Category Archives: Now Boarding

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Now Boarding: United changes its frequent flier program

Photo by Todd MacDonald

You used to be able to take 35,000 frequent flier miles and travel to Hawaii, which was the best use of miles since Hawaii is so far and so expensive.

That was the game plan for me and Jon to do over this Thanksgiving, now that we’ve reached the 35,000 mile mark on United.

However, United quietly – very very quietly – released new changes to its frequent flier program that made it impossible for me to get to Hawaii for 35,000 miles. In fact, it will be 40,000 miles… ONE WAY.


The “saver” version is 20,000 miles one-way, so you could theoretically get a round-trip for 40,000 to Hawaii, but nobody is ever that lucky. In fact, I was just looking online around Thanksgiving, which is five months away, and no such ticket exists. Perhaps if I looked for next April I’ll be lucky.

I checked other airlines to see if anyone else has jumped on the baggage cart, but it seems only United has done this. However, others, like American, are allowing you to book one-way tickets using miles, for 12,500, a nice change from when you had to book a round-trip only for 25,000.

The key? Don’t rely on your miles to get you somewhere but use them for a flexible trip way off in the distant future. I don’t doubt that other airlines will start to add more restrictions to their awards programs as well. They are still a great way to fund a trip that can otherwise cost a couple thousand dollars, so use them wisely.

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Now Boarding: Delta miles don’t expire anymore

In a bold move to be different from the rest of the airlines, Delta announced this week that its frequent flier miles will not expire anymore. Yay!

Several airlines started adding end dates to the frequent flier miles that passengers work so hard to earn – forcing many to subscribe to magazines (using miles) they didn’t really want just so they could say they “spent” some miles before they expired.

The change is effective starting January 1, 2011.



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Now Boarding: Airline fees are up nearly 50 percent

A recent analysis by USA Today recently showed that airline fees have jumped almost 50 percent since a year ago. !! Yes, for reals. Not only do you have to pay for checked baggage, change fees, priority boarding, priority seating (like United‘s “Economy Plus” section), companies like Spirit Air charge for carry-on baggage, US Airways and Allegiant Air charge for booking a ticket by phone, and even Continental, Hawaiian, American and US Airways charge for issuing a receipt seven days after a flight is taken.

Add in charging for meals, drinks, headphones, movies, and whatever else, and soon you’ll be buying your own jet and flying it yourself places. In total, the U.S. airline industry has made about $2.1 billion in revenue from fees alone, which could – I suppose – help its survival.

The bigger issue that arises from this analysis is that the added fees makes it more difficult to comparison shop flights. This is less difficult if you’re like, say, me, who only carries-on and does not need to board before everyone because priority boarding doesn’t get you to your destination any faster – and since I’m not THAT tall, I don’t need extra legroom – so I haven’t contributed to the $2.1 billion revenue. But it is tempting – after all, what’s $10 here, $25 here? You’ll grumble, but you’ll then just let it go. Build it all together into one price, however, and you’ll see your $259 supersaver deal to Miami suddenly escalate to nearly $360. Make it a family of four, or a company department of 15, and you’ll have just added almost $100 extra per traveler.

Anyway, there’s no real lesson to be learned here other than to be aware of what the total price of your ticket will be after you add all those additional bells and whistles. The search engines (like Kayak) haven’t quite caught on to adding buttons so you can search with the extra fees calculated into the total, partly because the fees keep changing.

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Now Boarding: the Skyrider airline seat

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. An Italian company, Aviointeriors, has invented a new airline seat that resembles a horse’s saddle. Known as the “Skyrider,” it’s been said to be the “least comfortable” seat but will provide about 40 percent more seating per plane, and airlines could charge less for such a seat. It’s also been described as a “bar stool” with a seatbelt. Perhaps riders of those seats will get drinks throughout the flight to help them forget what a terrible idea this ever was. (I was always a fan of Italian designers – until now).

There are airlines who are interested, including Ryanair and China’s Spring Airlines. And why not? With the industry hurting, it will get people to fly. Ryanair says it would offer such seats for flights of 90 minutes or less.  Truthfully, I suppose I could withstand a flying bar stool for 90 minutes, so thankfully Ryanair is thinking in that direction. But are other airlines going to do the same – or actually expect passengers to fly those cross-country? Maybe next we’ll just have rows of walls with belts, and we’ll just have standing room-only sections at the back of the plane.

