Visiting Machu Picchu for less than $150, British Airways Avios devaluation and Southwest fined $140 million (Saturday Selection)


Southwest fined $140 million after holiday operational meltdown, British Airways hikes prices for partner awards and how to visit Machu Picchu for less than $150. 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).

Southwest Airlines fined $140 million to atone for holiday meltdown

a group of people standing in a room with luggage
Baltimore Airport last year after Southwest cancelled 16,000+ flights over the holidays. (Image courtesy of Washington Post)

New Coke. Bacon-scented candles. Will Smith’s Aladdin remake. These modern age disasters, each terrible in their own right, can’t hold a (pork-scented) candle to the despair that awaited those who tried to fly Southwest during the holidays last year. Bad weather and out-of-place crew created a synergetic snowball effect that crippled the nation’s second-largest airline during one of the busiest travel times of the year. In the end, Southwest cancelled almost 17,000 flights and reported a loss of more than $220 million in that quarter alone. Even worse, the airline became a byword for incompetency, leading many travelers to swear to never darken its cattle-call boarding door again. The Department of Transportation has been investigating what went wrong since then and last week unveiled a punishment of similarly epic proportions. The total “fine” includes $35 million in cash and over $90 million that Southwest has to put towards giving $75 vouchers to passengers over the next three years who are delayed for more than 3 hours to their final destination. Although this is a significant penalty, 30 times larger than any previous enforcement action taken by the DOT, it still pales in comparison to the compensation guarantees that nearly every passenger gets when flying any EU airline.

British Airways hikes pricing for Alaska and AA redemptions

a white graph with a bird flying over it

If there’s one constant in the world of points and miles, it’s that what goes up, will eventually go up again. And again. And again. So, I suppose we shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist when British Airways Avios suddenly gave us a no-notice devaluation of partner awards on Alaska and American Airlines last week. North American awards have long been a brilliant, if lightly-sung virtue of Avios. Once, you could book flights within the continent for as little as 4,500 Avios each way, which was often a steal for expensive US-Caribbean routes. Several years ago, that starting rate increased to 7,500 miles one-way, but the pseudo-chart topped out at 13,000 miles one-way, as long as your flight was under 3,000 miles…still frequently a great deal when compared to AA’s own award pricing. Now, AA and Alaska awards are between 10-32% more expensive than last month, with longer flights suffering the worst increases. It’s all gone pear-shaped and Thrifty Traveler breaks down the negative changes.

El Al adds Delta as a partner, dumps Alaska and American

an airplane flying over a city
El Al 787

El Al is the flag-carrying airline for Israel and, because of that, offers some of the best connections between the US and Tel-Aviv, with five non-stop destinations from both the US West and East Coasts. I’ve never been able to fly the airline but have heard good things about the soft product, both in terms of service and catering. However, finding availability using points and miles, especially from the West Coast, was historically somewhat difficult when using partner awards. Alaska and El Al began reciprocal earning in 2019, with the promise of redemptions soon to follow. “Soon” ended up being almost four years, but Alaska Mileage Plan eventually did gain access to El Al’s flights, and it seemed to have much better availability when compared to El Al’s other partners, even if business class was somewhat pricey at 85,000 miles each way (although US-Israel flights were about to get better with Alaska’s new award chart). Last Summer, El Al announced that it would also form a “strategic partnership” with Delta, leading most folks to speculate that it was only a matter of time before AA and Alaska were kicked to the curb. Turns out, it was only a matter of months. Last week, El Al and Delta announced that their partnership was live for flights starting 1/1/24. AA will be dumped at the end of March, with Alaska following on its heels in June. While El Al awards from the US weren’t necessarily cheap on Alaska and AA, Delta’s stratospheric partner award pricing leads me to believe that we’ll quickly see business class flights from LAX to Tel-Aviv starting at “only” 400,000 SkyMiles. Dan’s Deals has the news.

Machu Picchu for less than $150?

a stone buildings on a hill

South America has long been the donut hole in my travel history. In fact, the first time that I ever visited the continent was with the FM Team earlier this year on our Party of 5 Challenge. I don’t have any good reason for why that’s been the case; my Spanish is decent, the continent has a fascinating blend of scenery, history and culture. Best of all, it can be a terrific points value for both flights and lodging. A case in point is Dave Grossman’s (MilesTalk) recent trip to Machu Picchu, a bucket-list destination for many travelers. Dave was able to take his family of three from New York to Cusco in LATAM business class and spend five nights in Marriott Luxury Collection properties for a total of $132 each out of pocket. One of the hotels that he stayed at was Tambo del Inka, a terrific-looking property that Nick and I considered for Party of 5. The hotel has a beautiful, riverside location in the Sacred Valley, complete with a private train to Machu Picchu. I loved reading about Dave’s trip; it’s a great example of the wondrous opportunities that points and miles gives us to explore the world…including families.

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Tambo del Inca is nice, but it’s remote. Better to stay in Machu Pichu. The ‘private’ train is just a stop on the normal train. Best advice is to splurge and stay at the Belmond next to MP and avoid the horrendous bus queues (think hours). And if you want a truly fantastic experience, do the 5-day Inca Trail hike (not, I repeat, not the 4-day 95% people take).

Julie Garrison

Hi Tim. I really like your table for the best time to visit every country. Please see if we can get that added to the Resources tab. Thank you, Julie Garrison


Less people live in South America, so less emotional and/or past life connections.

90% of population lives in Northern Hemisphere!


The latest BA increases are enough to convince most frequent flyer “gamers” to now ignore the Avios program if their goal was to snag good North American redemptions. The only real reason to now EVER redeem for North American flights is if you don’t have enough AA miles — which will almost always be a cheaper redemption, often much cheaper. It can be a bit difficult to gin up AA miles because they’re not a regular transfer partner of any credit card.


I liked the Machu Pichu story but he only traveled with one other person not a family of four. Too bad as we travel as a family of four and I always like reading about family travel!

whocares says family of four


Fining SWA is odd. They lost a ton of money, isn’t that punishment enough? And they compensated passengers already, more than legally required. What law did they break anyway? Where is the due process? This seems like government trying to virtue signal. Airlines are bad guys, but don’t worry, unthinking masses, we’ll get them! We’re your buddy.

Can we expect fines for FAA and DOT leadership the next time there’s a ATC, TSA, or other government failure? I won’t hold my breath.


In its almost yearlong investigation, the Transportation Department found that Southwest violated a number of consumer protection laws by failing to provide proper customer service (namely through the call center), prompt flight status notifications and refunds in a prompt or proper manner, the release said.”


Of course WN failed to provide “proper customer service” during their meltdown. It was a meltdown. 🙂 They did try to make it right for their customers afterwards, costing them 1.1 billion dollars. Personally, I think that was enough to convince them to fix their systems — which they did — and the gov’t should have just left them alone now.