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Friday, February 27, 2015

Rocketmiles Offers 3,000 Mile Signup Bonuses to Certain Airlines

Rocketmiles is a hotel booking website that gives you bonus airline miles for booking with them. They currently offer 500-5,000 miles or points per night to any one of 26 frequent flyer programs.


Read more: What is Rocketmiles? Let's Start with 1,000 Bonus Airline Miles...

The standard signup bonus is 1,000 miles after your first stay. However, Rocketmiles is offering a special 3,000 mile signup bonus for members of certain airline frequent flyer programs.

Below is a list of these airlines, along with their book-by dates. Click to sign up:
To earn the 3,000 bonus miles:
  • Sign up for a new Rocketmiles account using one of the links above.
  • Reserve your stay by the deadline (the actual stay can be after the deadline) through the same promo link above. That is to say, if you close the page and subsequently come back to Rocketmiles.com, you won't receive the bonus.
Update: The offer is for 3,000 miles minimum for the first booking, not on top of the miles already earned. Still not a bad deal on what would otherwise be a 1,000-mile night. The terms & conditions are similar for all the promotional links, here's the one for Aeroplan from Rocketmiles:
Qualifying Activity: To be eligible, the hotel reservation must be booked via the Rocketmiles mobile app with promo code "AEROPLAN" OR using this promotional link (www.rocketmiles.com/aeroplan-3k-bonus) by 11:59PM CT on 30 June 2015 (a yellow banner at the top of the search results page will clearly show if search criteria qualify for the bonus). Limited to first time customers and subject to investigation post-purchase. Limit one per customer. Limit one per stay. Promotional offer can not be applied to existing bookings or retroactively applied to bookings not made using the link above. Promotional offer can not be combined with any other bonuses or offers. Rocketmiles reserves the right to retract a bonus at any time if it detects fraud, stacking of bonuses, technical errors, cancel/rebooking activity (defined by identical search criteria), or any deceptive behavior attempted to circumvent the limits expressed above, including multiple accounts. Rocketmiles reserves the right to change the terms of a promotion, or end a promotion, at any time. Rewards that can not be posted due to incorrect or incomplete information may become ineligible after 12 months of attempts with no customer response. See www.rocketmiles.com/terms for full terms, or call our friendly concierges at 1-855-355-7625 (U.S.) / +1-773-257-7680 (International) with questions of eligibility or for any other assistance. Please allow 2 weeks from checkout for miles to post. ®Aeroplan is a registered trademark of Aimia Canada Inc.
If your preferred airline isn't listed above, you can still sign up for the standard 1,000 signup bonus. Unfortunately, Vietnam Airlines is not available (yet).


Were you successful in signing up with Rocketmiles and your favorite airline program? Let me know in the comments below!

Rocketmiles Now Offering 5,000 Bonus Miles for Alaska Airlines Flyers


Author's Note: I know, this doesn't seem like it has anything to do with VNA or Southeast Asia. But I love miles, and Alaska is one of my preferred airlines for getting around the US. Plus, you can redeem Alaska miles with on of their partners, such as Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, and Emirates, to get to Vietnam.


Rocketmiles is a hotel booking website that gives you bonus airline miles for booking with them. They currently offer 500-5,000 miles or points per night to any one of 26 frequent flyer programs.

Read more: What is Rocketmiles? Let's Start with 1,000 Bonus Airline Miles...

The standard signup bonus is 1,000 miles after your first stay. There are also some 3,000-mile bonuses for certain airline programs.

For Alaska Airlines (AS) flyers, or more specifically their MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75K elite tier members, Rocketmiles is offering a 5,000-mile signup bonus for new accounts, after the first stay.

To earn the 5,000 bonus miles:
Update: The offer is for 5,000 miles minimum for the first booking, not on top of the miles already earned. Still not a bad deal on what would be a 1,000-mile night. The full terms & conditions from Rocketmiles is below:
To be eligible, the hotel reservation MUST BE BOOKED USING THIS PROMOTIONAL LINK (www.rocketmiles.com/alaskaair-5k) by 11:59PM CT on 15 April 2015. Strictly limited to Elite members that are first time customers of Rocketmiles and subject to investigation post-purchase. Limit one per customer. Limit one per stay. Promotional offer can not be applied to existing bookings or retroactively applied to bookings not made using the link above. Promotional offer cannot be combined with any other bonuses or offers. Rocketmiles reserves the right to retract a bonus at any time if it detects fraud, stacking of bonuses, technical errors, cancel/rebooking activity (defined by identical search criteria), or ANY other deceptive behavior attempted to circumvent the limits expressed above. See www.rocketmiles.com/terms for full terms, or call our friendly concierges at 1-855-355-7625 with questions of eligibility or for any other assistance. All Mileage PlanTM Conditions of Membership Apply.
Quite frankly, I'm not sure how elite status is verified, so if you don't have status with AS, you can try to sign up and hope that you'll receive the 5,000 mile bonus. Otherwise, there's a 3,000 mile bonus for non-elite Mileage Plan members.


Were you successful in signing up and booking? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What is Rocketmiles? Let's Start with 1,000 Bonus Airline Miles...

Rocketmiles is a relatively new player to the travel game that incentivizes customers to book hotel stays through their platform with airline currency, sometimes many more miles or points than if they had booked on even the hotel's own website.

