Letters – May, 20 2005

Letters – May, 20 2005

Dead Pool?
The years roll by, and still the “Big Sick Six” airlines (more charitably called “legacy airlines”) are still in business. Do you have any idea which of them will be closing up shop? Which of them will be declaring bankruptcy soon? How is Delta doing?

And another thing: we here, in Hawaii, are almost marooned. The airfares are way too high. So I’m begging JetBlue and Southwest to please consider again and come to Hawaii. We really need an airline to give us scheduled service at a bargain rate.

(Hey, is it true that Randy has gotten married? And if so, can we see him mellow out as far as the magazine is concerned? Will he be more willing to fight for us and criticize the airlines when they have it coming?)

You know, flyer miles are not of much value if the airline is so bad you don’t want to fly on it, not even for an award trip. So the quality of the airline service is important, even though the magazine is chiefly concerned with points and miles. You really can perform a service by letting us know what you find out about such things as which airlines lost the most luggage, long waits at check-in, ridiculous policies not tempered by good customer service, etc. Our own experiences with airlines are but a tiny piece of the puzzle, and by getting reactions from many people, you let us see the big picture.
Mark Terry

[Mark Terry is a longtime and favorite among our readers, though we do disagree from time to time on some matters-always with respect. Mark, can you name a single other “travel expert” who can lay claim to being actively involved in any “fight” for frequent flyers? I think the public record shows that I was most active in leading the rollback of select changes made to the OnePass, Mileage Plus and US Airways programs in past years. I sponsored the SaveSkyMiles Web site and startup and was the largest contributor of money to the cause. I’m sorry that it might seem I’ve never done anything to please you, but I carefully consider the overall effect of any change by programs and don’t get stuck whining about special interests. As for your ongoing contentious attitude about the “Big Sick Six” (sort of “Brancatellish,” isn’t it?), have you or the other critics yet been right about anything in the past four years? It seems to me they are all still in business despite your claim that they would be long gone by now. Now, show me some love. -Randy]

Musical Programs
I was a member of Northwest WorldPerks frequent flyer program, but recently had my account balance transferred to KLM Flying Dutchman (because I’m not a US resident), and now I’ve been told I will be transferred to Flying Blue. In fact, I’ve received two cards already — a Silver one and an Ivory one! I’ve a feeling this doesn’t bode well for others being transferred to Flying Blue!

Freeze the Fees
Previously, American offered the miles to Hilton HHonors points conversion without the “$25 transaction fee.” American does not receive the fee, but points.com does. Why didn’t American just try to establish the same conversion partnership that it had with HHonors with other hotel chains without involving the middle man (points.com)? I don’t see how this redemption program benefits AAdvantage members.

Alarmed About Ameniti
First off, I want to say that I have written you twice before and you have published me each time. I really appreciate that and have nothing but praise for your magazine, your knowledge, and above all, the class with which you handle each and every subscriber article you publish.

A friend of mine asked me a profound question regarding the current Ameniti offer from United. I tried to answer him as best I could, as I too have pondered this offer’s virtues over the years.

I just can’t seem to get my arms around its value but I took a shot at it and responded to him. So, the conversation is below and I know I’ve missed on some points. Please inject your insight and wisdom into this assessment when you have time. Thanks again. Viva la Inside Flyer!

Q: Dude, this seems like a decent deal, what are the bonus miles, the 2-for-1 (how much is a full-fare economy ticket to Bangkok?) and the two Red Carpet passes … whaddya think?

A: For me it’s definitely not worth it, and probably not for you either. I get most of this stuff as 1K and Diamond hotel member. I think this falls under the “reasons why there are castles in the desert” theory. But let’s analyze.

A full fare economy ticket to Thailand (or elsewhere) will cost roughly the same as first class. So let’s call that $5,000 for the ticket.

Say you can split the difference with a friend on the companion. So it’s $2,500 for the trip. At full-fare economy you will get upgraded one level, so you travel in business. Not first, but certainly a great way to travel.

You get two Red Carpet passes but don’t need them, as your full-fare economy-to-business class tickets allow access. Not sure if you cam use them some other time, but let’s say you can; add $50 value to you and him.

Now, Gold status in Starwood is nice if you plan to stay at their hotels. Gold is similar to Premier Executive in that you get priority check-in, bonus miles, and some limited special offers. However, the real nuggets are saved for Diamond members, as they are for 1Ks on United. So no double or triple miles, no executive lounge access, no room upgrades, no free amenities, and no guaranteed rooms. But just to assign some value, let’s say six annual stays at a Starwood property got you a few thousand extra miles (presuming you were going to stay there anyway). Call it a value of $25.

On the other hand, they will give you upgrade coupons (Four, I think?) but in my experience they often don’t get used, as the Diamonds are priority and then they fill up. But let’s say you use it two times in your six stays. An intangible benefit but let’s say it’s worth $100 each time, total = $200.

They say you get a bottle of wine worth $75, so with the Conde Nast and welcome gift, call it $100.

Now, at prevailing rates, your 25,000 bonus miles are worth about $400.

So, your total $ value is approx. $775. Your fees are $2,800 ($2,500 ticket + $295 to join). So is it worth it to you for $2,000? And for your companion?

