Letters – October, 27 2008

Letters – October, 27 2008

Travelin’ On Miles
I have subscribed to the magazine for several years and can’t wait until I get it to go through AND study what is happening in the world of miles and points. I have definitely taken my lessons learned to heart and want to thank you for the wonderful experiences I have had this year.

In December or January I received word my women’s club was going to South Africa; when I received the price list it was from D.C. — I thought, hmmm, why not biz class direct from Miami? I managed to secure a ticket on AA Miami to Johannesburg through London, returning via Madrid direct to Miami. I put it on hold, missed the purchase date (confirmed booking/pay taxes) and lost the reservation — ouch! But I didn’t give up there — started the process over, in January/February for mid-May departure and secured almost the same routing; just had to go Madrid to Santo Domingo with an overnight stay. Well worth the plane changes considering a biz class ticket MIA to Joburg is about $8,500.

Let’s not stop here, I wanted to hit the jazz festivals in Europe. Early this year — NOT last year, I managed to secure a biz class ticket on an AA partner, Iberia, via Madrid to Amsterdam, returned from Venice through Madrid again, direct to Miami — another coup — this ticket is typically around $3,000/4,000 bucks.

My European holiday totaled 19 nights, of which I used frequent flyer points for 16 nights — I used a combination of Starwoods for the Pulitzer in Amsterdam — three nights, The Westin in Rotterdam — four nights, The Marriott Rive Gauche — five nights, (the Marriott, Champs-Elysees required too many points) and four nights at the brand new Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice.

Needless to say, 2007 was a banner travel year for me. I retired from my job the end of January this year — I had been joking that all the travel I did during the last two years of my career was working on my frequent flyer retirement account. I remodeled my house, used Marriott Visa card, American Express and a AAdvantage card — I put everything on card, groceries, postage stamps, gas — whatever.

I really did not have a lot of flexibility in my dates for South Africa, I just followed your instructions, “call often… until you get the answer you want”, more than once did I encounter a ticket agent who did their absolute best to find me the dates I needed — the key was the flexibility to fly via another city, no qualms or quivers about which airline. When headed to South Africa, I chose to leave a day earlier since I was meeting a group — this was just in case flight was delayed, connection missed. I figure my total air/hotel for the two trips was probably valued at $18,400.

I am a happy camper and will continue to read your magazine and spread the word. It is possible to have a fabulous time on your miles, when you want to AND where you want to go.
A Travelinwoman in Miami

Editors’ note: Robbie, you just made my day. There exists a significant segment of the population who believe that what you describe here is just a fantasy, not a reality. The difference as I see it between you and “them” is that you read InsideFlyer/FlyerTalk. Those who do not are likely to be uninformed, while those of you reading this right now have enjoyed your share of successes. Two points you make that I admire the most — you remodeled your house with the Marriott Visa card, which shows you understand the importance of managing your money, miles and points via plastic, and the value to be gained. As well, I like the fact that you didn’t squander your points at the Champs-Elysees in Paris, you made your points go farther by staying at the Rive Gauche. You’ve learned well … I am quite proud.

Middle Seat Blues
Having just had the experience again, I wonder why airlines still go with a middle seat configuration in c-class on Boeing aircraft? Nothing could be more uncomfortable as being woken up on overnight flights by your fellow pax climbing over you on his way out from the middle seat… or the flight attendant sticking his chest in front of your nose when putting the tray down in front of that fellow pax.

Airbus is so much more civilized. Why is there not more pressure by us — the frequent flyers — to get rid of this inconvenience?
Christian Brutzer

Editors’ note: Christian, we feel your pain. Many of us spend half our lives sitting in the middle seat in coach yearning for enough miles or elite status to escape and then end up right back where we started, though we’re sitting in slightly nicer seats and eating a slightly better meal. Heck, we encourage you to start a “No More Middle Seat In C Campaign” — we’ll be the first to sign your petition. Our advice to you though is don’t hold your breath until a change is made. Airlines are all about numbers after all, and more passengers equals more money, which equals more joy — for the airlines, of course, not the passengers. But we think it is a little more complicated than Boeing vs. Airbus. As you might know, airlines themselves play a huge role in the seat configuration so let’s give them the middle … seat.

Free Ticket? Hardly
I have almost 300K miles with British Airways but every time I check for award travel, it might be available but when calculating the ticket charges, there are high fees, i.e. fuel surcharge etc., compared to others. Not only that. The fuel surcharge is for each leg (connections). I tried looking at U.S. to Asia. It takes plenty of miles PLUS almost $500. I can buy a roundtrip for $875. It doesn’t seem worth it to me to continue saving miles with them. How does BA’s program rate currently because I’m disappointed with it and feel cheated.

Editors’ note: Executive Club rates poorly in the area you address because the program is designed around the premium passenger and the program management appears to believe this group of travelers is less sensitive to the fees you describe. But to be fair, most of what you are describing would also be applicable if you were purchasing a revenue fare with British Airways. The difference, of course, is that you are starting from a basis of “free” vs. starting from a basis of let’s say $1,200 or $3,800. In a chart in one of our upcoming issues we are actually going to compare the meaning of “free” in relation to the various programs. The chart will explain and publish the comparable fees charged by programs for a free award. We’ll also be taking destination into account, as most members don’t see many fees domestically, but when they redeem internationally there are some country-specific fees which might want to make you stay home. Thanks for reminding us that we need to complete this guide for our readers.

Stone Age Hyatt
I spend about 30-45 days a year in hotels, split among Hyatt, Starwood, and Marriott properties. I’ve never had one problem in having points posted within a few days at either Starwood or Marriott properties. Yet many Hyatt stays take up to two weeks and then often they are not even posted after two weeks. Then Hyatt wants you to find your bill and FAX it to them even after you fill out an online form about the missing points. Has Hyatt considered taking advantage of the computer age?
Thanks and Happy Holidays!
Ken Niemi

Have Miles, No Travel
I enjoy reading your magazine and have learned a lot about miles and points even though it’s all new to me. It’s to the point that I’ve become my family’s “expert” in the field and get all their questions about how to get and use miles.

What is annoying me is that it seems that these programs truly are going from bad to worse — I’m sure it used to be a better experience than it is now or the programs wouldn’t have survived all these years.

To get to the reason I’m writing: my father does not fly that often, but he has had an American AAdvantage credit card for years that he faithfully uses every month in order to earn miles. Now, he’s ready to cash in his miles for a flight to Europe — a once-in-a-lifetime event for him. But, naturally, he can’t find a seat on the plane for him and his wife. And if he calls the service center (like I’ll suggest to him to try to see if an award is available) he’ll get charged the ridiculous $15 fee to get to talk to a human being, add that to the other fees/taxes you have to pay and it’s not really a free ticket at all. And forget about upgrading with miles with the equally ridiculous add-on fee they have now. (He has a heart condition and I really worry about him being cramped in coach — I don’t have enough miles — or money — yet to be able to offer him some of mine.)

When he tried to get in touch with AAdvantage via email with a question, he said it took several days before he heard back from them.

I’m very protective of my father so this is really getting under my skin. If the airlines cannot provide service and free seats for frequent flyer miles, then maybe it’s time they fold the programs and get out of the mileage business — or are they too busy making money off people like my father with promises and nothing in return?
Kandace in Kentucky

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