Live Blog: A Mileage Run to Anchorage — 33 hours of InsAAnity

Three weeks ago, I flew to Anchorage for the weekend to kickoff my status challenge to American Executive Platinum.  Well, today, I begin the last trip to finish that challenge of 25,000 Elite Qualifying Points in three months… only I’m completing this challenge in a mere 21 days!

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DCA-BOS-DFW-ANC-DFW-BOS-DCA

In order finish this challenge, I’ll be flying from Washington, DC to Anchorage and back today via Boston and Dallas-Fort Worth.  Yeah — I won’t be leaving the airport.  By my best estimate, this trip will take about 33 hours, from 7:30am this morning, including about 25 hours in the air.  Most of this travel will be on American Airlines in first class of a B757-200.  The shorter two legs from DCA-BOS and BOS-DCA will be operated by US Airways. This seemed like a good idea when I booked it.  After all, I will achieve Executive Platinum Status after this run, but… it’s a lot of domestic flying.   I’ve only done one straight turn on a mileage run before, and it was from DC to LAX.  My friend Angelina did this direct turn a couple of weeks ago, and she had nothing but terrible things to say about  it.  Here’s to hoping my run goes better! I’ll be posting a running string of updates during this mileage run.  It’s going to be painful.  I hope to keep this post entertaining!  Here goes nothing!


2:25pm EDT, Sunday

So over 32 hours and over 10,000 miles later, I’ve touched down at Washington National Airport.

I’m a bit tired, but it wasn’t really as bad as I thought it would be.  Thanks US Airway and American for six on-time flights during this run!

It’s all over!  American Executive Platinum is now secured until February 2016!

12:55pm EDT, Sunday

Continue Reading →

Vegas Baby! For BAcon!

I’m writing this post from about 35,000 feet on a US Airways flight somewhere in between Washington’s Reagan National Airport and Phoenix en route to Las Vegas!  I’m heading out to the desert with my girlfriend in tow for this weekend’s Boarding Area blogger Conference… better known as BAcon!    The primary reason for the trip is the conference, but it’s also the girlfriend’s first trip out to Vegas, so I can’t wait to show her around.Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.00.27 AM

This will be my first time attending the annual gathering of all Prior2Boarding and BoardingArea bloggers — some of them you’ve undoubtedly read before if you follow news about traveling, points and miles.  The three day conference is being held at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort, and is hosted by M life and Hyatt.  Topics in the conference will range from writing improvement to Google Analytics to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and blogging best practices!  We will also get an overview of the Mlife / Caesars brand,  as they are our hosts at the Mandalay Bay.

There are already several special events planned for us over the next few days, and I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store!  I hope to learn a whole bunch of useful information that will allow me to improve my blog, and I look forward to meeting and networking with my fellow Prior2Boarding and BoardingArea bloggers!

Other than the conference, the immediate task at hand for tonight will be to find a proper viewing location to watch my beloved Auburn Tigers play Kansas State tonight for a highly anticipated non-conference, Thursday night college football matchup!  I may go to the local Auburn Alumni Club Bar, but if there’s a great sports bar that anyone can recommend, I’m all ears!

Anyway, I will keep some updates coming from BAcon, and I’ll definitely make some future posts on the highlights of this weekend’s conference!

24 Hours in Anchorage

I’m posting this after completing a short, weekend trip to Anchorage, Alaska as part of a mileage run to hit the American Airlines Executive Platinum Status Challenge. Anchorage is a great place to spend a day, and obviously a fantastic hopping off point to explore more of Alaska, including Denali, the Kenai Peninsula, or even an Alaskan cruise. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend you actually spend some time in Alaska – certainly more than 24 hours. I’ve been fortunate enough to take two cruises to Alaska, so I’ve been able to experience the majestic scenery of the Last Frontier. I also spent a couple days in Anchorage last summer for a quick, weekend trip.

With that said, there’s no shortage of things to do if you have a short time in Anchorage – whether it’s a free day after a cruise, a hopping off point before or after a fishing trip, or if you find it amusing to fly almost 10,000 miles in a weekend, like me. Continue Reading →

Meeting the AA Executive Platinum Status Challenge… In One Month!

