Wheels Up Duval: Chapter 2 – JAX -> LHR -> JAX
In Chapter 1, we covered how Jaguars fans can replicate the NFL On Location package for 2013’s game at Wembley Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers for less than half the official rate, saving thousands of dollars. Now, it’s time to start cutting even deeper as we roll on towards our goal of $500 per person for a 2-person trip.
The biggest cost component of the trip is, doubtlessly, airfare. We found a number of roundtrip options, including tax, on Delta for $1,077. This number can be brought down all the way to nearly $200 if you have good credit and are willing to take advantage of some insane offers from Citi and American Airlines. No, I don’t get a referral of any sort for this and yes, I’ve already done this for myself.
The first step is to go to this link. This is a special offer that gives you 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage points after spending $1,000 on either a Citi MasterCard or Citi American Express in the first four months you have the card. The card also entitles you to a free bag when traveling, 10% of your miles back on any award travel and a companion pass that lets someone else travel free with you on a domestic flight if you spend more than $299 on that flight.
What makes this an even more exceptional opportunity is that it’s possible to sign up for both of these cards in order to earn a total of 80,000 miles just for spending a couple grand on your regular expenses over the first few months you have the cards. To do this, you need to sign up for both cards at the same time using two separate browsers, such as Chrome and Firefox. This outstanding page from Million Mile Secrets has the specific steps for you to follow. Please note that even though he references 50,000 mile deals, these appear to be expired. This works with the 40,000 mile link I provided above, though, so my advice is to use the 40,000 mile offer following Million Mile Secrets’ steps. If you don’t already have an AAdvantage member number, make sure to get one before applying for these cards, as you have to indicate which rewards account you’d like these miles to be deposited to once earned. Also, it’s possible if you’re married for both you and your spouse to separately apply for both of these cards.
So what can 80,000 miles get you? This chart from AA has the answers. Scroll down to North America to Europe and prepare for your jaw to drop: Off-Peak travel requires just 20,000 miles each way. While not all mileage programs are created equally, AAdvantage is often comparable to Delta Skymiles, through which this trip would typically cost 60,000 miles each way. Note the off-peak dates for AA travel to Europe from America: October 15 through May 15, an insanely long “off-peak” season, and one that aligns perfectly with the Jaguars game on October 27th.
You can go here to look up various travel dates. I’ve had my entire family follow these steps, and we’re tentatively planning to stay for a week around the game. Because fares are booked as one-way components, it’s possible to fly into one city and fly out of a different one. For example, we may choose to fly into Paris or Edinburgh initially and fly out of Heathrow at the end of the trip, beginning and ending in Jacksonville.
An important word of warning: while travel on British Airways is almost certain to be a better experience than traveling on American, and is possible through American’s OneWorld mileage program, British Airways charges tremendous fees and fuel surcharges for award flights. It’s CRITICAL therefore when putting together your personal itinerary to not select flights that include “BA” as one of the flight components. If you do, your taxes and fees will skyrocket to above $700, instead of around $200.
In this example, you want the AA and AA flight, not the AA and BA one, unless you’re comfortable paying a much higher fee due to BA’s fuel surcharge.
There are many flight possibilities available. Your taxes and fees will shift somewhat, but I made a sample trip that connects through Miami on the way out and through O’Hare on the way back, originating and ending in Jacksonville and London Heathrow. This itinerary costs 40,000 miles and $197.10, a more than $800 savings over booking travel on the cheapest cash flight. What’s more, if you sign up for both cards like I did, you’ll be able to do the exact same thing in 2014, or fly to other destinations like Japan.
A final note on the credit cards: people are often hesitant to sign up for more credit cards than they feel they need, believing it harms their credit. It’s true that opening a new account can ding you 5-10 points in the short term, say for the next 6 to 12 months. The reality, though, is that 30% of your FICO credit score is calculated based on credit utilization. Because of this, signing up for more credit cards can actually improve your credit in the long run.
Let’s say you spend $2,000 a month and have $10,000 of credit availability. You have a credit utilization ratio of 20%. If you open new cards driving your total credit line up to $20,000 but spend the same $2,000 monthly, your credit utilization would now be 10%, which is perceived as twice as good by the FICO formula. If you’re looking to refinance or obtain a new auto loan imminently and don’t have a solid credit history, this might not be a good idea for you. If you’re not in the market for a big loan in the next 6 months, though, I would highly recommend this method, with the caveat that I am not an expert in the field by any means.
