Live-blogging Midmorning: Going by air

“Time to spare? Go by air!”

Is that the new mantra of the holiday air traveler, or the air traveler at any other time of the year for that matter? That’s the discussion this morning on MPR’s Midmorning. The guests are:

Randy Petersen: Editor of InsideFlyer magazine and founder of FlyerTalk.

Joe Sharkey: Columnist for the New York Times. He writes the On The Road column and the High Anxiety blog.

Charisse Jones: National business travel correspondent for USA Today.

Resources.

Post your comments below:

LIVE BLOGGING

We’ll also be discussing whether there should be new regulations on frequent flyers. Sen. Charles Schummer has called for tightened regulations.

9:09 a.m. - Sharkey says there were no big delays during the holiday because, apparently, people booked flights earlier than usual.

9:11 a.m. – Here’s a report from a New York TV station on how airlines are making it more difficult to use your frequent flyer miles.

9:12 a.m. - What sort of fares are you finding as you shop for fares? Kerri reports trying to get to Tulsa was too expensive. Sharkey says cities like St. Louis are also more expensive because airlines are pulling out of there. Coast to coast fares, however, are cheap.

Sharkey asks, “What kind of airline service are we going to demand?” It’s a good question, but when’s the last time people demanded — let alone got — airline service rather than just take what we’re given?

9:15 a.m. – A caller says she had a great flight from here to Greensboro, North Carolina on Delta.

DISCUSSION POINT: A great question from a News Cut reader: Did Southwest wimp out when it apologized to and compensated the woman with the incessantly screaming child who got booted (rightfully, IMHO) off a recent flight ?

Here’s the story.

9:18 a.m. - Let’s see, a caller says flying was great. Now the guests say it’s not that difficult to use frequent flyer miles. Both don’t see much merit to Schumer’s proposed new regs.

9:20 a.m. - Caller describes buying a ticket from Denver to Hibbing using frequent flyer miles. Says it was easy and she saved $480. Life is good on the airlines.

9:21 a.m. - Peterson’s secrets to using frequent flyer miles: (1) Never use your miles in the same manner as you do other travel. Typically we get off work on Friday and fly on Saturday. Not in the frequent flyer world, he says. Fly Tuesday through Thursday. Take vacation after working Monday. “It’s the same 7 days,” he says. (2) Know when to redeem your miles. The best time to advance notice (oh, lord, it’s a verb!) your frequent flyer miles is about six months before you intend to fly.

The biggest month for redeeming miles is January. But Peterson says do it now for summer vacations.

9:24 a.m. – A listener from Bahrain asks why we put up with poor service? “We have no choice,” Sharkey says. “I’ve been doing this column for 12 years, I’ve never seen people so fed up with the flying experience. I hear people saying, ‘I am not flying unless it’s absolutely necessary.'”

I drove back East in October. If I hadn’t, I never would’ve known there’s a Zippo Lighter museum along the southern tier of New York State. Or an RV Hall of Fame in Elhart, Indiana.

9:27 a.m. – Is bad service a trade-off for low fares? “We need to be prepared for the possibility it’s going to cost more to fly,” Sharkey says.

We were just talking about this in the newsroom a few days ago. Remember People Express? It was a cattle line, but you could fly to Palm Beach for lunch for something like $17. It was a trade-off and a suitable one for many people.

9:30 a.m. – Caller “Jim” from Elk River asks if “points plus miles” is a good deal. “No,” says Peterson. “The most value you’ll get is a penny per mile. A penny a mile is not a good value for you. Where it is a great value is with motel chains where you can use points for a motel room.”

9:33 a.m. – Sharkey brings up the story of the Continental Express jet stranded in Rochester. “That’s unacceptable,” he says. We may have seen the last of those incidents, though, now that the federal government has hammered two airlines for that disaster.

9:37 a.m. – Charisse Jones, national business travel correspondent for USA Today, has joined the conversation. She says more business travelers are going in coach these days, or just using the phone.

