In our last column, we mentioned that a rabbi who had sued Northwest claiming their forfeiture of his mileage account and elite status was illegal, lost his case due to the decision of the supreme court that since airlines were protected by federal law from being sued, his lawsuit claiming the airlines were in violation of good faith business practices could not go forward. We mentioned at the time, the court hadn’t decided whether the rabbi’s claim was valid or not, and that it wouldn’t take long for someone else to raise this same issue, perhaps instead focusing on the point programs offered by the credit card companies who weren’t governed by the airline regulation law. What we couldn’t foresee was that an elected official with increased authority and power would be the one who decided to further pursue this matter.
Originally from the Bronx, Congressman Alan Grayson, a Democrat hailing from Florida’s 9th congressional district, which includes Orlando, has contacted the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation to launch an investigation into the airlines practice of constantly changing the value of mileage programs and making free tickets tougher to come by and award seats harder to reserve. He claims these practices are deceptive and unfair and has demanded an inquiry.
What makes this inquiry by Congressman Grayson very interesting is that he has exorcised his authority as a lawmaker to bypass the courts and contacted the federal authority which regulates the airline industry and was the governing body that initially created the airline deregulation law that protects the airlines from being sued.
In an interview with CreditCards.com, Congressman Grayson focuses on the fact that the inspector general has the authority to regulate functions of the airline industry, not just the actual flying of passengers and that overall based on his observations the mileage practices in question are “deceptive” and thus under the purview of the inspector general to review and regulate.
In his claim that these practices are deceptive, he cites a number of practices that he has experienced (as many of us have experienced as well) including:
The ever-changing and constant devaluation of the miles and points including changes without appropriate notice.
The lack of availability at the various award levels.
The fact that in some instances you can search for almost a year in advance and not find mileage seats available for seats the airlines claim is available when they advertise their mileage programs.
Although our idea for solving this issue was to put the banks/credit card companies under increased scrutiny and not the airlines, Congressman Grayson has rightly focused his inquiry on the airlines themselves as he correctly states the banks have paid literally billions of dollars to partner with airlines to promote their frequent flier programs to credit card holders to they can gain additional consumers, and the airline’s policies are the reason why the point programs and of course, the airline miles, are constantly being devalued beyond the customer’s control.
The actual text of the letter of inquiry sent by the inspector general on September 11th of this year is short, but fascinating:
From: Matthew Hampton
Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Audits
To: General Counsel
For more than 30 years, major airlines have offered frequent flyer programs to encourage travel on their respective airlines and secure customer loyalty. In addition to earning awards by flying, participants can earn awards for free travel by using certain credit cards and purchasing services from non-airline partners such as hotels and rental car agencies. Currently, there are an estimated 647 million members enrolled in various frequent flyer programs worldwide, with 306 million members enrolled in U.S. airline programs.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) does not have regulations directly related to the terms of airline frequent flyer program contracts. These are matters of individual airline policy. However, DOT does require that airlines disclose their frequent flyer program rules. DOT also provides guidance to airlines for disclosing costs they may assess related to bookings of frequent-flyer award travel.*
Failure to adhere to DOT’s guidance could constitute an unfair and deceptive practice in which enforcement actions can be pursued against the airlines.
In July 2014, Representative Alan Grayson requested that we examine airlines’ frequent flyer program practices. In particular, Representative Grayson expressed concerns about the lack of transparency for consumers when airlines change their frequent flyer program terms and conditions. Accordingly, our audit objective will be to assess DOT oversight of airlines’ compliance with frequent flyer program disclosure requirements. We plan to begin our audit later this month and will contact your audit liaison to schedule an entrance conference. We will conduct our work at DOT Headquarters and selected airlines (to be determined).
*Under DOT guidance, any government fees or taxes or mandatory carrier charges, such as processing fees the consumer must pay in frequent-flyer award programs, must be shown on the airlines’ Web sites is clear evidence at this point that there is misleading and deceptive activity on the part of the airlines.
