Revisited: Booking a Transatlantic Flight on Aer Lingus with British Airways Avios

Updated January 29, 2015:  This particular award will no longer be available once the new British Airways award chart goes into effect for bookings made after April 28, 2015.  This award in business class will increase to 37,500 Avios, each way.


Last summer, I wrote a very popular post on how to book a Transatlantic flight on Aer Lingus with British Airways Avios.  I’m re-visiting that today since I have a bigger audience, and since it’s still relevant.  

Additionally, Aer Linugs recently announced an all-new business class product that it will be installing on its A330 fleet.  This new product will be very competitive in the Transatlantic market, and would make the below type of redemption even more valuable…

I recently reported on my experience flying Aer Lingus business class from Shannon to Boston last month to conclude my European vacation.  I did so with the use of one of the best valued awards that currently exist to get across the Atlantic — British Airways Avios for travel on Aer Lingus.  In the rest of this post, I will detail how one can easily fly from Boston to Ireland in business class for fewer miles than most airlines charge for a one-way in economy.  I’ll hit the following points in this post:

  • The Sweet Spot on British Airways’ Award Chart
  • Checking Award Availability
  • Calling British Airways to Book
  • Fly in Style for Cheap
  • How to get British Airways Avios…. if you don’t fly British Airways

Continue Reading →

Revisited: Where to Find the Best Deals on Airfare

Last year when my blog was in its infancy, I posted about where one should look to find the best airfares.

Some of my suggestions ring true today, but it’s time we re-visited this and update the post a little, because people ask me this question literally every day.

Where to Hunt Deals:

If you don’t do anything else, check-out these two websites, and/or  follow them on Twitter… at the very least!
  • TheFlightDeal.com  (@TheFlightDeal)– This website is an awesome resource for those who are casually browsing for deals.  It is a blog that calls out fantasic deals.  It evaluates fares on  a CPM (cents per mile) basis to show the value of the fare.  Follow this site on Twitter to stay on top of the deals.  Notice that the site has a menu option where you can select a specific US city.
  • AirFareWatchdog.com (@airfarewatchdog) – This site has been around for a while, and they’re amazing at what they do — uncovering some of the best deals that are listed by the airlines.  The site has e-mail subscriptions and airfare alerts.  Their Twitter feed distracts me on a daily basis… I love itScreen Shot 2014-09-12 at 11.58.06 AM

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 →

Berkshire Hathaway’s AirCare Travel Insurance — Is it Worth the $25?

Berkshire Hathaway recently rolled out an interesting new concept for travel insurance called AirCare.

This relatively straightforward travel insurance plan costs $25 per direction of air travel and pays out the following in the case of travel snafus:

  • $50 per 2-hour flight delay
  • $500 per missed connection
  • $500 per delayed bag (more than 12 hours)
  • $1,000 per lost bag
  • $1,000 for a 2+ hour tarmac delay

Berkshire Hathaway AirCareThe glaring omission here is the lack of coverage of flight cancellation.   

For now, only domestic flight itineraries are eligible for this travel insurance, and the $25 premium appears to be per direction of travel, including stopovers.  It also appears that these claims are cumulative, so if one has a 2+ hour tarmac delay that results in a missed connection, the payout would be $1,500.

Another feature of this insurance plan is that it can be purchased at ANY time up to one hour prior to the flight.  Policies cannot be purchased for itineraries that have a weather advisory for either the outbound or destination cities though.

AirCare also comes with a nifty app for iPhone and Android, and includes “real-time” flight monitoring and a concierge who can be contacted in the case of missed connections, etc.   The plan also touts instant payment of claims to one’s bank account, though a quick search of reviews indicates a somewhat more complicated claims process.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how savvy travelers could potentially exploit this plan, so I do wonder if any tweaks will be made to the plan as time goes on.  Though I haven’t personally used this, it could potentially be a good way to hedge a bad travel itinerary with a close connection, and is a very interesting alternative to a traditional travel insurance policy.  One still needs to keep in mind that this IS after all, insurance — so the actuaries have already done the math to ensure that Berkshire Hathaway will ultimately come out on top in the long run.

As a word of caution, there are several questions or gray areas that aren’t covered on the website, such as what happens when the airline proactively re-books you on to a different flight as a result of a missed connection — would BH consider this a missed connection, or the scheduled itinerary?   This could make the claims process MUCH less straightforward.

Has anyone used the Berkshire Hathaway AirCare plan yet?  If so, how was the experience?  Were claims paid in a straightforward manner?

 

Booking a Transatlantic Flight on Aer Lingus with British Airways Avios

Updated January 29, 2015:  This particular award will no longer be available once the new British Airways award chart goes into effect for bookings made after April 28, 2015.  This award in business class will increase to 37,500 Avios, each way.


