Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Five Rules of Mileage Runing....

So...this is happening.
I thought it was time for a little enlightenment on the 'rules' of mileage runs, in the words of my favorite (now discontinued) safety video.  Bonus points for anyone who knows what I'm talking about, and double bonus points if you hate the new one as much as I do.

Additionally, this is probably a 'level 2' mileage running post, meaning there's a bit of flyer jargon and mileage nonsense used throughout.

Anyway, onwards:

1. There are so many places to go in this world, but only a few are a good deal.

I get asked all the time why I keep going back to Hong Kong, or why I ended up in Jakarta so often recently.  The challenge, or I like to think, fun, of the mileage lifestyle is in part that you book flights to far off places you never would have considered going.  And then, chances are, you go back.

The reason is that when you fly a specific airline or airline alliance, you go where they go.  More specifically, you go where they have too much inventory.  Empty seats = good pricing.  Obviously, other factors apply.  For instance, you'd pay more to go to Kuala Lumpur than to go to Lima, because the distance is the biggest factor in 'what it's worth'

People always ask me how I plan my trips, and besides checking around the internet, and any tips I might get from friends, knowing what cities are good candidates is the best place to start. For instance, what do these places have in common?

Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW)
Hong Kong (HKG)
Doha (DOH)
Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
Lima (LIM)

Answer: These are all 'homes' of Oneworld airlines.  American, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Malaysian, and LANTAM, respectively.  What this means is that these airlines have a lot of flights, and therefore a lot of seats, to and from these destinations.  In addition, with the possible exception of Doha, these destinations are all served by more than one Oneworld airline, increasing the price competition. 

Now, for the next level of expertise, it's important to know a few places that either are seasonally under appreciated, or are popular connecting cities from the Oneworld hubs.  Bonus points if they also are places with weak currencies, which makes a stay there cheap, and a flight that originates there very cheap. 

Jakarta (CGK) - On JAL or Cathay Pacific
Johannesburg (JNB) - On British Airways
Cairo- (CAI) -On Qatar
Bogota (BOG) - On American
Panama City (PTY) - On American
Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) - On JAL or Cathay Pacific
Toronto (YYZ) - Is a good 'out of the box' place to start itineraries, especially to Asia.
Rapa Nui (IPC) -  (once in a blue moon, but it's a bucket list trip) - On LANTAM

Yes, in several of these places, you may need some situational awareness to travel comfortably.  However, with some good planning and/or making it a turn around with a longer stop at another city on the itinerary, they make for some good prices and fun trips.

Of course, with the new mileage and qualifying dollar system, these top destinations may change slightly, but even after the switch, I've still found myself being successful finding deals to many of my past places.



2. Secure your tickets first, and then assist other passengers.

In short, deals are only deals while they last.  Some fares my be dependent on the time they're booked, but the majority are influenced mainly by the number of seats being sold at a certain price.  For some deep discount flights, there may be only one or two seats available at that price. 

For example, I recently checked out a killer deal from Toronto (YYZ) to Shanghai (PVG).  While I was scanning around to see if I could find a weekend I was free to do the trip, the availability was quickly evaporating, with many dates going from $440...to $560... and onwards and upwards each time I refreshed the screen.

The Deal of the Day
The airline was likely only allowing a few passengers to book each flight at this rate, so as the rest of the travelers on the internet were jumping on this deal, it was going fast.  Still, the next fare 'bucket' up, in the $500s is still a good deal to Asia. 

The moral of the story?  Always get your tickets on hold or ticketed before sharing around the internet, if you're so inclined. Once a good deal hits 'the blogs,' it's just about gone.



3. Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the features of your airplane.

It's a good idea to look further than just price when planning a trip.  It's key to get to know the types of planes, and the layout of the cabin before committing to spending some serious time flying in it.  The likelihood of upgrading, and the experience in general, have just about everything to do with the type of plane you're flying, and the crew you're flying with.  There is a very, very big difference in flying a 757 vs a 777-300 across an ocean. 

Google around for reviews of specific flights, there's a lot out there that can tell you what to expect.  Often the plane type or cabin interior (these differ also depending on the route on some airlines) may be what makes my decision for me.  There's also smaller details to know once you've booked, like what seats are know to be quietest on a given plane, or are best for flying with a companion, or even down to the best meal and drink options.



4. In the event of a quick turn, please leave all checked luggage behind.

It goes without saying that checking luggage on a long itinerary in the best of cases is risky if you actually need them when you land.  Add that to a convoluted, multi-segment itinerary, and you can pretty much give up hope.  Put directly- if you can't fit it in the overhead bin, you probably don't need it on a mileage run.  The above picture is the total amount of luggage brought by exactly four mileage runners, trekking all the way from across the US, to Jakarta, Bali, and back. 

