Flight deck looks so realistic! - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz | AirlineReporter

Flight deck looks so realistic! – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz | AirlineReporter

There are few things out there that given the chance to try for myself, I’ll jump at the opportunity. An hour in a level D Boeing 787 simulator is one of those things. In November 2015, Aeromexico cut the ribbon on its brand new 787 simulator, and last week it invited me down to Mexico City to experience it firsthand.

Level D means the simulator is as complex and realistic as it gets. Pilots are able to transition from other aircraft types such as the 737 over to the 787 and earn their type rating on these machines. Before I had my time in the right seat of the simulator, I’d have to sit in row 25 of a 737 to get down to Mexico City.

Between the extremely limited simulator availability and my little remaining vacation time (I used two of my three weeks for the year in March on a trip to Japan and regret nothing), I had to make the trip as short as possible. After much debate, I settled on taking a 9am flight out of New York JFK down to Mexico City, hit the sim, and then take the 1:20am flight back home the next day to get back to work.

Who doesn’t like low prices? I know I do. But I also know with low prices, there is probably a “catch,” or I might not get the same experience as if I paid more elsewhere. This concept seems to be pretty simple to understand (the whole “you get what you paid for”), but many it all goes out the window when you start flying.

There are many passengers out there who are not fans of super cheap airlines (and ala cart) airlines, like Spirit and Allegiant. These are probably two of the most aggressive ultra low cost carriers and I think this post speaks to why these airlines can be so successful. These are the airlines who provide rock bottom prices and the ability to pay more for the services you want/need. A few years back (first published in April 2011),  my creative side decided to make a little comic strip showing the five stages of flying an ultra low cost carrier. It has been of my all time favorite stories, because it rings true so often. I am guessing that these five stages might seem pretty familiar to many of you!

Stage One: The Search

There are many out there who could care less about what airline they fly on — all they care about is price. They remember flying from Los Angeles to Topeka in 1996 for $79.00 round trip and refuse to pay more than that ever again. They will check every airline site possible, spending hours, maybe even days trying to find the best deal possible. Then, amazingly they find one airline with prices way less than their competitors. Why is it so much cheaper? Who the heck cares… for that price, you are willing to fly in a cardboard box! After getting your ticket, you gloat to as many as you can on how much you saved. You title yourself the “Airline Fare Master.” Oh… just wait my friend.

MileagePlus X: An easy way to earn free #UA787 flights. Photo: JL Johnson

MileagePlus X: A simple way to earn free #UA787 flights – Photo: JL Johnson

Let’s get something out of the way. I am not a United fan. In fact, I have said numerous times that all things equal, I’d rather fly Spirit. Why do I bring this up? Because after using United’s MileagePlus X App for a year, I’m starting to come around. And that, my friends, is a pretty big deal. Opinions formed from years of disappointment and failures at all levels don’t change overnight. They certainly don’t change as the result of side-project ancillary revenue apps. But here I am, about to tell you why you should be a MileagePlus X user too.

The United MileagePlus X concept is simple: Use the app to buy gift cards for everyday purchases at thousands of retailers and get United miles as a kickback. Earnings per dollar spent at merchants vary widely, typically between one and five miles. Earnings are dependent upon on the merchant and the time of year. For example, the standard for Amazon seems to be one mile per dollar, but I have seen up to three. The norm for Gap/Old Navy/Banana Republic is five, but for a while during back-to-school season earnings jumped to ten miles per dollar.

This arrangement is win/win/win. United gets a slice of the transaction (yay ancillary revenue!), the retailer gets a sale they may have otherwise lost, and the consumer gets miles. The concept United is using is far from the typical dining or shopping programs offered by nearly every other airline. When I think of the words “innovative” and “pioneer” United does not come to mind. But both apply in the context of MileagePlus X.

A Xiamen 787-8 glides in for a landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on the airline's inaugural US revenue flight.

A Xiamen 787-8 glides in for a landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on the airline’s inaugural U.S. revenue flight

Xiamen Airlines launched its Xiamen-Shenzhen-Seattle service on Sept. 26, creating both the first long-haul route from Xiamen to the United States and the first direct service to the States from the Chinese city of Shenzhen. We were there to welcome the inaugural flight.