Category Archives: Category: Flights

No drinks? No bags? No point! How British Airways lost my loyalty

I remember when I first flew BA. To that point my limited flying experience had been solely on EasyJet and Ryanair so you can just imagine how proudly I settled into my leather seat on that first flight to Heathrow, listening as city tycoons wrapped up important phone calls and the classical music played in the background. I remember setting the Financial Times to one side as I polished off breakfast, then reclining with a cup of coffee and surmising that all was right with the world.

My wife and I have loyally flown BA and their One World partners over the years and have always enjoyed a level of service that, especially in the U.K. domestic market, has rightly held the reputation of standing head and shoulders above the rest.

Well, they say it’s lonely at the top and my, how BA have fallen.

One of the most obvious deteriorations to their domestic service is the recent axing of complimentary food and drinks. Since Janurary 2017, there are no more hot breakfasts, teas, coffees, snacks unless you’re willing to pay. It was perhaps BA’s most distinguishing perk that separated it from the rest.

A little longer ago, BA introduced ‘hand baggage only’ fares, where as the name suggests, customers must then pay extra money to check a bag. It’s ‘unbundling’ the fare and sure, I get it. But somehow I managed to go for 2 years without running into this until recently, checking in at Gatwick, I was being asked to pay £40 per suitcase. The normal cost is a fairly typical £20 and it leaves a particularly bad taste in my mouth that BA has jumped on the ‘prey on the unprepared’ bandwagon, taking extra advantage of passengers who didn’t take care to pay for their add-ons prior to travel day.

Tell me BA, how can the customer feel valued when when there’s a 100% premium on paying to check a bag at the airport versus ahead of time, something which costs the airline exactly zero? It is precisely what people so passionately hate about Ryanair.

Now paying for bags in one form or another is nothing new but what is even more disappointing to me is BA’s lack of grace toward their frequent flyers. As Platinum members with American, we are never charged for baggage, even domestically. Under BA’s rules, you could be a Gold Executive Club member and still you’d be left to pay the baggage fees on the ‘hand baggage only’ fares.

So what’s even the point of earning status with BA? I mean, with Priority Pass lounges everywhere and a million and one other ways to gain lounge access nowadays, I don’t consider that to be a strong draw factor. Priority check-in and boarding is nice but alone isn’t enough to make loyalty worthwhile. And now baggage fees aren’t being waived.

Both for frequent and non frequent travellers alike, having one ticket that included all the little perks; that’s exactly what earned BA our loyalty for so long. You’d gladly pay that little bit extra knowing that your journey would be pleasant, comfortable and you wouldn’t be nickelled and dimed from start to finish. That is now a thing of the past.

British Airways: I really don’t get the point any more. You’ve become just another low cost carrier, recognisable only by your fancy logo and especially unhappy workforce. You need to do better.

Why do tickets cost more in one direction than the other? And how to use it to your advantage.

Most of us book return tickets for trips and conventional wisdom says that it’s the cheapest way to go. Usually it is.

But not always.

If you start breaking down return flights into 2 one-way tickets, you’ll start to notice that the cost is rarely split 50/50. The reason is simple. When pricing international tickets, airlines have a good sense for how much different people are willing to pay. They know that somebody from, say, the UK will be willing (and maybe able) to pay more to fly to an exotic Madagascan holiday than a local Madagascan resident is likely to pay to come to the UK. Currency matters and the airlines know how much they can charge to fill a plane.

When you break the tickets down to one-way segments, you will almost always find the flight departing from the ‘more expensive’ country costs a lot more than the return.

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We are currently on holiday in South Africa and our tickets for this trip were a perfect example. We had some air miles to use, but also needed to get busy earning our share of American Airlines miles for the year so decided to split the travel between air miles and paid tickets. For the flights we used air miles for, you can read about how we booked that here. Qatar & Etihad both allow passengers to earn AA miles and were about the cheapest flights available.

Here is why the direction is important to pay attention to.

Here are flights for May from Edinburgh to Johannesburg on Qatar:

EDI-JNBRoughly £665 for a one way ticket.

