Friday, September 29, 2017

Fare Deal- Los Angeles to Hong Kong for $430 !

Come on, let's go.
Here's another one that's worth checking out if you need a bunch of qualifying miles, though it won't get you many qualifying dollars.  Also, if you might happen to actually want to go to Hong Kong, that's a bonus.  I highly recommend it, even if just for a short time.  It's an accessible city that you can see a fair amount of quickly. 

Go for the miles, stay for the lounge...

The flights vary, but are either direct from LAX to HKG, or some routings will take you through Tokyo for a few hours.  If you're a Oneworld elite, this is no big hardship since the lounges at NRT are some of the best, probably closely following the embarrassingly good lounges at HKG.

Not bad.  Not bad at all.

There are some decent prices for the rest of this year, but the real 'deals' are mostly early 2017, with prices well under $500!  You can earn around 12,000 or more qualifying miles on this trip, plus it's a fun destination.  The long haul flights are on American planes, so systemwides and miles and co-pay upgrades are possible for the trans pacific segments.  Connections to and from Tokyo are on Cathay or JAL.

It probably won't last long, so get it on hold while you can if you're interested!

Fly well,


Monday, September 25, 2017


Baby Flyer enjoys her upgrade on the flight up.  AA has put some updated 737s on the LAX-SEA route with IFE.

After another beautiful and peaceful weekend visiting our family on Whidbey Island enjoying the big trees, tidal flats, and starry nights, I once again find myself in the SEA Centurion Lounge.  It's not a bad place to be.  The staff is friendly, food is more than adequate for a domestic lounge, and the drinks are top shelf (plus the services of a bartender who makes a killer margarita, along with just about everything else).  I'll even give them a pass on having 'sexual healing' on the lounge playlist.

Checking out the sand and shells.

I've also cleared my upgrades both up and back this weekend, and made it to the airport in decent time despite having some serious traffic on the 405 while taking the Whidbey-Sea Tac shuttle service.  On the upside, it gave me time to finish my excellent Puget Sound Kombucha I grabbed on the ferry.

Love the Earl Grey!

However, I've reviewed this place several times, so today I'm up to something different.  I think I've come far enough along to review the "CEAR" program showing up at more and more TSA checkpoints.  Note that this is an honest review, I've paid for my family's memberships the old fashioned way. 

The basic idea with Clear is that you go through some additional screening, both online, and in person to verify your identity and do some biometrics.  Then, you get two main benefits when you show up to a Clear airport- you don't have to pull out your ID at the screening checkpoint, and you get to cut the pre-check line.  So really, you cut the line that's cutting the line already.  Once you get to the actual screening, it's the same as precheck. 

How it works is that instead of going to pre-check, you walk up to the designated Clear lane, give your boarding pass to the staff member there, and put your fingers on the kiosk to read your fingerprints, or look into the scanner to have your irises scanned.  Then the staff member verifies it, stamps your boarding pass, and leads you to the front of the line. 

I grabbed it too early- the rest of the stamp is on my hand.
I had some early hiccups with the service, mainly at Houston when I was going through there a fair amount for work earlier this year. Right off, my ID didn't match up correctly with my AA account and therefore my tickets, so it had to be manually done, and then I got a chance to get it corrected and it's worked well since.  Second, it may just be a Houston thing, but the Clear lane didn't match up with the precheck lane, so you could in essence only use one or the other.  So you could use Clear, but then have regular screening (shoes off, laptop out) or vice versa.  A bit of a fail, but localized to IAH A gates as far as I can tell.

So, that's my critique, and now for the neutral part of the review.  In general, to decide if it's worth it to you (the cost is $99 with a Delta FFN, $179 without, family is an additional $50, and minors flying with you under 18 are free) you first need to note if your most common airports have Clear at all.  Now that LAX has it, as does SEA and DFW, some of our most traveled places, it weighs in favor of keeping it up.  Also, there's the simple fact of if you generally feel like precheck at your airports and times is a wait.  Honestly, LAX T4 really isn't most of the time, but other places, like today at SEA were a significant delay, so I definitely saved some time.

Now for the positives.  Because I like to think of myself as a people person, I'll start with the staff.  Every single one I've met have been fantastic, cheerful, and patient.  I don't want to paint a broad brush about TSA, some honestly are great, but having at least part of your experience with screening being consistently pleasant is a plus.  I hope they're being paid and treated as well as they seem like they are. 

