Rewards Plus, a change we will all like (for once)

United Airlines has actually made a change that all of us (frequent flyers) will like!

All Premier Mileage Plus members Gold and above, will now receive complementary Marriott Gold status.  Yay.  For official details, go here.

Even though I don’t usually stay at Marriott hotels, it’s always nice to have the status in your pocket just in case you wind up at one.  Free internet and breakfast is fine with me!

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Trade in program for iPhone?

So Apple may be offering a trade-in program at their retail stores?  Nice.  I wonder what I can get for my 3G?  Every little bit helps, since unlocked iPhones cost close to US$700.

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Baroque Angel at BMW Shanghai

1948 BMW 502 “Baroque Angel” at the BMW Brand Experience showroom in Shanghai. It looks great in black!




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Tokyo Xmas

It’s Christmas time at Roppongi Hills.  Where the trees are lit up and people say “メリークリスマス” instead of “happy holidays”.  It is also incredibly cold.  But hey, it IS December…


Victim of new UA SWU policy

…also known as “something we will all like”.

When UA and CO commensurated their merger back in March, there was an important change made to how SWUs were to be accepted.  Long story short, SWUs are no longer the top priority for upgrades since the new UA will now push the sale of upgrades at time of checkin.  That means you can be a general member and with a purchased upgrade, you can bump a 1K using a SWU.  Probably because the SWU doesn’t generate revenue (other than the W class ticket) while a purchased upgrade makes money.

I experienced this first hand during my recent trip to SIN on UA via NRT.  For the past month before the flight on dot bomb, it confirmed my upgrade to C plus my assigned seat on the upper deck.  Flying the upper deck on a transpac is really the only way to fly that airline.  Not only is it an exclusive minicabin of 14 seats, it also has its own set of Flight Attendants and most importantly, TWO lavatories for 14 people! That means they stay reasonably clean compared to the lavs on the main deck.  When I checked in on the day of my flight, my boarding pass had “XXX” where “14A” was supposed to be.  The gate agents said that it was a full flight and the seat assignments would be done at the gate.  How could that be if I already had a seat assignment for the past month?  Unless they were attempting…A BUMP!

Remember, the New UA policy that paid upgrades trump SWUs and status.  So, in this case, someone of lower status purchased an upgrade at check in and myself, as a 1K using a SWU would thereby be bumped back to Y.  Now, those of us who fly transpacific know the shortcomings of UA in Economy.  Actually, the only thing it has going for it is Economy Plus.  The only reason to fly UA and pay the W fare premium is to apply SWUs to our flights.  Really, there’s no other reason to fly UA in Y.  It’s not even cheap anymore.  When I was booking my upcoming trip to SG, I found that NH and SQ had cheaper tickets in Economy.  I wound up purchasing a round trip on NH, connecting through NRT to SIN and a stopover via HND on the way back home. Price?  Cheaper than a W class ticket on UA round trip with no stopover.

Anyway, the moment the gate agents showed up and told me to “wait” while they assigned C seats to everyone else in line (thereby affirming my suspicions), I loudly got on the horn with the 1K Desk.  Although the “new” United has cut and reduced 1K status, sometimes the appearance of being on the line can “motivate” ground staff.  Which it did.  They “found” me a seat on the main deck 2 minutes into my phone call (on hold).  I was able to horse trade my seat for one on the upper deck where I proceeded to out snore the airplane for 7 hours.  Apparently, all this made me tuckered out.

Rule of story: know what’s happening out there!

Adventures in Economy Plus

Due to not flying a lot earlier this year, I have been doing Mileage Runs to San Juan for the past eight weeks.  A Mileage Run is usually a flight that covers the most amount of mileage for the least amount of money and usually means a very short turn.  Typically, these runs have had me spending 18 hours or so sitting in Economy, since on the new United, upgrades rarely clear (a change we will all like).

So twice, I was asked to switch seats.  I normally sit in the E+ section in an aisle seat.  I paid for and chose that seat.  The first time, the guy sitting next to me in the middle seat gave me a song and dance about how he and his wife would like to sit together.  I said, “where is she sitting”?  “Row 30B”.  I was in 8C.  So that would mean that someone who didn’t pay for an E+ seat would be moving up and I’d be in the back in a middle seat.  PASS.  He obviously knew what he was doing and wound up moving to the back after we leveled off. The second time was on the flight back, where the woman sitting next to me in a middle seat wanted me to move to another middle seat so her husband could sit in my aisle seat.  Once again, NO!

What is it with people nowadays who think they’re entitled to my stuff?

The “new” United…

…making lots of changes we know you will like.

Like making a simple milk run from SFO-LAX into an ordeal. Has anyone noticed how UA planes are starting to break down more frequently? One of these no-show planes was supposed to land, load up and take off before my hour long flight to The Southland. The plane that I eventually flew to LA was already on the ground, ready to go.
Since the plane to take us to LA is already here, all it needs is a gate to use. And since the flight before ours never arrived, we couldn’t use the gate. We were delayed close to 2 hours before they moved gates and loaded us onto a decrepit 757 that saw better days 15 years ago.

