The Greatest Questions in All of Travel

I tried this last month and it was really useful.

The best questions in all of travel are yours.

Your suggestions turn out to be a great jumping-off point for posts. So I would love to hear what you’re thinking.

  • What have your travels been like this week?
  • What are you wondering, or what would you like to know?
  • Booked any great awards?
  • How’s your team doing?

The comments are yours to do with as you wish, please express yourself, and I may drop in here or there with answers — but I don’t know the answer to everything, so hopefully the wisdom of crowds being what it is perhaps one of your fellow readers will know what I do not.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I just flew two first class flights with Emirates. NRT-DXB and DXB-LAX, I am kind of surprised how mediocre/bad the food was. The service on the NRT-DXB was good, but the DXB-LAX on the A380 was horrible. This was my first time flying with them.

  2. I’m very frustrated that Hyatt changed their BRG program today. It used to be wonderful – call and get instant confirmation of the rate, which allowed you to BRG against prepaid rates without any fear of being stuck with rate shenanigans or a change in the rate during the period between the time of submission and the time of review. Now, Hyatt has a SPG-esque form and promises to review within 24 hours. Huge downgrade.

  3. I have a AA Advantage F award in August BKK-HKG-SFO stopover SFO-JFK. Because of the situation in Bangkok I want to change my ticket to depart from SIN-HKG. In light of the elimination of stopovers. Can I make this change without loosing the stopover in SFO?

  4. @Jose – yes, the rules of your ticket at time of issuance apply so you can keep your stopover and change dates of travel.

  5. @bill – there’s no question there’s an increased risk of rate change with this new hyatt process. personally though i’m likely to file more claims since i don’t have to call and sit on the phone with them. my guess is that net-net this won’t be a popular change but i’m waiting for more data points on what happens in practice, how long they really take, before passing judgment. definitely get where you’re coming from though.

  6. Is the sweet spot for all award bookings really 6 months? or does it vary by program?

  7. Definitely varies by program! Just my experience, overall and across programs, on average. Although 2 days out is pretty good too 🙂

  8. One of the reason I value my csp card is the built in delay insurance. Have you ever had to use it? Do you have any strategies for convincing airlines to provide written notice of the delay & the reason for it? I can see airlines refusing and chase declining to cover expenses as a result.

    On a related note, can you compare ancillary benefits, such as return protection, delay/cancellation insurance, and warranty extension between am prg and csp? I might be willing to forgo the 3x points on airfare for better insurance but don’t have a great idea what the difference is between the two…

  9. Have you found CX F harder to book since US Air switched over to OneWorld?

  10. @Jay – you can document reasons for delay, airlines often display that on their website and you can take a screen shot. In general Amex offers better protections than Visa/MasterCards do but that’s not universal and not all Amex products offer the same coverage. Good food for thought on a future post.

  11. Thanks Gary for such a great blog!

    Pretty excited for an upcoming trip I have in September booked pre UA devaluation made possible by all the knowledge I’ve gained from you and Lucky.

    Little by little I’ve been refining it, but as it stands now:
    BKK-HKT(TG I)(Stopover/OJ)

    HKG-ICN(OZ I)(Destination)


    I’m hoping that NYC to FRA opens up so then I can add a FRA-MUC leg vs EWR-YUL and experience the LH FCT 🙂
    Looking forward to the TG ground experience and Asiana’s suites class as well.

  12. When I talk about credit cards and miles with my friends, they often ask me how they can get into the game. What are the top 5 posts of yours that you’d recommend they read first?

  13. Tonight my united flights were canceled and they were nice enough to rebook me on delta. It occurred to me that I didn’t know what would happen if my delta flight got canceled (there were major weather issues in NYC plus ATC delays) – would UA or DL have “owned” my reservation? If you have status with one airline but nt the other airline you’re switching to, should that enter your calculus since you lose priority if your new flight cancels?

  14. Gary,

    So – which programs should one look for early (12 months), which is really 6 months etc?

    And I just booked CPH-LHR-HKG-PEK-LHR with Avios on business and first, 2 pax. 9 nights in Hyatt thanks to UR. Love this game – and all the amazing advice! Thank you!

  15. Interesting week for this semi-retired points/miles aficionado. TRAVEL: MSY-MCO and was my first trip on Southwest in several years. For nonstop short haul, these friendly folks are still hard to beat. BOOKINGS: mid-August: MIA-TXL / DUS-MIA in lie-flat business on airberlin / 50,000 BA Avios for each; mix in AF TXL-AMS / AMS-PRG for 15,000 miles via Membership Rewards. CARDS: Delta Suntrust SkyMiles debit card for quarterly tax payments, some bloggers say this card is being eliminated soon; Chase Ink Plus for the 60,000 UR sign-up bonus. And that’s just in the last week!

  16. Trying to book an award. Virgin Atlantic MIA>LHR Upper class. Found and booked the LHR>MIA return for 50K per person, 2 of us traveling. Outgoing available as I saw in on for 125K per person (and booked on speculation as I can get miles re deposited if VA releases more space.

