Ever find yourself thinking about a trip and not really caring about where you’re going, so long as you can get somewhere across the ocean? Me, too. Of course, finding that seat is often an iterative process, figuring out what routes to check and plugging them all in to your favorite award search engine, hoping to get back a hit. I figured there was probably a better way and, leveraging the data I’ve been compiling about what non-stop routes are available across the Atlantic, I’ve managed to put something together which I think is a pretty cool award alert option. In short, you pick one of the 60 Star Alliance TATL gateways and a date and it will search all the options for you.
Here’s what my search parameters look like (figure a couple weeks in Europe for Christmas/New Years):
And here are the results I got for my query
Not necessarily flights I’d go out of my way to book, but it definitely gets me closer to figuring out where to visit and what to check for the local positioning flights to make it happen.
To set up such a search you can use the new Star Alliance (ANA) search method I’ve added to the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site this week. Just leave the to or from city blank for the wildcard search to work. Note that you must pick a gateway city and it will only search the routes served TATL from that gateway. If you pick a non-gateway city and leave the other half blank you’ll get an error.
You can also use it as an alert option for other routes by specifying both ends of the trip; that functionality is obviously a bit different but it should be working as well.
These new features are very much in beta right now and I know there are a couple things which aren’t 100%, mostly with respect to searching specific carriers or flight numbers. I hope to have that addressed in the next few days. In the meantime, however, I figured this was worth getting out there so people could start to play with it a bit.
One other thing about these new searches: They are much more resource-intensive versus the other Star Alliance searches/alerts. Because of that I have to limit the use. For regular subscribers that means a maximum of 2 ANA-based alerts active at any time. For First Class members the limit is 10. I’ll keep an eye on the system performance and see about upping the allowance if things are running OK but that’s where I’ve got to be for right now.
If you’ve got any questions feel free to ask. And if you find any bugs please do share.
Among the many rumors circulating about the return of Boeing‘s 787 Dreamliner to the skies is one which involves the suspension of the ETOPS rating on the plane pending a significant number of flight hours to validate the proposed fixes. The plane entered service with certification to fly a long way from diversion airports; with the GE engines the rating was 330 minutes, more than 5 hours. And while the engines may still operate safely for that long there are concerns about the batteries and just how far from a diversion airport the planes should stray. Without any special ETOPS ratings the limit would be 60 minutes, roughly 400 nautical miles. That limits a lot of routes including many which the 787 was already flying or slated to operate. Here’s a map of (most of) the announced 787 routes showing 60 minute ETOPS blackout zones:
What is most surprising to me is actually how many of the routes DO work, even with this limitation in place. Service between North and South America has a couple small no-go zones but many routes would actually work pretty well. And any deviation from the optimal routings wouldn’t be too significant distance-wise. Between North America and Europe there is a path which allows for 60 minute ETOPS travel, crossing over the southern tip of Greenland as part of the trip. The route is already commonly used, especially eastbound to take advantage of the jetstream, though westbound traffic uses it less often. LOT’s Warsaw-Chicago route could make a go of it with minimal adjustments.
United Airlines‘ planned Denver-Tokyo route doesn’t quite work perfectly, but the diversion required to make it happen isn’t all that bad; Los Angeles to Tokyo would not work so well. And the east-bound versions of these flights typically fly much further south to take advantage of the prevailing winds.
Similarly, Qatar’s planned Europe service would be OK with minor deviations, as would Air India’s.
And most of the Asia service being run by JAL and ANA would be permissible. There are a few routes which will just not work. Houston-Lagos and Santiago-Madrid have chunks of the routes which won’t allow for easy adjustments to meet the non-ETOPS rules.
But, despite my concerns when I started reading about this last night, it seems that the 60 minute limit could actually still fly, so to speak.
No doubt that these “alternate” routes will affect the efficiency of the flights and will take away from the ability to realize the lower operating costs and other benefits that the 787 was supposed to bring to the airlines. That said, having the planes in the air is better than having them grounded. And if the rumored 250,000 hours of no-incident flying to regain ETOPS certification is true then these slightly longer routes might actually help get things back to normal sooner than not.