 

I recently reported on my experience flying Aer Lingus business class from Shannon to Boston last month to conclude my European vacation.  I did so with the use of one of the best valued awards that currently exist to get across the Atlantic — British Airways Avios for travel on Aer Lingus.  In the rest of this post, I will detail how one can easily fly from Boston to Ireland in business class for fewer miles than most airlines charge for a one-way in economy.  I’ll hit the following points in this post:

  • The Sweet Spot on British Airways’ Award Chart
  • Checking Award Availability
  • Calling British Airways to Book
  • Fly in Style for Cheap
  • How to get British Airways Avios…. if you don’t fly British Airways

Continue Reading →

SPG offering up to 3X Starpoints on Oktoberfest stays in Munich!

Starwood has just announced a promotion in which you can earn up to 3X Starpoints for stays at one of their Munich properties during Oktoberfest.  This includes probably the closest hotel to the Theresienwiese (where Oktoberfest is held), the Four Points by Sheraton Munich Central, where I have stayed the last four years for my jaunts to Oktoberfest.  It’s crazy convenient!

Sadly, it looks like my booked stay at the Le Meridien will not be valid for this promotion since I booked it so far out.

Your three best SPG options in Munich for Oktoberfest are:

Details are as follows:

  • Book at least three months in advance for triple Starpoints and two months in advance for double Starpoints
  • Minimum 3 night stay at one of the participating Munich properties (including the three mentioned above)
  • Offer valid for any rate that is eligible to earn Starpoints
  • Offer valid for stays booked between May 07, 2014 and August 19,2014 and completed between September 20, 2014 and October 05, 2014.

For full terms and conditions, go here:  http://www.starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest/offers/termsandconditions.html?offerCode=32168807RK

If you haven’t been to Oktoberfest, go!  It’s a blast, and is my favorite trip of the year!  This will be my fifth year in a row to attend, and it’s quite the experience.  It’s a beer lovers dream!

Hacker tent

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?

Where to Find the Best Deals on Airfare

Probably the most common question that people ask me is, “how do you find such good deals?  Where do you look for these cheap fares?”

There is not a quick, simple answer to that question.  There are several different avenues that I monitor on a regular basis for good fares.  I’ll detail those later in this post, but #1 reason why I’m able to travel on such good deals is that I’m flexible.

By “flexible”, I mean that when seeking out deals, I am generally  looking for neither a specific destination, nor  date.  All I want is for the fare to preferably be leaving the DC area (DCA, IAD, or BWI), though I certainly make exceptions to that requirement, as I frequently “fly” from the Philadelphia 30th Street train station via the United / Amtrak code-share.  I’ll also consider flying from New York – especially for good international deals.  Once I see a fare to a cool place (hopefully far, far away), I check availability to make sure it fits into my schedule.  This generally means I’m looking for a weekend.  If those two criteria are met, I’ll pretty much go anywhere.

A ridiculously cheap airfare sent me to Istanbul for a weekend in February!

A ridiculously cheap airfare sent me to Istanbul for a weekend in February!

I know this is not necessarily the answer people want to hear, but it’s the truth.  If you’re looking to travel on specific dates to any destination, you have a good chance of getting “lucky” when a good fare comes about.  However, if you are looking for a certain destination at a certain time, things get substantially tougher – you’ll actually have to search for fares, and they will most likely not be one of the crazy deals that you want.

In reality, I travel so often due to both finding great deals, and by using miles that are earned at least in part by flying far distances for cheap by acquiring airfares that I find using several of the below flights:

Below are a list of resources that I use to check for both deals, and for specific flights:

Where to hunt “deals”

  • TheFlightDeal.com – This website is an awesome resource for those who are casually browsing for deals.  It is a blog that calls out fantasic deals.  It evaluates fares on  a CPM (cents per mile) basis to show the value of the fare.  Follow this site on Twitter to stay on top of the deals.  Notice that the site has a menu option where you can select a specific US city.
  • FareMagnet.com – Similar to The Flight Deal, FareMagnet is also a fantastic resource that alerts folks to abnormally awesome airfares.  You should also follow this site on Twitter if you’re looking for deals.
  • Travelzoo “Today’s Best Fare” Airfare specials – These are not always accurate, but they do provide a nice, at a glance view of lowest airfares out of specific US gateways to various domestic and international destinations, sorted by price.  This is a good starting point for finding good fares.

