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My New York trip

This was not my first but certainly won’t be my last trip to New York.  Every time again this city has something else to offer that makes my stay special and pleasant.

As AA was running a special promo on their new DUS-ORD flight I decided to leave from DUS (Dusseldorf) and flew AA241 & AA362 to New York.  On my way back I picked an AA codeshare on Iberia to test the new A330, AA5583 & AA5678.

I will share with you my experience.

A view towards Central Park taken from out of the Bloomberg office

A view towards Central Park taken from out of the Bloomberg office

Dusseldorf is an easy-going airport to depart from.  Dusseldorf is off-course a pretty busy hub for one of the other partners of Oneworld: Air Berlin.

Air Berlin plane in OneWorld livery

Air Berlin plane in OneWorld livery

More Air Berlin planes & Etihad

More Air Berlin planes & Etihad

This is my first experience and maybe at other times the airport may be more busy but I hardly experienced any queues.  Notice that AA signs are not yet installed outside at departures.  Don’t start looking for them, you need to be at ‘A’.  As an AA Gold I could use the Business Class check-in.  Staff was extremely friendly and making jokes.  My bags were tagged with the priority labels, I got the usual security questions.  (Was your bag with you at all times?) and I could continue to clear security and head to the gate.

Even at the security at Dusseldorf Airport were there smiling faces and a friendly hello.  It must have been a while ago that I experienced this kind of service at security.

Dusseldorf airport offers many opportunities to shop, spend time and eat&drink but I did not have that much time.  Just time to eat a way too much expensive sandwich (as always) and rush to the gate.  They just started boarding when I arrived.

My home for the next 9 hours.  Still the old AA livery.

My home for the next 9 hours. Still the old AA livery.

First Business was allowed to board and after that all elite passengers.  I would have been aboard pretty quick if it weren’t were I was picked out for an additional random security check at the gate.  After the extra security check I could finally pursue my way to my Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seat.

MCE seats offer additional legroom to travel in comfort.  Look at how much space I have:

Main Cabin Extra seat

Main Cabin Extra seat

Enough space for a comfortable trip and a free upgrade for all elite customers in 2013.  As of next year it will be free for Platinum and Executive Platinum Elites.  Off course everybody can enjoy the benefits of MCE for a fee.

MCE is in the front of the Main Cabin which means you’re also one of the first to deplane and one of the first in line at the border in the United States.  Those who experienced the lines when entering the United States know what I’m talking about.

I continued my flight to NY on one of AA’s MD’80’s where I had picked an exit-row.  At first I had 2 seats for myself  (configuration is 2-3) but as soon as other passengers noticed the flight was not full it didn’t take long before the exit-row seats were taken.

Bye Bye New York
AA Gold means you can’t pick your seats upfront on Iberia and BA. (You need to have at least Platinum status to do so.)

I checked in for my flight the evening before and was pleased with the seat they assigned me for the flight JFK-MAD (3rd row in economy and the right side of the plane (2-4-2 configuration). I changed my seat on the next segment to BRU to be seated in an exit-row.

As the A330 just joined Iberia’s fleet the plane feels and smells completely new. The new in-flight-entertainment system (IFE) looks quite fancy as well. Personal TV’s in every seat coming with a big selection of movies, series and games. The IFE is however not always as intuitive as I would have hoped. For someone used to these kind of interfaces I got lost when I was choosing my film and suddenly found myself in music and TV shows lists. Some older persons needed help. It took the crew 3 attempts to get the system up & running but once it was up it was running smoothly. I watched the movie ‘Taken 2’, the selection consisted of new movies as well as some classics, and I tested some of the games.

130215-IberiaEconomy-01

Economy Cabin on the Iberia A330 (Courtesy of Iberia)

Legroom on the A330 is really, really very limited. I could not put my book in the seatpocket of the seat in front of me as I had not enough space. (and no, it was not the 3-in-1 edition of Lord of the rings ) (I measure 1m82)

I was glad this flight was only slightly less than 6 hours. For transcontinental flights you could use some more legroom.
Transfer at Madrid was again a long walk. Arriving from the United States you need to transfer from terminal 4s to main terminal 4 which includes a long walk, a bunch of escalators, a quite long tram ride, another bunch of escalators and another long stroll. Off course you pass immigration and security along the way. Be sure you have at least 90 minutes.

