All posts by H

It’s not about free travel! “Value” is the name of the game!

EU2016tripoptions

The wife and I recently traveled to Paris and Prague for our 2nd wedding anniversary.  It was a great trip and Paris has quickly become our favorite city; we might even try and move there in a few years 🙂

What I want to write about though, is a decision-making process that I think every miles and points junkie has gone through at one point or another: do you go the long way in a premium cabin, or take the most direct and significantly shorter routing in coach so you can maximize time at your destination?

We started planning this trip about 3 months before we wanted to travel. There was ample availability in Business Class on Turkish Airlines out of SFO for our dates. Unfortunately, there was no J availability out of LAX on Turkish or LH. We also explored flying Austrian out of ORD. Given the dismal availability from Southern California to ORD for our dates so we could connect to Austrian, the best option was to take Turkish out of SFO. R and I have flown Turkish in J before and loved the comfort, the food, the entertainment, as well as the lounge in IST. All in all, this was good for us: SNA-SFO-IST-CDG.

The problem was that the total journey (incl. very reasonable layovers in SFO and IST of 2 hours each) would take ~24 hours and got us into CDG at 10pm. This was mainly because transiting IST to get to Western Europe results in significant backtracking. I convinced myself that for premium cabin comfort, this was fine. But as we got closer to departure, the time required for this journey started to gnaw at me – we usually get to India from the US West Coast in less than 24 hours and it seemed unnecessarily excessive for a hop to Europe.

A week before the trip, I started exploring direct routings from LAX to CDG. Ideally, I wanted either J or Premium Economy on Air France. The best I could get was Economy LAX-CDG. The flight time was 10h45m! That’s less than half the time our Turkish itinerary in J would take! Not to mention that it would get us to Paris at 11am instead of 10pm, meaning we got an extra day in Paris – who can say no to that! I bit the bullet and booked one ticket with some orphan Delta SkyMiles (30k) and 32.5k Alaska Air miles. The flight was comfortable and we were enjoying L’as du Fallafel at 1pm in Paris! We took a short nap and in the evening, walked around the Notre Dame, stopped for some hot chocolate, and headed to dinner at a delightful wine bar – none of which would’ve been possible had we landed at 10pm.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you value more – getting to your destination in comfort and well-rested; or getting an extra day  at your destination? Of course, it also depends on which destination it is, how much time you have planned at your destination, and what works for you! For example, I’m okay with a direct routing in Economy over Business to Europe (even from West Coast USA); my valuation and choice would be very different if the destination was a remote island in South-East Asia.

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My experience booking Singapore Suites for 2 people 11 months out…a wait-list experience

As many of you know, Singapore Airlines Suites is one of the best First Class products out there….as well as one of the toughest award redemptions! Is there any doubt why? Flyertalk and the miles and points blogosphere has multiple trip reports for this cabin.

That looks really comfortable!

Suites can only be booked with Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. When Singapore Airlines first introduced Suites on their A380, it wasn’t bookable with miles. Soon, SQ allowed KrisFlyer redemptions for Suites for millions of miles one-way, eventually requiring a realistic number of miles to fly in the Suites cabin.

Singapore Airlines features Suites exclusively on their A380s; routes from North America include LAX-NRT-SIN and JFK-FRA-SIN. Online KrisFlyer redemptions qualify for a 15% discount in the number of miles required. For example, JFK-FRA in Suites requires 57,375 KrisFlyer miles; JFK-FRA-SIN requires 93,500 miles. Similarly, LAX-NRT requires 74,375 miles, while LAX-NRT-SIN requires 91,375 miles. KrisFlyer miles can now be transferred from all 4 major flexible points currencies: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest points, and Citi ThankYou points. As you can imagine, with so many ways to accumulate KF miles, Suites award seats have become difficult to come by even 11 months out.

Well, I am delighted to say that after obsessively tracking availability, I have booked 2 Suites seats from LAX to SIN via NRT for Summer 2016!! It required wait-listing one of the seats and a few phone calls but we got it! I know a lot of people struggle with wait-listing Suites and the opacity of the process involved in getting cleared off the wait-list. I thought it would be helpful to write up my experience and it might help some readers.

When the date that we needed first opened up, I could see availability for 2 seats in Suites. I was, understandably, ecstatic! Since I had enough miles for only 1 ticket in my account, and my wife had enough for 1 ticket in her KF account, I logged into both our accounts from 2 separate browsers and searched for 1 seat each. I found the space and simultaneously started going through the booking process on both browsers. This is when things started to go wrong…. My ticket went through to the payment page with no issues; but midway through the booking process for R’s ticket, the site went to a ‘Waitlist’ page. Apparently, we lost the seat as we were booking it! 😦

I started thinking on my feet and paid the taxes and fees for my ticket (a steep US$276!), and waitlisted Suites for R and started looking for Business class availability on the same flight. We were in luck! Business Class was available on LAX-NRT-SIN and before anything else could go wrong, I booked it for R and paid the taxes and fees (a princely US$266). The plan from here was to call SQ and see if they could open up space for R, considering I was already confirmed in Suites. From Flyertalk, I had read that requesting SQ to clear your ticket from the waitlist might help; the success rate is thought to be better if your travel companion is confirmed in Suites. Well…it was worth a shot!!

