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’m sitting in the Club Lounge at the Intercontinental Hotel just off of Istanbul‘s Taksim Square right now, sipping an Efes Dark and picking at a few snacks while I wait to meet some friends for dinner. Given that, as of Monday I didn’t have any travel planned for the weekend and as of Thursday my flight was canceled I’d say that the current circumstances are quite impressive. I booked the flight on Tuesday evening, snagging a $550 round-trip fare ($500 of which I covered with a voucher from my last Istanbul trip) on United Airlines to fly out on Friday night from Newark to Istanbul, returning on the same route Sunday afternoon. Only 26 hours on the ground but that’s plenty of time to see a few sights, eat a few meals and enjoy a trip. At least if you’re crazy like me.
I probably should have known there would be trouble given the forecast for a blizzard but I paid it no mind. Worst case scenario had me stuck in NYC, eating leftovers and snowed in. Not ideal, but not awful either. And when the email came in on Thursday afternoon that the flight was canceled I was a bit annoyed.
Still, I knew I had options and I was willing to explore them. A quick call in to United had an agent offer me a Lufthansa connection without any troubles. I asked him to check the Turkish Airlines non-stop rather than the Lufty options as I’ve already flown those routes and I’ve been meaning to fly Turkish long-haul at some point to try out the experience. It took about 15 minutes for the agent to call over to Turkish and confirm things but I was quickly rebooked and the ticket reissued. All set.
Friday morning rolled around and I started to get worried about the late Turkish flight. Yes, the inbound was en route to JFK but snow levels were predicted to pick up late in the evening and the 11pm-ish departure had me apprehensive. Another quick call in to United had me rebooked on Austrian’s 6pm departure from JFK. Yeah, a connection, but Vienna’s airport is easy and getting out early seemed like a good idea. That agent forgot to reissue the ticket so it took another call to resolve that but around 10am I was able to complete OLCI and, thanks to the rebooking in full Y, choose the reclining exit row with huge legroom for the flight.
We pushed back early – the ground crew were particularly good in dealing with the people complaining about the early departure in spite of the impending storm – and then waited an hour for deicing. We certainly needed it, with the accumulation from the prior three hours of the plane on the ground.
And then off to Vienna. I had escaped!
The meal on board was presented beautifully but not actually all that delicious. With Do & Co catering the Austrian flights I had reasonably high hopes. The meal on Turkish on Saturday was much better. Still, it was enough to get me through the flight. I watched the end of Casablanca on the very mediocre IFE system and then managed to sleep a solid 4 hours or so.
Before I knew it we were on final approach into Vienna.
From there it was off to the lounge for a shower and then meeting up with a friend also on his way to Istanbul, though on a later flight. Turkish boarded a full A330 from a gate area built for an A320. It was packed and not at all pleasant. Still, I settled in to my seat and slept nearly the whole two hours of the flight.
I did wake up for lunch which, as noted above, was quite tasty, in addition to the excellent presentation. Yes, this was a coach meal on a less than two hour flight. My, how things are different. Also, apparently ordering the "kofte" instead of beef had the flight attendants convinced I spoke Turkish. That ruse fell apart quickly when I had to order a drink, but it was fun while it lasted.
No line to get my visa was great. The part where, as a Star Alliance Gold elite I got fast track for immigration was WAY better. I skipped a roughly 30-45 minute line and was through in 5 minutes. Less than 20 minutes from when we pulled in to the gate and the door to the plane opened I was on the Metro, headed in to town.
I stopped off to see the Basilica Cistern, now one of my favorite sites in a city filled with amazing things to see. A separate post coming on that eventually because, quite frankly, it deserves one. And then I checked in to my suite at the Intercontinental. Thank you, Best Rate Guarantee!
I’ve got time for another Efes or two before dinner. And I’m drinking them while looking out at the Bosporus and night settling in over this beautiful city. Not a bad day at all.