Next- on average, it does save you time.  It's either as fast, or significantly faster than pre-check depending on the lines.  I also find just the act of not having to take your ID out twice a good thing, since it's been more than one occasion where I've forgotten to put it right back, and it's taken several days and going through my travel stuff to find my drivers license again. 

Another plus is that they make using the service as a family fantastic.  The fact that all minors flying with you are free and you don't have to do anything to sign them up is wonderful.  This is a stark contrast (for obvious reasons) with Global Entry where we've been stuck in the regular lines to get our kiddo through even though me and Mrs. CurisingAltitude are long time GE members.  Also, being able to tack a spouse onto a membership for $50 makes it less daunting to get everyone onboard.

Lastly, the bit of the review that's either a benefit or a drawback, depending on how you feel about it- Clear has it's own lane by pre-check, and as you're escorted through by the Clear staff member there's an air of "VIP" to it.  Like I said, you either love this, or feel a little silly.  Either's fine, just a sidenote, really.

Overall, my personal feeling is that it's worth it for our family at the moment.  We're flying to places where we use it, and our Baby Flyer gets through with us for free.  The less fiddling around with IDs and bags with a 20 month old in tow, the better.  Plus, because we signed Mrs CruisingAltitude up at LAX, they were giving out free power sticks for new members, and gave me one too!  It's the little things. 

Clear may be right for you, or it may not.  I hope my thoughts help you make the decision.

Fly well,


Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Basic Burn.....

After my recent post about the unfortunate introduction of Basic Economy fares by American, let's just say I was more than a little amused to scroll through Facebook today and come across this little gem of an add by Southwest:

Well played, my friends, well played.

This is a company that knows when it's about to get an influx of customers fleeing the competition.  That's not base speculation either, as United covertly stated when it rolled back Basic fares just this week. 

In all honesty, if you don't fly enough (or far enough) to need the perks of a big international network, at this point you're much better off flying Southwest, JetBlue, or Alaska domestically.  The prices are fair, and in many cases, the service is much better. 

Plus, they have a sense of humor.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Buyer Beware: AA Rolls Out Basic Economy

Don't look at me like that, I'm still mad at you.  You know what you did.

Basic Economy: The product no one needs, absolutely didn't ask for, and definitely don't want.  So...thanks for that.

Overnight, AA has rolled out their new basic economy pricing across their domestic flights, and it's bad my friends.  The pricing starts for flights later this month and continues on indefinitely.  It's a plan that all of the major airlines have gone with, and AA was just the last to conform.  We knew it was coming, and had already started in some markets earlier this year.

In theory, the idea is to let the major US 3- American, Delta, and United, price match the ultra low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier by offering a ticket that removes all possible benefits and guarantees you'll hate flying just as much as if you were on Spirit.  Nice, right?

They justify it by saying it 'gives the customer the choice' to pick the benefits they want.  However, benefits like a seat assignment, or a carry on bag, are a bit necessary to the vast majority of travelers and so it's really just a way to nickel and dime people who don't understand, or don't care about the fine print.  In most cases you'll end up spending as much or more on the ticket once you have to add on everything that's necessary.

What's worse though, is the hypocrisy of how AA changed the pricing structure overnight.  Instead of actually creating some new lower fares and making those Basic Economy (which was how they advertised the upcoming change), they simply took the existing pricing and made the cheap tickets Basic, and started charging about $40 more round trip for the exact same main cabin ticket that had been there the day before.  Classy.

So, I hope anyone who had their eye on those cheap LAX-DFW fares I posted about last week managed to click purchase before today, because guess what?  Those $79 tickets are now booking into Basic Economy, and won't come with a seat assignment, a carry on bag, any flexibility, and will earn half of the qualifying miles and segments they would have 24 hours ago.  Oh, and they also aren't eligible for elite upgrades anymore either. 

Being elite does get you out of some of these restrictions, if you happen to find yourself in Basic.  You will still have your baggage privileges and priority boarding, but being off the upgrade list and earning fewer qualifying miles will hurt. 

As I said, AA isn't alone in this move, the others having done this already.  They're now set to make extra off of the up-pricing of the main cabin tickets they were already selling, as well as raking in millions in baggage and seat assignment fees from people booking into Basic.  There really is no upside for the consumer, but that's pretty well the point. 

In the end we have the big carriers' bottom lines to thank for this, but more importantly the likes of Spirit and Ryanair for showing them how to make air travel just a little less pleasant. 

From here on out, book wisely.