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?”

Buyer Beware: Do your homework before booking a flight with a “basic” fare

I was doing some serious travel planning over the last two weeks. We are focusing on taking several shorter trips this year and that means I need to book more flights than usual for us. Since I’ve been booking our domestic flights with my Southwest miles or on JetBlue, I haven’t paid much attention to changes the major airlines like American, Delta and United have been making. I did know they started to offer bare bone, or basic airfares, claiming that this will help them remain competitive with low cost airlines.

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By Alex Beltyukov – RuSpotters Team [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Originally, these fares were only supposed to be offered on routes where they were in competition against airlines like Spirit, Frontier or Allegiant.  However, as you can imagine, the airlines have now started to roll these fares out to a larger number of routes, including some of the ones I now needed to book airfare for. Let me spell out what these fares entail for each airline:

American Airlines – Basic Economy

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By Sergey Kustov [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
When you book a Basic Economy ticket with American, here is what you get:

  • One item that fits under the seat in front of you (no access to overhead bins)
  • Seats are assigned at check-in
  • Fees to choose a specific seat
  • Not eligible for upgrades
  • No flight changes or refunds
  • Board in last group

For more clarification on baggage, American gives this guidance on their website:

You can board with 1 item like a purse or small handbag that fits under the seat in front of you and is not larger than 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm). You won’t have access to overhead bins.

All other items must be checked at ticket counters and cannot be carried on. If you take them to the gate you’ll pay an extra $25 gate service fee per item plus the applicable bag fee.

American does have some exemptions for elite members of their AAdvantage program and those who hold a co-branded American Airlines credit card. They can:

  • Take 1 item that fits under the seat (no larger than 18 x 14 x 8 in.)
  • Take 1 item free of charge to store in the overhead bin (no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 in.)
  • Keep their priority or preferred boarding privileges
  • Keep their checked bag benefits

Delta Airlines – Basic Economy

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By Richard Snyder from San Jose, CA, United States of America (Delta Air Lines N130DL Uploaded by Altair78) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Delta Airlines version of Basic Economy comes with the following restrictions:

  • With Basic Economy, you will not receive a seat assignment until after check-in or at the gate.
  • Passengers traveling together, including families, may not be seated together
  • You will not be eligible for same-day changes or ticket refunds after the Risk Free Cancellation Period
  • You will board in the last zone and not be eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades or preferred seats, even with Medallion® Status.

Frequent Delta flyers and cardholders of the co-branded Delta Skymiles American Express cards will still get some benefits when flying on basic economy:

When flying on a Basic Economy fare, Medallion members will continue to enjoy waived baggage fees, Priority Check-in, Priority Boarding and Medallion mileage bonuses. However, please note Medallion members will not receive paid or Complimentary Upgrades to first class, paid or complimentary Preferred Seats, or paid, or complimentary Delta Comfort+™ when flying on a Basic Economy fare.

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Delta gives members of their co-branded American Express cards priority boarding and one free checked bag even when booking basic economy fares.

United Airlines – Basic Economy

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By InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA (United Airlines – N797UA Uploaded by Altair78) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I hate to be the one to jump on the bandwagon, but United’s Basic Economy fares are the most restrictive of the “Big Three” airlines. Be prepared if you book one of these fares! (I added the bold type below for emphasis)

  • Seat selection and upgrades are not available – When you choose a Basic Economy ticket, your seat will be automatically assigned prior to boarding, and you won’t be able to change your seat once it’s been assigned. You will not be eligible to purchase Economy Plus® seating or receive Economy Plus subscription benefits. MileagePlus members, including Premier® members, cannot use complimentary, earned or mileage upgrades.
  • Group and family seating is not available – Please note that customers traveling in a group, including families, will not be able to sit together.
  • Full-sized carry-on bags are not permitted – You’re not allowed a full-sized carry-on bag unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance™ Gold member. Everyone else who brings a full-sized carry-on bag to the gate will be required to check their bag and pay the applicable checked bag fee plus a $25 gate handling charge.
  • One personal item is allowed – You are allowed one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, purse, laptop bag or other item that is 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm) or less. Mobility aids and other assistive devices are also permitted.
  • Flight changes and refunds are not allowed – Ticket changes are not allowed with Basic Economy, including advance and same-day changes. Refunds are not allowed except as stated in the United 24-hour flexible booking policy.
  • Certain MileagePlus and Premier member benefits are not available – If you’re a MileagePlus member, you will still earn award miles based on the fare and your MileagePlus status. However, MileagePlus members will not earn Premier qualifying credit or lifetime miles or toward the four-segment minimum, and they won’t receive some benefits. See more details below.
  • Last boarding group – With Basic Economy, you’ll also be in the last boarding group unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance Gold member.