Now look at flights, on the exact same dates, coming the other direction (Johannesburg to Edinburgh):

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Coming this way, the flights cost right around R5150 which is about £250 – less than half the cost!

Now when spending air miles for ‘free flights’, aside for small differences in taxes, the cost in miles is always the same regardless of direction. Flights are priced by region or distance, so whether you fly EDI-JNB or JNB-EDI it is the same.

Therefore for this trip, it made a lot more sense to use air miles to fly down (it cost 30k miles and around $25 each in taxes) and then pay to fly home and earn miles at a low cost.

Here’s the route home, actually on Etihad, all for around £250pp. Since Etihad don’t fly from Cape Town, we booked a separate internal flight with BA from CPT-JNB for next to nothing, around £60pp.

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And South Africa – highly recommended!

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Has anyone else succeeded in saving money by booking one-way tickets vs return tickets?

How to earn AA Platinum status in 2 weeks!

American Elite Status challenges are back! After taking a short break while changes to the AAdvantage programme were announced, AA frequent flyers can once again earn Gold or Platinum status with a 3 month challenge. The requirements are simple:

Gold Challenge – earn 7,000 elite qualifying miles in 90 days + $100

Platinum Challenge – earn 12,000 elite qualifying miles in 90 days + $200

If you are just returning from a trip, it’s worth knowing that American backdated my challenge by 2 weeks. I flew GLA-LHR-MIA-BNA 10 days ago, so this made all the difference. The agent took a few minutes to key in the segments and I’m now just 1,000 miles short.

Here’s our January & February itinerary:

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From zero to Platinum in 2 weeks

Some codeshare flights are accepted – in our case, over half of our travel is on BA metal but counts all the same. If you are unsure, just ask the agent when you call and they will check each segment for you.

Gold or Platinum status will be granted upon completion of the challenge and is valid through February 2016. Until then, Platinum passengers can enjoy benefits including lounge access on international trips, 2 free bags, a 100% mileage bonus, priority boarding, better access to upgrades and a good deal more.

How to check if your travel will qualify

  1. Go to www.gcmap.com. Here, you can key in your itinerary and it will display the miles you are expected to fly.
  2. Then go to AA’s website and check how many Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) you will earn per mile flown based on your fare class. Select which airline you are flying and it will show the EQM chart. Here is the chart for flights on AA, notice how EQMs range from 3x to 1x based on the fare class. On some partners, EQMs per mile can be lower, at 0.5x. Again, if you are unsure, just call and ask!

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    EQM chart for flights on AA

So, if you are going to be travelling 7,000 or 12,000 miles over the next 3 months it’s time to get on the phone!

How to book UK to South Africa – with a free trip to Iceland

For anyone who’s ever booked an award ticket departing from the UK, you will be familiar with the hefty UK taxes. While some airlines impose fuel surcharges on award tickets and others don’t, every airline is bound to charge the ‘UK Passenger Duty’. It ranges depending on the distance of the flight and the cabin booked, but it can add up to £200 per ticket. So much for ‘free flights’.

So here’s a handy trick to turn those lemons into lemonade.

We are planning to visit some friends in South Africa this April. There aren’t many options to get down there using our American Airlines miles, so we are making use of the Star Alliance by transferring our Chase credit card points into our United Mileage Plus account. There are plenty options with Turkish, Ethiopian, Lufthansa, Scandinavian, South African and more.

So here’s the deal. On United’s website, an economy award ticket from Edinburgh to Durban costs 30k miles plus $130.

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Looking at the fare breakdown, you can see how much is attributed to the tax – $103.30 per passenger:

Taxes

So the solution is simple. Book your ticket from a nearby airport that is NOT in the UK, and then book a cheap flight to get there.

Dublin is close, and a popular choice.  A couple of years ago when we flew with Thai to Bangkok, we booked our ticket from Frankfurt. We all know how cheap it can be nowadays to get around Europe with budget carriers, so take your pick! We’ve long wanted to visit Iceland and Easyjet could get us there for £90pp a few days before we needed to be in South Africa.