    Would a call to Virgin help? I would spend the 100K Virgin miles for 2 people and love to get my 250K Delta miles back.

  17. I’m trying to transition my dad from using a worldpoints bofa visa to a SPG Amex (to get JAL miles for a EK+CX trip) but the issue it that he maxes his new SPG Amex card out so fast ($6k limit) that he has to use his bofa card for the 24-36 hours that the online payment takes to go through, a loss of standpoints. Any way to get the card paid immediately, so that he can eventually switch his business completly to the SPG card? Eventually, he’ll have a high enough limit where that won’t be a problem, but to get it up, he has to use it a lot.

  18. Starting to think about a trip for 10-year wedding anniversary- wife has been asking to go back to Paris, but laments that she’s never been to London. Timing would be some time next summer when she has off from work (works in a school), and probably 5-7 days total.

    We live in Pittsburgh, I’m an AA Gold with 250k miles, SPG gold with 322k starpoints.

    Looking for any suggestions for hotels, routing, etc.


  19. My new wife and I just got back from Seattle on Sunday, after getting to experience some of the best weather that locals have described in a long time. Used points to fly out Southwest and then booked a couple nights at the Grand Hyatt by transferring Chase points to Gold Passport 🙂 Amazing time.

  20. I’m at the Sheraton Princess in HNL now. It’s a cat 5 and although the hotel is in need of a major makeover, everything works fine and well. I’m one of those that loves when everything actually works in the hotel room (tub drainage/ac control/internet) vs one that looks good but most of the time issues occur (think W). Once this hotel completes their revamp, I can foresee this being a cat 6/7.

  21. Now that I have “graduated” to the SPG AmEx and CSP cards (thanks, Professor Leff!), what is the most valuable way to spend all the DC rewards points I built over the last 15 years?

  22. I ‘paid’ 262,000 Skywards miles to fly First Class Shower suites on Emirates A380 on next RTW trip for 2 14 hour segments SYD-DXB-JFK. Actual cost was about $2,000 4 Taxes/fees and coming up w/ the necessary miles after transferring all my available AmEx MR & SPG (bought some SPG points to reach 40K to get the 10K bonus,) then transferred 25K of Hubby’s AmEx MR to his Skywards then pd to transfer to my Skywards, + bought 17K Skywards. Once in a life time trip so reasonable 4 me 🙂 Used 97,500 AA miles to go First DCA-ORD-PVG then Cathy Business to SYD via HKG to ‘position’ for EK. I’m calling the trip: “Shanghai, Sydney, & Showers”

  23. What on earth happens to Lost Luggage?! I fly Pegasus around a month ago and not only did they refuse to credit my flights to their FF program, but my bags got lost on the way back as well! I can’t conceive, though, of what happens to these bags? They just fell out of the airplane en route? How can they have no tracking of them at all?!

  24. What is the easiest rewards ticket to receive for travel from the US to Europe in Business Class?

  25. @Jay – I am also very interested in the insurance questions/comparisons. I can provide some answers from the Amex side (only) – Amex Return Protection and Warranty Extension are very easy to use. Unless the item costs over $100, they typically don’t want it back. Documentation requirements are pretty minimal. I don’t think I’ve ever had them deny a claim. For good or ill, I’ve never used their trip interruption protection nor any of Chase’s insurances, hence part of the interest in comparison.

    One trip interruption cover I have used is AAA’s, on a road trip. I didn’t even think of it at the time, but they ended up cutting me a check for close to $1000 (the limit) when a breakdown on Thanksgiving day left my car in the shop over the long weekend, and I had planned to be traveling (by car) for the whole weekend – they ended up picking up my hotel, meals, and rental for the whole time, even though most of the hotel bits had been planned in advance. Or, looked at another way, they covered most of the unexpected repair cost (ouch!).

  26. Could you please suggest how to make a roundtrip from PHL/EWR/JFK to FRA/MUC/TXL at the end of July and preferably (not required) to have a stop over (for one day would be perfect, but less is OK too) in another city/country and spend as little miles as possible. ;o) I will need 3-4* hotel only if will have a stop over somewhere, and one more night in hotel in FRA/MUC/TXL; don’t need accommodations after that. Also, I will be traveling with my 4 year old daughter (husband and mommy’s little man are staying home) :o(
    Right now I have points on my United (about 60K) and US Airways (about 50K), but will be applying for Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, Hilton, and SPG, which will add extra miles!
    Any suggestions on which airline and hotels to choose and spend as little miles and points as possible?
    Thank you in advance for all your suggestions!

  27. Could you please explain why do you choose business or first class if you could travel much more often on Coach? Is it just because you want better seats or is there another reason as well? I’m just starting earning points and want to travel soon, but not sure if I should get one business/first class round trip ticket or get 2 trips but in Coach/Economy class… Do you get extra miles in your frequent mile programs for traveling in Business/First class? Please advise…

  28. I am considering using Ultimate Reward points to fly to Moscow. The only thing is I do not have much of an interest in visiting Moscow for more than a day or two. Do you have any thoughts as to how to turn this into a truly aspirational trip by catching another flight to a more desirable location? If so, what location is worthwhile within a few hours flight? I ask as I have replicated many of your aspirational recommendations and they have been phenomenal, i.e. Samui, Maldives, etc.

