Archive for the ‘Get There’ Category

The weather could be lovely later this month in Nice, France.

It will definitely be better than here in Cincinnati — and Nice has a beach and a market and a Michelin-starred restaurant in town (with several more nearby) and a very close Matisse-designed chapel; BUT I can’t take time away to get there this year — drat!

My loss.  Your gain.

Here’s how I was putting together a last-minute, spectacular vacation.  Now it can be for you and a special friend.

To nip the winter blahs in the bud, either:

1) Grab your partner.  Go to the Air France Flying Blue (rewards) site with $500 and 50,000 points (or $900 and 87,500 points if you want to go over in Business Class for a better chance at getting some sleep.)  Find Air France Promo Awards — 12,500 points each way from Chicago to Europe on KLM.  The best flight still available is the  connection  through Amsterdam on KLM’s 747.  (Fly a 747 upstairs in Business Class before that experience is gone!)

Traveling directly to Nice, you miss Milan’s Christmas shopping — unless you rent a car and make the 4 hour drive into Italy.  Beware: you may head for Milan and get distracted by other attractions along the way.  But that’s another blog entry!

OR

2) Take one of the NYC to Milan flights (Alitalia or Delta) made cheaper this year by Emirates’s entry into that market.  Last time I looked Cincinnati to NYC in First and nonstop on to Milan (Delta/Alitalia)  in Business was $2400 per person or $1076 in coach out of Cincinnati on Air France/Delta.  From the East Coast it’s $605 each in coach out of Newark on United/Lufthansa or $721 on Emirates out of JFK.

Stay in Milan a couple days, then drive to Nice.  I was going to try the Hotel Suisse (on the coast) and the Hotel La Villa Nice Victor Hugo (in town) in Nice, but there are any number of hotel rooms in the area still open for Euros or points.  I saw a Le Meridien promo this week.  There’s one in Nice, or Le Meridien Beach Plaza is in Monte Carlo — another adventure not that far up the coast.

Have a great trip!

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Once upon a time at Thanksgiving — not too long ago — we flew to St. Thomas to catch the shoulder season, rum, fun, seafood, sand, sun and surf on St. John, USVI.  Though quickly being weaned from stateside food, on our day of national feasting we searched for and found adequate sliced turkey with dressing and mashed potatoes, served from a disposable aluminum pan.

Stretched to a little over a week and divided between St. John’s  wonderful beaches, Thanksgiving was a nice break before plunging into the hectic Christmas season.  I was tanned.  I was rested.  I was not five pounds heavier.

The following year, we escalated to something really weird.  This time, totally passing up the traditional turkey, we went to Madrid at Thanksgiving when, with no fanfare, Delta posted a $1910 roundtrip business class fare.  The sale broke my “$2000 Business Class fare barrier,” and I couldn’t refuse.

We loved the clear, crisp days;  the fabulous food, both large and small (tapas) plates; the wonderful museums when it drizzled; and a couple “finds” at el Rastro flea market.  We were hooked on Thanksgiving week travel.

Giveaway/Getaway

Each year since, I’ve been on the lookout for a Thanksgiving giveaway/getaway.

Early last year, airlines began discounting seats to Turkey.  I started reading about Istanbul.  There was a lot to read.  I prepared for an adventure.  After nearly jumping on a rare $399 roundtrip fare from D.C. to Istanbul in March, I was ultimately hooked by a $532 fare out of Chicago at Thanksgiving.

I wrote a “Turkey in Turkey” post and researched a culinary walking tour of the backstreets of Istanbul with the wonderful folks at “Istanbul Eats.”   Frownface.  At the last minute I had to cancel.

I did the sour grapes thing to make myself feel better:  after all, the “super deal” was in coach.  Sure, you can self-medicate and fly non-stop from Newark, but it’s still a long, long flight.  And speaking of rest, how about some Istanbul unrest?  But I was still sad about missing the trip.

Another year, another direction

Times change.  Three years ago, Delta had surreptitiously offered a low fare.  This year I’ve been bombarded with Thanksgiving week specials.  Airlines no longer seem to care when we see how deep they’re willing to discount fares to fill planes.  It’s Priceline gone public.

