Thursday, January 31, 2013

Brussels Ariways New Service from Washington Dulles (IAD)

HT Lufthansa Traveler

Brussels Airways is launching service between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Brussels (BRU) staring June 18. According to their website, they "will operate " will operate 5 weekly flights to Washington. The flights will be operated with Airbus A330 aircraft, so passengers can enjoy full flat beds in Business Class and a state of the art in-flight entertainment system in both Business & Economy Class. Flight SN 515 will be departing in Brussels at 17h30, and arriving in Washington Dulles at 20h 15 local time. SN 516 from Washington to Brussels will be departing at 22h35 and arriving at 12h 10."

This is very exiting because as they state on their website, "their passion is Africa," making award travel to Africa more readily available. Brussels Airways flies to 20 African countries and 23 African cities, currently. Combine this with Turkish Airways recent push for more African destinations, the Star Alliance is making trips to Africa easier to get to from the United States.

I took Brussels Airways to Ouagadouou, Burkino Faso, last year, as a jumping point to my trip to Niger. The flight was a two class flight (business and economy) on their older recline seats:

The food was amazing on my flight:

The IFE (Inflight Entertainment System) system was old. It was on a loop, so you could not stop and go as you please. Also, the sound did not work on my system. It would go for a few minutes and then cut off for a few minutes. Hopefully the new IFE is better than this:

However, last year, they started upgrading their entire fleet to a "lay flat" seat. It took some searching, but you can learn about Business Class here and their new flat beds here:

Taken from their website

The seat reminds me of the seats on ANA's Dreamliner:

The seat, when put into the bed position, felt like a coffin.  The place where you placed your feet is under the IFE unit, and does not provide much space. Hopefully, Brussels Airways new product is better, but early reports, on the new product, confirm my suspicion.

I may have to add a trip on this new route, in the future.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reuters Report: US Air/American Airlines Merger Could Come in the Next Two Weeks

A Reuters exclusive   says that the US Air and American Airlines merger could be coming in the next two weeks according to individuals that are familiar with the discussions. As expected neither organization confirmed the report, but it seems like this one may be well on its way in the next few weeks. Should be interesting to watch how it plays out and if the merger holds together or if American's Board decides they should keep to their plan to get AMR out of bankruptcy.

Two Weekends and Two Trips to Portland...What Should We Do?

Last week United plugged in an amazing fare from Washington, D.C. to Portland ranging from $171-193 which average out to a great cents per mile that we don't usually see in DC on UA. I jumped on one fare last week for March with Kelsey and my parents are going to drive down from Seattle to visit us, which I could not be more excited about.

But today my friend Joe texted me and said that the deal was still around for the weekend before that and asked if I would want to go again. After going back and forth a few times and moved what I had scheduled for that weekend around I had the itch and I knew that I had to go...I couldn't miss out on this fare and I couldn't miss out on a trip with friends. Joe texted JD in the meantime and he jumped on it with us so we are going to have a nice guys weekend up in the Pacific Northwest!

Even though I lived in Seattle for a few years before going off to college I only made it down to Portland a few times so I don't really know what we should do (besides the obvious Powell's Books and Voodoo Doughnut) so we need your help! Do you live in Portland? Have you been to Portland recently? What can we not miss? Where should we stay? We are at your will and need your help!!!

Until then...I'll just be dreaming of a delicious doughnut and a nice cold glass of microbrew!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Club Carlson & New Partner

Club Carlson is making a big push to enter the "big boy" hotel club. There latest change is adding Southwest as a partner that you can transfer Club Carlson Gold Points to Southwest's Rapid Rewards program.

The transfer rate isn't anything to jump-up and down about:
  • 2.,000 Gold Points     =    250 Rapid Reward Points
  • 50,000 Gold Points    =    8,000 Rapid Reward Points
  • 100,000 Gold Points  =    18,000 Rapid Reward Points

While I will most likely not being transferring points any time soon, this option might be helpful for those trying to get Southwest's Companion Pass. 

What is Southwest's Companion Pass?

The companion pass is Southwest's hidden gem of their frequent flyer spender program. The companion pass acts as a buy 1, get 1 free offer. If you have the companion pass, you deem someone your companion, and they fly free when you buy a ticket or redeem points. Flying to New Orleans, your companion comes free. Redeeming points for a trip to Seattle, your companion comes along.

How does one get the Companion Pass?

One needs to earn 110,000 Rapid Reward Points in a calender year.

That sounds hard/ impossible, right?

Not really. In the past, Southwest has had a Chase Personal and Business credit card that earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in three months. If you get both cards, and hit the minimum spend, you will have 100,000 Rapid Reward Points. This will leave you 10,000 points shy of the companion pass. It is important to note, that in the past the credit card sign-up bonus has counted towards the companion pass . . . will that stay the situation is proceed with caution. 

Can you now see how this transfer offer might be helpful? Transferring 50,000 points will net you 8,000 Rapid Reward points, 2,000 points shy of the Pass. Maybe you earn 50,000 points with one of Club Carlson's big offers last year and value the option of having your wife, kid, best friend travel free for a year; instead of one night at a $400 night hotel.

If the cards come back, I am going to jump on them this time. My hope is to travel more (possibly by airplane) to college football games this year and next. The Companion Pass will help Chris and I get Cash-Back Boy and Limited Credit Boy to the games. Instead of buying three tickets, we only need two, reducing the cost of the trip.

A new transfer option like this might not make sense to everyone, but the addition of each new option, opens new doors for us points addicts. With so many doors being closed to us in the game now a days, its nice for once a new and somewhat valuable one being opened.

Financial Check-Up

One of my goals for 2013 was to take a look of where "I am leaving points on the table." What does this mean? I feel like I am not optimizing my monthly budget in terms of points. Are there places that I am spending money that I am either 1) no earning points or 2) could be earning more points.