Just make sure you have the essentials- a change or two of comfortable clothes, basic necessities, and most importantly, electronics & chargers with international compatibility.  Less is more.  I've flown with people who can go around the world with just a small backpack. 


5. Always know the nearest exit (strategy).

Plan for contingencies.  It's no surprise that if you're trying to hop around the world on a shoestring, through multiple airports, and across every time zone in a weekend, the unexpected may happen.  Everyone's all too acquainted with the occasional mechanical issue with a plane, or airport tarmac delays.  In general it's best to have a few contingency plans in mind. 

If you have a tight connection, or a late arrival, it's good to know if there's a cheap airport hotel you can get on points, or a 24 hour airport lounge. Where possible, I also like to try to not be on the last flight of the night, on the chance I can get moved to a later flight, and still continue on my trip on the same day.

Remember the most important rule of ticketing- you can always stop and go home mid-itinerary, forgoing the last flight(s), but you CAN NOT skip an earlier segment, and pick up the rest of the trip.  If you try this, the rest of the trip will automatically cancel! 

So, if you have DFW-HKG-LAX-DFW booked, and you happen to live in Los Angeles, and are feeling done with the trip, you can walk out of the airport and head home with the only consequence being giving up the miles you would have earned for that last segment.  However, if you were flying DFW-LAX-HKG-DFW, you can't decide to start the trip in LAX, you would have to go to DFW because that's where the ticketing starts.  If you don't show up for that flight, the rest will be cancelled.

Whew...that ended up longer than I anticipated, but I hope some of  it is helpful!

Thank you for reading, I'm glad you're here.

Happy Flying,

-CruisingAltitude






Monday, November 21, 2016

Lounge Destinations: The Qantas 1st Lounge at LAX


This post is part of my Lounge Destinations series, which reviews some of my favorite Oneworld lounges worldwide.

Also see:

"The Wing: Cathay Pacific 1st Class" and
"The Red Suite: JAL Haneda 1st Class"

The Qantas 1st Class Lounge that opened last year is a gift to all Oneworld flyers that depart from, or regularly transit, LAX.  What's an even bigger gift, is the newly (ish) finished airside connector from Terminal 4 to the Tom Bradley International Terminal.  Along with the recently re-opened tunnels connecting Terminals 7-4, this gives an entire half of the airport access to the newly renovated TBIT, its shops, restaurants, and lounges.

I'm looking forward to visiting here again before my last international flight of the year to Quito in a few weeks.  The lounge opens at 6:30 in the morning, so I'll be getting there as they open to make sure I have plenty of time before my 9:00 departure to MIA.

To get to the Qantas lounge from Terminal 4, take the TBIT connector, stay on the upstairs level, and follow the corridor around.  The Qantas lounge is the first one you'll come across.  If you're checking in at TBIT, after security, follow the signs up to the lounges.

Of the lounges available at LAX for Oneworld travelers, the Qantas Lounge is the top of the list.  It's a true first class experience.

So, how does one qualify for entry??

Credit: Qantas.com
The takeaways from this chart are: You must be flying in first class on Qantas or another Oneworld airline, be one of Qantas' Platinum One or Platinum elite flyers, or hold Emerald status with the Oneworld alliance.  Each of these categories also entitles you to bring a guest.

What's not stated clearly here is that to qualify using your Oneworld Emerald status, you must be traveling onward on a Oneworld INTERNATIONAL flight.  International flights exclude Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

In addition, you may be able to gain access under the following scenarios:

-You are arriving on an international Oneworld flight that would qualify, connecting to a domestic flight to your final destination, i.e. HKG-LAX-DFW.

-You have a qualifying Oneworld international flight within the next 24 hours, even if your first flight is domestic, i.e. LAX-SFO-HKG, where the SFO-HKG is early the next morning.

These are good rules to get used to, as they apply to the majority of Oneworld lounges, and AA Flagship lounges.

So, after you've gotten in, what should you expect?  The lounge is essentially one large room with quite a bit of seating.  The d├ęcor is very modern and comfortable, with a decent number of power outlets in each seating area.  However, in the peak hours before Qantas and British Airways load up their a308s, even this lounge can get full and fairly loud. 


Lots and lots....


....Of seating.

