A BusinessWeek article caught my eye this morning as the topic was about Delta’s “Bare-Bones” E Fares. There has been quite a bit of chatter about E-Fares across the internet over the last few weeks as Delta is removing the ability for elite Medallion members to upgrade if they are traveling on one of these fares on February 1, 2015. According to the article,

“After a hiatus of several months, Delta is resurrecting its lowest economy class ticket as it seeks to keep bargain carrier Spirit Airlines Inc. from luring away leisure travelers. The bare-bones “e-class” ticket will not allow passengers to get seat upgrades or make same-day flight changes and they will board last.”

I had missed the fact that E fares had disappeared for a period of time….probably because I don’t routinely travel in markets where Delta offers them. While I suppose one could see the removal of upgrade availability as a real benefit reduction, I have to wonder how many Medallion flyers were actually buying E fares. I haven’t….and now I know I won’t be.

I don’t want to discuss Delta’s pricing habits, but the marketing aspects of this are interesting to me. With Spirit, I can (at least) buy up to a Big Front Seat™. I suppose Delta could argue that if a Medallion wants an upgrade, they can buy any other fare other than E class and rock on. They’d be correct. I’ll wait and see, but I’m betting the dollar-difference in fares between E fares and others isn’t nearly enough to justify losing just about every Medallion benefit there is for that specific flight. The market for most E fare sales is likely to be a passenger who could care less about Medallion benefits or miles in general. E fares and the changes in Medallion benefits for those who buy them aren’t going to cause this Medallion to think twice. What about you?

-MJ, October 20, 2014

Hat Tip – FlyerTalk

Some threads on a message board are more likely to catch my eye than others. Here’s one of the more interesting I’ve seen in a while courtesy of the Delta Air Lines forum – “Rumor: DL removing complimentary upgrades”. You can imagine the discussion that has ensued. The gist of which seems to revolve around this.

  • The original poster is a troll
  • The rumor is not true
  • Someone is confused because Delta is removing comp upgrades for Medallions who buy E class fares
  • A trial balloon is being floated by Delta
  • There is less competition so Delta is coming to get us

MJ’s Take

Any of the reasons I listed could be true. This could be someone having fun on the internet….or more. In truth, I don’t know….but…. I think it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Delta could eliminate “complimentary” upgrades for elite Medallion members. Back in “the day” the airlines credited you with upgrade “certificates” for every 10,000 or so miles flown with each one being good for 500 miles worth of premium cabin travel. This is a system that American Airlines still offers its elite AAdvantage members with top tier Executive Platinum members receiving complimentary upgrades that have to be requested. It’s also the best way to manage elite upgrades in my ever so humble opinion.

I didn’t major in economics but I did pretty well in the courses I took. It’s been a minute since college so I’ll ask forgiveness if I don’t get the terminology just right. Here’s the deal. When you offer a limited amount of product for “free” you create a lot of demand with a limited supply. I know I’ve blogged about it before, but I much prefer the AA way of doing things when it comes to upgrades for elites. With a system that requires “payment” for a service, you’ll find that lower level elites have a better opportunity to upgrade because all elites focus on requesting upgrades they really want. The 50 person and longer upgrade lists at Delta have gotten a little ridiculous. It’s almost a joke among elites at the gate.

My conclusion – this might absolutely be a false rumor, but it’s also entirely possible that Delta is finally wising up to the folly (yes, I said folly) of “complimentary” upgrades for all elites, and looking at a return to the way things used to be. I really doubt that they are considering removing upgrade opportunities all together. If they are, I’d have to write a very interesting blog post.

-MJ, October 20, 2014

I was honored to present at the 2014 Chicago Seminars on my favorite topic, cruising. I’m trying a slightly different method of sharing my presentation on the blog this year, and appreciate any feedback on how well it works. I converted the presentation into a movie. If you see a slide of particular interest to you, just click pause. I’ll include a link for a .pdf file as well. For those that were there, you’ll see the fun pictures of me with great looking hair are missing. :)

Of course, I know the context of the session is missing so please email or comment if you have any specific questions. I’m also including link to a .pdf file containing the presentation. The .pdf file includes links to content referenced during the presentation.

Click here for the presentation – 2014 Chicago Seminars

Reference Materials

 

Hello from the 2014 Chicago Seminars! I arrived yesterday, and it’s been great seeing old friends and making new ones. I’m presenting this afternoon on my favorite topic, cruise vacations! I hope to see you there. Now, let’s take a look at our week in review.

And this week at MJ on Travel –

  • A Look at the Bankcard Rewards Programs and Cruising

This, and no doubt more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, October 18, 2014

I’ve read multiple articles in the last several weeks about how awful travel was this summer. Delays, cancellations, problems. I’ve opined before that I didn’t get the drama. I did not have a quiet summer when it comes to travel, but I had none of the issues that I’ve seen multiple journalists write about. I finally figured out why I’ve led such a charmed travel life this summer. I haven’t set foot on an RJ, and I haven’t transited Chicago.

