web Musings of The Global Traveller

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Liquids and carry-ons

A fortnight is a long time in the war on liquids. Since my previous entry, some further countries have announced new liquids bans in carry-ons. The upcoming changes are:

  • Nepal - no liquids at all (other countries allow the small containers in clear sealable plastic bag)
  • Pakistan - no liquids at all
  • Fiji - from 1 March
  • Japan - from 1 March
  • South Korea - from 1 March
  • Taiwan - from 1 March
  • Australia - from 31 March on international flights
  • New Zealand - from 31 March on international flights

This list is incomplete and with fast changing rules all travellers should check with their airline(s) in the first instance. The rules apply for both departures and transits.

So it seems it won't be long until all countries have adopted restrictions on liquids in carry-ons for flights.

Window or aisle

Since friends and colleagues know I fly a lot I often get asked my opinion on various aspects of flying and frequent flyer programs.

A common question is whether to sit in the window or aisle. The best seats are both window and aisle at the same time, but most of the time there is a choice (or the dreaded middle seat). I don't have a universal preference, which makes it tricky to decide what to enter as preference in my frequent flyer program profile (for those airlines like Qantas that pre-allocate seats based on your profile).

I prefer a window seat when:

  • it is a short flight - so easy access to the aisle is irrelevant
  • it is a scenic flight - especially low altitude ones by/over/through mountains, but even longhaul flights at altitude can have great views
  • I want to catch a glimpse of the northern or southern lights (on suitable routes and flying overnight)
  • when the window seat has more room or more storage room - eg upper deck on 747 (thanks to the curvature and also side storage bins), on certain aircraft there is a missing window seat immediately in front of the exit row providing massive legroom
  • I want to curl up against the wall on short overnight flights
  • I want to avoid being bumped by other passengers or food/duty free trolleys

I prefer an aisle seat when:

  • it is a long flight - easier to get up to stretch the legs or go to the bathroom or galley
  • I am in a hurry to disembark - eg tight connections or a rush to make a meeting (okay this is most flights)
  • I am sure to get a row of 3 or 4 seats to lay down on - easier to protect the row if you are seated in the aisle seat than if seated in the window seat
  • I want easy access to gear stored in the overhead bin - eg when seated in an exit row
  • on some aircraft, when seated in an exit row - to avoid the protusion of the slide into my legroom

So my answer is, it depends.

Which do you prefer and why?

Easy status requalification

It seems Qantas is keen on keeping up the numbers of elite members of Qantas Frequent Flyer (QFF) program. Many people have reported having retained their status on minimal flights on Qantas, or even having credited no flights in the whole membership year.

There seems to be 2 approaches - one is those who previously qualified Gold or Platinum with plenty of extra status credits than the minimum are automatically requalified a few months before expiry of their status. The second is for those who previously only just qualified, for whom QFF asks for expected travel pattern for the upcoming year - ie looking for an excuse to retain your status.

For those who are in between status levels - eg easily qualifying for Silver but not on track for Gold, QFF is providing double status credit offers to help them up to the next level.

Nice for QFF members. I can't help think that Qantas is getting ready to spin off their frequent flyer program (having inflated the number of elite members in the process).

Rebooked onto impossible connection

I got a reminder today to check itinerary change emails carefully. An upcoming itinerary had one flight rebooked to an earlier flight. So what you say? This flight not only departed before my connecting flight arrived, but it left around the same time the previous flight leaves. A totally impossible connection. To make matters worse, the email wording didn't mention the rebooking at all.


Oops. Fortunately this was all on one ticket and a simple search of the airline schedule provided me with an alternate flight (the last of the day) to suggest rebooking to (and a backup new routing if that failed). Easily fixed but I could have been stranded had I not read the email carefully.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

No clothes x-rays coming to USA

The backscatter x-ray machine is being "tested" in Phoenix, USA. It will also be tested in JFK and LAX airports according to the Transport Security Administration (TSA). That innocuous sounding name belies just how invasive the technology can be. Check out these pictures in the NY Times.

The pilot is said to be voluntary, but as with so many rules in the name of security I bet it won't be long before you won't be allowed to fly if you don't accept the screeners' free perv.

I expect the TSA will be getting a lot of complaints over this, and perhaps also a surge in job applicants.

