to change our travel dates because Sharon was cast in the choir of Encore!  for their upcoming production of Hairspray at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando (shameless plug – tickets are on sale here).  This did cause a bit of a dilemma as Sharon now has a rehearsal scheduled for the day we were going to be flying to Chicago, and that just wasn’t going to work.

When we realized this, I immediately was relieved because I knew I had booked the Continue reading “The pleasure of changing or cancelling a flight with Southwest Airlines”

#TBT: A Big Mid-Air Problem With My Flight & The Airline Was WONDERFUL About It!

Watching the latest “Forcibly Remove A Seated Passenger From A Plane So A Staff Member Could Have The Seat” situation with United Airlines, on top of the previous “#Leggingsgate” situation with United Airlines made me think back to a time, not really all that long ago, when passengers weren’t made to feel like profitable cattle with no rights, and when, if something happened that was out of the ordinary and potentially inconveniencing, the airline did everything they could to keep you comfortable and, even if you were not truly happy, at least you knew they had tried their best.

ContinentalPlaneIn April 1998, I was still living in Staten Island, NY and was going down to Walt Disney World about 6 times per year – usually for long weekends, but occasionally for a whole week at a time. Newark Airport was my airport of choice to fly down to Orlando and I would usually fly via Continental Airlines or Delta. The week before Easter of 1998, I took a long weekend trip and Continental was my carrier.

I usually would love to stay at Disney for longer than however long my trip at the time was, but in this case, I had some other things going on: Continue reading “#TBT: A Big Mid-Air Problem With My Flight & The Airline Was WONDERFUL About It!”

What we’ve learned about leggings, non-revenue passengers and customer service

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United Airlines stepped into a social media firestorm yesterday when a story about passengers were denied boarding on a flight from Denver to Minneapolis because they were wearing leggings hit the internet.

The story started to blow up on Twitter when a passenger on another flight saw this happening at the gate and send these tweets to @United.

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As this was playing out in real time on Twitter, people jumped to conclusions and had opinions before all the details were in, including United’s Twitter team.

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As it turns out, the passengers in question were flying on non-revenue (non-rev) tickets. These are available to family members and friends of airline employees and do have more restrictions and guidelines than regular tickets. The passengers were not following the dress code and asked to change by the agent at the gate. This was the original action that prompted the Tweets in the first place.

Now that it’s a day since the events and we have most of the important details, lets see what we’ve learned from this experience.

What’s a non-revenue (non-rev) passenger?

Essentially, it’s someone flying for free or at an extremely reduced price. It is a perk given to employees of the airline that lets family and friends fly, usually on a space available basis. Since, when traveling on these tickets, you are representing the airline there are guidelines that you are supposed to follow, including a quite detailed dress code. Here is the dress code for United:

  • Pass riders’ overall appearance should be well-groomed, neat, clean and in good taste.
  • Attire should be respectful of fellow revenue passengers, employees and pass riders.
  • Pass riders may wear denim attire (such as jeans), shorts that are no more than three inches above the knee and athletic shoes when traveling in Coach or Business cabin.

The following attire is unacceptable in any cabin but is not limited to:

  • Any attire that reveals a midriff.
  • Attire that reveals any type of undergarments.
  • Attire that is designated as sleepwear, underwear, or swim attire.
  • Mini Skirts
  • Shorts that do not meet 3 inches above the knee when in a standing position.
  • Form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses.
  • Attire that has offensive and/or derogatory terminology or graphics.
  • Attire that is excessively dirty or has holes/tears.
  • Any attire that is provocative, inappropriately revealing, or see-through clothing.
  • Bare feet
  • Beach-type, rubber flip-flops

I have a relative who works for an airline and I’ve flown as a non-revenue passenger, albeit many years ago. It’s not a glamorous way to travel because you really are at the mercy of the airline for your trip. We were informed by my relative ahead of time about the dress code and what to expect when traveling. We had to wait until the whole plane was loaded to see if there seats. We had no choice of seat assignments. Even if we were on the plane, they could come and tell us to get off because a paying passenger needed the seat, right up to when the door was closed. We were never to complain about anything because the employee who gave you the passes could get in trouble if their guests act inappropriately. As it turned out, we had to wait for 3 planes to find one with open seats and spent the whole day at the airport. For the return trip, we had to drive 4 hours to another airport to get a flight home. We never flew that way again.

It wasn’t wrong to make them change clothes

As many people who have flown as non-rev passengers pointed out to me, it was not wrong to force these passengers to change clothes. Everyone who uses these type of tickets knows, or should know, the rules. By showing up inappropriately dressed, they were breaking the rules. If some people can follow the rules, then everyone should have to.

I totally agree. Rules are rules. Now I don’t know what actually happened at the airport. Was the gate agent polite about reminding them about the dress code or were they snooty about it?