Today, I flew American Eagle CRJ-700 service to Chicago in first class. Check in was easy on my iPhone, and the Atlanta Admirals Club was great as always. We boarded right on time, launched on time, and got to Chicago early…..very early….and waited for our gate. Then when we got to the gate there was no agent. When we finally got off the plane, our gate checked luggage was late. When the first batch of gate checked luggage arrived, it was for only half of the airplane. And so on……

My little walk on the wild side away from Delta was interesting, but the experience was a good look at how we can all get used to a certain way of doing things. I’d truly forgotten what it was like to gate valet my carry on and wait for it an excessive amount of time on the other end! Couple that with the fact that it’s a Friday afternoon at O’Hare, and you’ve got yourself one special experience. :) Moral of the story – avoid RJs and O’Hare. :) Trip report coming soon. Now, it’s time for the Chicago Seminars!

-MJ, October 17, 2014

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My friend, The Weekly Flyer, posted about the latest twist in the Ebola scare this morning. Apparently, a Dallas healthcare worker who handled a lab specimen from the US’ first Ebola victim departed Galveston, Texas aboard the Carnival Magic on October 12. Here is a quote from Carnival about the matter.

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Weekly Flyer says he would pack his bags and leave. He’d be in for a long swim.

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That’s the current position of Carnival Magic according to marinetraffic.com. According to KHOU, the government of Belize refused a request by the US government to allow the individual to disembark and be flown home. Depending on who you consult, the ship is in anchorage off shore, and no guests are being allowed to disembark. I wouldn’t leave the ship to fly home, and being a poor swimmer isn’t the only reason. First, the “patient” hasn’t exhibited any symptoms, and is quarantined in her room. And if the news reports and Cruise Critic are to be believed, the person in question is actually a supervisor at the lab and didn’t actually “touch” any lab specimens. That won’t stop the media and anyone else from talking about this.

Certainly, I’m not a physician or epidemiologist. I’m a blogger that likes to cruise. I claim no expertise in this except the knowledge that ships are really good at quarantining people when they need to, but I doubt they’re equipped to deal with Ebola. Of course, I don’t think they need to in this case, but let’s get hysterical anyway. Not! Now…all this isn’t to say that the handling of the entire Ebola experience in this country hasn’t been botched from the get-go, but that’s for someone else to pontificate about.

-MJ, October 17, 2014

Introduction

Cruise Line Loyalty – Carnival Cruises

Cruise Line Loyalty – World’s Leading Cruise Lines (Other Carnival Corporation lines like Princess and HAL)

Cruise Line Loyalty – NCL

Cruise Line Loyalty – Royal Caribbean MyCruise Rewards (including Celebrity and Azamara)

Cruise Line Loyalty – How the Bank Rewards Programs Stack Up

Highlights

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Ltd. owns several cruise lines. The three best known are Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises. We’ll focus on those today as they participate in the MyCruise® Rewards program and offer multiple credit card products that tie together in a common points currency. Beyond cards and points, these three lines offer elite status reciprocity, the closest thing to status matching in cruising, and an imminently useful benefit if you would like to experience different styles of cruising but not start over at the bottom of the elite ladder on a new cruise line. I’ve covered the elite status programs at Royal Caribbean and Celebrity previously in my status matters series.

Since then, Celebrity has restructured its elite status program and changed the way points are earned, which I reviewed here. I did not include Azamara in the series, but I recently wrote about their elite loyalty program here. Personally, I am Diamond Plus with Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, and enjoy reciprocal status with Celebrity at the Elite Level. As a result, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of elite status on Celebrity even though I’ve only taken 3 cruises with them. I have not yet made the phone call to match over to Azamara Le Club Voyage Discoverer status. It’s worth the call! But what about the points?

MyCruise® Rewards Credit Cards

MyCruise Rewards is a credit card point loyalty program shared by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara. I don’t have hard data on this, but I would speculate that the Royal Caribbean card is the most popular of the MyCruise points cards, so I will focus on that and then get into why the Celebrity card may be the most beneficial.

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Royal Caribbean offers a Visa Signature card that currently features the following benefits and bonuses:

  • Earn double MyCruise Points for every $1 spent on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises purchases
  • Earn one point for every $1 spent on your everyday purchases
  • 10,000 bonus points after your first qualifying transaction — redeemable for $100 onboard credit
  • Zero Liability for Fraudulent Charges, which helps protect you from fraudulent transactions
  • Discounted companion airline certificate† after $3500 in card purchases within the first 90 days with the Visa Signature card (students, Platinum Plus® and Preferred accounts are not eligible)
  • Perks like Visa Signature Concierge Service*, lost luggage protection, emergency cash worldwide, common carrier travel accident insurance and more
  • No annual fee

At the moment, they’re also offering a $75 credit in addition to the 10,000 (worth roughly $100) bonus point offer if you make $1,500 in purchases in the first 90 days. So, with not much effort you can get $175 in value towards a cruise. Like most cruise points programs, MyCruise Rewards is a “penny per point” earn and burn program with the exception being you earn 2 points per dollar for spending on your cruise. On the redemption side, there are a few sweet spots where you can achieve 2 cents per point in value. For example, for 50,000 points you can purchase a 3 or 4 night cruise for two up to a maximum of $1,000 in value.

