Posts Tagged ‘hong kong’

Video Production From the Road: Flying Tips 2

October 12, 2012

Having become a semi-learned student of the airline rules, I wield them like constitutional rights.

Last year I chose to become an APP (my designation for the 25,000 plus mile status) on two airlines: United and American. The former is part of the OneWorld network, and the latter is a member of Star Alliance. Since my home bases are Montclair, NJ – 10 miles from Newark Airport – and Los Angeles, the most convenient airline for me to fly in the US is United, which has the Newark-based hub of its recent mergee, Continental.  American sometimes flies out of Newark, but more frequently its NY flights originate in and go to JFK and LaGuardia, making it a second choice for me.  However, the Star Alliance has more airline partners than OneWorld, and they fly to many more destinations, so I’m glad to have at least the APP-1 (more than Any Passenger and less than Any Passenger Plus) benefits.

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I write this blog now aboard a flight from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong. I am traveling with my husband/business partner Curt. We are videotaping for a corporate client in both locations. The decision to do the shoot happened late in the game, so arrangements were made last minute, when few flights were still available.  The only feasible and affordable option required traveling with Cathay Pacific from JFK to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Adelaide, Australia, then Adelaide to Melbourne, where we worked for three days. This flight goes from Melbourne directly to Hong Kong, where we will stay for two nights. The next leg is to San Francisco, where we will work for a day. The last segment will take us from San Francisco back to Newark.

Cathay Pacific is a Star Alliance member. With our American gold status, we are classified as Ruby travelers on Star Alliance, going through the first and business class check-in and security lines, and boarding earlier in the game than other passengers. Since the economy class tickets had been sold out for the eastward bound flights at the late time of our booking, we purchased the next level: premium economy. That gave us a little more room and an APP+ status. But here is how being a partner airline APP member served as an advantage: The flight from NY to Hong Kong was 15 hours; the one from Hong Kong to Adelaide was another 9. When we arrived in Hong Kong, a ticket agent was waiting for us, informing us that we had been upgraded to business class. With open seats on the plane, priority went to us instead of others who had bought premium economy tickets since we had a combination of those slightly more expensive tickets and APP status on another Star Alliance partner airline.

Business seats on these eastern airlines are amazing for a number of reasons, but best of all, the seats fold down flat like beds. As someone who has a hard time sleeping in planes, I slept more than half of the journey, waking up refreshed enough to work for the afternoon in Melbourne. It made a huge difference!

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Director of Photography, Curt.

The seats en route back west are only economy. But because of our APP status with Star Alliance member American, Cathay Pacific was able to offer us bulkhead seats, ie, front row in economy, with unlimited leg room.  For non-ruby passengers, these seats would have cost an additional $100 each, but our status ensured we could get them, and at no extra charge. We have reserved the same seats for the trip from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

The last leg of our trip will be provided by United, enabling us to return on a direct flight to Newark Airport. Checking over the seat availability, it seems we will be doomed to the last row. But as APP members, we stand a chance of getting upgraded, if anything is available.

I am well aware of the disadvantage of accruing miles in more than one airline per year. By this year’s end, I will have accumulated just short of 100,000 miles on all my flights combined. Had I stuck with one airline or partnership and taken a few extra trips to reach that mile marker, I would have been a lifetime status holder. Instead, the status I’ve earned over the last 10 months – which in another three weeks will be APPP on United and APP on American – will be good only through 2013. Come January 1, I will have to start all over again for 2014. But the offerings didn’t leave me much of a choice. The flights that gave me the most miles were available at specific times on particular airlines. At least I will enjoy my status in the coming year, always keeping an eye on changing rules and new opportunities.

Read Flying Tips 1.

Video Production From the Road: Flying Tips 1

October 10, 2012

Comfortable travel is all about loyalty to airlines that are a part of larger networks and awareness of ever-changing benefits that accompany annual miles traveled. To take advantage of a variety of offerings described in more detail below, you need to start by becoming a member of one or more specific airlines. Joining is easy; it costs nothing, and you can do it online (and sometimes as part of an offer in which frequent flyer miles are given for your membership). Membership per se does not give you entitlements, but it starts you on the path toward them. If you choose membership on more than one airline, it is best to ensure that each is part of a different airline network so you have only one membership within a network.