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Flights on the same date from Reykjavik (instead of Edinburgh) cost less than $30 plus the same 30k miles.

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So bottom line – take the money you would have spent on the UK duty, and use it to book a low cost flight elsewhere in Europe. In our case, this lets us fly from Edinburgh to South Africa with a flight to Iceland at no extra cost.

Now I just need to get my head around how to pack!

Why I can’t wait to wave goodbye to 260,000 miles

Over the last 5 years, my wife and I have been faithfully hoarding our AAdvantage miles from our trips between the UK & US for work and family. I’ve preached American Airlines to anyone who will listen, and with the recent devaluations of Delta’s SkyMiles programme, followed by United’s MileagePlus programme, things were looking rosier than ever.

Then, last month, American announced they would be making changes to the AAdvantage programme. And not for the better.

We’re not looking at a doomsday situation, but we are going to see sudden and significant changes kicking in from March 22nd 2016. The cost of many of the ‘best’ awards out there will rise sharply, at the same time as earning miles also becomes more difficult for most.

So it’s time to burn. Get rid of all those miles before their value is slashed anywhere from 25% to 50%.

American itself does not have a first class product worth shouting about. But miles are easy to earn, powerful to redeem and American has some exotic partner airlines, both inside and outside the OneWorld Alliance.

For many years, Cathay Pacific flew a 747 from San Francisco to Hong Kong and getting a first class seat right up in the nose had been a dream of mine.

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Cathay Pacific 747 First Class (photo credit Sam Chui)

A couple of years back, they replaced the 747 with a 2-class 777. No first class at all. So much for that dream.

So then we look to the ‘3 kings’ of the industry, the heavily state-funded crown jewels of the Gulf nations, Emirates, Qatar and Etihad.

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Bringing the Bling – the 3 elite Middle-Eastern carriers

Emirates brought ‘bling’ to flying like never before, pioneering on-board showers, bars and much more. They partner with Alaska, who partner with American, but there is no direct way to fly them using AAdvantage miles.

Qatar recently added A380s to their fleet, and after pushing their inaugural flight back multiple times while they got their interiors ‘just right’, they came out with another beautiful A380 product. But somebody went a step further.

They took a good look at the competition and thought they could do one better. Etihad have completely revolutionised first class travel.

They are the only airline to have just 1 aisle in first class, meaning their first class seats – I’m sorry, ‘Apartments’ – are simply the best out there.

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Etihad A380 First Class Ailse

And there’s more. When first class isn’t enough, Etihad have introduced ‘The Residence’ which is more akin to an on-board hotel room than anything else. They paid Dannii Minogue to give the world a tour:

Unfortunately, the ‘Residence’ can only be booked using miles through Etihad’s own programme. And unfortunately for them, it costs over 2 million miles. Yes. 2 million.

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Over 2 million miles for ‘The Residence’ compared to <100,000 for First Class at Saver Level

So First Class it is. And remember, with only 1 aisle, Etihad’s first class is revolutionary. And they have showers. Here is the seatmap. Look out for the Residence, Showers and lounge/bar all located on the 2nd floor:

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Sold? On board showers, lounge/bar, they’ve got it all.

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Etihad A380 Lounge/Bar area

So I searched availability through Etihad’s website. We have some time for travelling at Easter and in September, but no luck. Seats gone. But we already need to travel from the UK to the US in May, so I searched through May dates, and… yes!

Struck gold. Space from both London to Abu Dhabi and from Abu Dhabi to New York. And for the OCD in me, the cost of award would be 260,000 miles. Cleaning out all but 15k miles in my account before the devaluation. (Just enough for a domestic ticket from Miami to Alaska perhaps?)

And the cost of the exact same itinerary booked after March 22nd would rise 37% to 355,000!

I quickly checked and double checked dates then got on the phone to American.

No availability. But it had shown as available on Etihad’s website! Heart sank. It had been too easy. Too good to be true. So I Googled for answers. Found a suggestion from ViewFromTheWing suggesting I try calling AA’s Australian call centre instead. Evidently they sometimes can find space that their US counterparts cannot.