With a limited monthly budget, I need to make sure that every dollar I spend earns me the maximum points possible. To ensure this, the first thing I need to do is figure out where I spend my money. I am sad to write that I don't have a monthly budget or know where I spend my money. That is really bad, I know.

For this reason, I am planning on writing down every dollar I spend in February. From money spent on dining out to the money spent on my dry cleaners, every dollar, every merchant and the reason for the purchase. By detailing every purchase, I will be able to see where I spend my money, but more importantly where I maximize points.

For example, my last dry cleaners gave 1 point per dollar through Thanks Again. However, I moved to Virginia from DC. Maybe there is another dry cleaners that participates close to where I work or live.

Similarly, buying gift cards for grocery stores I frequent, might earn me more points, if bought at office stores than me charging my grocery bills directly to my credit card.

Another benefit of this financial check-up is the ability to learn your maximum limit in regards to credit card spend. Previously, my limit was $5,000 in three months. That was before I started a new job. Could I hit $10,000 now in 4 months? This knowledge will help determine which credit cards I go after in 2013.

Detailing your every purchase can be extremely scary. You might find out that you send $400 a month eating out for lunch only? Or you could learn that you are spending money on things that you don't use ie cell phone insurance? Worse, could you find out that you send more money than you earn? Knowledge is power regardless if it is bad or good. Walking blindly will only result in future missteps or many wrong trips taken.

Will you join me in the February Financial Check-Up?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Are Hotel Credit Cards Better Than Airline Cards for the Casual Traveler?

It seems like a majority of travelers that are involved in this little hobby of ours are a lot like JD and myself. We don't really travel for work that often, and if we do it's just a few times a year for just a few days. Instead we just travel for fun to destinations in the US or we travel to see family all over the country. Most of the time that results in us purchasing airfare and trying to find a hotel to stay for a few nights if you don't have family to stay with.

This travel style got me thinking about the value of airline credit cards versus hotel credit cards and which had the higher "value" to a traveler that is like us. Both JD and I have used our airline miles to go on a few great trips and have used it to get us into Business Class and First Class, but those trips happened just once or twice in the past few years...a normal trip for the both of us looks like the back of the airplane in Economy with a carry-on (The very back row if you are crazy like JD). 

Looking at most of the airline credit cards their value, in my opinion, starts to dip quite a bit when you exhaust the initial sign-up bonus. Most of the common cards offer at least one free checked bag, some type of early boarding and one or two club passes. Some other cards have other benefits like a companion pass which can be useful to bring down the cost of an expensive ticket if you need to purchase more than one. 

But if we look at the current state of air travel does a free bag and some type of early boarding really matter that much? If the airport gate area is any indication most people are not checking a bag these days and are often just try to stuff their "rollar board" into the overhead while the rest of the plane tries to figure out how they managed to get that suitcase through security. If you are really that averse to bag fees and are carrying a carry-on suitcase you can often just wait until boarding time and wait for the sure to happen announcement that "The plane is very full and we will gladly check any bags to save space" and avoided the bag fees. 

Early boarding of some kind is a nice perk and this one can provide lots of value if you get on and don't have to stuff that bag 30 rows behind you. But I've run into the problem that not all airline credit cards will give you early boarding if you don't book with that card, I'm looking at you U.S. Airways, so if you are trying to use airfare to help meet a spend on another card or you just forget to put it on your branded credit card you may find yourself at the gate with no early boarding. But if you are someone that just flies every couple of months...this might not be as big of a deal to you. 

The other benefits of a club pass, companion pass and reduced redemption rates can come in handy when you are traveling and need a little bit extra so I am not totally downplaying the useful value of airline credit cards. They are great for the initial sign-on bonus and some of the benefits are nice to have, but if the annual fee is more work than keeping the card, they can be of less value to you as time goes on. 

But, hotel cards continue to keep their value as time goes on. I personally have the Hyatt Visa Card and the Hilton Reserve Visa and I have seen incredible value from the both of them. The best part in my opinion is the granted status just by holding the card, Platinum for Hyatt and Gold for Hilton. The initial sign-up bonus of points or free nights at properties all over the world are also great values. People all over the blogosphere have used them for great redemptions at Park Hyatt's and Hiltons or Insert Awesome Property in Bora Bora here, so that part of the sign-up really holds water in the end. 

But if you are an average traveler who only takes those grand vacations once or twice a year the real value comes from the other amenities that you get with hotel cards. With the Hyatt card I have received upgrades to higher floors and nicer rooms every time I have stayed and the service from their associates has been great for the most part (always a few bad apples). But even better than Hyatt is the benefits from the Hilton Reserve Card. Not only have we received upgrades, but those upgrades have been to Executive Level floors and that opens the door to the Executive Lounge which often will feature snacks, drinks and an evening reception which is perfect if you just want a snack in the afternoon or to have a few drinks in the evening before dinner, but don't want to pay out the wazoo for them in a city where you don't know the best places to go. This has saved us many times over so we can save a few dollars on snacks and drinks and go to a nicer dinner to celebrate visiting a new city. 

Beyond that the Gold status given with the card also entitles you to a free breakfast for every guest in the room. Now I have heard that this can often vary in nature from a Continental type breakfast to a full buffet breakfast depending on the property, but this is the real money saver in the end. Multiple Hilton properties we have stayed at had beautiful restaurants where the price for the buffet or a basic "American Breakfast" was anywhere from $15-25 per person. Instead of paying that price we just presented our vouchers and chowed down. For travelers on a tight budget this can save you so much money over time on your trips big or small. 