We remind our readers that Congressman Grayson’s focus is on the mileage programs themselves; the lack of advance notice and devaluation specifically, and not on the issues we raised in our last column where the airlines restrict the usage of miles and points to the cardholder, and frown upon the sale and usage of these programs by an individuals who haven’t earned the miles and points directly.
However, as we stated last week, we believe quite strongly that the frequent flier and point programs are unfair, in violation of good faith business practices and ultimately need to be reformed. And now, a federal official feels the same, and this inquiry has the ability to completely change the landscape of the rewards programs offered by the airlines and open them to additional scrutiny. We look forward to seeing the results of the inquiry and would love to hear your comments, thoughts and opinions.
Elliot Schreiber is a partner and chief marketing officer of Get PEYD and PEYD Travel LLC.
Wondering how to turn those accumulating credit card points into that much needed summer getaway? Trying to tighten up your company’s travel expenses and increase your bottom line? The company that made it easy to maximize those unused credit cards points has now expanded its menu of concierge services to help get you wherever you need to be. Get PEYD, the credit card reward and consultation company, has now launched PEYD Travel, a premier airline & hotel reservation service.
The numerous travel sites, mileage options and price structures can be overwhelming, and the newly expanded PEYD Travel department can simplify these complex itineraries while still maintaining the best value for the customer. Using our experience in rewards travel, we are better able to research and book the desired and often unavailable flights, and get people where they need to go quickly and efficiently.
Discounted Business and First Class, and Last Minute Domestic Coach
The PEYD Travel department will focus on providing corporate and business travelers with great deals on business and first class flights, and many last minute domestic options as well, while providing personal travel specialists to assist with all travel needs from start to finish. The service is geared towards companies of any size, those who travel regularly as well as sole proprietors and individuals who need to fly even on short notice. With the help of PEYD Travel, a last minute meeting, impromptu celebration or family emergency can be facilitated smoothly and economically.
“So often we hear from our customers that the flights and itineraries they require are either unavailable, way too expensive or that they are unfamiliar with all the different flights and options available to them to get them where they need to go. At PEYD Travel, business and personal travel is our specialty, and we are happy to offer this new service to the general public,” says Pinny Ackerman.
Credit Card Rewards and Travel Concierge!
Our company takes great pride in knowing the details and advantages of promotional offers so that we can pass on the advice to our customers. We evaluate and consult with our clients on how to receive the biggest return on their purchasing. At PEYD Travel, we will be offering advice as to the best travel programs to maximize the value for their employees’ business travel; we will even review companies’ overall travel expenses to see if we can reduce the overall expenditure.
Get PEYD also works with companies on how to maximize their bottom line in other ways. When companies advertise on Google for example, simply charging that on an American Express Gold card can earn double the points, representing additional monies and value earned by the transaction. This is just one of the many insider tips that our company has made it our mission to pass on to our customers as a value added service. We have worked with customers throughout the United States, Canada, England, Israel, and beyond. Our roster of clients includes local small businesses and Madison Avenue corporations.
This specialized niche and unique concept, whereby the customer gets paid for their product, is just one of the basic elements that keep our company growing. Our unique mix of talent and personalities and our passion for business and rewards travel combine to infuse every endeavor with passion and professionalism. We have a large network of clients and believe in making a personal connection in order to serve each one’s needs.
Travel is our business. Travel is our Passion. Travel is what we do.
For more information, contact our office at 646-801-7393, www.getpeyd.com, or email@example.com.
As we mentioned in one of our previous columns, one of the great perks about using credit cards is the ability to earn miles and points whenever they are used for purchases. This earning potential is so significant that there are actually many forums, blogs, groups and even a ‘university’ dedicated to helping consumers understand the myriad of benefits and rewards programs available to them by the credit card companies and how to maximize on these opportunities. Many consumers have taken advantage of these options and turned their spending habits into significant side income earning ventures. An additional way to earn value is through frequent flyer programs that reward travelers by giving them miles and points based either upon the length of miles traveled or the price of the ticket purchased.
