The back story
My alarm went off at 4:12 am. After jumping in the shower I remembered I still hadn’t checked-in for my 5:45 am flight since I couldn’t get any good seats the day before. I purchased my ticket just 15 hours earlier and there were only 12 seats available in economy — all of them were middle seats so I grabbed the one in the exit row.
Tried using miles
I don’t usually pay cash for last minute tickets. My first choice is to use miles but American doesn’t fly to Erie, Pennsylvania. United or their Star Alliance partners didn’t have any desirable flight times/connections for saver awards (12,500 miles) and Delta doesn’t offer a discount one-way mileage ticket. FYI: I can rarely find a mileage ticket on Delta for the old standard of 25,000 miles. In fact, they wanted 42,000 miles for this flight which is a joke in itself.
American Express Membership Rewards
It turns out I didn’t have to pay the $431 for my last-minute ticket. Instead I used 43,000 American Express Membership Rewards. That’s because earlier in the summer I made a deal with American Express to take my dad to Italy in exchange to write about using their awesome Membership Rewards program. When my dad declined I had 200,000 in my account that needed to be burned by the end of summer. So far I used 29,100 for a New York to Erie ticket back in June; 50,000 for a swanky hotel in Venice and will use the rest for my return ticket back to L.A.
What’s nice about American Express Membership Rewards is that there are no blackout dates and you still earn miles for your tickets. To use your AMEX points you can log on to their website, call their 800 number or have your travel agent book the tickets. Since I was in a hurry I just called my travel agent (John Dekker 1-714-894-4774) and had him book it for me. He charges $35 per transaction so book all your travel in one shot.
If you aren’t familiar with American Express Membership Rewards they charge 100 points to every $1 for airline tickets and 150 points for hotels.
Back to LAX
My cool Muslim driver was waiting for me and we talked about fasting during Ramadan which is going on until Saturday. What’s crazy is that they can’t even drink water during daylight hours — I have no idea how folks in Scandinavia do it this time of year.
When we arrived at LAX there was traffic. Who knew so many travelers like to get up so early. Even though I had now checked in and had a mobile boarding pass I still went to one of Delta’s self-service kiosks to see if any aisle seats had opened up. They didn’t but I printed a boarding pass just in case the TSA’s mobile check-in device was down (it’s happened before). The security line at T5 was ridiculously long so I was happy that I could bypass it thanks to having elite status on Delta and TSA PreCheck (you get the latter when you become a Global Entry member).
A couple minutes later I was standing in line at gate 57 where one of the two agents was on the P.A. asking for volunteers. It was so early when I checked in that I almost forgot that Delta had a popup screen asking if I was interested in giving up my seat in return for a later flight and a travel voucher. It’s a brilliant system where travelers bid on compensation. Since I wasn’t in a hurry I put in $500 but learned the limit is $400. Of course, that’s what I input but I wondered how many suckers put in $100?
There must’ve been a good number because they paged at least a dozen passengers who volunteered. When I got to the counter I asked if any good seats opened up. The agent said there’s nothing available. I then asked if they still needed me to volunteer and she said we sure do. I asked what flight she could get me on to Detroit then to Erie and how much. The next one was at 9 am and it would get me into Erie four hours later than originally planned. I said I’ll do it if you give me first class. She said deal. And since I was so nice she gave me a $12 meal voucher (I’m pretty sure she gave it to everyone). Woo-hoo! A win-win for everyone.
In the lounge thanks to my American Express Platinum Card
I’m now in the Delta Club lounge writing this post, eating, drinking and snickering at the two boneheads talking loudly on their cell phones. BTW: I didn’t get into the lounge with my first class seat (I probably could’ve negotiated that), but instead I used my new American Express Platinum card. Even though it has a hefty $450 a year fee, it’s still a great deal for frequent fliers. First of all, it gets me into not only all of Delta’s lounges but more than 600 airport lounges worldwide. A membership alone to each one of those would cost that much.
The card also gives me a $200 airline fee credit towards incidental fees such as checked bags, in-flight food/drinks, and change fees. I also love the fact there’s no international transaction fees and when staying at some luxury hotels it can get me a room upgrade, free breakfast and a guaranteed 4 PM late check-out. As an added bonus for those who don’t yet have Global Entry (not sure what you are waiting for since it’s the best thing to happen to international travel since inflight entertainment—see my post), the Platinum card will reimburse you for your Global Entry enrollment fee which is $100.