Required Reading for Frequent Flyers
Required Reading for Frequent Flyers
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Sky Warriors
[Mar 2013 Issue]
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We ask 8 seasoned travelers the same 5 questions.


Last year, road warriors throughout the U.S. competed to be one of the most frequent of frequent flyers, true "Sky Warriors", to win one of 10 ThinkPad Twist ultrabooks during a promotion offered by Lenovo. We decided it would be fun and informative to get in touch with the winners to ask each of them the same five questions.

Those vying for the moniker of "Sky Warrior" were asked to visit the Lenovo Facebook page and enter the number of miles accrued through a single frequent flyer program between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2012. The top 10 verified mileage balances received a ThinkPad Twist. The mileage amounts that won totaled 1,572,941 miles in the following frequent flyer programs: American Airlines AAdvantage, British Airways Executive Club and Delta Air Lines SkyMiles.

Lenovo reached out to frequent flyers because the ThinkPad Twist bends to fit the user's environment with several viewing modes: as a laptop, a tablet or you can twist it at 180* for the stand mode to watch movies or view photos, which makes it especially suited to use on planes. Lenovo sees the ultrabook as especially suited for those who roam the skies and depend on commercial jets to function both as a conduit to a destination and a mobile office.

Over 100 frequent flyers took part in the contest with only the top 10 taking home the ThinkPad Twist and the honor of being proclaimed a Sky Warrior. We approached all 10 winners with our enquiries but two were too busy to reply. The questions and answers of the eight who replied are listed in this article.

Q As a Sky Warrior, what one travel tip would you give someone new to frequent travel?

Carlos Conde (Highland Beach, Fla.)
Determine what airline suits your travel needs best from your home city to your likely destinations (e.g. ATL = Delta, Miami = AA, etc.). Then stick with that airline as much as possible to reach as high an Elite level as possible to reap the rewards.

Darrell Demello (St. Louis Park, Minn.)
Relax. Get familiar with the travel. Develop a schedule to eat, sleep, work, etc. while on a plane. Plan your travel well. Stressing out does not help as our bodies are already highly stressed due to the high altitude, dry atmosphere, dry cabin and the takeoff and landings.

Bill Haskett (Houston, Texas)
Understand your travel itinerary. You are the one who will have to run between gates or be stranded waiting for a car at 2am. This means you need to be as involved as possible in your hotel and flight selections. I prefer to do all of my bookings myself directly with the airlines and hotels. There's no third-party middlemen with their perpetually unavailable prices for me.

Doug Pollock (San Clemente, Calif.)
Pack smart, try to always carry-on, there are a lot of great luggage options for packing for multiple days while still carrying on. Be smart when going through security, know exactly where your liquids are, as well as laptop, iPad, belt, etc. Make it a goal to be the most efficient person walking through the security line. Also, if you travel internationally, pay the $100 and register for global entry, it will save so much time and headaches waiting at the border for immigration, and if you are able to carry on your bags you will be off the plane and through customs and immigration within 10-15 minutes.

Joe Ruiz (Milwaukee, Wis.)
Expect things to go wrong and have a backup plan ready to go. I used to get worked up about canceled/delayed flights, but once you accept that this is part of frequent travel, you'll be much more at ease and probably more productive on the road as well.

Ruban Selvakumar (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Get TSA Pre Check approved as soon as possible. It's like flying in the '90s!

Tom Snook (Meridian, Ind.)
Always ask for upgrades at the gate.

Thomas Ta (San Diego, Calif.)
Never check in a bag. Carry-on only.

Q Which is your favorite frequent flyer program, why is it your
favorite, and if you don't mind answering, how many lifetime miles do you have with the program?


Carlos Conde (Highland Beach, Fla.)
American AAdvantage. It was the first, and in my opinion still the best. The upgrade process benefits the upper Elite levels, and award redemption is usually readily available. As of today, I have 3,901,308 lifetime miles on American alone--most of which are flight miles.

Darrell Demello (St. Louis Park, Minn.)
Delta SkyMiles. I live in the greater Minneapolis area, was a member of Northwest WorldPerks and came to Delta with the merger. As a Hub captive, I have very little choice, and I prefer direct flights. Since 1996 until today, I have 1.5 million actual in-seat miles or "butt-in-seat" miles.

