Tag Archives: trick

Reminder: You Can Still Book United Awards at Pre-Devaluation Prices

You can still pay United’s award prices from January 2014 and before for premium cabin awards.

The catch is that you need to be changing an existing award that you booked February 2, 2014 or earlier. Any award you booked before that date–no matter the origin, destination, cabin, and airline–that you haven’t flown yet should be eligible to be changed to any other award at the old award prices.

I recently changed a First Class award from North Asia to the United States to a different routing on a different airline and paid zero extra miles even though the current price for the award is 50,000 miles more than I originally paid.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 12.25.08 AM

I get to fly in this suite after my change!

The MileValue Award Booking Service is ready to help you if you have an old United award you want to change to something better at the old prices.

  • How can you find out if you have any awards that are eligible to be changed at the old rates?
  • What are the old rates?
  • How do you make the change?
  • What change did I make?

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My Second Best Travel Tip (Don’t Get Lost Abroad)

I actually haven’t ranked my travel tips, but I love this one because it’s super simple and saves me from getting lost all around the world.

But it’s not my #1 travel tip, which would probably be “use miles” or “travel more” or “travel solo” or something like that.

It may not even be my #2 travel tip because you can save a lot of money with these two:

Anyway, here’s how I avoid getting lost worldwide when I don’t have cell phone data. I used this trick in Slovenia last month because T-Mobile doesn’t offer free data there, and I’ve used it to navigate the dusty streets and alleys of Kampala, Uganda without issue.

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How Did I Just Learn This Awesome Trick To Get More Space in Coach

I fly a lot of flights in economy class. While all my longhauls are in business or first, when I fly domestically or hop around Southeast Asia, Europe, or Australia, it’s almost always in coach.

It’s just not worth using airline miles to book short flights in first class. I prefer to book cheap economy flight with Arrival miles and save my airline miles for international first class.

Last week I read an article called “30 Pilots And Flight Attendants Confess Their Best Kept Secrets,” and one of the secrets was actually an amazing tip I can’t believe I didn’t already know.

It won’t quite give you this much space in economy, but it does make flying in the back a little more comfortable.

IMG_0052

Cathay Pacific First Class

How have I given myself more room in economy this week?

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I Changed a United Award to Lufthansa First Last Week at the Old Price

The 50k mile bonus offer is back on the Lufthansa card mentioned in this post until 6/30/14. Get it now!

  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchases or balance transfer
  • Earn an additional 30,000 award miles when you spend $5,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening
  • Earn 2 award miles per $1 on ticket purchases directly from Miles & More integrated airline partners and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Cardholders receive a companion ticket after first use of the account and annually after each account anniversary
  • No Foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Redeem miles for flight awards and upgrades on Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Star Alliance member airlines and on other partners
  • $79 Annual Fee. Please see Terms and Conditions for complete details

Application Link: The Lufthansa Premier Miles & More World MasterCard

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United massively devalued its award chart on February 1, 2014, in particular for First Class awards on partner airlines.

Lufthansa First Class from the US to Europe went from 67,500 United miles each way to 110,000 miles each way.

Exacerbating that enormous price increase is the fact that Lufthansa First Class awards are generally only bookable two weeks before departure with United miles because that’s when Lufthansa finally releases First Class award space to partners.

While conventional wisdom was that Lufthansa First Class would only be bookable at its old 67,500-mile price for flights through early March 2014, I suggested in a post that you could lock in the old price for Lufthansa First Class through February 2015 by booking Lufthansa First Class at the old rate before the devaluation and later using the cancel-and-rebook-later trick.

What is the cancel-and-rebook-later trick? How was I able to change my award to Lufthansa First Class at the old price last week?

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United Ends Free Holds Online, But You Can Still Use This Trick

Update 3/6/14: This post is outdated. See Master Thread: Holds on United Awards

In What You Need to Know about United Award Holds, I ran through the two ways to hold a United award online:

  1. Any award that contains a partner segment can be held for free if your account does not have sufficient miles to ticket the award immediately. Bill wrote about this trick at length with screen shots.
  2. Any award can be held through the PayPal trick as long as you do have sufficient miles in the account.

The first trick is dead!

How can you now hold a United award?

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Holiday Travel Tips from MileValue Featured on Forbes

I was featured in a recent Forbes article called “20 Holiday Travel Secrets from Industry Insiders” about tips for cheaper and more comfortable holiday travel. My main suggestion for holiday travel that made the article was:

Use credit card points

Because airlines usually black out holiday travel dates for cashing in frequent flyer miles, “Use credit card points that are good on any flight, any time, on any airline like Arrival Miles [from the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® - Earn 2x on All Purchases], Capital One miles, and FlexPoints [from the U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® Card]. In the case of a FlexPerks award, you even get a $25 credit for baggage, food, or lounge access on the day of travel,” says Scott Grimmer, founder of MileValue.com.

What are my other top tips for cheaper and more comfortable holiday travel that didn’t make the article?