Assuming the batteries cooperate, of course.
The partnership between Virgin America and Singapore Air has deepened with the announcement this week of frequent flyer reciprocity between the two programs. Members in both programs will be able to earn and redeem points for flights on the partner. Virgin America is celebrating by offering 500 free points to all their members. Mostly great news, really, though the devil is in the details.
For Virgin America’s Elevate members the earning rates for Singapore Air-operated flights are pretty meager:
Yes, I get that Elevate is a revenue-based program rather than a distance-based one so the 1:1 ratio doesn’t necessarily line up perfectly. But a 70% earning rate for paid Suites cabin travel is pretty darn low. A paid business class ticket from San Francisco to Singapore will net 4,220 points or roughly $100 in Elevate credit. That same flight will earn between 10,000 and 17,000 points when credited to a Star Alliance partner of Singapore Air; it is hard to value that at less than the $100 Elevate is offering and quite easy to do better than the $100 level.
Redeeming Elevate points for travel on Singapore Air is similarly challenging. A return trip in business class on SFO-SIN rings in at 95,000 points. Just over 22 round trip flights will net you enough points to redeem for one. That’s roughly double the rate required from most other Singapore Air partners.
For short-haul redemptions in SE Asia, however, the Elevate option may be a reasonable one. Singapore to Bangkok is only 6,000 points and $46 in taxes/fees for a return trip in economy; it is 13,000 in business. That’s roughly $200-350 worth of points and fees. The next closest I can find is 20,000 from ANA or 25,000 points from a host of other carriers for an economy class ticket. Redeeming Elevate points would be a win there, at least compared to the other programs. Or you can look at is as a paid business class SFO-SIN gets you a free economy onward to Bangkok at some later point. Not necessarily the best deal but not completely awful either. And with 136 new routes now available plenty of opportunity to suss out the deals. Just don’t expect a lot of premium cabin inventory to show up, especially on long-haul routes.
For Singapore Air’s KrisFlyer members earning on Virgin American-operated flights actually looks like a pretty good deal. The accrual rates are a minimum of 100% of the miles flown with a 50% bonus for C, D and J class tickets. No bonus for Main Cabin Select but that’s not too surprising. The redemption rates on Virgin America metal are a bit complex, and not particularly great (40K for transcon return in economy) but there is an option for Main Cabin Select redemption if you’re in to that. It is not clear what fare bucket the awards come out of so access to the seats may be limited.
Overall this is a solid partnership, especially for KrisFlyer members. And there are even a few gems in there for the Elevate members, too.
The operational troubles with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner continue to grow. ANA reported yet another serious incident early Wednesday in Japan including an emergency landing on a domestic flight. The aircraft in question reported a warning with the battery system and pilots noted smoke in the cockpit. As a result of this latest incident – along with the multiple other recent issues with the type – ANA is grounding their fleet of 17 Dreamliners. JAL will be grounding their fleet of Dreamliners as well. It is not clear yet if other operators of the type will take similar actions.
These moves represent a tremendous blow to the type and its reputation amongst passengers and airlines. Other aircraft have had significant "teething issues" in their launch cycles as well; the issues with the 787 are not particularly unique in that regard. The A380 suffered a grounding early in its operation cycle, too. They had engine troubles and didn’t fly for a while at various times. And these days the A380 is flying just fine, at least it appears that way. And many types prior to the latest few have been in trouble near their launch, too. It isn’t really worth the time to go through all the other stories about troubles with new planes; they are there and they are real.
At the same time, however, it is worth considering the impact the news is having even on the most seasoned of travelers. Looking at the conversations online these days it seems that many passengers are starting to get cold feet. Thoughts like this are coming out more and more often:
I expressed a similar view a couple days ago, though with a slightly different angle:
At the core of the situation is the uncertainty. I know that there is a chance things won’t end safely when I get on the subway, get in a a cab or hop in the back of a jam-packed pickup truck to hurtle down the side of a hill at improbable speeds around crazy curves on a hill in Burma. And there is a chance I won’t land safely every single time I get on a plane. When I got on the inaugural 747-8i flight I was nervous. I was excited and happy and arguably giddy, but I was also nervous. Life involves taking risks, at least if you plan to live it. And I do take risks. But I generally like to know that at least someone has figured out roughly what the risks actually are. And that is pretty hard to be convinced of right now.
