Frontier Airlines Announces Service to Albany International Airport. Seats Available for $39 Each Way.

Beginning in September, Albany will have their first ultra low-cost carrier in Frontier Airlines. Frontier will fly to Denver beginning September 17th and Orlando from October 2nd. They have introductory fares for as low as $39 each way. This is a nice addition to the Capital Region as flights to Orlando will likely get cheaper on Southwest and JetBlue to better compete with Frontier. Flights to Denver on Southwest should also see downward pressure. If these flights do well, Frontier could make these year-round routes rather than seasonal and could potentionally open up ALB to other leisure destinations.  It could also attract another airline such as Spirit to start service at ALB. For more info on the route, you can read about it here

Earn United MileagePlus Miles For Filling Gas at BP

United and BP have partnered up to allow you to earn United MileagePlus miles for simply filling up at any BP gas station. All you have to do is have a MileagePlus account, sign up for BP rewards, and link the two together. If you link a debit or credit card and use it to purchase gas, you will earn 2 to 3 miles per dollar (depending on the fuel grade). There is absolutely no added cost for you to earn the miles so if you’re located near a BP, this is a great opportunity to earn miles on something you might have to do anyway. If you have a United account, just follow the steps below to link your MileagePlus number with BP Driver Rewards. If you already have a BP Driver Rewards account, you can enter the number while signing up. If not, it will automatically generate an account number for you.

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JetBlue Making Significant Changes to its Partnership With Amazon

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Simply put, this really sucks. I have benefitted greatly from this partnership between JetBlue and Amazon over the last 18 months or so and I am sure many of you reading this have benefitted as well. Even though I’d still get points if I make an Amazon purchase while flying and being connected to JetBlue wifi, I don’t fly JetBlue enough where I’d be able to take advantage of this frequently. If you’re based in the Midwest or a smaller airport that doesn’t have a ton of JetBlue service, you’re probably in the same boat. It’s even harsher for those who utilize the free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime frequently. I have no idea whether it was Amazon or JetBlue that called off the partnership but you have until March 27th to accumulate TruBlue points via Amazon shopping.

Southwest Airlines runs out of de-icer, cancels all flights from Midway

Hopefully, none of you reading this had your plans altered. I don’t recall an airline canceling flights because they ran out of de-icer.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-metro-southwest-airlines-runs-out-of-deicer-again-20180211-story.html

Ethiopian Airlines Announces Service to Chicago. Air New Zealand Expected to Announce Auckland to Chicago Non-Stop Next Month

Great news for travelers in Chicago-land area and really the Midwest in general. Chicago will have its first non-stop flight to Africa starting June 2nd, courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines. West Bound passengers will depart Addis Ababa and arrive in Chicago via Dublin. East Bound passengers will fly non-stop to Addis Ababa and will be able to connect to any of the 55 cities Ethiopian Airlines serves throughout Africa. The flights will be operated on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and you can read more about that here. Currently, Ethiopian Airlines flies to Washington D.C, Newark, and Los Angeles.

There is speculation that Air New Zealand will announce non-stop service from Auckland to Chicago during President Obama’s visit to New Zealand next month. This route would be served on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with a flight time pushing 17 hours. You can read a bit more about that here.

Since both airlines are Star Alliance members, you could use United miles to book an award flight on either airline. If you’re flush with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer into United or Singapore Airlines (another Star Alliance member) to book an award flight. Redemption rates may vary so always check the redemption chart prior to transferring.

While Chicago is an international gateway for many cities in Asia, South America, Middle East, Central America, and Europe, it always lacked a non-stop flight to Africa. I’ve never flown on Ethiopian Airlines but they do have an excellent product with lie-flat seats in first and business class so it’s something to consider if you’re considering an award redemption to Africa. Air New Zealand also has a very good premium cabin so if the Air New Zealand non-stop to Auckland comes to fruition, it will also make travel to Australia a bit easier. It might be just a matter of time before we see Qantas initiate a Sydney or Brisbane non-stop to Chicago.

How to Avoid Ticketing Fees on Last Minute Award Redemptions

For all you last-minute travelers/procrastinators, there are many frequent flier programs that penalize travelers if they book an award redemption close to the departure date. For example, if you book a ticket using miles on either American or United and your departure date is less than 21 days away, you will have to pay a $75 ticketing fee. Sometimes this fee will wipe out the value of a redemption and on the rare occasion, it will be more than the entire cost of the ticket were you to pay in cash. Delta doesn’t charge a ticketing fee but will charge additional 5k points per one way ticket (and even more for business class). Alaska Airlines does not charge a close-in ticketing fee and neither does JetBlue.  Southwest does not charge a ticketing fee but the number of miles required will increase significantly. If you have status with an airline, that might be enough to skirt around the close-in booking fees. There are a couple of ways to bypass the close-in fee and I’ll demonstrate how.

