My very long journey to nowhere started out very early at Boston Logan Airport. I had a 6 AM flight, and was at the airport close to 4 AM. Surprisingly security was already open at that ridiculous hour and so was PreCheck, that was a huge bonus for me. I really hate having to disrobe and unpack to get through “normal” security I was out in a flash and ready to take on the airport. I’ve been here before but it’s been a long time, and I frankly can’t remember what terminal United was in but they are now in Terminal B. It’s entirely possible that they were in B before but since this section was recently remodeled and the United Club was moved to the second floor I’m guessing it’s a new space for them.
The welcome package has arrived
It’s a miracle of epic proportions. Did hell freeze over? Or did United Airlines actually do something right for a change?
For the first time in many years United actually sent out their new frequent flier credentials before the old ones expire. In UA’s case, as of a couple years ago, your previous year’s status carries over to January 31st of the following year.
There have been many years where I’ve gone w/out new credentials for many months. Frankly getting credentials is really not that big of a deal, especially when for me I only flew them three times after March or last year. But the crux really comes down to their partner airlines and access to their lounges. There are airlines that will not let you access their lounges w/out the hard plastic card. Over the years I’ve had to sweat it out on occasion and beg to get access because my ticket had my 1k or Star gold Status.
What’s the big deal here? Well, when on an international trip regardless of class of service, if you’re flying any Star Alliance carrier and have Gold Status or better you can visit them for free. Some lounges are great and others are not worth writing home about, but hey when you get access and can take a shower or get a drink in a quiet place on a delay why wouldn’t you want too?
Really for me at this point the surprise was that I got the card with weeks to spare. I can count on less than one foot the amount of times in the past 12 years the card has come on time. Let’s just say it’s only happened 3 times.
Good on you United.
My new Gold card, with 1 Million Mile Status (nice touch)
and a luggage tag
Asiana a380 Seoul to Los Angeles
Visiting Thailand and the island of Koh Samui
Back in 2013 United Airlines announced a major devaluation of their frequent flier award program. It was a sad day for me because I loved their program and it was generous. For example you could fly in first class to South Asia via Europe from anywhere in the US for 75k miles one way, now 130k on partner airlines. Also if you booked a roundtrip (double the points) you could include a stopover of any length anywhere along the way plus and open jaw. In plain English this means you could fly from LA to Singapore stopover in Paris for as long as you want and then continue to Singapore. Then when you fly home you could fly from say Thailand and go back to the U.S. via Europe again. Also you could make a total of 10 connections and on those connections stay up to 23 hours 59 minutes in each connection city. There’s no other airline that let you do this as far as I know.
Well it’s been almost nine months since I’ve flown United Airlines. Wow it’s hard to believe it’s been that long. The last time I flew them in March was for my third mileage run to Dubai in a six week period. Yes I know I’m nuts.
No I’ve not stopped traveling, are you crazy, and In fact another banner year with over 160k paid miles flown. Plus my wife and I are about to embark on an epic trip around the world.
Why no love for the former world’s largest airline? Well they just aren’t what they used to be. Tomorrow I’m taking a short haul up to Seattle in connection with a much larger trip from the Bay Area and it just feels weird to fly on UA. I’m hoping that the crew and flight experience are back to the good old days before the merger with Continental, but I don’t have high hopes. But you never know things can change, right? The crazy part, is I don’t miss them. I do miss my 1k status and better shot at free upgrades, and the friendly staff from years gone by, but all of that disappeared years ago. Plus I get way better treatment on American, Alaska and even Delta. What’s there to really miss?
I guess I’ll find out. Maybe.
UUGH what a day, we just landed in the US after our awesome 13 day Transatlantic cruise. This was a risky trip for us, since we would be taking “S” on such a long ocean journey not knowing if she would get seasick or even enjoy the trip. Plus we brought along my mom yes voluntarily. I’ll save the vacation posts, pictures and details for another time, but as I sit at 37,000 feet in my not so awesome middle seat, I reflect on the not so friendly service that United Airlines provided our family of four.
I bought these tickets about 6 months ago mainly for two reasons, a direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale to SFO and for the fact that I could upgrade us at time of booking to first class from coach with miles or coupons. I thought that this would be a nice ending to our trip, and for a 6 hours flight, would make the ride a little bit more comfortable. In this case I rolled the dice and only upgraded the other three and hoped I’d get a freebie, but if I didn’t I’d gladly sit in the back in my extra legroom seat, or sit with the munchkin upfront if my wife wanted peace and quiet.
