Well, the bad news is that United Airlines has confirmed the new earning rates for premium cabin fares on many partner airlines. In posts today on FlyerTalk and MilePoint the company offered up an explanation and a full listing of the affected fare classes (which pretty much matches the list I had produced) and also an explanation. Apparently the old rates were a mistake:
In March 2012, when we migrated to a single system, we unintentionally increased PQM and PQS earnings for some of our partners to our former OnePass levels, instead of taking them to their intended MileagePlus levels.
While these higher earning levels remained in effect for the remainder of 2012, we are now reinstating the PQM/PQS earning rates for the following carriers and fare classes to 100% as of Jan. 1, 2013:
- Air New Zealand (NZ): A, B, C, D, E, J, O, U,Y, Z
- Asiana (OZ): A, B, C, D, F, J, Y, Z
- Croatia Airlines (OU): A, B, C, D, F, Y, Z
- Egyptair (MS): A, B, C, D, F, J, Y, Z
- LOT (LO): A, C, D, P, Z
- Singapore (SQ): A, C, D, F, J, P, R, S, Y, Z
- South African (SA): B, C, D, H, J, K, M, Q, S, Y, Z
- TAM (JJ): A, B, C, D, F, J , Y, Z
- TAP (TP): B, C, D, J, Y, Z
- THAI (TG): A, B, C, D, F, J, P, U, Y, Z
- Turkish (TK): C, D
I’m not entirely sure I buy that it was a mistake, particularly given how often they changed things around right when the initial announcement was made for the new program. Still, in a rather unprecedented move, the company has agreed to honor previously ticketed flights at the old earning rates:
We realize that some of you booked flights on these partners prior to Jan. 1 and were expecting the higher PQM/PQS earnings. In this particular case, given the circumstances, we will honor the higher rates regardless of your travel date. There are a few complexities involved with posting miles at the higher rates, so please bear with us. Specifically, if you booked your ticket through United, we will proactively adjust amounts after their initial posting (typically within a few days of when the original flight is credited). However, if you booked through someone other than United (like another airline or travel agency), you will have to contact the MileagePlus Service Center after your miles have initially posted in order to make the adjustment.
This will actually net me a few extra miles on my upcoming Bangkok-Haneda flight on Thai Airways so I’m pretty happy about that.
UPDATE: This is a MUCH more broad devaluation of the MileagePlus program covering premium fares on 9 different partners. I’ve written a new post with all the details here.
I’m using the term "fixes" loosely here as it is a dramatic downgrade to the charts. Still, it is almost certainly what they meant the chart to be when it was initially released. I commented at one point about how generous it was – most fares earned 150% credit, even in economy – and it still took nearly 10 months to get it fixed. Yeah, the cuts suck, but they should be all that surprising. Here’s what the new rates look like:
Under the old chart everything Q or higher earned 150% PQMs. Such is life, I suppose.
The calculators over at Wandering Aramean Travel Tools have been updated with the new rates.
Quick update: Looks like more than just South African have been affected. Not clear yet whether this is an across-the-board devaluation or just an over-zealous website edit. Hopefully some better answers in a few hours; it is late in Chicago right now.
A little while back I wrote about the potential earning rates for United Airlines’ partner carriers when crediting to the new MileagePlus program. At the time the numbers were unofficial since the site they were published on wasn’t really in production. Since then, however, the site has gone live and the numbers are real. In most cases the rates stayed the same as pre-release though some have changed. There are definitely some where the correct data is still not available and even some where no data is available. Still, it is all we’ve got to work with. I’ve incorporated the new rates (at least the ones which exist) into the various calculators on the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site. I’ve also detailed some of the more interesting bits in the numbers below.
TAM and Taca
Most surprising on the partner charts is that there are still some which are completely empty. Neither the TAM nor Taca partner pages are showing any details right now for earning rates. I’d surmise that they’re crediting based on the rates prior to the changeover but that’s really just a guess.
Aegean and Ethiopian
These two carriers had premium fares showing better than 100% EQM earnings in the pre-release pages. That is no longer the case. All fares earn, at most, 100% EQMs now.
Thai and LOT
Both Thai and LOT saw upgrades on the earning rates for EQMs on premium fares, unlike Aegean and Ethiopian. In the case of Thai the award mile earning rates on those fares also increased.
South African and ANA
Of all the programs where the numbers may or may not be correct, these two are the ones that are screaming at me that things are a mess. Here’s the chart for SAA:
That’s a whole lot of fares with 150% EQM earnings, especially in the economy category. Also, the 1 PQP against 50% PQM bit is particularly unusual, and this is the only place in the charts that I’ve seen such.