An email this week from American Airlines stood out from the rest.  Was it the brightly colored “South American turkey” in the picture?  Or was it Lima, Peru?

Peru

Lima airfare special

Even though we’re not an AA “featured city,” I found roundtrip coach fares from CVG for $1054.  7200 miles with a stop in Dallas or Miami didn’t sound too bad.  It’s south.  It’s in the other hemisphere where November is very different — and that’s better!

Business class for only slightly more than coach

Glancing to the right on the AA flight listing, I was shocked to find roundtrip Business Class fares were just $700 more than Coach — $1729 to $1754.  Not exactly a mileage run bargain, but still a tempting option.  After a short coach commuter jet, I can choose a 757 or  767 out of MIA or DFW with a recliner or angle-flat bed and a decent meal (and extra mileage credit) for the 7 hours to Lima.

Lima via MIA

Lima via MIA

Delta is showing $1524 with lie-flat business class roundtrip from Atlanta, $1936 for those of us originating in Cincinnati.

Machu Picchu anyone?

November marks the “official” start of the Peruvian rainy season, but as I write this I’m looking at a forecast for the next 10 days in October that shows showers every day at Machu Picchu.  Who can outguess the weather?  Pack an umbrella.  Wear boots and a raincoat.  Enjoy the view.  It won’t be as crowded as my local supermarket at Thanksgiving, and in Lima the turkeys have those wonderful orange beaks.

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Every two months, Air France announces their “Promo Awards,” super good deals — 25 to 50% off — for redeeming rewards miles*.  There are usually specials for each of their “regions**,” but during May and June we (North America) had no deals.  For July and August, we scored!

About a week before the official announcement,  Air France posted a preview of their special deals.  The July-August preview was merely ok.

AF July 1 - aug 31

However, when the real chart went live, with active links to “Book Now,” things got a lot better.

AF JULY 1-Aug 31 GOT BETTER

Originally, Business Class availability was limited to Chicago, Montreal, and Washington, DC (the last two nearly impossible  connections from my airport — CVG).  AF added Business Class from Detroit, Minneapolis and New York City (not a screaming bargain at 46,875 miles, but still a good deal for Business Class at 25% off the Classic Award; or you can fly cheaply out of Boston, served quite well by AF and partners.  Houston and Washington, DC, are also on the chart but missed my screen shot.)

The Chicago to Europe Business Class award dropped from 46,875 (75% of the Classic Award 62,500) to 31,250 (a 50% bargain).

All the numbers here are one-way, and that’s a great thing about Flying Blue Awards — I like to sleep going over, which means Business Class.  Coming back home is usually a daytime flight.  If I can amuse myself in ways other than sleeping, it can be in Coach (25,000 mile Classic Award — or, heck, spring for the 31,250 and put my feet up in Business Class).

Mixed class awards are easy to book with Flying Blue Awards.  Even flights over to one city/country and back from another (“open jaw”) can be booked easily as two one-way flights with no miles penalty.  I like over to London, back from Paris.  I’m also thinking about over to Lisbon and back from Madrid — two delightful cities with a lot of fun touring options in between.  Flying Blue makes these possible.

Let’s Go!

*   *   *

* The website says, “with Promo Awards@, you save between 25 to 50% on the Award Miles usually required for a Classic Award ticket to certain destinations in the same cabin class. Promo Awards@ are available for limited periods and exclusively online. Discover these offers on our Flying Blue Promotions and News pages.  Please note that it is not possible to change or cancel Promo Awards@.”

** Air France, “regions” = Europe, North America, South America, Caribbean and Indian Ocean, Africa, Asia Pacific, and Middle East.

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Update (March 14, 2013):  $399 is gone, but there’s a pretty good fare on Air France “Super Spring Sale.”  Purchase before March 26 — as low as $667 New York >< Istanbul round-trip.  Departures through April 30.  I found March 30 >< April 10 @ $691.  Most fares are just under $710.

