Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Oct 15

Aria Sky Suites: Luxury At The Right Price

Vegas week on the blog is coming to an end, but I wanted to write a review of the hotel we stayed at, because it’s worth the price if you stay in Sin City. It’ll be a bit longer than my usual post, but I think it’s a fun read.

Aria Sky Suites

aria

Aria at night                                                                                                   Photo Credit: Aria

 Once each year, we give up the trappings of points-earning hotels and stay someplace a little more upscale for vacation. This year, it was the Aria Sky Suites in Las Vegas located right around the mid-point of the main part of the Strip. For those who like luxury, it’s the perfect place, since the casino subsidizes the costs of the room with winnings from the casino (Stay tuned for some ways to save even more.). Since we don’t gamble, we benefit by default, and 75-degrees without humidity makes for great pool-lounging weather.

The Trip Begins at The Airport

 Luxury starts from the minute you land. A taxi line? That’s for everyone else. Instead, the hotel sends an embarrassingly large limo to pick you up. The rock star experience continues at the hotel, where a gaggle of employees is waiting for you*. Check-in is taken care of in a private lounge. Hungry? There is complimentary food available throughout the day, ranging from continental breakfast in the morning to wine and cheese at night. Non-alcoholic drinks are also available. Now, it’s off to the private elevator.

The Suite

sky suite

The bedroom in a one-bedroom Sky Suite

 There’s no such thing as a “room” here. Everything is a suite, the smallest of which is just over 1,000 square feet. You’ll walk into the living area which has a small fridge and table set-up. If breakfast comes with your room, I highly recommend the outstanding room service.

The bedroom and bathroom, though, are the real stars of the show. The bed is one of the most comfortable that I’ve slept in, and you may never have to get up, since everything is controlled by the tablet next to it. When you do stumble out of bed and into the bathroom, you’ll notice the large soaking tub and a shower the size of a New York City apartment. They also stock both bathrooms with soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and anything else you can think of. Everything is travel-sized and the amenities are replaced twice daily.**

The Pool

aria

Aria pool

 While there are a number of amenities on the property (including, of course, the casino), the one that stands out is the pool The Sky Suites has a private pool and it never runs out of lounge chairs (We never saw it more than about half-full.). There were too many attendants to count, and they’ll happily do anything from set up an umbrella to bring you treats throughout the day. You can order poolside meals there throughout the day, although the menu is somewhat limited. The water is warm and swimming is comfortable. One downside was that there are no designated non-smoking areas (Remember, Las Vegas is a smoker-friendly city.).***

The Service

Overall, virtually flawless. We’re talking Disney-level good. Employees couldn’t do enough to make us happy and they were well-trained in the art of body language. They seemed to know exactly when we needed help, versus those times that we wanted to be on our own. I couldn’t say enough good things about the spectacular staff. Heck even the wireless network was good.

The Casino

Jennifer Connelly once got lost in the casino after David Bowie kidnapped her brother. True story. Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Naturally, it is almost impossible to totally avoid the casino. Like every gaming floor, the layout is a labyrinth and, of course, there are no signs for the exit. If you get lost in there, it may be days before you get out. Still, you can find everything from penny slots to five-figure blackjack tables so, if either of those is your thing, go nuts.

The Value

 For what you get, this property is a ridiculously good value. Remember, your 1,000+ square foot suite is being subsidized by the gamblers, so the casino will give you a great rate just to get you in the door (As the saying goes, “ghosts don’t gamble.”). I’ve found midweek prices as low as $320 per night, and the standard rate seems to be in the $400-500 range. That’s what you would pay for a traditional Marriott or Hilton in many cities. Here are a couple of ways to make the deal even sweeter:

  • Book through a travel agent. Agents who are part of luxury networks such as Virtuoso can get you added benefits, such as complimentary breakfast or a spa credit (or both). The price should be the same, but I have seen instances where the Virtuoso rate was higher, so be sure to compare.
  • Use the Citibank Prestige card. The annual fee is a whopper and the benefits aren’t quite as good as they once were, but the card gives you a “Buy three nights, get one free” deal that you can use at almost any hotel and as many times as you like each year. If you use it even once during the year, you could end up making a profit, since the card also comes with a $250 annual travel credit.

And I wasn’t totally honest when I said that we wouldn’t earn points. MGM, Aria’s owner, has a partnership with Hyatt that gives you five points Hyatt for every dollar that you spend. You can also double-dip with MGM’s own program. It’s not great, but dollars spent at the hotel count toward your tier status.