If you have any questions, please contact me and I’ll be happy to help you however I can!
Wheels Up, Duval: Making the Jaguars London Home Game an Affordable Adventure
It takes dedication to want to travel across an ocean to see a presumably 2-14 team play a game against a potential Super Bowl champion. It also takes a good amount of money. However, if you’re smart about it, it doesn’t have to cost nearly as much as the National Football League would have you believe.
The Official Package
Information on the official NFL On Location packages are available here (PDF file). They start at $2,899 per person, assuming double occupancy, and provide four nights of accommodations in London and roundtrip airfare between Orlando to London, as well as ground transport to the hotel and to Wembley Stadium for the big day.
Getting Into the Stadium
At this rate, the seat you’ll receive is in a section similar to those that were available for £45 right here. While single game tickets in that particular section are presently sold out, it’s still possible to purchase a 2-game package at a significant discount, providing you tickets to both the Jaguars/49ers game and the Vikings/Steelers game set for earlier in the season. The 2-game packages start at £72, or roughly $116. You can most likely sell off the Vikings/Steelers ticket on a site like Stubhub.co.uk if you’d like, but the relatively low cost makes the idea of simply wasting the first game’s ticket less than a tragedy.
Taking Advantage of Packages for UK Locals
Another way to put together a game-focused package quickly and with a fair amount of savings is to purchase your tickets and accommodation through ThomsonSport.com. Thomson’s packages are focused on UK residents, so they range from 1-to-3 night options for accommodations. Packages start at £229 per person for a lower end-zone ticket and 1 night at a 3-star hotel. The cheapest 3 night package is £369 per person for double occupancy. An advantage to booking through Thomson is that they have ticket upgrade options that run the gamut from lower sideline to club and premium club seats, and the company hosts an NFL Kickoff Party at the same hotel where the League schedules most of its events during the week of the game, which includes the chance to meet and greet NFL alums, see cheerleaders at work and enjoy complimentary drinks and appetizers. This party is an extra £75 per person.
Do It Big
For many, though, traveling to London isn’t about having a shoestring budget when it comes to the game itself. You can replicate the finest finery offered by NFL On Location on your own, without having to commit to packages that max out at $5,000 per person. To do so, you’ll want to purchase one of the Hospitality Packages available through Ticketmaster UK. £329 each (roughly $520) will net you the Sapphire Package, in which you receive a premium club ticket, giving you a midlevel sideline view of the game. The package also includes a 3 hour pre-game buffet at Club Wembly, with complimentary bar for 3 hours prior to the game, during half-time and for an hour following the game. The Diamond Package is £439 each (roughly $709). This includes a champagne reception on arrival, a 3 course meal at Wembley’s most exclusive restaurant, complimentary bar during the same hours as the Sapphire package and a seat located right around the 50 yard line. These are doubtless expensive, but compared to the $5,000 that NFL On Location’s version of the Diamond Package requires, it’s a relative bargain.
Of course, the most critical element is travel itself. I’d recommend checking this Kayak link for the latest pricing on flights. As of publication, the cheapest available option is through Air France, via Atlanta, for $1,044 per person. This is a very limited itinerary however, departing on Saturday and returning on Monday. A far greater number of options exist through Delta, with most flights ranging from $1,077 to $1,084 per person.
Lodging On The Cheap
As far as accommodations go, a simple option for travelers wishing to stay at an American-branded hotel might consider the Best Western Palm Hotel, located 3.2 miles from Wembley Stadium. It starts at $118 per night with tax included and has a 3 star rating. Cheaper local options and hostels are available, but the savings don’t seem significant enough to be worth rolling the dice.
So, let’s make a four night package given this information for two people, as an example:
Flight: $1,077 (Delta) per person
Accommodations: $118/night (Double Occupancy, so half the cost per person)
2-Game Package, Upper Sideline: $116 per person
Ground Transport: Estimated $50 per person from the airport to Best Western and Best Western to Wembley and back
Total: $1,479 per person.
