I want to take this opportunity to declare that the Mile-High Club is, for all practical purposes, defunct. Much like the practice of phrenology or the fad for goldfish swallowing, the notion of having sex on commercial airplanes is no longer worthy of serious consideration.
Before I get inundated with angry e-mails accusing me of being a prude, let me be clear about one thing: This is not about sex. For die-hard Mile-High Club practitioners, I’m sure there’s still nothing more arousing than the heady scent of disinfectant and sewage as you wedge yourself against a paper towel dispenser to consummate your passion with the person you love (or as many Mile-High Club tales seem to imply, with the person you met at the boarding gate).
In reality, the death of the Mile-High Club is tied to the decline of the commercial air travel experience in general. Back in the late ‘60s, when the advent of the Boeing 737 began to make jet travel affordable for the masses, I’m sure everything about the experience of flight was somewhat of a thrill. Nearly four decades later, however, a couple generations of travelers have known nothing but air travel for long journeys. We’re still flying in those same 737s (and comparable aircraft), yet the level of comfort and service has actually declined: Security lines are longer, seating schemes are more cramped, in-flight snack services are disappearing, and—in a startling development—some aircraft manufacturers have reportedly considered maximizing passenger capacity by installing standing-room seating, wherein you are strapped, like a mental patient, to a padded backboard during takeoff.
In short, commercial air travel has become hopelessly mundane and unpleasant—and aspiring to have sex on a commercial flight is now as tacky and pointless as aspiring to have sex in a Wal-Mart. (more…)
These days there are more and more loyalty programs popping up in every part of our financial lives. Gas stations, grocery stores, heck even ice cream parlors have rewards systems now. But even in the travel arena alone it can be overwhelming how many options there seem to be.
So for the sake of frequent flyers wishing to start taking advantage of all that time in the air, I’d like to offer 5 reasons travel-addicts might choose United as the best mileage program. Not business travelers or casual vacationers, but travelers who want to see both Istanbul and Morroco- Switzerland and Swaziland.
(For the record, United in no way sponsors this post and I have no affiliation with United. I just love frequent flyer miles experience has taught me to value United miles often above the rest.)
Here are the 5 reasons United is the best mileage program for wanderlust’s who want to see more of the world on a low budget.
A little background: In terms of roundtrip international flights, a stopover is a stop of 24 hours or more which can essentially be used as a second destination. And one of the most incredible parts about award tickets (tickets purchased with miles) is that for some reason many mileage programs allow a stopover at no extra charge. Just on award tickets. In a paid ticket these stopovers would increase your price, but for award tickets, it’s essentially complimentary (depending on the program.)
Why United excels here: United offers one stopover (a stop of 24 hours or more) per international round-trip award ticket. But, in addition to this, it also offers two “open-jaws.” These open-jaws allow you to exit the airport at your destination, then pick up your flight to return home from a different airport. For instance if you go on a cruise or bus tour that takes you from A to B, you don’t have to return to A just to catch your flight home.
So each roundtrip international award ticket is allowed two open-jaws and one stopover.
2.) Generous routing rules.
A little background: United’s not the only mileage program offering a stopover, but many other mileage programs require a few strict guidelines for that stopover. For instance it’s common for mileage programs to state that the stopover must be reasonably within the route to and from your destination. No obscure, out of the way locations.
Why United excels here: United on the other hand does not force you to restrict your stopover in that way.
This part gets a bit complicated, so I’ll offer a post about United’s routing rules for further investigation but the essential idea is this: while it’s not officially stated, United loads certain zone combinations into its routing computer. So certain zone combinations seem to be permitted while certain other ones are not.
Like I said, this is not officially stated but trial and error shows that (for example) South America is a zone that cannot be combined with any zone other than the Americas. So you could do a stopover in Mexico on your way to South America, but not a stopover in Paris on the way to South America. However, Europe can be combined with quite a few zones (Asia, Middle East, and Africa) so you could fly from the US to Paris then on to Cape Town before returning to the states. See the Eiffel tower before going on a safari.
If you’re concerned about which zones can be combined with which other zones, check out the post above or simply call the United booking agent and ask them if your route is permissible. As long as you’re sticking within the zone rules, your route can take you all over the world.
