It seems that not too many people show up in Perth at 6am claiming to be in transit. For me, however, this was the fourth immigration checkpoint in the preceding 4 days where that was the case. I had cleared immigration in Doha and Bangkok and remained in transit in Yangon (I’m still not entirely sure how I pulled that one off) and now it was time to play the same game in Australia. I tried to use the eGates, knowing that my passport doesn’t have the RFID chip so it would fail. On the plus side, that got me to the front of the line to speak with the officer.
Her: It says here you are in transit. Where are you in transit to?
Her: This is Perth.
Me: <internal voice>Ruh-roh</internal voice>Oh, right…so tired from that redeye flight. My next stop is Jo’burg, South Africa.
Her: Hmm….well, I suppose there is no good way to get to South Africa, huh?
Me: <smiles and keeps my mouth shut about my actual itinerary />
Her: Have a safe flight.
I suppose that could have been worse, though remembering where I am and where I’m going clearly starts to suffer as the trip progresses.
My plan for Perth was mostly that I didn’t have a plan. I had booked a rental car and I had dinner reservations at 6:30pm with a former co-worker. That left me with about 12 hours to explore the area and try to avoid any further awkward moments with law enforcement officers. I had considered trying to make the drive out to the wine country outside of town but too many people told me that would take up too much time. As I headed in towards town in the rental car I saw a road sign pointing towards Fremantle. That was also on my list of possibilities as a cute beach town to visit. And here it was, easily accessible. It seems my plan was starting to come together.
Most of my day was ultimately spent in and around Fremantle. I explored the waterfront area, lamented that I was there at 8am as the local brewery was not yet open and generally was lazy. Sometimes that’s the best way to “explore” a town.
That’s not to say I didn’t get out and see anything. Fremantle is home to the oldest standing public building in Western Australia, the Round House. It was originally built as a prison to hold locals caught out after curfew in the early days of the settlement. Today it sits atop a bluff over the beach with some rather impressive views.
At one point mid-morning I started to get a bit stir-crazy, hoping to see more of the area. The weather was a bit cool for all but the most dedicated beach-goers but I was interested in seeing what was on offer anyways. I headed up the coast to Cottesloe to check out the beaches there as well. I had the opportunity to dip my toes in the water and I also saw dolphins swimming just off-shore. Not bad at all.
As the day wore on I realized that I had a few more pressing needs than additional sightseeing. I had a bit of work I needed to get done (not a great time to discover corruption in the database behind one of your websites) and I was also desperately in need of a shower. I ducked in to a hostel on the main drag in Fremantle and for AUD$10 I had access to all the facilities, including the internet connection and the shared bathrooms. Quite a reasonable price to pay for getting cleaned up and a base to run from for a few hours.
By this point it was getting close to both sunset and to my dinner reservation time. I packed up and headed back up the coast, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sunset. I was not disappointed.
From there it was in to town where I finally saw Perth proper. Some tall buildings, quite a bit of construction along the waterfront and a casino where we had dinner. I must say that the locals – particularly the women – got very dressed up to go out to the casino on a Saturday night.
Maybe there is more to see in the CDB of Perth; if there is, I missed it. But I had a great time out on the waterfront all day. Not a bad transit stop at all.
Oh, one other thing about this chunk of the trip…for some reason the security in Singapore decided that my corkscrew wasn’t permitted in the cabin. Rather than forfeit it, however, they allowed me to check it through to Perth. Here’s how it looked when it arrived:
More photos from the trip here.
More stories from the trip here.
In about 90 minutes I’ll be boarding a flight from JFK to Doha, Qatar. It is the start of a 29,000 mile, 6 day adventure. I’ve got four nights on airplanes and two in hotels, 12+ hours stays in five different cities and the majority of it is in business class. I suppose I could call it a mileage run but the pricing isn’t really good enough for that to make sense. Yes, it is based on one of the RGN mistake fares so in that context it is a mileage run, but getting to RGN to start and back from Johannesburg at the end mean the straight CPM calculations aren’t very good. But I decided the stories would be, so here I go.
The most ridiculous part of the trip, however, I didn’t realize until I got in the shower this morning and started thinking about packing. It suddenly occurred to me that I’ll be visiting five continents in less than three days. As booked I leave Singapore (Asia) on Saturday morning and touch Australia (PER), Africa (JNB), Europe (IST) and be back home in North America by the end of the day on Monday. Even crazier is that if I take the ferry over to the Asia side of Istanbul – a very likely event – the total amount of time I’ll spend to touch those five continents is just under 60 hours. Had I thought about it a bit more I probably could have added a late night JFK-South America flight and touched the six with commercial service quite quickly.
This did get me thinking about just how quickly the trip could be made. My flights have reasonably long layovers and I’ll be mostly flying west-bound which is slower. Taking advantage of Istanbul’s position and a decent layover there can really make things go quickly. Had I done Istanbul to Houston and continued on to Bogota or Caracas I think I could make it even faster. I haven’t checked the timetables too closely yet, but I think it can be done.