As usual I checked in about 23 hours in advance, I wanted to make sure that we had our seats and all was good, I’m also OCD to a point that I checked our seats weekly. UA as many frequent travelers know loves to bump your seats it’s just one of the many enhancements that CEO Jeff Smisek has added to this once great airline. Well, at the gate we hear an announcement looking for volunteers to give up their first class seat for $250, and my wife and I just laughed. Not for a 2500 mile journey. So sure enough we get to the gate to board and my mom and daughters tickets chime and they spit out new seats for them. They were in row 1 and 2 respectively with mom supposed to sit next to “S”, but “S” was moved to row 34 and mom to 24 booth middles. This was no joke. WTF. So for the next ½ hour the agent and I were trying to sort this out. She said we were on free tickets and it was the luck of the draw and that everyone else 13 passengers in first all paid for their tickets, this I find very hard to believe. Forget the fact that a computer takes a 2 ½ year old and moves them to the back, really. United you really sucked the big one today. Then the brilliant gate agent, and I use that term ever ever so loosely , tried to give my mom and daughter the same seat. I tried to explain to her that this would not work. I kept telling her we had four seats, and she thought my daughter was a lap child, forget the fact that the FAA requires all children over two too have their own seat. So again we were scrambling to get seats. The agent finally gave us two seats together in first for whomever wanted them, and the other two were seated in coach, mind you in the mean time they had moved my seat 2x and my mom’s about 4. She just could not get that we were all family members with the same last name but different first names, so she kept reissuing tickets and seats for the same person in one of our already occupied seats. OY are you keeping score at home.
Then she said for our troubles, read that our troubles we would get $250 bucks, what are you kidding me. Sure $250 is $250, but I paid for my upgrades fare and square, and that was NOT enough, she even had the audacity to tell me that another passenger would get $500, because they paid for their ticket and mine was free. Oh I was boiling, and it took all of my strength to not jump over the counter and yell at this lady. So with everyone on the plane except for mom and I, she finally issues us two seats in the back, and the ladies two seats up front, bad then started to process my compensation, which she said would be $500. All this while I have the diaper bag and child entertainment in our carryon suitcase, and I’m freaking out that they will make me check the bag, since they had to gate check about 10 bags. I calmly told them this must be one the plane. Because they were worried about space they had me sign the compensation form, and board sans my receipt. With the assurance she would come on board and give it to me. Well three hours onto my flight I’m still waiting. I want to hope that when I get off the plane, the SFO agent will have it for me, because w/out the receipt as far as I know I can’t claim the credit. But right now all I can think is that the agent will delete the paperwork and move one to her next task. Why do I think that, because the whole process was shady, there’s no reason we should have been downgraded. My wife is also a 100,000 mile flier and they were on the same reservation, I was the only one that was on a different reservation. Plus the fact that others got upgraded within the 100 hour window, which is when they pass out the freebies, and we had confirmed ours 6 months ago. So needless to say I currently have a very bad taste in my mouth.
Now between this incident, and all the other crap UA is pulling with the frequent flier program, I’m really starting to move away from them, but they have been my carrier of choice if I have an option and their price is reasonable. But I will no longer go out of my way to fly them. Which in years past meant if they were the same price as say US Air or Southwest, but their times were worse or forced a connection or flying from SJC or SFO instead of Oakland, I would still fly UA. But now between today’s seriously poor customer service incident and the aforementioned ones, I will avoid when possible.
What started out as a simple flight from San Francisco to Wyoming via Denver, ended up being three flights one aborted landing, on plane swap, a second mechanical while in the air and a 6 hour road trip with three strangers. Wow what a day yesterday. I had a trip scheduled that was 7 hours long and 2 flights, but as the travel gods giveth they taketh away too, and the trip took 17 hours instead. I was scheduled to fly from San Francisco to Jackson Hole Wyoming. SFO was a zoo Monday morning, the sequester was part of the issue, being a Monday was the other. My 5:35 AM flight was on time, but was oversold as were all flights to Denver till the late afternoon. United was looking for volunteers to travel later in the day if my travel plans were flexible. In my case they really weren’t but I was willing to change flights if I could get closer to my final destination Worland Wyoming. Central Wyoming is a little tough to fly into, even though there are several small airports there are only a few airlines that come here, so you’re not only limited on options but you can also pay an arm and a leg too. In this case Worland has an airport, but tickets were just over the moon expensive so I had booked to Jackson, 4 hours away because it was 40% cheaper, and I had a budget to keep.
