The Idiots that run Delta

I was talking with a friend today. He is headed over to Nairobi, Kenya and had his flights booked on Delta. Recently, Delta had to cancel their Atlanta to Nairobi flight because they were not granted permission by the U.S. government to operate it. This forced Delta to rebook passengers via other cities like Amsterdam or London-Heathrow.

My friend logs into his account and see that his flight had been changed. He was actually kind of expecting it due to a link I sent him a few days ago stating the cancellation of the Nairobi flight. What he was not expecting was to be re-routed via Brussels!! Delta in its “wisdom” decided it would be great to re-route him ORD – ATL – BRU (Brussels) – BJM (in Burundi) – NBO! This absolutely boggled both my friend’s and my minds. To give a little background, there are standard protocols airlines typically follow when re-routing passengers including:

1. Re-route through a major hub in the region.
2. Re-route on partner airlines
3. Take the most direct routing

Delta missed the mark on all three of these items. First, Brussels is not a major hub for Delta or the Skyteam Alliance, which Delta is a member of. Second, by re-routing through Brussels, my friend was being booked on Brussels Airways, an airline that is not a partner of Delta. Third and probably the most important, ORD-ATL-BRU-BJM-NBO was not the most direct routing. A more direct routing would be ORD-AMS-NBO. I am not sure if this points to a large problem with Delta’s IT systems because you’d think the computer would be smart enough to book through your major hubs, choose appropriate airlines, and use the most direct routing if seats are available. Of course, when I found this out, I immediately said “what the hell” and told him he would have to call Delta/NWA.

Now as a side note, one of the primary reasons my friend booked the flight originally was to obtain 10,000 bonus miles for flying through Africa on Delta’s new route. Unfortunately, Delta wasn’t granted permission to operate the Nairobi route. So when my friend called in to get the proper re-routing, he asked for his promotion miles as well. Of course, NWA said since the route was no longer valid that the promotion didn’t apply and that the offer on their website had been updated to reflect this.

Turns out this wasn’t as accurate as NWA said it was. If you go here, you will notice the qualifying routes have been updated. But if you look in the terms and conditions, you will notice under rule number 2:

“Qualifying travel must be after registration and by August 31, 2009. Your itinerary must include travel on the Northwest Airlines or Delta Air Lines operated flights (Los Angeles – Sydney, Los Angeles – Sao Paulo, or Atlanta – Nairobi). Travel must be on a paid published fare. Bonus Miles will only be awarded for travel that includes one of the specified nonstop flights. One-way travel will qualify for half the Bonus Miles for the specific fare class. Routes can not be combined. A maximum of 15,000 Bonus Miles will be credited for each roundtrip ticket purchased and flown during the promotional period.

* 15,000 Bonus Miles will be awarded after roundtrip travel in NW BusinessElite (J/C/Z), DL Business Elite (J/C/D/S/I) class.
* 10,000 Bonus Miles will be awarded after roundtrip travel in NW Coach (Y/B/M/H/Q/V/L/T/K), DL Economy (Y/B/M/H/Q/K/L/U/T) class.”

The things that make you go “Hmmmm”. Looks like NWA forgot to update their terms and conditions because Atlanta – Nairobi is still listed! My friend has a screen shot of this. I am going to help him write a letter to NWA to get those bonus miles. Plus I think that he should get some form of compensation for having to spend time calling in for a simple re-routing that should have been done correctly in the first place.

I’ve said in the prior posts that I am burning all of my NWA/Delta miles. When NWA was a stand alone company, it had one of the best IT systems in the industry. With its merger with Delta, I think that competitive advantage has been lost. There are many broken things on NWA and Delta’s websites. Again, a situation like this just helps validate my reasons to burn the rest of my NWA/Delta miles.

View from the bike – some trail users lack a general awareness of their environment

I decided that I had to sound off on what I have determined to be people’s lack of awareness on the bike paths and trails in Minneapolis. I was hoping it would not come to this and I realize most people are not like what I will end up describing, but this is both concerning and frustrating especially as an individual who is aware of others that share our fine trails together. With this post, I call on all trail users to be more aware…

Ever since I have started riding a bike in late April, I have noticed an alarming trend – one where people are not aware of their surroundings and others around them. At first, I thought this awareness factor would get better as the weather warmed up. I thought maybe it was something with the weather. Finally though, especially on my last two bike rides, I have come to the conclusion that there is a certain subset of individuals that are not paying attention to anything but themselves when they are walking around the lake or on the bike paths. Let me discuss a few examples.

