As of 1 October 2013 Aeromexico is changing their award booking buckets to align with (most of) the rest of SkyTeam. Economy awards will book in to X and business class into O. This change has exposed the new business class bucket to one of the data sources I use for the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools which means I can now offer easier searching and alerts for Aeromexico award seats. Here is a sample search result screen:
From what I can see so far the X inventory for coach awards isn’t available via this source so those searches won’t show but I’ll keep an eye on it.
Give it a try and let me know if you run in to any troubles. And remember that this is only for travel after 1 October 2013.
Looking to find award seats on Hawaiian Airlines flights? So long as you’re redeeming partner miles for the trip I’ve got a new option available via the Award Search page on the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site. Currently economy partner seats can be searched for or alerted via the Star Alliance award method but that method is limited only to economy class seats. Based on my quick checks of a few data points those seats line up with the inventory available to both United Airlines MileagePlus members and American Airlines AAdvantage members but, again, only coach seats and pretty much (at least in my testing) only inter-island flights. But if you’re looking to redeem AAdvantage miles between the mainland and the islands or other partner flights the existing tool isn’t so great. Fortunately is turns out that the data is now available via another means.
Both the "T" (economy for partners) and "D" (first for partners) fare buckets are now searchable through the Hawaiian Airlines Partner Award Availability page. Here are a couple sample search results:
The data source even has some built-in proximity searching (which I don’t entirely understand) so a search for SFO will include SJC and OAK, too:
Like the other searches from the same source partial itinerary matches will be returned; that’s why LAS shows in the above results (the LAS-SFO segment doesn’t have inventory but it might still be useful).
At the end of the day I’m actually not entirely sure just how useful this is. I don’t spend much time searching for HA partner awards and I have no idea if others do. But the data is there and I can expose it like this, so here it is.
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.
The Qantas website is one of the top options for searching award inventory online when it comes to oneworld partners. A recent update to the site extends that functionality to now include the ability to search for award seats on their newest partner: Emirates.
For those of you who are fans of the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools oneworld award alerts tool, this update also means that you can now set free award alerts for flights on Emirates metal. Yeah, I’m pretty excited about that, too.
Cleveland’s Hopkins airport has a new lounge option as of today. The Airspace lounge had its grand opening this morning, bringing another option to travelers passing through the terminal. The new lounge is in Terminal B, just inside security and near the junction with Terminal A, making it convenient for passengers on every airline other than United.
The lounge is the second operated by Airspace and will have similar features and amenities to their first lounge at BWI. That includes complimentary access for American Express Platinum Card members and paid access starting at $20/visit for everyone else. Once inside lounge guests will receive a complimentary food item or alcoholic beverage and have access to the business center, complimentary wifi and the quiet, relaxed lounge atmosphere.
Next up for Airspace is a lounge at JFK’s T5. That lounge is expected to open in May 2013.
The lounges are all listed in the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools Airport Lounge Guide, too.
Similar to last week’s post, here’s a collection of trans(north)atlantic routes offered by members of the oneworld alliance. Compared to the map from Star Alliance the network looks a bit light, but there are still a lot of options out there; nearly 100 by my initial count (and I’m sure I missed a few which y’all will remind me of, pushing the number up). And the oneworld collection is quite dispersed on the Americas side of the map, covering a lot of the Caribbean in addition to the USA, Canada and Mexico. Here’s the full collection:
For the two smaller TATL carriers in oneworld, Air Berlin and Finnair, the maps are particularly light in coverage, though Air Berlin does have a number of leisure/islands destinations with limited frequencies:
Iberia has a number of destinations, split between the USA and other countries (Note: this has been updated to remove the LatAm routes getting killed at the end of March):
American Airlines has a 20 TATL routes from what I can see (I’ve excluded BOS-LHR as that is ending soon from what I recall):
And, of course, British Airways and their coverage out of 3 London airports:
Oneworld has more coverage in the Americas than Star Alliance from a destination count; there are at least these 44 that I can find:
On the European side there are these 16 destinations, far fewer than what Star Alliance offers:
The table of all the oneworld North Atlantic routes can be found here.
