American has extremely generous routing rules… as long as you don’t want to use them to your advantage
Reader Brad sent me an email asking the following:
I believe Brad is referring to this post, in which I covered three major topics related to redeeming American AAdvantage partner awards, which I’ll very briefly recap:
1) American will let you exceed the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) for a city pair by up to 25% on an award reservation. For example, from Los Angeles to Hong Kong the MPM is 8,698 miles, and 25% more than that is 10,872 miles. Los Angeles to New York to Hong Kong is 10,547 miles, so in theory it should be allowed.
2) In order for an award routing to be legal, the transoceanic carrier has to publish a fare between the origin and destination. For example, Etihad publishes a fare between New York and Male, but not between Tampa and Male. So if you want to fly to Male using American miles on Etihad, you’d have to book your ticket from Tampa to New York separately.
3) On an award you can’t transit a third region (other than the region of your origin and destination), unless it falls on the exception table, listed in this post.
But back to the point of this post. Should Brad be allowed to route from Los Angeles to Hong Kong via New York since it exceeds the MPM by less than 25%? Sort of.
American has seemingly contradictory policies. On one hand they say you exceed the MPM by up to 25%, but on the other hand they also say say that “passenger must travel the most direct routing.” Those two seemingly contradict one another, don’t they?
That’s because American’s award routing rules are based on intent and not necessarily numbers. Back in the day mileage running was great because most airlines would let you make three or four connections in each direction on a domestic ticket. Why? Because the assumption was that nobody on earth would want to fly more than they have to, and that if someone was making multiple connections it was out of necessity based on availability. Of course we proved them wrong, and over the past few years airlines have tightened up the fare rules on domestic tickets, now that they’ve seen some of us actually do like making extra connections to earn more miles.
I think what it all comes down to is this clause from a memo on flex awards that’s posted on Traveling Better, which I think seems to apply to most American awards nowadays:
So basically you should be allowed to exceed the MPM by up to 25%, but only if it’s not your intention to do that. So if you’re still intent on routing via New York, perhaps approach this a bit differently. When you call American don’t say “I’d like to fly from Los Angeles to Hong Kong via New York. I have the flights that are available, so may I give them to you?” Perhaps instead ask what’s available, and when they can’t find anything, say “shoot, I really need to fly on those dates, do you mind maybe checking award space via another Cathay Pacific gateway city?” See if they’ll suggest New York, which they might if they’re creative. Otherwise it can’t hurt to suggest it at that point if they don’t.
So it’s odd for a company this big to have rules based on intentions and not purely what the computer will price, though hopefully by understanding this you can modify your approach towards booking a “complex” routing using an AAdvantage partner award.
The past few weeks we’ve seen United, US Airways, Delta, and American all raise their change fees. As a consumer this has been extremely aggravating to watch, because change fees in no way reflect the cost of providing that service. We might not like paying for checked bags, but at the end of the day we can rationalize the fact that checking bags costs the airline money. Meanwhile with change fees, if I book a ticket 11 months out and decide to cancel it two days later, what exactly am I paying $200 for? I’m not really costing the airline anything, it’s not close enough to departure that I was preventing someone else from snagging that seat.
So while we’ve seen the legacies match one another, I was kind of curious to see how the low cost carriers would react. JetBlue announced an increase in change fees today, though it’s not a change that really makes my blood boil.
Their change fees used to be $50-100 depending on how expensive the ticket was, though now they’re as follows:
So do I like the fact that they’ve increased their change fees? Of course not. But I can appreciate the fact that they differentiate between someone making a change more than 60 days out and someone making a change closer to departure, since there very often is a cost to a passenger canceling a seat close to departure, given that they may not be able to resell it.
Also, I can appreciate the fact that they have different change fees for different fare types within 60 days of departure. Now, as you’ll see the fees are structured in such a way that not a whole lot of value will be left over after the fee, but it’s still better than a flat $200 fee, or whatever.
Meanwhile members of JetBlue’s Mosaic program get a pretty nifty new perk as of today — no change or cancellation fees!
This is probably my single favorite perk of being MVP Gold with Alaska — you don’t pay change or cancellation fees, so when you cancel a ticket the funds can go back into your “travel wallet.” Selfishly one of the reasons I’m happy to see JetBlue add this perk is because I think it’s now less likely that Alaska will get rid of the perk.
So while I really hate an airline raising their change fees, I do appreciate the logic behind it here. They’re recognizing that those cancelling far out are costing them less than those cancelling close to departure. They’re realizing that not all fare types deserve the same change fee. And they’re also realizing that elite members deserve a break sometimes.