The I can’t read the signs bike rider… There are a number of signs painted on the trail that indicates the trail is one way in certain spots. Yet, I have seen more people in my last two rides blatantly riding the wrong way on the trail. To those folks, I say wake up! If I am speeding down the trail going the right way and trying to pass another biker on their left and someone is riding the wrong way, if we collide, one of us (probably me) is going to be injured. I would prefer to avoid this.

The next type of persons are the groups of riders/roller bladers who take both sides of the path… I realize everyone likes biking with their friends around the lake. I’m all for that. What I’d like those people who ride/roller blade very very slowly to understand is that people want to get through. When I yell, “On your left!”, it is because I want to get through. Another thing, when I yell “On your left!”, it is not a great idea to stop in the middle of the trail while riders are trying to pass you. If you’re going to stop, pull off the trail and let people use the trail. Be proactive…try to sense when a person is approaching you and proactively move to the right.

The final type and probably most concerning are those people who don’t look when they cross a trail…” I realize many of the people in this category are young kids which is why when I approach an aware with a lot of young kids I slow way down. On my ride on Friday around Lake Nokomis, I was near the main beach where there were a lot of kids crossing the bike trail. I was going real slow because the kids were not paying attention. I would get their attention and they would divert their path around my bike. I can understand kids not having the foresight to look for a biker when they are crossing the path, but how about adults. On this same ride, I ran into 2-3 adults trying to cross the path not realizing they were about to get run over by me. This is the part that intrigues me.

I realize as a biker that I need to be as aware as possible because I don’t want to injure myself. What would help is if fellow trail users would be equally aware meaning don’t stop in the middle of the path, stay on the right if you’re biking or rollerblading slowly, and look before you cross. If trail users are more aware of their environment, they can remain safe and injury free. So far I have been lucky and had no biking related accidents, I would like for this to continue.

Feel free to sound off in the comments if you have noticed additional things about trail users not being aware of their surroundings or have suggestions on how to remedy this problem.

Developing a secondary strategy for Credit Card Rewards Points

In previous posts about credit rewards strategies, I’ve talked about how to develop a rewards strategy, discussed why I use the Starwoods American Express and Schwab Visa as my primary cards, and talked a little bit about how I’ve earned extra SPG points buyingcoins from the U.S. Mint. Now it’s time to talk about secondary strategies for earning rewards points.

So you understand your goals and spend profile and you’ve picked a card that matches these two things, but you are thinking, “There are so many rewards programs”, you begin to wonder if you can take advantage of a few more programs. The answer is a resounding Yes! Let’s talk about secondary strategies for a minute. The way I view secondary rewards programs where it can either help contribute to an overall goal such as travel or you obtain one time bonus for things like gift cards or cash back. In other words, the credit cards that are part of your secondary strategy should include those cards with sign up bonuses. Let’s discuss a couple of examples.

I recently signed up for the American Express Rewards Plus Gold card and the Business Gold Delta Skymiles card. Both of these cards had sign up bonuses if I spend a certain amount of $ within the first 3 months of getting the card. My intentions are to fulfill the spend requirements for the sign up bonuses by ordering coins from the U.S. Mint. This way I do not have to divert any of my real spending away from my Starwords American Express card to earn those valuable SPG points.

The specific bonuses offered by the two American express cards were 30,000 skymiles and 15,000 membership rewards points. Now, in prior posts, I have alluded to the fact I am in the process of dumping all my NWA/Delta frequent flyer miles due to the massive devaluing of the program. These 30,000 miles will help me get close to having a 120,000 remaining miles to use on award travel. If I am lucky and search diligently enough, I will be able to find a perk saver business class award ticket to Asia.

