Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"You're important, Daddy."

Late this afternoon, I was busily typing a short article on "Why Stars Twinkle" -- well, that's what it was supposed to be on. I can't talk about why stars twinkle without explaining astronomical "seeing" and adaptive optics and laser guide stars and...

My daughter bounced into the room and asked, "Can we split a grapefruit?" She doesn't always like grapefruit, of course, but when she does... well, she got that from me. When she doesn't like it, that's from her mom, who consistently doesn't.

I replied, "I'm typing an article on why stars twinkle, but I'll be done soon, then we can split one." She looked pleased with the answer, but also impressed that I'd be writing an article on something like that, and, giving me a big hug, gushed, "You're important, Daddy."

"Important to you?" I asked.

"Well... important to me, but important other ways, too," she replied.

I told her that she was important too -- to me, to her mom, to her friends and her teacher at school. She liked that. And we did enjoy that grapefruit.

Kids are great for the ego sometimes. :)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It was the best of flights, it was the worst of flights...

As part of a trip to visit my parents for my father's birthday, I chose to take Northwest flight 98 from Honolulu to Minneapolis. This flight operated on a DC-10, but the DC-10s were being retired, with the final flight January 7, and I needed several thousand more miles to hit top-tier "Platinum Elite" frequent-flyer status, so I figured I'd go for it. I was able to upgrade to World Business Class on the way to Minneapolis, but not on the way back.

The plan was to fly over from Hilo to Honolulu, as usual, spend several hours flying to Minneapolis in a nice seat that goes way back and has a footrest, with good food and movies and all that, then continue from Minneapolis to Philadelphia. (And of course, to repeat the process in reverse, a few days later.)

Of course, the Scottish poet Robert Burns had a thing to say about the best-laid plans...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How to get free flights... without flying! :)

If you've read a few of my posts, or looked at some of my photos you might get the impression that I travel a fair bit. And I won't deny it; my butt was in airplane seats last year for the equivalent of 4+ trips around the globe. And yeah, I get some benefits for flying that much - I spent probably 16,000 miles in first or business class, which is a lot more than I paid for. :)

Let's say you're not like me. You're... sane. You don't set foot on four different continents in under three weeks. You don't think it weird to stay home for more than 3 weeks at a time. Airline employees don't greet you with hugs. Most (though not all) of my contacts fall into this "sane" category.

But on the other hand... maybe you're a little envious of the perks. Maybe the idea of flying across the country in first class for little more reason than a birthday party appeals to you.

The good news is, you can get "free" flights - you pay only the taxes and fees, which for a round-trip within the United States are about $10! - without even flying. And I'm going to explain exactly how. I'm using Northwest Airlines as an example, because I fly Northwest and its partners (like Continental, KLM, Air France, Alitalia, China Southern, Hawaiian Airlines, Kenya Airways) most of the time... but you can do all this on just about any airline that goes where you want to go, or has partners that do.

Step One

Get yourself a frequent flyer account already! This shouldn't take more than 5 minutes, and costs you absolutely nothing. You're going to use it to accumulate miles (which might be called credits, or points, or whatever.) Actually, you should get a minimum of three accounts - one on a carrier in each of the three major global alliances. In my case, Northwest is in the SkyTeam alliance, but I also have accounts with American (in Oneworld) and United (in StarAlliance) - and I have a fourth account with Hawaiian Airlines, since I do live in Hawaii sometimes.

Why three or more accounts? Well, there have been, and will be, times where for whatever reason, I can't fly Northwest, or anyone else in SkyTeam. I probably wind up flying United or other StarAlliance airlines at least once every year, and the same goes for American and its Oneworld partners. By having one account for each alliance, I can ensure that miles are being squirrelled away somewhere every time I take a flight. Sure, they add up slower in those other accounts... but they do add up.

Of course, if you're somewhere other than the United States, your choices will differ. For example, in Nairobi, you'd probably opt for KLM or Kenyan to collect your SkyTeam miles, SouthAfrican for StarAlliance, and British Airways for Oneworld.

For best results, you're going to need to have a favorite airline (or alliance). That way, you can direct most of your miles to one place, and have them pile up faster. Please be smart about this and pick an airline that goes places you want to go, or has partners that do! There are other factors you can consider - I chose Northwest partly because of the benefits its frequent flyer program provides. But then, I am a frequent flyer, and if you're trying to earn free flights without flying, it's safe to say you're probably not.

If your favorite airline isn't allied or partnered with others worldwide, you can either find one that is, or content yourself with having a geographically limited range. For example, if you prefer Southwest or ATA, you're basically limited to flying within the United States, since they only partner with each other.

