My Experience Redeeming British Airways Avios for a Flight on American Airlines

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Before I get into the tidbits of Avios redemption on American Airlines, I’ll share my recent experience with British Airways and how redeeming Avios on American Airlines rather than booking with American using its own AAdvantage miles saved me a huge headache. At a conference in Philadelphia two weeks ago, I arrived at the hotel and was asked to provide a drivers license or an ID and a credit card for incidentals. I opened my wallet and my credit card was there. I assumed I had my drivers license and looked behind a few cards but I could not find it (I left it in my scanner at home when I was making a copy 2 days prior). I went into all out panic mode and frantically started searching my pockets, book bag, and suitcase. I took out every single card from my wallet and nothing came up. I was the guy who booked the hotel rooms for 3 other friends and I’m thinking I might be the guy who might have screwed this whole thing up. I told the receptionist “uhhh I’m really really sorry but I don’t have my drivers license with me.  I think I dropped it. The only thing I have is my school ID.  Can you match that with my credit card and make that work?” The receptionist said they generally don’t allow it but since I was there for the conference, he’d let it slide. If you are some how reading this and you are that receptionist from the Double Tree near Phildelphia International Airport,  God bless you and thank you again. Half the disaster averted. Now I realized I also had a flight from Philly to Albany two days later and not having my license would really make things difficult ( I arrived in Philly via Greyhound and they never checked for ID).  I booked my flight using British Airways Avios on American Airlines for 7.5k Avios plus $5.60 in taxes. The cash price for this one way ticket was going for $422 (!). This gave me an excellent value of 5.6 cents per Avios.  If I had booked the same flight using American Airlines miles, It would have cost me 7.5k AAdvantage miles PLUS an additional $80. If you book an award flight within 21 days of departure on American, you are subjected to an $80 “close in” fee. British Airways does not charge the same fee when using Avios to book on American. This allows you to make same day bookings (if seats are available) without losing value due to a surcharge. Since I didn’t have my license and didn’t want to deal with extra paperwork and questions from TSA trying to board my flight, I decided I would just ride back with a friend who had driven there. I called British Airways about 40 hours prior to departure and requested to cancel my flight. British Airways’ award cancellation policy is very customer friendly. As long as you cancel 24 hours or more prior to departure, they will credit your miles back without charging a fee to reinstate those miles. The only thing you would lose is the $5.60 in tax which is negligible in the grand scheme of things. Had I booked this flight using AAdvantage miles, American would have charged me $150 to cancel the flight and reinstate those miles.

 

PHLAvios

The cost of my flight had I used cash to pay for it. Prior to cancelling, I only used 7.5k Avios, which would have given me a value of 5.6 cents per Avios.

 

For many of the reasons highlighted above,  Executive Club is one my favorite frequent flier programs for domestic travel. BA Executive Club is a transfer partner of Chase, AMEX, and SPG, so there are many ways to get Avios (British Airways’ frequent flier curency). I have never redeemed Avios for international flights on British Airways itself because BA charges a very hefty fuel surcharge on transatlantic award flights flown on their metal. I use Avios to book flights on BA’s OneWorld partner, American Airlines. British Airways utilizes a distance based award chart which means the number of Avios used depends on the distance you’re traveling. Zone 1 costs 7.5k Avios for a one way ticket (0-1,151 miles traveled),   zone 2 costs 10k avios for a one way ticket (1,152-2000 miles traveled), and zone 3 costs 12.5k Avios for a one way ticket (2001-3000 miles traveled).  When you book a saver award using American Airlines, domestic flights that are less than 500 miles require 7.5k AAdvantage miles. Anything more than that requires 12.5k at the saver level.  I do want clarify that British Airways award availability on American Airlines isn’t a sure thing on any given date. Generally if American Airlines is showing saver award availability via their own program, there is a decent chance BA will have access to those as well. I have posted an example of a sample itinerary using both programs.

In this example, we’ll use a one way flight from Chicago (ORD) to Denver (DIA) on September 17th. Let’s start off with American Airlines:

 

We can see that there is MileSAAver availability from Chicago to Denver. A one way flight would cost 12.5 AAdvantage miles.