But the ability to earn miles and points comes with a significant catch, namely, the fact that the miles and points one accrues from purchases and traveling doesn’t reallybelong to the individual and in fact really, never belongs to them in the first place. And if this dynamic sounds strange, unfair, and perhaps even illegal to you, well, you are not alone.
In a widely publicized case that occurred in 2013, a rabbi sued Southwest airlines claiming the airline dealt unfairly with him when they forfeited his frequent flyer status and hundreds of thousands of miles he accrued. The case was fought in court at various levels, and finally heard by the Supreme Court which rendered a decision against the rabbi.
To provide some background to the case, in 1978 the Airline Deregulation Act was passed which limits the types of lawsuits flyers may file against airlines as well as the laws states may pass relating to airlines’ operations. The rabbi argued that the airline did not act in good faith in the way its frequent flyer programs were structured and thus was subject to state contract laws governing good faith business practices.
In its defense, the airline stated the rabbi complained 24 times in a 7-month period, and that before forfeited his account and kicked him out of the program, it awarded him $1,925 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 bonus miles, a voucher for his son and $491 in cash reimbursements
With a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court ruled the Rabbi could not pursue his claims against the airline because the federal Airline Deregulation Act barred his lawsuit. In its decision the court didn’t address the rabbi’s claim that the restrictions placed on his mileage account violated good faith business practices, but rather ruled that Southwest’s frequent flyer program was included in the price, route or service the airlines provide which the regulation laws were intended to protect and thus his lawsuit could not go forward.
Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled the lawsuit could not go forward, it seems that the prior decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the ‘good faith’ portion of the suit to go forward, opens the door to a lawsuit against credit card companies whose practices aren’t related by and have no impact on the airline regulation law.
If you think about it, restricting the rights to miles and points’ one earns through purchasing and credit card usage doesn’t seem to be a good faith business practice. If one was to open a bank account which offered an interest rate, the interest money earned doesn’t belong to the bank, it belongs to account holder. And with credit cards that offer cash-back rewards, once the cash is earned, the credit card company cannot restrict the way you use the cash and claim it belongs to them.
The Federal Government has chosen to keep out of the credit card reward industry. The only regulated portion of the rewards industry pertains to the status of the miles and points one earns in relation to filing taxes. In 2002, the IRS announced that it would not pursue the question of whether frequent flyer miles, and rewards and other promotional discounts awarded by credit card companies to cardholders are considered taxable income. More recently, the IRS clarified its position and stated that if individuals received their credit card rewards after a purchase, the rewards are considered rebates on whatever was spent to earn those rewards and do not represent a gain on income or wealth and are thus not taxable. However, if no transaction is required to earn the rewards, then the IRS considers these rewards as income and individuals would be required to disclose them on their tax returns.
The bottom line is as follows; until the Federal Government regulates the rewards industry and until the courts determine whether the restrictions placed on rewards violate good faith business practices, (which in fact may be the conduit where the Federal Government to take a closer look at the rewards industry and regulates the market), the miles and points you earn can be restricted. The airlines and credit card companies can determine when, how and if you can use them, what their value is, and restrict them indefinitely because, when-all-is-said-and-done, they never belonged to you in the first place!
For many years, American Express (Amex) has dominated the credit card industry due to their customer service, security features and consumer protection policies. In addition, Amex cards brought with them tremendous additional value as cardholders would earn Membership Rewards (MR) points which could be redeemed with a multitude variety of airline and hotel programs. Historically, Amex MR points had been the most used and sought after point programs for frequent flyers and jetsetters due to their redemption flexibility and the ease with which cardholders could transfer them into a multitude of airline and hotel programs.
Recent partnerships by CITI and Chase Bank have cut into Amex’s domination of the point redemption industry and lowered the overall value of the MR program. In fact, in 2011, Chase announced a new rewards transfer partnership with United Airlines, which allowed Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cardholders to move their UltimateRewards points to United MileagePlus accounts and subsequently redeem them for flights offered by United or any other Star Alliance member. And in July, CitiBank announced that Citi Thank You Points would now be transferable into eight airlines and hotel programs including the Hilton, EVA and Singapore Airline programs.