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:
It seems that SkyTeam is finally getting on board with the theory that having all members use common fare buckets for award bookings makes life easier for everyone. A couple weeks ago it was confirmed that Vietnam Airlines is updating their booking classes on April 1, 2013. Next up would appear to be China Eastern Airlines. Effective July 1, 2013 the carrier will be using the same booking classes – X for economy awards and O for business awards – as Vietnam Airlines and most other SkyTeam members.
I ran a couple quick checks on my award inventory search tools and was surprised to find that China Eastern wasn’t among the airlines included in the list. I have access to the inventory so there is no reason to be excluding them. Needless to say, I’ve righted that problem. They will now be an available option on the award search and award alert tools. Like most of the other award searches the UI isn’t particularly beautiful, but the data should be accurate.
Also of note is that I expect the Shanghai Airlines award classes to change at the same time. They are currently the same as those of China Eastern, which makes sense since Shanghai is owned by China Eastern. Based on that assumption I’ve updated my award search tools for both carriers, not just the one.
Back when Vietnam Airlines joined the SkyTeam alliance it seems that they ignored the common believe shared by most airlines that award inventory should be severely limited. They used revenue booking classes for both business and economy awards and, especially in business class, had very few limitations on the inventory. Alas, it seems that all good things must end some day. In the case of Vietnam Airlines that day appears to be March 31, 2013.
Starting in April the award buckets are changing. Currently business class awards book into J class and economy awards into U class. The new booking classes will be O for business class and X for economy. There are a few negatives which come from this change. Most notably, with the inventory now separate from revenue bookings Vietnam Airlines can more tightly control access to the seats. And, from what I can see in a few test scans of their inventory, they are tightening down pretty badly. I’m having trouble finding any seats from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore over the next several months, for example. And even where the inventory is still available it is more often than not in economy class, not business class, where the seats are showing.
Another negative of the change is that, by separating the awards into dedicated fare buckets, the ability is earn points on an award ticket is going to disappear. Sure, you shouldn’t have been able to in the first place but loopholes like that exist in a few places. This one is getting closed up.
I do see the X and O inventory still available in limited instances so it isn’t that Vietnam Airlines is hiding the inventory from the public GDS interfaces. That means the seats will still be open to searches and alerts through the interfaces I have on the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site. But with the limited inventory out there in the new buckets, I am rather saddened. Vietnam Airlines was a great option for getting around within southeast Asia as a SkyTeam partner. Seeing that award space drying up is no fun at all.
The past few weeks have seen two hotel loyalty programs shake up their award charts in a big way. For members of the Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors programs, the points tucked away for some future plans were suddenly a much different asset, and mostly not in a good way (though I maintain there are still some gems in the HHonors reboot). And, while I can sympathize with people who have been squirrelling away points, saving up for "the big one" at some point in the future who have now seen their plans change significantly, I’m also rather bemused by their plight. Call it schadenfreude, if you will. It isn’t because I take joy in the setbacks they’re experiencing; it is because I think more and more people are finally discovering the truth: The value proposition of hotel loyalty programs is crap for many travelers.
I used to be a traveling consultant, on the road for work 2-4 nights per week for 35+ weeks a year. That’s how I first got in to the point and miles game. And I accrued a lot of points and miles. I also had top-tier hotel status as a function of all those nights on the road with an expense account. I got upgrades on occasion and the other elite benefits the programs offered. Then I quit my job to travel more. I had hotel loyalty back then, or so I thought. After my first few trips I realized that I was losing that game. BADLY. Once I had to pay for the rooms myself rather than getting reimbursed the math changed dramatically. Skipping out on hotel loyalty was a phenomenal way to save money, it turns out. At least for me.
