Showing posts with label British Airways. Show all posts
Showing posts with label British Airways. Show all posts

Friday, August 12, 2016

British Airways A380 First Class

OR Tambo Airport (JNB) leaves much to be desired. As the main international gateway to southern Africa, the airport should at least provide some basic comforts. Things it’s missing include decent air conditioning, practical signage, genuine copies of Microsoft Windows, and basic queue management. It does have an observation room (good idea) upstairs (bad idea) and down a winding administrative hallway. The duty free shopping was spectacular because the booze prices were ridiculously low.
A380 Stairs Up To Business Class
My flight from Cape Town landed on time and I retrieved my checked bag (bags weren’t making connections due to a strike) and went for a 15 minute walk to the British Airways (UK) check in counter. It was closed. To kill time I took a stroll to the observation deck. There was little to see, so I went back to the check in desks and read a book while sitting in front of the first class check in counter. Check in starts 3 hours before the first departure, not a minute sooner despite staff being present.  
My Aircraft to London
Check in didn’t take long and the trip through security and customs wasn’t terrible (it’s a zoo in the evening). After my disappointing lunch on my flight to JNB, I went directly to the BA first class lounge for a proper meal. I was one of 5 people there and found a nice seat with an outlet and view of the terminal (only view offered). I grabbed a Scotch and some cold cuts.  The hot food buffet didn’t look appetizing. I wound up being hungry enough to not mind snacking and Castle Lager. As departure neared, the lounge filled up. Really, there were 28 first class seats on BA flights that day and there were easily 60+ people in the small space. There were 5 open seats and 0 open outlets when I left for a stroll. The business class lounge was standing room only and a mess. The customs line seemed more relaxing.
First Class Seat
This ground experience was not up to Lufthansa standards. My trip in 2013 on Lufthansa is my only time on a proper international first class. They set the bar very very high. From arrival at the airport through baggage claim, the experience is superb. BA could still win me over because I was booked on an 11 hour A380 flight with a connection at their new Heathrow terminal. 
Ample Space Up Front
Power Window Shades
BA’s A380 first class cabin is massive. Other airlines fit 52 economy seats it the lower deck between doors 1 and 2. British Airways only accommodates 14 first class seats in the same area. The personal space is wonderful and there is a strong sense of privacy. There is also ample storage space with a personal closet and overhead bins. I was offered Champagne after storing my stuff then presented with a pajama set and amenity kit. I settled in and started to familiarize myself with the gadgets. Power window shades, large tv, the seat adjustment knob (it was milled aluminum and felt great to touch), and on and on. I was in for a treat.
Seat Adjustment Knob
View From my Seat
The captain’s welcome about announcement mentioned that our aircraft was two months old. Soon after the lead flight attendant came by to welcome me, give an introduction to the service plan, and ask if there was anything special I might require on the journey. I was excited and ready to take it all in.
Evening Meal Service
Blue Cheese Pear
The drink service started right after takeoff. I went with Johnnie Walker Blue. First class passengers can dine when they wish. I wanted to dine as soon after takeoff to maximize my sleep. The service and food were great. I also enjoyed listening to A History of English Speaking Peoples over dinner. My flight was oozing of British-ness. I easily slept for 7 hours after the meal service. I enjoyed the English breakfast before landing and was sad my flight was ending.  It was an outstanding flight with a great onboard product.
Beer For Breakfast - I Had a Long Connection

