Archive for April, 2011
Saturday, April 9, time for another mileage run to Seattle. As I’ve said before, I can earn more miles on a trip to Seattle than I can to any other city in the 48 states, so I’ve made many trips there. Normally my itinerary has me going through DFW on the way to and from Seattle, but this trip would be different. Instead of flying through DFW I’d go through Chicago O’Hare on both legs of the flight.
The day started well, instead of my normal 6 a.m. departure from Austin, my flight to O’Hare did not leave until 8:25 a.m. I appreciated the extra sleep, but it also meant I’d have less time on the ground in Seattle. I usually get there before noon, on this trip I wouldn’t arrive until 4 p.m.
I got to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport with time to spare, more than enough time to visit the Admirals Club. One of the best things I have done in my travels has been to get an Admirals Club membership. The club is always quiet, the coffee is hot and fresh, and the AAngels behind the counter always make me feel welcome.
After 25 minutes at the club I went downstairs for my flight on an MD-80 to O’Hare. Could I make some extra money from this trip? I told the gate agent I was willing to be bumped if needed, but she said they would not need that.
We boarded the plane and it was packed, very few empty seats. Once everyone was seated and we were ready to push back from the gate, the pilot announced that there were weather delays at O’Hare and we’d have to sit for 40 minutes at Bergstrom before we took off. So, we backed away from the terminal and sat. Thankfully we did not have to turn off our electronic devices, so I was still able to use my phone and do some reading from my Kindle.
After a 40-minute wait we were cleared for departure and took off for a very uneventful flight to Chicago. Once we arrived in the area and began our descent I could see that the weather had not cleared up completely. You can see our landing in this YouTube video.
It may sound like there was a cat on the flight, but that was actually a baby who was crying as the plane landed.
We arrived at O’Hare 40 minutes late, but that was not a problem, I had a two-and-a-half hour layover, so I still had plenty of time and did not need to rush.
For the past 26 years American Airlines has been a strong supporter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and its efforts to find a cure for breast cancer. In fact, American is now the official airline of the foundation and supports it with generous donations and offers way for AAdvantage members to make donations. You can find more information about their efforts on the AA website.
I visited the food court for lunch, relaxed at the Admirals Club, then boarded the flight to Seattle. This flight was on a Boeing 737 and was, like my first flight, very full. I managed to get some sleep on the flight and was actually feeling refreshed when we landed at SeaTac.
I’ve been to many airports, but I don’t know of any airport where people can get as good a view of aircraft in the air and on the ground as they can get from the food court at SeaTac airport.
After taking some photos I left the terminal to walk to the light rail station. Stepping outside was a shock to me, I didn’t realize how cold it would be. I checked the weather on my phone; Seattle was more than 40 degrees colder than it was back home in Texas!
I boarded the train; my plan was to go downtown and look for a seafood restaurant.
One of the early stops for the train was a large park-and-ride parking lot. The train quickly filled up as people boarded, almost all of them were going to the Seattle Mariners game that night. I enjoy going to baseball games, but I do it in Texas during the summer when the temperature is in the low to mid 90s. So when I think of baseball, I think of hot. It was different for these people. Almost all of them were in winter coats with scarves, gloves, and hats. Many of them brought blankets to keep them warm at the game. All I could think was “If it’s that cold, don’t go to the game. Maybe go if they’re playing New York or Boston, but don’t freeze just to see them play Cleveland!”
The train emptied at the stop for Safeco Field, and continued towards downtown. At one of the stops I heard the announcement “Get off here for Chinatown and the International District.” Chinatown? When I heard that, I immediately got off the train.
Whenever I take a mileage run I try to do something that I cannot do at home. Central Texas does not have a Chinatown, Seattle does, so that was an easy choice. My new experience for this trip would be eating Asian food for dinner.
I went upstairs and found myself at the entrance to Chinatown. I walked around for a few moments, taking in the sights and sounds. After a few moments though I had to find a place to eat, my body was still on Texas time where it was past 7 p.m.
If I had been looking for a restaurant ten years ago, all I could do was walk around looking for a place that appealed to me. But this is 2011—I could reach in my pocket and find a restaurant quickly and easily.
