Albert has found time on his vacation in Thailand to send in a couple more posts:

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: Many times, the most affordable business class airfare is not from your home airport to your desired travel destination. Often, an inexpensive positioning flight to another location can save you $100s.

 

Today’s TTP is on using positioning flights to save money while stationed in Europe.

 

Travelers, I began writing this TTP mid-way through two weeks in Thailand. After a very busy start to 2019, I’ve joined Joey who’s in the middle of a month-long tour of SE Asia. He’s already enjoyed some time in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore.

 

A few friends have inquired how we afford to fly to Asia in business class as often as we do. First, this is not an inexpensive hobby; we spend money on it. Though, I plan our spending and strategize our travel very early and a bit obsessively to ensure we don’t spend beyond our means. Second, travel and travel experiences are a priority for us. Not everyone can do that, so a bulk of our “fun funds” go to travel. Finally, I understand and exploit how different airlines price their flights out of different cities in Europe.

 

The final item is a great TPP to exploit. For example, I purchased this trip’s Cathay Pacific business class ticket from Brussels roundtrip to Bangkok rather than from Stuttgart or Frankfurt, my two “home” airports.

 

In the fall 2017 (when this trip’s planning began), I found a $2099 RT business class ticket from Brussels to Bangkok. While I usually fly out of Stuttgart or Frankfurt, all business class tickets were upwards of $3000, which despite what people think, is outside my spending comfort zone. Ha!

 

My love for Cathay stems from how great the food is (dim sum for breakfast!) and the ability to credit flights to Alaska Airlines (a subject for another post). I also enjoy transiting HKG, Cathay’s hub, for it’s amazing selection of lounges with showers, noodle bars, and creature comforts.

 

Was flying out of Brussels worth the $900 savings (from STR) when I had to get to Brussels? Absolutely! For way less than $900, I bought an inexpensive RT Swiss flight through Zurich and a single night at the Sheraton at Brussels airport on the front end. While not everyone values their time equally and may choose to fly a more convenient route, for our two tickets, I “saved” $1800. (Full disclosure: I’ve paid for convenient routes, too!)

 

Remember, we wanted to go on this trip, in business class, to SE Asia. Given those parameters and my price point comfort zone, I made it happen. Money well spent!

 

Here’s a little more insight into more of my travel thinking: I understand how each travel action can offer me value. To explain, the Swiss flights credit to my United Airlines account and help maintain my United Gold status and therefor my Star Alliance Gold status for great lounge access and other benefits. My Sheraton stay adds to my nights and points balance for Marriott inching me closer to maintaining Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status and with that, its great benefits. A lot of moving pieces, but worth it to me.

 

In sum, travel planning is simple; travel planning well is not. By opening up the aperture of where you start your airfare search, you can possibly save a good bit of money. So, perhaps, you can spend a night in Stockholm before catching your Emirates flight to the Maldives, or enjoy some goulash in Budapest before enjoying a luxe flight on Singapore for a holiday in Bali. Europe is small, and a short positioning flight may make all the difference in price.

 

(In sum PS: positioning flights also work well in Asia and North America, but as I focus more on Europe, I’m more familiar with those.)

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Even old hands like me occasionally learn new tricks. This is why it is worthwhile to experiment when searching for flights. Recently, my wife needed to make a flight with less than a week’s notice which made paying for it with cash extremely pricey. This is why it is always a good idea to keep a stash of miles (as opposed to “earn and burn”) for last minute trips since the number of miles stays the same even though the cash price rises dramatically as the flight date approaches. After getting her flight, my wife asked if we could apply one of our Gold Guest Upgrades to get her into first class. I replied “tut, tut, my dear, that’s not the way it works. You have to pay more miles to get into first class”. But I thought, hmm, what if…

Normally, you are going to search as shown below:

And get this result offering you economy or first:

But if you try selecting the elite upgrade selection on the search page (highlighted in blue):

You’ll get this result showing three columns:

Note the colored in “F” like you would see if you tried to use a Gold Guest Upgrade on a paid ticket. Select that flight in the middle column and you will get an instant upgrade to first without it costing you any more than the economy ticket in miles. This also put my wife on the upgrade list for the first leg of the flight and she was upgraded at the airport so ended up in first for both legs.