The End

 Sadly, all good things have to come to an end, so we made our way back to the airport (The limo takes you back, as well.). Nothing like going from the Sky Suites to being herded onto a plane with 150 of my new closest friends, but I like to look on the bright side: I’ll be earning miles.

 


*Helpful hint: Even when we splurge, we like to be frugal. If your flight gets in late at night and you are going right to sleep anyway, you might as well stay at an inexpensive hotel by the airport and get your pick-up there. It can work on the other end of the trip, as well. If you have an early-morning flight and won’t get to take advantage of the hotel, have their car take you to a hotel by the airport instead of the airport itself.

**Take the amenities, even if you don’t plan on using them. There’s probably a shelter in your area that would appreciate them.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through this site. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Oct 12

Marriott And The Cosmpolitan: An Unusual Las Vegas Winner

I feel like it’s Las Vegas week on Wheel of Fortune, but the mileage version. But it’s my last day here in the sun, so the very cool tie-up between Marriott and The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas (CLV, for space purposes) makes the papers today.

As loyalty programs have expanded, they have started to encourage cross-industry sharing. In this case, lodging companies, who don’t want to pay for real estate on the Las Vegas Strip or deal with the volatility of gambling, have partnered with casinos. MGM and Hyatt have strong ties. Hilton and Starwood also have partnerships with local properties, although those seem to be more fluid. But it’s the link between Marriott and CLV that may offer you the best opportunity.

Transferrable Points Are An Opportunity

cosmopolitan las vegas

The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas                                                          Photo Credit: Creative Comments

In most partnerships, while you can use points from one program to purchase a reward at another (e.g., You can use Hyatt points to redeem for nights at an MGM property.), you cannot actually transfer points between the programs.

The Cosmopolitan and MGM actually allow you to do so. Of course, they have an advantage over their competitors: The Cosmopolitan is actually a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, which is a group of independent hotels with access to the Marriott reservations and rewards program.

Cashing Out

cosmopolitan las vegas, identity, marriott rewards

Converting from Marriott to Cosmopolitan’s Identity program.

The ability to convert points directly between Marriott and CLV’s Identity rewards program is a valuable one. It gives you a method to cash out in from program to another, giving you another option if you are looking to redeem but don’t have a large balance. It also gives you a place to go if your points are going to expire.

The only downside is that the exchange rate is not favorable: A Marriott Rewards point translates at 0.4 cents per point, lower than the value that you would get if you used it at a hotel*. Likewise, 500 Identity Points (worth $5 in comps) only converts to 400 Marriott points, which means you are paying 1.25 cents per Marriott point, a rate higher than fair value. Thus, I would only convert in the case of necessity. Converting points is not the best use, although it is an option.

The Identity Program Is A Good One

Because The Cosmopolitan only has a single location, it has to make its loyalty program good. And it did. You earn one point per $2.50 wagered on traditional slots, or one per $6 on video poker. 100 points gives you $1 in play or comps. They also give you five points per dollar spent elsewhere at the hotel, or the equivalent of a 5% rebate. Even better is that you get a 2X or 3X multiplier in slots (not video poker) as you earn “tier points (the equivalent of elite status at hotels and airlines.). The first bump up is at 4,000 points, so $800 in hotel spend will double your slot return.

The Bottom Line

Not everyone will be able to take advantage of the Marriott-Cosmopolitan relationship but, for those who can, it could be valuable.

 


*Best as I can tell, points from non-gaming sources, including Marriott, can only be used for hotel comps, not to play in the casino.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through this site. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Oct 10

Bits And Pieces…

I’m out of the office and on the west coast, so I have no idea what time it is, which is kind of a nice feeling. Here are a few bits and pieces from the last few days…

Las Vegas Is Back (Hint: It Never Left)

We arrived in Las Vegas Sunday night and life seems to have normalized. As a Bostonian, I remember the way that my home city came together after the Marathon bombing and it is the same in Las Vegas. Everyone I’ve spoken with has talked about the impact that the shooting had and how people have rallied behind each other. #lasvegasstrong is everywhere.

Airlines Rally

Never ones to be left too far behind, the airline stocks have reaccelerated after a bit of time in the summer doldrums. Close-in bookings have improved somewhat and pricing is getting firmer. Many airlines have started raising expectations for the rest of this quarter and the fourth.