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How You Can Be Better at Award Searching than United.com

United.com has one glaring flaw in the way that it was programmed that you can correct to become a better award searcher than united.com.

This is the ultimate trick when united.com tells you there is no Saver Award Availability on the route you want on the date you want.

How can you be better at award searching than united.com?

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Free Oneways on United Awards within the USA

Reader Christopher emailed me an exciting tip the other day: free oneways are possible on United awards within the continental USA and Canada. I already knew free oneways were possible on international United awards and awards to Hawaii, but this was news.

He sent me some screenshots, and I was able to replicate his findings and add some more of my own. I learned four things:

  1. Christopher’s tip: You can get a free oneway on roundtrip Standard economy awards within the US and Canada. That means three oneway Standard awards for 50k United miles. This is a savings of 25k miles.
  2. You can book a roundtrip award that is half in Saver economy space and half in Standard economy space with an additional oneway in Standard space for 42.5k United miles. This is a savings of 20k United miles.
  3. You can add a oneway onto a roundtrip Saver economy award ticket within the US and Canada for 10k miles. That means three oneway Saver economy awards for 35k United miles. This is a savings of 2.5k miles.
  4. You can add a oneway onto a roundtrip Saver business/first award ticket within the US and Canada for 10k miles. That means three oneway Saver business/first awards for 60k United miles. This is a savings of 15k miles.

Free Oneway on Roundtrip Economy Standard Awards

United has two prices for award ticket: the Saver price and the Standard price. I think of the Saver price as the “real” price and the Standard price as the “double” price. Saver space is heavily capacity controlled, and Standard space is almost always available.

Within the upper 49 US states and Canada, United charges 12,500 miles each direction for economy Saver awards and 25,000 miles each way for economy Standard awards.

That means a roundtrip Standard economy award is 50,000 miles, which I consider to be a horrible deal in the vast majority of cases. Why? I value 50,000 United miles at about $900, which is quite pricey for a domestic roundtrip.

But Christopher sent me screenshots of free oneways on domestic roundtrip Standard awards.

Here’s an example:

LAX-Orlando, Orlando-LAX, LAX-Chicago for 50k on all Standard space

In the example above, all the space is Standard economy space, denoted by the YN in parentheses at the end of the Fare Class line.

That means that

Los Angeles to Orlando on December 23, 2013

Orlando to Los Angeles on January 2, 2014

alone should cost 50,000 miles as a roundtrip Standard economy award. But in fact, the whole award costs 50,000 miles total including the third segment from Los Angeles to Chicago in economy. That means Los Angeles to Chicago added zero extra miles, and Los Angeles to Chicago is a free oneway.

Or if you prefer, you can think of this trick as getting three oneway trips for 50,000 miles, meaning 16,667 miles for each one. That’s a 33% premium over the Saver price, but it could be worth it in some cases.

Do the math for each potential award. Just because there is a free oneway doesn’t mean the award is a good deal, and just because Standard space is involved doesn’t mean the award is a bad deal.

For instance, the three segments above would cost $748.70 if purchased with cash. Plugging the award into the Mile Value Calculator, the award only gets about 1.3 cents of value per mile.

But just because my one example isn’t a great award doesn’t mean great uses of this trick don’t exist. This trick seems to encompass any three oneway Standard itineraries. If you are looking to book three very expensive oneways, 50,000 miles could be a good deal. Possible uses:

  • Booking a roundtrip Standard award to an event that is causing airfare prices to spike and Saver spaces to disappear, like the Super Bowl, and adding another expensive oneway trip. (Although there is plenty of award space to EWR at the moment for next year’s cold-weather Super Bowl.)
  • Booking a roundtrip award at the last minute where Saver space is not available, and adding another expensive oneway. (Ideally you would have status too, so the close in ticketing fee for booking an award within 21 days of departure would be reduced or waived.)
  • You live in a small city where very little Saver space is released, so you are stuck with Standard space. Three oneways using Standard space for 50,000 miles isn’t so bad since paid fares are probably expensive.

Charlottesville, VA to Las Vegas roundtrip plus Charlottesville to Houston oneway in Standard space for 50k

Cheap Oneway on a Roundtrip Mixed Standard/Saver Economy Award

The foregoing example makes theoretical sense to me: you can get a free oneway on a Standard roundtrip economy award within the US. But I can’t explain this second one.

If the outbound of a domestic roundtrip is in Saver space and the return is in Standard space, you can add a oneway to the end in Standard space, and the total award will price at 42,500 miles. I have no idea where that price comes from.

LAX to Orlando in Saver, Orlando to LAX and LAX to Chicago in Standard

The roundtrip from LAX to Orlando should cost 37,500 miles since oneway is in Saver space and oneway is in Standard space. The oneway from LAX to Chicago should be another 25,000 miles.

But instead of 62,500 miles, the price is 42,500 miles total. This is getting to the territory where I could see a lot of itineraries making sense. If I really needed a domestic oneway ticket as a Standard award, I would make sure to ticket that award using this trick.

