Europe and the Middle East are about to become destinations JetBlue flight numbers serve, even if it isn’t JetBlue-operated flights making the trips. The NYC-based carrier is teaming up with Dubai-based Emirates to extend their codesharing agreement to a bilateral one. Currently Emirates has their code on JetBlue-operated flights to 28 destinations; the new agreement will see the JetBlue coded flight numbers on Emirates-operated flights to Milan and Dubai.
The new bilateral codeshare is in addition to the frequent flyer reciprocity that the two programs already share. There is no elite reciprocity but members of either program can earn
and redeem for flights on the other.
Back when Emirates announced the timing of their Milan-JFK flight it seemed likely that feed to and from JetBlue flights would be a big part of making that flight work. This announcement plays into that theory. There are still only a limited number of onward flights late-night after the Emirates flight arrives from Milan but it is better than nothing.
The Qantas website is one of the top options for searching award inventory online when it comes to oneworld partners. A recent update to the site extends that functionality to now include the ability to search for award seats on their newest partner: Emirates.
For those of you who are fans of the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools oneworld award alerts tool, this update also means that you can now set free award alerts for flights on Emirates metal. Yeah, I’m pretty excited about that, too.
Passengers will have one more option for flights between Milan and New York City starting this Fall. Emirates will launch the route in October 2013 ending their 5 year hiatus of service between New York and Europe. Their previous iteration of service was to Hamburg, Germany which ended in 2008.
Flights will depart New York at 10:20pm, arriving in Milan at 12:15pm the following day and continuing on to Dubai at 2:00pm. The westbound flight will depart Milan at 4:00pm, arriving in New York at 7:00pm the same day. The eastbound flight time is nice, providing useful onward connection options in Europe. It is also a late enough flight such that sleeping should be reasonably easy for passengers. Westbound the timing is great for passengers who want most of a day in Europe before heading back to New York City. Onward connections are limited, however, with the late arrival at JFK.
The route will compete directly with Delta, Alitalia and American Airlines There is also a flight on United Airlines into Newark. And the Emirates 777-300ER will be the largest plane on the route, adding a lot of capacity and also adding an option for first class service.
I now know which route I’ll be looking over the winter for bargain deals.
Heading in to the launch of the Emirates/Qantas strategic partnership this month some numbers were released by the Australian carrier regarding booking trends. Most notable, perhaps, is the claim that bookings to Europe are six times greater than the prior year. That’s a rather significant swing, and it is based almost entirely on dumping the inefficient connections via Asia in favor of better options available via Emirates’ hub in Dubai. And, depending on how one reads the tea leaves, it provides an interesting commentary on the value of global alliances.
Photo from the Qantas/Emirates flyover of Sydney Harbour courtesy of Qantas
It seems that the oneworld partnership between Qantas and both Cathay Pacific and British Airways was less that spectacular in pushing passengers into Europe; many of the destinations required an extra connection or less than desirable flight times. Or both. That’s not a great way to attract passengers. Emirates offers better connections and more than 50 destinations in Europe with a single connection from Australia. It is not all that difficult to believe that customers prefer that approach.
The bigger question from this data is what it means for the global alliances. Have they run their course?
Emirates doesn’t seem to want to join one and Qantas is more concerned with being profitable than with being exclusive to the oneworld group. Neither of those should be much of a surprise. Yet the partnership was quite a surprise when announced.
I still believe that the alliance serve a purpose. They provide great opportunities for joint marketing and certain customer benefits. But they are no longer the only way to build a solid international footprint. Focused bilateral partnerships (Air New Zealand and Cathay are launching a similar one) can be bar more valuable in many scenarios.
The times, they are a-changin.
It isn’t just the world’s airlines where the "big three" of the Middle East – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar – are making huge inroads. Just ask the fans of Barcelona’s football club. The team will see, for the first time in its 113 year history, a corporate sponsor on the front of their jerseys: Qatar Airways. The deal nets the team £25 million annually.
The move has angered some fans (the club is wholly owned and operated by its supporters) who see the move as a betrayal of their tradition. Club president Sandro Rosell insists that the deal is "good for our club, good for our city and good for our country." This isn’t the first major marketing move by one of the three carriers. United Airlines was a long-time sponsor of the US Open tennis tournament. Last year that sponsorship was taken over by Emirates in a reported seven year, $90mm deal.
