This is a blog dedicated to the nuances of business travel.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

New Year, New Information

As there are a few dedicated readers out there, who were looking for more information, I have decided to dedicate a post to my personal favorite links:

FlyerTalk - A travel forum dedicated to Points Accumulation, along with tips, tricks, and random talk.
ITA Travel Itinerary - A great site to create complex itineraries for mileage runs.
FareCompare - A great link to break down the costs of your possible mileage runs. Here is where I get a good starting point of places that are offering inexpensive fares, which I can then make more complex using ITA.
Virtual Tourist - This site is essential for me to "give back". It allows you to write reviews of places you have been, and will also give you great guidance from real people's perspective on locations. My Screenname there is ATXtraveler, and appreciate any "ratings" you give!
Flyer's Rights - Do you ever feel like the airline takes advantage of you as a customer? Read this before taking a flight.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hotel Breakdown in Comparison

Several dedicated listeners have asked for more information on the breakdown of hotel chains and why I choose Starwood first:

Here is a quick down and dirty breakdown: Comparison

Starwood is also well known for its bonus program, which offers incentives on a quarterly basis for frequent guests. For example, this quarter, I had the option of choosing double points per stay, double "qualification stays" or a certain number of bonus points per stay. I went with the down and dirty double points because I was already qualified as Platinum for the year, and my overall spend per night was going to exceed the bonus points per stay column. To find out which promo you qualify for (every SPG member qualifies for one) go to SPG Promos.

As a member of HHonors and Marriott Rewards, I have never received a targetted bonus promotion in my entire history with them, and have acheived elite status with both. Occassionally, Hyatt will have the stay two, pay with Mastercard and get one free, but that is not normally enough to earn my business.

Hitting 1 Million....

Well, the countdown is officially on. I began seriously flying with American Airlines in Feb. 2002, and sometime before the end of the year, I will have booked 1 Million American Airline Miles. This particular feat has been accrued through various methodologies, but I would say that close to half of these miles are actual BIS (Butt in Seat) miles. One unique thing that will happen when I cross over is to actually score Gold Status for life! Of course the big one for most is the 2 million mile mark, when you become Platinum for life, and never have to worry about chasing down upgrades! For those who are ultra serious, I do not believe there is a method of accruing EXP for life.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Status - Hotel "Mattress Runs"

So most of you are now qualified as "in the know" about airline mileage programs and how to maximize your miles and status. You of course also want to feel the love when you check into a hotel as well, and for that, we have an even easier path to success. First, I recommend you pick two hotel chains in which you are going to focus on. Make one your primary choice, in my case Starwood, which has the Westin, Sheraton, W, and Four Points lines. This primary needs to be the nice hotel chain that has great worldwide hotel choices for the places you want to go. Also choose a secondary chain, which can be one that has a lot of convenient business and rural locations. I choose Hilton because of its lower end Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, and Homewood Suites brands. Other choices obviously are Marriott, Hyatt, Priority Club (Holiday Inn and Intercontinental) and a few others. For mostly rural or US travel, Comfort Inns have a great rewards program as well.

Ok, now that you have selected your two choices, you need to plan your yearly status run on mattress beds. In the same way frequent flyer models allow you to make your status on segments, hotels have stays vs. nights ways of qualifying. Now typically, if you "stay" for business it is normally 4 nights on a given week. Starwood for instance requires either 25 "stays" or 50 "nights" to achieve their highest status which is Platinum. Platinum nets you a FREE suite upgrade every time you stay with them *based on availability.

So clearly, you would say... well why would I want to stay 50 nights, when i could stay a minimum of 25 stays of one night each! Exactly. This takes a little planning on your part, but is easily done. I am going to take the example of Seattle, Washington with Starwood... here we go.

When I fly in for a week's business trip to Seattle, I want to garner a minimum of 4 "stays". So on Sunday night, I stay at the W Downtown Seattle because of their great weekend rates. I then move and check into the Sheraton Seattle on Monday night, move over to the Westin Seattle on Tuesday night, and possibly based on customer visits, move to the Westin Bellevue on Wednesday night. All of these hotels are relatively the same price range and quality level, but instead of having one stay and 4 nights, I have 4 stays and 4 nights. Only 21 more nights to go instead of 46!