UPDATE: Rocketmiles is offering 3,000 bonus miles for some programs. Click here for details

Many major airline frequent flyer programs are included in their network:

Rocketmiles partners include: Aeromexico (Club Premier), Air Canada (Aeroplan), Air France (Flying Blue), Alaska Airlines (Mileage Plan), Alitalia (Millemiglia), American Airlines (AAdvantage), British Airways, (Avios), Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles), Ethiopian (ShebaMiles), Etihad (Guest), Frontier Airlines (EarlyReturns), Hawaiian Airlines (HawaiianMiles), Icelandair (Saga Club), JetBlue (TrueBlue), Jet Airways (JetPrivilege), KLM (Flying Blue), Malaysia Airlines (Enrich), Norwegian Airlines (Reward), Qatar Airways (Privilege Club), Royal Jordanian (Royal Plus), Saudi Arabian Airlines/Saudia (Alfursan), Southwest Airlines (Rapid Rewards), Turkish Airlines (Miles & Smiles), United Airlines (Mileage Plus), US Airways (Dividend Miles), Virgin America (Elevate)
Reservations booked through Rocketmiles are credited with 500-5,000 miles per night, roughly based on the rate itself (or more accurately, on Rocketmiles' commission). This can be a lucrative deal for those who were needing to book a hotel stay anyway, as they claim to have the same prevailing rates as hotel and other travel websites. Refundable rates are also available, though Rocketmiles will charge your card first and refund later if you cancel within the hotel's policy.

For business travelers who book their own rooms for work and expense it later, Rocketmiles will produce a receipt that does not mention the bonus miles.

Here's a quick sample search for the Intercontinental Tokyo Bay on April 1 for a one-night stay for 2 persons (I like American Airlines' AAdvantage program myself, so I selected it):


Given the small variance in exchange rates, at a cancelable rate of $326 per night, Rocketmiles' pricing in this case is right on the mark with Intercontinental and Orbitz, but with the added bonus of 5,000 AAdvantage miles per night (I can't emphasize that enough). A five-night stay for 25,000 miles would be enough for an round-trip domestic award ticket on American.

Compare this to the Intercontinental's IHG Rewards program awarding only about 3,250 points in their program (10 points per dollar), which equals a prorated amount of 650 AA miles.

And of course Orbitz has its own rewards program, Orbucks, which earns credit towards future Orbitz hotel bookings. I can redeem AA miles at 7 cents a piece, which values 5,000 miles at $350... much more valuable than $12 in hotel credit. Even at a low valuation of 1.5 cents per mile, Rocketmiles gives you a return of $75.

The same search also yields a 5,000 mile/point reward for a couple more programs that I value highly: Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan and Avios, used by both British Airways and Iberia.

Here's another search for the Grand Hyatt New York on May 1 for one night for 2:


This time, it's the same prepaid rate of $299. Rocketmiles will give you 3,000 AA miles. Hyatt will give you only 500 AA miles or 1000 Hyatt Gold Passport points (you have to pick one). Orbitz gives you $10.40 in Orbucks.

As with any rewards program, there are some caveats to note:

  • Sometimes Rocketmiles will be more expensive; only you can decide if it's worth the extra cost.
  • Stays booked through Rocketmiles MAY NOT earn points or elite stay credit to the hotel's loyalty program, and some hotel brands even take away any elite benefits for staying at their property..
  • There is no "best rate guarantee" so if the price drops, you'd have to cancel and rebook your stay, assuming that you can still cancel your reservation..
  • They have a limited portfolio of hotels.
Rocketmiles is a great program for:
  • People who have no loyalty to any hotel, brand, or program, or don't need stay credit.
  • Business travelers whose employers allow self-booking and expensing.
  • Anyone with a longer stay at a higher-end hotel.
  • Earning rewards when there is usually none.
To that last point, there seems to be quite a number of independent hotels that don't even have their own rewards program, so it's nice to be able to earn something, even if it's just 1,000 miles.

On the flip side of the coin, Rocketmiles may not work out so well for:
  • Hotel elites looking to earn stay credit for their status.
  • Those who are required to use a corporate travel agency.
  • Some elites who want to exercise their status during their stay.
If you sign up using this referral link, you will earn an additional 1,000 miles/points after your first stay, on top of the miles you would normally earn. Of course, you don't have to use the link, but if you did, I would very appreciative.

Tell us about your Rocketmiles experience by commenting below!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Small Bites: 1,000 Bonus Miles for Hotel; More Qatar codesharing with Bangkok; Flight Delays During Tet


Rocketmiles is offering 1,000 bonus miles or points to your favorite airline program, on top of what you would normally earn. Just use this signup link.


Qatar Airways (QR) announced more codeshare flights with Bangkok Airways (PG) for onward travel beyond Bangkok (BKK) and Phuket (HKT), both of which are served with direct QR flights from Doha (DOH), including an Airbus A380 to BKK.


Over the Tet holiday, airlines in Vietnam reported 928 delayed flights, or 22.1% of all flights. Vietnam Airlines (VNA) took the biggest hit, with 23.8% of its flights delayed. In total, 4,203 flights carried over 655,000 passenger during Tet, a time when the airlines increase flights and capacity to deal with demand.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lesbian Couple Weds on VietJet Flight

Image source: VietJet Air
This past Valentine's Day, a same-sex couple wed in an inflight ceremony performed aboard a regularly-scheduled VietJet Air (VJ) flight from Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN) to Bangkok (BKK).

The couple, Tang Ai Linh and Pham Thi Thanh Phuong, approached VJ to conduct the ceremony onboard one of their flights. The airline agreed and arranged to cover not only the cost of the ceremony itself, but also the newlyweds' honeymoon trip to Thailand.

VJ flight attendants stood in as the couple's bridesmaids, and the airline decked out the cabin with flowers and even a cake.

While it may be serving as a publicity stunt by VJ, indicated by the fact that the airline paid for the content to be posted on Thanh Nien News, it's no less significant, given the cultural stance of the generally-conservative Vietnamese population, the majority of which are opposed to same-sex marriage and still consider the subject taboo.