3.) No fuel surcharges.
A little background: Fuel surcharges are fees that get added to a ticket, even if it’s an award ticket paid for with miles. If you’re not careful, you could book a ticket you expect to get for free that actually costs a few hundred dollars in the end.
Why United excels: United is pretty much the only mileage program for whom this is not the case. United does not pass along fuel surcharges to award tickets! Simple as that. This gives you one less restriction to deal with when planning your route.
4.) Part of the biggest alliance, increasing your flight options.
A little background: When you earn miles in an airline’s mileage program, you can then use those miles for way more tickets than you might expect. This is because airlines generally belong to alliances. (The major alliances are Star Alliance, One World Alliance, and SkyTeam.) So if you earn with one mileage program, you can use those miles for flights with any of the airlines within the same alliance. (There may be a few exceptions but generally this is true.)
Why United excels: United happens to be a member of Star Alliance, the biggest alliance with the most member airlines.
5.) Easy earning with Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
A little background: One of the easiest ways to earn frequent flyer miles is via credit card sign up bonuses and credit card earnings.
Why United excels: United miles can not only be earned via their own credit card, but also by earning and transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These points can be earned through a number of Chase credit cards. This post about Chase Ultimate Rewards points may be especially helpful but the basic point is that you have multiple credit card options for earning United miles.
Most people are somewhat familiar with the concept of collecting frequent flier miles. My husband and I have built our whole travel strategy around frequent flier miles in fact, but there’s another travel reward currency with huge benefits once you understand how it works.
Bank points. Specifically I’m referring to “American Express Membership Rewards” and “Chase Ultimate Rewards.”
First lets go over what these points are and how to earn them. Then, we’ll take a look at why they’re beneficial to have around.
What are Amex points and Chase points?
When you see an airline card that earns miles, you know that the airline has partnered with a bank to have a credit card that earns towards their own frequent flier program. However, the banks ant in on the loyalty program system too. So, like many other banks, American Express and Chase bank have both developed their own rewards system with credit cards that earn points towards that system.
These points are extremely versatile. You can redeem them for cash if you’d like, or surf through the list of other options, including both travel that can be booked directly with points, or travel that can be booked by transferring directly into a frequent flier or hotel program. The latter is greatly recommended over booking travel directly with your points, but we’ll discuss that in a bit.
How do you earn these points?
These points can be earned with American Express cards or Chase cards that aren’t partnered with some other program as mentioned above. For instance, American Express has partnered with the hotel group “Starwood” to create a credit card for their loyalty program. That card will not earn you Amex points, it will earn Starwood Preferred Guest Points. But the American Express Gold card and the American Express Gold card are both cards that are not partnered with a different program and will earn you Amex points.
Similarly, the Chase Freedom card, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and Chase Ink Bold or Ink Plus are all cards that will earn you Chase points rather than the points of a program they’ve partnered with.
Why these points are beneficial?
These points are beneficial purely for their ability to transfer to a variety of airline or hotel programs. Find a list of Chase transfer partners here. Also find a list of American Express transfer partners here. I’m going to emphasize that again: the benefit is in transferring. This is not to be confused with booking travel directly with your points, as you’ll get much less travel for your points that way. Think of it like purchasing something through a retailer versus wholesale.
Think about it. If you have American Airline miles, that means you can use those miles to fly with American Airlines or any of their alliance partners. That gives you quite a few options, yes, but if you have bank points, you can transfer your points to an array of airlines representing any alliance, or transfer them into a hotel program. This allows you to be very flexible based on your needs. For instance sometimes we’ll be arriving someplace with no plan for accommodations and no hotel points at our exposure. In that kind of situation, we could always transfer Amex points to Hilton points.
Or, as we approach our travel plans, we can compare prices between the different mileage programs and transfer our points only once we’ve decided whose mileage program offers the cheapest options to our travel destination. If we compare prices in points and see that United has the cheapest reward flight to Asia, then we can transfer our Chase points to United.
The main thing to remember is that your points need to be transferred into the mileage program (or hotel program) of your choice for you to get the best value, (rather than keeping them as Amex or Chase points and booking travel directly that way.) I know I’ve already said this, but it’s one of the easiest ways to get more value out of your earnings.