And although the subsequent announcement by Amex of its partnership with the exclusive Emirates Airline program was met with acclaim, Amex points have taken a beating and are now longer as valuable as they once were.
An altogether separate reason why Amex points were so beloved by cardholders was due to their ability to be transferred into spouse’s airline accounts and even into airline accounts not associated with the cardholder. So if cardholders had accrued a significant amount of points they had no use for, they could barter those points with friends and family members who had a need for them.
Amex’s terms & conditions had always stated that you can only transfer Membership Rewards points to frequent flyer accounts in your own name. And interestingly enough, although cardholders earned the points fair & square, by virtue of the spending on their credit cards, in their terms and conditions Amex stated quite clearly “Points are not your property. You can’t transfer points to any other person or program account.”
However as we mentioned above, for quite awhile it had been possible to transfer points to others’ frequent flyer programs as well. You would simply link their frequent flyer account to your Membership Rewards account by adding their name and frequent flyer number.
It looks like American Express has finally started enforcing the rules, and Membership Rewards will now only let you transfer points to a frequent flyer account with your name on it (or at least your last name).
If you link an account with a different last name then the transfer will be denied. Now when you try to transfer points you’ll see your name in the drop down menu, with no option to add a different name.
We certainly can’t blame American Express for enforcing the rules they’ve long published, although as we mentioned above one of the main reasons Amex points were so valuable to so many people as it was extremely valuable to be able to:
“Top off” someone else’s frequent flyer account
Transfer points to a frequent flyer account of someone else with status in a program to avoid fees
Transfer points to someone else’s frequent flyer account to extend their mileage expiration
Transfer points into someone else’s account and receive a cash or other benefit from that person.
As a point of comparison, Chase Ultimate Rewards has the following policy when it comes to transferring points to frequent flyer accounts:
“Ultimate Rewards point transfer features are designed to allow our cardmembers to take advantage of the rewards they earn. The features are not intended to allow transfers to third parties other than a spouse or domestic partner of the cardmember. Transfers to unauthorized third parties or any other abuse of the Ultimate Rewards program may result in suspension or termination of the ability to participate in the program and forfeiture of points already earned.”
Amex claims that it is no longer allowing this feature as a security measure, due to some situations where points were transferred from cardholder’s accounts into another’s frequent flyer account without permission, and then there was an effort to try to get them back from the airline
There is still a way for Amex users to transfer Rewards points by adding the account of the primary cardholder or an authorized user. So, if you plan to transfer Amex points to someone other than yourself or a family member with the same last name as you, adding them as an authorized user is the only way you can now do so.
Although it’s more of a hassle, and you only want to do this with your closest family members like your spouse, but it does let you pool points any time, the good news is Amex points are more secure this way, making it less likely someone can transfer points to an unknown account without your knowledge.
Bottom line, with these new changes and the increased competition by other credit card companies, it looks like we may be experiencing the end of the Amex domination era, and the end of a great convenience that’s persisted for many years. But as we always say, the credit card redemption industry is constantly changing and in a stay of perpetual motion. Stay tuned, who knows what the future may bring….
Look to our next posting about how Citi Thank You Points are the up and coming points for redemption and airline travel.
If you had the opportunity to earn extra money by doing almost the same amount of work, wouldn’t you do it? Most people would agree, but when you tell them that the way to earn this money is by opening new credit cards, they hesitate due to being afraid the new accounts will damage their credit scores, they won’t be able to keep track of these new cards or believe there’s some kind of catch. To start, credit cards are not for everyone. If you’re in the process of repairing your credit, this may not be the best way for you to earn extra income. However, opening new credit cards only affects %10 of your overall credit score and credit card companies are increasingly offering incentives to get new or keep existing customers, which can translate into a steady source of extra income and new travel opportunities for consumers.
