Choosing An Airline Program For 2015

Olive-Garden

The past year or so has been a bit of a roller coaster for the domestic landscape in the US. We’ve got mergers, spending requirements, bifurcated award charts, changes to partner earnings rates — the works. And there isn’t really a “sure bet” for a domestic airline program going forward, at least not that I can see.

Generally Ben’s blog focuses on him answering reader questions and providing advice, but I’d love to flip that around today.

So this might be a bit presumptuous, given we’ve really just met, but I need help.

Actually, my very patient husband needs help choosing an airline program for 2015. His travel patterns are wildly different than mine, but are probably very familiar-sounding to many of you.

Hopefully walking through the options and thought process will be helpful for others facing this same dilemma, as I can’t imagine I’m the only one struggling with finding the best frequent flyer program for next year.

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Japan Airlines Lowers Fuel Surcharges As Of February 1, 2015

JAL-Fuel-Surcharges

Fuel prices have plummeted lately, which is good news all around. That being said, it hasn’t had the impact on airfare that some people were expecting.

The most common question this has raised is why it hasn’t resulted in lower airfare. And that answer is surprisingly simple — because the cost of airfare isn’t really tied to the cost of providing it. Instead, like most things in the world, it’s based on what price the market can support.

In other words, when oil prices were super high and the economy was crap, that didn’t somehow give the airlines the power to raise prices. Instead, a lot of them went out of business, capacity was cut, etc. So it’s no surprise that airfare hasn’t gone down, and that airlines are making billions of dollars. The market will eventually equalize itself, though. This game is cyclical — for us, and for the airlines.

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Passport Issues! Visiting the US Embassy in Singapore

US Embassy in Singapore

It probably goes without saying, but when traveling internationally it’s important to make sure that your passport is in order. You should verify that you have

— at least 6 months of validity on the passport
–sufficient pages available for visas and / or immigration stamps.

My wife and I (ok, mostly my wife) are really good about managing these types of things. In a stroke of good fortune, our passports were about to expire shortly after we met. Well, that’s not exactly good fortune, but by renewing them at the same time, we were able to synchronize our passport expiration dates such that we (theoretically) should only have to remember one date, instead of two. And since we almost always travel together, we are likely to run out pages together at the same time and whatnot. Of course, we also save on postage by mailing them together.

All of this is to say that we had a relatively significant passport issue on our hands at the start of our current trip.

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Miles And Points For Infrequent Flyers

Langkawi-Malaysia

Last week I wrote about how to book awards from multiple accounts. This can be a big challenge for families, particularly in the case of schedule disruptions.

Reader Matt S. left a great comment, which I think poses an interesting question:

“@Tiffany,
I think this is a great article, but it also highlights my concerns about over-diversification with points/miles accumulation. I am a casual traveler only, and only fly 2-3 times a year. I live near DFW, so I mainly fly AA. For the same reason, I have AA Citi personal and business cards to rack up AA miles. However, after reading this post and several of Ben’s other posts on miles, I’m starting to wonder if that’s the best strategy. What point/mile strategy would you recommend for casual travelers? Thanks!?

Now, full disclaimer: this might not be the same advice you’d get from Ben. We tend to agree on most things, but every so often we have different opinions about stuff like which airline is most awesome or which is the best One Direction song.

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Does Your Partner Support Your Points Addiction?

Park-Hyatt-Tokyo-Suite

Blogging is really hard!

Jotting down random stories when we’re traveling together is one thing, but I have no idea how Ben cranks out 50+ posts a week. Just writing a handful while he’s gone is tough!

He also said I could write about “whatever I wanted,” which is an awful lot of responsibility. I mean, I would love to have a discussion about why it’s so darn difficult to find a travel handbag for women who actually travel, but if Ben saw that headline on his blog he might stop drinking Champagne with me.

So I’m trying to exercise a bit of editorial restraint.

One thing I thought might be interesting to talk about is how to engage your significant other in miles and points. It’s something Ben never really talks about, and Travis’ wife is as much (if not more) of a travel geek than he is. I know a lot of us have trailing or reluctant spouses though, and it’s an area where my perspective is a bit different than theirs.

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British Airways Ate My Award Seats!

not-sure-meme-british-airways

As part of what I like to call my “award chronicles” over at PointsPros, I had a small mishap with a booking last week. I figure if for no other reason than entertainment, there’s a good takeaway here that can protect you from the same fate.

A family of four was planning a trip to Europe using Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Traveling from New York, the award itinerary they preferred was on British Airways.

As y’all likely know by now, BA imposes offensive fuel surcharges on award tickets. I really appreciated Ben’s post questioning why airlines aren’t lowering fuel surcharges from last week, because I’m over in the corner asking the same thing.

Yup, on a simple round-trip from New York to London in first class, you’ll be using 120,000 Avios (or 125,000 AAdvantage miles) + $1,180.40 in taxes and “carrier-imposed fees.”