The added benefits of the hotel cards have really changed the added value calculation for me in comparison to airline cards. The airline cards do provide some value beyond the sign-up bonus and you should consider keeping them a part of your portfolio of cards if you can justify the annual fee for the benefits you get. But when it comes to hotel cards you should look at how often you stay at the property, the benefits you get and how much added value you get out of the card on every stay and take advantage of every benefit you can! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tokyo Metro System

One of the ways, I saved money in Tokyo was to use public transportation. The Tokyo metro system is made up the Tokyo Metro (Private) and Toei Subway (Government -Owned).  In addition to the metro system, there are multiple commuter trains.

The first time I looked at this map, I got a little dizzy. My first piece of advice is to take a big breath and understand that you are going to get lost. With that understanding, here is my first hand account of using the metro/train system in Tokyo.

Tickets vs Pass

You have three options of paying to use the metro: single use tickets, daily passes or metro card. Each of the options can be purchased at any metro system at a fare machine like this:

All the machines I used had an option to change the displayed language to English. The button to do so is on the top right corner.

After switching the language, you will have multiple options on the left hand side.

If you are going to be in Tokyo sightseeing for more than two days, get the pass known as PASMO or SUICA, both are the same. An average ride cost 200 Yen or about $2.50. An all day pass, that allows travel on most trains, costs 1600 Yen; therefore, you would need to take more than 8 trips to justify the all-day pass. I never took 8 rides in any day I was in Tokyo; therefore my recommendation of the PASMO card.

To buy the PASMO card, go to any fare machine. There is a large pink button labeled PASMO.

You will need to pick an amount to put on the card. I recommend to put 1000 or 2000 Yen.

500 Yen will be taken as a deposit. You can get the deposit back by bring the card and filling out a form. It is unknown if you can get the money left on the card back. I had on 40 Yen left and was not given it back. 

Important to note, my Chase Sapphire (no chip), Chase Hyatt (with chip), Chase British Airways (with chip) and my local bank debit card (no chip), all did not work at the machines. I had to use cash. Keep that in mind, when you first go to the machine. After putting in the appropriate amount of Yen, you will receive your PASMO card:

You will use your PASMO card to enter and exit the station. The fare for your ride will be debited from the card on your way out of the station. The PASMO card can also be used to buy food and drinks from vending machines around the city. In addition, I saw some clothing stores offering the option to pay by PASMO, as well.

Tap your PASAMO Card, pay for a drink
In comparison, the paper ticket was the size of a small stick of gum. I lost this one ticket in my coat twice, on this small two stop hop, on my last night:

Getting Around

At first glance of the map, fear might over take you. For me, I started questioning my ability to move around because I don't know Japanese. My first few trips were scary and resulted in me getting off one train and running to the train across the platform to go back in the opposite direction. This all stopped when I noticed that each line had its own unique letter and each station had its own number:

As you can see, this sign has an M07. The M stands for the Marunouchi line and the 07 stands for the station, Nishi-shinjuku (this is the station closest to the Hilton). On the right hand side, you see M08 and an arrow...this is showing you that this entrance takes you to the train that goes to station greater than 7. Therefore, if you were trying to get to M15 (close to the Imperial Palace), you would take this side.

Also, the pillars on the track level had signs like these to show you what stations a particular side of the track services.

Almost all of the the trains stations had at least one sign letting you know when the next train is expected to arrive. Unlike Washington, DC, I only experience one delayed train in my entire trip. It was 1 minute late.

When you arrive to Tokyo, I would recommend picking up this guide book produced by Tokyo Metropolitan Government:

The great thing about this book is that every attraction write-up has the closest metro station, how long of walk to the attraction (everything says 10 minutes even if it takes 20 minutes to walk) and most important what exit from the station to take. The exit is important, because taking the wrong exit could result in a major walk above ground. Example of a write-up from the guide book:


It took me two days to get the hang of the metro system. After taking it a few times and learning the letter and number system, the metro system was super easy to use. Taking the metro system rather than cabs, can save you a ton of money. A cab ride from the Park Hyatt to the Hilton (less than four blocks away) cost 710 Yen. One can get across most of Tokyo on the subway for that price.

If you go with an open mind and a ton of patience, you to can master the Tokyo metro system!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Download An Application - Do Some Good

I was browsing around United Airlines' website and noticed this advertisement:

United is offering a 5 award miles to Feeding America every time someone download the Untied Mobile application up to one million miles. Here is a link to their official page on the offer.

The official site says, "Miles donated by MilagePlus to Feeding America are used to fly resources among more than 200 member food banks to help those who are struggling with hunger." For those wanting more information on Feeding America, here is there webpage.

When I mentioned this to Chris, he told me that, when he updated his United app, the same offer was given. I don't know if this will be true for everyone, but if have an older version, updating to the new version may benefit a worthy charity.

Since, I have never had he United application, I was surprised to learn that you can complete the following tasks using the phone:
  •  Book a Flight
  • Check-In for you Flight
  • Change Your Seat Assignment
  • Download your mobile boarding pass
  • Get Real-Time Flight Status
  • Access Your Mileage-Plus Account
While this activity won't earn you any miles, it will help a worthy charity. Also, I believe in karma. Donate some points = better point earning opportunities in the future??? We can only hope....

Happy Downloading!!!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Changes to e-Miles and its good!

Yesturday, I recieved an email that emiles is annoucing a major change. Coming this Spring, one will be able to choose multiple options of where to deposit the miles.

             Dear frogy1015
             New reward options are now available. And we're not done yet...

             Later this spring you will be able to redeem your e-Miles miles with our other frequent
             flyer or hotel loyalty programs. You no longer have to choose just one.

             Visit your e-Miles homepage to view available reward options. Select the "Deposits" link 
             from the top menu bar to get started.


