October Catch-Up

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A Mixed Bag of Changes to Alaska’s Mileage Plan

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Alaska Airlines has one of my favorite loyalty programs, so I tend to take careful note when they announce any program changes. In October, they they announced major cuts to the partnership with American Airlines. As of March 1, 2020 you will no longer be able to earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles on AA international flights (note: domestic flights have been ineligible since 2018). You also will no longer be able to redeem Mileage Plan miles for travel with American Airlines. Conversely, AAdvangtage members also will no longer be able to redeem AAdvantage miles for travel on Alaska Airlines.

As for why these things are happening, you need to look back to when Alaska acquired Virgin America. Prior to that the Alaska and AA route networks complemented each other well, but post acquisition, Alaska now competes on several AA routes and AA has been investing in their west coast route network based out of their LAX hub. These developments greatly reduce the need for cooperation between the two airlines. While disappointing, I feel this pull back was inevitable.

Alaska announced back in 2017 that they would partner with Singapore Airlines and offer reciprocal mileage earning as well as redemption opportunities. While reciprocal earning and the ability to book Alaska flights via KrisFlyer began at that time, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Singapore showed up as a bookable partner on the Mileage Plan site. It seems as though First Class isn’t available on all routing combinations and it doesn’t seem possible to redeem for flights on Singapore between the US and Europe. Since Alaska does offer a free stopover, there can be some solid opportunities for great award bookings via Singapore.

Speaking of Alaska’s stopover rules…they recently changed them to EXCLUDE stopovers when booking intra-Asia flights. At this time it doesn’t appear that stopovers in Asia between another region are affected. Example: Tokyo – Hong Kong – Singapore with a stopover in Hong Kong will not be allowed, while San Francisco – Hong Kong – Singapore with a stopover in Hong Kong will be allowed.

Global Entry Changes Coming, Bio-metric Security with Star Alliance, and Another Airport Allows Non-Flyers

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Global Entry, which is offered as a benefit on a number of premium credit cards, is stepping up its identification process which should make things easier for travelers and help get through process more quickly. US Customs and Border Patrol is currently testing facial recognition in lieu of fingerprinting at certain hubs and they expect to roll this out to more airports soon.

Star Alliance is also getting in on the facial recognition game and will soon allow passengers to upload selfies to be used for facial recognition. This would be used for check-in, baggage drop, and boarding. Lufthansa has invested in this technology already and non-Star Alliance airlines Delta and British Airways have already been testing and using facial recognition for boarding at select gates.

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Detroit now joins Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Tampa in allowing non-ticketed passengers through security. The current limit is set at 75 people per day, it is only available between 8am- 8pm, and requires pre-registration. It is nice to see that airports are starting to relax some security rules and in general I can’t find a compelling reason why I would want to go to an airport as a non-passenger, but can understand the desire of certain family members to see off a loved one or perhaps meet someone airside on a quick layover. Regardless, I welcome the relaxing of current rules and the option that provides interested individuals.

QF 7879 – The Longest Flight in the World (for a day)

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Qantas flew their new Boeing 787-9 not from Seattle back to Sydney, but detoured to New York in order to make a 20 hour flight back to Australia. But why? Well, for one there is certainly the publicity aspect as the public loves to hear about these ultra-long flights, but for Qantas at this stage it is for research. This flight is part of Project Sunrise, which is Qantas looking at the viability of ultra long distance flights connecting Australia with cities such as New York and London. The airline is studying the effects of ultra long flights on passengers and how to potentially tailor products and services to passengers based on what the observe during their research. At the earliest they say these ultra long flights could go live in 2022-23 (if they do at all).

Citi Adds New Transfer Partner, Earning MR with Rakuten, and Amex Extends (again) Lufthansa Lounge Access

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Citi Thank You points can now be transferred to Aeromexico, which brings the total partners to 14 (not including Jet Privilege of the non-operating Jet Airways). Over the past 24 months Citi has been slowly adding partners and while there haven’t been any earth shattering additions (cough cough American), the value of Thank You points has been gradually increasing and I welcome this latest addition.

Perhaps you are more of a Membership Rewards person…or maybe you want to be a Membership Rewards person? Back in February Rakuten allowed newly created accounts to earn Membership Rewards (while old accounts continued to earn cash back). Well, now those who had accounts prior to the change over can actually go into their account settings and switch over to earning Membership Rewards! The “catch” here is that you’ll need to have an eligible American Express card with Membership Rewards so that you will have a place to transfer the points earned through Rakuten. This is a great change and has the potential to offer tons of value to those who shop online a lot.

