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I'll help you earn free travel, but you'll have to put up with my sick sense of humor and political opinions.

Quick Grammar Quiz: Does the previous sentence imply that my political opinions are sick, or just my sense of humor?

Tuesday, December 31, 2002
America West will test charging for food on selected flights out of Phoenix that normally don't serve food. Priced from $3 to $10, the choices will range from a snack box with Rondele cheese, Wheat Thins crackers, nuts, teriyaki beef jerky and cookies to Chicken Kiev. It's unclear how the airline will compete successfully with airport vendors -- both in price and quality -- but it's an interesting experiment.
Happy New Year. May your upgrades clear at booking, your mileage bonuses post promptly, and your pre-reserved exit row seats recline fully. Peace and best wishes to all my readers in the new year!
Play the Michael Jackson Baby Drop game.
EDS baggage screening device has a 40% false-positive error rate.
President Bush exempts Area 51 from environmental laws. Just what disclosures are they afraid to file? ;)

Monday, December 30, 2002
Most airline mile credit cards require pretty good credit. Here's an exception. Korean Airlines offers a secured visa through US Bank. Guaranteed approval, 3000 miles to start, and Korean miles can be redeemed with Delta.

Sunday, December 29, 2002
Don't forget to check out Punditwatch, your roundup of all that happened on the Sunday talking head shows.
I also have a letter to the editor in the January 2003 Inside Flyer, but this is only available to subscribers (either to the magazine or the website). For the infinitely curious, my letter is about the special inventory of award seats that United sets aside for its top level elite flyers on domestic flights (booking code 'NY').
I'm one of "five distinguished experts" offering five tips each on how best to win at the miles and points game this year in the January 2003 issue of Inside Flyer magazine.
A Chicago Tribune piece predicts that United's bankruptcy will help drive down labor costs across the industry and places the blame for the industry's current woes on a legacy inherited from the days of regulation.
    Many of the most onerous work-rule provisions date to the 1970s, when airlines had to fill only 55 percent of their seats to earn an 11.5 percent profit that was guaranteed by the Civil Aeronautics Board. As a result, there were few restrictions on the costs that the board allowed to be passed through to customers.
I'm a bit undecided about this thesis. On the one hand, little has changed in the way airlines relate to their workforces since the regulated era. Moreover, labor-management relations are still highly regulated by the Railway Labor Act. The federal government has also consistently gotten in the middle of airline labor disputes. On the other hand, it's been nearly 25 years since deregulation. I'm not sure how much blame can be placed at the feet of the federal government.

I think I'm inclined to place the blame more broadly: at the municipalities that control the airports, at the federal government which until this year classified air traffic control as a function which was "inherently governmental," and excessive taxes on air travel.

All of this governmental foolishness shouldn't overshadow one thing: that most of the major airlines have made incredibly bad business decisions that have destroyed billions of dollars in shareholder value. All of the government activity has come as very little surprise. Most of it, no matter how pernicious, is part of the operating background for the industry. If management didn't think it could create value in that environment, it shouldn't have continued to operate. Since airline management did continue, the blame ultimately falls at their own feet.
As you can see, I'm posting again. I was off for the holidays visiting family. I posted the full painstaking details of my travel over at Flyertalk. I gave American Airlines a shot, and their "premium transcon" (cross country) service compared favorably to United.
  • They still offer hot towels
  • They had a choice of pre-meal snacks, and they refilled the snacks
  • They had four wines and champagne (United axed the champagne on their domestic flights).
  • American had 10 inches more legroom on a comparable plane
  • American offered a choice of desserts
  • American still has warm freshly baked cookies prior to landing.
On the other hand, my return flights connecting through Dallas weren't as good, and American uses all plastic utensils (not just plastic knives).
The Dallas Morning News had a piece about a week and a half ago (which I missed at the time) on how airlines are treating their elite level flyers less well these days, how those flyers are looking around for other airlines, and how the policies may backfire on the airlines' bottom lines.
Declan McCullough tries to figure out whether reading some documents on the TSA website will get him arrested. Even the Justice Department won't give him a definitive answer.
A woman tricked her daughter and community into thinking the girl had cancer so she could raise money, even going so far as to shave the 7-year-old's head and put her in counseling to prepare to die. She made over $10,000.
An unreasonable question to ask? On Tuesday, December 24th a passenger was cited (and will have to pay a fine) for asking whether his Delta Connection (Comair) pilot had been drinking. Two days later, on December 26th, a Delta co-pilot was removed from an aircraft after testing positive for alcohol.
Puppy love. Norweigian woman nurses puppies from her own breast after their mother died while giving birth. Puppies have sharp teeth.
Six Middle Eastern Students Sent to Jail for Taking Fewer than 12 Credit Hours. The students voluntarily showed up to register with immigration officials, as required by new rules to track foreign students. They honestly reported that their courseload and were sent to jail. One dropped a course with college permission and fell to 11 units.
    "I don't believe this is helping us with the war on terrorism," said Mark Hallett, director of international student services at Colorado State University. "We're alienating people who could be our best friends and ambassadors once they return to their countries."

