Galley Gossip: Enter to win two business class tickets to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific!

Until May 31, 2010 Cathay Pacific is giving away two free tickets in business class from any city to Hong Kong, as well as three nights’ accommodation at The Upper House, a portrait session with campaign photographer Andrew J. Loiterton, and eight times the Asia Miles you earn flying on Cathay Pacific from now until the end of May. Now that I have your attention, keep reading. Contest details can be found at the bottom of this post.

Whenever I’m just hanging out in the galley between services chatting with frequent fliers, I’ll ask them to name their favorite airline. On most occasions their eyes glaze over and this look of contentment washes across their face. I’ve seen the look dozens of times. I know what they’re going to say before they even say it. Cathay. The word is always followed by a long deep sigh. Sometimes I’ll even sigh along with them. What follows next is usually an awkward silence. That’s when I’ll ask about their favorite airport restaurant, just to get the conversation flowing again.

Last year when my husband’s original Cathay Pacific flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong canceled, I was thrilled. Because the airline generously bumped him from business class to first class free of charge on a flight departing the following morning. He was upset about losing 24 hours in Hong Kong, but I knew it would be more than worth the inconvenience. The husband had his doubts. As soon as his flight touched ground, he sent the following email.

This flight was better than anyone could put in words. I have my own little cabin with a desk internet and movies. I was given a Shanghai Tzen pajama set and amenity kit and a huge down pillow and comforter. My seat reclines to a full bed and I have a privacy shield. I even used all the cool lotions in the two bathrooms shared by fourteen people. The toilet was spotless the entire trip. The food and presentation was better than a restaurant. I have to list all that I ate before I forget…

Smoked salmon shashimi with Caviar. Cream of mushroom soup. Salad greens with scallops and shrimp. AND THAT WAS ONLY THE APPETIZER! Lunch consisted of lobster stir fry with soup bok choy and a cold tofu salad. After two more movies I had a hot panini with prosciutto grilled veggie and cheese. Another movie and noodle soup with duck breast. NO FAT. Pure breast. Dinner wasn’t as good. Large fruit plate followed by grilled rack of lamb and potatoes. That’s okay because the coffee is great.

The guy sitting beside me said I would never be able to fly in business class again now that this has happened. He might be right. If I can’t swindle an upgrade home I think I may pay the difference. If I had to turn around now and fly right back to LA I would be very happy. We’re about to land so I think I’m going to go to the bathroom and shave or something. Maybe a facial? Don’t be jealous. I love you!

Don’t be jealous? How!

What’s not to love about an airline that provides that kind of service? And is it just a coincidence that the airline also takes pride in the very people providing the amazing service? Have you seen the latest marketing campaign, Meet The Team, featuring the men and women of Cathay Pacific? Read their stories and get to know the flight attendants, pilots, and other staff as both members of the Cathay family and as individuals. Find out what makes them who they are and how they see their role at Cathay. Then you’ll be ready to play to win!

Each week until May 31, 2010 Cathay will post a question on the Meet the Team mini-site. Answers can be found in the staff stories. People who answer correctly will automatically be entered into the contest. Thirteen questions will be presented. This means there are thirteen chances to win! Also, don’t forget to connect with Cathay on Facebook and Twitter where staff will be sharing their favorite places to visit during their travels. Good luck!

Photos courtesy of Bernard SD and Steven W. Belcher

Worst travel mistakes of the 2000’s: Diplomatic Dipsticks

As we take time to count our travel sins of the past decade, I get all teary-eyed and indecisive. Where to begin? Couldn’t we just say “Iraq” and be done with it? And are we including food mistakes? ‘Cuz I got some real doozies: how about shrimp ceviche from a quaint Mexican beach cafe or fresh cut watermelon in India? Uh, those would be travel mistakes, no? But like, since we’re trying to refrain from the scatological (are we?), I choose to relate the following story of which I may or may not have played a small cameo role:

Once upon a time, there were two young men working in Brussels, preparing to embark on a business trip to poor, struggling, deprived Eastern Europe. Filled with kindness and goodwill, the two decided they would add a charitable purpose to their journey by driving across Europe in their vehicle–a beige, 1975 Mercedes with a good 250,000 km under her belt–and filling it with used office computers to give away to the lesser half of the digital divide.

in order to ease their way through the red tape of certain notorious Eastern European countries, the boss of the young men lent them a pair of expired diplomatic license plates, which (in Euro-capital Brussels) tends to grant you permission to do whatever you want: park on the sidewalk, speed a little bit, drive like a maniac, etc. So, the young men screwed on the two red license plates and set off on their grand cross-European adventure.

Feeling confident with their special diplomatic status, the young men parked in the city center of lovely Budapest for a break. They wandered about for hours sightseeing and upon returning, discovered not one, but TWO parking tickets fluttering from the car’s windshield wiper. As they wrung their hands with worry for this small misfortune, a Hungarian policeman approached them, pointing out the fresh car ticket and asking for additional information. Immediately after that, a second Hungarian policeman approached from the rear, pointing to the second parking ticket.The young men stood back and watched with awe as the two Hungarian policemen began to argue with each other. Both policeman had issued parking tickets, both wanted glory for punishing the foreign offenders and yet, upon closer look, they had in fact issued tickets to two different cars. The pair of diplomatic license plates were actually different number plates gleaned from different cars, and each cop had recorded only one of the numbers on the ticket. It was also soon revealed that both were expired plates. The young men could not respond to the policemen’s inquiry as to the actual registration number for their car. This led to the car getting towed to the outskirts of Budapest and a thorough search being conducted during which time, a dozen computers were found stashed in the backseat and trunk of the car.

To make a long story short, it was something of an international incident that required some top-level EU intervention to resolve. Anyone who traveled in Central and Eastern Europe in the early 2000s will remember the huge stolen car rackets that pervaded and made it nigh impossible to rent a car. After this little glitch, it was a miracle that the car was eventually released back to the young men and they were able to drive back to Brussels.

And so the moral of the story is: When in Budapest, make sure your back matches your front. Always.

A memo to airline passengers

If you don’t want to pay what it’s worth, then stop whining about air travel.

I won’t take credit for that pithy remark. It was made by a travel editor friend of mine, the New York Post’s David Landsel, over Thanksgiving dinner.

But it’s been ringing in my ears ever since.

Because let’s face it: we’re not paying enough for commercial air travel. Airlines have cut costs to the bone, slashing pay, eliminating services, deferring new planes, hedging jet fuel purchases, and all the rest. And yet they’re still losing billions.

But while the cost of most everything else we buy, in inflation-adjusted dollars, has gone up (notable exceptions being things like TVs and phone service), the price of air travel has gone down over the last several decades.

Back in the early 1960’s, when a gallon of gas cost 29 cents, a flight from New York to LA could be bought for as little as $250 round-trip. Today, you can fly that route for as little as $178 round-trip when there’s a cutthroat sale going on, but that gallon of gas costs 10 times as much. A brand new Ford Pinto cost $1999 in 1972. And that $250 flight, in 1960 dollars, works out to about $2200 in 2009 greenbacks.
For some odd reason, and I’ve never heard a rational explanation for this, North America’s airlines can’t seem to price their product at what it actually costs them to deliver it.

Experience has shown them that when they raise fares to profitable levels, people simply reduce their flying, and that impacts the entire travel industry-hotels, rental cars, attractions. Because, let’s face it, most air travel is discretionary. Few people have to fly to Hawaii unless it’s to a funeral or to attend college.

And so instead of raising prices, airlines have cut costs, wages, seat pitch, and perks such as meals and pillows. And that’s resulted in cramped and dirty planes, cancelled routes, and grumpy employees and passengers. But what, exactly, do you expect when you pay more for the round-trip taxi ride to the airport than for your flight to Chicago?