I took out my phone and went to Yelp.com. It automatically found my location; I selected the Asian Food option under restaurants and had a long list just a few seconds later. I like to eat noodle dishes and one of the listings I saw was for a restaurant called the Phnom Penh Noodle House. All of the reviews were favorable and it was less than a block away.
I made the short walk down King Street to the restaurant and went in. While it was late to me, local time said it was early, I arrived before the dinner crowd. The owner greeted me and gave me a menu. I looked it over and realized the obvious, the food was Cambodian and not Chinese. Did that matter? Not at all!
I ordered Prohut Jien, Cambodian Fish Cakes as an appetizer, and Phad Thai with pork as my entree. It wasn’t long before the food was brought to me and I realized that I had ordered a LOT of food!
The fish cakes were all right, nothing particularly special. But the Phad Thai more than made up for it, it was excellent! The seasonings were just right, there was enough pork to get the flavor, and the noodles were perfectly cooked. It was so good that I ate all of it! Looking back I should have stopped after eating half of the Phad Thai, but it was so good that I kept on eating.
When I had finally cleared my plate the waitress asked if I wanted dessert. I laughed and said “Not unless it is something very special!” She smiled and said “Let me bring you my favorite.”
A few moments later she placed an amazing taste treat in front of me: steaming hot black bean rice pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of it.
As you can see from this photo, they took extra time to make sure it was presented just right. After one bite I realized it could have come out on a paper plate and I would not have cared, it was that good! The rice pudding was not as heavy as our traditional rice pudding, but had a much richer flavor. The ice cream combined with it to take it to the next level. It was quite simply, superb.
I had eaten far too much for dinner but that did not stop me from eating all of the dessert. It was that good.
I sipped some green tea, hoping it would help me to not feel quite so stuffed, but no luck, I had eaten too much for that to happen. So, I expressed my appreciation to the owner and his daughter, paid my bill and left. My goal was to eat a meal I could not get at home—I certainly fulfilled that goal!
I started to walk towards Pike Place Market, hoping the walk would do me some good. The walk was a little more than a mile, but I took a detour to walk along Alaskan Way, the road that follows the waterfront. I found the Seattle Ferry Terminal and got some information about the ferries and where they go. I decided that a ferry ride will make a great highlight of my next Seattle trip!
I continued along Alaskan Way towards Pike Place Market. I assumed, wrongly, that Pike Street, where the Market is located, would intersect Alaskan Way. Let’s just say I was wrong.
Instead of reaching Pike Street, I ended up at the Pike Place Hillclimb Walk. The Market is four blocks from the waterfront at the top of a very very steep hill, so steep that they built the Hillclimb Walk, a stairway that goes all the way to the Market. I was still full after dinner and did not relish the thought of walking up that many stairs, but I didn’t have much choice if I wanted to get back to the light rail, so up I went.
I eventually got to the Market and, after resting for a while, went in. It was late, almost all of the stores were closed. I stopped at the Pike Place Bar & Grill, one of my favorite places, but it was so crowded that I could not get in. So, I walked around the Market for a while and then made my way to the light rail station for my ride back to SeaTac.
I arrived a half hour before my flight would board; once again I volunteered for a bump, and again, was turned down. We started to board shortly before midnight, and the flight was like my flights earlier in the day, completely packed. By now, I was feeling exhausted, it was past 2 a.m. Texas time and I hoped to be able to sleep on the flight to O’Hare.
We took off a few minutes late and shortly thereafter I fell asleep. I had an aisle seat and the gentleman in the middle seat was a big guy; not fat, but big, and every time he moved in his sleep he either knocked his arm into mine, or kicked my foot. And every time he did that I woke up. So, I got some sleep on the flight, but not much.
We arrived on time at O’Hare and I made my way to the food court for breakfast. McDonald’s is the only place open before 6 a.m., so I did not have much choice. I bought a breakfast to go and took it to the Admirals Club where I was able to eat in peace. When I had finished the meal I asked the AAngels if a shower was available. They told me it would be shortly, and a few minutes later, paged me to give me the key to the shower.