A Good Start, But…
For roughly half the price of the base $2,799 NFL On Location option, you’re able to fly from Jacksonville and see the game from a nearly identical seat. The only loss is access to the pre-game tailgate and the “commemorative gift”. I’ll let you judge whether they’re worth about $1,400 put together.
The good news is, it just gets better from here. In the days and weeks to come, I’m going to continue driving down this cost for fans willing to do some legwork to save big bucks. For example, I’ve already found a way to lower the cost of airfare a stunning 90% from the $1,077 listed above. I’m going to apply some of the same techniques to hotels next. How would it sound to stay in 4 or 5-star accommodations in the heart of London for a 60-70% discount or, if we’re all a little lucky, free of charge? That’s the goal.
My hope is to create, at the end of this adventure, a package where Duval’s finest can nab airfare, excellent accommodations, ground transport and a ticket to the game for $500 or less, with options to improve on any of these elements for an extra charge. I look forward to sharing my findings.
The Weekly: NBC’s Olympics Coverage Best Ever. No, Really.
This is the third in The Weekly, a series to be posted every Wednesday or so. Each will be a long-form, original piece that dives deeply into one topic. Each piece may be related to business, technology, gaming, design, entrepreneurship, economics, politics or any manner of other topics. The idea is to shed some light on something that at least a few people will find interesting. I hope that you’re one of them.
The world came together in London for a few glorious weeks of sporting achievement this summer. Literally billions of people the world over watched and cheered on both their home nation’s best and global stars like Usain Bolt who transcend mere nationality with their excellence. All of this glory and…Americans were left outraged.
The National Broadcasting Corporation paid $2.2 billion to secure the exclusive broadcast rights for the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics in the United States. Last year, NBC signed a blockbuster extension worth $4.38 billion, securing the rights to each Olympiad through 2020. So, while we may not yet know where the 2018 or 2020 Olympics will even be held, we know that a small peacock will be sitting in one of the screen’s corners for the duration.
Delayed coverage has been a hallmark of Olympic television since their beginning. Even the Atlanta and Salt Lake games, taking place within the US and therefore not subject to time zone inconveniences, often were delayed to maximize viewership – and therefore advertising revenue – during primetime. Whereas Beijing was 12 hours ahead of the US east coast, placing the games literally half a world away in 2008, London is a mere five hours ahead. Games that started as late as 10PM in London could be comfortably viewed at 5PM on the east coast, or over a late lunch in Los Angeles, with a wide swath of spectacle pleasantly taking place from when Americans woke up in the morning until they were ready to settle down for the night.
Some grousing could be heard during the 2008 and even 2004 games regarding delayed viewing, but neither Olympiad came close to creating the same firestorm of discontent seen with coverage of the 2012 games. Of course, NBC did nothing to help themselves, often spoiling results with a promo advertising an interview with a gold medal winner the next morning before the event had even been televised.
NBC also made tremendously bone-headed decisions in its editing of the opening and closing ceremonies of the games. In its coverage of the opening ceremonies, NBC inexplicably cut out a tribute to the victims of the 7/7 Underground bombings that took place just a few weeks after London was first awarded these games. Far from an incident known only to the British public, the 7/7 bombings captured global sympathy and were the last successful attack by Al Qaeda on Western soil. NBC chose to show an interview of Michael Phelps by Ryan Seacrest instead.
In the closing ceremonies, NBC cut out performances by The Who, George Michael and other British artists with global appeal in favor of cutting to the pilot episode of a new comedy certain to be cancelled by Thanksgiving. That it did so at 10:58PM ET allowed NBC to count the show as primetime viewing, declare it a success, misrepresent the show’s popularity to viewers and gouge advertisers when it airs in its regularly scheduled time-slot.
Though these were poor, slimy decisions, they’re the type that would have slipped by largely unnoticed outside of the sports and entertainment press in previous years. What led viewers to display such anger this year if NBC was simply up to its old tricks? Importantly, market penetration of high-definition, digital cable/satellite and high-speed internet was not as widespread as today. This says nothing of mobile penetration: in 2008, the luckiest among us were toying around with an iPhone 3G, and the word “tablet” still mostly applied to the stones Moses carried down from the mountaintop. Our rate of technological advancement in the mobile sphere has been nothing short of amazing in the past four years. Because we now enjoy greatly expanded capabilities, we demand greatly expanded access.
