Archive | May 2013

How to pick your frequent flyer program

If you want to rank up the rewards for all those hours you’ve spend inside those metal birds you better sign up for the right rewards program.  In comes the question: which reward program is right for you.

To make this choice you need to consider a few points:
– What do you want to achieve by joining a program?
– What routes do you fly on?
– What kind of tickets do you fly on?
– How often do you fly?

Let’s start with the latest point: How often do you fly?
It’s important to know that the miles you accumulate will expire after a while.  (One exception to this rule is Delta.)  With most other airlines you need to have activity more or less every 18 months.  It varies by Airline so best is to check with the airline of your choice.  Other programs however have rolling periods.  For example Lufthansa Miles&More has a rolling period of 3 years.  Even with activity, miles older than 3 years will expire.  Needless to say that this kind of rolling expiration window is steeling all your miles before you can use them if you’re not a frequent traveler.
Delta or another program where miles never expire might be an option but off course this very flexible expiration policy has created a growth of the number of miles in the system and has drastically reduced upgrade possibilities.  If you want to use your miles for free flights Delta will probably disappoint you.

Question 2: what tickets do you fly on?
It makes a difference if you’re often travelling for work or you’re mostly travelling for leisure.  Ticket prices vary a lot for the same route and tend to be the cheapest long up front.  Companies book tickets just a few weeks up front.  We book our holidays most often a few months upfront.  It’s not very visible on most European Airline sites but this makes a big difference when it comes to accumulating airline miles.  The more expensive your ticket, determined by the travel class you book, the more miles you will accumulate.  This not only varies between First/Business/Economy but actually looks at the single-letter travel class you have booked.  Very often this is not shown during the booking process or you need to search it in a pop-up screen.  These are some examples of Flying Blue.

ScreenHunter_04 May. 10 16.12ScreenHunter_06 May. 10 16.22

What should you do if your travel solely for leisure, book the cheapast fares and are not happy with a mere 25% of the flown distance in miles?
You can always look to switch to other carriers like British Airways that almost always offers 100% miles, even for deep discount economy.  (the cheapest economy tickets)
Or you could choose to instead credit this flight you would take with Air France to Delta’s Skymiles program.  As you can see Delta is much more generous and offers 100% miles on tickets that would give 25% or 50% with Flying Blue.    This means the Frequent Flyer Program you join must not necessarily be the one of the company you most often fly!

ScreenHunter_07 May. 10 16.23

Question 3 : What routes do you fly on?

Now consider the locations you most often go to and see which carrier is well situated to bring you there without too much hassle.    Picking the best frequent flyer program of all is of no much use if it would mean your journey would be double of what it was before.  You should look in term of alliances rather than solely focusing on carriers only.  As we’ve shown in the previous question you can earn and redeem miles on all carriers within an alliance and sometimes it’s even better to post the miles you’ve earned to another carrier than the one you’ve flown.

Last of them all: What do you want to achieve?
Most of us are accumulating miles to get free flights in return.  If you’re here for the free flights as well check this post I’ve made before to see which carrier is best.
If you would rather score upgrades another program might be better of you.
Lastly, you could as well be in the game for the Elite Perks.  If so you might have to pick yet another program.

To choose the program best for you is of course a personal thing and these questions will help you in making the best choice.  I will gladly help you in making the best choice.  Just contact me if you want.

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Codeshares and alliances for dummies – Part 2

Let’s now have a look at alliances.

An airlines alliance is an agreement between airlines to cooperate on a substantial level.  There exist 3 major alliances.  Ordered by size these are Star Alliance, the biggest of the three, Skyteam and Oneworld.  Not all airlines want to be part of an alliance.  Figures of March 2013 show that nonaligned carriers transport almost as many passengers as the 3 alliances combined.

SkyTeam

SkyTeam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As is the case with codeshares, alliances aim to enlarge the network of the airlines.  Airlines will typically engage in codeshares with their alliance partners.  Codeshares will however be limited to their most important routes.  All others will not be codeshared and will remain the full responsibility of the operating carrier.

Some airlines choose not to be part of an alliance to save costs.  Being a member of an alliance means you have to align your reservation systems with those of your alliance partners.  You will also need to align your frequent flyer program to be consistent with that of your alliance partners.  To enjoy optimal benefits you should also (re) schedule your flights to ensure good connections with your alliance partners.  The cost to become a member should not be underestimated and may exceed the benefits for some airlines.

