Tag Archives: business class

Swiss Miss?

As I work my way through becoming a certified “blogging expert” – which is totally a thing – one of the things I never know about is whether stuff I happen upon will be of interest to you, my loyal reader(s). Hyatt mistake price at a mediocre hotel in Paris? OMG LOL OMFG!!!! Tons of availability in first class from New Zealand to the US? Snoozeville. So, with that in mind, here’s something:

Swiss just loaded a bunch of business class availability from Zurich to San Francisco next spring. I found out because I have a bunch of Expertflyer alerts set for the day I’m flying home from my trade show in Germany in June. Here’s United’s calendar for that route (some of those days with availability are for mixed cabin awards on other carriers, but most of them have direct availability on Swiss):

swissmiss

As far as my situation is concerned, I’m trying to decide whether or not to change my current itinerary, which is in business class on SAS via Copenhagen. There are some pros and cons to changing. Pro: no connection, no 7AM flight from Zurich to Copenhagen followed by a 3-hour layover, and the direct flight on Swiss would give me time to check out the awesome-looking terrace in the Swiss business class lounge. Con: Aeroplan’s new higher change fee ($150 CAD). Plus, I’d have to call Swiss customer service to pick a seat, since there are only a limited number of “throne” seats, and all but three are currently filled on the day I need to fly – and it would suck if I went through the hassle of calling Aeroplan to change my flight only to find out I had to *GASP* sit next to a stranger. Plus, I’m booked in 9H on my SAS flight, which, as you’ll know as a loyal reader of my blog, is my favorite seat on the plane. I think it’s worth the shitty itinerary in exchange for 11 hours in 9H on SAS’s A340 vs. rolling the dice on Swiss. That said, I also have a bunch of alerts for first class awards back from Europe on that day (Swiss via ZRH, which I know is unlikely, as well as Singapore and Lufthansa via Frankfurt), and I’ll jump through all manner of hoops if any of those become available.

So there you go – is this interesting to you? Is it rare for Swiss to release so much award space? Does that calendar not really count as “so much,” since there’s only availability on around half of the days? Who knows, but if I help just one person fly back from Europe in luxury, then I’ve succeeded at life.

All Mixed Up

I’m intrigued by Aeroplan – in general, it offers a user-friendly way to search for Star Alliance awards, and business class awards to Europe are 45,000 miles each way. That’s a favorable comparison to United, which charges 57,500 miles for their own flights and 70,000 miles for partner flights. The problem I keep running into with Aeroplan is only seeing availability for goddamned mixed cabin awards that no rational person would ever spend miles on. I realize this problem isn’t specific to Aeroplan, since they’re just reporting availability from across the Star Alliance network. It’s just as bad when searching availability on United, and although you sometimes have the option to exclude mixed cabin awards from showing up in the list of flights for a specific date, you can’t view an availability calendar that has been filtered to get rid of mixed cabin awards. That means that you have to sift through date after date of available flights to find a single cabin award – and if you live in San Francisco, you may never find it.

Hey wait a second, here’s something funny. I went over to Aeroplan to pick a random date in order to find a representative example of how annoying mixed cabin awards can be, and I found this:

sas

SAS partner availability in business class?! I’m definitely filing this away for future consideration. SAS’s new business class cabin looks super nice, although everything I’ve heard suggests that SAS almost never releases partner award space. I also have a soft spot for SAS, since I love their livery… even though the one time I flew them, I was on a plane that looked like it had been in service since the 1980s.

This image doesn’t totally do the livery justice, since my favorite thing about it is the “misty morning gray” color scheme. Especially when it’s contrasted against an airfield full of nondescript white European planes.

 

SAS new business class seat

Okay, back to my irritation over mixed cabin awards…

Here’s a good one: 45,000 miles for a 1 hour flight in “business” (which on an intra-Europe flight means a coach seat with the middle seat blocked off and maybe a meal) and a 12 hour transatlantic flight in Economy. What a deal!

mixedcabin1

This is my favorite: an itinerary that shuttles you all over Europe on short hops (again in “business”) before plopping you into the economy section of a long haul flight. I’d maybe splash out 45,000 miles for this award if it had a few more connections, but as it is, it seems a little too efficient.

mixedcabin2

To be honest, I don’t really care about all this anymore, since all I can think about is booking a business class award on SAS. Petty annoyances will just have to make way for my genuine interest.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: How much did it suck the last time YOU flew a mixed cabin award?

Dutch Crunch

I’ve been pretty excited to fly SFO to Amsterdam on KLM’s new business class, which looks fantastic. The seats actually look pretty similar to United’s trans-con BusinessFirst, but the whole aesthetic is taken up a notch, and they’re in a dedicated mini-cabin on the upper floor of the 747 (or in the nose, if you prefer that). They’re not as good as reverse-herringbone seats if you’re traveling alone (since you’ll need to climb over your seatmate to use the bathroom), although since Justine and I will be traveling together, it’s not as much of a concern.