Boeing doesn’t really seem to have details on why they think these problems are surfacing now. Neither do any of the regulatory or investigating bodies. And that’s OK. Really. It is OK that there are problems with the plane. But that doesn’t mean it is OK (nor necessary) to continue using them to transport passengers and cargo. It has to be OK to take a break and figure out what is broken and how to fix it. Quite frankly, there is no need to continue taking the risk. There is no upside to such bravado.
The 787 will fly again. It will fly for a long, long time and millions of passengers will ultimately benefit from the many technologies it is introducing to the market. But it also is important that the operators understand how the plane is working and, where it is not working, why it is not working and how to fix it. There’s no prize for flying the most passengers when you’re not really sure why things aren’t working correctly on the plane.
It is that time of year where changes to frequent flyer programs are being announced in advance of the coming program year. For Japanese carrier ANA there will be significant changes to the accrual rates of points for flights operated by the ANA group. There are also changes to the earning rates depending on what credit card you might carry combined with your elite status level. Oh, and certain destinations will earn more elite qualifying points than others. It has become incredibly complicated from what I can gather.
Starting in April 2013 three fare classes – J, B and M – will see the earning rates improve. These are generally higher fares and it makes a bit of sense that they are getting better. At the same time there will be seven fare classes – P, V, W, S, L, K and T – which will see earning rates cut. The P fares are discounted business class seats and they will earn only 70% of the miles flown, down from the current 125%. For the cheapest economy classes the earning rate will drop to 30%. Here is a chart showing the old and new rates:
Beyond these changes there are also updates to the Premium Points earning rates, essentially earning levels towards elite status. Starting in January 2013 with the new charts all routes between Japan and Asia will earn 1.5x towards Premium Points; previously only flights to China had that 1.5x multiplier.
And then the credit cards come into play. Starting in April 2013 passengers who have elite status with ANA and who also carry the Gold or Premium credit cards:
If you don’t have elite status you can still earn big bonus points for carrying the credit cards, up to 50% for the ANA Card Premium. Oh, and there are both regular and "Super Flyer" versions of the credit cards; the latter gets more bonus miles, too:
Finally, the accrual rates for ANA Upgrade points will be changing. Currently members earn two upgrade points for every 10,000 Premium Points (a/k/a EQMs) in the prior year. The new program will have a sliding scale:
In pretty much every case the number of upgrade points earned will be increasing. That’s a good thing because the redemption rates for them are increasing, too.
Here’s the new upgrade award chart:
The domestic upgrades and lounge access rates aren’t changing. The others are all increasing. Due to the removal of first class cabins on the resort and Asia routes the ability to upgrade from business to first is going away. All of the economy to business class rates are going up by two points. The last business to first upgrade is increasing from 14 to 20. The above rates are all one way.
I believe that the changes are, overall, not too surprising. Certainly a significant devaluation for the cheapest fares but there are some give-backs on higher fares and on the upgrade points. Not the best ever, but I can definitely see how it could have been worse.
Back in early 2010 ANA changed their website a bit, removing access to partner award searches for members without points in the ANA Mileage Club program. There is a workaround available by searching first for an ANA-operated route and then choosing the "Use Star Alliance Member Airlines" button but that’s a bit annoying. When the change first happened I made a GreaseMonkey script to similarly work around the issue. At some point, however, that stopped working and I got caught up in other stuff and fixing it kept getting pushed off. Well, it finally bubbled back to the top of the task list; a new script is now available!
Here’s what the site looks like without the script installed:
And here’s what it looks like with the script enabled:
As you can see, I altered the text a bit so you can see clearly that the script is enabled. Should the page change again hopefully I won’t be so derelict in getting an update published. I’ve also updated the name of the script and reset the version number to 1.0.0. You can remove the older script if it is still installed; it will not see future updates.