Is it just me or it that the MOST NEGATIVE list of benefits you’ve ever read? It almost seems as if they are daring you to buy these tickets. They do list some exceptions to these rules if you have one of the United co-branded credit cards or if you are a MileagePlus premium member, but these are, by far, the most restrictive tickets.

Final Thoughts

I recently had to look through the restrictions of basic economy fares and found that there are major differences between the three major airlines offerings. Delta’s basic economy rate’s only major drawback is that you’re not able to pick your seat until check in. American’s fare has a similar set of restrictions as Delta but additionally does not allow you to bring a bag bigger than one that will fit under your seat (and will charge you a $25 penalty on top of the checked bag fee if you bring said oversized bag to the gate). United rightfully earns the last spot with restrictions that would make RyanAir proud, like that you have no ability to pick or to change seat, can’t bring a full-size carry on (with a $25 penalty, the same as American, if you do bring one to the gate on top of the normal baggage fee), no ticket changes and being in the last boarding group.

While the reasoning the airlines gave to offer these fares was sound, to compete with ultra low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier, in reality it just does not, to lack a better word, fly. These fares are offered on routes not served by any of the ultra low cost airlines. Other blogs have noted that the fares did not go down in price at all. The previous economy fare just became the new basic economy fare and the regular economy fare increased. The irony of these “no-frill” fares is that low-cost airlines like Southwest and JetBlue still offer lower fare structures and manage to offer wi-fi (still not available on many American flights), free checked bags (Southwest) or live TV (JetBlue) at a fare that is less than these “basic” fares. The true ultra low cost carriers, like Frontier, have fares as low as $39 or offers like Spirit’s $9 fare club. These are true “basic economy” fares that are up front about giving you nothing but a seat and having you pay for everything else. These new basic economy fares are just economy tickets with more restrictions that are the same price as the old economy fares. Buyer Beware!

Have you ever purchased one of these basic economy fares? Did you know what the restrictions were when you purchased it? How was the flight experience?  Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter. I’m personally not a big fan of these fares, but as always, Your Mileage May Vary.

 

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?

Five reasons why I was going to book a flight on Allegiant…and five reasons why I didn’t.

I’ve flown on a bunch of different domestic airlines in my lifetime. Off the top of my head, I’ve flown on Delta, United, American, JetBlue, Virgin America, Southwest, Alaska, Hawaiian, Silver, Continental, US Airways, Eastern, America West, TWA, Northwest, People’s Express, TED, Song and Midwest Express (am I showing my age?). So why, when it came to booking a flight on Allegiant, did I have second thoughts?

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Why didn’t I book a flight on Allegiant?

Let me set up the story. Sharon asked me earlier this week to look for a hotel in Pigeon Forge, TN. It’s not an uncommon request from her, as we get friends asking us all the time to help with travel; that’s why we started the blog in the first place. I asked for the dates because I can’t tell what hotel rates are going to be without knowing when the stay is going to be. She told me the date and the location and I came up with some hotels for decent prices. That’s when I get the open ended question of, “Would you mind if I went away for the weekend?” Huh, this was for you? For what? We are already traveling so much this year already, why do you need to go away?

For those of you not following our exploits closely, the most important purchase in our household this year was Sharon’s new Xtreme Purple Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited, that she calls Jeep Jeep.

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Sharon & Jeep Jeep on their first meeting

She obsessed over every part of ordering this car, right down to the cigarette lighter. It was ordered as soon as it was available (Xtreme Purple was a new, special color for the 2017 models) and she even followed the tracking information from the factory to the dealership. It was a big deal! During the process of getting the Jeep, Sharon was brought into the Jeep community (there is such a thing) and got to know several friends online. Thus the interest in going to Pigeon Forge. There is a huge Jeep event happening there and she’d be able to meet her Jeep people and talk Jeep things. I’d usually have nothing to do with this but I’ve been to Pigeon Forge before and would love to revisit the Great Smoky Mountains area again. I might even get to visit Dollywood.