Cheap Oneways on Roundtrip Saver Economy Awards

Most of us probably book Saver economy awards within the US if we book domestic awards at all. A roundtrip Saver award is 25,000 miles.

You can add a oneway on to that for 10,000 more miles. That’s not a huge discount–2,500 miles–but it’s nice to know.

Chicago to San Francisco roundtrip plus Chicago to Tampa oneway for 35k

 

Cheap Oneways on Roundtrip Saver Business/First Awards

A roundtrip Saver award in domestic first class costs 50k miles. I can’t imagine that ever being a good value for me, since domestic first class is just a slightly wider seat, seven extra inches of leg room, and a meal worth maybe $10.

But 50k miles is also the price of a roundtrip on flat beds on United’s p.s. flights from JFK to LAX and San Francisco in business class. That’s a price I might actually pay since those flights exceed six hours, and a bed is a big upgrade over an economy seat.

In another price I can’t explain, the price to add a oneway in domestic first class to a roundtrip in domestic first or business class is 60,000 miles total.

JFK to LAX roundtrip in flat beds, LAX to Chicago in domestic first for 60k miles

LAX to Dulles roundtrip plus LAX to Chicago, all in domestic first for 60k miles

 

Why do these four tricks work?

I assume these are glitches.

Any way to get more out of the tricks?

The tricks that maximize the value of Standard space are useful for very few awards, namely awards where the equivalent cash ticket would be very expensive. Unfortunately on those flights, even Standard awards might not be available because Standard awards don’t have “last seat availability” for the general public.

But if you have the United Explorer card or United elite status, you can get any seat, any time for the Standard award price. That means three super expensive oneways can be had for 50,000 miles, which could be a great deal.

I got an error message when I tried to replicate the methods in this post.

That happens a lot on united.com multicity searches, which is the only way to search for free oneways on United. Ordinarily I recommend calling in to piece together the award when you get an error on united.com. But since I think these prices are caused by a glitch, I would say that an error message just means you are out of luck.

The only error messages I’ve gotten on these searches are when I tried to string three flat bed p.s. flights together like JFK-LAX//LAX-JFK//JFK-SFO, and when I tried to take the free oneway back to where the roundtrip went like ORD-SFO//SFO-ORD//ORD-SFO.

Recap

A reader tip sent me to explore free stopovers on United domestic awards. I found:

  • You can get free oneways on domestic roundtrip Standard economy awards. That means three Standard oneways for 50,000 miles.
  • You can get a cheap oneway on a domestic roundtrip economy award that is half Standard/half Saver. That means two Standard oneways and one Saver oneway for 42,500 miles.
  • You can get a cheap oneway on a domestic roundtrip Saver economy award. That means three Saver oneways for 35,000 miles.
  • You can get a cheap oneway on a domestic roundtrip Saver business/first award. That means three Saver business/first awards (including up to two on flat beds on the transcontinental p.s. flights) for 60,000 miles.



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Save 15,000 Miles with the Hidden City Trick on Your Next Award

United, US Airways, American, and Delta among others rely on award charts to determine the price of your award. This method generally makes sense, but it also opens the airlines up to the hidden city trick.

If you can route through your desired destination on the way to a region that costs fewer miles, you can save miles as long as you travel with only carry ons.

Let me give an example that reader Ryan just emailed me:

Bangkok to Fiji costs 15,000 United miles oneway in economy and can route through Auckland on the Air New Zealand flight to Fiji.

Bangkok to Auckland to  Fiji for 15k oneway

Bangkok to Auckland costs 30,000 United miles oneway in economy.

Bangkok to Auckland for 30k oneway

That means adding Auckland to Fiji onto an award from Bangkok to Auckland reduces the miles outlay by 15,000 miles.

So if you want to book an award from Bangkok to Auckland, book Bangkok to Fiji instead and just leave the airport in Auckland with your carry on.

If you want Bangkok to Auckland, book Bangkok to Auckland to Fiji and just don’t fly the last segment.

 

There are several examples of the hidden city trick that you can use while booking your award. I’ve talked about some before.

There are surely other examples that will be shared in the comments. The way to find more examples is to look for a way you can route through your desired destination on the way to a region that costs fewer miles.

Things to keep in mind:

  • If you miss a flight, your entire ticket is cancelled, so make sure the flight you are skipping is the last one on your ticket.
  • Checked bags will go to your destination in most cases, but you must collect all bags at your first stop in the US when returning from abroad to clear customs.
  • Intentionally not flying a segment might violate an airline’s rules. If you do this, there is some risk of your frequent flyer account being shut down.
  • Award space is rivalrous. If you ticket space that you don’t intend to fly, you may be shutting someone else out of space he would want to fly.

Recap

Flying from Bangkok to Fiji costs 15,000 miles and can route through Auckland. Just Bangkok to Auckland is 30,000 miles, so you save 15,000 miles by appending a segment to Fiji that you won’t fly.

