Posts Tagged With: Rants

Southwest: The Airline I LUV To Hate


The vaunted group A, what a lucky duck I was.

Southwest Airlines is a carrier I LUV to hate. They are the nation’s largest airline by passenger volume and have a huge route network throughout the United States and earlier this year Mexico and the Caribbean. They serve 96 cities in 41 states and have over 3,600 departures per day. Overall this is just incredible, but the Greyhound of the skies is just not my carrier of choice, but when push comes to shove I have to suck it up and get in line like all the other cattle.

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Categories: Airlines, Review, Southwest, Travel, Travel Blog | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Obsession, isn’t that a Cologne?

Obsession, isn’t that a cologne? Do they even make that anymore? My wife is a really really good sport. I spend a few minutes every day scheming, scheming for where to go next. And no I don’t mean where to go tomorrow or next week, but where to go on vacation or take a quick weekend trip too. Why? Well, when you have miles to spend and there are deals to be had I just have to see what and where I/we should go. Continue reading

Categories: Family, Random, Travel, Travel Blog, Travel Deals | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

My Last Day as a 1k


It’s a sad sad day. Since 2007 I have been a United Airlines 100,000 mile flyer, or for short a 1k. It has been a pretty good ride all these years, I’ve become pretty familiar with the United Mileage Plus Program and also the Star Alliance program in general.  You spend 1,000,000 miles flying an airline you learn a thing or two. I even enjoyed flying them. They offered oodles of free upgrades in various forms some confirmable at time of booking others that would clear as early as 100 hours out, and even ones you could use on international flights on UA. Plus I had used their miles for some incredible trips, like First Class on Singapore Airlines to the Maldives twice here’s one of the trip reports and here’s another , Business class to Bali also on SQ, and even a couple of trips to Germany also in Business  but on UA.

Of course like many other good things, sometimes they come to an end, and in this case about mid 2013 UA made a drastic change to their Mileage Plus program. Granted since the merger with Continental, things had slowly gone from bad to worse. Like with any big company there are some bad apples, but after the merger it just got worse and worse. But I trudged on and kept flying UA, because I believed in them and thought they treated me well. In my job I don’t have the luxury of always flying the same airlines, between the budgets set and the carriers that fly where I might need to go and convenience, I fly a lot of airlines. So I thought UA was the best of the worst. Yet I digress, there are tons of other blogs that have delineated United’s race to the bottom, and it pains me to rehash it here and frankly it’s not the point of this entry.

What IS the point, I had to make a change. UA announced, that there would be a spend requirement attached to the mileage or segment requirement they already required. UA Silver 25,000 miles $2500, Gold 50,000 miles $5000, Platinum 75,000 miles and $7,500 and 1k 100,000 miles and $10,000 spend. Ouch $10,000 is a lot and frankly I have no idea if I spend that much per year on flights I might, but most likely not just on United and its partners. So with this new requirement I had to make a choice, and although not an easy one I had to say goodbye. In 2012 I had done a status match to American Airlines and had really enjoyed flying them. They treated me well, also provided lots of upgrades, and made me not feel like a number. In 2012/13 I kept top tier on both but rolling into 2014, I knew I could just not keep up flying two major carriers at the tune of 100,000 miles each and the 10k spend. You can only do so many Mileage Runs on top of my work and vacation travel. So I made the sad choice to drop a carrier, and it had to be UA. I was just not happy with their direction, and they just made it harder and harder to fly them. Besides that just take one small metric between the airlines, in 2013 I flew over 40 domestic segments on American and in that time only three times did I miss a complimentary upgrade, take on the other hand United about 40 segments too, and I cleared only 1/3, of which after June of 2013 I didn’t clear even one. Look a first class upgrade is NOT why I fly but it sure does make air travel nice and when you have two choices and one pulls through what would you do?

Sure I’ll get over it and sure I’ll still fly United when they offer the best price and routing, but I know that if they are one of many options they will not be my first choice. At least with Million Miler Status on UA, I at least keep some perks and lifetime Gold Status, that at least keeps some of the perks I’ve worked so hard to attain. Let’s just hope my decision to fly the NEW American pans out.

So as of 12:01 AM on January 31st, 2014 I will drop from 1k to lowly Gold, since I only flew 65,000 this year and kept my status on merit. Sad Sad Sad Sad day indeed.