In regards to the gold card and the reason for getting that, I currently have about 135,000 membership rewards points. Amex membership rewards points are similar to SPG points in that they can be converted to miles in frequent flyer programs. Additionally, if I so choose, I could convert the points to SPG points at a 3 Amex points to 1 SPG point redemption ratio. So with these 15,000 membership rewards points, I have the possibility of another 5,000 SPG points. I’m still in the process of determining if a conversion is the right way to go on this. I’ve also read that converting to Air Canda miles is another step in the right direction because of their generous award ticket policies of 2 stop-overs with one going across the Atlantic Ocean and the other going in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. My decision on which program to convert to will depend on how many SPG points I have at the end when I am trying to book my round-the-world trip and how I decide to book the travel (a bunch of one way award flights or one massive ticket).

If you can not tell, my primary goal for rewards points is travel. These two cards help me towards that goal even though after I fulfill the spend requirements for the bonus points, I will not use them again. In fact, I will probably cancel the Delta Gold Card. Additionally, I will my business Amex gold card. The reason I hold on to an Amex gold card is because I want to keep the membership rewards points and not have to spend them. So on a yearly basis, I find another Amex gold card with a sign up bonus and free annual fee the first year and I can continue to keep my membership rewards points.

Your primary goal may be cash back or you may come across an offer for an amazon giftcard or just a random $250 cashback that may have nothing to do with your primary goal at all! Maybe you have planned a big purchase at Amazon.com and could use that amazon giftcard or cashback. My suggestion is do not shy away from those opportunities. I recently applied for a chase sapphire preferred card. The bonus points being offered was 25,000 after the first purchase. I don’t even have any ties to any chase reward program, but I figured I could make use of those 25,000 points some how! This is what I mean by take advantage the opportunities. Of course if Chase approves me, I will get the bonus points, figure out the best use for them and close the card 3-11 months later. You can do a similar thing with Citi thank you points – apply for those cards that offer thank you point bonuses, cancel them in 3-6 months, apply for a different card with a thank you point bonus, and continue this process. I have even read of people applying for the same card a year or so later and getting the sign up bonus again!

Now, I will add a couple of caveats here. I caution you against applying for a large number of cards if you’re looking to get approved for a loan in the near future. Also, make sure you understand the terms for getting bonus points and if there are any annual fees involved. Typically, it is best to look for cards that are at least fee free the first year. Additionally, you do a need a decent credit score of 720+ to fully execute this strategy. These are just a couple of additional points to keep in mind.

There are many rewards points programs and credit card offers out there. Developing a secondary strategy that is geared towards your primary goal can help you realize your goal even quicker. Additionally, if you find one of those really good offers like $250 cash back or a $250 giftcard, jump on it! Sometimes it doesn’t matter if the offer helps you towards your primary goal or not if it is really good!

Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments for your primary and secondary rewards earning strategies.

What to do with GM

Well it’s been quite a week of activity for GM. Many events have led to the what has finally happened this week. On Monday they filed for bankruptcy. In past few months, GM has received over 19 billion dollars in government loans to continue operating while it came up with a re-organization plan. Their first restructuring plan was rejected by the government. As part of rejecting this plan, the government told Rick Wagnor, the long time CEO of GM, that he must resign.

This week GM also sold its Saturn brand to the Penske Automotive Group and sold the Hummer brand to a Chinese manufacturing company. GM has also gotten its unsecured bond holders to agree to an equity share in the new company in exchange for debt forgiveness. Rounding out the shedding of GM brands is Opel which was sold to the Canadian auto parts company, Magna.

GM also took steps to reduce its legacy costs. In its deal reached with the United Auto Workers union, GM was able to get the union to agree to taking on 10 billion dollars in equity in the union healthcare benefit fund. In exchange for this, the UAW’s healthcare fund will receive a 17.5% equity stake in the new company.

Finally, GM was able to secure bankruptcy up to 30 billion dollars in financing from the government. It’s not like this wasn’t a given, considering the U.S. government will control 60% of the new GM making it the majority owner.

