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the concern expressed Competition for competition in the aviation industry, particularly in rural areas, when bonus ban repealed.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.
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.
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:
The only surprise in today’s announcement from TAM that they will officially be moving from Star Alliance to oneworld in 2014 is that there is finally a date behind the change. Sortof. The company has set a target for the move in the second quarter of 2014 but still does not have a specific date. They expect to announce that later date, well, later. The shift was virtually guaranteed by the merger of TAM with LAN, as well as the merger between TACA and Avianca; authorities indicated that both groups could not be in the same alliance.
This move consolidates much of the South American market into the oneworld alliance. With the impending American Airlines/US Airways merger it also shifts much of the traffic between the Americas into oneworld. In other news out today, Finnair is seeking to join the ATI-protected joint venture for transatlantic travel currently composed of American, British Airways and Iberia. No real surprise there, either, and it seems unlikely that there will be much in the way of objections to that move.
Oneworld is seeing big gains these days, both through mergers and through natural growth in the Middle East and South Asia. While the mergers overall are reducing competition shifts like this do seem to balance out the alliance competition levels a bit, even if some of the markets become near-monopolies.
TAM has provided a FAQ here which doesn’t have a ton of details. The press release from oneworld has a few more bits to it.
PS- Here is the obligatory, "don’t worry, your points are all fine" comment because inevitably someone will ask. It is at least a year yet before anything changes.
The partnership between Virgin America and Singapore Air has deepened with the announcement this week of frequent flyer reciprocity between the two programs. Members in both programs will be able to earn and redeem points for flights on the partner. Virgin America is celebrating by offering 500 free points to all their members. Mostly great news, really, though the devil is in the details.
For Virgin America’s Elevate members the earning rates for Singapore Air-operated flights are pretty meager:
Yes, I get that Elevate is a revenue-based program rather than a distance-based one so the 1:1 ratio doesn’t necessarily line up perfectly. But a 70% earning rate for paid Suites cabin travel is pretty darn low. A paid business class ticket from San Francisco to Singapore will net 4,220 points or roughly $100 in Elevate credit. That same flight will earn between 10,000 and 17,000 points when credited to a Star Alliance partner of Singapore Air; it is hard to value that at less than the $100 Elevate is offering and quite easy to do better than the $100 level.
Redeeming Elevate points for travel on Singapore Air is similarly challenging. A return trip in business class on SFO-SIN rings in at 95,000 points. Just over 22 round trip flights will net you enough points to redeem for one. That’s roughly double the rate required from most other Singapore Air partners.
For short-haul redemptions in SE Asia, however, the Elevate option may be a reasonable one. Singapore to Bangkok is only 6,000 points and $46 in taxes/fees for a return trip in economy; it is 13,000 in business. That’s roughly $200-350 worth of points and fees. The next closest I can find is 20,000 from ANA or 25,000 points from a host of other carriers for an economy class ticket. Redeeming Elevate points would be a win there, at least compared to the other programs. Or you can look at is as a paid business class SFO-SIN gets you a free economy onward to Bangkok at some later point. Not necessarily the best deal but not completely awful either. And with 136 new routes now available plenty of opportunity to suss out the deals. Just don’t expect a lot of premium cabin inventory to show up, especially on long-haul routes.
For Singapore Air’s KrisFlyer members earning on Virgin American-operated flights actually looks like a pretty good deal. The accrual rates are a minimum of 100% of the miles flown with a 50% bonus for C, D and J class tickets. No bonus for Main Cabin Select but that’s not too surprising. The redemption rates on Virgin America metal are a bit complex, and not particularly great (40K for transcon return in economy) but there is an option for Main Cabin Select redemption if you’re in to that. It is not clear what fare bucket the awards come out of so access to the seats may be limited.
Overall this is a solid partnership, especially for KrisFlyer members. And there are even a few gems in there for the Elevate members, too.
If you’re surprised about the impending announcement expected Thursday morning of a merger between US Airways and American Airlines then perhaps you should get out more. It has been the talk of the industry pretty much since American filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection over a year ago. And now the speculation about when they will merge can end, replaced with even better speculation about what will happen to the merged carrier.