Airlines that form an alliance are at the same time partners and competitors.  Quite recently this was painfully clear when Qantas preferred to codeshare with Emirates instead of British Airways on their kangaroo route .  This is why not every airline is welcome in an alliance.  An airline that wants to join an alliance needs to be approved by its members and needs to be sponsored by one of the existing members of the alliance.

In my previous post I used the flights DL141, AF3658 & KL6141 as an example.  All three are basically the same flight between Brussels and New York.  Air France, KLM & Delta are partners in Skyteam and they arranged a codeshare for this flight.  As I live in Brussels and I’m a member of Delta’s Skymiles program I can pick any of these 3 flights, whichever airlines offers the best price at that time.

Now imagine I would want to fly to Amsterdam.  KLM offers a flight from Brussels to Amsterdam but Delta does not codeshare this flight.  As both carriers are in the Skyteam alliance I will still be able to earn miles on this flight.   Delta offers 500 miles minimum or 100pct of miles for flights on KLM.  At least as important are the elite benefits.  Once you have achieved elites status with any of the airlines in an alliance you will enjoy these elite benefits across all other airlines within the alliance.

I will explain Elite levels in more details in a separate post.  Important for this post is that you should know that you can earn elite status based on the number of flights or miles you travel with a certain airline.  For this matter airlines treat their alliance partner equal to themselves.  The first elite level on Delta requires 25000 miles. Travelling 5000 miles on Delta and 20000 on KLM would grant me this Elite level as well.  (as long as I credit all miles to my Skymiles account)  Sometimes you can earn miles as well with partners outside the alliance but these do not add up to elite status.  (eg. Delta offers base miles for flights with Jet Airways but no medallion qualification miles)

Codeshares and alliances for dummies

There used to be a time when airlines operated on their own.  You would buy a ticket on KLM and you would be sure you would be sitting in a KLM plane and enjoy the service you’re used to from KLM.

These days you have to pay some more attention when you book your ticket.  I saw some surprised faces at the gate before when there was a Delta plane instead of a KLM plane.  Unfortunately the level on service of the different airlines is not aligned so you should really pay attention what your buying.  Seat width and pitch can be different as well as seat selection. Also some companies charge for beer and wine which is free on their codeshare partners. (Delta and KLM both offer free beer and wine transatlantic)

Personally I find one of the biggest drawbacks to be the seat selection.  I prefer to choose my seats when I book my tickets.  This is free for everybody with American Airlines (AA) but British Airways (BA)  and Iberia, both partners of AA in oneworld only offer this for free to their top elite customers.  So when I’m buying an AA codeshare flight on BA or Iberia I can only choose my seat when I check-in online 24hrs before my flight.

Since consumer organization started criticizing codeshares as not much transparent the airlines started working on aligning their service levels with their codeshare partners but I expect there will always remain some differences.

In these posts I will try to explain what codeshares and alliances are, why the airlines use them and what it means to you as a traveler.

We start with codeshares and will cover alliances in the next post.

A codeshare means 2 or more companies will share the same flight.  Each airline will sell seats/tickets for this flight as would it be their own flight.  Beneath is an example for a flight from Brussel to New York.  This flight is operated by Delta.  Both KLM and Air France also sell tickets for this flight with their respective flight numbers.

10:45 BRU 13:05 JFK AF 3658 Non-stop
10:45 BRU 13:05 JFK DL 141 Non-stop
10:45 BRU 13:05 JFK KL 6141 Non-stop

This is an example from the timetable at brusselsairport.be.  In this table the codeshares are indicated with a .  Most websites and booking engines do indicate codeshares in some way.  (most of them do indicate the operating carrier, the airline that will be operating the flight providing the plane, the crew and the ground handling services, as well)

Airlines do this to extend their network to more destinations or to increase the frequency of flights to certain destinations.  KLM for example offers 4 daily flights between Amsterdam and New York.  All 4 are codeshares with Delta, 2 of them are operated by KLM, the other 2 by Delta.  By offering 4 instead of 2 flights KLM will probably be able to please more customers with a suitable flight.

A codeshared flight means a joint responsibility between all carriers that offer this codeshared flight.  If you bought your ticket with KLM with a KL flight number you will always need to contact KLM for any requests.  KLM stays responsible for your journey, even if your flight is operated by Delta.

One exception to this rule may be that you will need to check-in with the operating carrier of your first flight, or segment as they call this in aviation terms.

