United announces new non-stop flights from San Francisco to New Delhi, Melbourne, and Toronto

This morning, United announced new service from San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The new flights are:

  • San Francisco to New Delhi, India (flight times are difficult though, with arrival in New Delhi at 12:45am and the return leaving New Delhi at 4am).
  • San Francisco to Melbourne, Australia
  • San Francisco to Toronto, Canada

United also announced additional flights and/or year-round service for their Seoul, Auckland, Tahiti, and Amsterdam routes.

United hypes this big announcement and I was hoping for direct flights to Guam, South America, and Africa, as Toronto is already well-serviced by Air Canada, there are currently direct flights between LAX and Melbourne, and there’s already non-stop service from SFO to Mumbai.

That said, will likely try out at least one of these new routes! Will you?

How to save 25% on almost every Hilton booking

If you’re paying full price for a room in the Hilton portfolio (which includes Waldorf Astoria and Conrad), you’re likely paying too much.

That’s because Hilton has a Price Match Guarantee: if you can find the same room for a lower price than what is listed on Hilton.com, Hilton will not only match the lower price, but will beat it by 25%.

The way it used to work was that you’d first need to book the hotel, and then you’d need to send Hilton proof of the lower-price offering. From there, Hilton would review the proof you submitted and then send you its determination as to whether you qualified for the discounted rate. Because you’d often need to book a non-refundable hotel room first, this system wasn’t ideal.

But earlier this year, Hilton began allowing customers to call in advance and get approval on the spot before booking the hotel room. Since discovering this, I’ve booked a number of Hilton stays (and have looked into dozens more) and have almost always found a room that’s cheaper than Hilton.com.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to get a your hotel room for 25% off:

Step 1: Go to TripAdvisor.com and look up the Hilton property you’d like to stay at

Most people know that TripAdvisor is a great site for looking up hotel reviews, but it now also wants to be the website you use to book your stay. When looking up hotels on TripAdvisor, you’ll see a list of almost a dozen websites (sometimes all at different prices), and the list almost always will include the price you’d pay at Hilton.com.

Step 2: Find a room that has a lower price than what’s listed for Hilton.com

Remember: all it takes is one website where the price is lower than what’s listed on Hilton.com.

Usually, you’ll find that almost every price will match what’s on Hilton.com, but in my experience the last few months, there’s usually one or two random sites listed through TripAdvisor that have a lower price.

Note that the room you book needs to be the exact same as the room you’d be booking through Hilton.com (as an example, if the lower price you find is for a room with a king bed and the only price listed on Hilton.com is for a twin bed, you wouldn’t be able to qualify for this promotion).

Step 3: Call Hilton and ask for the price match + 25% discount

This step is the hardest — you’ll need to call Hilton at 1-800-445-8667, tell them that you’d like to book a room, and that you’ve found a lower price listed on another site.

My impression is that Hilton doesn’t like giving this discount out, so they take around 30-45 minutes to check the website, get internal approval, and offer you a lower rate, which you need to book right then, on the call.

Also, I’ve had a Hilton representative deny my lower fare + 25% off claim, only to call back and have it approved, so be ready to put in some leg work here.

Step 4: Book and get ready for you trip!

Have you used the Hilton Price Match Guarantee? Let me know in the comments.

Black Friday deal: buy $100 hotels.com gift cards for only $80

I’m not a big Black Friday shopper — in fact, this may be the first Black Friday where I’ve purchased anything in years.

That said, there’s a great deal at BJ’s where you can purchase $100 gift cards for hotels.com for only $80/piece. You can find the deal by clicking this link.

This equates to an automatic 20% savings on any hotel that you book through the site. This is in addition to the 10% discount you get by being a hotels.com rewards member (after 10 stays, you get 10% of the value you spent towards all of those stays towards a future reservation). Additionally, if you have a Capital One Venture card, you get an additional 10% off purchases booked on hotels.com, meaning that you can get as much as 40% off any booking through the site by taking advantage of these deals.

Although I wasn’t a BJ’s member before, it only cost $10 for an annual online membership.

Supreme Court of Spain strikes down Iberia’s “No Show Policy”

Airlines often hate when you don’t board a pre-booked flight, particularly when you use that as a way to get lower fares.

Recently, United Airlines has been sending bills out to customers who have “skipped” flights. As an example, let’s say you want to booked a flight from LA to Houston and the direct flight cost $300. But let’s say you also found a fare that was from LA to Denver with a layover in Houston for $200 (sometimes, airlines will discount fares like this to compete with other airlines). If you booked the LA to Denver flight but got off of the plane in Denver, there’s a chance you could receive a bill from United for additional $100 (the price difference between the LA to Houston fare versus the LA to Denver fare).