Friday, November 13, 2015

British Airways Premium Economy Review

What is premium economy?  Premium economy is not on US carriers. Economy Plus, Main Cabin Extra, and Comfort+ are all economy with a little more room, 2-6in, to the row in front.  Many foreign carriers are installing a new cabin on long haul flights for premium economy.  Lufthansa describes it as: “A new travel experience between Business Class and Economy Class on long-haul flights: enjoy more comfortable seats, more service and more extras.” British Airways promotes: “a more comfortable, relaxing experience on longer routes and proof that a premium service doesn't have to break the bank, wider seats and more legroom, small, intimate cabins with expert, attentive service, delicious meals and full bar service, personal entertainment system with noise-reducing headphones, [and] larger free baggage allowance.”
Seat and Amenity Kit
Premium economy is a class between economy and business class, but is it a step up from coach or a step down from business class? The Qantas A380 upper deck has business, premium economy, and economy seats; 6, 7, and 8 seats per row respectively.  A British Airways 777 has 8 wide premium economy and 9 wide coach. The cabin is like economy in most ways.  There is no lounge access and the seats reline far, but are not close to flat.  The food service is improved, but still a single course.  The drink menu is the same as coach and the business class bathrooms at the front of the cabin are roped off.  Luggage isn’t expedited, general security lines are used, and passengers are directed to the general check in line. This is definitely an improved economy experience and not a Spartan business class service.
Premium Economy View
I enjoyed my British Airways World Traveler Plus experience.  I was originally booked on a 747-400 with the first version of premium economy. I misconnected in Heathrow because of a 4 hour fog delay. The delay was great, the Captain invited passengers into the cockpit to chat and kill time; it was a wonderful and rare experience. I was rebooked on a 777-300ER to Houston with the new cabin style. The service is the same, but the TV is better, there are more power outlets, and other little enhancements. I barely made the flight and was greeted with an offer of OJ or Champagne. I settled in to my seat in the last row with limited, though still ample, recline. The TV was large and clear and the seat next to me vacant.  I settled in and enjoyed the meal service. Bar options are the same as coach, Red Label rather than Black Label. The seat was comfortable for the 10 hour trip and I landed in Houston refreshed. As an added surprise, my luggage made it with me to Houston (United left it in Houston for the night while I went to Denver). 
Premium Economy Meal
Good trip and a great option when business class can’t be booked.  It’s also a great upgrade option, often $300ish dollars more than coach one way.  If you set your expectations that it’s an improved coach, you’ll be delighted with the value.
No First Class, but Ample Premium Economy

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

British Airways 747 Business Class Review

I had about 100,000 British Airways miles to start the year, mostly left over from buying money for credit card points. I wanted to spend my miles before British Airways devalued their award chart (advanced notice to members helped me save their value) and booked a trip to the UK and Ireland.  I would go business class over and premium economy back. I had the miles for round trip in business, but wanted to try a true premium economy product (Premium economy review).  I booked on and payed a large fuel surcharge fee. I didn't mind because this was my best shot at an interesting looking business class.
Business Class Seat - Upper Deck
I flew on a 747-400 from Denver to London Heathrow. BA has a strained relationship with the 747. It was the long haul workhorse for many years, but they are retiring the fleet for 777, 787, and A380 aircraft. There are already a dozen or more in the desert being scraped. Since the fleet is being retired, BA is understandably not updating the interiors or going beyond basic maintenance. That was until I read yesterday that 18 747's will be upgraded with more business class seating (and less economy) and new TV screens.  Great news once the upgrades start, but I flew on one that was, at the time, slated for parting out.
The lack up upgrades was evident. The aircraft interior looked tired, almost worn out. The TV system had an older, low def, flat screen with some bright hot spots scattered about. The aircraft also needed a good vacuuming and a cleaning crew with more attention to detail. Once settled in my rear facing seat, it was comfortable and drinks were served as doubles. 
Not Going To Be Parted Out Just Yet
The dinner service was pleasant and ended about two hours after take off.  This left me not tired with 5 hours until breakfast and landing.  I took a trip down stairs to stretch and make small talk with other people who couldn't sleep. The crew had some whiskey bottles and light snacks left out for the business class cabin at the bottom of the stairs by the second door. I enjoyed making myself a drink and munching to pass the time. Eventually I went back to my seat and got a short and restless nap in before breakfast. The Denver flight arrived at LHR terminal 3, so customs was a breeze and I had a quick bite at the AA arrivals lounge (nothing like BA in terminal 5 of Lufthansa) before hopping the underground into London. Good trip, but it showed that BA was not giving maximum effort on the Denver flight.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Frequent Flyer Program Points / Miles Inflation

