Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Airtran, Amex, & What To Expect This Fall


I'm no big fan of Airtran Airways. Even though the bloom is long ago off the Delta rose for me, I don't view Airtran as my lifeboat from the Delta wreckage. My five million miles at Delta earned me lifetime Delta Platinum status, which is at minimum a help in boarding early and getting good seats online, and once in awhile I even get an upgrade. So this is not a diatribe against Delta again, nor is it a love letter to Airtran.

But I have to admit that Airtran seems to be getting better. Several recent trips, including a day trip to Atlanta this week, have been on Airtran instead on Delta simply because the fares were much cheaper on Airtran. I have no idea why Delta fares (both online at and through an agent) are so much higher than Airtran in the competing markets, but they are, and that's made choosing Airtran obvious.

On all these flights, Airtran has been either on time or no more than 20 minutes behind schedule. This is quite remarkable compared to Delta, American, and others, and especially doing a side-by-side contrast with Delta through ATL.

I have no status whatsoever with Airtran, and yet I've been able to get good aisle seats every time. Seats in coach are no more uncomfortable than Delta's, too. This week I paid $40 to upgrade to Airtran's Business Class to be able to work on the flight home, and I was again surprised how easy it was to do that on the spur of the moment at the gate in Atlanta.

Airtran's ATL C concourse gate areas are clean and modern, and their people (at least the ones I talked to) were friendly and knowledgeable.

Overall, these flights reinforced my commitment to make Airtran an ongoing alternative to Delta.


For over a decade I have been a satisfied American Express Platinum Card customer. The past few years, however, the annual fee has risen, and risen again, and this year it went up to $450.

It used to be that the Platinum Card had an edge on other programs, including some of Amex's other products, with better car rental insurance coverage, and especially the 2-for-1 international First/Business Class program with a number of world airlines. At one time I used the 2-for-1 deal annually. Two first class tickets on Asiana, for instance, from JFK to Asia, were just $5,000 one year. In recent years, though, this program has diminished in value, as airlines have tightened up the first and business fares they will allow to be used in the Amex program.

Here's a prime example: Earlier this year we tried to use the 2-for-1 on South African Airways from RDU to Johannesburg, and it was almost $13,000 for two business class seats. It would have been $26,000 for all four of us to go on SAA in business--out of the question! That figure was their highest published business class fare, and the only one allowed to be used in the Amex Platinum 2-for-1 program. It was frustrating to discover that a number of discounted business class fares on SAA on the same flights and dates were available for far less--and they did not require being in the Amex Platinum program.

We eventually flew on Emirates in first class through Dubai using a great discounted first class fare we found on Orbitz. Because of the Internet and the wide variety of discounted premium cabin fares available these days, the Amex Platinum 2-for-1 program just doesn't pay off any more.

The other big plus to the Amex Platinum Card is allowing entry into the Northwest, Continental, and Delta clubs. The catch is that entry is allowed only when flying on the airline whose club you want to use, whereas my Delta Crown Room membership allows me access to Crown Rooms regardless of which airline I am flying. Still, the Amex airline club is a good program, but not enough to justify $450 a year by itself.

So I downgraded to a much cheaper Amex Gold Card for 2007.

Two weeks ago, however, Amex announced that the Platinum Card would now also be accepted in every AA Admirals Club in addition to the DL, NW, and CO clubs. I've been paying about $300/year for my Admirals Club membership, and suddenly the Amex Platinum Card looks like a better deal again.

I contacted American Express about it, and I will renew my Platinum Card with them in early 2008 when my Admirals Club membership expires. I can then avoid the $300 renewal with AA, which makes the Amex Platinum Card cost just $150/year, a figure I can live with. I also plan not to renew my Delta Crown Room membership next year, saving another few hundred dollars.


I've read what everyone says about the coming autumn agonies: the trepidation and anxiety, the hair-pulling and chest-beating. Who knows? But I can't cower in fear at home. Lord knows I intensely dislike submitting myself to the torture of airports and airlines nowadays, but until I find another profession, I will continue to do it.

As foolish as it sounds when I read it, I find that adopting a zen-like composure as I head for the airport and just being alert and prepared (like the Boy Scouts) for any contingency are my best coping mechanisms. Being confident that I have seen the worst and can live through it again helps, too.

And so does maintaining a sense of humor!


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