by -
5 Comments

Many frequent fliers use an online tool called ExpertFlyer to monitor award and upgrade inventories on number of airlines. Two weeks ago Delta made ExpertFlyer to remove their upgrade inventory and United did the same yesterday. ExpertFlyer lost the access to AA’s sticker upgrades already while ago.

expertflyer

ExpertFlyer’s announcement about Delta: [click to continue...]

by -

United made an announcement late on Friday about discontinuance of award, upgrade space, and fare bucket availability from United.com. Later in the day this information was no longer available using ExpertFlyer either. This information was useful when one was searching for flights based on GPU (Global Premier Upgrade) or RPU availability (Regional Premier Upgrade).

United Announcement About Removal of Availability Display
United Announcement About Removal of Availability Display

Later United clarified their position:

United Announcement Clarification
United Announcement Clarification

This information used to be available using ExpertFlyer as well but as of today the information is no longer available:

united-expertflyer-award-availability-gone

You still have access to the regular fare bucket availability using ExpertFlyer:

united-expertflyer-flight-availability

American Airlines still continues to publish this information via GDS that ExpertFlyer can access:

american-airlines-availability-expertflyer

Conclusion

Unlike American Airlines, United requires you to buy a W fare or higher in order to use their upgrade GPU instrument on long haul international flights. W fare costs hundreds of dollars more than discounted coach and it is wise only to book flights that one can confirm to business or first class at the time of ticketing, if one wishes to use upgrade instrument. Now, this information has been withdrawn from United.com.

The United spokesperson was referring for confusion that displaying this information has lead. I really would like to believe their spokesperson, but she just doesn’t make any sense. How booking a flight that has upgrade space available and then using one of the upgrade instruments can lead to confusion?

by -

On August 8th, I wrote about an offer from MilePoint, a Flyertalk clone but without the traffic. You can get 2000 United Mileage Plus miles and 2000 Hyatt Gold Passport points + number of other worthwhile offers for signing up MilePoint Platinum membership at $59 per year. Even if you have no interest about MilePoint, but are member of Hyatt & United, it makes sense to sign up.

milepoint-offer

Here’s a list of benefits. I have marked in RED the ones that I find useful. You can access this offer here once you have signed up for the MilePoint.

milepoint-offer-list

Conclusion

As was the case last month, I found this offer to be useful just for the Hyatt points and United miles alone.

by -
3 Comments

I am currently here in Kuala Lumpur, but will make my way to Europe next week after few days in Shanghai. I will land in Rome where I will spend few days, and then need to make my way to Stockholm from where I have unused business class return to Dubai via Addis Ababa on Ethiopian. To make things more complicated, I need to briefly visit Finland for few hours somewhere between.

For the past couple of months I have been reading customer service and other service failure horror stories about United on FlyerTalk. It is understandable that some things can and probably will go wrong when you are merging two large airlines like United and Continental. I have been mostly shielded of this wreckage as I have been traveling mainly in Europe, Asia, and Australia for the past six months, and haven’t set my foot on any of the US carriers for a while.

My status will most likely drop from Premier 1K to Platinum or Gold with United next year. It cannot go below Gold due to me having more than a million flight miles on the United’s program. I have the same situation with American where I have a lifetime Platinum status due to 2.7 million miles that I have collected.

So my goal today was to book FCO-XXX-HEL-ARN on Star Alliance using United Mileage Plus miles from my account. This award should cost 12.5K miles in economy. American also offers similar awards for intra-Europe travel, and the cost for oneway is 10K AA miles.

