As part of a last minute trip to Wine Country with my, specifically to the Hyatt Regency Sonoma, we had the opportunity to to experience what travel would be like in the time of COVID. As it turned out, and was also expected, there was quite a bit about the act of flying that had changed from the past.
Personally, we selected Southwest for a number of reasons - the primary being that it is our preferred and most trusted carrier. Beyond that, we appreciated that they had committed to a reduction in capacity and clearly outlined their commitment to cleanliness.
Beyond the reasons stated above, we also selected Southwest because of price. Even at the last minute, we were able to snag our outbound flight for $79 and our return one for $149 on Southwest.com - the only place to book flights on Southwest.
I booked mine using cash and TravelBank Funds - I often watch flights after booking them to see if they drop, and if they do I modify them free of charge and get the difference in fare back to my Rapid Rewards Account. Because of this, I owed just $30 in cash for the outbound flight, so I booked using my American Express Platinum hoping it would be reimbursed from my travel credit - it was! So essentially, my outbound flight was free, but by using my American Express Platinum, I also earned 5x points per dollar on airfare or 895 Membership Rewards Points.
My mom booked her flight using the stockpile of Rapid Rewards Points that she’s Earned with her Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier VISA Card, meaning her flight cost just $5.60 in government fees each way. We both earned 1,276 Rapid Rewards Points by crediting these flights to our accounts.
In June of 2014, jetBlue introduced a radical change to its philosophy: the introduction of a second cabin onboard select aircraft. This departure from its egalitarian all economy layouts was met with not only concern from loyal passengers, but also critical fanfare! Mint sought to shake up the premium fare market by upping the game and providing elevated service at a fair cost and can be found on select Airbus A321 aircraft that serve transcontinental flights as well as weekend Caribbean service from New York and Boston.
For this flight, we booked utilizing the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal utilizing 20,000 points and $185. Conversely, we could have also transferred miles to jetBlue at a 1:1 ratio for increased value if we hadn’t wanted to offset with cash, or earn miles on this flight. We could also have booked using cash for $485 plus taxes and fees.
I booked this flight as a part of a longer trip that brought me to Toronto for a conference, a quick one night layover in New York, and ultimately to St. Lucia! Being that I was flying right around the new year, rates between Toronto and New York were astronomically high for such a short flight, especially given that I wanted to fly into JFK for the TWA Hotel and my morning flight in jetBlue Mint. I could’ve otherwise opted for cheaper fares into Newark or LaGuardia, including routes on Porter Airlines, but I decided to err towards convenience once factoring in the cost of transferring airports.
Given how high the rates were on my preferred flights, I decided to take a look at purchasing with points. I first checked Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club, a transfer partner for my Chase Sapphire Reserve and a great source for booking Delta flights with points, and while the flight was available, it commanded 40,000 miles - far too rich for me. Instead, I opted to book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal - you get a 1.5x bonus by booking here - where I was able to snag this flight for 12,771 points. In addition, flights booked through the portal are eligible to earn miles with the airline, so I credited my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account where I earned 349 miles.
Porter the - friendly, quirky & lovable - Canadian carrier with a raccoon as its mascot who flies solely a fleet of Bombardier Q400 Dash8s! Depending on where you live, you've probably never heard of them, but as Canada's third largest carrier they offer a relatively extensive domestic network as well as service to the US cities of: Chicago-Midway, Myrtle Beach, New York-Newark, Washington-Dulles & Boston.
What's with raccoon, you ask? He's a delightful nod to Porter's home base of Toronto - who at a time was overrun with raccoons, but being too polite and caring to eradicate them alternative methods of control were found. Since then, the raccoon has been an unofficial calling card for the city. In my mind, he's a brilliant marketing play with a lot of personality and a great differentiation for a different type of carrier.
We booked this flight directly with the airline at www.flyporter.com , selecting the standard fare to include a carry on bag, but not a seat assignment. Final cost came to $120.73 charged to my American Express Platinum Card earning 600 points thanks to the 5x points earned when booking directly with the airline.
I found myself needing to go to Los Angeles at the last minute for a business trip. Given that I was traveling on the company dime, I had to book through our client’s preferred carrier - American Airlines. I’ve had several negative experiences with American on this route and was interested to see how it would go this time. In this piece, I’ve written about both legs of the journey - a tale of two flights, if you will - as there were stark contrasts.
Given this was a business trip, we booked our flights utilizing our company’s corporate travel agent, and then selected our seats as usual on American’s website. I credited these flights to my British Airways account, as I do all American flights as British Airways is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Many reading this will think I’m crazy when I explain how this flight came to be, and that I voluntarily opted for a 9 hour layover in Seattle to go visit my sister in Denver. For aviation geeks, this probably sounds like the butt of a bad airline joke about Delta always taking you through Atlanta, but here’s how I got to this point: flight prices between Chicago and Denver were astronomical for the dates that I needed to go, then it dawned on me that I still had a $100 Credit on Alaska Airlines, an apology for rebooking me on another flight in the past, so I gave it a look. Lo and behold, I could save money over the competition, and give myself an awesome day exploring Seattle - one of my all time favorite cities! Plus there was the added perk of being able to surprise my sister with bagels from Seattle Bagel Company, and to have fish and chips and a Rainer for lunch at Pacific Inn Pub - one of my favorites!
