What’s the point of points?

You either love them or hate them – they either work for you or they don’t.

I know several people who very successfully and diligently collect points and are able to use them for flights – sometimes even business class.  Gosh, I have even had some limited success in this field and what a joy when you are able to go online and obtain a ticket for nothing!

But let’s face it – there is no such thing as a free lunch.  So who is winning here?

The banks – most credit cards that give points charge very high interest.  So you spend spend spend, accumulate points point points and end up paying for those points with the very high interest charges.

The airlines – so you are a frequent flyer and you are collecting points.  It makes sense to therefore fly on flights where you can add to your points…..even if it means going a little out of your way or adding a connection or two.  The airlines are buying your loyalty with points that you can supposedly use to get “free” flights.  However getting your free flights might not be that easy – but more about that later.

The corporate traveller – yes those road warriors.  No-one envies them.  Another flight, another city, another night in an anonymous hotel far away from friends and family.  It is a lonely life.  So they deserve the points they get on the flights booked by the company don’t they?  Yes of course they do.  But there is a trap here – there is always a trap!

dog-in-cone

You see once you start collecting those points you get hooked, so you travel some more, and then you get your status with that airline upgraded.  Now they really have you!  There is something quite nice about boarding before everyone else.  It’s called elite status (or words to that effect).

You get used to this and then if your travel starts to slow down it creates worry.  How will you keep your Double Titanium status if you don’t do at least 100 flights a year.  The stress becomes unbearable while you plot ways to add a few more miles.  You become quite desperate.  Maybe you should fly to Edmonton or Fort St John for the weekend.  Hey wait, here’s a flight to Grande Prairie.  There is no limit to the list of places you can go to in order to keep that Elite frequent flyer status.
etrade-kid-shocked-face

And then there is the pain and agony of redeeming you points for a flight.  Not so easy as click and point.  Depending upon the destination or the route the allotment of “reward seats” on each flight might be extremely limited and pretty much disappear almost a year prior to travel.  Sometimes you might be required to book a one way because the return date is not yet in the system but if you wait for that the reward flight will be gone.  Once you add stopovers and multiple segments into the mix you definitely need to phone in and be prepared for a lengthy wait.  Don’t be impatient.  Put the phone on speaker and clean out your kitchen cupboards but preferably do this at midnight or 6 am when the call loads are lowest.  Clean kitchen cupboards, business class flight to Sydney for nothing – double whammy!

The Before Picture

So STOP….take a deep breath.  Celebrate the times that you do earn a free ticket or an upgrade using points.  Forget about the points that have expired (oh wait – have they stopped that now?)

And what about the losers you might ask?  Yes those are the ones who fall for the high interest points earning cards and don’t pay off the balance each month before that crippling interest kicks in.  Better off not to earn points and just buy the ticket you want on the airline you want to the destination you really want to go to.

Just sayin’.

 

 

 

 

 

Top ten airlines – do you agree?