            The e-Miles Team

This change is great news and makes e-Miles smilar to eRewards allowing you multiple reward options. Previously, you had to sign-up for e-Miles with the ability to transfer miles to one airline frequent flyer program.

If you do not know about e-Miles, please see this post.

e-Miles can be very vaulable milage earning tool. While you won't get points rich by using e-Miles, multiple airlines have had promotions that invovled transfering points from e-Miles resulting in bonus miles.

I am excited to see e-Miles making changes for the better.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Using Google Maps While Traveling Abroad - Even Without Wi Fi!

Just before our holiday trip to Europe (trip report will be resuming soon, just been a little busy at work the past week or so...silly real life :/) the new Google Maps app for the iPhone came out. One of the best things about the Google Maps website on the computer is that there are options for travel by mass transit which in DC really comes in handy. For that reason I was very excited to see that the new Google Maps for the iPhone featured integration with mass transit.

I didn't realize how nice that would be until we were in Europe and I was curious if it would be able to give us public transit options for the cities that we would be visiting. Boy was I surprised!! Not only did it give me the transit options for trips in each city (Milan, Zurich, Geneva and London) it also gave me options for long distance trains!!!

For instance we took trains between Milan and Zurich as well as Zurich and Geneva. If you wanted to figure out the best way to travel from the Hilton Milan to the Park Hyatt Zurich and arrive tomorrow by midnight you would start by entering your starting and ending points and then enter either the time that you want to depart or arrive. Make sure you have the middle transit option (the tram/bus looking icon) to get the mass transit options.

Once you hit enter you will see the many different options that you have to depart/arrive by the time you designated, a brief overview of what trains, busses or trams you will have to take and how long the trip will take.

Overview of Transit Options 

 Once you found your preferred option you can click on it and it will give you step by step directions on how to get from point A to point B. It will also give you the proper times for each departure in the next step and how long that trip will take. My favorit part, and what's best for a city that you have never been to and may not speak the language, is it gives you how many STOPS you have until your stop!

For this trip it shows that we will walk .2 miles from the Hilton Milan to the Milano Centrale Station and board a European Connector train to Zurich HB. After 7 stops we will get off and transfer to the S2 tram, get off and walk .4 miles until we reach the Park Hyatt Zurich.

Step By Step Directions 

The best part is that if you type in the directions before you leave you can still use them without a wireless signal! I would use the hotel wi-fi and get the directions that we needed before we left. Then I would keep the directions open in the maps app and refer to it whenever we would need it!

This proved to be very very valuable because it gave us an idea of where we were going, how many stops it would be, how long it would take and what time we would need to leave to make sure we made it on time. The ultimate test was on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in London when the transit schedule is modified for the holiday and Google out did its self again predicting the times perfectly! This is something you have to try out for yourself and something that can save you many headaches while traveling abroad!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Delta New Member Bonus (Delta GrandSlam) Still Live

In September, I wrote about a new member bonus being offered by Delta. If you have never had an account or opened an account within the past 30 days. I learned that the promotion is still available.

The gist of the promotion is that you can earn up to 40,000 SkyMiles by doing various things with Delta.To sign up for the bonus, go to this website and enter your SkyMiles account number.

I have written about the Delta GrandSlam, here, herehere and here.

After signing up, you have 12 months to complete the various part of the promotions and earn points. This promotion is an easy way to earn points by doing things that you are already doing.

Happy Points Earning!!!

Credit Cards for People with Limited Budgets

Last week, I wrote a blog post entitled, Young People and the Chains of Credit Debt that urged young people to be careful with obtaining credit cards. After I wrote the article, I heard from some friends that the article might possible scary people from getting credit cards. That was not my intention.

As much as having credit card debt can hurt your credit score, not having credit cards can hurt your credit even more. Many young people, I work with obtaining their first mortgage, are under the assumption that the less credit cards one has will translate into a higher credit score. Most of the time, people who have one or two credit cards have low credit scores. This is not a stead fast rule, but more of a professional observation.

Since you need credit cards to maintain a good credit score and the easiest way to travel for free is points, here is a list of 5 credit cards that I think are great for people with limited monthly budgets.  Each of these are public links, I do not get commission for you clicking on them. I would recommend taking a screen shot of landing page for your records, just in case something happens later on.

1) US Airways Mastercard - This credit card offer gives you 40,000 miles after your first use of the card. In addition, the card gives you a 5,000 mile discount on award travel. Therefore, your first use will give you the ability for two tickets in the USA. The annual fee is waived for the first year -  $89 fee after your first year. This offer says for Preferred Chairmen only, but many people, including me have used it without status.

2) Delta Gold AMEX - This credit card offers you 30,000 miles after your spend $500 in the first three months. If you are participating in the Delta Grandslam (see here), you will earn a bonus of 5,000 miles for getting the card.

3) Chase Hyatt - This credit card gives you two (2) nights at any Hyatt Hotel worldwide after spending $1,000 in three months. I used my two nights at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, normally $500+ a night. On your card anniversary, you will receive a free night certificate good at Calgary 1-4 hotels.

4) Chase Priority Club  - This card gives you 60,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months. The card comes with platinum status. The $49 annual fee is waived for the first year. What makes this card a keeper is that on your card anniversary, you receive a free night certificate good worldwide, well worth the $49 fee.

5) Hilton AMEX - This card gives you 50,000 points after spending $750 in the first three months. The card has no annual fee.

I would highly recommend the Hilton AMEX, as one of your first cards. One of the criteria for credit is the length of time that one has credit. Therefore, it is important to keep your oldest card open.  Since the card has no annual fee, the card can be kept for indefinitely making this a great first credit card.

I hope this list helps you start on your path of traveling for free. As I stated in my post last week, please only charge what you can pay off monthly. Please only bite what you can chew, because no amount of points is worth long term credit card debt.

