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:
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.
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.
What I originally thought was just a “fixing” of an obviously overly generous set of elite status earning rules from United Airlines‘ MileagePlus program on partner South African Airways appears now to be a massive change in earning rates for the new year. More than 70 different fare classes across at least 9 partners are affected by these changes. And in every case it is the premium fares – first, business, premium economy and full-fare economy – which are seeing the elite earning rates cut. When the new rules came out for MileagePlus in 2012 there was a rather generous upgrade in earning rates for premium cabins on many partners. Apparently United has decided they were being too generous and they’ve now cut back significantly.
In addition to the previously identified cuts for South African noted here the following fare classes now all earn only 100% of the miles flown towards elite qualification, down generally from 150%:
- Thai Airways: J, P, U, Y, Z, A, B, C, D,F
- Singapore Air: R, S, Y, Z, A, C, D, F, J, P
- TAP Air Portugal: B, C, D, J, Y, Z
- TAM: A, C, D, F, J , Y, Z
- LOT: A, B, C, D, P, Y, Z
- Croatia Airlines: A, B, C, D, F, Y, Z
- Air New Zealand: A, B, C, D, E, J, O, U,Y, Z (now showing only 100% again)
- EgyptAir: A, B, C, D, F, J, Y, Z
- South African Airways: J, C, D, Z, Y, B, M, H K, S, Q
These changes came without notification from the carrier, either through traditional means or through the online communities they have employees participating in. Quite unfortunate at many levels.
Also add in:
- Avianca: C, D, J
- Asiana: A, B, C, D, F, J, Y, Z
Some benefits of an airline elite program are used more often than others. Some are more valuable than others. And some are ripe for seemingly excessive overuse. It is one in this last category that I love the most and which I get the greatest value from: Free changes on award tickets.
I book award tickets all the time as a hedge against revenue tickets I might book in the future or to ensure access to flights which I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford (both the LH 747-8i inaugural and the UA HNL-IAD inaugural were awards for me). I also book them for vacations with my wife, and those are some which see the most changes. That’s where I really start to see crazy value from this benefit.
I book speculative seats and then hope better options open up. I set up alerts to monitor the award inventory and when the alerts trigger, the change machine goes into action. I’ve only made three changes so far to our itinerary for this summer, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if another came along.
The planning started when I booked the outbound segments, New York City to Vienna to L’viv. It was close to the date we wanted and we knew we wanted to visit Ukraine so how bad could it be? Sadly, however, I didn’t have sufficient points to book the return so I was stuck with just a one-way award at that time.
A couple months later the first change came along. I finally had sufficient points to redeem for the return portion of the trip. Of course, the return segment I really wanted – Frankfurt to Orlando – no longer had award inventory. I could get TAP Air Portugal from Lisbon to Miami, however, and that got us within a few hours’ drive of where we wanted to be so I snagged it. At least we were in the right state.
Booking that part also involved a bit of a fight with the agents as they really didn’t want to allow my double open-jaw plus stopover award routing. Yeah, I stretch it to the limits, but it is within the published rules. Eventually I won the battle, but it took quite some time. Ironic, considering the third change.
Change two came about when the award seats into Orlando opened back up. Definitely what we actually wanted, plus it switched our return to route via Vienna where we’d have an overnight stop for about 18 hours, much better than the 10 hour overnight in Lisbon. As an added bonus we’ve got a friend in Vienna so we get dinner with a familiar face mid-vacation. And, once again, I had to fight the agents on the award rules and once again I prevailed.
And then, this afternoon, a bunch more alert emails rolled in. We’d been hoping to start the trip a couple days earlier but the inventory just wasn’t there. It showed up today in force. All of a sudden getting across the Pond in business class was reasonably trivial. We had our choice of dates in the desired week and we took full advantage, adding an extra four days to the trip.
And I’m not completely done yet. I’ve still got my eye on one or two more improvements which I’m betting will open up eventually. I would have liked to try Austrian and TAP, but traveling on the right dates and to the right cities outweighs that curiosity for me. Ditto for the new Brussels Air product which is available, but the connection in Brussels is just a smidgen too short. Such is life.
As for the irony mentioned above, it turns out that I really didn’t need the double open-jaw after all. So all that time spent with the agents explaining to them how the rules of their program work was essentially wasted. Oops.
There are lots of different benefits to the elite programs with the airlines, but this one saved me several hundred dollars and got me MUCH better awards than I would have otherwise been able to score. That’s definitely the best value in the program for me.
Ethiopian Airlines became the third African carrier to join the Star Alliance network this week, growing the alliance to 28 carriers. Of those 28, 16 provide service to Africa, covering 110 airports in 48 countries. The move also integrates Ethiopian into the fare and award products, though some integration on fare products won’t occur until January 2012.
The move also integrates the carrier into frequent flier earning across the alliance. Thus far I’ve seen earing details for Asiana, Continental, United Airlines, Turkish, TAP Air Portugal, Air Canada, Lufthansa‘s Miles & More and Agean Airlines. Those earning rates have been incorporated into the calculators on the Travel Tools site. Generally speaking most of the carriers are providing 100% earning rates for all economy fares and a bonus for business class fares. Full details about the rates can be found on the Travel Tools Update here.