web Musings of The Global Traveller

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Thoughts of a Travel Addict

Just a short entry today. I came across Mark DeLoura's blog and this entry in particular struck a chord. I too am addicted to travel - there's no other word for it.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Knowledge and Flexibility Key to Awards

Time and again, when trying to cash in some frequent flyer miles for an award ticket we hear there's nothing available. While sometimes there really is no availability (hint dont try to book a christmas first class trip to somewhere warm in December!), often you can help yourself by being prepared and being a little flexible.

The first step is find out the award rules of your frequent flyer program. Does it allow one-way awards? If so, then maybe you could fly first one way and coach the other way if first is unavailable. Are you required to fly the most direct routing, or is there some flexibility? Can an award between US and Asia be taken via europe for example, or does it have to be across the Pacific? Are there limits on the number of flights you can take? If you can take 4 flights each way then this opens up more options than if you are only allowed 2.

Often this kind of detail is not published on the frequent flyer program's website. However, I've found a great source is FlyerTalk. All the major airlines have their own forum and if you cant find the detail you are looking for, a short post requesting information usually gets a fast and accurate response. At the very least it gives ideas of the questions to ask if you contact the frequent flyer program.

Armed with this knowledge, it pays to be prepared with some options or suggestions you can try to get that award. The most obvious is having some flexibility on the dates of travel. Less obvious is to be flexible on the routing.

Are there nearby airports at origin or destination that you could start or finish from instead? Eg instead of flying to New York JFK, fly to La Guardia. Most frequent flyer programs treat all airports close to each other in major cities as a "coterminal". This means starting in New York JFK and returning to La Guardia is treated as though you are returning to the same airport.

If you'd prefer a nonstop flight, are there flights via another airport that will do instead?

Dont forget about partner airlines - most awards allow multiple airlines to be combined based on an alliance or other partnership. Most major airlines are a member of one of the 3 main alliances - One World, Sky Team, or Star Alliance. There are tools that allow you to find convenient routings using any of the alliance airlines. For example, on the Star Alliance website you can find up to 75 routing choices (hint select "more choices" under display for best results). Try it for Los Angeles to London Heathrow and as well as the nonstop flights on United and Air New Zealand, indirect routings are also displayed (through Montreal, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington Dulles, New York JFK, Toronto, Frankfurt and Newark!). The downloadable electronic timetable is even more flexible and is, I find, more useful for complex itineraries. Other alliances have similar tools.

With some idea of what can be done within the award rules, and some options of alternative routings, it can be easier to get the award by politely asking to check some of these alternatives. Maybe not the ideal routing and date, but at least getting to the destination. I admit I was a bit staggered the other day when booking an award to San Francisco which had no availability on my dates, that the program's agent I was dealing with did not think to check Los Angeles!

I hope these suggestions help you to get the awards you want. They certainly have helped me. I'll just finish off with this unrelated note - I have been following Gary Leff's View From The Wing for quite some time now and it is no surprise to me that he got a nice write up in the New York Times.

Have a nice day.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Fuel surcharges

Anyone who has bought an air ticket from a non-US airline in the past few years may have noticed the "taxes" are a significant cost. Some of these taxes are genuine charges from a government agency, however some are charges invented by the airline.

Since the cost of fuel increased rapidly a few years ago, most airlines have been charging something called a fuel surcharge. When it was introduced the airlines kept it separate from the rest of the air fare, supposedly on the grounds of transparency and so the consumer can see it reduce when fuel prices eventually fall. But of course fuel prices have not fallen back to the old levels. And so the fuel surcharge has been increased time and time again.

It has now reached the point, where on many fares the surcharge equals or exceeds the base air fare. See a special advertised at $79? Dont be suckered in, add the surcharges of perhaps $90 and that great deal suddenly doesnt seem as good.

Something that really bugs me, and many other travellers I know, is how the airlines get away with this deception. When you buy a cup of coffee you dont get charged a Brazilian frost surcharge to cover temporarily higher costs if there are significant crop losses. No that cup of coffee just costs a little extra until supply is restored. Buying gas at the station, they dont advertise a base price of $x per gallon and a surcharge of an extra $y, do they?

So why should the airlines be any different? Fuel is a fundamental cost of doing business for an airline. Shouldnt this be included in the base air fare?

Some airlines have argued that they can change a surcharge much more easily than the many thousands of different fares that they charge. I dont think that washes though. How many times has the fuel surcharge dropped when fuel prices dip? Not often. How many times do airlines change fares anyway? I seem to get emails about sales and specials just about every day. So it would seem air fares change frequently anyway.

How can the airlines get away with advertising a low price that has nothing to do with what you end up paying? Isnt that deceptive? Shouldn't the relevant authorities - advertising fairness boards and commerce commissions - be doing something about this?

Fun travels everyone
The Global Traveller

In The Beginning

Welcome to my very first blog entry ever. I'm not quite sure where to start, so I'll ramble on. Hope thats okay with you.

What is the Musings of The Global Traveller about?

I love to travel and have seen and experienced a lot, but the world is a huge place and there is plenty more to see and do. This blog is all about travel and nothing but travel.

I'd like to share with you some travel tales, tips of a frequent flyer and also some whimsical musings along the way. If I can inspire someone to travel more and see the globe then great!