The incentives and rewards that are currently being offered can be broken down into the following categories, sign-up bonuses, cash back rewards, airline miles and credit card points, and 0-percent introductory interest rates.
Cash back cards generally offer 1% cash back on purchases. However, a number of credit cards come with higher cash rebates in certain categories. This can be hard to track and is one of the reasons why people favor cards that offer steady rewards and sign up bonuses.
Credit cards that earn sign up points are another popular card option. For example, Chase Bank is currently offering new card holders 40,000 bonus points for the Sapphire Preferred card when they spend $3,000 on purchases during the first three months of card membership. These points can be redeemed from Chase for $500 in travel or cash back, or they can be redeemed by a third party for more than the credit card company offers. If spending $3,000 in three months is too much for you, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express offers 30,000 bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in the first three months of membership and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first 3 months.
A word of caution, make sure to redeem your rewards promptly. Credit card companies often change the value of the miles and points programs. It might take 15,000 points to get a $150 gift card which previously cost only 10,000 points, or it might take 40,000 miles to get a plane ticket that previously was 25,000 miles. If you wait too long to redeem your rewards, you might not get as high a bonus as you anticipated. Worse yet, you might forget to redeem your rewards altogether and forfeit what you earned.
In conclusion if you can manage your credit cards responsibly, and keep track of how you spend your money, credit card sign-up bonuses are a way to make some extra income and can be a very valuable tool in helping your financial ‘bottom line.’
What’s with Jetblue lately?!
Posted by Eli@PEYD
So a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days in South Florida researching a number of business opportunities with my aunt and uncle. Now, when I usually fly to Florida, I try to take advantage of the 15k BA round-trip mileage ticket option using it’s partner American Airlines. It’s a bit of a hassle because you can only get a nonstop 15k mileage ticket by flying into Miami, and most of my business is further North, but in my opinion, it is definitely worth it, as 15,000 miles for a round-trip ticket is almost %50 less miles than what is usually required for a domestic round-trip ticket in the US. This time however, I had run out of BA miles (and American Express points to transfer into BA) for the return leg, and had a credit with JetBlue from a number of disastrous JetBlue flights during 2013 (more on that later), so I took advantage of my credits and booked the latest evening flight from Ft. Lauderdale back to NYC, La Guardia.
When I fly to South Florida, I try to take advantage of my Starwood Hotel Points by booking my stay at one of the Sheraton Suites in Plantation or Cypress Creek as you can find rooms for only 4,000 points and even at the Westin Ft. Lauderdale, you can find a room for about 4000 points and $55. The staff at the Cypress Creek Sheraton are exceptional and they always leave some kind of welcome package for those who stay often. It’s treat to enter your room and see a tray of fruits or nuts and cold beer waiting for you, and this is one of the reasons I enjoy returning there.
I had a lovely time taking care of a number of personal and business items during my three day stay, and the day of my return to NYC, spent time with my aunt researching a number of business opportunities in Margate, a Western suburb in Broward County. It was getting close to my flight time, so I had to cut short the time with my aunt and I rushed to the airport, getting to the terminal about 45 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart.
Now I referenced above that I had a credit from JetBlue, for trips taken during 2013, and I want to take a moment and tell you the circumstances of how I came about these credits.
Part of my business requires me to spend time commuting from NYC to South Florida, and on a number of occasions, specifically when flying with JetBlue, there were circumstances that delayed or even cancelled my JetBlue flights. If you recall, the winter of 2013 was quite brutal and many flights were cancelled, especially from airports with connecting hubs. I hadn’t taken notice at the time but many of those delayed and cancelled flights were ones I had booked on JetBlue. At the time I had figured that all the airlines faced similar weather-related issues, but thinking back to it, I was usually able to find an alternative airline to reroute me to my destination, but each time thought nothing of it, as my JetBlue travel bank continued to build credit, and I wasn’t really focused on JetBlue specifically but rather the overall state of the airline industry in regards to delays and cancellations. And even when my JetBlue travel bank neared $1,000 in credits, I continued to think nothing of it, smitten with JetBlue’s marketing campaign touting ‘you above all’ and their platform as being the ‘premier’ airline for the domestic US traveler.
