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In an $11 billion deal that would create the world’s largest airline, American Airlines and US Airways have agreed to merge. The new airline will take the American Airlines name to help keep the company afloat after it filed for bankruptcy more than a year ago. The mega-merger deal is scheduled to close in the third quarter of 2013 and make its debut at an airport near you — well, sometime soon.

So what does this pending merger mean for travelers? For one, less competition in the airline industry could mean price hikes for customers. The new American Airlines — with 900 planes, 95,000 employees and 3,200 daily flights — will have the scale, breadth and capabilities to compete more effectively, according to US Airways CEO Doug Parker. The new American, along with United, Delta and Southwest, would control over 70% of the US market. So frequent fliers are warned to expect a rise in ticket prices.

Travelers flying American or US Airways won’t notice immediate changes. Industry officials say that it’s likely the airlines will operate separately for the first year and that existing tickets will be honored. However, it’ll be months before the frequent-flyer programs are combined and years before the 2 airlines are fully integrated.

For corporate business travelers, there may be a few perks. US Airways and American officials expect the combined network of flights and routes to lure corporate travelers away from competitors.

The new airline will keep all hubs for both airlines, but no word yet on a location for the operations center, reservations, flight training, and maintenance and crew bases.

I’m an avid fan of traveling, so aside from the occasional business trip, I frequently travel for leisure — usually for a rock climbing adventure. But my ultimate goal, other than having fun and exploring diverse culture, is to obtain miles and elite status. One method of obtaining miles is by taking a “mileage run” (MR). I try to turn a mileage run into a mini-vacation, like my trip to Stockholm; however, during my latest trip, I encountered a little snow in Amsterdam, which limited my amount of time in the city. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.

Snow at AMS

Photography by Arthur Hsu

You may be asking “what’s a mileage run?” It’s flying for the sole purpose of earning elite qualifying miles (EQM) and redeemable miles (RDM). Each airline uses different acronyms, such as Delta’s Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM), so make sure to check with your own frequent-flyer program. The EQMs help frequent flyers earn or maintain their elite frequent flyer status, while the RDMs can be used to book award tickets and pay for upgrades.

If you’re new to frequent-flyer programs and want to learn more, there are several active forums and blogs that discuss the programs such as FlyerTalk, milepoint and Mommy Points. Check out Mommy Points’ video series on TravelChannel.com for her tips for earning and using points.

Usually frequent flyers wait until the end of the year to take mileage runs, but this January, I decided to get a head start on maintaining my Delta Platinum Medallion elite status with a globetrotting extended Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Using Google Flights, I found a ticket to Istanbul with a low cost-per-mile (CPM), which is ideal for a mileage run. Generally, for a mileage run, you want to search for flights that cost no more than 5 cents per mile.

I usually prefer direct flights, but the additional connections for this trip added a few thousand extra miles, so I booked the ticket — flying from DC to Amsterdam to Istanbul to Paris to Minneapolis and back to DC.

Total Time in Transit: Nearly 48 hours, including 12 hours in Amsterdam.

 Unlike my last mileage run, I flew this entire trip in economy. Luckily, due to my elite status, I was able to pick seats in Economy Comfort, which provides extra legroom and seats closer to the front of the plane, allowing me to exit sooner and make it through passport control quicker. When I arrived at Schiphol airport in the early morning, I went to the KLM Crown Lounge for some breakfast and espresso before heading out into the city. It was a cold day in Amsterdam, around 21°F, made a little worse by high winds. In the afternoon, it started to snow, but I continued to wander the city before finally surrendering and going back to the Schiphol to enjoy my last few hours in the KLM Crown Lounge.  Sitting in the lounge, I could see the snow falling, and the word that flyers most dread — “cancelled” –started to appear on the flight status monitors. Luckily, my flight was only delayed.

As we approached Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport (about 3 hours late), I had a great view of the city lit up in the darkness. Once we landed, I went to the Millennium Lounge for some snacks and beverages for the 2 hours before my next flight that would take me Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. That flight was also my first time flying on Air France, and I missed the service I generally find on Delta or KLM.  Although the flight attendants were polite, the food and beverage offerings were very limited — they didn’t even have sparkling water!