    The Middle Eastern students were jailed for up to 48 hours before posting bond. Three attend UCD, two study at CU-Boulder, and one attends Colorado State University.

    College officials expect more to be detained during a second round of January registrations at the INS district office in Denver.
Items confiscated by airport security are being sold on Ebay.
The Chairman of Hooters was unsuccessful in purchasing bankrupt Vanguard Airlines three months back. Now, he has acquired Pace Airlines. Hooters Air will take flight as a charter service to provide leisure travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It's unclear whether the flight attendants will be Hooters girls.
Good news in the world. Kenya sweeps corrupt ruler out of power. (Link via Instapundit.)

Saturday, December 28, 2002
When shopping online, make sure to check for coupons and check for mileage-earning and cashback opportunities. Examples of what you'll find:

Thursday, December 19, 2002
You heard it here first. Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski was elected Governor of that state. As a result, he gets to appoint his own replacement to the Senate. He will appoint his daughter to the post. What did Mel Brooks say? "It's good to be the king."
USA Today carries a story outlining several of the criticisms of the air marshall program by the officers themselves. I was most intrigued by this revelation:
    [O]ne marshal faces disciplinary action after he left his gun aboard a Nov. 13 flight from Detroit to Indianapolis. A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees the program, confirms that the gun apparently fell between seats on the Northwest Airlines flight. A cleaning crew found it.

Robert John Cusack was sentenced to 57 days in jail for smuggling a pair of endangered monkeys into the United States. In his pants.
Christopher Elliott wants foreign airlines to enter the U.S. domestic market. I think some of the warrants for his claim are weak, but he's definitely on to something.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Impostor beats airport security.
    A watchmaker breached security at Pittsburgh International Airport Sunday night by flashing a constable's badge at the checkpoint to get to the boarding terminal to see his brother off.
Ninety-nine years later, aviation is still looking to the government for subsidies (Guess they aren't using the "infant industries" argument.) On this day in 1903, the New York Times reported the Wright Brothers' successful flights -- and the focus of the story was on their desire to get the government to buy their invention. Some things never change.
How The Discovery of Beer Led to Civilization As We Know It (Link via the Volokh Conspiracy)
    According to one prominent anthropologist, what lured our ancient ancestors out of their caves may not have been a thirst for knowledge, but a thirst for beer.

    Dr. Solomon Katz theorizes that when man learned to ferment grain into beer more than 10,000 years ago, it became one of his most important sources of nutrition. Beer gave people protein that unfermented grain couldn't supply. And besides, it tasted a whole lot better than the unfermented grain did.

    But in order to have a steady supply of beer, it was necessary to have a steady supply of beer's ingredients. Man had to give up his nomadic ways, settle down, and begin farming. And once he did, civilization was just a stone's throw away.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002
I'm afraid that I might be this guy. Hits a little close to home, The Onion does...
Hey, I just noticed that Expedia has started charging $5 for the privilege of booking airline tickets on their website. Orbitz has been doing this for awhile.