But back to the story at hand.
I scrambled to gas up and return my rental car, rushed through security and thankfully got to the gate about a half hour before my flight. And that is where the trouble began. I noticed that the screen said the flight was delayed a half hour and got frustrated with myself that I didn’t check the flight status prior to leaving to the airport, but after inquiring with other passengers, was notified that the delay announcement had just happened, and that JetBlue hadn’t notified anyone that the flight wasn’t running on time, prior to the announcement of the delay a half hour before the flight.
I meandered over to one of the kiosks that sold kosher food items and purchased a grilled chicken ceasar salad and made my way to one of the seats to unwrap my food item and chow down for supper. Suddenly, and without any preamble, the gate agent got on the loudspeaker and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that JetBlue flight number… to La Guardia had been cancelled. Customers wishing to find an alternative flight should gather at Gate… and one of our agents will be happy to assist you.”
You can’t imagine the sound that emanated from the gate from the passengers. It was like a collective groan, sigh, shout and moan emanated from everyone waiting at the gate at once. And the scramble that occurred to get to the attending gate agents was maddening.
No one offered to explain what the reason for the cancellation was. And neither of the two agents could explain to passengers how JetBlue had the right to cancel the last flight out without giving advance warning, and without providing any additional info of the circumstances of the cancellation.
Suffice it to say the passengers were fuming, especially since there were only two gate attendants to handle the more than 200 stranded passengers. Some savvy passengers waiting on line had insight to call JetBlue while they were waiting, and were able to get themselves on the last flight out to NYC which was going to JFK but most of the passengers were stranded for the night.
This isn’t the first time JetBlue has cancelled flights without providing its customers with adequate and accurate information concerning the necessity for these cancellations. In fact, one of the local South Florida papers reports that JetBlue seems to have numerous issues flying travelers to its South Florida airports.
Back to the matter at hand; around 10pm, they opened another gate to help rebook the stranded passengers, and after another embarrassing scramble (that I hate to say I took part of) I found myself on a much smaller line with a 20 minute wait to get to the attendant. Following the idea of the above referenced savvy travelers I got on the phone with JetBlue and while waiting on line was able to get a 6am flight the next morning back to La Guardia. But I and my fellow passengers were stranded for the night (it was already close to 11pm) and when we inquired if JetBlue was going to put us up for the night we were told by the gate attendant, “that is not her department and we would have to go down to the baggage claim area, and one of the baggage attendants would help us.”
We all trekked downstairs to the bag age area, and again there were only two attendants able to help the more than 50 passengers (many had left the airport) who needed accommodations for the night. After booking hotel stays for everyone and giving us a $10 food voucher (I was proud to be the spokesman for said vouchers) JetBlue had us wait an extra half hour for the hotel transport “as they didn’t want to force the driver to have to make numerous trips to pick up the stranded passengers.” If that is not the definition of insanity, I don’t know what is.
I recall one of the travelers stating the she was upset at herself for making the same mistake in that when she flew JeBlue, there was always these kind of issues, and had vowed not to fly them again, but as her JetBlue travel-bank kept getting credited, on each occasion she needed to fly, she decided she may as well take advantage of her credit, and always with the same disastrous results. I’d imagine she was embellishing a bit, but I myself could attest to having this happen to me as well. And all you have to do is Google JetBlue’s history of stranding passengers to see that the company has a chronic flight cancellation, delay and stranding passengers issue. The question is why, and will this issue start affecting the perception the ‘you above all’ marketing campaign that JetBlue has worked so hard to sell us on.
