All posts in Airlines

One-on-One with Jason Steele, Credit Card & Travel Rewards Expert

In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Jason Steele, Credit Card and Travel Rewards Expert. Jason, in addition to being a travel rewards guru, has also worked as a commercial pilot and contributes to several of the top personal finance sites, including Credit.com, The Points Guy, Business Insider and many others, as well as his own blog, Steele Street. Jason shares his up-to-the-minute tips and information surrounding the dynamics of frequent flyer rewards.

I am a huge fan of Southwest Rapid Rewards and their Companion Pass. This is the only program that offers reward tickets worth even more than revenue tickets… After that, I love American as their award chart still has reasonable prices, such as business class to Europe for 100,000 miles.”

– Jason Steele, Credit Card and Travel Rewards Expert


What are some of the key changes you’ve observed in points and mileage programs lately? Which have the biggest impact – good and bad – on air travelers?
The obvious trend is the move towards revenue based mileage accrual by Delta, and having it quickly being copied, almost word for word, by United. This will work out great for those who fly on expensive walk up fares paid for by their client or company, but pretty poorly for everyone else. This is by design as Delta execs are very clear that they are going after high value business travelers and feel little need to reward leisure travelers and others who may be price-sensitive.

Yet many reward travel enthusiasts are somewhat indifferent to these changes since flying has always been a poor way to accumulate miles. It can take days upon days of air travel to accumulate the tens of thousands of miles you can earn in minutes from a credit card bonus or a good promotion.

The airline industry is consolidating and a-la-carte pricing is masquerading as cheap airfare. How can savvy air travelers – both frequent flyers and typical leisure travelers – effectively gain perks in this environment?
I don’t mind the a-la-cart pricing, so long as the airline is delivering something tangible. Food, drinks, WiFi, checked baggage, extra legroom, and in-flight entertainment are all fair game in my opinion. On the other hand, I find charging for carry-on bags to be obnoxious, and charging for non-upgraded seat assignments to be a pretty nasty way to extort family travelers by forcing them to pay to sit with their own children. To gain perks in this environment, I simply avoid the carriers that play these games and stay loyal to those that don’t. And if your travel is paid by a company or client, perhaps you can bundle these benefits in with a fare that is acceptable and come out ahead.

Do you think Frequent Flyer Rewards programs will eventually do away with the highly sought after advantages for elites, like seat upgrades and free travel?
No, I don’t think so. There are a huge number of people who will happily pay extra (or have their client or employer pay extra), just for the chance to be upgraded to first class. Likewise, the idea of free travel is so alluring that the reward credit card industry is practically based on it. It’s only when these fantasies don’t live up to the reality that a minority start to become disaffected and look elsewhere.

Frankly, I see this loyalty model being adopted by hotels, car rental agencies, and, I predict, even by companies outside the travel industry. Imagine if your grocery store had a priority checkout lane for its best customers, or an electronics manufacturer offered upgrades to its latest gadget to its elite members first. That seems more likely than frequent flier programs going away.

Do you see the overall value of loyalty program miles and points increasing or decreasing? Is it worth saving your miles or spend them because of potential devaluation?
While the absolute value of a point or miles continues to erode with devaluation, I see the relative value remaining stable. That is to say that you will always need more points or miles next year than you will this year, but there seem to always be new ways to earn those miles in greater quantities. And when you throw in the increased quality of premium airlines seats, the effect is largely a wash. For example, ten years ago, you might have to fly international first class to enjoy a flat bed seat, but now a similar seat is offered in business class. And back then, you earned just one mile per dollar spent on your credit card, but now, you might earn 2x, 3x, or even 5x. So I do warn people not to sit on large mileage balances for years, but I am not worried that the age of award travel is ending.

How do you see alliances, such as Oneworld and Star Alliance, affecting the value of miles? Do you prefer one over the other?
These alliances do amazing things for the value of your miles, as you can utilize them on so many different partners, not just the carrier you earned them with. And the real value is for people who know enough to search Expertflyer for the awards that aren’t visible on the carrier’s web site.

That said, each has its own personality. Star Alliance has a strong presence in Europe and Africa, but is very weak in South America, China, and Australia. OneWorld is pretty weak in Europe, especially when you are trying to avoid fuel surcharges imposed by BA and Iberia. Skyteam is like a dysfunctional extended family that bickers all the time, but the pretty much own China.