A Post About Nothing

No travel this past week for the first time in ages. Seems a bit odd.

So instead I have been preparing for some upcoming trips, and planning 2 or 3 more round the world trips. It is quite a logistical challenge fitting it into my schedule, with availability, including as many places I need to go as possible in the one ticket (or convenient side trips), whilst maximising enjoyment, comfort, frequent flyer miles and status earning, and minimising misconnection risk, taxes, transits in horrid airports, etc.

While the online tools of the main alliances have improved over the past few years, they are still buggy enough that I rely mainly on spreadsheets plus information I have amassed. is also very useful for picking up tips.

Friday, February 23, 2007

New Routes

I like to keep an eye open for new route announcements. Often when they are first released there is reasonable availability for decent paid fares as well as awards. Sometimes this doesn't work out though - if the airline's revenue management is being unduly cautious for example.

I'm currently impatiently waiting for Air New Zealand to release seats on their newly announced Vancouver to Auckland nonstop service.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jet Blue and Controllable Irregularities

The Cranky Flier has been in touch with Jet Blue over the meaning of Controllable Irregularities (see Jet Blue's Passenger Bill of Rights). And apparently they have decided not to define the term. Hello big gaping hole in their trumpeted PBOR.

This brings to mind a piece from Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass".

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. "It means just what I choose it to mean - neither more or less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jet Blue's Passenger Bill of Rights

Jet Blue has today announced it's own voluntary passenger bill of rights (PBOR) - which will be highlighted prominently on its website (at least for now). Further they have decided to apply it retrospectively to those affected by delays last week.

The details are:


  • Passengers have the choice of full refund or put on alternative Jet Blue flights at no cost.
  • If cancelled at less than 12 hours notice due to Controllable Irregularity (whatever that means as it isnt defined in the PBOR), passengers will also get a Jet Blue voucher for the fare paid.

Is this on top of the full refund/rebooking?


If Controllable Irregularity (that term again), then delay of:

  • 1-2 hours = $25 Jet Blue voucher
  • 2-4 hours = $50 Jet Blue voucher
  • 4-6 hours = Jet Blue voucher for the fare paid (one way)
  • 6+ hours = Jet Blue voucher for the fare paid (round trip)

Involuntary Denied Boarding

$1000 if the result of overbooking.

Ground Delays

Once passengers spend 5 hours onboard Jet Blue will deplane.

Ground delays of:

  • 30-60 minutes on arrival = $25 Jet Blue voucher
  • 1-2 hours on arrival = $100 Jet Blue voucher
  • 2-3 hours on arrival = Jet Blue voucher for fare paid (one way)
  • 4+ hours on arrival = Jet Blue voucher for fare paid (round trip)
  • 3-4 hours on departure = $100 Jet Blue voucher
  • 4+ hours on departure = Jet Blue voucher for fare paid (round trip)

Contract of Carriage

Jet Blue intends to incorporate their PBOR into their contract of carriage.

My comments

It is a start and by putting it into the contract of carriage it will have binding impact (at least until contract of carriage wording is changed). That is good.

Not so good the unequal treatment of delays on departure and arrival - what were they thinking? Apart from involuntary denied boarding (IDB) the compensation is wholly in vouchers, which effectively devalues it significantly and imposes a lesser penalty on itself than cold hard cash would do.

Thirdly, the longer delays providing compensation in the amount of one-way vs round-trip fare is odd - not everyone travels round trips any more and some fares could be ridiculously low. How will someone on a say $80 fare feel being given a voucher for $80 after a 5 hour delay? Not happy I would guess.

It will be interesting to see the reactions to this airline PBOR.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Juggling visas

For the first time in a while I need to get visas to enter some multiple countries in a short period, and I'm reminded how much of a pain this is. Most places I travel to I do not need to get visas in advance. Now I need to get a few, and I have a short window of time between other overseas travel (when I need my passport) in which to do so.

I have some visa experts on the case and so it should all work out okay, but I'll rest easier once I have my passport back in hand complete with all the necessary visas.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Passenger Bill of Rights again

Further to my previous post on passenger bill of rights (PBOR), Christopher Elliott suggests the airports are sometimes to blame and invites suggestions on how to hold them accountable. I'm yet to be convinced that is needed or warranted. Let the airlines/airports sort out amongst themselves if blame needs to be shared. But having a single party accountable to the passenger would I think work best. This is how dealing with misplaced luggage works.