First call, answered within seconds, yes the space there – it’s locked in! Elated. Put it on 5 day hold to double check timings. Called later in the day to pay the taxes.

Giddy with excitement.

Then called Etihad right away to confirm our seat reservations. When travelling as a couple, by far the best seats are either 3A & 4A, or 3K & 4K. They back onto each other and the partition wall can be lowered like so:

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Etihad A380 First Class Apartments 3A & 4A

So we’re all set for a 7 hour flight to Abu Dhabi, 2 days in Dubai, then a full 14h trek from Abu Dhabi to New York where our 1 yo nephew will be waiting for us 🙂

Dubai Marina, New Dubai
Dubai Marina

Look out for my trip report in May, and if you need any ideas for earning/burning miles please ask! I love this stuff.

How NOT to return from the U.S. in style

So in my last post we changed our return tickets from the US to the UK to include a stopover in NYC to visit family. All was set and ready to go until, at lunchtime the day before our flight, we get a notification that our flight from Omaha to Chicago had been cancelled.

We were still in Minneapolis at the time and about to set off on a 6h drive back to Omaha for the flight the next morning. We thought we’d try and turn lemons into lemonade and since all the flights from Omaha were going to be full the next morning, American switched our tickets over to depart from Minneapolis at 4pm that same day.

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Flying from MSP instead of OMA

And we were fairly fortunate – firstly, it’s much easier if you have NOT approved the new itinerary that the airline usually notifies you of automatically by voicemail / email. We had hung up mid call since the itinerary didn’t suit. The second thing that worked in our favour was the geography – they can change airports but only up to 300 miles away. OMA-MSP is just a little over 280 miles.

So our flight to La Guardia worked out fine and we had an extra morning in NYC than we would have. After a great few fall days in New York, we repacked our bags for home. Before factoring in the journey to NYC, our original itinerary had been OMA-ORD-LHR-GLA. The transatlantic crossing was going to be a BA 747. The queen of the skies, indeed.

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Although they’re old, I find the sheer size of the cabin (and a decent chance of scoring some well placed seating) make the 747 a decent choice. And the iconic jumbo jet is not going to be around for ever.

But when we changed our flights to include the NYC stopover, beggars can’t be choosers and we ended up with this itinerary:

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La Guardia to Philadelphia? Really? Why in the world there isn’t a OneWorld flight from NYC to Scotland is beyond me. United has GLA-EWR. LGA-PHL is 95 miles as the crow flies. And the equipment reflects it well. It’s operated by either an E90 or an old Wisconsin-Air operated CRJ-200. We were on the latter. All 12 rows. They encouraged all hand held baggage to be gate checked since the overhead bins are barely big enough for a slim backpack.

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CRJ-200

Things went from bad to worse when they called forward all Exec Platinums/Platinums and nobody came forward. No elites travelling on this segment. A bad omen…

In any case, we made it to Philadelphia for a 2h layover. We used our lounge passes from the United Mileage Plus card to use the Star Alliance lounge in Philadelphia.

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Star Alliance Lounge, Terminal D
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View across tarmac from lounge

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The lounge is pretty small. Selection of beers/wines at bar, some cheap coffee and lots of cheese and crackers. A few cookies and other nibbles. Kept us entertained until we needed to make our way back towards Terminal A for our final leg.

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So of all the One World routes to return from the US to Scotland, PHL-GLA has to be about the least glamorous. But it is consistent, you can give it that! It is operated by an old US Airways 757. Like no TVs old. Shocking, I know.

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US 757 interior
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Legroom
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Pushing back at PHL

The meal was nothing out of the ordinary.

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Dinner
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Breakfast – with ‘pomegranate flavoured cranberries’. 

The flight arrives in Glasgow just shy of 7am giving you a long day ahead. A screen was waiting for us with a live feed to the arrivals hall. Needless to say we didn’t have a whole lot of people waiting for us at 6.45am…

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Welcome to Glasgow!

Thoughts on Landing

It’s high time American launched a non-stop from NYC to either GLA/EDI. But in the meantime, I suggest you’re better off taking BA JFK-LHR-GLA over LGA-PHL-GLA any day.