9:41 a.m. “Mark” from Mendota Heights calls to say he’s flown from Seattle to Minneapolis twice this month, using Delta once and Alaska once. He used “points plus cash” and asked if more of “these types of programs will come back?” He spent $100 plus 12,000 frequent flyer miles.

Peterson says “that was more infamous with Northwest WorldPerks.” That program has gone away, of course. He says Delta has its own program with “dynamic pricing” where every mile that you have in your account will have a value. If you buy an airline ticket for $178, that would be 17,800 miles. “That’s the new thing; airlines are looking to integrate frequent flyer miles as a new form of currency.”

9:45 a.m. – A caller from Northfield mentions charter flights for business. This is becoming a controversy around here because the Star Tribune reported that Xcel Energy is using corporate jets and passing the cost on the ratepayers. In the context of this discussion, I’ll point out this commentary which was published yesterday defending the practice.

9:48 a.m. This comment from Lisa below:

I have tried to use my FF miles for the holiday’s with Delta/NW from MPLS to Florida to see my family, and they are charging double the miles for a ticket (up to 55,000 miles). The customer service rep told me it’s my fault since I didn’t book my ticket a year in advance.

Yes, that’s the joy of flying right there. The love the customer service agents show you. Her full comment is below.

9:50 a.m. – Are airlines going to charge for carry on luggage? Peterson says he thinks it’s just an Internet rumor. He says an airline like Spirit would try it before an airline like Delta would, especially considering this Southwest marketing campaign.

9:55 a.m. - Caller “Bill” from North Oaks calls to complain about the wait for baggage. It’s also the wait for security etc. Peterson notes how long it takes to get from the B concourse down to baggage at MSP. You might as well be landing in Hudson. “It takes more time for security and baggage now than it does for the flight,” he says.

9:57 a.m. - “Mike,” a pilot, says airlines have to nickel and dime customers with fees because of the cost of fuel. Jones says the fees are here to stay. “As much as people complain, people are getting used to them,” she says, which brings me back to the question I asked earlier. Since when do people ask for something different than what they’re given from the airlines?

That’s today’s discussion. Continue it below.

  • Annette

    did Southwest wimp out when it apologized to and compensated the woman with the incessantly screaming child who got booted (rightfully, IMHO) off a recent flight ?

  • Fred

    I am getting information from Delta on how to use my miles like Green Stamps. I can order stuff rather than use them for flights.

  • Lisa

    I have tried to use my FF miles for the holiday’s with Delta/NW from MPLS to Florida to see my family, and they are charging double the miles for a ticket (up to 55,000 miles). The customer service rep told me it’s my fault since I didn’t book my ticket a year in advance. When looking on-line for a ticket the price was up to $500 each. We aren’t paying that for a 3 day visit. I started looking four months in advance, but I guess that wasn’t long enough. I have found it very frustrating. Needless to say, my husband and I are staying here for the holiday’s.

  • Fred

    Bob,

    With your connection with General Aviation, a good follow up show, especially for the business traveler, would be a discussion on how Charters, Corporate Aircraft and flight sharing programs are much better time savers. The number of airports available to the smaller aircraft make it easier to get closer to your meeting. Time savings make these flights very cost effective.

  • John Doe

    I flew to Berlin (and back) over the TG holidays (taking Wednesday off). The flight was without complications and the airport not too busy. I left on Tuesday afternoon and returned on Sunday.

    I have decided that earning frequent flier miles are only good for getting an elite status with the airline (Delta/NWA in my case). All the non-flying frequent flier miles from credit cards, etc. are worthless. I wanted to use them to fly to Berlin but was offered a trip that would take 33 hours each way, with a layover in Cincinnati! I was willing to part with 150K of miles to get an upgrade but the airline wasn’t interested.

  • JackU

    I remember People Express. I grew up in the NY Metro area and was in school here in MN in the early ’80s when People Express started flying. The best description I can give it was: A bus with wings.

    You basically boarded the plane the way you would a Trailways/Greyhound bus and the feeling was similar.

    Several years ago I started taking Amtrak, instead of flying when visiting family in NY. Yes it takes 19-20 hrs when on time but the stress level is much lower in my opinion.