Now clearly, Seattle is an exception because it has 4 Starwood properties, right? Yes... and that is why you add in your secondary hotel chain. Lets take Austin for instance. There is only one Starwood in Austin (the Sheraton on 11th), but there are several convenient Hilton brands, including 4 downtown. Here, I would choose to stay in the Sheraton Austin Sunday night, move to the Hilton downtown if I found a great rate, or the Hampton Inn Downtown right next to it for a less expensive stay, or a couple blocks away at the Hilton Garden Inn for the other nights. I may also rotate back and forth between a Sheraton and Hilton every other night until my Diamond Status (28 stays or 60 nights) with Hilton and Platinum Status with Starwood is complete. After all, why sleep in the room facing the brick wall or air conditioning units, when you have be in the Presidential Suite??

Now remember, once you achieve this status, you do not have to room hop any more for the rest of the year, which means I really only employ this strategy in the first month or two of travel. After that, I can relax on longer stays per hotel. That is until I blog about the check-in bonuses!

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Status or Points - The Mileage Run

Today's Secret Blog has a little to do with the secrets in airport routing and price of fares. All flights that have a source and destination get booked into fare classes, then those fare classes are given routings. What I mean by this is if you are going from Austin to Seattle, the common choice is to fly to direct. But for those who are looking for a higher level of status or want to increase their points, flying indirectly may not cost them any more, yet net them a ton more points for a little time investment. If I were short on Status points, I may choose to fly AUS-DFW-BOS-SEA, where I fly from Dallas to Boston to Seattle for the same price as flying directly to Seattle.

Why would anyone in their right mind do this? Well, as we remember, most EXP status members get to sit in first class on upgrades all year long, right? So if you were 3000 miles short of the 100,000 it took to qualify for EXP the following year, it may be worth investing a single day of travel (if already EXP and requalifying, this would be one day in First Class) to re-up to EXP for the following YEAR.

Now... I understand WHY I would book this way, but HOW do I book this way. The easiest method is to call a travel agent. He/She can find the correct fare codes to do this, although you may have to mail them this blog to show them why... The second is to use Orbitz Dream Maps. If you are a frequent traveler, you may also want to invest a little money in Expert Flyer's site, which is a for-pay site but has the info on how to get these done.

One of my regular readers, Erick, is currently sitting at 35,000 miles away from reaching EXP. He has to fly from Texas to Toronto for work. Conceivably, I could help him get there with a weekend of fun. He could fly AUS-DFW-LAX-HKG-BKK-LHR-YYZ-DFW-AUS for his round trip and garner over 20,000 BIS miles, putting him very close to the limit. But then he would have to have the proper visas to visit Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, and Toronto. To each his own!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Status Qualification - "The Challenge"

As listed in the comments section, by poster "Matt", there is in fact a quick and fairly easy way to earn your status for the year. Bear in mind this is a one-time shot, so do consider when and where to begin this challenge.

Status is based on travel between Jan. 1, 200x and December 31st, 200x. If you choose to fly with American, and do not have status or want to re-earn a lost status, you can apply for a Gold or Platinum Challenge. In order to meet the challenge, you have to call into AA Customer Service, ask for the challenge, and then after enrolling, fly either 5,000 miles for Gold or 10,000 miles for Platinum within 90 days of your challenge starting. As soon as you surpass those goals, you move into the next status level.

Two caveats to this challenge... #1 You can only challenge one at a time, so if you did Gold, and flew 10,000 miles, you would still only have Gold. #2 You can only do this one time per frequent flyer in that account's lifetime. #3 Whereas someone who qualifies normally in 2007 would keep the benefit until Feb. 2009, challengers who qualify in 2007 only keep keep status until Feb. 2008.

Tip #3: If you are thinking about this challenge, make sure you start it right before a long trip, and have enough trips thought out ahead of time.

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Airline Credit Card - 1 mile per dollar spent

This is probably the easiest way to earn mileage in the country, as long as you have credit. Most airlines have partnered with a bank or financial institution to have a mileage earning credit card. There are multiple different view points on how this should be utilized, and some content it is better to get a points credit card that is not associated with one particular airline, to give you more opportunity to earn.