So in a very backhanded way, I guess kudos(ish) JetBlue?
My Friend Eric sent me a link to a pretty awesome post by Beijing Cream (yes, I’m as puzzled and concerned by the name as you are, including his page called “The Cream Factory”) entitled “The Anatomy of a Chinese Airport Rumble.” It’s pretty friggin’ awesome, though if you want a 40 second summary, here it is:
Why are you going to want to read the story? Because the guy trying to throw the chair and being restrained is supposedly a manager for the airline.
(Tip of the hat to Eric)
As I discussed in the introduction post, while the initial plan for this trip was to go to Bali, Hilton’s decision to more or less castrate their HHonors program caused us to change our plans and go to Koh Samui instead. The Conrad was available for four nights on an AXON award (available to those with a co-branded Hilton American Express card) for 145,000 points. The hotel went from ordinarily costing 50,000 points per night to 95,000 points per night. Meanwhile category 10 AXON awards will cost 300,000 points starting in a few weeks, meaning the cost of this stay has more than doubled.
The Conrad is an all villa property located on the southern tip of Koh Samui, almost exactly on the opposite side of the island as the airport. We had arranged transport with the hotel in advance, and it cost about $50USD for the hotel’s Toyota SUV (which was comfortable). The ride to the hotel took just a bit under an hour, and the last part of the drive was especially interesting, as we drove up a series of extremely steep hills to the top of the resort.
At the top of the hill was the resort’s reception area, which was open air. The views were stunning.
It was early, still before 11AM, so they asked us to take a seat while they processed our check-in. They also offered us cold towels and some tea.
Within about 15 minutes they found us a villa and explained some of the features of the resort before driving us down to our room. As HHonors Gold members we were offered complimentary daily breakfast, two drink vouchers, and certificates for bonus points at both the spa and restaurant for reaching certain spending thresholds.
The resort has a fleet of golf carts, and when I say fleet I mean it. The setting of the resort can’t be stressed enough, as it’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s literally set on the side of a super-steep hill, and there are several “rows” of villas of varying levels. Here’s a picture and map which hopefully illustrate it well:
Each villa is on individual stilts, and at times they’re 30 or 40 feet high. So as you can see above, there’s basically one main road which winds up and down the resort. These roads are extremely steep, and at times feel so steep that they’re hardly walkable. Interestingly there aren’t any stairs connecting the various levels, so in a way the resort is really designed such that you have to take a golf cart if you want to move up or down in the resort. More on that later.
Anyway, our villa was 218, and the drive there took a few minutes. I’d say the second level is pretty ideal — it feels high enough so that you can still appreciate the unobstructed views of the water, but low enough so that you don’t feel like you’re in a skyscraper.
The villa consisted of a main room with a comfortable king size bed, a desk, a couch with seating for two, and a table overlooking the flat screen TV.
Shortly after arriving we were brought a fruit plate and some cookies, which were placed on the table.
The bathroom was connected to the bedroom via two doors, and featured one heckuva massive bathtub.
There were also double sinks.
Then there was a large walk-in shower. It’s worth noting that all the toiletries in the villa came in reusable dispensers which I don’t usually mind, but I found them a pain in the ass to use given that they didn’t “dispense” properly.
Then there was a separate room with a toilet.
On the back side of the bathroom was a large closet.
The highlight of the villa, not surprisingly, was the outdoor space. There was a table with plenty of seating, two lounge chairs with an umbrella, a huge (~30 foot long) infinity pool, and amazing views.
The villas were for the most part pretty private, though if you looked over the edge of the wall you could see the other villas on the same level, or for that matter if you looked up you could see the villas on higher levels than you.
I mean, everything about the villa was awesome, and the wifi was even probably the fastest I’ve experienced in Asia — and free for everyone — which is kind of surprising given the setting of the resort. But the highlight had to be the sunset views, which were among the nicest I’ve seen anywhere.
So, about the public facilities of the hotel. On the same “level” of the resort as our villa was the restaurant and concierge.
Then one level further down was the resort’s pool and fitness center.
The pool was fairly nice, though in my opinion not incrementally nice enough to be used over the individual villa pools.
There were some nice day beds and even lounge chairs in shallow water, but I still didn’t think they were incrementally nice enough compared to the privacy/comfort of the outdoor area of the villa.
This is also were the pool bar was, where we had our complimentary drinks.
The fitness center was next to the pool and located at the bottom of a spiral staircase.
The fitness center equipment was nice enough, but limited.
Also one level below the pool was an artificial beach.