Subtotal Referrals

Subtotal, the restaurant app that I mentioned a few days ago, has just launched a referral program. Refer a friend and you’ll earn a dollar for each one that joins and uses it. You won’t get rich, but a dollar’s a dollar.

One nice feature at certain chain restaurants: The “Ziosk” tabletop bill payment machines (the ones that look like an iPad and try to get you to fork over $1.99 to play video games) will accept Subtotal barcodes. You don’t have to interact with the server if you have grown used to paying that way.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through this site. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Oct 10

United MileagePlus X

This is part 2 of the instant rebate apps post.

United MileagePlus X

This one has been around a while, but I spend less time on United than I do most of the other airlines so, well, my bad.

United offers the MileagePlus X app, which gives you United miles for making purchases. You don’t get as big a refund as you do with Subtotal, but it can be used at retail stores, not just restaurants. It works the same way: Let the cashier ring up your purchase and input the dollar amount into the app. It will generate a bar code for you that the cashier can scan and you’re on your way. You’ll earn miles for the purchases based on the app’s payout rate. It’s a great way to earn some extra United miles.

It also works at online merchants (including Amazon), which may allow you to double-dip if you go through a cashback shopping site first. If you are operating entirely on a mobile phone, you can process the whole transaction there, as well. If you want to use a laptop or desktop to make your purchase, you can still use the MileagePlus X app to generate a code and then type that code in on your laptop (also allowing you to go through a cashback shopping site; success rate at double-dipping may vary).

The technology tends to be a bit more frustrating than Subtotal and outages do occur.

But there is one nice bonus, and that comes if you are a Chase United MileagePlus credit card holder. If you have the card listed on your MileagePlus X account, you will get a 25% bonus, even if you are not using that card to make the purchase. For example, if you use the App to make a purchase at Staples, you’d normally get three miles per dollar spent. But if you have the United credit card listed on the app, you’ll get 3.75 miles per dollar, regardless of which credit card you actually use to make the purchase (The app will let you select which card to charge for each purchase.). It’s a good way to pick up some extra United miles, particularly since a reader informed me that e-rewards has cut off United miles as a redemption option.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through this site. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Oct 07

Subtotal: Instant Payments Add Another “Stack” To Rewards

Save Money Or Get Miles Instantly

Occasionally, I’ll run across a tip (well-known or not; this one is) that I want to post but can’t think of a way to do it without making a simple concept seem complicated (For further reference, see: Rebates, Shopping & Travel.). So bear with me, because it’s actually pretty easy, and it offers you an opportunity to double-dip your rewards.

As loyalty programs have developed, merchants are finding themselves dealing with an increasing number of intermediaries. You used to buy something directly from Macy’s (or whatever store you want to insert there). Then, Macy’s began offering commissions to others to sell their products, so now you can go to Mr. Rebates (referral link) to be directed to Macy’s and earn a 4% rebate, because Mr. Rebates gives you a portion of the commission that Macy’s gives them.

Now, we’ve moved on to “Stage 3,” so to speak. You can buy an instant gift card to pay at a merchant or restaurant and double-dip your rewards. Unlike online shopping malls, these bonuses work at actual brick and mortar stores, and you’ll get an instant gift card for the exact amount of your purchase. Over the next two posts, I’m only going to talk about two sites, Subtotal and United’s MileagePlus X. Today is Subtotal.

Subtotal

subtotal

Just a few of the many restaurants available

Subtotal is, by far, the better of the two apps that I am going to discuss. It’s clean, it’s easy and the rebates are better than any of its competitors offer. It specializes in restaurants. I have heard no complaints about its technology, which is not only impressive but ridiculously easy to navigate (which means that I can do it). Click on the link to get the app.

The current payment process at restaurants is easy. Your server brings you a bill, they scan your credit card and then you sign the bill. Simple.

Using Subtotal for a rebate is just as easy. Subtotal has partnerships with the restaurants and when you use the app, the restaurant gives them something, which they share with you. Simply open the app, select the restaurant and create a gift card for the exact amount that you choose, so there is nothing left over, unlike a traditional gift card. That amount can include the tip.

 

subtotal

The system will verify the total and confirm how much you will get back. Then just hit continue to generate the bar code. The server scans the bar code and you’re done. You’ll get a rebate in one to two weeks. Don’t want to give the server your phone? That’s fine. You can just read them the number off the gift card it generates.

