United MileagePlus switches to price-based loyalty program…soft of

United is the latest in airlines switching to a ticket price based loyalty program.  Delta announced their changes earlier this year.  United has followed suit and is yet another example how the big carriers continue to get it wrong.  The good news is that you will earn miles based on the number of dollars spent on your ticket.  Now, you will earn a set number of points per dollar spent based on your member level.

  • Member – 5 points
  • Premier Silver – 7 points
  • Premier Gold – 8 points
  • Premier Platinum – 9 points
  • Premier 1k – 11 points

That means if you buy a $500 ticket, a regular member would get 2500 miles, but a Premier Platinum member would earn 4500 miles.  You get rewarded for having a higher status.

Now for the bad news.  Like Delta, the changes to the program don’t help you earn status any faster.  You still need to get it based solely on miles.  Some fares have slight bonuses but for the most part you don’t get status much faster for booking high cost last minute flights.  There is also still a minimum revenue requirement as well.  This means you have to spend at least $2500 to get to the first tier.

While the new changes won’t likely get you status any faster, you may be able to accrue miles faster to spend on reward travel.    This is why getting status and points on Southwest still seems easier to me.

If you want to read more about the changes, see the United microsite.

 

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San Antonio International Airport Survival Guide

The San Antonio International Airport features two terminals.  Since I have moved, I have been making heavy use of the A terminal at San Antonio International Airport.   In the A terminal you can find Southwest, Delta and the occasional AeroMexico and Interjet flights to Mexico.   The airport’s B terminal is much like the B terminal of other airports such as IAH meaning it’s like the “B team” and clearly a second class citizen.  There you will find the United and American flights which I have had the unfortunate pleasure of flying on a time or two.

The A terminal is currently in the process of becoming “A-mazing” (a least that’s what the signs say) as it is currently under construction.

Terminal A becomes A-mazing

Terminal A becomes A-mazing

It is supposed to be done in “Early 2014”, but I would venture to say that has since past. Most of the construction progress is done at this point, opening a variety of new restaurants such as Cinnabon and Steak and Shake.  Outside, the terminals, a number of new stores have opened up across from the ticket counters.  There is still quite a bit of construction going on.  Getting to the baggage claim requires a detour up until a few weeks ago.

It currently is also under a 90 day runway closure as it reports 12R -30L.  This has led to increased time taking off for sure.

Walking into the A terminal, it splits at the food court.  Looking down the hallways, it is more than clear which side Southwest is on and which side the rest are on.

Empty hallways line the right side of Terminal A where Delta, Interjet, and AeroMexico reside.

Empty hallways line the right side of Terminal A where Delta, Interjet, and AeroMexico reside.

Southwest has six gates on the left side of the terminal and it’s always packed.  You go down towards the Delta side, and you can see tumbleweeds blowing by.  This side also has the flights to Mexico but they only operate a few flights per day so it keeps it pretty quiet.

A busy terminal as you approach the Southwest gates.

A busy terminal as you approach the Southwest gates.

The Food

If you make a U-turn as soon as you walk in, you will find the obligatory Dunkin Donuts, as well as La Gloria, Raising Canes, and a Mediterranean restaurant called, La Tapenade.  You can get some fairly authentic tacos as the La Gloria and they make a decent margarita.  Right when you get through security, you’ll see Vino Volo.   It’s a nice place to grab a decent wine before your flight.

However, the hidden gem for food and drink is down the hallway to the right at Fruteria.  Here they have infused tequila and some great quesadillas, tortas, and gaucamole.  The best part about it is that no one is ever there because it’s in the Delta side.  The service there tends to be really slow because the employees are too busy chatting with each other.  If you have the time though, it’s probably the best food there.

If you are just looking for a drink, head to the left.  You’ll find a long line at the Starbucks on your way.  However, if you go a bit further, you’ll run into Gervin’s sports bar.  That place is always packed and you will be lucky to find a seat.  However, if you go a bit further, you can go to Mission City Ice House.  Although it’s smaller, I hardly ever have an issue finding a seat there.

If you are stuck in terminal B and you are hungry, I am sorry.  Your choices are considerably more limited.  Sbarro and Charley’s are about your only options  There’s actually a few more places than that but your options are better in terminal A.  Next time you fly through here, I recommend going Southwest or Delta.

Security

The two terminals at the airport are separate and have separate security checkpoints.  Terminal A security has a premium line, TSA Pre-check, and CLEAR.  It’s not uncommon for the security lines to be all the way down the entry way early in the morning.  I’ve seen them be equally long when flying on a Saturday as well.  If you don’t have priority access, I recommend showing up early.  You can use CLEAR in this airport, which makes getting through security much faster on weekday mornings.  San Antonio airport is particularly bad about dumping non-Pre-check travelers into the Pre-check line.  This means it’s not uncommon to get behind inexperienced travelers.