Bill Haskett (Houston, Texas)
People's "favorite" loyalty program is usually the one that they know. That may be the airline program you have the most miles with, or are the one you are forced to travel with by company decree (never good) or due to living in a hub city. Over the years I have shuffled through Air Canada, Delta and American ultimately landing on the United program. Loyalty programs have two primary benefit paths, experiential rewards and travel awards. The best programs will balance experiential and travel. For me, MileagePlus gives excellent upper level elite benefits I see every time I fly, and compared to some other options, have reasonable award rates and availability. One aspect I rarely use, but is quite meaningful is the spousal elite level match. I usually do about 200,000-300,000 butt-in-seat miles a year which means earning is about 600,000 a year, the majority of which is international travel. Lifetime miles five million.

Doug Pollock (San Clemente, Calif)
I favor both American and United, I have about 750,000 on each airline (lifetime miles). I like American because they have a lot of bonus mile specials, but United seems to have better options when booking flights using rewards. I also enjoy taking advantage of bonus miles using the United credit cards, both for business as well as personal use. Recently AA offered 100,000 bonus miles for three flights to Europe, so in six weeks I was able to rack up an extra 100,000 miles.

Joe Ruiz (Milwaukee, Wis.)
Delta SkyMiles is my favorite frequent flyer program, mostly by default because I have flown on Delta over 90 percent of the time for work trips. I get upgraded quite frequently and the complimentary Sky Club membership is a huge benefit for me. Lifetime miles for Delta SkyMiles (including bonus miles) are around 950,000.

Ruban Selvakumar (Los Angeles, Calif.)
American Airlines AAdvantage--over 1.3 million miles.

Tom Snook (Meridian, Ind.)
Delta. The flight schedules Delta provides to and from most of my destinations usually match well with my travel plans. I have 1,262,750 actual flight miles.

Thomas Ta (San Diego, Calif.)
Any oneworld alliance airline (I'm with British Airways) because they have the best network with the best planes and the best service. I don't know how many miles I've accumulated over my life so far but I can tell you that you can never have enough.

Q What one benefit do you appreciate the most given to you as a frequent flyer from your preferred airline? And why do you appreciate it the most?

Carlos Conde (Highland Beach, Fla.)
Upgrades of course. Even though first and business class are not what they once were, neither is coach!

Darrell Demello (St. Louis Park, Minn.)
As a premium flyer with Delta, Diamond Medallion, upgrades to first class for travel within the U.S. is the one benefit I appreciate the most.

Bill Haskett (Houston, Texas)
I'm Global Services with United. That means I get access to the Global Services line, and those people have gone far out of their way in the past few years to get me where I needed to be. Making lines and wait times disappear ... being met at the gate and ushered through to the next plane quickly and efficiently ... it makes a huge difference in the travel experience.

Doug Pollock (San Clemente, Calif.)
American Airlines is very generous with the systemwide upgrades, and they clear almost all of the time, so I appreciate being able to upgrade into business class for international flights without any restrictions or hassles from the airline.

Joe Ruiz (Milwaukee, Wis.)
I appreciate the expedited security lines at the airport the most. This usually saves a lot of time, especially on Thursdays at busier airports.

Ruban Selvakumar (Los Angeles, Calif.)
The Executive Platinum customer service desk. They have the best service agents with no waiting. When I have a travel problem, the most important thing is to be able to have my schedule fixed ASAP.

Tom Snook (Meridian, Ind.)
The upgrades to first and business class. When much of your time is spent flying, the aircraft is used frequently for working and sleeping. The extra room makes it much more pleasant.

Thomas Ta (San Diego, Calif.)
I can't name a single benefit that outweighs any other but the most important perks to me would be any perk that saves me time, makes me more comfortable while traveling and better service.

Q Recount one memorable travel experience (or one particularly good use of your miles).

Carlos Conde (Highland Beach, Fla.)
With three kids and a wife, using my miles to take my family to Peru (our home country) several times a year. Beats paying $3,500 each time.