Monday, December 16, 2002
A little bit short of achieving or renewing elite status with United? Register to extend the qualification period through to March 31. Just add your miles flown in the first quarter of 2003 to the miles flown in 2002 in order to achieve elite status.

Saturday, December 14, 2002
Changes to the Starwood program. These are pretty minor, and relate only to transferring Starwood points into airline miles. Beginning January 1, Starwood points transfer 1:1 into Qantas miles (instead of yielding 2 Qantas miles per Starwood points). Also beginning January 1, Starwood points transfer 2:1 into United miles, down from 1:1.
Changes to the Starwood program. These are pretty minor, and relate only to transferring Starwood points into airline miles. Beginning January 1, Starwood points transfer 1:1 into Qantas miles (instead of yielding 2 Qantas miles per Starwood points). Also beginning January 1, Starwood points transfer 2:1 into United miles, down from 1:1.

Friday, December 13, 2002
Looks like Hilton is making some changes to their loyalty program, too. Not as harsh as Delta, but still significant.
  • New hotel classifications -- from 5 to 6 -- changing the number of points required for award stays effective June 1, 2003
  • Unlike Delta, which has more or less replaced their elite qualification system to one more reliant on revenue, Hilton has added revenue as a supplemental qualifying method. Next year, HHonors base points are an alternative to stays for qualifying for Gold and Diamond. Gold status: 60,000 Base points in a calendar year. Diamond: 100,000 Base points in a calendar year.
  • Award Stays Now Count Toward VIP Status
  • More points required for VIP-only awards effective June 1, 2003. Reward certificates requested prior to June 1 will be at current point prices and the certificate will be valid for one year from date of issue. Reward certificates requested from June 1 forward will be at the new prices.
On the whole, not what I like to see -- but not a disaster either, and Hilton is giving plenty of notice.
I posted details of my trip to Puerto Vallarta last weekend on Flyertalk.

Thursday, December 12, 2002
The first good thing to come out of the United bankruptcy. United has announced that it will not charge $100 to standby for a same-day flight. This fee was scheduled to go into effect January 1. Currently, all other major airlines except America West had announced similar policies. We'll see if those policies last, now that United has backed off.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Tired of paying $400-$500 for the Delta Shuttle? Chinatown bus lines offers NY-DC roundtrip for $30, even less than Greyhound.
Okay, here are the changes to the Delta Skymiles program. Delta won't discuss them until 3pm today, when they become official. These don't affect general members -- this is all about the Elite program.

The good:
  • New Million-miler recognition program -- 2 million miles gets you lifetime Gold status and 4 million miles gets you lifetime Platinum Medallion status
  • The cheapest fares (L, U, and T booking classes) -- which were previously not upgradeable at all -- are now upgradeable by elite members on the day of departure
  • The ability to upgrade a companion with points
  • Travel on SkyTeam partners counts towards elite status
  • Gold members and Platinum members can give status to a friend when they reach certain mileage thresholds
  • 50% bonus miles instead of 25% bonus miles for flying paid business class
  • Elites will not decrease status by more than one level in 2004 from their 2003 level

The bad:
  • Platinum Medallions may only confirm upgrades at purchase for M fares (nearly full fare) and higher. They used to be able to confirm on H and K fares.
  • No more North American Medallion Upgrades (NAMUs).
  • No more elite qualification by segments
  • The cheapest fares (L, U, and T booking classes) only count for half-credit towards elite status. If you fly on these fares exclusively, it will take you 50k, 100k, and 200k miles for Silver, Gold, and Platinum status instead of 25k, 50k, and 100k miles. (On the other hand, full fares earn 1.5x mileage towards elite status and Business Class earns double mileage towards elite status)
  • 800-mile upgrade certificates will become 500-mile upgrade certificates in May
  • Price increase for purchased upgrades ($40 for 800 mile cert becomes $50 for 500 mile cert --> that's a doubling --> 5 cents/mile to 10 cents/mile)
  • Platinums no longer get unlimited upgrades

For all the fine print, see http://www.delta.com/skymiles/skymileschanges/index.jsp.
Jeff Taylor, in a post on Reason Magazine's new blog, finds a piece of delicious irony:
    So 60 Minutes does a story on Mississippi juries sticking big civil awards on big out-of-state companies in perverse rounds of "jackpot justice."

