AwardsBooker helps you to book international first class and business class travel using your own frequent flyer program points or miles.

Wednesday
Oct282015

AVIOS, even more devaluations!

I was waiting for it for a while now but I thought that maybe, just maybe British Airways wouldn’t kill the value of their loyalty program. Silly, silly me.

In the past BA made AVIOS next to useless to use for award travel that involved international travel. They went from an award chart that used reagions to one that charged by distance. So what was once affordable in miles became crazy exspensive. It went from one award to two awards to get to the same place close to doubling how many miles you would need to get to say Washington Dulles to Cape Town South Afirca. That doesn’t include the insanely expensive taxes and surcharges that could rack up to over 2K for a “free” award ticket. It was just crazy.

There was a silver lining though. You could use Avios for expensive short haul flights in the US. I actually am doing this for this weekend. I’m going to visit my mother in Charlotte . The ticket was close to $700 for an hour long flight. I was then able to redeem 9K Avios miles roundtrip for the flight with $11 in taxes. Being able to do this with Avios is the only reason I have collected them. Well they just gutted that too. Here is an email I received this morning. British Airways is really trying to make their frequent flyer program useless and its working. I hope they’re happy. They almost doubled the cost, a close to a 80% increase. That’s not good.

Dear Mr XXXXXXXXX


We’re going to be making a change to the Executive Club pricing structure for shorter reward flights originating or terminating within the United States of America. From2 February 2016, reward flights will start from 7,500 Avios, instead of 4,500 Avios, plus taxes, fees and carrier charges (“TFCs”) from $5.60 USD.

Only those reward flights that currently cost 4,500 Avios for a one way flight in Economy, 9,000 Avios for Business Class and 18,000 Avios for First Class plus TFCs will increase; to 7,500 Avios, 15,000 Avios and 30,000 Avios plus TFCs respectively. All other Avios reward flight pricing will remain the same as it is today.


 

Friday
Oct232015

The new Centurion Lounges, are they really all that?

American Express in the last few years has been losing some of the best benefits of their Platinum cards. In times past, the card would get you and a guest into the US Airways clubs, until the merger with American took that away. You can still get into the Delta lounge when flying with that airline on the same day but now only you can go in, no other guest or family. Amex has lost access to other lounges from other airlines too. So what did they do?  They decided to open up their own lounges at airports across the US. Here is where they are located: 

Miami

Dallas Fort Worth

Las Vegas

La Guardia NY

San Francisco

And a small one in Seattle.

I’ve been in the Dallas Fort Worth lounge and the one in Miami. Other people that blog about travel have been gushing over these lounges like they’re the bee’s knees. I, on the other hand, find them nice enough. They are well appointed, they offer complementary hot food that is ok-to-good and free drinks (high end wines and booze) along with lots of non-alcoholic beverages. 

The seating is comfy and aesthetically pleasing. Some of them have complementary Spas.  I only have one problem with them and it’s a pretty big problem. They are super-crowded, like “no seats for anyone” crowded. People poach seats from different areas so that their family might be able to sit together. I have been to the lounges at different times of the day and they seem to always be at capacity. And just try to get a Spa appointment, they are always booked up. They are not necessarily small lounges either. To get in you need either a Platinum card or a Centurion Card from Amex for free access for you and your family or up to two guest, anyone else with an Amex card can get in for $50. I had no idea that so many people had Platinum cards.

Here are some pictures of the Miami Centurion lounge. Click on image to enlarge.

Seating area before it fills up

 

Coffee and juice options.

The hot food buffet, it’s kind of limited really.

And a view of the tarmac.

I also have access to One World lounges in the US because of my Silver status on British Airways. This means that if I’m flying same day on a One World carrier I get into the lounges for free. This is especially helpful for me in the Miami airport where I’m spending a great amount of time lately. American has two lounges in the D terminal one at D30 and the other at D15. They offer plenty of space with lots of seating which is important to me. They also offer free house wine and booze and small nibbles. Because I have a non-US-based carrier’s status I also get two premium drink chits. It doesn’t offer the free hot buffet that the Centurion lounges offer but they do have good food-for-purchase options: Cheaper then eating in the terminal and it’s very good, about $10 for a yummy sandwich or a salad. If you have any trouble with your American flight you also have the lounge agents who can sometimes do miracles in fixing issues.