So with that being said I jumped at the opportunity to change flights if I could get flown directly into Worland, which is serviced only by Great Lakes Airways two times a day, and is a partner airline of United, who was my carrier today. I knew that United may help me get there if I would give up my seat on this first flight. The agent found me an option that would get me to Worland at 8:30 PM, but it meant not leaving SFO till 1:30 PM, remember I was there for a 5:35 AM flight. They told me to hang out during bearding and would let me know if I was needed, secretly I was hoping I they would. Well I asked about 10 minutes later and they said they were good, I got on the plane sat in my seat and waited to take off. Sure enough a few minutes before departure they come on and ask me if I’ll still give up my seat, and I said yes.
At this point the agent starts to work their magic, and the whole time two other customers are yelling at the other agent because they MUST be on this flight, and don’t understand how their seat could be given to someone else. On and on they go, and my agent and I just smile at each other. If you only take one piece of advice form me never ever show up late for a flight, always check in online and be at the gate no later than 30 minutes before departure. Period. If you aren’t there you may lose your seat or just miss your flight, and some lucky SOB (read me) gets your seat. When I show up early walk up ask for standby and take your seat. It’s never malicious, but I can tell you countless times, I show up for an earlier flight ask for standby and viola I have a seat and get home hours early. While you beg and beg to get on a flight home.
So as the agent processes my new flight, she says I’ll standby you for the 7 AM, and I gladly accept. I’m now booked on a 1:30 PM to Denver and a 6:30 PM connection to Worland via Cheyenne. Whoo Hooo. I head over to the new gate an wait my turn hoping I get set up. Sure enough this flight is oversold and they need volunteers. SO it doesn’t look good, but I’m #1 on the standby list. I cross my fingers. 11 minutes before departure they have 3 seats that are still no shows and I’m still #1. They tell me to come up and line up, at 10 minutes they give me a seat number and I board. I go to my seat and it’s occupied. Crap. I go back up front and they say take any open seat, what is this Southwest I walk all the way to the back and there are none. I go back and say now what. They then move a non-rev to the jump seat and now all is set. We get to Denver on time, but…On landing about 2000 feet off the ground the plane starts to rev engines and ascent. Wait aren’t we landing. Apparently no, we circle around, and the pilot says a plane took too long to leave the runway so we had to abort landing. Just great. Ten minutes later we land and off I wait for 6 hours. At that point I go to the board to stare at other flights and what do I see the earlier Worland flight is delayed, and I may have a chance. I change terminals and hoof it to the gate, I have 20 minutes to the newly delayed departure. They tell me sure we can set you up. I’m stocked back on track. Well the 10:30 departure creeps from 11:40..12:00…12:15…12:25…12:50…1:15 plane swap due to mechanical 1:30…2 finally boarding. By now it’s snowing bad, and I just hope we get to leave. We get on do two deicing procedures, and off we go. At 3 we land in Cheyenne drop off 10 of 16 passengers deice and take off again for 1 more hour, at this time it’s 3:30. Half an hour later, the pilot comes on and says were going back, we have a mechanical issue that must be fixed in Cheyenne and can’t be fixed in Worland, no mechanics. CRAP, now what. I’m worried I may never make it to Worland, I have to work tomorrow. They have all six of us to deplane and hit the portable also known as the gate, what a Podunk airport for the capitol. 20 minutes later they give us two options, they’ll pay for a hotel and we wait till 11 AM Tuesday to continue to Worland 300 miles or 6 hours driving away, or fly back to Denver (which oh by the way was underground stop due to snow) and hope to get to Worland on the last flight or Tuesday afternoon. Three strangers and I are like can we drive, they say sure but it’s on you cost wise.
We all decide we’ll drive, two of the others were married and had travelled for 24 plus hours and just wanted to get home from vacation, the other was also from Worland and was going home to perform a few medical procedures the next day, so he had to be there. All three I had talked to during the several hour delay in Denver but they were all strangers. Sure this was not the smartest thing to do but I HAD to get here, and the other two options we’re not going to work in any way shape or form. So off we went, we got a car, our bags and off we drove. What can be a 4-5 hour drive took six because of bad weather ½ the time, that slowed us down on two lane slightly windy roads. It ended up being a fun drive, I got to see some really beautiful landscapes and parts of the US I had never seen before. Plus I got really great narrative of the scenery from locals who knew the area, it was a great tour of the South Eastern and Central parts of Wyoming. I called my wife to let her know my crazy plan, needless to say she thought I was straight up crazy. But sort of understood, what I had to do. She was worried but I texted and called her a few times to let her know I was alive.
Finally at 10:30 PM after one gas fill up, and dinner at South of the Border in Casper I got to my hotel unwound and went to sleep. What was one heck of a travel day was finally over. Sure this is not how I expected to get here, nor had I expected to meet 3 new friends, but hey it was fun and showed me again how amazing people can be in an odd situation. I made it via plane, not train and automobile. Take that John Candy.