I know some will remark on the high cost of 50K for a one way award flight, but that is pretty normal on most airlines for a flight within the next week. At least flying in first should make it less painful and this method saved 20K in miles over just selecting a first class seat. Remember this next time you are booking an award on Alaska.

 

 

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

ALL HANDS: Loyalty Status Levels (Part 1, Airlines).

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: While most folks have a favorite airline, airlines which confer Star Alliance Gold (*G) status are among the most beneficial when traveling around Europe.

 

Today’s ALL HANDS will review which airline status level brings the most value with it as you travel around Europe.

 

Living in Europe, we understand how amazing it is to hop on a plane and, within just an hour, visit difficult cultures, foods, and environments. However, with all the traveling, how can we make the journey a little more comfortable and even luxurious? By understanding airline loyalty status levels.

 

For me, Star Alliance Gold (*G) status is the most useful airline status to have while stationed in Europe. To review, an airline alliance is a group of airlines who band together to offer reciprocal benefits and broader networks. Currently, I’m a United Airlines Gold Premier, and this status level confers automatic *G. United Platinum and 1K offer the same.

 

As one of its perks, *G gives access to Star Alliance airline member lounges. For United, this occurs only when flying on an “international itinerary.” Since I credit all Star Alliance member flights to my United frequent flyer account when I travel in/around Europe, I’m on an international itinerary per United’s terms and conditions.

 

At most German airports, Lufthansa maintains both Business Class and Senator Lounges. *G travelers are granted access to Senator Lounges. While they have similar food and drink offerings, Senator Lounges are a bit more exclusive. At my home airport of STR, the breakfast and lunch offerings are particularly great in the Senator Lounge.

 

In Zurich, Swiss also maintains two lounges with the Senator Lounge for *G travelers. The Swiss Senator Lounge in the E Gates (for intercontinental flights) is my favorite Star Alliance member lounge. This Senator Lounge offers not just great food and a 200+ whiskey tasting bar but also a terrace overlooking the gates for some awesome plane-spotting opportunities.

 

Of the three airline alliances, Star Alliance has the most airline partners within Europe, and each of those airlines maintain a lounge at its respective hubs. You’re never too far from a nice lounge with *G status. At non-hub airports, Star Alliance usually contracts with a particular lounge for its *G travelers. If you remember my Malta AAR post, I had access to the great La Valette Club with my *G status while flying Lufthansa.

 

As an added benefit, *G travelers are offered Priority Boarding on Star Alliance flights. If like me, you’ve experience the various levels of chaos during the European boarding process, this is can be a nice way of securing overhead space.

 

Of course, flying a Star Alliance member airline may not always match your budget, your time, or your needs, so you have to take that into consideration. I usually weigh the ticket price from another airline against the benefits I gain from my *G status.

 

In sum, I’m not ashamed to admit I often favor my *G benefits while traveling over price. The ability to have a meal and a comfortable place to sit and recharge my devices is of high value to me. Others may make different choices. Understandable, just educate yourself on your travel options and benefits.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

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Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures (TTPs):  Frankfurt International Airport (FRA) AirRail Check-in Center.

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF:  The FRA AirRail Check-in Center is conveniently located between the FRA Fernbahnhof (long-distance train station) and Terminal 1.  Here, you can check-in and drop your luggage before making your way to the gate.

 

Today’s TTP is on how and when to use the FRA AirRail Check-in Center.

 

Previously, I wrote about our trip to Cape Town, South Africa.  The ticket I purchased included a Deutsche Bahn (DB) train ticket to take us from the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to the Fernbahnhof and then onward to Cape Town.

 

Once we arrived the Fernbahnhof, we made our way to the FRA AirRail Check-in Center.  Located in the walkway between the Fernbahnhof and Terminal 1, the center allows you to check-in and drop your luggage at kiosks and counters.  For those in premium classes or with frequent flyer status, designated check-in lines are available. 

 

While no US carrier is hosted in the center, Lufthansa (LH), Swiss, and Austrian are some of the major airlines offering check-in services.  If your departure airline staffs a counter, you can use the center.  You do not need to be on a train ticket associated with your flight.  For example, if I would’ve purchased the DB ticket separately from the Cape Town ticket, we still could’ve checked-in and dropped off our luggage with LH.