Enormous amounts of money are shifting around with these carriers and there doesn’t seem to be much the other global carriers can do to keep up. The hubs of Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi present incredible geographic advantages for huge chunks of the world’s population. An 8 hour flight from any of the three can cover 60%+ of the world’s population, including Barcelona. And including huge chunks of India, China, south-east Asia, and Europe. When Etihad can afford to buy a chunk of Air Berlin (both the airline and their loyalty program) to gain access to the local markets rather than figure out bilateral treaties and such that’s a huge competitive advantage for them.
I’ve talked in the past about the impact of the Middle Eastern carriers on global alliances. The Qantas/Emirates deal was a huge move to change the way the world’s air traffic moves and the way marketing partnerships operate. Barca agreeing to wear the Qatar logo on their shirts isn’t quite as big a deal financially, but it very well may be just as significant from a marketing and psychological standpoint.
Adding on an extra segment from Hong Kong to Bangkok as part of our award trip to try the Singapore suites was basically free. Same points and more or less the same taxes. And when first class seats showed up on the new A380 from Thai Airways the decision to grab them was a no-brainer. I was very, very excited to see the different first class products and compare them. Plus, the stopover in Hong Kong didn’t completely suck.
Most of our time pre-flight was spent visiting Hong Kong rather than napping in Thai’s Royal First lounge in Hong Kong. Maybe that was a mistake, though I still think it was some of the best dim sum I’ve ever had, so not a horrible idea. We did shower in the lounge and enjoyed some snacks prior to the flight. There was also an option for menu service but I didn’t really look at the menu so I’m not sure how extensive the choices were. The first class side of the Thai lounge was a small step up from the business class side I’ve generally been on. More space and better booze, but not a dramatic difference like Thai has in Bangkok.
The Thai A380 First Class seat is not a suite with a sliding door, so in that regard it is a minor downgrade from Singapore Air or Emirates‘ offering. Other than that minor difference, however, I’m not so sure there is a lot to separate it. Still a ton of space – my bags still fit under the ottoman – and quite comfy. And it converts to a flat bed which I had quite a nice nap on. I would have absolutely no problem taking this seat on a long-haul trip and would expect to sleep quite well in it.
For passengers in the middle pair of eats the divider console is reasonably wide, making for a large space between the two. And there is a privacy screen which can slide up to the top of the seat edge if more separation is desired.
There is also a small lounge space just forward of the cabin, where Emirates has one of their lavs. There are a few seats – VERY firm cushions – and space to congregate and chat if desired. Not a lot of action there on the short flight we had but I can imagine it gets some use on the longer trips.
And on the other side up front is the lavatory. It is similar to the Emirates first class lav in terms of space – which is to say HUGE – but no shower and not nearly as ornate. There is a sitting area separate from the "business" section for changing, applying makeup and the like.
Also, it turns out that taking a photo of yourself in a mirror without looking completely deranged is harder than it should be.
I had initially tried to order the book-the-cook option for the flight. Turns out there were some issues with that on their website. LOTS of issues, actually, like it mostly didn’t work. Plus we were originating outside of Bangkok so the massive list of choices really was only 5 or 6. Still, we had a rather enjoyable meal on board. The food all tasted like I expected it to based on the descriptions and there were several choices of main courses to please most palettes.
I honestly wish I remember more about the meal but it was a few weeks ago now and I was already pretty much zonked by the time we got to that point in the trip.
The screen is huge. Absolutely tremendous. And they have a tail camera, available throughout the flight. I love that sort of thing.
Beyond that, the selections on the IFE are, as is oft my experience with Thai, limited and mediocre. They were better on this flight than I remember from my prior trips and better than my next flight was on an older configuration. Still, not a ton of choices. I’d be mildly bothered by that if I really cared about having a ton of movies to watch on a plane.
The A380 also included OnAir internet connectivity. Much like the prior flight on Singapore Air, however, it was not in service. I’m not sure if that was a one-off thing or if the systems generally aren’t active yet, but it was slightly disappointing to not be able to try it out.
The service was quite consistent with my other experiences on Thai, which is to say incredibly inconsistent. I know that my pre-flight service was somewhat limited because I was walking around the plane taking pictures and such. But even once I was belted in and we were flying the crew was a bit hit-or-miss. Not bad, really, in any way, but also just not really the "smooth as silk" which Thai suggests their product offers. It was nowhere near bad enough for me to suggest that others would be better to book away from the flights, but there were plenty of small inconsistencies which were unfortunate for a first class product.