The steps for transferring are fairly simple.
American Express Membership Rewards Points transfer process:
1.) First sign into your American Express online account here.
2.) Click on “Rewards” at the top and then select “Use Points” on the drop-down.
3.) Click on the “Travel” tab.
4.) Select the “Transfer Points” option.
5.) There, you will see a “Hotels” tab and an “Airlines” tab. Select the one which applies and click on the icon of your transfer choice. From there, you will be prompted for the rest of the transfer.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Points transfer process:
1.) Sign into your Chase Ultimate Rewards account here.
Now…here’s where it gets a little complicated, so I strongly recommend reading my post on the intricacies of Chase. The basic thing to note here is that only certain Chase cards allow points-transfer as a benefit of the card. This means that even if you have a card that earns Chase points, you won’t be able to transfer them until you have one of the following cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, or Chase Ink Plus.
2.) Provided you have one of the cards listed above, the transfer process is very simple. At the top of your account page you will see a “Point Transfer” tab.
3.) You will see two options, one for hotels and one for airlines. Just as with Amex points, you will see a display of icons. Select the one you want and follow the prompts.
So what are the recommended transfers?
With Amex pints we will usually transfer to one of the following: Air Canada, British Airways or ANA. We base this decision on availability as well as whose flights seem to produce the least amount of fuel surcharges.
With Chase points we almost always transfer to United miles. This is because United miles have pretty much no fuel surcharges. This means that your “free flight” won’t have a surprise $200 fee tacked onto it. Not to mention United’s mileage program offers fairly good award prices for economy and also allows one free stopover for any roundtrip, international award flight. We love United and thus, we love Chase points too.
Let’s recap the basic points:
1.) The bank points especially worth noting are American Express Membership Rewards points (Amex points) and Chase Ultimate Rewards points (Chase points.)
2.) Bank points are useful for allowing flexibility. You can earn knowing that you’ll later be able to transfer based on your travel needs.
3.) Transferring points will give you a better value than booking directly with your points, though your online account allows you to do either.
Again, for a more in-depth look at Chase points specifically (our favorite) I recommend checking out this post on getting to know Chase.
From the very beginning of our travel together, my husband and I have done all of our international flying with frequent-flier-miles. With Asia and Easter Island both on our itinerary for our first gap-year of travel, crossing the distances we had in mind would have seemed financially impossible for us without frequent flier miles.
Perhaps there’s a misconception out there that you must first pay for a significant amount of flying before you can accumulate enough frequent-flier-miles for a free international flight. That may be true when using the traditional approach to earning miles. But there is another strategy that has become quite popular for earning miles that requires no flying at all.
There are dozens of them. And of course, it can get quite confusing. So I’ve put together a list of 10 things to help you understand travel rewards cards, and therefore, use them to help you with your own travel goals.
1.) Not all cards advertised as “travel rewards cards” will earn you frequent flier miles.
There are basically four types of currencies you can earn with travel rewards cards: 1) frequent flier miles with a mileage program, 2) hotel points with a hotel rewards program, 3) points that can be transferred into frequent flier miles or hotel points, and 4) points that can be used to reimburse money you spend on travel.
The latter can be good for covering what frequent flier miles cannot, but won’t be as significant in earning you a free international flight.
2.) Just because a card is offering a bonus, it doesn’t mean it’s a good bonus.
All the major travel credit cards advertise mile or point bonuses. This is the main appeal in many cases however, it’s worthwhile to do some research when you see a card offering a bonus. For instance as mentioned above, there are various currencies in the travel rewards card world. Find out what an advertised bonus could realistically translate to in terms of travel.
Even once you have acquainted yourself with the bonus’ currency, it’s also good to know the difference between a good bonus and a weak bonus. At least when it comes to miles, hotel points, or points that can be transferred into miles, we generally tell people that 50,000 points is a good bonus.
3.) There are often requirements you must reach before you earn the bonus.
Occasionally a card will offer a bonus that you can receive as soon as you sign up or make your first purchase. But more often there is a spend-requirement you must reach first. Generally it’s set anywhere from $1,000-$10,000 spent within the first 3-6 months depending on the card.
Many cards offer bill-pay set-ups online to help you work towards that spend-requirement with your ordinary spending.
