Archive for March, 2008
How do you choose the airline for your mileage runs?
Kats asked me that question in a comment posted on HappyFlier: “Any reason why you chose AA over UA? I struggled with the decision and ended up with UA (there’s a tiny airport close to my home and all flights are UA). But once every 3 or 4 trips I end up stuck with AA and I learned to hate to fly when I don’t have elite status…”
It’s important to choose one airline and fly with that one as much as possible. The worst thing you can do is build up 20,000 miles on each of four different airlines. Those miles won’t pay for a trip, but do all that traveling on one airline and you’ll have 80K miles in your account and can use them towards a very nice trip.
There are many things to consider when choosing an airline. I can’t tell you which is the best for your, but I can share with you how I made my choice.
I was looking for several things in an airline.
- It needed to provide flexible scheduling from my home airport, Austin-Bergstrom International
- It needed to offer overseas service and be part of a worldwide alliance of airlines so that I could use a partner airline to get to a destination if my main airline did not fly there. And,
- It needed to offer a credit card that I could use to help build my miles.
My local airport is Austin-Bergstrom International (AUS). At the time I started to do mileage runs, Austin was served by American, America West, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Northwest, Southwest, United Airlines, and US Airways. (The following airlines provide service now, but they were not flying from Austin several years ago, so I could not consider them: Aeromexico, Air Canada, Express Jet, Jet Blue, Midwest, and vivaAerobus.)
Southwest offers the most flights from Austin, followed by American. However, Southwest does not offer overseas service and is not part of a major worldwide alliance, so it fell off my list.
The best airlines for overseas service were American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and United.
Is one of those airlines better than the other? I don’t think so. They are all good airlines. They basically fly the same aircraft. They have all felt pressure from competition with discount airlines. They are all part of a global alliance, so they offer service to the same major cities around the world. And you can get a credit card from them all.
So, the final question was “Which one offers the most flights to and from Austin?” The answer to that is American Airlines, so AA was my choice.
If you live in Atlanta, Delta, with its large hub, is your obvious choice. Minneapolis? You’ll go with Northwest. Phoenix residents may choose US Air. Someone in Seattle should consider looking at Alaska Airlines, a member of the Oneworld Alliance with American Airlines.
I now fly almost exclusively on AA. I’ve taken advantage of its membership in the Oneworld Alliance to fly on other partner airlines (Alaska Airlines, Finnair, Cathay Pacific, and JAL) and earned credit towards my account. I am also able to use my AAdvantage miles to pay for flights on those airlines.
I also have an account with United. Two years ago I had to fly to Bismarck, North Dakota. American does not offer service on that route, so I flew United. Last year Mrs. HappyFlier and I flew from Bangkok Thailand to Phuket. At that time, none of the Oneworld Alliance members flew that route, so I chose Thai Airways and earned credit on my United account. I’ll keep that account open and may eventually earn enough miles for a free flight on United, but American is where I will put the majority of my miles.
And that, my friends, is how I ended up as a member of the American AAdvantage program. Choose your program, and enjoy the flying!
American Airlines canceled 325 flights on Wednesday to conduct maintenance inspections on its MD-80 aircraft.
The Kansas City Star reported that “The grounding of the planes occurred following a joint audit conducted by American and Federal Aviation Administration officials, according to the airline.”
Maintenance teams examined the aircraft at the gates to check the distance between two insulated wire bundles. Fortunately, it was not necessary for the aircraft to go to American’s maintenance facility for the inspection. Virtually all of the 298 aircraft are expected to be back in service today.
American has an outstanding safety record on the MD-80, an aircraft that entered service in 1980. Every four years, each MD-80 goes to American’s maintenance facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma where it is torn apart and rebuilt with the latest equipment. (See the CNBC video below to watch them tear apart an aircraft.)
The MD-80 has been the workhorse of the American fleet. My home airport is Austin, Texas, and the MD-80 is American’s most widely used aircraft at this location, offering non-stop service to cities as distant as Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Seattle. However, it is also one of the least fuel efficient aircraft in the fleet, a definite liability in this time of surging fuel costs. American will eventually replace its 298 MD-80s with more fuel efficient aircraft, but until then, they will continue to be the most widely used aircraft in its fleet.
We may all be pleased to know that with the implementation of the Open Skies treaty (see post below) American Airlines will now offer increased service to Heathrow instead of Gatwick. (Good news if you are an American Airlines traveler as I am, bad news if you happen to live near Heathrow and have to deal with the noise of hundreds of flights every day!) And it may also please us, particularly if we live in Utah, to know that Delta will be offering flights from Salt Lake City to Paris.