The amenities are likewise well done, with premium drinks, and a full service complimentary menu that's made to order.  Wine and soft drinks are available for self pour, and there are several small snack stations placed throughout the lounge.  However, there is no buffet, so you'll need to plan some time if you want to have a meal.

 
 
 
The restaurant has a menu that changes through the day.  Especially when they're not operating at full capacity, the service is quite prompt, so it shouldn't slow you down too much.  I've heard good things about many of the menu items, but my personal favorite is the fillet with chipotle butter, or if I'm in the mood for something on the lighter side, a salad and their current carpaccio.
 
The Breakfast Menu


Settling In For a Meal Before Our Flight


The Salt and Pepper Calamari


A Light Meal Before a Late Flight

There's also a bar that runs along the side of the restaurant area.  It is a full bar serving wine, beer, and cocktails, as well as having a great espresso and tea service.  Always nice to be able to get a genuine Aussie flat white stateside.

They prefer that you sit at the restaurant tables or at the bar if you're ordering from the menu, but if these are full, they'll also bring you your meal if you're seated elsewhere.  I've always found the service at this lounge to be top quality. 


The Modern Bar
 If I'm at this lounge on my own, I generally head for the bar and visit with the servers for a few minutes, while I eat, before finding a place to relax and work.  They're friendly, helpful, and will give you the rundown on the who's who of guests if they're in a chatty mood.  This lounge seems to be the go-to for LA's celebrity flyers, which can lead to some good stories.
 
The lounge also offers free shower rooms, complete with towels and amenities so you can get refreshed before your flight.  Ask in advance, especially at peak hours, as there may be a waiting list.  There are also workstations, computers, and free wifi.  This lounge doesn't offer spa services like some of the very top lounges, but it's still the best choice for the Oneworld flyer at TBIT if you have access.  Just make sure you plan plenty of time to enjoy!
 
Travel Well,
 
-CruisingAltitude
 
Want to know more about lounge access, and plan your flights so you can check them out yourself?  Let me help you!  Check out my consulting site to learn more.

 This post is part of #WanderfulWednesdays, Budget Traveler's Sandbox's #TravelPhotoThursday, #WeekendTravelInspiration, and #FlyAwayFriday at Time Travel Blonde. Check out these linkups!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

View From Above: The Windy City

 
"Hi Airplane!!" Baby Flyer gets ready to take off!
Last weekend we headed to Chicago as a family for a two night stay.  We like to go there just about once a year, if we can find the time.  This year it was a no-brainer, thanks to $64 round trip tickets.  I'll be posting the full trip report over on Baby Flyer Blog

Chicago is always a photogenic city, from the iconic skyline, to the long lasting fall colors, and impressive public works projects.  We always make a point to spend as much time outside enjoying the city as the weather will allow.  This year, the weather was perfect- sunny, clear skies that made the city sights really stand out.



Frank Gehry designed Pritzker Pavillion


Late Fall colors in Millennium Park
 
The skyline from Maggie Daley Park
 
"The Bean" sculpture in Millennium Park
 
What's more, this trip the city greeted us with impressive views even before we made our final approach with these stellar 'views from above.'  Check out the shadows of the skyline on the lake! 
 

Hello, ORD!
 Once again, Chicago doesn't disappoint.  We had a great time playing with Baby Flyer at Maggie Daley Park, staying in style at the Palmer House Hilton, and eating at our favorite find, The Green Zebra

Until next year, (or the next flight deal) Chicago!

~CruisingAltitude

This post is part of Budget Traveler's Sandbox's #TravelPhotoThursday, #WeekendTravelInspiration, and #FlyAwayFriday at Time Travel Blonde. Check out these linkups!
 

Friday, November 11, 2016

The New Math, Mileage Style...

Welcome to Doha- Your destination for all your future mileage earning needs. 
 
So, so.... what can we say about current events?  Plenty, but this is not the blog for that.  As part of my angst over the past couple weeks, I decided to direct some energy elsewhere, and finish up planning my mileage runs for next year early.  I mean, it was that, or watching old episodes of "Commander In Chief" and killing a bottle of wine.  So, choices....

Now, I know that this type of early planning my not fit the traditional definition of 'Mileage Running' as it used to be, back when you'd just top up your mileage account in November or December on a few long flights, preferably with some added Double Miles bonus, or other incentive.  However, those days are over.  Since the revenue-based earnings and elite qualifying dollars have been introduced across the US's three major carriers, getting your status done each year has needed to get more creative.