The plan was to use FlyingBlue miles, since I easily earned 100,000 Citi Thank You points from sign-up bonuses earlier this year, and those transfer 1:1 to FlyingBlue. Then I learned that you can often book the same seats using Delta SkyCents, and since partner awards haven’t been sent through the wood-chipper yet, you can get a whole lot of value out of them. Plus, with Delta you avoid fuel surcharges on the outbound route, which saves around $500 for two tickets.

Nothing’s ever permanent, though, which makes planning for trips over a year away pretty difficult. To wit: I just noticed that while AMS-SFO has traditionally been served by the 747, KLM also uses an A330 around half the time. While that normally wouldn’t matter, it turns out that the floor of the A330 can’t support the weight of the new business class seats, which means that they still sport the old seats (affectionately dubbed “slip n’ slide” seats on FlyerTalk because they don’t recline all the way, and you end up sliding down toward the foot rest).

Now, nothing is inherently wrong with these seats… and to be honest, flying in this cabin would still be the nicest trans-atlantic flight I ever took. The problem is that it costs the same 62,500 miles to fly the A330 as the 747, meaning I’d be paying the same amount for an inferior product. Looking out into the future, it looks like the A330 is mostly used in the winter when (I’d guess) demand to go to cold and rainy cities in Europe isn’t at its peak. Still, given the frequency of aircraft swaps, it now gives me pause to build my strategy around KLM now that I know that I could pay for a flat bed seat on a 747 and get downgraded to a slip n’ slide on an A330.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: How did YOU handle the rage the last time an airline swapped planes and downgraded your seat?

What do Alaska, Hong Kong, New York, and Vancouver Have in Common?

EDIT 1/18/17: This post is pretty outdated now… like how I talk about crediting miles to AAdvantage instead of Alaska? What a moran! Oh, and I never did end up taking the NYC-VAN flight on Cathay with my younger brother, although I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some point. Anyway, now that this post has been linked from higher-traffic pastures, I figured I’d mention this at the beginning so you know that I’ve matured as a Windbag Miler in the year and a half since this was originally written.

Disclaimer: I wrote most of this post longhand while I was flying last weekend, since the guy in front of me reclined his seat, and I didn’t have enough room to open my laptop. Due to my issues with flying (which I’m sure I’ll talk about at some point), my mind is kind of weird when I’m on a plane, and that’s reflected here… although I swear I kind of meant this to be tongue-in-cheek. Enjoy!

Looking at all the airlines, popular routes, mileage programs, and credit card options for earning points, a complex tapestry emerges. I’m reminded of Deleuze and Guattari’s essay on smooth vs. striated space, and how points/mileage enthusiasts find themselves wedged between the two (or, more accurately, lost in the fluidity between the two). It’s tough to think of any space smoother than the sky, but the way we traverse it in direct lines overseen and organized by a vast traffic control infrastructure converts what was previously thought to be smooth into striated space. In the same vein, the rules, terms, conditions, charts, redemption amounts, and everything else I try to memorize (or at least familiarize myself with) takes the freewheeling act of travel and imposes a rigid set of steps I have to follow in order to undertake a trip. However, in the sheer volume of information, including counterintuitive or contradictory rules and policies — that’s where the fun lies. And so, the mess of numbers, programs, the whole ball of wires that makes up “the hobby” starts to feel like Deleuze and Guattari’s famous quilt, which simultaneously consists of the orderly arrangement of fibers at the same time that it expands outward until the wide-angle view reveals a structure that doesn’t seem to follow any defined rule or pattern.

See what I mean? I wasn’t on drugs or anything, but my mind was going in a bizarre direction. Sure, it’s a great book, but I’m not convinced it belongs here…

Okay, that was a long, probably boring way to make two points. First, it’s really fun to dig into all these programs to try to find hidden gems, and second, you’re never going to know all there is to know, so the best thing to do is just to never stop digging. With that in mind, I started digging into Alaska’s Mileage Plan program, since I fly to Seattle on Alaska at least a few times a year. (I choose Alaska mostly for the occasional $50 upgrade and the fact that Alaska flies out of SFO’s international terminal, so the plane spotting opportunities are much better.) I always credit my flights to Amercan, since one of my longer-term plans is to bank AAdvantage miles slowly and then augment my balance with a big sign-up bonus before using my miles for a long-haul business class redemption of some kind. It goes against the conventional wisdom of earn and burn, but truthfully, I’m not earning enough for the inevitable devaluation to really hurt that bad.