On a brighter note, Upgrade : Travel Better reports that jetBlue, like American Airlines, is launching a pre-emptive policy for lengthy onboard delays. Will it be enough to satisfy those calling for PBOR? Perhaps not. According to the Chicago Tribune work on drafting a new PBOR law has already commenced. I think there is a lot more mileage yet in this issue.

Passenger Bill of Rights

With Jet Blue the latest airline to keep passengers stranded onboard for hours during last week's storms, the calls for Passenger Bill of Rights (PBOR) continue unabated. (See this entry on the previous American Airlines incident.)

The Cranky Flier lays out a nice argument about why he is against a Passenger Bill of Rights. I don't think a PBOR would necessarily increase pre-cancellations of flights, though. After all mass cancelled flights cause headaches for airlines with flow-on effects on schedules for days.

One point The Cranky Flier makes is that the airline will not always be to blame for keeping passengers onboard. This I agree with. However I do not think that is enough justification for not holding airlines accountable if they keep passengers onboard for unreasonably extended periods of time.

The same no fault argument can apply for misplaced luggage (eg when first airline fails to tag bags correctly or airport baggage handlers fail to transfer bags or transfer them to the wrong aircraft). In the case of misplaced luggage there is agreement that the passenger need only deal with the last airline involved in the itinerary. To the extent another airline is at fault the airlines sort out compensation between themselves. I see the same being possible for extended onboard delays. If a second airline is preventing the aircraft in question from using a gate then the two airlines should sort it out between themselves afterwards.

The experience with the EU regulations on cancellations and delays seems to be that penalising the airlines for unduly inconveniencing passengers has a positive effect on the behaviour of the airlines. I think some kind of PBOR may also work.

Prop flight

Had some great flights recently in prop aircraft. I know many flyers do not like them, I quite like the slow speed and low altitude for great views of the countryside.

I had a few such flights in reasonable weather the other day and so I'm happy at least for now.

And happy new year to all those who follow lunar calendar - Gung Hay Fat Choy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Liquids carry on restrictions spread

The rules restricting liquids in carry-on luggage continues to spread. Australia and NZ will adopt them for all international travel from 31 March 2007 (refer Flysmart).

ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) recommended in December that all countries adopt controls on liquids. This we have seen. However the same recommendation suggest sealed duty free be allowed. This is only the case in limited circumstances and an annoyance to duty free outlets and passengers alike.

Current listing of countries restricting liquids in carry-ons:

  • Australia - from 31 March on international flights
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • China
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • French Overseas Departments & Territories
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan - from 1 March
  • Lithuania
  • Latvia
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand - from 31 March on international flights
  • Norway
  • Philippines - no liquids (whereas other countries allow limited quantities)
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • USA

This list is incomplete and with fast changing rules all travellers should check with their airline(s) in the first instance. The rules apply for both departures and transits.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Some award availability tips

Earlier I wrote how you can use some online tools to check award availability. However this is only half the story.

On some programs (for example United Mileage Plus) the available awards on partner airlines are less than that shown using Air Canada or ANA lookup tools.

Some frequent flyer programs (FFPs) release additional seats to their elite members - for example Qantas Frequent Flyer in economy class or Air New Zealand Airpoints in business class.

Others may have guaranteed award seats available for elites, possibly at increased award cost - for example Lufthansa Miles and More Senator members may convert any seat available for paid bookings on the home airlines into an award seat at a cost of double mileage (this benefit has restrictions on its use).

Finally, some FFPs will go the extra mile for (some of) their elite members by forcing the release of paid seat into award.

The moral of the story - even if the online tools show no availability it may still be worth phoning your frequent flyer program for a redemption. Of course it helps to be prepared with alternate routing, airline and date options to suggest. The agent's computer may not automatically suggest alternatives and the agent may not be aware of all of the possibilities. For non obvious routing possibilities I use the alliance online timetable tools extensively.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Yet more trouble for British Airways

Apologies for yet another post on British Airways but it seems the airline just keeps being wrong-footed. Not long after averting a cabin crew strike at the last minute (but late enough that flights were disrupted for a few days), Sky News reports of another possible strike this time by ground staff.