We know a few things, or at least we’re pretty sure. Doug Parker will be in charge; Tom Horton will be a non-executive Chairman and will be paid handsomely for bringing the company almost out of bankruptcy. The carrier will keep the American Airlines name, brand and Texas headquarters. They will remain in the oneworld alliance and keep AAdvantage as their loyalty program. No surprises there.
But what about the things we don’t know?
- What happens to the Alaska Airlines partnership, for example? Especially considering the recent announcement of an even tighter partnership.
- When will Dividend Miles be rolled in to the AAdvantage program and which program rules will they keep. The two are plenty different and there are plenty of reasons both sides will lobby to keep theirs.
- Which hubs get shut down?
- Will they ever figure out how to expand into Asia and Europe in a sizable way without depending on partners?
- Which PSS will they choose? American has been looking to get a new one for some time now; will they use the merger as the impetus to replace both systems with something brand new?
- How long until the extensive short-haul network US Airways operates on the east coast can be redeemed for tiny amounts of Avios?
- Just how badly will consumers get screwed with less competition and higher fares?
Oh, and perhaps the biggest question of them all: Will Doug’s plan to use the AA unions to out-vote the US and HP unions and end their integration woes actually work?
In the meantime, make sure you look at a status match to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program, just in case. And now is probably a good time to pick up a US Airways credit card if you haven’t lately. Getting an extra 40,000 points in the combined program isn’t a bad thing.
Definitely going to be fun to watch over the coming months, more so than watching the speculation about when the merger was going to happen.
I woke up this past Sunday morning and was perusing my Twitter feed (you are following me there, right??) when I came across an interesting tweet from @MileValue. In short, he was frustrated at the apparent lack of award space from Sao Paulo to Europe. If the rumors are to be believed, it is simply impossible. And so he put out a challenge:
Given nothing better to do, I unleashed the power of my Star Alliance Award Search tool on the challenge. I loaded up all three routes and every day from February 15 through December 31, 2013. Then I went and got brunch and came back to check on the results. It seems that @MileValue was sortof correct. Looking through the results there were not a ton of dates with premium cabin seats available on the TAM-operated flights. Inventory was surprisingly wide open for GRU-Madrid between June 27 – August 1, but not much else. At that point I basically walked away from the project, knowing that there was some space but not a ton.
But today I’m sitting in a jury duty waiting room, desperately hoping to not be picked and I needed something to do so I’m looking over the data in more detail. Filtering for only flights offering business or first class (the initial challenge was any seat in any cabin) availability, looking at all carriers and all European gateways I came up with more than 350 options. And that’s even after excluding the phantom F inventory from Lufthansa. It turns out that perhaps we were asking the wrong question on Sunday.
Nearly 200 flights have first class inventory and more than 250 have business class (about 100 have both). Not every carrier is always available. Neither is every gateway. But there are a lot of dates available from May through December. TAM is only available from mid-May through July but other carriers have broader options. And TAM also has their Milan and Paris flights showing quite a few dates available. The raw(-ish) data is here.
If I limit the results only to economy class flights there are more than 600 route/date combinations with seats available. Milan, Paris and Madrid are, again, the most commonly available destinations but Barcelona, Munich, Zurich, Lisbon and even Porto show up somewhat regularly as available. Oh, and I’m not including the various options which involved transiting Buenos Aires, Mexico City or various North American gateways. Those would add a lot more flight options.
This is just a point in time snapshot of the inventory. I have no idea how much is still available today. And obviously this doesn’t mean that there is always a flight available when you are looking. Maybe getting that award will require an extra connection or moving a day or two for finding seats. But don’t be dissuaded by rumors of destinations supposedly impossible to get award seats into or out of. Turns out the seats are more available than you might think.
Anyone have another route or city they’re interested in seeing a compilation of data on? Turns out these aren’t all that hard to generate, though I do have to be a bit careful about the number of queries I’m running.