This is a specific example of using hidden city ticketing on awards. There are a lot more examples, and some drawbacks to ticketing this way.

The Trick If You Don’t Live at an International Gateway City

With my recent posts about flying to Europe all year round for 20,000 American Airlines miles or flying to South American for negative 7,500 miles, there’s one problem for a lot of people.

Using both tricks requires taking a stopover on an American Airlines award. In The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards, I said:

Stopovers must occur at the North American International Gateway City. The North American International Gateway City is the last North American city you transit on awards leaving North America.

On awards from other regions to North America, the North American International Gateway City is the North American city in which you first arrive.

North America is defined as the 50 US states, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

For a complete list of North American International Gateway Cities of all AA partners, see the list I compiled.

Example: On the itinerary Melbourne to Sydney to Honolulu to Los Angeles to New York, the North American International Gateway City is Honolulu because it is where you enter North America. It is the only place on the itinerary where you can have a free stopover.

So what if you don’t live at a North American International Gateway City? Can you still take advantage of my tricks? Yes!

This post will be about using a combination of American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios to greatly increase the number of cities where you can enjoy an almost free stopover on an AA award.

By pairing Avios with our AAdvantage miles, we can greatly the number of cities where we can stopover for a small amount of extra miles. Here’s how:We’ll book two awards. The first will be the main international award with AA miles. We must choose an international gateway city near the city where we want to stopover. We must also ensure that there is a direct AA flight between the international gateway city and the desired stopover city.

If that sounds complicated, it really isn’t, and an example should clarify.

Example of an almost free stopover: Imagine I live in Tampa and want to book a oneway award from Los Angeles to Tampa with AA miles.

This award costs 25,000 miles in business. North America to Uruguay costs 50,000 miles each way in business. If only Tampa were an international gateway city, I could add on Tampa to Montevideo for 25,000 miles in business using the technique I explored recently.

But since Tampa is not an international gateway city, it looks like I’m out of luck. Except that Miami is very close to Tampa and is a city with a direct AA flight to Montevideo.

What if I book a separate Avios award MIA-TPA-MIA? For 9,000 Avios, I’ve added a stopover in Tampa. Here’s how the flights would look with some example dates:

April 16: LAX-MIA <— business, part of AAdvantage award

April 16: MIA-TPA <— economy, award for 4,500 Avios

 

April 24: TPA-MIA <— economy, award for 4,500 Avios

April: MIA-MVD <— business, part of AAdvantage award

 

To recap this example: I would book two awards.

  1. A oneway from LAX to Montevideo with a free stopover in Miami.
  2. A roundtrip Avios award on AA planes from Miami to Tampa.

Even though I booked LAX to Montevideo and Miami to Tampa roundtrip, my flights turned out to be LAX to Tampa then Tampa to Montevideo. What are the benefits to booking this way? Lower cost.

An LAX to Montevideo business class award would cost 50k AA miles, so adding in a stopover on a business class award would cost 50k AA miles, 9k Avios, and small taxes. If instead, I booked the awards LAX to Tampa and Tampa to Montevideo in business class that would have cost 75k AA miles and about the same taxes.

So combining this trick with an AA premium cabin award results in huge savings. In my example, the savings would be 25k AA miles for the cost of 9k Avios. According to my valuation of those miles, using this AA-plus-Avios trick, we would save $289.50 worth of miles.

How would I actually exploit this trick in practice? It’s important to make sure that both awards–the AA award and complementary Avois award–are booked so we aren’t left with a stopover we don’t want or an Avios roundtrip we can’t use.

So the first thing I would do is search for the AA award with the appropriate stopover. If you are flying AA, Hawaiian Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, airberlin, Finnair, or Alaska Airlines, you can search for the award on aa.com, and it will even price correctly with the stopover. (If you don’t know how to book a free stopover online on an AA award, see this post.)

To continue the example from earlier, I would search for LAX-MIA//MIA-MVD on aa.com. But after searching and selecting my itinerary, I wouldn’t purchase it. Instead I would select AAdvantage Hold on the screen that asks if you want to purchase the itinerary. This reserves the itinerary for five days and generates a record locator.

Now we can go ticket the Avios itinerary. If you don’t know how to book AA flights on ba.com, here is an example of my booking such an award on ba.com. This booking is a snap. I just need to find a flight from MIA-TPA that minimized my layover in Miami, and a return TPA-MIA that minimizes my layover in Miami. Here is such an itinerary.

I’ll splice the images to make it easier to see how these two awards combine into the two journeys we want, LAX-TPA and TPA-MVD. Note the reasonable layovers of 1:40 in Miami en route to Tampa and 2:00 en Miami en route to Montevideo.

With the BA award ticketed, I would sign back into AA and ticket the reserved AA award.