 

Using the AirRail center is a very convenient option on your departure.  However, on your return, it is less so.  On the return, when connecting onto a linked DB train (your train ticket is part of your overall airline itinerary, a common option on the LH website), airlines can tag your luggage directly to the AirRail center for pick-up.  

 

With this option, you can walk right by the regular luggage carousels and head directly to the AirRail center.  The wait, though, can be long as the ground crew prioritizes the carousel.  Plus, the crew has to load the AirRail-designated luggage on a cart and roll it over.  Given the option, I would tag return luggage to the carousel only and make the walk to the Fernbahnhof, avoiding the AirRail center on the return trip altogether.

 

In sum, the FRA AirRail Check-in Center is best used when arriving at the FRA Fernbahnhof to check-in and drop off luggage before you head to the gate.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

I can’t think of ever seeing a deal giving 10% off of airfare like this. Veterans Advantage is a membership club for veterans that already gives 5% off of all United and jetBlue flights and 3% off of all Alaska flights, along with many other discounts on other travel services.  I’ve paid for membership for many years now and get good value from their deals.

Now they come out with a limited time deal giving 10% off of all Alaska flights to Hawaii from 2/3 – 5/22. This is a great airline to pick to go to Hawaii since they have 29 flights between the West Coast/ Alaska and the four major Hawaiian islands. The wife and I fly Alaska to Hawaii every year using our BoA credit card companion pass (best deal of any CC benefit in my opinion) and often get upgraded to First Class even as MVP Golds…and who doesn’t want to go to Hawaii?

To use this deal, you’ll need to get a membership to Veterans Advantage and then they will give you a code for the airline discount or you will be directed to a site where the discount is applied to your flight.  This deal should more than pay for your membership and then you have those other discounts for the remaining 12 months.

Here are the details, make sure you fly by 5/22!

Let me know how this works out for you, I already have a membership and plan to see how I can take advantage of such a great deal.  Really gives a lot of miles to requalify for Gold for next year. Plus Alaska is still “old school” in their great FF program so as Golds, my wife and I each get 100% bonus to redeemable miles.  Meaning about 20,000 miles for flying to Hawaii and back from the East Coast where I currently live. Alaska miles are generally considered some of the most valuable FF miles since they can also be used on Emirates, Cathy Pacific, Icelandair and unique partners.

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Another donor has stepped forward for free upgrades on United. Bonnie is donating 3 GPUs and 4 RPUs. I haven’t had any takers yet for the GPUs offered by Bill, but I get the fare restrictions severely limiting those who would be eligible. However, you don’t have the same fare restriction on domestic RPUs. Here are the rules again for both:

RPUs: These upgrades are good for any fare as long as the flight stays within Central or North America.  There is an exception for some flights outside of this, such as Guam to Manila, but these are rare exceptions that I am not going to detail.

GPUs: These are for international travel, but have significant restriction on what fare class you can apply them to.  From the UA page: Global Premier Upgrades are not available on flights booked in fare classes Z, P, S, T, K, L, G or N. Meaning that you can’t use them on the cheapest fares.  Even cheap First or Business Class.

The United Upgrade page has the details. Your flight does need to be no later than 31 January.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

We have a generous donor named Bill, who is giving away 4 United Global Premier Upgrades (GPUs) which are expiring 31 Jan. He would like these to go to military personnel traveling this month.  The tricky part about using UA GPUs is that they need to be for W class fares or higher.

GPUs: These are for international travel, but have significant restriction on what fare class you can apply them to.  From the UA page: Global Premier Upgrades are not available on flights booked in fare classes Z, P, S, T, K, L, G or N. Meaning that you can’t use them on the cheapest fares.  Even cheap First or Business Class.

The United Upgrade page has the details.

We have successfully given away these type of upgrades every year, but do make sure you have the right airfare. Anyone military Service Member who wants one of these should email me at glennagoddard@gmail.com with your name and Record Locator.  I will then send to Bill and he can apply the GPU from his account.

Thanks for your generosity Bill!