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Looks like I’ll have to find a different way to get to the Knoxville area. (Sunsphere from 1982 World’s Fair)

Here’s the catch: the flights into Knoxville (the closest airport to the area) are MEGA expensive. Like, I could fly across the country for less money, expensive. Like, for two people to fly from Orlando to Knoxville on our preferred dates would cost us almost $700. And forget about using miles if flights are that much for cash (for newbies: it would cost way too many miles for flights that are that expensive). However, when searching with Google Flights I got a notice that if I changed my dates I could fly for $91 round trip per person. Why the huge difference? Allegiant flies non-stop from Orlando to Knoxville but only on 2 days a week and those were not the days we were going. Drat!

One thing I’ve learned from my reading of travel blogs is that if your dates are not flexible (ours usually are not) then you may need to be flexible with your airports.

I did some digging and found that while Allegiant did not fly to Knoxville on our preferred dates, they did fly from Orlando-Sanford Airport to Bristol, Chattanooga and Greenville, SC, which are all airports in the general area of Pigeon Forge. The search then went to Allegiant’s website to look for flights.

Reasons I almost booked with Allegiant

  1. Allegiant airfares are listed from a low of $80 round trip to Chattanooga up to $112 round trip to Greenville. This is compared to flights to the same cities on Delta starting at $244. You can’t just ignore a price difference that large.
  2. We’re big fans of non-stop flights. There is no chance of your flight being delayed and missing your connecting flight. The flights on Allegiant are all non-stop while all other flights to the area involve a connection. The cities in the area are considered minor markets and so the major airlines fly regional jets from the smaller airports to their larger hubs. This means flying through Atlanta (Delta), Charlotte (American) or Chicago (United, are you kidding with that routing?)

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    While I like to fly, this is not my preferred routing as suggested by United.
  3. Allegiant flies out of Orlando-Sanford (SFB) airport. This is a much smaller airport than Orlando International Airport (MCO) yet still has TSA Pre✓ when flying with Allegiant. Parking at Sanford airport would also be closer to the terminal and less expensive than what it would be at Orlando airport. 
  4. I can reserve an exit row seat on Allegiant, ahead of our flight, for $15 each way. Prices for these seats on other airlines can go for up to $50 extra (per flight).
  5. The best alternate for us to get to the area is with Delta Airlines but their pricing for these routes is starting to drive me crazy. In the two days that I’ve been researching flights, Delta’s price for two tickets has changed from $173 round trip last night to $244 this morning. Now, if I search just for one seat, I can find space for $163, but only if I choose a flight with a three hour layover in Atlanta. I was going to pull the trigger on the $173 flights but I’m not booking tickets at the increased price.

Reasons I didn’t book with Allegiant, yet

  1. You need to be cautious when booking with Allegiant. While they list very low fares on their website, they charge you extra for everything. I went through the booking process to see what the final cost would be. Bringing a roll-aboard bag as carry-on to go in the overhead bin is $16 per person per flight ($64 total) Booking seat assignments is extra an $10 for regular seats and $15 for the exit row. If I have to pay, I’ll pay the extra $5 for the legroom. ($60 total).  We would not need to check a bag for this short weekend but if we did it would cost $20 if we paid when booking, $45 pre departure and $50 at the airport. They also charge for all on board snacks, including $2 for water and soda. That means our $81 ticket would end up costing us $145 round trip. Still not bad but that’s pretty close to the $173 that Delta charges.
  2. While Allegiant does fly non-stop to several airports from Orlando-Sanford, the flights we are looking at only fly twice weekly (Thursday and Sunday) and only once each day. That means if the plane is delayed, you are stuck at the airport until they can fix it. If the plane can’t be fixed and gets cancelled, there is very little chance you are getting to your location (for several days). That’s a hard pill to swallow for a weekend getaway and if you Google it, you’ll see that Allegiant doesn’t have the best reputation for customer service.
  3. While Orlando-Sanford is a smaller airport, it is quite a trip from most of the Greater Orlando area. It may be convenient if you live northeast of the city, but it’s not so close for those in the Walt Disney World area (the lower left corner of the map). It would be about a 45-60 min drive for us to Sanford airport, as opposed to a 10-15 min drive to Orlando airport.Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 12.05.36 AM
  4. The flight times for Allegiant are not great. Chattanooga is about a 2-1/2 hour drive to Pigeon Forge. The only flight on Thursday leaves at 6:17PM and arrives at 7:52PM. That means if every connection is perfect and we have no wait for a rental car and a quick check in at the hotel, we might be into our hotel room by 11PM. Forget it if there are any delays; we’d be driving around Tennessee in the middle of the night and that’s not the way I’d prefer start to my vacation. The flight times coming home are not any better, as we would arrive in Sanford at 10:08PM. Best case scenario would get us home by 11PM (doubtful) and I’m scheduled to work the next day.
  5. I can’t get out of my mind all of the maintenance problems that were in the headlines last year about Allegiant. I’ve read up on the topic and it seems that the FAA has cleared the airline and approved the changes they have made to their maintenance program. The airline is flying planes every day with no issues for months and the flights I’ve been looking at have been tracking on time per FlightAware. But I’m still leery.

