Alaska Airlines is my favorite FF Program and for many good reasons. I have been a MVP Gold or 75K for 18 years straight (they kept my status both times I deployed) and today’s announcement gives me even more reason to continue that streak.

I just received an email from their CCO, Andrew Harrison, with several key announcements. Many of us were waiting for this ever since they firmed up the date to join OneWorld which will start 1 April. Here are the key bullets:

  • Status extended to 31 Dec 2021 – OK, expected that
  • Access to Main Cabin Extra Seats – OK, expected that.
  • Later in 2021, upgrade certificates to Business Class on international flights – wow!
  • Free upgrades on AA domestic – remains to be seen where you are in the pecking order. AS elites only upgraded after all AA elites? Or top-tier to top-tier, then mid-tier, etc.? I have had great success with free upgrades on AS over the years and will look forward to testing this on AA. Note: AA Elites – don’t be haters on this one!
  • Starting April 2021, MVG Gold 75K will be Emerald One Worlds – they previously announced this. Looking forward to lounge access internationally!
  • I’m starting off this year with EQM equal to how much I flew Jan-Apr last year and 50% bonus on EQM will extend until June. That will certainly help with the next item.
  • A new 100,000 mile elite status category starting in 2022. I know a few fanatic flyers who will welcome this. Not sure how much they can increase the benefits over 75K which already gives you 225% redeemable miles and free upgrade certs. Maybe free lounge access? Will wait with baited breathe to hear more on this.

This is just a quick note to announce the news. More to follow I am sure.

Posted by glenn | One Comment

I have written extensively in the past about the membership program Veterans Advantage and how it saves me a lot of money. My tally for the last 12 months is savings of $495 on airfare. Much more than the $59 annual fee. They have a lot of other discounts as well, such as CVS, rental cars, etc.

Disclaimer: I receive no compensation from Veterans Advantage.

Similar to AAA or AARP, you need to pay for a membership to join and get these discounts. The standing airline discounts are already great. They are 5% off United, Lufthansa, and JetBlue and 10% off on American. Right now they have a special deal with Alaska which increases the normal 5% discount to 15%! However, it is only effective until Sept. 21st for flights completed by 2/28/2021. That makes this ideal for any of your holiday flights. And with no change fees, you risk little if circumstances force you to change or cancel.

Alaska is my favorite airline. I have been an MVP Gold for 18 years straight due to their fantastic service and benefits such as still awarding miles for distance flown with 100% bonus for being an MVPGold (my wife gets 125% bonus as an MVPGold75K). A lot of people think that they don’t live in the Northwest or Alaska and so can’t fly Alaska Air. Check out their route map and you’ll be surprised how many East Coast and Midwest locations they now serve.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Sorry, for not blogging a lot lately, but as a senior leader at the Corps of Engineers, you can imagine how busy I am right now.

One of our benefactors from last Jan. has contacted me to offer up some UA upgrades due to his cancelling his flights. Not too many flying these days, but I know there are some fellow military members that must fly despite the Coronavirus. If you are one of them, send me an email or comment.

 

Best of luck to everyone out there!

Posted by glenn | 2 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

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

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

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 | 3 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

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