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Emirates To Launch Flights Between Barcelona And Mexico City

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It looks like Emirates will soon be launching a cool new fifth freedom route.

For years Emirates has been wanting to add flights to Mexico City. The catch is that a nonstop flight from Mexico City to Dubai isn’t possible. This isn’t due to the distance as such (at 8,914 miles, it’s just a bit shorter than the world’s longest flight, from Doha to Auckland), but rather it’s due to the altitude of Mexico City Airport, as it’s at about 7,400 feet.

When airports are at high altitudes, airplanes have reduced takeoff performance, so they can’t carry as much weight as usual. This means they’d have to restrict passengers, fuel, and cargo, and it makes a nonstop flight from Mexico City to Dubai virtually impossible.

So for a few years Emirates has been looking at the possibility of adding one-stop service between Dubai and Mexico City using a fifth freedom flight (where they’d have the right to carry passengers between Mexico and a third country). About two years ago I wrote about how Emirates was petitioning the Swiss Civil Aviation Authority to allow them to start flights between Zurich and Mexico City. Clearly nothing came of that, since the route hasn’t launched.

Several media sources, including Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, are reporting that Emirates will be launching daily flights between Barcelona and Mexico City as of some point this year. Emirates currently flights twice daily between Dubai and Barcelona, so they’ll also be adding a third daily flight between those two cities, with that plane continuing to Mexico City. This will be a fifth freedom route, so Emirates can carry passengers exclusively between Mexico and Spain.

This is according to a meeting that was held in Dubai between an Emirates vice president and a Spanish government official.

While the start date and aircraft type haven’t been announced, they say that the capacity should exceed 95,000 seats in each direction annually. That doesn’t really narrow things down, as that translates to 265 seats per day per direction. Virtually all of Emirates’ planes have a higher capacity than that, though my guess is that they’ll initially be using a 777 for the route (the 777-200LR currently has a capacity of 266 seats, though is being reconfigured with 302 seats).



Emirates 777-200LR, which could be used for the route

The flight from Dubai to Barcelona will cover a distance of roughly 3,200 miles, while the flight from Barcelona to Mexico City will cover a distance of roughly 5,900 miles. That’s an easy enough route to operate, even taking into account Mexico City’s high altitude.

This seems like it could be a really great route for Emirates. Surprisingly there’s not currently a year-round flight between Mexico City and Barcelona, while there are up to four daily flights between Mexico City and Madrid.

I can’t wait for this flight to go on sale, as it will be a great new option for those traveling between Mexico City and Europe (and beyond!). I’ll be sure to report back when the route is official, with the start date, flight schedule, and aircraft type.

What do you make of Emirates’ new route between Barcelona and Mexico City?

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Singapore Airlines’ Gorgeous New Ad

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I’ve always been a huge fan of Singapore Airlines’ marketing campaigns. Some airlines have ads that are exclusively product focused. Other airlines have totally abstract ads that don’t even incorporate their product. Other airlines rely on humor for their ads.

Singapore Airlines seems to have a consistent theme with their marketing campaigns, and I love it. The ads are abstract, though ultimately highlight the carrier’s onboard experience. On top of that, they almost always feature the iconic “Singapore Girl,” and specifically how “she” takes care of passengers.

Today Singapore Airlines released their latest ad, which is about their new A380 cabins, including their new Suites and business class.

The airline has uploaded the ad to YouTube, and describes it as “making every journey personal — from majestic clifftops to magical forests, let your imagination take flight with every journey.” Here’s the ad:

What a pleasure to watch, and it’s so on-brand for Singapore Airlines.

In 2013 Singapore Airlines unveiled a series of ads with a similar general theme, showcasing the lengths that the airline goes to take care of their passengers, which I really enjoyed. Here are three of those ads:

What do you make of Singapore Airlines’ new ad campaign? Do you love it as much as I do?

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American Business Extra Certificates Are Now Issued Electronically

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We’ve written extensively here at OMAAT about American’s Business Extra program, which is their business rewards program. The program is really easy to use, and even small businesses can sign-up for it, and it allows you to double dip rewards.

This is completely separate from American AAdvantage, and you can earn one point for ever $5 spent on airfare (for you and any of your employees). You can choose from a variety of awards, with the most popular probably being a BXP1, which is a one-way upgrade within North America. One of those costs 650 points, meaning that $3,250 of spend on American scores you an upgrade (though there are fare class restrictions and capacity controls).

I appreciate these certificates for confirming upgrades on routes where I don’t think I’d otherwise clear as an Executive Platinum member (though unfortunately confirmable upgrade space isn’t as readily available as it used to be).

