Monday, April 24, 2006

Airline Miles Are Getting More and More Worthless

When I started traveling for business in the late 80s, it took 25,000 miles to get a free round trip domestic ticket. There were a few black-out dates here and there, but it really wasn't that hard to get a seat if you booked a month or so in advance.

As the 90s progressed, it became harder and harder to cash in the points. Not only were there blackout dates, but airlines started putting tight limits on the number of seats they would release for mileage on each flight. And the number of people with points exploded, so there were more people competing for fewer seats.

Then in the late 90s the mileage requirement per seat started going up. 25,000 miles became 30,000. Then the airlines introduced "dual track" mileage, charging a higher set of miles for "peak" periods - first 40,000 and then 50,000. And these were for flights that you typically wanted to take, so they effectively raised the rates unless you wanted to fly the red-eye.

It looks like the next step is that the airlines are just going to go to 50,000 miles for everything. I just got this from United:

Effective Oct. 16, 2006, the number of miles required to redeem for many Standard and select Saver Awards will change. As an example, the domestic Economy Standard Award redemption amount will increase from 40,000 to 50,000 miles, matching most other U.S. carriers' current standard award levels.

Even Southwest, which had the most liberal and user-friendly rules, is tightening down with one-year expirations on their tickets and certain blackout periods - which they didn't used to have at all.

And during this time the flying experience is getting worse and worse with more packed-in seats, fuller flights, more delays, higher ticket prices, and smaller flight crews. It seems that the airlines should be giving me MORE rewards for flying so much, not less.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Aston Martin or Tibet?

Based on a True Story

Two young executives, Andy and Bob, are brought on as VPs at a start-up. They toil for years going through ups and downs, at one point honestly believing the company would shut down for good. But through hard work, determination, and just a little bit of luck, everything pulls together and the company starts growing. It finally starts making money. It actually goes public. The two guys who at one point thought they lost everything found that they were suddenly sitting on stock options worth millions.

After the IPO, the VPs were having a beer together, and the topic came up what to do with their stock. They both felt the company was still growing, so they didn't want to cash in. But they put in years of hard work and effort, and wanted to do something with their hard earned money. So the two agreed they would each cash out $250K and spend it on a "non-necessity", i.e. it could only be spent on something they wouldn't do unless they had money to burn.

Andy decided to take a leave of absence and go to Tibet. He liked the outdoors, was an avid camper, and the thought of seeing the Himalayas and mystery of Tibet had always fascinated him. With the money he could put his affairs in order for a few months, not worry about an income for a while, and arrange his travel and equipment. But he certainly wouldn't need very much money once he got there.

Bob got an Aston Martin Vantage.

So if you had to pick one - and these are your only choices - which would you choose?

For me this is a no brainer: ASTON MARTIN. I have an eternity to wonder about the mysteries of Tibet. I have only about fifty more years to enjoy an Aston Martin. Besides, I've been inside the Vantage in question and it is sweet.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

An Airplane Experience You'll Never Have

This cool video (about 3 minutes) is from Boeing's sales department showing some really great things that airlines can do with the new 747-800 interior. I really like the business lounge and exercise room. And I like all the internet terminals everywhere.

But we all know what will REALLY happen: the airlines will rip everything out and squeeze in as many seats as humanly - or inhumanly - possible. The flying experience is getting worse, not better.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Then Why Aren't Women Swooning Over Me?

Is it the short hair? The lack of an accent?

Wait, let me start from the beginning. There is this face-recognition website that will look at your picture and analyze which celebrities you look like (requires registration - give them a dummy email address). So I uploaded my picture and got....Antonio Banderas:

I dunno. I guess there IS an resemblance, but for the record the match is just over 55%. Maybe the one-day shadow gave me the match?

Other celebrates it matched me to were Frank Sinatra (55%) and Joe Pesci (50%). Then there were a couple of guys I never heard of: Joshua Jackson and Matthew Lillard. The woman I look most like - according to this software - is Greta Garbo at 52%. My sister apparently isn't in the database.

So treat this thing as nothing more than a conversation (and blogging) piece.

Hat Tip: Caltech Girl

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Numbers That Explain a Mindset

At a business dinner with a Chinese executive (there are a BUNCH here this week as a part of a trade delegation), a colleague at my company was making idle conversation while we ate.

"So your company is in the Chinese province of Guangdong? How many provinces does China have?"

"Twenty-three," our guest replied.

I looked up from my meal and raised my eyebrows at him.

"Including Taiwan," he added. Not wanting to be drawn into an argument he quickly continued, "That, of course, does not include the Autonomous Regions or city-level provinces like Shanghai."

I thought that sort of thinking was reserved for government types, but I have to keep in mind that this guy was traveling as a part of a Chinese delegation, so I should have expected him to toe the Party Line.

The second interesting number came up when my colleague asked our guest how many children he had. "Only one. Those are the rules," he glumly replied. I could have been the Ugly American and said "I also only have one, but I was FREE to make that choice!", but being the polite businessman that I am I nodded gravely and changed the subject.

But I couldn't help wondering if he ever let his angst with the second number conflict with the pride he had in the first number.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The (Not So Ugly) American

The WSJ today (paid link) has a rather insulting article on Americans doing business overseas. Saying that Americans have a problem with their "image", the article gives some rather obvious pointers about doing business overseas like not discussing religion (gee, really?) and slowing down the speed you talk (wow, I thought talking louder would make those "ferners" understand me better).

Here is the email I wrote the author in response:

The "pointers" in your article pertain to anyone doing business anywhere, including Californians doing business in Texas. Good manners and respect for your hosts are Business 101. To insinuate that this is something American business people lack is insulting, at best.

You back up this "problem" with quotes from self-loathing Americans and one foreign quote on Walmart business practices in Germany - this a week after your own paper warned Americans that they need to adopt to foreign customs when overseas companies set up shop in the U.S. Walmart's business polices are hardly "proof" that traveling executives are perceived as anything but professional.

I have been doing extensive business in Asia for nearly a decade, and the only people I have found who have negative attitudes towards Americans are U.S. newspaper reporters.

Are there ugly Americans? Sure there are. There are also ugly Japanese, Chinese, French, and every other nationality under the sun. But no matter what the nationality and culture, there is one thing all business people undertake when traveling overseas for business: doing what it takes to close the deal. And 99% of the time that means doing the right thing from a cultural, respect and knowledge standpoint.

The "ugly American" may exist, but these are the tourists who are spending their hard earned money to dress in loud Hawaiian shirts and be obnoxious - and are the Americans foreigners most want to keep seeing and taking money away from.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Sign of a True Ukrainian

Never let go of your bottle of vodka:

A thirty-year-old Ukrainian male fell through the ice and remained in ice-cold water for 20 minutes but never let his bottle of vodka go.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

How Many Times Have You Been To...?

I was in Taiwan part of last week, which is the reason for the light posting. I was in a contract negotiation and the opposing counsel asked the same small-talk question that always comes up in overseas business meetings: So, how many times have you been to Taiwan?

My response was "About a dozen times", but the right answer is "I don't know". I decided to fix this and sit down with my current and expired passports and go through the stamps. Yes, it's a little tedious, but worthwhile. Here is what I got:

All the Asia travel is since 1998. I have a country breakdown for "W. Europe" when I first started traveling there in 1992, but after a few years all the entries and exits became EU, so I just put it all as W. Europe. This doesn't include Mexico, which doesn't stamp U.S. passports.

I wasn't too far off my Taiwan estimate. Japan is actually less than I thought, but maybe that is because I have spent more than two months in the country altogether.