    Today's Best Fares from Travelzoo

    Today’s Best Fares from Travelzoo

  • ITA Matrix —  For hardcore searching, I run searches from WAS to a list of places on the west coast on a semi-normal basis.  This tool tells me when and where there’s space, and how much it is listed for.  This is more of an advanced search tool, but it allows searching to multiple cities and returns the cheapest airfares — for that reason, it’s an invaluable resource for airfare hunting.  This site requires a bit of direction, and I will detail how to search for cities in another post.
  • Flyertalk mileage Run message boards — Though these fares are sought specifically by and for mileage runners, they certainly can be used by anyone.  It is Flyertalk etiquette to evaluate a fare on a cents-per-mile (CPM) basis.  On this site, CPM is calculated referring to Premier Qualifying Miles (generally the actual mileage flown), and not redeemable miles.  The goal is to fly as far as possible, for as cheap as possible.  Generally speaking, a “good” mileage run deal comes in at less than 5 cents-per-mile.  A very-good mileage run is less than 4 CPM, and an amazing mileage run would be less than 3 CPM.  This can be overwhelming if you’re new to it, but some threads started here regularly feature some really great deals.  Learn your airport codes if you plan on using this site!

These five resources are great, but it does take a bit of time to stay “up to date” on the fares disclosed on these sites.  Since most of these deals are so good, they rarely last more than a day or two.

The best resources to search for specific flights

  • ITA Matrix — Again, this is the most thorough search engine for finding fares between defined city pairs.  The only downside is that you cannot book directly on the website – you must go to the airline’s website, or another booking site in order to make a reservation.  There are a series of codes to return exactly what you may be looking for, and I will detail these in a later post.

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

  • Kayak.com – This is a very popular and very useful metasearch engine for flights.  It searches over 120 websites to find the best price.  It’s usually pretty accurate and gives great results.  Definitely a good site if you know what you want and need to book today.

You can search all you want for fares.  There are a few tricks of the trade, but many times it just comes down to luck.

A mistake fare put me in this seat from Seoul to LA for less than $250!

A mistake fare put me in this first class seat from Seoul to LA for less than $250!

Below are a few tips:

  • Be flexible.  As I indicated earlier, this is probably the best way to get in on an airfare deal.  The more you limit your options, the less likely it is that you’ll find a great fare.  I routinely fly from BWI or IAD instead of my preferred DCA – simply because I can get fares that are sometimes hundreds of dollars cheaper.
  • Be alert.  Use all the avenues above to their fullest.  The more you monitor fares, the more likely you are to benefit from them.  This can be crazily time-consuming, but if cheap and frequent travel is your goal, this is just a fact of life.  Use Twitter, RSS readers, and online forums to better your chances at finding deals.
  • Fares tend to be re-filed by the major airlines on Tuesdays around Noon, Eastern time.  This is often a time where you can find some of the better pricing out there.  Contrarily, fares can also raise at this time, so if you’re debating a trip with what you deem to be a reasonable price, book it, don’t wait!
  • If you see a mistake fare, BOOK NOW and THINK LATER.  When I see something too good to be true, it may be.  But lots of times, the airlines let them slide because they’re a headache to deal with.  Just book the mistake fare and work out the details later.  If it doesn’t get canceled by the airline, you’ll likely have plenty of time to work out the hows and whys of the trip.
  • Make friends who seek out deals.  What’s better than monitoring fares on the reg?  Having friends who monitor fares and then alert you of them!  Since I’ve been doing this for a while and have friends who share the same interest, I’m often alerted of awesome deals that I may have missed, or that I just didn’t see.

All in all, cheap fares are out there.  It’s just a question of how much time you’re willing to put in to find them.  There’s no “magic bullet” to finding the cheapest fares all the time, but by visiting some of the sites suggested in this post, and by adhering to some of my hints, your odds are much better!

Here goes nothin’…

So, here we go.

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to this point, but I’m giving it a shot.  Time to start my own travel blog!  Friends and family have been saying that I should do this for a while, and I finally have taken them up on it.

Enjoying First Class on the Korean Air A380

Enjoying First Class on the Korean Air A380

Right now, I’m lucky if I have the viewership of one or two people. But that’s okay.  In the coming days, I will work on getting some content populated onto the site so that there’s something to look at.  Please bear with me, as I continue to setup my site and simultaneously add content.

After thinking about this blog for several weeks, I still haven’t come up with an overly clear direction for it, but I will instead mention bits and pieces of travel related tidbits.  I’ve been traveling all over the country and world for the better part of the last two years thanks to a combination of searching for ridiculous deals, and collecting an absurd amount of miles and points.

In the coming days, weeks, and months I aim to bring the reader along with me as I travel all over.  At the same time, I will provide insight into the strategies and methods that allow me to travel so frequently, highlight awesome deals, and provide a perspective on travel industry-related news and current events.

Any feedback is appreciated.  Thanks!

Sean