For nearly the past decade earning points for flights within Norway was not possible thanks to laws designed to encourage competition and prevent one airline from using their loyalty program to unduly attract or retain customers. Apparently (at least according to them) the rule worked and there is now sufficient competition in the market such that the rule has outlived its usefulness. It is not clear when the airlines will start to permit accrual on these flights (or, in the case of SAS, when their Star Alliance partners will update the rules). From the Google translate version of the announcement:
Government shares the concern expressed Competition for competition in the aviation industry, particularly in rural areas, when bonus ban repealed. But today there are two major players in the Norwegian market, and competition is more robust than when regulation was introduced in 2007.
Norwegian Air is the second carrier and they have grown significantly in both the domestic and regional markets. They’re introducing long-haul service this summer to Bangkok and New York City, too.
Also in the same announcement is this bit:
The Government will also examine the possibility of laws on the bonus points earned in employment attributable to the person paying for, normally the employer. The purpose of this study will be to examine whether it can reduce the administrative burden of enforcing taxation of the private use of bonus points earned on business travel as well as any negative competitive effects of repeal regulations.
Apparently letting the traveler keep the points rather than crediting them to the company buying the ticket raises tax issues. Hopefully the IRS doesn’t get any similar ideas.
I love a good time-lapse video and I love a good Scandinavian landscape. Thanks to the folks running Norway‘s railroad here’s an awesome combination of the two. Covering a 700+ kilometer route from Trondheim to Bodø, the trip was filmed four times and merged into a single video showing both the beauty of the land and the seasons. Very cool.
Yeah, I’m not so sure that a 10 hour documentary about the ride is something I’m up for watching, but the abbreviated version, particularly with the blending of the seasons is awesome. And almost as impressive as the video is the details on how they made it. You can read more about it here but the level of effort they put in to matching the position of the train and time stamps to ensure a smooth blend is pretty awesome.
Anywho, not really all that much news in this post but I thought it was pretty cool and worth sharing. And now I want to go back to Norway (not that I ever was questioning that bit).
It is not clear that the future of SAS is a particularly strong one. The carrier is fighting against LCCs including Norwegian which is adding long-haul service as they take delivery of 787s in 2013. Plus they are saddled with high labor costs and relatively high debt loads and multiple hubs in a very tight geographic proximity. Oh, and they’ve recently been put on notice by their creditors that failure to cut some costs would see funding dry up. Perhaps not the most optimistic situation to be in.
And yet the carrier is looking to expand. They reached a compromise with the labor unions which should be sufficient for now. And, with that behind them for the near term, the route map is growing. SAS is going to try to survive through growth, not by shrinking. Here are the additional routes.
- Stockholm to Innsbruck, Pula, Palermo, Cagliari, Thessaloniki, Tel Aviv, Pristina and Alanya
- Gothenburg to Nice, Pristina and Östersund
- Oslo to Salzburg, Berlin, Budapest, Santorini, Cagliari, Palermo, Pristina, Valencia, Malta, Lisbon, Athens, Tenerife and Pula
- Bergen to Dubrovnik and Antalya
- Trondheim to Split
- Stavanger to Antalya
- Copenhagen to San Francisco, Budapest, Prague, Newcastle, Cagliari, Palermo, Alanya, Thessaloniki, Pula and Biarritz
- Helsinki to Paris, Rome, Prague, Geneva and Östersund
- Kittilä to Turku and Tampere
This is an interesting collection of destinations. The mix between business and leisure is very much there. And some great new options for award seats should come from this, too.
Will it be enough to save the carrier? I suppose we’ll see soon enough.
SAS, the airline half-owned by the governments of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, has indicated they will cut 6,000 jobs, sell off assets and renegotiate contracts with the remaining staff in an effort to reach profitability. The plan includes selling off regional carrier Wideroe, the ground handling services arm of the organization and other assets. SAS’s CEO noted that the current efforts are the last chance the carrier has to survive, "This truly is our final call if there is to be an SAS in the future."
Faced with heavy competition on both regional and long-haul routes, SAS has not made a profit in several years. Creditors are beginning to push the issue more aggressively and the company seems inclined to act on the demands. The latest salvo on the competition front come from Norwegian Air Shuttle, the LCC with new 787s on the way to serve the New York City and Bangkok markets. As part of their low cost efforts Norwegian will be setting their long-haul crew base in Bangkok to take advantage of lower costs there. Options like that are not available to SAS for controlling costs at this point.