We got to the hotel around 12am and I had to be up by 3:30 am to take the 4:00 am transport to the airport (the hotel only had on the hour transport to the airport, taking the 5:00am transport would not have gotten me to the airport on time) , so I quickly passed out. I made it safely back to the airport for my 6am flight and landed in NYC around 9am, having safely made it home after the unfortunate cancellation. I was busy with a number of things, and before I had the opportunity to reach out to JetBlue and protest what occurred, I received a $50 statement credit from JetBlue and an template apology. I was appalled at the dollar amount JetBlue had decided to offer for a last minute, no explanation, no same day flight re-booking cancellation and after getting nowhere with my correspondence with the customer service rep, sent the following closing email .
“You guys are amazing, how you can possibly think a $50 credit for a last minute flight cancellation without any options until the next morning for a 6am flight that I had to wake up at 3:30 am to take is mind boggling. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE TO ME WITH ANY OTHER AIRPLANE.”
I know, a bit harsh but I was incredulous as to how they were allowed to get away with this behavior and again, after some research, JetBlue was in the habit of giving their stranded customers, a $50 statement credit, by way of apology.
In conclusion, I find myself with the same dilemma echoed by one of the travelers; having a JetBlue travel bank with a large credit available to use towards my next flight or destination, not knowing if my next JetBlue flight will bring with it the same disastrous results. And although I do enjoy my Terra blue chips, and personal TV, and happen to favor Dunkin Donuts over Starbucks coffee, and extra legroom is a great perk to have for my sports abused lower extremities, the question still remains, dear JetBlue, you’re awesome? but what’s with all the delays?!
Posted by Meir @ PEYD Travel
How we booked – My wife and I booked mileage tickets, which usually come out to be 2500 Matmid points plus around $150 in fuel charges each. Since we were traveling with our daughter, we would have needed to add her to one of our first class tickets, and that would have cost about $1,000 (10% of full fare). While this would have been possible, another option was to add her to someone else’s ticket in economy, as a lap-child for a similar price. We found a girl who was willing to take the deal of a free ticket in return for babysitting services for the duration of our flight, and then we were off to the airport. (Amazing, no?)
Getting to the airport – worked out perfectly as we happened to need to return a car rental we had been using to NYC location, and I was able to arrange for it to be returned to JFK on the day we left. When we got to the airport, I left my wife and the person who agreed to watch my daughter, in the car, while I checked in. Even though we were checking in to First Class, the process is nothing to write home about, and although the service was quick, the agents were not really friendly, which greatly detracted from the feel-good atmosphere of first-class travel. At the counter, there was a single line to the right, and it took about 7 minutes until I had my boarding pass in hand. I then went back to the car, and proceeded to return it to the rental company while my wife checked in by herself to First Class. After she checked in she was planning on waiting with our “babysitter”, but the agent “escorted” (read: forced) her to go through security by herself in the Business/First class line. By time the time my wife and I were finished with security, our babysitter (with my daughter) still hadn’t gone through, and we had to wait another 15 minutes until they were done. Finally, once we were all past security we headed off to the King David Lounge.
Comfort of the lounge – First Class ticket holders are allowed to bring one guest into the lounge. I read on FT that some King David lounges don’t allow infants, but we didn’t have any problems. Walking in, there is a big seating area to the right, with tons of kosher food. Everything is Catered by Borensteins Catering. It’s really cool to have a lounge where you can eat everything and anything you want. First Class has their own lounge to the left when you walk in. We were the only ones there when we arrived and when we were about to leave, an older couple came in. It’s pretty small, but since it was empty we had a lot of space to spread out and for my kid to run around. There were bagels, salads, eggs, and they even had cholov yisroel milk. I realized I forgot to request a bassinet seat for our babysitter. I went to the agent and he told me that he couldn’t give her a bassinet seat, but he got her a seat with two empty seats next to it, which worked out perfectly. About 9:30 am they announced boarding for Business Class ticket holders and 5 minutes after that we headed to our gate. I believe they call boarding for First Class 10-15 minutes after Business Class, but since we had to change our babysitters seat at the gate, the agent allowed us to board a little earlier.
At the gate, we quickly got my babysitter her new seat, and we were off to the plane. Since there were two empty seats next to our economy ticket, they let us bring along our forward facing carseat, which we pulled around the airport with a travelmate. So there was no need to check anything at the gate. Yes!
