spreadsheets and suitcases

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Bits & Pieces: Alaska/Virgin America surprise and Daily Getaways

  • Wow- in a surprise move, this week Alaska Air Group (which is the holding company for Alaska Airlines) announced that it was acquiring Virgin America, with the deal announced now, the purchase (hopefully) officially approved by Jan 2017, and the 2 airlines flying under a single operating certificate by 1st quarter 2018.  See the combined route map below.  Of course, there might be some consolidation to the map over time.  What does this mean for us in Hawaii?  On first glance- not much.  Adding Virgin America to Alaska’s route network doesn’t open up any new routes/cities to/from the islands directly.  But I do see some new connection cities, like Fort Lauderdale (where JetBlue announced directs flights to Quito from last year).  Here’s the full press release, and some handy FAQs.

Alaska Virgin America combined route

  • Virgin America currently has a referral bonus for joining their frequent flyer program, called Elevate.  If you are already a member and want to get some points for referring others, start at flightswithbennies.com.  Both the referrer and the referred get 500 points.  You can also leave your referral link in the comments for any reader to use.  I’m currently assuming that any Elevate points you currently have will be converted into Alaska Airlines miles by 2018, so it’s a good idea to stock up where you can.
  • Finally, the U.S. Travel Association is currently offering their yearly month of travel-related offers, called Daily Getaways.  I didn’t see anything that would work for me this year, but last year I was able to take good advantage of the $50 Alamo gift card for $25 offer that will be up for grabs soon- I wound up purchasing 3 certificates and paid very little for my rental from Pittsburgh to Newark.  I was intrigued by the Busch Gardens ticket offer, for a trip to Washington DC/colonial Williamsburg/Busch Gardens Williamsburg I hope to piece together for 2017.  $45 + tax per person.  Pretty good deal, considering rack rate prices are $77 + tax per adult, a bit less for kids.  But when reading the fine print, <dead horse> I learned that the tickets would expire before the projected date of our trip, so it was a no-go.  Also, the Busch Gardens site has various vacation packages available, which have nice value-added options like free parking or even free food.  So I’ll look into those once I can lock some more dates/details in place.
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Bits & Pieces: Virgin America, American Airlines, Fantasmic!

  • Virgin America announced daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL) beginning in May, with an introductory rate of $169 (one way, plus taxes/fees).  Also on offer, LAX-Kahului (OGG), beginning in June, same introductory rate.  Details here, press release here.
  • American Airlines is bringing back free snacks in Economy on transcontinental flights in February, and will expand that to all domestic flights by April.  Of particular interest to us:

Starting in May, complimentary meal service will be available in the Main Cabin on all flights between Hawaii and Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

  • The Disney Parks Blog is live-streaming Fantasmic! from Disney’s Hollywood Studios in WDW today at 6:50p EST, that’s 1:50p HST.  Go the blog for the link, and enjoy!
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Sigh: American AAdvantage program changes

Following in the ignominious footsteps of Delta and United, American Airlines has announced that they are changing their frequent flyer program to be revenue-based versus distance-based.  Plus they updated their Award mileage Chart, and it’s a mixed bag for travelers beginning their journeys in Hawaii.

aa logo

Here’s the full press release, and the page explaining the details.  Blahblahblahinnovationcakes.  They are simply following the other legacy carriers in this, and pretending they are doing something new.  This seems meant to reward only business travelers, who don’t pay for their own tickets and tend to book more last-minute travel, so those fares are usually the expensive, fully-refundable kind.

Here’s their example of how the earning would work (let’s ignore this example person’s crazy decision to choose a fare that includes $458 in fees on top of their fare):

AAdvantage member flying round-trip on an American marketed flight from Dallas (DFW) to London-Heathrow (LHR):

Elite status Base fare (USD) Carrier imposed fees (USD) Miles/USD Award miles earned
AAdvantage member $1,436 $458 5 9,470
Gold $1,436 $458 7 13,258
Platinum $1,436 $458 8 15,152
Executive Platinum $1,436 $458 11 20,834

Here’s mine:

AAdvantage member flying round-trip on an American marketed flight from Dallas (DFW) to London-Heathrow (LHR):

Elite status Base fare(USD) Carrier imposed fees (USD) Award miles earned today Award miles earned as of 3/22/16
AAdvantage member $1,436 $458 (why??? LHR airport, that’s why) 8,256 9,470

With their chart, they are hoping to show that you get more miles using the revenue-based program. But today, you would get the 8,256 miles whether you overpaid for this ticket like the sample person, or whether you were smart and bought your tickets during a sale.  Pay $1900 or $900, you still get 8,256 miles as a general member, more if you have some sort of status.

