It has recently been confirmed that British Airways will begin to operate the first route from Chicago to London on the Airbus A380. Let the confetti fall and pour the champagne!
For those of us who are travel addicts who geek out on airplane trivia this will be an exciting day for Chicago. The Airbus 380 is the largest capacity passenger airplane ever made and it requires an extended runway to get this “Super Jumbo” into the sky. It also requires a unique gate configure to support the wing span and ideally 2 ramps for the multiple levels to expedite boarding.
In May 2015 I had the good fortune to visit the Airbus factory in Toulouse France and we were treated to a “behind the scenes” tour. For my upcoming trip to Armenia I explicitly routed through JFK so that I could hitch my first ride on an A380 and counting down the days for my flight.
The A380 has opened an opportunity for many airlines to get extremely creative in their business and first class cabins. One of the best examples of luxury on A380 provides a 3 room suite which includes showers onboard in the Etihad Airways – The Residence. WOW! I was just really hoping for a comfortable seat without anyone kicking the back of my seat.
The A380 has gone head to head with Boeing 747 for the last few years as the competition has geared up the world has been watching. Given the number of airlines that have recently retired all of their 747 airplanes I think I know who is winning. For those of you obsessed with flying on the A380 there is now a website and app to help you find flights specifically on an A380.
While the Boeing 747 “Jumbo” still holds the special place in my heart I am looking forward to this new era at Chicago O’hare with the first A380 flights.
Starting next week on 1st March, American Airlines will begin a new “simplified” boarding process. The protocol is very easy: everyone is assigned a group number and there are two boarding lanes. The two lanes are defined as Priority Boarding and Main Boarding lane. Group numbers assignments will now include First Class, Business Class, active duty U.S. military, and higher tier status with American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, or one world®.
I am greatly looking forward to no longer hearing the boarding process drone on with, “Now boarding Executive Platinum,oneworld® Emerald, Platinum,oneworld® Sapphire, Gold, oneworld® Ruby and so on”.
The overall goal I understand is to reduce overall boarding time which could potentially work for the majority of travelers with a few protocols. However, I think there could be a few outstanding gaps:
Will boarding group will be clearly marked on the boarding pass?
What happened to the courtesy early boarding groups of “passengers travelling with small children” or “passengers needing extra time or assistance”?
How closely will carryon luggage be monitored in an effort to help speed up boarding time?
I like the concept, but “simplified” boarding seems perhaps a little bit too good to be true. Let’s be honest with ourselves – this is all highly dependent on passenger compliance. But I still look forward to the new process. Bring it on!
In today’s fast pace world many people are quick to dispose of things especially completed travel documents. Several years ago I started saving all of my boarding passes as a souvenir of the trip. On rainy days I will pull from the storage box to replay the trip video in my mind.
While the nostalgic value of a boarding pass can be easily discounted the documentation value for miles needs serious consideration. In the event that your flight did not get credited to your frequent flier mileage account in many instances the airline will require the boarding pass as proof of travel. This is extremely important when flying partner airlines given it is not their typical business process and the miles earned may take several days or weeks to post to your account.
I had discovered that my flight to Romania on LOT Polish Airlines had not posted to my Singapore Kris Flyer mileage account. Stay with me here as I clarify this; I utilized my Singapore miles account because I would earn more miles based on the fare class that I was flying than if I utilized my United Airlines or Lufthansa Miles & More account. So my boarding pass included my my Singapore Kris Flyer number yet the miles failed to be posted to my account. It is usually very easy to request the credit however finding the precious boarding passes in the travel closet was a bit of a chore. Given this was nearly 10,000 miles missing it was worth a little extra time!
Anyone who has ever gone to dinner or shopping with me knows that I purchase everything on a credit card.
I want the points! I am obsessed with earning points so that I can travel for free. The travel industry reports that over 75% of all airline points are NOT earned from “butt in seat” flights.
Last year was my best airline points redemptions ever, which was on my Micronesia Island Hopper trip with all flights in BUSINESS CLASS from Chicago – Honolulu – Kauai – back to Honolulu – Micronesia Island Hopper UA154 – Guam – Palau – Seoul – Tokyo – Chicago. I paid under $100 in taxes; yes you read that correctly.
The magic my friends is all in the credit cards. Now we could literally spend months talking through all the intricate details of how to earn points and the best way to spend points. However there are several amazing blogs dedicated to these topics so I would suggest visiting some of them. I have attended conference to hear these bloggers speak and they all have incredible travel tales.
I want to share with you my favorite credit card for earning points currently is Chase Sapphire.
Chase Sapphire benefits:
Earn 2X points on dining at restaurants from fast food to fine dining*
Earn 2X points on all travel from airfare and hotels to taxis and trains*
1 to 1 points transfer to the following airlines British Airways Executive Club, Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM, Korean Air SKYPASS, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, United MileagePlus®, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
1 to 1 points transfer to the following hotels: Hyatt Gold Passport®, IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards® and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®.
