Did I book a flight in Basic Economy?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently had to book flights for us on routes that offered Basic Economy fares. After studying up on what the restrictions were for each airline and taking into consideration the details of each trip, I decided to book the basic fare for one of the trips and paid the extra money for “regular” economy for the other.

The following is a breakdown of how I made my decisions:

Continue reading “Did I book a flight in Basic Economy?”

FOR NEWBIES: When An Airline Breaks Something In Your Luggage

I went to New York with a friend not long ago, just for a couple of days, to see a bunch of Broadway shows. We were only going to be out of town from Tuesday to Friday morning, for about 70 hours total, so we were able to get away with just using carry-on luggage, thereby saving us the time of having to pick up our luggage from baggage claim, as well as the worry of them losing our bags or breaking something in them.

Since I grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, whenever I’m in Manhattan, the times when we’re not in shows are generally dedicated to food – either the yummy things, like pizza and bagels, that aren’t quite the same down here in Central Florida, or restaurants that were simply an important part of my life before I relocated from the Big Apple. Anyway, while we were at one of these restaurants (Serendipity 3, on E. 60th, between 2nd & 3rd), I bought a glass Christmas ornament, just because. It wasn’t very expensive, only $12.50, and I suspected it would give me warm fuzzies every year when I put it on the tree, so I got it.

On the Delta flight home, thanks to (A) the Delta gate people saying the flight was 100% full, (B) being in Zone 3 (of 3) and (C) 95% of the other Zone 3 people already standing on line while the pre-Zone 1 “people who need extra time” folks were being loaded, by the time my friend and I got up to the gate before loading onto the plane, anyone who had a carry on bag that, like mine, was around the size and shape of a regulation 22x14x9 was told they needed to gate check because there was no more room on the overhead. I told them I would prefer not to, but of course that got me nowhere. The Delta employee said the bag would be brought up with strollers at the gate, so no worries. Not wanting to rock the boat and risk not being allowed to go on the plane at all, I agreed and gate checked it.

As it turned out, there was indeed space for my carry-on suitcase above our seats, and I suspect even more space for it above the 2 empty seats directly in front of us AND above the 2 empty “exit row” seats that I saw several rows behind us when I went to use the lavatory. Cue the feeling of minor annoyance. Increase the annoyance to mid range when I was told, upon landing, that my luggage would not be brought up to me at the gate after all, but would go to regular baggage claim, thereby adding a good 20-30 minutes before I could get to my house. And then I got home, unpacked and discovered that my Christmas ornament, which was packed to be safe as carry-on, but not when it was undoubtedly thrown from place to place by Delta employees, was broken into a million little glass crumbs. ARGH!!!

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Part of my broken ornament. The rest was glass dust all over the bottom of my suitcase

Joe tweeted Delta, saying “Wife having to gate check bag on flight home = broken Xmas ornament. Vacuuming out luggage not how we wanted to spend today.” To their credit, they wrote back quickly and said we should call their customer service number. I had a couple of false starts because I didn’t realize I would need my SkyMiles and flight confirmation numbers in front of me (so I had to find those), plus I wasn’t sure if the contents of my baggage counted as “baggage” or not (NOTE TO NEWBIES: It does.) but I finally spoke to a sweet lady named Shay, who said I needed to fill out their online form. She did give me some helpful suggestions (ignore the “reference number” request, photo must be small or just say that you have a photo available upon request, etc.) and off I went to Delta.com to fill out my “Comment/Complaint” form. I got an auto reply the next day that said:

Dear Mrs. Heg,
Thank you for contacting Delta.
We look forward to working with you to resolve this matter. You will receive a response regarding the status of your claim within 2-4 weeks.

We appreciate your selection of Delta and will work to resolve this in a timely manner.
Thank you very much.
Sincerely,

Customer Care – Baggage

That was on March 25th.

