Awards

Delta Raises Award Costs to Europe Overnight

Yep, this is the kind of thing that makes me question my choice to go Delta... then again American is starting to do the same thing.



Delta without any warning, which is hardly surprising for Delta, raised the lowest possible award rates to take business class flights to Europe. Originally that rate was 62,500 miles, but without warning Delta raised that price to 70,000 miles yesterday. While I don't think this is an insane change, it is not a good one. I find that raising award prices in a market that no longer highly favors the airlines is a costly move for any company to undertake.

By taking a measure like this, you are hurting the one customer that will stick with you even when revenues are down. Award prices really shouldn't vary as quickly as they do. This is just an obvious attempt to limit what people can do with mile... but those of us who really want to make miles/points work, will find a way.

So my advice is to adjust as always, continue earning miles and keep on flying.

This change is not immediate, but goes into effect for travel after January 1st. So you will be able to find the previous ticket prices of 62,500 miles prior to that date. If you want to grab a cheaper miles seat, go check out a flight that gets you to Europe before January 1st. After that, you're going to see the raised award prices. This is why Delta no longer publishes award costs, so they can change on the fly... and they will continue to do this. American is right on their heels and is starting to do this as well.

What To Do When An Airline Changes Your Plane

Way back at the beginning of the year, I started booking some flights for my second major trip of the year at the time. This trip was to be the biggest of any I've ever flown, with no less than 5 major airlines, 2 new aircraft I've never flown, and my first experiences with first class international travel. The cherry on the sundae of the travel was to be my Emirates first class experience on board their flagship A380 from Dubai to Los Angeles. Imagine my surprise on Sunday when I started checking all my flights and found that Emirates had downgraded the plane to a 777-300ER.



This just highlights the need to check your flights on a regular basis, especially if you booked them very far in advance. Airplane loads change and more often that you may realize, airlines will change out aircraft types on you. When I originally booked my flights, I had purposfully booked a Virgin Atlantic flight on an A340, since I've never flown that aircraft. That plane also was changed out for an A330-300, which I've flown many times out of Philadelphia since US Airways and subsequently American Airlines flies these almost exclusively out of Philly to Europe.

My original booking with Emirates took place when they first announced a second daily A380 flight between Dubai and LA. Passenger loads don't always live up to expectations though, and at some point without my knowledge, the plane was changed to a smaller 777-300ER. Don't get me wrong, any other trip after this, I might actually prefer the 777-300ER. The 777 first class cabin is much smaller and would likely be very enjoyable. However, Emirates 777 aircraft do not feature the onboard shower of the A380, and I very much want to enjoy that part of the Emirates experience. I booked this flight specifically for the aircraft... so what can you do?

Your mileage may vary here, since this is an award flight, lack of space on another flight may be an issue. There may not be anything you can do, but I highly suggest you try to call the company you booked through. In my case this was Alaska Airlines, and as always the phone agent was perfect, why Alaska Airlines excels where other airlines fail miserably is beyond me, but they can keep up the amazing service, I will never complain about that.

As soon as I had an agent on the phone from Alaska Airlines, I explained the situation and she went to work. I informed her that there is an earlier flight from Dubai to LAX that is indeed still the original A380 aircraft. A quick search showed her that no open award seats were available for her to book me into. This didn't deter her though, she put me on hold for quite a while, but I knew what she was up to. She contacted Emirates directly and asked them to open a seat for her to put me in.... they obliged. 

She came back on the line, asked me to back out of the website while she made an update, and within a few minutes I was booked on the earlier flight and back on an A380. Can I just say this Alaska Airlines... you are awesome! No fuss, no hassle, they just took care of it for me. What a great experience.

As for the other flight that was changed on me, my Virgin Atlantic flight was booked though Delta. I imagine it would be much more difficult for me to change that flight. For one, there is only one daily flight on Virgin Atlantic out of Atlanta, so no other flight to put me on. Also, I'm not sure I'd want to change this flight. This puts me on the newest Upper Class product from Virgin Atlantic, and would likely be more relevant to you readers, since the A340 is on its way out and the A330 is the latest. If I do decide to change things around, I'd likely have to change airlines, which might  or might not be worth it. I'll look at it, but I don't anticipate making a change to this flight. If I do, I'll update everyone once that happens.

For now, the moral of the story is, if an airline changes equipment on you, try to get them to move you around. It may surprise you that they might just be willing to accommodate you, no questions asked.... though they may not as well. I had a great experience and cannot thank both Alaska Airlines and Emirates enough.

American Might Not Run Smoothly Behind The Scenes

Waking up this morning, I quickly checked my emails received while asleep, usually an uneventful sort of thing. Normally a bunch of emails about discounts here and there, I sweep them away and go back to what I was doing. Today was a bit different, sitting in my inbox was a notification that 25,000 Advantage miles we deducted from my account... where did that come from?



Now if you remember back 2 months, you may be aware that I flew business class back from Beijing, China. Under American's system, this is a minor cost of $300 and 25,000 miles for an upgrade from Economy to Business class. Problem is that after I returned to the US, the miles never came out of my account. Things took so long that eventually I chalked this up to an error in my favor and went about my day. Another month strolled by and still the miles were in my account and I promptly forgot about the event.

This morning I woke to the miles being removed from my account yet no explanation for what they are being pulled out for. American's AAdvantage system is awful when it comes to telling you what you earned and where. I never see exactly what I earned as far as Elite Qualifying Miles, and the system is very lacking in detail about redemptions and other events.

