Upgraded: Pancakes
Want to hide your junk from the TSA’s nude-o-scopes? Stuff pancakes made of explosives into your underwear. What?!

Upgraded, potentially: Star Alliance in Australia
Somewhat surprisingly, Virgin Blue is rumored to be interested in joining Star Alliance. Such a deal, if real, would likely make a pan-global Virgin alliance moot. So much for that theory. But for Star Alliance fans, a Virgin Blue tie-up would really open up a wide range of Australian destinations.

Upgraded, barely: US Airways lifetime status
US Airways has joined its peers and rolled out a lifetime elite level. One-million miles flown on US Airways flights yields only lowest-tier status, with Star Silver status attached. And it’s not even for life — you have to maintain activity at least every three years to retain the status. Pfft. Other airlines offer a much better deal. (Especially AA, among the US-based airlines, which counts all earned miles, and not just flown miles, when calculating million-miler status.) For a nice rundown of the various airlines’ million-miler options, see the Global Traveller’s breakdown.

Downgraded: Venezuelan humor
Unclear if this is truth or fiction, but a flight attendant was allegedly detained by Venezuelan authorities for announcing the time at the destination as “local Chavez time.” Chavez time? “In December 2007, Venezuela created its own time zone, moving the clock back half an hour on a permanent basis, and according to the U.S. embassy report, ‘the crew member was likely trying to remind passengers of this and to suggest they turn their watches back 30 minutes.’”

Upgraded (sorta) and Downgraded: Continental’s in-flight food
For a few years, Continental has been the last holdout on the domestic airline scene, offering free meals in coach. That ends now. The airline is offering a new-and-improved menu in coach — that is, if you consider food on a stick an improvement. None of the food sounds particularly exciting, and in-terminal options are likely still better choices. And, in a departure from their recent practice, the food will no longer be free (thus, downgraded). Here’s what to expect: “The menu will include freshly prepared hot and cold mealtime selections similar to those served in casual-dining restaurants, such as Asian-style noodle salad, grilled chicken spinach salad, Angus cheeseburger, and Jimmy Dean sausage, egg and cheese sandwich. Snack and dessert options — including a gourmet cheese & fresh fruit plate, several types of snack boxes, a la carte brand-name snacks and chocolate-covered Eli’s Cheesecake on a stick — will also be available for purchase. Prices will range from $1.50 for Pringles Original Potato Crisps to $8.25 for the grilled chicken spinach salad.” See a fuzzy pic of the menu here.

Downgraded: Starwood’s top hotels’ redemption options
Gary Leff makes a great point in criticizing Starwood’s outrageous redemption rates for its most expensive hotel rooms. I like the Starwood Preferred Guest program generally, but 100,000 per night for some of those all-suite hotels in locations like French Polynesia? Come on, people.

Upgraded: Star Alliance Africa options
Star Alliance has invited Ethiopian Airlines to join the alliance. This is the third African airline in Star (South African Airways and Egyptair are the others). In the other alliances, SkyTeam has Kenya Airways, and oneworld has… no one. Africa is expected to be a major growth area for air travel — and for economic activity generally — so expect to see further invitations like this within all three alliances.

Upgraded: Las Vegas as a lair for supervillains
In a cross between the laser satellite run by a Las Vegas kingpin in “Diamonds are Forever” and the Death Star’s destruction of the planet Alderaan in “Star Wars,” we now have a Las Vegas hotel that channels the sun’s rays to create a “death ray” of sorts in the middle of the Vegas Strip. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it’s unintentional… And if you’re a guest at the Vdara Hotel, it could be problematic: “[...] a visitor from Chicago tipped off [the Las Vegas Review-Journal] after having his hair singed, and his plastic shopping bag partially melted, while trying to lounge by the pool.” Here’s a diagram from the paper, via Minyanville:

las vegas death ray Upgrades and Downgrades: Continentals food, Vegas death rays, bad Starwood deals

nissan leaf Upgrades and Downgrades: Electric rental cars, acts of God, proto bankrupt Mexicana and more
Upgraded: Enterprise Rent-a-Car turns a new leaf
Enterprise Rent-a-Car has committed to purchasing 500 Nissan Leaf electric vehicles — not hybrids, electrics — for implementation in Phoenix, Tucson, Knoxville, Nashville, San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. The cars can run for about 100 miles on a single charge. No word yet on rates, but you’ll start to see the cars at rental locations beginning in January 2011. The challenge, of course, is recharging it, unless you happen to have “a standard SAE J1772-2009 connector for level 1 and 2 recharging (110/220 V AC)” or “a TEPCO connector for high-voltage ‘level 3′ quick charging (480 V DC 125 amps) using the CHAdeMO protocol” handy…

Downgraded: Southwest Airlines
Southwest keeps acting more and more like a “regular” airline. The company has changed its contract of carriage to brazenly and bizarrely refer to a mechanical delay as an act of God. Deus ex machina? I don’t think so. Lame, and begging for a legal challenge…

Strong: Downgraded: Wegolo
The Netherlands-based discount-airline fare aggregator Wegolo lost a court case to Ryanair, thereby preventing it from scraping Ryanair’s website to include their fares in search results. Ryanair’s beef? Wegolo charged a surtax on the Ryanair fare for booking via the search site.