Airline Award Price Inflation
Inflation is a great way for governments to take wealth and reduce their debt. It happens continuously, but no one really notices, so it's a low risk political move.  By creating more currency, the government receives the full value of the new money while everyone's existing money is worth slightly less.  It's something everyone endures, but no one enjoys. 
South American Style Currency
Recent Inflation Victim
Airlines also manage a currency and create inflation. Airlines created their own currency with points programs and have been adding more currency than is being redeemed.  This creates an over supply of currency against a static (more or less) supply of awards.  The unbalanced supply and demand creates an opportunity for point inflation. Airlines manage their currency like Venezuela or Argentina.  There is constant inflation by creating more currency with fixed award opportunities.  They also engage in large and sudden devaluations periodically.  Venezuela has inflation every day, but they will also suddenly change exchange rates.  Both destroy currency value, but the gradual devaluation stings less.  Airlines do the same when they change their award charts (British Airways most recently).  Awards that cost 80,000 miles yesterday can cost 100,000 points today when the award chart changes over.  These massive changes are usually, but not always, announced several months in advance.
More Miles Pursuing Same Seats
Hyper Inflation Airlines
Airlines create new currency, point or miles, at no cost to them.  They sell this currency to partners, like credit cards or hotels and receive real money for their proprietary money.  United Airlines sold $2.9 billion of frequent flyer miles in 2013 and has about $4.9 billion of frequent flyer miles outstanding.  They expect 20% these miles to expire, so the mileage expiration policy creates $1 billion in profit.  They did not disclose how they value a frequent flyer mile.   

“Five million and 4.7 million MileagePlus flight awards were used on United in 2013 and 2012, respectively. These awards represented 7.7% and 7.1% of United’s total revenue passenger miles in 2013 and 2012, respectively. Total miles redeemed for flights on United in 2013, including class-of-service upgrades, represented approximately 80% of the total miles redeemed.” (UAL annual report)  20% of mileage redeemed was used for partner flights, merchandise awards, and other ground based awards. That’s a massive amount of miles chasing relatively few awards and creates a great inflation opportunity.
Costs More and More To Sit Up Front
44% Inflation over 9 Years
When I started collecting United miles in earnest, a round trip to Europe in business class was 80,000 miles.  Then it became 100,000.  Now it's 115,000 on United or 140,000 on a partner.  1,000,000 United miles was worth 12.5 round trips, but is now worth 7 trips.  This is a massive currency devaluation of 44% over 9 years.  Frequent flyers should be marching and banging pots in front of United's corporate office, but I doubt many realize their miles are worth so much less.  Most customers measure their balance by the number of miles in it.  This is a poor indicator of value though.  Viewing it as the number of awards you want (business class tickets to Europe in my example) is a better indicator of value. 
Program Changes Can Reduce Award Balance Value
Reducing Inflation Risk
Collecting miles and points creates an inflation risk.  The more you collect, the larger the risk.  Inflation can't be eliminated, but the risk can be managed.  Here are a few tactics to help support an inflation hedge strategy:
  • Collect Points in Multiple Programs – All programs have inflation, but at different rates and different times.  Diversification reduces your exposure to a single program's risk.  It also creates more reward opportunities.
  • Spend Points Regularly - A smaller point balance lowers the potential loss of value to inflation.  Also, why bother collecting miles if they are never used?
  • Be Aware of Pending Award Price Changes - Don't be taken by surprise, read emails from your programs.  If a change is coming, book at the lower prices if able.  I booked a round trip to Europe before British Airways changed their award chart this year.
  • Change Programs if Required - Most airlines have partners and one partner may have a more rewarding and stable award structure.  Alaska miles seem more stable than Delta miles and you can earn either on a Delta flight.
  • Set Award Based Goals - Don't set a balance number as a goal.  1,000,000 United miles has a nice ring to it, but it isn't an end in itself.  4 round trips to Europe in business class is a better goal because it has a fixed value while the miles could change value.  Redeem when you reach your goals.
  • Create A Single View of Your Assets – Take a look at your award balances on one screen.  Copy and paste into Excel or Gmail if needed.  Looking at your assets on the same page will help you understand where your risks are.  It also may help you be more creative with your awards. 80,000 Delta miles and 62,500 American miles is a round trip to Australia in business class.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New British Airways Awards Travel Strategy