What does this have to do with the price of macadamia nuts? Let’s get down to the Hawaii-specific stuff. Currently, the MileSAAver Off-Peak price for one-way mileage to the mainland, including Canada and Alaska, is 17.5k.  Sure, it’s hard to find availability, and it’s capacity-controlled.  But it exists, so for a family of 4 to get to the mainland during an Off-Peak time, you only need 70k miles.  Reminder on the Off-Peak dates as they stand now…Hawaii: January 12 – March 13, August 22 – December 15

Here’s the updated award chart (edited to concentrate on travel to regions I talk about in this blog):

Main Cabin

To: MileSAAver
Off Peak
MileSAAver AAnytime
Level 1
AAnytime
Level 2
Contiguous 48 U.S. states 20,000 22,500 40,000 50,000
Canada & Alaska 25,000 40,000 50,000
Central America 25,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 1 30,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 2 40,000 55,000 75,000
Europe 40,000 47,500 65,000

So now the family of 4 needs 80k miles just to get to the mainland.  One-way.  This is easily achieved with the various credit card sign-up bonuses the adults can take advantage of, but it sets the goal line further back.  Interestingly, they are also now changing the Off-Peak dates to be different whether you are traveling FROM Hawaii or TO Hawaii. Check it out:

Hawaii Off-Peak Dates:
TO Hawaii: December 29 – March 12, August 11 – November 18, November 24 – December 10
FROM Hawaii: January 7 – March 19, August 18 – November 27, December 3 – December 25

Seems to me that they are recognizing that more people are coming here for the winter holidays than going out, and they can squeeze more miles out of them, but not us.  I’d call this a net win.

now what

So, overall, I think my strategy is going to be doing the math on every ticket purchase with AA.  If I’ll get the same mileage as the distance flown, I’ll credit the flight to AAdvantage.  If it’s lower, I’ll credit to Alaska Airlines, whose mileage program is still distance-based, and who allows redemptions on American Airlines flights.

<muttering> Change is good, change is good…

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Island Air College Student Standby Program- $35 one-way!

This new pilot program by Island Air is a pretty good deal if:

  • you are a college student at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, University of Hawaiʻi West Oahu, and five community colleges (Honolulu Community College, Kapiolani Community College, Leeward Community College, Maui College and Windward Community College, and
  • are traveling between Oahu, Maui, and Lanai, and
  • have a flexible enough schedule to be able to buy your ticket at the airport (no online purchase since it is a Standby fare), and of course, be able to stand by for several hours if necessary, and
  • are traveling between now and Dec. 31st, 2015 (I think…there is a countdown timer of 61 days, 4 hours, and 30 minutes on the offer page right now…so, by my math, that’s 3:45 am on 12/31/15).

island college1

This seems like a great thing for the holidays!  There is no maximum # of times you can use the fare, you must present your University/student ID AND with your federal or state ID, the $35 includes (1) federal transportation segment tax and one (1) security fee (other taxes, fees, and restrictions may apply).  Subject to seat availability, duh.

Read the full press release here.  Check their flight schedule on IslandAir.com, or consult my Inter-Island Chart. Happy flying!

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Alaska Airline Visa- free checked luggage now a benefit for cardholders!

Do you recall when I complained that Alaska Airlines Visa cardholders still had to pay for checked luggage?  Remember that time when I explained that Alaska Airlines Visa cards are a super value despite the annual fee because of the Companion Fare, now if only they would drop the checked baggage fee?  Also, I was kind of a pest about it to the CC company, and reminded them that it was a benefit that I wanted for this card every single time Bank of America sent me a survey or I had to call and speak with a rep.

IT WORKED!  Behold the glory, from the new application landing page:

Bold red box is mine.

Bold red box is mine.

Yes!!!!  This has been your Good News Monday, that’s the only good news from this past ……j/k.  This also happened this weekend:

YAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSS.

YAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSS.

 Hope everyone had a good 4th of July!

 

 

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Crud. AA changes redemption options on Hawaiian Airlines…

Via aa.com:

aa hi 9-1-15

So basically this means that you won’t be able to use your AA miles (AAdvantage) to book flights to/from the mainland on Hawaiian Airlines starting this September.  You can still use AA miles to book interisland flights, and US-Asia/South Pacific flights, just not to the US mainland.