Istanbul at Night

Photography by Arthur Hsu

Once at CDG, I proceeded to the Air France Lounge for a shower and a few glasses of Taittinger Champagne before boarding my Delta flight to MSP. Although I wasn’t sitting in their Business Elite seats, I was again happy in my Economy Comfort seat. A perk of international Economy Comfort is the complimentary spirits, so once the plane reached cruising altitude and beverage service began, I requested some Woodford Reserve Bourbon, served neat, of course. With a final stop in Minneapolis, I relaxed in the Delta Sky Club before boarding my flight back home to DC.

After spending most of the time in airports and on airplanes, with a snowy and windy layover in Amsterdam, this trip was worth the miles.

Total Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM): 11,765

Total Redeemable Miles: 23,530

Should you go on a mileage run? That depends on your situation. You shouldn’t do MRs if you can’t afford the trip, or if you would be leaving a family behind. There’s no advantage to having elite status and plenty of miles if you go broke, but as with everything, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

Watch Mommy Points‘ tips to earn miles.

Some people said this was a crazy trip for a crazy person: Fly from Washington, DC, to Stockholm, Sweden for dinner … and then fly home early the next morning. But in my defense, there was some reasoning and thought behind this, as I am a somewhat-sane “mileage runner” — a person that flies for the sake of earning miles.

The Friday before New Year’s Eve, I decided that I wanted to reach Delta’s Platinum Medallion frequent flyer elite status. The status was well worth the expense and time since I was planning a climbing trip to Paris the next year. Don’t understand elite status? Mommy Points explains the benefits. I was short 8,634 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) from the required 75,000-mile target and had just 4 days until the yearend deadline. A plan was needed quickly.

I immediately started searching for low fares that would yield the needed miles. A great tool is Google Flights which shows you destinations around the world and allows you to filter for specific airlines and alliances, in my case, SkyTeam. I already expected the ticket price would be high since this was a last-minute purchase, so my goal was to maximize miles earned for a reasonable cost. I finally settled on a ticket to Stockholm, which would net me 9,170 MQM and departed Dulles International Airport on Saturday at 6:20 p.m. to arrive at Stockholm Arlanda Airport on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. after a layover in Amsterdam. I’d be back in DC by 3:30 p.m. on Monday.

Total Time in Transit: Nearly 34 hours with 11 hours in Stockholm!

After packing a change of clothes, I headed to Dulles, parked in the economy parking lot and went off to Departures. (Travel tip — put your parking spot in your calendar. After your return flight,  this makes it easy to remember where your car is.) I made a quick stop at the check-in counter using the SkyPriority lane (another benefit of elite status), grabbed my boarding pass and learned that my flight was delayed 2 hours. No big deal — I could wait in the Air France Lounge until my flight and enjoy some snacks and Bordeaux wine — another advantage of having Delta Gold Medallion status.

Once boarding started, I headed to the SkyPriority lane where they actually have a different gate for elites, so I was sipping champagne in my business-class seat within a couple of minutes. After eating my 3-course meal — served on a white table cloth and porcelain plates — I went to sleep so I’d be able to walk around Amsterdam for a few hours before my connecting flight to Stockholm.

KLM Food

Photography by Arthur Hsu

After landing in Amsterdam, I took the Schiphol Express train to Central Station and wandered around the city for a few hours before grabbing a quick meal of poached eggs, smoked salmon and espresso at Vinnies Deli. The deli was located next to Dampkring, which I remembered seeing in an episode of The Layover, but when I looked at the Layover App, I realized I had ended up in a different cafe. Either way, it was packed with people. I continued to wander along the canals before heading back to the airport for a short flight to Sweden.

Amsterdam

Photography by Arthur Hsu

After finally arriving in Stockholm, I was excited to have a nice meal. But first, I checked into Jumbo Stay, a hostel built into a Boeing 747. I typically don’t stay in hostels, but I made an exception since the novelty of sleeping in an airplane was a somewhat unique experience  (granted, I slept the night before in a Boeing 767).

Jumbo Stay

Photography by Christian Skovgaard

Next, I headed back to the airport to catch the Arlanda Express train to Stockholm Station for dinner at Rolfs Kök. I grabbed a seat at the bar and decided to start with some Bellota pig tartare. This was my first time eating raw pig and it won’t be my last, as you could actually taste the acorns that made up the Bellota pig’s last meal. My main course was perfectly-cooked loin of cod with anchovies. And for dessert, I enjoyed a glass of Ardbeg Ten Years Old single-malt scotch (no ice, of course). After dinner, I wandered the streets before heading back to the train, catching some sleep and leaving for the airport at 5:00 a.m. for my return home.

