I struck a nerve a while back when I opined that I really hoped the current upgrade system in place with American AAdvantage remains in place following the combination of the AA and US frequency programs. OK, I struck a nerve recently as well. Most recently this issue has resurfaced thanks to a rumor (and I believe that’s probably all it is) about comp upgrades at Delta. There’s also the rumor that we’ll be seeing a new combined AAdvantage program soon. In my post on the Delta rumors, I called the idea of “complimentary” upgrades for all “folly” and I stand by that. I’ve never thought the forward cabin should be “given away” and I’m not just saying that to get a few clicks on a Friday night.

Yes, road warriors deserve something for all that time spent with an airline, but a “free” seat in the front cabin has never been my idea of what that should be. Let’s back out the meal changes AA made not too long ago and then backtracked a good bit. There’s a reason AA has historically offered a bit more in the domestic first class meal arena – it was funded, either through earned upgrades, paid stickers, or (gasp) people buying the product….yeah, that actually happens. The other airlines went the “comp” route for reasons I’ve never quite been able to determine, and in the process cheapened their product. AAdvantage came up with a reasonable compromise in my book, complimentary upgrades for top tier Executive Platinum elites, and earned upgrades for others. The end result was that Executive Platinums got a little something extra for the extra flying, and the rest of us got a system that worked well enough…..offering lower tier elites a real shot at clearing the upgrade because every single elite on earth wasn’t on the list.

No matter what choice American (or Delta) makes, I’ll still sleep well at night. There are a lot of opinions and emotions at play, and I completely respect those who don’t agree with me. But the mere fact that a lower level elite has had a real shot at an upgrade with a truly comprehensive network airline is reason enough for me to support the idea that the current AAdvantage elite upgrade system is the way to go.

-MJ, October 24, 2014

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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

In my final post of this series on cruise line loyalty, I’m focusing on the bank rewards programs – Barclaycard Arrival Miles, Amex Membership Rewards, and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Personally, I think these programs represent a better value than the cruise line cards, especially the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. This like all things depends on your personal situation.

Arrival Miles

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is one of my favorite card products. You earn two miles per dollar for every purchase, and if you redeem for travel, you’re getting 2.2 percent cash back thanks to the 10 percent mileage rebate for redemptions. They’re a better deal than most any cruise line card unless you live on a cruise ship because you earn 2 miles per dollar for every purchase, not just a specific cruise line. I’m a simple guy who appreciates simple things…and Arrival Miles are simple.

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Cruise expenses show up as travel, and then I redeemed for a travel credit. No muss, no fuss.

Membership Rewards

I’ve said before that I’m not a big Membership Rewards player, and I’ve never used the MR points I have collected to cover cruising expenses. When you book with American Express Travel you can pay for all or a portion of your cruise fare with Membership Rewards points. You can book online or call, but either way, a phone call is going to be required to redeem points for your cruise fare. The bad news is that your redemptions are worth a penny per point. So a $300 cruise fare would be 30,000 points, and there are no rebates or points discounts for booking travel. If you happen to use the Business Platinum Card, then you are still eligible for the 20 percent redemption bonus on Membership Rewards that used to apply to the personal card as well so that cruise would only cost you 24,000 points. Membership Rewards, as great as they can be, aren’t quite as good as Ultimate Rewards or Barclaycard Arrival Miles for cruise expenses in my opinion.

The real benefit of Amex and cruising is the Cruise Privileges Program, a feature of the Platinum and Centurion charge card products. The basic benefits are an onboard credit of anywhere from $100 to $300 depending on your accommodation choices. You’ll also receive other amenities that vary by cruise line. For example, my wife and I received a complimentary specialty dining as well as a bottle of wine from Celebrity, and the wine wasn’t cheap stuff. We were given a list of options, and we went with Cakebread Chardonnay. If you’re a Centurion cardmember, you may receive more benefits from some cruise lines. You do not have to book with Amex Travel to enjoy these benefits, but you do need to pay with an Amex card. Any travel agent can call Amex, get a tracking number, and then have your benefits applied to your booking. You can find participating cruise lines here.