This means that the HNL-JFK nonstop will not be an option unless:

  • you have 40k HawaiianMiles to book the Coach SuperSaver RT directly through Hawaiian (20k for one-way), assuming you find availability.
  • you use 30k Korean SkyPass miles to book the Hawaiian codeshare RT (it must be a round-trip redemption, since Korean only allows one-way awards for travel on Korean metal), for a total of 120k miles for a family of 4.  Boo.

It’s easy enough to get HawaiianMiles nowadays.  You can transfer Chase Ultimate rewards points to Korean SkyPass at a 1:1 ratio, too.

I was planning on booking that exact flight for our trip to the east coast next fall (and braving my 1st Hawaii-East Coast nonstop!).  Now I won’t be able to, since you can only book up to 330 days ahead.  We want to go in November 2016, and the farthest ahead I’d be able to book before this change goes into effect is July 2016.  I realize this is not a huge problem in my life.

Thanks for the reality check, Daria.

Thanks for the reality check, Daria.

You can still get to the East Coast from Hawaii on American or Alaska using AAdvantage miles, but you’d have to connect somewhere.  Sigh.  I’ll be updating the “Strategies…Hawaiian Airlines” post to reflect the upcoming change.

Hope everyone had a nice Father’s Day!

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Bits & Pieces: JetBlue to Ecuador, Island Air Explorers program, Disney update

  • There is a new nonstop flight option from the mainland to Quito, Ecuador!  This is big news for our small country.  Does it help me at all?  Absolutely not.  But let’s delve deeper into the details to be sure. On 5/14/15, a press release announced that JetBlue will begin operating a once-daily nonstop from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) to Quito (UIO) during the 1st quarter of 2016, pending gov’t approval, of course.  For all you mileage junkies, remember that JetBlue’s frequent flyer program, TrueBlue,  has sort of a convoluted points/miles redemption system based on price to determine how many points are necessary for a given flight.  I do hear about many 2x and 3x points promos from them fairly frequently though, and they have a co-branded credit card that awards 20K JetBlue points after the minimum spend is reached.  JetBlue does some codesharing w/American Airlines…so if there were ever a HNL-FLL flight, I might be able to use AA miles to book the route, then use the FLL-UIO flight?  Who am I kidding, why would I ever fly into Quito and miss the huge group of family members that can and do come to wait for me at the Guayaquil airport?  Initial assessment confirmed: this is useless to me.  But yay for Floridians who won’t have to go to Miami for their flights to my beautiful homeland.

ecuador176

  • As I was digging around on the Island Air website (digging around on travel/hotel/airline websites is what I do during downtime at work, when I’m not playing Frozen Free Fall or planning my Disney trips, of course), I saw this information about the Island Air Explorers Program.  It’s basically an internship program for kids age 14-20 who are interested in careers in aviation.  From the website:

    This unique, “hands-on” program highlights many of the interesting aspects of a career in aviation. Topics include:
    •What makes an airplane fly
    •How to use a computer reservations system
    •The safety features of the ATR-72 aircraft
    •How flight and weather data is received and used by flight crews
    •What pilots look for during a “walk-around” aircraft inspection
    •What happens to the aircraft at night in the hangar
    •How flight attendants prepare for a flight

    The program also provides an opportunity to learn about various airline-related occupations including the job demands of Pilots, Flight Attendants, Customer Service personnel (including Reservations/Ticketing and Airport Operations), Ramp Operations personnel (including fueling and commissary), Mechanics and aircraft maintenance staff, and Dispatch and Crew Scheduling workers. Additionally, program participants learn about career skills, customer relationship management, and corporate responsibility.

    Participants will also enjoy facility tours, which may include the Transportation Security Administration and Airport Operations Areas, the ATC tower, and the Airport Rescue Fire Fighter station.

    I think it sounds super-cool.  It surprises no one that my daughter loved traveling from a very early age, and has over the years declared her intent to become an airport worker, flight attendant, pilot, and designer of airplanes.  This would be something I might encourage her to do….if it weren’t associated with Boy Scouts of America (BSA).  I just won’t give them any money, even the very reasonable $50 program cost, because of their policies on who is enough of a boy to be a Scout.  Some things have changed for the better, but I still have a bad taste in my mouth about it.  This is a personal choice, so if you don’t have any objections to BSA the program sounds awesome.  Living on an island guarantees that the airport will be a reliable place to find/keep a job.  So getting local kids involved in something like this is great.