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We all know that in situations like this, it is the approach that you take and not the message you are delivering that makes all the difference in how the interaction goes. I’m not going to start to form opinions on this one because it wasn’t even the passengers who were writing United, but people observing the situation. However, you figure if it was enough of a scene for others to notice, then it must have been more than a polite request to change clothing and the passengers being totally accommodating. I’ll leave it at that.

How thoughtless customer service makes things worse

Here’s one of the big takeaways from this whole event. The initial response by the United Twitter team was one of the reasons why this story went viral. The knee-jerk response that the gate agent was correct and had the right to deny boarding to anyone based on the legal Contract of Carriage. You know, the contract that no one reads that says the passenger has no rights and the airlines can do whatever they want was the basis they used on Twitter to justify making passengers change or cover up their leggings because they were”not properly clothed.”

As the story developed and more details came to light, United tried to walk back and point out, correctly, about how these passengers were non-rev and therefore have specific dress guidelines. United has even gone as far as to post on their website.

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You know you’ve messed up when you need to write this headline.

This doesn’t keep me from feeling that the first response was to stick up for the employee. While this may be a gut instinct for most people, it is not prudent for those on the front lines of customer service. Your job is to collect information, listen and then act appropriately but apparently, this is not United’s first response to customer comments. Instead they seem to feel the customer is always wrong unless you can prove otherwise. In hindsight, a comment like “Thanks for your observation. We will be notifying airport staff and get details of this interaction. We will follow up when we know more.” (I checked, it’s less than 140 characters).

Are United’s guidelines outdated?

I’ve read comments on Twitter and the internet accusing United’s non-rev dress code as being sexist. While many of the guidelines are unisex, they are more guidelines telling women how to dress. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

One Mile at a Time wrote an article today about the different non-rev dress codes and if, in comparison, United’s looks sexist. It is interesting to read how different the airlines policies are for the same issue.

Final Takeaway

I found this an interesting story to follow with so many moving parts. From the initial story and the conclusions people were making before the whole story was available. Then the initial response from United and the subsequent attempts to correct the damage. The response of those who followed the rules and how they felt about those who didn’t. How people who wear leggings were mad about being told how to dress. How people that don’t wear leggings feel they are not appropriate in certain situations. Finally, how bringing the guidelines to the open is now questioning if they are still relevant to today.

I’d like to thank the websites View from the Wing, One Mile at a Time and Points Guy for the updates yesterday on this story.

How do you feel about the whole thing?

Are you giving away your personal information?

It seems that almost everyone has a story about their email being hacked, credit card number being stolen or even worse, their identity being used.

Remember this the next time you want to post a picture like this to your Instagram.

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Pictures or it didn’t happen, right? This was from a trip back in 2014 when I was all too happy to show off about flying from Melbourne to Bangkok to anyone who could see my Facebook. I was just reading “6 Shocking Reasons NOT to Post Pictures of Your Boarding Pass” by Million Mile Secrets about how by posting your boarding pass barcode you are giving a whole bunch of info to anyone who can use an online barcode reader (I didn’t even know you could do that until I read this article).  I found this picture and uploaded it here. What do you know, there was my info (I’ve since blurred the barcode on the picture). With that simple information someone could go and cancel your flights, change your seats or even get into your frequent flyer account and steal your points.

Just one more thing to remember before you overshare on social media sites. Don’t make it easier than it already is for someone to get your personal information.

 

What’s the difference between earning flexible points, fixed value points, airline miles, hotel points or cash?

Before you start earning miles and points from your credit cards, it’s really important to know what type of points you are earning. There are several types of reward miles/points that banks offer and they can be most easily be divided into four categories:

  • Transferrable (Flexible) Points
  • Airline Miles and Hotel Points
  • Fixed Value Points
  • Cash Back

I’ll go over some of the basics for each of these points below:

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Transferrable (Flexible) Points

There are three banks that give these type of points:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi Thank You Points

These points are the most desirable ones to collect for miles and points enthusiasts because of their flexibility. You earn them in your account and can hold them until you have a use for them. You can then transfer them to the program which is most beneficial to you at the time.

With each type of point, you have a number of different transfer partners specific to each program. This is to your advantage because if you have points in each program, you have a multitude of options open to you when you need to book travel. More options means you are likely to be able to book the trip that you want, when you want, for the lowest price. These are the big three of points redemptions (Where, When and How Much).  Therefore, collecting each of these points is best if you do not have a set redemption in mind because this way you are not locked into a single airline’s or hotel’s points program.

The downside of these type of points is that in order to transfer points, you usually have to hold a premium card with an annual fee. You also need to keep your account open (and pay the annual fee) to keep your points. If you decide close your account and still have your points sitting there, you will lose them. Losing points is one of the big no-no’s of collecting miles and points. You can stop this from happening (transferring them before closing the account is one way) but you always need to keep that in mind.