The flight passed without incident until we landed LAX and watched as 3 flights after ours landed get their baggage. Apparently, our baggage was delayed and was on a later flight from SFO. Nice move UA! Didn’t even bother telling us until we had to ask. If we knew, we wouldn’t have interrupted your gossip session!

I don’t like these “changes”.

National Traits on Flag Carriers

I was reminded on my most recent trip back East about how an airline can reflect the personality and traits of its home base.  I took two flights on this trip: a multi leg UA flight (SFO-NRT-SIN-NRT-SFO) and a round trip SQ flight to Hong Kong.

"United Airlines" - sort of

"United Airlines" - sort of (Photo credit: Chris Guillebeau)

UA is typically American, from the obese passengers with entitlement attitudes (I am in C, therefore I own the aisle and I will block it when I want, gate lice, queue jumping)  to the adequate to poor service to the typically union attitude of skirting the regulations.  For example, nametags.

Nametags are supposed to be worn as part of the uniform.  I have never seen so many creative ways that a name badge can be obscured or hidden.  I saw lapels conveniently covering nametags, one name tag that looked buffed out with a brillo pad, tags with first names only and several with none.  This is to prevent any sort of complaint that passengers may have about the flight attendants since the first step is to identify the culprit and how can you be identified if you don’t have an accurate name tag.  Unlike their counterparts on Singapore Airlines, where the stewards and stewardesses wear their uniforms and tags proudly, UA flight attendants feel the need to obscure their identity, lest they get called out for bad service.  But what’s the point, since they’re AFA anyway!  They won’t get fired.  And the ones that tend to get called out for good service, they’re the ones that wear their tags properly.  Usually they’re Narita based and non AFA.

Another example of the American “it’ll do” attitude is the condition of the airplane interiors.  Since the basics of aircraft maintenance are by gov’t regulation, UA has to follow rules to make sure their fleet stays airworthy and the generally do a good job at that.  However, there’s nothing that regulates the condition of the interior of the plane, where on my 744, trim pieces being held together by tape were the norm.  I have also been on planes where panels and doors were held in place with tape.  Maybe that should be part of every carry on bag, a roll of tape, in case the plane needs some emergency repairs.  And don’t get me started about the lavatories.  On the first return leg, I was seated in an exit row, next to the battery of 4 lavatories in the main cabin.  There were a lot of unsanitary types going in and out along with the various smells pushed into the cabin with the lavatory door being swung open and closed.  Not once were the lavatories wiped down during the 7 hour flight.  Yuck!  When asked about that, the flight attendant said in a bored voice, “that’s not MY job”.   I wonder if Jeff uses these lavatories when he flies? Maybe he can make an improvement here that we will all like.

Air hostesses for Singapore Airlines. January ...

Air hostesses for Singapore Airlines. January 19, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SQ, despite being criticized by some long time business fliers as “not as good as before” is still the standard in the skies.  Despite having issues with their website and the criticism of some of the quality of the new crews, SQ is still the preferred carrier for the region, according to an informal poll I took while in Singapore.  The experience onboard was efficient, well mannered, clean and pleasant.  And those were my fellow passengers.  Kinda like Singapore.

My flight was on an Airbus A330 regional jet that replaced the old Boeing 772s that SQ flew for years on these routes.  The planes are new and well maintained inside and out.  Actually every SQ plane I have been on has been almost Japanese in its upkeep and maintenance.  Unlike the UA 744s that have only a screen in the main cabin, every seat back on SQ has a version of Kris World, their AVOD system. And unlike  the flight attendants on UA who are either fat or old and cranky, SQ inflight service still remains pleasant and engaging.  The food reflects the destination so there was a choice of Cantonese dishes as part of the inflight meal.  Nice to have a choice besides “beef or chicken”.  And a beautiful smile from my stewardess when I woke up after my nap.  Yay.  It’s nice to get on a plane cynical and to depart smitten.  It means that the airline has done its job, not just getting you from A to B but leaving you with a good taste in your mouth.  Or was that the Krug?



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Still Waitlisted!

Dammit! Not looking forward to a 17+ hour flight in United Economy…

Going back…

Over Hong Kong

Over Hong Kong (Photo credit: thewamphyri)

…to Hong Kong and Singapore in a few weeks.

Although I’m there semi-regularly, it feels like I’m returning to what should be “home”.  Why is that?  I think it’s the people I know there and the food we eat.  Also, both cities have a lot more happening than the boring, provincial town of San Francisco.

In either case, 4 days in Singapore and 3 days in Hong Kong is just barely a visit.  It’s just enough time to land, eat and sleep.  But I’ll be landing, eating and sleeping in Hong Kong and Singapore and that’s worth it for me!  Also it means 16800 EQM that I desperately need to hit Million Miler this year.

As I’m still a 1K on UA, I have some SWUs that can be used.  Because of that, I’m flying UA from SFO-NRT-SIN, despite arriving just before midnight and departing (Singapore) at dark o’clock (0710).  So far, my outbound legs have cleared but am waitlisted on the return (Bah!).  After this flight, subsequent trips will probably be on NH since I will be out of SWUs for the year.  That’s a mixed bag because I will be on NH (yay, great service and food and AVOD) but in Y (with a very small chance of an op-up, though it has happened before).

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