Look, I’ve built a career and an award-winning airfare web site on telling people about insanely low airfares. And I love my work. But honestly, when I see a $98 round-trip fare from New York to Denver, I shake my head, and I feel a little guilty. Am I helping the situation by telling folks about how desperate the airlines can get sometimes? It’s like stealing candy from a baby, not that I’ve ever done that. Or at least I don’t think I have.

One way that the airlines are trying to achieve pricing power, frankly, is by reeling consumers in with ridiculously unprofitable fares and then hitting them with all these new fees for checked bags, pets, itinerary changes, and frequent flyer ticket redemptions. But even that hasn’t returned them to profitability. All it’s done is generate thousands of newspaper headlines. Speaking of which, enough about those holiday surcharges already! So the airlines are trying to lose a little less money. Give them a break!

Eventually, and who knows when, the party has to end. Fares need to go up, or we’ll see more airline mergers and Chapter 7 filings. And then fares really will go up. But meanwhile, perhaps it’s time to face reality. Sure, air travel isn’t fun anymore. Sure, it’s a PITA. But just as surely, as crappy as it is sometimes, this is what you and I told the airlines we wanted by voting with our wallets. So maybe we should all just stop whining or get used to paying a fair price for airfare.

George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.

Southwest and Virgin celebrate Thanksgiving with sales

Here are two more things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving – Southwest Airlines and Virgin America. Both carriers have announced Thanksgiving sales to celebrate the holiday.

Sample one-way fares in Southwest’s seven-day sale include: Austin to Houston for $59, Baltimore to Chicago for $97, Chicago to Las Vegas for $148, Denver to Milwaukee for $96, Fort Lauderdale to Long Island for $103, LA to Oakland for $59, Orlando to Nashville for $94, and Portland to Spokane for $58.

Fares start at $47 (and go up to about $159) each way plus tax. The tickets must be purchased by November 30 and are good for travel through February 9. A 14-day advance purchase is required, travel is valid every day except Fridays and Sundays, and there are a few blackout dates.

Tickets for Virgin’s sale must be purchased by December 2 and are valid for travel December 3 to 17. One-way fares range from $59 to $249 and include LA to Seattle for $79, LA to New York for $169, and Las Vegas to New York for $249.

U.S. Airlines hoping for a successful summer

Let’s file this one under “boo hoo”.

U.S. Airlines are hoping that summer air travel will help dig them out of the slump they have been in for the past year(s). As business travel has plummeted, consumers trying to escape all the doom and gloom for a couple of weeks of R&R is pretty much all they have left to hope for.

So, if summer travel is this important for them, you’d assume they would take the time to load some juicy low airfare for us, wouldn’t you?

Sadly, they want to have their cake, and eat it, as airfare prices for the summer months are absolutely atrocious.

Some examples of the fares loaded at the moment:

United Airlines – Chicago to Las Vegas in June – $521
United Airlines – Chicago to Paris in July – $1054
American Airlines – New York to Paris in August – $939
American Airlines – Los Angeles to Hong Kong in August- $2054
Delta Airlines – Atlanta to Paris in September – $1023
Continental Airlines – Newark to Amsterdam in August – $948

None of those fares are exceptionally cheap, and in a time where the airlines claim to be hurting so badly, it isn’t exactly like they put effort into lowering prices to help passengers.

In fact, I’m guessing that the airlines just assume (and hope) that you and I will be so eager to travel, that we’ll pay anything.

These high prices will have a bad effect on summer travel – it will force passengers to sit and wait for fares to drop, making their vacation plans even more complicated. You’d think the smart airlines would want to offer something good now and lock passengers in as early as possible.

Of course, only finding bad fares may force people to completely abandon their plans and stick to a more budget friendly trip.

For tips on how to squeeze the most out of your trip, check out this handy guide by Tom, or go through the budget destination posts we’ve written for you.