Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Around the World in Eighty Hours Part 1: In the Clear!

Note: I had fun on my last trip trying to keep posts going as the journey progressed, so I'm going to do my best to try that again, foreign internet issues notwithstanding.  I'm calling this trip "Around the World in 80 Hours" because...why not? I think it's going to take me closer to 94 hours to actually get all the way back home again, but that just lacks a certain ring.  Artistic license, right?

Part 1:

As it turns out, flying around the world takes a fair amount of planning.  Who knew?  All in all, the weekend is made up of six flights, on four separate itineraries, on 4 different Oneworld airlines.  Though technically this isn't the most flights I've packed into one mileage run - that award goes to 2015's Tokyo-Jakarta-Malaysia trip, this is definitely the most logistically complex because there are so many different itineraries to keep track of, as well as different mileage earnings and seating and upgrade rules. 

The good news is that my upgrade on AA to Hong Kong just cleared, so I only have two segments in the 'back of the bus,' one being a 4hr flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur on Cathay, and the other being a connecting award flight on Malaysian Air from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo.  I actually have had good experiences in coach with both of these airlines in the past, so I'm not dreading it too much.  They're both airlines that offer service that exceeds US standards, and okay yes, MH did loose a couple 777s awhile ago, but that could happen to anyone.  Forgive and forget, right?  As long as they give you lounge access.

As I said, the most important part of all that is that MY UPGRADE ALREADY CLEARED going to Hong Kong.  It's a 15 hour flight on one of AA's best planes, so I was really crossing fingers and doing the upgrade dance (patent pending) for this one. 

This is a big upgrade over the 'back' for 15 hours.
I'll probably do a brief guide to upgrades here, or at Altitude Consulting soon, but the short story about getting an upgrade on a long haul flight on AA is that you're most always waitlisted, sometimes for months and it goes right up to the moment you board before you really know if it'll work out.  There's a lot of strategy, and possibly voodoo, that goes into divining what's likely to clear, but really it's hard to predict with any kind of certainty. 

Luckily though, this flight is fairly new, whereas the DFW-HKG flight has been around much longer.  So the loads are still on the light side for this popular route, and there's more competition for paying business class customers with Cathay Pacific, who flies several flights out of LAX daily. 

This is all just a rambling set up to paint you a picture of just exactly how my Valentine's Day evening went.  I had an alert set from ExpertFlyer that would text me if upgrade space became available.  Doing this is hit and miss, since the program has a delay and whatnot, but it's generally worth giving a shot to try and confirm in advance.. 

So anyhow, Mrs. CruisingAltitude and I are enjoying a low key dinner at home, mostly just watching 12 month old BabyFlyer throw her food onto the ground tiny piece by tiny piece while laughing about it, when my phone pings.  Mrs. CrusingAltitude picks it up, looks confused, and hands it over.  Sure enough, it's THE alert.  So I leap up (seriously, I almost never move that fast) shouting that I have to call AA, and start tapping in the EXP line's number from memory.

Meanwhile, Mrs. CrusingAltitude, sensing the panic and feeling the need to assist, tries to help by pulling up my itinerary....and poor BabyFlyer just freezes midway through launching another steamed carrot off her plate to try and sort out what the heck is going on, and whether she should laugh or cry about it.

So, basically, just another night in the CruisingAltitude house. 

But, the upgrade cleared thanks to a great AAgent on the phone!  16c --> 12A, yes and thank you!  That's one more seat assignment I can stop worrying about.  This is a relief, because mileage runs under the 'new system' have plenty to worry about.

Flying an itinerary like this with so many foreign airlines, codeshares, and separate segments makes getting the finer details sorted out start to feel like one of those riddle-turned-math questions from the 6th grade: "If Jimmy uses Amex points at a 1200:1000 ratio to buy Avios with British Airways for a restricted economy Malaysian Air flight, can he get an advance seat assignment in the exit row, and who does he need to call for it?"

The answer there: 1- Yes, maybe.  2- Call everyone & pay 40 MYR for it, which is about $9.   These are the kinds of things that keep me up at night.  I know you're jealous.

The truth is, though, that mileage runners take a kind of perverse pleasure in just these complexities, and sorting out how to best utilize the airlines, alliances, and hotel rules to their advantage.  That, along with planning out exactly how many extra hours to devote to airport lounge time, what hotels have the best elite treatment, how many tiny bottles of Woodford Reserve SHOULD be catered to each flight, and much more. 

These are the kinds of details that make any sane traveler throw up their hands and proclaim the entire industry makes no sense, is out to get them, and charges too much while they're at it.  Maybe they're right, but my only point is..... upgrade ALREADY CLEARED!!!


Up next: Around the World In 80 Hours Part 2- Over the Ocean and Past the Arctic

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