Anyone else have an idea of quick itineraries for touching the six continents? How would you do it better?
Also, for those curious, this is a combination of three tickets. The first is one of the business class fares ex-RGN. That gets me RGN-SIN-PER-JNB. To get to RGN I have a United Airlines award booked mostly on Qatar Airways metal via Doha and Bangkok. And to get home I purchased a revenue ticket from JNB-IST-JFK on Turkish. Like I said above, the price point isn’t great, especially considering the award costs for positioning. But I’m really looking forward to the trip.
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.
Nine months after activating a satellite-based internet service on their A380 fleet flying between Australia and the United States Qantas shut down the service this past weekend. Apparently usage was not sufficient to justify the costs of operating the systems. In a statement the airline indicated that the usage rate was less than 5 percent over the trial period. The company believes that this limited adoption is mostly attributed to the timing of the flights; passengers were more inclined to sleep on the overnights than pay for the internet connection.
Satellite coverage is limited over the Pacific Ocean and the systems are not cheap to install nor to operate on an ongoing basis. The kit weighs in at several hundred pounds. That means less cargo capacity and more fuel costs. If users aren’t buying the service then it is hard to justify the costs. Similar reports were heard in the early days of the gogo service rollouts. The US carriers soldiered on, however, continuing the deployments. Clearly Qantas feels the customer demand just isn’t there. With both United Airlines and Delta committed to adding comparable service on their aircraft flying to Australia it will be interesting to see if the competitive aspect of the market sees the service returning in the future.
And at the same time as Qantas is cutting the service Etihad has announced that by the end of 2014 they expect their entire fleet to have global connectivity. The announcement came as the carrier launched their first aircraft with "Wi-Fly" service. The Wi-Fly product is based on Panasonic’s satellite connectivity solution and is in service now on one of the carrier’s A330-200 aircraft. Etihad already has some other aircraft configured with the OnAir product they trialed previously. Etihad will be configuring their fleet with voice/data connectivity on all aircraft and augmenting that on their long-haul fleet with the wifi service as well. The carrier expects 10 aircraft to be configured with the Wi-Fly service by the end of 2013. Oh, and for first class passengers the in-flight internet service will be free.
Perhaps there is a finite number of tubes available out there on the internet and the convenient timing of these two announcements is more than just coincidence. Or there are vastly different ideas about what consumers want – and are willing to pay for – in-flight.
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.
Or maybe Brisbane is saying G’day to Hawaii. Hard to know exactly which way the translations should go, but it is quite clear that flights between Honolulu and Brisbane will start November 27, 2012, with thrice weekly service from Hawaiian Airlines. The flights will be operated on a 767 aircraft with 262 seats, meaning 40,000+ new seats in the Australia – Hawaii market annually.
The route is about 9 hours in the air, and the arrival and departure times are quite convenient. The outbound flight leaves Honolulu at 10:20am arriving at 4pm +1. The return flight departs Brisbane at 6:35pm and arrive back in Honolulu at 8:05am the same day (the international date line is all sorts of awesome). This timing allows for connections at both ends, including a number of mainland flights on the east-bound flights (though not the new JFK service). Then again, a 22 hour layover in Honolulu isn’t so bad, right?
For folks looking at the frequent flier redemption options this opens up, the redemption rates are likely to match those of the Sydney route:
Not the best rates out there, but there aren’t a whole lot of other options out there so you take what you can get, I suppose.
It was August 2010 when Virgin America announced their plans to offer reciprocal earning and redemption benefits with the other carriers in the Virgin brand. Alas, the frequent flier market works slowly in some cases and after more than a year there was no real news on the redemption side of the deal. That ends this week, with both Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and Virgin America announcing redemption rates.
I’m focusing on the the rates for Virgin America here, mostly because I find the ranges they cover to be more intriguing than the numbers from the other two. Virgin America has published a calculator that displays the number of points required based on the city pairs that the two partners serve. Even more interesting to me, however, is that the underlying data is contained in a singe easy to download
XML JSON file. Drop that file into Excel and throw some filters on it and the data that comes back is quite interesting indeed.
First up, both one-way and round-trip redemptions will be offered. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, there is a penalty for one-way awards relative to return trips. The penalty is generally 5-10,000 points, based on the samples I saw, though one or two did go higher than that, especially in premium cabins.
As for the actual redemption rates, there are definitely some interesting sweet-spots on the chart. JFK to London return is only 35,000 points in Upper Class, for example, which is pretty nice. The down-side is that it also comes with $1100 in taxes and fees to be paid. Also, it is more than double the price of an economy award on the same route (15,000 points + $650 in fees). The fees do track directly with what Virgin Atlantic charges for a revenue booking (the APD and the YQ are both higher in business class) so that’s not completely ridiculous, but with base fares as low as $120ish round trip in economy dropping 15,000 points seems like a REALLY bad idea.