In the travel-hacking community however, it has become quite popular to use your credit card to purchase something that can easily be turned back into useable cash. Gift cards for example have paved the way for a cheap though admittedly complicated strategy for reaching spend requirements.
4.) Many cards also have an annual fee, though sometimes it’s waived for the first year.
It’s up to you how to handle this annual fee. Sometimes the card’s regular earnings from ordinary spending, annual gifts, or other card perks are enough for the annual fee to be worth it. That is up to you but you should understand that canceling a card after just a year can have an effect (albeit a fairly small one) on your credit score.
Your credit score takes your average length of history into account and having multiple 1-year accounts will lower that average. Because of this, we recommend having a few no annual fee cards that you will keep, even if you never use them. We also recommend that, if a person doesn’t feel they can keep up with the annual fee (or doesn’t wish to), they try having the card downgraded to a no-annual fee card after the first year.
5.) Collecting miles with credit-cards has a lot to do with credit score.
Most of the good travel cards require you to have at least a fair credit-score for approval. You can get a free credit score estimate with sites like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma. Technically they are just estimates, but they tend to be pretty close to accurate.
6.) Having multiple credit cards can actually improve your credit score.
Credit score works a little differently than many people may assume. It is less a measure of your financial status, and more a measure of your ability to be responsible with debt. It’s all about debt management really.
Therefore, the more cards you are responsible with, the higher your score will be. We have tested this and seen it to be true, as have many others.
Of course, the most important point here is that being responsible with multiple cards has a good effect. Being irresponsible with multiple cards could be very dangerous.
You can read more about what responsible credit card use is in our post about how credit score and travel-hacking work.
7.) Applying for cards too closely together will prevent you from getting approved.
Applying for one card today and another one tomorrow will make you look desperate and will prevent you from getting approved for a card, even if your credit score is great. If there are multiple rewards cards you’re interested in, wait at least 3 months between each application. Some suggest you don’t need to wait that long, but this is the safer strategy.
Credit cards are a huge part of the travel-hacking budget strategy and these 7 things will give you a place to start your research. Ultimately, the idea here is that rewards cards are helping you and that you’re in control of them, not the other way around. While trial and error is certainly a part of everything in life, especially when it comes to credit and credit cards, it’s good to be as informed as possible from the beginning.
We’ve all heard horror stories from our friends—and have many of our own—about certain airline experiences. With the sheer volume of flights scheduled around the world on any given day, it is a statistical certainty that there will be the occasion snafu, and sometimes it’s your flight’s turn to have the bad day, and sometimes it isn’t. So, it’s generally wise to not let one friend’s horror story or isolated incident inform your opinion of an airline.
That’s what I thought when I head of a friend’s troubles with Air Berlin the other day. Living in Copenhagen, she was scheduled to fly to Miami for a short vacation to see family. Due to an epic screw-up on the airline’s part, she has found that the soonest she could reach her destination would be in two days, thus destroying her much-anticipated visit. This was compounded by the fact that they were reportedly rude and unhelpful.
She was crushed and angry, so I took her rant about the airline with a grain of salt, especially considering the sterling reputation of the normally efficient Germans. She was crushed and angry, so I took her rant about the airline with a grain of salt—until I read this.
In fairness, other friends who have flown the airline reported nothing but positive experiences. But when a major magazine runs a story about an airline’s slow-motion meltdown and includes the line, “Germany’s second-largest airline has become a mesmerizing spectacle of shaming and apology” in the first paragraph, there is definitely grounds for warning my fellow travelers to think twice before booking until the company sorts itself out.
Air Asia has just announced that that they will be offering child-free quiet zones on some of their flights. As someone well out of the baby-toting years of parenthood, I can see how this will be appreciated by the many folks on flights who don’t have toddlers and don’t “hear the music” as my husband puts it.
I don’t enjoy ill-behaved children. As a parent, however, I realize that it’s a bit more complicated than it appears to the casual observer to keep a kid sane, happy and socially acceptable on a 30 hour marathon around the world. I’m not opposed to a few rows of “quiet seating” as it does more than isolate the childless from the irritating child, it isolates the irritating adults from the parents who are doing their level best, with more or less success, depending on the flight.