It has been a while since an airline not on its knees financially (or in merger talks) has so consistently been in the news and not in a good way. If a strike is called then in the aftermath watch for a big marketing campaign and promotions to try and keep their frequent passengers who must surely be getting annoyed at the months of disruptions and inconveniences.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Flight announcements in the airport lounge

Some airlines are good at announcing all their departing flights in the airport lounge - eg Emirates in their Auckland lounge, or Singapore Airlines in Seoul. Other airlines are good at reminding you they don't announce any flights - eg Singapore Airlines in Singapore.

Picture from wikipedia

These I like. When in lounges that don't announce flights it is slightly annoying to check the monitors regularly for delays, gate changes, etc. But at least you expect to have to do so. It is those lounges which sometimes announce and sometimes not (or not at the right time) that I find annoying.

For the regular calls for flights lulls me (and many other passengers) into complacency. Since, outside USA, I prefer to board as late as possible, I tend to wait until boarding is announced before making my way to the gate - maximising pleasures of the lounge and minimising stress. (Within USA the difficulties of obtaining overhead bin space by my seat means I try to board early there.) If the flight is then called too late in the boarding process I find myself rushing to the gate, or worse the embarrasment of a page for holding up the flight. This seems to be happening to me more and more within Australia and New Zealand.

If the flight is not called at all then I risk missing the flight unless I realise the time and make my own way to the gate. Flights not being called at all seems to also be happening more and more - perhaps a consequence of reduced staffing in the lounge?

In busy airports, having all flights announced in the lounge is problematic. So I guess the best solution is to have plenty of monitors with accurate, timely information (not always the case as many only update every 15 minutes or so). Further, all flights should show on the monitor, not just those of the airline which operates the lounge - for some guests may be on other flights.

But the worst of all options that I have experienced, is how they deal with departures in the Tom Bradley Internation Terminal (at LAX airport) interim business lounge, which I visited last October. There are no monitors in the lounge. Rather than announce the flights over the PA, instead someone wanders around the large open-space area holding up a sign proclaiming flight 123 of Airline Whatever is ready to board. Not sure what happens if you are visiting the bathroom at the wrong time.

Lobby group wants more nickel and diming

While my mind is on the subject of baggage changes, a post on Flight Wisdom caught my eye. The Coalition for Luggage Security is pushing for all checked baggage to be charged separate to the ticket price. In a 2005 paper they argue that requiring passengers to (or encouraging through penal rates for checked baggage) freight their bags in advance of the flight will improve security.

Maybe it will, but for sure it will be a huge hassle for many travellers. How many people know days in advance what they will take on a trip? For complex itineraries where spending only a night or two at several different locations the logistics start to get challenging. How would hotels feel about providing extra baggage storage as their guests bags start arriving days ahead of the actual guests?

A fairly lame attempt on the part of this lobby group to use the ongoing security paranoia to their own advantage.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A380 draws a step nearer

Airbus has held the first flight of the A380 for media complete with their own fitout (actual airline specifications will differ of course). CNN's Richard Quest reported on that A380 flight. There are also rumours that Lufthansa will hold some passenger flights (off schedule by invitation only?) in March (yes 2007) as part of it's preparation program (the positive publicity finally generated after many months of delays won't hurt either). Check out a discussion on Flyer Talk as to how to get on these early flights. Note the aircraft will not actually have the Lufthansa fitout for the A380, but still very interesting for enthusiasts.

I am sure I can't get onboard a Lufthansa trial passenger flight, but I am still hoping I can make the first commercial A380 flights, with Singapore Airlines. Fingers crossed the wait will be worth it.

American Airlines storm policy

In a first move to attempt to head off a passenger bill of rights (see this post on why there are renewed calls for one), American Airlines has announced a policy of passengers being stuck onboard a grounded aircraft for no more than 4 hours. The snippet of news from MSNBC is short on details, and is a welcome start. However I think it is unlikely to be enough to silence their critics.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Inadequate airline websites

Once again Jetstar's website has crashed after sending an email announcing a sale. Good for getting your name in the news, bad for customers (and especially potential customers who miss out).

This is hardly the first time it has happened (eg see this report in The Age from 2006) - apparently Jetstar has still not improved their webserver.

For a low cost carrier that directs customers to use their website this is not good enough.

