I just received this email from Lufthansa

Hmm, that sounds interesting since every other companion fare that I know of excludes First. Here is the detailed language:

I checked and the fare looks a little over half:

Still way too rich for my blood, but it there if you want.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

One of the good things about the Marriott-Starwood merger (yes, Ed, there was something good) was the dropping of the point requirement for Lifetime status and only going by nights like the Starwood program. Marriott’s program used to require 250, 500, or 750 nights and 800K, 1200K, or 1600K points respectively for the three status levels, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

As someone who stayed at the Government per diem rate on most of my stays, I had over 800 nights at the time of the merger, but was still below the 1200K mark in lifetime points. Dropping the requirement for points at the end of last year, made me an instant lifetime member at the newly created Titanium level. Needless to say, I was very happy with this and Marriott has always made a point to recognize that status whenever I stayed there to date.

I was surprised to receive a large clear plastic envelope in the mail the other day from Marriott. I presumed it was some marketing deal.

My Lifetime Titanium Elite materials? Not sure what was inside, but they were easily 11 months late with this. Opening the envelope was a nice cardboard tri-fold.

Cool, what was inside?

Nice! a heavy metal card that calls me out as a top elite. However, how am I supposed to use this? They already know my status on the reservation. Why would I carry this around? Just to whip it out when I check in and say “DYKWIA, I’M A TITANIUM ELITE baby”! Yeah, probably not. A nice gesture, but I probably could have thought of a better way for them to recognize my status.,,and in a more timely manner.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

D-Day is an iconic day in western history, especially in the countries who participated and sacrificed. I have been the luckiest guy in the world to be able to jump to re-create the jump of the 82nd Airborne Division on 5 June 1944. And I got to do it twice!

This year, however, I have a different job and not on airborne status any longer. However, I have a good French friend  who really wanted to go for the 75th anniversary. I couldn’t resist and went on my own dime over to France and brought the wife with me this time so she could see what all the excitement was about.

We used our Alaska miles to fly Icelandair from IAD to Paris via Keflavik. Pretty good deal for business class except for the fuel surcharge, but at least reasonable at $143 (as opposed to BA surcharge at $226). Icelandair Business Class is not the greatest, but it is Business Class.

Because my friend and I only decided to book this trip in January, there were slim picking in terms of hotels. Not that there are very many chain hotels in the region anyway. I ended up using Hotels.com for the first time and got a decent room, but it was in Pont L’Eveq at a nice hotel called Lion D’Or (Golden Lion). Since it was a bit of a drive to the American Sector, we spent most of the first day in the British Sector, including the famous Pegasus Bridge.

We spent the next day driving our to see Mont Saint Michel, I’ll talk about that in a separate post. Then the main event at St. Mere-Eglise for the jump. Everything in town is around the beautiful central square.

The church is at the center of that and is the famous place where one of the paratrooper’s chute got hung up on the steeple. He hung there and played dead until the Germans finally figured it out and captured him. His name was John Steele and you can read about him here. The church is still draped with a chute to commemorate his story.

This being the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, there were a lot more people than past years and way more tanks and other military vehicles. Really amazing that people have kept these running all these years later.

I really like this owner’s camo scheme including sandbag armor.

The M-10 Tank Destroyer above is not something you often see. They paraded all the vehicles shown around all the towns in the area and it took over an hour for them all to pass.

The Airborne Museum on the edge of the square is a must-see and really a first class job of presenting the history of both airborne and glider troops.

Finally, it was time for the jump. We walked the two miles (three km) to the drop zone. We missed the initial drop and I guess a lot of people thought that was it because they were streaming out. I knew from personal experience that there would be about eight waves of planes coming through and dropping paratroopers. In the past years, we jumped just with French and German troops, but this year the British showed up too. As always there were a smattering of the other NATO countries jumping, most with the Special Forces who jump near the end and often use their special (MT-6) chutes which are very steerable. This is the chute I jumped the most with and they are a lot of fun. The typical American troops use the new T-11 chutes which is huge and meant for a 220 lb. paratrooper with full load. When you are only jumping Hollywood it makes it a slow decent and a very soft landing. You can easily spot the T-11 due to its square shape. French and other countries were mainly still using the round T-10 chutes I first trained on.

D-Day week in Normandy is so iconic, it really should be on everyone’s bucket list – especially if you have ever jumped out of a perfectly good airplane! Anyone else out there been to the D-Day sites?

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

What would be a military frequent flyer blog without detailing out all the places that you can get a discount this weekend. Most of these are for free or discounted stuff on Monday, 11 November, but several are good in the days prior to that. I have highlighted those. This year’s list comes from an organization I belong to – The American Legion. The full list is found here and I have synopsized below. Please don’t forget to tip your server based on the full price.