On April 10th (16 days after I contacted them – on the lower end of 2-4 weeks), I got a phone call from a Delta representative but let it go to voice mail because I didn’t recognize the 800 number they used and nowadays, if I don’t recognize the number, I just don’t pick up the phone – sorry, I just don’t feel like listening to another robocall about adjusting a headset. They also sent me an email:

Dear Mrs. Heg:
Thank you for the additional information (NOTE: I didn’t send them any other additional information but OK), and we’re sorry to learn that you encountered a problem with your baggage while traveling with us recently.
Please be assured that every precaution is made to have a passenger’s luggage arrive in the same condition as when it was checked into our care (NOTE: yeah right). We succeed with few exceptions, and regret the mishandling on your trip (NOTE: if you had let me keep my luggage with me as intended, and especially since there was indeed room in the overhead, this wouldn’t have happened).
Our check for $13.61
(NOTE: $12.50 + 8.87% NYC tax) to reimburse you for the damaged property will be mailed under separate cover. You should receive it within the next ten business days.
We appreciate, and thank you for, your choice of Delta to provide your air transportation and look forward to being able to welcome and serve you, once again, on board one of our flights.
Sincerely,

Claims Manager
Customer Care-Baggage

And on April 22nd, which was indeed within (albeit JUST within) 10 business days, I received my check.

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So there you go – I’m reimbursed. Am I happy? Well, not being out the $13.61 is nice, especially since they were the ones who broke the thing in the first place. But honestly, I’d rather still have an intact ornament as a memory of my trip, and would have been a whole lot happier if I had been allowed to keep my carry-on in the first place, and then none of this would have happened.

With airline travel so uncomfortable and not-user-friendly nowadays, you would think the airlines could at least make “keeping the items they say customers can have with them, with them” would be more of a priority in terms of customer service. Oh, and speaking of customer service, I got a “Give Us Feedback of How We Handled This Situation?” email from Delta on April 11th, the day after they said they were going to send me the check. Only problem was that several of the survey questions had to do with whether or not I was happy with the situation once it was completed…which it wasn’t, because I hadn’t received the check yet. There was still a possibility something could have happened and the check wouldn’t be received, which would have affected my answers. So I held onto the email and waited. But when I tried to fill it out a few days after I finally did receive the check, the survey had expired. So yeah…customer service.

I know I’m not the only one who’s been through something like this. Did an airline ever break anything of yours? Did you have a happy ending with it?

Credit Card Review: Citi Prestige

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I’ve talked about the American Express Everyday Preferred before, as it is one of our wallet go-to cards. The Citi Prestige is not a card I use for every day purchases but instead is more of a special teams player. I will pull it out of the drawer when I make specific purchases for the benefits, that I will list later, it provides.

The Citi Prestige is one of the premium credit cards on the market. You need to have good credit to be approved for one. It also carries a hefty $450 annual fee. I’m willing to pay the fee for this card because of the benefits I get from it:

Sign Up Bonus

The Citi Prestige card is currently offering 40,000 Thank You points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months after opening your account. This amount was decreased in July 2016 from the 50,000 points originally offered when the card was introduced in 2014. Like most premium cards, the annual fee of $450 is not waived for the first year.

Thank You Points

The Citi Prestige earns Thank You points, that are a type of flexible (transferrable) point. These are the earning categories for the card:

  • 3X points for Air Travel and Hotels
  • 2X points for Dining and Entertainment
  • 1X points for all other purchases

This is a pretty decent mix of bonus categories for someone who travels frequently. 3X points for air travel was previously the highest multiplier for this category (the American Express Platinum recently increased their bonus on this category to 5X). 2X for dining is also a good return (the Chase Sapphire Reserve just upped the game by offering 3X on this category). I try and make our points and miles collecting as easy as I can for Sharon and the Citi Prestige is the card I give to her to use when we travel. Most of our spending is for dining or entertainment and we get 2X points in that category.  I’m OK with her using it for the other random purchases that we will only get 1X on in exchange for the simplicity of being able to use the same card for all purchases.

I feel that a disadvantage is that with this card is that you earn Thank You points, that I think are the most difficult of the transferrable points to use. While Citi has tried to make these points more valuable by increasing the number of travel partners, as for now you can only transfer points to the following programs.

