I Was Just Thinking…

. . . about the glories of frequent flyer miles and frequent guest award points. Especially in light of the current dismal situation of airlines and hotels.

We’ve come a long way since American Airlines introduced frequent flyer miles on a wide scale in 1981, followed days later by United Airlines’ own award program. (Delta and other airlines followed with their own programs later.) In the beginning, the promise was simple: A passenger received a mile for every mile flown and there was one, simple award schedule.

Over the years, the airlines began fine-tuning their programs, introducing “elite” levels of membership and new rules for achieving award tickets. Today, how much you spend on a specific airline’s tickets is also part of the equation that determines a flyer’s status. Which, in turn, determines how many miles can be earned when flying, how easy it is to upgrade a ticket using miles, and a range of other perks.

And, of course, the universe of credit cards cobranded with airlines gave consumers a million ways to earn miles without ever stepping on a plane.

This pandemic has brought into sharp focus how important those mileage programs are to airlines that sell their miles to a host of those credit card issuers. Just last week, for example, British Airways sold about 100 billion Avios points to American Express for about $969 million. In May, Marriott sold about $920 million worth of Marriott frequent guest points to American Express and Chase that those companies will give users of their cobranded (with Marriott) credit cards. And Hilton sold $1 billion worth of Hilton points to American Express earlier this year.

I’m certain that no airline or hotel company could have ever imagined how valuable its miles and points would be to its survival way back in the ‘80s when those schemes were invented. The next time someone tells you those points or miles “aren’t really worth anything,” suggest they check with Chase and American Express.

Short Takes

  • Alaska Airlines’ takes a big step in completing its marriage with American Airlines and the oneworld® alliance. AA and Alaska passengers will be able to accumulate FF miles on either airline and use miles for awards on both airlines. It will take a few months before Alaska’s integration into the oneworld® alliance is complete.
  • Delta takes a hard line on the requirement that all passengers wear face masks while flying. Delta’s CEO says at least 100 flyers have been banned from flying Delta for refusing to keep their facemasks on while in the air. You can read Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s interview in Time here.
  • The Graduate Hotel in Nashville opens an opulent, mostly-pink, inside-outside rooftop bar as an homage to Dolly Parton. It’s called “White Limozeen,” in honor of her 1989 album of that title. Check out more pictures here.
  • Princess Cruises cancels almost all cruises until December.
  • Want to live in a foreign country without visa hassles? Consider the under-rated (by Americans) nation of Georgia. The government welcomes anyone who wants to live and work remotely for more than six months to come to Georgia without any special visa. Georgia opens its borders to visitors tomorrow, July 31st.
  • Delta says it will extend its empty-middle-seat policy beyond the end of September. Southwest Airlines says it’ll keep that middle seat empty through October.
  • Washington, DC, joins several other states in requiring people coming from 27 states where Covid-19 rates are high to quarantine for two weeks upon entering the District. Fortunately, the adjoining states of Maryland and Virginia aren’t on the high-risk list given that so many people who work in the District commute each day from those two states.
  • The Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles, a favorite of movie stars for decades, may become a private club, says owner André Balzac. He told the Wall Street Journal that he’d been considering the move for years but the pandemic may cinch his decision. And if it works, Balzac says he’d like to open similar clubs in Milan, Paris, Tokyo, the French Riviera and on a private Greek island.

Ever Thought About the Paint On an Airplane?

During the course of a commercial aircraft’s lifetime, the exterior of the plane is usually painted several times, sometimes as often as every four years. The amount of paint used affects both the cost of painting and the cost of fuel during the life of a plane because paint can add as much as a ton of weight to an aircraft, as in the case of Qantas’ new aboriginal design (on a Boeing 747).

The process can cost between $100,000 and $250,000 depending on the size of the aircraft, how many colors are involved, and how complicated the graphics are. (BBC reported that the prime minister of England’s plane cost a million dollars to paint.) And it can take as long as two weeks to complete the job.

Paint and stencils (made using 3D printing) provide the design, and a clear coat of varnish covers everything to protect the “art” from elements. Theme planes such as EVA Air’s “Hello Kitty” planes or Air New Zealand’s “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” planes are some of the most extravagant examples.

If you’d like to know more about the environmental impact of painting vs. polishing an aircraft and lots of other tech specs, check out Boeing’s primer here.

Select Quotes

“Drink without getting drunk, love without suffering jealousy, eat without overindulging, never argue, and once in a while, misbehave with great discretion.”

—El Caton, Mexican writer and philosopher as told to Dan Buettner, founder of “Blue Zones”


“What if we cover it in everything that causes heart disease? Let’s do it. We have free health care.

—Comedian Jim Gaffigan ribbing Canada and its national dish, poutine, in his new comedy special “Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist” debuting tomorrow on Amazon Prime.

Today’s Webcast Guests

The Zagat Guide is one of the best-known guides to restaurants in major cities around the world. The founders of that guide, Tim & Nina Zagat, join me today at noon Pacific to discuss the future of restaurants in America and to describe how a small newsletter (that the couple started for friends when they were lawyers in Paris) became a worldwide enterprise.

Chuck Tamburro, a former helicopter gunship pilot in Vietnam, took his talents to Hollywood and became a successful stuntman and helicopter pilot. He’s worked on “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Predator,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” and dozens of television episodes. Topic: flying for Hollywood.

You may register to join me at the free webinar here. Please sign up to subscribe to receive notice of upcoming guests.

     And if you know someone who might like to receive this newsletter, just go here,  scroll to the bottom of the home page, and sign them up!