The new A380s offer a significantly better hard product in first class than anything else Thai has flying today, with the possible exception of the Jet 77Ws on wet-lease, though I’m not sure even those are better. And their soft product is good enough that there’s no reason to not fly with them. Departures from Bangkok are better because of the spa, lounge and generally better ground handling, but even inbound flights to Bangkok get met by a golf cart and escorted to the premium immigration line. And there’s the little thing where award inventory on Thai is far easier to come by than many other carriers, even on the A380. In short, this isn’t the best product flying at all but it is very, very good and seems to be quite readily available in general. That makes it one of the better options out there to me.
As a small aside, the folks over at RouteHappy asked me to check out the other cabins on the plane as part of the trip, mostly because they were surprised by a rather negative review someone had for the business class cabin. I obviously didn’t get the service from coach or business class but I did get a bunch of photos of the seats.
Business class is a staggered seating option so theoretically 1-2-1 though much closer in seat size to 2-4-2. The seats didn’t look awful to me but I can see how the aisle seats would be a bit exposed to traffic in the aisles. The window seats looked a little tight and the middle pairs seem OK if you’re a couple traveling together but otherwise might be a bit too intimate.
In economy, beyond the awesome colors, the seats look pretty comfortable. Decent amount of pitch and if you can get that exit row upstairs in the back it should be quite quiet and plenty of space. Everyone gets the AVOD system so that’s a win, even if you’re in coach.
Flying up front is always a good thing. A flat bed is even better. Getting a double bed comfortable enough for two people to lay next to each other and still sleep well is simply ridiculous. Fortunately, Singapore Air offers such a setup on their A380 planes in "Suites" class and I finally got to experience it. As an added bonus the flight happened to be an inaugural of sorts – the first A380 from San Francisco to Asia (Hong Kong in this case) so we we treated to a few extra surprises as well.
Believe it or not, the Singapore SilverKris Lounge at SFO wasn’t our lounge of choice for this particular flight. It is nice enough and there is the advantage of hot food available there but this time, thanks to our first class tickets, we chose to spend the time prior to the flight in United Airlines’ GlobalFirst lounge instead. More space, similar booze and closer to the gate were the main reasons we went with the GFL. The fact that the SKL is so crowded with the larger plane that they block even their own elites from accessing it made me quite comfortable in that decision. We were one of only two parties in the GFL and quite enjoyed the time there.
In addition to the lounge time there was a bit of a party set up in honor of the inaugural flight. Singapore Air had a number of sales/marketing executives at the gate and a buffet spread set up with small sandwiches and desserts on offer. I also had the opportunity to speak with many of the execs there and talk about the plane, the route and their excitement in having the larger aircraft running the route. They did quite a nice job with that aspect of things, though obviously don’t expect that every time. It was quite entertaining when they all called my wife by name as we boarded, even though they hadn’t met her, only because of our prior conversations that evening.
Finally, as we boarded the flight we were given small gift boxes. As I settled in to my suite I opened it up to see what they were offering to commemorate the inaugural. The red and gold leather luggage tag is awesome. I’m a big fan!
Speaking of settling in to the seat, I have to say that this is probably the most personal space I’ve ever had on a plane, including Emirates‘ and Thai Airway’s A380 first class products. Simply ridiculous, really. There are extra pillows so you don’t feel too lost in the middle of the seat without an armrest close enough to lean on. It is that wide. No overhead bins, which can be a bit awkward, but my bags actually fit completely in the space under the ottoman in my suite. Really ridiculous amounts of room.
When we had finished dinner and were ready to sleep the flight attendants set our suites into bed mode. The double bed thing really is as incredible as the marketing makes it seem. The seat folds forward making the bed a bit high to climb into for sleeping but incredibly comfortable. And all those pillows, too.
One area where Singapore didn’t really splurge on their first class product is with the lavatories. Part of that is a space consideration given that they are on the lover level, not upstairs like Thai or Emirates has. It definitely reduces some of the fun which can be had. Not that they are bad, really, but just not particularly spacious or special in any way. Still all the usual amenities one would expect to find in the lav, but not incredibly special.