So if you’re taking score at home. I was going to fly SFO to Jackson arriving at 11:30 AM, got rerouted to Worland via Riverton arriving at 8:30 PM, showed up in Denver and was put on the earlier Worland via Cheyenne at scheduled for arrival at 11:30, but due to the initial delay was 1:00 PM. I finally flew to Cheyenne and got off at 4:30 PM and arrived in Worland at 10:30 PM. BTW the original Worland flight landed at 11:45 PM so I was the winner right.
Wow what a year 2012 was, surprisingly this was not my top year of air travel or nights away from home for work or fun, but it was close. What made this year unique was that I made 5 trips to Sydney, Australia. A side trip to Auckland, one to Singapore and one to Hong Kong, with about 8 hours at Hong Kong Disneyland. I made 9 trips to Canada. Thank you Nexus and Global Entry for making the border crossings so darn easy. If you’re not familiar with these border crossing options that expedite transiting security check out the links below for information. I also ticked another state off the list, Alaska. I’ve only got 5 more to go before I hit them all. North and South Dakota, Vermont, Iowa, and West Virginia.
Beyond all this work travel (with a little fun sprinkled in) as a family we went to Alabama, Dallas, Disneyland, Australia and the Maldives. The crazy part is, my kid flew more miles this year then I most people do in a lifetime. Then with my buddies I went to Spring training for the third straight year and Miami to root on the Giants for a couple games, plus work on my suntan.
All totaled I flew over 200,000 miles this year with 140k on United and its partners, 60k on American Airlines and its partners. And a few other trips on other airlines I don’t really keep track of, like Southwest, Virgin America and Jet Blue. Thanks to a really great promotion back in April, I was able to get a status match on American to its top tier for being a 100k flier on United. Normally they charge a fee and require you to fly a certain amount of miles in a 90 day period, to get the status match. But because of this promotion, they auto matched if you could prove your current status. Why does this matter, well it allowed me the opportunity to fly other airlines, earn extra frequent flier miles to redeem for free plane tickets and with Executive Platinum status, I’d be given free upgrade coupons and complimentary upgrades on domestic flights when space was available. The other advantages were free checked bags, expedited security at the airports, priority boarding and access to the airlines first class lounges when traveling internationally. This totally came in handy in Sydney and Hong Kong. I was able to freshen up before and after flights as well as get a really great meal prior to a long flight. So with top tier status on the number one and number three largest airlines in the world and two major alliances Star Alliance and One World, I have lots of airline choices when it comes to travel. Lastly, American allowed me to keep this status for 2013 if I flew 55k in 2012, and since I did that easily, I get to keep it this year. Now I just somehow have to figure out how to keep both for next year.
On the hotel side, I also did a status match with Starwood hotels, as a loyal Hilton and Holiday Inn guy for 10 years, I thought I’d branch out. During my travels I’ve noticed if a Hilton or Holiday Inn brand was not where I was going there would be a Starwood option, so during those times I was already staying there or some other hotel chain, but I was not getting he benefits of status. I know for many status means nothing, but when you fly as much as I do and spend over 100 days away from home in so many cities, it’s nice to know what to expect when you get to a hotel. Sure most of the time I stay at Hampton Inns, Holiday Inn Expresses and Four Points, by Sheraton. But hey they too sometimes have great rooms and its nice to once in awhile get a free upgrade. Then on the occasion I get to stay at a Sheraton or Hilton I now get lounge access, free breakfast and larger rooms when available. Plus with another hotel option, I’ve got other choices for hotels when I go on vacation, which is what it’s really all about.
So to summarize her’s how my year shook out.
United and Star Alliance 79 segments and 145,000 miles qualified for 1k status for 2013, and became a 1 million mile flier, back in July so I was granted Lifetime Premier Executive status if I ever drop below 1k.
American Airlines and One World 16 segments and 60,000 miles qualified for Executive Platinum status for 2013.
Jet Blue, Southwest, Virgin America and others 7,000 miles
Hilton Honors 33 stays and 60 nights qualified for Diamond for 2013
Starwood Hotels 7 stays and 27 nights qualified for Diamond for 2013
Other hotels and condos 25 days
Nexus expedited screening customs and immigration when travelling to Canada via Air, Car, Foot or Boat and returning from Canada to the US, this also works for expedited screening into Australia.
Global Entry expedited screening and customs and immigration when returning back to the US from any other country other then Canada, this also works for expedited screening into Australia. http://www.globalentry.gov/