Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It's the end of the world as we know it....

British Airways tails at Heathrow from my last mileage run-your connection to Europe just got longer.

Well, this post could be about so very many things.  So very, very many things.

In the major headlines last week, a slim majority of UK voters decided to take their country out of the EU.  There are lots of feelings about this going around.  So very, very many feelings.  I have some, but that's not the point of this post, or this blog really.  What I will say though, is it's a sad week for the future of travel if you're considering transiting LHR on the way to other European cities.  Heathrow already isn't the smoothest connection, now add an exit from the EU passport control, possible additional tariffs, and no good can come of it.  On the other hand.... the pound and the euro are on the way down, so it's possibly a good time to snatch up some decent ex-UK tickets, if you're in the market.  So, you know, priorities.

So, there's that.  There are also quite a few other world events that could be in line with this post's title, but they're not what I'm supposed to be talking about here.

However, what is on topic for this blog, is American's decision to end the last great mileage program as we know it.  In fact, American was the first airline to 'invent' the frequent flyer program, advertising it with the simple "fly a mile, get a mile" slogan that has lasted decades, and became the model for the other carriers that followed.  Yet, under new management due to the US Air merger, starting August 1, this system will no longer be followed.  Instead of distance flown, all that will matter is how much you paid for your ticket.  This is extremely bad news for the large majority of flyers, your correspondent included. 

There is no point to this pic, I've just been typing far too many 'words' without a picture, so here's a nice view of takeoff from DUS.  Much better than the words.

The new system that has been set up, is targeted on two groups of travelers.  The first are the people who don't really belong to any mileage programs.  They don't use them, only travel a few times a year, and generally just book the lowest fare, no matter what airline it is, or how bad the product or service.  These people couldn't care less, and just want everything stripped down so that when they click purchase on Orbitz, they think they have a good deal (never mind that they'll probably end up getting nickel and dimed out of quite a bit of extra money along the way in fees for bags, food, picking seats, and the like.)  This new program allows AA to bottom-out the benefits they offer, scrape a few dollars per fare out of the overhead costs, and try and compete for these people with the likes of Frontier and Spirit.  Trying to be like the most hated airlines in the country.  Makes sense.  

The other, drastically smaller, group of flyers the new system is aimed at are the "1%" or less of flyers who habitually buy full fare business and first class tickets.  Everyone else in-between, they don't seem to care about retaining as loyal customers.  This is all allegedly well and good, I would suppose, for the bottom line according to current management.  However, if I'm being honest, if I had the corporate backing to be buying international business and first fares regularly there's no way I'd be picking any of the legacy US carriers at all.  I'd be going with the top service, and the flight and connection times that suited me best.  None of these criteria would lead me to a US based airline.  The product, and especially the service, is just simply better on most international carriers.  Even in economy the service on Japan Airlines, Qantas, or Malaysia puts any US airline to shame, jetbridge to jetbridge.

Nevertheless, AA has decided to forgo staying as the one international US airline with a true mileage program, rather than a spend based program, in favor of just doing what the others did.  I suppose if there's no competition doing any better, why bother.  My eventual reaction to this will be a post for another time, or not, if I know what's good for me.

So..... the point, and on a much better, if a bit nostalgic, note....

Given this particular 'end of the world as we know it,' with the blessing of Mrs. CruisingAltitude, I hurried up and booked one "last" true mileage run before the Aug 1 deadline.  As luck would have it, there was one weekend left where Hong Kong was still within mileage run territory.  As I've said over and over again, I love Hong Kong as a mileage destination.  It is an intersection of cultures, new and old architecture, and beautiful natural sights, all wrapped up in an accessible and visitor friendly urban landscape.  It really is one of the finest cities in the world.  Plus, and almost as importantly, it is very, very far away. 

Morning views from my last HKG run: Beautiful Hong Kong island in the foreground, Kowloon in the distance.

My itinerary this time takes me on the overnight flight to Dallas from LAX, letting me start off the journey at the Qantas 1st lounge, followed by time for a nap, shower, and breakfast in the DFW Centurion, before getting on the ultra-long haul flight to HKG.  At 17 hours, and over 8,000 miles one way, it's still the longest flight on AA metal you can fly.  My return, just under two days later, connects through Tokyo's Heneda airport on Cathay Pacific, before heading on home to LAX on one of AA's new 787s.  The HND-LAX is a relatively new route, and it will be my first stop at that airport, as I usually connect through Narita.  Unfortunately, the 5 hour stop will be just shy of enough time to really justify going into the city, but I've never complained about time spent in the JAL 1st lounge!

From the northeastern vector into TYO- beautiful sea and sky!

So, all in all, I'm trying to make the best of the 'last' real mileage run.  This trip will earn me over 33,000 miles.  If I take it after August 1 this year, it would barely have earned 8,000.  End of the world as we know it, indeed. 

With that in mind, I have some plans for my time on the ground.  I'll see how many of them I get to in the end, but for now I'm hoping to hit up any (or all of the following):

-At least one night of the 'Symphony of Lights' laser show.
-Enjoying the views from Kowloon from the waterfront, and possibly from the 118th floor of the Ritz at the 'tallest bar' in the world, Ozone. 
-Running the 5k loop path at the top of "The Peak."
-Finding the old "Checkerboard Hill" in Kowloon (See my ramblings about this HERE)
-Dim sum
-Possibly some time at the rooftop pool/spa of the Kowloon Sheraton Towers Hotel.
-Finding the perfect cocktail (after I find the way in) at Foxglove, and/or Quinary...and/or....and/or...
-Of course, some quality time before my outbound flight at the many fantastic lounges at HKG.

Yes, this is what I mean by 'quality time' at the HKG lounges.

In other words, I don't plan to waste this opportunity to send real 'mileage running' off with a memorable weekend.  Sure, there will still be mileage trips to gain status, but it's the end of an era for sure. 

I suppose the best light to cast this in, is to be thankful for the experiences that the AAdvantage program in it's last incarnation has allowed me, both on mileage runs and redemption trips-  I've seen every continent (save Antarctica), with stops in over 20 cities I otherwise wouldn't have been to, pet lions in Africa, been harassed by monkeys in Malaysia, and yes, had my share of memorable (if a bit strange) foreign airport and plane experiences.  What's more, I've made quite a few good friends who are just crazy enough to feel the same way about the occasional one-day trip to Tokyo (or Brazil...Doha....). 

So, what else is there to say about the end of this particular little world?  Where do we go from here? Another airline? (*cough* Alaska Air *cough*)  Something else entirely?  I'm really not sure yet.  For now, I'm just looking forward to the next adventure. 


A last backward glance at the 'old AA' - sunset over DFW and an endangered MD80 'Mad Dog' to go with.

No comments:

Post a Comment