Nickel & diming by a major airline

An update on my previous reports of last year, on more woes for British Airways passengers. Four months later than originally planned, new limits on checked baggage will apply from 13 February 2007.

BA has posted this news onto its website just days before it comes into effect. The first passengers impacted have every right to complain if it is being enforced strictly. Reaction by the media and the blogsphere has been negative as you'd expect (eg check out BBC and Upgrade : Travel Better).

In a bid to soften the blow, British Airways advises they will continue to accept bags over 23kg each until 30 September 2007. Of course you will pay handsomely for the privilege at up to 120 pounds each way (or more if stopover en route).

I think BA has forgotten that one reason why passengers choose a full service airline at higher fares is to avoid the nickel & diming of the low cost carrier alternatives.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Travelling light

I rarely check bags, even on trips of a few weeks. Over the years, and more particularly lately with tighter restrictions on carry-ons, I have been getting better at packing light.

There are many advantages to packing light, but to me the best one is the extra flexibility afforded by not having checked bags. On a tight connection on separate tickets the few minutes (or many in the case of arrivals at London Heathrow for example) spent waiting for luggage can mean the difference between making the connection and not. In irregular operations not having checked bags can be the difference between being able to be put on alternative flights ("if you hurry to gate X you can just make it") and being stuck with everyone else.

The Brave New Traveler has 7 more reasons to travel with one bag.

The 2 tricks I have been using most successfully to travel lighter is to:

  1. take more stuff that is versatile and worry less about extremes of weather conditions or dress codes (eg have something smart casual instead of more formal, make do with just a couple of pairs of footwear to cover all occasions)
  2. bring stuff that I can leave behind, not just old clothing or footwear but also a couple of books (and before the liquids restrictions some bottles of drink) - not only will this lighten the load but also makes space for clothes, souvenirs etc bought while away

For more expert advice and tips on travelling light, check out One Bag.

No frills alliance

Aer Lingus and JetBlue have announced what they call a ticket-booking alliance. As Upgrade : Travel Better notes, it isn't much compared to the traditional big three alliances (One World, Sky Team and Star Alliance).

However it is a start, and I think a first for what has been whispered for a while now - an alliance between low cost carriers. The traditional alliances are expensive (indeed that is the reason Aer Lingus is leaving One World 31 March 2007). So I wonder what might a no frills alliance look like?

  • codeshares - eventually in order to most easily expand the destinations reached by an airline, otherwise there is little point in having an alliance
  • frequent flyer status benefits - forget about it, no low cost airline has frequent flyer status recognition
  • frequent flyer mileage accrual on partner flights - I suspect not since not all no frills airlines have a frequent flyer program, but could work on the codeshares
  • frequent flyer mileage redemption on partner flights - again only on the codeshares
  • aligned flight schedules - probably only between hubs rather than other points served by networks due to the low cost airlines' desire for maximum flexibility for their own operations
  • aligned network - yes as this lowers the cost of serving remote or small destinations
  • joint marketing and promotions - no
  • interlined baggage (ie checked through when connecting to another airline) - while this would be great for passengers, I can only see this happening for the few low cost airlines that already provide interline baggage

What do you think?

What visas do I need?

With the complex and ever changing visa requirements it is important to keep informed of what you need. A lot of my visas are done either on arrival (great time saver when travelling to those countries that offer it), or at the last minute when I have a small window of not using my passport to get the next lot of visas.

While I usually use the services of a specialist travel visa company, I still find it helpful to have some idea in advance of the visas I'll need. No point in sending away to get a visa (possibly to a third country if no official representation here) if I can get one on arrival instead.

Delta Airlines has a link to the IATA visa database maintained by Timatic. It is very easy to use.

Some other airlines also have links to the database, but for some reason are restricted to less countries and/or nationalities. The Delta link works for everyone and everywhere as far as I can tell.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Liability for lost baggage increases in US

The US Department of Transportation has increased the airline liability for lost, delayed or damaged baggage from $2800 to $3000 effective 28 February 2007. (Thanks to Flight Wisdom for alerting me to this news.)

This improvement only applies to US domestic flights, and only if on a wholly US itinerary. International flights (and US domestic flights on a ticket that includes international flights) are still covered under the Montreal Convention to 1000 SDR (Special Drawing Rights, currently worth about US$1.50 or 1.15 euros each).