Up until now, American Business Extra certificates have been paper vouchers, so once you redeem Business Extra points for them, they mail you the certificates, and they’re valid for a year. Then when you want to use them you have to phone up American, and then when you check-in for your flight you have to present the certificate in person, meaning that you can’t check-in online.

Given that it’s 2018, it seems pretty crazy that they keep using paper vouchers, though I suspect it hasn’t been a coincidence — paper vouchers are most likely to be lost, so they have an incentive to issue them, since they can’t be replaced if lost.

Anyway, there’s some good news on the Business Extra front. American Business Extra certificates are now issued electronically, rather than by mail. I just redeemed 650 Business Extra points for a BXP1 to see what the process was like. Rather than being asked to enter a mailing address, I was asked just to enter an email address.

Then I instantly received the certificate by email.

As before, the certificate requires you to phone up American’s meeting services department to redeem, and then you just have to give them your Business Extra number as well as the authorization number to redeem.

This process is significantly easier, and it appears like you’ll also be able to check-in online with the new system, since there’s no paper voucher to present at check-in.

Is there any downside to this new system? Yes(ish). With the old system, whenever a ticket for which you redeemed a Business Extra certificate was reissued (or basically anything), you could check-in online and no voucher was requested. I suspect that won’t happen anymore, though it’s not like that was an entitlement (I’ve never done this intentionally, but one time when there was a weather waiver I changed a flight on which I had confirmed an upgrade, and I was never asked for the certificate).

So on balance I’d say that this is a positive development.

To fellow Business Extra members, are you happy to see American make these certificates electronic?

(Tip of the hat to @therichmiser)



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The Amazon Credit Card Now Offers 5% Back At Whole Foods

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While I use Amazon to buy just about everything, I’ve never been terribly interested in their co-branded credit card. Specifically, up until now the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has offered the following rewards structure:

  • 5% back at amazon.com
  • 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores
  • 1% back on all other purchases

The card has no annual fee, though requires a Prime membership, which costs $99 per year. Those without a Prime membership are eligible for the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card, which has the same rewards structure, except it offers 3% back at amazon.com rather than 5% back.

Starting today, cardmembers also receive additional rewards on Whole Foods purchases — those with the Prime version of the card get 5% back on Whole Foods purchases, while those with the basic version of the card get 3% back on Whole Foods purchases.

This new benefit is exclusive to Whole Foods, and doesn’t include other grocery stores. It’s obviously motivated by Amazon having purchased Whole Foods last year in a nearly $14 billion deal, so Amazon is hoping that this perk will cause more people to shop at Whole Foods.

This is certainly a fairly compelling value for anyone who is a frequent Whole Foods shopper, though I’d argue it’s not the best value that’s available for Whole Foods purchases. Specifically, The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express offers 3x Membership Rewards points on the first $6,000 spent annually at US supermarkets. On top of that you receive a 50% points bonus when you make at least 30 transactions per billing cycle, meaning you’re earning up to 4.5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent. I value those points at ~1.7 cents each, so to me that’s like a return of ~7.7% on grocery store spend.

If you prefer a no annual fee card, The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express offers 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $6,000 spent annually at US supermarkets, and you receive a 20% points bonus when you make at least 20 transactions per billing cycle, meaning you’re earning up to 2.4x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent. That’s the equivalent of a ~4.1% return.

Bottom line

The Amazon credit card now offering 3-5% back on Whole Foods spend is a very nice perk. It’s also brilliant from their perspective, given that they own the grocery giant. Personally I don’t spend a lot at grocery stores, but even if I did, I doubt this would be enough to get me to pick up this card, since I prefer a card like the Amex EveryDay Preferred. However, I’m sure lots of people will get value out of this.

Do you plan on taking advantage of the 5% Amazon Credit Card bonus for Whole Foods spend?

(Tip of the hat to @IadisGr8)



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OUCH: Alaska Mileage Plan Blocking Cathay Pacific & JAL Awards Within 3 Days Of Departure

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This is easily the biggest devaluation to Alaska Mileage Plan miles in nearly two years. Alaska Mileage Plan is no longer allowing redemptions on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Hainan within 72 hours of departure (though they continue to allow other partner redemptions within that timeframe). This policy has apparently been in place since February 8, 2018, and is due to the high fraud associated with these tickets.



Redemptions in Cathay Pacific first class using Alaska miles just became (almost) impossible

By “fraud” I’m guessing they’re referring to a combination of people hacking accounts and booking tickets last minute (before the account holder has the chance to realize the miles are missing, at which point the flight has already been taken), and brokers buying and selling miles. I can appreciate the challenges that airlines face with fraud, but this is really bad news and really punitive.

