Monthly Archives: March 2011

Cheap(er) Business Class Airfare to London for the Royal Wedding

You don’t actually have to go to the wedding, but Virgin Atlantic is offering some cheap business class airfares to London April 18-29, starting at $2570 (plus tax) from New York, Boston, Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco (add about $800 from the West coast).  The same Upper Class fares are also available from New York June 8th to September 2nd which, sadly, is not that much more of a premium over coach this summer.  Upper Class fares normally approach $6500.

Fares can be booked through April 13.

TWA Ambassadors Club at LaGuardia

Perhaps It's Time to Update the Sign

I’m traveling to San Diego this week for work, and I saw this sign for the TWA Ambassadors Club in LaGuardia.  Based on the state of the President’s Club there (bathroom especially) it looks like nothing had been updated in 15 years.

Has Continental Got a Monopoly in Newark? (Pretty Much…and They Price It That Way)

Years ago when JetBlue launched Florida and transcon service out of JFK, I remember hearing someone ask some Continental execs whether they would have to lower fares on routes where they competed with JetBlue.  The response from the Continental exec was that Newark is a separate market from JFK, and they won’t match pricing from airlines flying out of JFK.

“Ha ha,” I thought to myself.  I might have also thought, “yeah right.”  Of course they’ll have to match pricing – JFK and EWR are the same market.

Fast forward 10 years.  I was wrong, they were right.  Continental has built a great situation for themselves at Newark:  they’ve got more than 50% market share, yes; but their competition is fragmented between a whole bunch of airlines.  Continental has no nonstop competition on some major routes (LAX, SFO, IAH come to mind) is currently competing with them, and on flights to FLL, where there’s always been some up-and-coming discounter running flights to Florida, they face competition only from JetBlue.

What fare strategy does Continental use to take advantage of this?  Basically, they will try to attract leisure travelers who are booking far in advance by matching or undercutting airlines out of JFK.  A quick look at fares from Newark to Los Angeles in a few weeks shows that Continental is cheaper ($339 r/t) than the airlines flying out of JFK (Delta, American, Virgin America, and JetBlue.  They match United).  On flights to San Francisco, they are more expensive than Virgin America, but cheaper than Delta, American and JetBlue.

It looks like they’re trying to grab price-conscious leisure travelers who are willing to drive the extra miles to save money on a fare.

But look what happens close-in:  for flights with little advance purchase, Continental takes advantage of their monopoly situation in Newark and takes what they can.  EWR-LAX is $1685 r/t while most competition out of JFK is around $900.  EWR-SFO is $1779 while competitors are at $1050.  (These are nonstop fares – connections are cheaper).  Continental is (depending on your point of view) either sticking it to business travelers who have no choice, or taking advantage of the market and charging what they can.  Either way, it’s a brilliant strategy.  While every other carrier is fighting it out at JFK, offering lower fares (even for business travel) while upgrading their service to 3-class (AA, UA) or international level (DL), Continental is content to charge 70% more while offering regular 737 first class service.  Yes, 70% more for a definitively worse product.

I don’t begrudge them any of this.  Why bother reconfiguring premium class if you don’t have to and you’re already getting a premium?  Any Continental Elite flyer will tell you that free upgrades are basically unavailable on transcon routes.  Continental has found itself with no competition out of Newark, and they’re making the most of it.  Bravo for them.

Business Class Fares to Europe in Summer Are Cheaper than Coach (On Delta to Amsterdam)

(Hat tip to Flyertalk…)

Delta is offering $1375 round trip fares (tax included) in BUSINESS class from Boston, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Orlando to Amsterdam during the summer months.  This is less expensive than most coach tickets during this summer of insanely high coach fares to Europe.  You’ll have to book by March 31st (though you should jump on this immediately if you’re the type of person who spends this kind of money on airline tickets).

What Does an Airline Owe Us When They Make a Mistake?

A couple of weeks back, British Midland mistakenly released a link to a signup page that allowed people to get instant Silver status in their frequent flyer program.  It wasn’t immediately obvious that this was an error, as a year ago there was a public link to a private offer for Silver Status and plenty of people (including myself) signed up for that offer without incident.  In case you were wondering people wanted the Silver Status because it offered free checked bags on any Star Alliance airline.

Well, BMI decided not to honor the mistake and sent an email explaining that it was an error and that unfortunately they would not honor it.  Here is the text of the email:

We’re pleased to see that you recently joined our Diamond Club frequent flyer programme. However, I’m writing to you because unfortunately the link you used to join was an exclusive by invitation only offer and as noted in our terms and conditions was non transferable.

Regrettably, we will not be honouring the Silver status, and over the next few days your account will be downgraded to Blue status. Our decision is final, and we won’t be entering into any further correspondence on this. On a positive note though, our frequent flyer programme is one of the most generous programmes around, and you only need to earn 16,000 membership status miles to earn a Silver membership. When you fly with us, or any of the Star Alliance airlines, you’ll reach Silver status in no time at all. You’ll also have access to all our offers and promotions, as well as being the first to hear about our great sale fares. We hope you’ll still enjoy the benefits of your Diamond Club membership.