Earlier in the year United Airlines quietly changed the earning rates in their MIleagePlus program for a number of partners on higher fare classes. This past weekend another change was pushed through, this time on deep-discount fares with partner Turkish Airlines. Effective March 1, 2013 the three cheapest fare buckets – W, G & P – will go from earning 100% credit to earning nothing. Considering that Turkish has been publishing some rather incredible deals lately in these fare classes (mostly G) this is a major blow to mileage runs. Not necessarily surprising, but definitely disappointing.
Per a statement from United Airlines on FlyerTalk over the weekend:
I’ll spare you most of the details, but over the past few weeks we have been discussing a resolution to this G/W/P accrual issue with the relevant parties, including Turkish. As some of you have noticed, this involves an agreement to discontinue PQM/PQS and award mileage accrual on these fares.
Quite a bit of spin there, to be sure.
It is worth noting that
these fares don’t earn points in the Turkish Miles & Smiles program and that, over the past year or so, they’ve not been crediting properly to United without significant manual intervention. That said, it is still disappointing to lose the option.
The calculators over at the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site have been updated to reflect the new rates.
Update: While previous reads of the TK site indicated that those fares were non-earning that doesn’t seem to be the current case. I don’t know anyone who has tried recently so cannot confirm one way or the other.
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.
In a shift which seems to be counter to the industry trends Turkish Airlines is apparently cutting their Comfort Class Premium Economy product currently offered on their 777-300ER long-haul aircraft. I say apparently because I only have one source so far and it is in Turkish and I don’t know its reliability. But the report is out there. New deliveries will not have the Comfort Class product and the existing planes will see the seats removed as they cycle through maintenance in coming months. The reconfigured aircraft apparently will have larger business class cabins based on customer satisfaction with the flat bed offerings there.
I’ve only heard good things about the Comfort Class product. A shame it is apparently going away.
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.
Honestly, these changes have been a long time coming. Turkish Air changed their fare classes a while ago, adding in their "Comfort Class" premium economy product and pulling out their first class cabin. Many of their partners were quick to update the earning charts; Continental and United Airlines weren’t. That has finally been resolved as of today.
The new earning rates are mostly downgrades on the Continental side of things. Y and B fares no longer earn 150% EQMs and G fares – one of the most discounted economy class tickets – now earn nothing at all. There are a few other changes, with F, W and Z fares also no longer earning but I believe those fares are also no longer published so less of an issue.
The Comfort Class fares will only earn at 100% (US Airways and Air Canada both have an earning premium assigned to those fares) which is unfortunate. That said, the change does at least add all three of the Comfort Class fares to the list; previously one was absent.
On the United side of the coin the earning rules are similar, with one additional downgrade. Elite members will no longer earn the 500 mile minimum credit on flights operated by Turkish. Not a huge deal, as most TK-operated flights are longer than that, but still a minor downgrade.
Also of note is that with both programs the V fare class will be deprecated as an earning bucket come January 1, 2012. This is another discount economy fare bucket and losing it will be unfortunate.
Finally, there has been an addition to the earnings tables. Flights marketed by Turkish but operated by AnadoluJet (a regional/express carrier) will be eligible for earning in both programs. The cheapest economy fares (L, Q, T, V) do not earn while non-discount fares (Y, B, M, K, H, S, E) earn at the 100% rate, again with no 500 mile minimums.
All of these earning rate changes have been loaded into the mileage earning calculators on the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site.
There are lots of different ways to maximize the value of award redemptions. Some folks look only at the cash value of the ticket were it purchased directly. Others look at the cabin of travel. Or the total distance covered. Or the number of points required.
I’ve used all of those metrics at one point or another, but my most recent redemption doesn’t hit on any of them. The goal of this particular redemption was to maximize the number of cities I could visit on a single one-way redemption. Officially the rules say a one-way award can have only a starting point and an ending point. I’ll be visiting four different cities on my current schedule.