SAS needs some good news, and soon. Hopefully this latest round of cuts will be sufficient to bring the company through the troubles.
Not many budget carriers operate long-haul routes targeted at low-yield holiday destinations. Even fewer operate crew bases thousands of miles from their home base. Norwegian sees the market a bit differently; they’re challenging both of those trends.
The carrier has deliveries pending for Boeing‘s 787 Dreamliner with delivery expected in 2013. As part of the build up to those deliveries some details are starting to come out on how the company intends to use the planes. The initial routes will connect the airline’s operations in Oslo with Bangkok and New York City, both quite a bit longer than the current European coverage the carrier offers.
The plane will be configured 3-3-3 in economy class – similar to most other carriers – and 2-2-2 in business class. That there is a business class at all is somewhat surprising but for the longer flights it is not surprising that they see a market for such. They won’t be the flat beds offered by other carriers but most definitely a step up from the economy product. Paid food and beverage options will keep with the LCC approach. And there will be IFE on offer; it is not yet clear if that is a paid option or complimentary. The renderings also show power ports at the economy seats; pretty safe to assume that the premium seats will have the same.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Norwegian’s 787 operations, however, is how the company intends to staff the flights. In order to support the long-haul traffic a new crew base will be established. In Bangkok. Flight attendants interested in working for the carrier are being informed that, "Would you like to work in the cabin, you must agree also to move to Thailand." Such an approach has the obvious advantage of potentially saving a lot of money in employment costs. And that, along with the efficiency the 787 presents, might be enough to help the company thrive on the Oslo-Bangkok route, a market SAS is abandoning in 2013 after 63 years of service.
But such an approach also presents a number of challenges. For starters, there are the issues surrounding pissing off the other flight attendants who want the work to remain in Norway. Plus, what happens when a crew member has to call out? Having experienced the pain of a canceled flight recently due to a crew member getting sick while at an out-station, I’ve personally experienced that annoyance. So did roughly 600 others as the one missing flight attendant cascaded into at least three canceled flights.
Outsourcing jobs to save money is hardly a new phenomenon. The real question is whether Norwegian can operate reliably enough with such an approach. I suppose we’ll all find out starting the middle of next year.
Every now and then a good story comes across the wire of an airline doing something particularly heartfelt and unexpected. A couple months back there was a story making the rounds about a pilot form Southwest that held a flight to allow a man to get to his grandson’s funeral at the last minute. Today’s story comes from Norway, where SAS made some special arrangements to save a woman’s vision.
The flight in question is a milk run up the west coast of Norway (and one that I’ve actually been on), shuttling folks between Trondheim, Alesund, Bergen and Stavanger. This particular aircraft suffered a mechanical failure after the first segment and the operations folks were content to cancel the rest of the flights and book all the passengers on the next plane, 6 hours later.
For one passenger on board, however, that flight was 3 hours too late. She was on her way to Bergen for emergency eye surgery that was necessary to save her vision and the new flight would land three hours later. A couple hours later a replacement aircraft, ferried in from Oslo, was on the ground in Alesund and made a quick turn to get the passengers loaded and on the way to Bergen. The plane arrived in Bergen approximately 25 minutes prior to the surgery and the patient made it to the hospital in time.
Some folks love the challenge of earning frequent flyer points. To me, that’s just business. I do it and I accrue and I move on to the next flight. But when the time comes for redeeming those points, that’s where the fun begins. Part of it is because the airlines really do make it difficult to book awards. Part of it is because there are quirks and tricks and nuances in every program and understanding the rules of your specific program makes a huge difference. And part of it is that I generally feel triumphant when I can beat the airlines at their own game.
I won HUGE last week.
First up, our annual anniversary trip. Now in its 5th iteration, my wife and I have gone somewhere out of town for our anniversary each year. Ecuador, Philadelphia/Washington, DC Norway and Scotland were the previous four. This year’s goal was the Canadian maritime provinces. Turns out they’re a bit too spread out for us to hit as much as we wanted in the long weekend so we scaled back to just Nova Scotia. Not too disappointed about that at all.