Using British Airways to Book on American Airlines

  • I talked about the benefits of using British Airways Avios to book on American Airlines here.
  • One valuable aspect of British Airways Avios is the ability to redeem it on American Airlines as close to a few hours prior to departure.
  • British Airways has a distance based chart so certain redemptions can be made using fewer miles.
  • If economy saver award tickets are available on AA.com, they will usually be accessible through British Airways.

Here is an example of the exact same flight from Albany, NY to Chicago (ORD) and the costs associated with the two different programs.

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If I were to book this one-way ticket using AA miles, the cost is $12,500 miles plus a $75 ticketing fee (the mandatory 9/11 security fee is $5.60 making it $80.60). Now let’s see the price using British Airways Avios…..

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No $75 ticketing fee and only 7.5k Avios as opposed to the 12.5k AA miles that would have been required. It is important to note that if you have a connecting flight, it will cost double the Avios for a trip since BA charges 7.5k per segment. I’d still rather dish out 15k Avios rather than 12.5k AA miles with the $75 ticketing fee tacked on.

Using Singapore Krisflyer Miles to Book on United

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If I want to book a one-way flight to Chicago for this Friday using United miles, it’s 12.5k miles + $80.60

  • Similar to AA’s policy, United also charges a $75 ticketing fee for flights booked within 21 days of departure.
  • Singapore Airlines allows you to book via United up until 24 hours prior to departure if saver award redemptions are available on United.
  • Unlike the American Airlines example, this ticket cannot be booked online. You need to call Singapore Airlines reservations and they will book it for you. Just make sure you have a Singapore Krisflyer frequent flier account set up prior to calling.

Both British Airways and Singapore Airlines are transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Points, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Singapore Airlines is also a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou points. If you are booking on United Airlines via Singapore miles, DO NOT transfer any points into Singapore Airlines until you have confirmed seat availability for your travel dates on United. Transfers into an airline’s frequent flier program are not reversible.

Getting the Dreaded SSSS On Your Boarding Pass

Traveling using frequent flier miles and points certainly has many advantages, such as making business class travel attainable for the casual traveler, and regardless of the ticket class you purchased, you’re saving money compared to booking with cash. However, there are instances where you might book using points from one airline in getting to your destination and use points for a different airline during your return. As far as I can remember, I haven’t ever used miles for the same airline going and coming back. For example, I’ve flown on United miles going to Europe while flying on American miles coming back multiple times. I was able to minimize the number of miles I needed to use by planning my itinerary this way. The only issue? Booking international tickets one way will often result in getting the dreaded SSSS on your boarding pass. SSSS stands for secondary selective screening selection. For me, the biggest giveaway that I’ll end up with SSSS on my boarding pass on the return trip is when I’m unable to check-in for my flight 24 hours before takeoff. The mobile app will tell me “please check in at the airport” or I’ll get an error message.  For a traveler that’s designated SSSS, the only way to get check-in is at the ticketing booth at the airport. When you receive your boarding pass at the airport, the capitalized SSSS will be highlighted by the ticketing agent. Once you are in line and the security and the customs officer scans your boarding pass, either a red light will flash or there will be beeping sound, alerting the agent of your SSSS designation.  It’s also important to note that there are other factors that may also be in play. Your name (there may be someone with the same name or similar that may be on the watch-list), the region you are traveling to and from, and your citizenship status could all play a role.

 

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My SSSS designation from Dubai to NYC last summer

Every country differs on their protocol for conducting the secondary screening. In Reykjavik, Iceland, I was taken a to a separate room and all the contents of my carry-on bag were removed. All electronics were swabbed and scanned and the procedure was completed in 10 minutes. The personnel were very friendly and explained what they were going to do in advance. In San Jose, Costa Rica, the security personnel gave me a pat down and searched my bag right at the gate. I actually hated this experience since almost everyone on my Southwest flight headed to Baltimore was already at the waiting area. I had 170 pair of eyeballs watching me as one agent thoroughly searched and swabbed my backpack and all its contents while the other gave me a thorough pat down.