I previously wrote about the details of the Executive Platinum Status Challenge with American Airlines for which I recently signed up.  Well, I didn’t just blindly agree to the challenge — earning 25,000 elite qualifying points (EQP) in three months is no small feat, after all!

Before I even asked for the challenge, I carefully planned out the least expensive way for me to accomplish this challenge.  My two limiting factors in this endeavor were both time and money.  I had a very busy fall already with trips planned to Europe, Asia, and South America to go along with a wedding, a bachelor party, a weekend with the parents, a trip to Auburn for a football game, and a trip to Vegas for the BAcon Boarding Area blogger conference.  Adding to that, pretty much all of my vacation time has been either used or earmarked for the trips mentioned above.  This left me only three weekends between September and mid-November that I could use to hit this challenge. Continue Reading →

Check Your Flight’s Price on JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska!

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 9.12.21 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-26 at 9.13.50 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-26 at 9.14.27 PMI recently booked my first flight on JetBlue — a weekend trip from Washington-National to Charleston for a bachelor party in August.  I ended up getting what I considered to be a pretty good deal, but after hearing about some recent deals that JetBlue was offering, I decided to check their website to see what my flights were priced at now.

As it turns out, the price had dropped $50.  Since I haven’t flown JetBlue before, I was not too familiar about their policies, but I was informed by Seth of The Wandering Arameanthat JetBlue would re-price my ticket to the new price and issue the difference as a future flight credit.

Sure enough, after a short phone call, the friendly agent with JetBlue adjusted the price of my ticket and issued $50 in credit to my “Travel Bank” for use on a future flight.  Pretty sweet!

The terms and the body of the e-mail is below.

Service Credit: Refund 50.00 USD

Given the recent change in your travel plans, we have deposited the above credit into your Travel Bank account. This credit, which expires 365 days from the date it is issued, is available for use on future travel with JetBlue. 

To book a flight using your Travel Bank credit, visit jetblue.com and choose Travel Bank as your form of payment.

In order to qualify for your fare to be re-priced and to have a credit issued, the new price must be for the exact same flights on the same day.  If the price dropped, it’s definitely worth a phone call!

JetBlue is one of a few airlines that offer a similar policy, with the others being Southwest and Alaska Airlines.

Whatever the case, it’s refreshing to run into the occasional flyer-friendly customer policy opposed to a series of flyer un-friendly changes that I’ve grown accustomed to flying another certain airline.

So if you’re booked on JetBlue, Southwest, or Alaska Airlines, make sure you periodically monitor the current pricing your flights — it could save you some money!

United’s Premium Service Business Saver Award Availability is Much More Sparse than its Competitors’

It’s been widely documented that United Airlines has implemented a series of devaluations to its MileagePlus loyalty program.  First, there was the move to add a dollar spend amount to Premier Status qualification through the added criteria of “Premium Qualifying Dollars.”  Then, United announced a major devaluation of their award chart which hit premium international travel particularly hard.  It also created essentially a separate, more expensive chart for travel redeemed on one of United’s Star Alliance partners — the partners that supposedly make membership in Star Alliance so valuable.  Finally, last week, United announced their new plan for accruing redeemable miles in its 2015 MileagePlus program — it will based purely on ticket price, and not on the mileage flown, which is essentially bad for anyone who is somewhat price-sensitive, and is buying their own tickets.  This revenue-based system appears to be a carbon-copy of the same plan that Delta announced this past February, leading many to accuse United of simply copying Delta on things that arbitrarily “sound like a good idea.”

To counteract these devaluations, one might think that United may increase award availability so it’s not all bad for the consumer.  Alas, that is not the case.  Though United continues to have pretty good saver award availability on international awards, it has become increasingly hard to find a saver award — particularly for a premium cabin on a transcontinental domestic flight.

Case in point:  United’s Premium Service flights from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO).

These flights are operated by two-class Boeing 757-200s with a special, two-class configuration featuring 28 lie-flat, business class seats.  I was alerted by a friend that the availability of these seats is absolutely dismal, so I looked into it and then decided to compare it with the availability of “saver” level award seats in both Delta and American’s programs.