As it turns out, good things do in fact come to those who go! As I was exploring the city, I received an email from Alaska that I’d been given a complimentary upgrade to First Class due to my MVP Status with the airline.
As I mentioned above, I utilized a $100 travel credit as a portion of this booking- which in turn made this far and above the cheapest option to get to Denver. I booked this flight directly on www.alaskaair.com, but Alaska also markets and sells its flights through online travel agencies. I selected a Main Cabin fare, knowing that I could select a Premium seat for free at Check-In with my MVP status. The grand total for my flight from Chicago to Seattle to Denver was $194, which again, was less than both United and Southwest were selling their nonstop flights for on this date. I booked with my American Express Platinum Card, for its 5x Points on Airfare earning, and banked 970 Membership Rewards Points, in addition to the 4,116 Alaska MileagePlan Miles that I earned - it should be noted that because I was given a complimentary upgrade, I did not receive a First Class earning multiplier.
In 2017, Alaska introduced Premium Class aboard it’s Boeing 737 Fleet. The product promised early boarding, 4” of extra legroom, elevated snacks and complimentary alcoholic beverages. In addition, Mileage Plan Elites would be eligible for free upgrades - others can purchase these seats at an additional cost. After its acquisition of Virgin America, these same standards migrated over to the Airbus Fleet - some of whom are retrofit, while others are simply a rebrand of what was once Main Cabin Select.
We booked this flight as part of a longer three leg journey from Chicago to Portland, Portland to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles back to Chicago as a means of maximizing the value of the annual Companion Pass that’s a perk of my Alaska Airlines VISA Card. As such, the combined total of our two tickets, including the Companion Pass, was $576.99 - coming to a total of $288.49 per person, or $96.16 per flight - a great value in my book! To maximize Alaska Mileage Plan Miles, which are some of the most valuable in the industry, we booked using my Alaska Airlines VISA card netting three miles per dollar and a total of 1,731 miles. In addition, this leg of the journey earned 1,745 base miles and 873 MVP bonus miles for a total of 2,618 miles.
When headed to the Lone Star State, why not fly with the product of it - Southwest Airlines? From Chicago, Southwest operates exclusively out of Chicago Midway, the city’s secondary airport, and while not nearly as large as O’Hare International it has enough traffic to have earned the moniker “the busiest square mile in the world.”
As with all Southwest flights, we booked directly with the airline on www.southwest.com - Southwest is not bookable through any online travel agents and will typically not show up in travel search engines such as Google Flights. Given this was a family trip, we booked utilizing my parents' stash of Rapid Rewards Points that they had accrued through the opening of a new Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier VISA Card - long a contender for my wallet as well.
In looking for a proper flight back from a hybrid New Year’s Eve and Conference speaking trip, I was immediately struck by how high rates were to fly back to Chicago on New Year’s Day. That’s when it dawned on me, this is a perfect opportunity to make use of the stockpile of points that I’d been collecting! When poking around investigating our options, we found that we could snag a First Class fare on Delta for just a smidge more than in the Main Cabin, and thus we landed a seat on our flight home!
Booking a flight on New Year’s Day is no small feat. Passenger demand is high, and so are rates - which is how we arrived at using points to book this flight. We booked our award flights through Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. Each ticket came out to 22,500 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles - valued at $337, which we viewed as a steal since this was less than the cash rate in Main Cabin, and far lower than the four figure price that First Class was going for. I already had miles in my Virgin Atlantic account, so I only had to top it off with 14,000 Miles - meaning my flight really only cost $210! We completed the transaction through Virgin Atlantic, then migrated over to Delta’s site to select our seats.
Many of you will look at this post, and likely ask: where the hell is Quincy, and why was Jeremy there??
To answer the first part, Quincy is a city of about 40,000 people known as “Gem City” and is situated on the western edge of Illinois along the Mississippi River. It was built as a thriving transportation hub for not only rail, but also as a major launching point for riverboats. Today, it is home to many historic sites including an incredibly quaint downtown with some excellent midwestern architecture. As an answer for the second part, the city served as an awesome backdrop for our quarterly Board of Directors Meeting of AIA Illinois - where we met in the Governor John Wood Mansion. As an aside, get out and explore Illinois! This role has led me to nearly every corner of the state, and let me tell you, there is some great stuff out there!
Quincy Regional Airport serves a large catchment area of the western edge of the state through the Essential Air Services act - of which United was the contract holder at the time of this flight. They flew twice daily with a Bombardier CRJ-200, a smaller version of what I flew on Delta from Toronto to New York. This route provides vital connection of passengers to Chicago - O’Hare International Airport and beyond. As you'll find later in this piece, Quincy's airport is an architectural gem as well!