  • JetBlue (fixed value program)
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Etihad Guest
  • Eva Air
  • Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)
  • Guarda Indonesia
  • Hilton Honors (1000 points = 1500 Honors points)
  • Jet Airways
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Sears Shop Your Way (1 point = 12 SYW points)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

You probably noticed that you don’t see many airlines that you know, like American, Delta or United on that list. You’re right. Now, that’s not to say there isn’t value to be had with some of these partners; you just really need to know what you are doing to book the flights you want and get a good return. Here are some examples of how you can book flights in the U.S. with the available transfer partners:

  • United Airlines flights can be booked with Singapore miles
  • Delta Airlines flights can be booked with Flying Blue miles

What about flights on American Airlines? While it is true that you can not transfer points to American’s frequent flyer program, you can use your Thank You points to pay for flights when you use the Citi Travel Center. Up until July 23rd, 2017, for people who have the Prestige card, your points are worth 1.6 cents each for travel on American Airlines and 1.33 cents for travel on all other airlines. After this date, the value of points will change and you will get at constant 1.25 cents value for tickets on all airlines. This lowers the value of Thank You points a bit.

If you are looking for an extensive list of how to use your Thank You points, here is a list of the 35 best ways to use your points. To be totally honest, I’ve only used my points twice since when we applied for the card in October 2015. I used miles to pay for a flight on JetBlue and I also used points to top off my Hilton account to pay for our hotel in Fort Lauderdale.  So if I haven’t been able to find much usage for the points, why do I still have the card? The benefits!!!!

Citi Prestige Benefits

Here is list of the benefits of the Citi Prestige card that make me keep it despite the $450 annual fee. This list may not be all inclusive but these are the benefits I’ve actually used:

  • $250 airline credit – Every calendar year you get $250 of airline charges reimbursed with the card. This is for any airline charges, including airline tickets and if you travel at all, you should be able to get this money back. Since this is money you would have spent anyway, the effective cost of the card is lowered to $200,  that is still steep but I think is made up for with the next benefit.
  • Fourth Night Free hotel benefit – This is really the killer benefit of the Prestige, that is not matched by any other credit card. If you are staying at a hotel for 4 nights (or more) and book through the Citi Concierge, the cost of the 4th night is reimbursed as a credit. This benefit will be changing slightly from reimbursing the cost of the 4th night to the average cost of the hotel night during your stay. (I know people were booking a hotel where the 4th night is more expensive, like Las Vegas on the weekend or Super Bowl weekend and making the most costly night be the 4th night). I wish I could use this benefit more as there is no limit to how many times you can use it. I was able to get $173.50 back from a stay in New York in 2015 and will be using it for our stay in Disneyland, where it will save me $209.43. So between this benefit and the airline credit, I’ve gotten my money back for the annual fee.
  • Travel Protection – The Citi Prestige offers some of the best travel protections of any credit card. Up until May of 2016, the catch was that you had to pay for the whole ticket with the card. This meant if you paid with miles/points and paid the fees with the card, you weren’t covered. Citi has since changed their rules so that several types of coverage are eligible even if you only use the Prestige for a portion of the cost. This allows you to put in a claim for lost baggage, baggage delay or medical evacuation and get the benefit even if you just paid a portion of the cost with your Prestige. There is still a catch for trip cancellation and interruption that, “In the event of partial payment, we will only reimburse the lesser of the actual amount paid for with your Citi card (including ThankYou® Points) or the maximum coverage per Trip”. So if  your trip is cancelled, you only will receive back the amount that you charged to the card.
  • Missed Event Ticket Protection – I use this card to purchase all of our concert and theater ticket because of the great coverage it provides. unnamed1-2In fact, I just used it to pay for our tickets to  the Classic East concert.
    “If the unexpected keeps you from using tickets (such as tickets for a sporting event, concert, or lecture) for an event, we may reimburse you the price of the ticket up to $500 per ticket, including service fees that are listed on the ticket or receipt. You’re covered for up to $5,000 in a calendar year per account”
  • Priority Pass Membership (with guesting privileges) – We are past the stage of planning to get to the airport early just so that we can go to a airport lounge. However, there are times when you happen to get to the airport really early or have a long layover, and sitting in a lounge is a nice perk. Priority Pass has relationships with lounges around the world and we’ve used this benefit to get us into lounges from Heathrow Airport in London to Miami Airport while waiting for our flight to Cuba. The best part of the Citi Prestige membership to Priority Pass is that you get to bring 2 guests into the lounge with you.