AA2DIAEconomy

 

There is also discounted MileSAAver availability in business class for 25k AAdvantage miles.

 

ORD2DIABusinessClass

 

Now let’s see how much the same flight would cost using British Airways Avios:

 

AviosORD2DIAeconomy

 

The same flight we saw above for 12.5k AAdantage miles in economy can be booked for 7.5k Avios. And if we want to book a seat in business class……..

 

AviosORD2DIABusinessClass

 

This same flight costs 25k AAdvantage miles to book in business class. Booking with British Airways only costs 15k Avios for a business class ticket. When you take into consideration that booking just an economy seat using American costs 12.5k miles, an extra 2.5k Avios to bump up to business class is a tremendous value.

Another great use of Avios is for domestic award tickets on Alaska Airlines. Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines does not show up on British Airways’ website the way American does so you would have to call them to book.  If they tell you that a phone booking would cost you a fee, kindly request them to waive it since booking an Alaska flight using Avios is not possible through their website.

American Airlines Launching Non-Stop Service From Chicago to Venice and Philadelphia to Budapest and Prague

source: www.made-in-italy.com

Residents of Chicago and Philadelphia will have more non-stop options to Europe next summer as American Airlines announced seasonal service from both cities. American will fly from Chicago to Venice non-stop on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Philadelphia to Prague and Budapest on the Boeing 767. All three of these routes will run from May 4th-October-27th. Philadelphia will also see the return of daily non-stop service to Zurich, Switzerland. You can read more about Chicago to Venice here and Philadelphia to Budapest and Prague here.

Leveraging Your Routine Spending Into Points: Back to School Edition

Back2School

If you have driven past any mall or big box retailer over the past couple of weeks, you have seen the “back to school” signs plastered on storefront windows trying to grab your attention and inviting you to walk in. It’s the time of the year when parents will be restocking school supplies for kids and undergrad and grad students will be looking for the best deals on laptops and textbooks. This time of the year is pretty important for retailers and they know consumers have more choices than ever. In the realm of the points and miles world, this is also a time of the year where you can benefit greatly. If you plan on doing a majority of your shopping on Amazon, you can read in-depth how you can accumulate JetBlue miles by clicking here.  For other retailers where you might consider shopping online, I highly recommend using www.cashbackmonitor.com

This website shows you how many airline miles or hotel points you will earn by routing yourself through that airline’s or hotel’s online mall.  It’s pretty straight forward and you can find a detailed example below.  I have posted some screenshots for the online Apple store as an example:

This is the homepage of http://www.cashbackmonitor.com. The most popular retailers are listed on the front page. If you don’t see yours, search for it on the search tab

CashBackMonitor1

 

If you wanted to purchase something online from the Apple Store, this is how many miles/points/cashback different airlines/hotels/cashback portals are offering if you route yourself to the Apple Store via their own shopping mall. Keep in mind, it doesn’t cost you a dime to sign up for these frequent flier programs. At this particular time, United is offering 6 miles per dollar if you make a purchase on Apple.com by clicking through their link. This is the highest among any of the shopping portals. Let’s use that as an example.

CashBackMonitor2

 

When you click on United’s link, this is the page you land on. But wait, not only would you get 6 United MileagePlus miles per dollar for your Apple purchase, United is also offering a back- to-school bonus depending on your level of spending. That $1,300 Macbook Pro would earn you 10,800 United MileagePlus Miles –> ($1,300 x 6 miles) + 3,000 bonus miles for getting the 3,000 mile back-to-school bonus offered by United for spending $600. 12.5k United MileagePlus miles gets you a saver award one way in economy. In addition to that, Apple is offering free Beats headphones if you purchase an iPad or Macbook Pro for college (presumably with a student ID).

UnitedBack2School

Simply click on the “shop now” icon and you are directed to Apple’s website.

 

If you were going to shop for school supplies online at Walmart.com, this is how much you would earn through each portal:

CashbackmonitorWalmart

 

For you undergrad and grad students reading this, popular online textbook retailers such as Textbooks.com and Alibris.com are also listed on cashbackmonitor.com.  If you’re purchasing from Amazon, remember to route yourself via JetBlue. You are simply walking away from an easy opportunity to earn miles if you don’t. And remember, you can use this website to help you earn miles for your routine online shopping no matter the time of the year.