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Now Boarding: This Week’s Travel headlines

Happy Wednesday Travelers! Here’s an update in travel news: 

JETBLUE was offering $10 tickets to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of service, to be purchased yesterday and today, but the promotion was so successful it sold out. 

CHINA has lifted a 20-year ban on travelers with HIV and AIDS that prevented them from entering the country. The Border Quarantine Law was amended recently, in light of the Shanghai Expo 2010. 

LIBYA’S plane crash has one lone survivor, an 8-year-old Dutch boy. The Afriqiyah Airways plane from Johannesburg crashed while attempting to land at its destination in Tripoli, Libya, killing nearly 100 passengers on board. Investigations are still underway. The airline, based in Tripoli, has no prior history of crashes or accidents. 



British Airways is threatening another strike by the cabin crew this summer. The 20-day walkoff could affect hundreds of thousands of passengers, including 90,000 who travel through Heathrow alone each day in summer. This would interfere with soccer fans trying to get to South Africa for the World Cup in June. The strike is in response to British Airways’ removing travel perks to those who were striking in March.

MEXICO TRAVEL WARNING EXTENDED. The US State Department has extended its travel advisory to Mexico to include three more states: Michoacan and Tamaulipas, as well as parts of Sinaloa. Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila. These include popular tourist attractions, such as Copper Canyon and the monarch butterfly mountains of Michoacan. These areas have recently experienced violence and organized crime related to drugs. The Mexican government is working to protect travelers, and millions still visit Mexico safely. However, it warns that gangs may use new tactics, such as blocking roads with stolen vehicles and hijacking cars, at times and places that are still unpredictable.

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Now Boarding: United merges with Continental

The news is out: United Airlines is buying out Continental Airlines, a $3 billion merger that will make United the world’s biggest airline.

As long as the merger wins approval from the Justice Department’s anti-trust department, the merged airline will be headquartered out of Chicago (United’s current headquarters and major hub).

What does this mean to passengers? Well, it looks like airlines keep swallowing each other up until there is just one giant airline…  and Southwest. This news come only months after Delta took over Northwest Airlines. Of course, the government would never allow this to happen, but what it will mean is fewer seats and higher ticket prices. Likely your frequent flier miles will also be moved to United, which is good for people like me because I rarely fly Continental unless I really want to be in New Jersey. United will take over Continental’s main hub of Newark Airport, as well as all the other cities it services. For the areas they overlap is where service will be cut – at the expense of passengers.

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Now Boarding: Charging for carry-ons

Now airlines are charging for what? Yes, Spirit Airlines is charging for CARRY-ON luggage. It is news that is rocking the travel industry and poor Spirit Airlines is shielding itself from hurled tomatoes and huffing customers taking their business elsewhere. The small discount airline, which flies to 40 destinations, mainly out of Miami to the Caribbean, South America, Central America and parts of the U.S., is charging $45 for bin space above seats but not for bags which fit under the seat. Spirit says that, by charging for luggage but not personal items which fit under the seat, the airline can continue to offer lower ticket fares and checked baggage (which currently cost $19 for the first bag if you purchase online, or $25 at the airport, and $25 for the second bag regardless if you buy online or at the airport). It also argues that by checking your bags, there will be fewer people trying to cram their suitcases into the overhead bins, which causes long lines, delays, and grumpy passengers. Hence, by its philosophy, encouraging passengers to check bags for less makes happier people and on-time arrivals.

In response, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United and US Airways have all pledged not to charge passengers for carry-on. But while the airlines pat themselves on the back for extending this generous offer to its customers, be aware that you’ll probably end up paying those fees regardless – in the form of higher priced tickets.

In Europe, budget airlines like RyanAir only allow one carry-on item, and it must be under 10 kilos, or you have to check it and pay the checked baggage fee anyway. Spirit Airlines is merely adopting what its foreign counterparts have been practicing all along, except $45 is a heftier sum than what its passengers may have expected. But when you were once used to seeing flights from New York to Chicago for $200 may start at $250… so your carry-on baggage has been paid for already.

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