That led to the dock, the very end of which featured some awesome views of the resort.
The resort also has a killer spa. Prices are higher than most hotels in Thailand, around $100USD for an hour-long massage, so I just had one massage. But I have to say the treatment was excellent, so I can’t say it was a total ripoff. I paid the same at the Westin Siray Bay for a massage that was mediocre at best.
And the spa itself is beautiful as well, with a very nice waiting room and a balcony overlooking the water.
One cool thing the resort offers is a complimentary boat transfer to a nearby island with a “real” beach. The transfer is available three times a day (10AM, 12PM, and 2PM), with returns 75 minutes after departure (11:15AM, 1:15PM, and 3:15PM). The boat ride there is pretty cool and takes about 15 minutes (though they go really fast), and while the island itself is quite nice, it’s otherwise pretty secluded, so you probably won’t want to do more than the hour or so there (which is how long you’re there before the next boat returns).
I’d say the one aspect of the resort that’s truly underwhelming is the food. Breakfast was served daily at ZEST, the resort’s more casual restaurant. There was both indoor and outdoor seating, so we sat outside for two mornings and inside for the other two mornings.
The breakfast spread was underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it was by no means horrible, but as far as resorts in Thailand that I’ve been to go, I found the quality of the food to be the worst, which isn’t really something you’d expect at a property that charges over $1,000 per night.
There was a cooked to order menu, off of which you could order as much as you wanted, and then a buffet.
The highlight of the breakfast had to be the smoothies, which were delicious. Unfortunately they were all gone by about 9:30AM or so each morning.
While they had a good selection of pastries, muffins, croissants, danishes, etc., none of them tasted especially fresh, or for that matter tasted like much of anything. They only seemed to make them (or buy them) every two days, because they were fairly stale every other day.
There was also a limited selection of fruit.
Then there were a few warm dishes. They were lukewarm, and I found the Thai dishes to be especially disappointing.
Lastly there was a cooked to order station with omelets and pancakes. They were actually quite good in most cases.
I just want to be sure I’m framing the breakfast spread correctly here so nobody misunderstands me. It was still leaps and bounds better than what you’ll find at at the average Hyatt or Sheraton breakfast spread in the US, and it was all perfectly edible. But this hotel was literally charging over $1,000 per night for a base room on my dates, so with that in mind it was disappointing. Like I said, of the Thai hotels I’ve stayed at (all of which were otherwise under $300 per night), this was the most underwhelming spread.
Unfortunately the food didn’t get much better for lunch or dinner. One day we had lunch at ZEST, including tomato and mozzarella as well as a club sandwich. The tomatoes and mozzarella just looked weird, bread was borderline stale, and the club sandwich was just “bleh.”
Aside from the “fine dining” restaurant, ZEST is the only real option for eating dinner at the resort, so we had Thai food there one night. I love Thai food (and authentic Thai food, not the watered down stuff in the US), but it just wasn’t good. I had the prawn pad thai, and it had that “ketchupy” taste you find at cheap Thai take out places in the US.
I hate to say this, but the best non “fine dining” option at the resort were their pizzas, which were actually quite good. And with the views available from our terrace, why not dine in room?
Fortunately there were a couple of decent restaurants only a short drive from the resort so we had dinner there two nights, which was a smart decision.
As far as the service goes, I found it to be okay for the most part. By Western standards it was no doubt phenomenal, but compared to other places I’ve stayed in Thailand I couldn’t help but feel like the employees were all a bit disengaged. Some were friendly, but there was a bit of a lack of sincerity, I found.
This resort is relaxing, possibly one of the most “disconnected” getaways I’ve been able to have in a long time. The villas are stunning, the private pools are much more than plunge pools and are actually “swimmable,” and the views from the resort are among the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen. Spending four nights here was perfect, though I wouldn’t really want to do more than that. I wouldn’t want to spend a week here, given that I don’t like to disconnect for that long. All of those are things that speak for the hotel.
At the same time, the resort itself is boring. But if you’re looking for a disconnected getaway that can be a good thing. Because the rooms were actually nice enough so that you wanted to spend time in them. The food was also disappointing. They have a lot of work to do in that regard, and you are fairly “captive” when you’re staying here given there aren’t all that many alternatives to dining at the resort. Don’t get me wrong, the food wasn’t horrible for a maybe 3.5-4 star property, but for a five star property they really need to do better.