RESTAURANTS

54th Street Family Grill – Veterans eat free

Another Broken Egg Café – Free French toast combo and coffee

Applebee’s – free meal from a select list

Aspen Creek Grill – free meal from special menu

Bagger Dave’s – free cheeseburger and fries

Bandana’s Bar-B-Q – free meal

BJ’s Restaurant Brewhouse – free entrée up to $14.95 and free Dr Pepper (OK< someone needs to tell me what’s up with the Dr. Pepper as part of the offer)

Black Angus Steakhouse – Top Sirloin dinner for only $9.99

Bob Evans – variety of free meals for breakfast, lunch, or dinner

Brick House Tavern + Tap – veterans get 20% off their meal

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. – military get 20% off food and retail purchases

Burnt Wood Tavern – eat free on Veterans’ Day

Calhoun’s – free meal on Veterans’ Day

California Pizza Kitchen – free pizza, pasta, or salad and drink. Also a BOGO coupon for a return visit

Cattleman’s Steakhouse – 8 oz. steak dinner on the house

CentrAarchy Restaurants (California Dreaming, Carolina Roadhouse, Chophouse ’47, Chophouse New Orleans, Gulfstream Café, Joey D’s Oak Room, New York Prime, The Tavern at Phipps) – free entrée at any of their restaurants

Chili’s – free meal from a select menu

City Barbeque – free sandwich, two sides, and a beverage

Cotton Patch Café – free chicken fried steak or fried chicken

Country Cookin – free salad or $5 off any entree

Country Kitchen – free scramble

Cracker Barrel – complimentray pumpkin pie latte or slice of double chocolate fudge cola cake

Crooked Pint Ale House – free meal

Golden Corral – free dinner buffet and beverage from 5-9 on Monday, no ID required

Green Mill Restaurant & Bar – free meal

Gordon Biersch – free meal from a select list. They will also donate to a veterans’ charity for every pint of Veterans IPA you order

Kolache Factory – free sausage and cheese kolache

Little Caesars – free $5 lunch combo

Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que – free dessert and 20% off the entire month of November

Mission BBQ – free sandwich and cake. This is one of my favorite places to eat. Go there at noon to see something special.

O’Charley’s – free meal from special menu

Olive Garden – free meal from special menu

Outback – free bloomin’ onion and beverag

Red Robin – free Tavern Double Burger and fries

Red Lobster – complimentary appetizer or dessert

Scooter’s Coffee – free drink any size

Shoney’s freee All You Care to Eat breakfast

Texas Roadhouse – from 11-4 on Monday get a free lunch from select menu

Yard House – complimentary appetizer

 

ENTERTAINMENT

Aquarium of the Pacific – free admission, friends and family can get discounted tickets at the MWR

Birmingham Zoo, Birmingham, Ala. – veterans and dependents get free admission

City Museum, St. Louis – free admission

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Va. – free admission all weekend staring Friday. Includes dependents

Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville, Tenn. – free admission Saturday through Monday including up to three family members

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Vernon, Va. – free admission

Harley-Davidson Museum, Milwaukee, Wis. free admission, including family (up to 4 kids), Saturday through Monday

Knotts’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, Calif. – free admission and discounted tickets for the family from November 3-21 and December 2-19 On a personal note, Knotts has been a leader in free veterans admission and offering this for over 25 years, I remember taking my daughter when she was only two.

National Park Service – free admission including family for any National Park

Newseum, Washington, D.C. – free admission including one guest from Saturday through Monday

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Tacoma, Wash. – free admission and half off for family Saturday through Monday

Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, Kan. free admission including family

South Shore Line, Northwest Indiana into Chicago free ticket including up to 3 kids from 8-11 Nov.

Sunset Zoo, Manhattan, Kan. – free admission on Saturday

World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta – free admission and  4 half price tickets for friends or family from 1-11 Nov.

 

RETAIL

Amazon Prime – a year of Prime at a $40 discount. I personally jumped on this one.

American Family Care – free flu shots on Monday

Great Clips – free haircut on Monday or a free haircut cards good until 31 Dec.

Just Tires – free tire installation with purchase of tires. Must schedule by 11 Nov. for service by 16 Nov.

Kohl’s – get a 15% discount every Monday (I didn’t know that!) and double to 30% off on 11 Nov.

Publix – 10% off groceries on 11 Nov.

Planet Fitness – free workout for you and a buddy 8-15 Nov. includes free hydromassage.

Sleep Number – $100 off select smart beds and bases

SpartanNash – get an 11% discount on 10-11 Nov.

Target – 10% off 3-11 Nov.

True Rest Float Spa free float on the 11th of every month

Tuft & Needle – $175 off Mint and Hybrid mattresses trough 11 Nov.

Some that are not shown on the American Legion site:

Bed, Bath, and Beyond – Save 25% 9-11 Nov.

Let me know if you find any others.