Ultimate Rewards

I love Ultimate Rewards! They’re great for transferring to airline programs to book award travel, and they’re great to use for paying for travel, including cruises, too! While I prefer to use them for airline transfers, UR points can be used to book a cruise, and like other travel modes, you get a 20 percent discount on redemptions too. In other words, a $1000 cruise will cost you 80,000 points. You do have to call Ultimate Rewards travel for cruise bookings, but other than that, it’s a pretty straight forward deal. It’s also important to keep in mind that if you charge your onboard expenses to your Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you’ll be earning 2 points per dollar spent too!

In conclusion, there are points earning and redeeming opportunities in cruising. I’ve said many times that the most valuable points redemptions are usually for airline tickets. With frequent flyer programs evolving, who knows if that will always be true. If you want to use points for a cruise, the bank card rewards programs are usually a better deal than the cruise line cards because there are better earning opportunities, especially with the Arrival Plus card. No matter which choice you make, enjoy your cruise!

-MJ, October 24, 2014

Of the many innovations Quantum of the Seas is about to introduce, there is none more interesting than a “bionic bartender.” I have read a lot of fretting online about the company trying to replace bartenders, but I don’t think that’s the case at all. I really think this is about novelty and marketing….marketing of the cruise industry’s most advanced ship. Something tells me we won’t be seeing “bionic” bartenders pouring every single libation onboard a cruise ship anytime soon.

In little more than a month, I’ll be setting sail aboard Quantum of the Seas. I’ll be sure to say hello to the “bionic bartender.”

Yesterday, I wrote a short post about rumors that we’d be seeing the details of a combined AAdvantage program soon. I’d hoped to hear something as part of today’s earnings release, but that wasn’t to be. There’s always tomorrow, but good news is usually announced earlier in the week. That said, IF they are ready to go with a combined program by March 1 as the rumors suggested, there’s only so much damage that can be done.

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OK, the Piedmont program was my first, but the truth is that I’ve earned and burned more AAdvantage miles than any other currency, I care about it the most, and for what it’s worth….I still have a little red, white, and blue in me. AAdvantage is THE frequent flyer program in my opinion, and everything that happens there matters to me. In the absence of an announcement that may or may not be forthcoming, here are my best guesses, take them for what you will.

Near Term

IF AAdvantage announces a combined AA-US program soon, it is going to look a lot more like the current AAdvantage program than anything else. Frankly, with all the IT work that must go on behind the scenes, there really is no other option. It is possible that we get a fourth tier. As much as I dislike complication, the truth is that most of the rest of the industry has been on four tiers for a while now. It’s more possible than not that AAdvantage had a fourth tier in mind for as far back as bankruptcy. Further, we’ve already been through a bit of a devaluation a few months back. Here we go –

  • Four tiers – Silver (25K), Gold (50K), Platinum (75K), Executive Platinum (100 and something K). I’m least sure about this).
  • Complimentary upgrades for Executive Platinum.
  • Earned/Paid upgrades by the “sticker” for everyone else (Sorry CTG) :).
  • Program mostly unchanged otherwise.

Longer Term

  • We’re headed towards a revenue based program.
  • Whether that copies Delta or not remains to be seen. I predict it looks more like BA than DL. Of course, all this depends on how the programs at DL/UA pan out.

So…there you have my thoughts. What are yours? Predictions for the future? Let’s watch what happens.

-MJ, October 23, 2014

 

 

I mentioned several weeks ago that the Atlantis Resort in Nassau would be joining Marriott’s Autograph Collection, and Marriott Rewards this fall. The change is now official for new reservations effective October 16, 2014, and you can earn and redeem Marriott Rewards for Atlantis stays. Of course, the big question is “how many points to stay there?!” We now know the answer courtesy of Marriott‘s FAQ on the topic.