British Airways miles flew me to Easter Island, Santiago, and Montevideo on one award ticket from Miami for 80,000 miles and $64 in business class.  Their award chart had amazing values.  British Airways also thought it was amazing and changed it to remove any outstanding values. They went from a region based chart to flight distance based pricing.  Last week they changed their prices again, but only for premium cabin travel.  Business class is 50% more expensive and first class is 33% more expensive. Flying coach is the only economical use for British Airways miles now. I plan to use my remaining British Airways miles on short distance awards to maximize their value.  It was a fun program while it lasted.
Best Use of British Airways Miles

Thursday, April 23, 2015

British Airways Award Ticket Seat Selection Fee

I paid 50,000 miles and $557 in taxes and fees to British Airways for a business class ticket to London.  This was not enough for British Airways to give me a free seat assignment.  That will be an extra $113 for the USA - London segment. I'm flying premium economy back and the fee is $56. 
BA Seat Selection Webpage

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mr Bussa, we’re making changes to the Executive Club

I dread emails from airlines announcing changes to frequent flyer programs.  They are never good news. Prices are raising for premium cabin travel, first class is 33% more, business class 50% more, and premium economy 33% more. Coach is the same, but the expensive fuel surcharge fees make coach a losing proposition anyway. Book before April 28 to avoid the higher prices, full details here.
I Can't Afford a Business Class Ticket With These Changes

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fun Photo

I'm still dreaming of my first trip on a 787.  The British Airways flight to Austin uses a 787 and I grabbed a picture after my day dreaming (I was flying on a regional jet).
Austin to London in 9 Hours

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

New British Airways Benefit

British Airways will offer members $75 off flights in exchange for 7,500 miles.  I don't like this offer for three reasons.  First, I expected the discount to be in British Pounds rather than US Dollars.  Second, a penny per point is a lousy point value, cash back cards offer twice that value in cash.  Third, 7,500 miles is a free one way flight up to 1150 miles long. British Airways miles are a great value for short point to point trips. 
I'l Keep Saving For A Trip On The 787

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Use British Airways Miles On The Ground

British Airways miles (Avios) can now be used to buy experiences on the ground.  There are dozens of tours, excursions, boat rides, and other fun activities you can do around London and pay for with miles.  Denver is less lucky and only has airport transfers available.  These could be good value too at 1-2c a mile in the few I priced out in cash.  Even better, there are no fuel surcharges or UK air duty taxes to pay on these redemptions (taxes and fees turn a free round trip to London into a $400+ trip).  Avios can also be used for car rentals and hotels, but that isn’t terribly noteworthy.
Speedbird 787

Friday, July 19, 2013

British Airways Avios Award Chart

British Airways doesn't post their award chart, but lets you only price specific routes.  To save you the trouble of making your own award chart, here's the one I created.  The prices are for economy and are the same for British Airways, their oneworld partners, and Alaska Airlines.  Multiply by 1.5 for premium economy, 2 for business, and 3 for first.  Prices are per segment too, not total trip distance (find segment length or airport range), so avoid connections.  

Cost Max Dist
4500 650
7500 1150
10000 2000
12500 3000
20000 4000
25000 5500
30000 6500
35000 7050
50000 7500
25,000 Miles To Go SFO-LHR On British Airways

Monday, July 1, 2013

British Airways Cabin Classes

How many cabin classes does British Airways have?  Right, eleven.  No really, eleven. Four are standard for intercontinental flights, three are unique to Openskies, one is for their A318 service from London City to JFK, two are for intra-Europe flights, and one is for UK flights. Confusing, right?  Well the intent is to be as clear as possible and set realistic expectations that they can deliver on every time.  Each class has a different service level and seat combination.  The seat differentiation is great because they want to deliver on their promises. United took forever to upgrade their business class from recliners to flat seats, but you couldn't be certain what you would get and the prices were the same.  British Airways wants to avoid seat disappointment  especially with business class customers, hence there are five classes that could be considered business class if the differentiation was not as thorough.
All Eleven Cabin Classes
I'm sitting on about 100,000 British Airways miles (Avios to use their branding) and itching to use them on a unique experience. I think Club World London City would be the most interesting use, except it's impractical for me because then I would need to go to LGA or EWR to get a flight home. World traveler Plus, especially their new configuration, would be a fun and new experience. US carriers don't have a true premium economy section, but rather have basic economy with a few extra inches of room.  Trying out a new and innovative product would be a blast.  I also want to fly on a Speedbird; that's British Airways' ATC call sign and the coolest in the industry.
Speedbird a IAD

