Our generous donor still has a few Plus Points left if you are flying United before the end of this month when they expire. Send me an email at glennagoddard@gmail.com or post a reply if you are interested.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

BLUF: While on a Tokyo stop-over on an Alaska Airlines award redemption, I realized
Tokyo has one of the most extensive but altogether confusing metro and train systems
in the world. While you can buy single journey, one-day, or multi-day passes, none
works on all systems. By having a rechargeable, contactless smart card (known as an
“IC card”), you can enter and exit any system and pay without worry. Plus, one card,
SUICA, is available on the iPhone and easily rechargeable with ApplePay. I used the
SUICA IC card on my recent trip to Tokyo with much success.

Today’s TTP is about my Alaska Airlines award ticket through Tokyo and using the
SUICA IC card on my iPhone on Tokyo public transit.

To expand on my most recent post, how did I end up in Tokyo? As I was planning the
return from my Asia Winter 2019 trip, I decided on Japan Airlines First Class with an
award redemption from Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Alaska requires 70,000 Mileage
Plan miles to fly from Japan to the U.S. in JAL First Class. That is a very good deal
considering its 11+ hours in a super-comfortable seat with great food.

However, before I get into the redemption, how do I earn Alaska miles? I have two
credit cards from Bank of America: the Alaska Airlines Personal and Business cards.
When I applied, they both had sign-up bonuses of 30,000 Alaska miles after initial
spend. When I fly Alaska, I use either of these cards to purchase the ticket as they earn
3x Alaska miles/$1 spent. The best return for Alaska miles in the business.
Next, while Alaska Airlines does not partner with any banks for transferable points (e.g.,
Chase, AMEX, Citi), they are a transfer partner with Marriott Bonvoy. For every 3
Bonvoy points, you earn 1 Alaska miles. However, if you transfer in blocks of 60,000,
you get a bonus. For 60,000 Bonvoy points, you’d earn 25,000 Alaska miles.
Yes, fellow travelers, the points and miles game has math!

Nonetheless, my strict adherence to the maximize-every-dollar rule has brought me
more than enough Alaska miles for the JAL redemption through a myriad of avenues:
credit cards, Bonvoy, and flying Alaska and its partners. Personally, I focus on Alaska’s
program because of their amazing sweet spot redemptions for international First Class.

Anyway, back to Tokyo and JAL. Since I started my redemption in Taiwan, the total
cost was 75,000 Mileage Plan miles. Plus, I wanted to take advantage of Alaska’s
generous stop-over policy allowed on one-way award tickets. For no additional miles, I
could schedule a stop-over in Tokyo on my way to the U.S to catch up with a Navy
buddy of mine.

JAL award tickets are searchable on the Alaska website, so with patience and quick
fingers, you can find what you need. I wanted at least two days in Tokyo, so I first
searched for JAL First Class availability from Tokyo (both NRT and HND) to JFK, BOS,
or ORD. It’s always best to start the search with the long-haul flight since you want that
one in a premium cabin. Plus, flying not to the West Coast put me closer to DC, my
ultimate destination. Luckily on 31 Dec, NRT-ORD was available in JAL First Class.
Taipei has two airports, TPE and TSA. On the website, I started with 29 Dec, and I
found JAL Business from TPE to NRT. Sadly, JAL doesn’t fly First Class to Taiwan.
One of the quirks of having a myriad of airline partners, Alaska has individual award
charts rather than a single one. For Southeast Asia (Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and
China) to the U.S redemptions are 75,000 Alaska miles in First Class. As mentioned,
even though JAL doesn’t fly First Class to Taiwan, you pay the highest miles based on
the highest class of service. Still, Business Class was perfectly awesome for this three-
hour flight.

With the flights selected on the Alaska website, the perfect stop-over, and a few clicks, I
had my award ticket: TPE-NRT (in Business)/two-night stop-over/NRT-ORD (in First).

As this would be my third trip to Tokyo, I already knew about the Tokyo metro and train
system. Previously, I’ve just purchased day passes, one-way tickets, or used cash. Not
a bad method, but there had to be a better way. Prior to this trip, I watched some very
helpful YouTube videos on purchasing IC cards for the Tokyo transit system.
However, once I got to my hotel, near Tokyo Station, I looked at my iPhone, and the
SUICA IC card had popped up automatically in my iPhone Wallet app. Since I had
notifications turned on—and had free roaming data at 2G speeds with T-Mobile’s
international travel plan—I didn’t really have to do anything to see the SUICA.