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    View from Aspire, The Lounge and Spa at LHR T5 (A Priority Pass Lounge)
  • $100 Global Entry credit – If you travel internationally (or even plan on doing so in the next 5 years), you should have Global Entry. This is a program from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that allows you to skip the line when re-entering the U.S. There is a very extensive application to be filled out and a mandatory interview to be approved, but it is totally worth it. If approved, you also have a great chance of being cleared for the TSA Pre✓® lanes when going through x-ray before your flights. I’ve not used this credit with this card as we applied for the Global Entry program before I had the card but I can use it to pay for my renewal fee (or you can be nice and pay for someone else’s application if you aren’t going to apply yourself).
  • Citi Price Rewind – This is a service where Citi will monitor the price on items you purchased with the card to see if the price goes down. After making your purchase, you go to the Citi Price Rewind website to register your purchase. I’ve gotten money back on everything from a lawn edger to our dog’s flea medicine.

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    I’d gladly pay full price for her flea medication but I’d rather save some money and get miles while I’m at it. And isn’t she the cutest puppy ever!?!?
  • Citi Private Pass Events – While you can usually access these with any Citi Card,  you get early access and/or preferred seating to concerts and sporting events. The Prestige card will also have access to some private events not for any other cardmembers. I’ve used this perk to score tickets to Darius Rucker and Train. Right now the website is showing tickets to Paul McCartney, Sting and Kings of Leon concerts.

I’m sure I’ve missed some of the benefits of this card that didn’t apply to me. They still might offer free rounds of golf (I haven’t golfed [where it didn’t involve a windmill] in years). While it may seem that paying $450 a year for a card is expensive, I find myself making money just by having this card and using some of its benefits. That’s even before I’ve been able to find something to do with the points we are earning with it.

Why the airlines got Cuba all wrong

Until August 31, 2016, when commercial airline service resumed, the way most people went to Cuba from the U.S. was on a chartered flight. You booked through an agency who arranged the flights and certified that you were flying for a designated reason. Their customers were mostly people with family living in Cuba, or those going on mission or school trips. You see, these were the people who could travel to Cuba freely under the embargo. In order to do so, you had to fit into one of the 12 categories allowed to travel there:

  • Educational activities in Cuba for schools, including people-to-people exchanges open to everyone
  • Professional research and professional meetings in Cuba
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions in Cuba
  • Religious activities in Cuba
  • Humanitarian projects in Cuba
  • Journalistic activities in Cuba
  • Family visits to close relatives in Cuba
  • Activities in Cuba by private foundations, or research or educational institutes
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information technologies or materials
  • Certain authorized export transactions including agricultural and medical products, and tools, equipment and construction supplies for private use
  • Official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
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The plane we took to Cuba in March 2016. Eastern still operates as a charter airline selling flights to Cuba through Havana Air.

In 2015, the restriction of certifying that your travel was for an allowed reason was significantly reduced. You no longer needed to submit your plans in advance; instead you simply needed to state on a form that you were, in fact, traveling for one of the approved reasons.

We looked into a vacation to Cuba and booked an arranged trip through a travel concierge. Our flights, lodging, tour guides, drivers and even meals were all planned out and booked well in advance. You see, even then, demand from the United States and Europe was getting stronger and there was just not the infrastructure to support it in Cuba. They were not ready for a huge influx of new tourists, particularly in the towns outside of Havana. Most of the towns don’t have a huge number of hotel rooms and use “casa particulars” (“private houses” in English) to house many guests. Imagine it as a Cuban AirBNB.

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This is what you might get if booking a casa particular outside of Havana

When U.S. airlines were allowed to fly commercial flights again in 2016, the airlines applied for 60 flights a week between Havana and various U.S. cities. The Department of Transportation eventually awarded 20 slots to various airlines for flights to Havana.

They also approved flights to the other airports in Cuba to basically anyone who applied. I count 155 flights a week that were approved to fly to Cuba. The only one of these applications that was denied was from Eastern Airlines, who was a charter and did not have a commercial airline registration.

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Flights to all other cities in Cuba
DOT Awards Eight Airlines Routes to Havana Cuba Worksheet
Flights to Havana from U.S.

Having just flown to Cuba, I was wondering if the airline executives who applied for all of these flights had even flown to Cuba themselves, because they certainly didn’t seem to understand the market they were serving. All of these flights were going to have to be filled by U.S. citizens. If they all left full, there would be nowhere for the people to stay when they landed because there were not enough hotel rooms to take all of that capacity.

