Why Not, Indeed
I wanted to relay a positive experience that I recently had on Continental with the OnePass program that I now calculate made my miles worth an astonishing $.11 each! I only fly for leisure, and of the 800,000 or so OnePass miles that I currently have, almost all have been earned over the past 10 years by using the Chase Continental OnePass debit and credit cards for business expenses.
I have always been religious about ensuring the credit card is used for as many services and bills as possible. Sometimes when evaluating vendors for our business, I will choose the vendor that accepts credit card payment, everything else being equal. On a trip this fall, my companion and I wanted to try Virgin Upper Class to Europe, so we booked a trip from our hometown (Austin) to London on Virgin Upper Class through their Boston hub (via Charlotte). We scheduled a short layover in London, then continuing on to Madrid. Finally, our plan was to return via Barcelona (we’d handle the intra-Spain leg), and Continental booked us on a Lufthansa flight connecting through Frankfurt back to the U.S. The total cost of the trip was 105,000 miles for each ticket with all business class legs.
Unfortunately, the US Airways flight that was to get us to Boston on the outbound leg was delayed due to engine trouble, and this forced a misconnect with our Virgin Upper Class flight to Heathrow. Disappointed, we called the OnePass service center and they were unable to find any inventory on other Virgin Atlantic flights. Not being particular at that point, we asked them what destinations in Europe that they could get us to in business class on a Continental flight. “If you want to leave tomorrow”, they said, “we’ll get you to New York City tonight, and then you can leave for Stockholm or Oslo in business class tomorrow.”
Having enjoyed Stockholm in the past, I took them up on that offer, and we boarded a 767 which recently had a full lie-flat conversion. Very comfortable. Once we got to Stockholm, we figured we might as well try to get the Madrid leg added back on, so we called OnePass, and the agent was able to find two business class seats on an Iberia flight from Stockholm nonstop to Madrid several days later. No fee. Realizing that the 105,000-mile award ticket was by no means a RTW or even open jaw ticket, we were super pleased to now have several business class legs in Europe for our original fare. Getting perhaps greedy one night in Stockholm, my companion casually mentioned how we’ve often discussed going to Russia. A few glasses of wine later, I went back to the hotel and tried once again to try my luck with Continental. Sure enough, the agent had two seats available in business class from Madrid to Moscow on Iberia, leaving a week later. She asked how this change was going to affect our return, and I asked her to hold while I quickly went back to Continental’s Web site and cherry-picked an ideal itinerary leaving from Moscow to London a week later via BMI business class, with a few days layover in London (our original goal), and finally, natch, a Virgin Upper Class return via Washington, D.C. back to Austin on a nonstop United flight from Washington D.C. Again, no fee.
Stunned, I tried to calculate the cost of this trip if we were booking it separately. The best approximation I could come up with was at least $12,000 per person, making each mile worth approximately $.11. This really reinforced my loyalty to Continental, but it also made me appreciate the breadth of the Star Alliance. These guys can get you literally anywhere in the world, and if they were always so liberal with frequent flyers, other travelers could have some truly memorable around-the-world jaunts. And since they’re not losing any revenue miles –why not?
I’d like to comment on some of the Head2Head comments made on your Web site, WebFlyer.com, in relation to Delta SkyMiles: 1) As an Elite flyer, that is, if you are Gold, Platinum or Diamond Elite, you have access to Sky Elite Lounges internationally. 2) Although Delta states their policy is no upgrades on international flights, I have been upgraded (from a coach fare ticket) on international flights to Paris, to Prague and to and from Tokyo. You cannot plan it, but it can happen even though you cannot plan in advance. On Continental, even though I was a Platinum flyer, and had a flight coupon for an upgrade to Asia, the upgrade was not awarded. Point being, no upgrades are guaranteed unless you use systemwide upgrades or verify in advance. 3) Delta does give permanent award status for flyers. Million Milers are permanent Silver status; two Million, permanent Gold; three Million, permanent Platinum, etc. Delta also allows their Platinum and Diamond flyers to gift an annual status gift to a friend or family member. (Platinum can award Silver, Diamond can award Gold.) 4) While it is true that it sucks to be a Gold member when you live in Atlanta (the entire city of Atlanta is Gold or higher) it is fantastic when you have a non-hub city as your home airport base and Delta is generous with its opportunities to get points with promotions, mileage matches, etc.
Continental Sure Thing
Just wanted to share with you what I think is the best bet going now: Get a Continental credit card and collect the 25,000 bonus miles for signing up. Continental–and its card–will soon vanish once the merger with United Airlines is completed. But you will undoubtedly be able to transfer your Continental miles for United miles. And as an added bonus, the first year’s fee will be waived.
Rating Starwood Preferred Guest
I think Starwood Preferred Guest is good overall, but can and should, always be improved. The “pros” include: Great selection of properties in Asia. Good promotions from time to time. Access to lounges. Free Internet. Fifth night free award. Good point earning potential. Good redemption values, except for some overvalued top properties. The “cons” include: No free breakfast for Platinum members at many properties. Sometimes I have to chase points (especially Platinum amenities–500 additional penalty points should be charged to hotels and credited to guests if the amenity credit does not appear within two weeks of check out). No fifth night free awards at some high-end properties (higher categories). Too few amenities offered at W hotels. Some hotels do not respect the upgrade to suites even if available (lack of control systems by Starwood). Lack of consistency from one property to the other. Top tier that became too low at 45 nights; does not discourage some frequent customers to look at properties of other chains or gaining additional top tier level with competition. Five nights added toward status just by paying a credit card fee; status should be earned only through actual paid nights. No replacement amenities at some hotels, where there is no lounge. No lounge hotels should offer a free breakfast and two drinks minimum, plus a few munchies at the bar, during the evening. Allowing hotels (there is one that I know of, Dallas Sheraton Market Center, but there might be others) to publicly show political party affiliations with flyers, posters and to select only one cable news channel. Properties affiliated to large hotel chains should be politically neutral or, at least, it should not be visible to guests..
Round and Round
Recently, I read about new rooms at the SFO Hyatt that are hypo-allergenic. My son has always had allergies and I thought it would be a treat for him and his wife to spend a couple of nights there–thought he might like to see if the rooms really do make a difference–and San Francisco is one of their favorite cities. I emailed Hyatt Gold Passport to ask how I could identify that I’d like to reserve an hypo-allergenic room for an award stay, as well as how many points I would need. I received an email back quite promptly but the representative said that it would be best for me to call the hotel directly, which I did. The woman who answered the phone directed my call to the front desk (after I’d given her my full speech about what I was hoping to find out), and when the front desk answered (and I gave the representative there my full speech), he directed me to reservations. When the reservations agent came on, I realized it was the same woman who had originally answered the phone. When I tried to explain what the problem was (again) she proceeded to say that she would put me through to the front desk. The experience was quickly turning into a Monty Python sketch so I hung up. I suggest that if you want a hypo-allergenic room, call Hyatt Gold Passport directly at (800) 228-3360. Have I done so yet? No, I have not. I’m not sure if I’m ready for another round.