  29. I am still new at this hobby , just about a year and a half in , doing a lot if trips this year , But I am finding that regular people ( not in the hobby ) really think I crazy ! They look at you like your nuts when you tell them your going to Vegas for a day ! Or they insist that what I am telling them I did a trip for ( price wise ) they insist it can’t be done ! I think I am going to stop yelling people ! But that’s the Rush ! A 20 k trip to Paris for like $360.00 !

  30. I flew first on an old US Airways 321, which I found to be somewhat uncomfortable (and no power outlets of any kind in first class?), but sitting next to a personal fitness instructor and talking about working out more than made up for it. The first time I declined dessert flying first/business. I feel like the lack of personal space in coach precludes these kinds of encounters from taking place. But it could just be me.

  31. We just burned 270k miles to fly in UA F/BF from SFO-NRT and KIX-SFO with 4 free nights at PH Tokyo and 2 free nights at IC Osaka. One of my best-ever trips with miles & points though I still could have done better by paying a little more to stay at Hyatt Kyoto (with Diamond benefits) instead of the crappy Westin where Gold is treated like dirt. But can’t complain overall.

    I just wish I could find a way to book peak date saver awards to Mexico, and to get a fast-track to SPG Plat status.

  32. @EZ Travel: When I first started this hobby, I flew coach for the reason you indicate. I remember miserable trips to New Zealand and Turkey, but my miles got me there. But several things happened – I found myself accumulating more miles than I was spending (currently around 4 international business class trips/year, and still around 2.8 million miles left over), I got older, and I got spoiled. Now I won’t fly overnight in anything less than business class with a flat bed seat (angled o.k. with my thermarest pad). I guess I do it because I can, without limiting the number of trips I can take.

  33. On AA when you are looking for a flight using miles, they only show you 4 pages of options. I know that there are more possibilities, especially now with the USAirways added inventory. How do we see all the possibilities? I asked AA and they can’t seem to understand my question. I think you know the AA system better than the employees. Thank you.

  34. @Tocqueville – I don’t think constitutions have a great record, historically, of constraining government.

  35. Hi, I’m from India and I’m pretty much here to tell you how lucky you guys over there are to get so much miles through credit-card signups. Wish you could teach that to banks here! There are places in the world where people really have to work for their miles, you know 😉
    Jokes aside, you do a superb work (pretty much) day-in, day-out and you have my respect for that.

  36. @EZ Travel – I do not choose business/first class when paying my own money for tickets (although yes you would earn extra miles for doing so). I choose premium cabins when redeeming miles internationally, usually first class for transpacific and business class for transatlantic (I live on the East Coast). I do this because miles make it possible and even easy to do this, and because my travel is so much more comfortable as a result. I travel more than I otherwise would. And I earn enough miles where redeeming more for premium cabins doesn’t limit my ability to travel as much as I want.

  37. @Bob P – United to Brussels, LOT Polish Chicago – Warsaw, on and off Iberia space, BA from JFK and PHL, Austrian to Vienna (sometimes, on and off)..

  38. @JDN possibly when Diners does a 50% transfer bonus to BA (sadly days of 100% bonuses are long gone). But they have other partners as well with value like Aeroplan, Alaska if memory serves.

  39. @Niels the only airline where i think you really have to book as soon as schedule opens is Qantas for premium cabin long haul, Cathay opens up tons of space when schedules load. But I find 6 months is great for Cathay too, as well as last minute. Name an airlie I will tell you my experience..

  40. Gary,

    I thought you might have some strategies to help me with an award booking conundrum–one that I imagine is fairly common.

    What is your strategy for booking awards with scarce availability at 330 days out when the return leg will be more than 330 days out?

    In my case, I am looking to book an award:
    – Using United miles
    – For 2 passengers
    – To South Africa (preferably on SAA)
    – For July 2015 (so I’ll start looking in August 2014)
    – For a trip that will last 20 days and will need to include a stopover within South Africa

    Because of the trip length, I can’t book my whole award when seats are released. Because I need a stopover, I can’t just book two one-way awards.

    I could always pay for my intra-South African flight (CPT-MQP) with cash, but I’d prefer to have it included as a stopover.

    I’d imagine that this happens to people fairly often when searching for scarce awards, especially when searching for pairs of seats.


  41. FYI: I just returned from a trip to Russia. On the return, I flew through Dusseldorf for the first time. It was a pleasure and far less stressful than connecting through LHR as I did on the way there. My layovers didn’t require lounge time, so I can’t speak to them at DUS. But my connections were practically right next door to one another and I didn’t feel like part of a cattle herd as I do at LHR. For ORD/MOW (specifically DME) connections, I will use DUS from here forward.

    I initially avoided DUS because of negative reviews of Air Berlin. But my flight (DME-DUS) was roomy, clean and flawless.

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