As a generalization, if you travel 25,000 miles or more in a calendar year on the airline of your membership or any other airline within its network, you will be rewarded for all the money you spend with that carrier/network. (All major airlines – but not some smaller ones – are part of larger airline networks, such as Star Alliance or OneWorld; a quick web search will pull up the partners of your preferred airline.) You will be bumped from your airline’s class of Any Passenger into its status of Any Passenger Plus (APP) (nomenclatures mine), good for the remainder of the year and the entire next one. The benefits of being an APP are small but meaningful:

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This is what a road-worthy light kit looks like.

  • On flights with the airline of your membership, you get to check in with the first and business class passengers, reducing long lines and interminable waits
  • Similar advantage going through security lines
  • Your checked luggage is coded with priority tags, putting them at the front of the line at baggage claim in your arrival airport and getting you on your way to your destination much more quickly
  • You can board the plane earlier than the rest of economy class passengers, which is significant for storing bags overhead before the space is gone
  • And most valuable, if the flight has upgraded vacant seats, you have a shot at getting them, depending on how many others are on the flight with your status and in the order of upgrade requests made by others within your APP status.

Once you’ve become an APP, you’ll want to stick with the airline of your membership in order to receive the benefits of your status for the remainder of the year and all the next year. However, sometimes that is not a feasible option: Your preferred airline might not fly where you need to go, or the ticket price might be way out of league with offerings of competitors. If that happens, choice number two should be flying with a partner of your preferred airline.

In addition to depositing the miles for your flights on the partner airlines into your account for the airline of your membership, the partners will award you with what I will call APP -1 (minus one) status. While some of the advantages your membership airline bestows will not be respected, others will be. Which advantages you will receive vary between airlines, and even within a single airline, the rules constantly change. For instance, until a few months ago, US Airways would mark the luggage of silver-status members (25,000 plus miles) of their partner United as priority, then they reversed that policy. Or Cathay Pacific will allow other Star Alliance APP members to check in through the first and business class lines, but Star Alliance member British Airways does not bestow that benefit. (Note that these observations were true as of the last time I traveled with each of these carriers – Cathay Pacific this month, and British Airways a number of months ago. They are constantly in flux!)

While disappointing to be treated as an APP-1 when you’ve grown accustomed to the benefits of APP status, it is important to keep in mind that it is a better option than simply flying as an AP! And name-dropping your status occasionally bumps up the benefits you receive if it is easy for the airline to do, even when this treatment is not written in its rules book.

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Taken from the window of the plane.

If your travel miles in a given year exceed 50,000, you have two options. Stay with the same preferred airline to become an APPP and get even more benefits, or choose a second preferred airline to get the APP status on two. If you choose the latter, you should ensure that your choice airlines are part of different networks, which will give you minimally APP-1 status on a wide range of airlines and APP benefits on your two preferred ones.

If you go for the 50,000 mile marker, the benefits are substantially better. Again, as a generalization, the additions include all the benefits of APP status plus:

  • Free access to the airline’s club while you wait for your flight to board. These clubs vary, but ordinarily have big and comfortable chairs for resting, free wifi, free snack food, and even free alcoholic (and other) drinks
  • A higher priority status for upgraded seats, when available
  • Check in on business and first class lines on partner airlines
  • Boarding immediately after first class and business passengers

The advantages improve again at the 75,000 mile marker, but they really get good at 100,000, where you earn lifetime benefits. Without those, you have to start re-collecting every year from scratch. Note that the benefits described above are different than frequent flyer miles accrued, which enable you to fly for free on non-blackout dates to different destinations using pre-set numbers of miles you have accumulated. For example, you can use 25,000 -30,000 miles on many airlines to fly round trip anywhere in the continental USA and 50,000-60,000 to fly to destinations like Europe. These numbers vary, however, depending on the airline, travel dates availability, and destinations.

Tune in on Friday for the 2nd part of this series on Flying Tips.

See last week’s Video Production From The Road report on getting from home to the airport onto the plan with as little pain as possible.