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My friend Ed Pizzarello of Pizza in Motion fame, hosts a podcast called Miles to Go. On his show he often laments/ humblebrags that he has never been to Hawaii.  I almost think that people on his show are so amazed by that fact that he takes it as a point of pride to have never been there.

Ed, sure that’s fine for you, but think of the children!  Sure it will look good on their college essays to list the hardship of never having been to Hawaii, and that’s not a bad strategy to get them into Harvard, but look at the life experiences you are denying them.  They may harbor resentment for the rest of their lives.  You may be labelled as a bad father.  Sure, you take them to Disneyworld like ten times a year, but still…

Most of us in the frequent flyer community consider this crazy since that is a prime destination for users of points and miles.  My wife and I lived there for three years and have returned every year to vacation at one of the islands. We find it very easy to get there and always get there with a great deal.  Today, I am going to lay that strategy out for you and see if you won’t be tempted.

Items required to make this work for a family of four:

Two Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit cards

Two AMEX Aspire Hilton credit cards

480,000 Hilton Honors points for two rooms for five nights

Optional – Gold Guest Upgrade Certificates

Optional – AA or AS Lounge membership

Now, Ed, you may be questioning the first item on the list.  Alaska Airlines? But I live in D.C., not Seattle. Actually, Ed, you might be surprised how much AS has expanded in the last few years.  They fly from all three Washington airports, BWI, DCA, and Dulles to most of the West Coast and then have flights from there to all the major Hawaiian islands. Here is the route my wife and I flew a few weeks ago.

Ed, I know you are concerned with a 10-12 hour flight to Hawaii.  Alaska also allows you a free stopover on their flights. One of my favorite ways to get to HNL from WAS is to fly BWI-SAN, spend a couple of days in San Diego, and then SAN-HNL a couple of days later. You could also do the same for LAX or SFO. In the summer, SEA is also a good stopover. Likewise, you can do the same on the way back.  This breaks up a long journey and is probably easier for the kids to handle, plus they get to see another city or two.

 

Why Alaska and no the other airlines? Because of one of the best CC benefits out there – the BoA Alaska Airline CC’ Companion Certificate.  As the name implies, this is a $99 ($122 with takes) ticket for someone travelling on exactly the same itinerary as you.  Right now, BoA has a deal where they will they are waiving the $99 fee the first year so that companion ticket only costs the $22 in taxes. So it really is two tickets for the price of one.  Ed, if you and your wife each get this CC, your family of four flies for half price (~$1800). Don’t forget to have AS FF accounts as each person earns full distance-based miles for these tickets. At about 10,000 miles round trip, that’s quite a few very valuable AS miles. My being a MVP Gold and my wife a MVP Gold75k, we earn 100% and 125% bonuses, respectively, on these trips meaning almost enough for a free award ticket for this one flight.

If you have a REALLY good friend, they may also give you a Gold Guest Upgrade (GGU) that they get from being an AS Gold. You need to select that from the pull down menu when searching for flights.  Look for flights with blue “F” boxes. If you are fortunate enough to find a flight with both legs showing as upgradeable that still only takes one GGU. Note that these fares may be slightly higher but way cheaper than outright buying First Class as shown below.

So that’s how to get there, but what about an inexpensive stay once you do get here? Here is a strategy for that with Hilton.  The AMEX Aspire card came out about a year ago and offers an interesting way to maximize value.  The card is $450/yr., but comes with Hilton Diamond Status and a $250/yr. credit for incidentals (everything but the room rate) at Hilton hotels. It is really meant to offset the ludicrous resort fee of $50/night, but here is a better way to use it.  Hilton does not charge the resort fee if you stay on points, meaning you can apply that credit to restaurants, surf lessons for your kids, or your morning coffee at Starbucks.  The most economical strategy is to get a room for four nights on points and then Hilton will give you a fifth night free. This applies whether you use points or cash, but let’s stick with points for now. We recently stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for 240,000 points for five nights. That might seem like an incredible number of points, but Hilton points are very easy to earn.  In fact, the sign up bonus for the Aspire card is 150,000 right now so you are already over halfway there just with that.

 

Another benefit from the Aspire card is a $250 credit for airline incidentals including lounge membership. That will almost pay for an annual lounge membership for AA or AS (which also gives access to AA lounges) and make your voyage a little bit easier, especially with a family.