Happy Hump Day!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

UPDATED: Southwest Adds $40 Fee For Early Boarding

Every day it seems like Southwest airlines is moving more and more in the pay for services model. Today the announcement was made that the discount airline would be implementing a new option for their passengers on the day of departure, early boarding.

The service, which would be $40.00, would allow individuals to board the flight early and bypass the zone system of boarding that Southwest is famous for. The interesting thing is the option will only be available at the gate on the day of departure and agents will only start selling the option at 45 minutes before the flight.

It will be interesting to see if this is going to be the new trend for Southwest.

UPDATE: A good friend correctly pointed out that I didn't have all of the info here and helped me clarify.

It appears that the early boarding option will be in to the "A" Boarding Group slots that are traditionally for "Business Class" customers. The option to board early will only be available IF there are spots left (i.e. If the Business option isn't sold out).

Here is the full announcement from Southwest:

Southwest Airlines Offers New Boarding Option

Southwest Airlines Customers LUV the coveted "A" boarding group, and now they have one more way to be among the first to board.  Beginning today, Southwest Airlines will offer Customers the opportunity to purchase one of the earliest boarding positions at the gate for $40 per flight, when available.
"At Southwest, we have developed boarding options that fit a variety of our Customers' needs—from EarlyBird Check-In to our Business Select Fare," said Kevin Krone, Southwest Airlines Vice President of Marketing, Sales, and Distribution. "Offering Customers the option to improve their boarding position on day of travel is one more way we can offer the travel experience that best fits their needs."
This new boarding option will only be offered at the gate on the day of travel, beginning 45 minutes before the flight departs.  Customers will hear an announcement in the gate area and will be able to purchase an available boarding position via credit card from a Customer Service Agent. Customers will only have the opportunity to purchase these positions if available. The airline successfully tested this new boarding option in San Diego last month, and received positive feedback.

Monday, January 21, 2013

#newAmerican and What It Means for the Merger With US Airways

As you most likely know American Airlines unveiled their new look last week what was lost in the shuffle was a bit of merger talk in the opening video from Tom Horton, Chairman and CEO of American Airlines.

As Horton is introducing the new features that will be introduced through all of AA's aircraft, including a new livery, logo, full lie-flat seats and in-flight entertainment at every seat he also made a few hints to the future of the airline.

"As we complete our evaluation on if a merger could build our strengths," says Horton, "We remain steadfast in each step we take on our journey to modernize our airline."

He later continues

"We know there are still decisions that need to be made about our future, but today marks our next step to modernize..."

I really found these admissions interesting as back in July American's leadership was doing everything they could to brush off talk of a merger with U.S. Airways. But over the last few months I have heard more and more talk of the merger moving towards an announcement. In fact, last week when I was visiting the U.S. Airways Club in Phoenix the couple in front of me checking-in asked the agent at the desk if she thought they would merge and she responded that the rumors they were hearing was that it would be going through and that it was only a matter of time before the announcement was made. Now, I don't know how scientific that is, but it's an interesting thing to hear from the staff on the ground.

But the other interesting thing to ponder if the merger were to happen is what the new airline would really look like.

With a new fleet, the newest in the industry as they always like to mention, coming on line over the next few years, a new livery and a new logo I believe that they will be pushing to bring the U.S. Airways brand under their wing (no pun intended) instead of the other way around.

This would open the door to American staying in the oneworld alliance and avoiding a fight with the Star Alliance of having both American and United in the same alliance. It would also open up great routes for oneworld and bring even more offerings for U.S. Airways customers.

The question for the frequent flyers of both airlines is what the new loyalty program will look like and what benefits they will include that each group loves about their program.

What do you think? What does a merger between AA and US Airways mean for you as a frequent flyer? Are you dreading it...looking forward to it?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

NYT: 46 Places to Go In 2013

I was having a hard time sleeping earlier this week, so I started browsing the internet. It was 2am and the troubles of the week were keeping me up. (You know the basic problems for a mortgage officer: Did I get the paystub for the X loan or what will I do if the appraisal for the W loan comes in low - Yes, we worry about your loans, morning, noon and late at night) Well, I started browsing my normal sites (ESPN, CNN, CNBC, Washinton Post), but I was still wide awake. This led me to a New York Times and travel sections, where the article "46 Places to Go In 2013" which caught my attention.
travelers of all levels, sometimes we need these type of lists to push our travel boundaries to the next level.

Before going over the list, the article is a must read for no other point of looking at the beautiful photos of each place. In addition to the photos, the NYT provides commentary of each of the 46 Places to Go.

The list of 46 places breaks down as the followed:

US - 7 Places
  • Houston
  • White Salmon River, Washington
  • The Big Island, Hawaii
  • The Adirondacks, New York
  • Puerto Rico
  • Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  • Washington, DC
Canada - 2 Places
  • Rossland, British Columbia
  • Charlevoix, Quebec
Latin America - 4 Places
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • Nicaragua
  • Yucatan, Mexico
  • The Falkland Islands
Europe - 16 Places
  • Marseille
  • Amsterdam
  • Istanbul
  • Montenegro
  • Hvar, Croatia
  • Vernazza, Italy
  • Oslo, Norway
  • Lithuania
  • Burgos, Spain
  • Lens, France
  • Porto, Portugal
  • The Jeseniky, Czech Republic
  • Pecs, Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Getaria, Spain
  • Paris
Africa - 4 Places
  • Accra, Ghana
  • Constantia, South Africa
  • Republic of Congo
  • Casablanca, Morocco
Asia and Pacific: 13 Places
  • Bhutan
  • New Delhi
  • Singapore
  • Mongolia
  • Philippines
  • The Kimberly Island, Australia
  • Ningxia, China
  • Changbaishan, China
  • Koh Phangan, Thailand
  • Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka'
  • Bangkok
  • Waiheke, New Zealand
  • Mergui Islands, Myanmar
The result of reading the article was not good; I could not fall to sleep any faster. I stayed up 45 additional minutes more thinking about which places I need to visit in 2013. Not WANT, but NEED. By the next morning, I had made up my mind.

