Stamp Happy at the Border

January 26, 2009

When I had my first passport as a teenager studying abroad, I had to beg and plead border agents to put a stamp on my passport–as a ink-and-paper souvenir of my travels across the Continent.

In today’s post-9/11 environment, no such pleading is necessary. They’re going stamp-happy at the border. It got so bad that last year, I had to send my passport in to have them sew extra pages into it!

To understand what I am saying, consider my last trip. On my way from Los Angeles to London, I received FIVE stamps in my passport in just four days.

With a six-hour layover in Frankfurt, I decided to go into the City to kill some time, so they stamped my passport.

Upon returning, they asked when I had arrived in Frankfurt (that morning) and on what page they had stamped my passport (the Alaska page with Denali on it, which did not help the German border agent). She found the proper page and stamped away.

Upon arriving at London City Airport, I got another stamp-the traditional 6-month right to enter visa from the UK.

On the return, there was no way to transfer from the B gates to the A gates without passing through German Customs, so I went through the same routine in Frankfurt.

Luckily, my passport only has about three years left before it expires, and I have some twenty-one empty pages. At this rate, I probably will be applying for a new one before the space runs out again…

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The Upgrade Waiting Game

January 13, 2009

The United Flyertalk Boards have been buzzing for months over the perceived difficulty of upgrading flights recently. At issue is the fact that United has fewer Business and First class seats on their newly-configured 767 and 747 planes, and don’t really know which planes will fly which routes until just before departure, so they are holding back on upgrading people until the last minute.

This can be frustrating for folks, especially in cases like mine, where the whole purpose of flying is to use my Systemwide Upgrades before they expire at the end of the month.

Last night, my upgrade to Business Class cleared on the return portion of the flight–from Frankfurt to San Francisco. That’s great news, but I am still in economy for the outbound SFO-FRA come Thursday. Currently, they’re still selling 9 business class seats and there are fourteen empty spots on the seat maps, so it will be a close call for me… Wish me luck!


The SWU Run: BUR-LCY

January 6, 2009

Each of the last three years I have found myself in January with two systemwide upgrades which are about to expire at the end of January. In the past, my friend David and I used this as an excuse to go to London.

Because of the calendar and other obligations, I am on my own for the “SWU Run” in 2009–but that gave me some flexibility as well.

Rather than take the 5500-mile non-stop from LAX to London Heathrow, I decided to try some creative routing.

Instead, I am flying Burbank to London City Airport–with stops in San Francisco and Frankfurt along the way.

For about $100 extra (mostly in taxes) and a six-hour layover in Frankfurt, I will earn an additional 2600 elite qualifying miles, 4200 redeemable miles and have the possibility of checking out United Airlines’ reconfigured 747 in Business class (maybe).

Even better, with the weak Gordon Brown Peso (GBP), London is less than half the cost of what it was last sumer!