According to a ruling issues by the Supreme Court of Spain on November 20, 2018, this practice is now outlawed in the country.

Also outlawed is the ability for an airline to cancel your ticket for failure to get on a specific flight. So, let’s say you booked Barcelona to Madrid to Tokyo. The way Iberia (and other airlines) had it set up, if you missed your Barcelona to Madrid flight, your Madrid to Tokyo flight would be cancelled… but no more. Now, you can miss your first flight and still be ticketed to go from Madrid to Tokyo.

The Supreme Court of Spain argued that it’s simple contract law — the customer performed its side of the contract by paying and Spanish airlines (read: Iberia) needs to perform its part of the contract by letting you fly.

On one hand, I love this. It’s rare that a court will rule in favor of passengers like this, and I think it’s great from a consumer-rights aspect. But on the other hand, I fear this will lead to much higher prices.

Have you ever strategically no show-ed for a flight? Let me know in the comments!

8 tips to keep in mind before heading to the Azores

Guest post written by Robert Gretch

The Portuguese islands of the Azores are situated in the North Atlantic, right where the warm waters of the Gulf Stream flow past a hotbed of volcanic activity.  For frequent fliers, they are the dots that appear on your in-flight map about two thirds of the way from the United States to Europe.  They’re well-worth visiting, particularly for those looking for a little adventure.  The islands are known for their abundant greenery, hot springs, and distinctly Atlantic (not Mediterranean) feel.  But, particularly for people who associate islands with beach escapes, there are a few things that everyone going to the Azores needs to know:

 

  1. Welcome to Europe.  While situated 900 miles away from the continent, the Azores are part of Portugal, the European Union, and the Schengen Area.  Non-EU travelers from many western countries are allowed 90 days’ stay in the Schengen Area within a 180 day period.  Prices are in line with the less expensive countries of Western Europe.
  2. Prepare to spend some time outdoors.  The islands’ lush vegetation, calderas, waterfalls, and dramatic vistas are accessible by a well-developed infrastructure of hiking trails, parks, and roadside viewpoints.  Bring some sturdy sneakers and dress in layers — the weather can change suddenly, and many must-sees are at high elevations.  For the more adventurous, try off-roading, rock-climbing, or horseback riding.
  3. It’s not Club Med.  Unlike many islands, the Azores are not a place to work on your tan.  Sandy beaches are in short supply, and the weather is often too rainy, cool, or unpredictable to justify long days lounging at the pool.
  4. But bring a swimsuit.  The islands are known for their diving, snorkeling, surfing, and hot springs.  Dive shops are easy to find, as is equipment rental.  The waters of the North Atlantic are home to many kinds of marine life you won’t have seen on tropical dives.  For those who prefer to stay dry, whale watching tours are popular.
  5. And an umbrella.  The islands’ greenery comes at a price — you’re reasonably likely to have some rain during your trip.  While a little wet doesn’t deter the locals, you can avoid the worst of it by visiting between April and August.  Temperatures are mild and pleasant all year long, with the summer months being slightly warmer and sunnier.
  6. Think about renting a car.  Car, bike, moped, and ATV rentals are everywhere, and you’ll likely find that public transit can’t get you the remote and picturesque places that you came to the Azores to see.  You’ll need a driver’s license and a credit card.  Reports vary on whether an International Driving Permit is required, but there’s no harm in having one. Driving is on the right.  Winding country roads and switchbacks are common.
  7. The islands are remote.  The islands are not just far from the continent — they’re far from each other.  For a short trip to the Azores lasting a few days, visiting one island will give you plenty to do.  Air travel is available for island hoppers but is not cheap.  Ferry service provides an alternative, but with a 400-mile spread across the archipelago, even boat trips to “nearby” islands can take several hours.
  8. Come before they’re overrun.  Though long known to nature lovers and adventure travelers, the islands have now been discovered by the rest. Tourist numbers have risen dramatically in recent years, and while the infrastructure is nicer, the crowds are bigger.

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American Airlines keeps getting worse and worse

Less than 2 years ago, I held Gold elite status on American Airlines, despite being based in a non-American hub (San Francisco).

Flash-forward to today, where I’ve not only gotten rid of my American status, but I’ve also canceled two of my American Airlines co-branded credit cards and where I’m actively avoiding the airline.

Why? Well, a few reasons.

The first was American Airlines eliminating its partnership with Alaska Airlines. While I totally understand that this happens, my issue here was that American Airlines announced the change in July 2017, which was a big deal to me, since I had already spent 7 months earning miles on Alaska Airlines (I was going for status on Alaska with my American flights because, up until American cutting the partnership, status on Alaska was basically the same as having as status on American, and vice versa).

