Archive for September, 2008
It sounds pretty obvious. If the airline bills me $212.87 for a mileage run, then the cost of the mileage run is $212.87.
Yes and no.
While that may be the total cost of the trip, that is not what a mileage runner looks at. We look at the cost per mile (CPM) of a trip to determine if it is a good value or not. How do we calculate that cost?
Since I do virtually all of my flying on American Airlines, I’ll use them to illustrate how I do this.
The two best tools for calculating the CPM of a mileage run are MileCalc.com, and Flying Fish. They both provide similar information with one difference: MileCalc.com is a website and you need internet access to use it. Flying Fish is a very very small application (6 files totaling less than 600 KB) that you load on your computer and can use at any time whether you have internet access or not.
Each application allows you to enter the route of your mileage run, any bonus miles that you will earn for elite status or a special promotion, the total cost of the ticket, and then provides the CPM of your trip.
Here is the opening screen for MileCalc.com
And this is the opening screen for Flying Fish.
I’ll enter a sample flight in each: Austin to Chicago to San Diego and back to Austin, and will look at routing and price on AA.com for October 25, 2008.
Here is the itinerary that AA.com came up with.
Austin to Chicago to San Diego to Los Angeles to Austin for $374.48. Is this a good mileage run?
I enter the itinerary into Flying Fish, including the total cost and adding that I get a 100% bonus on miles for my Platinum Status, and get this information. All I need to do is enter the airports that I will use, Flying Fish automatically calculates the mileage for me.
It tells me that I will earn 4,443 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and a total of 8,886 miles at 4.21 cents per mile. The red dollar signs tell me this is NOT a good mileage run.
I enter the same information into MileCalc.com. Again, all I need enter is the airports I will travel to.
MileCalc.com gives me the same information, 8,886 total miles for 4.2 cents per mile. As I mentioned before, this is not a good mileage run.
Let me add that this could be a good mileage run if it is the last week in December, you need 4,000 EQMs to reach Platinum or Executive Platinum status for the coming year and this is all you can find. If this trip cost $225, you would be paying 2.5 CPM, not great but acceptable. But it’s the end of the year and this is all you can find. Is it worthy paying an extra $150 airfare to get double miles on all your flights for the coming year? Absolutely!
I found another itinerary for October 25 on American Airlines. Austin to Chicago to Portland, then back to Chicago and Austin for $218. (always remember to use the total airfare including taxes to get the most accurate analysis.)
Is this a good deal?
I enter the information into Flying Fish and get this result.
I’ll earn 5,434 EQMs, a total of of 10,868 miles for a cost per mile of 2.01 cents. This is a very good mileage run. Any time I can get my cost near two cents per mile, I jump on it!
I enter the information in MileCalc.com and get the same information.
So, if I take this trip, does that mean I will earn 10,868 miles? No.
The numbers above are what Flying Fish and MileCalc.com say are correct. The only correct authority in this matter however is American Airlines, and sometimes they give more miles, sometimes less miles than Flying Fish and MileCalc.com predicted.
I did the Austin-Chicago-Portland and back trip a few weeks ago.
American awarded me 5,424 EQMS and a total of 10,848 miles, 20 less than the programs said I would get. The difference came on the flights between Austin and O’Hare. The applications say that is 978 miles, American says 973. In this case, American wins.
So, while these two programs will not give you the exact total to earn for your flight, they come close enough to be valuable tools for calculating the cost of your mileage run!
Flying AA from Austin, I try to find flights for less than 2.5 cents per mile. With fuel surcharges getting as high as they have been, that is not as simple as it once was, but it is getting easier than it was a few months ago. The best CPM I have paid on a trip was 1.74, the worst was 3.7, but that was for a trip to Oklahoma City in late December that I had to have to get the last 1,700 EQMs to earn Platinum status for the coming year so I gladly paid it!
Good luck finding your mileage runs!