Enter, the new Mileage Lifestyle.  Ironically, it's far more lucrative to renew you American Airlines status (or Delta for that matter) by trying to almost never step on an American flight on a mileage run.  Good job with that planning, AA leadership, we're all about to know way more about the Doha airport than we ever imagined.

"The Teddy Bear" at the DOH airport.  You will get used to it, I promise.
Instead, I'm heading to a few of the Oneworld partner airlines who, on occasion, have some very lucrative sales on premium class tickets to all corners of the world. What's important to know, is that partner flights in premium classes more or less earn redeemable miles like 'the good old days.'  For an Executive Platinum member, you stand to earn based on the miles flown, plus a 120% bonus, plus any cabin class bonus miles.  They also earn some extra elite qualifying miles, and more importantly, elite qualifying dollars based on a percentage of the distance flown.

Let's have a quick look at some 'sweet spot' examples.  First up, Qatar:
(Click on the chart for larger image)
So, what's the deal here?  The place to look on this chart is at those business R and I codes.  Qatar has been liking to sell promotional fares in these buckets for a fraction of what they're worth.  There have been discounts, holiday code sales, and 2 for 1 deals.  Simply put- this airline is growing, has a lot of business class seats to sell, and a lot of government 'equity.' 

What does this mean in terms of earnings?  How is it different than flying AA?  Well, for starters, let's do the math for each.  Let's take a hypothetical $1000 ticket for round numbers (yes, this is an expensive mileage run, but...math).  At the outset, on one of these fare deals you might be booking into business class for long haul on Qatar, while you almost certainly would be in coach on AA.  Let's say the ticket travels 20,000 base miles (this is like an itinerary from LAX-Doha-SE Asia and back, which is long, most average long haul ones lately have been in the 17-18k range for me but once again, math). 

On AA, in economy as an EXP, you would earn 11,000 redeemable miles (the $1000 you spent, times 11), 20,000 elite qualifying miles (the distance you flew), and $1000 elite qualifying dollars.  I'm assuming that the $1000 does not include the taxes that aren't included in the qualifying dollars under the new rules. So in short, the AA flight = economy travel (maybe you could standby for the upgrade) and 11k usable miles, 20k elite qualifying, and 1k elite qualifying dollars.

Now the same $1000 ticket on Qatar- at the start, you'd be in business class. So there's that.  Your earnings would look like this: 44,000 redeemable miles (20k + 120% bonus), 30,000 elite qualifying miles (the 20k with a 1.5 multiplier), and $4000 elite qualifying dollars (20k flown miles times .20).

Anyone see where I'm going with this???

I'll also note that I've recently been able to find some great deals on one way and shorter-haul Qatar tickets that book into A and D classes, making them even more lucrative.

Now, let's assume that in all honesty you're likely to pay a bit more for that Qatar business ticket, than the AA economy ticket.  Fair enough, but with current rates you're only going to be paying a few hundred more from what I've seen, if you're willing to dig around for the deals.  Add to that that at a $.02 value, those extra miles are worth in the neighborhood of $600, and with miles being harder to come by these days, I value them even more. Further, you don't need to burn a systemwide upgrade (someplace around a $350+ value) trying to make this trip comfortable, which is good, since we're only getting four now.  Save those for that trip with the family to Europe.

But, you say, 'What if I don't want to go to Doha? I'm trying to avoid 110 degree heat and questionable governments this year!'  Well, there are some other bright spots in the partner charts.  Take, for instance, British Airways' premium economy tickets.
(Click on the chart for a larger image)
Have a look at those W, E and T fares.  I've seen those get reasonably priced for some long haul flights.  What's even more interesting about those, is that if you have some Avios, or some AmEx Membership awards points that can be made into Avios, those fares can be upgraded to business class using them. Not a bad way to go to, say, Africa, and back in business class for well under 2k. 

So, this is the first iteration of the new mileage math.  It has its downsides: you're more limited in destination on average, though AA also has a few routes that always came up as well.  The initial price may be a shade higher, but you get more for it, and may need to do less.  The takeaway here, is that it's still possible to find some good deals to keep your status, and enjoy doing it.  

As an added bonus, we're about to finally know where Qatar is.

To see my preview of what a 'new math' mileage run looks like: Best Worst Decisions

Thanks for reading and travel well,

-CruisingAltitude

PS, if you don't want to spend your days and nights learning the ins and outs of mileage math, but still want to travel better, let me help you!  Check out Altitude Consulting and get in touch!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Lounge Destinations: The Wing



A drink with a view at The Long Bar
There's a problem with the Hong Kong airport, a big one.  That would be that there's simply too many great lounge options for the discerning Oneworld traveler.  I've been several times, and never make it to as many as I'd like, simply because I get sidetracked into not wanting to leave and waste time hiking through the terminal. 