Also, for users of the Chrome browser, apparently Google decided that anyone who wants to publish scripts for their browser has to use their store. I’m not inherently opposed to that interface but I’m a bit miffed that they are charging $5 to folks, even those who want to give away their content, to register with the store. I’m not particularly inclined to give them the $5 so that means Chrome users have an extra step in the install process; the instructions are here. If that’s too difficult for y’all I’ll suck it up and give google the cash but I’d rather not.
I’ve tested on a few systems and browser versions and things are looking pretty good so far. If anyone runs into trouble let me know.
ANA has announced plans to offer in-flight internet on a number of its planes flying international routes starting in Summer 2013. The plan will see the 777-30ER and 767-300ER fleets as the first to be fitted with the service. OnAir, the leading provider of satellite-based connectivity will be the platform of choice for ANA.
Nice to see the service coming, though somewhat surprising that the 787 Dreamliner isn’t part of the initial plans. Then again, with the slow delivery pace it might just be that the company doesn’t want to take one out of service for the necessary fitting and approval process.
Always good to see connectivity options growing in the skies.
And this one is working out in favor of the consumers. The recent hullabaloo about the premium cabin fares priced ex-Rangoon to various destinations at a very steep discount has been interesting to follow. Like most “mistake” fares the cycle of the booking process is following the usual steps. First euphoria at the deal, followed by apprehension and worry as to whether the fare would be honored and then confusion or outrage when the tickets were canceled. And now, euphoria again, as the tickets are being reinstated.
After trading emails with Vayama and ANA a couple weeks ago regarding the tickets I booked for our New Years vacation and their cancellation of those tickets I received the following today:
Dear Customer –
Following discussions with our airline partners the decision has been made to reinstate your previously canceled reservation from Rangoon.
There are more details, including a deadline to accept or decline the offer, but this is excellent news on the consumer rights front in the air travel world. For too long the airlines have held all the power in such situations. It seems that the tide may finally be turning.
Odds are you don’t know the answer to this question. I know that I have no certain answer to it. But I do know that the most recent revisions to it carry tremendous potential impact on passengers, travel agents and airlines. The most recent rules took effect only earlier this year, meaning there haven’t been many opportunities for test cases. It looks like a pretty significant test case has just shown up. The above referenced cite is the rule the DoT uses to handle unfair and deceptive advertising practices. While it is focused on truly misleading or bait-and-switch actions where one price is advertised and then the fare changes after a ticket is purchased, it also appears to have potential impact on mistake fares.
Here’s the text of 49 U.S.C. 41712 § 399.88(a) :
It is an unfair and deceptive practice within the meaning of 49 U.S.C. 41712 for any seller of scheduled air transportation within, to or from the United States, or of a tour (i.e., a combination of air transportation and ground or cruise accommodations), or tour component (e.g., a hotel stay) that includes scheduled air transportation within, to or from the United States, to increase the price of that air transportation, tour or tour component to a consumer, including but not limited to an increase in the price of the seat, an increase in the price for the carriage of passenger baggage, or an increase in an applicable fuel surcharge, after the air transportation has been purchased by the consumer, except in the case of an increase in a government-imposed tax or fee. A purchase is deemed to have occurred when the full amount agreed upon has been paid by the consumer.
Airlines have, with some frequency, cited clauses in their Contract of Carriage when they load mistake fares into the GDSes and sell them. Korean Air canceled a whole bunch of flights to Palau last year and British Airways did the same to customers who were ticketed to India (self included) prior to that. In each case the airline claimed that the fares were simple and obvious errors and therefore they could absolve themselves of their obligations simply by refunding the charge.
The DoT seems to feel otherwise these days. In fact, this specific type of case is directly addressed in their Second Final Rule on Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections FAQ:
Does the prohibition on post-purchase price increases in section 399.88(a) apply in the situation where a carrier mistakenly offers an airfare due to a computer problem or human error and a consumer purchases the ticket at that fare before the carrier is able to fix the mistake?