What I found was much worse than I thought.

United Premium Service Award Availability

Below are the availability calendars for United’s Premium Service Saver-level award availability for JFK-LAX for the entire schedule.
*Yellow denotes saver economy space is available.  Blue denotes BusinessFirst is available, and Green denotes both economy and BusinessFirst is available.

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That’s right.  For the entire year, there is award space for only three dates for BusinessFirst — and all are within the next three days.

The availability is much the same for the opposite direction:  LAX-JFK:  3 dates in the next year; ironically enough including Christmas Eve.

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I then decided to look at the other United Premium Service route to San Francisco, only to find similar results (I’ll spare you all the calendar shots.)

JFK-SFO:  Slightly better, with 6 days of BusinessFirst open

SFO-JFK:  The worst of the whole bunch:  only 2 days with BusinessFirst saver open, and very little economy space open at all.

After seeing this paltry availability for United, I figured that surely it was probably just as bad for Delta and American.

Notsomuch…

Delta Transcontinental BusinessElite Award Availability

Upon studying the Delta award availability (which is much more difficult to navigate than United’s), I found that on its JFK-LAX premium route with all flat-beds in its Transcontinental BusinessElite product, there was actually pretty good availability for saver-level seats after September.  In fact, in October, it’s pretty wide open (the Green dates indicate Saver availability).  The same was true with return flights from LAX-JFK.

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Delta’s Domestic Award Chart

It is worth noting that Delta has a couple different levels of “Saver” awards, based on seasonality, so a Saver award could cost you either 50,000 or 65,000 round trip (since no one-way awards are offered on Delta).  Delta’s online award search engine is also vastly inferior to that of United, so there’s always that.

American Airlines A321T Award Availability

American Airlines had a simllar pattern of availability as did Delta.  Though this summer’s business or first class “MileSAAver” level availability was slim-to-none, it looked pretty good after August.   Below is American’s chart for Business class MileSAAver awards on its non-stop JFK-LAX route on its new A321T, 3-class “Flagship Service” flights.  It’s also worth noting that first class availability was just as readily available after the summer time.

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 So what does this tell us?

For starters:  don’t plan on being able to use your United miles to fly on its Premium Service flights anytime soon.  This is just another deficiency that’s a result of a littany of #flyerUNfriendly “enhancements” to United’s formally industry-leading MileagePlus loyalty program.

Though it faces major competition in a continually evolving US air travel market,  United seems to cherry-pick the things that it copies from other airlines, such as Delta’s Skymiles medallion qualification and revenue-based earning program.  At the same time, it seems to ignore other very important things such as creating operational efficiencies by decreasing the reliance on regional carriers, and rewarding customers with at least making premium transcontinental flights obtainable with miles.  It could always mean that United is filling all these high dollar seats with paying customers while their competition is not, but given United’s recent reports of profitability (or lack thereof), I really doubt it.

Back to Blogging!

So after writing this blog semi-regularly for four to five months, it became painfully apparent that it does, indeed take a good bit of serious time and effort in order to publish a decent quality blog on a regular basis.  My last post was six months ago, as I was about to embark on my annual trip to Europe for Oktoberfest, and due to being pre-occupied by travel and life in general, I stopped posting.

For the last six months, I’ve missed it.

So here’s what I’m going to do — my goal is give it my best effort to get back in the game and make some regular postings.  There has been a ton going on in the travel-related miles and points world — the landscape for earning and redeeming miles has changed considerably in the last six months.  All in all, I hope to get some useful material posted.  I aim to hit on travel-related news stories, tips and tricks for traveling, earning and burning miles, and of course some detailed trip reports that highlight the adventures that I’ve been able to plan and subsequently experience.  As usual, there are a number of trips that I have in the pipeline, so as always, I’ll provide insight into what I’m doing to plan those trips.

In a matter of fact, I leave Tuesday for Venice to embark on a 12-night cruise to the Greek Isles and Turkey, as well as a stop in Ireland before flying home.