At 145,000 Hilton HHonors for four nights this was a steal. An absolute steal, possibly my greatest use of hotel points ever. But I also like to look at things in terms of the revenue rate, which is in the high season about $1,000 per night. Going back a few years I figured it was a moot point to even judge that, since I couldn’t imagine ever paying that much for a hotel. But a couple of years ago I stayed at some Amans in India (Aman New Delhi, Aman-i-Khas, and Amanbagh), and finally realized “hey, if you have the money, there are actually hotels in the world that are worth north of $1,000 per night.” But it has to be a truly all around perfect experience for that to be the case, in my opinion.
Even if I could afford it, this isn’t a property I’d spend over $1,000 per night at.
But if you’re planning on staying here soon (which I assume a lot of you are, in anticipation of Hilton’s devaluation), you’ll have a great time. Bring some books, don’t have high expectations of the food, and be ready to unwind and relax, and you’ll almost definitely leave satisfied.
Anyone else stay here, and if so, what did you think?
Reader Andrew asked the following on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:
While I have no inside information, I’ve been putting some thought into this question, or more generally what I imagine Chase’s strategy to be the past year or so. Going back a few years American Express hands down had the most valuable consumer credit cards. However, Chase has quickly gained market share, and I’d argue on the whole now has more valuable cards for the savvy consumer (though there are cards with both issuers that are “must haves”).
I think the biggest growth we’ve seen at Chase is with non co-branded credit cards that accrue Ultimate Rewards points and not points in any of their co-branded points programs (like United MileagePlus, Hyatt Gold Passport, etc.). This essentially makes these “super-cards,” given that you can accrue points in a central currency, and later decide where you want those points transferred to. And while the cards that accrue Ultimate Rewards points have annual fees, they offer an extraordinary amount of value. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Visa Card accrues double points on dining and travel and offers a further 7% annual points dividend, while the Chase Ink Plus® Business Card and Chase Ink Bold® Business Card offer 5x points on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services, and double points on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and on hotels.
Both of these cards have annual fees of $95 which are waived for the first year, though don’t really offer any other annual “bonus” which incentvizes customers to keep the card. But for most, the sheer number of points you can earn thanks to the bonus categories more than justify the annual fee.
Interestingly a majority of co-branded Chase cards (including Hyatt, Priority Club, etc.) offer an annual bonus just for keeping the card. It basically makes the card a keeper regardless of whether you plan on using it or not. This is unique because there aren’t many American Express cards I can think of that offer such a bonus.
So with that in mind, my perception is that Chase thinks of both the Ultimate Rewards branded and co-branded credit cards as being more in the “stable” phase than the “let’s-grow-the-heck-out-of-it” phase. And I say that simply because they’re not offering mega sign-up bonuses for the most part anymore, at least not like in the past. I think there are exceptions, like the Chase Ink Bold and Chase Ink Plus where Chase continues to offer 50,000 point sign-up bonuses, mainly because it seems they still want to largely grow their business credit card division.
This brings us to the Chase Freedom® Visa Card, which is one of the most unique “valuable” Chase cards out there, given that it has no annual fee. Not the first year, not ever. The card is valuable because it offers 5x points in rotating quarterly categories for up to $1,500 of spend. This basically translates into an easy 30,000 points per year. It’s worth noting each point can be redeemed for 1% cash back, though if you link it to an Ultimate Rewards branded card, they can also turn into Ultimate Rewards points. As a result the card has been getting more popular, because it’s not just worthwhile for people looking for 5% cash back, but it’s also worthwhile for people looking for five Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.
Over a year ago we saw sign-up bonuses on the card ranging from 20,000-30,000 points, though nowadays it’s at 10,000 points after spending $500 within three months.
Could we see that bonus again? Sure, it’s definitely possibly. Is it likely? I don’t think so. This is a no annual fee credit card and I think the reason behind the higher bonus while the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, and Chase Ink Plus cards were being promoted, was to try and get people engaged in the Ultimate Rewards program. I think Chase is done trying to promote the Freedom Card as an every day spend card, but rather all the branding focuses around the 5x points category, which is the card’s “hook.” And that makes sense because while a 1% cash back credit card might have been competitive a few years ago, it’s not anymore. Now that people are sufficiently engaged in the Ultimate Rewards program, they really don’t have to offer a huge sign-up bonus on the card anymore.
Anyway, just my guess, though hope I’m wrong. I’m going to be picking up the Freedom in my next round of credit card applications since I’ve had so many other cards I’ve prioritized over it, but at the end of the day not having it is costing me ~24,000 Ultimate Rewards points per year.
Has anyone else been holding off in hopes of a better sign-up bonus?
(In the interest of full dislcosure I earn a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through the above links. Thanks for your support!)
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