Request for Requests: Ask Me Any Travel Question and I’ll Try to Answer

One of the things I really enjoy doing is responding to reader questions and it looks like I haven’t really opened things up in a structured way in some time. So here’s your chance.

I will my best to cover many of your questions. Some I may answer right away in comments, others will take me time to answer as standalone posts if they seem like topics that would help many readers.

As my boss once wrote making a similar request on his blog, “The only promise is that of weak monotonicity, namely that your mention won’t lower the chance of the topic being covered.” In other words, I won’t promise to cover everything, though I’ll read and ponder everything that’s written here in the comments.

I’d love to hear from you!

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. You’re offered American Platinum Pro, Delta Platinum or United Premier Platinum. Ignore the process of actually earning it and just focus on the using it part. Which one do you take and why?

  2. My extended family of 7 has roundtrip tickets to LIR from two different US airports on United in late July. We still have a bit of time, but seems highly unlikely this will be a good time to travel in Costa Rica. Is the best idea to wait until these flights are canceled instead of trying to cancel myself? What if some of the flights involved are not cancelled at all?

  3. Is Etihad going to make it? Between Etihad and Turkish, I’m able to get anywhere in Africa , Central Asia, and Eastern Europe from my home at IAD comfortably and cheaply. And bonus points for their hubs being good and clean. I’m always worried they’re going to fold into Emirates, which I’m not as much a fan of.

  4. Rank the 3 best airline top tier statuses and why? They can be from any airline. Then give us the worst value top tier status(combination of hard to get and horrible benefits). Thanks.

  5. I have Avios (transferred from Chase) that are now stranded in Iberia’s program after the flights were cancelled. Is there any reason they’d be safer transferred to BA in the event of a bankruptcy or would it even make a difference? No travel planned for the balance of the year and probably longer, barring a huge change in virus landscape.

  6. I need to travel from SFO to CCU – private visit but very important. What is the best way to travel ASAP while keeping Covid infection risk to a minimum (I am in a high risk category)? Also what would be the most economical way to get two Business Class tickets? I have about 250K AA miles. Thanks, Gary

  7. Best recommendation for getting a family of 4 from the Midwest to anywhere in Western Europe in biz class with points? Millions of miles to use with pretty much any airline. Thanks!

  8. @David H – there’s no reason to expect Etihad to fold. The risk is as you say that it merges with Emirates. That’s been rumored for a long time because it makes sense, but the egos involved could never get it done. Whether that changes, whether the Al Nahyan family gets desperate enough or finds a face saving way to do it, perhaps COVID-19 puts them in that position but nothing up until now has.

  9. @michael – I do not see any immediate risk to your Avios, just keep the points active with earn or burn in the account every 36 months

  10. Which US-based airline mileage program is the best for a family of 4 based in NYC?
    We usually travel in spring/fall time and obviously prefer all 4 of us flying in premium cabin on the same flight.
    We mainly travel to Europe and Asia.
    We don’t fly much for business trips, so 99% of our miles come from credit cards.

  11. @bzv – it’s interesting that they haven’t been speaking to this. I don’t see lounges closed for more than six months, generally, since that would mean giving members further extensions on their memberships. In general I’d say “when there’s enough passengers where they see it as worth the cost.” I’d guess United opens later than the others but would love to be wrong.

  12. @Kyle – award availability has been quite good lately, I’ve even written about some of that availability. Have you taken a look? Are you coming up empty handed? Shoot me an email.

  13. @JL – since your miles come from cards, and aren’t flying for business, why does it need to be a US airline’s mileage program?

    In general if you want to travel to Europe or Asia in business class you’ll do best with a Star Alliance frequent flyer program in terms of availability. (I’m ruling out British Airways due to fuel surcharges, though they’ll have availability to London.)

    But United isn’t the best Star Alliance program, I happen to like Amex transfers to ANA…

  14. 1. What’s your favorite place to travel domestically? What about internationally?
    2. Have you stayed at any of the Aman hotels? If so, how would you rank them?
    3. Would you rather have Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards? What’s the best transfer partner for each?

  15. Hi Gary,
    Does Citi’s “24-month no-bonus” rule apply if they closed the card themselves due to a lack of activity? I was waiting for September to apply for the Citi Premier card but they just closed my Citi Thank You Preferred card. Does it mean I am ineligible for sign up bonus till May 2022 now??

  16. I have already made a reservation from KEF to IAD on 2/23/21. Now I am lingering about going to VCE for the mask festival in early February of 2021. My original plan is to go to VCE from IAD to do some photography work, landscape and mask festival, then fly from VCE to KEF using Easy jet. I plan to spend at least 2 weeks in Iceland before coming home on the ticketed day of 2/23/21.

    My question is : because of the Coronavirus pandemic in Italy so severe, I am not quite sure if it is safe to be in Venice where lots of people attending the mask festival. Yes, I am a high risk group.
    Spending in Venice for so many days (about 10 days I am looking into) is scary. If you predict that is not a good time to visit Venice, then I may just fly to Iceland to do my photography work there, simply. I am familiar both places.