With non-stop flights from New York to both Moncton and Halifax it was actually surprisingly easy to find award seats into the region. Our outbound requires a connection in Toronto but we’re waitlisted for the non-stop flight (shown in red on the map) and I’m betting that it clears. Either way, we get where we want to be on the day we want to get there and at roughly the times we want to fly. No complaints there. Coming back we picked Sydney as the departing airport. No, not that Sydney. There’s another one up in Nova Scotia. Being a tiny town with a tiny airport the prices on revenue tickets can be pretty ridiculous. So even though we’re only going a few hundred miles the cash version of these flights was pretty ridiculous. But award inventory wasn’t a problem at all. Connecting in Halifax and then back into Newark at good times and with no real issues.
As an added bonus, there are flights from Sydney to France (in the form of Saint Pierre & Miquelon, shown in purple on the map) that we just might have to try. If the flight schedules work that is definitely on my radar.
Did I mention that these were a pretty good deal in terms of valuation for the points redeemed? I like that the Continental booking engine gives you the offer to pay cash instead of redeeming miles for the trip. But I couldn’t help but laugh when this was the option it presented me:
Purchase this Reservation in Economy for $4,452.46 without redeeming miles
Instead I cashed in 50,000 points and about $100 in taxes for the two seats. I’d say that’s a damn good deal.
There is really only one restaurant in Ålesund, Norway that gets much of any sense of reviews on the Internet, at least in English. Sjøbua is a seafood shop located at the end of a small street, and it is THE seafood restaurant in Ålesund. The windows of the dining room open up onto the harbor with some pretty phenomenal views and the food is absolutely top notch. The fact that we actually managed to have a meal there was actually quite a surprise. And it was completely worth it – maybe even worth going out of your way to find.
We tried to dine there on our first night in Ålesund but we were led astray by the review from Frommer’s that suggests they are open on Saturday nights. They are not. And we spent the next five nights camping out in the fjords. It turns out that there was cell phone coverage out there but I didn’t bring mine and I certainly had no desire to interrupt the kayaking with trying to get dinner reservations. So we gambled and simply asked at the front desk of the hotel when we returned to civilization on Friday evening. “I’m very sorry sir, they do not have any tables available. Perhaps you would enjoy dining at the Indian restaurant just up on the corner.” That is the same Indian place that we had dined at the previous Saturday when we found Sjøbua to be closed so that wasn’t going to happen.
We gambled, and we won. We walked in to the restaurant shortly after 7pm and announced ourselves as a walk-in couple and pretty much begged for a table. There was a nice bar area that I would have attempted to dine in had things not worked out but that proved unnecessary in the end. It turns out that there was a 6:30pm reservation for two that never showed. And it was now ours!
The food was delicious. Simply off the charts phenomenal. I can attribute some of that to the fact that we’d been dining off of camping stoves the previous five nights, but those meals were actually pretty good (we have made one of them a regular staple at home now) so it can’t have just been that. The food was actually really that good.
We shared an appetizer and had an entree each. We shied away from the (crazy expensive even for Scandinavia) lobster appetizer and had something a bit more pedestrian, though quite delicious and quite local. It was mussels in a relatively traditional preparation and they were delicious, though not necessarily unique.
The coup de grace of the evening, however, came when the entrees were served. Getting the right amount of sauce to cover an entree is always a challenge. It always seems that you get not enough or the meat is swimming in sauce. Neither is a good way to dine. Sjøbua had quite the appropriate solution to that problem. Our meals were served and then, about 30 seconds later, the waiter showed back up at the table with a small bowl containing extra of the sauce. For one of us that meant more actual sauce, and for the other, a small bowl brimming with perfectly prepared thick cut bacon diced into quarter inch cubes, crispy and delicious.
Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t just the bacon that made the dish. The Salt Cod Gratinee (it sounds better in the native Norwegian) was phenomenal all on its own. But the addition of a side of bacon to top it off served as the proverbial icing on the cake. Except it was bacon on fish smothered in a creamy sauce. And extra bacon at that. Truly top notch at every turn.
I love postcards. Really, really, really love them. I love sending them and I love receiving them. Sadly, however, it seems to be a dying art.
