IMG_2640.jpgDC has a new hotel. It is the Marriott Marquis in Downtown DC. It opened last year and is a gem in a city with several good, but mostly aging hotels. The first thing that hits you about this hotel is the openness. The vast sky high lobby with its exquisite layout is a breath of fresh air. The architecture is modern, and the hotel ‘feels’ fresh and upbeat.

The rooms were great – I got one with a lobby view, which was not bad at all (see picture). The hotel has a great ‘M Lounge’ which provides an awesome view of DC from its balcony. Breakfast in the lounge was excellent with ample selections!

Like any downtown hotel, parking is expensive. The good news was that over the weekend (while I was there), there was ample free street parking just a block from the hotel. I am sure this is not true on the weekdays. I know the meters are not free on weekdays for sure.

All in all, I loved the hotel and would choose to stay there over any other hotel in DC that I have checked out.  IMG_2641.jpg IMG_2642.jpg IMG_2636.jpg IMG_2637.jpg IMG_2638.jpg

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I took my first flight on an Airbus A380 a few weeks ago. It was a Lufthansa operated flight – and a long one – from Johannesburg (JNB) to Frankfurt (FRA). The flight was 5,380 miles long and pretty much goes across the length of the entire continent of Africa, over the Mediterranean and then on to Germany.

Now, on to the A380. Yes, it is massive. You can see pictures of the plane below. One of the first things you realize when you get in is the sheer sense of size. Even in Economy, where I was, which is the lower deck, the ceilings seem higher and the cabin just seems bigger than any I have been in. The larger windows add to the feeling of size. A point to note on that – while the windows are larger, they are only larger on the inside. The actual glass portal on the ours of the plane did not appear to be much larger than regular planes (see picture below).

The flight I was on was full – a flight attendant said that there were less than 20 seats open in Economy. That is a lot given the Lufthansa A380 has 420 economy seats in this configuration (with no premium economy). Seatmaps can be found here.

The flight itself was extremely comfortable. There was hardly any engine noise. There was significant turbulence, which I am told is not unusual for this route, going over the Equator, several mountain ranges, and an ocean.

Looking forward to flying a 787 and a A350 soon.

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Every once in a while one gets lucky – an upgrade to a suite in a hotel. I was staying for one night at the Westchester Marriott in Westchester County, NY. It was an uneventful stay and a nondescript Marriott, in a non-so-exciting location. I showed up really late and was in for a surprise – as a Gold Elite they upgraded me to the Presidential Suite.

I wish it had happened on a longer duration stay, and when I was on a vacation with my family rather than by myself, for one night, for work, but that was the case.

The room was extremely nice. With a dining room, kitchen, living room and a bedroom. There was a swivel TV between the sitting area and the bedroom (see pictures). I wish it was amore exciting hotel with nicer amenities… Pictures of the room are attached.

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Related Posts (Hotel Reviews):

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VA789.jpgThe new ’stretch’ version of Boeing’s 787 ‘Dreamliner’ (787-9) are now being put into service. I happened to see my first 787-9 at Dulles airport (IAD) last week, operated by Virgin Atlantic. Virgin replaced it’s aging A340 that it used to fly to to Washington Dulles from London Heathrow (LHR). The schedule of operations is:

VS21 DEPART LHR 11:25 ARRIVE IAD 15:00

VS22 DEPART IAD 19:15 ARRIVE LHR 07:35+1 -

You can tell in the picture that it is a 787 by looking at the wingtips and the ‘waffle’ pattern on the jets.

This is an interesting development as British Airways just started flying a A380 to Dulles from Heathrow – a new plane battle in play? BA’s A380 was conveniently parked just a few gates away from Virgin’s 787-9. You can tell in the picture that it is an A380 by the double rows of windows across the entire plane.

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The longest 787-9 route:

United has launched the longest route for it’s 1st 787-9s, flying them from Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL). At 7,921 miles, it is a long one. LAX-MEL actually is a perfect fit for what is called a ‘long-thin route’ – long route with low volume.

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Great article on Bloomberg this morning. US based airlines – mainly the large ones with huge international networks – United, Delta and American, have been in Washington, DC asking for help in competing against Gulf based carriers. The Gulf based carriers – Emirates, Qatar and Etihad are making big inroads into the US market and taking marketshare from the US based countries. These inroads are mainly due to ‘Open Skies’ agreements that allow carriers from other countries to have access to multiple city in each others markets. This has resulted in the Gulf based airlines flying into multiple markets across the US. Given their better service, people are choosing the Gulf based airlines over the US based airline (who wouldn’t? especially if you are NOT an Elite on a US based airline).

