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.
As part of the FTU event last weekend I presented a session on maximizing United’s MileagePlus program. I don’t think that there is anything particularly groundbreaking in the content, but I do think that it is a good reminder of how their award chart works (or doesn’t in some cases) and how a bit of thought can help you book some pretty incredible awards for the same price (or less!) as a more traditional award.
At the beginning of the session I asked the crowd what they were in the program for. I was quite surprised – and pleased – that domestic upgrades were at the bottom of the list. That’s a good thing in the United program as those upgrades are less forthcoming than with other airlines. Most people were interested in the awards and routing rules and I think that is still an area where United shines. Maybe too much, and I don’t expect it to last forever, but for now the opportunities truly are grand.
I’ve posted the slides online here. I’m not entirely sure that they’re actually going to be completely useful without the conversation as they’re more of an outline than a detailed analysis of what to do and how to book the awards. But I do think they can get you started on where some of the sweet spots are in the awards and how to think about the travel options so that you can get more from the trips you’re taking. If nothing else, they’re a good way to start a conversation on just what can be done.
Give them a look if you’re interested and let’s have that conversation, either in the comments here, on FlyerTalk, on MilePoint, via email or however else works for you.
Looking to travel using JetBlue TrueBlue points in the next couple months? For the next couple days you can save 30% on the redemption costs.
When you redeem TrueBlue points for an Award Flight between now and April 26, you can save 30% on your flight. Simply travel between May 2 and June 26, 2013. Take off now and save some points for later.
JetBlue doesn’t have too many promotions like this so when they do it is always worth taking a closer look. In this case the value of the TrueBlue points can be up over 2 cents in certain markets. That’s a pretty significant value opportunity for those points. Obviously the dates have to work for you, but this is a pretty good deal if they do.
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.
I was only a bit surprised to find a wide range of choices available for award flights from New York to Northern Germany in mid-March. After all, it is the middle of winter and most spring break folks are headed to sun and surf or other more traditional destinations. We had our choice of the non-stop United flight to Hamburg or taking a connection in Frankfurt and flying in to Hannover. Given our initial destination of Hildesheim is much closer to Hannover, plus the better flight time (9pm departure rather than 5:30pm) I figured we’d take the extra travel time. Plus it meant I’d get to experience Singapore Air in their economy cabin, rounding out the full set (I did suites a couple months ago and business a year ago). So, thanks to some MileagePlus points I got us booked on JFK-FRA-HAJ with a reasonable layover in Frankfurt for breakfast and a shower in the Senator Lounge.
We got to JFK a bit early so that we could have dinner. We considered the options in the Swiss lounge in T4 and quickly decided to have a real dinner instead. There is a branch of The Palm in the terminal and, despite some previous bad experiences with other airport steakhouses, we gave it a go. Mostly because it was the only reasonable meal option there. And it was surprisingly good. It was helped by our waitress Victoria who was old-school NYC in a good way. But the food was also quite tasty. And by virtue of sitting there rather than in the lounge we got to see this guy and his sparkly backpack. All sorts of good happening there.
Once on board we were treated to the bonus of having the middle seat between us empty. We almost got lie-flat coach but I was slow to jump into the seat across the aisle. Yeah, loads were light. That was good because the space on board isn’t particularly generous down the back of the plane. There is a foot rest which mostly just got in my way, preventing me from extending my legs under the seat in front of me. And the seats are the articulating ones so the recline slides the bottom forward a bit. Reclining decreases legroom. Yuck.
On the plus side, economy class got amenity kits (socks & a toothbrush) and earplugs/eye mask were available on request from the flight attendants. Also, free drinks with the dinner service, though it was really only beer & wine. Liquor was available but not on the drink cart so the delay in having the FA go to the galley to get it made it a rather unappealing option. The meal was OK. Nothing special, really, either good or bad. I suppose that’s about all one can really hope for in coach these days.
On the plus side, Singapore has quite a selection of movies loaded up on their IFE systems. Most were relatively new releases but there were a few from the archives as well. It took three reboots for my IFE to actually work properly (others around me had similar troubles) but once it got working it was pretty good. The in-flight internet was not working, making me 0/2 on trying that product out with Singapore Air. I’m happy my plan was to sleep and not be working.
Oh, and just because I can, a laviator shot on board showing off my RouteHappy shirt.