That’s because one of the best uses of Alaska Mileage Plan miles is redeeming them for travel in Cathay Pacific first class, and the airline often only makes first class award space available within a couple of days of departure. On top of that, Alaska doesn’t have access to all Cathay Pacific award space. When you combine these two factors, this makes it nearly impossible to redeem Alaska Mileage Plan miles for travel in Cathay Pacific first class, and legitimately impossible to redeem the miles for multiple first class seats (since they only make at most one first class award seat available in advance).

If Alaska Mileage Plan is indeed having big issues with fraud related to last minute redemptions, I’d hope that they’d at least adjust their rules a bit. For example, allow redemptions within a few days, but only if the account holder is traveling, or only if the account holder can verify certain information.

In general I give Alaska the benefit of the doubt on things, since they fundamentally run the airline in an honest way. However, I have to mention that this is of course a big cost savings for them (presumably), though at the same time I think it will massively hurt their business of selling miles.

The last big hit to the value of Alaska Mileage Plan miles was in March 2016, when they devalued Emirates first class awards without notice (they claim they were strong-armed into this change by Emirates).

Alaska, I can appreciate the challenges here, but you need to come up with some sort of a solution. This will hit their business of selling miles significantly, which isn’t good for Mileage Plan’s bottom line.



Redemptions in Japan Airlines first class just got much less practical

Interestingly Alaska Mileage Plan isn’t the only program making a change along these lines. Earlier I reported on how Delta SkyMiles is limiting many partner airline redemptions within a few days of departure through their website.

Hopefully this trend doesn’t continue, given that historically last minute has been an ideal time to book an award ticket.

(Tip of the hat to @CTravlr)



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Transition To Istanbul’s New Airport Happening In October 2018

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Later this year a new airport will be opening in Istanbul. When the first phase of the project is complete (later this year), it will feature the world’s largest single terminal, at 11 million square feet, with a capacity of 90 million passengers per year. When the entire airport project is complete in 2028, it will be the world’s largest airport, with a capacity of about 200 million passengers (obviously a lot can change between now and then). This is an especially big development for Turkish Airlines, which flies to more countries than any other airline in the world, and will use this as their primary hub.

Some more details have now been shared of how this airport transition is expected to happen. The transfer from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport to Istanbul’s new airport is expected to be done in 48 hours on October 30-31, 2018. This will be immediately after the opening ceremony on October 29 (Turkey’s Republic Day), for which the president will be in attendance.

The State Airports Authority has now finalized arrangements for how the transition will take place. According to the plan, foreign airlines won’t fly to Istanbul at all on October 30-31, to make the transition as smooth as possible by reducing air traffic. Turkish Airlines, on the other hand, plans to not fly to the new airport for the first 18 hours of the transition. During this period they plan to schedule takeoffs from Ataturk Airport and landings at Istanbul’s new airport.

Meanwhile ground vehicles will be transported to the new airport by road (which should be quite a sight to see, as presumably we’ll see catering trucks, baggage carts, etc., traveling on highways between the two airports). Once the transition is complete, Istanbul’s new airport will allow 35 takeoffs and landings per hour, while Ataturk Airport will allow just five takeoffs and landings per hour, as it will be used primarily for cargo planes and private jets (all airlines are moving to the new airport).

We have a lot of new airport terminals to look forward to over the next couple of years. In addition to Istanbul getting a new airport altogether, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, and Muscat (among others) are getting new terminals, which should represent a nice improvement for the passenger experience.

I can’t wait to see what Turkish’s lounge at the new airport will look like. If they make it even better than the excellent lounge they have at the old airport, it should be pretty spectacular.

Istanbul’s new airport will be about 35km northwest of the city, while the current airport is to the southwest of the city.

(Tip of the hat to YHBU)

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VietJet Apologizes For Putting Scantily Clad Models On Flight With Young Football Players

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VietJet airlines is a Vietnamese low cost carrier that’s known for their “bikini” flight attendants. No, not all flights have flight attendants in bikinis, though the airline does release an annual bikini calendar of flight attendants.

Furthermore, for special occasions the airline sometimes has scantily clad models do a walk down the aisle inflight. They did this on a recent inaugural flight, for example.

Personally I’m not a fan of the way in which they objectify women, and I would find this to be incredibly uncomfortable (just like the time a dancer in Casablanca was shaking her breasts in my face for what felt like an uncomfortable eternity). However, I do think it’s worth noting that VietJet’s CEO is a woman, and many people disagree with me. If they thought on balance that this had a negative net effect, I’m sure they wouldn’t do it.