I seem to be alone (or in a rapidly shrinking population) in my love for the post card. They seem to still be readily available in some places but impossible to find in others. In Norway we were able to find (rather expensive) cards in the over-touristed town of Geiranger but stamps were another endeavor entirely. The hotels all simply have postage meters now rather than real stamps. The card will arrive just the same but it isn’t as much fun.
In Hong Kong I actually struggled to even find post cards. I asked at several hotels and looked in the various stores I passed as I wandered the island. None had cards. Once I finally found cards there was the next adventure – finding stamps. It wasn’t quite as difficult as in Norway, but it certainly wasn’t simple. Fortunately the cards all found their way to the intended recipients.
In India we had quite the adventure getting our post cards home. The post offices there are quite efficient normally and we actually weren’t too troubled with lines or even figuring out how much postage we needed to add to the cards. But the stamps apparently had no glue on the back of them like we’ve come to expect. We did our best with saliva and I’m honestly not sure how they actually made it back to all our friends, but they did. And we came out of it with a great story of wandering Goa and licking (and re-licking) stamps for a couple hours to get them on the way.
One of the current iPhone commercials these days is showing off their “app for that” for sending postcards. They have a picture of Paris and some “wish you were here” text and the person taps and it is sent. That just isn’t the same. Sure, at least one of those services (shootIt!) actually prints and sends a physical post card, not just something electronic, but you don’t get the fun of the random stamp, trying to figure out how much postage you need, the cool postmark from a foreign land and the anticipation of waiting for the cards to arrive at their destination. The fact that postcards generally arrive well after the trip is over actually adds to the fun for me.
There was also the discussion we had with the others in our group as we were on the fjords in Norway. Someone mentioned something about simply sending a text or SMS message when they’re abroad. There’s no sense of place from such an action. I’m not a fan at all.
I’m a huge fan of many things digital. I live online in many ways, both for work and leisure. But when it comes to travel there is still one bit that I’m happy to keep offline: my postcards.
Want to receive a random post card from somewhere around the world? No guarantees, but drop me a line and I’ll see what I can wrangle.
Often in my travels I discover that being lucky is just as good, if not better, than being prepared. Ålesund was one such experience on a broad scale, from dining to hotels to things to see and do. As we wandered about town on our first night there we still needed to make a hotel reservation for our last night – a week later. We checked out a few “name brand” properties like the Scandic and the Clarion and the prices were fair but nothing special. We also happened upon a slightly greenish building that had the word hotel on the outside and a bar facing the street. Given that two of my main requirements for a place of lodging were met we gave it a chance. The price matched that of the others and it was definitely something different, so we gave it a shot. Dumb luck won BIG.
The Hotel Brosundet is a small property – only 46 rooms plus one in the lighthouse around the corner – but it is big on style, comfort, quality and service. The room in the lighthouse gets written up a lot as a search for Mojja Fyr will show, but it isn’t the only nice part of the offering available. The room we had was not large by any stretch but there was space to move around, a desk and a large window near the bed (very similar to the photo). And it had the exposed beams, wood hues and smooth lines that reeked of Scandinavian design (a scent I happen to love). The property was formerly a warehouse, now converted into a hotel, making it the second former warehouse we stayed in during the trip (71 Nyhavn was the other). I have to give it to the folks in Scandinavia: They know how to convert a warehouse quite well.
In many ways it felt like someone had simply extracted the essence of a W Hotel and miniaturized it into a small building along the harbor. The halls were dark, the bar had a bit of a bass line pumping out and the people working there were mostly beautiful. Then again, most of the folks in Norway were so maybe that last one isn’t a great metric. So the aesthetic and the vibe were slightly W-ish (in a good way), but there was also something else, something better. The staff was actually wonderfully pleasant and helpful. They went out of their way to help us with just about everything we needed. It was a wonderful change from my typical experience at a W.
Oh, and the restaurant there is actually one of the better options in town. Not as good as Sjøbua, but I don’t know that anything really is. We only managed to have breakfast as they were fully booked for dinner, but the food was good and it looked like folks were enjoying their dinner, too.
Add on to all of that the top-notch location in town and the history of the building and it is hard for me to even consider staying in one of the other chain properties in town at the same price-point.