These are what “tablets” looked like in 2008.
Also explaining why NBC didn’t raise much ire in 2004 and 2008: the same, tech-savvy, mostly-affluent viewers likely to raise hell about coverage in 2012 benefited from tremendously increased cable coverage in both years as compared to previous Olympiads. NBC flexed its cable coverage muscle in 2004, expanding from CNBC and MSNBC to also feature events on USA, Bravo and Telemundo, in addition to airing portions of the games in high definition for the first time.
In 2008, Universal HD and Oxygen joined the list of NBC outlets providing coverage, and the network offered two exclusive HD channels dedicated to basketball and soccer on most digital TV platforms. Many local affiliates dedicated a second digital over-the-air channel to 24 hour coverage, and NBColympics.com offered limited live streaming video online for me first time.
Indeed, the growth in total Olympics coverage airtime for recent games is astounding. The 1964 Olympics in Tokyo garnered a mere 45 minutes per day of coverage, totaling 12 hours for the entire Olympiad. The 1980 Games in Moscow, boycotted by the United States, was worthy of a mere six hours of highlights domestically for the entire event. The 1996 games in Atlanta set a new record for widely available coverage at 171 hours. This number began to grow exponentially in 2000 as cable coverage became an increasingly viable mainstream proposition, ballooning to more than 440 hours of coverage. In 2004, coverage nearly tripled again to 1,210 hours of coverage, which in turn was blown away by 3,600 hours of Beijing coverage, despite the disadvantageous time gap. In 2012, NBC truly outdid itself with an unbelievable 5,535 total hours of coverage.
Coverage of the Olympic Games in 2012 was more complete than for any previous Olympics in history.
NBC’s online coverage is what allowed the network to claim such tremendous gains in coverage for the past two summer games. Indeed, in 2012, NBC achieved a Holy Grail of sorts in its coverage: for the first time ever, every single event was available to view live on NBColympics.com, as well as on new mobile apps created for iPhone, iPad and select Android devices. It’s easy to see how, with such advances, NBC would adopt the derisive attitude they initially showed toward complaints about coverage availability: the 2012 Games were the most accessible of all time to American viewers.
What’s a shame is that, horrible editing choices aside, NBC really did do a tremendous job making coverage available, but a combination of fundamental misconceptions and conflicting incentives led to a few poor choices that sullied all this hard work.
First, ignoring some understandable tech issues over the first few days that would sometimes result in jumpy video streams, every event was available to stream live online. To do so required a cable subscription with both MSNBC and CNBC in the channel lineup. Some may scream about this, but I don’t take issue with requiring a TV subscription to watch: a subscription indicates you’ve already paid NBC for coverage by two of their longest standing cable properties and also helps to somewhat limit the strain that such an ambitious offering would place on even the most robust network architecture.
If viewers missed the live stream, though, it was impossible to replay events that occurred previously until after they had aired during primetime. This limitation was purely arbitrary, a transparent attempt to goose ratings.
Commercials would often break into streaming coverage at random intervals while action was taking place, rather than at triggered intervals where interruptions were less noticeable.
Events often lacked even a rudimentary commentator, although when compared to the overly-talkative network coverage, perhaps this was a feature.
The site required the use of Adobe’s increasingly irrelevant Flash Player to work, hogging computer resources unnecessarily given coverage was streaming through YouTube, and therefore capable of being rendered without Flash.
The iPad application required viewers to either always have an annoying banner ad on screen or zoom in to full screen mode such that they might miss important elements happening near the edges.
The most damning weakness in NBC’s online coverage, though, was how hard it was for viewers to simply watch an event on their television. Millions of viewers sat on the couch with a laptop or iPad in their lap while a TV many times larger sat powered off in front of them. I eventually devised a method using two custom plugins, a MacBook Pro, a virtualized copy of Windows, an Apple TV, a paperclip, some duct tape and a turn of the century gramophone that allowed me to stream coverage from my laptop to my television. Yet none of this should have been necessary: a brilliant feature called AirPlay, built into iPads and iPhones and iPod Touches around the world, allows users to send their screen view to their television with one tap. This feature was disabled in NBC’s apps.