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How to book ‘stopovers’ along your route

Have you ever been transiting an amazing city like New York or Dubai and wished you had more than 2 hours in the terminal to stop and enjoy it? Well stopovers allow you to do just that. Simple!

NYC - A great place for a stopover
NYC – A great place for a stopover

The rules differ according to airlines, but the simplest way to plan it out is to book a ‘multi-city’.

Choose the 'Multi-City option then key in each segment one by one.
Choose the ‘Multi-City option then key in each segment one by one.

Now of course you may expect to pay a little more, especially if you are adding additional segments (individual flights) to your booking. But not necessarily. And sometimes the difference will just be marginal.

We are currently returning from the US to the UK and wanted to stop for a few days in New York City. We were already resolved to change the dates of our flights back a couple of weeks so were already going to be paying a change fee regardless. With that in mind, we called to see if we could mess with the itinerary slightly.

Our original journey looked like this:

Omaha - Chicago - London - Glasgow
Omaha – Chicago – London – Glasgow

We called American to get a price on changing our journey to have a stopover in New York. We had it almost booked, then lost signal. Called back, and the next agent looked through the (almost) changed itinerary and told us that this was, in fact, an illegal routing. Since we had already made use of a stopover on the outbound journey back in May, we would not be allowed to do the same on the return. But we lost signal again so that was the end of that. Called back a 3rd time, new agent, and he got this booked no problem:

Omaha - Chicago - La Guardia, La Guardia - Philadelphia - Glasgow
Omaha – Chicago – La Guardia, La Guardia – Philadelphia – Glasgow

We paid roughly $100 per ticket on top of the change fee to add NYC as a stopover. That saved us around $400 each booking a return from Omaha to NYC, or 12,500 miles each to do the same. AND, we also cut out transiting LHR on the return, getting the US Airways flight direct from PHL-GLA.

Thoughts on Landing

Think outside the box and book something you’re really excited about. You can normally book these multi-cities online with no issues and they will often cost hardly any more. If you do need to change a ticket and you’re calling agents, remember the old trick of hanging up and trying again. You will get different outcomes from different conversations and remember that having a good attitude and being polite can make a big difference!

Choosing your loyalty, then maximising your miles

Happy Valentines Day!

As we all know, not all airlines are the same. But how about mileage programmes? In short, no. Not at all. They vary almost as much as the airlines themselves. Choosing where to place your loyalty can be tough, but there are 3 main factors to consider.

1) the airline itself – hard product, soft product, price, schedule, does it or its partners service your local airport?

2) How quickly can you accumulate miles, and reach elite status etc?

3) How much ‘value’ can I squeeze out of those miles?

Today we are addressing the third factor – using miles. We’re going to look at a straight comparison between two airlines that have different structures when it comes to redeeming miles. My cousin Jonny lives in Hong Kong and has the good fortune of flying regularly with Cathay Pacific around the Asia-Pacific region. His question was:

“How would you suggest I most efficiently redeem [my miles]. I am doing a few long haul trips, HK to London. In addition, we now have multiple holiday destinations a short haul flight over here in APAC.

Should I go long haul, with a poss upgrade to Premium Economy for comfort? A few intra APAC holidays? How would you suggest I get the max value from Cathay and retain the max amount of coffers in my pocket? Is there even a material difference in the long run?”

Great questions. So where to begin?

Different types of award charts

First, let’s review the two main types of award charts. Most are region based, meaning the number of miles it costs to book an award are based simply on the region (often simply continent) of the two airports. For example, under a region based programme, flying from Hong Kong to Taipei (501 miles) would normally cost the same number of miles as flying from Hong Kong to Singapore (1587 miles) because – that’s right – it’s the same region.

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The second type of award chart is distance based. British Airways is a well known example of such a programme. But for my cousin in HK’s sake, let’s look specifically at Cathay Pacific’s award chart.

