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Air New Zealand is known for their attention grabbing inflight safety videos.

The airline started with a disco themed one with Richard Simmons (access here), then introduced one with Betty White (access here) and a Hobbit themed one came out less than a year ago (access here).

air-new-zealand-sports-illustrated-swimsuit-video

Now the airline has teamed up with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit to create a new video and get the attention of many travelers. [click to continue…]

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Star Alliance had launched a Gold Game that testes your knowledge of the alliance by asking five questions. You can win one of the 36 prizes of Star Alliance Gold status in one of the participating programs.

star-alliance-gold-game

This offer is valid for all other current Star Alliance members except TAM that leaves the alliance in March and US Airways that is trying to merge with American Airlines and exits the alliance upon merger completion. [click to continue…]

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There has been quite a turmoil recently with airlines making partnerships outside of alliances. Qantas stroke a deal with Emirates that is a rival of Qatar that is set to join Oneworld in late 2013/early 2013. AirBerlin is getting cosy with Air France-KLM, although it is a new oneworld member.

nz-drops-hkg-lhr

Now, Air New Zealand, Star Alliance carrier, is forming a strategic partnership with Cathay Pacific, oneworld alliance member, for flight between Auckland and Hong Kong. The airlines will codeshare each other’s flights on this route and will extend (some of) the frequent flier benefits regardless which airline operates the flight.

Also, the Air New Zealand will drop the Hong Kong to London flight, but continues to operate Auckland to London via Los Angeles.

The last flight from Hong Kong to London on Air New Zealand will depart on March 3 and the flight from London to Hong will depart March 3rd as well. Customers that are booked on Air New Zealand on that route beyond the March 3rd will be rebooked on Cathay Pacific flights.

Conclusion

It is very interesting to see all these partnerships popping up between airlines that are not within the same alliance. Hope that this arrangement works for Air New Zealand. If I would be flying from Auckland to London I would rather not go via Los Angeles due to the rather unpleasant transfer experience.

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When I did the multi-carrier redemption couple of weeks ago using Continental miles on Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, ANA, Thai Airways, and Air New Zealand, I had the pleasure of trying to get all the seats selected for the itinerary.

For this purpose, I requested from Continental all the carrier specific PNR’s. The Lufthansa’s website allowed be to request seat from all the carriers on this Continental ticketed itinerary, but those seat selections didn’t stick.

Virgin Atlantic, ANA, and Thai required me to call their reservations number to have the seats selected. I used ExpertFlyer first to find out what seats were available on the flights that I was booked on. Especially calling Virgin took forever because there was some snow around in the Heathrow area that had led to numerous cancellations. ANA and Thai were both easier.

But the best of all and the easiest was the Air New Zealand. You only needed the record locator and could do everything online without needing to call the reservations. It makes you wonder, why all the airlines don’t have this. For sure it would decrease the number of phone calls to the reservations that are purely for selecting a seat.

Here are the seat selection screens that I just did for two Air New Zealand flights later today.

Apia to Auckland:

air-new-zealand-seat-request

Auckland to Shanghai:

air-new-zealand-seat-request-akl-pvg

 

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My favorite program for complicated one way travel award in business or first class has always been the BMI’s Diamond Club. The program is somewhat difficult to understand, and the economy awards using BMI miles rarely make any sense at all. Lufthansa is in the process of selling BMI to British Airways’ parent IAG. Diamond Club wont be around for too long.

I am right now in Suva on my Continental Airlines issued award ticket that I wrote about two weeks ago. I am flying to Apia (APW) tomorrow on Air Pacific, and was going to issue an award ticket to take me all the way to Colombo, where my next Emirates tickets start, from Apia.

great-circle-award-success

As always, I do my homework in advance. Experflyer is very useful for checking the award availability on Air New Zealand. Getting out of Apia (APW) is borderline impossible using awards on any other day than Thursdays when Air New Zealand flies one of their 767’s there. Getting out of Auckland is somewhat tricky at times too. There are only Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways that are the only Star Alliance carriers serving the country.

My preference was not to have a stopover in Auckland but rather in Bangkok. There were no other redemptions flights available in business class out of Auckland on 23rd than to Narita and Shanghai on NZ.

My first attempt was to ticket APW-AKL-PVG-BKK on Air New Zealand and Thai and then ten days later continue to my final destination BKK-SIN-CMB on Singapore Airlines. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it ticketed at the mileage level I wanted as the Diamond Club was claiming that this wasn’t an allowable Star Alliance routing. I then moved my plan to get to the CMB couple of days earlier on a direct flight from Bangkok, but this still wasn’t an allowable routing according to the Diamond Desk.

At this time I have a longer conversation to see what is the system or tool they use to validate routings. It appeared to be Star Alliance’s website. And it appeared to check the routings to a stopover point.

At this point it was already like 2AM here in Suva and decided to give them a call few hours later when they have another shift working.

bmi-dc-apw-akl-pvg-bkk-cmb

In the morning, I made four alternate award plans that I would try to get ticketed. To my surprise just by changing the stopover point from Bangkok to Shanghai somehow made the same routing that I had tried to ticket the night before permissible.

The final routing was APW-AKL-PVG on Air New Zealand in business class and then after a ten day stopover PVG-BKK-CMB on Thai’s business class.

This is one of the better Diamond Club redemptions at 18750 miles + £127.50 (cash portion of the cash + miles) + £101.30 (actual taxes/YQ’s). Very good value if you ask me.