Which credit card offers the most generous points or other travel benefits to customers?
As a credit card expert, I get this question a lot, and I won’t surprise anyone by saying Starwood. I once counted all of the airlines you could book awards with, including the Starwood transfer partners, and each of those airline’s partners, and came up with nearly 200! The Chase Ink cards are also a favorite of mine. Their transfer partners are not as numerous, but you just can’t beat earning 5x at office supply stores and on telecommunications services.

Which airlines offer the best rewards programs right now?
I am a huge fan of Southwest Rapid Rewards and their Companion Pass. This is the only program that offers reward tickets worth even more than revenue tickets, because they are fully refundable with no change fees. So when schedule changes, as it does frequently, and I don’t stress out about it. Meanwhile, my wife and I both have a Companion Pass, so our two kids travel for free.

After that, I love American as their award chart still has reasonable prices, such as business class to Europe for 100,000 miles. Their domestic award space can be amazing, while their partners usually can do the job internationally. Finally, they have no change fees for their awards, so long as the origin and destination remain the same, so you can book now and always try to find a better option later.

Do you recommend any tools or apps to help travelers manage their points/miles to their best advantage?
Like many, I use Award Wallet to keep track of my accounts. When researching an award booking, I often start with the Wikipedia page for the airports in the cities I am visiting, so I can learn which airlines fly which routes. I often use Great Circle Mapper, especially when booking awards on distance based programs. Finally, I always consult Seat Guru before choosing a seat assignment.

What loyalty program trends are you seeing take shape now and how will they affect business travelers and frequent flyers moving forward?
I am not seeing any company move towards greater simplicity, only complexity. For example, Delta’s new program seems to rival the Federal tax code, and even Southwest’s program is much more complicated than it used to be. Like the early days of personal computers, points and miles are becoming something that only serious hobbyists enjoy, while others become frustrated and give up. On the other hand, such complexity increases the demand for what I do, which is to try to help people make sense of these programs.

“Did you know…Worse days to fly & best days to book?”

Crowded Airport

(cc) Tony Hisgett via Flickr

A recent USA Today article cites the Wednesday before and the Sunday following Thanksgiving as the worst US travel days of the year.  Simply by moving your travel itinerary up one day so you depart on a Tuesday and return on a Saturday can save you as much as 30-50%.

That’s all well and good, but what are the best days and times to book a trip and what are the best resources for doing so?  According to America’s Digital Goddess, Kim Komando, airlines often announce deals on Monday evenings, so by noon on Tuesday, competitors are scrambling to match those deals.

Kim says, Tuesday afternoons are the best time to hunt for reduced airfare.  However, for leisure travelers, a study by Texas A&M University found that weekends are actually the best time to book airline tickets. That’s because airlines are more likely to lower their fares on Saturday and Sunday to attract leisure travelers.

So, what should you do? According to Kim, if you see one airline offering a deal on Monday, make plans to buy your tickets on Tuesday. If there are no deals going on, buy on the weekend.  To read Kim’s full post, click here.

 

ExpertFlyer Top Tweets

ExpertFlyer Top Tweets

RECENT TWEETS PEOPLE ARE READING FROM @EXPERTFLYER

ExpertFlyerOct 02, 6:27pm via IFTTT

New flight woes push Chicago cancellations to 5,000 for week ift.tt/1rBdfXU

ExpertFlyerOct 02, 9:36am via IFTTT

American Airlines adds four U.S. routes from its Miami hub ift.tt/1rzbkTE

ExpertFlyerOct 02, 9:20am via IFTTT

JetBlue Adds San Francisco – Las Vegasift.tt/1mUCa7m

ExpertFlyerOct 01, 8:36am via IFTTT

Sydney receives its first ‘Arch of Triumph’ award at World Routes in Chicago ift.tt/1tgYC7E

ExpertFlyerSep 30, 12:37pm via IFTTT

DOT urged to require airlines to sell ancillaries in GDSs ift.tt/1te2K8y

ExpertFlyerSep 30, 11:12am via IFTTT

Illinois: Worker Is Charged in Fire That Stalled Flights nytimes.com/2014/09/27/us/…

ExpertFlyerSep 29, 2:36pm via IFTTT

Qantas launches A380 service to Dallas/Fort Worth ift.tt/1rwdQYm

One on One with Jeff Erickson, CEO of PEOPLExpress Airlines

This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Jeff Erickson, CEO of PEOPLExpress Airlines. One-time president and CEO of Trans World Airlines (TWA) and Reno Air, Erickson talks to ExpertFlyer about his latest challenge in launching a new discount airline with a familiar name.