Overall I think that this was the nicest A380 F seat of the three I’ve now experienced. It isn’t trimmed in gold and wood veneer like the Emirates Suite but it is more spacious than what I remember from Emirates and much more subtly luxurious. Less flash, more substance.
I really don’t get the appeal of lobster covered in a cheese sauce. I love lobster and I love cheese sauce in certain circumstances but ne’er the two shall meet in my view. Alas, I was only choosing one of the two main meals we ordered and I lost on the Lobster Thermidor vote for the second meal. After tasting it I still think I’m right. The food was very, very good on board. Neither of us loved the lobster but it was exactly as advertised.
There were snacks available mid-flight in the galley and breakfast was quite good, too. I love when an airline can serve fresh eggs in-flight.
Overall the food was very, very good. Not the absolute best I’ve had on board and not quite to the same level of selection as Emirates offers, but still quite tasty and filling.
The screen is huge. It has to be given how far it is from the seat to the screen, but it is huge.
I’m also a fan of the content selection available. A good mix of new stuff (Pitch Perfect was a lot of fun) and classics available, plenty to keep me occupied throughout the flight when I wasn’t sleeping.
The plane was supposed to have the OnAir internet connectivity available, too. The hotspot was broadcasting but it wasn’t actually able to connect out to the internet. Eventually I asked the flight attendant about the situation and she profusely apologized for the service not being available. A bit disappointing as I was hoping to give it a try; I guess I’ll just have to make another trip with them one of these days.
Singapore Air is known for their service levels. My last flight with them had incredible flight attendants so I had pretty high expectations for this flight. I was not left wanting. Parts of the incredible service were a bit over-the-top. I’m not so sure that I needed four different people to escort me from the gate area to my seat, each one handing me off to another while calling me by name. At the same time, pretty much from the moment we entered the gate area until we left the plane everyone we interacted with was ridiculously good. Much like the seats it wasn’t flashy or in-your-face but subtly exquisite. I can see why they have the reputation they do.
I’ve now taken two flights on Singapore Air, one on the A345 from Newark to Singapore and this one. Both times the service was impeccable and the flight was very, very nice. As a customer on a budget who really will only ever up in those cabins on award redemptions I’m not entirely sure that they are worth going that much out of the way for – other premium cabin offerings I’ve been in are quite nice, too – but the overall experience still is rather special. Probably moreso since I know I won’t be doing it again, but still…
Yesterday was apparently THE day to make news if you’re running an airline and looking to change the face of the global alliances. The oft-suspected (and occasionally flatly denied by the CEO) joining of Qatar Airways into the oneworld alliance was the major news that everyone expected. The ascension of Qatar into the alliance is expected to take 12-18 months and British Airways – recently a loser in the Qantas/Emirates deal – will be the sponsoring carrier for Qatar.
Not quite as expected was the announcement from Etihad and AirFrance/KLM that they were going to be building out a major code-sharing arrangement. Not only that, but Air Berlin – ~30% owned by Etihad – is also getting in on the deal. Air Berlin is also a oneworld member and Air France/KLM represents a huge chunk of the SkyTeam group. Or, to quote Doctor Peter Venkman, "dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!" Okay, maybe not mass hysteria, but the move does represent the largest codeshare agreement between two alliance members from different alliances that I’m aware of.
And, let us not forget that Emirates may have started this whole thing rolling when they made the deal with Qantas, getting the latter to dump British Airways as their partner on the Kangaroo routes. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that analysts are saying that deal was the catalyst for the final push from BA to get Qatar to join up.
So, does Air Berlin now have to leave oneworld? Does Qantas? And does it make sense for either of them to? No, no and no.
For the past 15 years the alliances have been presenting themselves as the only logical way to build a network offering global coverage without actually flying to all the destinations. And there is certainly value in these alliances. But they aren’t the only option.
Several carriers have done reasonably well playing as "partner to everyone" rather than choosing just one pool of partners. The logistics might be a bit more difficult – more different systems rather than a single interface into the alliance definitely is – but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done. And the alliance members still have their bilateral relationships where necessary.
The real value for the airlines likely lies in the anti-trust immune operations. These tend to follow alliance lines but they aren’t exclusively so. And just being part of an alliance doesn’t guarantee participation. In other words, the real money comes not from the alliance but from having the right partners and government approvals.