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Guess Which One I Flew

Guess which of these was my aircraft this weekend.  Yup, the CRJ.  I was connecting in SFO and saw about a dozen planes that made me think 'oh, I want to go on that one.'  The CRJ did not evoke a similar reaction.
British Airway 747 Looks Great

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

British Airways or American Airlines Messed Up Avios

I'm not sure who's fault this is, but something is broken.  American Airlines is listing first class on a CRJ-700, a two cabin airplane, as first.  British Airways' Avios is charging it as first class on a three cabin airplane.  This award should be priced at the business class rate and be 1/3 cheaper (18,000 miles rather than 27,000).  One or the other is messing up and destroying the value of the Avios program.  Since I need to blame someone for my unnecessary frustration, I'll say it is BA's fault for not pricing awards correctly.
British Airways Pricing American Awards Too High

Monday, August 27, 2012

UK Departure Taxes Pinching BA

British Airways must be feeling the pinch from the UK's crazy high departure taxes.  They have started to organize political action to repeal the tax burden with their (and 30 other travel related organizations) website:  They even emailed international Executive Club members to spread the word.  I think they have a valid complaint because they are being priced out of the long haul connection market and must be hurting. I know I'm avoiding London stop overs if possible.

Monday, June 4, 2012

What is a Point or Mile Worth?

What is a point / mile worth?  It’s a simple question with a complex answer.  A mile or point in every program will have a different value too.  Also, miles might not have any value until a certain number are collected.  Ultimately the value is different for each person, but here are my answers and how I got to them.
Jets Lined Up at FRA
Miles and points are a currency that can be exchanged for goods and services.  These goods can also be purchased for cash, making it a simple equation: Total Value / Total Points = $x.xx per point.  If a flight to Europe is $1,000 or 50,000 miles, then each mile is worth 2c.  The denominator will always be known, but the numerator gets fuzzy when you are buying awards that you would never buy with cash.  A first class trip to Europe costs $13,000 or 135,000 miles; yielding almost 10c per mile in value!  But I would never pay $13,000 to fly to Europe, so what is it really worth?  Priceless is the best answer, but it doesn’t help with the math.  I just total the perceived value of the experience and that’s the value.  The means a first class award is more like 3-6c in value; still a good deal.

Do the math for yourself and use your answers to decide if to spend miles or cash.  For example, I would use miles to book a $450 domestic round trip, but use cash for a $300 ticket.  It’s a gray area for borderline redemptions.  I’ll lower my threshold if my balance still has a large number of miles.  Also, if your credit card doesn’t earn at least 2c in value for every dollar spent, just use the fee free Fidelity Amex. It has 2% cash back on every purchase and cash is accepted by any airline.
Sun Rise at ORD
SPG – 3c
Starwood Hotel (SPG) points are my favorite.  With the Cash & Points redemption option, SPG points are consistently worth about 4c each, while full points awards run 2-3c.  The SPG Amex (business card has the better sign up bonus) earns one point per dollar and two points for spending at SPG hotels.  Points can also be transferred to about 30 airline programs with a 25% bonus for every 20,000 points transferred.  This makes the SPG card better for earning American or Delta miles than the airlines’ own credit cards.  SPG is my favorite program and currency because of its high value and flexibility. 
W South Beach Miami Hotel View
Drawbacks: There aren’t SPG hotels everywhere and the top level hotels cost too many points to have any value.  The cobranded credit card is an Amex and not everyone takes those (like my local liquor store).  Mile awards with United and Southwest are poor value. 