Just announced – the world’s top ten airlines – DRUM ROLL PLEASE – here they are

AirlineRatings.com’s top 10 airlines for 2017
1. Air New Zealand
2. Qantas
3. Singapore Airlines
4. Cathay Pacific
5. Virgin Atlantic/Virgin Australia
6. British Airways
7. Etihad Airways
8. All Nippon Airways
9. Eva Air
10. Lufthansa
So do you agree?  Have you had the chance to fly these airlines?  Anni just flew to New Zealand on Air New Zealand and she agrees.  They are the best.  The crew was what made it for her – I think they must have a little bit of Hobbit dust on them.  They just always seem so friendly and happy to help.  And yes they seemed really happy.  Mmm – maybe I need to get some of this Hobbit dust!
Donna flew Qantas from Sydney to Adelaide which is a short-haul flight and guess what – SHE GOT A HOT MEAL!
Wow!  Yes they do deserve to be on the list.
I see British Airways is on the list.  Mmm – they might be a good airline but flying through Heathrow really sucks!  Sorry.  It’s my least favourite airport.
Etihad, All Nippon and Eva – well I can’t comment there.  I haven’t had the chance to fly them but I will add them to my list.  But one thing about Eva Air stands out – they have a Hello Kitty service on their first class and business flights.  Seriously!
EVA_Air_Hello_Kitty03
Here’s more proof!
EVA_Air_Hello_Kitty06
Blanket and pillow in first class – how cute is that?
I was surprised not to see Emirates on the list.  I have flown with them in business class and found the service and comfort excellent.  That’s why I am so surprised – after all the advertising about their amazing first class suites and Jennifer Aniston lounging around the bar – just saying!
But I do wonder how long Lufthansa will stay in this league with the strike now dragging on a few more days.  I am sure they will lose some supporters.  This is the 14th walk-out since 2014.  Apparently (as at the time of writing this) the pilots have rejected the offer but have promised not to extend the strike.  We will see.  We will see.

Would you pay for your carry-on?

So before you answer that let’s take a step back.  At the moment many of the airlines are charging for checked baggage.  So if you are travelling on a budget then what you do is you bring your maximum carry on which is one personal item and one carry on.  Now as you know this has been the subject of previous blogs (well maybe you don’t know if you haven’t been following) of how HUGE (couldn’t resist that one) the bags are that people try to cram into the overhead bin.

Gary Leff (industry expert) reported on the new United baggage policy and how Basic Economy will work  in full – here is an extract –

“United is going to push customers with Basic Economy tickets into boarding group 5. Gate agents are being trained that boarding group 5 does not get a full size carry-on bag. They are limited to a personal item only. And agents will have mobile payment systems so they can process any full size carry-on bags as checked bags. (There will be a ‘handling fee’ – amount not yet announced – for Basic Economy customers who get their bags checked at the gate on top of the normal checked bag fee.)”  Read the full article here

This is the description of a “personal item” from the United Airlines website –

Personal item

The maximum dimensions for your personal item, such as a shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or other small item, are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm).

So how many passengers will try to push the envelope (or the backpack) to get a bigger personal item?

It is not clear to me whether you would be allowed to put your one personal item in the overhead bin.  I would think that the instruction would be that they must be placed under the seat in front of you.  It also seems that there will be agents checking when you board the flight to ensure that your personal item does not exceed the recommended limits.  Boy – is that going to cause some delays or what.  Can you imagine irate customers who don’t know – or claim they don’t know – about this new rule.

On the one hand I get it – as a frequent flier who travels light (just one small backpack which I put under the seat in front) it is irritating (sometimes amusing) to see what people will try to cram into the overhead bin.  The other not-so-amusing part is getting off the flight when these heavy carry on bags are being pulled out of the overhead bins left right and centre with everyone pushing to get off.  You can get a little riled at that I guess. Some people certainly do.

So back to United’s Basic Economy ticket.  More details are going to be released but it seems that buying one of these tickets will be taking away many of the things you might be used to – such as (from Mr Leff’s article)

  • No seat assignments prior to check-in, and no changes to the seat you’re given
  • No ticket changes at all (instead of a $200 change fee, you’d simply forfeit the entire value of a ticket and have to buy a new one)
  • No elite status credit (no qualifying dollars, segments, or miles) although you’ll still earn redeemable miles on these fares.
  • Bring a personal item onboard only, no carry-on bags (this is waived for elites including Star Alliance Gold members and for co-brand credit card holders)
  • No elite upgrades
  • No economy plus seating for elites (and no buy up to economy plus for anyone). Elites will effectively has to start paying for economy plus, on routes where Basic Economy fares are being offered, in the form of a higher fare.

Well none of this matters if you can fly Emirates First class – see keep buying those lottery tickets and when you win – give me a call!