Until recently, same-sex couples were subject to fines if they held a wedding ceremony in Vietnam. However in November of 2013, the Vietnamese government issued a decree removing the fine, and the National Assembly subsequently amended the country's constitution to remove the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

These were significant steps for a country in which the first gay pride parade took place only in 2012, but the rights of same-sex couples still remain short of those in more "traditional" marriages.

The amended Law on Marriage and Family took effect on January 1 of this year, and while the ban on same-sex marriage has been lifted, the law also does not actively recognize those unions, and thus Vietnam does not afford the same legal protections as a heterosexual couple.

Still, LGBT activists in Vietnam laud the progress as stepping stones to an expansion of rights. Others cite the potential growth in LGBT tourism in light of Vietnam's increasing tolerance and acceptance.

Other nearby countries are not so welcoming. While Thailand is seen as the most gay-friendly country in the region, Singapore recently upheld its anti-gay law, while parts of Indonesia punishes homosexuality with 100 days in jail or 100 lashes. The penalty for homosexuality in Brunei is death by stoning.

Even Vietnam has been inconsistent in the LGBT arena. In 2009, the government for the first time officially recognized the first transgendered citizen, only to later revoke that recognition in 2013.

VJ is no stranger to controversy, already having two "bikini" incidents in its short 3-year existence, both leading to public apologies and one incurring a fine from the government.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2,700+ AAdvantage Miles for Purchasing Bose Headsets

Earn 2,700+ AAdvantage miles when you purchase from Nordstrom via the AAdvantage Shopping portal by February 26.

I'm a fan of Bose, especially for their noise canceling technology, and their latest headset, the QuietComfort 25, has been receiving rave reviews. As a frequent flyer, these headsets are a necessity, to drown out noise not only in planes but also at airports and other public spaces.

I found the over-the-ear design to be very comfortable and the active noise cancellation was superb, so I was in the market for a pair and have been waiting for the "right moment" to pull the trigger. Others prefer the QC20s, which are in-ear buds with active noise cancellation and a much smaller form factor.

Both the QC20 and QC25 retails for $299, and Bose is known for fixing its prices no matter who the retailer is, so rarely will you find a discount directly off that price. The best you can hope for is some sort of secondary or indirect incentive from the retailer of your choice, such as free add-ons.

I happen to fly American Airlines (AA) a lot, especially to access an Asian gateway airport to connect to Vietnam Airlines, and AAdvantage miles are some of the more valuable airline currency out there.

Therefore, I tend to look for ways to maximize AA miles for purchases. The AAdvantage eShopping portal is one place to check, as it has a large network of online retailers, many of whom offer in-store pickup and/or free shipping.


As it happens, Bose itself is listed in the portal, offering 3 miles per dollar spent, which would be about 900 miles earned from purchasing a set of QC25s.

The best bonus I've seen anywhere for purchasing Bose headsets was 1,500 miles for the previous generation QC15 if purchased through a special link.

Fortunately, several other retailers sell the QC25, and I believe I just found the most lucrative offer currently available... Nordstrom has a special offer of 9 miles/$ spent until February 26 (it's normally 4 miles/$), meaning you can earn over 2,700 miles, since the total purchase price including taxes is used to calculate bonus miles.

Nordstrom also offers free shipping, free returns, and has its own rewards program for using select Nordstrom cards (don't worry, no referral links here). As an example, my QC25 purchase along with couple of other items was enough to earn me a $20 Nordstrom credit I can use on a future purchase.

Of course, if you like Nordstrom anyway, this may be the perfect time for you to start earning miles on things you were already going to buy.

Those who want to take points earning up a notch can use a rewards card that offers 5x points for buying gift cards, including for Nordstrom, from office supply stores. Do a Google search and you'll see what I mean.

Make sure you allow the AAdvantage eShopping website to save cookies to your browser, and don't close the window out. Otherwise, the can't properly track your purchase and credit your bonus miles.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

$25 Ride Discount for Uber, Good for CURRENT Users; Up to $45 for New Users

Uber, for those who haven't heard of it, is a San Francisco-based company specializing in disruptive technology, focusing on transportation modes all over the world, with all transactions (such as calling for a ride and payment) handled through a user's phone app.

The app provides you with real-time data such as the location of your driver, your current location, and final cost of your trip. You can also rate your experience and contact the company for any issues.

Uber is most famous for aggressively usurping the role of taxis by providing a better user experience for a lower cost overall at multiple price points, from the "everyday person" UberX to the luxury private hired car UberBLACK.

I personally use Uber quite a bit when I travel, since I find that it's a much better ride than what you can find with a taxi. Pricewise, it can be cheaper than, as cheap as, or just a little more expensive than a taxi (and the small premium is always worth it over a traditional taxi).

You can find promotional codes for varying discount amounts all over the Internet, but the vast majority is for new accounts only (one such code is "ubermatic" which currently gives you up to $20 off your first ride when you sign up and also gives me Uber credit, for which I would appreciate).

I just found a code that will give up to $25 for your next ride for current account holders, and is stackable with the signup bonus, amounting to potentially $45 in free rides for new users.

Here's how to maximize your credit:

For new users, do this first:
  • Sign up for Uber by clicking here, or by downloading the app.
  • If necessary, enter "ubermatic" as your promotion code (found in the app in the Menu > Promotions) BEFORE you request your first ride.
  • You will have a $20 discount off your first ride stored in your account (or 100,000 VND, for accounts in Vietnam).
For current users (and new users who just signed up):
  • Go to the menu in your app and tap on "Promotions"
  • Enter "roamlikehome" as the code and tap "Apply"
  • A $25 discount off your next ride will be stored in your account
UPDATE: Code "roamlikehome" seems to have expired. Congrats on all those who were able to take advantage!

UPDATE-2 (2/20 @ 12:26pm): The code "roamlikehome" is now fixed and apparently meant to be only for use in Canada for Rogers customers, good only with new Uber accounts, and expires 3/31/2015.