If you don’t have an American Express card that earns MR, my favorite one is the Amex Platinum. Over the past 2 years the Amex Platinum has slowly expanded its relationship with the Lufthansa lounges. First debuting in September 2017, lounge access was offered in Munich if you were flying on Lufthansa in any class of service. Then in 2018 they expanded the offer to include Frankfurt airport as well. The offer was set to expire at the end of October, but has yet again been extended until March 31, 2020. I’m not sure if American Express is trying to make this permanent, or if there is a larger partnership with Lufthansa in the works (similar to Delta), but whatever the reason, this is definitely a great perk for Amex Platinum cardholders!

American Airlines Continues to Expand Dynamic Award Pricing

Expected news here – dynamic pricing has continued to expand across the AA route network and calendar. But what does this really mean and should we be changing how we approach award values? Like with most things points related the answer is “maybe”…and “kinda.” At the end of October, we saw UNPRECEDENTED award fares to Australia and New Zealand at 6k AA points one way and 10k RT. Yes, that is not a typo, you could get a flight to/from the US and Australia for 5,000 American AAdvantage points. That. Is. Insane. What else is insane? Well, the fact that flying OW from Los Angeles to Sydney on Dec 18th, 19th, or 20th in Economy will cost 150k AA miles.

This is the “problem” with dynamic pricing. Consumers don’t know what a good vs. bad deal really is. With the old chart I could tell you MileSAAver from US to Australia would be 40k OW in Economy, AAnytime Level 1 would be 70k, and AAnytime Level 2 would be 90k. Unless you were in a dire situation or had tons of points to burn, many would stay away from AAnytime awards and would look to book MileSAAver. 40k points is a reasonable amount for an economy flight, 150k is downright insane (and literally “off the chart” mind you, as the AA chart never went that high for economy). This is the new reality with dynamic pricing, so be prepared to come up with your own value per point and warm up those calculator fingers, because figuring out what is a good deal is much less transparent than it used to be!

Air France Further Limits Who May Book La Premiere Award Tickets

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La Premiere has consistently been one of the best first class products available offering exquisite food, coveted seats, and an unparalleled lounge experience in Paris. It has always been difficult to book La Premiere using points as it has been restricted to Air France’s frequent flyer elites only – Flying Blue Silver, Gold, and Platinum members. Effective immediately Flying Blue Silver status will no longer be enough to allow you to book Air France’s first class product with points. That is now restricted to Gold and Platinum members. On the one hand this is a real shame as it further restricts the number of people that have access to the product, but I think it also does something very smart. The new measure forces those who book first class via points to be individuals that have been loyal to Air France and that is truly the point of a “loyalty” program.

Boeing 777X and Lufthansa’s New Business Class Delayed Until at least 2021

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Boeing really hasn’t had the best year and now it announced that it doesn’t expect its first delivery of the new 777X until 2021. 325 of the planes have currently been ordered with with the two largest orders coming from Emirates and Qatar for 150 and 60, respectively. I would not be surprised to see a large portion of these orders cancelled until timelines are better known. Flight tests still appear to be on track for early 2020, but who knows if that date will slip as well. For me, the biggest bummer here that Lufthansa had planned to install their new business class on these planes. Their current business class is lagging the competition and the new design is a nice 1-2-1, where all seats have aisle access and in the middle section you also get some “throne” seats. Perhaps Lufthansa will adjust and retrofit existing aircraft?

British Airways to Carbon Offsets its Domestic Flights

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British Airways has a plan to be carbon neutral by 2050 and one step towards that goal is them offsetting their domestic flights starting January 1, 2020. As domestic flights are such a small portion of their overall business, my hunch here is that this is sort of a test to see what the costs will run. It doesn’t appear that they are passing any cost directly along to the customer, but I can’t see a way that they don’t increase cost somewhere along the way. That being said, I am somewhat okay with a minor cost increase in order to offset emissions. British Airways’ longer term plans for carbon emission reduction comes through full modernization of their fleet to more fuel efficient planes as well as continuing to partner with fuel producers to create cleaner burning and more efficient fuels. Hopefully others will follow this lead and this will become a more standard business practice.

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