I guess what I’m saying is that the Centurion lounge is nice but it isn’t really all that much better than other lounges in the US. I think if it wasn’t so crowded I would like it more. It’s still not on par with international lounges like:

Lufthansa’s First class Terminal in Frankfurt: http://www.lufthansa.com/us/en/First-Class-Terminal-Frankfurt 

Cathay Pacific’s Lounges in HKG: http://www.cathaypacific.com/cx/en_US/travel-information/airport/lounges.html

Qantas Lounges: http://www.qantas.com.au/travel/airlines/qantas-club-lounge-locations/global/en 

British Airways Lounges: http://www.britishairways.com/en-us/information/lounges 

…to name just a few.  All have a much better experience then most US-based carrier’s lounges.

Bottom Line. 

The Centurion lounge is nice but too crowded for my liking. It offers better drinks and food with a Spa (if you can get an appointment). It’s better than most of its US counterparts but still not as good as many foreign airlines’ lounges.

 

AwardsBooker.com helps you to book international first class and business class travel using your own frequent flyer program points or miles.  Let us help with your next trip!

 

 

Thursday
Oct222015

Recent Fantastic Deal to the UK.

I usually help people get miles and use them but sometimes a deal comes along that is just too good not to write about.

Recently, a trip to Europe in business class became very affordable for two days. I was able to secure two business class tickets on American from Florida to London for $2,390. That’s a little under $1,200 each. These tickets usually go for over $7,000 each. I was also able to get a business class ticket from Virginia to London for $449.

Here’s what happened.

British Airways had a two-day sale offering business class to Europe from most major US cities for an amazing $2,010. That is a great price in and of itself.  But it was a stackable offer so you could use other discounts along with the sale. It also didn’t hurt that on the first day they were actually offering the ticket for $1,600 instead of the $2,010 that it was supposed to be on the Florida to London route.

The magic of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) discount.

AARP will let anyone become a member, it doesn’t matter if you’re retired or not. It’s $16 a year and you get all kinds of benefits. The best one I know of is a discount on British Airways up to $400 per ticket depending on class of service. You will need to go to the AARP BA website. Here is the website: http://www.britishairways.com/en-us/offers/partners/aarp-member-benefits

Once you have your AARP membership number you just sign in from this website and then it sends you to the special AARP BA website where you can search for your flights. So I got two business class seats for $1,600 each but then got another $400 each off the tickets. Like I said, these tickets usually go for abound $7,000 and we just got them for a little under $1,200 each so a whopping $5,800 each in saving off this promotion.

We also looked into going the upgrade route.  Coach tickets for two on the same trip cost close to $2,000 for two. We’d then put in for an upgrade at 25k miles each on the outbound and return along with a $350 copay for each leg. So it would have been a total of 100k miles and $1,400 extra to upgrade for a total of $3,400 - and we would not have been guaranteed a business class seat.  As you can see we saved $1,000 for a confirmed business class ticket vs going the upgrade route.

The deal gets richer.

We purchased another ticket for $449 all included from further up the East Coast to London. How did this happen? Well, BA was only charging $1,600 for business class on that route too. So you take the $400 AARP discount and we’re down to $1,200 and now for the fun part. British Airways lets you pay for part of your ticket with their Mileage program AVIOS. On other routes the most I could get off was $30 so not much of a benefit for that trip but from our origin city you could use 30k AVIOS and get an additional $751 dollars off the ticket. This made the total out of pocket cost of only $449. For another $7,000 ticket, pretty good I think.

But it doesn’t always work out.

With a deal like this you don’t really want to let go an existing reservation before you know the new one will work out.  BA can’t cope with one person having two separate reservations on the same flight and hours on the phone to their various call centers didn’t resolve it.    Very frustrating.  AA doesn’t have this restriction, seems to be a British Airways thing.

So our winter trip to London is all set up and now we go in luxury. Well, it’s better than coach anyway.

Talk to me at awardsbooker.com when you need help finding your way around complicated offers like these. 

 

Monday
Mar162015

Getting miles without actually flying.


To be honest, I have been flying quite a bit but recently it’s been short flights going up and down the east coast of the US. I haven’t gotten any status by doing this and I’ve gotten very few miles/points this way either. Luckily there are other ways of getting your miles and points, my favorite is by way of credit card bonuses which can be very lucrative.

There are quite a few and I’ve changed my mind every so often on which ones are best over the years. I used to like the airlines credit cards, especially the American Airlines ones. You could apply for four cards on the same day and get 30k bonus miles on each one. That’s enough miles to go to Europe, South America or Asia in first class. All you had to do was spend $1k on each card in the first three months. You could also cancel the cards and reapply three months later and do it all over again. AA figured that out and shut down the deal. Now if you’re lucky you might be able to do it once a year - if that.