 

 

 

 

 

Pay as you fly

Yes – that’s what you do.  Not only do you pay in advance for your ticket but you continue to pay as you fly.  Want a blanket?  Pay up.  Want some ear phones? Pay up.  Want some food?  Yep – you got it!  Unless you are happy to make a meal out of cookies which is what happened to me on my flight Saturday night – Dallas to Calgary.  Now this flight is over 3 hours and our departure time was 6.30 pm so I think it is reasonable to assume that there would be some sort of food service on board.  I did think of buying something at the airport but I am really not big on boarding a flight loaded down with a take out meal.

So the nice lady from American Airlines (and she was very nice) came around with drinks and I asked if I could purchase a sandwich or snack.  She looked worried but said that she might have some humus and crackers at the back.  I said that would be fine and she dashed back to check, leaving her trolley in the aisle.  As I said – she was very nice and willing to help.  After a few minutes (which seemed like a long time) she came back very apologetic and said that catering had not stocked the plane and therefore the only thing she had to offer was a cookie.  Mmm.  It made me think (while my tummy grumbled) that for me fortunately the only down side was an upside.  Maybe I would lose a pound or two.  For those who need to eat (such as someone with diabetes) this could be a disaster.

Now I guess those people would need to be responsible about their condition and purchase something to eat before they get on the flight. However I hate the idea of people bringing on food.  At least if you eat the food on the flight you know that it is going to be pretty bland and everyone is going to be eating at the same time.  What I can’t handle is getting on a flight and then immediately after take-off the person behind me opens up their Subway sandwich and I am assailed by the smell of whatever spicy or exotic ingredients they have included as well as maybe an extra helping of onions.  Ugh!

 

 

Get out the way!

Did you see the popular video online of the people on the beach in St Martin being literally blown off their feet by a KLM Jumbo ….

Yes that certainly is a sight to see – which you won’t see anymore.  The massive 747 will no longer fly from St Martin to Amsterdam and instead the smaller airbus will take its place. Maybe they should put the pilots who do this run on training for a year landing flights in Barra Scotland – the only airport in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach. Wow – pretty spectacular –

barra-international-airport

St Martin is not the only airport runway that you have to be careful of.   The runway of the airport in Gibraltar passes right through the main street of the city.   Take a look – this is crazy –
gibraltar-airport

 

This would be a traffic light that you wouldn’t be too keen to jump.   This runway reminds me a bit of the old international airport at Hong Kong where, upon approach, it would feel like you were flying between the buildings and could see the washing on the balconies.

hong-kong-airport

And this airport in St Barts
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Believe it or not they have to warn people about sunbathing too close to the runway.  Yes – very strange!  But I don’t have to tell you that do I?  We all know that people (yes..us) are stupid and do not read signs or take advice in situations like this.  So this is why people get run over by trains –

or blown over by aircraft

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Or end up on a long walk to nowhere ….

 

Things that go bump in the night

Yes it is that time of year again – Halloween

Why do we love the scary stuff in life?  Some of the creepiest things you can imagine are “tourist attractions”.  Let’s take the Capuchin Monastery in Taormina.  We did a little visit there once and when we got to the entrance of the crypt our guide stood back and waved airily towards the stone steps winding down down down.  “You go ahead” he said.  “I have been here many times”.  OK – we are typical tourists and of course we want to be first in the lineup so down we went to find ……(drum roll please or maybe bwahahahah)
Image result for capuchin crypt mummies

Let me tell you – we were first in and first out!

If you are talking mummies of course then Egypt wins hands down.  We visited Egypt when tourism numbers had plummeted and sometimes this is a good thing. We ended up in Tutankhamen’s tomb on our own – just him and us!
Image result for tutankhamun body

He was so tiny and I confess I was fascinated with his small feet sticking out from under the shroud.

