Last week I flew to Colorado in First Class on United Airlines. I paid for the flight with Singapore Airlines miles — for a few reasons. The primary reason, for me, was that I had Singapore miles that would otherwise expire later this year. That said, Singapore would have been a good choice anyway. For First Class domestic flights they charge just 20,000 miles one-way (United charges 25,000 miles) and, unlike United, there are no close-in award booking fees. Since I booked the flight less than 21 days in advance, United would have charged me $50 (I have United Silver elite status thanks to Marriott Platinum status. Those without status would be charged $75) for the privilege of using my miles. Singapore miles are also easy to get since you can transfer points from any transferable points program to Singapore (see: Promiscuous transfer partners).
The flight itself was good. We left on time and arrived a bit early. The onboard dinner was unremarkable, but edible. And, surprisingly, the First Class flight attendant was fantastic.
Then there was the in-flight wifi…
Thanks to a number of credit cards, I have tons of free Gogo internet passes tied to my Gogo account. For example, the US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa offers 12 passes each year. That’s a pretty amazing perk for a $49 per year card. I get another 12 passes (per account – including authorized user accounts) from my CNB Crystal Visa Infinite card. And, my Amex Business Platinum card offers 10 passes per year and these work on international flights, so I use the passes from the other cards on domestic flights (unfortunately I’ll have to cancel this card soon in order to avoid its $450 annual fee, but I expect that the remaining Gogo passes will stay in my account until they expire at the end of the year).
With less than an hour left in my flight, I connected to the on-board wifi with the intent of using one of my Gogo passes. But, I couldn’t. Unbeknownst to me, as of November 2015, United has hidden the wifi service provider from their users. I don’t even know if Gogo was the wifi provider for this flight — it most likely was not. Regardless, the only way to get online was by paying United.
Discover It Miles to the rescue
United’s internet price for the half hour I needed was cheap – only $2.99. Still, it was frustrating to be charged for something that I had passes for. Then I remembered that the Discover It Miles card offers free in-flight internet. Specifically, they advertise the following:
In-flight Wi-Fi on Us
Your Discover it® Miles card will reimburse up to $30 of your in-flight Wi-Fi purchases each year with automatic credits to your statement.
I had almost forgotten about that feature. I had signed up for the card for its first year doubling of all cash back (it is normally a ho-hum 1.5% cash back card, but during its first year it is effectively a 3% cash back card).
I was curious to see if they would really automatically rebate my internet purchase, so I used the card to buy my needed half hour of service. Sure enough, Discover automatically refunded my purchase only two days later:
My new United flying budget
Until last week, I hadn’t flown United in years. After my great experience in the Lufthansa Senator’s Lounge, though, I was leaning heavily towards flying them more often. But, the inability to use my Gogo passes is a negative (it’s admittedly a pretty small negative, but a negative nonetheless). Luckily, the Discover It Miles free in-flight wifi perk helps to eliminate that objection. So, when United has a flight going my way, I’ll be happy to fly them… until I use up my $30 from Discover.
Objectively it is ridiculous to let internet fees or a $30 per year credit card perk sway my flight decisions. But, regardless of the amounts involved, I find it unpleasant to be charged for things that I don’t think I should be charged for. And, call me crazy, but I like to avoid unpleasant things. So, even though it’s a small amount of money, the internet situation will undoubtedly be a small factor in my decision making.
Other factors will, of course, continue to be primary drivers of which airline I fly. The most important factors to me include flight schedule, the ability to fly nonstop, price (either in cash or miles), and expected comfort. But, somewhere on that list is also the good old “don’t piss me off by charging me for things I shouldn’t be charged for” factor. And, that’s where United’s wifi approach comes in and why Discover It Miles helps.