Hopefully, I’ll regain your attention as a reader of my blog, and that this foray into the blogging world won’t be as short-lived as my last!

-Sean

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A Weekend Trip to Alaska

Two weekends ago, I booked an impulsive, last-minute weekend trip to Anchorage, Alaska on a Wednesday night — my flight was scheduled for first thing on Friday morning.  After a late Thursday night out in DC, I found myself at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport for an early-ish 7:45am flight to Chicago.  Before I booked this trip, I was sure that all my segments would upgrade to first class by using some Regional Premier Upgrades that I had on United.

The path of my journey

The path of my journey

My flight to Chicago and then on to Anchorage were both uneventful, but about as good as it gets for domestic first class on United.  The Chicago to Anchorage leg was a cool 6.5 hours, but DirecTV and movies, along with a proper meal and ice cream sundae helped pass the time pretty well.

I arrived at Anchorage’s Ted Stevens International Airport at around 1:30pm and immediately took a cab downtown for about $20.  I planned to do this trip without a rental car, since the prices on rental cars were astronomical, and I was trying to do this trip on a low budget.  Another cheaper option to get from the airport to downtown is Anchorage’s People Mover Bus system.  The 7 Bus runs hourly between the airport and downtown (and vice-versa) for only $1.75.  This takes about 30-35 minutes instead of the roughly 15 minute cab ride.  Keeping with the low budget theme, I planned to stay in a hostel in Anchorage given the notoriously high Anchorage hotel prices.

Humpy's Halibut n Chips with a flight of Alaskan Brewery Beers

Humpy’s Halibut n Chips with a flight of Alaskan Brewery Beers

I arrived at my original hostel — The Alaska Backpacker’s Inn — and had an immediate, terrible first impression.  It was several blocks away from central downtown, it was filthy, and the girl at the front desk advised me that check-in was not allowed for another couple hours.  So I stored my bag, and briefly considered just booking a hotel for the weekend, but cooler heads prevailed and I just walked to a bar instead. Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse in downtown was highly recommended by some friends, so I went there.  I had some great halibut fish n chips, as well as several beers from their solid beer selection.  I also go to talking to some folks at the bar who advised that I check out the Bent Prop Inn, Downtown — a hostel just a block or so away, which they said was much nicer.

So I did just that — the guys who run the Bent Prop Inn could not have been any more kind.  The place was much cleaner, and they were able to accommodate me for the weekend.  It has a fantastic location right by the Marriott, and the price was right — $30 for the first night, and $25 for the second night for a bed in a 8-bunk bed dorm.  By the time I’d gotten my things and settled down back at the Bent Prop, it was past 10pm Alaskan time (2am Eastern), and I needed some sleep.

I was up early the next morning for breakfast at Snow City Cafe.  This place is a must for breakfast in Anchorage.  The line was out the door at 7:15am, but I was able to get a spot at the bar after about ten minutes.  I ordered the Kodiak Eggs Benedict, which featured King Crab, and was freakin’ amazing.

For the day, I’d arranged a trip out to the Alyeska Resort in nearby Girdwood, Alaska.  As previously mentioned, I did not have a rental car, so instead I booked a round-trip on the Alaskan Railroad for about $46 each way.  This provided a relaxing 90-minute train ride along Turnagain Sound to Girdwood.  Once in Girdwood, the Alyeska Resort has a shuttle that picks passengers up and takes them to the resort.

Above Girdwood and the Turnagain Sound in the distance

Above Girdwood and the Turnagain Sound in the distance

The Alyeska Resort is the premier ski resort in Alaska.  With it being Summer time, it was prime for hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoors activities.  I decided to give the mountain a climb.  There are very defined hiking trails up Mount Alyeska, and since there was a race going on that day, there were  a good bit of people making the climb.  Because of this, my concerns about bear encounters were significantly diminished, and I managed to hike up to the mid-mountain tram station where the uber-popular Seven Glaciers Restaurant is located.  I had lunch at another location, since Seven Glaciers is only open for dinner.  Everyone I’ve talked to highly recommended Seven Glaciers, and it did indeed look amazing.

