Here are some of the day’s hot topics being discussed on the FlyerTalk and milepoint message boards.

Christmas Cutbacks from United and How to Deal With Them

The holidays are bringing some unfortunate consequences for people who book award flights on United around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, as seen in this FlyerTalk thread.

In January, I booked an award flight to the east coast on United-operated flights with US Airways miles for Thanksgiving weekend. That flight has been changed twice, and I blogged about my experience trying to change the flights after United changed them on me. See Award Change Negotiations with US Airways.

There are complaints of flights and tickets being abruptly cancelled sometimes several months in advance, flights that have altogether disappeared from United’s web portal for booking, and flights actually occurring on the holidays being moved without notice, shifted to a day prior or a day after.

One FlyerTalk user suggests that United is reducing its schedule because so few people are interested in flying on the holidays. Another reason has to do with perceived future understaffing caused by people calling in sick or taking personal time.

Obviously United is undertaking these cuts to be as profitable as possible. United should definitely balance their dollars-and-cents profitability from these moves with the goodwill they are losing by changing and cancelling people’s flights. If United steps up and accommodates people with reasonable options, then this can be mostly a non-story.

The majority of the people reporting issues with United changes had award tickets, though there are a few people–mostly those flying into the US from abroad–who are having problem with paid tickets.

Here are five social-engineering suggestions to get your itinerary the way you want it should United–or any airline, for that matter–try to cancel your flight:

  • Get your flights rebooked as soon as possible.
  • Be polite and patient with United reps. Make them want to help you. United reps always ask how you are. If you actually answer that question, ask them how they are, and respond to their answer, your chances of getting what you want go way up. Customer service jobs stink, and sometimes all you have to do is be nice to get what you want.
  • That said, don’t be afraid to escalate. Ask to speak to a supervisor. Sometimes the people who answer phones are just that: people who answer phones. They don’t have the power to grant exceptions. The supervisors do have that power, and I can’t count the number of times a supervisor has offered me a one-time exception.
  • Hang up; call again. If you don’t like the answer, try again. Consider a different time of day to get a different, more sympathetic shift.
  • If you regretted a booking but didn’t want to pay a cancellation fee, this is your chance to cancel for free. One key here is to be vague. If United only made minor changes to your flight times, and you want to cancel, just stick with the line that the new times “don’t work for me.” Adding any more info will let them argue with you.

 

United LGA-SJC Mileage Run

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, there’s a mileage run for United available originating out of New York (LGA) and touching down in San Jose, California (SJC). The original thread cites the price at $279 but I’m seeing the cheapest available, most frequently occurring option as $287. For example, check out seven day trips in January and February:

 

The flight is bookable through March 2013, with fairly relaxed availability throughout the week. This rate ends somewhere near the middle of March.

United, US Airways, Delta, and American are all within a few dollars of each other, so this can just barely qualify as a mileage run on any of the legacy carriers.

Routing from LaGuardia to San Jose through Charlotte and Phoenix would earn 5,878 status miles for $294, which is exactly 5 cents per mile for United or US Airways miles.

The fare allows you to book two stops within the itinerary. Though the additional mileage isn’t worth too much on its own, it opens up opportunities for bumps.

This is not an earth-shattering mileage run. But it is a rare run out of LaGuardia. As always, I don’t mileage run; I check the forum for cheap prices on flights I have to book for other reasons or impromptu vacation ideas.

Up to 30,000 American Airlines Miles with Citibank Checking Account

I first saw that the Citi checking account deal was back from Mile Nerd last week. Then a few days ago, I got a letter in the mail inviting me to take advantage of the same offer, and I even had the same code as Mile Nerd.

And in this FlyerTalk thread, the next round of Citibank Checking Account promotions is discussed in detail. In order to qualify, you must open a checking account by October 31, 2012.

This is a pretty frequently occurring deal. What’s special this time?

In the past, Citibank has required a 1099 form for reporting miles earned from promotions, as they were considered a bonus. Since the new offer requires spending with your debit card, the miles are now considered a rebate. As a rebate, the miles are not taxable income, so no 1099 will be issued. (Just like your credit card airline miles aren’t taxable income.)

There are three types of accounts:

One thing to take into account when getting in on this deal is that you will be dinged a monthly fee if your account does not maintain a certain balance.

The Citigold Account package requires $50,000 for all linked deposit or retirement accounts to avoid the $30 monthly fee. I value the 30k sign up bonus at $531.

The Citibank Account package requires $15,000 for all linked deposit or retirement accounts to avoid the $20 monthly fee. I value the 15k sign up bonus at $265.50.

The Basic Banking package requires $1,500 for all linked deposit or retirement accounts OR the making of one direct deposit and one bill pay each month to avoid the $10 monthly fee. I value the 5k sign up bonus at $85.50.

The miles will be posted to your account within 90 days within the statement period where you meet all the requirements.

There are multiple ways to open an account. Apply online (at any of the previous links) and make sure the code CY4Y is in the offer code box, call 866-579-8496 and mention the code, or go to a physical Citibank branch. After opening, you have to meet the minimum spending amount with the debit card and set up direct deposit to the checking account.

I will have more on this deal in the following days as I attempt to set up my own Citi checking account.

Recap

The holidays are a tumultuous time for people flying places on United this year because United is changing and cancelling award reservations. Be aware of your itinerary and ways that you can circumvent problems that might come up by talking to phone representatives.

There’s a mileage run (LGA-SJC) for $287, through March 2013. It could be a good deal for people near LaGuardia who don’t get a lot of opportunities to mileage run. Or it could be a great chance for a vacation to San Jose.

Citibank has changed its policy regarding miles and their checking account promotion. Earning 30k AA miles no longer generates a 1099, which makes the entire procedure even more lucrative, though equally complicated if you have few liquid assets.

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