     

  • Disney update: so everybody knows that Disney now owns Lucasfilm, the studio that brought us the Star Wars films, among many, many other great movies.  This was a good fit, I think.  Disney has had Star Tours, a Star-Wars-themed ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, since 1987.  I remember riding it in 1989, having recently watched the 3 original Star Wars movies.  The motion-simulator aspect was fabulous at the time, but by my next ride on it in 2001, it was feeling and looking a bit rough. Now, with the new partnership with Lucasfilm, Disney has significantly updated the ride technology and implemented a random storyline element.  Plus, there have been 3 prequels released in theaters since my last trip to the forest moon of Endor.  All this is to say that I decided I must catch up on my Star Wars movie-watching so I could understand the storylines on the updated ride!  [Side note: the franchise uses Roman numerals in the movie titles, but I mostly stuck with regular numbers here for ease of understanding] I took a methodical approach to decide whether to watch the Star Wars move in order of theatrical release (Episodes 4, 5, and 6, followed by Episodes 1,2, and 3), or in chronological storyline order (Episodes 1-2-3-4-5-6): I asked my Facebook and real-life friends.  I got wildly different responses, ranging from “don’t even bother with Episodes 1-2-3 [the recently-released prequels], pretend they don’t exist,” to “it was helpful to me to see them in order because I had no references to draw from, having never seen the early ones.”  I talked about this for days and still couldn’t decide.  So I decided to play library roulette:  I requested both the Episode 1 and Episode 4 DVDs.  Whichever request came through first would determine my viewing order.  As it happened, the Episode 1 DVD came in first, so I have been watching them in chronological storyline order.  My viewing enjoyment has also increased as the movies progress.  I pretty much forced myself to finish watching Episode 1, liked Episode 2 better, and have thoroughly enjoyed Episodes 3 and 4 (Episode IV: A New Hope is the 1st Star Wars movie released in theaters back in the late 70s).  Episode 5 is waiting for me at home, Episode 6 is on its way from the library.  By the time I’m done, I will have invested many hours into understanding and enjoying just 1 Disney ride!  Dedication, folks.  If the Star Wars-Disney connection leaves one lasting contribution to history, please let it be this incredible pun:

darth tater

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The Junk Drawer: bits of pieces of a bunch of different stuff

This is appropriate post, since I’m right in the middle of moving house and have a bunch of stuff that needs a new home.  For now…they go in the junk drawer.  Or in my case, “junk box.”  My fellow island dwellers know that bugs get into everything, and a bunch of loose items in a drawer is irresistible to roaches.  So I keep my extra screwdriver, birthday candles, and take-out menus in a clear plastic shoebox.   Anyway, since I’m up to be elbows in moving boxes, no time for a good write-up.  Here’s my “junk drawer post” of varying travel/organization/Disney items.

united hawaii promo

  • Alaska Airlines is offering a checked bag promo, 1000 Alaska MileagePlan miles if you Self-Tag at homeYAY…..maybe?  While our Alaska Airlines flights to Orlando are within the promo period, the rules stipulate that you must credit the flight to Alaska to get the bag bonus.  We always credit our flights on Alaska to American Airlines, as they are more valuable to us.  But now that I think about it, we can probably have my little guy credit his flight to Alaska and get a miles bonus for him!  My kids have their frequent flyer numbers and earn miles for flying, but we don’t redeem their miles for family travel- mom and dad do the heavy lifting there.  Let those miles accumulate and they’ll have a nice stash to use for trips to Grandma’s, study abroad, etc.  What I’m saying is, he has plenty of time to earn more American miles before he’ll have a need to redeem them, so crediting this one flight to Alaska makes sense if it earns him some miles.  YAY, YES!
  • Disney has released its Free Dining Promo for 2015.  Our trip fits neatly outside of the eligible dates, sigh.  Not that we would have been able to take advantage of it anyway- as has been the case the last 2 years, the Free Dining Promo cannot be used with the Standard (Little Mermaid) Rooms at the Art of Animation Resort.  Oh well- at least it eliminates the worrying over how to get the biggest value out of each and every snack/meal credit.

That’s all for now!  Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s back to packing I go!

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Virgin America will begin SFO-HNL and SFO-OGG later this year!

Today, Virgin America announced 2 new routes to Hawaii. On November 2nd, daily service will begin to and from San Francisco (SFO) and Honolulu (HNL). And on December 3rd, they will add daily service to and from San Francisco (SFO) and Kahului, Maui (OGG), with 2 different departure times depending on the day of the week. The schedule will look like this:

Virgin America's upcoming schedule

Virgin America’s upcoming schedule

They celebrated the announcement today by offering free Mai Tais to passengers at SFO.  They’re also celebrating with a fare sale: select flights will be $199 plus taxes each way.  Tickets at that price must be purchased by April 8 (yes, tomorrow), and are good for travel between November 2nd and February 28th, 2016 for the SFO-HNL route, and between December 3rd and February 28th, 2016 for the SFO-OGG route.  There are some blackout dates, pretty much the usual peak holiday travel days.