Here is my take:
Determine where you want to go, and how you want to earn that trip. If the answer to your question is, I am willing to go anywhere, then the open option is best. If you have a specific location, look at which airlines serve that place, and build your points based on this desired locale. I choose to remain loyal to the One World Alliance, as I lived in two of its major hubs (Australia with Qantas and Texas with American). You may also make this determination based on which credit card company you already have in your wallet.

Here are a couple offers that are hard to pass up:

40,000 American Airline Miles from Citibank
10,000 American Airline Miles from Citibank Debit
20,000 Alaskan Airline Miles from Bank of America
20,000 Continental OnePass miles from Chase
16 Southwest Rapid Rewards Credits from Chase
17,500 United Miles from Chase

Also, I would highly recommend the Starwood American Express card as well. This will earn you 10,000 Starwood points, which would equate to 3 free nights. So with applying for a credit card from the airline and one from the hotel, you could essentially receive a free weekend vacation.

Dine Out - Earn 10 miles per dollar

OK, so you have read my first blog explaining the benefits of earning mileage and elite status on airlines. This post is going to talk directly about mileage, but will earn you no additional status.

Rewards Network (formerly known as iDine) is a business venture that assists up and coming restaurants build larger clientel through web based marketing. It cleverly realized that business travelers are always looking for a place to eat when on the road, and converted this idea into a business by enticing these travelers to earn frequent flyer miles at locations throughout the country.

The concept is simple. Sign up for free, add your existing credit card (ANY credit or debit card) into your profile, and voila, you are having your cards work for you. If you happen to stumble on a Rewards Network location, you will automatically receive the benefit for the use. Now if you want to leverage this into further benefit, you can log on, add your credit cards and then search the locations you want to dine in, and a bevy of options will come up in the towns you are headed to!

OK.... now I did lie to you slightly, it is not automatic that you earn 10 miles per dollar spent. There are different levels within Rewards Network for elite dining members, but these are pretty easy to attain. Your first 12 dines will reap a 3 mile per dollar spent reward. All subsequent dines are 10 miles per dollar.

Tip #2 To quickly obtain elite status, why not go to 10 restaurants and just buy a drink for $2. This would mean for a mere $20 investment, you would now be earning 10 miles per dollar there on out!

Preparing for 2008

OK, so based on popular demand, I decided to start a small blog giving you some of the nuances needed to be a better frequent flyer/hotel points guru. First and foremost, my tips and tricks will be based off my personal experience, and I prefer American Airlines and Starwood Hotels.

As a business traveller, you will need to consider roughly how much you will be travelling in the next year. Frequent flyer programs offer two different distinct benefits, status and mileage. Knowing how to navigate these two items will greatly improve your ability to enjoy your travel time.

Lets start with status:

Have you ever wondered why your co-workers consistently sit in first class when flying on the same flight booked through the same travel agent? The reason is because they fly consistently with the same airline. The more BIS (butt in seat) miles you fly, the more opportunities you have for free upgrades. American in particular has three levels of status, Executive Platinum, Platinum, and Gold. From the former to the latter, each level increases your chances to sit in first class without paying for it.

Here is a breakdown of how you can reach these levels:
Executive Platinum: Fly 100,000 BIS or EQM (elite qualifying miles), Earn 100,000 EQP (elite qualifying points), or 100 segments.
Platinum: Fly 50,000 BIS or EQM/EQP or 60 segments.
Gold: Fly 25,000 BIS or EQM/EQP or 30 segments.

For Gold and Platinum members, you earn credits for the flights you have flown, which equate to 500 mile upgrade "stickers" (they used to actually be stickers, now they are electronically kept), which means for every 500 BIS miles you fly, you need to redeem 1 sticker for an upgrade. Executive Platinum members get free stickerless upgrades anytime a seat is available.

So for you to determine which level you want/will try to reach, simply pick which city you fly from/to most, and do a small equation in your head. If you are in a hub city such as DFW, ORD, or MIA, then you will most likely try to qualify with BIS miles. If you fly alot of First Class, you will try to qualify using EQP (business/first class seats generally earn 1.5 EQP per BIS mile), and finally if you are not in a hub city (Austin is a great example), you will earn your status through segments.