Whenever I fly on a red-eye, taking a shower at the Admirals Club is a true luxury. I left feeling refreshed and, after checking my email, made my way to the gate for my non-stop flight to Austin. The good news was that my upgrade to First Class had gone through; this gave me a very comfortable seat with no one bumping into me as I had on the previous flight. I fell asleep shortly after we took off and slept almost all the way to Austin. When I woke up the flight attendant said there was still food available if I wanted breakfast, but I told her no.
We landed at Austin at 10:40 a.m., exactly on time. I had taken four flights on this trip, and except for the first one that had the weather delay, they all arrived on time or early. I took the shuttle to my car and was home before 12 noon. It had been a long weekend, but I had had a great meal in Seattle and earned 5,400 EQMs and 6,734 total miles. Those miles made it worth it; it was a good weekend.
What’s a good price for an airline ticket? If I don’t buy my ticket today will the price go up or down tomorrow? Is this the BEST price I can find?
Thousands of ticket buyers ask those questions every day and they are important questions. Regardless of what features airlines offer to differentiate themselves from the other carriers, most people purchase their ticket based on price. The exception to the rule would be someone like me who stays with one airline—in my case American Airlines—to maximize the number of miles they can earn with that carrier.
I wanted to buy some tickets this week, and was shocked when I saw the prices and how much they could change.
My wife and I want to fly from Austin to San Diego for four days in June to attend a family event. As always, I used AA.com to purchase my tickets.
I found the flights that would best serve our schedule and came up with a price for two tickets. Here are the prices I found each day;
- Sunday night, April 17: $610 for two round trip tickets.
- Monday night, April 18: The price went up to $620; I think that may have been AA matching a $5 fare increase that other airlines put in place.
- Tuesday evening, April 19: The price had dropped to $561.60. That was by far the best price I had seen in the two weeks I had been looking and I immediately purchased the tickets.
- Wednesday evening, April 20: I already had my tickets but was curious to see if the fare had changed very much. I expected to see a fare in the $560-620 range that I had seen the previous three days; I was not prepared for the price I saw! The new fare for two round trip tickets to San Diego on the exact same flights that I had bought one day earlier had jumped from $561 to $859! That’s an increase of 53% in less than 24 hours! How can it go up $300 in one day? I was so sure that it was a mistake that I closed the browser and then checked again. No luck, still $859.
- Thursday morning, April 21: I checked AA.com and saw that the fare had gone down, but was still way too high at $779.60. That’s better than the day before, but still $200 more than two days earlier.
- Saturday morning, April 23: Another price drop but still too expensive; $701.60 for the two tickets. That’s 25% more than I paid on Tuesday.
I was lucky; I managed to find the tickets at the best price and bought them. I would have been very unhappy if I had passed on the $560 fare and seen $859 the next day!
Many factors go into setting the fare for a ticket including (but not limited to) how far in advance you are buying the ticket, how long you will stay at your destination (sometimes you can get a better deal on a 4-5 night trip than on a one night trip), how popular the route is, how much competition there is on that route, whether you are flying in peak season or not, the price of oil, the time of day you are flying, and many others. Slate Magazine provides a good explanation of the process in this article. One of the key factors in determining the price is yield management, where a computer constantly looks at how many tickets have been sold for a flight and adjusts prices up or down to maximize the airline’s revenue for that flight.
What did I learn from all of this? My biggest lesson was to keep checking prices; checking several times a day is not a bad idea. And if you see a great price, jump on it immediately, don’t wait to see if you will still get that deal the next day. If it goes down another $10 or $20 after, that’s not a big deal. The most important thing is that you are happy with the price you paid.
“I see Earth! It is so beautiful!”
“When I orbited the Earth in a spaceship, I saw for the first time how beautiful our planet is. Mankind, let us preserve and increase this beauty, and not destroy it!”
These were the words of the first human being to ever look down on the planet earth from orbit. On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.
People around the world will mark the 50th anniversary of one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments this Tuesday, April 12, as they celebrate Yuri’s Night.