First Impression of the seats – I quickly settled myself into my seat ,which was 2B, while my wife helped our babysitter settle in with our daughter. We flew El-Al’s new 747 airplane. There are a total of a 8 seats and on our flight there were 5 passegners, a little more than half filled. The First Class is in the nose on the bottom floor of the plane. So it’s really nice not to have a galley in front you. Each seat comes with a wrapped blanket, pillow and Salvotore Ferragommo amenity kit waiting for you. I was offered pajamas right away, and when my wife came back they offered her pink ones. My thoughts on the new seat; I’ve flown a couple First Class airlines and this seat didn’t come close to those. I would say the seat is a little better then United’s Business/First class seat on their 757 airplanes. It’s not ideal to sleep more than a half or so without the bedding, but with the bedding it makes it doable. Personally, I didn’t sleep so well on the flight, mostly because it was a day flight, but also because of the comfort of the bed didn’t drift me to sleep :D. So, as far as the seat is concerned, El-Al could have done a much better job. The IFE is also horrible. They have these pull out 10 inch screens, with 11 channels. Half of them didn’t work and of the half that did it, the channels were in Hebrew. There is no bathroom in the First Class cabin, rather they reserve one of the Business Class restrooms and every time you want to use it a crew member opens it for you. This is all in terms of the hard product. The soft product is a whole different story.
Flight attendants – There were 2 crew members working the First Class. Both were extremely nice and very friendly. Coming into this flight, I did not have high expectations of the crew, but they were phenomenal compared to El-Al’s usual standards. They made sure we had whatever we needed and had immediate assistance with any request we had. I asked for chocolate milk, and instead of saying they didn’t have, the attendant figured out a way to melt the chocolate, so I can have hot chocolate, which was very tasty. Again, I don’t think attendants were as good as Cathay or Swiss, but they were definitely in their league.
The Food; the part everyone is waiting to hear about…. – Since we took a day flight, lunch/dinner was served about an hour after take off and breakfast 3 hours before landing. All in all, I was very satisfied; besides for one thing. Let me explain. Since everything is Kosher, it needs to be wrapped separately. I was under the impression that El-Al’s food is just like any other first class food, besides the fact that it’s kosher, which is not necessarily true. For the first meal they served us in two courses. For the first course they served fresh salids with turkey, eggplant, hummos, croutons and olives. I was able to mix everything around and it tasted phenomenal. I really felt like I was eating at regular restaurant. For the main course, we had a choice between beef, chicken, and fish. I choose the beef, while my wife chose chicken. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was expecting this huge piece of steak. I mean isn’t that what First Class is all about?!!! They brought out a wrapped piece of beef with some vegetables and couscous. The beef very good, but again, nothing out of this world. For those of you that have flown El-Al First Class, was my expectations too high? Are the main courses usually better? Please tell me so, because I definitely wasn’t wowed. During the meal, I asked for some bourbon, which they didn’t have, so instead I opted for some Glenmore single malt scotch, which was alright.
During the flight – I slept a little, did some work, watched a movie, and of course, my wife and I took turns going to the economy area to check up on our daughter. We actually brought her to the first class cabin twice, for a couple minutes, which none of the crew members minded. Three hours before the flight, they served breakfast. Again, the first course was amazing with hot bagels, tuna fish, lox, a couple different types of yogurt, salads, cream cheese, and cheese cake. For the second course, it was either an omelet or shakshuka. My wife and I both choose the omelet. Again, it was a nice little omelet served on a plate, but didn’t taste like anything special.
Recap – All-in-all, the flight was amazing and it didn’t hurt that we didn’t have to stopover in Europe, to experience a real first class flight. The food was very good; in hindsight, I think I just was expecting something that wasn’t there. The service was much better than I expected. If you have any questions, please ask I will try to answer them. Thanks for reading.
Meir Shuvalsky –
Your Travel Consultant – Meir@PEYDTravel.com – 646.801.PEYD (7393)