I think that’s the longest list we’ve ever had! Remember to go to the individual websites for details. Get out and enjoy the long weekend, you deserve it.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Albert writes again on one of my favorite ways to save money when traveling, the unbeatable BoA Alaska Airlines Companion Fare. My wife and I each use ours to go from D.C. to Hawaii every year and them one other exotic place such as Costa Rica. Not only do we get to fly for almost half price, but (both being Golds) get roughly 20,000 miles (~9,600 distance with 100% bonus)!

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

BLUF: The Alaska Airline Companion Fare—from both the Bank of America AS
personal and business credit cards—is, at its simplest, a two-for-one certificate for
Alaska Airlines tickets. It provides the best way to save money (and earn miles!) when
two people fly Alaska.

Since Joey and I are back in the U.S., we can more effectively use many of the ancillary
benefits from bank and co-branded airline credit cards. For example, one benefit at
which I am getting more efficient is a purchase multiplier at US-based office supply
stores. (Hello, Chase Ink Business Cash!). Store gift cards and advertised no-fee
VISA/MasterCard gift cards offer high accrual rates, when used correctly. (The subject
of a future TTP!) However, the Alaska Airlines Companion fare is the benefit I was most
excited to try.

 

 

Last month, I decided to plan a late summer 2020 trip to the Pacific Northwest to offer
us relief from the swampy DC summer. This was my first time experimenting with how
best to use the companion fare. After some mentorship from our TMFF leader, Glenn,
on the fare’s inner workings, I was ready to book the flights. Do note the companion
fare has a $99 co-pay at purchase, and you always pay taxes for the flight(s). Still for
approx. $120 you get an additional ticket, and that is a deal!

First, I’m an AS Mileage Plan Gold elite. While stationed in Germany, I earned my
status by flying almost exclusively with the broad group of worldwide AS partners.
Namely, I flew Cathay Pacific, Finnair, and Emirates from Europe to and around Asia to
take advantage of the big mileage accrual rates when purchasing business class
tickets. Further, AS Golds receive four Gold Guest Upgrade Certificates, which can be
applied at purchase for an immediate First Class upgrade on an AS flight, when “U”
space is available. For my search, I had four remaining certificates which expired at the
end of 2019. As they offer instant upgrades, they are considered “used” at
purchase—even though my flights, in this case, would be in August 2020.

Second, I searched for the best routes from Washington, DC to the Pacific Northwest.
In metro DC (or WAS, the airport code), AS flies from IAD, DCA, and BWI. We decided
to focus on Vancouver as one of the destination. We hadn’t been there in about five
years, and it’s one of our favorite cities for Asian food, Canadian hospitality, and the
outdoors. Given the AS network, AS’s Seattle hub would be our likely transit point.
Although the option to drive up to Vancouver from Seattle, or even Portland, was there,
I wanted to fly because it’s the most convenient method and accruing AS miles is
always a priority.

 

Next, with my general routing (via Seattle) set, I went to Alaska’s website to start my
search. Once you log in, you need to navigate to the “Discount and companion fare
codes” section of the menu and select “Valid.” Companion fare codes are automatically
loaded into your profile when 1) you meet the initial minimum spend requirements for
your credit card(s), and 2) yearly after you pay the annual credit card fee. After you
select the “SHOP” button, you’ll be taken to the flight search page where your unique
discount fare code will load, and you can begin your search.

With the AS Companion Fare, the search is for an economy class ticket only. That
ticket can be one-way, round trip, or even a multi-city trip, as long as the computer
allows the route. While you cannot outright purchase an AS First Class ticket with the
companion fare, Gold Guest Upgrade Certificates and elite status benefits can identify
upgradable space at purchase (e.g., no waitlist).

 

When you search for flights, “saver” and “main cabin” fares are the default economy
class tickets displayed. Also, next to the fare is an “e” symbol identifying the companion
fare applies to that fare. [NOTE: As I rule, I do not purchase “saver” or any “basic
economy” fares as they have too many restrictions on seat selections, carry-ons, and
accrual rates. Even with the dollar savings, it is never an option for me. You may feel
differently, but do your research!]. Since Alaska let you select and specify upgrade type
during flight searches, the cheapest upgradable fares are displayed along with “main
cabin” fares—the “saver” fare option is eliminated.

Gold Guest certificates are applied to the widest range of economy fare classes while
other elite statuses offer smaller subsets. When you select an upgrade type, the search
displays an “F” next to flight details. A filled-in square means an instant upgrade is
available. A non-filled-in one means none is available. Of course, you should modify
your search as best you can to hunt for those filled-in “F” square. If you don’t have
status or Gold Guest Upgrade Certificates, then your search should focused on the best
fares for your dates. As a reminder, with the companion fare, the “F” search is for two
upgradable seats.

