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We’re coming back in late-March 2017

The Fuzzy Wanderer has indeed been, shall we say, “fuzzy” lately. With no new posts for years, recent multiple off-line times due to hosting changes, and an antique-in-internet-years layout. Which you are still looking at right now. Sorry, been busy, it’s only 3 blocks to the beach and it’s been summertime here in Uruguay. But autumn is blowing in, here in the Southern Hemisphere, and with that will be a whole bushel of updates along with some new material. And maybe even back to regular posting. Meanwhile all my older articles and commentary are once again (finally after 4 months!) back online.

First thoughts on the just-approved AA-US Merger

Not sure I like this. In fact, as a relatively experienced air traveler, pretty sure I don’t.

Need some background on the approval today? Try this NBC News story on the Justice Department coming to terms with American and US Airways.

US and AA planes showing their tailfin livery

US Airways and American Airlines planes. Click the image for the official “New American is Arriving” website.

I’m torn in a few directions on it. Continue reading »

Uruguay Air Connectivity Changes to Europe

Lots of changes in the Uruguay air travel picture in the past few months, including an upcoming one just announced a couple of weeks ago. Uruguay is losing 2 of its weekly 6 nonstop flights to/from Europe. Iberia is the only direct air connectivity from Uruguay to anywhere outside the Western Hemisphere, and due to their many recent problems, they are canceling two flights per week each way.

Image of Iberia aircraft at the gates.

Don’t worry they were flying an A340, not one of these narrowbody short-range MD80s.

I’ve mainly been focusing on my Uruguay Expat Life blog and expat info service lately, so I will link in my post at that site from earlier today. In it I list a lot of alternative routes Continue reading »

Summer Travel Deals #1 (Northern Hemisphere Summer, that is)

I don’t usually post specific travel deals. Plenty of sites already do that. I also don’t, as a rule, recommend buying miles to get tickets. It’s usually a suckers game.

Sometimes it makes sense, though, especially when a big FF program has a deal. American Airlines has exactly that starting today: Up to 25%  off when buying miles in their AAdvantage Program.

Don’t get too excited. Up to. The fine print when you click through to their Points.com partner’s BuyAAMiles Promotion site makes it clear: no discount for 1000-4000 miles, only 10% off for 5000-9000, 15% for 10,000-19,000, 20% for 20,000-39,000, and the 25% full discount only if you buy the maximum 40,000 miles. Also no discount on the ridiculous $30 processing fee, which most other airlines do not charge when you buy miles.

But still, better than the usual AAdvantage promo. Most of the time, they offer something like 10 or 20 or 25% additional miles for the regular price. But the bonus miles don’t post until weeks after the promotion ends – so you end up having to buy the full amount of miles you need now. Two months later, you end up with a likely-useless orphan few hundred or few thousand miles. That’s my situation, with 4000 useless miles in my account, months after buying 20,000 (in one of those rare cases where it did make sense – half the price of buying the ticket I needed and enough miles to do a 1-way US to Uruguay off-peak.)

I actually am considering buying some miles on this deal, to bring that up to either a full 10,000 miles, so that I can change my off-peak end-August ticket to a peak-season 30,000 mile award and use it in July or early August. Or to bring it up to the 12,500 level where it becomes a USA/Canada 1-way on American or Alaska Airlines, which I can use later this year when I come back to the States for my daughter’s graduation. I’ll probably fly into some gateway other than near where I need to be in the US, on a cheap paid AviancaTaca ticket same as I did 3 weeks ago on Taca, earning excellent value in their LifeMiles program and enjoying far better service than AAwful Airlines. But I’ll still need a USA flight tacked on. Last time I took the train from my gateway (SFO) to where I needed to be (Colorado), using up my Amtrak Guest Rewards points. This time, not any more rail points and I don’t feel like taking 2 or 3 days to get there. So this promo may be worth it.

Promotion is on from today (July 1) through August 31.

Remember, buying miles rarely makes any sense. But sometimes it does, especially if you just need to “top-off” an existing account with almost enough miles for a valuable award, and the award with miles purchase is still a better price value to you than the cost of just buying the ticket (remember you earn new miles, and you earn elite qualifying miles towards status and perks when you fly on a paid-with-money ticket; not on an award ticket even if you paid-with-money for the miles.) At about 3¢/mile for the miles, you’re often throwing money away.

But if the particular ticket is expensive, and especially if you’re already almost there, buying some of the miles can work. Same with my having bought a full 20,000 miles for about $650 with all taxes and fees for a Uruguay 1-way. At the time I needed that particular flight, 1-ways were going for at least $1000, and round-trips for at least $1200. At other times, I’ve found $650 1-ways and $890 round trips, but not all the time.

So be wise. Just buy the miles only if you can use them at good value. And remember that “good value” when using American AAwful Airlines AAdvantage Miles is usually using them on better-service, respectful-to-customers parnter airlines like LAN (my August trip back home to Uruguay), Alaska Airlines, or others, rather than on the USA’s worst-service worst-managed least-respectful airline itself.

Seriously liking Taca Airlines

Seriously liking Taca Airlines after my first flights with them yesterday, from deep South America (Montevideo, Uruguay) up to San Francisco, USA.