Darrell Demello (St. Louis Park, Minn.)
I usually use my miles for my family--for my wife and boys to travel to India to visit family. In August 2012 when my wife took ill in Rome, Italy ... once discharged I was able to fly her and myself on miles on Air France to Mumbai, India to have her treated and taken care of by her family. I was already taking care of Ricky Demello my second son, in Rome who on July 2, 2012, had an accidental fall from the fifth floor apartment (fell 90 feet) to the ground. Ricky was transferred back to Minneapolis on Sept 7, and is now at home rehabbing from Nov. 17. A true Miracle in Rome!

Bill Haskett (Houston, Texas)
I earn my miles. My wife uses them so I shall have to relate an experience. Picking a single experience is difficult. With many trips each year that blend together, it is difficult to find something that would interest people. Yes, I've been in a couple emergency landings. I've been snowed-in in Frankfurt, London and believe it or not ... Buenos Aires (and since they've only been snowed in for about eight hours in the past 90 years, you should be able to pinpoint when I was there). I've been taken aside for private "discussion" while going through customs in the U.S., Canada, U.A.E., Bahrain and Angola.

I guess one situation I ran into while flying sticks out. Over the years I've maintained status as a Licensed Paramedic in Texas. I respond when crews ask for medical support. Earlier this year while travelling from Tokyo to San Francisco we had a cardiac arrest to work ... and best of all, they survived fully intact (I even received a nice note from the lady. It is always good when they do that). So, take care of yourself. Don't take other people's medication. If one airsickness pill works, it doesn't mean that two will work better. Otherwise, you have a chance of waking up looking at my blue eyes.

Doug Pollock (San Clemente, Calif.)
Just booked six roundtrip tickets to Maui courtesy of United Airlines. Also last Christmas, we had five seats, and four upgrades cleared into first class. So I took my three kids up to first class and left my wife in the back with a handful of drink coupons. It was the best flight she has had in the last eight years.

Joe Ruiz (Milwaukee, Wis.)
A few years ago, I booked a last-minute flight using miles and paid a surprise visit to my brother in East Lansing, Mich. for a Wisconsin vs. Michigan State football game. I was living in Florida at the time and had to fly from Tallahassee to Atlanta to Detroit to Lansing, but it was well worth it when I showed up at his door unannounced from several states away.

Ruban Selvakumar (Los Angeles, Calif.)
One good use: It keeps the wife happy! I use my miles to take my wife along with me on my business trips to the more exciting locations so she can experience the Sky Warrior lifestyle.

Tom Snook (Meridian, Ind.)
The ability to take my family on unforgettable holidays. Especially, the Christmases we spent in Barcelona and Paris.

Thomas Ta (San Diego, Calif.)
My wife's good friend couldn't make it to our wedding. Her friend didn't give a reason but I had a strong intuition that she was short on funds so I went ahead and booked a flight for her using my miles and sent her the confirmation saying how much my wife would love it if she could make it. Fast forward to the night before our wedding where my wife still thought her friend wasn't coming until her friend snuck up behind her at our rehearsal dinner with her baggage in tow straight from the airport. It was quite a surprise!

Q Finish this sentence: "The first thing I do when I get into my hotel room is ..."

Carlos Conde (Highland Beach, Fla.)
Sit on the bed to make sure there are no distracting noises that might interrupt sleeping, such as the elevator, ice machine, street noise, etc.

Darrell Demello (St. Louis Park, Minn.)
Start my laptop, log on to the Internet and catch up.

Bill Haskett (Houston, Texas)
... drop my bags and go out for a walk around the hotel area. If I don't, I find that I anchor in to the room and my world reduces to 400 square feet (1,200 square feet if I'm lucky). The walk also lets me calm down from travelling for better sleep. I'll walk around (in safe areas) no matter what time I arrive. If stores are open I'll buy some snack food or salads to tide me over through those 3am sleepless, hungry jet lag moments. If you don't know the area around your hotel, you can miss out on a lot.

Doug Pollock (San Clemente, Calif.)
... check to see that the security lock works.

Joe Ruiz (Milwaukee, Wis.)
... turn on ESPN while unfolding/hanging up my work clothes.

Ruban Selvakumar (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Figure out if the hotel has free WiFi.

Tom Snook (Meridian, Ind.)
Check the view, see if the window opens, and plug in my electronics.

Thomas Ta (San Diego, Calif.)
I immediately unpack my laptop (Lenovo X220), hook it up to the WiFi to do some work, look up something to do or a find a place to eat.


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