 

Originally, I planned our departure to Vancouver to take advantage of the Labor Day
holiday weekend. (It’s always good to save a day of leave with a federal holiday!)
However, I couldn’t find two upgradeable seats during my first few searches. So,
knowing that flexibility is the key to successful travel planning, started moving further
into August.

After about an hour or so of playing around with dates and routes, I found a nine-day
itinerary with two upgradable seats from DCA to YVR (via SEA) and two upgradeable
seats from SEA to DCA (via LAX). With the verified filled-in “F” squares, I purchased
the itinerary (with the AS credit card that contained the companion fare, a new and
recent Alaska requirement), and post-purchase, I applied my Gold Guest Upgrade
Certificates. A single Gold Guest certificate is required per one-way as long as no stop
is longer than four hours. Therefore, two people, four one-way flights equals four Gold
Guest certificates. A perfect result: first class the entire trip. (I’ll figure out how to get
us from YVR to SEA later.)

To make the AS Companion Fare even more perfect, both flyers earn miles during the
flight. This means, I will earn 100% elite and redeemable miles for the economy class
tickets (you earn based on original fare purchased NOT the upgraded one), and Joey
will earn the same. This is different from Delta’s companion fare, where only the main
individual earns miles (and not at the “1 mile flown = 1 mile earned” rate), and the
companion (after paying taxes and fees) earns nothing. This benefit from Alaska, then,
is an incredible value.

In sum, finding airfare deals is a job. However, with the AS Companion Fare, you can
get a bigger bang-for-your-buck when flying with two people making that job a little
easier and a lot more lucrative. I’m very happy to have used it in concert with my Gold
Guest Upgrade Certificates. I would encourage you to look at the either the personal or
business Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit cards to see if its companion fare
benefit can serve your and your companion’s travel needs.

Happy Travels!
Vr,
Albert
Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.
“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”
Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Yes, the title is definitely a play on the mileage run, but using United’s regular Mileplay promotion. United’s Mileplay is a promotion they run about every quarter that seems to involve a random number generator saying that if you fly x number of flights, each with a value of y, you will receive z miles. I have received this promotion for about the last two years. Usually, these promotions don’t correspond to my status or frequency of flying United, as opposed to some other carrier. For the record, I am a United Million Miler, which makes me Lifetime Gold, but I manager United Platinum for 2019.

The one for the summer (for me) was fly two flights with a pre-tax value of $225, I would receive 2,500 miles. Obviously, I didn’t do anything special for that, but happened to have two flights and got the 2,500 miles. Big whoop. However, the one I received in August was quite different.

Hmm, very tempted by 34,000 miles, but 5 times at a fare of $225 or better is kind of a lot in my world. Keeping in mind that I must use GSA City Pairs therefore don’t get to choose my carrier. However, I went ahead and used United for my carrier for a planned weekend in Tampa for October. Then, I got an unexpected work flight on United that exceeded the $225 PQD requirement in Sept. OK, so that meant I would be 3/5th of the way there. I could do a mileage run, but would need to spend $225+taxes on each leg. Meaning about a $500 spend to get 34,000 miles. That’s 1.47 CPM. If you value UA miles at 1.6 cents each, that’s not really a deal.

Then I got another unexpected business flight in mid-Oct. OK, to get 34,0000 miles for one more flight of $225 PQD, now the math worked out. Totally worth it to spend a day to take a flight for $225. I started looking for a RT flight that was simple and got me the required spend. Even at a total price of $320, this seemed like a good deal. Basically getting UA miles at about 1 cpm.

Flying out of Washington, going up to EWR seemed an obvious choice. Here was a RT for $268 PQD, close enough.

United marketing was really pushing me to make this last trip. Hard to resist their logic of completing one more trip.

I booked and ended up spending last Sunday on a plane. Thankfully, UA Clubs keep me fed and entertained. I also indulged myself by booking at United’s EWR restaurant Classified. Not a bad day spending it in the air or at the lounge. Then Tuesday getting the message:

Cool! And the miles were in my account the next day. This is the first time that Mileplay has tempted me to do a mileage run just to meet their requirements. Often the reward is not worth it, but I happened into a scenario of a high reward with little effort on my side. Glad it worked out this time. I know a lot of people find that the requirements do not match the reward for Mileplay, but do any of you have success stories with Mileplay?

 

 

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

A follow up from Albert on his ATW trip:

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: From 24 August to 3 September 2019, I undertook my first Around-The-World trip (going eastward). In total, I flew 21,830 miles on four different airlines in both economy and business class. With three major stops and a mix of revenue and award tickets, it proved to be a great experience.

 

Today’s AAR takes us through my first ATW trip: the logistics, mechanics, flights, and destinations (in a multi-part series).

 

 

After completing my United award ticket to MXP, we booked a single night at the Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport Hotel using one of Joey’s AMEX Bonvoy credit card single-night award certificates. With his Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status, we enjoyed an upgrade to a junior suite and access to the Club Lounge, which puts out a nice evening and morning food spread.

