Visitors to Cambodia and Thailand will have an easier time crossing the border in the near future, thanks to a historic agreement by the two nations to cooperate on issuing visas. The announcement this week is the first major tourism-focused cooperation implemented under the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy representing Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The other three nations are not yet participating in the common visa scheme.
Nationals of 35 countries will be able to apply for a single visa at either the Cambodian or Thai embassy and, upon approval, will be permitted access to each country for up to 60 days. That’s an increase over the default of 30 for US citizens as well as those of many other countries.
With just Cambodia and Thailand participating this isn’t a as huge an opportunity as it could be. Visa requirements for Myanmar and Vietnam are much more arduous for US citizens and this sort of cooperative visa could significantly ease that burden. And considering I’m on a plane right now headed that direction having gone through the visa application process I’d certainly appreciate the more streamlined process.
Like they do every year, Starwood has assessed the award category rating of their hotels and made changes to a number of the properties. A total of 658 properties are changing their award level. Of those, 287 will be at a lower rate while 371 are seeing their award level increase.
A quick scan through the list doesn’t reveal too many surprises, though there are some interesting trends in the numbers. Nearly every property in New York City is moving up a level, for example. This trend covers everything from the Aloft in Harlem (3->4) to three of the Four Points properties becoming Category 5 hotels and Ws becoming Category 6. Across the river in New Jersey doesn’t find you much salvation; those properties are increasing a category, too.
China is also seeing significant appreciation in award costs with 58 properties increasing one level while 16 are decreasing. Thailand goes the other direction with several properties becoming cheaper while only one gets a bump up.
Nothing particularly shocking or egregious in my initial scan of the list, though I’m sure I’ll be informed of something I missed as folks scour it more closely. Check out the list here (PDF).
Thai Airways has announced the end of their non-stop service between Thailand and the United States. The flights will be reduced from the current daily service to 5x weekly on February 1 and will shift to one-stop service via Seoul starting in May. At that time the route will also shift from the gas-guzzling Airbus A345,
the only plane flying today with the range to make the non-stop trip (Update: I forgot the 772LR can make it, but TG doesn’t have any), to a Boeing 777-200ER, which has lower fuel burn rates but also a much more limited range. This new flight schedule will only operate 4x weekly. Additionally, the change means no more premium economy product on the route as the carrier’s Boeing aircraft are not configured with that seating. The connection will also increase the travel time between Los Angeles and Bangkok by approximately 2 hours each direction.
This move doesn’t come as too much of a surprise given the trend in jet fuel prices, but it is still somewhat disappointing to see the option disappear. Then again, when I flew it last July I wasn’t particularly impressed with either the hard or soft products on board. And that was in business class. So maybe it is for the best that it is going away.
If you’ve got a ticket booked on TG 794/795 now would be a pretty good time to call the carrier and get that straightened out.
I’ve been working lately on cobbling together a rather ridiculous series of flights for our winter vacation this year. The plan is mostly South Asia, focusing on the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka, plus a quick stop in Bangkok on the way home. At least that’s the theory.
Initially I booked the trip using points for award travel round-trip between New York City and India. Since then the itinerary has morphed a bit so I’ll be changing things up (thank goodness for free award changes as an elite!) but I actually need to get a couple of the tickets purchased in order to make those changes, just in case. And it is proving incredibly difficult to buy at least one of the tickets.
If you had asked me a month ago, before I started all of this, I would have bet that the ticket on Sri Lankan would have been the hard one to acquire. I would have lost that bet. The transaction with them was smooth as could be, handled fully online and it was only a couple days later that American Express called to make sure that I really was buying a couple one way flights from Colombo to Bangkok in early January. It wasn’t even a big enough risk for them to call immediately.
Buying the flight from Bangkok to JFK on EgyptAir, however, is proving to be a ridiculous mess. I started with their website which looks pretty slick, at least for the flight selection search bits. It showed the fare I had seen otherwise online (about $150 less for each ticket than any other channel) and I went through the long process of entering in all our personal data to book the flight. At the final payment screen, however, the transaction was denied. Repeatedly.
