Letters – December, 29 2005

Letters – December, 29 2005

The Other Side of the Fence
I just received an email from America West quoting you regarding the new “Dividend Miles” program. It is very interesting how they took only the good things you said and did not reprint your entire article. Some key issues were missing in the America West quote.

You are correct in saying the new Dividend Miles program is good for past US Airways customers. In fact it is better than they had before, and the fact that they still have a program is even better. The benefit to them is a huge sacrifice that those of us that have supported America West for the past 20 years.

Let me fill you in on some of the items the America West Elite flyers have given up over the last few years:

1. As a business, we had a 5-percent discount; that is gone.

2. As Platinum members (75,000 miles), we had the following:
* Reduced mileage requirement for free anytime flights; gone
* 125-percent bonus reduced to 100-percent bonus now reduced to 75-percent bonus
* Elimination of first-class bonus on upgrades
* Hot meals in first class; gone
* Three checked bags for first class reduced to two
* Highest overweight and extra baggage charge in the industry
* Higher mileage requirements for free flights than most other major carriers
* Delta and Continental still [offer their highest elite level] at 75,000 miles; now United, American and US Airways/America West [have set it] at 100,000.

You are high on the unlimited first-class upgrades. We always had these at America West for all elite levels. The only difference was the number of days in advance that you could reserve based on Silver, Gold and Platinum status. Adding another class that now has a seven-day advance for first class kills me as a Platinum member who can only upgrade at four days ahead. I will probably never get to the 100,000-mile level, but I have been at 75,000 to 85,000 for the last five years and will continue at that level for the foreseeable future.

Based on all of the above, I am giving up a huge number of benefits and not even guaranteed the first-class upgrade that I have valued for so long.

I have been a loyal America West customer for the past 20 years (over 700,000 lifetime miles). Recently, they changed their requirement from 25,000 to 27,500 miles each way for a free first-class ticket. I bought two for next year’s vacation. Now they have reduced the miles required back to 25,000, and they will not refund the extra 10,000 miles. They have offered a free first-class upgrade, which in most cases does not have any value for me, since I already get first-class upgrades on most flights.

Quite honestly, I am seriously considering taking my business to Continental or Delta where the benefits are better. The first-class upgrade is an issue, but in the new US Airways program, I probably will be flying coach quite a bit with less benefits. The only hook they have is the 1-million-mile flown lifetime benefit. I am not even sure if that exists any more.

The US Airways customers have received many emails explaining the new benefits they have. Those of us as loyal America West customers have not seen many emails, and the ones we receive are only bad news.

I hope you reconsider your position on the new US Airways Dividend Miles program. It looks good from one side, but for those of us on the other side of the fence, it is a disaster.
Paul Stenberg

Editor’s Note: Paul, thanks for the comments. For clarification, we were commenting solely on the bird’s-eye view that the merger of the two airlines brought much appreciated and needed stability to members of the Dividend Miles program. I’m sure you can agree with that. Having followed closely the anxieties of those members the past four years, we could not have seen more positive change for those that frankly were quite close to losing everything they had earned. As for America West members, we really won’t know the entire impact on the program until later in 2006 when all the details are completely merged into a single program. Yes, there does seem to have been some mishap starts and stops, as you note about the one-way requirements for first-class tickets and we’re sure that there will be additional temporary changes in the future. Once the merger of the two programs is completed, then you’ll be sure to have our opinion and advice for US Airways on the competitive nature of the program. Your most powerful statement, which is even more powerful than anything we might say, is that you are considering a switch to Continental or Delta.

Out of the Bag
After three personal incidents of checked baggage pilfering during 2005, I’m wondering how pervasive this has become. Due to increased security regulations, passengers can no longer lock their checked bags, trusting the airlines and ground personal to respect and protect the baggage while it is under their control.