AsiaMiles Chart

Under Cathay Pacific’s distance based award chart, HKG-TPE comes in at 10k miles one way (OW) or 15k round trip (RT), whereas HKG-SIN costs exactly twice that much – 20k OW or 30k RT. See the difference? It’s worth noting, as you can see, that Cathay’s chart gives you a better value when booking a round trip versus two one-ways. That is very uncommon on award charts, and worth taking into account.

So, our goal is to get the highest value possible from our miles. In order to gauge the value as such, it is worth comparing to other programmes. As a comparison, we’re going to use one of Cathay Pacific’s best known One World Alliance partners – American Airlines. American uses a region based award chart.

Under AA’s award chart, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore are all part of the ‘Asia 2’ region. OW awards within the region come in at 15k miles, regardless of the actual distance.

So purely on the numbers here, you can see that if you were to take a very short flight, <600 miles, you would be better off redeeming Asia Miles with Cathay Pacific rather than AA miles. However, since we’ve mentioned British Airways, it’s worth noting that they are about the best airline out there for ‘short hops’. Even after the upcoming changes to the Avios programme on April 28th 2015, you will still be able to fly up to 600 miles for only 4,500 Avios:

BA Chart

It is a general trend that the distance based award charts start at a lower figure when it comes to redeeming miles. For example, when redeeming miles with AA the cheapest possible award, regardless of distance, is 12,500 miles. However does this mean that the distance based charts are better value? As Jonny mentioned, he may want to fly back to London at some point (he is in fact British, that’s how we know each other). So let’s bump up the distances somewhat and take a look.

HKG-LHR

Hong Kong to London is just shy of a 6,000 mile trip. On Cathay’s chart, that lies in zone D, meaning 40k OW or 60k RT in economy. Compare that with American Airlines, where the same award will cost you 35k one way, and you’ll see they come out very similar (with Cathay slightly ahead in ‘value’ if booking a round trip). British Airways actually weighs in the best, at just 30k, so matching Cathay’s 60k for a round trip.

Let’s go a little farther and look at Hong Kong to New York, a distance of just over 8,000 miles. On Cathay’s chart we’re now in zone E, so paying 55k OW or 90k RT. Compare that to AA and now the region based chart comes out ahead at just 35k OW. British Airways is now highest of all at a sizeable 50k each way in economy.

HKG-JFK

So what have we learned? There is a general trend that distance based charts work out well for short haul, but region based charts come out ahead for long haul.

So hold that thought, and now let’s get back to the question at hand: how can you make sure you’re getting some real value for your miles?

Getting the maximum ‘value’ from each mile

The answer is to some extent open to opinion, but here are a few factors that can help establish when it’s worth using miles versus when you’re better off just saving the miles and paying money instead.

1) What is the $$$ cost of the ticket?

2) How highly do you value the ‘experience’ of flying in a premium cabin?

3) How badly do you want to save money?

4) How quickly/easily are you accumulating miles?

So this is where it can get more subjective. Some people have enough miles to choke a horse so they will want to redeem them at every opportunity. Others don’t have that luxury. And some have no great desire to fly first class, so are only interested in comparing the value of an economy ticket when working out if redeeming miles is worth it.

Since this is a travel blog, let’s talk about getting the biggest ‘bang for your buck’.

Jonny could use 15k Asia Miles with Cathay and go to Taipei for the weekend in economy. Based on a quick look on Cathay’s website, that ticket is worth around $1,320 HKD, or ~£110. So, dividing one by the other, we can say that Jonny is getting something like 0.7p per mile.

How about HKG-LHR? Now we’re looking at 60k miles for a ticket that is around $7,920HKG, or ~£660. Do the maths, and you’re now getting 1.1p per mile. Over 50% more ‘value’.

But here’s where the true value of this whole mileage game shows itself. Look at First Class. That same ticket from HKG-LHR now costs $78,670 HKD, or ~£6,590. That’s roughly 10x the cost of an economy ticket. Many would agree that’s tough to justify paying. But let’s go to the award chart – that same First Class ticket costs 180k Asia Miles. Only 3x the cost of an economy award. And check this out – do the maths and you’re now getting 3.7p per mile. That’s squeezing over 500% more ‘value’ out of each mile than taking the pond skipper from Hong Kong to Taiwan.