Downgraded: Star Alliance
After several years of expansion (with the addition of Continental being the biggest deal, from a USA-centric perspective), Star Alliance is losing a member: Shanghai Airlines, which is merging with China Eastern Airlines, is leaving Star Alliance for SkyTeam in October. Within Star Alliance, Air China remains the lone Chinese member airline. Will another Chinese airline join the fray? Maybe the butt-kicking staff at Sichuan Airlines will convince management to get interested in joining the party?…

Upgraded: Hotel ratings
Every year, the J.D. Power survey results come out with some fanfare, rating customer satisfaction with major hotel chains. The top line news is usually the winner in each category. I like to go deeper, and if you’re interested, the full results are here. Somewhat of surprise for me: The more casual Aloft brand beat (but effectively tied) the more established Westin brand within the Starwood franchise.

Downgraded: Mexicana
Upgraded: Repo Men

It’s not looking good for Mexicana Airlines right now. The company has had three aircraft seized by creditors, they are canceling flights, and they are publicly admitting that they are “probably” looking to enter bankruptcy. Points for honesty! If you’ve got tickets already, it’s probably too late to buy travel insurance. If you haven’t bought tickets, it’s probably a bad idea to click “purchase” until you know for sure what’s happening.
UPDATED August 3, 2010: Mexicana has indeed filed for bankruptcy. The airline is cutting back flights, but is still operating.
UPDATED August 5, 2010: Mexicana has now stopped selling further tickets, but is still technically operating. Not exactly a confidence booster to shut down your sales operations, though. Mexicana Click and Mexicana Link, the lower-cost domestic airline subsidiaries, are still operating and selling tickets.

Via View from the Wing, an interesting offer from bmi, the British member of Star Alliance: instant Silver membership status in bmi’s Diamond Club.

Silver membership in bmi comes in as Star Alliance Silver status.

The value of Silver status varies, depending on the alliance member you’re traveling on. But as Gary points out, that means you’re exempt from checked baggage fees on United, US Airways, and Continental. (Links go to the baggage policy pages.)

The only possible downside: If you’re reserving your tickets with your bmi Silver status, you won’t be able to collect miles with another program, should that be your preference. Your bmi status won’t help much with domestic upgrades, which rely primarily on status with the operating airline.

That said, the bmi program isn’t bad for earning-and-burning miles. At all. (See the earnings charts and the spending charts.)

Check the offer for yourself.

Update: Deal gone. Link dead.

Categorized in: bmi, elite status, Star Alliance

jal 737 jex Weakening oneWorld: JAL wants to join SkyTeam
Japan’s most famous (and, recently, most beleaguered) airline, JAL, has apparently opted to leave the oneWorld alliance for SkyTeam. Viewed through an USA-based frequent flyer lens, that’s a win for Delta (and potentially those who hold Delta miles), and a definite blow for American Airlines and their mileage addicts.

Delta and its SkyTeam partners didn’t just win this on their good looks and winning personality. They are offering a bailout package of nearly $1 billion. (American and Texas Pacific Group offered to invest $1.1B; I’m not familiar with the details of the deals, and that’s not my concern here. And nothing is signed yet — AA says they’re still negotiating.)

The combination of JAL and Delta would be a formidable force, if traffic remains at current levels. One report estimates the JAL-enhanced Skyteam market share at 62% of traffic between the US and Japan. Star Alliance (United, ANA, and Singapore) hold 31%, leaving a mere 9% in oneworld (entirely AA).

But JAL has signaled that it would drop 30 (or even all) of its international routes, ceding that traffic to alliance partners and codesharing instead. And Japan’s other major airline, ANA, is looking to snap up routes and landing rights which JAL gives up. So those market share percentages are far from set in stone.

In the long run, the decrease in competition is bound to exert upward pressure on trans-Pacific fares. The deal will need to undergo antitrust scrutiny, of course.

Intermediate-term losers here are American Airlines’ loyal customers who use their miles to fly to Asia. A major mileage redemption opportunity for AAdvantage mileage holders is about to disappear, either through JAL’s switch to SkyTeam, or their erosion/implosion. If you’ve got American miles, your currency is about to lose value, as you’re about to lose some redemption opportunities.



Periodically, US Airways runs a sale on buying their frequent flyer miles. Usually, buying miles is no bargain. But when they offer you double the miles for the same price…

Over at View from the Wing, the bottom line is clear:

With this offer you can buy 40,000 miles for $1030, get 80,000 miles in return, and fly business class from the US to Europe. Or if you and a friend each have 40,000 miles, you transfer to each other for $430 apiece, and you now both have 80,000 miles — enough for a business class Star Alliance partner award to Europe.

And don’t forget that US Airways doesn’t block Star Alliance partner flights like United does. This is a great deal, and a great way to book a complex ticket in business class at a low price.