 

Speaking of airport hotels, I find them to be invaluable in my travel planning. With positioning flights, staying at the airport is convenient. Plus, even with the best of planning, sometimes the best flight to get the best deal is the super early one. This is when staying at the airport can help relieve the stress of getting up early and making an early flight. I’m a morning person, so a zero-dark-thirty accountability formation is not a problem. Someone else requires a more gentlemanly start to the morning. LOL!

 

On Monday, 26 September, we made our way to Swiss Business check-in to drop off luggage and get our boarding passes to ZRH and BKK. After utilizing the GOLDTRACK express lane for security, we headed to the Lufthansa Senator/Business Lounge. Milan Malpensa, IMHO, has out-of-date décor, but we were surprised the LH lounge was quite nice. It had some great eats to include a full-tended bar area.

 

 

After an hour or so in the lounge, we made our way down to the gate for our very short flight to ZRH. We were sitting in Swiss Business on the small Embraer 190 jet, so we each had a row to ourselves, and when landing in Zurich, we had a designated shuttle to take us from the plane (which parked at an apron spot) to arrivals.

 

 

With over two-hours before the long-haul flight, we processed out of “Europe” and into the E Gates. We headed straight to the Swiss Senator Lounge. Here we enjoyed some great plane spotting and a small snack. We didn’t want to fill up on lounge food (Swiss employs cooks at the Senator Lounge for made-to-order items) or drink too much (there a whiskey bar in the lounge as well) since we were hopping 10h36m flight in Swiss Business Class to BKK, and dinner and drinks were just around the corner.

 

During the booking process, on the Swiss 777-300ER, I chose seats 4K and 4J—the bulkhead seats in Business class. I chose these because 1) they were available and 2) bulkhead seats have bigger footwells. Seat 4J doesn’t offer direct-aisle access, but when traveling with a companion, it’s not that big a deal. However, I knew at check-in (24 hours before our itinerary began), I’d be able to choose seats 4D and 4G—the two bulkhead seats in the center. These seats can only be pre-booked by Swiss Miles & More HON and Senator-level customers, but at check-in, they’re available to anyone. These two seats are great. Plenty of foot space and storage. Being the first row in Business also ensured we’d be served first!

 

Swiss Business class was very nice. The flight attendants were quick with dinner service and were quick with drink refilled. The lie-flat bed, while not the most comfortable I’ve been in, allowed me to get about 4-5 hours of sleep. Most impressive is the tv screen, which is huge! I watched AVENGERS: ENGAME again, and the picture and the sound were great.

 

 

Our arrival into BKK was uneventful as we processed into Thailand and connected to a Malaysia Airlines business class (award tickets via BA Avios) flights to KUL and onward to Penang (PEN) for a four-day food and touring holiday.

 

 

Penang cuisine is unique—spicy combining Thai, Malay, Indian, and Chinese flavors—given its colonial history. Much of George Town, the capital, still maintains British colonial architecture throughout the city and island. It’s a less-developed but still interesting Singapore. Put it on your off-the-beaten-path travel destinations list.

 

 

In sum, my flights from Europe to Asia proved to be great on both Swiss and Malaysia Airlines. As I was continuing east on my around-the-world flight, the continued time zone transiting eliminated any jet lag. At this point, I’m almost two-thirds around the world (Washington, DC – Penang, Malaysia). The final third is still ahead.

 

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | No Comments

My mileage run ended up giving me three hours to kill at EWR. I was pleasantly surprised when earlier this week, I was emailed an invite to dine at United’s invitation-only dining location near gate 120 at EWR.

Called, Classified, I read about it when it opened, but was never given an invite to attend before now. I was led to believe it was for 1K and GS members of Mileage Plus, but they apparently are dipping down into Platinums like me. I had nothing to lose and made a reservation.

Making a reservation time based upon a plane landing on time is a little trick, but I allowed 30 minutes from the scheduled time. Turned out we land a little early AND didn’t have to wait half an hour for the plane wranglers to get in into the gate. Although the reservation said it was near Gate 120, it wasn’t obvious from standing in front of that gate where it was. Reading further, it said to go to the restaurant Saisson and tell the host that you had a reservation for Classified.

After mentioning Classified to the host (should I have whispered it?), he led me back a long path.

Inside was a long narrow dining area. Basically, a dozen table with one aisle to serve. Smart use of what was probably back-of-the-house space that wasn’t making any money. There was a nice waitress who seated me and then explained how to use the tablet ordering system.

They had a full restaurant menu and were serving brunch since it was Sunday. The server recommended the burger, but I decided to go for something that I rarely have anywhere – a lobster roll. Added a beer and I was done.