I agree with the author that asking for Congress to reduce ‘open market’ competition is not the way the US based airlines should go. They have equal access to other markets. You compete by offering a better product, at a fair price. That’s free market capitalism. Your thoughts? Share below by leaving a comment.

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As I discussed in my last blog post, if you book a full-fare or flexible-fare economy ticket that is booked as a Y or a B fare, you will earn 150% of the miles flown on the trip. This is not a reason to buy these tickets as they can cost several times the cost of a regular ticket, but if you do get booked into this fare class, it is good to know if you will or will not earn the 150% miles. It is not a given, as I will come to shortly. If you need a flexible ticket due to fluid plans or you like me, book last minute travel or one-way tickets, you may get booked into these fares.

Other than Y/B, if one purchases full-fare Business Class or First Class fares, there is the 150% mileage bonuses for that too. These bonuses can be up to 200% for Award miles (RDM), but remain 150% for Elite miles. Conversely, if you purchase discounted Business or First tickets, you may not earn any bonus Elite miles. These fares are actually sometimes cheaper than Y/B fares, so it makes sense.United-747-at-HKG.jpg

In this blog post, I will list out which airline partners award the 150% miles on full fare Economy, Business and First fares when earning miles on United MileagePlus program. I only researched this program as this is my primary mileage program. Furthermore, I only looked at United’s Star Alliance Partners. United has several other partners outside Star Alliance, like India’s Jet Airways, but they do not award Elite miles to United flyers, so I ignored them for now.

I personally found this data useful. I recently flew Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to London (IST – LHR) on my way back to the US. it was a B-fare, but I earned no bonus, as Turkish does not award it. If I had known this fact, I may have explored flying on Lufthansa instead and return to the US via Frankfurt instead of via London, as Lufthansa does offer 150% EQM.

On a side note, I was surprised actually to find out how many airlines do not have a First class product. Just Economy and Business class. United does so too on some of its international flights that are only 2-class: Economy and BusinessFirst.

Here is the list. The format of this is such:

<Airline Name> – <150% on Y/B fares in Economy>, <150% on full-fare in Business Class>, <150% on full-fare in First Class>

Highlighted airlines (in bold) offer 150% EQM on Y/B economy fares.

  • United – Yes, Yes, Yes (of course)

[To decode – United awards 150% EQM on full fare Economy, Business and First fares]

  • Adria – No, No (No F)
  • Aegean – No, No (No F)
  • Air Canada – Yes, Yes, Yes
  • Air China – No, No, No
  • Air India – No, Yes, Yes
  • Air New Zealand – No, No (No F)
  • ANA – Yes, Yes, Yes
  • Asiana Airlines – No, No, No
  • Austrian – Yes, No/Yes, Yes (Some Business fares earn 150% EQM, and some do not)
  • Avianca – No, No, (No, F)
  • Brussels Airlines – Yes, Yes, (No F)
  • Copa Airlines – Yes (125%), Yes (150%, 175%), (No F) (Full fare Economy only earns 125%, and Some Business fares earn 150% EQM, and some earn 175%)
  • Croatia Airlines – No, No, (No F)
  • Egyptair – No, No, No
  • Ethiopian Airlines – No, No, (No F)
  • Eva Air – No, No, (No F)
  • LOT Polish Airlines – No, No, (No F)
  • Lufthansa – Yes, No, Yes, No, Yes, Yes (multiple yes/no combinations here. Lufthansa has a Premium Economy class on some aircraft. This earns the 150% miles for some fares. Same is true for Business class).
  • SAS – Yes, Yes, (No F)
  • Shenzhen Airlines – No, No, No
  • Singapore Airlines – No, No, No, No
  • South African Airlines – No, No, (No F)
  • Swiss – Yes, Yes, Yes
  • TAP Portugal – No, No, (No F)
  • THAI – No, No, No
  • Turkish Airlines – No, No (No F)

Read More:

Earning more miles than you actually fly – the how and why?