Unlike many rebate apps, Subtotal sticks almost entirely to national chains, and it offers rebates ranging from fast food (Burger King) to casual dining (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Chili’s, Applebee’s) to high-end (Smith and Wollensky, The Capital Grille). And after you’re done with dinner, you can stop at Krispy Kreme and get over 8% back on doughnuts.

Bottom Line: Receive bill at end of meal. Open app. Input cost and hit enter. Show server bar code that it generates to pay bill. Get refund to your credit card within two weeks.

 

There Must Be A Downside. What Is It?

Glad you asked. With these instant rebate apps, you are purchasing an electronic gift card for the exact value of the purchase. But if your credit card offers a category bonus for the merchant, you may not get it. For example, if you use your JetBlue card for Subtotal at Krispy Kreme, you would normally get two points per dollar spent because it’s a restaurant (double points at restaurants). Instead, the card thinks that you are buying at a generic merchant and will only give you one point per dollar spent. Of course, by using Subtotal, you’ll get back an extra 8%, which more than offsets an extra TrueBlue point.

On the other hand, certain banks do recognize the merchant and give you the category bonus as well as the bonus from the app. Chase is thought to be one.

My advice is to download Subtotal and, if it seems confusing, try them out with a small purchase at home (Amazon is always a good start.) to make sure it works smoothly for you. Enjoy your extra miles or cash!

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through this site. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Oct 05

For Beginners Only: Are Miles Cheap, Quick And Good?

Last night, some friends invited us over for dinner (good) and one of them asked me about the best way to earn miles (bad for those who like stimulating conversation).  We discussed credit cards and online shopping to the point where their heads were spinning, but afterward, I realized that I had forgotten to mention the most important fact for any mileage layperson: This hobby isn’t easy.*

Cheap, Good And Quick

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

When I first joined the working world, somebody told me that there were three ways to do things: cheaply, well or quickly. You can pick any two of the above (e.g., a project can be done well and inexpensively, but it will take a long time to do so), but never all three. What I’ve discovered is that many companies (and airlines can be included) generally choose to do something that things cheaply and quickly, meaning that quality usually suffers.

Beginners in the world of miles need to understand the same. Personally, I love it every time a company makes its problem more complicated, since it means that I will have fewer competitors that are willing to invest the time and effort to generate points and rewards. But it frustrates me to see clickbait advertisements that proclaim how easy it is to earn luxury vacations. Meanwhile, loyalty programs are, on the whole, getting less, not more, generous.

There are, of course, many ways to play the game, and credit cards certainly serve a purpose. But you always have to do them well. There are no shortcuts on keeping track of how much spend you’ve accumulated toward the bonus or tracking the myriad bonuses that the bank will offer you. It’s also quick, but only because of the amount of miles that you will earn in the few months after you open the card. Cheap is rare. It’s going to cost you something to hit the minimum spend requirements to earn the card’s initial bonus (Spending $3,000-$5,000 in your first three months is typical.). And there’s certainly a cost to your time.

I tend to do a lot of online surveys, as well. It costs nothing to sign up for the various survey programs and will, in fact, usually earn you a small sign-up bonus. There’s also very little to mess up along the way, so you’ll typically complete the process well. In the past two years, I’ve earned 22,000 JetBlue points through e-rewards, which is worth about $330 in travel. The problem is, the process isn’t quick. Granted, I haven’t always been diligent about filling out every survey that they send me, but it’s still going to take you a while to earn whatever reward you’re after. My hint? Sign up for the various programs in the link above and do the surveys while you’re watching TV.

One other earning method worth mentioning: Shopping and Travel Rebates. You should never, ever buy anything online without checking whether you can get something back through an online rebate site. The bonus will generally hit quickly and the process isn’t terribly hard (It usually only involves one extra click.). But it does involve spending money, so it doesn’t quite qualify as cheap. The upshot is that you are not buying anything that you wouldn’t have bought, anyway. If you don’t already get a rebate for everything that you buy online, please take a read through the Shopping and Travel Rebates page. It certainly qualifies as easy.

Blogging Isn’t Cheap, Good And Quick, Either

And finally, thank you to those of you who check in every day and read what I have to say. In blogging, I can only pick two of the above, even if I aspire to three. There are professional bloggers who do this for a living and are far more comprehensive than I could ever hope to be, so I appreciate the few minutes per day that we have together. I hope that you learn something but, if not, I’ll take “entertained.”