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Of course, the value per point depends on how close you get to maximizing that $1000 price point. Could be useful around holidays, but most of the time, you can buy the same cruise for under $200 per person. There are other nuggets like this. You can review the entire award chart here. I won’t pretend that there aren’t better cards out there for many miles and points enthusiasts….even cruise enthusiasts. But I do believe the MyCruise Rewards card products are the best of the bunch for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a common points currency across multiple cruise lines, focused on different experiences. Second, there’s one card product out of the bunch that offers some benefits that make it worth carrying if you cruise Celebrity.

The card includes a $69 annual fee, but for the right kind of Celebrity cruiser, the card will pay for itself before you ever use a rewards point. The basic earning scenario is the same, you earn 2 points per dollar spent with Celebrity Cruises as well as Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises, and 1 point per dollar on all other charges. You’ll also receive a 10,000 point first purchase bonus which is worth a $100 onboard credit. The real beauty of this card is the extra benefits it comes with.

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You can read the fine print here. I ran some numbers using our last Celebrity cruise as an example. MrsMJ and I purchased the Premium Alcohol package for a 14-night cruise. The price was $54 per person per day (plus gratuity). 54 x 14 = $756 per person before gratuity. If I had carried this card at the time, I could have gotten $75.60 back per person which more than pays the annual fee. The specialty restaurant discounts can add a few bucks to the total value of the card as well. That’s just one cruise. A regular Celebrity cruiser would achieve greater value.

In closing, I find MyCruise® Rewards to be the better of the cruising credit card points loyalty programs. That said, even an average miles and points enthusiast like me can find better values in other products. We’ll conclude the series next week with a look at the bank card products and how they measure up for saving money on your next cruise.

-MJ, October 17, 2014

After nearly 3 weeks off the road, it’s almost time to fly again, and an ideal time to talk about a very worthy cause. From October 1-31, 2014, for every boarding pass photo posted to Twitter & Instagram with the hashtag #flyforpink, the frequent flyer group of BoardingAreaMilepointFreddie AwardsBonusfeberIkvliegveel and Frequent Traveler University will donate .50 cents to cancer-related causes (up to a $10,000 total donation).

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By all means, take some precautions to not post your frequent flyer number and other information you may be concerned about to the social media world. Since I no longer deal with paper boarding passes, that was pretty easy. :)

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If you’re interested in more information, please visit the website http://www.flyforpink.com/. Tweet and Instagram a shot of your boarding pass for a good cause with the hashtag, #flyforpink!

-MJ, October 16, 2014

 

Royal Caribbean International is offering free wi-fi in New York City subway stations! Why would a cruise line sponsor free wi-fi? To celebrate the coming arrival of Quantum of the Seas in the New York area, of course! Quantum of the Seas, the world’s first “smartship,” promises to be a marvel in many ways. I can’t wait to sail aboard Quantum in December! According to Royal Caribbean,

“The world’s first smartship Quantum of the Seas is set to arrive into New York Harbor on Nov. 10, 2014, and Royal Caribbean is counting down the days until her big debut. In anticipation of the ship’s arrival, Quantum of the Seas is making waves across NYC billboards, screens and digital displays capturing the attention of New Yorkers everywhere…including underground. With Quantum of the Seas introducing a wave of technological features that have never before been possible at sea, including ultrafast wireless capability that allows for unprecedented connectivity, the cruise line partnered with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to bring free Wi-Fi to underground subway platforms in Manhattan and Queens.”

So check your email while waiting for your train. Or better yet, book a cruise aboard Quantum of the Seas!

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I get a lot of emails telling me how nutty I am for saying words like “paradigm shift” when it comes to the structural change that has happened with airlines and the way they are managed. As someone who worked in the industry for a few years, including 9/11 and its aftermath, I know airlines aren’t known for glowing financial performance. Airlines have been managing expensive fuel for the better part of a decade now. Bankruptcies, re-negotiations, and painful restructuring have brought us to a place where airlines can make a profit with jet fuel in the $3.00 per gallon and up range. It hasn’t been that long ago that the mention of $3.00/gal Jet-A to anyone involved in the airline business would’ve led to the next words from an airline person being the government will own all the airlines.

No one knows how long low oil prices will last. Any little thing in the Middle East could turn things around on a dime. But for just a minute, let’s assume they last a year or 3. We’ll also assume that we fly through the Ebola crisis, and financial markets don’t unwind too. Every penny drop in the price of jetfuel flows right through to the bottom line to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. In that scenario we are looking at a string of quarters where airline profits could be especially good….in airline terms.

Cheap fuel can be addictive to an airline…..and its unions. There’s no better example than Southwest Airlines. Does anyone else remember when Southwest was taking over the world because of its fuel hedges? They were growing rapidly while the other airlines were shrinking. Their labor costs grew too. And then the cheap hedges ran out….and so have most of their labor agreements. (Keep an eye on this one.) The risk in cheap fuel is taking the eye off the ball, on the part of management and airline employees. There are quite a few open labor agreements across the industry right now, with more coming soon. How the airlines and the unions manage this will be telling.

-MJ, October 16, 2014

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