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Monthly Archives: November 2014

United Changes Premier Requirements for 2016

Anyone who reads this blog, knows I’m a United guy. I fly just enough each year to earn United Premier Gold Status (50,000 paid miles flown in the calendar year). Last year, United announced they’d be adding a revenue component to the qualification as well for the 2015 status (miles flown and dollars spent in 2014 earn you status for 2015). In order to keep Premier Gold Status for 2015 I would need to not only fly 50,000 miles, but I’d also have to spend at least $5,000 in airfare.

It isn’t surprising that United (and Delta) have done this. The economy is doing well, airlines are making money and more people are flying. The airlines want to reward their flyers who are their best customers – not just the most flights, but the people who contribute to their bottom line. Before this revenue requirement was implemented, it was possible for a flyer to buy cheap long-haul airfare and earn status without really contributing to the bottom line of the company. For example, last year I found a flight to Shanghai (PVG) from Chicago (ORD) for less than $700. That’s 14,112 miles round trip or $0.049/mile. At that rate, I could have earned Gold status for just $2,480 – which would have granted me free checked backs, free upgrades, access to various lounges when traveling internationally and immediate complimentary access at time of booking to their premium Economy Plus seating. Following the same logic, I could earn Premier 1K status (the highest status that doesn’t require an invitation) for only $4,960). With United earning that amount of money on their elite flyers, they wouldn’t stay in business very long.

Fast forward to last year, when United adds in a revenue component – they want reward the flyers that make them money. Basically, United wants you to spend $0.10/mile on average with them to get status. When this was announced last year, I took a quick look at my United spend and found that this wouldn’t be a hard threshold to pass. I’m fortunate enough that about half of my annual travel is work related – going to some markets that have very limited air traffic, which drives up the cost per ticket.

A couple weeks ago, United announced a change in their United MileagePlus program. To keep my Premier Gold status through 2016, I’ll need to fly 50,000 paid flight miles (award miles don’t count in this total) and spend $6,000 on those flights. That’s a 20% increase in spend year over year.

Requirements for Elite Status in United MilagePlus for 2016.  - Image Courtesy of United Airlines

Requirements for Elite Status in United MilagePlus for 2016. – Image Courtesy of United Airlines

20% increase in spend – that’s a big jump. I have no concern that I’ll fly 50,000 miles next year. I do have a concern that I won’t pay $6,000 for those miles though. Every other tier has increased 20% in revenue as well – so it is a good possibility that I am going to fly 50,000+ miles and only hit Premier Silver status because of spend. Then again, that sounds like a problem for 2016-Tim. Current Tim (and by extension 2015-Tim) only has 1,800 more un-booked at this time – I was golden, then two of my work trips got cancelled! — miles to go (already hit my spend requirement) to ensure my Premier Gold status remains intact for 2015.

How do these changes to the MileagePlus treat you? Are you afraid you’ll be relegated to Silver – or god forbid, a General Member? What is your strategy in meeting these new thresholds in 2015?

Cooking – Something Old, Something New.

It’s cold in Chicago now. As I write this it is 3.1C (that’s 37.7F for my fellow Americans). On cold fall days like this, I really want to spend time in the kitchen, trying a new recipe, prepping a big meal and enjoying a nice big red wine. I don’t want to spend time raking leaves, attempting to winterize the artichoke plants or moving containers into the garage.

This time each year, is also a time where I don’t want to come home from work and spend an hour cooking dinner – I want a quick and flavorful home cooked weekday meal though. I think I will be killing two birds with one stone this evening– I’ll try a newer recipe and cook an old favorite which I’ll freeze into individual servings for a quick week night meal.

For my classic recipe, I’ll use the Bolognese Sauce from the Joy of Cooking (in my edition of this book, it can be found on page 564). I’ve made this recipe a dozen times in my life and I think it is a good base, but for me, it really needs to have more tomatoes.  I know that’s not a perfectly authentic Bolognese, but I can live with a slightly bastardized recipe —  I couldn’t find a link to the recipe online, so I’ll summarize it below.

Cook 1 ounce of bacon/pancetta in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until the fat is released. Add one large carrot, two small celery ribs and half a medium onion – all minced. Cook until the onions are translucent then add 1.25 pounds of ground beef (I use chuck) and cook until browned. Then stir in ¾ cup of beef stock, 2/3 cup of dry white wine and two tablespoons of tomato paste. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently. Add, in two tablespoon increments, 1.5 cups of whole milk. Cook until the sauce is the consistency of a thick soup – about two hours. Cool, then refrigerate for 24 hours, then skim the fat off the top before reheating.