My first call was to Visa to make sure my card was OK. It wasn’t, but they cleared that up. Waiting two hours didn’t help; still denied. Another 24 hours later and still denied. Even more strange, however, was that the credit card company didn’t even show the most recent transactions. It is as if EgyptAir never even tried to authorize the card; they just rejected the transaction. It took a couple calls but eventually I got in touch with someone in the EgyptAir ticketing office in New York to try to process the transaction. The first agent saw the reservation and the price I was quoted online. She transferred me to another agent to handle the transaction who promptly informed me that the fare was $300 higher. Ugggh.
So long as I was not going to get the discounted fare I figured I’d try to get some other value for the transaction. American Express offers bonus Membership Rewards points for travel booked through their portal so why not give that a go, right? Apparently their system is not robust enough to handle selling a one-way ticket in business class from Bangkok to New York City:
That’s is simply ludicrous, especially considering that probably a dozen airlines or more offer service on that route with a single connection.
And so I’m essentially left with a bevy of third party online travel agencies through which I can try to book the flight, but now I’m faced with wading through their differing fares and service fees to find the right price. Plus I’m stuck with dealing with one of them for service going forward rather than dealing with the airline directly. What a mess.
It shouldn’t be this complicated to spend money on a plane ticket.
Los Angeles to Bangkok – non-stop on Thai Airways – seemed like a good idea at the time.Yes, the flight is blocked at just over 17 hours, making it one of the longest commercial flights in operation. But I’ve flown other very long flights previously, several times in coach, and I’ve survived all of them and even enjoyed some of them. Yes, I knew going in that the seats in use on the Airbus A340-500 are not the most comfortable. Still, business class for that long a journey should be pleasant enough, right? And, yes, it meant a 14 hour travel day just to get to the point where I could start the trip. But that was worth it for the joys of making the super long flight, putting the cool line on my flight history map, right?
Boarding for the flight was conducted via one of the bus gates at LAX’s TBIT terminal. This is the first time I’ve ever had a departure from the terminal and I was rather surprised just how awful the experience was. Not nearly enough seats for the number of passengers boarding, overlapping announcements that confused pretty much everyone and nothing resembling proper amenities once you got out to the bus area. Pretty pathetic for a major international gateway. Still, I got on the bus and made the long ride out to the far stands where our aircraft was waiting, hoping things would be better once on board. After all, as I joked to a woman I was crammed against on the bus, "We’re flying business class; this is the closest we have to be to anyone for the next 18 hours."
Pre-flight included a glass of bubbly which was nice for keeping me awake and getting ready for the dinner service. And the dinner was pretty good food, though not the best I’ve had in the air by any stretch. There were a couple interesting quirks to the dinner service that made me wonder just how deep the budget cuts in catering were. The warm nuts, for example, were quite the pathetic presentation. Yes, I took this photo before eating any from the bowl.
The starter was a scallop, with a mango chutney of some sort. Not bad, but certainly a small portion and not particularly amazing either. Of course, I often find scallops to be that way when served out so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
For the main course I chose a fish. Sure, I’ve seen Airplane about a few dozen times but it still seemed like the least offensive of the options available. Plus, I was asked to make my choices for all three meals before departure (not a fan of that at all) and it seemed like a decent way to approach the menu. It was not offensive but also not particularly amazing.
Cheese course, drinks, dessert, drinks and before I knew it 2am PDT had arrived and it was definitely time to stretch out the seat and see what I was in for as far as sleeping was concerned.
The seat was, as anticipated, mediocre. I knew going in that it would not be a fully flat bed. Still, it was supposed to be flat enough at an angle that I’d be able to get some sleep. Especially combined with the fact that I’d been up for so long once I finally got on board, sleeping should be easy. And it actually was, even though the seat didn’t even seem to be flat at an angle when fully extended. I slept pretty well for 7 or 8 hours after the dinner service. The problem was that there were still about 7 hours left in the flight and the seat was pretty bad for just sitting in. There is nothing quite so disappointing in flight as waking up after a long, restful sleep and realizing that there is still the equivalent of London to New York City or more left to fly.