NBC could have further expanded the reach of its coverage by releasing viewing applications for game consoles like Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Due to the network’s historical ties to Microsoft, and Microsoft’s constant pursuit of ways to set its console apart from the competition, I suspect Microsoft would have gleefully designed such an application itself at no cost to NBC for Xbox Live Gold members, complete with advertising and a licensing payment to NBC as added incentive.
The problem is, all of these coverage options remain either loss leaders, break even propositions or small money-makers for a for-profit company that committed billions of dollars to simply purchase the right to cover the games, much less actually commit the technical wherewithal and human resources necessary to do so. NBC’s bottom line is still dictated by its advertising revenue, which is dictated by the results of a few thousand viewers with Nielson boxes attached to their televisions.
Although NBC was successful in finding premiere sponsors for its online coverage, such as Citi and Gillette, surely the amount each company paid for their promotional spots was a fraction of what a substantial ad buy in primetime would have cost. Each viewer taking advantage of an alternative viewing option like NBC’s apps or website is one less viewer for the network’s traditionally measured viewing population. The sad irony of the current system is that it’s likely that the more ways NBC makes its coverage available to viewers, the less advertising money they’ll actually bring in.
Though NBC’s coverage suffered from a few critical, avoidable flaws, the network was successful in one regard: it was easier to watch its official coverage than it was to pirate it. The same can’t be said for HBO’s Hard Knocks or BBC’s Top Gear, two notable examples of time sensitive shows that are hard to watch legally in the US. HBO’s case is particularly inexcusable. The paid-subscriber network has no advertisers, and is therefore not beholden to Nielson ratings the way a network like NBC can be. HBO offers the exceptional HBO GO service, in website and mobile app form, along with console-based viewing options.
Every HBO show is available literally the minute it finishes airing on TV- and often beforehand- through HBO GO. Every show, that is, except Hard Knocks, which HBO claims is unavailable due to their licensing terms with the NFL. HBO says that Hard Knocks is available to view using digital cable’s On Demand feature, but this is unavailable to Comcast customers for reasons unknown. As such, viewers that miss the original airing of Hard Knocks can either miss the episode entirely, despite being paying customers, or choose to freely stream an episode through an illicit YouTube upload or download a high definition copy to keep in about 20 minutes from a torrent service. Both options actively dis-incentivize viewers to maintain an HBO subscription once they figure out having one didn’t help them in the first place.
HBO series Hard Knocks isn’t available on HBO Go due to licensing issues, even though nearly every other HBO series can be watched online or on mobile devices. Policies like these only serve to foster piracy.
Top Gear is a less clear-cut case. The show, which airs on the BBC, is wildly popular worldwide, yet the BBC itself is restrained from offering ambitious viewing options outside the UK by the broadcaster’s government charter, which declares the BBC must act in the interests of British citizens who pay an annual tax for the service. Even so, BBC operates BBC America, a digital cable channel available widely in the US, but waits weeks before airing new Top Gear episodes domestically. Due to the show’s popularity, high-definition downloads are often available from thousands of sources within minutes of the show’s completion on BBC airwaves. Although a stream is made legally available by the BBC to British residents, it is unavailable for those living off the Isle.
In each case, these content providers have taken positive steps in making their programming more accessible, but have implemented arbitrary hindrances meant to shore up their traditional business models while bending to the demands of their viewers. These obstacles only serve to infuriate viewers, though, as it is plain to see that the challenges aren’t technical in nature: the networks are capable of serving up content the way viewers wish; they’re simply choosing not to do so.
I believe that networks largely know that the old way of business is heading for the dustbin, but because they haven’t devised an equally profitable business model for anytime, total access, they feel forced to build these barriers as a stopgap. They must work quickly, however, if they don’t want to lose their grip the way record companies have in the music industry.
Four years from now, live, pirated, streaming coverage will be just as accessible and at least as high quality as the streams NBC presented this year. These streams will come through distributed IP services, so defeating them won’t be as easy as obtaining a copyright takedown for a single website. They will be essentially invincible to legal processes and readily available to interested viewers.
The clock is ticking: networks must either find a different metric for their viewership, and a better way to get paid, or lose their grip entirely.