Category: Air

Should You Pay For Mileage Boosters When Buying Airplane Tickets?

airport lufthansa

You’ve probably noticed during self-check-in or when booking tickets, some airlines offer an option to purchase an extra 1,000 or more frequent flyer miles to add to your flight. These mileage “boosters” are supposed to give you a few extra frequent flyer miles at a discount, making you wonder if the cost is worth the reward.

Those of you who collect frequent flyer miles know that they’re a good way to get free flights and other perks but mileage boosting in most cases isn’t money well spent.

What Are Mileage Boosters?

More common in the United States, the trend is spreading to other airlines around the world. Basically, mileage boosters are discounted miles, made available only as an add-on purchase to an existing flight. The idea is that you’ll be able to earn extra frequent flyer miles for a given flight without paying full price for them.

Unfortunately, discounted or not, buying miles is almost never a good deal because the equivalent monetary value in airfare is going to be cheaper.

Adding Up The Numbers

Frequent flyer programs are intentionally vague since airlines want you to disassociate miles with money. Let’s use United as an example (here’s why you should sign up for their mileage program even if you don’t fly United.) They frequently offer 1,000 mile boosters for $35.

A free round-trip flight from, say, North America to Europe, is around 50,000 miles with United on Star Alliance. At $35 per 1000 miles, to get a free flight would cost $2,100 in boosters. Going to United’s website and purchasing 50,000 miles directly costs $1750 – chances are in either case you’ll find airfare for a North America to Europe round trip flight to be half as much.

Additionally, mileage boosters don’t count toward the premier or status miles on United, Delta, and other airlines. In other words, frequent flyer programs have status levels (more miles more status) that give you lounge access (here are the wifi passwords), free upgrades, or other perks but not all miles are counted equally. Some are “special” miles that add to your total status, others like the “boosters” don’t count.

Stick To Flights

Frequent flyer hackers will tell you, if you’re going to buy miles, it’s best to go through some third-party promotion. Otherwise, accumulate your miles in one place like this, wisely use reward cards, or earn frequent flyer miles without getting any credit cards.

In general, refrain from buying miles and earn them the best way – by traveling more – and keep this habit every time you fly so you’re credited the miles you’re due. The airlines have a tendency not to be incredibly diligent in adding miles after a flight and not getting miles you’ve earned is an even bigger waste than a mileage booster.

How Much Does A Plane Turn (On Its Side) When Turning In The Air?

airplane turn

Have you ever wondered when looking out the window as your plane is maneuvering for a landing, how steep those turns actually are? The slight jolt in your stomach combined with the view out the window (what seems like all ground or all sky depending on which side you’re on) gives the impression that your plane is nearly on its side.

The truth is the airlines try not to freak you out and keep things comfortable in the cabin. Jumbo jet turns are impressive but not as drastic as your senses are telling you.

Two Forces At Work

Let’s keep things very simple. Planes in flight need to move forward (speed) to keep a constant flow of air over the wings. This constant flow of air provides lift. As you gain altitude upon takeoff, the wings are angled up. When you reach a cruising altitude, speed is reduced and the wings are angled in a way to provide and equal balance between two forces: lift and gravity.

plane turn

At takeoff in particular, as the plane accelerates, you can feel the gravitational force (g-force) increase. You feel heavier in your seat (the forward momentum is pushing you into the seat). At cruising altitude your plane is no longer accelerating and you feel “normal” i.e. at 1 g.

What Happens When A Plane Turns

There are ailerons on airplane wings what help with direction and lift. (Basically flaps of metal.) Going straight, the aileron are generally straight. To turn an airplane right, the left aileron goes down, the right goes up. This causes the left wing to go up, and the right wing to go down. In this configuration, the plane is now at an angle, with increased overall drag (because the ailerons up or down are less aerodynamic than a straight wing).

Increased drag slows the airplane. Also, in a turn, there’s less area of lift under a wing, causing it to lose altitude. However, to compensate, pilots angle the airplane up as well as increase thrust (speed) to maintain a constant altitude during a turn. You’ll probably feel those changes in your stomach.

Keeping You Comfy

Passenger jets typically don’t bank more than 30 degrees on a turn. They’re capable of more but the steeper the turn, the more thrust needed to keep the plane from losing altitude. Turns at angles more than 30 degrees would cause more g-forces which wouldn’t help airsickness or nervous fliers.

So despite it looking like your plane is about to do a barrel roll on every significant turn, next time you fly, know it’s probably only banked about 20-30 degrees at most. Once you’re on the ground you’ll hear the flight attendants say cross-check, here’s why.