The best part of this trick is that oneworld airlines, like AA and BA, have a policy of taking responsibility to get you to your final oneworld destination even if your flights are on multiple tickets. In plain English, that means that if your first flight LAX-MIA is delayed, so you miss MIA-TPA, AA won’t say, “Tough luck, MIA-TPA was a separate ticket. We’re not responsible for your missing that.” Instead they’ll treat you the same as any passenger on an LAX-MIA-TPA connecting ticket. That is, they’ll get you a seat on the next MIA-TPA flight.

So this trick can be a real mile saver, and a mile saved is a mile earned. Astute readers probably see the possibility to get even more value out of this trick by booking an almost free oneway. How does 9,000 Avios for a oneway first class ticket to Hawaii sound?

The steps are:

  1. Book an international AA award with its North American international gateway city at an airport near your home airport, and a free oneway from that airport to your desired free-oneway destination.
  2. Book a direct AA flight roundtrip from the international gateway city to your home airport with Avios.
  3. Fly the two itineraries. Origin to your home airport, home airport to the destination of the free oneway.

 

Example of an almost free oneway: Alyse lives in Pittsburgh, PA and has a stash of AA miles. She wants to take her honeymoon to Spain. She’s heard about AA’s free oneways and wants to tack a free oneway to Hawaii onto her award. But Pittsburgh is not an international gateway city. Once Alyse learns about this AA and Avios combination trick, an almost free oneway is within her grasp. Here’s how:

Alyse sees that JFK is a nearby international gateway city with direct AA flights to Barcelona. And she notes that AA has a direct flight between Pittsburgh and JFK. Alyse would book two awards, with sample dates:

AA award, 50,000 miles, free oneway to Hawaii after the main trip:

March 15, 2013: AA business Barcelona-JFK

September 15, 2013: Hawaiian Airlines first JFK-Honolulu

BA award, 9,000 Avios:

March 15, 2013: AA coach JFK-PIT

September 15, 2013: AA coach PIT-JFK

Those are the awards Alyse would book, but this is what she would actually fly:

March 15, 2013: Barcelona to Pittsburgh

September 15, 2013: Pittsburgh to Maui

If Alyse didn’t know this trick, she would have booked Barcelona to Pittsburgh in business class for 50,000 AA miles and been bummed that she missed out on the free oneway fun. But with this trick Alyse can book Barcelona to Pittsburgh in business class and Pittsburgh to Honolulu in first class for 50,000 AA miles and 9,000 Avios. So Alyse would be adding a first class journey from Pittsburgh to Honolulu for only 9,000 Avios! That’s an incredible deal.

To get the most out of this deal, you must live close to an international gateway airport, so that a roundtrip is only 9,000 Avios. And you should book a premium cabin award with your AA miles. Why? 9,000 Avios for a oneway to Hawaii in coach is good, but 9,000 Avios to Hawaii in first class is better.

Your almost-free oneway can go anywhere in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or the USA, subject to the five rules that govern any AA award.

Recap

I’ve written about a lot of great ways to get maximum value out of your American Airlines awards recently. All of them require you to live at an international gateway city to take a stopover there. If you don’t live at one, you can use Avios to get you to one for as little as 9,000 Avios roundtrip. That means the tricks are open to practically anyone, in only a slightly less valuable form, as long as you have a few Avios.

For more tricks, follow me on twitter @milevalue

Confessions of a Hotel Insider Article is a Treasure Trove of Hotel Advice

Right before Christmas, The Week published an article odd in tone and subject matter. The story “Confessions of a hotel insider” and subtitled “If you want the best room, sparkling service, and free booze, just follow these rules” was an excerpt of a new book “Heads in Beds” by Jacob Tomsky, a career hotel employee.

The first few tips fall under the general idea of being polite to the person checking you in because they have a ton of control over whether you end up in a good room or a bad room. Great bad room example:

If I put you in room 1212 in New York City, your phone will not stop ringing with wrong numbers. Why? Well, a surprising number of guests never seem to learn that you have to dial 9 to make an outside call. So all day and, believe me, all night, idiots dispersed throughout the building will pick up their phones and try to straight dial a local number, starting with 1-212. Whatever they press after that matters not because they have already dialed room 1212, and 1212′s guest will constantly pick up the 3:00 a.m. call and hear the loud mashing of other numbers or some drunk guest saying, “Hello? Hello? Who is this?”

Being polite is pretty simple and comes down to treating the agent like a human, not talking on your cell phone during your check in, and not trying to be a big shot.

Then comes the juicy part of the story: Things Every Guest Must Know.

You never have to pay for using the minibar.
Minibar charges are, without question, the most disputed charges on any bill. Why? Because it’s done by people. The traditional minibar, before they invented the sensored variety, is checked (maybe) once a day by a slow-moving gentleman or lady pushing a cartful of snacks. Keystroke errors, delays in restocking, double stocking, and hundreds of other missteps make minibar charges the most voided item. Even before guests can manage to get through half of the “I never had these items” sentence, I have already removed the charges.