So generally speaking, if you want real ‘value’ from your miles, then use them for tickets that would be at the top or beyond what you would otherwise be paying for your travel. The more expensive the ticket, the better the value of using miles instead. And Cathay is a great option, their hard and soft product on the fleet of 777-300ERs and new 787 is second to none.

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International First Class in Cathay’s 777-300ER

Should I use miles for upgrades?

Miles can be used to upgrade a paid-for ticket up to the next class of service. For example, you could buy an economy ticket from HKG-LHR then use 30,000 miles to upgrade that ticket to Premium Economy. Is this worth it? On face value, no. Definitely not. Often there are additional fees involved, and even without that it is a terrible ‘value’ – those miles are far better off going towards a reward flight in any class from economy to first.

Is Premium Economy worth the premium?

In my opinion, no. Only because if you are someone who has enough points + miles to even consider it, you should be able to structure your flying to qualify for an elite status level to where you can automatically book those seats at no additional cost. Flying 25k miles in one year and crediting that to American will earn you One World Ruby status and should allow you to snag the best econ/econ+ seats when you book. The difference in hard product is marginal at best. Better to hold onto those miles and use them to either save money, or book something significantly better – business or first.

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Cathay Pacific Premium Economy

Award Taxes/Surcharges

The final hurdles to making bookings are finding availability and then keeping fuel surcharges down. It is at this final stage that American Airlines definitely comes out ahead in the choice of One World carriers. On a flight from HKG-LHR on Cathay in business class, you will be paying $4,224 HKD / ~ £450:

CX Fuel Surcharges

AA, however, does not impose fuel surcharges on it’s own reward tickets, nor on partner airlines (with the exception of BA, Finnair and Iberia). So that same ticket would cost 105,000 AAdvantage miles plus just peanuts in taxes.

American also comes out ahead on gaining elite status, whereby you’ll receive a bonus on miles flown and start accruing miles even more quickly. Here are Cathay’s elite status qualifications:

CX Tiers

And American’s:

AA tiers

Unless you are taking a huge number of very short flights, you will almost always qualify first through miles flown. American comes out ahead on each tier.

Thoughts on Landing

So if you are looking to maximise your miles, here are a few guidelines:

1) The more expensive the ticket would have been in $$$, the more ‘value’ you are probably getting from using your miles for it. It usually makes sense to pay cash for trips you can easily afford and were going to take anyway. Save those miles up for something special –  a first class trip that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford.

2) Use your miles for reward tickets and nothing else. ALL other ways that the airline can relieve you of your hard earned miles (upgrades, elite status, teddy bears) are always a great deal for them, and bad deal for you.

3) For frequent fliers, before redeeming miles, set a goal for what level of elite status you are shooting for and make sure you fly enough paid-for miles to reach that status. Status will help you accrue further miles more quickly, and also allow you to access perks like premium economy at no cost.

4) Choose your programme wisely. For someone living in Hong Kong and travelling on Cathay, with the exception of very short-haul redemptions, you are better off crediting all your miles to an American Airlines account. You can still use those miles on Cathay, and you will get better value for long haul trips and you will avoid paying the fuel surcharges/taxes.

Let me know what you think – what do you value most when it comes to redeeming miles?

British Airways Lounge, Glasgow Intl

Not too much to report here – decent spread, but interesting that they allowed entry on a domestic ticket (GLA-LGW) as an AA Platinum (One World Sapphire). Usually unless you’re a top tier elite, lounge access is only granted on international itineraries. Perhaps this applies only within US, anywhere else counts as international? Worth asking if you’re passing through.

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But please allow yourself more than 5 minutes to get your lunch down, be healthy people.

First Time in First

Hello friends! Welcome to Miles Ahead.

Before I even get started, may I take a moment to thank Ben @onemileatatime for building a truly awesome blog. Not long after stumbling across it, I was well up to speed on ‘the game’. So, once again, cheers Ben!