Caveats: The air travel will be heavily restricted and difficult to find space without 30+ days notice. You must book through Ameniti, so fees for each ticket will be about $100. Changes or cancellations will be taxed and the companion ticket lost! There are some restrictions on where you can use the companion ticket and it may include international. Better find out first. Companion gets no miles, ouch!

I’ve reviewed this offer many times and tried to figure out how to make it work. I just can’t seem to figure out a way that it makes sense, which is probably why United keeps recycling this offer. It’s a winner to them!

[Greg-Viva la readers. To quote you … “I think this falls under the ‘reasons why there are castles in the desert’ theory”. -Randy]

Complaint About Points Redemption: Manipulation and Incorrect Points Redemption System
[The following is a letter to SAS EuroBonus Customer Service from one of our readers]

After several calls and discussions to the EuroBonus Office and SAS Customer Service I address this complaint about:
– The customer misleading, inconsistent and incorrect point redemption policy you adopt for a trip from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg (Russia)
– The employee approach when redeeming my points: concealing crucial information

Monday the 25th of April I wanted to redeem my points and book the SAS Radisson Royal at St. Petersburg for the first week in June, but from the 30th of May until 15th of June there was no availability. It is therefore that I decided to redeem my points on the fly from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg (Russia) instead, at this point your offer was:
– No direct flights available for any return journey on a span of more that 10 days at any time and not even in business class
– The only booking possible was a flight with a connection in Stockholm (Arlanda).
– On the return flight, Friday the 3rd of June, we had to wait more than 5 hours at Arlanda airport although there are 3 SAS Stockholm — Copenhagen flights, before the connection we have got. Therefore I asked to stay in Stockholm a couple of days, but we were told that we are only allowed a maximum transit time 24 hours because of the fact that it is just a connection flight, which we immediately understood.

No direct flights.

Coping with the lack of any hotel availability we redeem our points on the flight to St. Petersburg, however a direct flight was not possible although my flexibility with the dates and classes. I wonder, today, if the quota for this journey is quite restrictive or unattainable with points. When I tried to book on-line, the same journey, time and direct trip, the on-line reservation system offered me seats in all the different classes proposed on your Web site in the many different dates I tried, even the cheapest.

I know from previous experience that certain flights are unattainable with bonus points, although not informed to the customer. Example: Copenhagen-Bergen on Sundays, economy class, at 18:10 from May to December 2004.

At this time a direct flight was not an option for us.

Booking Copenhagen — St. Petersburg with a stop over in Stockholm
Not having many choices left I accepted the trip through Stockholm, the SAS employee asked the payment formalities and closed the deal.

A week later I realized that no point redemption was mentioned and I remembered that all the previous times I redeemed points the airport taxes and amount of points was agreed and mentioned before closing the transaction. For the reason I decided to check my account status the 2nd of May using the on-line facility and to my surprise more that double of the required number of points, as informed in your chart point system had been withdrawn from my account.

The following bullet list describes the information the information given to the customer in order to have al the parties this letter is addressed to understand the problem, the chart is also attached to this letter:
– A flight from Denmark to Russia costs 20,000 points, as per SAS point redemption chart
– From my account was deducted 84,000 points for two bookings, instead of 40,000
– A flight to Sweden costs 12,000 points

I immediately called EuroBonus service to put right the error. The employee answer was: “You have been deducted 12,000 points for the stop over in Stockholm and 30,000 points for the trip from Stockholm to Russia, because you are having a departure from Sweden to St. Petersburg and the Swedish scale takes 30,000 for this journey. There is no error and no points to adjust.”

I made more calls on that day to EuroBonus office and Customer Service and realized about your maneuvering the inconsistent argument of this reasoning is outrageous, a total manipulation towards the customer and incorrect whilst referring to the “Using your Points with Star Alliance partner” chapter:
– Your document sates “In some cases, there are no direct Star Alliance flights between two zones, so you must transit in a third zone, which could make the bonus trip more expensive”. And this is NOT AT ALL the case because there are Star Alliance direct flights with SAS, so cannot apply this rule in this case.
– We were not allowed to stay in Sweden more than 24 hours, no stop permitted, because our flight it is just a connection. So how can you exchange these points, as if they are two different journeys, one trip to Stockholm and another one to St. Petersburg? Furthermore in the remote case, you man we can stay in Stockholm, then it is again inconsistent with your documentation which states: “Time between transit flights may not exceed 24 hours”, which is our situation, just a transit time.
– How can we be charged based on the Swedish scale, when our departure is from Denmark, we are attached to the Danish zones system, and where the only reason for this connection is because the direct flight for the EuroBonus class is very restricted or closed
– When today buying a flight with a stop over in Stockholm and a direct flight to St. Petersburg costs the same price, you may check yourselves on www.scandinavian.net
– When your employees do not give the amount of points subtracted from my account on the phone and denied us the option, at that time, to decline the bonus trip and buy the tickets on-line. The week later, when I realized of the situation it was more that 1000 DKK ($173) more expensive, times two 2000 DKK ($346) difference. May be the employees are conscious of the abuse?
– When Customer Service confirms that you have already received many complaints on the subject.

Your policy is inconsistent, wrong applied in this case, obviously not well informed to the customer and clearly difficult to be communicated by your staff.

I expect you to credit the 44,000 points (22,000 for each trip) you withdrew from my account incorrectly.
Awaiting for your response
Best Regards
Fabian Scarano

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