Video Production From The Road

October 5, 2012

Day 1: Departure from JFK

Our corporate headquarters is in Montclair, NJ, about 15 miles from Newark Airport, but unfortunately for us, the majority of international flights still depart from JFK – a one hour drive when there is no traffic (a rare occurrence). When we are shooting a documentary about which we feel passionate and are working on the hope that funding will follow, we become beggars for free rides from friends on the much-disliked trek from NJ to Jamaica, NY.  And when we travel for quick stints, we take the car and find parking lots near airports that are priced less expensively than an hour of parking in midtown Manhattan. But when we travel for a more lengthy time for corporate clients who pay for our expenses, a car service saves the driving stress and guilt for swallowing hours of friends’ time.

Warning! Not all car services are the same! Most of those coupons in the Val-Pak envelopes that come in the mail suggest discounts of all kinds, but when you call the company to get a quote, you often hear about a host of other add-ons to the rate they advertise as total – things like tolls and extra bags and tips and taxes. You do the math and realize the discount drowns under the supplementary fees. There are exceptions, however, if you do the research. (All good things in travel come with extensive, time-consuming research. But once you’ve got it figured out, the knowledge goes a long way for a long time.)

We use a car service that is truly a one-price, no gimmicks. Tolls and even driver’s tip is built into the fee, which gets charged on my credit card at the end of each airport drop-off. The car of the driver Kenny (973.573.7142 or abovelimo123@yahoo.com)  is a bit old-world – a Lincoln Town Car that was probably a “beaut” about a decade ago — but it is a smooth ride and does the job, even if the permanently-jammed front window requires the driver to open his door to dunk in the change as he goes through the tolls for which he does not have EZPass. Those are his choices, but I don’t care. I’m usually busy in the back seat, distracted from the road by the constant flow of new messages into my smartphone.

The next hurdle at the outset of a videotaping trip is checking bags without paying for extra weight. Considering that we typically carry two professional cameras; one or two camera tripods and several more for lights; a full light kit; a set of microphones including wireless, lavs and shotguns; supporting equipment such as cables, batteries, chargers, and all kinds of Mary Poppins’ bag accessories – not to mention a few weeks’ worth of clothes to be worn in different climates – this is no small matter.  First on the list of packing is thinking about which items must travel with us onboard, either because of their fragility and expense, or in case the suitcases don’t arrive when we do. Over the years, we’ve had luggage end up in all parts of the world, sometimes opposite sides of our destination. That unfortunate occurrence is not an excuse for failing to work upon arrival, so back-up plans need to be considered in advance.

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Susie (available from B&H Photo/Video)

Ordinarily two of us travel per shoot, with two carry-ons each. That leaves the checked luggage, which in the days of BetaCam SP were numerous but now are down to three, each of which comes close to the 23 kilogram or 50 pound maximum weight. One is our 28 inch suitcase carrying all our clothes and some smaller pieces of equipment that lightens the load of the other bags. For this trip we’ve added a 21 inch, two-pound screen since we’ll be setting up a mini-editing suite in the hotel room.  Another bag has our full lighting kit, and a third has the tripods, light tripods and cables. Our big suitcase and light kit have wheels that roll on all four.  One additional carry-on is our prized possession, so important that she merits a name: Susie (derived from “wuski” – Polish for “carts”) – a powerful baggage cart holding up to 250 pounds that folds up into a flat item less than three feet tall and one inch wide. Susie, who we wheel into the airport with the tripod case and carry-ons, has seen more of the world than most people I know! After we check-in the bags that get stored under the plane, her load goes down to the heavier carry-ons, which we wheel through airports with ease except in LaGuardia where there seems to be a prejudice against her and they require her to go the way of the rest of our luggage.

The last major obstacle on the departure side – assuming no plane delays – is getting through security. Since the essential equipment accompanies us on board, we are usually subject to bag checks –almost always a delay, but never a problem.

Significantly, we’ve finally splurged the extra annual $250 for the American Express Platinum card, which lets us use US Airways lounges regardless of the flight we will be taking as well as American and Delta lounges when we travel with them. We also have access to Priority Pass lounges around the world, where I write this now from Hong Kong. (After the next trip, we’ll have enough miles on United to get into their clubs at no charge, too.) These spaces provide a much more comfortable waiting area, replete with free wi-fi, large comfortable chairs, snack food, drinks, and nice bathrooms. I’m doing the same thing in this lounge as I would be doing back in my office in New Jersey.

Next week: Flying Tips.