I read up on how it works on the iPhone, and by using ApplePay, you can easily charge
and recharge the SUICA all within the iPhone Wallet app. You need to load an
ApplePay eligible card in your Wallet and use it to load Yen in increments of 1000,
2000, or 5000. I loaded up my new AMEX Green card—it gets 3x Membership Reward
points for transportation and transit—and loaded 1000 Yen on the SUICA.
Further online explanation explained the Wallet app’s “Express Transit” setting. This
means the card can be used and read with the iPhone locked and even if it’s out of
power (although I wouldn’t personally test that feature). Instructions said to hold the

iPhone close to the IC reader at the gate of a transit system entrance (metro, train, etc.),
and you will here a BEEP to indicate the card is in use. You do not have to unlock your
iPhone.

When I was ready to go to the Mori Art Museum—a very cool place near Roppongi
Station—I headed to the metro and followed the instructions. When I brought my locked
iPhone up to the IC reader, I heard the BEEP. When I looked at the card it said “transit
in process.” I was on my way. At the end of my journey, I “tapped out,” and the
appropriate amount of Yen was deducted from my SUICA IC card. The card updated
with the remaining balance. No muss; no fuss!

SUICA IC cards can also be used at some stores and shops. You essentially use it the
same way as long as the clerk knows you’ll be using a SUICA for the purchase. It’s
analogous to using ApplePay, ChasePay, and its equivalents in the U.S. I was
surprised at how easy the whole process was with the SUICA card. Not having to worry
about cash or coins for the many transit systems in Tokyo was awesome.
I am not sure, though, if Android has an equivalent app or if the other main Tokyo IC
card, PASMO, is available via an app. While SUICA and PASMO work exactly the
same way—they’re different companies—only SUICA appeared on my iPhone.

In sum, international travel comes with so many levels of adventure: First Class on the
world’s top airlines to riding metros like a pro. Alaska Airlines helped me explore one of
my favorite cities, Tokyo, and the SUICA IC card, easily usable on the iPhone, made
exploring the city so much easier.

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

Here is an impressive post from Albert. I wish my travel year was exciting as his. Amazing that he could display all his trips on one global picture!

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: In 2019, I flew 163,951 miles, traveled to three continents, on about eight different airlines, visiting almost 20 different countries.  New countries/regions included Gibraltar, Iceland, Malta, and Mexico. This was the most miles I’ve traveled in a year.

 

Today’s ALL HANDS focuses on my 2019 travel.

 

Overall, 2019 was a big year for my professional and personal travel.  For starters, we relocated after six years in Germany in July 2019, which changed the dynamic of my work travel.  In Jan and Feb 2019, work took me on two roundtrips from Stuttgart to Washington, DC.  I also had my one-way PCS flight in July 2019.  These were all Delta codeshare flights (on KLM) booked into Y class economy fares making it easier to reach and maintain Delta Gold Medallion level for 2020—likely the last time I’ll be able to reach this milestone.  It was good while it lasted.

 

Leaving the DoD for the VA, however, opened up brand new opportunities for domestic work travel.  As a trip coordinator, I’m charged with managing trips around the U.S. for the VA leadership.  I plan airline routes, hotel stays, and coordinate with VA organization in advance of the trips.  Being based out of DC, IAD, as a United hub, is a key facilitator for my work travel.  This coupled with some personal travel on United partners, I maintained United Premier Gold for 2020.

 

If you’ve read up on how United Mileage Plus is changing its earning methodology for status in 2020, you’ve concluded either 1) United is being so mean or 2) new rules, new game…I’m in!  (I’m in the latter group.)  However, as complicated as the new earning algorithms are, I am 100,000 “butt-in-seat” miles away from reaching United Airlines One Million Miler (1MM) status.  I am aiming to close that gap significantly in 2020, so I’ll be flying United as much as possible.

 

United 1MM confers United Gold Premier status for life; plus, you can share that status with one other individual.  Domestically, United Gold Premier offers free baggage, free access to Economy Plus seats, and Boarding Group 1.  Internationally—this is the big one for me—United Gold Premier confers Star Alliance Gold, which means lounge access (while on an international itinerary) and priority check-in/security/boarding when on a Star Alliance carrier.  Getting to share you Gold Premier status with one person is definitely a huge benefit of the United 1MM program—a benefit not offered by any other U.S. domestic airline.

 

Back to work travel.  I traveled to Wyoming, South Dakota, California, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Kansas.  Each trip was a mixture of airlines and seat configurations, but I managed to eek out the comfort I needed to make each trip worthwhile, whatever the airline.  My advice is never be cheap about your own comfort especially on longer flights and (myself included) as you get older.

 

I’m looking forward to more work travel in 2020 as its both rewarding as I really enjoy my new job, and it keeps me working toward goals of earning redeemable miles and various airline status levels.

 

For personal travels, the first half of the year focused on visiting both some favorite European destinations before our PCS, and this included three “bucket list” ones:  Gibraltar, Iceland, and Malta.  Each offered a lot of great scenery and history, but Gibraltar had been a quirky item for me since I was a kid.  A British Overseas Territory, Gibraltar is a small peninsula on the southern tip of Spain.  The key feature for me is the airport’s runway.  The single runway is crossed by the main road in and out of Gibraltar, so in between flights, both cars and pedestrians travel across the active runway.  We enjoyed the stroll and took the required selfies with the runway and the giant Rock of Gibraltar as background.  The day trip into Gibraltar was definitely a 2019 highlight.