So what to do?

For now, I’m just sitting tight. I have a Google Flights search for the Delta flights that I want. They were $173 last night and $244 today (???). I’ll see what they are listed at tomorrow and wouldn’t be surprised if they were then $100 or $400. I looked at the seating maps for the flights and the planes are really empty.  I still have 3 months until our trip so I can take some time to wait to see what happens to the fares. While it takes every bit of my self control to keep from booking something, I’ve learned that patience is often rewarded. So I’ll wait, for now.

Have you ever flown with Allegiant? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments 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.

Using your airline miles to get to Europe

We love traveling and TransAtlantic trips are extra special. Living on the east coast of the U.S., flights to European cities are not much longer than trips to the west coast. While I’ve made the trip in economy class, making the overnight flight there in a lie flat business class seat is just so much better. You actually might even sleep on the flight and arrive for your big vacation well rested.

Unfortunately, I will never have the time to try all of the airlines that fly between the United States and Europe. Lucky for me, The Points Guy has just posted a list of all the airlines and comments on the business class service available on each one on this page of their blog.  They also pick what they feel are the Top 10, based on factors like availability, service and cost.

I’ve only flew a few of these but will give my quick opinion of each. I did my research before all of these flights and picked out what seemed to be the best airline available to fit our needs. I actively avoided airplanes which had bad reviews but did not go out of my way to book a particular airline/airplane/seat type. I can say that I was happy with all the flights. None were amazing beyond compare but we had much more comfortable flight than we would have had in economy while soaring over the Atlantic Ocean on all of them.

Aer Lingus

This was how we got to London on our most recent trip in the fall of 2016. I was able to get flights in business class from Orlando to Dublin, then onward to London in economy. We were even able to arrange for a 10 hour layover so we got to leave the airport and spend the afternoon in Dublin so we could eat at one of our most favorite restaurants, Gallagher’s Boxty House. The seats were very comfortable and I even managed to get several hours of sleep on the flight. Since Aer Lingus is a partner with United Airlines, I was able to book the one way ticket for 70,000 United  miles + $23.80 each.

 American Airlines

This was our airline to get us home from Europe in 2016. Since we hopped around a little bit, we needed to fly home from Austria. I was able to get a ticket from Salzburg, Austria to London to Miami and finally to Orlando, all in business class.

I managed to get us seats on an American 777-300ER, which is one of their newest planes, for our flight from London to Miami. It had lie flat seats, everyone had aisle access and a really big TV screen. We were flying home during the daytime so I didn’t sleep very much on the flight but did enjoy reclining to read. To book the tickets, I had a healthy stash of American miles. At the time, this award cost 50,000 American miles (now it costs 57,500) and $200.20 each.

 Virgin Atlantic

I love the vibe of Virgin Atlantic. We flew them back in 2013 in Upper Class from Orlando to London and then home from Manchester to Orlando. Flying there, we took a 747 and were the first two seats in the nose of the plane. It was so cool. Apparently it was so cool that we didn’t want to appear silly taking a bunch of pictures. This was the only one I could find.img_0040

Flying home from Manchester we were on an Airbus A330-300. The seats were jammed in much closer and it wasn’t as luxurious a trip back. I guess that’s why we have no pictures of the flight.

That trip was the first time I used some miles and points tricks without help from others. I booked this flight using miles from ANA (All Nippon Airways). They are partners with Virgin Atlantic and only charge 68,000 miles for the flight. I was able to get ANA miles by transferring points to them from my American Express Membership Rewards account. This was good for me because back then I didn’t have a big stash of miles to spend. The kicker was that they do charge taxes and fees which ended up costing $1100.00 per ticket. I viewed it as if I was paying cash for a premium economy ticket and the miles I used was the cost to upgrade to Upper Class.

Delta Airlines and Air France

We flew these airlines to Ireland back in 2011. The information about the flights and such are really out of date. Flying up in front of the plane was also still a new thrill for us. Apparently the only thing that excited us was the amount of legroom we had as these are the only pictures I can find of the flight.

To book this flight, I used an award booking service I read about in a magazine called Book Your Award. Using a service to take advantage of your miles was a new idea back then. They are still around and I will refer people to them if they need help to book a complicated award ticket with miles.