Note that the credits will be applied on subsequent accounts, and you won't get to keep the residual amounts (e.g., if your first ride is only $18, it will be free to you, but you won't get to keep the leftover $2 to use next time).

Disclaimers:
  • "ubermatic" will give both of us ride credit. You aren't required to use the code, but I would appreciate it if you do. I am otherwise not associated with Uber in any other way.
  • "roamlikehome" is a freebie for all of us, and does not give me credit.
  • I can only confirm that "roamlikehome" works in the United States in USD as of the posting of this entry. I cannot confirm how long it will last and if it will work outside the US.
  • Use at your own risk, and your mileage may vary!
Let me know if you were successful by commenting below!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Turkish Mulls Leasing A380s from Malaysia

Malaysia Airbus A380-800
Reports have surfaced that Turkish Airlines (TK) is considering leasing two Airbus A380s from Malaysia Airlines (MH).

TK had previously been reported as being in negotiations with Airbus to acquire 10 or more of the superjumbo airliners.

The largest aircraft currently in TK's fleet is the Boeing 777-300ER (B773), configured to carry 337 passengers. MH's A380 is configured to hold 494 total.

Turkish 777-300ER
This may be a greatly beneficial move for both airlines. TK would have a quick and relatively easy way to acquire A380s for a "test drive" to see if its presence in the TK works with the airline's operations and expansion plans without a long term commitment. 

Financially-strapped MH, on the other hand, gets to offload the costs of a huge, expensive-to-operate aircraft it no longer needs. MH is in the midst of a intensive restructuring effort to bring the carrier out of massive operating losses, fueled in large part by the dramatic losses of two separate flights last year.

MH370 disappeared in March under mysterious circumstances, and MH17 was shot down over Ukraine-Russia border by parties unknown. There were a total of 537 souls on board the two flights.

One can't blame MH for offloading its flagship aircraft. A 6 aircraft order for A380s led to the downfall of Japanese low-cost carrier Skymark (BC), which recently declared bankruptcy in large part because it could not fulfill the order. 

Airbus is seeking a penalty payment of up to 70 billion JPY (US$589.5 million) for the canceled order, on top of the 26 billion JPY (US$21.9 million) already paid by BC.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Cabin Crew Uniforms for Vietnam Airlines?

A reader recently emailed me, alerting me to an Instagram post from user "flywithdinh" that purportedly shows new uniforms for cabin attendants, as part of Vietnam Airlines' (VNA's) rebranding effort.
If accurate, it may indicate that VNA looks to be differentiating the seniority of the crew members by uniform color (yellow for purser), as well as providing a different outfit onboard and away from the plane.

Here is a photo of the current cabin crew uniform:

What do you think? Do you like the updated look or the current uniforms?

(H/T Q.T.)

Small Bites: 1st VNA A350 Going in for Paint Job; Thai Cuts Routes, Fleet; Jetstar Employees Arrested for Stealing Fuel

A rendering of a VNA A350
Vietnam Airlines' (VNA's) first Airbus A350-900 (A359) is fully assembled and will be heading into the paint shop on Wednesday. Delivery is slated for late in the 2nd quarter of 2015.

(H/T Flyertalk user AlexMills93)




A Thai Airways A380
Thai Airways (TG), currently in a financial crisis, has made further cuts to routes from its homebase in Bangkok (BKK) to Paris, London, and Frankfurt. This is part of a rehabilitation plan embarked by TG to prevent falling into bankruptcy. Also included in the plan is decommissioning of 44 aircraft from its fleet of 141, including the accelerated retirement of its Airbus A340-600s (A346s). TG also regrets ordering the Airbus A380.



Photo source // Thanh Nien News
Several Jetstar Pacific (BL) employees have been arrested for stealing thousands of liters of jetfuel over the course of two years from Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN), and then reselling it after mixing it with diesel. Police recovered 5,800 liters of the stolen fuel.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Small Bites: Thai VietJet to Start in March; New Plane for VietJet; Car Crashes Into Crowd at SGN


Thai VietJet Air (V9) will begin scheduled passenger service in March 29, after previously launching with charter services. The offshoot of VietJet Air (VJ) will operating new Airbus A320s (A320) with 180-seats in an all-economy configuration. The A320s will be supplied by parent VJ, as part of their 100-aircraft order with Airbus from 2013.


Speaking of VJ, it just took delivery on Friday of its second A320 from its 2013 order, bringing its fleet total to 21 aircraft. The first 19 planes were acquired through leases.






On Wednesday, a car waiting to pick up a passenger lost control and injured 11 people as it plowed forward. The driver, for reasons unclear, reported that he mistook the brake pedal for the accelerator. The passenger, singer/model Ho Ngoc Ha, was not injured and visited victims in the hospital. The investigation is ongoing.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Korean Air Plane Clips Another in While Taxiing in Yangon, Takes Off Before Returning

A Korean Air Airbus A330-200, the same
aircraft type that was involved in the
collision incident in Yangon.
A Korean Air Lines (KE) plane clipped a Bangkok Airways (PG) aircraft while taxiing away from its gate for a Thursday night departure from Yangon, Myanmar (RGN) to Seoul, South Korea (ICN). 

There were no injuries reported among the 134 passengers and 11 crew on board.

The wingtip of the KE Airbus A330 made contact with the parked PG plane as it passed by. The pilots were not aware of the contact due to darkness, and no alarms were triggered in the flight deck. With no fault indications, the flight crew continued their departure rollout and took off.

However, ground personnel did see the collision and reported the occurrence to the control tower. The pilots were advised of the situation after about approximately 20 minutes in the air and they chose to return to Yangon.

Passengers were rebooked onto a flight the next afternoon.

Passenger Fined US$187 for Smoking on a VNA Flight; Is That Enough?