  17. I was able to transfer 200,000 Chase UR points to Korean Skypass before it ended and the points were good for 10 years. I was going to use it for a F flight from LAX-Southeast Asia-LAX. I understand that on April 1, 2021, Skypass is devaluing the award chart. April 1, 2021 might be a little early for me to travel to SE Asia. Do you have to purchase an award by April 1 or use it by April 1, 2021. Thank you.

  18. Our family of 10 has condos reserved for Kauai for one week beginning Aug. 2nd. to celebrate both a 60th and 30th Anniversary. The grandparents are 80 and 77 and have some health issues, but are functioning fine now while sheltering at home. Do you think we should cancel the trip or take a chance with the airlines and hotel. Also, will the islands continue to have the beaches and restaurants closed off from making this a special trip? Although you don’t have a crystal ball, what would you do if it was your family.

  19. @Old Flyer – I tend to think that Hawaii is pretty safe right now, what it will look like when tourism reopens is unclear, however I also tend to think we’ll get a but of a July/August respite in our summer months and Hawaii’s weather helps too. And that flying is generally safer than most people think, it hasn’t been a source of significant transmission that we know. That said, I would hold off on committing to travel for someone in their late 70s or early 80s. I would watch carefully how things develop between now and August, circumstances could get better or worse…

  20. @Bob – I am in the same position as you! You need to book travel by, not actually take the trip by, the date the new program pricing goes into effect

  21. @K Rhee – in general Europe right now is safer than the U.S. however large public gatherings are where I’d have an issue for someone who is self-described in an at-risk group.

  22. I’m curious if you have an opinion about how or if executive/club lounges in hotels will change in response to the current circumstances, both in the short term when hotels reopen in July and in the long term. Lucky at One Mile at a Time had some interesting thoughts recently as to this question with respect to airport lounges, but I was wondering if there are any material differences between airport lounges and hotel lounges that make it easier for one or other to continue to operate as before. I noticed that Hyatt is making club rooms available for its hotels when they reopen, so presumably lounges will continue to offer comparable food options as before, right?

  23. Related to Clay C’s post- my daughters wedding & honeymoon postponed, travel on Iberia purchased with miles & $’s for June 22. Iberia website states “ for your convenience we offer you the possibility of getting a refund of your reservation through a voucher to be used until June 30, 2021”. I’m ok with miles retuned to Iberia a/c, but want dollars returned. They have not cancelled flight yet but are not offering it for sale either.
    Advice?
    Thanks, appreciate this platform.

  24. Hi @GaryLeff. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. I haven’t seen much blogging on TAP Portugal. Can you give a high level summary in their operating and financial status? I have a flight book in late Jun from CPH-LIS-IAD and ideally am waiting for them to cancel the flight before I call for a refund. Any suggestions on contacting them? I’ve read a little bit that it’s difficult to get in touch via phone. Thanks!

  25. @Melanie Fortier – I’m primarily a business traveler and my work has banned business travel for the summer. Much of my leisure travel is international and I’m waiting to see what opens up. I’m waiting to see how the latest round of ‘opening up’ activities affect my city and the places I’m considering going (since there’s a couple week lag before we really see), and I’ll use that to judge whether it’s appropriate for me to travel specifically and where makes sense to go.

  26. @Stephen – just because club rooms are selling doesn’t mean you can expect the experience to be the same as before. I think we’ll see a scaling back of buffet style dining generally. Some hotels will have staff who serve off of a buffet. Some may offer menu service. And others just packaged snacks.

  27. On FM you said you believed VS would be bailed out by the UK govt. Do you still believe this? Branson appears to be a very unpopular figure in the UK and I would bet such a bailout would be politically unpopular.

  28. Gary

    Your thoughts on the safest way to fly (masks, shields, glasses, gloves, etc); where you want to sit on the plane to avoid the most people; pros/cons of First v. Coach; if you are flying from the UK to US, what is your definition of “self quarantine for 14 days” look like.

  29. Please write up a detailed post on which planes do not have hepa filters and how important this is. For instance, I actively avoided a CRJ200 because of no hepa filters. Very little written on this topic. My understanding is the CRJ200 and E145 do not have them. Others? Should passengers actively avoid these planes for this reason? How about turboprops like 9K, which I imagine do not have hepa filters but is there an elevated risk flying them?

  30. First off, thanks for taking questions. What would you consider to be the top (or top two) frequent flier program utilizations to get confirmed saver first class space for two people well in advance to Europe or Asia. As a possible addition if it doesn’t make things too stringent, low YQ would be nice. If you somehow still somehow have too many options, being accessible to more flexible currencies would be a plus.

  31. How can we guess what UAs schedule will be in early December or early next year for west coast to Maui? I will be booking 6 award travel tickets with Turkish miles. I am worried UA showing flights with availability yet some maybe be more or less likely of getting a schedule change. Becomes a pain to deal with given Turkish will own the tickets.