Minimum balance of 4,000 needed to achieve top value.

United – 1.75c
United miles are the best in the air.  They are part of the Star Alliance (25 airlines and growing) and have a few other strategic alliances for miles redemption (Aer Lingus has great availability to Europe).  Their reservations people are very good and the website can be used to find and book complicated award trips.

Minimum balance of 12,500 needed to achieve decent value.
United Airlines Jets at EWR Sunrise
American – 1.5c
American is a oneworld partner and doesn’t charge excessive fuel surcharges on awards.  They allow one way bookings and have a decent award chart.  American availability, coach and first, to most places not over the Atlantic, is second to none.  Good off season discounts and a cheap oneworld partner chart (80,000 miles in first London to Australia).  oneworld coverage is spotty and fuel surcharges pop up on European carriers.

Minimum balance of 12,500 needed to achieve decent value.

Delta – 1c
Delta has a three tier award chart and every time I want to redeem, my flight is in the second or third tier, destroying the value of my miles.  They are a Sky Team partner and Virgin Australia partner, so It’s best to redeem miles with Air France/KLM or Virgin Australia.  I wound up cashing in my miles for Economist subscriptions, 3,200 for a year or 3c in value.  Not bad considering my options.

Minimum balance of 25,000 needed to achieve decent value or 3,200 for a year of The Economist.
Not Every Trip Is Glamours
Alaska Airlines – 1.6c
I credit my Delta and American flights to Alaska.  Alaska isn't part of an alliance, but are partners with most airlines you would want to fly not in the Star Alliance.  The award chart is downright cheap in places too.  The flexible earning and redeeming of miles makes Alaska a great program to have miles in.  One ways are allowed and there is a cash and points option.  Partner awards have to be a single carrier plus Alaska to get you to the gateway city.  Not Star Alliance good, but close.  Other than flights and credit card spend (not a good deal), it’s hard to earn miles with them (SPG transfers mostly).

Minimum balance of 12,500 needed to achieve decent value.

US Airways – 1.7c
Star Alliance member with a reasonable award chart (more reasonable than UA to Asia in business).  Only allow round trips.  Can’t book partner awards online, so be prepared for an hour long call with reservations.  Great deals on off peak awards.  The Mileathon promotion runs annually and is a great way to stock up on miles.  US Airways also runs frequent mileage purchase promotions.   I constantly fear award chart devaluation. 

Minimum balance of 25,000 needed to achieve good value.
Use BA Miles to Fly LAN Around South America
British Airways - .5c or 2c
BA is great for short one segment trips on American or LAN.  BA has a distance based award chart, allows one ways, and has partner booking online.  For long flights (less generous pricing), connections (each segment is charged, not total distance), premium cabins (x2 for business, x3 for first), or trips in Europe (steep fuel charges) don’t bother.  Good deals are found mostly in the America’s. The scary high fuel charges take the value out of any BA, Iberia, of Finnair award.

Minimum balance of 4,500 needed to achieve decent value.

Other Carriers – 0-10c
Southwest will sell any seat at 60 points per dollar so they have a fixed value of 1.67c per point (not bad really).  Other airline programs can be anywhere.  My Frontier miles might only be good for a magazine subscription.  Foreign carriers could have no value or tons of value, depending on if you need to use those airlines.  If you are going somewhere only Emirates flies, then those miles will be worth much more.  It’s too subjective for me to give a definitive value.
Southwest and US Airways Jets at ABQ

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chase Sapphire Credit Card Review

I use a collection of credit cards to maximize rewards from everyday spending.  I have a Citi Forward card because it earns 5% back (in gift card form) on restaurant spending.  I have a gold American Express that earns 3 times points on airfare and the SPG Business Amex that gives me 2 times points on Starwood hotels and Open Savings.  Then I need a card that rewards me for all my other spending.