An Australian-Vietnamese passenger was fined 4 million (US$187) for smoking in a lavatory on board a Vietnam Airlines (VNA) flight inbound from Australia.

The incident happened Wednesday on flight VN772 from Sydney (SYD) to Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN).

The flight crew was alerted when the smoke detector in the lavatory was triggered. Flight attendants then found the passenger, Ta Ngoc Tuan, in the lavatory with an open pack of cigarettes and smoking.

The maximum fine that can be imposed in Vietnam is ₫5 million (US$237).

Vietnam is trying to earn the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) approval to start direct flights to the U.S., but the aviation safety standards in Vietnam have so far not passed muster.

This low fine is one of the symptoms of the lax civil aviation system in Vietnam. Even the Southern Airports Authority (SAA), which levied the penalty, admitted that the fines were not high enough to deter smoking on board, and this latest incident was the second documented case this year.

I do find it curious that after stating that fact, the SAA still did not levy the maximum penalty.

Read more: Boeing Signs Memo with CAAV, Pledges to Help Start Direct Vietnam-US Flights

But beyond that point, while a possible US$237 fine may be steep to some, it pales in comparison to other countries' penalties. Punishment for the same violation in the United States can be up to US$5,000 (₫106,650,000), along with immediate arrest and possible prison time.

Image source: Wikipedia
Why is this such a big issue for the airlines and aviation authorities? Most would point to the incident involving Varig Flight 820, where the cause of a fire was suspected to be a cigarette butt that was discarded in the lavatory waste bin and ignited the contents. The fire subsequently lead to a crash landing in a field, where the aircraft was consumed by flames.

Of the total 134 persons on board, only 11 survived. Many of the 123 deaths occurred before the crash due to smoke inhalation.

The civil aviation authorities in Vietnam should have the means to deter seemingly minor violations such as smoking in the lavatory, and a maximum find of a couple of hundred dollars just isn't going to cut it.

Combine that with the cultural phenomenon in Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia of people sneaking into public restrooms to skirt no-smoking policies for a quick smoke. This behavior may be a mere nuisance on the ground in a coffee shop, but can have catastrophic effects while in-flight. The fines must be steep enough to alter behavior that many consider to be "normal."

I'm glad this passenger was punished, but am disappointed that the SAA did not levy the maximum fine allowed, and very concerned that the fines overall are so little.

I would bet the FAA shares the same concerns.

Do you think the fine was high enough? Too much? Just right? Leave a comment below!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Trip Report: Getting Shanghaied from Seattle

Intro: Ticketing and Getting Ready

This is the first chapter of this trip report; however I did start writing this report starting in the middle, when I met up with my VNA flight

Other chapters:
Being based in the US, I do have to fly other airlines to get to Vietnam (or to connect to a Vietnam Airlines [VNA] flight) since VNA can't fly directly to the US. My preferred carrier is American Airlines (AA), and on this trip my lovely wife and I were starting our trip in Seattle (SEA).

Our itinerary:
  • Outbound
    • Day 1: Fly from SEA-Los Angeles (LAX) on Alaska Airlines (AS); spend the night in Los Angeles (14 hours)
    • Day 2: Fly from LAX to Shanghai (PVG) on AA; spend the night in Shanghai (20 hours)
    • Day 3: Fly from PVG to Saigon (SGN) on VNA, reaching our final destination.
  • Return
    • Day 1: Fly from SGN to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on Japan Airlines (JL); 1.5 hours connection in NRT, then flying NRT-LAX on AA; spend the night in Los Angeles (23 hours)
    • Day 2: Fly LAX-SEA, completing our trip.
Image source: Seattle/Tacoma
International Airport / Facebook
Even though our first flight was with AS, it was still an AA-issued ticket and it was the controlling carrier by virtue of the international segment operated by AA.

We were able to take advantage of some long layovers allowed by our fare rules, so we were able to visit family in LA twice, as well as visit Shanghai.

This trip required me to go out to the airport to book and ticket, not because it was complicated, but because there seemed to be a problem with AA's system communicating with JL's systems and showing the correct availability.

The airport agent was quite surprised that anyone decided to come in personally to book a ticket, but I'm glad I did. It took him several attempts but he finally managed to get the system to book my itinerary (again, it wasn't because of the complexity, it was because JL's system denied that there was the available fare). With printed confirmation in hand, I go home to pack up and leave in a few days' time.


Travel Documents

Thankfully, my U.S. passport still has several years before expiration (entry into Vietnam requires at least 6 months of validity), and I have a visa waiver issued from Vietnam (valid for 5 years), meaning that I'm not required to apply for a visa when I visit. The stress of having the apply for the visa and wait for it to be issue is eliminated, and I can focus on other things.

Image source: US CBP
I've also previously signed up for Global Entry (GE), an expedited reentry program from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Part of the "Trusted Traveler" family of programs, GE holders agree to a background check to be declared as low-risk and be given access to lines for both passport and customs inspections upon returning to a U.S. airport, so that the holder does not have to stand in the regular lines.

My first time using GE was at LAX, before the most recent renovations to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. I decided to time myself from the opening of the aircraft door to exiting the building: 18 minutes, the majority of which was waiting for my checked bags to come out. I had essentially skipped every line, and never had to wait behind anyone. I had lunch with a friend last week who took 4 hours to exit LAX, and that's as a US citizen.

Image source: TSA
Also included with Global Entry is TSA Pre-Check, which you may have seen at the airport. Pre-Check allows for expedited security screening (again, on the basis that you're a trusted traveler), and gives access to a special line where you do NOT have to take off your shoes or take out your laptop.

The application fee for Global Entry costs $100, and is non-refundable if you are happened to be denied. After applying online, you'll have to schedule an interview at a Global Entry office (located at most major airports).