Starting as early as November 2016, the airlines realized they had severely overestimated the supply of flights needed. The announcements have been frequent and here’s what I see as the reductions and cancellations so far:

  • American Airlines – Flights from Miami to Cienfuegos and Camagüey changed to smaller planes, reducing the number of seats by 40%.
  • American Airlines – Cut flights from Miami to Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero from twice daily to once daily.
  • Jet Blue – Downgraded all flights to smaller planes. Routes with 200 seat planes were  reduced to 150 seats and routes with 150 seat planes were reduced to 100 seat aircraft.
  • Silver Airways – Suspended all services to Cuba as of April 22, 2017.
  • Frontier Airways – Cancelled their Miami-Havana flight.
  • Spirit Airways – Cancelled their Fort Lauderdale-Havana flight.

So, what happened? Obviously, the airlines added way too many flights to Cuba into the marketplace. However, I don’t think that was the real problem. I believe it was moreso they didn’t understand the customer who took these flights. I mean, you’d think when commercial flights started to Cuba, the charter businesses, who used to be the only ones flying in and out of Cuba from the U.S. would go away, yes? There would be no need for them since people could just go and buy a ticket to Cuba like to anywhere else, right? So why can I still go online and look up charter flights, which are still not only thriving, but still charging $400 round trip?

Flights to Cuba were never about leisure or business travelers. They were supply planes that happened to be carrying passengers. Here’s an example of the luggage charges for our charter flight to Cuba in 2016.

Total Amount of FREE OF CHARGE Weight: 44 lbs
Every pound after the first 44 lbs will be charged at $2 per lb.
Purse = FREE
Carry-on = FREE (In order for a carry-on suitcase to be accepted as a carry- on suitcase in these charter flights, it can only weigh up to 20 lbs)
Check-in suitcases: $20/each
Example:
You are traveling with a purse (6 lbs), a carry-on (19 lbs), and 1 check-in suitcase (30 lbs)
Your total weight is 55 lbs.
The first 44 lbs are free.
The difference is 11 lbs.
So you will be paying:
11 lbs x $2 = $22
1 Check-in Suitcase: $20
Also, at check-in, you pay $3 for Charter TSA Airport Fee.
So you pay: $22+20+3=$45
These $45 you can choose to pay cash or with a credit card. If you pay with a credit card, they will charge you a 5% ($2.25) fee

They weighed everything at the airport. Our small carry on. Our carry on luggage. Our suitcase. EVERYTHING. We ended up paying $174 extra for our bags. While this may seem like a lot, we weren’t the ones this policy was made for. It was for everyone else on the flight who was bringing anything and everything with them to Cuba. Plastic garbage bags filled with clothing and toys. Boxed up car parts, flat screen TV’s, tires (YES, TIRES), an air conditioner, and everything else that the people in Cuba need.

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See the luggage carts to the left? That was only a portion of the supplies going with us to Havana on our flight.

In Cuba, you would need to go to the government store to buy many of these things. If you even have the money to buy them, the store might not have it in stock anyway. You can’t trust having it shipped there because it’s not dependable. So you get someone in your family or a friend or someone you know who is going to Cuba and you have them bring it with them. Even if the item is 100 pounds, that’s only 200 dollars. Well worth it so that your relatives have an air conditioner in the house.

I also need to add that those charges were only on the flight TO CUBA. For the flight home, they couldn’t be bothered to weigh your bags. Bring home whatever you want.

That’s why the commercial flights are not doing well. Could you imagine what United Airlines check in agents would do if someone came to the desk with 4 tires? I don’t think if you were even a top tier Premiere 1K flyer that you’d be able to check them in. Does each tire count as a bag? You’re only allowed 2 checked bags, or is that tires? They just don’t have the flexibility in their system to handle this. That’s why the charters still are around – because people who have been traveling to Cuba have been using them for years; they know the system, the airlines know the system, and the staff know the system.

Until the commercial airlines realize this, they can discount, downsize and cancel as many flights as they want, but they’ll never be able to get a grasp on the market. That is, until if/when Americans are able to travel and invest freely in Cuba. Then you’ll be able to stay at the newly built Hyatt Regency and have your Starbucks while sitting on the beach. But then it will just be another Caribbean island and we have plenty of those already.