There is a new airline in town. People Over Profit officially known as Fly POP airlines which is committed to providing 51% profits to their charity partners. POP will begin regular scheduled flights this autumn with very limited service. The airline will start with 2 non-stop long haul flights on state-of-the-art Airbus A330-300s. The new low-cost flights that are offered will be from London Stansted to Ahmedabad, India or Amritsar, India.
There is an opportunity to support the airline in their initial crowdfunding which will provide you with a Gold Pass for the next 5 years. The first 7,000 participants will have the option to be included to have their “name-on-a-plane” with the other distinguished roll of honor. WOW! That is a once in a lifetime offer and for one girl who travels that is a very tempting offer!
You may recall that I don’t have a loyalty to any airline especially in today’s travel market place where achieving status from “butt in seat miles” takes a lot of time sitting on a plane. I have travelled on many airlines over the years including the “no thrills” to the highest rated in the industry; however I have a new favorite airline.
Are you ready? Drum roll please….it is Porter Airlines! Hmmm I know what most of you are thinking; how have I have never heard of this airline. Well, it is a small airline that is
headquartered in Toronto, Canada. Porter has flights to 15 destinations in Canada and 8 US destinations focused on the East coast and Midwest regions. It has been named “Top Small Airline in the World” by Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Award.
What I love about Porter Airlines:
The flight attendants had genuine smiles on their faces because they were enjoying their job.
Everyone is treated with respect. The boarding process is extremely simple allowing those who need extra time or assistance to go first followed by Porter Premium Access. We then commence with general boarding process. There is no song and dance about lining up in group numbers or boarding by what status level you are today. Easy and simple.
The seat configuration allows for a very generous 17 inch seat width and 32 seat pitch. This is the same legroom you pay extra for on most carriers.
There are no middle seats! All of the flights use a Bombardier Q400 which has a 2 – 2 configuration.
Everyone gets lounge access in Toronto! The lounge offers complimentary snacks, sodas, teas, coffee and espresso machines.
On every flight a selection of snacks is offered complimentary along with your choice of beverage including beer or wine. Your beverage is served; wait for it…in real glassware. Wow free upgrade to 1st class!
Amazing customer service from everyone you encounter associated to the airline. Even though I had to check my bag on the return flight due to a strict carryon weight limit; the agent was very kind to remind me that if I paid for the baggages fees online it would be $10 cheaper.
The airline has an adorable stylized raccoon character as their mascot named Mr. Porter. How fun is that!
What would I wish for?
I hope that Porter expands it’s routes and considers adding a hub in the US.
Given that Porter is currently a privately held wholly owned subsidiary I hope that as growth continues they don’t lose sight of their amazing brand for a little extra profit.
While Porter Airline’s tag line states “flying refined” it definitely captures their classy service and image. However I think that Porter Airlines exemplifies what airline travel should be; or perhaps it is a reminder of travel standards from the glory days of 1960’s. It is comforting to know there is at least one airline that treats you with dignity; regardless of your ticketed class.
Check your passport expiration date as most countries require it is valid 6 months from your arrival date. In addition confirm that you have at least 2-3 blank pages for immigration stamps which is required in most countries. Don’t be that guy who gets put on the first flight home because you don’t have a valid passport; this is sadly a true story.
Check state.gov for any travel visa requirements or entry/exit taxes.
Review the CDC website for any potential vaccinations or immunization requirements. If you are uncertain of anything call your local travel clinic.
Review the exchange rate trends for the last 3 months for any foreign currency needs. I utilize xe.com website or download their app. Unless the exchange rate is drastically changing daily or weekly I generally never pre-order foreign currency before my trip. The best exchange rate you will get is to utilize your credit card but first confirm the credit card has no foreign transaction fees. The second best rate is withdrawing cash from a local ATM once you arrive. Unless you are desperate never purchase currency at the airport because they give you a crappy rate and usually charge an additional fee. Don’t even ask me about traveller’s check; we have moved on from the 1970’s folks.
Is there anything you can book in advance? For example: Pearl Harbor tickets are free to all visitors but there is a limited quantity and generally should be booked 30+ days in advance. I waited too late so I ended up on a tour in order to get transport and admission ticket.
Review your wardrobe for key essentials travel items: walking shoes, swim suit, etc. Go shopping to update essential items if necessary or perhaps treat yourself to something new.
Two weeks before the trip:
Review your selected assigned seat
Review hotel reservations and search to see if prices dropped if necessary make a new reservation/cancel previous. For example just before my trip last November my hotel and car rental combination package dropped over $200; that is a lot of pina coladas!
Do you know how you are getting from the airport to the hotel?
Check the weather forecast before you start pulling out the items pack your suitcase
So here I am in the final stages of getting ready for my trip in 5-6 weeks to Romania and Bulgaria. We have already booked our international flights, local flights, all hotels, and several private day tours. Yet somehow I feel like I am missing something?
How do you plan for a big trip?
Book your domestic flights minimum 57 days advance and international flights minimum 171 days advance for the best price; here is my detailed process for booking a flight then immediately after I select a seat.
Reserve hotels within 1-2 weeks after flights are booked. Now keep in mind this may not be the place I end up staying at but I do want to ensure I have a place to sleep that meets most of my hotel requirements for this journey.
