Nobody Asked Me, But ...
I'm Telling You Anyway
THURSDAY, JUNE 17, 2021 -- Nobody asked me, but ...

In early February, when things were at peak awful, I stumbled upon 60,000-mile, one-way, business class seats for December 26 departures on United Airlines from Newark to Rome. I grabbed a pair. Today United is charging 240,000 miles for a one-way business class award on the same flight. The cash price hasn't changed, mind you. It was just shy of $3,200 one-way in February and just shy of $3,200 today. But when you're living in a world where award charts don't exist, quadrupling mileage-award prices means never having to say you're taking care of customers or honoring their loyalty.

I bring this up because an American Airlines executive admitted this week that American AAdvantage will soon eliminate award charts, which already are suggestions rather than hard-and-fast prices. If you have AAdvantage miles, burn them before American officially joins United and Delta in the we-make-up-award-prices-as-we-go brigade.

Nobody asked me, but ...

If you do the math on those prices for United Flight 40, at the height of the worst global health crisis in a century, I scored 5.3 cents per mile of cash value for my 60,000-mile awards. Today, just five months later, with much of the world still suffering, the cash value of a 240,000-mile award on United Flight 40 is 1.3 cents.

I bring this up because I can't imagine why anyone continues to spend on credit cards that reward airline miles. It's a fool's game. I once famously called frequent flyer programs "unregulated lotteries." Now they're three-card monte games inside Ponzi schemes. Switch to cashback cards where you can guarantee a 2% return on every purchase--and often score upwards of 5% back on key categories of spending.

Nobody asked me, but ...

By the way, I'm getting a little queasy about actually making it to Europe after Christmas. I mean, the way the various EU nations and Great Britain are stumbling through the reopening of national borders reminds that it's easy to promulgate rules and nearly impossible to remove them.

If you're jonesing a Europe holiday or a long-overdue visit to a factory or client on the continent, the most "reliable" source of entry information is the U.S. Embassy of the nation you're trying to visit. Most have done a decent job keeping track of policy changes. The format for the respective Embassies' Web addresses is https://XX.usembassy.gov/ where XX is the country's two-letter code. Or google the "U.S. Embassy in XX" where XX is the country you want to visit. You could also google the nation's embassy in Washington for the European's country's commentary on entry requirements. And always carefully read what your airline is saying about entering a specific country. They're on the hook for taking you back if you're refused entry, so they've gone to some effort to construct pages such as Delta's Travel Planning Center.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Travelers aren't used to good news, but here's some: It's easier to renew your Global Entry credentials. U.S. CBP, which oversees the plan, has introduced Zoom as an alternative to an in-person interview with a Customs agent. Quietly announced on June 1, the agency has been testing Zoom interviews since early in the spring.

A JoeSentMe member who's already Zoomed his interview calls it "an inspired idea." The agent "asked me to hold my passport up to the camera, asked a bunch of perfunctory questions and in two minutes the interview was done."

Nobody asked me, but ...

As I explained in last week's column, the banks are finding airport clubs a rather pricey investment. American Express has won the right to build a Centurion Lounge at Atlanta/Hartsfield. The process was typically Hartsfield creepy--no public hearings, no public bidding, no public submissions--but we do know Amex committed to spending $40 million just to build the lounge.

Meanwhile, McCarran International in Las Vegas disappears from the national route map tomorrow. That's when FAA aeronautical charts will begin referring to the airport as Harry Reid International. The swap out of pols--Pat McCarran wrote the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, Harry Reid was Senate Majority Leader from 2007 to 2015--has been in the works since early this year.

Nobody asked me, but ...

How come nobody told me about Pluto or Tubi, so-called over-the-top free streaming services? Owned by Paramount, Pluto operates much like a cable service: There's a broadcast schedule with hundreds of channels and an hourly programming grid. Some "channels" are cool (a station devoted solely to British shows) and some obvious (24/7 airing of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a Paramount property). Some are really obscure (a 24/7 stream of the old sitcom Wings) and some are wonderfully niche (a western-movies station, a classic cartoons station, a station devoted to Doctor Who). In contrast, Tubi is part of Fox and is a free, on-demand resource for movies and TV series. You can go down rabbit holes in both. Trust me ...

Meanwhile, am I the last to know about Accuradio.com? It programs hundreds of channels online for free. I've been gorging myself on the Tom Jobim station and the Bacharach & David Songbook channel. It's amazing how many covers of The Look of Love you can hear in an hour and not be bored. Every one sounds like a knockoff of Dusty Springfield, of course, but still ...

Nobody asked me, but ...

American Airlines is killing American Way, the carrier's in-flight magazine since 1966. American once operated a fairly robust custom publishing division and even handled Southwest Airlines' in-flight for several years. In fact, during the 2000s, the custom publishing division was profitable even though the airline was losing tons of money. Lately, however, American Way was farmed out to a London firm best-known for totally forgettable listicle magazines.

This is why college is so expensive: The University of Idaho is guaranteeing Alaska Airlines as much as $500,000 a year to resume flights between Boise and Pullman/Moscow Regional Airport, the closest airport to the campus. The three-year deal kicks in if Alaska doesn't earn a 10% return on the 224-mile flight.

Nobody asked me, but ...

Wanna know how summer travel is gonna go? Southwest Airlines cancelled and delayed thousands of flights this week due to a laundry list of computer woes. The failings were all unrelated, just one glitch after another. That is how the summer will go: Airlines with wonky computers, airports clogged with inexperienced leisure travelers and the TSA whining that it is understaffed.

This week in incredibly boorish passenger behavior: An off-duty Delta Air Lines flight attendant last Friday rushed the cockpit of Flight 1730 from Los Angeles to Atlanta. He had to be physically restrained by on-duty cabin crew and passenger volunteers. The aircraft diverted to Oklahoma City where the 29-year-old was hospitalized and then jailed.

Nobody asked me, but ...

The U.S. Transportation Department wants to fine Air Canada more than $25.5 million for its tardy refunds to passengers for flights that the carrier canceled during the early days of the pandemic. Air Canada has been unapologetic throughout, initially claiming the DOT had no authority in the matter because Air Canada wasn't subject to U.S. rules even for flights operated from the United States. The DOT received more than 6,000 complaints about Air Canada's actions.

President Biden signed a bill today that officially designated Juneteenth as a national holiday. This year, Juneteenth is Saturday. Seems like a gyp, frankly.