A similar program called NEXUS costs just $50 and allows the holder to also enter Canada on an expedited basis. However, the required interview must be scheduled at a border office, and appointments are usually booked months in advance because it requires the presence of a Canadian immigration agent as well.

If you can get to the border, and have plenty of lead time, NEXUS is the best deal, costing half of Global Entry yet including all the benefits.

Next chapter: Checking in at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA); SEA-LAX on Alaska Airlines

VNAFlyer's Packing Guide for Carryons (and Packing Them)

Logging lots of miles on a plane each year, on both domestic and international flights, I have developed a routine that I follow when it comes to being equipped. I usually try to survive just with what I have in my carry-ons, but on some trips, especially those back to Vietnam that always turn into resupply missions, I'll have to use my checked baggage allowance. Even then, what I bring with me on board doesn't change much.

The Hardware

Generally I like to travel with a laptop backpack and 21" a spinner rollaboard suitcase, which follows most carriers' restrictions of one carry-on suitcase and one personal item.

Ogio Urban, with laptop section
opened out for security screening.
I choose a backpack over a briefcase or shoulder bag because I frees up both of my hands, and balances out the weight in the bag. The key features I like in a backpack:
  • TSA-checkpoint friendly laptop compartment (it flips out on the X-ray belt so you don't have to take out your laptop)
  • Separate padded tablet compartment
  • Quick-access pocket, to put items in during security screening (like wallet and phone)
  • Reinforced and ergonomic top handle, easy to hold and someplace I can loop my security cable through.
  • Pass-through for a rollaboard handle, so my backpack can sit on top of my suitcase
  • Sternum strap, to help distribute heavier loads
  • Bottle holder, to free up hands for other things
For the past few years I traveled around with an older Ogio Urban, which I liked but it was missing the pass-through (so I would just loop my armstraps around the handle) and the sternum strap. It had plenty of pockets all over, so was never left wanting for storage space.

Recently I started looking for a new bag, and out of sheer luck I found my bag's almost-exact clone. The differences were that it had a both a pass-through and a sternum strap! It was also rebranded as a Kenneth Cole Reaction bag, which makes no difference to me (and in fact I would prefer if it didn't have the emblem affixed to my bag).

For my rollaboard, I personally think that it's a waste of money to spend hundreds (much less thousands) of dollars for luggage. The baggage handlers, walls, floors, and overhead bins don't care how nice your luggage is. Neither do, for the most part, your fellow travelers.

Samsonite LIFT
My preferred features for a rollaboard:
  • 4-wheel spinner
  • Shallow accessory pocket, for storing small items at security screening
  • Rigid handle
  • Lightweight, under 7 lbs/3.2 kgs
  • Grab handle at the bottom
  • Curb guard
Right now I have a Samsonite LIFT lightweight spinner. Now, I know Samsonite's quality has been questionable in recent years, and honestly I would never pay US$200-300 in full retail price for one. 

However, if you go to one of those reseller stores, like Ross Dress-for-Less, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx, you can always find Samsonite (and other) sets for cheap. At US$65-80 per rollaboard, these are almost disposable... or at least you won't feel terrible after it gets it's first scuff.

Additionally, Samsonite and American Tourister are owned by the same company. I happened to walk through my local Target store today and found my carry-on rebranded as an American Tourister, and being sold brand new for US$69 on sale.

As long as the suitcase lasts at least 5 years, you're already ahead. And new or not, I prefer changing my suitcases that often anyway to get the latest features and design.

It's important to note that while 22-inch suitcases are allowed to be carried on on U.S. airlines, they are slightly too large be allowed on most of the other world's airlines, which is why I opt for the 21-inch.

The Goods

As for the actual items I pack, I have a mental list of basic essential items to have onboard with me, so some items on this list may not be for everyone.
  • Wearables
    • An extra change of clothes - never know when you'll get stranded at a connecting airport, or need a change during a flight
    • Extra socks (to walk around in, but NEVER wear them into the lav!)
    • Eyeshades
    • Earplugs
  • Personal care
    • Toothbrush/toothpaste - it's the one thing a non-status economy passenger can do to feel human again after a flight
    • Floss
    • Sanitizing wipes - lavs are gross... and have you never wiped down your seat and tray table?
    • Personal wipes - lavs are still gross
    • Hand sanitizer - planes in general are gross
    • Lotion or moisturizer
    • Contact lens case/solution/drops
    • Glasses - the air on the plane will dry out your contacts
  • Electronics
    • Laptop/tablet
    • Noise-cancelling headphones (remember your adapters!)
    • Battery pack - in case you need to recharge your phone or tablet, and there's no outlet
  • Accessories
    • Laptop security cable
    • Pen
    • Sunglasses
    • Collapsible water bottle
    • Flashlight - a small compact one, because you never know when you'll drop something!

One last tip: DON'T overpack. Being weighed down by bringing things you won't even touch onboard or use on your trip will just make your travels that much more difficult. Dead weight is no fun... get rid of it!

Would you add anything to this list? Share in a comment below!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

American Confirms 1st 787 International Routes to Beijing, Buenos Aires

American Airlines (AA), which took delivery of its first Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner (B788) last month, officially announced today the first revenue flights for the new advanced widebody aircraft.

AA's B788 will be based at Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), AA's headquarters and main hub. On May 7, it will initial fly domestic familiarization and training flights to Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) twice daily.

On June 2, the B788 will make its inaugural international flight from DFW to Beijing, China (PEK). After its return from PEK, on June 4 it will then fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE).

These flights will be available for booking starting this Saturday, February 14.

"We look forward to welcoming our international customers onboard the 787 with its modern amenities and comforts beginning this summer," said Andrew Nocella, American's chief marketing officer. "Adding the 787 Dreamliner to our network gives us the opportunity to increase our efficiency on long-haul flights across the globe and potentially open up new markets in our network. It's a big win for customers and just the latest example of how American is going for great."