Another reason is that customer service on American Airlines has gone completely downhill. One of my favorite travel bloggers, Lucky at One Mile at a Time, has written a ton of blog posts about this (and so have many others in the travel blogging community). If you don’t have status and end up needing to call American, except to speak to someone who is completely unfriendly, unhelpful, and trying to get you off the phone completely.

Third, American Airlines award available has quite recently turned to crap. I had 140,000 miles to use and couldn’t find reasonable routing to Europe or South America over the last 2 years (which I know is such an awesome problem to have, but it’s still an issue). If you want to book something using miles with American, particularly if it’s a “Saver” route, expect to be routed to 2-3 different airports, even if there are more direct flights generally available. Also, when you try to book business class, you’ll often get a mixed cabin award, with the longest flight actually being in economy (so, for instance, I wanted to book a business class flight between SFO and Sydney, and while the rate they wanted to charge me was full-fare business class, only the flight between LAX and SFO was in business, and the flight from LAX to Sydney was in coach).

Finally, American Airlines has completely slashed its credit card benefits and has made it almost impossible for travelers like myself (who find awesome deals) to get anything above Gold status. They even eliminated the ability to earn EQD through their famous Red Aviator card.

Just 2 years ago, I would have ranked American Airlines as the 3rd best in the U.S. (below Alaska/Virgin and Delta). Now, I rank it 6th, below Alaska, Delta, United, JetBlue, and Southwest.

How I landed a business class suite on Qatar Airways for 36,000 miles

My upcoming travel schedule just got a bit more luxurious!

As a background, in a recent post I mentioned how you can earn 60,000 miles with a new Business Aviator American Airlines credit card. The business card has an annual fee of $95 and gets you priority boarding, free checked luggage, and a 5% bonus on miles earned each year, among other benefits.

Business Class Deals

I also currently have an American Airlines Red Aviator card. This card also has a $95 annual fee, gets your priority boarding, and free checked luggage. The Red Aviator has another benefit — you get 10% of award miles used automatically credited back each calendar year (up to a maximum of 10,000 miles per year).  Using a $0.014/mile valuation for American AAdvatage miles, this can net you up $140 per year.

In considering whether to keep both cards, I realized that I’ve been holding onto a ton of American AAdvantage miles for a few years, mainly because my experience is that the award redemption options on American Airlines are incredibly limited. Award flights will put you on convoluted routes, particularly to Europe, and a lot of business class tickets turn out to be mixed cabins, with the longest leg (i.e., LAX to Sydney) in economy. Because of this, the 10% redemption value is worth less and less to me, and so I’ve decided to cancel the card.

But I had 100,000 miles to burn before canceling the card, so that I could get my 10,000 bonus miles, and wanted to find the best way to use it.

Enter Qatar Airways. Currently, Qatar Airways is a part of the Oneworld alliance and award tickets are redeemable through American. In the last few days, the CEO of Qatar Airways has threatened to leave Oneworld, and based on other rhetoric from BA and American Airlines, I think this is likely going to happen soon.

Qatar Airways is well-known for having one of the best (if not the best) business class product around. Recently, they have launched their QSuite business class product, which is exactly like it sounds — you get your own suite (privacy door included!) with some pretty cool features, including a sitting area, ability to connect your beds if you’re flying with your partner, and also an ability to set up a conference table for 4 if you’re traveling with your family and/or on a business trip.

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Image courtesy of QatarAiways.com

Right now, redeeming American AAdvantage miles is one of the best ways to book these suites, and the cheapest routes that I could find that utilized the QSuites were to Bangkok and Tokyo, at a ridiculously low 40,000 miles (which is 36,000 miles after deducting the 10%. Aviator Red benefit. Considering the purchase price of this flight is $2,897 and 36,000 miles are valued at $540, this is an incredible deal.

Although I love Bangkok, the flight from DOH to BKK is about 2 hours shorter than Tokyo, and I wanted to be on the flight for as long as possible.

Importantly, not every flight between Doha and Tokyo has the QSuite product. While you can determine if the flight has QSuite by using ExpertFlyer, the easiest way is to actually price it out on Google Flights and then try and book through CheapOair, which will give you a seat map.

This is what the seat map looks like for flights with QSuite (right now, it looks like flight 806 between DOH and NRT has it):

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This is what the seat map looks like for flights without QSuite (right now, it looks like flight 812 between DOH and HND does not have it)

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So, with that, I’ve booked the ticket and am looking forward to check out the Qatar Airways QSuite! I added on this onto a round-the-world trip that I was able to book for a total of 101,1250 AAdvantage miles (including this amazing business class seat), and I’ll blog more about that later.

Have you flown the Qatar Airways QSuite? Let me know about your experiences in the comments!