There are also instances where you might get SSSS on your boarding pass when traveling domestic. This occurred in 2015 when my wife and I returned from Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul was deemed as a high risk travel area (it still might be), and anyone returning home from that area was getting SSSS on their boarding pass for the ensuing months. Upon returning, my wife and I had domestic flight from Chicago (ORD) to NYC (LGA), a flight we had taken countless times. This time, we both received the SSSS on our boarding pass, much to our surprise. The TSA officer asked if we had been anywhere recently. I told him we were in Istanbul the prior week and he explained everyone coming back from that region was being selected for secondary screening. He wasn’t wrong as even people with TSA Pre-check and Global Entry were being flagged from secondary screening. In this instance, we were both given thorough pat downs (more like a massage) and had every electronic device swabbed and scanned. Our laptops had to be taken out and powered on. Even The Points Guy had a similar experience upon returning from Turkey around that same time and you can read about that here.

If you do get an SSSS on your ticket, be cooperative and understand that the security personnel are just following protocol and doing their jobs. It will make the process easier, quicker, and you’ll be on your way a lot sooner. During my recent trip to Argentina, my wife and I did not get the SSSS (finally!). But if you can’t check-in 24 hours in advance, budget more time than you normally would when heading to the airport.

 

Using Social Media to Resolve Flight Disruptions

If you find yourself in a situation where your flight is delayed, cancelled, or your connecting flight is in jeopardy due to a delay, try using Twitter for assistance. A few months back, my wife’s flight from Albany to Atlanta was delayed by 35 minutes. Normally this is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. However, since her flight had a tight connection window of only 50 minutes to continue on from Atlanta to Dallas (Love Field), she was more than likely going to miss that flight. I was flying from NYC- Love Field and we booked so that we would land around the same time. Unfortunately, my wife’s connecting flight was the last flight from Atlanta to Love Field. Luckily for her, there was still a later flight from Atlanta to Dallas-Fort Worth and I would just drive over from Love Field and pick her up. I tweeted Delta and asked if they can put her on that flight. Delta responded back on Twitter and confirmed that they saved her a seat on that flight.

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That simple. This saved me the hassle of being put on hold and pressing God knows how many numbers to find someone that would help. Kudos to Delta for their fast response and helping us avoid what could have been a pretty ugly experience. So if you find yourself in a similar situation and need a contingency plan ASAP, social media might end up working better than the old fashioned customer service number. Just about every U.S. airline has a dedicated social media team for this purpose and even the airline that was slow to embrace it (Spirit Airlines) has finally embraced social media to assist customers.

 

Beware of How You Joke Around With a Pilot – First Hand Account

Thanks to Tyler Stone, a great friend and special contributor to MilesForPlaces for sharing this first hand account on a recent flight from Orlando, Florida to Albany, NY.

“On this day, my JetBlue flight was scheduled for an 11:40 am departure out of Orlando to Albany. The boarding process was business as usual.  Everyone  was already on the plane.  Then around noon, just prior to taxiing out to the runway, the Captain announced that there would be a further delay. He went on to say that he had been piloting for over 25 years and takes his job very seriously. He has built his life and his family around this career and has a clean record (sounds very agitated)

At this point, everyone started looking at each other like “what the hell is going on?” Captain continued that a passenger had claimed he saw the pilot at the bar and that these kinds of statements are taken very seriously.

“If a passenger makes these types of statements and other passengers overhear this, it can cause widespread panic among other flyers. Because of this,  I’m going to have to step off the plane and conduct some tests to ensure I am safe to fly. I can assure you that I have not consumed any alcohol prior to this flight and the gentleman who made this statement claimed he made it in a joking manner”

All the passengers were clearly annoyed at the man who made the comments. The Captain then mentioned that FAA personnel would have to meet with him and clear him prior to flying. An airport employee came on the plane and escorted the elderly gentleman who made the comments. He looked pretty embarrassed and obviously knew he messed up.

The Captain ended his brief speech reiterating that the passenger had clearly said he was just joking after the fact but these kind of statements are taken seriously and need to be followed up on.  The Captain said “you wouldn’t joke about having weapons while going through TSA. Likewise, it’s not appropriate to make these types of ‘jokes’.”

About 10 minutes or so passed. The elderly passenger who made the statement was led back onto the plane. Again, he looked visibly embarrassed and had just about every eyeball on the plane honed in on him.

A few moments later the pilot came back on and said everything was taken care of and we would be departing shortly (he still sounded very angry at this point). The rest of our flight was pretty uneventful and we got to Albany safely. The moral of the story, don’t compromise a pilot’s ability to do his job by making a smart ass comment that can get him in trouble.”