My standby card is the Fidelity Amex that earns 2% on all purchases and has no annual fee.  My JPMorgan Palladium card earns 2 times points on travel spend, but that is limited to non-SPG hotels since all my other travel spend is taken by other cards.  I decided to try out the Chase Sapphire card with a 50,000 point sign up bonus (now only 40,000).  It earns 2 times points on travel spend and is otherwise uninteresting.  The card is not made out of plastic, but it is not gold so I’m not too impressed.  It’s a decent earner and with a much lower annual fee than the Gold Amex or Palladium Visa; it might be my go to card for airfare spending when my free year with the gold Amex is up.

Ultimate Rewards is Chase’s answer to Membership Rewards.  It has poor redemption value merchandise and 1:1 miles transfers to Chase affiliated airlines and hotels (United, Southwest, BA, Marriott, Priority Club, etc.).  You can also cash out points at $0.01 each.  It is a decent program and occasionally puts all their merchandise on sale to give you better than $0.01 a point in value. Point transfers or cash (if you are unimaginative or cash is king) are the best options.

The Sapphire is an ok card that, thanks to the sign up bonus, is going to be a good earner for me this year.  I’m not sure if I will keep it once the annual fee kicks in.  The Fidelity card is almost too good a value for everyday purchases.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Points Inflation Strikes Again

It’s been a rough few months for points inflation. British Airways killed their zone based reward charts that had some great values and moved to a segment mileage pricing model.  Now My Coke Rewards has raised the price of a free soda from 30 points (24 points when I joined) to 40 points, a 33% increase.  Luckily I didn’t have a large balance in either program so I did not lose very much. 
It was 30 points last week

This does serve as a warning against sitting on large balances in programs because the prices can change without warning.  I have a diversified mileage collection with several carries, several hotel chains, and credit card points holdings.  Once you have enough for two round trips in first to anywhere you would want to go (or about 300,000 miles), you should think about diversifying your holdings.

Friday, December 23, 2011

South American Adventure - Booking

  1. Booking
  3. Miami
  4. MIA-SCL
  5. SCL-IPC
  6. Easter Island
  7. IPC-SCL
  8. Santiago
  9. SCL-MVD
  10. Montevideo

I only have 10 days off a year and they don’t roll over, so I have to be careful with their use. I wind up sitting on them and using them as needed.  Then October comes and I have 8 left, so I start planning a year end trip to finish them off.  I have always had a fascination with South America, but never had an excuse to go there.  Then I collected about 160,000 British Airways miles through a credit card bonus and buying coins at face value with free shipping.  British Airways charges exorbitant fuel surcharges on their own reward flights, but not on partners.

I ran a search one day and found a round trip to Santiago and found it was 80,000 miles and $60 in business class.  A round trip to London in business was 100,000 miles and $840.  My mind was made; I was going to South America.  British Airways allowed (this policy and pricing has changed since I booked) unlimited stopovers in a region, as long as you stayed on the same airline.  I wanted to go to Easter Island and then as many other places as I could manage. 

I made a spreadsheet to track availability by day for the segments I wanted and started searching each leg online.  I did one way searches for each takeoff to get the most granular detail I could.  From there I could just assemble the different legs into a trip, call the agent, and book.  I found no availability into Buenos Aires in December, nothing at all, but Montevideo was a wide open alternative.  I wanted to fly the longer flights in business and found a options for MIA-SCL and back, very limited JKF flights, and nothing out of LAX or SFO.  I was able to put together a trip, from MIA-SCL-IPC-2 nights-SCL-2 nights-MVD- 1 night-SCL-MIA.  I reran my search to confirm the flights were all still available and then called to book.

Booking was totally drama free.  After about 10 minutes on hold, not bad for a general member really, I got a friendly agent based in New York.  I gave her the flights, segment by segment and she found each one as expected.  She put it all together, priced it (80,000 miles and $120, as expected), and booked it.  A confirmation email landed in my inbox, I gave it a look, thanked her for her help, and that was it.

The key to booking this was doing the leg work before calling.  It took me several hours to plan it out and find the best routing.  Open ended bookings like this can be a very complex challenge because you are not constrained by locations and dates.  If I relied on the phone, it would have taken much longer and I would have been far less likely to find such a nice trip and timing.  I’m available to help with award bookings if you would like to use my award consulting service, just shoot me an email.