This tip is getting less useful all the time with the proliferation of electronic sensors, but last week at the Radisson Sydney our minibar was hand checked. This is also, of course, theft.

You don’t have to pay for the in-room movies either!
Here’s how, in three easy steps: 1. Watch and enjoy any movie. 2. Call down and say you accidentally clicked on it. Or it cut off in the middle. Or it froze near the end. Or it never even started. Would you like them to restart the movie for you? No thanks. You need to go to bed/leave now. Just remove the charge, please. 3. Order another movie.

This is probably theft too, but more like illegally downloading a movie then stealing a DVD.

The next tip is a way to beat the system that some might be comfortable with and some might think is over their personal line.

And you can easily avoid a same-day cancellation penalty.
This little move will not work with online prepaid reservations — only what we call “natural” reservations, booked through any channel as long as it’s not prepaid. Call the property directly and ask for the front desk. “Good evening, thank you for calling the front desk, my name is Doesn’t Matter, how can I assist you?”

“Excuse me, are you the manager?”

If the person says yes, hang up and call back. What we want here is certainly not the manager.

“No, I am not. Would you like to speak to the manager?”

“No, actually, I just have a quick request. I think you can help me. Well, I was supposed to fly in late tonight, but my 12-year-old daughter is sick — “

Let me stop you right there, dear guest. Sure, you need a reason, but what you don’t need is a 45-minute story. Try again.

“No, actually, I just have a quick request. I think you can help me. I’ve had a personal emergency and won’t be able to check in tonight. However, I have already rescheduled my meeting for next week. Do you think you could just shift tonight’s reservation to next Friday without a penalty?”

“Sure. Next Friday, the 24th, all set. Same confirmation number. See you then.”

“Thank you.”

Done. Now you have a reservation all set for next Friday! Why is that good? Well, tomorrow, whenever you get around to it, call the hotel back (this time no need to inquire about a manager), and just tell the front desk you want to cancel your reservation for next Friday, as you are well within your rights to do. No problem.

I’m a bit skeptical of this trick. If you ask “Are you the manager?” then continue when the person says “No,” you may set off alarm bells that make the person not very compliant.

And the last trick he lays out is the Twenty Dollar Trick. His wording is slightly different than the one I used successfully in Waikiki:

Finding your agent
What are we looking for in our agent? Someone who is efficient and not at all nervous, almost bored. If the agent is overly zealous or nervous, he or she might have just begun working at the property. Not only does the agent have to be comfortable playing the game; the agent must know the property and the system well enough to play it properly.

Tip up front: Let the agent know you are serious immediately. Here’s how I do it: I walk up, smile without showing teeth, give the agent my CC, drop a 20 on the desk, and say, “This is for you. Whatever you can do for me, I’d appreciate it.” Boom. If I am after something specific, I will include that as well: “This is for you. Whatever you can do for me, I’d appreciate a room upgrade, late checkout, wine, whatever.”

Finally, if you happen to have a successful experience, then make a point to memorize the agent’s name.

The article is interesting throughout if you can get over the over-the-top personality injection.

I won’t be using the tricks to get free movies and booze because I consider them theft. I will continue to use the Twenty Dollar Trick.

Hat Tip aotennis.blogspot.com

PS- Gary Leff mentioned the author and book in yesterday’s post about his experiences with the $20 trip. He pointed to a review of the book, which this article excerpts, by Very Good Points.

Twenty Dollar Trick: An Ethical Way to Get a Hotel Upgrade?

Last month, I used 145,000 Hilton points to book a four night stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. (This was a 55,000 point discount because I booked an AXON award.)

When I booked, the only room available was one king bed. My traveling party wanted two beds, but I wasn’t worried because I knew that would be an easy change at check in. My other big plan for check in was to use the Twenty Dollar Trick, which I first learned about from thetwentydollartrick.com.

The website is a repository of data points for people trying the Twenty Dollar Trick in Las Vegas. Here’s how the trick is described:

“The twenty dollar bill trick is sweeping the travel industry and becoming extremely popular, especially in Las Vegas. When you check into a hotel you simply slip the front desk clerk a $20 bill with your credit card, while asking, ‘Do you have any complimentary upgrades available?’ The general rule of thumb is that the front desk clerk will check for upgrades and if they cannot find anything they will return the $20 tip, making it risk free!”

I’ve known about the trick for years, but I haven’t tried it in Vegas. Last month my friend tried it at the Cosmopolitan and got upgraded from a standard room to an incredible suite with a bathroom with windows onto the strip and a bar for the weekend. For $20.

I was eager to try to the trick at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

The Conversation

As I walked up to the check in desk, I made a stack. At the top was my Hilton Gold card. Below that was my driver’s license. Under that was a folded $20 bill. At the bottom was my credit card.

By chance our agent was a guy in his twenties. I thought that was a good sign, but who knows.

I think the wording of the trick is so awkward. “Do you have any complimentary upgrades available (while I bribe you)?” So I reworded it slightly to include my other request for two beds.