For travelers from the United States to Vietnam, AA's DFW-PEK flight opens up another option, as AA fare rules generally allow passengers to connect in China onto Vietnam Airlines (VNA) and other carriers. For instance, a passenger can fly DFW-PEK then onward to Saigon (SGN) or Hanoi (HAN) on VNA.

VNA is set to take delivery of its own Dreamliner later this year.

The B788 will have 2 classes of service, with 28 lie-flat seats in business class with all-aisle access, arranged in a unique 1-2-1, foreward/backward-facing configuration. In-flight entertainment is on a 15.3-inch HD touchscreen, and Bose noise canceling headsets will be provided. A walk-up bar for midflight drinks and snacks will also be available.

In economy, there are 198 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration, 48 of which will be in the extra-legroom Main Cabin Extra section, reserved for the airline's elite passengers and also available for a fee. Each economy seat will feature a 9-inch HD touchscreen.

All seats will feature universal AC and USB power outlets, as well as onboard Wi-Fi.

AA has ordered 42 Boeing 787s in total, in both the -8 and the stretched -9 versions, with options for 58 more.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Vietnam Airlines Releases Interior Images for 787, A350

On Tuesday, Vietnam Airlines (VNA) posted seatmaps and rendered images for their new Boeing 787-9 (B789) and Airbus A350-900 (A359) aircraft. The images appeared on VNA's official Facebook page.

The images confirm my previous anonymously-sourced information on the B789 that the new business class seats are the Cirrus from Zodiac Aerospace, the deluxe economy seats are from HAECO (nee TIMCO), and the economy seats are the lightweight Pinnacle seats from B/E Aerospace.
Rendering of VNA's B789 business cabin.
Image source: Vietnam Airlines

Rendering of VNA's B789 deluxe economy cabin.
Image source: Vietnam Airlines

Rendering of VNA's B789 economy cabin.
Image source: Vietnam Airlines
What was surprising to me were the images for the A359 interior. Instead of going for fleet commonality in business class by installing Cirrus on the Airbus, VNA opted to use what looks like a version of EADS Solstys, which is a staggered forward-facing product.
Rendering of VNA's A359 business cabin.
Image source: Vietnam Airlines
Also surprising: It seems that VNA is choosing outfit the A359's deluxe economy cabin with the regular Pinnacle economy seats, still at 9-abreast in a 3-3-3 configuration (instead of the 7-abreast, 2-3-2 truly bigger seat configuration on the B789), just with more legroom!
Rendering of VNA's A359 deluxe economy cabin (?).
Image source: Vietnam Airlines

Rendering of VNA's A359 economy cabin.
Image source: Vietnam Airlines
I'm really REALLY hoping that the A359's configuration is not set in stone, especially in regards to the deluxe economy cabin. While VNA apparently installed a proper premium economy product on the B789s, they didn't do anything special on the A359s except give more leg room (akin to what many US-based carriers do). Perhaps this was a mistake in posting the images? Or an incorrect interpretation?

I feel that VNA had the chance to ensure fleet commonality in seating and features, departing from their previous ragtag fleets mixed from owned aircraft and aircraft from different lessors. Instead, they provide two completely different premium cabin products, which can only lead to operational complexities, crew confusion and dissatisfaction for the premium passenger.

I'll admit that I love the Cirrus seat, and I'm sure that the Vantage XL is a fine product as well. I do feel they should have stuck with one or the other. My speculative guess? There may have been a seating supply shortage from one vendor that required using the other's product, as to not delay delivery for either aircraft any longer.

One last small point of contention: I do hope VNA follows the lead of other carriers of installing a proper walk-up bar in business class, instead of what was pictured:
Image source: Vietnam Airlines
Still, it's an exciting time for VNA, with two new widebody types coming online this year to replace their aging long-haul fleet. New planes, new cabins, new seats, and even Wi-Fi on board.

What about that seat map?
Let's compare what I thought the seatmap was going to be vs. what was actually released by VNA.
VNAFlyer's predicted mockup.
VNA's released seatmap.
I think I came pretty close! Especially with the deluxe economy seats and the economy section after the 3rd doors. What I didn't get quite right:
  • While I knew there were 211 seats in economy (and VNA's seat map confirms this), I miscounted and only put 205 seats;
  • I might have given deluxe economy a little too much leg room;
  • I was off on some of the mid-cabin lavatory and galley positions;
  • My business class rows were off, with the middle set more forward rather than being in line with the window seats.
Hopefully VNA will release a seatmap of the A359 soon, so that we can confirm my worst fears the seating arrangement.


(H/T: Flyertalk user nam_sg)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Vietnam Airlines' Inaugural 787-9 Flight to London-Heathrow on June 29

The inaugural international service for Vietnam Airlines' (VNA's) new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (B789) is currently scheduled to be on June 29, 2015, flying from Hanoi (HAN) to London's Heathrow Airport (LHR).

This replaces service currently flown on VNA's Boeing 777-200ER (B772).

Flight VN055 will depart HAN at 12:30am for an overnight flight, arriving at LHR at 6:40am.

Read more: Vietnam Airlines' Boeing 787: New Lie-Flat Seats in Business, 2 Different Economy Configurations

The first return flight, VN054, will depart from LHR at 2:45pm on June 29, and arrive back at HAN the next day at 7:50am.

Then on June 30, the B789 will operate a revenue domestic flight for repositioning, Flight VN237 from HAN to Saigon (SGN), departing at 10:00am and landing at 12:05pm.

The first B789 flight out of SGN will depart early on July 1 at 12:05am and arrive at LHR at 6:40am the same day.