So, using KVS Tool I identified the flights on Lufthansa FCO-MUC-HEL and on Blue1 HEL-ARN that had award availability in economy.

kvs-lh-fco-muc-hel

kvs-kf-hel-arn

For some reason Continental.com DBA United.com was not able to price it correctly. It was able to price the transfers correctly tax wise, but was requiring double the number of miles than it should have.

ua-fco-hel-arn-tax

ua-fco-hel-arn-miles

I dialed the ATT USA Direct access number here in Malaysia (free) and inputted the number for the 1K desk. This way I don’t have to pay for the call at all. The call was promptly answered, but for some reason I was immediately transferred to some award rewards phone tree. Second time the same thing. This time, however, I waited for few minutes and listened to the music before hanging up. Apparently some agents are not keen working on award reservations. But, I have zero patience working with United’s outsourced call center workers in Manila or India. It is like banging your head against the wall.

Third time I got an agent that was willing to do an award reservation, but appeared to be challenged when it came to Star Alliance member airlines and transfers vs stopovers.

1. According to the agent Blue1 is not affiliated with United or Star Alliance and they cannot book them. I pointed out the that airline is listed as a Star Alliance carrier on United.com and maybe she should check her info.

united-airlines-star-logos

2. Agent was referring a transfer of less than 24 hours as a stopover, which is incorrect. She was probably confused with domestic US transfer/stopover rules versus international ones.

3. Supervisor refused to ticket it because of the “stopover” and not a valid route. There is a valid MPM based YY fare that has an MPM of 1477. FCO-MUC-HEL-ARN is 1681. This is within MPM + 15. On paid itineraries you can exceed the MPM up to 25% by paying extra.

Overall, it was just a miserable experience with United’s supposedly 1K desk. Was transferred twice and the third agent was obviously very confused. I still have few tricks on my sleeves to get this itinerary ticketed.

Now that I had already wasted about an hour of my time and made three fruitless phone calls, I Decided to have a look at Finnair options using my American Airlines AAdvantage miles. Although I am a Finn, I really prefer flying on Lufthansa, especially if I end up in economy. Last time I flew on Finnair, maybe five years ago, was from Berlin to Helsinki in business class.

As is the case with United, I always want to know the award availability and my preferred routing before I call AA, although I have find it far more pleasant to deal with award reservations with AA than United.

Tried to use my British Airways Executive Club account first to identify Finnair award availability on the route.

The BA’s engine wouldn’t show Finnair availability on the Rome to Helsinki route as they fly it on themselves as well, although it would be quite a detour. Also the number of required miles would be 30K BA & 100+ euros in fuel surcharges etc.

ba-fco-lhr-hel

But because British doesn’t fly Helsinki to Stockholm, you can pull up both the economy and business class availability on that route using BA.com.

ba-partners

ba-hel-arn-b

ExpertFlyer does show Finnair’s award availability for economy, but won’t for business. It was easy to identify that I would get from Rome to Stockholm in Economy via Helsinki. Couple of hours would be enough, but I would prefer an overnight transfer.

expertflyer-finnair-fco-hel-arn

ef-fco-hel-arn-0426

Unfortunately at the moment Finnair doesn’t have any economy award availability on Friday 27th from Helsinki to Stockholm. They do have business availability on quite a few flights, however. I made an ExpertFlyer alert for all the Friday flights that I could take, to alert me when there is availability on the X-class (the fare class that economy awards book into).

ef-hel-arn-0427

I haven’t received my new Platinum AAdvantage card so decided to call the Executive Platinum number for free using the ATT USA Direct Service, the same service that United also uses. Lady who picked up my call transferred it to the “Platinum” desk. The gentleman was able to book the Finnair flights that I had identified to have economy availability and put in on hold for me. The call to AA took 337 seconds. I got the record locator and was able to easily pull up the itinerary on AA.com. The taxes were $57.90 and the number of miles required 10000.

aa-fco-hel-arn-hold_0

Conclusion

It makes sense to participate to number of programs. Although I far prefer Star Alliance over Oneworld, sometimes the Oneworld carrier is a better option. Also, dealing with United can be very problematic and time consuming as I again found out today. Not sure where they find all these surly people to man their 1K desk?

I am almost certain that I will get my preferred itinerary booked using Lufthansa and SAS, but it will take few phone calls.

by -

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

 

by -

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.

by -
2 Comments

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!