This brings us to the latest VietJet story, which frankly leaves me a bit confused. VietJet has apologized for this stunt, said it was an “improvised move,” and that it wasn’t a well thought out marketing strategy. They also said the relevant staff had been disciplined.

So, what happened? VietJet sent some scantily clad models onto a flight that otherwise had the country’s under-23 men’s football team onboard, after they lost. Per The Straits Times:

VietJet – best known for its bikini-clad air hostesses – came under fire for sending models in barely there costumes to join the footballers heading home from China, where the team suffered a 2-1 defeat after extra time by Uzbekistan in the Under-23 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Championship on Saturday (Jan 27).

“VietJet’s move was so rude, cheap, and offensive to the team, the fans and even its passengers,” Facebook user Nguyen My Linh wrote in a post that received 1,700 likes and more than 100 shares by midday on Monday.

Though the airline has grabbed headlines by staffing some of its inaugural flights with air hostesses in nothing more than bikinis, many online users said it was inappropriate to send the lingerie models to accompany the young men.

“It’s disgusting. I will boycott VietJet for this,” Le Nguyen, an office worker, told AFP on Monday.

Here’s a video of the models they sent on the flight:

I’m confused here. Let me say once again that I don’t like the way VietJet uses models, but that is something they consistently do, on inaugural and other special flights, and in their annual calendar.

With that in mind, I don’t really understand where the outrage comes from with this particular incident? It’s one thing if there were always uproar in Vietnam when VietJet pulled these stunts, but there generally isn’t. If they’re going to ever put scantily clad models on a flight, I feel like a flight full of young adult men would be the most appropriate time to do so, rather than inaugural flights with children, no?

The only logic I can come up with is that I imagine these football players are considered superstars in Vietnam, so maybe it’s like when tween celebrities are dating someone, and people automatically hate whoever they’re dating because they feel like they’re taking away “their” person. Perhaps the reaction here was similar.

Can anyone make sense of this — why is VietJet apologizing and reprimanding someone for this, when it’s something they do all the time?

(Tip of the hat to Jack)

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Buy Choice Privileges Points With A 40% Bonus

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Through February 5, 2018, Choice Privileges is offering a 40% bonus on the purchase of points.

The promotion is valid as long as you buy at least 5,000 points in one transaction, and you can buy at most 50,000 points through this promotion. Points should post to your account within 24 hours. If you buy 50,000 points then you’d receive a total of 70,000 points for $550, which is a cost of ~0.79 cents per point.

Lately Choice seems to be offering discounts on purchased points more frequently, and when they do, typically we see either 30% off or a 40% bonus. While the 30% discount gives you a slightly better cent per point cost, the 40% bonus is more useful if you want to buy more points, since you’re capped at buying 50,000 points per year, pre-bonus.

In the past Travis has written about why he thinks Choice points are worth buying. Specifically, Choice has an impressive footprint in Northern Europe, where hotels can otherwise be expensive. Travis has redeemed at hotels like the Clarion Collection Hotel Folketeateret and the Clarion Collection Hotel Bastion, which cost 16,000 points per night. If you bought the points for those stays through this promotion, it would be the equivalent of paying ~$126 per night, which is quite a good deal.

However, there’s one quirk to be aware of when it comes to redeeming — if you don’t have status you can only book at most 30 days out for US and Canada properties, and 60 days out for other properties. This promotion isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly a niche program that will have value for some.

Choice Privileges points purchases are processed by points.com, meaning they don’t count as airfare spend for the purposes of your credit card. If you buy miles you’ll want to first use a card where you’re meeting minimum spend, and then use a card which maximizes your return on everyday, non-bonused spend, like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American ExpressCiti® Double Cash Card, etc.

Does anyone plan on buying Choice Privileges points with a 40% bonus?

(Tip of the hat to YHBU)

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Icelandair Is Adding Flights To Kansas City As Of May 2018

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Iceland’s two largest airlines — Icelandair and WOW Air — just can’t stop growing. They’ve been adding so many new flights to the US, using Iceland as a gateway between North America and mainland Europe.

Icelandair announced several new destinations in 2017, including Dallas and Cleveland. The airline has just made their first route announcement of 2018.

Icelandair will add 3x weekly seasonal flights between Iceland and Kansas City, between May 25 and September 29, 2018 (and the route is expected to continue in 2019). The route will be operated with the following schedule:

FI841 Keflavik to Kansas City departing 6:00PM arriving 8:45PM [Sun, Tue, Fri]

FI840 Kansas City to Keflavik departing 5:15PM arriving 5:10AM (+1 day) [Mon, Wed, Sat]

The flight will cover a distance of 3,302 miles, and is blocked at 7hr45min westbound and 6hr55min eastbound. It will be operated by a Boeing 757-200, featuring 183 seats, including business class (which is more like domestic first class on a US airline), premium economy, and economy.