Many years go while visiting Madagascar I was fascinated to hear that it is a tradition to dig up their dead.  It is called Famadihana and the idea is that the spirits of the dead finally join the world of the ancestors after the bodys complete decomposition and appropriate ceremonies, which may take many years. This usually happens every seven years but the practice (not surprisingly) is dwindling.

And let us not forget the Day of the Dead – mostly celebrated in Mexico.  It sounds morbid but it is actually more of a celebration of the lives of departed friends and family although it has its spooky side too as many of the participants like to dress up and boy they really know how to do this.
Image result for the day of the dead

Think about the run of movies on TV over Halloween – old classics like Psycho – we loved that film so much they made it into a tv show.  However without doubt (in my mind) no one can beat the terror of The Shining.  Try watching that again and then go and spend a night in the Stanley Hotel in Colorado – inspiration for Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel where all those creepy things happened.

It really looks like a beautiful hotel if you are ever in Colorado.

For those who love creepy stories, voodoo and magic then head down to New Orleans and take a ghost tour, a vampire tour or just stroll around the graveyard.  Ghoulish tourists have a wide choice of venues and can even hang out with the Walking Dead on a cruise.  Imagine that!  A Walker Stalker cruise where you get to dress up like a zombie and meet your favourite star.  In fact there is no formal dining on this cruise –

HAPPY HALLOWEEN TO ONE AND ALL!

The ships of war

If you love history and you love ships I can bet that whenever you go to a destination if you get the chance you will tour a ship – either modern or ancient.  If you go to England you must try to divert down to Portsmouth and do a tour of the HMS Victory – Nelson’s flagship.  This ship has been lovingly restored and gives a real feel for what life was like on board….

hms-victory

 

and where did the great Admiral lay his head at the end of the day?

nelsons-cot

Nelson’s made to measure cot hanging between the gun placements.

When touring the lower gun deck you can really just imagine being out there in battle and there is a place on the deck marking the spot where Nelson was wounded.

gun-deck

It was therefore with great anticipation that I was able to tour the USS Midway in San Diego accompanied by a veteran who had been on many missions on this very ship.  I was particularly interested because my father served in the Royal Navy and spent many months away from home when we were growing up.  It was always exciting when he came home slim and suntanned (sometimes we didn’t recognise him) with exotic gifts of Chinese pyjamas, Lebanese dolls and little Egyptian camel toys.

If you are in San Diego this is really worth a visit and I love the statue in front of the USS Midway depicting that famous Kiss of Peace.

Image result for us midway san diego

Our Veteran guide had some great stories to tell about life on board – some of which I could not repeat – but he had us laughing with his recollections.

Another interesting place I visited on a different trip in France was the ghostly WW2 submarine pen built by the Germans in Bordeaux..  This was a handy place to tuck away the subs while they replenished supplies and ammunition – well out of the way of the Allied forces.

Construction work on the bunker was only complete in mid 1944. It is estimated that up to 6,000 workers, mainly prisoners of war, worked relentlessly day and night in merciless conditions. While a popular urban myth suggests that some fell into the depths of the building’s foundations where they perished as the concrete slowly set around them (today most authorities do not believe that to be factually correct), it is true that many of the construction workers died in accidents, of exhaustion, or drowned. A solemn memorial has been erected in tribute to those who took part in the construction, and particularly to those who lost their lives

And of course I would be remiss not to mention the USS Arizona – a pilgrimage site for many who visit Honolulu.

During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, Arizona was bombed. After a bomb detonated in a powder magazine, the battleship exploded violently and sank, killing 1,177 officers and crewmen. Unlike many of the other ships sunk or damaged that day, Arizona was irreparably damaged by the force of the magazine explosion, though the Navy removed parts of the ship for reuse. The wreck still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbour and the USS Arizona Memorial, dedicated on 30 May 1962 to all those who died during the attack, straddles the ship’s hull.

Image result for uss arizona

I encourage you to visit these great ships whenever you have the chance.  Entrance fees and items on sale are generally for the benefit of veterans.