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Every now and then, I am going to write about award reservations that I have booked for myself, and that I consider being of good value. Most of my award trips are complicated and some might consider them unorthodox. I hope that my examples might give ideas how to best use the miles for international premium class tickets.

gcm

I don’t normally book award trips months or sometimes even weeks in advance. For the past month I had been visiting family and friends in Finland, and decided that it was about the time for me to continue on my journey.

Last month Continental announced that they are ending the frequent flyer partnership with Virgin Atlantic. I haven’t tried Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class product so decided to piece something together as Continental allows one to mix their partner airlines and Star Alliance carriers on the same award tickets.

First, I was thinking of flying to Sydney. I have been to Sydney for couple of times before so it wouldn’t have been something new for me. The business class award from Europe to Australia/New Zealand is 65K CO miles. By throwing in another 10K I could make it all the way to Oceania. My award ticker to Colombo (CMB), Sri Lanka, where my next paid trip starts, would be using BMI miles that consider Australia/New Zealand/Oceania as the same zone.

air-new-zealand-pacific-route-map

I then decided to have a look at the Air New Zealand’s pacific coverage again. I have already visited Nuku Alofa (TBU) on my round the world United Airlines business class award ticket and Raratonga (RAR) on a “special” Al Italia business class fare.  Papeete (PPT) has always been on my radar, but I was thinking of going there later this year and then hop to South America via Easter Islands (IPC).

Quite a few of the islands no longer have business class service at all. Apparently Air New Zealand has gone the LCC route and eliminated the premium cabin from many of the routes. When I flew to the Rarotonga on NZ they still had business class even on the narrow body planes.

As I was going to the islands, I decided that it would be ok to visit two islands and just pay for a one-way revenue ticket in between them. I nailed down Fiji (NAN) and Apia (APW). Award tickets in business class were widely available to/from Apia on the weekly 763 service, but the award availability back from Fiji to Auckland was non-existent.

expertflyer

So using Expterflyer, paid service that has access to Air New Zealand award inventory, I could search week at a time for I (business class redemption bucket) class award availability to/from Fiji and Apia. You can also use Continental’s website for searching for NZ’s award availability. After I located the date for my AKL-APW flight, I had to start building the itinerary for other flights. For some dates Continental was even able to find award availability from Helsinki to Apia, but it wasn’t the routing that I was after.

Virgin Atlantic had quite good upper class award availability on their Asian routes. After I had found all the flights that I could live with; HEL-MUC-LHR on Lufthansa, LHR-NRT on Virgin, NRT-BKK-AKL on Thai, and the last leg AKL-APW on Air New Zealand, I placed a call with the Continental’s Platinum line. The agent was able to see and book all the flights. The taxes for this itinerary were $92.49. I tried to book the less complicated version of this at the Continental.com but never got past through the dreaded error messages.

Soon I realized that I had made a mistake. There was no way of me getting back from Fiji to Auckland using an award as there was absolutely no availability. I decided that it would be better for me to fly to Fiji and then buy one-way from Fiji to Apia, and have another redemption ticket starting from there.

The only problem was that I would need to partially build my itinerary again because the flight from Auckland to Fiji would be on 11th of February instead of 9th of February to Apia.

united-award-ticket

The solution for problems like this is to build long transfers (less than 24 hours) that are not considered stopovers somewhere along the itinerary.  Star Alliance is so well presented in Asia that “forcing” an unnecessary connection or two is rarely a problem. From Narita to Bangkok you could have natural connections point in cities like Manila, Taipei, Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hanoi just to name a few. I decided to settle for Shanghai as I had one fee Fairmont suite night about to expire later this month and the Fairmont in Shanghai is supposed to be a good one.

So my final itinerary was:

HEL-MUC-LHR using Lufthansa on 5th – overnight in London on 5th

LHR-NRT on using Virgin Atlantic on 6th – overnight in Narita on 7th

NRT-PVG on ANA on 8th – overnight in Shanghai on 8th

PVG-BKK-AKL on Thai on 9th – overnight in Auckland on 10th

AKL-NAN on Air New Zealand on 11th

Continental didn’t have any problems amending the original itinerary and reissuing the electronic ticket. The taxes went up only by $27.61. The total number of miles was still the same 85K and the total taxes came to $120.10. The whole thing was booked bit more than 24 hours before the first flight.

I do understand that complicated itineraries like the one above are not for everyone. I don’t mind the overnight stays in London, Narita, Shanghai, and Auckland at all before reaching my destination in Fiji.

My tips:

1. It is an absolute myth that there is no award availability on short notice – quite the contrary. Often airlines dump unsold business and first class inventory to award buckets few days before of the scheduled flight.

2. Start with the bottleneck segment first. In my case it would be the Auckland to NAN/APW. Then work backwards.

3. Sometimes you need to build long transfers (less than 24 hours) to get awards work. Consider these as mini stopovers.

4. Have access to the right tools. Over the years I have found both KVS and ExpertFlyer to be invaluable. You can use airline websites like Air Canada’s Aeroplan, Continental.com, and ANA’s SkyWeb to search for Star Alliance award inventory.

5. Write down the flight numbers/times and feed them to the airline agent one by one.

6. Have patience. Some airlines are very strict when it comes to allowable routings i.e. AA when some others i.e. US Airways and Continental are more relaxed. Know the rules.

7. Be nice to the agent who tries to book your flights. Sometimes their systems might have limitations and not always the award inventory is the same across the alliance. It could be carrier or even the point of sale dependent.

8. Enjoy your trip!