Letters – June, 22 2009

Letters – June, 22 2009

Time for luggage Awards?

Isn’t it time that the airlines allow frequent flyers to use their points for luggage fees? A reasonable amount would be 1,000 miles per bag. Then quite a lot of miles would get used (they can’t be used easily for flights anyway) and flyers would not have to pay for baggage fees out of pocket. Can you use your influence to get the airlines to allow points for luggage?
Karl Gilbert

Editors’ Note: Karl, good idea and a few international carriers such as Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus do allow members to redeem miles to cover the cost of extra baggage. But my guess is that you won’t see this very soon here in the U.S. as there have been other measures to alleviate the cost of checking in bags with the airlines.

A number of programs have included the privilege of no fees for bags with various credit cards they sponsor and the industry has rallied around the idea that all or most elite members of frequent flyer programs have bags fees waived for them. Now that we see the cost of fuel seemingly creeping forward a bit more, it probably is just another reason why we all better hope we can be elite members … or at least travel with the elite member.

On more than one occasion so far I have checked in the bags of a traveling companion so that they would not have to pay a bag fee. Now, having said all that, there does seem to be plenty of effort by airlines to make it easier to redeem your miles these days, and if we were to follow the reasoning behind this, perhaps the idea of miles for bags might just fly.

Let me ask and suggest around and we’ll report back. Maybe the conversation should go something like this: “Hello, United Mileage Plus. No, I’m not interested in buying any more miles from you to give to my customers. I was thinking … how about buying free bag certificates? I think that would be much more popular to reward my customers with than more miles.” Grin.

Omnifarious Omni

I would just like to say that I took advantage of your free magazine offer by signing up with “myprotection.” It looks interesting and I hope it works. I like your piece on Omni Hotels, especially being that I just left the Majestic in St Louis (loved it there). But I wasn’t told about the free night before Sept. 6 (maybe because I paid through Travelzoo?). The good thing about that is that it counted as a stay. The bad news is that it didn’t count towards free nights and no miles (they currently have a triple bonus with American AAdvantage.)
Keith Harris

Editors’ Note: We got in contact with Omni, and this is the response from Caryn Kboudi, vice president of corporate communications for Omni Hotels:

Thank you for bringing this to our attention; please extend our appreciation to the InsideFlyer team as well. We are pleased that Mr. Harris had a nice stay in St. Louis. We have reviewed Mr. Harris’s visit and can provide some feedback.
1. TravelZoo rates–since they are deeply discounted–do not qualify for airline miles. In fact, TravelZoo rates have never received airline miles, even with the previous iteration of the program. However, these rates do qualify for earning a free night. In either case, Mr. Harris’ profile shows a preference for airline miles. Guests can be on either the miles or the free nights “path” but not both. We can change his preference to earning a free night if he is interested and include this stay in his history.

2. The Buy-One-Get-One offer was extended on property via a promotional stuffer, each with a unique code, in our key packets beginning on April 27, 2009 with approximately a 30-day supply for all guests. Mr. Harris should have received one, but I have no way of checking. In either case, I am more than happy to extend him a promotional code if he is still interested in a future stay (they are good from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend).

Let us know if we can be of any further assistance.

Creeping Extra Charges

I know you’ve heard this before about how great a service you provide, but more importantly, YOU know what the general and business traveler has to put up with in regards to the various frequent flyer programs. Thanks.

My story? A frequent flyer with 1K status on United for eight years and JGC member with Japan Airlines for 15 years.

As a 1K member we received ‘reward packets’ each year which include six System Wide Region 2 upgrades and of course 500-mile upgrades and Region 1 upgrades are awarded during the year leading up to gaining the 1K status.

Recently, United seems to have changed their terms for using upgrades in the form of large price differences between a ticket with no upgrade and one where one can use these earned Upgrade Certificates.

In one case, I was looking to fly my wife and I to Sydney, Australia in October 2009 and United posted on their Web site fares at around $700 return from San Francisco. If I wanted to use my System Wide Regional 2 upgrades the ticket price zoomed to over $1,800 return.

United’s only response was that there is a price difference between no upgrade and an upgrade ticket. In my reply, I advised that these certificates were ones we earned for all the flying completed and were not a miles upgrade. I was also told the price difference was because of the demand for the new business and first class configuration on United, but when I said that the flights to Australia do not have the new configuration aircraft, ‘quietness’ was received.

It seems (and no doubt your members would have noticed) that United is creeping in all these extra charges for using the benefits of any Mileage Plus awards, which actually depletes the benefits received.

Even after you earn those flight miles, you have to pay more to use them. What’s the benefit? I calculated that if I wanted to use all my 1K award certificates as described above, I’d have to pay over $7,200 in extra fees, just for something that was given to me for all the travel I notched up.

I look forward to your comments.
David Middleton

Editors’ Note: David, we’re afraid that you’ve run smack dab in the middle of the new world of frequent flyer awards. But considering that we are on the same side of these changes as you, consider it done that we have engaged in a line of discussion with United regarding this and look forward to updating you and our other readers with what we find out … and the attention that United Mileage Plus will give this issue.

Glory Be! Food!

I know that people usually write letters when something has gone wrong, so I thought a quick letter about something going right might be of interest to your readers.

For my last five flights or so on various airlines including Continental, Southwest and United, I have had completely uneventful and one might even say rather pleasant travel experiences. The planes were on time, the staff was pleasant and efficient and even the TSA seemed in a good mood at the various airports.

All of these flights were on coach, and even though I really hate paying for checking in my luggage and I’m not pleased at all with United for taking on an extra $5 for not paying for my checked luggage in advance (I don’t always travel with a computer–especially if I’m on vacation–and I resent being more or less forced to find a computer or be “taken” for five bucks more.)

Oops, I said this was going to be a positive letter. But what I guess I meant to say, that despite the sagging economy, and the added hassles of fees, the travel experience actually seems to be improving.

And Continental even fed me! Glory be!
Cheryl McDonald

Creeping Extra Charges

I used my British Airways miles for an award flight and had to pay $500 in fees! That is outrageous. In the past, it was closer to $200 and I understand that on some airlines the fees are negligible. I have a lot of British Airways miles left. Can I transfer them to another airline, or is there another way that I can get out of paying such a high fee? Thank you.

Editors’ Note: Wendy, unfortunately BA Executive Club has a reputation for tacking on high fees to award flights and there’s not much you can do about it–about the only thing you can do is shop around for award flights with lower fees–but then you’re making your travel plans around something as arbitrary as BA award fees instead of going where you want.

You can also check out using your miles for flights on partner airlines–British Airways participates in the oneworld alliance. There is no set, easy way to transfer your Executive Club miles to another program, and even if you are able to somehow finagle an exchange, you will be losing tons of miles and possibly money, which could equal the fees that you’re trying to avoid. If these options do not get you the satisfaction you are seeking with your BA miles, your next and final step could be to switch your loyalty to another carrier. Best of luck.

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