Categories: Airlines, Travel, Travel Blog, United Airlines | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Flying the not so friendly skies of United Airlines

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.

Categories: Airlines, Travel, Travel Blog, Traveling with kids, United Airlines, United Airlines | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

A lot of red tape for a small stamp

My coveted visa

My coveted visa


Red tape can be such a wonderful thing, no I don’t think so. The hoops you have to go through to get a visa for China are a bit over the top. Let me start off by saying I’ve been to over 40 countries and I can count maybe two other countries that I’ve been to with so many hoops to acquire that greatly desired visa. The process to enter China is rather complicated for a US citizen, first off you must fill out a four page form available at the consulate or online, with questions like where will you be staying how many days and exact address. As well the names ages and addresses of your family regardless of whether they are travelling with you or not. Additionally they want copies of your hotel and plane tickets, a passport size photo and about the answer to about 40 other questions. Although I only needed a single entry visa the cost of a multi entry one year visa was the same price so I had requested one of these instead. I’ve been through China two other times on transit to other countries and if you don’t have a visa you can get a transit visa, but there are complications here too, so I figured getting an actual visa was worth the effort. For those interested the travel without visa waiver to china works if you’re travelling to a third country before or after arriving in Chia and prior to coming back to the US. It also allows you 72 hours in China as well, as long as you arrive in Beijing, Shanghai or now Chengdu. Since my trip was all of about 3 hours, the TWOV was not an option for me. Yes I know I’m crazy but at least I know that. Finally I finished my paperwork, and by the time I was done filling it out, and compelling all the other hoops I was exhausted, and I haven’t even travelled to the consulate yet.

Once I got my act together and found an opening in my schedule I took BART (the local train system) to San Francisco, then I walked the mile from the Civic Center station to the embassy. It’s open Monday to Friday from 9-2:30 and I just knew lines would be long long long, so I endeavored to be there at 9 am. I was able to make it there at about 9:15, walked in the door and saw a sea of people, I took a number and sat down. I was number 58, and they were only on 10, but apparently had three windows open for visa applications, so there was hope this would be fast. I can’t believe that being there 15 minutes late and I was 58, holly crap. During my wait I was able to people watch, this was not the DMV but it sure was a close second or third in the interesting people department. Thankfully I ended up sitting next to a really nice guy who was a United Airlines pilot and was here to get his Visa too, shocker. He was a super nice guy and it was fun to talk about the airline industry, UA and all the fun since the merger. I love talking shop. He was in a bigger pickle than I was, in that he needed to get his passport returned ASAP, because he was working that week and could not be without his passport. Apparently the consulate will do same day visa’s but they are rare and the normal turnaround time is four days. You have to get approval from some nebulous consulate official to get the same day approval, and sadly I was not successful in that regard.

Finally I hit the lotto, and my number was finally called I was nervous of the process. I mean with so many items to check off the list just to get one, I was afraid I may have missed something, let alone, the potential for some mysterious criteria that I had not included in my packet. So I walked up to the window, hand the lady all of my information my forms, my photo, my plane ticket and she quickly scanned through the docs gave me a receipt and said come back in four days. This part of the transaction took all of about 30 seconds, man all this effort and about 45 minutes of waiting and they summarily took my paperwork and sent me off in 30 seconds. Wow how crazy now I just had to wait the four days come back and hope all was well and I was visa approved.

The following week, when I had a free morning, I did the return trip to the consulate. This time I was again not on time, but was hoping the pickup process would be faster and thankfully it was, but not by much. But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a process to have to go through. The first of which was a line to turn in your ticket to get your visa and passport, this line took about 10 minutes. Once you had turned in your ticket stub you got another ticket, this time laminated and then were sent to yet another line, this time to pay and actually get your passport. This line was crazy, I got in front of a woman who had a rather large transaction it appeared, after waiting and waiting she finally walked away with like 20 plus passports, it seems she was an agent and getting them for a tour or something, but since each one had to be validated, it took a ton of time. Since I was assigned to this line I had to wait, seriously. Finally my turn arrived I gave them my $140 hard earned dollars got my coveted visa and off I went into the night. Ha really I just hoofed it back to BART hoped on the train and made my way home.

What a trip, now I’m all set for my very very quick trip to China, but since I have it I might just have to find other opportunities to use it.