Read more: Vietnam Airlines: In-Flight Wi-Fi to be Available on New 787, A350 Aircraft

It seems that while the equipment information has been loaded, VNA is using their B772 seatmaps as placeholders, so if while one can select a seat on a flight scheduled to be on a B789, it's very likely to change.
A screenshot of the seatmap that appears on the LHR routes operated by the B789,
though it's clearly the configuration for the B772. Image source: Reader Andrew R.

A blog reader reports that he was able to select a business class seat on the map, even though he is currently booked in a premium economy seat. I cautioned him to:

(H/T: Andrew R.)

Maximizing China's Transit Without Visa (TWOV)

Have you ever wanted to visit China, but didn't want to pay for a visa?

Typically, China requires those who enter the country to have a visa, even if it's just to connect to another international flight at the airport on the same day.

However, there is a program that allows certain passengers who transit through a Chinese airport without a standard visa, or transit without visa (TWOV), for no fee. There are variances at different airports, but in Shanghai, Beijing, and other major hubs, a transit passenger can have up to 72 hours in China without a visa IF they are connecting to another flight out of the country.

To qualify for TWOV, transiting passengers must:
  • Arrive at the airport from outside China.
  • Depart the airport within 72 hours of the time-stamped arrival;
  • Have a confirmed onward flight to a third country;
    • You must show a printed itinerary, boarding pass, or receipt showing your flight.
    • It does not have to be part of the same reservation; it can be a separate booking.
    • You cannot return to the country from which you came.
    • You cannot fly to another Chinese airport before leaving for a third country.
      • For the purposes of TWOV, Hong Kong and Macau are considered separate from China. 
  • Be a citizen of a country on the approved list for TWOV.
    • The United States is on the list.
Passengers not meeting the requirements above must acquire a visa to enter China. The visa costs US$140 (as of 2/6/2015) for US citizens, but China made a change that makes the visa valid for 10 years and multiple entries. Prior to that, the visa would have been for one single entry.

The visa indeed costs more for US citizens than for others, frankly because it's reciprocal... the US charges Chinese and other citizens US$160 to apply for a tourist visa.

Many itineraries to Vietnam will route through one of the major Chinese airports. In December, I flew from Los Angeles (LAX) to Shanghai (PVG) on American Airlines (AA), which then connected to a Vietnam Airlines (VNA) flight to Saigon (SGN).

Entry and exit stamps from China,
along with the blue TWOV stamp.
I wanted to stay in Shanghai overnight, so requested a TWOV when I reached immigration inspection at PVG. I had prepared a printed itinerary showing my confirmed flight on VNA the next day and handed that over to the immigration officer, who retrieved special stamps to indicate TMOV on my passport.

There is also an immigration form to fill out (typically handed out on your flight before arrival). When you're stamped in, they take the entry half of the form, and give you a stub that you must present when you go through exit immigration.

Thanks to China's fee-free TWOV, my wife and I were able to explore Shanghai for exactly 23 hours overnight.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

VietJet Air wants to grow aggressively, gets money to do it, needs even more money

A VJ A320 in typical company livery. There are several planes
acting as flying billboards, with large advertiser logos.
VietJet Air (IATA code: VJ) is not the first privately-owned airline in Vietnam, but has been the most successful up until now, and has aspirations of continuing its success in a big way.

This is even more notable in that it's primary competitor is state-run Vietnam Airlines (VNA), with a deep war chest of funds to rely on. Most other private competitors have folded shortly after commencing service.

What sets VJ apart is its low cost carrier (LLC) concept, versus VNA's traditional full-service. VJ charges a very low base fare for the plane ticket itself (sometimes as low as US$0), then has fees for almost everything else; ticketing, preselecting seats, purchasing food and drinks on board, even just the mere act of paying in any form incurs a fee.


Leaked photo alledgedly from a bikini
photoshoot onboard a VJ aircraft.
Image source: Tuoi Tre News
Its exuberance has also drawn the ire of the socially conservative Vietnamese government, their most famous incident being an unauthorized in-flight bikini show in 2012 that lead to a nearly US$1,000 in fines. More recently in late 2014, photos were leaked from a purported racy photoshoot that VJ has since disclaimed as unauthorized and not part of an official company promotion.

The company currently has 20 Airbus A320 aircraft operating 150 flights a day to every major city in Vietnam, and several smaller communities, but that's still not enough.

Last year, VJ committed to acquiring up to another 93 A320-family aircraft from Airbus for up to US$9 billion at list prices... even though airlines usually don't pay full price, that's a lot of planes for a young startup company. The order includes 14 current A320s, 43 more-efficient A320neos, and 7 of the larger A321s (the same aircraft VNA uses as its workhorse), with the remaining as options for additional aircraft.

To assist VJ's fleet expansion plans, TPBank of Hanoi has extended a US$400 million line of credit for their initial set of aircraft. This is on top of a US$21 million credit for the down payment of the Airbus order.

VJ is also mulling a bond sale to raise US$200-300 million. as well as an initial public offering (IPO) aimed to raise another US$500-800 million.

Plans for international long-haul expansion have been tempered to focus on strengthening it's domestic network and growing its regional footprint. VJ has decided to take the strategically safer growth plan and temporarily hold off on acquiring widebody aircraft for long-haul services. 

Delaying the start of long-haul service on widebody jets is probably a smart play, especially in light of Japan's Skymark Airlines (BC) declaring bankruptcy, due mainly, according to experts, to its order of the massive Airbus A380 to start Tokyo-New York service, even though BC was primarily a domestic airline using single-aisle aircraft.

2015 should prove an interesting year for VJ, as well as VNA if VJ continues on its trajectory of growth and revenue.

What has been your experience with VJ... would you recommend them? If you haven't flown VJ, would you give them a change, or would you rather stick to traditional-service VNA?