With my quick trip to Stockholm, I netted 11,104 MQM, (with the 150% class bonus for my business seat), which helped me secure Platinum Medallion status through Feb 2014. I also earned 9,170 bonus miles as part of the 100% bonus miles Medallion benefit for a total of 20,274 miles! All in all, I had a great flying experience, a delicious meal and I ended the year with enough miles to book 2 business class award tickets for a bouldering adventure in November to France’s Fontainebleau, one of the top bouldering spots in the world.

If you want to learn how to earn airline elite status, watch our video. Be sure to also catch our web series, Mommy Points’ Family Travel Deals, to learn more about earning miles and making the most of your points.

 

British Museum in London

By Mommy Points

After an overnight flight from the US, we arrived in London to experience the magic of the Olympic Games.

Having been to the 1996 Atlanta Games, I think I was mentally prepared for a semi-repeat of that experience. I was just a teenager in 1996, but I distinctly remember the heat and the crowds.  However, London is dramatically different; it is almost chilly here, and while there are many people around, the city seems quite able to handle the crowds.  I was shocked when we breezed through London’s Heathrow Airport in a matter of mere minutes.

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Summer Hull of the blog Mommy Points shows us how to take advantage of travel rewards points and miles to make the most of our vacation dollars with her new Travel Channel web series. By breaking down the often-complicated frequent-flyer programs out there, Summer makes it easy for anyone to redeem miles and points in exchange for memorable family vacations.

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By Mommy Points

There’s only a little time left until the Olympic torch reaches London and marks the beginning of the 2012 Summer Olympics, so it isn’t surprising that hotel prices in London this summer are high. Not only is the British pound a pretty strong currency against many other currencies (such as the US dollar) but demand is obviously higher than normal because of the Olympics.  You could say that the whole world is converging upon London!

However, if you collect miles and points from your travels, or even just through your credit card spending, you can still use those points to book some free rooms in London during the Olympics.  There are several very nice hotels in London that still have standard reward night availability from July 27 – Aug. 12 when the Olympics are in full force.  In fact, using your hotel points for free nights when the going rate is very expensive, such as during the Olympics, is actually the best way to redeem them.  It ensures you are getting the best value for your hard-earned points.

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We spend time trolling the travel blogosphere so you don’t have to! Well, not trolling … more like, blissfully absorbing. Anyway, turns out the Olympics is on everyone’s minds — as it will be for the next couple of months — and we found tips on eking as much enjoyment as possible out of the remaining summer days. Check out what we found on Travel Channel’s blogroll.

Looking to get to London on the cheap? Mommy Points debates taking a discounted trip to the Olympics.

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Sailabration

What better way to show off your love for “the land of the free and the home of the brave” than with a visit to this weekend’s aptly named “Star-Spangled Sailabration” in Baltimore? Put on your American flag pants (or bowtie!) and scoot down to this weeklong festival, which commemorates the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and the writing of every American’s favorite tune … “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

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OutEscpapes.com Launches

Memorial Day is the unofficial kick off to summer travel. It also marked the launch of a new gay travel website that caters to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) travelers … and their straight friends, too. OutEscapes.com — founded by Travel Channel’s guest blogger, Jimmy Im, and his business partner, Todd Murray — provides travelers with bookable travel and event packages at top travel destinations and properties around the world.

According to the staff at Out Escapes, the new website is the first travel, flash-sales website geared specifically to the LGBT community — an industry estimated at $65 billion in revenue a year. The new site touts having a skilled team of LGBT travel experts and industry insiders that will curate the website with their own experiences. So now travelers can get real, qualitative information about a specific destination of interest — for free!
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NBC’s 17th annual TODAY Summer Concert Series kicks off  (appropriately) … today! If you’re an early bird and in Manhattan on any Friday this summer, head down to Rockefeller Plaza around 6 a.m. to stake out your spot for a free live show. Usher is the first on the all-star roster of performers, which also includes Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band, Train and Jason Mraz. READ MORE

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