Update (February 20, 2013):  We’ve been posting about cheap fares to Istanbul since last November, but this one is unbelievable and not well promoted.  Buy tickets and start travel by March 7, 2013.

IAD - IST

Turkish Airways has a $399 fare from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Istanbul (IST) on its non-stop Flight 8, returning on its non-stop Flight 7.

As of today, the possibilities include

  • Depart February 24 for 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 nights
  • Depart February 25 for 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 nights
  • Depart February 26 for 5, 6, 7, or 8 nights
  • Depart February 28 for 5 or 6 nights
  • Depart March 6 for 5, 6, 7, or 12 nights.

To explore flight options, use Matrix selecting “See calendar of lowest fares.”  For “Length of  stay,” I used a date range of “5-12,” but plug in whatever works with your schedule.  Select “Nonstop only” for “Stops.”

To explore other cheap options to Istanbul ($567 KLM from Chicago, $441 Delta from D.C., $494 from Newark, etc.) use our favorite airfare sleuths at The Flight Deal.

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Update:  February 21, 2013.   mas Rewards is now MeliáRewards.  Additions include a new level, free Internet in many brands, and contests and prizes during the re-branding.   More emphasis on (recently added) discounts for members booking directly.  First reaction  —  only a few downgrades:  lower breakfast discounts and expiration dates on points.

Even the basic Blue MAS Rewards card is cool for a number of reasons:

  • 50% off breakfast
  • free newspaper
  • Late check-out
  • More benefits if you stay often
  • Signing up is free
  • Melia has great hotels in Spain

I first stayed with them over a week-end in Barcelona, then a week around Thanksgiving in Madrid, and this year in Bilbao when we went to see the Guggenheim museum.  I usually avoid chains, but Melia employees have won me over.

Three stays over three years does not Platinum make.  I did accumulate 17,286 MAS points in my rewards account — never enough for  the Melia room I wanted.   I was pleased to find I could transfer miles to a number of airline partners.  The transfer ratios defied any logic I could come up with:

  • AA 6 MAS points : 1 AAdvantage Mile
  • Air France 6:1
  • Iberia 100:15 Avios (about 6:1)
  • Delta 3:1
  • Lufthansa 2:1

I’m liable to see patterns where they don’t exist, but I was seeing a lot of 6:1 ratios.  Rather than wake up some day to find that the Delta Skymiles ratio had gone to 6:1, I exchanged 15,000 MAS Rewards points for 5,000 Skymiles.  (I might have picked Lufthansa if I lived anywhere except Cincinnati.)  The transfer happened overnight.  Once again, I was very pleased with Melia’s service.

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Update (November 21, 2012):  Off-peak availability for 60k mile roundtrips in Business Class is gone.  If you didn’t get on the plane with me this year, I look forward to seeing you in 2013!

Background:  

  • I recently read (on http://milevalue.com) that the US Airways Airbus 330 is the flagship of their Business Class.
  • US Airways has something called “Off-Peak” awards — Business Class awards requiring 60,000 miles roundtrip to Europe versus the normal 100,000-350,000 — available on limited dates between January 15 and February 28, 2013.
  • US Airways just announced a 100% bonus on miles purchased (buy 1 get 1 free), cutting the normal cost ($.035/mile) in half.
  • US Airways flies the Airbus 330 from Philadelphia to Paris. I can puddlejump CVG to PHL.
  • I’m always ready to go to Paris, even in the dead of winter.

I decide to book an off-peak fare to Paris! All I need to do is figure out how to make it work.

US Airways Off-Peak Awards

Booking a Mileage Award with no Mileage:  I have history with US Airways. My “US Air” Frequent Traveler Program card shows a “member since” date of 09/85. But I now live in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to fly US Airways. I have zero miles in my account.

With these offers, however, zero miles doesn’t seem to be a problem.  I can buy the 60,000 I need for an “Off-Peak” roundtrip (as long as I’ve been a member for 12 days ?!?!?) for $1128.75 including the taxes.