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When I looked at the miles I have earned over the years, I have found a consistent trend – my earned Award miles (RQM) and Elite miles (EQM) are always are greater than the actual miles flown (BIS – Butt-in-Seat Miles). This is not unique to me, you will see this in your accounts too. There are four reasons this happens:

  1. Elite Status
  2. Minimum miles per segment
  3. Class of travel bonus
  4. Fare bonus

Elite Status:

As an Elite you will earn extra Award miles (RDM) on every flight. This can be up to 100% of the miles flown. For example, on United, Silver Elites get 25% bonus miles, Golds get 50%, Platinums 75% and 1k’s get 100% mileage bonus. So, as a 1k (100,000 EQM or more in a year) you get 2 miles for every 1 mile flown on United’s MileagePlus program. Note – these are only Award miles. There are no bonus Elite miles awarded for being an Elite.IMG_1227.jpg

Minimum miles per segment:

This happens when an airline awards you a minimum # of miles for each short segment flown, irrespective of the actual length of the short segment. For United, for example, this is 500 miles per segment, for any segment that is shorter than 500 miles. For segments longer than 500, of course, you earn the actual miles flown. It is important to note that most airlines, like United, only offer this minimum miles per segment only to their Elites. Even the lowest level of Elites (Silver on United) earn this bonus. If you fly a lot of short sub-500 mile segments, this adds up fast. One year I flew from Washington DC to Charlotte, NC (DCA – CLT) 16 times (8 round trips). The actual miles are only 331 miles. Earning 500 per segment gave me an extra 2,704 miles (both RDM and EQM) that year!

Class of travel Bonus:

As my employer is too cheap to pay for it, I very rarely fly on paid upper class – Business or First, so I very rarely earn this. However, if you do fly on paid Business or First, you get significant bonus miles for the class of travel. This can be up to 200% in First Class. I will discuss this in more detail in a later blog post.

Fare Bonus:

This way of earning extra occurs for me often. I travel for business with lots of one-way, multi-city and last minute bookings. These often get booked into full-fare or flexible-fare economy tickets. These are referred to as Y/B fares by airlines, as those are the two fare buckets they get booked into. Most airlines will give you 150% RDM and EQM for Y/B fares. This can add up fast too, especially on International flights! A fe moths ago I flew back to Washington DC from Johannesburg, South Africa, flying JNB-FRA on Lufthansa (my first A380 flight. yay!) and FRA-IAD on United. All on economy B fare tickets. And I actually flew in economy as my upgrades did not clear on either segment (my butt and back still hurt even thinking of it). The actual miles on the flights are:

JNB – FRA: 5,380

FRA – IAD: 4,081

The Elite miles (EQM) I actually earned because of the 150% fare bonus were:

JNB – FRA: 8,070

FRA – IAD: 6,121

Thats 4,730 extra Elite miles!!

(As a 1K Elite, I get double miles for every mile flown, so the final RQM miles were even more).

It is important to note that buying a Y/B fare ticket does not guarantee 150% mile bonus. They do not always work with partner flights. For example, when earning on United, more than half of its Star Alliance partners do NOT give the 150% miles. In my next blog post, I will go into details of which do and which do not.

Are Y/B fares worth it for the miles?:

NO! Do not buy Y/B fares just for the extra miles, especially with your own money. These fares are exorbitant. If you need the miles, you are better off looking for a low fare ticket that earns you regular miles and taking the extra flight just for the miles (mileage run) rather than pay what will typically be several times more to up-fare a flight you are taking to Y/B fares to get 50% more miles.

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2014 was a great year for earning miles and points. I travelled more than I had ever travelled before, hence earning more Airline Miles and Hotel Points than ever before. I also made good redemptions taking my family on a Business Class trip to Asia and not paying a single dollar for any personal hotel stay. Just as importantly, I retained Elite status on United (1k) and Marriott and Hilton (Gold on both). In full disclosure, the Marriott Gold was not earned but from my Elite status on United. I also got a status match of Gold on Turkish Airlines, giving me free domestic Lounge access in the US.

Well, today is January 1st and as far as Elite status is concerned, the clock as been reset. (All except for Turkish Airlines which has a 2 year clock). And yes, my 150,000+ Status miles on United are now at a big fat Zero. The slog starts again…UA 0.tiff

For those who fly United, this will be an interesting year. United has changed over to a Revenue based program for earning award miles (Elite Status Miles earning remains unchanged). For those traveling for business or non-super-cheap leisure travel, this is good news, especially if you are an Elite. For others, not so much. I will post another blog post on some analysis I have done on this change.