 


*Note: I’m in stream-of-consciousness mode and have no idea where this is going.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through this site. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Oct 03

Strong Hilton Amex Cards Ending Tomorrow

One of the best credit card sign-up bonus offers is coming to an end tomorrow, as Hilton pulls back on its Surpass and standard cards. Citibank cards will soon be converted, as they will no longer be a Hilton partner.

What Can You Get?

The Hilton Waikiki

You could end up with as much as 175,000 points in bonuses from getting both of these cards, but only through October 4. Here’s how they break down:

Hilton Honors Card: No annual fee and you earn 50,000 points after spending $1,000 on the card in the first three months. Spend another $1,000 in the first six months and you’ll pull in another 25,000 points. The card earns 7X Hilton Honors points within the Hilton portfolio; 5X at US restaurants, gas and supermarkets; and 3X points on all other purchases. A Hilton Honors point is worth 0.4-0.5 cents.

Hilton Honors Surpass Card: This one comes with a $75 annual fee but is a better offer, particularly for those who stay at Hilton Hotels frequently. Spend $3,000 to earn 100,000 points within the first three months, and receive a free weekend night after your first anniversary. Spending bonuses are 12X/6X/3X respectively, with the categories the same as above.

Soon, You May Need Big Balances…

No loyalty program does anything because it happens to be feeling magnanimous that day. Such is the case with Hilton. In February, the company announced that it would be switching from a fixed award to a variable one. The pretense for the move was to allow it to better adjust for changes in demand but, in truth, it will eventually serve as a stealth devaluation.* Hilton will no longer have to publish lists of hotels that are changing categories.** Rather, it can simply adjust the price anytime it likes. And guess what? Those adjustments will likely be upward, similar to what happened when Delta adopted a variable system and eliminated its award chart.

Having said all that, 175,000 points for a total fee of $75 is a great deal. This offer is worth taking advantage of before it ends tomorrow.

 


*The change in the award program is the reason that I downgraded the value of a Hilton Honors point from 0.5 cents to a range of 0.4-0.5 cents per point.

**Beginner’s Hints: Lodging companies group their hotels into categories, with the most expensive hotels in the top category and the cheapest ones in the bottom. Under the previous system, Hilton had 10 categories of hotels, ranging in value from 5,000 points at the low end to as high as 95,000 at the high end to pay for a night.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through this site. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Oct 02

Las Vegas

By now, you’ve heard about what happened last night in Las Vegas. If you’re anything like me, you’re sickened by how many times you’ve read stories like these over the past few years and gotten tired of listening to government officials send their thoughts and prayers, and then doing nothing else. So today, we’re going to talk about what you can do, even from afar.

How to Help

bellagio

The Bellagio hotel #lasvegasstrong

What encourages me most is seeing how many people have already reached out to help. This morning, I found posts from people on my Facebook page in the MyVegas Friends group offering up their home to strangers who were stranded. CNN told of people who were waiting in line at 4:30 am to donate blood. And the Boston Globe noted people loading victims into their cars to transport them to the hospital. Heroes all, knowing that they will never receive any recognition for their good deeds.

How To Help, Even from Far Away

You may be thousands of miles away, but you can still help. Here are a few ways how:

  1. Give Blood. The Red Cross is always looking for blood donors. Always. It costs you no money, about an hour of your time and, as corny as it sounds, you will be making a difference. You’ll never meet the person who gets your blood, but they will be grateful for it.
  2. Call your Congresscritters. It will take you only a minute to do so and your calls do count. Insist that they do something about the ridiculous gun violence that seems to be so prevalent. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Democrat, Republican or None of The Above. If you don’t squawk, they will continue to do nothing more than pay lip service.
  3. And you can always visit Las Vegas. My wife and I always spend time there the second week in October, and this year will be no different. Las Vegas shares one characteristic with the islands that were recently devastated by hurricanes: It is a destination that relies heavily on tourism. While the shooting may turn out to be only a blip in visitor traffic (compared to the multi-year recovery in the Caribbean), many of the folks who live there rely on your cash and work in tipped positions. Not a high-roller? No problem, low-rollers can experience a bit of luxury, as well. Got kids? There is plenty for them to do, as well.

In the long run, I hope what I remember most about last night is the people who helped.

 

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Sep 29

American Airlines: “We’ll Never Lose Money Again”

It’s been a quiet week around here, so a lot of my recent posts have been around the airline industry itself. Today is no different.