For those who say the GM bankruptcy filing was a product of the economic crisis that started in real estate, I say think again. In 2005, BusinessWeek ran an article analyzing GM’s business plan. Here’s what BusinessWeek predicted:


How bad could it get? BusinessWeek’s analysis is that within five years GM must become a much smaller company, with fewer brands, fewer models, and
reduced legacy costs. It’s undeniable that getting to that point will require a drastically different course from the one Wagoner has laid out so far. He is going
to have to force a radical restructuring on his workers and the rest of the entrenched GM system, or have it forced on him by outsiders or a bankruptcy
court. The only question is whether that reckoning comes in the next year, if models developed by Vice-Chairman Robert A. Lutz fall flat; in 2007, when the
union contract comes up for negotiation; or perhaps in five years, when GM may have burned through its substantial cash cushion.”

It’s now about 5 years later and GM is finally shedding brands, closing factories, and reducing costs. There has been a lot of other analysis done on why GM has failed. This is one article I highly recommend reading which takes a look at the decisions that GM made decades ago to pay for employee healthcare and pensions and how accounting changes in 1992 affected the company.

Make no mistake about this, GM’s failure is a result of poor management decisions.

Now that the U.S. tax payers are the new majority shareholders of GM, we have a chance to have a say in the way GM operates. I propose to the Obama Administration that not only should the current Board of Directors be replaced for violating their fiduciary responsibility to manage the company, but the top 3 layers of management at GM be shown the door. Too often have these same people been granted the authority to manage the company and change the direction of the company only to make poor decisions. It is time to get new blood in the highest levels of GM management and run the company appropriately. Apologists may say that this time will be different in that GM will be smaller, have less legacy costs, and that the decisions will be easier for management to make. I disagree. Top management has had their chance for decades to make GM work. We’re here today because of poor management decisions, nothing more, nothing less.

Feel free to leave your solution and suggestions for GM in the comments especially since the U.S. tax payer is financing GM’s bankruptcy and the new majority shareholder!

The Obama Speech in Cairo

On June 4th, President Obama fulfilled one of his campaign promises. That is to give a policy speech in a major Arab capital. His speech focused on reaching out to the Arab world and asking for a new beginning between Arabs and the West. President Obama called on Americans and Muslims around the world together to have a “new beginning” based on “mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.” He shared his broad background of having a Muslim Kenyan father, living in Indonesia, working in Chicago communities with those of the Muslim faith, and being a Christian himself. He recalled that the first country to recognize the United States as a country was Morocco, a Muslim country.

After laying the foundation for his speech, Obama addressed 3 major issues – Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East. On the Afghanistan issue, he made clear that “we seek no military bases there.” He made clear the United States was in Afghanistan to pursue violent extremists “determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.” He acknowledged that a military solution alone will not solve the issues facing Afghanistan and Pakistan pledging support of foreign aid to build schools, infrastructure, and to “develop their economy (referring to the Afghan economy) and deliver services that people depend on.”

Obama was blunt on the Iraq issue. He called Iraq a “war of choice” and acknowledged that even though the Iraqi people are probably better off without Saddam Hussein, he shared the lessons we have learned from this choice namely – “the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.” He talked about America’s responsibility “to help Iraq forge a better future — and to leave Iraq to Iraqis.” and he discussed his orders to support this responsibility which is the removal of all troops by 2012.

Finally on the issue of Middle East peace, Obama was upfront and honest. He addressed the fact that the United States and Israel have close ties. He acknowledge the “the pain of dislocation” and “the daily humiliations ” of the Palestinian people. He endorsed a 2 state solution “where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.” He listed things that both sides must do. For the Palestinians, he said they must abandon violence and develop a capability to govern. For the Israelis, he stated that they must acknowledge the Palestinians right to exist and called on the Israeli “settlements to stop.”

Obama also discussed the issues of nuclear weapons, democracy and religious freedom. Obama ended his speech with references from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths talking about peace. His speech seem to be well received from the audience and certainly set a new tone in United State policy towards the Arab and Muslim community.

Whether you agree or disagree with Obama’s policies, I think you would be hard pressed to disagree that this speech was not necessary. After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the United States had the entire world offering their assistance and condolences for the event that occurred to our citizens. In my humble opinion, this country squandered that good will by pursuing our own agenda in Iraq and other parts of the world. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I initially supported our invasion of Iraq, but as more facts became apparent, I became convinced that our invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and harmful to our country’s security. Now with the election of new leadership in the White house, the U.S. once again can set a new direction and tone.