There are two main types of benefits I see that come from hotel loyalty: on-property benefits and point redemption. It turns out that I cannot really find value in either. Here’s how I came to that conclusion based on my travel patterns.
"Free" upgrades to a suite, "free" breakfast and "free" internet are the main areas where loyalty programs provide benefits on-property. For some there are also lounges with snacks/drinks in the evening. And, with very few exceptions, it turns out that none of these are actually worth much to me. Finding a hotel which offers free breakfast and internet to all guests rather than to only elites isn’t very hard to do, it turns out. As an added bonus, these hotels are often available at a lower price than the properties where the benefit has "value." On the off chance that the breakfast is not free, I’ve yet to find myself in a scenario where the on-premises breakfast was a better choice than walking around in the neighborhood for a few minutes and finding a local shop. Whether it is dumplings in Beijing, sushi in Tokyo, noodles in Bangkok or pastries across most of Europe, getting breakfast out rarely breaks the bank and it provides a much better sense of place than being holed up in the hotel.
Suite upgrades are another area where I just don’t get the value. Maybe it is because I live in a small apartment when I’m home so I’m used to it, but the idea of a huge suite for my sleeping needs is one that I struggle with. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t turn them down – but the value of a suite upgrade to me is roughly nil. Especially when I’m traveling solo. I spend so little time in the room; I actually somewhat prefer one I cannot get lost in.
And the snacks/drinks in the executive lounge as a replacement for dinner is something I just do not understand. I have read far too many trip reports of people taking their meals in the lounge, "because it is free." I’ve cringed when traveling with a group and hearing that some were doing the same and suggesting that their partner join them rather than going out for the local fare (we actually invited the plus one out in that instance). Even in Europe or Asia where the lounge spreads are generally rather more impressive they still are not necessarily local food nor are they free, just included in the rate. For this category I almost see the value as negative. Failure to get out and actually experience the local dining scene should count against travelers; I know it does on my scorecard.
Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that with all my travels the number of nights I’d even consider redeeming points for a stay are pretty low. I don’t actually go places where the redemptions are such great value. My travels this past year probably had me in towns without a western-branded hotel more than 30-40% of the time anyways. So even if I wanted to redeem points for a hotel that wouldn’t have been an option. Even where there are such hotels available the cost to acquire the points is, generally, more than I’m willing to pay. The Hyatt in Kiev, Ukraine, for example, is a lovely property. But we needed four nights in town and it was cost-prohibitive to stay there as a revenue booking. Even on points it was rather costly, far more expensive than taking a room at another hotel not far away. Sure, a credit card may have helped offset the points accrual costs but that’s not a long-term strategy for realizing 75+ nights in hotels annually.
Cash is king
At the end of the day I’ve found that realizing ~15% back on my bookings – 10% as credit towards any future hotel stay and 5% in cash – is a better value for me. I’m able to book in at less expensive properties to begin with, hotels that I’d rather be staying at thanks to the local flavor. They offer the free breakfast and internet that I want and, with very few exceptions, are perfectly suited to my sleeping needs. And when I add up the amount I save per night, multiplied across the 75+ nights and combined with another 15% off, well, I just don’t know why I’d care about points or status.
I realize that rate of return by using hotels.com and their Welcome Rewards program. That covers the 10% back (after every 10 nights). It is a direct credit and there are minimal hoops to jump through. Of the booking engine-based schemes it is the best I’ve come across so far. For the extra 5% cash back I use a cash-back booking portal. I happen to be partial to my own travel rebates site, but there are others available, including TopCashBack, ebates and more. Check the rates on those sites; they can vary and different sites may offer better or worse deals on any given day.
If you really are committed to getting the hotel points – something that a hotels.com booking will preclude – these cash-back booking portals can still work for you. I know that Marriott, SPG, IHG and Accor participate in many of them (I have Accor on mine). Just make sure that your brand loyalty isn’t costing you more money in the long term.