For ANA, there are two charts, one for flights covered by the Anti-trust immunity agreement and another for all other flights. For the ATI-covered flights, the EQM/PQM numbers look reasonably normal but the award miles earning rates are a bit strange. It seems highly unlikely that the economy and discount economy fares are supposed to be earning at 125%.
So the charts are updated and things are becoming more clear in terms of the partner earning rates. But there are still a bunch of open questions, bits that need answers from the company. And the answers don’t seem to be forthcoming.
JetBlue and interline partner South African Airways have come up with a rather interesting promotion for earning points in the TrueBlue program this month. They’re letting passengers double dip on points earnings for a limited time, netting 10,000 TrueBlue points in addition to the regular points the route would earn on South African. The rules are reasonably simple: Book by 20 January and travel by 31 March. Fill out the web form after the trip and you should score the TrueBlue points.
There is also a contest to win two "free" tickets to South Africa, but I’m not as convinced of the value there. There are blackout dates, which is fine, but the winner is responsible for all fuel surcharges on the winning, which is pretty crappy, especially considering that they are still "subject to seat availability" as well.
I wouldn’t go out of my way to book a trip just for the TrueBlue points, but if you’re buying and flying inside the promo dates anyways there’s definitely nothing wrong with 10,000 free TrueBlue points.
See http://flysaausa.com/jetblue/ for all the fine print.
As 2011 comes to a close it is time once again to look back at all the crazy I’ve managed to experience in such a short period of time. This was once again a banner year for me, with plenty of new experiences. It also had a number of repeats, however, and those were mostly good, too. And so, without further ado, some of the highlights of my 2011 travel numbers.
It was a personal best for me in terms of total miles flown at 217,781. That is more than eight times around the globe (though I only did that as an actual trip once) or 87% of the way to the moon. The miles were spread across 103 segments for an average of over 2100 miles/flight; apparently this was the year of long-haul for me. That said, I also managed to grab some really short flights, like a 93 mile hop from Carlsbad, CA to Los Angeles. Awesome views of sunrise on that one.
It was also the year of one million actual flight miles. I actually know there are many more from other trips as a kid that I cannot properly document so I’m not counting them, but I definitely became a millionaire this year.
Of the 104 segments there were 54 routes I had previously not flown. There were also 54 in coach. That’s right, more than half the flights (though only 47% of the total miles flown) were in coach. It isn’t always champagne and caviar for me, though there is plenty of that, too. Oh, and only 5 of those segments were work-related, making up less than 1% of the total mileage flown. Only 19 of the flights were on regional planes of fewer than 90 seats.
Speaking of airplanes, I flew on 33 different aircraft types, including 7 I had not previously flown on. I finally got to fly on an A380 (though I had been on one a few times prior) and I got to fly the 787 in its first week of commercial service. I also got the A345 and A342, a Dash8-100 and an E35, completing my collection of all the Embraer RJs. That’s something of an ignominious accomplishment, but there it is.
I flew on 17 different carriers, of which 5 were new to me. SriLankan, AirOne, South African, ANA, Austrian and Alaska Airlines were the new ones and all but AirOne were quite pleasant.
As for where I traveled, there weren’t as many new countries for me this year – only 7 – as last. Austria, South Africa, Mauritius, China, Brazil, Argentina and Sri Lanka are the new entries in that collection, bringing my total number over 50. I managed to enter a foreign country 20 times through the year, plus all the returns to the USA. No wonder I needed extra pages in my passport. Again. Two of the trips had 3 countries in them; I’ll best that mark early in 2012 with a six-crossing week in January.
Perhaps the most surprising number to me, however, was the total spend I had in consular fees. I paid for new pages for my passport and for my wife. There were also the visas required for India, China, Brazil and Argentina (though I ended up getting out of that last one). Overall I spent nearly $1,000 on consular fees alone. No regrets there at all, but the numbers can add up in a hurry.
I didn’t count how many nights were in hotels or on airplanes (something to add to my list next year, I suppose) but my best guess count based on my TripIt records is nearly 100 nights spent not at home.
There was a trip derailed by an earthquake (I ended up in Guam/Hong Kong instead of Tokyo) and then two more trips later in the year to Tokyo to make up for it. I had an airline try to charge me more while at the gate and I managed to take a VDB in a foreign language. I got to drive a jet bridge, load baggage, make boarding announcements and walk a plane out on pushback (all appropriately supervised, of course).
I got to join three different couples in celebrating their weddings all over the world and narrowly missed out on crashing a couple more wedding parties here in India towards the end. I got to relive a bit of history with TWA and a ride in a helicopter over the tip of South Africa.
I saw penguins, went diving in the Pacific and pet an elephant in India. There were also giraffes, cheetahs and antelopes. Plenty of wild in my life.
Indeed, it was a good year, maybe even a great year. And 2012 shows no signs of that letting up. Happy new year to all; may your upgrades clear and your flights on time.