Categories: China, Review, Travel, Travel Blog, Travel Tools, Trip Report | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

My most recent travel mistakes

There are days where I feel like George Clooney’s character in the film “Up in the Air”. Where I get the travel game and am totally prepared for navigating the airport and my travel responsibilities. The scene in the beginning of the movie when he gets to security, and has a “routine” fits me to a T. I may not have his routine, but I have the art down pretty well and my system works well for me.

So let’s step back two weeks. My work computer crashes and I can’t recover the data. Crap, thankfully it’s mostly all backed up remotely and can be restored, but first you have to fix the computer. Since T minus five days form the crash I’m heading on a two week work jaunt to New Zealand and Australia, I needed that computer fixed pronto. My amazing, and I really do mean amazing IT department, suggests the best option would be to send it to the office to fix, send me a temporary replacement, restore my replacement via the back up and while I’m out saving the world fix my computer. Sounds like a great idea, and would give me the least amount of downtime, even if my spare was not 100% restored to my computer. Ok now what does a crashed computer have to do with travel, or in my case “Up in the Air”, well not much really, but I think that caused a chain of events that I’m still trying to figure out, and recover from.

First off 95% if not more of my business travel is domestic or to Canada (is that even a country) Eah? Not until June 2012 did I start making the much longer treks to the Southern Hemisphere for work, and soon enough those trips will be over and it’ll be back to all the domestic stuff again. I say this, because for 10 years I have a routine, I know what to pack for work, I put stuff in the same place in my bag each week, and I know what accessories I need to have with me power cables, adaptors, headphones, extra batteries etc. Life is good, I have the business of getting my suitcase packed down to a science, and can be done in 10 minutes for a 5 night trip. But now look at what needs to happen when you go international, it’s like throwing my stuff in the laundry and watching it spin. Yes I do travel a lot, and yes I do travel internationally a lot for pleasure each year, but now I have to actually think about what I need, and I that’s what screwed me up this time.

So what makes packing for this kind of trip different, what possibly could I need that would make it that much harder. Well it’s simple, I need power adaptors, splitters, my phone plan set up, foreign currency, US bills needed in a pinch, ATM card or at least a PIN friendly credit card for cash advances, VOIP headset, and oh yeah plane tickets (I’ll get to that in a minute). So here’s how it went down and what caused me to write this up. The first week in Auckland was fine mostly. I apparently lost two of my power converters between trips, and one of my spares is so janky I couldn’t use it. When you have three phones, a computer, an iPad and CPAP machine that need juice having 2 power converters is a little light. Now I don’t need to charge all of these at once, but you get the idea six items two converters and an extra 3 prong splitter, and you’re juggling constantly. Why am I so important to have three phones, well I’m not. I have a personal one and a work one, that’s normal. But I also have an unlocked one that I only use down here, that I can swap the chip out of and get local calls and such at local rates, it’s a much cheaper way to call locally and also internationally when abroad. Unless I want to go through the expense of jail breaking my personal phone, or asking my employer to replace my Galaxy 2 with a non CDMA phone, this is the dance I have to make. Until this trip the US work phone was only used for checking voicemail and for some calls back home I need to make in a pinch, but this trip I got hosed. Sometime between trips CDMA became obsolete in these two places and I flat out can’t use it. So even having it with me turned out to be a waste. Lesson learned find out about your phone before a trip abroad, although in my defense it worked in October. Next time, bring more adaptors, and bring a better three prong splitter. UUGH it just makes it a total pain to power any device.

So what else could I have done wrong, well the next stupid thing I did was leave my computer power cord at my clients office Friday night and didn’t realize it till five hours later, when I was 1500 miles away. OOPS. This caused all sorts of problems, I was no longer in a place where I could run to the store and get one, and the earliest I’d be able to get the one from New Zealand sent to me was Tuesday, and that would not work. So I had to spend my weekend trying to find one and juggle work commitments over the weekend without my computer. That would normally not be an issue, but when you need your computer to conduct seminars and grab data that’s only on the computer it really caused me trouble. Thankfully buy Sunday afternoon, I was able to find a replacement power cord, for an arm and a leg, but at least I was back in business. To think at home I have like four power cords, and have NEVER done this before, but to leave my cord plus an adaptor at a client’s office and not be able to contact anyone there to send it to me till Monday would have ruined my week, and to have my wife FedEx me a replacement and “temporarily” borrow one from a store so I could work was one heck of a juggling act. Anyhow it finally got sorted, but the heartburn it created was not anything I was needing at the moment.