Now for the fun of trying to short list all the amazing places I want to visit on this trip. I love this part of travel planning when you get down to the details of roughed out daily itinerary. There will always be more places to visit than time allows.
So let me be clear about my general approach; I want to get a general idea of major highlights for the trip so that I can appropriately prioritize and arrange necessary transport. I generally assume one morning event and 1 – 2 afternoon events. I will never be militant about the schedule planning down to the minute of at 8:00 breakfast and at 8:35 leave to visit the castle. No way dude we are on vacation after all : ) However I also don’t want to get home and a week later find out that I was 5 miles away from the most amazing historic UNESCO village. UGH!
So the key word here folks is balance a little organized structure and plenty of time to sit in the cafe to watch the world go by.
Get your travel guide book of choice and start reading about where you are going.
Check out the country, state or city local website for major attractions or upcoming events
Look at tour company travel itineraries to get an idea of what might be possible in your timeline.
Get inspired by the UNESCO heritage list. There are some amazing places on their list!
Hurray you have finished the majority of your trip planning! You have a sketched out travel itinerary and hopefully identified a place to sleep each night. Update your calendar and set a countdown to your travel date with any of the free apps available.
In the next post we will review a detailed planning checklist for weekly count down to the travel date!
Ahh I remember the days when I had elevated status and if the stars aligned I would get a bump into business class. However with elevated status I would on a recurring basis get the free upgrades to economy plus along with any of my travel companions.
Here is a quick review of what the major domestic carriers provide with each status tier American Elite, Delta Medallion, United Premier. Please if you do have elevated status with any carrier learn about your benefits and don’t forget to utilize your benefits that you worked so hard for! Don’t end up like my friend who recently traveled on a transatlantic flight in economy even though his status allowed him free access to economy plus. He did not know the process to utilize his benefits and found himself squeezed in the standard economy seat for 9 hour flights Chicago to Germany return.
Sadly I currently have no elevated status with any airline carrier. As you may recall from last week’s post “Does loyalty matter anymore?“; I am only loyal to my wallet. But never fear….you can treat yourself to an upgrade or splurge for the whole year with an annual United economy plus subscription.
Here are the primary factors that go into my decision process for consideration when purchasing an upgrade.
How long is the flight?
For any flight under 2.5 hours I would not really consider it unless it was an upgrade to business class or first class at a low price.
What benefits come with the upgrade?
Economy plus generally has early boarding, free checked bags, and sometimes even free cocktails.
Business class generally flights over 2 hours a meal is served, 1st to board, free checked bags, cocktails (even prior to takeoff) and typically special access to movie/entertainment system.
How much is the upgrade?
This is a personal decision for everyone on what you feel comfortable spending. This really comes down to how much you value being comfortable. I typically determine the cost per hour (upgrade price / flight hours) to help me decide. So for example a few weeks ago on our return from Puerto Vallarta to upgrade from economy to first class was $119 for a 4 hour flight which is basically about $30 per hour which included dinner, cocktails and the royal treatment.
I compare that to other hourly rate or luxury services: Chicago downtown parking $18 hour, massage $90 hour, mani/pedi $45, maid service $100 or a round of golf $80.
Hmm which would make me happier….4 hours traveling first class or maid service this month? Well you know who won!
Do I have a connecting flight?
Do I need to sleep on this flight? (i.e. red-eye or international)
How much did I spend on the original ticket?
My personal limit is about $40 per hour however the flight duration and benefits included are critical in my decision process. Although somedays I just want to be treated like a princess; on those days even the loyalty to my wallet gets tossed. It is all about me with a glass of champagne!
So I have only one loyalty when it comes to travel which is simple – my wallet. I have an active frequent mileage account with every major US carrier and many international airlines. I used to have a preferred airline when I travelled for work and lived abroad. My favorite airline was by default the airline my employer had negotiated a discount. However I rarely travel for work these days; so I no longer play favorites. I won’t take a later flight or an extra stop to stay with a preferred carrier. I want the best price, at my ideal time and ideally the best plane with the best seat configuration.
Wow that is complicated. Right? Take for example my last trip to Mexico. I booked a hacker airfare with 2 one way tickets because it had the best price and best times for the dates I wanted. I flew American Airlines via Dallas to Puerto Vallarta; yet I took a non-stop flight home with United Airlines.
The US airline industry has created a new challenge to earn miles based on a calculation of airfare cost, frequent flier status and miles flown. It takes a rocket scientist to determine how many miles you will earn not to mention where you stand on qualifying dollars to get status. Here is an example to help make your head spin.
Don’t get me wrong there are some great perks once you earn status with any of the major airline carriers; upgrades to economy plus, free checked luggage, early boarding, lounge access, no change fee, and etc. In reality so many of these perks you can purchase or are included credit card benefits. So unless you are a road warrior who travels for business on a regular basis the “butt in seat” miles needed to reach the different status levels are simply a pain in the butt.
I am not willing to pay more, add stops, or change my personal schedule to ensure my devotion to any airline carrier. Let us be honest; do you think any airline would return the favor?
My strategy shall remain to keep my loyalty aligned to my wallet.