SOME VERY IMPORTANT TIPS BEFORE USING ANY PORTALS TO MAKE A PURCHASE

  1. Make sure your cookies are enabled. If they’re not, the airline or hotel rewards program can’t track your purchase and you might not get credited for them.
  2. Sign up for that particular airline’s frequent flier program PRIOR to shopping (it’s free and takes a minute).
  3. Make sure you are logged-in to the airline’s frequent flier program prior to clicking on the retailers website. Most portals will make you sign in prior to routing you to that retailer.

 

U.S. to Barcelona for Under $350 Round Trip Between November and March.

Norwegian

For those of you who are interested in traveling to Barcelona between November and March, Norwegian Airlines has plenty of dates for airfare as low as $313 round trip from Boston and $344 round trip from Newark. Norwegian does charge to check in luggage and they do not serve complimentary meals on international flights so that is something to keep in mind. But even with the added cost, it is still a great deal to one my favorite cities in Europe and one that routinely lands on TripAdvisor’s top 25 cities in the world. Norwegian has a relatively young fleet and utilizes the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on these routes. I flew on this plane on the Norwegian metal two years ago and had a pretty comfortable experience in economy.   If you conduct a search on Google flights, you will get a calendar that shows you the low fares on various dates. Below is a sample itinerary from Newark (EWR) from January 21st to January 29th.

GoogleBCN

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Links to Referrals

Some of you have been kind enough to request referral links and I am very appreciative of that. If you happen to come across this page, you certainly aren’t obligated to use my referral links to sign up for any credit card or service such as Airbnb. But I will be very grateful if you do.

 

Airbnb: Click HereAirbnb is a great alternative to hotels in many locations around the world. If you use my referral link, you also get $40 off your first booking of $75 or more. You can read my post about Airbnb here

Chase Freedom: Click Here  The benefits of this card is the rotating quarterly categories that gives you 5 points per dollar on the first $1,500 spent on that category. For this quarter, the category is restaurants. Any restaurant, cafe, fast food place, etc will qualify for the 5 points per dollar. You can combine these points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred if you have either. Having either of the latter two will allow you to transfer the points to one of many transfer partners that Chase has.

Chase Freedom UnlimitedClick here The benefits of this card is that it awards you 1.5 points per purchase on every single purchase. I use this card for utilities, car maintenance,  trips to Walmart (very unusual to find a credit card that offers more than 1 point per dollar at Walmart), and other categories which don’t fall in travel or dining. These points can also be combined with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred to maximize your benefits.

American Express Platinum: Click Here This card has a hefty annual fee of $550 but if you know how to use the benefits, you still come out ahead. This awards a 60k bonus after $5k spending over the first 3 months so unless you know you will be hitting that threshold, do not apply for the card. Receiving the bonus is a big deal since you can transfer the points to many airlines and hotels. You get $100 global entry credit or $85 TSA pre-check credit. This card gives you complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges, Delta lounges, and Centurion lounges. One day passes for these lounges cost at least $50. You can also bring two guests with you. You get $200 credit to Uber annually, $200 travel credit to a designated airline, membership to Boingo Hotspot, and gold status at Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood hotels. I already detailed how having gold status for Hilton netted me greater than $700 in value from the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. You can read about that here and you can read about all the benefits of the card here.