Earlier in the diatribe I mentioned how I needed a plane ticket, well that’s a funny story too. In between weeks in New Zealand and Australia I decided to spend the weekend in Fiji (the trip will be a future post so check back soon). Since it’s only three hours from Auckland and four from Sydney I thought I’d take a chance that I’d enjoy it. My wife was cursing me the whole time, since she was stuck at home, but I had to be somewhere and Fiji was cheaper than the other two cities I would be in go figure. Anyhow, let’s get back to my ticket dilemma. Initially I had purchased mileage tickets using American Airlines miles on their partner Air Pacific Limited, it was an ok deal 40k miles in coach, where a roundtrip ticket was well over $600. I would rather save the miles for a better flight experience, but I’d also like to save myself $600. So mileage ticket it is. Well the day of departure the one way ticket to Fiji had dropped to under $200 and for me to save half the air miles was worth it. For a comparison I can fly roundtrip in coach anywhere in the Continental US for 25k miles, so I think spending the cash in this case was worth it. My wife was awesome, she was able to cancel my ticket book my purchased ticket and made sure all was ok for my return from Fiji to Sydney, since I was not cancelling that part of the trip. Ordinarily this is an easy proposition, and should take minutes with the airlines, and I’d take care of it myself to boot. But in this case, I was stuck paying a long distance charge and having to make multiple calls, having the “boss” help me out was huge. So fast forward to my return journey, I get to Nadi Airport 2 hours prior to departure, the hotel recommended three. My flight was at 9 am, and I was 45 minutes from the airport, how early did I really need to get there. So I took a risk. I get to the airport, check in for the flight and the agent says you don’t have a ticket it was cancelled. I’m dumbfounded, stunned I have a look of horror on my face. All I can think of is now what, I have to be in Sydney tomorrow to work, I must leave Fiji today. She says let’s see what we can do, and takes my passport and ticket to a hole somewhere in the airport. I wait, and wait and wait. Now because of my phone issues, I only have one option, use the jail braked phone, that has no Fiji chip, but does have an NZ chip with limited minutes on it, and somehow get AA to help me. Or pray she can work it out. It turns out the airport had Wi-Fi, I go online and find out AA had cancelled my whole trip and refunded the miles (thanks AA). I’m still sorting out that mess. I then figure out what a one way ticket home will cost, thankfully it’s $300, not cheap but what can you do. I finally start to panic, I know I can buy a ticket but I need my passport, and the lady has not come back yet. I take a deep breath and just wait. It seemed like hours, but it must have been 10 minutes. She walks me over to the customer service counter and says I need to buy a ticket. Well what else can you do now. So that’s what I do, but then that’s where life gets interesting again. They try to run my credit card three times, and discover their only credit card machine isn’t working. She says she can take US funds. Great. So I fork over my cash, but wait I only have $200 US and need $300. Can you take Australian or Kiwi money, sure but only the full amount. I don’t have it, I’m short even more the $200. Is there an ATM, yes there is, OK I’ll be back. The ATM will only let me take out $200 Fijian from my BofA ATM card, I need like $600. I forgot my only credit card with a pin number at home so now what. Exasperated I go back up to the agent and ask what she can do, she was super cool and understood I was really in a pinch. She ended up taking my $200 US, $200 Fijian and $15 Australian, it was a total gong show. But I had a ticket and now I could check into the flight. Once that was done I was off to security, what seemed like an eternity was all totaled 1:15 so I still had 45 minutes to spare, not too bad. But I guess the hotel was right. The only silver lining I can come up with is, that I never lost my cool, and never got mad at the airline staff, they were just doing their job, and didn’t do anything wrong. The baggage attendant that initially took my passport and helped me out after I had my ticket, said I was the friendliest American she had ever met. Now that did make me feel good, but also sad since that means there’s a lot of unfriendly ones out there giving us a bad reputation, but at least I was able to prove that we can be nice too.

As you can see even the frequent traveler can make a mistake once in a while or a bunch of them like I did. The only thing you can do is take them in stride recover and move on. If you get mad or angry more than likely you’ll never recover and look like a jerk too. I just now know to make sure I confirm my plane tickets, make sure I have a PIN ATM card with me that has a higher cash limit and oodles of power cords. I guess these mishaps just proved I’m not George Clooney.

Categories: Airport, Random, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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