[Second photo by: Nicoguaro]

United Business Class Review: Maybe Mile Worthy

Flying business class is costly (unless your business is paying) so whether its miles or money, if you’re spending either it’s worth shopping around. United, which pretty much has the worst public relations of any airline at the moment, has locked down some key North America to Europe routes – meaning though you may not particularly want to – you might find yourself leaning toward flying business with them.

You can watch my full review of what United’s business class offers in the video above or read on.

Bed Basics

For any flight worth its business class, if the seat doesn’t recline into a bed it’s not worth paying for. United’s transatlantic have seats that have multiple recline settings, including fully vertical. They’re not the newest seats but being able to lay down on a long flight significantly reduces both jet lag and the heavy grogginess that comes with otherwise sitting upright for 10 hours 10,000 meters up.

united business class

The entertainment center is also loaded with one of the best movie selections of any airline on large screens. (American carriers tend to excel in the movie selection, especially latest releases compared to the rest of the world.) Unfortunately the screens have very poor viewing angles and not being adjustable means if you’re even modestly reclined, viewing is difficult at best. These small inconveniences are where United’s business class continually falls short. United has the basic components of what’s become standard for business classes worldwide but it’s just that: standard.

The staff are friendly and you get access to the United and Lufthansa lounges. Neither are particularly noteworthy when comparing to the business classes of other competing airlines like British Airways, but it’s definitely a noticeable step up from economy.

Better Food But Not Good Food

United’s business class is certainly better than flying economy and that’s true of the food too. Meals are better than United economy (albeit the bar is pretty low) but nothing spectacular. Considering United business class seats are several thousand dollars, one would hope the meals would have a bit more quality. Even the presentation is lacking – again, it’s not bad but it’s not good either – almost like a poor copy of what true business class should be.

united busines vegan meal

Vegan meals are 80% not vegan, vegetarian meals are just vegetables, and the small meat or fish dish portions are hidden in pools of mystery sauce.

Effortless, Not In The Best Way

United has a business class which doesn’t have much sincerity to it; missing from the small touches you’ll find on other airlines. United Airlines is clearly banking on their route dominance, so they’re not trying too hard to take or keep your business.

They fly some of the most efficient routes from North America to Europe so you might find yourself stuck with them. I wouldn’t spend money on their business class if there’s even a slightly worse layover or connection on another airline. But, if you can’t find a better alternative and want to get a legs up from economy, using some frequent flyer miles will certainly enhance your trip. United often run saver mile deals through their site where you can use less than 50% of the miles for business class on certain days or times of the year – they’re worth waiting for if you can.

There’s Another Washington D.C. Space Museum 30 Miles Outside The City, Very Worth The Drive

udvar hazy center

Most people, even Washington D.C. locals, don’t know about arguably the best air and space museum in the area, located 30 miles (50 kilometers) away from the city center. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in the suburb town of Chantilly, Virginia, close the Dulles International Airport, is over 32,000 square meters (346,000 square feet) of aviation history.

The Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. is might be the best museum in the world for aviation science lovers, but I say “might” because the Udvar-Hazy Center exists. Here’s some of what you can find inside the two hangars of the museum and why you should really make a day to visit it if you’re in the Washington D.C. area.

wright flyer udvar hazy

The world’s first airplane, the Wright Flyer, is on display at the Air and Space Museum. It’s not a replica, but the actual plane. There are two tours daily, run by volunteers and free, that are very, very, interesting but don’t miss the Wright Flyer segment. Even if you just tag along, there is so much more to the Wright Flyer than a few wings – the design, inspiration, and failures of the Wright brothers in developing the first airplane have valuable lessons for everyone. I can’t recommend it enough.

Donald D. Engen Observation Tower Donald D. Engen Observation Tower from above

A view of the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, part of the Udvar Hazy Center, outside of Washington D.C. From the tower you can watch flights like mine coming in and if you’re lucky (and on the left side) of the plane landing at Dulles International Airport, see the tower as you approach for landing.

udvar hazy concorde

There are over 240 aircraft inside the Udvar-Hazy Center, which by the way, is free admission. It’s all worth exploring so set aside a few hours for a visit.

udvar hazy helicopter

Documentaries and films are also shown throughout the day at the Udvar Hazy’s IMAX theater. The IMAX screen is 6 stories high, 25.9 meters (85 feet) wide, with 4K resolution. Here’s a current schedule of what’s playing now.

james s mcdonnell space hangar

But this, located in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar is what really blows people away.

shuttle discovery

The Space Shuttle Discovery, 39 space flights over 27 years, more than any other spacecraft.

discovery udvar hazy

Everyone looking up at Discovery, the engineering feat and what it represents of exploration and for humanity, is left in awe. You’ll see those faces. You’ll have one too.