Have you traveled to Cuba before or were you planning a trip? We’re interested to hear what you think. Comment here or write to us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

We are flying to Charlotte for $25!!!!

Forgive the clickbait headline. But truth be told, we really are flying for an out-of-pocket expense of less than $25. How? Thanks for asking!

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Not all trips on points and miles are glamourous. Some are rather plain, yet important. Like when you and your wife want to fly to Charlotte for a friend’s wedding in little over than a month from now.

When I first started looking at flights, I was like “That’s like less than 500 miles. It can’t be that expensive of a flight.”

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It really shouldn’t be. I mean we could drive there in 7 1/2 hours. So what’s a reasonable amount of airfare. $200 Round Trip? Maybe $250, right?

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Nope. Let’s actually start the bidding at $293. That’s if we were willing to be at the airport for a 6:30 AM flight. Oh, heck no! So we are on to Plan B, using our airline miles.

I started my search with American, as they have many daily departures on this route. My hopes weren’t too high as I just read a post by Gary on View From the Wing about how poor award availability on American Airlines has been as of late. To my amazement, I was able to find space for 2 tickets at Saver pricing for a decent time flight to Charlotte. American was charging 7,500 miles for the flight, so that would be 15,000 for the one way trip plus $11.20 in taxes.

I have a good amount of American points stashed away so I could have made this booking. However, this is where my mind goes into miles overdrive mode. I also have points in British Airways program from getting their credit card last year with a 75,000 Avios bonus (Avios is the name that British Airways gives to their mileage currency.)  Since the amount of British Airways Avios required for a ticket is based on the miles flown, this short flight would only cost me 7,500 Avios (or 15,000 for the two tickets). This is the same amount as the miles required by American Airlines.  Since British Airways and American are partners, any Saver space with American should be available to book with Avios through the British Airways website. An advantage to booking with British Airways over American is the difference in cancellation policies. With American, if I want to cancel the flight I would have to pay $150 to redeposit the miles into my account. If I cancel the same flight booked with Avios, I will only be responsible for the taxes paid on the ticket. I found out about this trick from this Million Miles Secrets article. I can vouch that this works as I’ve rebooked a ticket with Avios before and only had to pay $5.60. The British Airways phone agent even suggested this was the best way for me to rebook my flights.

I booked my flight to Charlotte for $11.20 (and 15,000 Avios). So now, how to get home?

Forget flights on American for Sunday night, as the one way was pricing for over $350 each person. I don’t think so; not for that price. Even flights on Southwest were expensive.

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I find this next sentence difficult to write:

Delta Airlines Skymiles to the rescue.

Delta Skymiles have long been the whipping boy of the miles and points blogosphere (they are often referred to as SkyPesos). Most writers love to complain about how Delta no longer posts mileage charts and changes what they make you pay for flights on a whim. While this is true, most other airlines have gotten as bad (or worse) for using your points for economy flights in the U.S.

I found a flight home on Delta which would have cost us $185 each. It meant connecting in Atlanta but that’s not too bad since it’s not out of the way. Delta was also offering it for 14,500 Skymiles. The gold standard price for a one way flight in the US is 12,500 miles (25,000 for a round trip), Now considering that American was asking 20,000 miles for a flight, I bit the bullet and booked the flight home with Delta for 29,000 Skymiles and $11.20

All of these plans might have changed if we were flying on a different day. Frontier flies from Orlando to Charlotte for $105 Round Trip but, alas, they did not have flights on our required days.

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I’ve read on how to not get hosed on Frontier tickets, so I was confident I could book without any unknown fees biting me in the behind. Sharon, on the other hand, was still very skeptical about it and is happier with the booking we’ve made. I still think Frontier has cool designs on their planes, even if we don’t fly with them.

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So that’s how we are going to fly to Charlotte for $25 (actually $22.40, 29,000 Delta Skymiles and 15,000 British Airways Avios) Since those miles were earned mainly through credit card bonuses, this was really a no brainer. We have no plans for any of those miles in the near future and I can earn 45,000 miles back with another sign up bonus.

What’s your most boring, yet valuable, booking with your points or miles? Share with us here, Facebook or Twitter.

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?

gandolflp

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.

IMG_1874 - Version 2

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.