One nice thing is that if you use your Chase United card, you get 20% off. Since the prices are normal for airport food, that pretty nice. As you can see, I got 7 bucks off. You do have an option to pay with miles, but that’s very poor value, less than a penny a mile.

The beer can a couple of minutes later and the meal within ten minutes.

Now, was this the best lobster I had ever had? No, but certainly good and meaty.

I should mention that for AvGeeks, you do get a nice view of the ramp. Unfortunately, heavy rains made it a poor day for sightseeing (and bumpy flying).

One thing that was really interesting is that they told me that once I had dined here, I did not need a future invite. Just go to the reservation site and book next time I am in EWR. I think I’ll bring the wife next time I have extra time at EWR.

 

Posted by glenn | 4 Comments

After Action Report (AAR):  My First Around-The-World Trip (ATW) (Part 1)

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF:  From 24 August to 3 September 2019, I undertook my first Around-The-World trip (eastward).  In total, I flew 21,830 miles on four different airlines in both economy and business class.  With three major stops and a mix of revenue and award tickets, it proved to be a great experience.

 

Today’s AAR takes us through my first ATW trip:  the logistics, mechanics, flights, and destinations (in a multi-part series).

 

In October 2018, Swiss Airlines published some amazing First and Business class fares.  The catch:  must purchase two tickets and no changes, no refunds.  I’ve wrestled with these sorts of restrictions before, and it’s never an easy decision no matter how much the cost.  However, this deal was too good to pass up. 

 

For $1750/per ticket, I purchased two tickets (with those restrictions).  To get the best deal, these tickets were from Milan Malpensa to Bangkok via Zurich.  For this price, I was able to secure Swiss Business class on the outbound and Swiss First class on the inbound (credited to United MileagePlus).  At the time, we planned to still be in Stuttgart, Germany, so a positioning flight would be no problem. 

 

[Take a look at my previous post, “TTP Position Flights,” to review this topic.]

 

My Stuttgart DEROS was officially October 2019, and if you know anything about the USAJobs system, the process is slow, frustrating, and full of red tape.  So, at the start of 2019, I started looking at announcements figuring any prospective job would bring me on-board NET fall 2019. 

 

In March 2019, I applied for three different jobs within a week:  the job I currently hold in DC, another DC job, and a job in Austin.  The two DoD jobs went radio silent after my USAJobs referral approx. 2 weeks after the job closed.  The DeptVA job contacted me for an interview about 3 weeks from the job closing.

 

I completed the first interview mid-April 2019 and the second interview early-May 2019.  While I was grateful for the quick interview process, I thought in no way could the DeptVA work HR fast enough to interfere with the Swiss flights in August 2019.

 

Much to my surprise, I was offered the DeptVA job (yay!) with a start date of 5 August 2019.  Luckily, my new boss was kind enough to honor my previously booked Annual Leave.  So, with the trip still on—and me now starting the trip from DC—I began thinking of flying ATW. 

 

I had bought the Swiss tickets with four weeks between arriving and departing BKK, so Joey could enjoy a month-long cooking touring throughout Asia.  Since I couldn’t take that much time off (from Stuttgart), I had planned to return to Germany about 1.5 weeks after arriving and then head back to BKK to catch the return trip.  Yes, it’s crazy, but I really wanted to fly Swiss First! 

 

Anyway, since I could no longer fly from the BKK-FRA route, I refunding that ticket (I only got my taxes back, but it’s still something).  We settled on visiting Penang, Malaysia and Shanghai during my portion of the trip.  I bought a United ticket ($900) from PVG to IAD via SFO returning to BKK to link up with the Swiss First flight.  Luckily, I was able to secure United’s new Premium Plus product on the return (EWR-HKG), and much to my surprise, for $600 + 30K United miles, I confirmed an upgrade to Polaris Business (on their Boeing 787-900) from PVG-SFO.  Money and miles well-spent!

 

[Are you following so far?  Because if you are, you’ll see there is a westward ATW flight in my future.]

 

Now, I needed to get from IAD to MXP in time for the Swiss flights.  Joey stayed in Stuttgart after I departed 31 July to wrap up loose ends there, so he’d just have a short STR-MXP flight.  For 30K United miles, I booked an United economy award ticket:  IAD-ZRH-MXP.  With my UA Gold status, I’d be able to access the great Swiss Senator Lounges at ZRH. 

 

[TTP:  even when you land at the ZRH E Gates—as most U.S. flights do—you can still access the better E Gates Swiss Senator Lounge.  Just give yourself enough time to make it through immigration before catching your Schengen flight.]

 

This is a lot of background to arrive at mapping my trip.  Thanks for staying with me!

 

My ATW-eastward route:  IAD-ZRH-MXP-ZRH-BKK-KUL-PEN-HKG-PVG-SFO-IAD.