Your new Diamond status should get you an upgrade at the property and also comes with the benefit of a $10/ person (max two)/ night for food and beverage at any of the ten places to eat on the property.  For a five night stay this worked out to $100 off the bill. Note that they simply take off the $100 rather than force you to spend at least $20/day. Here is our recent bill illustrating what I am talking about.

And then my AMEX bill showing the credit. Note that I had used $31 of the credit earlier in the year, but you should get the full $250 if you follow this plan.

So there you go Ed, an inexpensive way for you to take the family to Hawaii. This plan would also work with going to Maui or the Big Island, although most of the things your kids would like are probably on Oahu. Make sure they try the Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

United has come out with their annual promotion.  In the past, they offered bonus award miles if you flew a certain number of miles in a short period.  The requirement was tailored to a MileagePlus member’s relative amount of travel.  Those with little travel being required to travel only a little, but also getting only a few thousand miles.

 

This promotion is a little different in requiring a certain number of flights rather than a certain number of miles.

Note the dollar requirement for each of the flights to count to avoid gamers finding the two very cheap commuter flights to get the bonus.  While others (notably Angelina of Angelina Travels) seem to have gotten fairly unattractive offers, I am quite tempted by mine. 31,000 UA miles are worth $527 if you value UA miles at 1.7 cents each.

This offer is most attractive to those of you who already have one or more flights planned for Sep/Oct already.  I have one flight at the end of Oct. already set, so tempted to fly one more flight over $450 to get those bonus miles.

What about you?  Anyone else get an offer.  Please post it here so we can compare.  For reference, I am a Lifetime Gold on UA with about 55,000EQM so far this year.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

The wife and I took advantage of some of those super low fares to Asia that were advertised last fall.  I had always wanted to bring her to experience Songkran, the Thai New Years celebration, and got round trip IAD-BKK tickets on United for less than $600 each.  The main reason for these super cheap tickets was almost free flights on ANA out of NRT.  The PQD for the flight BKK-NRT was only $69!

We endured the 13 hour flight on UA IAD-NRT.  Fortunately, the flight was half empty so the wife and I each got a row of three seats to rack out on.  We then had a couple of hours in the United Club and went to get on our ANA flight to BKK.  We were surprised when they called our names at the boarding area.  Upgraded to Business Class!

I assume it was because the wife and I are both UA Golds due to my Million Miler status.  Pretty good to get an upgrade on  $69 fare just for being a Gold.

The seats were nice.  Not quite lie-flat, but pretty close.  Enough to get some rest on this 6.5 hour flight.

The seat came with its own instruction manual which was a first for me.  I liked the power ports since they had 110v and USB in spots where the plug wouldn’t fall out – a problem I have on UA planes.

Slippers were provided at the seat, but no amenity kit?  The FA then came by with a basket of stuff for you to pick from.

The food started out nice with a glass of wine and the world’s tiniest shrimp cocktail.

Then the first course came with a small sandwich and a weird green and white “pudding”.  I ate it, but not much flavor.  Not sure why the bread was served with this course, but I never turn down bread since I always know I can eat that if everything else turns our inedible.

Then the main course, I had chosen the beef.  It was advertised as a hamburger steak, but came as this weird ground beef heavily mixed with onion with cubes of something else all wrapped in some type of wrapper.  It came with a boiled onion in case you didn’t get enough onion taste with the beef.  At least I had the bread…

For comparison, my wife chose the Japanese meal and was really happy with it.  She is Asian so this was food she was used to

Dessert?  Well, whoever had a bad dessert?  It was a nice truffle.  I could have used two.

A short nap and then we are there in Bangkok.  Pretty good deal.  Didn’t get the upgrade on the return, but they did give us their version of Premium Economy which was pretty nice too, but I will take business anytime.

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

Courtesy of reader Pete, he is donating 4 GPUs and 2 RPUs.  However, they expire at the end of this month, so you need a ticketed reservation to fly by 31 Jan.  He would like them to go to veterans or currently serving members of the military.  I don’t have any way to verify that, so we are on the honor system here.  I’ll randomly select winners to whomever responds to this post today.

Posted by glenn | 11 Comments

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