And so, with about 7 hours to go in the trip I wandered back to the galley to find out when the next meal was. Only 90 minutes away. This is actually my largest gripe about the service on the flight: the timing and ordering of the meals was wacky. When I’m taking a long flight and adjusting to a new time zone I try to switch my body over as early in the trip as possible, making it so that I’m as close to the local time as I can be when I land. The schedule of meals on this flight worked quite a bit against that.
Sure, a dinner just after take-off makes sense. And having it as a three-meal flight is great. But the second meal, served approximately 11-12 hours into the flight and at approximately midnight local time in Bangkok was breakfast. It was a good breakfast, but having it at that time rather than having another lunch/dinner course a couple hours earlier makes no sense to me. I had the shrimp congee option:
The third meal, served only about 4 hours later and only an hour prior to the 6:30am local time arrival of the flight was another lunch course. Again, decent food (though the shrimps were not as good on this one as in the congee) but it was the wrong meal at that time of the flight.
The A345 does offer one of my favorite bits of airplane silliness: a window in the lav. I’m not quite sure why, but I crack up every time I see it.
Ultimately the flight got me there in relative comfort and without too much trouble along the way. But the timing of the meals meant that when I landed I had been up since midnight local time. This made it rather difficult to get through the day fully coherent (or as much as I ever am). Fortunately I had some good friends around on the ground who helped drive that and kept me entertained as we toured Bangkok. But it was one of those friends, over dinner, who shared the following observation of this incredibly long flight:
I’ve taken it several times in each of the three classes of service available. I’ve had incredibly mediocre flights in business, rather pleasant flights in premium economy and surprisingly enjoyable flights down the back. It isn’t that the economy service is better than business; it just does a better job of exceeding expectations.
At the end of the day I must agree. The flight in business class was fine but it certainly didn’t live up to any of the great expectations set by tales of great in-flight experiences from the Asian airlines. Not bad, really, but not up to the expectations. Should I need to get to Bangkok again from the east coast I’ll almost certainly favor the flights via Europe or the Middle East. Roughly the same travel time and arguably better timed in-flight services. Definitely better premium seats available.
There are three main lessons that I learned from reading Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next:
- Logistics and speed are unstoppable forces that will define the next several generations of economic development globally;
- The United States has already lost most any chance of keeping pace; and,
- The global economy may never actually cash in on the investments it is making.
The first of these observations is not particularly surprising and the conclusions there are pretty reasonable. The second and third scare me to no end. Indeed, reading a couple steps down the line in the global economic environment laid bare in Aerotropolis, it is quite easy to see the whole system collapsing on itself in a matter of years, assuming we make it that far. That small bits have already experienced such a decline is of little comfort.
The premise of the areotropolis is rather simple. Rather than try to explain it myself I’ll let you understand it in the words of its greatest proponent, John Kasarda through the lens of author Greg Lindsay:
…[R]ather than banish airports to the edge of town and then do our best to avoid them, we will build this century’s cities around them. Why? Because people once chose to live in cities for the wealth of connections they offered socially, financially, intellectually, and so forth. But in the era of globalization we choose cities drawing closer together themselves, linked by fiber-optic cables and jet aircraft.
In essence, the aerotropolis of [Kasarda’s]imagination isn’t necessarily a city but a superconductor, a piece of infrastructure promising zero resistance to anyone wanting to set up shop there. Examine [Kasarda’s] initial sketches for one – with the carefully arranged waves of white boxes and office cubes – and you’ll find a city expressly planned on behalf of the companies expected to populate it. An aerotropolis isn’t an airport either, and building one isn’t a matter of having the longest runways or the largest landmass. Frictionlessness is the product of a whole host of attributes, many of which are invisible: tariff-free trade zones, faster customs clearance, fewer and faster permits, and a right-to-work workforce that knows what it’s doing. ‘It’s the way you reduce time, the way you reduce costs, the way you reduce space,’ Kasarda says. ‘The aerotropolis is where the elastic mile, the friction of space, community without propinquity, and trade routes all come together.’