Recent problems with identity theft and my dedication to keeping my cyber world secure, this was a red flag to me. Was this the missing miles that they are catching up on or was this someone accessing my account? After calling American Airlines, I learned absolutely nothing and that's another problem. Call centers, with the exception of certain customer service centers not open at 8am East Coast time, don't have access to account details. She can see only what I can see and that is a problem. Dealing with issues like this require me to act fast and American's poor customer service strikes again. Just wait an hour to learn if we screwed up or someone accessed your account.

The agent did drop a hint that things behind the scene might not be as rosy as we are all lead to believe. I was rightfully upset that this took 2 months to show in their system, which is downright unacceptable. She chalked this up to problems merging the computer systems and that things were still being dealt with. Well that's news to most of us, as we were lead to believe that the merging of systems went smoothly almost a year ago, and they are still having problems?

She gave another excuse, that I should know how much is in my account. I've heard this excuse from banks before and it ended in multiple class action lawsuits for not properly updating customer accounts. Not that this is identical, but I've heard this sort of rhetoric before. I would really like to know what would have happened if I had spent 100,000 miles on a ticket, what would they have done when the 25,000 miles caught up and there wasn't 25,000 miles sitting in my account to pull from. Would they have charged me for an error on their part? This is a questions I have not gotten an answer to yet.

American seems to be making misstep after misstep right now, and my choice to move to Delta get's confirmed over and over again. American, you should really start reigning things in before you start to loose customers to your competition. 

Searching Award Space Sucks!

Over the past few days, I've been looking for award flights. Right now I'm feeling like I need to provide more flight and food reviews to the website, my points are adequate to make that happen, so in the next month or two I'm hoping to find time to make this happen. Unfortunately this is a bad time with my life moving to a new location, so I've been trying to shove travel in between many different obligations, and in the short term it's not looking good, we'll see in the next month or two.



Something learned over the few days of searching award space... searching is a pain in the ass! Don't get me wrong, I see this as a challenge and actually sort of enjoy trying to find the open award space. Problems creep up all the time in this search though, knowing where to find the award space, knowing which websites show which partners and more. It gets to be incredibly complicated, and seems like this is only in order to make it more difficult to redeem points.

What would be nice is if every One World alliance member showed everyone's award availability. This is not the case, American Airlines shows 3-4 airline partners, British Airways covers more of the missing ones like Qatar, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines. If you want to search partners who aren't part of the One World alliance like Etihad... well then you have to go directly to their website.

Everything gets even more complicated from there. American Airlines, while limited in who you can search, probably ranks up there with United for having some of the best award search tools. United can search multiple months at a time. American Airlines can search a month at a time. So if your dates are flexible, this makes it far easier to find available space. British Airways ranks in the middle someplace, allowing single day searches, but you can quickly jump a few days in either direction of your search. Sites like Singapore Airlines and Etihad only allow single day searches, and even limit to the class of service you specifically requested, meaning every new flight date you consider requires a whole new search.

All of this adds up to lots of time... but then you find that golden opportunity. British Airways website showing business class availability on flights to Boston with JAL and a new business class product on the 787-9. Call up American Airlines to book that spot and... nope they can't see it. No matter what they try, the award isn't showing in their system. After talking to 4 different agents, you give up and look for a work around... reverse what direction you fly each airline and boom! You nail it. Sometimes simple fixes get you what you need, but often take hours to get to.

There is a lot that airlines could do to simplify this process and don't. Maybe it requires too much work to interface the systems, but oddly enough, the agents on the phone are able to search the award availability. So why are we unable to? It may still be a technical challenge, but it would make customers experience a lot better with an improved search tool. Here's to hoping for some positive changes in the future.

A Honeymoon On Delta

With my decision yesterday to jump ship with American Airlines, there is one thing that has been a huge drag on my choice, one that has been forcing me to really consider sticking with American Airlines. Next year I will be getting married and the subsequent honeymoon to Asia will be financed with points, and miles. Switching to Delta this year definitely makes me a little nervous when it comes to planning for next year. 



My current American Airlines mileage sits somewhere around 115,000 miles. Over the next year, with credit card openings and planned flights, I will easily surpass the needed miles for a big trip. There was little worry about hitting the amount I needed to make this happen, the worry comes when switching to Delta. Delta is already on a revenue based program, so the more I spend the more miles I get. With a good percentage of my usable miles coming from flights, the question is, Do I have enough time to accrue miles with Delta to fly to Japan?

The quick answer is yes, but there is more to it. The same strategies I use for American work with Delta. Credit card sign ups, spending money with shopping portals and more. There is a bonus here that American Airlines doesn't yet have... Membership Rewards. Delta is partnered with American Express with membership rewards, United is partnered with Chase Ultimate Rewards. American Airlines still has not initiated a partnership with their credit card carrier, Citi, for a transferable miles currency. This gives a huge advantage to Delta in this case. I can accrue membership rewards and transfer them to Delta.

We also need to keep in mind that I will not stop grabbing new cards, new ways of earning points and there is no reason that I will need to fly solely with Delta. There are lots of other airlines. Miles can cover those just as easily as a Delta flight and I have a large backlog of miles to work from at this point. All of that being said, it should be no issue to switch to Delta and still make all of the travel plans I already had in mind.