Letters – December, 19 2014

Letters – December, 19 2014

I keep hearing how the Mileage Run is dead, but I had a chuckle this week when we were taxiing into SFO from LAX (as you know, Los Angeles to San Francisco is a quick hop on a plane).

A flight attendant was announcing gate information for connections and one of the cities mentioned as a gate connection was Los Angeles–the city we originated from!

Someone across the aisle from me asked a passing flight attendant why they would be announcing LA as a flight connection and she explained, in so many words, that “crazy” frequent flyers do this toward the end of the year to keep their elite status. It brought a smile to my face knowing that the Mileage Run is not dead, yet.
Michael in SF

Maternity Leave for Elite?
I would like to bring attention the policies of the airlines when it comes to pregnant women and keeping elite status. It seems to me that the airlines should have a policy in place to work with women who are pregnant and unable to travel to get those last few thousand miles to obtain or retain elite status. What would it hurt to have a maternity policy in place to work with these women, many who travel many miles a year for business travel? Just a thought. I have a friend who is in this predicament and was told by her frequent flyer program that there was nothing they could do to help her keep her elite status.
Stacey S.

You Too, Alaska?
I was disappointed recently to read that Alaska Airlines is following the lead of other airlines and will start charging an extra fee sometime in the first half of 2015 for preferred seating on their aircraft. They will charge for bulkhead and exit row seats with the fees ranging from $15 to $50.

Does this mean that elite level members will no longer get a priority for these seats? I don’t like the sound of this. I know Alaska isn’t the only airline to charge for these seats, but I used to be a huge fan of Alaska and have watched as the airline has slowly lost its “specialness” over the last few years, and it’s been rather sad. Yes, it’s supposed to make money for them–some estimates are as much as $15 million per year.

So maybe I’m being too hard on them. They are promising priority boarding and a free drink if you pony up for the fees to get a better seat–that’s great for the person who’s willing to spend the extra money. For the road warriors and loyal customers, though, it just seems a bit cold hearted. Money talks. Money always talks.
Jackson in Seattle

A WAArning
I just wanted to let you be aware that there have been some issues with the merger of American Airlines and US Airways. I’ve had some reserved flights “disappear” on my American website and other issues whenever I’ve booked on US or AA. It would pay for anyone flying either of these airlines to watch their bookings and AAdvantage account closely to make sure that they are getting credit for their flights. Recently, I had to ask American three times before a flight of mine posted to my account. I think they are having major issues integrating the two systems. Save your boarding passes and ticket receipts to make sure you get your miles!
John Mathews

Hoard No More
I’d like to make a confession. I’m a former miles hoarder. I used to panic if a mileage balance fell below 500,000. I enjoyed looking at my balances rise and took pride when the zeros at the end increased. It was like my own little stack of gold.

But those days are over. I finally realized that my stack of gold was losing its shine. Mileage devaluations were real. So, I started spending. And spending. And spending. Now, I’m looking at a lot of small mileage balances, but I have memories and photos from our trips to Alaska, Africa, Borneo, Maldives and more. I finally found the true worth of a mile.

My motto for miles used to be, see them rise! Now, it’s spend them while you can!
Cindy Reagan

Rating Aeroplan #1
I’m an Altitude Super Elite and Aeroplan Diamond member.

Earning Ability: B+. If you are Canadian, in my opinion, this is the program for earning points whether or not you fly. Lots of opportunities to earn whether it is on flights (plus bonus miles if you have Altitude status), fairly generous bank credit card scams, I mean schemes, and a variety of other over-priced merchants. I originally marked this an A but then downgraded to B+ based on the requirement of buying Flex or above fares to earn full mileage accrual.

Award Choices: Award choices alone: A-. Award availability: B as a Super Elite, otherwise D unless you like toasters. In theory they offer a broad range of ways to spend your points. The only really sensible way of doing so is by booking a business or first class award, preferably on an airline that does not impose scam charges. Availability of those desirable awards approaches nil if you are not Super Elite. It is considerably better for Super Elite, but not as good as it was.

Partnerships: A-. Star Alliance is a very broad network unless you like South America and Australia. They have plenty of other “partners” for earning and redeeming points.

Elite-Level Program: Altitude Super Elite: B+ others C. Distinction: C. The Altitude program is pretty solid as an Super Elite, but has been cut back dramatically from what it once was–especially if you are not Super Elite. Kudos to Aeroplan for launching the Distinction program, but in practice I don’t see the benefits as being hugely beneficial–although with the discount “market” fares have sometimes required fewer points than “Classic”.

Rules and Conditions: B-. Positives: They did away with the short-lived idea of expiring miles. Negatives: Miles disappear after one year of inactivity. Big Negative: Imposition of “YQ” A.K.A. scam charge that was known as “fuel surcharge” until their legal people realized the surcharge was more than the per person cost of fuel for many flights.

Service Support: B. Generally their phone agents are good and don’t have long hold times (especially when compared with Air Canada). It is really cheesy to force people to pay a $30 booking fee to use phone agents when their online travel booking engine has so many limitations. That fee should only apply if the itinerary can be booked online.

Online Services: C. After so many years it boggles my mind that their software still has such limited ability to book flights online (despite the claim that the $30 booking fee was supposed to allow them to enhance the Web capability).
The Lev [Milepoint]

Rating Aeroplan #2
As usual with Air Canada/Aeroplan, the line is blurry and it’s not clear what we should be rating. My ratings reflect the combination, as that is comparable to other airlines’ programs.
I am an Altitude Super Elite and Aeroplan Diamond.

Earning Ability: B. Lots of ways to earn, and I do well even without a credit card.

Award Choices: B (or D if you have no status). As Super Elite, availability of flight awards is good, and Star Alliance helps a lot, without status it would be far worse. Non-flight awards readily available, but much less interesting.

Partnerships: A. Star Alliance is by far the best, even if South America is limited. Lots of other Aeroplan partners, including multiple credit card choices (how many other airlines can say that?). Sobey’s and Esso provide good earning opportunities in particular.

Elite-Level Program: B (or C if you are not Super Elite). Altitude provides pretty good benefits (in the context of 2014, the good old days are long gone) if you are a Super Elite, much less so if you are not. Distinction doesn’t really add much if you are a Super Elite, but at lower levels the market fares can provide a decent option for award availability.

Rules and Conditions: B. This would be A if not for the fuel surcharges. One-year expiry only affects totally inactive people.

Service Support: B. This used to be A for Super Elites, but no dedicated agents any more. Concierges (for Super Elite only!) are very helpful when you need them.

Online Services: B. Website is decent but can still require calling in for more complex itineraries.
tomh009 [Milepoint]

Rating Aeroplan #3
Earning Ability: C (F for EQMs, A for RDMs equals a C average).

Award Choices: C (F for International due to co-pay, A for Domestic/NA equals a C average).

Partnerships: B (Star Alliance is as good as any, everything else is irrelevant).

Elite-Level Program: F (Super Elite is excellent, the rest are irrelevant).

Rules and Conditions: C (average for Rules, average for Conditions).

Service Support: C (average).

Online Services: B (easy booking engine).
NoahVail [Milepoint]