Overall I’d say that the timing of the SQ flight was still better than the UA option I had. But seat comfort would have been better on United, especially vis a vis personal space since I can get EconomyPlus for free. The meal was maybe a smidgen better on Singapore Air but with the later departure that matters less. And United’s IFE selection is sufficient for my tastes, maybe even better if you like the classics more than current cinema. In premium cabins there are a many more reasons to favor Singapore Air over United. In economy I’m not so sure about that choice. Especially if you’ve got elite status.
Seems to me that, in the interest of being able to more easily find awards, having a listing of all the long-haul routes, by alliance and region, would be useful. And I haven’t ever found a good collection of them so I decided to start building one. Shocking, right??
I’m sure you’ll also be shocked to learn that I started with Star Alliance and the transatlantic (TATL) routes. I’m defining TATL in this context as between North America and Europe. I know there are more flights than just these but I’m going to have a series of posts in the coming days breaking it down and adding to the collection. And I had to start somewhere. So here it is.
There are, by my count,
172 173 route/carrier combinations across the North Atlantic Ocean operated by one of the thirteen Star Alliance members with at least one flight in the regions. Some are seasonal but, if you’re looking for seats, this is probably a good place to start.
Putting them all on a single map is actually pretty useless, other than just to show how massive the coverage footprint is:
To make it slightly more useful here’s a collection of maps split up by carrier. Still sortof sloppy in some cases, but better.
And, if you prefer the data in a less graphical format, it is also available in a table format here.
If you can see any I’ve missed let me know and I’ll update the tables.
Unique North American Gateways:
Unique European Gateways:
It seems that SkyTeam is finally getting on board with the theory that having all members use common fare buckets for award bookings makes life easier for everyone. A couple weeks ago it was confirmed that Vietnam Airlines is updating their booking classes on April 1, 2013. Next up would appear to be China Eastern Airlines. Effective July 1, 2013 the carrier will be using the same booking classes – X for economy awards and O for business awards – as Vietnam Airlines and most other SkyTeam members.
I ran a couple quick checks on my award inventory search tools and was surprised to find that China Eastern wasn’t among the airlines included in the list. I have access to the inventory so there is no reason to be excluding them. Needless to say, I’ve righted that problem. They will now be an available option on the award search and award alert tools. Like most of the other award searches the UI isn’t particularly beautiful, but the data should be accurate.
Also of note is that I expect the Shanghai Airlines award classes to change at the same time. They are currently the same as those of China Eastern, which makes sense since Shanghai is owned by China Eastern. Based on that assumption I’ve updated my award search tools for both carriers, not just the one.
Back when Vietnam Airlines joined the SkyTeam alliance it seems that they ignored the common believe shared by most airlines that award inventory should be severely limited. They used revenue booking classes for both business and economy awards and, especially in business class, had very few limitations on the inventory. Alas, it seems that all good things must end some day. In the case of Vietnam Airlines that day appears to be March 31, 2013.
Starting in April the award buckets are changing. Currently business class awards book into J class and economy awards into U class. The new booking classes will be O for business class and X for economy. There are a few negatives which come from this change. Most notably, with the inventory now separate from revenue bookings Vietnam Airlines can more tightly control access to the seats. And, from what I can see in a few test scans of their inventory, they are tightening down pretty badly. I’m having trouble finding any seats from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore over the next several months, for example. And even where the inventory is still available it is more often than not in economy class, not business class, where the seats are showing.
Another negative of the change is that, by separating the awards into dedicated fare buckets, the ability is earn points on an award ticket is going to disappear. Sure, you shouldn’t have been able to in the first place but loopholes like that exist in a few places. This one is getting closed up.
I do see the X and O inventory still available in limited instances so it isn’t that Vietnam Airlines is hiding the inventory from the public GDS interfaces. That means the seats will still be open to searches and alerts through the interfaces I have on the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site. But with the limited inventory out there in the new buckets, I am rather saddened. Vietnam Airlines was a great option for getting around within southeast Asia as a SkyTeam partner. Seeing that award space drying up is no fun at all.