Can American Be Profitable Forever?

american

Yesterday, American Airlines held its first investor day in I don’t know how many years. And while there were a lot of tidbits for Wall Street to play with, there was one in particular that stood out: CEO Doug Parker claimed that the airline would never lose money again. That’s a heck of a statement from an airline that, in the 25 years after deregulation, struggled to break even (and filed a bankruptcy).

But this isn’t the American Airlines that you remember from when you were young (unless you are really young). In 2013, US Airways bought American Airlines, and this is the management team that was in charge of US Airways at the time. But they weren’t the US Airways that you remember, either, but rather, the America West team that had bought US Airways. And on and on. I have no doubt that, at some time, Doug Parker was the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Airline Innovation

Say what you will about the business and its ability to innovate, but Mr. Parker has been at the forefront of it. In 2002, he made perhaps the gutsiest move in industry history by completely revamping his fare structure. Gone were the days of Saturday night stays, one-way tickets that cost more than round-trips and $2,000 walk-up fares. Instead, he reduced fares across the board and allowed passengers to buy a one-way at half the price of a round-trip ticket. It was considered heresy in an industry that had always relied on the huge spread between last-minute fares and those purchased much earlier, but it forced the other airlines to do the same.*

America West was an airline that shouldn’t have existed. It had weak hubs in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Columbus and significant overlap with Southwest. But instead of going away, the airline ended up buying its much larger competitor, US Airways, out of bankruptcy.

US Airways was an airline that shouldn’t have existed. It had weak hubs, weak international business and a heavy presence on the price-sensitive east coast, particularly from north to south. Multiple competitors tried to buy it on multiple occasions, but America West caught them at the right time. US Airways cut costs, thrived and made an ill-fated effort to buy Delta. Instead of buying Delta, it bought American Airlines out of bankruptcy. Say what you will about the management, but they are clearly bargain hunters.

The Bottom Line

Five years ago, the thought of an airline saying that it was never going to lose money again would have been ludicrous. But we’re not dealing with an ordinary CEO here, and Mr. Parker may be able to pull it off. With four airlines controlling over 80% of the domestic industry, pricing should remain firm, even in downturns. If. American continues to keeps its costs down, it may pull off the (almost) impossible.

 


*While it’s true that Southwest Airlines was doing this long before any of the other carriers, Southwest had been born that way, so to speak. America West had to ditch its entire business model and start again. There’s a reason that Southwest always makes money.

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through this site. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Sep 28

WestJet Launches Swoop (There It Is)

If you’re not from Canada, you may never have heard of WestJet. And that’s too bad, since WestJet is not only Canada’s second largest domestic carrier but it also has a number of really cheap fares in and out of the US and Mexico, as well as over the Atlantic. WestJet is a traditional low-cost carrier, in the model of Southwest Airlines. You don’t get a ton of frills, but you don’t pay for them, either.

But times are changing, and passengers seem willing to give up any frills in order to get the lowest price, an issue that I discussed yesterday on the hotel side. So yesterday, they announced Swoop, their version of the Ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC).*

Now What?

swoop

Pretty in pink?

This trend is less about a particular airline and more about the airline industry in general. Swoop is not the first ULCC announcement this year. Air France has given us Joon and British Airways has graced us with Level. Each of those fits into the model of squeezing in as many butts into as many seats at as low a price as the airline can manage, and each is a “carrier within a carrier:” a smaller discount carrier wholly owned by a larger airline. That model traditionally has not worked for shareholders, but it’s been great for consumers.

Sadly, or maybe not sadly, commoditization is the future of the airlines. True, airlines add amenities when times are good, but most people don’t want to pay for much more than a seat. “Meeting consumer demand” is not about giving the customer what they want, but rather, what they are actually willing to pay for. It’s the reason that ULCCs are growing double-digits. Most people want first class, but they’re not paying for it. Can’t say I blame them.

But there’s an upside to lower prices: lower prices. Inflation-adjusted airline ticket prices have been coming down since deregulation in the United States, and they will likely continue to decline as the ULCCs grow. More people than ever are able to get in the air. And if you want to pay for more comfort, it’s available. Nothing wrong with our neighbors to the north continuing to drive down ticket prices, as well.

I wish Swoop luck and look forward to when they fly to Boston.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: A ULCC is a carrier that sells you a seat and nothing else. Want a seat assignment? You pay. Glass of water? You pay. Carry-on bag in the overhead? Another fee. The most prominent US ULCC is Spirit Airways.

 

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