I’m taking full advantage of the fact that a connection on an international itinerary is defined as anything less than 24 hours in the same city. Combine that with the relatively short travel distances in Europe and it turns out that there are a lot of ways to hop scotch across the continent without paying all that much extra. Here’s what my trip looks like:
Flying from Stockholm to Istanbul is a hair under 1400 miles; my routing is 1855. Not all that much longer in total travel distance but I’ll be spreading my travel out over 4 days rather than just a few hours. Stops are currently scheduled in Berlin (20 hours), Ljubljana (22), Skopje (23) and Istanbul (destination). Only one of the hops requires a connection – 30 minutes in Munich. I also get to fly some fun aircraft types and a new (to me) airline, along with new airports and countries. Not too shabby for only 12,500 points plus about $100 in taxes.
Building the award was surprisingly easy. I started by looking at flight timetables and route networks for the various Star Alliance carriers in Europe. The goal was to find mid-day flights that would allow me to get between cities while there was still a bit of daylight but also to be able to wake up each morning at a reasonable hour rather than silly early. Avoiding the early morning flights also makes it easier to actually keep the 23ish hour connections alive as the earlier flights make it harder and harder to stack the flights.
Once I had a framework for the trip I searched out the award inventory directly using ANA‘s website. Every single flight I wanted had award inventory available. With the specific flights in hand I called the reservations line at Continental. I fed the flights to the agent one at a time and when she pressed the magic "go" button it priced correctly automatically. No need to go through manual pricing or anything else for this one; we were both quite surprised at that. But it is booked and confirmed.
Now I just need to get my flight to Stockholm and home from Istanbul booked. But that should be easy, right??
I should be in the air over the Atlantic Ocean right now, curled up in a First Class suite on Turkish Air. Instead I’m on an Airbus A321 over the Mediterranean on a non-stop flight to Barcelona. Indeed, the trip has taken a much more direct routing and quite substantial turn. In the end, I still get to celebrate New Years in Barcelona with the splendiferous missus and we even get to sleep in a real bed tonight rather than in coach on a Delta 767-300ER. Still, the scene today in Istanbul’s airport can only be described as frustrating and trying, with a bit of misery thrown in as well as a reasonably successful tactical retreat.
Last night, while waiting in Luxor for the departure of the flight to Cairo, I learned that the Istanbul-JFK flight for that day had been delayed pretty badly. Over three hours, in fact. That plane was turning around to come back to Istanbul and then would be used for the flight that we were scheduled to be on. Except at the time I didn’t know that it would be that plane, and there was no one in Luxor I could ask. There wasn’t really anyone to ask in Cairo, either. So I went into the flight to Istanbul hopeful and optimistic, as well as truly exhausted.
As first class passengers we were greeted at the end of the jetway with a sign and a golf cart to whisk us away to the security checkpoint and then the lounge. It took them a while to round up the necessary supplies for us to shower but we managed to get that done and settled in for breakfast. Everything seemed OK.
And then the bottom fell out. The lounge agent came over to me and handed me the house phone. An agent on the other end of the line was explaining that the flight would be rather delayed and that she had arranged for a day room at the hotel in the terminal for us. Ruh roh. Just how delayed would the flight be? At least 3 hours (it turned into 5 by the time we left the airport). That completely ruined our 3 hour connection in JFK. Time to scramble.
There was a flight to Frankfurt leaving in 40 minutes that would get us to the early Frankfurt-JFK flight by the woman could not (or would not) make the change for us. While I tried desperately to negotiate through the language barrier and explain my predicament the minutes ticked away and the flight was closed. That was our last chance to make it to JFK in time for the Delta outbound flight. Game over.
It is also worth mentioning that at this point my laptop decided it didn’t want to power on and my BlackBerry went into a reboot cycle every 5-10 minutes. Ouch.