I called the KrisFlyer desk at 213-404-0301. The agent I got connected to was very nice. She understood the issue, was apologetic, and said she would send a “chaser” inquiring if the waitlisted seat could be cleared. I still have no idea what a “chaser” is but it worked! A week later, we received an email stating that R’s ticket had been cleared to book and that we need to call within 48 hours to get the ticket issued. At this point, I was out of the doghouse and very, very happy (also amazed that this strategy worked)!

You’d think that it was pretty straightforward from here on – ummmmm, NO!

We called the next morning and the agent was able to confirm that the seat was available and she would be happy to issue the ticket and cancel the Business class seat. Unfortunately, SQ’s reservation system was down; however, she was able to exempt the time limit on calling to issue the Suites ticket for R.  I called back a couple of days later and got another helpful agent who agreed to send the reservation request to the Ticketing Office and let me know that it would cost SG$17.00 (~US$12) to change the award from Business to Suites, and SG$13.90 (~US$10) for difference in taxes. I agreed, gave my credit card info, and was told it would take 3-5 days to issue the ticket. But it doesn’t end there….

I noticed a couple of weeks later, that while my wife seemed to be ticketed in Suites per the “Manage Booking” page, and she could select a seat, the downloadable e-ticket was still for Business Class. So I called in again (Ugh!!). The agent again apologized (for another issue on SQ’s end) and assured me that the ticket would be issued in 3-5 days. This time, I got the confirmation email in 48 hours, and my wife and I are now in seats 3C and 3D (double bed! woot! woot!) for Summer of 2016! 🙂

Also, I paid SQ’s taxes and fees with my new Citi Prestige card (with a $250 airfare credit per calendar year), bringing down the total out-of-pocket cost to US$324 and the total number of KrisFlyer miles to 182,750. Not bad for approximately 18 hours in one of the most coveted First Class cabins in the world!

 

 

 

20,000 miles in Business Class using US Airways and AAdvantage miles: Introduction

The Mrs. and I decided to head home to India for a winter 2014 break. We wanted a quick 2-week trip because we were going back to South-East Asia over Christmas and New Years. I turned to our stash of US Airways Dividend miles that I bought during a great sale on US Airways miles (100% bonus y’all!!). Well, turned out that we got held up for a good 3 months in India and had to do our South-East Asia trip using India as our base. This series will be about our trip to India and back. I’ll be doing a separate report on our trip to Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Singapore from India.

Introduction

Cathay Pacific 897 Business Class LAX-HKG

Cathay Pacific’s The Wing at Hong Kong International Airport

Cathay  Pacific 663 Business Class HKG-BOM

Etihad Chauffeur Service and GVK Business Class Lounge, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM), Mumbai, India

Etihad Airways 605 Business Class BOM-AUH

Abu Dhabi US Preclearance Facility

Etihad Airways 151 Business Class AUH-ORD

US Airways First Class ORD-PHX-SNA (the less said the better!)

Booking award flights from the US to India and back
Cathay Pacific using US Airways miles and an unplanned AAdvantage redemption

We had a stash of US Airways Dividend Miles after taking advantage of the lucrative US Airways points purchase and transfer sales. I booked us in Cathay Pacific Business Class LAX-HKG-BOM for 120,000 miles round-trip each.  Cathay Pacific award space is not searchable on aa.com. I searched britishairways.com as is outlined here.

We were delayed in India and spent much longer than planned back home. We had to forfeit the return leg of our US Airways redemption on Cathay Pacific (Boo!) It meant that I had to make bookings for our return leg. I had a large enough balance in my AAdvantage account to redeem 2 Business Class tickets from India to the US. I could’ve stretched it to 1 First Class redemption and 1 Business Class (since we were traveling separately anyway!) but decided to save valuable AA miles for another time. Using AAdvantage miles from India to the US meant I was considering travel on one of 3 routes – British Airways via London-Heathrow, Qatar Airways via Doha, or Etihad via Abu Dhabi – if you want to redeem 67,500 miles for Business Class and not more. This is because only a transatlantic itinerary from the Indian Subcontinent/Middle East to the US prices out at 67,500 miles for Business Class. If you want to travel on a transpacific route to the US (Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong or Japan Airlines via Tokyo, or a combination of both), the system prices it out as 2 separate awards – one from India to Asia 1/Asia 2 and the second one from Asia 1/Asia 2 to the US. Region definitions and pricing for AAdvantage awards can be found here. I was dead-set on not flying BA. I really didn’t want to pay taxes and fuel surcharges totaling ~$1,100 per  person. It would be cheaper to buy a one-way coach ticket back to the US. Between Qatar and Etihad, I chose Etihad for 2 reasons:

  • Qatar Airways doesn’t fly their A380, B787, or A350 to the US yet, which means they have only Business cabins with a 2-2-2 configuration to the United States. Not my preferred configuration for J class.
  • I wanted to experience the US Pre-Clearance Facility in Abu Dhabi.

Etihad Airways award space is not searchable on the American Airlines website either. To search space, you will need to use the Etihad Airways website to look for “GuestBusiness” seats. MileValue has a wonderful post on finding award space and booking Etihad awards with AAdvantage miles here. There’s nothing more that I can add to Scott’s post.

I ended up booking BOM-AUH-ORD-PHX-SNA since there was no availability on the AUH-LAX Etihad flight in Business. If you want to fly on Etihad’s new A380, you can also book this itinerary via LHR (like BOM-AUH-LHR-LAX) with the LHR to US leg on AA or BA for the same number of miles; taxes will differ.