American Express Hilton Honors SurpassClick Here and you can read about it here

My Experience with AirHelp for a Delayed Flight to London

Airhelp

For those of you who have experienced a non-weather related flight cancellation or a delay of 3+ hours on a flight to or from Europe over the last 3 years, you might want to visit http://www.airhelp.com and see if you are eligible for compensation. On a flight from New York City to London back in May of 2015, my flight on Norwegian Airlines was delayed for 5+ hours. When I inquired about the reason for the delay, they said it was due to a scheduling error and not having a pilot available to fly the aircraft. I thought it was a pretty ridiculous excuse for a reputable airline such as Norwegian not to have a pilot available. A few months prior, I had heard about AirHelp and I thought I would give them a shot and have them process my claim. AirHelp has lawyers that process your claim for you in European courts. If the judge awards you monetary compensation (this can be as high as 680 euros), they take half of that (25% service fee and 25% legal fee) and directly deposit the rest into your bank account via Payoneer. If you are not awarded anything, they don’t collect. Classic case of zero risk, high reward. I emailed them my flight info and the reason Norwegian gave me for the delay. They told me right away that cases similar to mine were awarded compensation greater than 90% of the time. They were transparent throughout the entire process and kept me updated on where the case stood. About 14 months after I initially contacted them, AirHelp informed me via email that the judge ruled in my favor and I had been awarded 600 euros. In a funny twist, I received an email from Norwegian Airlines just 2 days later. They were offering me 150 euros as compensation along with an apology (lol, apologizing 14 months later). I immediately contacted AirHelp and they informed me not to accept anything. Norwegian was trying to give me a low-ball offer hoping that I would accept it and reduce their liability. I declined Norwegian’s offer and AirHelp transferred $328 into my bank account via Payoneer 4 business days later. Although the process took a while, there was very little effort in my part to collect the compensation. I paid $397 for the one way flight to Europe so the compensation covered more than 80% of that cost. If not for AirHelp, I certainly was not going to go through the hassle of filing a claim in Europe. If you have experienced a delay of 3+ hours transiting to or from Europe, the image below will guide you on whether you should pursue a claim. You will also find all the info you need on http://www.airhelp.com. You certainly have nothing to lose and they’ll inform you on whether your claim is worth pursuing in court.

Airhelp2.JPG

It’s unfortunate that the U.S. doesn’t have similar laws that would offer consumers the same level of protection for delayed and cancelled flights. We have our own air carriers that are chronically late and will continue to be late until punitive measures are put in place.  As of right now, the worst that can happen to them are a few negative yelp reviews.

Review: Spirit Airlines

Spirit-Airline

 

We have all heard horror stories from friends and family about flying Spirit Airlines. The much maligned “ultra low cost carrier” gets a bad rap for being the pioneer among U.S. carriers for excessive fees. Bringing an overhead carry-on into the cabin? That will set you back $37 if you pay for it during the booking process, $57 if you declare it during  check in at the airport, and a ridiculous $65 if you declare it at the gate. Forgot to print your boarding pass at home? Having them print your boarding pass at the airport will cost you $10 (although Spirit does have kiosks at some airports which allows you to print for free). Thirsty while on the plane? You’re not getting a complimentary beverage. I literally had to get a rundown of all the rules from a friend so they wouldn’t have that “gotcha” moment with me. Love them or hate them, this is Spirit’s business model and Wall Street will tell you it’s been a relatively successful one. In fact it’s been so successful that American, United, and Delta have all dedicated the rear of their cabin to basic economy where customers can purchase a similar no frills ticket at a cost that competes with Spirit and Frontier. When I fly an airline for the first time, I really look forward to the experience if they are known for excellence in customer service. Admittedly, I also look forward to flying an airline for the first time when the customer service is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Morbid curiosity on whether my experience would affirm the hellish experience of others led me to book a flight on Spirit in January. It also helped that I was looking for a late flight from NYC to Chicago and Spirit offered the last flight to Chicago, a 10 pm departure. The one way fare was $59, or $20 cheaper than what the legacy carriers were charging for the same route. I didn’t check in any bags or have any item that was large enough to be classified as a carry-on. I purchased a rolling bag that was small enough to fit under the seat, but big enough to fit five days worth of clothes. I made sure to print out my boarding pass at home and wasn’t assigned a seat until I got to the airport (Spirit charges $5 if you want to select your seat).  For those of you traveling with children,  Spirit will try their best to seat families together but there is no guarantee without paying for advanced seat assignments. Checking in at LaGuardia was hassle free and off I went to my gate.

 

SpiritAirlines1

One  of the many warnings to pay for your carry-on prior to arriving at the gate.