This is a really great Bolognese recipe, but I mix it up a bit. I usually cook the ground beef in a separate pan so I can reduce the total amount of fat that gets into the sauce (reducing the need to skim the fat off later) and when you add the tomato paste, I also add a 28 ounce Tetra Pak of diced tomatoes (I stopped using tomatoes in aluminum cans because of the BPA in the lining) and an extra tablespoon of tomato paste.

Once this is finished, I’ll divide this sauce into several one cup freezer proof containers. Before I put the lid on the container I place a bit of plastic wrap on the sauce, pressing it right in there and limiting the amount of air that can actually get to the sauce – then put the real lid on the container and freeze it. I will take one of these out of the freezer a day or two before I know I’m going to have a late night at the office and while the pasta is cooking for that night’s dinner, I’ll throw this sauce in a small pan and toss with an al dente pasta. A fabulous week night meal, with a little planning. Honestly, I’ll usually double this recipe when I make it in the fall and will have enough to last me through the harsh winter.

So that’s my “something old” recipe today. My “something new” recipe is one that I’ve made just once before and it’s from the November 2014 issue of Food and Wine, a Two Tomato Soup with Fennel. This Alex Guarnaschelli recipe was easy to make and very flavorful. I think I’ll be doubling this recipe and freezing servings of this as well.

What are you making tonight?

My Search for Spain

The first foreign country I visited was Spain.  I was 17, it was spring break of my Junior year in High School.  We scrimped and saved for 18 months but we managed to scrape together the extra $1,500 (plus $600 for lunches, souvenirs and other miscellaneous expenses) for the 10 day trip.  We landed in Madrid and I was energized.  I had been studying Spanish in High School for two and a half years and I wanted to practice and I mean really practice. I wanted to experience all the things my Castilian trained teacher had told us about the language, the culture and the food.

Granted this trip was put on by a group who specialized in bringing American high school students to Europe.  We weren’t going to be eating at Michelin Starred Restaurants, but we also wouldn’t be eating at American Fast Food.  Most of us would have our first experiences with true Spanish Flan, Paella and honestly, it was my first time ever eating lamb.  Looking back on the places we ate now, with a more refined palate, I’m sure they were places I wouldn’t be caught dead visiting now, but at the time this new food really rocked my world – opened my mind to other cultures – and cemented my previous thoughts that canned green beans are awful and taste a lot like canned peas and corn (with a twinge of tin and chemicals).  Vive La Fresh Food!

Where I grew up we didn’t have any Spanish restaurants.  Although if you ask many of the people in the area they would disagree.  They would suggest the guacamole at El Primo or the Enchiladas at Mazatlán – they also have a great Margarita special on Thursdays.  Where do I even begin…

When visiting Spain today, I love hitting the little tapas places that are on every street.  A bite here with a beer, a glass of wine and a couple tastes there.  Graze for a few hours while walking down the street.  Who can beat it?

I know I won’t be able to fully replicate that experience back home in Chicago, but I think I should be able to find a single good Tapas place where some friends and I can drop anchor for a few hours, slowly ordering items off the menu – ending up with way more food than we ever would have ordered (if we did it in one single order versus staggered throughout the whole dining experience).  We had a great place on Clark and Carmen in the Andersonville neighborhood.

 

Tapas Las Ramblas sat on the corner in a quiet part of the Andersonville / Uptown Border.  A few blocks to the north was the great dining scene central to Andersonville and a few blocks to the east was the live music areas of Uptown, housing the Uptown Theater, the Aragon Ballroom, the Vic and the Green Mill.  When Mike and I first started dating this place was arguable about half way between our respective condos, so we would meet up for a long leisurely dinner, coupled with a pitcher or two of sangria and call it a win.

 

When eating here, you wouldn’t get lost in the food or the atmosphere and think you were in Spain, but the food was very tasty and it was reasonably priced.  The menu didn’t have guacamole either – but it did have a great bacon wrapped dates, baked goat cheese and cheese stuff pequillo peppers.  We never made it out of there spending less than $100 either.

Unfortunately our favorite little tapas place closed in February 2013 – which is even more sad because we sold our separate condos in August 2013 and moved just a 8 minute walk from what use to be Tapas Las Ramblas.

Ever since I found out Tapas Las Ramblas closed, I’ve been on a mission to find a replacement tapas joint.  Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Casual neighborhood restaurant for a reasonably priced weeknight meal
  • Great Bacon Wrapped Dates and Baked Goat Cheese
  • Public Transportation Adjacent – I don’t want to be required to take a taxi or drive, but I also don’t want it to be two trains and a bus adjacent either.
  • Reasonably priced – I don’t want to spend $75/person on a Tuesday night

My mission this fall/winter is to find such a place.  This mission will not be easy and I’m sure it will be filled with disappointment, but with great disappointment comes great stories and hopefully an interesting read.

Please, help me on my journey to find the best Tapas restaurant in Chicago – send me your ideas (both suggestions on places to visit was well as places to stay clear of).