Robert De Niro thinks Delta SkyMiles are worth 4.3 cents each, $4 Amtrak tickets and the pilot who tried to crash a plane tells all (Saturday Selection) 


Robert De Niro thinks Delta SkyMiles are worth 4.3 cents each, points and miles mistakes to avoid and the pilot who tried to crash a plane on mushrooms talks about his side of the “trip.” All that and more in this week’s Saturday Selection, our weekly round-up of interesting tidbits from around the interwebs (links to each article are embedded in the titles).

Pilot who took mushrooms and tried to crash a plane speaks out

By now, most folks have at least tangentially heard about Joseph Emerson, the Alaska Airlines pilot who tried to crash a plane while riding in the cockpit jump seat. Emerson was on a flight from Everett to San Francisco last month when he suddenly became agitated and tried to pull the fuel shut-off handles, meant for emergency in the case of an engine fire. Luckily, the pilots were able to restrain him and move him into the main cabin, where he asked the flight attendants to cuff him until they made an emergency landing in Portland. He’s now in the custody of law enforcement and has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder. Earlier this week, Emerson told his side of the story to the New York Times. Evidently, he was at a get-together to celebrate his best friend who had recently passed. During this retreat, he mixed hallucinogenic mushrooms (for the first time) and alcohol, then found himself feeling like he was in a dream he couldn’t wake from, even days later. When he attempted to pull the shut-off handles, he was trying to wake himself up but, instead, almost caused a horrific disaster. While he obviously never should have been in a cockpit while high on mushrooms, I think the full story raises some interesting questions about how the FAA handles pilot mental health issues, depression and those who try to seek help.

Common mistakes in the world of points and miles

For beginners, the world of points and miles can often feel like trying to take a big gulp of water from a firehose. Keeping track of credit cards, application rules, transfer partners, redemption values, booking methods and all of the other assorted mileage minutiae can quickly overwhelm even the most hearty souls. In reality, no matter how much we know or research, we all still make mistakes. For example, one of my first Citi cards was the now-86’d Prestige, whose original perks had to be seen to be believed. Those benefits eventually eroded, however, leaving me feeling ambivalent about paying the card’s $450 annual fee. So, I cancelled. A couple of months later, I noticed that my ThankYou points balance was suddenly missing over 200,000 points. I called the bank, only to learn about Citi’s rule that ThankYou points from a given card expire 60 days after you cancel that card. Furious, I asked, “why didn’t anyone tell me?” Fortunately, they were quickly able to produce a recording of my cancellation call which showed I had, in fact, been told exactly that (in the midst of all those irritating terms that make most of us zone out). To say I was sheepish was an understatement. But, let me tell ya, I never forgot that one again. Above, MileValue puts together a good list of twelve common mistakes for beginners to avoid, hopefully before they make them…unlike me.

Robert DeNiro values Delta SkyMiles at 4.3 cents each?

Robert De Niro and the rubber chicken | Scanners | Roger Ebert
“and then I told the judge, ‘if you believe that, your honor, I’ve got some land in Vegas to sell ya'”

Valuing the various points and miles currencies can be an admittedly slippery proposition. Outside of the few programs that have fixed values (like Southwest), there’s a fair amount of subjectivity in trying to pin down specific numbers when the actual value changes from award to award. FM takes a pretty good stab at it with our Reasonable Redemption Values (RRV), albeit with an eye towards erring on the conservative side. Currently, we have Delta SkyMiles listed as being worth an average of 1.3 cents each. Some folks may think that number is too low (or too high), but it’s hard not to argue that SkyMiles redemptions have taken a hit in their value and utility over the last few years. This has led some folks to begin using the moniker, “SkyPennies.” Given this, news of a lawsuit that Robert De Niro recently filed against his former personal assistant caught my eye. In short, he accuses her of misusing corporate funds and the company Amex. More interestingly, he says that she stole 7 Million SkyMiles from him (almost enough for a one-way business class award from the US to Europe). In the suit, he says that those 7 million SkyMiles are worth $300K, leading to a magnificent valuation of almost 4.3 cents each. It’s unclear how his team arrived at such a fanciful number, but my inquiries to his office offering to sell him all of my SkyMiles at 3 cents each have thus far remained unanswered. Gary at View from the Wing tells the story.

Amtrak tickets for as low as $4

The California Zephyr on its way through the Rockies.

Growing up in the Midwest, train travel was an exotic beast reserved for the denizens of such far flung places as New York City and Philadelphia. My first introduction to its wonders was when my brother took an overnight train from Omaha to Granby, Colorado as the first leg of his honeymoon through the Southwest and the Rockies. My job was to drive his car from Omaha to the train station in Granby, a harrowing overnight trek in the midst of a blizzard that ended up taking me five hours longer than I was anticipating. I got to Granby at 3 o’clock in the morning, exhausted, and took stock of the tiny train depot that was covered in about two feet of fresh snow. Imagining my brother and sister-in-law cozily ensconced in a sleeper somewhere east of Denver, I thought, “that’s the way to go.” Unfortunately, for those of us on the West Coast, train travel isn’t a terribly useful tool. I envy the East Coasters out there who have good routes, frequent trains and reasonable fares. Those fares are even better this week, as Amtrak is running a nationwide sale on most of its routes for travel through mid-March, with tickets as low as $4 one way (or $8 from DC to Philadelphia). Travel + Leisure breaks down the best deals.

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