All I am going to mention is that I am going to visit at least two of these places on the list: one in the US and at least one outside. Here is a hint for the one outside of the US: the easiest airport to fly into is also one of the hottest places now to vacation, but where the airport is located isn't where I want to visit. Any guesses?

Are there places on this list that you want to visit?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

New United Club Terminal 2 Chicago O'Hare

Last weekend Kelsey and I embarked on the first mileage run of the year. Our route was BWI-ORD-IAH-PHX on Saturday and PHX-CLT-BWI on Sunday. The routing was to maximize the miles we would earn, but also so we could fly the 787 on Saturday from ORD-IAH. I'll have more on that awesome (yes awesome, despite the recent troubles) flight later. But for now I wanted to mention the new United Club Lounge at O'Hare in Terminal Two.

Sunrise over O'Hare and Chicago 

We landed really early at O'Hare, around 7:20 am, after a short hop over from BWI. We landed in Terminal One but we both really wanted to try the new lounge so we made the 15 minute hop over to Terminal Two.

The new lounge is located in Terminal Two, Concourse F across from Gate F4 on the right hand side. The entrance is really sleek, modern and bright. You walk in to a main desk that is well lit (The main thing I noticed is how bright the lounge is in comparison to other United Clubs I have been in) and has two attendants. After checking-in you can take the escelator or elevator up to the second level and the lounge its self.

Beyond the bright appearance the features are very modern and sleek. It reminds me of the Lufthansa Senator's lounges at Dulles and in Frankfurt. The chairs are wide and very very comfy and are located all along the wall which makes for plenty of seating in a decently small lounge. There are two self service areas on either end of the lounge that had breakfast set out when we were there. There was an assortment of baked good and a toaster for bagels and bread. In addition they had some fruit as well as some yoghurt. For drinks there were assorted fruit juices, coffee and a coffee machine for lattes or cappuccinos. There is also a huge bar in the middle of the lounge that was open for a nice morning pick me up beverage.  

Bright Seating Areas 

Main Bar and Seating Area 
Normally I wouldn't mention the bathrooms, but they were pretty strange. The outside of the bathroom was a frosted glass with pictures of old United planes (which was awesome to look at) but it made it really hard to find the actual door to the restroom. The poor lounge attendants were constantly directing people to the right door and others would just fumble around to find their way in.

I was really impressed with the lounge, and I can't wait to see the updated lounges in other airports when they open (HIINT HINT DULLES). My only gripe as an #avgeek is that the windows had a great view of the tarmac and the alley so you could watch jets pushing back on their way. But there was a set of shades over the windows so you couldn't see outside for the first hour we were there. Then every 15 minutes or so they would automatically inch up so I think that by the middle of the morning it would be a clear view to the tarmac.

Can't wait to see the next new lounge and hope United will make this a way to uniquely fit lounges across the country with new features and respect to the old United traditions.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Young People and The Chains of Credit Card Debt

A few days ago, Travel Blogger Buzz, placed an article at the bottom of his daily post about young people and credit card usage. Written by Brian O'Connell for the website,, his article delved into the question about young people and their use of credit cards. This article stirred something inside of me.

O'Connell writes, "That may not be the case when it comes to young consumers and credit cards, as younger card holders are wasting no time accumulating debt, and are taking their sweet time paying that debt off." The article centers around a Ohio State University study released a few days ago which learned:

              "that young people born 1980 to 1984 had on average over $5,000 more in credit card debt
               than their parents at a similar point in their life and slightly more than $8,000 more
               when compared to their grandparents.

               In addition, the results suggest younger people are paying off their debt more slowly,
               too. The study estimates that the children’s payoff rate is 24 percentage points lower
               than their parents’ and about 77 percentage points lower than their grandparents’ rate."

This graphic summarizes their study nicely:

When I graduated from college, I was $4,000+ in credit card debt (and this debt was on non-mileage earning credit cards - as I only recently got in the game). This debt was the culmination of Spring Break trips, late night beer and pizza runs, and not caring about where my money went. I always though that I could pay down my debt faster after college, when I "got a real job."

I got that real job with that real salary, but then the adult expenses came rolling around. I started having to pay my own rent, which in Washington, DC ain't cheap, my cell phone bill, and then I decided to go back to graduate school by paying for cash. After all my expenses, the money I could put towards debt repayment was small. On top of this, I was putting more debt on my credit card. I kept on rationalizing that my next bonus will clear all the debt. didn't.

Finally, I got sick one day looking at my credit card balances. Literally sick to my stomach. I think I threw up that morning. How did I allow myself to get this chain of debt attached to my leg? I decided to stop the madness and go on a strict cash diet. I cut my expenses by 70%, brought my lunch to work, reduced my nights eating out and restricted money spent on my social life. However, I paid off my debt accumulated in college ($4,000) in 24 months. 24 months to pay off those late night pizza and beer runs and that trip to Spain. What was I thinking in college? I don't remember what the interest payments added up to for the debt, but it was expensive. Not worth putting that pizza on the credit card.

Why do I bring this article up and my personal experience? A big part of winning the "game" is applying for credit cards for their sign up bonuses, spending the minimum required for the bonus and closing the card shortly their after. The big bonuses are eye popping and once you learn where those points can take you, the appeal of them gets more and more appealing. One can get caught up in the game and this is the where the real danger begins.