 

How I earned more Delta miles for dinner and hotel than I did for my flights

One of the important things to know about collecting miles and points is that, unless you are a frequent business traveler, you are not going to earn enough miles for that bucket list trip just by flying. By being prepared, we earned a nice stash of miles from this short trip that had nothing to do with being on a plane.

 

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It’s counterintuitive to think that anything except flying would earn you frequent flyer miles. I mean, you would figure if you want to earn enough miles for your dream trip, you stay loyal to one airline and get all your miles from flying with them, right? Not too long ago you actually could earn a decent amount of miles for just taking regular flights, even as an occasional traveler. However within the last 2 years, the major airlines have changed to a system that rewards you by not how far your trip is but by how much you paid for that ticket.

I’ll use our recent trip to New York on Delta and therefore the formula Delta Skymiles uses to figure out mileage earning for flights on their planes.

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Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

A flight from Orlando to LaGuardia airport measures 950 miles, or 1900 miles round trip. The logical way to think about miles would be that for flying 1900 miles flight you would earn 1900 miles. No longer. Delta’s new math works like this. Since I am only a “General Member,” I earn 5 miles per dollar spent on my ticket. If you fly more you can earn a better multiplier, maxing out at 11 miles per dollar for the highest level of Diamond Medallion members. But if you are like me, you are usually going to be looking for the cheapest ticket available. Since I found a great fare for this trip, I only paid a fare of $129. Oh, I paid more for that but all of the extra fees, surcharges and taxes do not count for mileage accrual. That means I earned a whole 645 miles. That is not getting me very far at all.

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Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to earn airline, and in this case Delta, miles. For this stay I found an amazing offer for a room at the Waldorf=Astoria. The Waldorf=Astoria hotels are one of the 14 different brands belonging to the Hilton company. Since I am a Hilton HHonors member (and really, why they use the double H is beyond me – it’s like American AAdvantage. Why bother with the extra letter???), Hilton HHonors offers Points and Miles where you can earn airline miles for your stay on top of Hilton points. As per the Hilton Website, for Delta Skymiles you can “Earn 1 Delta mile per eligible US dollar spent at hotels and resorts within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio of brands (Up to 100 miles per stay at Home2 Suites).”

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Just a reminder than in order to earn any of these airline or hotel miles, you need to be enrolled in the programs. This takes only a few minutes to do before your trip. If you aren’t signed up, you are not getting the points you deserve.

The next way I earned miles was a pleasant surprise. You see, I’m signed up for the Skymiles Dining program. You provide your Delta Skymiles number and credit card number when you enroll and then when you dine at a restaurant on the program and pay with that card, you earn miles. Here is the earning structure:

  • Members earn 1 mile per $2 spent if you elect to not receive email communication from SkyMiles Dining.
  • Online Members earn 3 mile per $1 spent if you elect to receive email communication from SkyMiles Dining.
  • VIP Members earn 5 mile per $1 spent if you elect to receive email communication from SkyMiles Dining AND have 12 or more qualified dining transactions in a calendar year.

I don’t mind getting spammy type emails so I get the newsletter sent to my email and sort it to my “scan through occasionally” folder. This earns me 3 miles per dollar spent as I’ve never hit the 12 qualified transaction threshold in a year to become a VIP (only certain restaurants count – they’re all different price points, but we still don’t go to those specific restaurants often enough).

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-3-35-48-pmAnyway, I was pleasantly surprised to get an email shortly after arriving home. It turned out that the sushi restaurant near our hotel that I found on Yelp! was part of the SkyMiles dining program. Besides having a totally awesome dinner there, I earned an additional 408 Delta Skymiles ($136 dinner x 3 points per dollar). I was even happier when the next email arrived. It turned our that our favorite place to go after a show, Lillie’s, was also on the program! Woo hoo – more unexpected frequent flyer miles!

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Now don’t go and try and figure out what our bar tab was, OK?

So I earned another 564 miles for dining without even trying, because these were places we were going to anyway; the miles were just a bonus. So I earned a total of 2,069 Delta Skymiles this trip, of which only 645 were from the actual flight. Still a long way from that fancy seat, but you have to take what you can get.

I’d also like to mention that besides these bonuses, the credit card I used earned me 2 miles per dollar for travel and dining expenses. I also earned 5% back on all of our taxi and Uber rides by using my Discover card because transport is one of the bonus categories this quarter. I’ll get more into that side of earning in a later post.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment here or ask on Facebook or Twitter.