Over at One Mile at a Time, the commenters went, as my father would say, a bit apeshit, accusing the airline of all manor of rudeness, saying how terrible they are, and threatening never to fly them again, blah blah blah.

Putting aside that if you were a big BMI flyer you would not be applying for their lowest tier Elite status because you would have it already.  But what did the airline do wrong in this case?  They made an error.  Could they have chosen to honor it?  Sure.  But it’s certainly more than their right not to.  A company isn’t being evil or careless if they don’t honor every mistake (or mistake fare) that gets released.  It’s a bonus if they do, but every time this happens we see in the forums people threatening to sue and crying and whining about it.  Get over it.  If you wrote a check to the cable company for $142.36 and forgot to put the decimal point, do you think they would really keep the $14,236?  Of course not.

People can complain that the corporation should honor their error, but in reality the error was made by a person, and we’ve all made errors at work (or at least I have made at least my own share of mistakes).  I’m not suggesting we feel sorry for anyone, but I am saying that we should get over the sense of entitlement and outrage when an airline makes an error.  Sometimes they honor mistakes, sometimes they don’t.  Not honoring the mistake does not make them horrible; they made a business decision.  Boo hoo if the person who benefited – knowingly or not – doesn’t get something they weren’t entitled to in the first place.

Delta Announces Changes Due to Japan, Fuel

In a regulatory filing today, Delta announced a handful of changes due to the situation in Japan and increasing fuel prices.  Worth noting:

– Delta sees 6-9 months of financial pressure because of the earthquake in Japan.  About 8% of the company’s revenue comes from flights to/from/over Japan, and they’re going to reduce Japan capacity by 20% through May, including eliminating Haneda service for the near future.

– As you might have guessed given their strength in Cincinnati, Delta is reducing capacity at their Memphis hub by 25%.  Not a shocker, but a bummer for those in Memphis accustomed to having a robust hub.

– Reducing trans-Atlantic capacity by 4% year-over-year in the second half of 2011.  They haven’t announced specific routes, but in the past this meant cutting a handful of cities and reducing frequencies to secondary cities.

Delta says they remain committed to their focus on customer service aspects of travel, continuing their program to upgrade premium seats, add more first class seats domestically, and add Economy Comfort seating to long-haul travel (I consider this the biggest win for the consumer).  The 1-2 punch of fuel and Japan would’ve been a serious blow to Delta 5 years ago, but they a management team that has been very quick to respond to downturns without relying on fare cutting.  They’ll be fine…

JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic (Finally) Announce Interline Agreement

JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic announced an interline agreement today between a handful of cities, allowing travelers to fly between, say, Buffalo and London on a single ticket without having to re-check baggage with the second airline.  Interline cities include London Heathrow & Boston, JFK and Washington; and Orlando & Glasgow, London-Gatwick, and Manchester.

JetBlue has announced interline agreements with LAN, South African, American, and Aer Lingus and others.  Virgin Atlantic makes so much sense because, unlike the others, their brand aesthetic is pretty similar (JetBlue was originally going to be launched as a Virgin Atlantic affiliate – a la Virgin America, so the Virgin brand is in their DNA).

In the incestuous world of airlines, the other only slightly odd thing worth noting is that Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America have some shared ownership (Virgin Group owns 25% or Virgin America), and Virgin America is a major competitor with JetBlue.  Hence, the Virgin group is both a competitor and a partner.  Coopetition at its finest.

Thief Steals $238,000 from Air Antilles Plane

A pretty clever thief stole $238,000 from an Air Antilles flight from Guadeloupe to St. Maarten by faking an illness and spending his time on the plane in the bathroom, where he removed panels to enter the aircraft’s cargo hold, where the money was located.  The plan was clearly well-researched, as the passenger, who has not yet been caught, knew that a brinks truck would be loading more than $1,000,000 in bills onto the plane.  He then told a flight attendant he didn’t feel well, and entered the bathroom which, he knew, was on top of the cargo hold where the money was located.

He then told flight staff that he’d need an ambulance waiting for him when he landed.  That caused a distraction upon landing, and allowed him to walk through the airport without having to go through customs.  Police interrogated his seatmate, but no cash has been found.

Continental Airlines to Cancel Nadi, Fiji

Continental Airlines is going to cancel its service to Nadi, Fiji, beginning September 25th.  Continental flew to the island from both Guam and Honolulu since December 2009 (though Continental historians will point out that they also flew there years prior).  The airline blames rising fuel prices.

(Thx Airline Route)

Air France & KLM Discount Select Reward Travel by Half through April

Flying Blue, the loyalty program offered by Air France & KLM, is offering 50% off reward tickets on select routes through April.  Economy tickets between Europe and Houston, Washington, Vancouver, Chicago and Atlanta (and vice versa) are only 25,000 miles round trip.  Routes with premium economy are only 29,000, and Business Class (Affaires) are just 50,000 miles (Toronto is also available for business class travel).

Starwood points are convertible to Flying Blue points at 1:1, with the regular 5,000 point bonus, so that spring trip to France can run you just 20,000 Starwood points in coach, or 40,000 in Business.  Solid deal.