[A] third of the value of all the goods made in the world, three trillions dollars’ worth, travels by air while composing barely 1 percent of their weight. Air cargo’s growth outpaced world trade’s by a factor of four-to-one over the last thirty-five years, and blew past global GDP growth by nine-to-one, meaning more and more of what’s worth making and moving (including half of American exports) is aloft. In the Instant age, Kasarda says, ‘The price of oil matters less than the price of speed.’
Building an aerotropolis is a relatively easy thing to do, assuming no political or environmental concerns. Find a plot of land, clear it out and build a world-class airport in the middle. From there, add on industrial, commercial and residential bits in the appropriate ratios and then watch as industry beats down the doors to show up and open shop inside your free-trade zone. Free of tariffs and , in many cases, free of local laws, these aerotropolii represent the free market economy at its most basic level.
The problems that arise are, of course, plentiful. Starting with the political and environmental concerns, there are plenty of reasons for many in the western world to object to such developments. Still, looking at the present evidence, there is no doubt that such developments have been successful. Louisville and Memphis are essentially subsidiaries of UPS and FedEx, respectively. The area surrounding Amsterdam’s Schipol airport is a testimony to the efficacy of global trade and just-in-time delivery of flowers on a scale that is yet to be matched, though Addis Abba is one of several hoping to edge in on that market.
Dulles, Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth are all representative of this not-so-new approach to urban planning. Centralize around a transportation hub, just like ports in the days of yore and train terminals in the not quite so distant past. Today that hub is the airport large enough to easily handle frequent service from Boeing 747F freighters laden with cargo inbound from manufacturing hubs in southeast Asia or agricultural hubs in South America. It is not at all difficult to see how this progression has been made and Lindsay does a phenomenal job of explaining in detail some specific examples of why certain areas have succeeded and other have failed in developing these aerotropolii.
The concept of what makes an aerotropolis is just half the story, however. The economic impact that they can bring to the developing world is the other half, and it scares the hell out of me.
Asia, Africa and the Middle East are the main development targets today. China is in the midst of an unprecedented infrastructure build that is dedicating a tremendous portion of their GDP to highways, high-speed trains and airports. Many of those airports are destined to be aerotropolii. Thailand started a similar effort with Suvarnabhumi, the new international airport in Bangkok. Ho Chi Minh City is doing the same with their new international airport.
In China the development is easy. The local, provincial or national government decrees that an airport will be built on a specific plot of land and that’s the end of the story. It happens – quickly – and those currently there are relocated. In Thailand, however, a similar set of plans resulted in relatives of ministers suddenly operating real estate and logistics operations. When word got out of the coming aerotropolis everyone tried to get in on the deal and real estate prices shot through the roof. The recent coups can be related, in part, to the failure of these plans to get off the ground or the revolt of the people against the abuse of that power.
So there is the risk of political upheaval as the working class feels they’ve been wronged. This potential is more pronounced as those same workers start to profit from the business that the aerotropolii bring in now have the means to afford to protest, rather than to accept whatever they are told to do. And now that the protesters know that the airports are the life-blood of their economies (e.g. the recent Bangkok protests that saw both sides seize airport terminals at various points to stymie the ruling party) the risk is that much more real.
But that isn’t the part that worries me the most. What scares me is the potential for all this investment to be a very efficient and expedient means to spend billions of dollars of someone else’s money in hopes of a return that is impossible to realize. And Lindsay outlines exactly how that will come to pass as the aerotropolii develop and multiply.
There are currently scores of such projects in various stages of development. Can they all possibly be successful? Dubai already almost collapsed once as the highly leveraged construction efforts there saw money and credit dry up in the recent financial crisis.