 

As mentioned, I achieved both Delta and United mid-tier status thanks to mostly work (Delta) and to mostly leisure (United) travel.  My other status achievement for 2019 was Alaska Airlines MVP Gold via all leisure travel.  While Alaska Airlines has a relatively small network out of Washington, DC, the program really shines with its varied global partners.

 

I earned the requisite number of status qualifying miles by flying 50,000 miles on Alaska, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Singapore Airlines.  Each program offers varied earning bonuses when booking premium cabins.  In fact, the pride of Alaska’s Mileage Plan program is its bonuses for not just status qualifying miles but also for its redeemable miles.  As an MVP Gold, I earn a 100% redeemable miles bonus on miles earned.  For example, my Dec 2019 Singapore Airlines flight from DUS to SIN earned 6,456 redeemable miles.  Since I booked a D fare Business Class flight, I earned a 100% mileage bonus.  New total:  12,912.  When I add my MVP Gold bonus (again, 100%), I earn an additional 6,456 miles.  Final total: 19,368 redeemable miles.  Earning almost 20,000 for a single flight—albeit long—makes me keep aiming for, as a minimum, MVP Gold.

 

To better illustrate how valuable Alaska miles are to me, on my most recent trip to Asia, I used 75,000 Alaska miles to book a one-way award ticket from TPE to NRT (Japan Airlines Business Class), took a 2 night stopover (requiring no additional miles), and followed-on with a Japan Airlines First Class flight to ORD.  Considering most airlines require more miles for a 10+ hour business class flight, using 75,000 for almost 12 hours in the front of a 777-300ER in a First Class semi-private suite, it’s a no-brainer why I continue to earn miles on Alaska and its partners and burn miles on its partners.  For 2020, I already have 70,000-mile Cathay Pacific First Class redemption booked for June.  Very excited about that flight.

 

In between all the travels (for work and fun), I’ve tried to keep up with home life, family visits, and, of course, blogging.  I’ve not been writing as fast or as much as I’ve wanted in the latter half of 2019, but I hope in 2020 to do better.  An OCONUS to CONUS PCS and starting a new job has taken much more of my time than I expected.

 

 

Still, while finding the time to chronicle tips and trips require some old fashion time management, you can always follow all my travels with photos on Instagram, @albert_traveler

 

As they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words!

 

 

I’m very grateful to Glenn for allowing me to be part of the Military Frequent Flyer team!

 

Happy 2020! Let’s have some amazing travel adventures in the new year.

 

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

We still have some United upgrades available and now some Alaska upgrades too. However, the Alaska upgrades need to be applied by 12/31. The flight came be later, but the upgrade needs to be applied by next Wednesday. AS upgrades are a little tricky, you need to have a flight that has “U” space available. When booking a flight, it is shown as the colored in “F” as shown below:

If you already have a flight and want to see if there is U space, the best thing is to call AS. Note that often U space will require a higher cost fare so that’s up to you. My wife always seems to think the additional cost is justified.

For the UA upgrades, they need to be booked and flown by 1/31.

For either upgrade, please comment or send me an email.

Posted by glenn | 4 Comments

This is becoming an annual tradition at The Military Frequent Flyer. I have been contacted by a generous donor who cannot use his United upgrades before they expire at the end of Jan. If you are in the military (including family members) and are looking for a domestic or international upgrade, please send me a comment or email (see About Me).

Upgrades work differently (better) with United’s new Plus Points system they just started. Up to now, elites would receive a combination of Regional Upgrades and Global Upgrades and we here at TMFF would need to match the donated upgrades to the flights that military members had booked. That is all gone now. Elites receives a certain number of Plus Points and they can be used for either domestic or international flights – the international ones would simply cost more. Also gone is the annoying requirement that GPUs needed a W fare or higher. This requirement is what killed me from using my upgrades I used to receive as a 1K. Now it just costs more if you have a cheaper fare. Here is the schedule of point costs:

In past years, I have had some people ask for upgrades on a speculative basis and they then never got a flight and let the upgrades expire. That’s not fair to other SMs. If you want the upgrades, you need to have a flight. I’ll give you three days to get something otherwise, we’ll go on to the next request. Once I contact you to inform you that you have an upgrade, I will need you to email me the Record Locator and your last name for the donor to go into their account and apply the upgrade.

We currently have one donor, but if there are others of you out there that would like to give a nice boost to a Service Member, please send me an email. We can also take other airlines upgrades too. Thanks to everyone for their generosity!

 

Posted by glenn | One Comment

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

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