President Obama’s speech in Cairo was the first step in setting this new tone. It will be interesting to see what immediate steps the Obama Administration takes to take the goodwill and new tone from this speech and put it into actionable events. If Obama does not act in the coming weeks and months, his speech will have done nothing to restore goodwill and positive thoughts of America in other parts of the world.

After Obama was elected President in November, I took a trip to India. Everyone that I talked to in India was excited to hear my thoughts on Obama. They were excited to have a new U.S. President who would take a different approach. I think that similar conversations were taking places in other parts of world as well. I think we are seeing the start of this new tone and approach.

Completing my 4th Half Marathon – Lessons Learned – Part 2

In my previous post and the title of this article, I have indicated that this is my 4th half marathon that I have completed. I have been running since 2005 and completed half marathons in Phoenix, New York City, and San Francisco. I have also run shorter races in Chicago and Maui, Hawaii. Finally, I completed my first full marathon last summer in San Diego. As you can see I have done a fair amount of races in the 4 short years I have been running. In this time, I have learned how to train for certain distances. While I do not claim to be an expert, this post is to point out things that I learned while preparing for the half marathon route of the Minneapolis Marathon.

I originally signed up to do the Minneapolis Marathon because I had planned on running Grandma’s marathon this summer. Due to a health issue and losing my motivation for training in the winter time, I have decided to for go doing the marathon in June. I have never dropped out of a race that I have started and I would rather not start a race if I am not fully prepared to finish it. Running a marathon is no joke and puts serious strain on the body, I would rather not take a chance and will skip the race.

Even though I had known since the beginning of May that I was not running the full marathon, I decided I could still do this half marathon event plus with it being the inaugural event I thought it would be cool to participate. For those that are interested, my time was 2 hours 4 minutes and 7 seconds.This is certainly not the best time I have run the half in, but it was not my worst time either. Part of the reason for my time was due to how I approached training for the last 3-4 weeks before race day.

During the beginning of May and when I decided for sure that I wouldn’t run the marathon, I purchased a trek 7.5 fx bike. I have wrote many times about how much I enjoy the bike. After I had my 7.5fx, I spent more time bike riding than running. My knees and legs enjoyed biking because there was less pounding and stress. What happened was bike riding had replaced running as my primary means of fitness. I still didn’t want to give up on the half marathon so I did do a couple of 3-4 mile runs to remind my body of what it was like to run. During the last week before race day, I wanted to get at least 1 5-mile run in. The maximum distance I ran was 3 miles during the last week of training. Now if I had been training correctly the whole time, this would be appropriate to only run 3 miles during the week. Unfortunately, the last time I had run any sort of distance (a 12.5 mile run) was 6-7 weeks prior. Looking back on the final 4 weeks of training and how I ran the race, I think I learned a couple of important lessons…

I relied on my previous experience…I will admit here, I was pretty nervous on race day – more so than usual. I hadn’t prepared for this race in the same way that I prepared for prior ones. I knew that I would have to keep my pace a little slower than normal for the first 5-6 miles. I would have to avoid the tendency to start out with a faster pace because I would need that energy to get me through the race. I also knew that there would be an adrenaline factor like there is with every race. The body is amazing in the way…it provides you with that extra amount of energy to get you through to the finish.

Biking probably helped me get ready for this event…I realize that doing training runs is still the best way to get ready for this event. I also realize that if I had not stayed active in those 4 weeks before the race, my time would have suffered even more or worse I would have not been confident in my ability to finish the race. During those 4 weeks, I biked distances of 20-30 miles on average. I also did one long ride of 75 miles. To give you an idea of how interested I am with biking…after the marathon was over on Sunday (May 31), I went for a 26 mile bike ride. When I learned about the Minneapolis Duathlon event in August, I was going to immediately interested. Unfortunately, I am going to be out of town on the day of the event.

While going through the race and doing the bike ride in the afternoon, I proved to myself that I am pretty fit even if I didn’t train 100% the right way for this event. I am probably going to focus on biking most of the rest of the summer, but I am not ruling out doing a duathlon or two at some point in the future. I also do want to complete at least one more half marathon in less than 1 hour and 55 minutes. The next half marathon will have to wait because I refuse to spend my summer training for an event.