 Erickson, CEO PeoplExpres

 “We’re taking a fun, creative and innovative approach to air travel, dispelling the myth that low air fares have to mean low service or an impersonal experience.”

Jeff Erickson, CEO of PEOPLExpress Airlines

It’s been three months since you sold your first ticket to fly with PEOPLExpress (PEX).  How are travelers reacting to the new PEX?

People have been very receptive and supportive of our service from the beginning. We’re taking a fun, creative and innovative approach to air travel, dispelling the myth that low air fares have to mean low service or an impersonal experience. Every week more and more people are embracing our mission to restore the concepts of respect, value and excitement to the air travel experience. We’ve seen terrific support from all eight of our initial markets and we’re getting requests daily from many of our 34,000 Facebook fans requesting us to come to their market because many cities are underserved following airline consolidation or lack direct routes that are convenient for personal and business travel.

How does another new airline hope to compete against all the industry consolidation. What’s PEX’s unique value proposition to customers and how will you turn a profit?

We are taking advantage of industry consolidation, which has led to cities and routes being abandoned and some markets, like our base in Newport News, underutilized. There certainly is room for our niche business model. Our value proposition is to provide a low-cost, a la carte service model that enables customers to create a customized travel product reflecting their individual wishes and budgets. Customers can choose to fly at an ultra-low price with friendly and attentive service but minimal frills or they can opt to purchase extras they want to make their trip more enjoyable, such as priority boarding, pre-assigned seating or an upgrade to a Living Large™ seat with more personal space. While this is common in the industry, our difference is the level of service we provide and can-do attitude from check-in to arrival. It’s service and level of personal attention that makes a difference. People want to be treated with respect and know that they are heard. The team members we’re hiring for all customer contact positions are creative problem-solvers who are empowered to find solutions. That’s the PEOPLExpress difference. In terms of profit, the a la carte model, along with affordable base fares, provides the mix of revenues we need to succeed. Continue reading →

ExpertFlyer.com Announces Addition of US Airways Award and Upgrade Inventory for Customer Access

Addition of US Airways Flights Complements Existing American Airlines Operated Award / Upgrades on ExpertFlyer 

us airways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW YORK – September 17, 2014 – ExpertFlyer.com®, the premier online air travel information tool for business travelers and frequent flyers, announced today that US Airways will provide ExpertFlyer with access to its award and upgrade inventory effective immediately.  The addition of awards and upgrades from US Airways operated flights will complement the existing American Airlines operated award/upgrade data currently available to subscribers of ExpertFlyer, allowing travelers to create flight alerts for awards and upgrades with US Airways the same way they currently conduct searches with American.  ExpertFlyer’s goal is to provide convenience and value to its customers and has found more than 190,000 award and upgrade tickets for its customers since 2006.

“Our partnership with American has been beneficial to the airline, ExpertFlyer, and most importantly, our customers,” said Chris Lopinto, president and co-founder of ExpertFlyer.com.  “Our goal is provide our customers with important and oftentimes hard to find information all in one place.”

“We are pleased that customers who choose to fly US Airways will now have the same service from ExpertFlyer that they have had for American Airlines flights,” said Cory Garner, American’s managing director – distribution.  “This agreement provides another step toward a more seamless customer experience during the integration of our two airlines.”

The Awards & Upgrades feature of ExpertFlyer is the easiest way to find an award ticket or upgrade.  Simply enter the airline(s) you want to fly, the destination, the date(s), and search.  ExpertFlyer will show you in real-time the number of award tickets and/or upgrades available based on your query.  If you must take a particular flight where no upgrades are available, users can create a flight alert for as many as 30 different flights at one time.  If an award ticket or upgrade is found, ExpertFlyer will send instant notification.

About ExpertFlyer.com

Each month, ExpertFlyer’s One-on-One blog goes face-to-face with the travel industry’s leading decision makers to discuss and address topics relevant to many of today’s business and frequent travelers.

ExpertFlyer.com was conceived and created by an eclectic team consisting of a veteran elite tier frequent flyer, an airline captain and corporate travel manager, and information technology professionals to deliver a 24/7 real time powerful air travel information service.  The company provides its subscribers and corporate travel managers alike with a complete, concise and efficient way to access the ever-changing details of worldwide air travel information.  For more information, please visit expertflyer.com.

Stuck in the middle seat again?  Download the free Seat Alerts app from ExpertFlyer and get the window or aisle seat without hassle or frustration.

 

#  #  #