We can all agree that parents should do their best to make sure their kids are cooperative on a flight. But the flip side of that is that people traveling without young children (which is most of us, frankly) could really stand to work a bit harder at not being a pain in the ass and perhaps even stretching so far as to be part of the solution.
Would that be too much to ask?
Quiet-zones on flights are one part of the solution, but another part is treating children like people, not pets, and remembering what it was like to be little and out of control of your environment. Why not be a blessing to a struggling parent instead of one more critic, and find a way to be part of the solution?
It’s just good karma.
Vagabond – a person, usually without a permanent home, who wanders from place to place; nomad.
While vagabonders may not have a permanent home, they do still need a way to get around. Most of us vagabonders who decide to take off, whether it’s for a couple months, a year, or permanently, utilize some combination of flights, buses, trains, and any other number of ways to get from point A to point B.
If you’ve ever planned this type of trip, you know that flights are going to be the most expensive part of the trip. Not only that, but trying to decide between buying a multi-stop flight prior to leaving or one-ways as you go, then trying to decide which website/company to go with, can be a time-consuming and maddening process.
BootsnAll is hoping to make that part of the planning process much easier for you.
For the past two years, we have been hard at work on a new product that we think is going to change how people plan long-term trips. It’s a multi-country flight finder that allows travelers to get instant prices, with no rules, and book up to 25-leg trips online. Surprisingly, this has not been done before. Try to book a trip online (Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, Airtreks etc), with more than 6 legs. It can’t be done…. until now!
You may have noticed us linking to Indie in past posts on Vagablogging, and that’s because we’ve had it in beta testing mode for a few months. So that means that people have been searching and buying on Indie. See what some industry experts and customers have to say about Indie:
Rolf Potts says, “BootsnAll’s Indie allows you to explore the possibilities of long-term travel in a way that actually reflects the flexibility of independent travel. It enables you to research international multi-stop and around-the-world flights with instant pricing, online booking, and none of the cumbersome rules and restrictions that come with airline-alliance bookings. If you’re only planning a trip from Point A to Point B you might not need Indie — but if your journey entails onward travel to Points C or D or Z, Indie is an essential research tool.”
Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity, says “Around the world travel planning has never been easy. For years this has been a manual task. When I went around the world in 1970 it took forever to get a price and it was manual. When I ran programming for SABRE air fare pricing, we always avoided RTW as it was just too hard. BootsnAll is a great answer for RTW fares in just a few minutes. I don’t know any other site that can do so many legs so quickly.”
“We travelled around the world last year and are looking to go again in 2013… We have had a number of quotes again using Star Alliance, etc. (that we used last time), but this system [Indie] seems a thousand times easier and lets us get to exactly where we want to go without the usual restrictions placed on you with other round the world ticket companies.” says Brian Kelly, an Australian traveler who is planning a round the world trip for his family of four.
Jamie Boud says, “Although I’ve never done an “around the world” trip, it’s something I think about often. It’s fun to plot out various trips just to see what the prices are, and then day dream about putting it all together.”
To start checking prices and building trips, all you have to do is register, enter cities and dates, click search, and Voila! Live pricing. See something you like? Go ahead and book.
To get you started, here are a few cool trips we’ve found recently:
Don’t forget to sign up for BootsnAll’s RTW newsletter, delivering special deals, RTW trip planning advice, and resources via email every single month. We also have a Facebook fan page and Twitter page, so be sure to like and follow those to keep up to date on all your RTW travel needs.
Sean Keener, CEO of Boots-N-All is a friend of mine and one of the most passionate people I know when it comes to developing resources to empower and encourage independent travel. A few months ago he let me in on the Beta testing of the ace up his sleeve, and today I’m as excited as he is about the launch.
The team over at Boots-N-All has made a giant leap forward for the indie travel market in developing a tool that will allow us all to chart our own courses in a way that has not been possible up to this point.
Did you Know?
Not any more!
It’s the first of it’s kind airfare booking service with no rules, instant prices and online booking for itineraries of more than six stops.
It’s being unveiled for the very first time today, after being in Beta for three months. As someone who travels full time, I can’t tell you how excited I am about the possibilities!
