Around the World

Miles flown for stories
2014: 201,532
2013: 330,818

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Flying First Class…On a United Q400

United Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 at Durango - Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

United Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 at Durango – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

As a Silver Premier member with United Airlines (their lowest-level elite tier), getting a complementary first class upgrade happens almost as rarely as spotting a unicorn.  In a year and a half of being an elite, I’ve gotten two first class upgrades.  Recently, upgrade number two came in an unlikely form; on a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.

That’s right, folks – United is offering a first class cabin on planes with propellers.  I caught my upgrade on a quick business trip from Denver (DEN) to Durango (DRO), Colorado.

All of United’s Q400s are actually operated by Republic Airlines, one of many regional carriers for UA.  They are configured with 71 seats; seven in first class, 10 in Economy Plus, and 54 in economy.  As to be expected on a regional plane, “first class” really only meant a wider seat, more legroom, and a free beer.  Well, we got some pretzels too.   Continue reading Flying First Class…On a United Q400

United Takes Delivery of the 8,000th 737

United Latest 737-900ER taxiing at Boeing Field

United’s latest 737-900ER, taxiing at Boeing Field

On Wednesday April 16th, United took delivery of its latest 737, but this one was special.

A 737-900ER was delivered from Boeing Field, marking a special occasion for not only Boeing but also United.  The aircraft was the 8,000th 737 to roll out of the Renton factory, and became one of over 550 of the type to be delivered to United since its inception.

Continue reading United Takes Delivery of the 8,000th 737

BIG TRIP: 6 Flights; 24,000 Miles; 3 Continents; and an 8-Month-Old

Start 'em early! Author's son planespotting at SFO. Photo: David Delagarza

Start ‘em early! Author’s son planespotting at SFO. Photo: David Delagarza

“That’s insane.”  That seemed to be the reaction most people, many of whom were seasoned fliers, had to our plan.  My wife and I had schemed it up over a year ago while she was pregnant with our first child.  We had always enjoyed traveling, and I had gotten into collecting miles and points when we found out that we would be adding a baby to the mix.  We didn’t want to stop traveling once the baby was born, so we booked one of the most ambitious itineraries we could think of – flying to New Zealand, with stopovers in Japan and Australia. And, yes, we would be taking the baby with us.

11 months prior to the trip, we had the miles saved up. We had accumulated enough to book the trip in business class (at least prior to the recent United Airlines MileagePlus devaluation.)  After diligently researching and waiting for availability to open up, I finally found a business class route that would work – at least until I saw the infant fare. United charges 10% of the cabin fare for lap infants on international flights.  For economy cabins, this can add up to a couple hundred dollars.  However, for the premium cabins, we were looking at paying nearly $1,000 each way.  Although I did briefly consider footing that bill, we decided to go in economy and use the extra miles to put our son in his own seat (when we could find the award space) and stay in some nicer hotels along the way.

Routing - Image: GCMapper

Routing – Image: www.gcmap.com

Our outbound itinerary ended up beginning with Denver to Tokyo Narita on United’s 787 Dreamliner.  We had a 20-hour overnight stopover before continuing onto Singapore aboard Singapore Airlines’ A380.  The final leg took us from Singapore to Christchurch, New Zealand on Singapore’s 777-220ER.   50 hours, four countries, and 14,000 miles just to get there.

Our return trip was a bit easier – Christchurch to Sydney on an Air New Zealand A320, followed by a 23-hour stopover in Sydney before continuing onto San Francisco on a United 747-400, connecting to Denver on a United A319.  The only hitch was that I was unable to find any kind of routing that made sense for the return trip once my son was born, so he was going to fly home as a lap infant.  It was sure to be quite the adventure.

Continue reading BIG TRIP: 6 Flights; 24,000 Miles; 3 Continents; and an 8-Month-Old

Review: An AvGeek Finally Gets to Fly on a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner

United's Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Houston. Photo: Brandon Farris

United’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Houston. Photo: Brandon Farris

It has been a long journey, but I am proud to say that I have finally flown on a Dreamliner.

After two years of trying to get on the 787-8 Dreamliner, I finally had my opportunity to step aboard one of the most amazing aircraft ever built.My flight, United 1169, was from Houston to Los Angeles; they fly the aircraft once a day between these cities for positioning, and when I stumbled on it I couldn’t resist.

As time call to board my flight (in the Economy Plus section), it finally began to sink in that I was about to board the plane I have lost many nights of sleep over. I have followed the issues the plane has had throughout its flight test program and entry into service.

The aircraft I was flying on, N26902, has quite a history and actually is one of the 787s that cost me a couple night’s sleep, as it was the plane that diverted to New Orleans back in December, 2012, when the battery saga was beginning to catch fire. The aircraft also completed the inaugural flights for United to Tokyo Narita from Los Angeles, becoming the first 787 flown by a non-Japanese airline to land in Japan.  Weeks later, it completed United’s first flight to Shanghai.

Continue reading Review: An AvGeek Finally Gets to Fly on a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner

They’re Here: Frequent Flier Cards and Programs of the Future

The New Virgin Australia Velocity Rewards Card – Mines Gold – Photo: Virgin Australia

Recently, I received a lovely little gift in the mail, all the way from the other side of the world.  In the envelope was my new Virgin Australia Velocity frequent flier card.  When I looked closer at the card, though, I noticed something different.  The back resembled a debit card; in fact, it was a prepaid Visa card.  It made me think about what has been happening lately between airlines, their frequent flier programs, and credit cards.

Over the last 12 months, two of the largest US-based frequent flyer programs have introduced minimum spending amounts to attain or maintain elite status.  In 2014, United’s MileagePlus program will require a minimum amount of Premier Qualifying Dollars (PQD) along with the usual amount of miles or segments.  Your PQD has to be made up of ticket spend on United-issued tickets or by purchasing upgrades to Economy Plus.  To maintain your Gold Status into 2015, a Premier Gold flyer would not only have to earn 50,000 Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM), but they would need to spend $5,000 on airfare (taxes don’t count, sadly).

United’s move was almost a carbon copy of Delta’s SkyMiles program, however they just changed the words around.  Replace “Medallion”  for “Premier” and hey, presto… welcome to SkyMiles!  A very similar arrangement, but unlike United where all the tickets have to be issued by United, Delta allows you to earn your Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) with partner airlines (but what qualifies as a partner is a whole story of its own).  United only allows partner earning when booked through United.

Continue reading They’re Here: Frequent Flier Cards and Programs of the Future