Redeeming Miles will certainly become harder. Almost all airlines and hotels are devaluing miles by increasing redemption levels. United has done so by increasing Partner redemption levels significantly. Marriott and Hilton have both raised the category levels of several hotels that now require more points to book award stays. There are some total dumps categorized as category 5 and higher for Marriott especially.

On a personal note, I was not blogging much in the second half of 2014. I intend to make 2015 a more active year for blogging. So, come back often and keep reading.

Safe travels to all in 2015! Here’s to 100% GPS tracked air traffic!

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An American Airlines passenger was escorted off the plane at La Guardia (LGA) this morning for getting agitated because crew members repeatedly wished him ‘Merry Christmas’. I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, but really?American Airlines

Personally I am sick of all this ‘PC’ business. Everyone should have the right to wish someone else Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, or other festive greetings for other festivals. Given Christmas is the predominant holiday being celebrated around the world at this time of the year, why can’t the crew say ‘Merry Christmas’. Unfortunately, the passenger will probably get a ‘Very Merry Christmas’ payout by suing American Airlines for this and settling out of court.

(Full Disclosure – I am not a Christian. But I have a Christmas tree in my house, and yes we exchanged gifts this morning. You can wish me ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Happy Hanukah’, ‘Eid Mubarak’, ‘Happy Diwali’ or ‘May the Force be with you’, anytime).

Source – Yahoo News.

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Airlines are getting on the WiFi bandwagon in droves. I remember Lufthansa testing WiFi in their long haul planes over a decade agoEmirates 777.jpg . Most airlines in the US have WiFi now – however, most of them have terrestrial (ground based) WiFi. The challenge with that is that it only works when over the mainland. I remember on my last Delta flight to Jamaica, the FAs announcing that we will lose WiFi in a 30 minutes, as we were approaching the Florida coast. To get full flight coverage one needs satellite based WiFi. Thankfully United, a laggard to adopt WiFi, has chosen to go all out with Sattelite based WiFi. Right now availability is limited – I have not experienced it on any long haul flights. United has also chosen to offer streaming entertainment on personal devices and pull out the IFEs as a result of this, but more on that in another post.

Most (almost all) the airlines change for WiFi, or get sponsors to cover the fee. United for example, has the entertainment streaming for free for now, sponsored by the United MileagePlus credit card. WiFi for email etc has to be paid for by the hour.

Emirates – a class apart

A pleasant surprise for me was flying Emirates last month. I flew from Dubai to Johannesburg, South Africa (DXB-JNB) on Emirates. It was a good 8+ hour flight. WiFi on the whole flight – for a whopping $1! There was a data limit. IIRC it was 500MB, after that there was a just as nominal charge for the next block of data. I did email and FaceTimed my family multiple times and did not get to even half that data usage.

I know airlines are constantly looking to get their revenue up. If you are a stockholder, that is a good thing, but as a customer, I hate getting nickel and dime-ed for everything. Now, one could argue that the Emirates approach was a nickel and dime action – why bother with a dollar and just make it free. But, this way they can control people who want to stream the whole four seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ on HBOGo – it will cost them. For me, it was a no brainer and something my family appreciated to. They were literally in touch with me the whole flight. Priceless.

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The end of US Airways is coming near. American Airlines and US Airways have both sent out emails stating that the mileage programs of US Airways will be combined with that of American sometime in Q2 2015. This is just one step of the merger process, but it is a major one. The rebranding and re-fitting of aircraft is progressing and will probably take some time. Heck, there are still United planes with Tulips on them…

I have not ever been a fan of US Airways. And I am not alone – just look at all the comments posted by readers to my ‘US Airways Sucks?’ blog post. That remains one of the most read posts I have even written and is by far the one with the most active, and ever active for comments. While I appreciate the traffic, for all us travelers, I will be glad when we no longer have US Airways to complain about.

The ending of US Airways Dividend Miles Program does provide with an earning opportunity that only happens once in a while – the ability to get sign-up bonuses on two Credit Cards, knowing that the miles will be combined. In this case as soon as by June 2015! So, if you don’t have both the US Airways and American Airlines credit cards, apply for both and get these extra miles in your account.

A total of 100,000 miles in one account is way, way more valuable than 50,000 each spread over two accounts!

Here are the links for both cards, showing the best offers I have been able to find:

  • The US Airways Premier World MasterCard® – Current offer: 50,000 miles after 1st purchase (no minimum). $89 annual fee (NOT waived the first year) (Offer Gone)
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® – Same offer at US Airways, BUT fee waived for the first year)

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