If you see a flight is offered as a codeshare you may well check the different carriers that offer this flight.  The operating carrier is not necessarily the cheapest.  You should also consider the miles you want to earn.  Let’s have a look at the example above and calculate the miles you would earn on this flight between Brussels and NY (JFK).  Distance flown is 3662 miles.  We do the math as if you would be a member of skymiles/flying blue and would book the ticket as a DL (Delta) ticket or a KL (KLM) ticket.  We assume for this matter that you bought a cheap economy class ticket and you have no status with any of the rewards programs.

Program / Ticket  Ticket on Delta Ticket on KLM
Skymiles (Delta) 3662 (100pct of miles) 3662 (100pct of miles)
Flying Blue (KLM / AirFrance) 915 (25pct of miles) 915 (25pct of miles)

In the above example the main difference is in the mileage program you choose.  The operating carrier does not really make a difference.  This comes mostly from the fact that US based carriers tend to be quite generous with the miles they offer both for their own as for their partners.  It can get more complex as I will show with the below example between British Airways (BA) and Air Berlin (AB) both in Oneworld.  For this example we picked a flight from London City Airport to Zurich (473 miles).  Same conditions as the above example.

Program / Ticket  Ticket on Air Berlin in economy (T) Ticket on British Airways in economy (O)
Executive Club (BA) 0 miles (not eligible) 500 miles (500 miles minimum guarantee)
Topbonus (Air Berlin) 500 miles (500 miles minimum guarantee) 125 miles (125 miles minimum guarantee)

british-airways-air-berlin

As you see it can be worthwhile to look around when shopping for flights.  Some flights have up to 7 or 8 codeshares.  These are all probably selling at a different price and all offering other mileage accruals.  Some puzzling can be to your advantage.

Airlines typically arrange codeshares with their partners inside their alliance.  This is however no restriction.  Qantas, member of oneworld, for example recently started a codeshare with Emirates that is not part of the oneworld alliance.  We look at alliances in the next post.

Award Seat Availability

Award Seat Availability

Ideaworks organizes an annual survey measuring the award seat availability on a select range of international carriers.  They try to book flights using the restricted award levels. (saver-style awards)  A second test measures availability just up front but only for American carriers.

Air Berlin holds a top spot with 100% availability and is by far the best carrier in Europe.  Lufthansa and partners comes in second with 82%, Air France/KLM holds the third spot with almost 80%.

The full report can be consultant by following the link.  If free flights are what your looking for check our Air Berlin’s topbonus program.

Big Apple here I come

My first upcoming trip will be in the beginning of June.I will be spending a week in fascinating NYC at the Fordham University  for my MBA studies.

Fordham University

It’s always a joy to go to NYC.  If I remember well this will be my 8th trip to the big apple, there’s always something new and always a lot going on.

Off course NYC can be an expensive city for lodging but there are a few tips that can save you quite some money on your lodging.  I’m paying 96USD/night for the Fairfield Inn NY Long Island (just outside Manhattan but fast access to Manhattan with the subway)

NY is pretty big so you can’t pick a hotel close to all attractions.  I will probably loose 20 minutes in the morning and the evening with this hotel but I don’t mind as I have seen all major attractions already.  I found discounts for hotels in Manhattan as well but I opted for the cheapest of them all.

Here’s how I got to this rate:

Most Hotel Programs have a “Best Rate” guarantee.  Small print of the various programs will probably be slightly different for each of them so if you’re planning on using this tip I would advise to quickly scan through the T&C to make sure you’re doing it right.

Here’s the direct link for Marriott’s program: Marriott Look No Further Best Rate GuaranteeWhat’s important:

– You need to have a reservation for the hotel arranged using any Marriott channel
– Your claim needs to be filed within 24 hours of your original reservation with Marriott- It must not be a prepaid rate or a rate with a voucher

What’s the best part:  If you file such a claim and it get’s approved Marriott will offer an additional 25% discount!

Off course it all starts by finding a cheaper rate for your hotel.  There’s no magic approach to achieve this.  Following tips will however help you.
1) There’s a friendly community of fellow travellers out there that can help you.  People share their success of finding a LNF rate and maybe you find hotels that would match your needs by scrolling/searching this forum.

2) Google Hotel Finder comes to help as well.  Type in your destination and dates and Google will add a note to the hotels that are cheaper than usual.  This is a good indication for a claim.

GoogleHotelFinder

I hope this post will help you in relieving the budget for your accommodation needs.  Although I referred to the Marriott program other chains have similar programs, their website will inform you about the details.

I will be back with more information later.

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