Lets take this example: Joe flys from AUS every week for business. He commutes to several cities in the Western US, and chooses American Airlines. The direct flights from Austin are DFW, SJC, LAX, SEA, and ORD. Anytime he is not flying to Dallas, San Jose, LA, Seattle or Chicago, he will be making a stop in one or more of these cities for a connection. Therefore if he looks at his travel schedule, he can intelligently choose which routes make the most sense for qualification. If his business is in the Bay Area for example, he could choose to fly to San Jose direct several times, which will net him 1500 BIS miles each flight, or he could choose to fly through DFW which would net him 500 automatic BIS miles (minimum flight credit), and then 1500 BIS miles to SJC/SFO/OAK connecting in Dallas. The advantage to using the connection may be that he has to fly far less to become platinum however. Each round trip going AUS-SJC-AUS is 2 segments, requiring 30 round trips in a year to qualify, but if he routes AUS-DFW-SJC-DFW-AUS, he will receive 4 segments, which means only 15 round trips to qualify.

Tip #1: If you are going for status, flying the indirect route may pay off until you qualify.

Now lets talk about mileage:

As opposed to status, the mileage hunter is a lean fierce animal that is hard to pin down. Creative mileage hunters will look for a myriad of options to gain and retain the elusive mileage. Mileage can be used for future trips to fun, exotic, relaxing, or any alternative adjective locations. As an example, Sarah and I have taken free trips to Tahiti, Australia, Brazil, Europe, South Asia, and several US locations all on free trips.

I will add additional blog posts on mileage as we continue here, but just keep this in the back of your mind. A frequent flyer reward ticket in the continental US starts as low as 15,000 frequent flyer miles. If you were to fly from DFW-SJC round trip, that would be 3000 miles minimum right there. That's as low as 5 round trips to earn a free one. In addition, I will be sharing with you other tips to maximize your mileage as we move on. I average about 50,000 miles a month through the various tips I will share with you. Until then... have a great day!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Downtown Nashville, TN

During a recent business trip, I had the opportunity to stay in Nashville, TN. I am recently back into the US from Australia, and since this is January, I am starting my frequent flyer mile arms race. As listed before, I typically give first shot to Starwood because of their past performance. I chose the Sheraton Downtown Nashville as my hotel location, and flew from my home in Dallas to Nashville on American.

The location of the hotel was definitely the reason for my stay, although the age of the hotel itself left a little to be desired. The rooms were pleasant enough, but there was a little age to the room. I am not always impressed when I pay $179.00 a night for a room that is equal to that of a motel. A word to the wise, if you have not updated your hotel since 1970, quit charging that much. The night before I stayed in twice the luxury at $139! I did notice that the rooms on a mid-level were being redecorated, so it appears management is aware. If I were to give a bit of advice, fix your club level rooms first!

I also did have the advantage of enjoying the club level happy hour for both breakfast and after work drinks. If you are not aware of this, please bear in mind that some hotel chains allow you to pay an extra $10-35 dollars (normally negotiable) to enjoy the benefits of internet service, snack type finger foods and access to drinks from the bar for little or no extra money. A glass of wine at this location was $4, although I did not have to pay extra for access to the room because of my status.

Here is the breakdown of what was paid:
Room rate: $179
Club Level: $0
Parking: $20
Drink Charges: $4
Water on Arrival in Room: $0 for 2 bottles

Rating (based on 10):
Bed: 9
Room: 5
Bathtub: 4
Bathroom: 5 (toilet too close to shower)
TV Selection: 6 (would have been higher if HBO had worked)
Location to Downtown: 9
Overall: 38/60

As always, if hotel or corporate management should like to discuss this rating with me, please contact me!

Welcome to "A Texas Traveler!"

I guess by way of my first post, I should let you know what and why this blog is created. My wife Sarah and I travel quite extensively throughout the world, and although you can always read about our exploits on a personal blog, I thought I would dedicate a little time to the business travel that I take on throughout the world.

Business travellers are always looking for something new or exciting to make their trips a little less boring, and I will hope that I can assist in that! Let me start by giving you some travel preferences:

Favorite Hotel Chain: Starwood Preferred Guest
Favorite Airline: American Airlines (let the spirited debate begin)
Favorite Car Rental: Hertz
Favorite City to travel to: Austin, TX

I will dedicate a little time per trip to letting you know where and when I was able to eat, drink, sleep. If this helps in anyway spur your decision to stay or use one of those services, then just send a little comment to me and let me know I helped!