It isn’t quite a new carrier and it isn’t quite a discount carrier. It won’t involve service to new destinations and it won’t really alter the way flights are sold. Air Canada‘s new Rouge operation is launching in 2013 and there will be changes but probably not enough to help the airline-within-an-airline model succeed. Rouge is targeting leisure routes. There will be 13 destinations covered by the rouge service including three in Europe and ten so-called "Sun" destinations. The rouge fleet is small – only 4 aircraft – so most destinations will apparently not be served daily.
The infrequent service is unfortunate in some respects but it makes a bit of sense for leisure markets where there is limited demand. There are several other aspects of the service which also speak to the limited amenities associated with leisure/LCC operations. Most in-flight services will be on a paid basis. Meals will be complimentary on flights to and from Europe but the Sun routes will be buy-on-board for everything. The in-flight entertainment systems will take advantage of newer streaming media options, saving the company money. But passengers are likely going to be paying to access that content; full details on the price and systems are not yet available. Oh, and no in-seat power will be provided so hopefully the tablet, phone or laptop batteries are fully charged and long-lasting.
Where Air Canada is really cutting away at the value, however, is in the integration with their Aeroplan frequent flier program. Rather than offering earning based on the distance flown routes operated under the rouge brand will earn a fixed number of points based on the fare paid. And the earning rates are not at all pretty.
Flying a cheap fare from Toronto to Athens on rouge will net most passengers fewer than 1000 points. That same trip flown on Air Canada and other partners would net 10,000 points or more. Certainly for the very occasional traveler those accrual numbers don’t necessarily matter; there is a good chance they’d never get good value out of the 10,000 points either. But the skewing of the rates is rather severe.
Also potentially confusing is that, because it isn’t really a separate operation, the rouge flights are mixed in with the regular search results on the Air Canada site. Here’s what a search from Toronto to Athens looks like:
There is no indication that the direct flight, saving around 3 hours of travel time, comes with distinctly different services, both in-flight and on the ground. Hovering the mouse over the fare names at the top gives some additional details but not all of them. Once the flight is selected there are some additional details offered:
Still, the mixed levels of service have the potential to be rather confusing to customers.
Also, it is not clear how these flights will register with Air Canada’s Star Alliance partners. That could lead to even more customer frustration. Air Canada has confirmed that the flights will still be considered Star Alliance-operated with respect to partner benefits. So in many ways these are way better for customers of Air Canada’s partners than for Air Canada’s direct customers:
Air Canada is facing stiff competition from lower cost competitors, including Air Transat and WestJet, competitors which have a similarly limited offering to the new rouge services. But for those competitors there is no confusion amongst the customers; all the service is at that same level. And, at the end of the day, meeting the expectations of customers is more important that having the best product in the market. Air Canada is creating quite the opportunity for such confusion, a move which may ultimately prove to be the downfall of rouge.
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.
Seeking greater access for their customers into mainland China markets, Air New Zealand announced an agreement with Cathay Pacific to launch a strategic agreement in December 2012. The two carriers will coordinate their schedules for service between Auckland and Hong Kong, including code-sharing on flights. Additionally, connections to mainland China on Cathay will be coordinated with the Air New Zealand schedule, allowing better access to those markets for the Kiwis. The partnership will include reciprocity on frequent flyer points earning and elite status benefits, including lounge access and other priority services.
At the same time, Air New Zealand has announced that they will be dropping service between London and Hong Kong as of March 2013. The carrier will redeploy much of that capacity on flights to North America. Long-haul markets have been a sore spot for the carrier’s profitability in recent years and, according to CEO Rob Fyfe, the Hong Kong – London route showed no signs of reversing that trend anytime soon.
Of significant note in the new partnership is that the two carriers belong to separate global alliances. Cathay is a founding member of oneworld and Air New Zealand is a member of Star Alliance. Despite participating in different alliances the two carriers have managed to establish a bilateral agreement which should prove beneficial to their respective customers. Just another example of partnerships growing outside of the alliances. And these new partnerships, for the most part, work in favor of the customers.