United’s award blocking an issue in Continental merger

Just as many loyal United Airlines customers hoped that its expected merger with Continental Airlines would put an end to United’s massive blocking of “award” seats made available for mileage redemption by its partners in the global Star Alliance, the carrier made a government filing that raised new questions about its filtering policy.

With all the complex issues United and Continental have to resolve before completing their merger, which would create the world’s largest airline, the “award” blocking is hardly a top agenda item. In fact, I’d be surprised if it has come up at all in their negotiations so far…

Airlines curb award tickets

As if “award” plane tickets aren’t hard enough to come by, airlines are putting even more controls on those coveted seats — in some instances understandable, but in others apparently artificial and questionable.

Most major U.S. carriers are reporting record numbers of issued mileage tickets, but they are not a result of more available seats so much as more passengers rushing to beat rises of redemption mileage levels. As I wrote three weeks ago, the value of frequent-flier miles is dropping, and the airlines want them to be used up because they are a balance-sheet liability. With most carriers’ domestic capacity shrinking between 5 percent and 16 percent this fall, the number of mileage seats will naturally be reduced as well…

Traveling solo has its charm

How many times have you wanted to take a trip somewhere, but ended up staying home because you didn’t want to travel alone? Next time, don’t let that ruin your plans. Traveling solo is a great way to see new places and make new friends.

I don’t mean joining a tour group, though that’s certainly one way to meet like-minded people. Such groups tend to visit the most obvious tourist sites and don’t interact with locals — not the best path to learning about other cultures and lifestyles. If you pay for a plane ticket to a foreign country, you are probably not the type to spend the trip watching MTV in your hotel room and eating at McDonald’s. And most likely, you do at least some preparation by reading travel guides to figure out what places you should visit…

Air miles’ value drops

Next time an airline offers you 5,000 miles as a “good-will gesture” for something that went wrong on a flight, you might want to negotiate a bigger number.

Miles devaluation is here, and along with rising air fares, service cutbacks and various fees, it is likely to remain a prominent feature of the travel experience for a while. Some U.S. carriers have already increased the number of miles needed for an “award ticket,” and others, no doubt, will follow suit. Airlines have awarded so many millions of miles in recent years, thanks to numerous credit card and other promotions, that they started to weigh on the carriers’ balance sheets…

Being airline elite can be simple

Many of you must already hate me — not me personally, but people like me, known as “elite” passengers.

Remember that time you were on standby for hours, then suddenly a guy walked over to the gate, asked the agent if he could get on what you hoped would be your flight, because he didn’t want to wait another hour for his original flight? A minute later, he walked away with a boarding pass in hand, and there was no seat for you on the plane. It wasn’t me, but it could have been. Elite passengers can be added to a waiting list minutes before a flight and go right to the top. The highest-level elites — and their travel companions — are exempt from all sorts of fees…