In effect, Dubai was a giant arbitrage play, a pure experiment in funneling and funding globalization. A tiny city-state with literally nothing – no oil, few people, and little education – sought to become a global capital in a single generation…. That’s why everything was so oversize, including Dubai’s ambitions.
Bangkok failed to move swiftly enough and to avoid corruption, leading to the failure of the aerotropolis there, though not to the collapse of the economy. FedEx has been wooed by China to move their Pacific sort hub from Subic Bay to Baiyun International Airport near Ghangzhou.
First, [the Chinese] drained the pond covering the site – the only reason urban scrubland hasn’t subsumed it already. Then they diverted a river, paved over its marshes, and pumped concrete into caves underneath. FedEx had sought equally drastic changed to China’s legal code, rewriting customs and aviation statutes to grant itself an unlimited number of flights…. True to form, doing so required a year of tortuous negotiations with more than a hundred agencies and bureaucracies. Once given the green light, construction of the six-lane highway linking the hub to the Delta’s factories had taken all of six months.
But what does such a shift mean to Subic Bay? Or to the other local facilities that have been operating as regional cargo hubs? For now, they are struggling to fight back, to find tenants for the space and to keep their economies alive. Why have similar projects in Hanoi or Saigon failed (or not been as rapidly successful)? They can offer cheaper labor, but the total pool of raw materials and labor is still larger in China. So the Vietnamese versions strain to get sufficient traction and businesses in their aerotropolii. But the cost of developing them is already sunk.
But even the shift of FedEx into the airport is no guarantee. There are still other areas desperate for similar growth and they are somewhat ruthless in their pursuit of the business.
As the Hong Kong economist Steven Cheung once explained their attitude, ‘You want a business license? The locality will assign someone to do the walking and talking for you. Want a building permit? They will give you one with money-back guarantees. Unhappy about that dirty creek passing through the site? They may offer to build a small lake for you…. They sell their cheap electricity, sell their parks and entertainment, sell their easy transportation, sell their water supply, sell their glorious history and even sell how good looking their girls are – no exaggeration!’
There are hospitals operating in India that see themselves as the far end of a long-haul commuter healthcare road. Just like the Polish doctors who commute to England to work the weekend shift and are home Monday morning on a cheap flight, these hospitals are luring in patients from abroad with the promise of top-quality healthcare at bargain prices. Infrastructure is being built but there is no guarantee that the Ray Kinsella-styled plan will come through. What if they build it and no one comes?
The danger is that someone else will siphon [patients] away with lower costs and better connectivity in the form of nonstop flights; layovers are not an option when you’ve just come out of traction.
Indeed, Hyderabad is already trying to steal the market from Mumbai and Bangalore. The brand new airport in Hyderabad was built with an eye towards being a Healthport, among other things.
The book highlights tells several other stories, from a man-made city built literally in the middle of the ocean in Korea to the amazing fresh flowers market that is centered in Amsterdam, though showing signs of sprouting in Africa and China. And in each example precious little attention is paid to what happens to the legacy locations as the new sites go up. No book can cover everything, but at least mentioning the potential for billions of dollars of invested funds to end up with no return is a worthwhile acknowledgement to make in my book.
And that’s what ultimately has me scared. Not all of these aerotropolii will be successful. There are simply too many competing to offer the same services in concentrated regional centers. Some will almost certainly succeed and it will provide a boon to the local economy of the winners. Right up until the competitor down the road offers up cheaper, faster and better services a couple years later. Moving the factories is an expensive undertaking, with short-term effects on to the balance sheet of the company in question and with potentially devastating long-term repercussions to the aerotropolis that loses the business.
The book is an interesting read and definitely worth checking out, both from a global economics and a aerophile perspective. And I actually believe that most of the predictions of growth are likely to come true; all current evidence certainly supports them. I just fear for the fallout that comes with those developments and its impact on the global economy. For someone to win big in these efforts someone else is likely to lose badly.