Recovery, Part 1
The Delta tickets we had were bottom of the barrel priced sale seats. The change fees for them were more than the actual tickets cost. That money was now gone. Poof. Still, I had a mind to celebrate New Years in Barcelona more than I cared about getting the Istanbul – New York flight in Turkish Air first class (a five day vacation is always worth more than an eleven hour flight) so it was time to start making things happen. The lounge had no phones available for customers and there was no means for me to reasonably call the United States to get in touch with Continental, the carrier that issued our tickets. Things were getting worse, not better.
There was a flight leaving for Barcelona in 45 minutes and the agent was willing to put us on that flight, right up until she realized it was a reward ticket. Then she was quite willing to sell us a walk-up full fare ticket and let us deal with our “travel agency” to handle the flights that were missed. Not gonna work. Still, I managed to revive my laptop and get the Skype client working and continental.com’s reward search inventory up on screen. Even more amazing, I actually found two seats available from Barcelona to New York in business class on the date we were scheduled to go home. A glimmer of hope.
Karla answered the phone for Continental and was incredibly patient with me as I explained my needs and desires over a rather questionable voice quality connection. I was able to feed her the flight numbers and she saw the inventory available. She just wasn’t sure if she could change the flight as I had already started the return trip. She had to call a supervisor and in the mean time the 45 minutes to the Barcelona departure were ticking away with great speed. Karla made the necessary changes, inserting an open jaw into the ticket and leaving the Istanbul – Barcelona segment open for us to fill. She was still working on confirming it but we had to go immediately to catch our flight. I gave her my credit card number without knowing the charges and hung up to hop on the plane to Barcelona that was now 30 minutes away from departure.
No can do. The agent was reasonably polite about the situation but it was quite clear. We weren’t getting on that plane. Rebooking the Continental tickets took a bit too long and that flight was closed for sales, even with 30 minutes remaining. I had made the changes that she agreed to and now I was still stuck in Istanbul.
Recovery, Part 2
At this point we had some time to play with. Continental was already reissuing the return ticket so we just had to find a way to get to Barcelona at a reasonable price. There were a number of options, including overnight connections in Amsterdam, Riga and Athens. All were slightly cheaper than the non-stop afternoon flight to Barcelona. In the end, however, we settled on the non-stop flight. Better to go for a relatively sure thing. Besides, we don’t have winter coats with us so Amsterdam or Latvia would be pretty unpleasant tonight.
We booked the flight through Travelocity because is was half the price that the agent wanted in the lounge. Such transactions are normally completed pretty quickly but after 20 minutes we still only had a reservation, not a ticket. Time to make another call. The Travelocity agent initially just wanted me to wait it out. Only when I explained that the flight was 4 hours away did it get properly escalated. Apparently they were worried about fraud for a last minute, one-way ticket purchased from Istanbul to Barcelona. I can’t say that I really blame them. Another 10 minutes on the phone assuring them that I really was me and that I really was buying walk-up tickets and the ticket was finally issued.
The agent had also previously offered us that hotel room for our wait. I now called that one in, asking that we be able to still use it. She agreed and we soon were laying down for a couple hours’ nap time that was much, much needed. Everything seemed OK at this point. We had our flights to Barcelona and the onward flights from Barcelona to NYC, albeit on a somewhat circuitous routing. And we had a bed for the first time in 30 hours. Not all bad. Except one little thing.
Recovery, Part 3
For some reason, Continental couldn’t actually make the change to our reward ticket. The agents I spoke with (and there were several of them) all insisted that we were still checked in for the Turkish Air flight from Istanbul to JFK. As long as we were on that flight they couldn’t remove it from the itinerary and substitute in the three segments to get us home from Barcelona. Time and time again I approached the agents at the counter and asked them to confirm that we were not checked in anymore on that flight. Each time they said we weren’t but the folks at Continental said we were. My worst nightmare at this point was getting to Barcelona and having Turkish reporting us as a no-show for the flight, canceling out the remaining value of our tickets. The price for Istanbul-Barcelona was bad enough. Shelling out for Barcelona-NYC on top of that probably would have driven me over the edge.