Getting to the airport

Getting to the airport is easy as it is centered in a very accessible part of town at the intersection of Loop 410 and 281.

Parking

San Antonio International Airport offers long-term and hourly parking.  Long-term parking is a relative bargain at $11 a day (previously just $10 a few months ago).  Short-term parking can be parked in long-term, but it comes at a significantly higher cost of $24 per day.  The benefit is that the short-term parking is significantly closer than the long-term parking.  If you are handicapped or bringing someone who is, they will let you park for free up to one day.  However, they require your hang tag, driver’s license, and license plate number.  The entire process for them to collect this information takes at least five minutes.

Long-term parking comes with a significant walk as you have to go walk across the entire short-term parking garage to get to the terminal.  Finding the terminal can also be a challenge as there is absolutely no signage directing you there.  To walk to the terminal, you want to get off on the second floor and take the bridge.  You can also do this from the first floor, but you will have to go back up to get to the terminal.  The long-term parking garage recently got upgraded with a car-counting system indicting the number of slots available on each floor.  It usually gives pretty accurate counts but at times it malfunctions and every floor reports “FULL”.  In my experience, don’t even try parking on levels 1 or 2, as there won’t be any spots available.  Level 3 is questionable and generally by level 4, you have a decent chance of finding a spot.  Be sure and note where you parked by taking a picture to remember where you are when you get back.

WiFi

Southwest offers free WiFi without any real restrictions.  There isn’t a time limit like in Love Field nor do you have to provide any information.  Just click Accept and you’re online.  After you accept the terms and conditions, you will be redirected to www.satcoupons.com where you can find discounts on many of the different restaurants and shops in the airport.  The typical discount is 10%.  You don’t have to print anything, just mention the coupon code on the site.

Rental Cars

Rental cars in San Antonio are just off-site.  You’ll need to catch a shuttle to get to them.

Military

It’s not uncommon to see quite a few uniformed soldiers at the airport.  Stop one and thank them for their service.  If you find one off-duty sitting at the bar, be sure and buy him or her a beer.  That’s just what you do.

“International” or International?

A lot of small markets claim to have an International airport, but they really aren’t.  They don’t have a direct flight anywhere and certainly no customs office.  I’m looking at you Will Rogers in Oklahoma City.  However, San Antonio actually is an International airport with a number of flights a day going to Mexico served by Interjet, Aeromexico, Volaris, and AirTran.  Destinations include Guadalajara, Cancun, and Mexico City.  I’ll be curious to see if Southwest keeps the flights to Mexico from San Antonio after AirTran is absorbed.  Looking at the International page, San Antonio isn’t in the list.

 

You can find out more information about San Antonio International Airport on their site.

What happens when the latch to your tray table breaks?

You’re delayed a bit…

Yesterday, I was sitting aboard Southwest flight 1982 ready to come back home.  The plane was pretty full already when I got it, so I was sitting in one of my favorite seats 9D (I’ll tell you why some day).  As I was waiting for my wife to board behind me the flight attendant came up to talk to the passenger in front of me and hit the back of the seat.  To my surprise the latch popped out of the seat and the tray table was soon in my lap.  I tried to push the latch back in, but the flight attendant told me they would have to get someone from maintenance to look at it.

The flight was full and that meant if they couldn’t “fix it”, we were getting off the airplane.  That would have been unfortunate.  Although not having a working latch isn’t a big deal to us.  It’s a big deal to the FAA who thinks we are incapable of lifting a tray table to escape a burning airplane.  I suppose this makes sense, so it had to be fixed.

The maintenance guy showed up pretty quickly though with new parts in hand.  He asked to have a seat where my wife was now sitting.  She went up to the front of the plane while he worked.

Southwest maintenance technician repairing the tray table latch.

Southwest maintenance technician repairing the tray table latch.

While he was repairing the latch, I got to talking to him and had a good conversation.  It turns out this particular issue happens about once a day, especially on the older 737-300 and 737-500 series aircraft.  As much as I fly, I am surprised I have never seen it happen.  Before he worked for Southwest, he was a technician in the Air Force.

He quickly got our latch repaired and our tray table was no longer going to cause any harm.  Our shiny new latch worked great.

New tray table latch installed.

New tray table latch installed.

I thanked him for his service and we got on our way.  At this point, we were about 80 minutes late taking off.  It only took him 10 minutes or so to repair the issue though.

Lesson to be learned.  If the tray table in front of you breaks.  Make sure no one sees it or you’re going to be late.  Just be prepared to lift it up in an emergency situation. :)