Hurricane Ike struck Texas this weekend with a savagery Texans had not seen in our lifetime. Millions of people are without power, thousands have had their homes destroyed, billions of dollars of damage took place. Our hearts go out to all those affected by this disaster. I want to share how I was affected, but in no way intend to compare my minor inconvenience to the tragedy that others have had. They are all in our thoughts and prayers. You can help them by making a donation to the American Red Cross.
Heavy rain at O’Hare made day into night: they had to turn on the lights at the airport even though it was 10 a.m. The rain delayed all air traffic into and out of Chicago. (click on photo for larger image)
We had a spectacular view of Mount St. Helens in the foreground, with Mount Ranier in the background. (click on photo for larger image)
Admit it, a few years ago you didn’t pay much attention to the food at the airport. Why should you? You knew you were going to get a hot meal on your flight and that meal was FREE! Why pay for a meal at Tim’s Runway-Vue Cafe when you had a free meal coming to you on the plane?
And if you decided you did want to eat at the airport, what were your options? Limited and horribly over-priced. The people who ran the eateries had to pay high fees to the airport to operate, and the airport saw no need to ask them to lower their prices because they received a percentage of the sales. Lower costs meant lower revenue to the airport.
That started to change in the 1990s when Pittsburgh expanded its terminal and implemented a policy requiring vendors to charge the same price in the airport as they do at their non-airport locations. Many other airports have followed the trend, making airport food more affordable for all. The selection has, in many cases, also improved.
Today it is almost impossible to get a meal on a domestic flight, making airport dining a valuable option to many travelers. Why pay $5 for a snack box on a flight when you can get a hot meal at the airport for not much more money?
It’s not uncommon to see fast food chains (McDonald’s, Burger King, etc) giving passengers a quick place to eat. If you want a sit-down meal, Chilis and TGI Fridays have opened in many terminals. Starbucks and Cinnabon will satisfy your coffee and pastry desires. Manchu Wok will serve up egg rolls and sweet and sour pork.
Happy Flier readers know that I am a great fan of the dining options at the Pacific Marketplace at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Other airports also offer expanded dining options, in 2005 Frommer’s Travel Guide cited Philadephia, Memphis, and El Paso as some of their favorite places for airport food.
My home airport is Austin-Bergstom International (ABIA) in Austin, Texas. You’ll find plenty of places to eat at ABIA, but none are on the list of restaurants listed above. No McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no Chilis. Airport management set a policy that it would only allow Austin-owned restaurants in the airport, no national chains. So, instead of Starbucks we have Austin Java. Instead of Chili’s you can go to Harlon’s Country Breakfast and Barbecue. And if you want to watch sports on TV while waiting for your flight, what could be better than Earl Campbell’s Sports Bar? (Earl won the Hesiman Trophy as a running back at the University of Texas, then had a Hall of Fame career with the Houston Oilers.)
Lower prices, greater selection, higher quality. The thought of eating a meal at a restaurant is no longer as repulsive as it once was. In fact, it can actually be quite appealing.
I must admit though, that I was amazed when I read about Jet Blue’s new terminal 5 at New York’s Kennedy International. Jet Blue has gone above and beyond in setting up its new food court. And that name may be a misnomer: when I think of a food court, I think of four or more fast food restaurants sharing a common seating area. This is NOT what Jet Blue has done. They have provided a varied selection of stylish restaurants whose style is so dramatic that New York Magazine ran two articles about it. The first featured amazing photos of the restaurants, while the second article featured menus (without prices, unfortunately) from those restaurants. From Antipasti to Stone Cut Oatmeal with caramelized bananas and raisins to a Fried Salami and Cheese sandwich on an everything bagel to a good old Bacon Cheeseburger, it is an extraordinary selection.
I have not had to do a layover at JFK in many years, but if I do, I will certainly find my way to the new Jet Blue terminal and its restaurants!
Airport dining is improving. The days of paying $10 for a badly-cooked hamburger have passed. Airports have realized that well-run properly priced restaurants can be a money-maker for the vendor and airport, while also serving to make the trip more pleasant for the traveler.
Is there a place with food you dream about, a place that you absolutely must stop to eat at when traveling? Share it with us.