Twice while traveling through Philadelphia on US Airways, my bags were “tossed” and I was relieved of prescription drugs (arthritis meds), and on one occasion my wife’s small ring case contained relatively low-value jewelry. The third incident was recent and occurred on Continental in Cleveland without apparent loss — just a mess! When TSA searches bags, a notice is left inside — not in this case. I reported the jewelry incident. I’m irritated at this point but am now sensitized to the potential of lost clothing on future trips.

Maybe those irritating passengers carrying on all their bags are smarter than I thought!
Peter Rand

Card Tricks
The United Mileage Plus Platinum Class Signature Visa card (Inside Edition, December 2005) is one of the worst credit card offers I’ve ever seen.

There’s a large annual fee (no big problem), 16.74 percent APR that’s high, but more importantly, look at the late fees — 39 bucks or more!

And here is a real killer: Don’t ever get a cash advance as the APR on that is approaching 100 percent after you add up all the fees.

Plus, I wouldn’t travel abroad and use this card. A 3-percent fee on anything bought abroad? On top of them assuring you a terrible exchange rate, they are going to whack you for an additional 3 percent.

Not a good deal at all!

Good News is Hard to Find
I just subscribed to InsideFlyer, because I wanted to get news from your column “EyeSpy.” What a disappointment that your last post was Sept. 22, while today’s date is Nov. 12. There was no good news between these dates? It leads me to believe this is a rip-off of my $12 American Express charge.

Please explain?

I was looking for ideas, like the one that I just went for with OnePass — a 50-percent reduction on miles to China, from 60,000 to 30,000 for which I got a ticket at a cost of $35 for the taxes and fees. Why should I sign up with your InsideFlyer online magazine when you have no interesting or valid news?
Reny Hernandez

Editor’s Note: Reny, thanks for contacting us. Our “EyeSpy” section is entirely reader-driven. It is only as good as the input we get from readers.

To find the kinds of deals you’re looking for, I think you’re probably better off with our “Bonus Bulletin” and “Award Watch” sections. The Continental deal you mention was our lead story for “Award Watch” in our November issue.

Bad Review
I’ve just finished reading the incomplete and sloppily written and edited article cited above (Citi AAdvantage, Inside Look, November 2005). In addition to not answering the basic question I have long had — how difficult is it to use AA miles for flights (with examples) when there are so many members and so many ways to earn miles, you tell us that there are mileage caps but don’t tell us whether they are per month, year or lifetime. Another serious shortfall in your report is that you don’t mention that if one charges in foreign currencies, the 3% Citi charges for conversion not only wipes out the value of the points earned, it costs you additional money. I recently ran a test in which I made charges to an MBNA platinum card and a Capital One card in Canada. The result — the conversion rates were virtually identical but the 3% percent charged by MBNA rules out my future use of MBNA cards once I have had them replaced by CapOne cards.

Finally, every review of Airline Affinity cards should end with the admonishment that with few exceptions and under certain circumstances, (the AAdvantage card not being one of them), Airline Affinity cards are a bad deal for a host of reasons. What’s in your Wallet?
Richard Serbin

Editor’s Note: Richard, I’m sorry you were unhappy with our review, and glad you took the time to let us know. Reader feedback is vital to us, and we’ll try to meet your expectations better next time.

Allow me to offer a few points by way of explanation.

First, we did mention the specific earning cap levels in the “Earning Ability” section.

Second, the difficulty of using AAdvantage miles is a function of the AAdvantage program, not the Citi/AAdvantage card, which is almost entirely about earning, not burning miles.

Third, admonishing our readers about using credit cards wisely is not necessarily our business, though we have thrown in a few caveats in the past, and perhaps should have done so here.

As for a 3-percent fee for charges in foreign currencies, you make a very valid point, as most of our readers travel internationally on a regular basis. While we haven’t mentioned that kind of fee in past reviews, perhaps we should from here on out.

As for CapitalOne? If you haven’t checked lately, they have recently increased by large margins many of their award levels.

Again, thank you for your comments.

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