In part one of this report I recounted a great award booking – even though it was all in economy and on small planes – to the Canadian Maritime provinces. Part two will cover my exploitation of the bmi Diamond Club program and their quite flexible routing and award zone rules.
It all started with plans to visit Bangkok in July for a friend’s wedding. With Thai Air still operating their incredibly long LAX-BKK flight I figured it would be nice to get a change to fly that route. Plus I have never been on the Airbus A340-500 so that’s an added bonus. It turns out that Thai has had a TON of award inventory available for westbound travel but nothing available coming back east. Turns out that isn’t much of a problem for me as I’ve turned a long weekend in Thailand into a RTW ticket adventure.
By sheer coincidence a friend of mine is going to be in Capetown, South Africa the week after the wedding. And I have the points available so why not? Even better is that the award cost from Thailand to South Africa is pretty cheap with Diamond Club. Oh, and I am flying via Mumbai, flying in on Thai and out on South African Airways. South African operates the A340-200 on the route which is also new to me.
And then I needed to get home from South Africa. This is where the Diamond Club rules become VERY favorable if you’re willing (or wanting!) a bit of an adventure. Most carriers only permit North Atlantic crossings for that award. Diamond Club permits South Atlantic crossings, too. So I’m taking one. Award seats form Johannesburg to Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo are pretty readily available.
Seats from there back north are a bit harder but I found some availability with Air Canada from Santiago to Toronto. Getting from Toronto to New York City is pretty easy with a ton of frequencies and a couple airports to choose from. To get from Buenos Aires to Santiago there is really only Star Alliance routing. It just so happens to leave 40 minutes before the flight from Johannesburg arrives. So I have a 23 hour 20 minute connection in Argentina. That’ll be fun.
So I’ve made it back to New York City and I’m home. That’s the end, right? Not for me. Diamond Club considers Puerto Rico part of their South America/Caribbean zone. And award flights from South Africa to South America are less expensive than those to North America. Based on straight geography that sortof makes sense – it should be fewer total miles flown – but getting to Puerto Rico can only be done via North America with the existing partners and routes. So I have a stopover in New York (one stopover is free on the bmi award) and then, two months later, a flight in first class from Newark to San Juan. It was actually many fewer miles to take the extra flight. Plus, I’ve been looking for a good excuse to get back to Puerto Rico, possibly in daylight this time. Given that the flight down there is better than free, I see no reason to skip that bit.
Put it all together and I’ve got this 31,586 mile masterpiece:
And all the flights save two short ones are in business class. All but one of the lines are new and a few of the aircraft are, too. All for under 200,000 Diamond Club points. I could’ve done it as cash & points for even fewer but I’m trying to use up my stash and this is a great way to do it.
The booking process was bit more frustrating than I generally enjoy, partly because my Skype connection was flaking out but mostly because the agents at the Diamond Club call center don’t have the best grasp of geography nor of the rules of their program. They initially tried to charge me 5 separate awards rather than the three I booked and all at higher rates than I should have paid. Fortunately I was able to eventually get a supervisor to understand and put it in correctly, but that was two extra hours of annoyance on the phone that I didn’t really need. Still, at the end of the day, completely worth it for this trip. Retail value on the ticket is somewhere north of $10,000; getting it on points for the routes and dates I wanted is just phenomenal.
A few months ago I was ecstatic after securing an award ticket to New Zealand for this coming December. It wasn’t just that I got seats on the dates I wanted. And it wasn’t just that they were in premium cabins almost the entire way. And it wasn’t just that I was able to get one of the longest possible routings along the way to maximize my time in the big comfy seats (and lounges). OK, maybe it was that last one.
Unfortunately, however, the reason I was going to New Zealand changed around a bit. And it looks like we’re going to be spending a couple weeks in India at the end of December, No reason I cannot combine the two trips, right? Apparently Continental felt that was actually going to be a problem.
It seems there are two ways for the airline to issue award tickets and mine was originally set up with the method that requires the agents working on the ticket to manually verify the details. Based on what the agent I spoke with today explained, it seems that a small detail was missed during the original, manual booking of my award. It wasn’t a legal routing according to their system. Oopsie.