    So what do the jurors mentioned on the broadcast do? Sue the TV show for $6 billion. That's $597 million in actual damages and $5.9 billion in punitive damages for their defamation.

    Yep, that sure proves Morley and friends were wrong.
On a positive note, we'll be tentatively allowed to park at the close-in airport parking lots again. The TSA banned parking within 300 feet of airports, which meant many lots were put out of service. This meant busing passengers from farther-away lots -- increasing the time and hassle of travel. Now, as long as the threat-level stays "yellow," we'll be able to park.
There are significant questions about the usefulness and functionality of the wands being used at airport security by the Transportation Security Administration. TSA official John Rooney
    said the wands were giving airport screeners "a false sense of security."
The right is calling for Trent Lott's ouster as Senate Majority leader over comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party that if the country had elected Thurmond President in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years[.]"

First, many conservatives find Lott's endorsement of Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist views repugnant.

Second, they also see Lott's words coming back over and over in ad campaigns for years. As long as Lott is Senate Majority Leader, this quote means that the Republicans are at their root racists. And no matter what minorities think of Republican policies, as long as they think Republicans want to lynch them they'll never vote for the GOP.

Third, conservatives don't like Lott much anyway, so they may see this as an opportunity to dump a wishy-washy leader and look principled in the process.

Things haven't boiled over yet. And interestingly, very little criticism is coming from official circles on the left (Daschle has given Lott a pass). But criticism is mounting, and the critics have a point.
Eugene Volokh offers his thoughts on the What Would Jesus Drive? ad campaign:
    Carpenters, I imagine, find larger cars -- whether pickups or SUVs -- pretty useful.
It looks like big changes are in store for Delta's frequent flyer elite qualification scheme. Details will be forthcoming tomorrow. There will be an increased emphasis on revenue to the airline over just number of miles flown.

Two things to note --

First, at this point it isn't clear whether there will be a separate, new track based on revenue or a replacement for mileage-based elite status.

Second, this apparently applies only to earning elite status and has nothing to do with earning frequent flyer miles that can be redeemed for awards.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Trapped man survives for six days on Taco Bell sauce.
Dan Pink repeats an important factoid from The Economist:
    In Europe, more people now send and receive short-text messages on their phones than use the Internet. . . . This year, users of mobile phones around the world passed the 1 billion mark. The number of mobile phones is now greater than the number of fixed-line ones.
Aargh. You know, I spend a few days out of town.. and a couple days out of the country (admittedly on a $150 first class round trip ticket to Puerto Vallarta).. and I miss out on a British Airways fare glitch ($20 round trip). Sorry for letting my dear readers down by not making it available to y'all in time.
50,000 tickets on sale for 1 Euro between 11 European cities.
Need to top off that mileage account? Try falling asleep. A woman who fell asleep on a flight from Newfoundland fell asleep .. and didn't wake up during landing or during boarding of the planes next flight ... and wound up in London. Air Canada flew her home and credited her with the extra miles she flew.
ValuMags is offering a free subscription to the Sporting News.
A new meaning to transubstantiation, or the greatest pickup line ever? A priest convinced young girls who were preparing to become nuns that they should engage in sex acts with him -- because it would really be having sex with Christ himself. Wish I had thought of that one!
Patient sues his doctor for leaving in the middle of surgery to go to the bank.

Monday, December 09, 2002
Last Thursday I said that United would file by bankrupty by the following Thursday. It took only until Monday. I flew the airline this morning, and the pilot sought to reassure passengers that the crew would not be distracted.

Now begins the flurry of activity -- also known as business as usual -- to restructure the airlines. Most of the news stories report on pro-forma activity, such as this piece from Crain's Chicago Business which describes United's request for the bankruptcy court to approve agreements with legal counsel, financial advisors, auditors, and public relations advisors.
1000 American Airlines miles -- free for signing up with Teleconference USA. Use offer code aad15552. It takes a credit card registration but no charges if you sign up to bill your card for use only.