I handed the agent my stack and said, “Do you have any complimentary upgrades to a room with two beds available?”

He noticed the $20 bill and threw it behind his keyboard where no one could see it. I knew that was a good sign. He said, “I’ll see what we have available.”

He said that there was an ocean front room available in the Ali’i Tower. That sounded good. He also said he could get us free breakfast. That sounded good too.

We took the keys and went to the room, and we immediately realized how much that $20 had bought us. We were on the second highest floor of the Ali’i Tower looking straight out at the ocean. The view on the background of my twitter account (@MileValue) was our view from the room.

Beyond the view, the Ali’i Tower had several benefits. We had access to a private pool for tower members only, which was much less crowded than the resorts other pools. The pool had incredible beach views.

The tower had a DVD and Playstation 3 game kiosk where tower members could borrow a disk at a time for free. This should have been a nice benefit, but we borrowed The Campaign, which is awful.

The tower had free tea and coffee in the room, which was a nice morning benefit.

For a random weekday in October, Hilton Hawaiian Village is charging $239 for the base room that we would have gotten and $449 for the room we did get with free breakfast. Over four nights, that’s an $840 upgrade for $20.

Or I could have redeemed 111,719 points for one night in the room. I got four nights for 145,000 points and $20.

I’m not saying that I got $840 in value from the $20 trick. I slept through breakfast, though my friends liked it, and the view was not worth $160 per day. But I did get far more than $20 worth of value.

Is it Repeatable?

Yes. Here’s the data from Las Vegas. 84.4% of reports are of a success. Of course, success is relative. Some upgrades are minor, and some are major. But even a minor upgrade is worth $20, especially if you are staying several nights. And I also imagine there is a self-selection bias whereby people are more likely to report successes. However it’s clear the $20 trick works in Las Vegas and beyond.

Is it Ethical?

It does look like the guest and employee are circumventing the hotel’s ability to profit from its best rooms. But on the other hand, hotels give their check-in agent huge discretion over where to put you.

I can’t tell you whether the Twenty Dollar Trick is ethical, but I welcome civil debate in the comments (and will mercilessly delete unconstructive negativity toward any person.)

Recap

Slip the person at the front desk a $20 sandwich, and you may find your next hotel stay vastly improved.



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Tricking United.com’s Award Calendar

I generally love united.com’s award calendar, the calendar that shows up at the top of your award search results that lets you know what other days have award availability.

But there are two things I hate about united.com’s award calendar. The first is that it is color coded to show economy space, business/first space, or both. It does not differentiate between business and first class space, which are very different.

There’s no way around this problem at the moment, though we can hope United adds another color.

The bigger issue is how the calendar deals with queries for direct flights.

On both the home page…

…and the re-search section at the bottom part of the search screen…

…you can ask united.com to return only direct results. I use this option all the time. Whether I want a direct flight for convenience, or I am searching segment-by-segment for a dream business class product, it is very useful.

But it has a major flaw. If you search a direct flight, and the direct flight that day doesn’t have award space, then the calendar won’t show you what days the direct flight does have award space.

I’ll give an example. Imagine you wanted to find award space on the direct Denver to Frankfurt flight Lufthansa operates. You want to fly June 21, 2013 or thereabouts. Your date is flexible, but you only want the direct flight. I would start by performing the following search, checking the Nonstop Flights Only Box:

Unfortunately that day has no award space in any cabin on the direct flight. An error message near the top of the results will inform you when this is the case.

Unfortunately for a direct-flight lover, the accompanying calendar is worthless! Instead of showing the direct flight’s availability, it shows availability for direct and connecting flights.

Not the availability for DEN-FRA direct. I promise.

The search results are also useless, giving you connecting flights.

This is where you trick united.com into displaying the calendar with only direct flights on it. To do that, you need to find a day that does have direct flight award space.

The bottom of the page lets you re-search. I search for a date that is likely to have award space. I know that winter is off peak to Europe, so Lufthansa releases more seats, so I searched a date in February, again checking the Nonstop box.

I picked a winner. There is award space that day on the direct flight.

Of course, we want to fly in June not February, but now the calendar is showing space only on the direct flight and we can easily move the calendar’s dates.

We finally got the calendar to show only direct-flight availability. Now we can change its dates by clicking the little arrows.

When we get to June, we see the bad news:

There is no space on the direct DEN-FRA in any cabin in June, but May is open.

June doesn’t have any award space. This trick can’t solve that, but it does let us know that without having to search every day in June individually. And we can see that there is space on the direct flight the last week of May in business class (blue) and economy the week before (yellow).

There is also some space in economy class in early July.

The good news

United releases award space on pretty much every flight it operates–at least at the Standard Award (high) price. While most of us would never book a Standard award, the fact that there is technically award space means if you are searching a direct United segment, your calendar will always show direct space only if you ask it to do that.