Of course, I wasn’t really ready to give up on what was an absolutely awesome award trip, despite their suggestions that they could convert it to an Around the World award for only 120,000 extra points (75% more than the 160K I originally redeemed). Ummmm, no thanks. After a bit of discussion we agreed that, while it might not actually be valid in their system, I shouldn’t be penalized because someone misunderstood the rules a couple months ago when issuing it. So I was permitted to make my change – and I was still able to find seats on flights I wanted within a couple days of my ideal – and to keep the ticket.
So I ended up with this little bit of awesomeness:
I get a new carrier (Swiss) as well as my first experiences in the Lufthansa and Thai Airways first class cabins. Only the segment between Auckland and Melbourne is in coach; the rest are all in the highest class of service available on the flight. I tried to mix Air Canada in for one of the transatlantic segments but couldn’t make that work. And I gave up the chance at a first class suite on the Turkish 77W, but those are apparently less consistent these days anyways so it wasn’t a sure think even if I did keep that route.
I am not complaining one bit, even if I did have to trade a boondoggle in Singapore for an overnight in Bangkok.
Sure, Continental recently announced that they’ll be operating the 787 Dreamliner on the Houston – Auckland route next fall, but in the mean time getting to Oceania using their program requires a bit of creativity. Fortunately they have some of the most flexible rules regarding award travel routing, particularly to that region. Assuming that the seats can be found, there are quite a few options available. And I’m taking advantage of many of them on an itinerary that I just booked to New Zealand this December.
Perhaps the most significant benefit that the OnePass program offers is the ability to book travel to Southeast Asia and Oceania either across the Atlantic or Pacific ocean. I have a couple friends who even managed to book both on the same trip but it seems that the computers have finally closed that loophole. Still, the ability to go transatlantic opens up a number of additional carriers and routing options for getting to that part of the world. With Singapore Air limiting premium cabin reward redemption on so many of their aircraft these days having such flexibility is important.
In the end I managed to book an eight segment award and I’m holding out hope that the last couple segments I need can be picked up as awards if the inventory opens up. As a platinum elite such changes are complimentary. If I cannot find the seats then the cost of buying that ticket is relatively low. So what’s the routing? On the outbound I fly:
- Newark – Munich: Lufthansa A340-600 First Class
- Munich – Bangkok: Thai Airways B747-400 First Class
- Bangkok – Melbourne: Thai Airways B777-300 Business Class
- Melbourne – Auckland: Air New Zealand A320 Economy Class
The return trip is similarly enjoyable:
- Sydney – Bangkok: Thai Airways A340-600 First Class
- Bangkok – Istanbul: THY Turkish B777-300 First Class
- Istanbul – Frankfurt: THY Turkish B737-800 Business Class
- Frankfurt – Newark: Lufthansa A340-300 First Class
I even get about 10 hours in Munich and about 8 hours in Bangkok to see some of the sights. Every single one of the flights will be a new line though none are new airlines. It will, however, be my first experience in a proper international first class cabin and I get to compare a few different products. At 160,000 points and $175 in taxes it is hard to complain about just about anything with this trip other than that it is so short. It is no surprise that Continental continues to report in its quarterly calls that they are experiencing increased costs related to award redemptions since the move to Star Alliance.
Oh, and why am I going to New Zealand anyways? Some friends are chartering a plane from Air New Zealand and we’re going on some pretty incredible tours. Plus I will get to participate in the Star Alliance annual meeting a bit. Should be a great time.
Hope you’re not planning any travel to Bangkok this Thanksgiving weekend (though such a trip seems like a good idea the more I think about it). Protesters have stormed the airport and managed to shut down portions of it, forcing the cancelation of dozens of flights and stranding thousands of passengers. The initial reports came in about 12 hours ago and there are recent reports of explosions at the airport, too.
Not good at all.
More discussion and links to some real news coverage here.