Yuri’s Night, the World Space Party, will be celebrated (as of April 10) at 420 locations in 70 countries on 6 continents. This is truly a worldwide celebration. Visit the organization’s website for more information and a list of the hundreds of worldwide events. there will almost certainly be one near you.
While spaceflight is now a common event, it was a huge story 50 years ago. Many experts had ideas of what would happen to a man in space; some thought an astronaut would suffer from vertigo, some thought his eyes would rupture, some thought there was no way a man could survive the dangers of liftoff and re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. With his flight, Yuri Gagarin proved that man can indeed function and survive in space. Russian television tells part of the story below.
“Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!”
Yuri Gagarin, 1st person in space
We’re a little more than three months into the year, I have made several mileage runs and have a few more on the books. So how does the year look so far?
Here are my numbers from AA.com
|Program to Date Miles||938,749|
|YTD Elite Qualifying Points||8,254|
|YTD Elite Qualifying Miles||19,431|
|YTD Elite Qualifying Segments||17|
|Miles Towards Elite Upgrades||1,000|
|Miles with Expiration Deferred Through Oct. 04, 2012||58,749|
The most important number for me is my year-to-date Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs): 19,431. I want to regain Platinum status this year, to do that I need 50,000 EQMs. So, I am 38% of the way there.
I have booked four additional mileage runs:
Austin – Chicago – Seattle – Chicago – Austin: I’ll earn 5,398 EQMs. I’ll get into Seattle late in the day, almost 4 p.m. I’d love to fly back after a short delay but I could not get a good fare for that. Instead, I fly out at 11:59 p.m. to Chicago, and arrive in Austin at 10:40 Sunday morning. While in Seattle I’ll have some time to go into town and look for a new restaurant where I haven’t already eaten. The worst part of the flight is the midnight departure from SEA, that’s 2 a.m. Austin time.
Austin – D/FW – Newark – DFW – Austin: I’ll earn 4,680 EQMs. This is a short trip, I’ll leave Austin at 7 a.m., have an 80 minute layover at Newark then come home, landing in Austin at 8:20 p.m. I’d like it if I had time to leave the airport and go into New York City for a few hours, but there is no chance for that.
Austin – San Jose – Portland – Seattle – San Jose – Austin: I’ll earn 4,387 miles for this trip on Alaska Airlines. I’ll leave Austin at 8 a.m., get back in at 11:30 p.m. I’ll spend almost the entire day flying, my longest layover is 1 hour 10 minutes.
Austin – Los Angeles – Seattle – Chicago – Austin: I’ll earn 4,895 EQMs for this trip. I’ll fly American Airlines from Austin to LAX, departing AUS at 7:50 a.m. then fly Alaska Airlines from LAX to SEA. I’ll get into SEA at 1:10 p.m., then take the red-eye at midnight to Chicago, arriving back in Austin at 10:40 on Sunday. I’ll have enough time to leave the airport and look for yet another Seattle restaurant :-). This trip was a real bargain, $221 round trip. I haven’t seen a Seattle trip at that price in almost two years!
I’ll earn 19,360 EQMs for these trips, giving me a total of 38,791 for the year. I’ll need another 11,209 to reach 50,000 EQMs and have 7 months to do it. I don’t think I’ll have a problem with that: 3 trips to Seattle in 7 months will put me over the top. (Why so many trips to Seattle? It’s the longest trip I can make in the lower 48 states. The only way I can get more miles on a trip would be to get a bargain trans-continental fare and take that flight. I did that a few years ago when AA was offering Boston to the west coast for $99 each way!)
The other way I can earn Platinum status would be for American to offer a double EQM sale. That would help a lot.
So, I think Platinum is easily within my reach. The other milestone for me will be to reach the 1,000,000 lifetime miles level. The advantage to that (other than getting a fancy congratulatory letter from AA) is that I will earn lifetime Gold status. With my future flights I’ll have approximately 963,000 miles. The lifetime figure includes all miles, not just flying, so I’ll earn additional miles for using the AA credit card, taking advantage of the AA Dining Program, and any other special promotions I may find. It would be nice to reach that mark this year, but I don’t see it happening. Make it a definite for 2012 though!