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Of course, I speculated before that this might become an option to pay for one of Nassau’s best cruise shore excursions. Now we know the numbers (resort fees probably figure in here somewhere too). I probably would not consider this for two people, but a family of four or more? I just might. Depends on how long you’re in port, and what other uses you might have for the points. Sometime over the next year, I’ll take the opportunity to test my question.

-MJ, October 23, 2014

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HT: Lucky

Word is on the street that we are going to see details of a new combined AAdvantage program very soon. Lucky references both a FlyerTalk thread and Travelingbetter.com, which is a very trusted source of AAdvantage information. According to the scoop, the program would be effective March 1, 2015.

MJ’s Take

I’ve blogged a bit about the things I hope the new American does and does not change. While I think that over the longer term, it is more likely than not that AAdvantage morphs into more of a revenue-based program, I have also speculated that it need not copy the changes that Delta has made, and that United has essentially mirrored. If the rumors are true that we are going to see details of a new combined program sooner rather than later, it is almost a certainty that the new AAdvantage is going to look a lot more like the old AAdvantage than anything else. The fact that the combined airline is adopting the IT systems of the larger airline in this merger makes me even more certain of that.

I’m no expert, but I don’t think that with everything else going on, there is any other option than adopting the majority of the existing AAdvantage program if the new American really is going to introduce a new combined program on March 1, 2015. If AAdvantage had its own revised program ready to go then I’d feel differently, but I don’t think that’s the case. No matter what happens – hold on tight, things could get interesting very soon.

-MJ, October 22, 2014

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Commentary: Last week I wrote a short piece on lower oil prices becoming a management challenge for airline C suites, and their employees. My focus was really on labor – management relations, cost control, and how the discipline of higher energy prices is at risk for being lost. Since that time, a handful of articles have touched on similar topics with a focus on system capacity as well as airline pricing habits. During a recent airline conference call on earnings, a pesky Wall Street analyst challenged management on capacity discipline. Said analyst then got his hind quarters politely handed to him, depending on your perspective.

The gist of the analyst’s question was whether or not management was paying enough attention to capacity discipline when making new route decisions. The airline’s managers seemed to be pretty sure that they are, and I don’t have any reason to doubt it. The hidden danger here is that when you become so wonderful and so profitable you can be lulled into a false sense of security….or would that be, superiority?

A lot of interesting little things have happened in the airline industry over the last few weeks that bear watching, none more so than right here in my now hometown. Granted, each of these developments has some merit in the marketplace, and it will be interesting to see how things unfold. Cheaper oil, assuming it sticks for any substantial period of time, may become a catalyst for other changes in the airline industry, only time will tell. One thing is certain, the airline industry attracts its fair share of characters and egos, even if they are better at counting money than they used to be. My advice to airline managers and their co-workers – keep your eye on the ball, and be leery of your own BS.

-MJ, October 22, 2014

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I’ve written rather extensively about Quantum of the Seas. Royal Caribbean’s newest vessel promises to be a game-changer within the industry. The company refers to her as the industry’s first Smart Ship. I tend to agree that they are finally taking technology to the next level for vacations at sea. I’ve heard many veteran cruisers complain that they cruise to “get away from it all” and I can’t disagree. While writing a blog doesn’t lend itself to being totally disconnected, in reality, I can take care of blog business for a set period of time each day and then disconnect. Further, no one is holding a gun to any cruiser’s head and making them use the internet options available at sea. So frankly, the idea of being unable to disconnect on a “connected” ship doesn’t float with me. Sure you can.

However, there is one thing I’m really going to miss – the personal connection with the dining room staff. No question, a big part of cruising is the dining. While I can’t call most of the main dining room dishes 5-star when thousands must be served, I’ve almost always been able to call the service 5-star. A big reason for that is the connection you make with your dining room server team. After a few days they know your wants and desires and you get to know them. It’s not unusual for new cruisers to tell me the stories of their first experiences at sea and the only names they remember will be those of their dining room staff or the people they meet at their dining room table.