Yes, it was only 9am local time when I walked into your bar an ordered a pilsner (and a water). Yes, I was the only person drinking in the lounge at that hour.
Yes, I am ridiculous.
Still, you shouldn’t judge me. You don’t know what time zone my brain was on at the time (yours, sadly) or whether I have a real problem or am just thirsty. You don’t even know if yours was the first beer I consumed that day (it wasn’t).
All I’m saying is that when I pass through a lounge, I might not be so normal. Actually, I know I’m not so normal. Still, don’t judge me. After all, I really do like beer.
Also, thank you for singing "Easy like Sunday morning" to me as you served said beer. I had, in fact, forgotten what day it was. No, really, I had no idea.
A couple weeks ago on my jaunt to Mauritius I had the great pleasure of flying on South African Airways, with one minor exception: they demanded $300 extra from me at departure to keep flights scheduled around my originally booked times following a schedule change that they initiated. Both twitter and this blog got their attention but the initial email conversations I had with them didn’t get very far and they stood their ground, insisting that it was my problem not theirs. Fortunately time heals some wounds, or at least give folks the chance to reconsider bad decisions. I’m happy to say that they have come full circle on this issue and acknowledged their error.
I received a call from a SAA representative late last week informing me of the good news and apologizing for the confusion. It was a nice chat and I’m glad that we had the opportunity to discuss the issue. The explanation given for why it happened in the first place was a bit weak, particularly given the specific details of the case, but in the long run it is the end results that matter and I got what I should have. It is somewhat disappointing that someone from the public relations side of the house had to “escalate the issue several levels within the organization” just to do what is right, especially when the customer service folks didn’t seem very interested at all. I’m sure the fact that American Express had initially sided with me in the charge dispute didn’t hurt my claim either.
Based on this turnabout on their part and the quality service I received in-flight I’m no longer hesitant to recommend flying with SAA. The product is one of the better long-haul economy experiences I’ve had and, so long as there isn’t a schedule change or you don’t need to deal with the airport agents too much, it really is a decent way to travel. Plus, I get to experience them again – in Business Class this time – on an upcoming award trip. Should be fun.
It was the best of flights, it was the worst of ground service. The seat was good, getting it was miserable.The fare was phenomenal, the extortion was unconscionable. Yes, indeed, my experience flying long-haul on South African Airways was very much a study in contrasts.
The trip was relatively simple, if not entirely too short. I was flying from Washington’s Dulles airport to Johannesburg (via Dakar) on the outbound and returning to New York City‘s JFK (also via Dakar) on the return. For those keeping score at home that’s roughly 36 hours on the airplane total, and that doesn’t include the side-trip to Mauritius which, at only 4 hours each way, is a separate short-haul report. Yeah, I’m crazy.
Putting aside the problems with the ticket, the ground handling at Dulles and Jo’burg was pretty bad. Generally they do not assign the exit row seats in advance of the day of departure. These seats also happen to have unlimited legroom and are rather coveted for the ease of getting in and out without bothering your seatmate and the general comfort provided. Of course I wanted one. So I asked. Actually, first I checked the seat maps to make sure they were still available and then I asked. First I was outright told that they were already assigned. No, they aren’t. Oh, well we can hold your boarding pass and let you know.
I headed off to the lounge (Lufthansa Senator lounge in Dulles – quite nice!) and then back to the gate. Still no seats "available" even though they were still unassigned. And then they assigned one to some other random guy who walked up and asked. Yet I still couldn’t have one?!?! I persisted and got it eventually, but it was rather annoying.
On the return trip it was more of the same, with alternating reports of the seat being assigned, blocked, under airport control, under gate control and otherwise not available to me. Imaging my surprise when half way through the Jo’burg – Dakar segment I walked back and saw the seat open. Thanks for nothing, gate agents.
The crew in-flight, however, was the complete opposite. They were incredibly on the 3 segments I interacted with them (I slept the whole last segment). On one flight my seat-mate and I started chatting about the wonderful South Africa wines and the choices available on the flight. As the FA passed by to take drink orders before dinner I was having trouble making up my mind. When I mentioned my predicament, as well as my concern that the order needed to last all the way through dinner, he simply smiled, reached his hands into the cart and came out with one of everything for me. Yeah, that was nice.
The food on the flights was surprisingly good as well. There aren’t as many meals as I’ve become used to with my US – Europe flights, which is to say there was no breakfast on the eastbound redeye nor a second meal on the northbound JNB-DKR segment. I appreciated that for the first one: no need to wake up extra early when the flight is already barely long enough to get any sleep. On the return I could’ve used a bit more food near the end of the flight but they did have some snacks available in the galley so it wasn’t all bad.