Kudos to Sean and the team for putting together yet another practical resource the could change the travel industry.
Check it out, people: http://indie.bootsnall.com
Flying with your Service Dog takes a bit of pre-planning. Most airlines require 48 hours advance notice about your canine partner. Initially tickets can be booked online through a collective search website like CheapOair. Before purchasing tickets, check out the Airlines direct website for Service Animal rules. Under Federal Law airlines are required to allow Service Animals but a few are friendlier about it than others.
For example: Delta Airlines states on their Special Concerns page “We welcome trained service animals in the aircraft cabin. Trained service animals are different from emotional support animals in that they have been trained to perform a particular function or service to assist a passenger with a disability in the management of their disability. Under most circumstances, we do not require passengers using trained service animals to provide additional documentation. However, it is expected that a service animal behave in public and follow the direction of its owner.”
Special note: If you have an Emotional Support or Psychiatric Service Animal you must provide documentation from your Mental Health Professional.
Before finalizing travel plans take into account if your dog will need to relieve itself during a layover. Allow yourself as much time as possible in case you’ll need to exit and re-enter a security check point.
Two days before, call into customer service and follow the extensions for an existing flight. Have your ticket conformation number handy. Let the representative know you’re traveling with a Service Dog and at this time you may request a bulkhead seat. From experience, I’ve found that the bulkhead window seat provides the most floor room for my dog to curl up. Sometimes (but not always) they’ll ask the breed and size of your animal and also what tasks it preforms for you. Any airline staff or airport personal are allowed to ask what tasks your dog preforms for you. They can NOT ask directly what your disability is. Answer them nicely. They only do this to confirm legitimate Service Dogs.
Navigating security isn’t as horrible as the media advertises. Liquid restrictions and the taking off of shoes is a pain; but it’s just part of the process. On the upside you don’t have to stand in those long, long security lines. Look for a sign that says, “Crew or Passengers needing extra assistance.” These lines are generally shorter and will help accommodate your needs. To enter, hand them your boarding pass, ID and Service Dog Handler ID. That last one isn’t required; however it helps to have one. Mine is plastic (size of a credit card) has my countries flag, the names of myself and my Service Dog as well as our photos. On the back is printed the U.S. Federal Law about ADA Act, along with phone numbers and website address for the Department of Justice. Occasionally this ID has been photocopied, along with her vet papers, when we’ve flown internationally.
Generally, I opt for the old fashion metal detectors and put my dog in a sit-stay on one side. Pass through myself, and call her through to me. Do not remove your animals harness or vest. Only their packs need to go on the belt. If possible I take extra care not to “beep”, but my dog always does. Her working harness, collar and leash all have metal buckles—no avoiding that. This does mean TSA will pat down and search your dog. I use a stand-wait command for my Service Dog. That way she can be searched without interaction with the agent. The process doesn’t take long. They feel her harness and usually swab her for explosive residue. If you need to hold your dog during the search, they’ll swab your hands too. In the event your dog is uncomfortable being handled by strangers with rubber gloves, get a thin cape with plastic buckles and a rope leash to avoid them “beeping.” Place their normal working gear in the bin with your shoes.
When at your gate; take advantage of pre-boarding. You can get yourself and your animal settled before the wave of other passengers. I take along a small blanket to place on the floor so she doesn’t leave fur behind. It’s also good practice to find out if the fellow passenger beside you likes dogs once they sit down. I’ve personally never had an issue with anyone not.
Flying international with your Service Dog requires extra paperwork and attention to detail; as well as, traveling with mobility equipment, such as a wheelchair. I’ll address that in another post.
You’re excited. You’ve just boarded a plane to start your vagabonding journey. Then it happens: a baby starts crying. Sometimes it gets worse: other babies start crying too. What was going to be a relaxing flight has turned into a scream-fest. If you don’t have noise-cancelling headphone on hand, what can you do?
Air Asia X has approached this problem by creating a Quiet Zone on its long-haul planes. Starting February 2012, the first seven rows in economy class will be reserved for guests age 12 and above. The nice thing is that there is no extra charge for this preferential seating.
Would you prefer airlines to go further, say having an entire class that’s for adults only or flights that are child-free? Worth an extra fee? If you have horror stories, how did you deal with this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.