With the advent of Dynamic Dining, that connection will be gone. You’ll pick one of many restaurants each night, and perhaps never have the same server twice. I suspect that most of the cruise market is indifferent to this, and in fact, I’m looking forward to giving Dynamic Dining a try. There’s certainly a lot to love about Quantum of the Seas, and I can’t wait to board. But I expect I’ll miss the personal connections made at the dining room table….not just with the service staff, but my fellow cruisers too.

-MJ, October 22, 2014

Royal Caribbean is very close to taking delivery of Quantum of the Seas. The promises many exciting new features. While not a new feature, Royal Caribbean appears to be turning things up when it comes to maintaining your fitness routines onboard. In this video, Quantum experience advisor, Dhani Jones, and Royal Caribbean’s CEO discuss Jones’ role in preparing new fitness activities for Quantum guests.

As you may know, I presented at this year’s Chicago Seminars. While I normally fly Delta, a couple of circumstances came together a few weeks ago that led me to book American Airlines for my roundtrip flight from Atlanta to ORD. Both flights were on large RJs, both flights were in first class, but both flights could not have been more different. My trip began with a visit to the American Admirals Club in Atlanta on Friday. The lounge staff is pleasant, seating and power outlets were mostly plentiful, and they offer a decent menu of sandwiches and salads for a reasonable charge. I arrived early so I could get a bit of work done, finding the bar the least crowded, I took a seat there. The bar in the club is equipped with power outlets. Charge up!

ATL-ORD, CRJ-700 operated by Envoy Air dba American Eagle

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t catch the fact that I’d booked the one Envoy operated flight to Chicago on my day of travel. I really wanted to fly the EMB-175 that predominates on the route for American, but I digress. One could do worse than a first class seat to Chicago on Friday, even if I did have to valet my carry on thanks to the CRJ-700’s small bins. The tone of the flight was set when a passenger in coach offered his first class seat to another passenger so he could sit with his spouse. The flight attendant happened to pick up on the conversation and would have nothing of it. When the lucky passenger tried to take her now upgraded seat, the F/A responded with something to the effect of “that’s nice for you, but I cannot let you do that.” She did offer that the two passengers could go work it out with the agent. At least she managed to offer pre-departure waters.

We departed on time, and the flight was smooth….and incredibly fast. One feature of the Eagle inflight service I had not anticipated in light of American’s recent meal changes did delight me.

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They weren’t warm, but I still love them! :) We landed early, waited for a gate, waited for a jet bridge operator, and then waited for our valet bags. In the end, I walked off the jet bridge only 10 minutes after our scheduled arrival, so all was well, but it served as a reminder of why I seek to avoid RJs where possible.

ORD-ATL, EMB-175 operated by Republic Airlines dba American Eagle

After spending a bit of time in the Chicago Admirals Club, I made my way to our gate on the L Concourse. No G madhouse. Within a minute or two, an announcement was made that the flight was oversold and they were seeking volunteers in exchange for a $500 travel voucher. Yes, please! In the end, they did not need a volunteer so we boarded a tiny bit later than scheduled, but still with plenty of time to depart on time. I walked onto a very new EMB-175, was greeted warmly by a polite flight attendant, and took seat 4A, the last seat on the left in first class. Pre-departure waters were offered in the midst of a rushed boarding, and we were buttoned up and ready to push on time. I was pleased with the legroom and comfort of the seat. I was further impressed that there were no pen marks….must’ve been a really new airplane.

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Soon enough, we were on our way to Atlanta. Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendant was in the aisle checking on passengers and taking beverage orders. No mixed nuts on this flight. :(

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Admittedly, the second flight seems to be most in line with American’s posted snack offering for the flights I took.

Conclusion

This wasn’t my first flight on either aircraft type, but it was my first for the EMB-175 under the American Eagle brand. The flight experience was much better than the CRJ-700, which wasn’t unexpected. Being in first class, it’s hard to compare, but I didn’t see anything that changed my opinion that the EMB-17X-19X aircraft are as comfortable as any airliner in the marketplace for domestic flights.

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