But the one question that most ask is, “Will this lead to lower air fares between the US and Europe?”
After studying the issue in great detail, I can conclusively say… “I don’t know.”
Under capatilism, increased competition normally means lower prices, but the airline industry has never seemed to work this way. That’s why your ticket for a flight may cost $791, while the person next to you might have only paid $256.
In an ideal world, I would expect prices to drop over the Atlantic. But the airlines have been brutally battered by skyrocketing fuel prices, increases that have weakened their bottom line. Several airlines in the US have had to file for bankruptcy. Latest reports from Europe state that Alitalia, the Italian airline, may be bought by the company formed by the merger of Air France and KLM.
The airlines are not doing well right now. A fare war over the Atlantic would benefit none of them, and they know it. We may see a slight drop in prices, but not much. I just checked the price of a round trip ticket from Austin to Heathrow in June, with taxes it was $1,378.20. That is not much of a bargain. A ticket to Frankfut cost $1,312.30, three times more than I paid to go there in early March. These are not mileage run fares!
The airlines look forward to the summer months when flights to and from Europe are full and fares are high. Maybe we will see a larger than normal reduction in fares during the winter when there is excess capacity.
Fare wars in the US generally start when Southwest or Jet Blue enter a market. Neither of them will be flying to Paris any time soon. So I look to the European low-fare airlines. Perhaps one of them has the financial strength to enter the market and start a low fare service, much as Sir Freddie Laker did with his Skytrain service between London and New York in 1997, $99 one way. (In all fairness, I should note Sir Freddie’s airline went bankrupt in 1982.) Something like this could drive the fares lower. Until then, the chances of American, Delta, British Airways, or any of the other major carriers starting a fare ware appear to be slim.
Perhaps the increased competition will stop fares from going much higher, but I see little hope for them to drop substantially.
Air travel between the United States and the countries of the European Union will undergo a historic change on March 31 with the implementation of the Open Skies Treaty that was signed in Washington in April 2007.
Before Open Skies, flights between Europe and the United States were strictly regulated: if American Airlines or United Airlines or British Airways wanted to offer increased service across the Atlantic, lengthy negotiations would ensue between the airlines and the governments of hte nations affected. With the implementation of the treaty, airlines can basically fly between any American airport and any European airport without the need to negotiate treaties.
After signing the treaty, Mary Peters, the American Secretary of Transportation said, “With this agreement, the honeymoon in Paris, the business trip to Dublin, and family reunion in Naples will be cheaper, easier and within the reach of more Americans than ever before.”
What does this mean for the traveler? In the near run, it means increased flight opportunities across the Atlantic, an increase in destinations to fly to, maybe lower airfares, and realistically, an increase in delays as already crowded airports such as London Heathrow see even more air traffic.
Some of the upcoming changes include:
- British Airways, a OneWorld partner with American Airlines, will launch a new airline called Open Skies which will offer non-stop service between Kennedy Airport in New York and Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Currently, American Airlines AAdvantage members earn AAdvantage miles on all BA flights except those going across the Atlantic. Will that change with the creation of the new airline?
- KLM will offer new service between Dallas and Amsterdam. Will American Airlines, with its giant hub at Dallas, try to compete with KLM on this route?
- Air France will start a Los Angeles-London flight. Will American modify their LAX-LHR service in response?
- Singapore Airlines will start non-stop service between Houston and Moscow. American Airlines will offer Chicago-Moscow service starting in June.
- Delta will fly from Salt Lake City to Paris.
- Four US airlines that previously could not fly to Heathrow will now offer service. Delta will fly from Atlanta and JFK. Continental will increase the number of flights from Houston and Newark. US Airways will start service from Philadelphia, and Northwest will offer service from Seattle, Detroit, and Minneapolis.
- American Airlines had been flying to London/Gatwick from Dallas and Raleigh-Durham. Those flights will move to Heathrow.
Of all European airports, London Heathrow will see the largest increase in service, particularly as airlines establish a record of service leading up to the 2012 London Olympics. Last week, Queen Elizabeth opened Terminal 5 at Heathrow after 18 years of construction at a cost of 4.3 billion Pounds ($8.6 billion American. That is not $8 billion for a new airport, that is $8 billion just for a terminal building!). British Airways, the only airline at Terminal 5, has moved its operations from the other Heathrow terminals, helping to ease some of the congestion in those buildings and making gates available for other airlines. That is the good news.
The bad news is that Heathrow is getting all these additional flights but no increase in runways.
According to the British Civil Aviation Authority, 38 percent of all flights arriving or departing from Heathrow in 2007 were delayed. There is no reason to believe that situation will improve with the implementation of Open Skies.
