Get free food in Houston, beware basic economy options, and score bonus miles on certain airlines.
Dreaming of a vacation this year? Here are some more ways to pad your airline and hotel points—and how to spend them, too.
Fine dining, with a frequent flier twist, makes it to Houston IAH
Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport is on the heels of opening its new C North terminal, which represents a continuing investment in its facilities. Expected to open in March for hub carrier United, the terminal represents a major investment in dining by OTG at the airport (the second-largest operator of U.S. airport restaurants). Airports such as Minneapolis/St. Paul, Newark, New York JFK, and LaGuardia have already seen overhauls that brought in celebrity chefs with a focus on using local produce and high-tech perks for frequent fliers.
More than 8,000 iPads are being deployed in C North and other terminals. Travelers will be able order meals via tablets while charging devices and connecting to free wireless Internet at café-style seating. OTG is even treating some of United’s most frequent fliers with surprise-and-delight experiences, including free food and prizes.
Travelers can also play games, surf the Internet, or redeem miles for menu items. The latter is especially lucrative for those who collect United MileagePlus miles but may not have enough to redeem for a free trip. Why not get free food instead? Options include a taqueria from local chef Roland Laurenzo, a Vietnamese-Cajun fusion outlet by chef John Nguyen, and James Beard Award–winner Chris Shepherd’s Houston-themed tavern. This kind of makes you hope that your flight gets delayed!
Beware the “scarlet letter” basic economy fare
Airlines are continuing to push basic economy fares to compete with low-cost airlines. This week, both American and United have launched these stripped-down fares on their websites. American’s basic economy fares are valid for flights beginning March 1, while United’s are valid for flights on April 18 and beyond. Delta has been selling its version of these fares for some time now.
While airlines do a good job of indicating the limitations of these fares on their own sites (including carry-on bag limits, no advance seat assignments, or limited upgrades or mileage earning), third-party websites, travel agents, and corporate travel programs have yet to fully catch up. This can severely hinder your ability to earn miles or elite benefits through frequent flier programs (United won’t give you any redeemable miles for your trip; American will but cuts your elite earning miles in half).
Here’s what you can do to stay ahead of the game. Check the fare class of your ticket before completing a purchase. If you’re not willing to give up assigned seats, the chance at an upgrade or mileage earning, and carry-on bags that fit in the overhead, avoid “B” class tickets on American, “E” class tickets on Delta, and “N” class tickets on United.
One good thing to note is that these fares are not universally sold yet. For example, American only has them on 10 test routes from hub cities at the moment, including Charlotte to Orlando and Philadelphia; Dallas/Ft. Worth to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Tampa; and Philadelphia to Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, and New Orleans. United is testing these fares on flights to and from Minneapolis/St. Paul for now.
New flights offer transatlantic and transpacific mileage-earning potential
U.S. travelers have five new routes between Germany and the United States to choose from, all with the opportunity to earn and burn Lufthansa Miles & More miles. The new flights are actually operated by Condor Airlines, part of Thomas Cook Group Airlines, which participates in the Miles & More program.
In what Condor calls its largest U.S. expansion ever, new flights from Frankfurt to New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and San Diego launch this summer. Also, it will begin new flights from Munich to its existing gateways of Las Vegas and Seattle/Tacoma.
Condor is known as a discount carrier that offers many connecting options throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia from Germany. Its economy fares are often much lower than the competition, but the carrier also offers premium economy and angled, lie-flat business class (both of which earn bonus miles). In all cabins, Condor offers free checked bags, inflight meals and drinks, USB power ports, and touch-screen entertainment. Between now and March 5, the airline is offering special discounts for the new routes.
Across the Pacific, Hainan Airlines is launching two new routes from Los Angeles to both Chengdu and Chongqing, China. These new flights represent the first time these cities have been connected nonstop to LAX. Chengdu service begins March 15, while the flight to Chongqing begins March 21. Both are eligible for mileage earning via Alaska Mileage Plan, which is a consumer favorite because it still doles out miles based upon distance flown rather than ticket price. Conversely, Alaska fliers can redeem their miles for these two new flights if heading to China.
Pad your mileage balance with these bonus offers
American and its joint venture partners, British Airways, Finnair, and Iberia, are offering bonus miles for transatlantic flights between now and March 31. The bonus is based on the type of ticket booked, but as many as 40,000 bonus miles are up for grabs. Be sure to register before traveling.
Delta SkyMiles members are eligible for bonus miles when traveling from the United States to Australia, including flights on Delta’s partner Virgin Australia, between now and the end of May. Fliers are eligible for an additional five miles per dollar spent above the standard earning rate, and that comes on top of any Medallion member bonus. Registration before travel is required to get the bonus.
If you’re not a SkyMiles member already, you can earn a bonus of as many as 10,000 miles for signing up for the program and flying an international round-trip flight within your first six months of membership. It pays to be a newbie sometimes!
Don’t miss these big hotel openings
Madrid is welcoming its first Doubletree by Hilton this month just two blocks away from the city’s most famous art museum, the Prado. Also within walking distance are such attractions as the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia art museums, plus Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Gran Via. At 40,000 Hilton Honors points per night, it is a steal for this location and is the first Hilton family hotel in the city center. Plus, who can say no to warm chocolate-chip cookies on arrival? Launching March 1: the opportunity to combine points and cash for award stays at Hilton Honors hotels.
The Marriott Marquis Houston, which opened just prior to the Super Bowl and goes for 35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night, features a lazy river swimming pool in the shape of Texas and a Oaxacan restaurant from local chef Hugo Ortega. If you’re running low on Marriott points and want to check out these new digs, remember that you can transfer points from your Starwood Preferred Guest account instantly.