As an example, Los Angeles to London is a tough award on the direct flight during the summer, but you don’t have to do anything special to get united.com’s calendar to give you that info since United releases Standard Award space every day on the route in every cabin.

The calendar is immediately displayed…

…because technically there is award space that day on the direct flight–at the Standard (high) level.

Recap

It’s a bummer we have to trick united.com into showing direct-flight availability only on its calendar in some case, but that is the current state of things. When you run into the problem, search for direct-flight availability on a likely date in the off peak season.

When you find one date with availability in any cabin, you can get the calendar to display direct-only availability by searching the date that has availability with the Nonstop Only box checked. Once you have the calendar displaying the flight you want, you can toggle to find the months you want.

This problem will never manifest when you are searching for United flights because there is almost always space on United flights, even if it is at the “Standard” award price.

American Airlines Domestic Availability Trick

In February from Nairobi, Kenya, I booked an American Airlines award 331 days out from Melbourne, Australia to Los Angeles in Qantas business class (with a later free oneway to Tampa.) See my Anatomy of an Award post on that booking.

On that booking, I noticed something odd about the way that American Airlines releases its domestic award space on some routes. While the calendar opens up for award bookings 331 days in advance, on many domestic routes, SAAver space is released 329 days out.

This is a big problem! Many competitive award routes, especially premium Qantas space should be booked 331 days out. And on any Qantas booking with American miles, you should be adding domestic flights to your award–either to get you home or to get your free oneway.

But you can’t add the AAnytime (high-miles-price) space to your award without the price skyrocketing. And if you book your award just to the international gateway city, then add the domestic legs later, you’ll be changing your destination, which incurs a $150 fee from American.

Here’s a look at what the problem looks like on the calendar.

This is what the economy space from San Diego to LAX looked like on October 22:

Note that the last two days on the calendar don’t show award space. The odds of a random Tuesday and Wednesday in September not having award space on this route 11 months out is basically nil.

Wait four days, and this is the calendar on October 26:

The 17th and 18th now have space as we would have expected. The space wasn’t released 331 days out. It was released 329 days out. Note that the last three days on the calendar–the 20th through 22nd–aren’t currently showing space. They almost certainly will in a few days.

A similar thing was happening with domestic first class space from Dallas to Tampa. Here is the September 2013 calendar on October 22:

We see the same pattern of no availability on days 330 and 331. Waiting a few days, the space opens up. October 26:

And again we see that the current day 330 and 331 have no space. That will change in a few days.

I’m not sure which routes open up at 329 days instead of 331. It may be random. LAX to JFK is not a 329 route. It opens up 331 days in advance.

What can you do if you are booking an award 331 days out and your domestic flights don’t show space?

All you have to do is get a little tricky! I’ll give an example from a recent award booking I made. My client wanted to fly from San Diego to Tahiti roundtrip with his American miles. We were booking 11 months out, as I recommend when trying to snag Air Tahiti Nui award space. See Getting to Tahiti with American Airlines Miles.

There was space San Diego to Los Angeles to Tahiti, and there was space Tahiti to Los Angeles. But the domestic space from LA to San Diego was not open at 331 days out. Having seen this exact pattern of availability many times, I knew what to do.

When I called American Airlines to book the award 331 days out at 800-882-8880, I told the agent, “Hi, I want to book a roundtrip award from San Diego to Tahiti. On the return, I’d like to stop in Los Angeles for two weeks.”

This is, of course, totally within American Airlines’ routing rules. Los Angeles is the international gateway city, so I am allowed a stopover there. All travel must be completed within one year of the award booking, so a two week stop means the last leg is 345 days out–completely fine. See The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

While legal, it would be impossible for an agent to book at the time because she can only book flights 331 days out, but I want the last one 345 days out–or so I tell her. Because the agent couldn’t book the Los Angeles to San Diego leg, I asked her to make a note in the record that the full award was back to San Diego, and that I could call in and add the last leg without a change fee later.

Some agents don’t know about their ability to add this note. Some will want to talk to their supervisors to ask if it’s OK. It may take talking to a few people, or even calling in a few times, but eventually they will add a note that you can call back in to add your final domestic legs for free later.

A few days later when the domestic space opens, call back in and ask an agent to add the space you want. Don’t worry that you originally said you would add the legs for a certain date, but you are actually calling to add them on a different date. The agent won’t notice. And if the agent does notice, you are allowed date changes on AA awards for free anyway.

In my client’s example, I waited a week from the original booking of SAN-LAX-PPT-LAX and called in to add LAX-SAN. The space had opened as I expected, and I added the leg without issue. The client merely had to pay the $2.50 increase in taxes brought about by adding a domestic leg.

Recap

For reasons unknown, some American Airlines domestic routes load space 329 days out instead of 331 like most routes. This minor change can cause a major problem when booking in-demand international awards.

Through a little trickery, we can get an AA agent to add a note to our itinerary to let us call back in to make free changes to our award destination, solving the problem.

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