Buy US Airways Bonus Miles

“Off Peak” means US Airways chooses the dates for my vacation:  Here’s the chart for January off-peak flights to Paris from Cincinnati.  Notice anything funny?  Yep.  Only one day is “Off-Peak” outbound and only two days back.  There are none  in February.  Oh, well, Paris museums are heated.  A week in Paris in January sure beats an week in Cincinnati in January.  Let’s go!

Selecting my "Off-Peak" flights

So far, the tab for the flight is $190 in fees and $ 1128.75 to buy 60,000 miles = $1318.75.  I have to know — How’s this compare to buying the ticket?

Roundtrip January tickets to Paris.

On the same “Off-Peak” days, the lowest (non-refundable) business class fare for the same flights is $5475.  I can save $4156.25!  I check some other dates during the month, but can’t get the fare below $5300 on US Airways.

Since I’m booking this flight as an award ticket, I earn no frequent flier credit for the 12,600 miles I’ll fly.  No wonder I can’t keep any miles in my account.

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Don’t waste your hard-earned rewards points learning how to use them.  Follow me as I crawl through a ticketing experience.

The background:  I wanted two round-trip Business Class tickets from Cincinnati to Barcelona in September.  Beginning in January, I hounded Delta.com looking for rewards tickets at the low end of their redemption scale (which runs from 100,000 to 325,000 Skymiles for a Business Class ticket.)  Their award calendar had mostly blue days — blue for days with high-end, 325,000 mile tickets — 650,000 for two roundtrips wasn’t going to happen.  Chasing green (low mileage) days led to flights with obscene layovers, bad connections, or revealed the disconnect between Delta’s Rewards Calendar and actual available bookings — I’d book one way and by the time I’d gotten to the return booking, it didn’t exist.  I may have screamed — several times.

The purchase:  In early July, the price for two round-trip business class fares, which had been floating around $9600, finally broke below my $5000 target, to $4869.20.  Faced with Skymiles point redemptions still stuck at the high end of Delta’s 100,000 to 325,000 range, I gave up on Skymiles and charged two tickets, redeeming 56,301 Chase Ultimate Rewards points  to reduce my out of pocket to $4193.59 [for no reason other than 56,301 points were in my account that day.]

$ 4869.20   2 Business Class tickets
– 563.01    Redeem 56,301 Ultimate Rewards points at 1 cent each for credit
– 112.60    20% redemption bonus credit for travel purchases
________
$ 4193.59    Use Chase Sapphire Rewards Visa to purchase

Did I do OK?   Under $2100 each for roundtrip business class to Europe — I was feeling pretty good about the ticket price until — no surprise — buyer’s remorse reared its ugly head.

What about the 56,301 points I had blown — redeemed for only 1.2 cents per point?  If Ultimate Rewards had let me transfer points to Delta, 56,000 wouldn’t have made a big splash in the ocean of Skymiles needed for two tickets — even had the minimum 200,000 point redemption been available.  (Keep an eye on Delta partner Air France, which sometimes holds redemption sales, opening up business tickets at 50,000 each way.)

The $4193 I spent would have bought about 120,000 Skymiles from Delta at 3.5 cents each — if Delta didn’t limit me to buying 60,000 each year.  120,000 plus the 56,000 I redeemed was still way short.

I’m real close to rationalizing my decision.  One more step:

Since I paid for the tickets, I was earning a lot of points back:

+ 12,582 to Ultimate Rewards from my Chase Sapphire (4193.59 x3 for travel)
+   880 year-end 7% Chase checking account customer bonus on earned points
+ 13,859 ticket #1 Delta Skymiles @1.5 per mile flown in Business Class
+ 13,859 ticket #2 Delta Skymiles @1.5 per mile flown in Business Class
+  1,875 Air France points (BCN to CDG leg @2.5 per mile European Business Class)
+  1,875 Air France points (BCN to CDG leg @2.5 per mile European Business Class)
_________
44,930 total miles earned back of the 56,301 redeemed

So I got back all but 11,371 of the points I redeemed to get the $675.61 credit, making the redemption worth almost 6 cents a point.

I had a great time in Europe.  Did I do the math right?

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