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When Complicated Awards Go Awry

Sicily-wine

One of the fun things we often help people with over at PointsPros is piecing together awards for people who don’t have quite enough miles in the right places for what they want to do. Ben talks all the time about how important it is to not over-diversify your mileage balances, but when someone already has miles in multiple places it’s often too late for that advice.

Because this is all too common, it isn’t unusual for us to book awards from multiple mileage sources. It’s a bit trickier, but that’s often the only thing that makes sense.

But what happens when you have multiple issuing carriers involved and there’s a schedule change?

Madness, that’s what happens.

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Why Don’t Airlines Lower Fuel Surcharges?

BA-Fuel-Surcharges

With oil prices down, I’ve been asked on a daily basis lately why airlines don’t lower their fuel surcharges. In spirit, a surcharge should be temporary, to reflect an additional burden.

But if you follow the way airlines impose fuel surcharges, the system seems to be that the fuel surcharges go up every time that oil prices increase, while they don’t go down when the cost of oil decreases.

Even with the cost of oil prices way down, fuel surcharges still make up the majority of fares in many cases. For example, take the below flight between New York and London, which has a $264 base fare, and $458 in fuel surcharges.

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Who’s At Fault For Not Clarifying Fare Rules?

Fare-Rules

I get a lot of the questions on the Ask Lucky page of the blog. Some of them I have an answer to and some of them I don’t have an answer to. The below question from reader Ed definitely falls in the latter category. Usually I’d just say “sorry, I’m honestly not sure,” but this is an especially unique situation.

Here’s the question:

“I wonder if I can ask for your advice and opinion. I recently purchased a round trip business class ticket thru AMEX travel website on British Airways, and when I purchased the ticket I went through their fare rules closely. The outbound is refundable if you pay 500USD in penalty; on the inbound, the fare rules is not available to be viewed. I now need to cancel the ticket and my first conservation with AMEX was not very fruitful. They were able to see the outbound fare rules, but they thought the inbound was not refundable, but referred me to British Airways for confirmation. When I called British Airways, they could see the outbound rules, but the inbound is in a code that they couldn’t decifer, and referred me back to AMEX.”

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Rebooking Award Tickets During Irregular Operations

I seem to have jinxed myself, because in the past six weeks I’ve collectively had over 30 hours in flight delays, including a 14 hour delay between Seoul and Abu Dhabi yesterday. I thought it would make sense to provide some general tips on dealing with rebookings during operational issues, especially as it pertains to award tickets (after all, many of us primarily fly on award tickets).

Whether due to a strike, maintenance, political unrest, or weather, delayed flights can screw up a perfectly good itinerary regardless of whether it’s an award ticket or revenue booking. The complication with award tickets is that they are often booked by one airline for travel on partners. US Airways, I’m looking at you. ;)

If it’s not the airline that issued your award ticket causing a flight delay, they are much less inclined to assist over the phone. Speaking from experience, operating airlines don’t want to make any modifications to an itinerary over the phone if they didn’t issue the ticket, as they don’t “own” the ticket. This is especially frustrating if you’re trying to be proactive and handle a flight delay before heading to the airport.

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Do Hotels Have A Duty To Communicate Tragedies?

I get a lot of interesting questions on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog. Many of them I don’t have an answer to, unfortunately, and I’m fine saying “sorry, I don’t know.” Once in a while I get a question where I’m just truly stumped, though.

A reader just asked me the following question, which falls in that category:

“Lucky, my wife and I are three months into a year-long trip around the world. We’ve mixed up our stays between hotels and homestays via AirBnB. As someone that is also living on the road, I want your opinion on a recent tragic event witnessed at a hotel in Vietnam.

A small child drowned in a hotel pool. We watched as a guest and a hotel staff member attempted to resuscitate the child. An ambulance arrived after several minutes and took the child for further care at a local hospital. Needless to say, my wife and I were completely shocked and traumatized. The imagery from this event not only clouded the rest of our stay, but will remain with us for a long time.”

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Is The Mileage “Game” Finally Dying?

Debbie-Downer

At the end of the day frequent flyer programs are lucrative businesses in and of themselves, so the airlines would be dumb to mess with them too much. They literally control every aspect of the currency — they control how many points are issued, how many points it takes to redeem for something, and even the inventory which can be redeemed for.

But if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m feeling less optimistic about this hobby than ever before, and it’s mainly a function of so many negative changes happening at once. Individually I wouldn’t think twice about them, and would just chalk it up to “evolution” in the hobby, but together they’re a bit tougher to swallow.

What am I talking about?

Let me start by explaining how I earn miles. Unlike others, I don’t do “manufactured spending.” I find that for the most part it’s only marginally “profitable,” so it’s not really something I do.

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