But, I wanted to see what I was missing out on with Mileage Plan, since it’s so highly regarded in the points and miles world. Plus, it was on my mind after writing that post about Starpoints. Most of Alaska’s more interesting redemptions are on carriers I don’t really have occasion to use, specifically because I don’t have any immediate plans to fly to Asia or the middle east. However, when looking through their partner award chart, a particular redemption caught my eye:mileageplan

Cathay Pacific first class is one of those products that gets reviewed amazingly well from just about everybody. They don’t have an on-board bar or shower suite, but the seat looks divinely comfortable, and the service is supposed to be pretty good too. (Also, I know everyone raves about the novelty of showering on a plane, but I’m severely put off by the not-unlikely prospect of hitting turbulence and sitting belted-in on the shower’s safety bench nude and dripping wet while the plane lurches to and fro.) Plus, true first class is kind of a forbidden fruit for me, since I have very eurocentric travel goals, and one of the bummers about flying to Europe is that first class is tougher and tougher to come by… and when first class cabins do exist, it’s either difficult or prohibitively expensive to book awards in them.

So, imagine my delight when I found that Cathay Pacific runs a fifth freedom route (a route on which neither the origin nor the terminus is in a carrier’s registered country) between JFK and Vancouver. Cities I love and would happily travel to in order to enjoy a premium cabin I otherwise wouldn’t get to experience. (Fifth freedom routes are pretty cool in general, and at some point my goal is to fly in first class on both Emirates (NYC to Milan) and Singapore (NYC to Frankfurt).)

You know what I just realized? None of these premium cabins have overhead bins!

After some more research, I realized that both Lucky and The Points Guy have written about this route, but I missed it – again, due to the sheer volume of information that’s out there. Then, once I realized that the route exists, I found out that I can book it with Asia Miles (for 40,000 miles), which I can earn via transfers from Citi or Amex (meaning that the whole detour into Alaska miles wasn’t even necessary). Given the ease of earning Thank You/Membership Rewards points, it’s probably easier to book this way, although I’m hoarding points in those programs right now. As a result, I decided to do a Mileage Plan blitz and found myself with 39,000 Mileage Plan points almost overnight. (How did I do this? 25,000 points came from getting the Alaska Airlines Visa card, which awards the miles without requiring a minimum spend. Then I got the other 14,000 from my Chicago hotel stay, which I booked on Rocketmiles. Almost 40,000 Alaska miles in a weekend, and nary an SPG Amex in sight!)

I’m planning the trip for next June, and I’ll be traveling with my younger brother, since he’s the only person I know who appreciates premium cabins as much as I do. He’s based in Chicago, so we’ll meet in New York (which I’ll probably fly to on a paid Jetblue ticket so I can check out their Mint class), travel to Vancouver on Cathay, and then hang out in the Pacific Northwest for a while before returning home. It seems kind of crazy to fly to Vancouver via New York, but I’m the guy who started a blog post on points and miles by talking about French poststructuralists, so crazy is more or less the unifying theme here.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: What’s the most ridiculous routing YOU’D take just to fly a product you’ve never tried before?

My Intro to Points & Miles

It seems crazy that a year ago I had no idea that distance/region-based miles even existed. For most of my early adult life, I had a hard enough time holding down a job and a place to live, so earning miles was a distant concern. Then, when I did start putting effort into flying the same airlines in order to accumulate points, my airlines of choice were Southwest and Virgin – both of which have fixed-value points. As a result, I always just assumed that all airline miles were like this, and I never put much thought into which loyalty program I used. I got a Chase Sapphire card, but I didn’t see the point in transferring points to United when I could just use Chase to get 1.25 cents per point. In other words, I was the rube that most credit card companies market to. This is probably why I was targeted for a 100,000 point sign-up bonus on the American Express Platinum card, and it’s also why I threw the application away thinking, “What the hell would I do with 100,000 American Express points?”

platinum dumbshit

Finally, a friend of mine sent me a link to United’s redemption chart, and I realized that most carriers do indeed assign award prices based on either distance or regions… then all hell broke loose. This was right after United’s devaluation, but I wasn’t savvy enough at that point to be pissed, since 110,000 miles for a business class ticket to Europe at least made business class attainable to me when it previously wasn’t. See, I’ve been obsessed with long haul business class products for years, and I always thought that maybe I’d splurge on two seats for my wife and I on our 20th anniversary or something. I simply had no idea you could get these seats by accruing miles.

So, step one was to kick myself for how many Ultimate Rewards Points I had pissed away using Chase’s travel portal. Step two was to start hoarding points with an eye on an eventual United business class redemption. I realized it would take at least two years to get the 230,000 points we’d need for two round-trip tickets, but at least it would no longer be a one-time extravagance. However, once I got into it, I really got into it, and as I read travel reviews on sites like One Mile at a Time, I also started to pick up tips on other credit cards and faster ways to earn award tickets. Fast forward to today… I just got approved for my seventh card of 2015, and I’m already looking past our next trip, since I have all the miles we’ll need for that one.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: How did YOU get involved in the points/miles game, and did you used to be as clueless as me?