Virgin’s frequent flyer program is called Elevate.  It’s points-based versus region-based, meaning that the points cost is based on the cash price, so you have silly redemption numbers like 8559 points for the $199 fare.  I’ll update the post on Hawaiian Airlines, since Virgin America is a transfer partner.

My take?  I’ve never flown Virgin America, but it might be fun to try, what with the mood lighting and free food in Main Cabin Select.  Anything that fosters airfare competition to Hawaii is good for us!

This official photo of an official Virgin America plane is officially not set in Hawaii.  Yet.

This official photo of an official Virgin America plane is officially not on a runway in Hawaii. Yet.

For full details, see the full press release.  Note: Virgin America is a separate entity from Virgin Atlantic, though Sir Richard Branson (that silly prankster) does own some of it.

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Using the Alaska Airlines Low Price Guarantee

The eternal question: buy air tickets right away when you see an acceptable price, or wait to see if the price comes down?  Unless you have elite status with an airline, and can therefore eliminate the Change Fee, it’s generally not worth the financial hit to make a change to your non-refundable reservation to take advantage of a price drop.

Cancelling/rebooking a flight due to a price change usually falls into the “change” category.  Here is a handy chart outlining most major airline fees, as well as information on how/when to cancel or change your reservation.  Southwest doesn’t have any change fees, but they don’t fly to Hawaii so that benefit is of limited use to us.  I agree wholeheartedly with this blogger’s approach to leaving cancellations until pretty close to the departure date (tip #3).  If the carrier changes the flight schedule by ~5 hours or more (for American; other airlines use anything from 3-8 hours as the criteria), you can usually request a different route to your destination or cancel your ticket altogether without cancellation fees (even for a nonrefundable ticket) because the airline itself changed the schedule by an unacceptable amount.  You generally want to call them to see your options- be aware that they may charge a phone fee if you make changes, something nominal like $25.  Still better than $200!

On that topic, Alaska Airlines has a good benefit that I took advantage of last week.  They advertise a Low Price Guarantee.  This means that you can get a refund of the difference if you find a lower fare for your exact itinerary (including flight #s).  You can find a lower fare on a competitor’s site within 24 hrs of booking on alaskaair.com to claim a refund, or you can find a lower fare on alaskaair.com before your travel date to claim a credit into your “Wallet.”  Make sure your flights qualify, there are some restrictions (notably, it’s valid only for flights on Alaska metal and some little regional services they use).  But if your reservation fits the specifics, it’s pretty easy to go through the process using their online form.  To be clear, you can’t use this process to change your flights dates/times, only to take advantage of a price drop with your same itinerary. Here is my original receipt:

Before...

Before…

And here is my new receipt after submitting the claim:

and After!

and After!

As you can see, I was actually charged $0.45 for my Companion Traveler’s tax difference.  They used my credit card on file…I hope my credit score is OK after that 45-cent hit 🙂  More importantly, I got a credit of $84.99 into my online Wallet to use on any future Alaska flight.  I must use the funds to book travel by late January 2016; actual travel can take place whenever.

Finally, a note about change fees in general.  Many complain about having change fees at all, citing Southwest as an example.  This airline apparently can absorb the “extra administrative costs” (rolling my eyes, it’s an hourly worker clicking a few thing into a computer) incurred by having a passenger change their itinerary, flight dates, etc, while other major airlines pass the cost along to the customer.  Non-change-farers actually want the airline to track the price and refund them automatically as the ticket prices drop.  To them I say, well, you wouldn’t want to continually be charged more if the ticket price goes up, do you?  Slippery slope, that.

Others protest that having some change fee is fair, but the actual cost is outrageous (I agree, $200 is not insignificant to a travel budget).  I fall into this second camp.  Life happens, and plans sometimes need to change.  If the airlines want to foster some goodwill with a traveler and their family in order to keep them as a customer, they’d bring these costs down.  Charging a flat $200 to change a $180 fare or $1800 fare is madness.  I’d love to see a sliding scale change fee structure, based on a percentage of the base fare cost.  Anyone? Bueller?

BTW, totally thinking of using up my flight credit on a family trip to……

Never been, always wanted to.  Nonstop flights, woo!

Never been, always wanted to. Nonstop flights, woo!

 

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