 

 

A lot more to cover, but I’ll save that for follow-on parts.  I had attempted to produce on-the-go real-time entries, but I’m not that fast a writer.  Plus, it was a vacation!

 

In sum, with a combination of revenue and award tickets, I completed my first ATW trip (eastward) in August and September 2019.  It was a great experience, and why I’m not sure everyone needs to do this, it was an oddly satisfying accomplished for me.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram:  @albert_traveler

 

PS: In case you were wondering, the other two DoD jobs did end up contacting me about interviews:  when it rains, it pours!  However, they contacted me about 2 weeks out from my 31 July PCS date and neither job tempted me away from my already-secured job at DeptVA.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Another great post from my friend Albert:

Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures (TTPs): Government Tickets and Travel.
Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

BLUF: Whether you use the Defense Travel System (DTS), CONCUR, or another
system for purchasing your USG airline tickets, you still have options to reap outsize
rewards for your work travels.

Today’s TTP is on finding benefits while traveling on government tickets.

Rule #1 for USG-purchased tickets for TDY, TAD, or PCS: if your USG organization
mandates purchases through an officially-sanctioned, USG-provided system, you must
use that system. Contract carriers and city-pair agreements take precedent over your
wants and desires, even when points and miles are concerned.

Rule #2: Do not break any ethical, regulatory, or legal processes when traveling on a
government ticket.

Rule #3: Always follow Rule #1 and Rule #2

Still, by knowing some key features of how tickets are purchase, fare classes, and seat
selection/upgrade rules, you can avoid the middle seat in Row 42!

On 31 July, I flew STR-IAD for my PCS. Delta is the contract carrier between these two
cities. While some—to include SATO—encouraged me to take the nonstop STR-ATL
Delta flight, in my experience, this flight is always full of families, contractors, and Delta
medallion members. Therefore, too much competition for flight benefits.

Prior to checking in with SATO to book my PCS ticket (for my ticket, I was required to
book through SATO), I checked DTS for availability of code share flights on KLM via
Amsterdam. Bought as a Delta ticket, I was able to route STR-AMS-IAD. From STR,
this route is my favorite as I prefer international connections via AMS. It’s one of the
easiest airports in which to transfer.

So already, I was ahead of the game, and with the flight information in hand, SATO
booked my preferred route…all within the rules.

Further, DTS and the other systems, provide you the fare class for the tickets. On this
date, with this route, my preferred flights were in fare class Y. Essentially, as far as
Delta’s computer was concerned, this was a “full-fare economy” ticket, even though the
USG paid only a fraction of what a civilian would pay. Fare class here is important
since Y class tickets earn a 50% bonus for Delta Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM)
based on miles flown. [Note: MQM go towards Delta elite status.]

On my AMS-IAD route, Delta calculated 3,867 mi + 1,934 mi (Y class 50%) for 5,801
Delta MQM. This is a healthy haul of elite miles inching me closer to the next level of

Delta elite status. Am I specifically chasing Delta elite status? Not really, but since
work has taking me to and from STR and IAD at least four times a year, using this
method, I’ve been able to reach Delta Gold status the past few years. Since I’m using
the authorized and mandatory reservation and purchasing system, DTS, to search out Y
fares for work travel, the bonus MQM are perfectly valid. No additional cost to the USG
for these flights.

BONUS TTP #1: if you’re a USG military or civilian member stationed overseas, be
sure to update your home address (e.g., APO, FPO) on all your frequent flier accounts.
Flyers with overseas addresses are waived the spending dollar requirements. Check
your favorite frequent flier programs for further details.

For another example, my first TDY in my new job took me to Wyoming via DEN. The
IAD-DEN flight was purchased in W fare class. While not the highly beneficial Y fare
class, W does offer some benefits for seat selection and upgrades.

Since I’m already United Gold, I was able to move my seat from the back of the
economy cabin into Economy Plus. Sadly, the only seats left were middle seat, never
my favorite option. However, W fares often, with availability, offer discount upgrade
options either with cash or miles. This flight offered a confirmed upgrade to United
Domestic First for $190 one way or 17.5K miles to be waitlisted into First.
I quickly paid the $190 (via my Chase Sapphire Reserve for 3x on travel!) and
confirmed a seat into First Class. There was no availability on the return trip, but as I
personally didn’t pay for the ticket—the USG did—$190 for a 3+ hour flight is money
well-spent, IMHO.

While a First Class upgrade on the return never went below $631, I just set an Expert
Flyer seat alert for an Economy Plus (E+) aisle or window seat. Anything is better than
a middle seat IMHO. Luckily, a couple of days before my departure, a E+ window seat
became available. I enjoyed leaning on the outer wall to snooze for the 3+ hour flight.
I recommend each traveler set their own “pay threshold” for purchasing an upgrade with
cash or miles. If you have a reasonable max limit, you will always know when to snap
up a great deal or to let one pass.