You can get to the Udvar-Hazy Center using the metro from Washington D.C. but like the rest of the D.C. area, public transportation is terrible. It’s much better to rent a car then drive out to Chantilly, about a 40 minute drive from Washington D.C. at non-peak hours. (Don’t drive during rush hour in the D.C. area.) The address is: 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway Chantilly, Virginia 20151; parking is $15, and regular hours are from 10am- 5:30pm daily with some extended hours.

I’m told mid-week is least crowded but even during the peak weekends, Udvar-Hazy never feels crowded with people. The Udvar-Hazy Center has only about 20% the annual visitors of the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. – not because it isn’t worth a visit, but because so few know or remember it’s there. After one visit though, you’ll want to tell everybody it’s one museum that doesn’t disappoint.

Is It Still Possible To Visit Socotra Island?

socotra dragon blood tree

The Socotra archipelago, particularly its main island, is one of the most neglected tourism destinations in the world. A big part of the reason, in addition to Socotra’s remote location in the Arabian Sea, is that it’s Yemeni territory. Despite being 380 kilometers (236 miles) off Yemen’s southern coast, visas, not to mention a precarious security situation on the mainland had kept most people away.

A frequent question I’m asked is whether or not it is still possible to visit Socotra, as Yemen’s civil war continues, bypassing the mainland altogether. The answer is technically yes; but you’re not going to like the details.

Flights To Socotra, Sounds Nice

I visited Socotra and the Yemeni mainland several months before war made it too dangerous for travel – obviously, a lot has changed since then. For a while, flights from Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates near Dubai on Felix Airways to Socotra’s capital Hadibu were infrequent, but flying occasionally. Those flights have stopped completely, despite the claims by a few tour operators in the UAE. I reached out to several of the tour operators in the UAE and Yemen, as well as some airlines who all floated the sentiment they were hopeful regular service would resume soon, despite there being no change for many months.

socotra island beach

Believe In Ferries

Some tour operators based out of the UAE sign people up to tours, claiming to arrange Socotra trips by ferry. Practically all are canceled, so be very weary before booking or giving money to any tour operator. All of the other options are fairly unofficial, such as traveler Johnny Ward coaxing his way on to a cement shipping boat, with a lot of local help.

“One whole week of phone calls, paperwork, cash, documents, visas etc. went by… to ensure my visa to Yemen wasn’t canceled… to ensure that immigration in Socotra would accept me via the cement boat.”

Clearly, not a travel plan possible, or desirable, by most of you.

Situation Determination

You really have to be persistent, determined, and adventurous to even attempt a trip to Socotra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are substantial costs, not to mention risks, right now in doing so. Travel to Socotra is likely to be practically infeasible as the situation in mainland Yemen continues to deteriorate with more than 70% of the population – most of these peopleneeding humanitarian assistance.

Those of you still wondering why you might want to visit Yemen can take a look to what was and hopefully what may be again one day.

How The DJI Drone Repair Service Works And How Much It Costs

dji mavic drone

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wifox ios app store     wifox google play android
Crashing a drone, even one with obstacles avoidance sensors like the DJI Mavic Pro, isn’t hard at all. Small falls from a desk can also put your drone out of commission, easily damaging the sensitive camera lens or gimble. For those of you with DJI drones, they’ve got a fairly polished repair service you’ll hopefully never have to use. But things happen.

Here’s how the DJI repair process works and whether or not it’s worth the hassle, cost, or time waiting.

Recover The Drone

First off, I’m writing about the repair process without any kind of warranty, such as the DJI Care repair and replacement plan. So here you are, you’ve crashed or otherwise damaged your DJI drone and wondering why you didn’t spend the extra $99 to get it insured. Whether you have the warranty or not, you need to retrieve the drone. It’s the reason you see people diving into rivers or me throwing car cushions at trees on YouTube to salvage what seems like a lost cause.

dji mavic  DJI Mavic Pro Fly More Combo: Foldable Propeller Quadcopter Drone

amazon button

Once you’ve got your smashed, waterlogged, pathetic looking drone back, log into the DJI website, and head to the repair page.