Step Two

Look at your airline's web site to see what opportunities you have to earn miles at no cost. Last year, I earned 300 miles for little customer-education quizzes on Northwest's web site, 500 miles for taking surveys online, and 1,000 miles for receiving email notifications from Northwest (like a monthly statement of my account, among other things).

Step Three

Learn about what non-air partners your airline offers. In my case, Northwest has partner deals with somewhere over 100 companies including four different car-rental chains and more hotels than I can even count. If I do business with any of them, ta-da, more miles accumulate in my account.

Step Four

If you can get something for the same price from a partner or a non-partner, go with the partner. And if you can get it for the same price from the same place, but get miles by going through a "mall" set up by the airline, do that. I know, this is a no-brainer, but I have to remind myself to do this sometimes! Spend exactly the same, but get miles, good deal.

Step Five

Get a mileage credit card from your favorite airline, and use it to buy the things you'd use any other credit card to buy. You'll probably get anywhere up to about 15,000 miles just for signing up and using the card once, and most cards will give you at least a mile per dollar spent. Ultimately, just using a mileage credit card to buy the things you already buy with a credit card is probably the easiest way to earn miles without flying, and will earn you the most. And if you're buying things from companies that are partnered with your airline, you'll get more miles piled on top of that - sometimes as many as ten miles per dollar spent. 


If I want to fly round-trip from Philadelphia to Portland, Oregon on Northwest (why? I don't know!) later this year, I'd probably spend about $500-$600. But if I have 25,000 miles in my account (which I could earn entirely through non-flying activities), I can get the same ticket for an airfare of zero dollars, paying only the taxes and fees of $10. Same ticket, same flights, same seats. (If I saved up more miles, I could even get a first-class seat... for the same $10!)

If I had remembered to check the partner listings I mentioned above (I didn't), I would have known that I could sign up to earn miles when I stayed at the Best Western in Guangzhou twice last month, and instead of just earning about 135 miles for the actual cost of the stays, would have earned an extra 500 miles.

If I decided to buy a new computer next month, I could spend $600 at the Apple Store using my Northwest credit card, and earn 600 miles... but if I went through the "mall" I mentioned above, I'd get an extra 2 miles per dollar spent, for a total of 1800 miles.

So... doing the same things I (or you) always do... but just being a little more aware of exactly how those things are being done, using a certain card, shopping carefully... can really pay off.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Daniel is leaving tonight on a plane...

Yes, Elton John lyrics. An opening line that's quite familiar to me, and quite often true. Perhaps too often.

So I'm off to Scotland. Off to resume the constant movement and constant change that I call "life" these days. Yeah. The house is the cleanest it's been in a long time (mostly 'cos I took the trash and recycles to where they belong). I've given one of our neighbors a key, in case any of the various people who're interested in looking after or inhabiting it in some way while we're all gone actually pan out. I took way too many bananas to the office, gave some chocolate to a friend, and so on.

I'm sad to be leaving. Maybe because I don't know when I'll return. I might have a chance to visit for a little bit in early April, or late May, or early June, or I might come back for the summer in July... but I honestly don't know yet. Nothing's booked. Nothing's decided that far in advance. I do know that I 
want to come back - this place is home. I'm also sad 'cos there are some people here who I'm going to miss.

On the flip side, I'm really looking forward to seeing  family in Scotland, and I'm really looking forward to the other places I'll be going, and the people I'll be seeing and collaborating with (some of whom I miss at present).

But I'm still sad.

Maybe it wasn't a good idea to work 55 hours at my main job, start a 5th part-time job, and do 8+ hours of volunteering in my last 7 days here. Being on planes and in airports for 24 hours will probably 
reduce my stress level considerably, if only because I won't be dealing with everything during that time!

I hope to post again later this week... from a markedly different latitude and longitude.

Off I go!

Do you still feel the pain of the scars that wont heal? - Elton John, Daniel

Friday, January 5, 2007

2007: Think "Different"

I'm far enough into the new year to have worked my first shift, given my first public talk and had my first global conference call, and in a couple more days, I'll fly my first round trip of the year. I'm getting a little bit of a feel for what lies ahead, and I think the differences between this year and last may be greater than most of my year-to-year differences have been lately.

Many things are still up in the air at this point, so I can't really divulge details, but I'm optimistic that most if not all of the changes will be for the better. One thing that's certainly off to a better start than in 2006 is travel, since I managed to earn top-tier elite status in 2006. I'm also looking forward to being based in Scotland with family for at least part of the year. As for everything else... stay tuned!

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