BONUS TTP #2: sign up for as many airline (and hotel!!) loyalty programs you can
since even with a government ticket, you are free to earn miles and points on
government travel.

In sum, traveling on a government-procured ticket has many responsibilities to included
ethical, regulatory, and legal. However, even within these rules and with some savvy
travel knowledge, you can reap some of your hard-earned rewards.
Happy Travels!

Vr,
Albert
Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.
“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”
Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

My buddy Albert has PCS’ed back to the States causing a complete re-think of how he earns miles and points. Since this happens to a lot of military personnel. let’s see what he has to say.

ALL HANDS:  New Travel Strategy (PCS Edition).

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF:  Relocating back to the U.S. requires a change of my travel strategy.  Even without the amazing business class fares from Europe to Asia, I can still, with some strategic planning, buy tickets and redeem miles and points for some epically fancy airplane and locale experiences.

 

Today’s ALL HANDS focuses on how I’ve changed my travel planning strategy after my PCS back to the U.S. from Germany.

 

I’m back!

 

Apologies for being comms silent the past month or so, but I needed some time to coordinate our PCS back to the U.S.  We’ve landed in Washington, DC, within spitting distance of the OG Military Frequent Flyer himself, BG Goddard!  Plus, I’m moving agencies—DoD to the VA—so it’s been pretty hectic.  Still, we are pretty excited as DC is where I wanted to be for work, and with the restaurants, the airport access (Hello, DCA and CLEAR!), and all the culture, we’re very lucky a good job came calling. 

 

A few posts ago, I mentioned how amazing Europe to Asia business class deals were, but if you track U.S. to Asia prices, those types of deals are nearly non-existent.  While I could easily find a $2000 business class ticket in a fancy reverse herringbone seat out of Europe, from the US those prices usually run double if not more. 

 

So what’s a business class junky to do?  Well, my new strategy consists of a combo of purchased business class and mileage tickets.

 

For example, right now, I’m working on our Christmas-New Year’s and summer 2020 travel plans.  Already, using some of my precious Alaska miles, I’ve booked two one-way flight from TPE-NRT-ORD/JFK in JAL Business and First for 75K Alaska miles each.  JAL First is on the transpacific route, which should be awesome.  One ticket lands in ORD and the other in JFK, but since Joey and I don’t need to be on the same flight, you can’t beat that deal for First Class even if flying to different end points. 

 

We’re also taking advantage of Alaska’s generous stop-over policy and spending a few nights in Tokyo to sample some sushi and see some Navy friends stationed south of the city.  Should be an awesome trip back after New Year’s.

 

So, what about the trip TO Asia, as this is the return FROM Asia?  Well, the JAL trip above is actually part 2 of 4.  Parts 1 and 4 will be a purchased business class ticket.  Right now I’m looking a $3900 business class ticket on Qatar our of IAH or a $3500 out of LAX on Singapore. 

 

Now, before you say anything, remember this is parts 1 and 4 of the trip.  Part 2 and the soon-to-be-procured part 3 will be mileage tickets…so essentially free!  (Yes, I had to work and pay to earn those miles, but this is way the game is played.).  So, with the miles already in my account, my only expenditure for two round trip tickets will be the cost of the one bought ticket.  So in Qatar’s case, $3900 or $1950 per ticket (funny math, but it helps rationalize my spending! LOL!)

 

Parts 1 and 2 will take us to Asia for the winter holiday, likely to Chengdu, first, for pandas and hot pots.  Then, we plan to tour Taiwan’s amazing food via high-speed train.

 

For parts 3 and 4, more complexity will occur.  After enduring such a hot and miserable summer during the European heatwave of 2019, I’ve been itching to get to the Southern Hemisphere to escape what we know will be a swampy 2020 summer in DC.  So, we’ve decided to head Down Under and tour Australia.  We’ve been to Sydney and Melbourne (both amazing cities, and you should definitely go!), but I’ve been looking at Perth, Canberra, Adelaide, and Brisbane for this trip. 

 

So part 3, the mileage ticket, will be from the U.S. to Australia, hopefully on one of Qantas’ new 787 routes from ORD or SFO (it has better business class seats than their A380 routes out of LAX).  This would be 55K Alaska miles.  Although, I’m always looking for Qantas First on their A380 for 70K Alaska miles, but those are unicorns! 

 

For part 4, I’m looking at departing from Australia back to the U.S.  Right now, both Qatar and Singapore offer a relatively painless single connection through their respective hubs in Doha and Singapore.

 

In sum, while this is definitely the turducken of travel plans, the high cost of business class tickets from the U.S. are cost prohibitive for a one-off trip.  So, this is likely the way I’ll plan the next few years of travel:  one-bought ticket, one-mileage ticket…two amazing trips!

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram:  @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | One Comment

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