 

As I was waiting at the gate,  the thought occurred that this might not be terrible after all. I haven’t seen anyone get slugged, they haven’t had their “gotcha” moment with me, and I might get to Chicago in a timely manner. And then 10 minutes after that thought, I hear a Spirit gate agent announce “Good evening ladies and gentleman, Spirit flight 331 that was scheduled to depart for Chicago O’Hare at 10 pm is now scheduled to depart at 10:40 pm.” Okay then. I can live with a 40 minute delay.  This was something I expected prior to booking so I was not all that annoyed or disappointed. You see, Spirit Airlines is routinely ranked dead last among all U.S. carriers in on time performance. While many airlines structure their schedules to comfortably deplane, clean the plane, and board again, Spirit does not.  Their goal is to land and turn the plane around to their next destination as soon as possible. Their entire motto is if the plane is sitting idle, it is isn’t making money so more time in the air is good, more time on the ground is very bad. This works fine throughout the day if weather and maintenance issues don’t creep up. But if something goes wrong earlier in the day, the domino effect is felt all the way until the last flight takes off. And that is precisely what occurred with my flight (as well as the flight scheduled to depart before mine). But again, 40 minutes was not the end of the world. It can be a whole lot worse.

 

Spirit is usually at the bottom for on time performance among U.S. carriers

 

Now it was time to board the flight. The Spirit gate agents eyeballed everyone’s carry-on luggage and checked to see if anything that wasn’t fitting in the personal item bin had been paid for as a carry-on item. This is the step when people who don’t pay attention to the rules or have never flown Spirit end up wasting away the savings they got on their low fare. If your carry-on was not paid for or your personal item is too big for the bin, you’re paying $65 at the gate. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I looked to see if any unwitting passenger got caught and fortunately no one did. It seemed like everyone on the flight was either a Spirit veteran or a rookie who knew the rules.

 

 

If your personal item does not fit in this bin, I can assure you the rest of your day will not be pleasant.

 

When I boarded the flight I braced myself for the industry low leg room that Spirit offers. Once I was seated, it certainly felt more spacious than that. It’s quite possible that the smaller seat size created an artificial feeling of extra leg room but it felt like any other airline seat in coach. The one catch? Spirit seats do not recline. This is fine for a 90 minute flight. I couldn’t imagine the discomfort on a transcontinental flight.

 

Spirit2

I had plenty of legroom with space to spare. Your miles might vary depending on your height

 

Once on the flight, Spirit did not offer any complimentary beverages or snacks but they did make them available for purchase  There was no WiFi (free or paid) or seat-back entertainment. They managed to get me home safely and that was all that I expected.

Would I recommend flying Spirit? Yes, but with a few caveats.  Above all, you would have to score a really cheap fare. A lot cheaper than the competition. If you scored a really cheap fare and you are on a leisure trip where you can afford to be late by several hours in case of the inevitable delay, go for it. If you are on a route that isn’t between two airports that suffer from chronic delays, you might also fare better.

When should you avoid Spirit? If you are flying on the day of a wedding, an interview, a meeting, a funeral, or if you are flying in the winter months to or from a cold weather city. If you are planning to use Spirit to connect to a different airline on the same day, think long and hard about it.

Here are a few odd facts about Spirit Airlines: If you go to the airport and book your flight, you will save on the passenger usage fee which is usually around $15-$18.  It seems odd that in 2017, an airline would discourage booking online vs booking in person but that’s what Spirit does.  Spirit also charges MORE for a carry-on than they do for a checked-in bag. So if you have a rolling bag that’s too large to be a personal item and doesn’t contain anything of significant value, you’re better off just checking it in. It costs $32 when you pay for it during booking (this increases to $52 if you pay for it at the airport) and your bag can be as heavy as 40 lbs.

I have heard from friends that if you ask to be seated in an exit row seat at the gate, Spirit agents will put you there at no cost if it’s available. This will give you plenty of leg room if you can score a seat. It doesn’t hurt to ask and the worse thing that can happen is them saying “no.”

Spirit also has a frequent flier program called Free Spirit. Any flight you take with them will earn miles. In addition to that, they have a unique program called the $9 fare club which gives you access to lower fares and cheaper check-in fees for a cost of $59 per year. I suppose if you are really loyal to Spirit and fly them multiple times per year, it’s a program which might benefit you.