To Middle Earth, Finale: Qantas First Class

So hopefully everyone’s finally figured out the irony of the title of this trip report, in that I didn’t really ever make an effort to see or do anything particularly Middle Earth-ish on this trip.  Next time, I guess.  But anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed everything thus far.  This part has been a joy to write, because everything was simply fantastic.  Thanks for your patience and your wonderful comments. The Plan As a quick review (explained more thoroughly in the preview for this trip report), I built this trip around First Class availability on the Qantas A380 for the long-haul between Sydney and Los Angeles.  The cost was 72,500 AAdvantage miles and a relatively small amount of fees (American doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on Qantas flights).  In order to maximize the value of the ticket, I booked my return flight starting in Christchurch with a one-night layover in Sydney, followed by the long flight back to the City of Angels, then onward back to Dallas for a whopping 3 days rest until I left again for a work trip. Getting out of Christchurch I had a restless night of sleep after being followed and passed slowly by the same SUV full of guys yelling at me while walking down a mostly unlit street in a so-so area of Christchurch.  I’m a big and relatively strong guy, and it takes a lot to make me feel threatened, but this was full-on fight/flight feelings.  I always joke about my two-step process for… read more

To Middle Earth, Part IV: In And Around Queenstown

So I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of the last post.  Hopefully it’s worth the wait.  If it’s not, I’ll happily refund your money. Getting to Queenstown So why did I pick Queenstown?  One of the travel bloggers I follow pretty closely, Lucky from One Mile at a Time, rated this as one of his favorite places in the world, and quite frankly I didn’t really know what else to do, so I thought why not? Liked I mentioned before, I booked a really pricey flight to Queenstown because I waited for the last minute and there weren’t really any cheap options in the first place.  As I was quasi-planning this trip, I had to constantly remind myself that August is the height of winter down there, which is Queenstown’s busy season, so it made sense that there weren’t cheap flight options available. We flew from Wellington in an Air New Zealand ATR72.  I actually like turboprops, but this flight got a little cantankerous for me.  The weather was pretty bad in Queenstown, so the closer we got the cantankerouser it got.  I’m fine with bumps and turbulence that’s up and down, but this turbulence felt like the back end of the plane wasn’t going in the same direction as the front, so it was a little worrisome.  The approach path into Queenstown is between two mountains, so there was a bit of a wind tunnel effect that I wasn’t expecting.  Whenever there’s turbulence… read more

Earning and Redeeming AAdvantage Miles, Part I: The Good Ways to Earn Miles

So, we’ve talked about how to earn status with American Airlines, and I’ve gotten thousands of compliments on the information I provided (note: actual number of compliments far less, used Severe Rounding).  American posts all of the info, I just parsed through it and tried to explain it in as many Normal People terms as possible. Quick review of some terms, although I’m sure everyone knows them by now: EQM = Elite-qualifying miles EQP = Elite-qualifying points EQS = Elite-qualifying segments RDM = Redeemable miles And a new term: CPM = Cents per mile If all of the elite status stuff bugged you or you were quickly overwhelmed by all of it, or if you simply don’t fly that much, this post is for you, for it answers the age-old question: How can I travel wherever I want, and in whatever class I want, for free? YES.  I love that attitude.  You and I will get along very well.  Forget about EQM, EQP, and EQS, we’re going to now focus on RDM and CPM. To travel wherever you want, you need one of two things: a pilot’s license or redeemable miles.  RDM are probably a bit easier, if I’m honest.  There are endless ways to get redeemable miles, I’m going to focus on the most well-known arenas for mileage earning: flying, shopping portals, and dining services.  Credit card sign-up bonuses, the most efficient and effective way of earning miles, will be covered in a later post, as that is a… read more

American Airlines AAdvantage Status Explained: AAdvanced

Attention: this information is now out of date.  The AAdvantage program described below has changed effective January 1, 2016. Hopefully my previous post helped you understand the basics of the AAdvantage program.  I want to get into some more advanced topics, and the easiest way to organize it, I figured, would be to pose a series of questions that I’m often asked, with my responses. Is status with American really that important? Only if you want to skip security lines, board planes first to ensure there’s room for your carry-on up top, check 2-3 bags for free, get free upgrades on domestic and international itineraries, reserve exit row and other premium seats, standby on earlier flights for free, have many different fees waived for you, have rebooking priority when your flight is cancelled, or access to Business and First Class lounges on international itineraries.  If none of that interests you, then it’s probably not worth it to qualify. How long does my status last? To make things confusing, there are two “years” in terms of status: membership year and qualifying year.  There’s really no easy way of describing this generally, but I’ll try my best: Qualifying years run from January 1 – December 31 of Year 20xx. Membership years run from March 1 of  Year 20xx+1 – February 28/29 of Year 20xx+2 I know, I’m sorry.  Here’s the specific example.  It is January 1, 2012.  I currently have no status.  If Gold status is my target, I have until December 31,… read more

American Airlines AAdvantage Status Explained: The Basics

Attention: this information is now out of date.  The AAdvantage program described below has changed effective January 1, 2016. People are always saying things to me like, “Hey Andy, why are you always going on about airline status?” and “Ow, quit standing on my foot!” I can offer no help on the second, but I’m here to help you out with the first.  First, an introduction to airline loyalty. Airline Loyalty Programs There are two flights, nonstop, from DFW-LGA (New York’s LaGuardia Airport).  One is $638 roundtrip, the other $517.  Quick, which one would you pick?  $517, right?  Here’s the crazy thing about airline programs: many people would say wrong.  For those who value airline status perks, a very common response would be “what airline?” because it has a direct effect on their miles balance or qualifying status on their preferred airline. Airlines value loyalty, and they’re willing to pay for it.  If they didn’t have loyalty programs that conferred benefits to some passengers (that fly more often and/or spend more money with that airline), it would be a race to the lowest price, at which point all airlines lose money (even moreso than many do already).  So, airlines give you an incentive to keep choosing their airline, even if you’re paying more money to do so.  Things like free bag checking, exit row seats, all the way up to free upgrades to Business/First Class (on international flights!).  If you travel a lot for work or for pleasure, elite status can… read more

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