The real fleecing in the program, however, comes when you try to redeem for Business Class awards on Virgin Australia AND you add a connection in the United States. Los Angeles to Brisbane is a rather reasonable 80,000 points up front. Want to connect onward to Chicago? Tack on another 100,000 points. And if you want to go to JFK rather than Chicago it is an extra 50,000 on top of that. Yeah, it is that ridiculous.
And the taxes aren’t particularly great on those fares either. At least the transcon penalty on Virgin Atlantic is only 15,000 points.
Comparing the rates to the value via American Express Membership Rewards – one of the easier ways to accumulate Elevate Points – shows further examples of the limited value. Getting that JFK-London award is 35K Elevate points, which would mean 70K MR points. Redeeming via ANA would allow the same trip for 63K points and roughly the same fees. JFK-Capetown would be 190K MR points via Elevate or 115K via ANA.
Adding these partners is a great thing, in theory, for members of the Elevate program. With the redemption charts the way they look, however, the numbers are not particularly attractive. I’d stay far, far away.
Qantas announced today that they will be fitting their Airbus A380 aircraft with the OnAir SwiftBroadband connectivity suite, providing in-flight internet connectivity on trans-Pacific flights between Australia and the United States. The move brings WiFi connectivity to the fleet type but not GSM/GPRS mobile services so there will not be the option for in-flight voice or SMS/text services. The service trial is expected to start in February.
This is a similar system to that which Emirates will be using on their A380 fleet as announced earlier this week. It will also allow Qantas to remain competitive with United Airlines, which has announced intentions to outfit its entire fleet with WiFi, including the 747s they are flying to Australia.
No word on pricing yet, and the trial in February is for "business and first class passengers" according to one report, though I don’t know how they’ll keep the WiFi signal only on the upper deck. More details as they come out.
Star Alliance is already the largest of the global airline alliances but they appear to be showing no signs of slowing their growth. At their regular CEO summit this week, held in Queenstown, New Zealand, Virgin Blue CEO John Borghetti was in attendance. Only Qantas, a member of OneWorld, is in an alliance currently in Australia so there is room for either Star Alliance or SkyTeam to make a move with Virgin Blue.
Virgin Blue and Air New Zealand have tried to link up already once. Their application to cooperate on trans-Tasman service was rejected by Australian competition authorities in September. Still, the carriers are looking to move forward with a partnership that could benefit both sides as much as possible.
An additional quirk that might come into play with the possible Star Alliance move is that Virgin Blue has some existing partners that could confuse the situation. Their loyalty scheme, Velocity Rewards, is shared with long haul carrier V Australia. V Australia currently is partnered with Delta, a SkyTeam member. Having one half of the Velocity Rewards program working in Star Alliance and the other in SkyTeam would be quite unusual, though it is possible.
If Virgin Blue – and V Australia along with it – were to leave Delta it would be quite a blow to the SkyMiles program. Currently the V Australia option is one of the best redemption opportunities that SkyMiles has.
A few months ago I was ecstatic after securing an award ticket to New Zealand for this coming December. It wasn’t just that I got seats on the dates I wanted. And it wasn’t just that they were in premium cabins almost the entire way. And it wasn’t just that I was able to get one of the longest possible routings along the way to maximize my time in the big comfy seats (and lounges). OK, maybe it was that last one.
Unfortunately, however, the reason I was going to New Zealand changed around a bit. And it looks like we’re going to be spending a couple weeks in India at the end of December, No reason I cannot combine the two trips, right? Apparently Continental felt that was actually going to be a problem.
It seems there are two ways for the airline to issue award tickets and mine was originally set up with the method that requires the agents working on the ticket to manually verify the details. Based on what the agent I spoke with today explained, it seems that a small detail was missed during the original, manual booking of my award. It wasn’t a legal routing according to their system. Oopsie.
Of course, I wasn’t really ready to give up on what was an absolutely awesome award trip, despite their suggestions that they could convert it to an Around the World award for only 120,000 extra points (75% more than the 160K I originally redeemed). Ummmm, no thanks. After a bit of discussion we agreed that, while it might not actually be valid in their system, I shouldn’t be penalized because someone misunderstood the rules a couple months ago when issuing it. So I was permitted to make my change – and I was still able to find seats on flights I wanted within a couple days of my ideal – and to keep the ticket.
So I ended up with this little bit of awesomeness:
I get a new carrier (Swiss) as well as my first experiences in the Lufthansa and Thai Airways first class cabins. Only the segment between Auckland and Melbourne is in coach; the rest are all in the highest class of service available on the flight. I tried to mix Air Canada in for one of the transatlantic segments but couldn’t make that work. And I gave up the chance at a first class suite on the Turkish 77W, but those are apparently less consistent these days anyways so it wasn’t a sure think even if I did keep that route.
I am not complaining one bit, even if I did have to trade a boondoggle in Singapore for an overnight in Bangkok.