I mostly ordered the lamb rather than the chicken or fish options. Seemed somewhat a safer bet. The meat was moist, not over-cooked and actually had flavor to it. I was quite surprised. Sure, it looks like most every other coach airline meal I’ve ever photographed, but it was surprisingly tasty.
The breakfasts offered (one on the DKR-JNB route and one just before arrival into JFK) were OK, too. Definitely slightly different flavors – like why were the apple-filled "pancakes" in a strawberry sauce – but overall quite reasonable. Even better is that they actually came with sides, like a yogurt, fresh fruit and a croissant. They were much more filling than I’m used to for a redeye breakfast.
The in-flight entertainment system is pretty nice, though it was also out of service on one of the segments. Rather than ads on their in-flight map they show tips about staying healthy during the trip using animations similar to the awesome guy they have in the safety demo video. When the AVOD is working the selection is rather impressive and the functionality is pretty sweet. And they have a handset controller so no one is tapping the back of your seat all flight long.
Overall I’m reasonably convinced that the good outweighed the bad, but there will always be a little worry in the back of my mind wondering if it is worth the risk to book with them; after all, paying hundreds of dollars more than expected at the departure airport isn’t high on my list of acceptable travel surprises. But in the end they’re the most direct path to Southern Africa and beyond and the in-flight experience is pretty solid.
Now about that $305 they owe me….
Last week I took a quick jaunt over to South Africa and Mauritius. The trip overall was great and I’ll be sharing plenty from it in the coming days, but there is one part that I’m still struggling to comprehend: On the day of departure I was told by South African Airways (“SAA”) that I was on the hook for hundreds of dollars in additional costs in order to make my trip.
The problem stemmed from a schedule change that SAA instituted. Schedule changes happen; I get that. The amazing thing to me in this case was that the airline chose to disavow all responsibility for accommodations when they made the change. If I wanted to travel I was on the hook for all costs associated with their change. This was apparently non-negotiable.
I was notified of the change only 4 days prior to departure. Two of those days were the weekend when apparently no changes could be made to the ticket because their support group was closed. By the time that desk opened up and I was able to get through we were basically inside 24 hours to departure so changes could only be handled at the airport. Knowing that it would be a mess I got to the airport early – 5 hours early – to deal with an agent and try to resolve the issue.
Their first offer was that we could fly standby on an earlier flight out the same departure day. We wouldn’t know if it had cleared (“Oh, just call back to the USA and check up on it”) and it would involve leaving 7 hours earlier than planned. Losing the only day I was to spend in Mauritius was not particularly appealing and the fact that it was standby made that option unacceptable.
Or we could take the original (now hour later) booked flight and spend the night in Johannesburg before continuing home, arriving 24 hours later. The costs for the additional time spent in Jo’burg would be solely mine; they would not assist with hotel costs at all. Despite the change being of their doing.
I suggested alternate routings, mostly on SAA and also using Star Alliance partners. Absolutely impossible was their reply as I would be changing the routing on the trip. Never mind that the change was required by their scheduling.
Ultimately their offer was that they would sell me a seat on a British Airways/Comair flight from Mauritius to Jo’burg that just happened to be at the same time as the SAA flight was originally booked. For just $305 I could actually keep my original itinerary. It was borderline extortion at the airport and I had no problem claiming that to them. Sadly, however, we were now 2+ hours into the discussion and it was time to get checked in and start the trip. I paid the $305, collected my re-issued ticket and began the journey.
Once I made the extortion on Twitter I managed to rouse some other folks in their customer service group. This started a string of emails that appeared to hold promise. That appearance was apparently a mirage as nothing positive came from the conversations. Some choice comments from their position include:
Understandably, our industry’s revenue environment has permanently changed, and we must operate our airline accordingly…. Please know I will be sharing your feedback with our Network Planning and Analysis leadership teams for their future consideration and internal review.
OK…so you’ll file a paper on it and in the meantime I’m still out $305. Thanks for nothing. The emails continued a few more times and the only assurances I received were that they really cared about me as a customer and that they “treat any report of customer dissatisfaction very seriously.” Apparently not seriously enough to actually make the customer whole, however.
There were a few more emails and I’m glad that they took the time to respond. I would have been much more impressed, however, had they acknowledged that they were actually at fault rather than leaving me on the hook for hundreds of dollars in costs.
The in-flight service was top-notch and I would have no qualms about recommending SAA in that regard. But the ground handling was abysmal and the nasty surprise of being charged $305 extra at the airport for a ticket that was previously fully paid and confirmed was unconscionable. Such a surprise on the day of travel is not the way customers should be treated.
It is going to take a lot to convince me to try SAA again. Sad, because the product really is quite pleasant.
UPDATE (4 April 2011): Well, SAA finally realized the error of their ways. I got my money back!