Find A Service Center

DJI has authorized services centers in over 100 countries (they even list Yugoslavia – not sure what that’s all about). Pick the service center closest to you and select your specific drone (e.g. Phantom 4). The next few pages are where you describe the damage and how the accident occurred.

craiova drone top down

  • Don’t Lie – You might not know it but your drone keeps very details flight records (you can access from the DJI app). Every movement of the drone and controller input is recorded so forget about trying to make a crash seem like a manufacturer defect.

Choose whether or not the damage is a manufacturing defect or pilot error, remove the microSD card, pack up the drone, and send it to the DJI Service suggested to you.

  • Shipping Fees – DJI provide you with a shipping label, covering the shipping, but not packaging, costs.

The average shipping time is about a week, depending on where you’re shipping from of course.

Your Drone Knows A Lot About You

DJI has a repair tracking page whose only purpose seems to discourage you from sending them emails asking where your drone is. Once the technicians get a hold of your drone though, they email you a detailed record of what an idiot the exact events of the accident. Mine went something like this, which you can compare to the crash video below.

Unit was in P-GPS mode and was responsive to RC input; 2. At t=237.9s, relative height=7.1m, unit recorded external impact, then rolled over and fell. 3. User commanded full stick forward toward a tree in a parking lot until 1s before impact. User pressed left turn, backward, right turn, descent, and rightward 1s before impact but forward momentum carried unit to the tree. 4. Obstacle avoidance could not detect fine tree branches due to hardware limitation, especially during winter with no leaf on. Conclusion: User stick command error. Impact in air.

DJI Repair Costs

Obviously this will vary depending on your specific repairs but here’s a general breakdown of the costs, which is contained in that same email with the crash report.

  • Gimbal Camera Component: $101
  • Camera Flexible Flat Cable: $3
  • Back Left Motor Arm: $19
  • Gimbal Vibration Damping: $2
  • Gimbal Mounting Bracket: $1
  • Camera Co-axis Cable: $5
  • Front Left Motor Arm: $22

The service costs $65 an hour – the total work took two hours, added $130 to the cost.

  • Total Repair Cost: $283

Those of you who have DJI Care, if the crash is covered, you only pay up to the warranty. (Varies by drone but for example the Mavic replacement with DJI Care is $79 for the first drone; $139 for the second.) In the email DJI sends back with the costs, they have a Paypal link, where you can decide to pay for the repair or not. Repairs are not started until you make the payment and shipping costs are not charged unless you reject the repair.

Expect To Wait

Clearly, the camera is the most expensive component with labor adding the other bulk of the costs. I was surprised not to see the body, or other parts listed since there were major dents from the fall. I figured DJI would ignore what was probably aesthetic damage but happily surprised when the Mavic was finally shipped back from repair.

dji mavic pro camera gimble

  • Repair Time – Whatever the repair status page says, it will take about 4 weeks.

A drone repaired by DJI is essentially refurbished. There won’t be any signs of previous damage, scratches, or dents. Damaged parts are replaced and repairs are very thorough for the price, essentially 28% the cost of a new drone in this case.

Important: Calibrate Before You Fly!

You may have noticed a few nicks on the Mavic photos in this post and be asking yourself, hey, I thought he said there weren’t any visible marks?! Well, there weren’t when I originally got the Mavic back from DJI but I crashed it nearly immediately. It was indoors for a small test but the Mavic slowly veered left, hitting a wall, then I used the emergency controls to shut off the propellers. I was lucky to have dodged another trip to the service center.

dji calibrate

After looking at the flight records, I realized why the drone wasn’t hovering stably on a horizontal axis. Although DJI tests drones they repair before sending them back, it seems they don’t calibrate the Inertia Measurement Unit (IMU). The IMU orients the drone so when it’s not calibrated properly, it usually drifts.

  • Calibrate All The Things – Be sure to calibrate the compass, IMU, remote controller, and gimble prior to flying any drone you get back from repair.

The DJI repair process is a thorough, but slow, process. Best to avoid it altogether by doing these 12 things before you ever fly a new drone, which will go a long way to prevent a crash in the first place. Given how easy it is to damage your drone combined with the cost of repair makes getting the DJI Care plan all the more sensible. The DJI Care plans cost about 10% the full price of a new drone plus cover two replacement units over the first year – whether or not the damage is your fault. Since it’s a very cumbersome process to add the DJI Care coverage after you’ve purchased your drone (with no guarantees), keep it in mind and part of your budget when shopping.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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