Airline Miles and Hotel Points

The way these type of cards work is usually easier to understand. When you earn points or miles with airline or hotel credit cards, they are deposited directly into your account with that program (not with the bank). Some of the most common programs with credit cards are:

  • American Aadvantage Miles
  • Delta Skymiles
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • United Mileage Plus
  • Hilton Honors
  • Marriott Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest

There are many other programs with offers for their own credit card that earns points or miles. If you tend to fly a specific airline, having their co-branded card can have its advantages. Besides earning miles/points in the respective programs, these credit cards often provide additional benefits such as free checked bags or preferred boarding on airlines or free internet or upgraded room at hotels.

The benefit of earning miles/points with credit cards with these programs is that if you cancel the credit card, you do not lose the points as they are already deposited in your program account. You only need to keep your account active with the airline or hotel (each program has its own specific requirements to do so) to keep from losing your miles.

The disadvantage is that your points/miles are locked into that program. So if that airline/hotel has no availability where you want to go, too bad.

The one hotel program which has additional benefits is Starwood Preferred Guest. With their program, you are allowed to transfer your hotel points from your account to several airline programs (some of which have no other transfer partners). When you transfer points into airline miles, you get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. This perk makes Starwood points extremely valuable. Many miles/points websites consider Starpoints a flexible point currency instead of hotel points.

Fixed Value Points

By far, these are the easiest points for people to understand. You earn points which are worth a fixed value. Usually  1-2 cents a point. So if you want to book an airline ticket worth $200 and your points are worth 1 cent each, you’ll need 20,000 points. The credit cards that work like this include but are not limited to:

  • Capital One Venture (The one Jennifer Garner does commercials for)
  • Bank of America Worldpoints
  • Wells Fargo Rewards
  • Barclaycard Arrival Miles
  • US Bank Flexperks

These points are easy to use because if there is a ticket available, you can most likely use your points to pay for it. You either have to book tickets through the program’s travel portal or book the ticket/room yourself and apply your balance to cover the payment on your statement, depending on the program. Check with the particular program to make sure how it works before making any reservations.

You believe Jennifer Garner, don’t you? With the ease of redeeming these points, it would seem that they would be the most preferable ones to collect. That may be true if you are only looking to book low cost domestic airfare. It is true that availability with airline miles can be difficult to find for flights within the US. But with fixed value points, if there is a seat available, you can use your points to pay for it. This can serve a purpose in a diversified portfolio of points, it has limitations.

The disadvantage is that you can only get a fixed value for your redemption. Most travelers don’t get into collecting miles and points to redeem them for inexpensive domestic flights. The value in points/miles is using them for something you usually couldn’t pay cash for. Something like that business class ticket to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower. If that ticket cost $2500 cash, you’d need 250,000 fixed value points to get it. As of today, using Delta Skymiles would only cost you 140,000 miles (if you can find availability).

Fixed Value travel cards aren’t very popular because of a similar credit card product which is available and has more advantages.

Cash Back Cards

Cash is still king. When earning Flexible points, Airline miles, Hotel points or Fixed Value points, you always need to remember than you could have been earning cash back instead.

It is very easy to understand a cash back card. Some of the most popular cards are

  • Citi Double Cash
  • Fidelity Rewards
  • Discover It Cash
  • American Express Blue Cash
  • Capital One Quicksilver (the one Samuel L. Jackson sells)
  • Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Citi Double Cash card and the Fidelity Rewards card both earn 2% cash back on all purchases. Citi pays 1% when you make the charge and 1% when you pay the bill. Fidelity pays the 2% back as a deposit into your Fidelity account (so it helps if you already do some banking or investing with them). The Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5% back on all purchases.

The Discover It, American Express Blue Cash and Chase Freedom all earn back 1% on most purchases. They also have bonus categories where you can earn additional money back in certain categories like restaurants, gas and groceries. Both the Chase Freedom cards also have the advantage of that if you have an another Chase Ultimate Rewards card that earns flexible points, you can transfer your Freedom points to that account. When you do that, the cash back points transform into flexible points.

Comparing a cash back card to a fixed value card, you see that since you can earn at least 2% on any purchase, only earning 1% back on a fixed value card just doesn’t make sense.

Conclusion

So which points should you collect? That does depend on what travel goals you have. I personally have a combination of all of these cards except for a fixed value card. Most of my spending goes onto cards with flexible points (including Starwood points). I do have a cash back card which I use to maximize bonus categories as I value 5% cash back more than any point I could earn. Your Mileage May Vary on which card or combination of cards works the best for you. Understanding the difference between the types of points or miles you can earn with credit cards allows you make an informed choice when deciding which ones to apply for …and now you know.

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