A note on HKG departures generally if you're planning on coming to the airport especially early- check ahead to make sure your departure airline's desk is open.  American doesn't open until 3 hrs prior to first departure, and many other airlines are similar. If this will be an issue, remember that you can check in at the Central or Kowloon airport express stations!!  This will save you time, and they're open early!

The full list of lounges includes: The Cabin, The Bridge, The Pier & The Wing, as well as the Qantas  Lounge, which opened last year.

First thing's first, let's talk about the first lounge you're likely to stumble upon after getting through passport control- The Wing.

Getting there and getting in:  The Wing is Cathay’s flagship lounge at HKG.  It’s located in the main international terminal, just through the left side passport control.  After clearing, make a hard left down the hallway, before the food court and you can’t miss it.  If in doubt, just look for the life size cutout of a Cathay agent by the door.

Amenities at The Wing
Once you’re in, where to go: The Wing has two sides, business and first.  These are open to passengers flying same day in these respective cabins, as well as Oneworld elites.  Oneworld Sapphire travelers may access the business class side, and Oneworld Emerald my use the first class side.  Oneworld elites are also allowed one guest.  Both are worth a visit, but if you have access to the first class side, it’s REALLY worth a visit, possibly a long one. 
 
There are a few parts of this lounge that set it apart.  Possibly the most notorious, are the luxurious private “cabanas” that can be reserved on a first come first served basis.  The Cabanas are private rooms to relax and get refreshed before your flight.  They are the size of an average W Hotel room, and include a daybed, desk/vanity, bathroom, and most importantly, a waterfall shower and soaking tub.  The rooms are stocked with all the necessities- tolietires, towels, hair drier, etc. 
 
Soaking tub
 
Waterfall shower- the cure for any jetlag
 
Daybed area
If all the cabanas are taken when you arrive, they will put you on the list for the next available one, and give you a pager to take with you.  If you don't have time to wait, they also have very nice shower rooms that I've generally never had to wait for.

Shower room
 
Amenities
 
Rainfall shower
 
The Wing on the first class side also includes a full service complimentary restaurant, named ‘The Haven."  The Haven has both table service, with a full menu, and a buffet if you'd rather take a sampling.  I really appreciate when lounges have this option, because you may not have time for a full service on a layover, or may simply want to enjoy other parts of the lounge as well.
 
 
I'd just like to say that I love breakfast in Hong Kong?  It's one of the only places in the world where you can have congee (a Chinese rice porridge) and dim sum, next to sausage, baked beans, and toast. 
Of course, after your tea, eggs, and congee, you'll naturally have to top it off with a visit to the swanky champagne bar. 

 
 The bar features several nice bottles on ice all day, accompanied by plush red leather couches.  The drinks are self-pour, but there's generally also a server there to take care of you.

There are a couple other features worth a visit if you have the time.  The additional benefit of the layout of this lounge is that the business and first sides are just connected by a hallway/gap with a welcome desk, so you can walk freely between them if you have access to both.  Just have you boarding pass or Oneworld elite card with you in case anyone asks. 

On the business class side, there's a noodle bar that serves made to order soups, as well as 'The Long Bar" that is arguably the best place to sit and watch airport ops.  It solves my one complaint about this lounge, which is that the views of the ramp are somewhat obstructed by the opaque railing
along the edge of the lounge when you're in most of the seating.

First Class Lounge Seating


Semi-private seating/workstations
The lounge can be high traffic at times as well, so it's nice to have plenty of options throughout the space for seating.  You can also grab your food and drink from the first class side, and take them over to the Long Bar for the best of both worlds. 

In any case, you can (and should) easily enjoy several hours here before or between flights.  Check ahead to see where your departure gate will be, since some may require taking the train connection.  Even though HKG is a very large airport, it's well laid out and easy to navigate.  The agents at the lounge are always very helpful, and will make sure you know where you're going next!

Enjoy your visit, 

~CruisingAltitude

Also, I'm very excited about our new blog project- The Baby Flyer Blog !  With the new addition to our traveling family, we've been learning the ins and outs of travel with young children, and want to use what we've learned to help others travel more smoothly, so please have a visit and let us know what you think! 

This post is part of Budget Traveler's Sandbox' Travel Photo Thursday.  Make sure to pay them a visit for some inspiring travel stories and ideas!

Also in this review series, check out Lounge Destinations: The Red Suite