All right, so Easter of 2014 was our first trip funded largely by points & miles. One discovery I made soon after beginning to collect points was that collecting points is the easy part. Maximising redemptions is where the expertise comes in. And a lot of patience.

We had a friend doing Peace Corps in NW Thailand so we were fairly set on the location. And we were sticking to the ‘school holidays’, so time was also fixed. All of which requires patience!

We had over 200k Chase UR points that we wanted to burn before the United devaluation kicked in. One way First Class saver awards have since doubled, from 80,000 MileagePlan miles to 115,000. Thai Airways was an obvious choice, since they fly nonstop to Bangkok from many major European airports. Availability was plentiful, but mostly on TG’s A340. We weren’t interested in that. We had our hearts set on either an A380 (the new BIG thing) or a 747 (before it’s too late). Sitting in the nose of a 747 remains one of my biggest ‘geek’ items on the bucket list. With the curvature of the nose, passengers in the front rows by the window can look at a slant and see the runway up ahead. What could be more exciting!?

In any case, between both planes, here is Thai’s route network to Europe:

TG A380 & 747 routemap

We held out and eventually scored 2 seats in F on TG’s A380 flights from Frankfurt to Bangkok. We were sitting in 1F and 1K:

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For no extra miles, we could have added a segment from Scotland to FRA, but that leg alone raised taxes from ~$25 each to over $300 each.

See here a direct flight from continental Europe:

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Versus a flight originating in the UK:

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Here is the fare breakdown, where you can see a hefty charge for the UK Air Passenger Duty:

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Instead, we redeemed 4,500 Avios each with minimal taxes and caught up with some friends in London en route. Problem solved.

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View from DoubleTree, London Heathrow

We stayed at the DoubleTree, London Heathrow and flew out to Frankfurt early the next morning.

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Senator Lounge, Frankfurt
Senator Lounge Showers
Senator Lounge Showers

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A Thai Airways employee came to the lounge to accompany us to the gate. We climbed up the stairs and got a great view of our ride:

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Upon boarding we were presented with our awesome Rimowa amenity kits 🙂 Used them as a toiletries bag ever since. Sturdy, a good size and weigh practically nothing.

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I was seated in 1K (window) with my wife in 1F. The First Class cabin is upstairs, at the front.

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As we were taxxing, we passed a bus full of people (ground staff) who couldn’t resist a few photos of an A380 up close!

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Lufty 747 in for servicing

After changing into our pyjamas, the meal service began promtly with a delicious starter,

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And ended about 7 courses later…

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Then we took some time to explore the A380’s spacious cabin.

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Bathroom
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Bathroom

The bathroom is located at the front of the cabin to the left of the staircase, and a seating area fills the space to the right.

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First Class Cabin

The beds were comfortable and there is are huge storage bins in the ‘window sill’ so you can keep the area fairly tidy.

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As we crossed through central Asia, I realised that I had never before wanted a flight to keep on going for another 10 hours! Each mile closer to Bangkok seemed bitter sweet. As we drew closer, breakfast was served. We had elected, given our excitement at travelling First Class for the first (real) time, not to sleep a single wink on the journey. So far we were holding up ok but it was only 6am BKK time. Dangerous.

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View from 1K
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View on landing in Bangkok

After deplaning, a stewardess was ready to escort the First passengers by buggy to immigration. It saved us a 25 minute walk and was a TON of fun!

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Original motion blur – #nofilter

We left Bangkok quickly and made the journey to Kanchanaburi with our friend. The scenery is, truly, epic.

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All the staying up enjoying the flight took it’s toll – 16 hours of toll, but was worth every minute!

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Thoughts on Landing

We had a fantastic experience. The cabin crew were awesome and seemed to enjoy our enthusiasm at every facet of the flight. The plane was great, as was the food and I would definitely travel TG again. Our only regret was the direction of travel. As soon as space opened up on this flight we jumped on it, but ideally we would have travelled with TG from Bangkok. As you can easily read online, the main perk of TG First Class is their hour-long massage at the Spa in their First Class lounge. We used our return journey to fulfill an AA PLT challange, so we’ll save the massage for next time!