I finally had our Turkish Air “handler” from the morning back at the counter so I called Continental one more time with the plan of having the two of them talk it out so I didn’t have to stay in the middle. By coincidence I managed to get Karla on the phone again.
“Karla with a ‘K’?” I inquired. Yes, she said, somewhat befuddled. “I talked to you earlier with the crazy re-route from Barcelona to New York via Brussels and London; remember me?”
I’d like to think that she has fond memories of me now, if for no other reason than I’m pretty sure I was the most entertaining customer she had today. In reality, I’m just really happy that I didn’t have to explain my story one more time. The minutes were now starting to tick away on the afternoon departure to Barcelona and I had already paid for those tickets and I wasn’t about to lose them, too. Fortunately Karla proactively got another supervisor on the phone while I was talking to the agent at the desk. The supervisor apparently has some magic “refresh” button (Karla’s words, not mine) that made the reservation sync up again and show that we were no longer checked in for the flight.
Karla then was able to issue the new ticket, collect the $40 additional in taxes and confirm the new flights for us.
And there we were, six hours after the bottom initially fell out, with our flights rebooked and a new itinerary ready to go. Sure, it cost us some cash and the price actually went up as the rebooking process continued. Still, the overall goal was met. We’re going to celebrate New Years among friends in Barcelona and we’re going to experience some fun times on premium cabin flights along the way. The new return flight gives us about four hours at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in Heathrow along with our Upper Class seats across the pond. I’m sure that we’ll be exhausted on Tuesday when we get back to work but overall the adventure remains mostly alive, even if it means no Turkish Air first class. Based on their ground handling I’m not entirely sure it would be worth it.
Lessons learned from this experience:
- Betting on Turkish Air arriving within 3 hours of on-time for the NYC route is a rather large gamble. I lost.
- Creativity and flexibility can find all sorts of reward seats if desperation sets in.
- Sometimes the adventure costs a bit more than expected, but the stories are generally worth it, especially when the rest of the travels are happening on the very cheap side of the ledger.
- A good agent at the airline can really make things happen. Karla did it for me today and others have in the past. They make this whole game run just a bit more smoothly.
I sit in the airport in Luxor, Egypt pondering the absolute insanity of the trip I’m beginning. Nothing quite like a 36+ hour adventure to travel from Luxor to Barcelona, Spain. It is just across the Mediterranean. It really isn’t that far. But I’m crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice – three hours apart – to make the trip. Yeah, it is crazy.
Back over the summer Delta offered up a sale for flights to Spain so we bought a couple for the weekend over New Years. Celebrating in Barcelona seemed like a good idea. A few months later, we learned that my wife got a few extra vacation days for the time between Christmas and New Years. Use ‘em or lose ‘em, so we used them. A quick search of various reward inventory showed Egypt as a destination with premium cabin seats available and a destination where the country doesn’t shutdown over the Christmas period. Plus, it is a pretty soft introduction to travel in Africa. We were sold, and the trip was phenomenal.
But we still had to be back in New York City in time for our flight to Spain. No need to spend any extra time there. Three hours should be more than enough for an international to international connection. So we’re off.
We’ve got an 11:10pm flight from Luxor to Cairo followed by a 3:30am flight from Cairo to Istanbul and then a 10:30am flight from Istanbul to New York’s JFK airport. All in premium seats including the first class suites of the Turkish Air 777-300 wet-leased from Jet Airways. That should be quite nice. We follow that up with coach seats on a Delta 767-300ER. Probably one of the worst long-haul products out there today that crosses the Atlantic (likely still better than a Lufthansa 747-400 in the back), but the price was right. And there is plenty of potential fun and crazy along the way. Just the way I like to travel.
Images from Great Circle Mapper