Like most people who saw the news late yesterday that the Hilton HHonors award chart was changing I was quick to note how bad the changes appear to be. And, to be fair, they are bad in many, many places. But I also like to make sure I’m getting (and sharing) the full picture, so I decided to delve a bit deeper into the data. Hilton has built a website for figuring out the points required at any given property under the new scheme. And, fortunately, it is reasonably easy to script that site. So I did. I picked, somewhat at random, Alaska, Missouri, Illinois, Idaho, Texas, Florida, Georgia, New York and Virgina as US states to query. I also chose Canada, Mexico, France, Japan, Thailand and Slovakia as countries to research. The site limits to returning only the first 100 properties in any query so I know it isn’t a complete set of data but I ended up with 862 valid data points to analyze, roughly 20% of the HHonors properties. I then listed them out with the month-by-month rates in the new program compared to the fixed rate in the old program, looking to see how many were higher, lower or the same. I ended up with just over 10,000 data points – rate at a hotel in a given month – to review. Yes, there is a lot of red (higher rates) on the chart. But I was also surprised at how much green (lower rates) I saw. Of the rates I compared more that 4,500 are now higher under the new scheme. That is roughly 45% or 9% more than what Marriott increased in their recent changes. But there are also just over 3,000 instances (about 30%) where the rates are lower than before. That’s much better than what Marriott did. As a means to try to calculate something resembling a weighted average I also totaled up the cost to redeem one night in each month of the year under the old and new rules for every hotel in the set. There are 60 properties where that total weighted change is a drop of 100,000 points or more. If we presume that my sample is reasonably random then that extrapolates out to about 7% of the total properties. Not a huge number but it does represent significant drops in the redemption rates at those hotels. There are properties dropping 2 or 3 levels in the award chart in some cases. The biggest drop was 300,000 points across 12 redemptions. Not to be too satisfied with seeing the number of hotels which dropped in price, I also checked for the number which increased by 100,000 or more points using the same metrics. There were 103 of them in my set; using the same extrapolation as above that is about 12%. The biggest increase was 430,000 points across the 12 redemptions at the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square and Hampton Inn Manhattan-Times Square North. The increases absolutely outweigh the decreases. There is no doubt about that. But there are some areas where it isn’t actually horrible, maybe even slightly better. The big picture might not be quite as bad as initial impressions suggested. I still think that they’ve made it excessively complex and that the overall value of the program is not one where I think there is a reasonable RoI for my travel patterns, but it isn’t all completely awful. If you want to review the data I based the above on it can be found here.
The 60 best changes:
The 40 worst changes:
For anyone with a stash of Hilton HHonors points tucked away the news out today is likely to drive you just a wee bit crazy. And not in a good way. Hilton announced the changes for their 2013 program rules and the details are not good news at all. The new rules go into effect on March 28, 2013. On the plus side, elites will get a 5th night free with any 4 night award reservation. On the down side, however, there are now 10 different tiers for hotels and within the top 7 of those tiers variable pricing based on which month of the year you are booking the hotel. It is, quite frankly, a mess.
The 5th night free thing matches other major brands and I suppose that’s nice for some of their members. I don’t begrudge them that benefit though it means nothing to me; I haven’t stayed that long in any one place that I can remember. Maybe 10 years ago in St. Lucia but that property isn’t even a Hilton anymore. So there is a little bit of value in that benefit but not for me.
The other changes, however, pretty much destroy the program, if only by making what was already probably the most complicated hotel program even more difficult to manage and understand. Here’s the old award chart:
Pretty straightforward and easy to figure out. Not so much with the new one:
So I suppose the first thing everyone is supposed to get excited about is that the points required for a room are dropping at the bottom end of the spectrum. And they are. Alas, there aren’t all that many properties there. And the inflation and complexities introduced at the mid-tiers are miserable. Here’s a look at some NYC hotels over a 3 month window:
Not only are some of the rates astronomical but the variation is hard to comprehend. Everything is at max rate in November/December in New York City. I get that. But in January they don’t drop consistently. Figuring out rates will take way too much time and effort. And that’s putting aside that all the rates are at least 40% higher than they are today at peak season; the DoubleTree in Times Square is one of many properties now 95% more expensive to book. YIKES!
I’m not going to spend much time going through all the properties to figure out what got more expensive. My quick scan of major cities is sufficient for me to believe that enough have to make this move similar to the Marriott devaluation from last week: Massive. And with the added bonus of making things way more confusing than they need to be.
This one really hurts.
Marriott rate changes announced for 2013: OUCH!