  32. @Christian – there’s not a lot of transatlantic first class, Air France only makes their awards available at an exorbitant price and to their own elites, Swiss is usually for Miles & More elites only. Lufthansa if you want it more than 14 days in advance means using their own miles, but big YQ. British Airways the issue is the YQ though of course it is very available. You could fly Emirates and backtrack…

    For Asia many of the Asian carriers have a first class product, Singapore first is doable with their own miles, ANA first is a great deal with Virgin Atlantic miles, JAL first is great and accessible via AA, Alaska and of course transferable currencies and low YQ. Air China first is historically easily available but also … Air China first.

  33. @Jono – book the award space you see now, don’t worry about the future schedule, if United cancels you shouldn’ t have too much difficulty changing to other flights regardless of award space at the time

  34. @bobbieddie – in general flights don’t seem to be a huge transmission vector though the more PPE you’ve got the better, if coach is empty and you can space out then fly coach otherwise at least in first you’re not on top of someone. Delta and JetBlue are doing the best job limiting the number of people on planes right now, Delta even offers domestically to only book half the cabin.

    For premium cabin transatlantic business class is going to get you more separation of course, i’d just want to avoid the old United seats and avoid boeing 767s.

  35. Trying to make sense of AA’s policy on refunds for mileage awards. Thinking of booking something this summer and make sure I understand the policy before booking. The way I’m reading the policy is if I want to cancel I can have miles redeposited into my account? Or do I have to wait for AA to cancel my flight? For instance, if I book a ticket today with miles, and decide at the end of June I don’t want to take the trip in a week (or 3 weeks, or a month), because the pandemic situation is worsening, can I go online or call and cancel and get my miles back and taxes/fees refunded? Or do I forfeit my miles? Thanks!

  36. I was checking JL first class availability next April to Tokyo recently and out of ORD for two people it was pretty amazing with AA miles but pretty much zero availability with Alaska miles. I’ve never seen a more stark contrast with partner availability. Even though Alaska is not a OneWorld member yet that still really surprised me. Any suggestions on first class Asia flights for two people using Alaska miles? With Cathay limiting first class awards to one partner seat and limited Alaska availability on JAL, I’m pretty much out of ideas.

    Also, have you found Singapore first class space for two to/from the US recently? I believe that through FRA is pretty much impossible although I’d cheerfully pay a booking service to prove me wrong. My last time on SQ first class was a couple of years ago through HKG and I think a similar route might be the only option.

    Thanks again.

  37. Hi Gary –

    Thanks for taking questions ! You have excellent insight and sources regarding AA so I ask you the following –

    AA , like all airlines , is looking to maximize revenue via any channel possible . The credit card promo they introduced to allow spend to count for Million Miler status was a bold move and likely to drive spend to their affiliated cards . Why didn’t they seize the opportunity to go one step beyond and allow anyone who reaches 3 million Million Miler Miles by 12/31/20 to receive Platinum Pro for life ? I know they only have Gold and Platinum as thresholds normally but that is not really competitive. It will be a while till travel and profitability fully recover . So why not take a chance and offer a one time exemption to reach Platinum Pro? Heck , even reduce the window to the 4th Quarter only spend . It just seems like a missed opportunity to incentivize even greater spend . Lifetime Platinums who are not close to the next million have little motive to apply for new cards Or to spend toward 3 million . The extra SWU at 3 million are not worth what they once were . Even Marriott provided a window to qualify for Lifetime Titanium and to qualify for Lifetime status under legacy rules of both programs .

    I have never really understood the reluctance of AA to introduce a Platinum Pro for life at 3 million . Of a person doesn’t use the status , the cost is seemingly minimal . If they do , more power to greater revenue . The free domestic upgrades that separate Platinum Pro from Platinum are a cost. However , with a renewed focus on the ability to monetize F class seats , I can’t see that the risk of offering Plat Pro at 3 million is all that high . Not to mention the goodwill . Your thoughts ? Stay safe and well !

  38. I hope to be flying to Thailand in late August/early September for 6 weeks or so in 2021. I’d like to fly business class. I’d probably be flying out of JFK. I have a mass of Alaska miles (225,000) (enough to even fly first class on Cathay if the charts don’t change), enough to fly business class one way on Turkish, and 130,000 of AMEX points. I’ve got 58,000 of Chase points, and 33,000 of Citi points. What are the best ways to get to Bangkok and back-also taking into account availability ? (I have flexibility about when I leave, and I could fly out of LaGuardia or Newark if forced to-just harder for me.) I don’t mind a layover for a day or two on the way there or back. Thanks!

  39. I’d love to hear your analysis on which OTA rewards programs offer the most value for someone who isn’t loyal to any chain hotels. I’ve read on the blog before that you consider Expedia+ more or less worthless, and think more highly of Orbitz Rewards. Could you explain your reasoning?

  40. Just to confirm- web special AA miles fares are not included in the ‘no change fee’ if purchased by May 31? (I don’t recall seeing this statement on their site before, but I see it now ”We’ll waive the change fee only on published non-refundable tickets. AAdvantage® award tickets are excluded.”.
    Thanks!

  41. Is Hyatt singlehandedly the reason that Chase does not have a standard 4x or 5x earnings category on CSR or CSP. ? Does it cost Chase more when UR points are transferred to Hyatt than any other program partner they have ? Could that be limiting Chase’s ability to offer higher multipliers ?

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