Thursday, December 05, 2002
Fly from Detroit, Minneapolis, or Memphis to Amsterdam for only $179 roundtrip. This isn't a fare glitch -- it's a shot across the bow of Northwest/KLM.
Here are answers to your questions about United's future.

The government rejected United's application for a government-backed loan. (They were seeking $2 billion with $1.8 billion guaranteed by the government.) The vote was 2-1 against with the Treasury and Fed representatives voting against and the Transportation Department voting for.

As a result of the government's rejection, the IAM (machinists' union) cancelled their vote on contract concessions.

Without those concessions and without the government loan, United has said it would file for bankruptcy.

United has about $1.6 billion cash on hand and its net assets are positive, but it is losing about $7 million per day and is on track to lose $2 billion this year.

They are in the midst of a ten-day grace period (which runs out December 12th) on a $350 million debt payment.

United is likely to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy before the 12th in order not to make that big payment. They want as much operating cash going into a bankruptcy filing as possible.

United has also been talking to several banking institutions about $2 billion in "debtor-in-possession" financing to continue operations during Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Odds on that frequent flyer miles are safe and schedules will operate as planned in the short run.

In the long run, United will do major restructuring which might include asset sales and route cutbacks.

Heck, I'm flying them this evening and am not worried. Now my Monday morning flight . . .

Wednesday, December 04, 2002
A phone card which offers 2,500 Mexicana miles for signup. Mexicana is a member of the Star Alliance, so miles can be redeemed for United flights. Also, while United doesn't participate with American Express Membership Rewards, Mexicana does -- so Mexicana's program can be a useful way to redeeming your AmEx points on United.
Kelloggs coupon good for 200 American Airlines miles.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002
Hey, I'm number four when searching for "free girls peeing no register site".
A Cambodian mother stopped her 13-year old daughter from going out by nailing her foot to the floor. Local law enforcement "educated her about human rights" but are still deciding whether to prosecute.
An Elk on the runway caused a jet crash in Oregon. I wonder if some terroist cells are training animals to throw themselfs in front of airplanes? These so-called Suicide Elk must be stopped. The TSA folks could walk the runways looking for specially trained suicide animals intent on terrorizing the nation.
WTIC-AM NewsRadio is reporting that a federal (TSA) security screener has been charged with threatening to blow up a security checkpoint. (Note that the link works as of posting, but is likely to change / link thanks to the comedian)



Federalizing security workers was an important step in making us safer, wasn't it?
Gary Steiger has an excellent page which summarizes a whole mess of frequent flyer miles earning opportunities from phone to banking to internet clicking. I'm mentioning him now because he got a nice writeup in the new issue of InsideFlyer magazine.
American Airlines is selling their elite status (first class upgrades, bonus miles, etc.). If you have elite status now but didn't requalify, you can pay to extend your status.

Sunday, December 01, 2002
Win 50,000 Delta Skymiles from AMC Theatres. Ten winners every week.



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Some of My Writings:

Thoughts on Academic Debate
-May '99 Rostrum

Thoughts on the War on Terror
-Winter 2002 Doublethink

Want to Know More About Liberty?

The Ego and His Own by Max Stirner
The Man Versus the State by Herbert Spencer
Our Enemy the State by Albert Jay Nock
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Why I Would Not Vote Against Hitler by Wendy McElroy (a plumb-line case against democracy and voting -- Ms. McElroy argues it is morally preferable to assasinate Hitler than to vote against him, because voting reifies the very system that allows a Hitler to come to power in the first place.)
Anarchist Theory FAQ by Bryan Caplan

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ITA Software: The backend of Orbitz
TheTrip.com FlightTracker
Great Circle Mapper: Distances Between Airports
MileageAddict's Mileage Workshop: More Tips on Accumulating Miles and Points
MileTracker: Free tool for managing all of your frequent flyer point accounts

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