Heathrow has a dreadful reputation among travelers. Users of the TripAdvisor website ranked Heathrow (along with Chicago O’Hare) as the world’s worst airport in 2007. Kris Kotarski, writing in the Calgary Herald, (March 22, 2008) described Heathrow this way, “Avoid London like the plague. Heathrow is the heart of darkness (especially Terminal 3 Arrivals) and ranks last on every seasoned traveler’s list.”
Heathrow was originally built to handle 45 million passengers a year: in 2007 it flew 68 million. Terminal 5 alone is expected to handle 30 million passengers, but the runways are still the same ones that were built for an airport expecting 45 million passengers, not 70 or 80 million.
Just as delays at DFW, O’Hare, and JFK have a ripple affect on cities throughout North America, we can expect the same thing on service throughout Europe. (See my articles about bad weather in Chicago affecting two of my mileage runs, one that did not come withing a thousand miles of Chicago, and one that did involve flights into O’Hare.
The offer of increased service to Europe is truly exciting. Mileage runners will look forward to seeing special bargains on trans-Atlantic flights. Whether the system can handle the additional service is another question
It’s a sign of the times.
As airlines cut back on every free service imaginable, from pillows and blankets and magazines to meals and checking a second bag for no charge, American Airlines is ending one of my favorite bonuses, the extra miles for booking a trip online at AA.com.
American began the program several years ago as a way to convince travelers to make their reservations online rather than over the phone: book a round-trip coach ticket online and get 1,000 bonus miles. A thousand miles might not sound like much, but it could make a significant difference over time.
A busy business traveler can easily make 25 trips per year; give that traveler 1,000 bonus miles for each trip and he/she will get enough miles, just from the bonus, to get a free coach ticket anywhere in the continental United States.
A traveler taking a short trip such as New York – Boston would earn 1,000 miles. Toss in the bonus and the mileage doubles. Not a bad deal at all.
As travelers grew more accustomed to using AA.com to make their reservations, American gradually reduced the bonus mileage. Several years ago it dropped to 500 miles for each coach ticket, and then it fell to its current level of 250 miles. In less than two weeks, that too will end.
The announcement on AA.com states, “Starting in April, American Airlines will no longer offer an online booking bonus for travel booked on AA.com. The current bonus will be honored for all bookings made on or before March 31, 2008, regardless of travel dates.”
But all is not lost, they say they will still offer great online service. “While AA.com is eliminating its bonus mile offer, it still provides members many great benefits. At AA.com you can conveniently search for and book low fares and award travel, select seats, make hotel, rental car and cruise reservations, get flight arrival and departure information, sign up for flight status notification and even check in and print boarding passes. ”
To their credit, their is a distinct level of truth to that comment. AA.com has consistently increased the amount of service it offers travelers, making it one of the most robust online booking tools available. In the last few years I have used the site to book award travel, select seats, register for flight status notification, and check-in. One of the best new services, in my opinion, was added in the last year: the ability to search by “price and schedule.” (I’ll provide more information on that in a future post.)
So, yes, they are indeed providing a dramatically better product with increased service on AA.com, no doubt about it. But that doesn’t change the fact that mileage runners will miss that online booking bonus.
I think there is something inherent in all men, at one time or another, to want to drive an incredibly high performance sports car. I plead guilty to that desire, wondering what it would be like to get behind the wheel of a car I will never find on Cars.com, and take it for a couple of laps around the track at full speed.
I’ve also had dreams about being a fighter pilot; strapping into the cockpit of a high performance jet, racing down the runway with full afterburners, pulling back on the stick, pulling 5 Gs as I race up to 50,000 feet in a matter of seconds.
The video below combines both of those fantasies.
The producers of Top Gear, a British automotive show, arranged a drag race between one of the most powerful sports cars in the world, the Bugatti Veyron, (cost, about $1.5 million each) and the Eurofighter Typhoon, an air-superiority fighter currently flying for the British, Austrian, German, Italian, and Spanish air forces.
The Bugatti can go from 0-190 mph in 18 seconds. The Typhoon’s two engines, each with 20,000 pounds of thrust, can easily take it to an altitude of 65,000 feet at 1,500 mph. It can go from brakes-off on the runway to 35,000 feet in two-and-a-half minutes!
The two-mile race took place at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. The Bugatti and the Typhoon would start from the same place on the runway. At the start the Bugatti would race down the runway for one mile, turn around as quickly as possible, and go back to the starting line as fast as it could. (And in a Bugatti, that is FAST!) The Typhoon would take off, go straight up for one mile, turn over and come back down the same mile, crossing the finish line at a low altitude.
Who will win? Watch the video and see. Enjoy!