Section 399.88(a) states that it is an unfair and deceptive practice for any seller of scheduled air transportation within, to, or from the United States, or of a tour or tour component that includes scheduled air transportation within, to, or from the United States, to increase the price of that air transportation to a consumer after the air transportation has been purchased by the consumer, except in the case of a government-imposed tax or fee and only if the passenger is advised of a possible increase before purchasing a ticket. A purchase occurs when the full amount agreed upon has been paid by the consumer. Therefore, if a consumer purchases a fare and that consumer receives confirmation (such as a confirmation email and/or the purchase appears on their credit card statement or online account summary) of their purchase, then the seller of air transportation cannot increase the price of that air transportation to that consumer, even when the fare is a “mistake.”
A contract of carriage provision that reserves the right to cancel such ticketed purchases or reserves the right to raise the fare cannot legalize the practice described above. The Enforcement Office would consider any contract of carriage provision that attempts to relieve a carrier of the prohibition against post-purchase price increase to be an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 41712.
Seems like good news for consumers, right? Well, that depends on whether the airlines are actually held to the rule. Both Korean Air and ANA, among others, are now facing just such a question after a “mistake” fare for travel from Burma/Myanmar to pretty much anywhere in the world was available last week. The “mistake” came about due to a currency devaluation, essentially causing a few zeroes to disappear from fares. When just a few were being purchased here and there it was no big deal. Once the deal was widely publicized, however, hundreds were purchased and the airlines realized they had a problem.
They managed to pull most of the fares pretty quickly though some were still available several days later. But what to do about the hundreds of tickets already issued? For obvious reasons the airlines want to cancel them; in many cases the costs to cater for the passengers, much less carry them, are greater than the fare paid. The airlines are going to lose money on these fares. But does that give them the right to unilaterally cancel the flights?
At least for now, the carriers seem to be erring on the side of “Yes” for that question. Both Korean and ANA have contacted the booking agents and most tickets booked at the mistake rate have been canceled. But that doesn’t mean the DoT actually approves of such an approach. Korean seems to be taking the approach that since they never changed the fare and instead simply canceled the tickets they are not in violation of the rule. ANA has similarly responded that the “genuinely regret the circumstances that prompted [a complaint]” and that they are “now in contact with the appropriate agencies and departments.” Vayama, one of the booking agents which was party to many of the tickets issued has claimed, in part,
The DOT Ruling was set up in part to prevent unfair and unethical business practices associated with pricing on the part of airlines… [T]he cause of the dramatic decrease in fares out of Rangoon was not the result of unfair or unethical business practices on the part of the airlines.
… Although we have no way of knowing at this time how the DOT will rule on this case, we are confident that the actions taken were NOT in an effort to unfairly or unethically impact any customers.
All three seem to be of the opinion that, because it was truly an accident that they should be excused from the rule. I can certainly understand the position of the airlines in this case. Maybe they shouldn’t be held responsible for a country devaluing its currency by a few decimal points. Then again, they’re the ones who publish the fares and they’re the ones who have control over such things, so maybe they should be held accountable. After all, what is the threshold for really an accident versus not?
One thing is certain: the DoT has quite a doozy of a first test for their revised rule. They’ve shown little sympathy with respect to fines handed out relative to the 3-hour tarmac rule since that went into force so perhaps that is a hint as to their consumer-friendly leanings these days.
Boeing has resumed deliveries of Boeing 787 Dreamliners this week; Japanese carrier JAL received two of the planes over the weekend. This adds a second airline to the operators list for the type and also introduces the first aircraft with the GE engine type versus the Rolls Royce engines on the ANA planes.
JAL will be using the planes on their Tokyo – Boston route, skipping over an extended period of domestic proving/training runs and getting the plane directly in to long-haul service. And, much like ANA, the carrier is going with a spacious 2-4-2 configuration in coach:
Business class looks pretty nice, too:
Oh, and the toilets up front are a special model developed by TOTO and which include a warm water wash feature.
Six additional routes are planned for the aircraft over the coming year as additional deliveries are made. This includes two destinations new to JAL, San Diego and Helsinki.
Great news that the planes are being delivered again. The backlog at this point is pretty significant and it seemed that the company was starting to run out of storage space at the factory when I was there a couple weeks back. It also means that the other carriers with pending deliveries can start to better plan for receiving those aircraft in the coming months.
A bit more coverage of the delivery ceremony for the JAL 787s can be found from Airline Reporter here.
Photos courtesy of JAL