I’m normally not a fan of narrowbodies for intercontinental long-haul, and Taca is an all Airbus 320 (plus some of the largest big-for-regional jet Embraer E190s) narrowbody airline. So I was expecting being cramped.

But the 3-flight (Montevideo to their Taca Peru subsidiary hub in Lima, Lima to their main hub in San Salvador, El Salvador, and thence to SFO) was great.

One really smart thing Taca does: they bought Recaro seats (yes, THAT Recaro) rather than the cheap seats, for all their seats including Economy class. With a deeply scooped-out lower seatback that does not have a traditional seat pocket; that’s a special magazine rack above the tray table instead. Result: way more leg/knee room than you’d expect for the seat pitch. Which is on the order of Economy Plus/Economy Comfort 34-ish-inch seat pitch by my eyeballs. Put it this way, I could cross my legs comfortably, and even manage it when the seat in front reclined all the way back. Even on the first leg, a shiny new Taca Peru A320 with multi-color mood lighting (oranges, purples) and seatback on-demand audio/video and USB charging, there was just as much room, and not too much space taken up by the typical AVOD underseat power box in the center. Also Airbus narrowbodies have about 1 inch wider per seat than Boeing, so all in all, a nice ride.

Very friendly staff onboard; both the Peruvian subsidiary and the main Salvadoran airline. Food was ok. I got better-fed on Panama’s Copa on the way down in coach last week – each coach meal was good, and there was a 2nd Copa hot food service on a 7-ish-hour flight while there was not any second service, not even a snack, on the over-6-hour Lima to San Salvador Taca flight, and the free hot meals were not as good as Copa’s. But still, free hot breakfast, lunch, and dinner between my 3 Taca flights, multiple beverage services, free booze if you want it (I was trying to stay awake so declined), and two free bags. On a modern, safe, clean, friendly airline. What’s not to like?

Nice work, amigos!

Check them out at taca.com on Facebook or the web, and seriously consider them for flying not only to their primary home of Central America (El Salvador, connections throughout centroamerica, and their other hub San Jose, Costa Rica for their LACSA brand), but also for connecting all the way into any of the South American countries further down. Including all the way into the Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile.

Taca (and its subsidiaries/partner companies Taca Peru and LACSA Costa Rica) are also routinely the cheapest by hundreds of dollars for round-trips, and by many hundreds of dollars for one-ways (say if you’re using somebody’s miles the other way) to South America. You almost always can find a sub-$1000USD USA to Montevideo Uruguay round-trip or an $800 or less 1-way from either LAX, SFO, MIA, or occasionally one of Taca’s other USA gateways. It’s impossible to find that ever on American, the only US airline that flies to Uruguay, nor almost never on LAN, the big South American airline that flies all over the continent via Santiago and Lima. I like LAN, but Taca is a much better deal.

Taca also is far better organized and modernized than Brasil’s TAM, which I love once on the plane but detest on the ground. For example, they do not have that ridiculous ” stop at the gatekeeper for the check-in line for permission to enter the check-in line” that many South American (and some European) airlines have for no sensible reason whatsoever.  Entirely modern experience, complete with online check-in and bag drop, but with no fees involved and a far more personal sense of service. Yet no unnecessary personal money-wasting time-wasting service.

San Salvador Comalpas Aeropuerto Internacional was a breeze to connect through. Like Panama’s Tocumen International on Copa last week, there is no transit-security nonsense at all. Walk off plane at gate 12, walk to departing plane at gate 14. That’s in. Well not quite, because my plane at gate 14 was to the USA, so there was all that horrible TSA-mandated-for-other-countries, paranoid USA invasive security. But since we were already “airside” of security, it consisted of the typical foreign carrier at home-airport desks of nice agents manually checking your carry-on, and then being patted/wanded in a totally respectful manner, with your shoes still on of course. If I had been connecting from Lima to let’s say Guatemala or Mexico, there would have been no transfer security whatsoever. So even though the connection time was blocked at only 55 minutes arrival to departure, it was trivial to make the connection and even enjoy a quick snack, paid for in El Salvador’s currency, the US Dollar.

Lima was a bit more of a transfer pain, but not due to Taca. I’ve flown in and out of Lima a few times now, but always on deliberately arranged 1 or 2-day stopovers for some Lima tourism. So yesterday was my first time actually connecting through Lima, which has won awards for being the best South American Airport for connections. It is quite modern and lovely airside, as long as you don’t mind South American Toilet Paper Rules (mostly “West of Andes Toilet Paper Rules” in my experience), but you do have to clear transfer passenger security with x-rays and metal detectors (basic pre-9/11 USA-style security). However they were very fast and efficient, and of course polite, never being perros malos barking at passengers the way US Geheimstadtsicherheitministerium* TSA still too often does by culture.

So based on this admittedly single-day (but 3-flight and 3-airport) experience, and their excellent LifeMiles frequent flyer program which is where all my Taca, Avianca, Lufthansa (if any), US Airways, and United Airlines flights will be credited nowadays, I can highly recommend Taca.

Which of course means my next Taca flight will become the Flight From Hell. jejejeje.

*Department of Homeland Security always sounds best in the original German. 

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