As the price of oil rose above $150 a barrel, the airline industry responded by raising fares, cutting unprofitable routes, adding fuel surcharges, and implementing fees for services that passengers previously received at no cost.
With oil now below $120 a barrel, things may look better for the industry, but still have a long way to go before they actually look good.
I wrote before about Southwest Airlines and its unique ability to make a profit in this tumultuous time. In June Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told the Austin-American Statesman “We are expecting to take more market share. We are planning for that.” How quickly things change.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Southwest will reduce its schedule by almost 200 flights in January 2009. This is a reduction of almost 6% of its daily schedule of over 3,400 flights. In addition, Southwest will proceed with previous plans to add 14 aircraft to its fleet, but will accelerate the rate at which it retires others, leaving the size of its fleet relatively stable.
Southwest has made a profit in every quarter since 1991. It speaks badly for the industry if the nation’s most profitable airline sees the need to reduce service.
I do the majority of my flights on American Airlines. Many years ago American stopped serving meals in coach on domestic flights but thankfully continues to serve them on international flights. However, one airline may be setting the precedent of ending that service.
As part of a service cutback, United Airlines announced that it would stop serving complimentary meals in coach on flights to Europe, instead offering snack packs. And to make matters worse, they raised the cost of the snack packs from $7 to $9 each.
Happily, this turned out to be a victory for all travelers. So many people protested United’s actions that it canceled the change and will continue to serve hot meals in coach on flights to Europe.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. In an era when the airlines are continually adding fees and surcharges to their increasingly expensive tickets while at the same time reducing service, United’s passengers loudly said “Enough!” and the airline listened. This is an important lesson for all travelers: let the airlines know when you are unhappy, let them know you plan to take your business elsewhere. They cannot make any money if you stop flying with them! It’s good to see that the consumer still has some influence.
However, United said that it would stop serving meals in business class on domestic flights, instead offering complimentary beverages and snack items, and this policy has not changed. The importance of this move cannot be ignored: while airlines have cut back on services to coach passengers, this marks the first time that an airline has reduced service to passengers buying the much more expensive (and profitable to the airline) business class tickets. Will any other airline follow suit? We’ll see. It will be interesting to see how many of United’s business class passengers take their business elsewhere.
Finally, US Airways announce that it would no longer award bonus miles to its Preferred status Dividend Miles members. The airline said “By reducing the number of bonus miles issued, US Airways is in a better position to withstand the impact of record fuel prices.”
So far, US Airways’ unhappy passengers have not been able to reverse this decision.
If I had elite status on US Airways Dividend Miles program, I would be looking for a new airline right now. One of the benefits I receive for my Platinum status on American Airlines is double AAdvantage miles on all flights. If the flight is 2,650 miles, I earn 5,300 miles. If that benefit were eliminated, my return on mileage runs would be so poor as to no longer make it worthwhile for me to do them. I hope AA will not follow US Airways in this decision.
The future of air travel
Sadly, air travel is starting to resemble restaurant service more and more. Passengers used to get free meals, free beverages, free blankets and pillows, a selection of newspapers on each flight, and paid no charge for checking their baggage. Those are the old days. We are now moving to restaurant-style a-la-carte pricing.
You go into a restaurant, and they give you a table to sit at, a chair to sit on, and silverware. You go onto an aircraft and you get a seat and a seatbelt.
Do you want an iced-tea at that restaurant? It will cost you $3. Do you want to check your bags at the airport? It will cost you $15 for the first bag, $25 for the second.
Would you like a salad at the restaurant? No problem, that will cost you up to $8. Do you want a snack pack on your flight? Again, no problem, that will cost as much as $9.
In each case, you will have to pay an additional fee every time you ask for something. We may see the day when travelers will have a Travel Options area they can use when making an online reservation. Once they reserve their seat, they will be able to use that area to reserve a pillow, a snack pack, and a blanket, and have the cost included in their purchase price.
The idea seems absurd today, but no more absurd than it seemed two years ago to think about charging passengers $15 to check their first piece of luggage.
When it comes to air travel, the good old days are gone.