Icelandair’s 757 business class

As you’ll notice based on the schedule, the aircraft utilization on this route is terrible, as the plane sits on the ground in Kansas City for over 20 hours. This is because Icelandair’s route network is based so heavily around optimizing connections between the US and Europe, so the priority is that all flights are timed to maximize connections in Iceland.

They’d rather have a plane sit idle for 20 hours (which is very expensive, typically not just in terms of the actual parking costs, but also in terms of the opportunity cost) in order to ensure that it’s optimized for connections. Icelandair does this for a few of their long routes. For example, Icelandair has historically had a plane sitting on the ground in Seattle for 23 hours per day.

Rather significantly, this Icelandair flight represents Kansas City’s first transatlantic flight (if you can call a flight to Iceland transatlantic), so it’s a big win for the city. However, it’s coming at a big cost.

According to the Kansas City Star, this route comes heavily subsidized:

KCI and Kansas City business organizations offered Icelandair incentives to help persuade the airline to commit to the new route. KCI agreed to waive landing and airport usage fees for two years that it otherwise charges other airlines to Icelandair. KCI will also award $250,000 to Icelandair for each of the next two years to market the route in Kansas City and to promote Kansas City in Europe.

Those are some significant incentives, given that we’re talking a 3x weekly flight that runs for 20 weeks. Icelandair will operate a total of 60 flights in each direction each year. The marketing subsidies alone are ~$4,200 per roundtrip flight, and that doesn’t account for waived landing and parking fees and other incentives from the business community. I’d note however that these types of incentives from smaller airports aren’t unusual.

This flight is now bookable on Icelandair’s website, and fares start at ~$572 roundtrip in economy between Kansas City and Iceland, and in many cases you can connect to other points in Europe for only marginally more. Keep in mind that one of the best aspects of Icelandair is that they allow a free stopover in Iceland on a roundtrip ticket, so if you want to go somewhere else in Europe, this is a great opportunity to stop in Iceland.

In terms of earning and redeeming miles on this flight, Icelandair’s most useful US airline partner is Alaska Airlines. You can earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles on Icelandair, as follows:

And here are the redemption rates, should you want to redeem miles:

Congrats to Kansas City on this route, though it didn’t come cheap.

Anyone plan to take Icelandair’s new flight to Kansas City?

(Tip of the hat to The Points Guy)

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Amex Membership Rewards Improves Hilton Honors Transfer Ratio

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I love the Amex Membership Rewards program, which is the points currency accrued on cards like The Platinum Card® from American ExpressThe Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPENThe Premier Rewards Gold Card from American ExpressThe Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPENThe Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express, etc.

The Amex Membership Rewards program has 20 transfer partners, including 17 airline partners and three hotel partners. Personally my favorite transfer partners are Aeroplan, Air France/KLM FlyingBlue, Etihad Guest, and Singapore KrisFlyer. Meanwhile I don’t find Amex’s three hotel transfer partners — Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors, and Starwood Preferred Guest — to be especially valuable. Up until now the transfer ratios for those three partners have been as follows:

  • Membership Rewards to Choice Privileges at 1,000:1,000
  • Membership Rewards to Hilton Honors at 1,000:1,500
  • Membership Rewards to Starwood Preferred Guest at 1,000:333

There’s some good news when it comes to Hilton Honors transfers. Effectively immediately, Amex Membership Rewards points transfer to Hilton Honors at a 1:2 ratio, meaning that 1,000 Membership Rewards points can be converted into 2,000 Hilton Honors points.

This isn’t a promotional transfer bonus, but rather is the new fixed transfer cost. I suspect this change is partly related to American Express and Hilton getting even closer than in the past. Up until last year Hilton had credit cards issued by both American Express and Citi, while in 2018 Amex got an exclusive contract, and we should see a new portfolio of cards introduced this year. Just last month, Hilton Honors was dropped as a transfer partner for the Citi ThankYou program.

However, even with this improved transfer bonus, this still isn’t how I’d use my Amex Membership Rewards points. I value Membership Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, while I think Hilton Honors points are worth under 0.5 cents each. So using my valuation, you’re still getting less than penny of a value per point by transferring Amex points to Hilton.

The only transferable points currency where I think transfers to hotel programs is worthwhile is the relationship between Chase Ultimate Rewards and World of Hyatt. Transferring points at a 1:1 ratio between those programs is a solid deal, in my opinion.

(Tip of the hat to The Points Guy)

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