Completing my 4th Half Marathon – Reviewing The Minneapolis Marathon (Half Marathon Route) – Part 1

Minneapolis Marathon Race Shirt
Minneapolis Marathon Race Shirt

Note…
This is part 1 of 2 of a post discussing the half marathon router of the Minneapolis marathon. The second part will cover the lessons I learned after completing the race. Overall, I am glad I ran in this first annual race. I can see that this race is going to be very successful in the future.
End Note…

Yesterday morning (May 31st), I completed my 4th half marathon running in the first annual Minneapolis marathon. I want to say that the race organizers, Team Ortho did an excellent job of putting the race together, promoting it, and making it a success. Overall there were about 5,000 runners in total (3,500 in the half, 1,500 in the full). I overheard many people saying this race will only get bigger. I tend to agree. The race has a couple factors going for it and it will no doubt continue to steal runners from races such as Grandma’s marathon. Now let me talk about the race itself…

Running Conditions…
The running conditions for this race were excellent with the weather being in the 60s to start out and getting to the 70s by the end of the race. The wind was very calm with a slight breeze. It was very windy the day before the race and I was a bit concerned that the wind would be factor in affecting the run. Thankfully, there was a very calm wind to make the run more enjoyable!

Course
This race started in downtown Minneapolis near The Depot, ran by the Gutherie, and worked towards the Mississippi river. The majority of the race from mile 5 to the finish was spent running along the river. For the half marathon, there was a turn around between mile 9 and 10 which meant running back towards the finish line. The course contained a lot of up and down hills from mile 7-13. This is a part of town I had not previously visited during 4.5 years of living in the twin cities. While I enjoyed running by the river, the up and down nature of the hills was killer on my body. I have run a half marathon in San Francisco and run in general in hilly cities like Seattle. I would say the hills from mile 7-13 were worse than what I experienced in San Francisco. It is partially my fault for not reviewing or driving the course before hand, I guess I like surprises when it comes to running.

Cool things the race organizers did…
I was extremely happy with the goodies that race participants received. Besides getting the standard finisher’s medal, the race let you keep the race chip and finisher’s of the half marathon received a technical running shirt (pictured at the beginning of the post). I read in the registration materials and on the race website that finishers of the full marathon were to receive a jacket. I am glad to see the race organizers at least providing something that runners can use in their training for other events. I’ve done other races where finishers received a t-shirt. While a t-shirt is great to wear and I wear my San Diego marathon t-shirt all the time, I can’t wear it when I am training for other events. A big two thumbs up to the organizers for these things, I hope in future years, the included race items are similar to this year. Here is a picture of the race trinkets I received…

Back of the race shirt
Back of the race shirt
Race medal, race chip, and my bib #
Race medal, race chip, and my bib #

Things that need improvement
As with any race, there is some room for improvement. I can think of two things that could be improved namely – replace the sports drink and have a gel station for one part of the half marathon. The sports drink during the race was called Hammer Heed. Maybe because it was not cold or maybe I am just too picky, but this stuff tasted nasty! I kept drinking at least one cup through the aid stations because I wanted to get the calories from the drink. I like gatorade, powerade, and accelerade the best when it comes to sports drinks during a run

My other suggestion for improvement – having gel on the route for the half marathon – I know this sounds like a nit-pick as well. Many serious runners with more knowledge and experience than me would probably argue and state if you’re only running a half that this is not necessary, but I’ve also been in race where there was energy gel provided at mile 10 during a half marathon. I suppose this all comes down to dollars and sponsorship.

Verdict
For this being the first time of having a marathon race in Minneapolis during the month of May, Team Ortho, did a fantastic job! They deserve serious props and kudos for planning and putting on this event. Also, a huge thumbs up for the race shirt, chip, and medal! While I found the up and down nature of the hills challenging and more difficult than what I experienced in San Francisco, I enjoyed the course running along the river. I would encourage Team Ortho to look at changing the course for next year as there are many interesting parts of Minneapolis (hey maybe running through Block E or different part of downtown would be cool). I can definitely see this race being a success in future years to come!

If you ran the race, please feel free to leave a comment discussing your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you thought about this race.

Please check out Part 2 where I discuss my lessons learned from training for this race.