Let's take a young person, who reads about the fabulous trip reports by Lucky or The Points Guy and wants to emulate them. He reads that the best way to get your own amazing trip reports by signing up for credit cards for their bonus. This post is not laying blame on any one blogger. I use Lucky and The Points Guy as people who put together amazing trip reports. This young person is attracted to Chase Sapphire, because its cool looking and comes with a greats sign-up bonus of 40,000 points. However, he has to spend $3,000 in 3 months for the bonus. He is approved and the card is now in his hand. As recommended by the Bloggers, he puts everything on his credit card. Now, he is in his last month and he still needs to spend $1,500. He researches easy ways to meet credit card spend limits; he buys gift cards, VISA prepaid cards and even funds a KIVA account. 

Good News:  He hits the minimum spend and earns his 40,000 points

Bad News: His credit card balance is $2,200 with no real way of paying it off, so he continues to make the minimum payment only - it would take him about 191 months or ten years to pay off the debt.

Is 10 years of payments worth 40,000 points?

The real trouble probably does not happen by Joe Schmoe getting one credit card. Its most likely happens when he tries to get two or three credit cards with a combination of minimum spends of $5,000 or $7,500 in three months at the same time. He will ensure the minimum spend requirements are met and worries about paying off the debt later.

Can you see where the "game" can becomes dangerous.? One can easily get caught up in the game. Do whatever it takes to get to the next free night, flight or status level. Before you get a credit card, you need to ask yourself, can I meet this bonus threshold in the maximum time frame. When I applied for the Starwood AMEX, I only applied for that one card as I was fearful, I could not meet the $5,000 minimum spend requirement in 3 months. $5,000 is a lot of money. I barely hit the $5,000 and now I know that is my limit.

Before you apply for a credit card, you need to ask yourself three questions:

           1)   Would I be able to hit the minimum spend requirements in the prescribed time?

           2)   Will I spend frivolously on things I don't need to meet the spend requirements?

           3)   Do I have the means to pay off the debt put on the credit card within 30 days?

If your answers are Yes, No, and Yes, then you need to ask one more question, "Will this hurt my credit?" Your credit rating is one of the most important assets you have. Your score is something that you have direct control over. This 3 digit score controls so much of your future: from your ability to get your dream job to being able to buy your dream first home. (Today, the difference between a person with a 720 credit score and 680 is 1/4% increase in rate - or  $170 more a year per $100,000 borrowed). As a mortgage loan officer, I have seen hundreds of credit scores. Some great, some good and many bad. One of the common threads of those who have bad credit is the amount of debt vs. maximum credit limits. Typically, when I talk to borrowers about the size of their debt or missed payments, it steams from their 20s. In our 20s, we are under the belief that we are invincible and we lack the focus for the future, so we make stupid decisions.

I concluded this post by urging all young people to live a credit card debt lifestyle. Live within your means. I am not advocating not getting credit cards, because the lack of credit cards can hurt your credit even more than excessive credit card debt. What I am urging all young people thinking about entering the "game" or already playing the game, is to think smartly. Ask yourself the three questions above before applying for every credit card. Track your credit report and score, by using your three free reports provided by or use credit monitoring services like Power is knowledge in the credit game. Ignorance of your credit will only lead to trouble year later, when it time to make major decisions like a car, house or dream job.

Take it from me...paying off trips and dinners taken two years ago, sucks. No amount of points is worth adding the chains of debt to you.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Share a Journey: You Could Win 1,000,000 AAdvantage Miles

As I was looking through the awesome new website for the #newAmerican Airlines, as they are calling it, I scrolled to the bottom of the page and noticed something that I had initially missed. American is having a contest to celebrate their new look and the grand prize appears to be up to 1,000,000 AAdvantage miles, which would be an awesome prize!

All you have to do is submit a photo of, "somewhere special you've traveled" and they will share it in a gallery of other submitted photos. In exchange you will be entered to win 1,000,000 miles. The full post and rules are below:

Share A Journey
You Could Win One Million AAdvantage® Miles.
As we journey forward with a new look, new planes and new innovations, we were wondering, “Where have your journeys taken you?” Maybe it was someplace inspiring. A place off the beaten path. Or a place full of tranquility.
Show us a photo of somewhere special you’ve traveled, and we may share it with your fellow travelers. Plus, we’ll give you a chance to win one million AAdvantage miles so you can journey to exciting new places.

1. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR CLAIM PRIZE. 2. OPEN TO/ENTRY DETAILS: Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia and of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) who are at least 18 years of age (19 in Alabama and Nebraska, 21 in Mississippi) at time of entry. 3. Sweepstakes/Prize Draw begins at 8:59:59 a.m. Central time (“CT”) January 17, 2013 and all entries must be received by 11:59:59 a.m. CT time on February 5, 2013 in the US. Sweepstakes/Prize Draw begins at 2:59:59 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (“GMT”) on January 17, 2013 and all entries must be received by 5:59:59 p.m. GMT on February 5, 2013 in the UK. 4. PRIZE DETAILS: Six Prizes consisting of American Airlines AAdvantage® miles and pre-paid gift cards. 5. ODDS: Odds of winning depend on number of Eligible Entries. 6. ELIGIBILITY: Employees and agents of Sponsor, Administrator and affiliates, agencies, distributors, wholesalers and retailers, and members of such employees’ and agents’ immediate families and individuals living in the same household with such employees or agents, are not eligible to win. 7. Void where prohibited. 8. Participation is subject to complete Official Rules by which all entrants are bound. Available at 9. Entrants release all parties from all claims/liability arising from this Sweepstakes or acceptance/use of any Prize. 10. Sponsor: American Airlines, Inc. 4333 Amon Carter Blvd., Ft. Worth, Texas 76155. Administrator: The Marketing Arm Inc., 1999 Bryan Street, Suite 1800, Dallas, TX 75202.