The alliances are nice marketing arrangements for the airlines. And when they are operating smoothly there are even occasional benefits to the passengers. But the "shake-up" from the big three in the Middle East isn’t going to upset those alliances. At least not yet. Maybe they’ve got a few tricks still up their sleeves.
Welcome to true fungibility of your points, at least in one program. There was talk about this back in April and at the time I expressed some concern that the margins for arbitrage in the programs are eroding. These sorts of redemption options are definitely a move in that direction and as of this past week at least one of them is actually live.
Loylogic has formally launched the PointsPay platform. The system allows points to be instantly converted into a cash balance on a real world credit card that they issue to you. It has $0 credit on it by default and only when you use the app to transfer points over does the card become useful for running charges. And once the transaction is complete any leftover credit on the account can be pushed back into points. It is great from the perspective of increasing flexibility with your points. But it still raises concerns from my view about just what the future of travel rewards in the industry.
For at least 1,500 Etihad Guest members the program is attractive enough that they’ve had a CC issued as part of the program and 50,000,000 points have been loaded into the system. That’s not a ton per person – on average it won’t get you further than Tehran or Karachi, assuming you want to return to Abu Dhabi – so maybe it is just members closing out small balances, not redeeming tons of points at this level.
And maybe this is a great way to redeem points otherwise orphaned in an account. When I flew Emirates earlier this year my only viable option for the points was to credit them to their Skywards program. And they’ll die in that program, orphaned and useless to me. I don’t mind too much as I got great value on that ticket even without the points, but getting a few dollars worth back wouldn’t have been so horrible.
The technology behind the program is awesome and both Loylogic and Etihad deserve to be congratulated for the creativity of coming up with the plan and the ability to execute on it. I just worry that it is changing the game to my personal detriment. At least they are giving away 100,000 points as part of launching the program; maybe someone will get something fun for free out of the deal.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
That seems to be the approach Qantas is taking with Emirates, a carrier they’ve seen heated competition with in recent years. Emirates has been very aggressive in attacking pretty much everyone in the "Kangaroo Run" market, making it increasingly difficult for other carriers to compete profitably. With this move Qantas will be terminating its partnership with British Airways and shifting its Kangaroo traffic to Dubai, Emirates’ hub, as of April 2013. Between the two carriers there will be 98 weekly flights between Dubai and Australia, many of them on the Airbus A380.
The deal will allow for integrated network collaboration, coordinated pricing, sales and scheduling between the two carriers. Similar to other major ATI agreements this effectively means that the two will operate as a single business when it comes to operations in the covered markets. And the covered markets are significant; there are 70 destinations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East served by Emirates with a single connection. Qantas will become the only carrier other than Emirates to operate into Dubai’s Terminal 3. The deal will also see an alignment of frequent flyer program earning, redemption and other benefits. Lounge access and elite recognition reciprocity will be part of the deal.
At first blush, this move appears to be good for Qantas customers in just about every way. They’ll have access to many more destinations with just a single connection and connecting in Dubai isn’t all that bad a situation. Additionally, according to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, the move will allow several of the SE Asia flights to be re-timed to allow for better timing of the flights for passengers actually in those markets rather than the folks continuing on to Europe. And, with the most significant price competition now in a joint marketing and profit-sharing agreement, it would seem that Qantas will be able to stem some of the losses they’ve been seeing in their long-haul operations. Actually, this last one might not be so great for the customers but it is always good when the airline can avoid going out of business.
Then again, Emirates has historically been somewhat predatory in their pricing and other tactics. This could be a situation where joining forces doesn’t actually make things better for both parties. And it seems likely that Qantas would be the one to lose were that the case.
The move also raises a couple interesting questions around the future marketing plans for Qantas. Currently the carrier serves as a cornerstone of the oneworld alliance. That made connectivity with British Airways, Cathay Pacific and JAL in Asia quite reasonable. And connectivity with American Airlines in North America was similarly useful. Rumors have Qatar trying to edge in on oneworld, however, and Etihad has also just signed a similar deal with Virgin Australia. These developments within the Middle East – Australia market certainly will make things interesting. For the Americas market it certainly makes sense for Qantas to remain in oneworld. For the African, European and Asian markets the benefits aren’t quite so clear anymore, though having partners for local traffic in those regions will still be valuable and there aren’t many independents left.
Interesting potential for change, indeed.
More coverage here on the new Qantas/Emirate partnership from Australian Business Traveler.