After lunch, I proceeded to hike up as far up the mountain as I could.  I made it quite a ways up when the hiking trail basically ended just short of the glacier atop Mount Alyeska.  I was ready to stop hiking at that point due to exhaustion and the fact that at this point I was the only one up there — it was a tad creepy, and I couldn’t help but worry a bit about bears.

So down I went back down to the mid-mountain tram spot.  I went ahead and trammed back down the mountain and hopped the shuttle to the nearby town of Girdwood, where I had lunch and some drinks at one of the resort bars called the Sitzmark Bar & Grill.  This was a ski-lodge type bar at the base of a couple ski runs that were being used as mountain bike tracks that day.  After several beers, I again hopped the shuttle back to the Girdwood station for my return train ride to Anchorage.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening

I really enjoyed the Alaska Railroad, and found it an very relaxing and scenic way to travel around.  Though a car would have been twice as fast to Alyeska, one was also much more expensive.  I arrived back in Anchorage at 9:45pm, and of course the sun was still up.  That didn’t matter much to me, as I was exhausted and headed to bed.

Sunday morning I once again headed to Snow City Cafe, but this time ordered the Crabby Omelet.  Again, it was amazing.  As I said before, this place is a must visit breakfast place in Anchorage.  It was rainy that morning, and I had several hours to kill before I had to return to the airport for my flight back home.  I spent that time walking though town and observing the Anchorage Marathon, which was happening that morning.  As lunchtime was upon me, I headed to F Street Station for a helping of beer battered halibut and some beers.  Wow, this halibut was fantastic — highly recommended.  Apparently F Street Station is also quite the hangout late night for locals.   After a quick nap at the hostel, I hopped on the 7 bus to the airport and then boarded my United Airlines redeye flight back to Chicago and then to DC on Monday morning.  Being the good employee that I am, I proceeded directly from Dulles Airport to work.

Overall, this was a helluva way to spend a weekend.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  As my third trip to Alaska, it was the first time that I got to spend some time in Anchorage.  While there honestly isnt’ much to the city itself, the surrounding area is absolutely beautiful.

An Impulsive, Last-Minute Weekend Trip to Anchorage

What happens when I have a wide-open long weekend, $1,300 in United eCertificates, and the desire to not do the same-old, same-old in DC?

Why, I book an impulsive trip to Alaska for the weekend, of course!

A previous expedition to Alaska

A previous expedition to Alaska

So I’ve been thinking about this for a while, as the fare has been out there for a bit.  But I finally pulled the trigger on things last night.  There’s a pretty nice deal on United and other carriers right now to Anchorage, Alaska that I found thanks to The Flight Deal.  Now, I wouldn’t normally just blow that amount of money to go to Alaska for a couple days on a random weekend, but like I said, I have a pile of United “play money” that I’ve acquired as compensation for mishaps here and there.  There was also plenty of “upgrade-able” space available on flights to Anchorage this weekend, which I figured would be a good use for a couple of my Regional Premier Upgrades.

As a result, I’ll be making my third trip to Alaska — but this time, it’s not by cruise ship.

I’ll be leaving for Anchorage on Friday morning from Washington-Reagan airport via Chicago.  My flight will arrive into Anchorage early Friday afternoon, and I will be there all weekend until my return flight on Sunday evening.  It’ll be a red-eye flight back to Chicago, and then on to DC first thing Monday morning.

My upgrades to first class cleared on all segments, so I’ll be comfortable as possible.  United is also operating B737-800s with DirectTV and Power Ports on all segments too (as of now), so that’s a major win.  Staying in the major win category — this sequence of flights will allow me to achieve United Premier 1K Status — United’s top achievable frequent flyer status!!!

The path of my journey

The path of my journey

Though I’ve been to Alaska many times, I have not gotten the chance to spend much time in Anchorage.  I’ll probably spend some time on a hike in nearby Chugach State Park, as I don’t think I have the time or the money to do a quick trip to Denali.  Maybe I’ll go fishing, or fight a brown bear with my bare hands… everything is on the table!  A meal of halibut and chips is definitely in the works, that’s for sure.

So, I’ll ask you– the reader… what should I do with two days in Anchorage?