Iberia’s European flights are the opposite of their transcontinental flights when it comes to meal & drink service. Where the meals on their transcontinental service are, in my opinion, better than average, you have no free drinks and meals on their European flights. Prices are a little bit more expensive than what you would pay at the airport. If your thirsty or hungry be sure to buy your drinks&foods upfront.

Last but not least, all flights were on-time! Something I can really appreciate as it is, after safety, one of my major concerns.

How it is to be ‘elite’

We already spoke about elite perks in the previous post.  Now let’s get into some more detail about what these elite perks mean to you and to your traveling experience.

Most airline programs offer 3 or 4 elite levels.  This harmony is mostly enforced because they’re part of an alliance and need to align their elite levels to their partner airlines.  If you’re elite on one airline in an alliance you’re treated accordingly when you travel on the other airlines in the alliance.
Hotel programs most of the time have the same number of levels.  We will cover hotel programs in more detail in the next post and will focus on airline programs in this post.

There’s only one way to achieve elite status on the airline programs.  You have to fly!  Each airline has some specific requirements to achieve status.  They’re all based on a minimum number of flights or points (sometimes called level or status miles). Here are some examples how to achieve the first status level:

– British Airways Executive Club requires 300 tier points or 25 flights.
– Flying Blue (Air France & KLM) 25000 level miles (30000 if you live in France+Monaco) or 15 flights.
– Miles&More (Lufthansa and partners) requires 35000 status miles

It pays to compare programs in the same alliance.  Aegean (Star Alliance) requires 16000 miles to achieve Gold Status (2nd elite level).  Miles&More, also member of Star Alliance, requires 100,000 miles to reach the same Gold Level.

Note that level or status miles should not be confused with the miles you earn for redemption towards free flights.  In many cases you will earn both but this is not always the case. eg. Flying Air Malta will earn you redeemable miles with Lufthansa but these will not count towards status.  Most of the time flying airlines within an alliance will earn you level or status, others won’t. (exception is Korean Air that is part of Skyteam but does not earn Medaillon Qualification Miles or MQM on Delta)

British Airways is slightly different from Miles&More and Flying Blue.  British Airways is more generous and grants 100% redeemable miles on the most discount economy tickets. (Miles&More and Flying Blue only 25% or 50%).  They’re not as generous with their points towards elite status.  To see how many tier points you would earn you can use their calculator on their website.

Some airlines offer shortcuts to elite status.  They may match your status if you’ve earned status on another carrier or they may offer you status for flying a lower amount of miles in a short time span.  Contact me for the exact details of your carrier of choice.

Now you know how to become elite we should still cover the benefits for you.

Benefits vary with each airline but generally include:

– a bonus on the number of  redeemable miles you earn. (25% to 50%)
– privileges of checking-in at the business counter even if you’re traveling in economy class

Sometimes you may get a higher baggage allowance or priority tags for your bags so you should get them faster at the baggage claim.  (although my experience is that the priority tags don’t really affect the speed your baggage is delivered)  Those airlines that offer seat selection for a fee (like British Airways) will generally offer them for free some days in advance to elites.  This gives you the opportunity to pick those better seats before everybody else can.

These are just a few perks.  I’ve listed those that I enjoy most.  As I mentioned the list varies by airline.  I will compare some programs in detail in a next post.

The Lufthansa First Class lounge at Frankfurt ...

The Lufthansa First Class lounge at Frankfurt International Airport, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Access to airline lounges is also a nice perk which is most often offered as of the second elite level.  (Aegean Miles&Bonus is an exception where this is a benefit in the first and only elite level).  I enjoy lounge access a lot.  You get to escape the crowd at the airport and relax in quiet area reserved for elites.  Some drinks and snacks are complimentary.

As already mentioned, detailed comparisons of the benefits of the programs will follow.  I hope this post could already give you some idea what elite status is about!Contact me and I will be happy to help you with your questions.

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.

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