Other airlines didn’t really let you churn the cards this way but they had huge bonus sign-ups. So not even flying you could have enough miles to get an international first class ticket.

My strategy has changed somewhat in the last few years. The airlines have slowly made their miles less valuable every year. An example: United used to charge 160k miles to go from the US to South Africa. You had to fly one of their partners, in this case Lufthansa because United didn’t fly this route. Well, about eight months ago they changed it to 280k miles for the same award. How much would that hurt if you had 155k United miles and were just waiting for the other 5k only to realize how many more you would need? This goes back to my previous article about using your miles now and don’t wait.

So instead of banking your miles/points in a single airline we now recommend using a transfer partner bank awards system

More on that in the next article.

Monday
Jan142013

A few things to remember when using miles/points for travel.

I usually have pretty good success when it comes to getting people award tickets but I’ve had a lot of difficulty on the last three requests.

Two were for trips to Africa and one was for a trip to China. There were a few constraining issues with these trips that made using miles difficult.

I guess the main thing travelers need to know is to be somewhat flexible when it comes to using their miles/points. If you can’t go on a Tuesday and can only leave on the weekend it’s more than likely you will not be able to get the award. In my many years of experience there are almost never any awards offered over the weekend. You will most likely be able to get your award if you leave Monday through Thursday. Most successful awards I’ve booked have all been on those days.

Be willing to change your dates by a couple of days on either side of the original dates you wanted. Also be willing to stay a day  or two longer or shorten the trip a day or two. The airlines only offer so many awards and not always on the days you want. If you have some flexibility you will get the award you want. The airlines are offering less and less award availability as the years pass and they’re charging more and more miles. It’s best to try and use your miles as you get them.

Be willing to go with some unusual routing. Getting to South Africa direct can be quiet difficult. But, if you’re willing to travel through Europe or South America you will be surprised at what can open up. This can lengthen the trip but when you’re doing it in first class or business class it really becomes part of the vacation and not just the trip to get to your vacation spot.

Also, try to plan this out as far out as possible. For the China trip I got the request about a month out for dates that were not firmed up, the dates kept changing and in the end the travelers were forced to buy tickets because of their situation. I really wanted to help them because of why they were going but it was just not happening.

As for the Africa trips I was able to piece together the trip but for one day off on departure and two days later coming back. They, unfortunately, where not able to take that because of schedule constraints. Also be willing to try a new airline. I was able to find two business class direct tickets on South African airlines. This airline has a perfectly good lay-flat business class seat which is great for the night time flight so you can get some sleep. The service, catering and amenities can be a little hit or miss but you will be fed and wined and will get there refreshed. I’ve used this product and was perfectly happy with it. One customer was reluctant to try it because of things friends had said. I guess it all depends on your perspective but my aim is to get you where you’re going in comfort on reputable carriers.  For example, there is plenty of business class award space on Egyptair going through Cairo but because of the ongoing unrest in Egypt and because of the product offered by that airline I prefer not to book this for my customers. There are a few cases like this. So if I recommend a route and an airlines be assured that it’s going to be a good experience.

Also, where you live can really affect your choices.  If you’re on the west coast and want to go to Africa,  first we will need to either get you to the east coast or to Europe before we can get you to Africa. This can be especially difficult if you’re using Delta miles. Many times you can get the international award at the low award price with Delta miles but as soon as you try to get to the east coast on a domestic flight it will change the whole award to the high award price which can be more than twice the low price. In cases like this it’s usually better to buy a cheap cross-continent flight outright and then pick up your international flight on the east coast. This can also be the case for trips to Europe. From the west coast there are non-stop flights but it’s much more difficult to book these with miles then it is to do it from the west coast.

This also affects awards from the East coast to Asia or Australia. It’s the same thing with Delta, most of the time it’s best to purchase your ticket to the west coast and then pick up your international award once there. Lots of times with United miles I’m able to get something from San Francisco to Asia but am unable to get to San Francisco using an award. Another strategy is to get to the west coast a day before and stay the night, this is good when the flight times just don’t line up, plus you get the added benefit of a west coast city for a night.

To end the best rule of thumb is to be flexible, flexible, flexible. If you can do that you will get that premium business class award that you’ve been saving those miles for.