It's Official Delta is Going Revenue Based

It was leaked yesterday but it looks like Delta has officially announced that they will be going to a revenue based program focused on Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs).

You will need to spend:

$2,500 for Silver
$5,000 for Gold
$7,500 for Platinum
$12,500 for Diamond

That is all IN ADDITION to qualifying on miles or segments.

Interesting to note though....the MQDs fee will be waved for members who have a U.S. Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express as long as they spend $25,000 in eligible purchases.

Here is a link to the press statement announcing the new program.

American Airlines Announces New Look at 10:00 AM ET

Over the past few months American Airlines has been doing an amazing job teasing out their new livery, including on a video in December that showed a sheet being pulled off an aircraft tail (video via AAdvantageGeek) that has whipped AA fans into a frenzy. Now it looks like their long wait for an updated logo is over. Multiple news outlets are reporting that AA will announce their new look at a 10:00 am ET press conference.

A report from The Dallas Morning News says that it will not be on the new 777-300ER, as was expected. Instead it will be on a 737-800 that was pulled out of service at the beginning of the year.

If you want to watch the announcement live, AA has provided a link to the video feed here

UPDATE: It appears that a user on Twitter might have been able to discover the new logo on AA's website they are using for the announcement today. User @Gatsby posted this image that comes from the AA site of the new logo. What do you think?

UPDATE 2: The Points Guy has a picture of the full livery up and I have to agree with totally looks like the old red, white and blue ice pops. But the other important part is that it looks like the body is still the general "tin can" color so they are mixing a little bit of the old with a little bit of the new!

Picture via The Points Guy

UPDATE 3: The leaks are confirmed! That's the new logo and livery for AA. You can see the full design and though on their website and also take a look at the new commercial that is going to be running to announce the change to the public. I'll try and embed the video when I can find it online.

UPDATE 4: Here is a link to the new commercial featuring the new livery.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hotel Review: Le Meridien Arlington

Le Meridien Arlington is looked a short walk from the Rosslyn Metro system (located on the Blue and Orange Lines). I have walked by this building for years and never knew it was a hotel until about six months ago.

A combination of promotions (described here) led me to do a last minute hotel stay.

You enter the front door and you are greeted by a dog food bowl/food. I don't know if the hotel is pet friendly, but this is a positive sign.

Entering on the ground level, you are asked to go to the fourth floor to check-in. At 8pm, no one was at the ground floor to greet you, but when I checked out their was an employee who asked if I needed a cab.

The building is half a hotel and half condominium. Therefore, there are signs on some elevators indicating they are only for condominium residents.

The lobby of the hotel is small with the check-in desk directly in front of the elevators.

Check-in was a breeze with nothing more than a few questions:

Are you staying for one night? Yes

Do you need one or two room keys? Two

Do you need the mini bar key? No.

After those questions, I was sent to my room on the sixth floor.

I was given room 602, at the end of the hallway.

The hotel is curved on one side. Therefore, room 602 is the smallest on the floor. I check on other floors and the xx2 room is the smallest throughout the hotel. Therefore, I would avoid this room for its size and noise (to be discussed later).

When you enter the room, you have a small hallway and the bathroom is directly to the right.

The bathroom was a little cramped, but had very modern fixures.

The shower had a rain shower head and was very roomy.

If you are a bath type person, the tub was extra wide and angled deep on one side and shallow on the other.

The hotel provided squirt bottles with shampoo, conditioner and body wash. I only hope that they get cleaned between guests; otherwise, eww...

The bathroom door was rolling, but easier to move than at other Starwood hotels.

The room was very small. It was ok for one person, but two people would feel crowded.

The closet was a great size. I would recommend keeping your suitcase in there; otherwise, space would be tight.

It took me some time to find the dresser and finally found it to be "end table," to the left of the bed. It was very narrow to get to it, so don't expect to bring your suitcase to the dresser.

The right "end table" held the mini bar and snack cabinet. It was suppose to be locked (the front desk asked if I needed the key), but it wasn't. I forgot to take a picture. The desk had multiple electric outlets and places to plug into the network.

When I went to bed, the noise from the heating units outside my window was very loud. At first, I thought it was landing planes, as the hotel is in the path of the airport. However, flights end at midnight and the noise did not. The next morning I found the culprit:

Due to the shape of the building, any room numbered 2 will have this noise all night long.

The hotel had a great gym on the third floor of the hotel. It is shared with the condominium owners.

I worked out twice. Once when I arrived and the next morning.

The hotel has many sitting areas to the left and right of the check-in desk.

I decided to eat breakfast at their restaurant, Amuse.There is little to eat in Rosslyn, on the weekends. All the fast food restaurants are open, but if you want real food expect to go to Georgetown over the bridge.

Amuse is a nicely decorated restaurant with a bar area in the front.

The dining area is in the back. The dining area is filled with natural light with floor to ceiling windows that over look the Potomac and Georgetown. The restaurant has outdoor seating, but it was foggy  rainy and cold, when I ate there.

The breakfast offers were two buffets: cold and hot. The cold buffet was $8 and included fruit, pastries, cereal and yogurt:

The hot buffet was $15 included everything on the cold buffet, eggs, pancakes, french toast, sausage, bacon etc.

I choose the hot buffet and it was terrible. The food was luke warm and rubbery. I should have gone with my gut and stuck with the cold buffet. Juice, coffee and tea were included with either buffet.

The stay was ok. The location of the hotel is amazing. Rosslyn is located on two metro lines that get you into Washington, DC downtown or the monuments within 10 minutes. If you are driving, the hotel is within 3 minutes of multiple major highways. However, the hotel does not offer much. It is not a great hotel for families as there is no pool or places for the kids to run around. For business people, this hotel is great. Easy access to DC, Reagan National Airport or other places in Northern Virginia.