So I guess if you are going to lose a bag you'd prefer it to be on a US domestic ticket. If you have valuables you will still need to insure them separately.

Travel Blogs

Upgrade: Travel Better is holding a Travvies awards especially for travel blogs. I look forward to finding some more great travel blogs amongst the nominations.

Monday, February 05, 2007


After extended slackness on my part I have gotten around to fixing the feeds for this blog. Hopefully they now work as intended. I have added links to the
Feedburner feeds on the sidebar.

The links are repeated below for convenience.

standard feed

email subscription


I was recently asked a question about codeshares by a reader of Condé Naste Traveler. One of the things I mentioned in my reply through The Perrin Post column was the importance of knowing the operating airline. It is the operating airline that you deal with for checking in, bags, transfers, etc. The codeshare airline is of no help and may use a different terminal or not even operate out of that airport. Some airports will only announce over the PA or on departure screens the operating airline's flight, not the codeshares (with some flights having 8 or more codeshares who can blame them?).

So how do you know the operating airline? Your travel agent or airline should include the operating airline (and preferably also the operating airline's flight number) in your itinerary. If they haven't then you can use this tool on OAG's website to find the operating airline (eg QF 301 is operated by British Airways). Unfortunately OAG hasn't included the operating airline's flight number, so I'd suggest a second step and look up the airline schedule for the operating airline for your route. OAG has a listing of most airlines' websites.

An easier way (with some interpretation required) is to use Executive Travel Skyguide's free flight search - enter the departure city, arrival city, and date. It will return all the flight options. Your flight, being a codeshare should have an asterisk to indicate the codeshare. Then check the listing immediately above and below that listing for an entry that matches the arrival and departure times (and transit point if relevant). In my example I can see for Bangkok to London Heathrow that QF301 is a codeshare matching operating flight number 10 by British Airways (BA10). Don't worry about matching the aircraft type since the coding used by airlines is not 100% consistent - in this example Qantas uses 744 and British Airways 747. Trust me it is the same aircraft!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Airline alliance changes

A quick summary of some upcoming changes to the 3 main airline alliances. With lots of changes there are new earning and redemption options opening up, and also some being lost (so book now if needed).

One World

- EI Aer Lingus leaves 31 March 2007
+ JL Japan Airlines joins 1 April 2007
+ MA Malev Hungarian joins 1 April 2007
+ RJ Royal Jordanian joins 1 April 2007
+ KA Dragonair joins 2007 (date yet to be announced)
+ XL Lan Argentina joins 2007 (date yet to be announced)
+ LP Lan Peru joins 2007 (date yet to be announced)
- BA's British Mediterranean (BMed) franchise ends northern Summer 2007 (ie many BA flights to Africa, Middle East and Central Asia will no longer be One World flights)
? RG New Varig may possibly join (with Lan's part purchase)
? WS Westjet is in talks with One World.

With Aer Lingus leaving, travel to Ireland is harder but otherwise not much impact. The addition of Japan Airlines adds several routes to Asia, but Malev and Royal Jordanian add some new destinations and more connections in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Dragonair adds lots of options for China travel, and the LANs open up much of South America. The loss of BMed removes several destinations.

Sky Team

+ UX Air Europa joins June 2007
+ CZ China Southern Airlines joins 2007 (date yet to be announced)
? IC Indian Airlines is in talks with Sky Team

More destinations added in Europe and China.

Star Alliance

- RG Varig left 31 January 2007
? RG New Varig is in talks to rejoin Star Alliance
+ CA Air China joins 2007 (date yet to be announced)
+ FM Shanghai Airlines joins 2007 (date yet to be announced)
+ TK Turkish Airlines is in talks with Star Alliance
+ BMed may possibly join or have flights under franchise with bmi (with bmi's purchase)

The biggest alliance keeps on growing. More destinations in China, and probably also Turkey, Eastern Europe, Africa, Middle East and Central Asia. A loss of Varig leaves a big gap in the network with extremely poor options for South America.

My travels

Apologies for the lack of recent posts. I'll try to do better. The start of the year has been busy travel-wise for me, although differently from other January's.

With lots of stuff on I have been busy with many short flights instead of international longhaul. In the past few weeks I have flown several different airlines and aircraft types, which keeps me on my toes for selecting good seats, different processes for check in, lounge access, and so forth.

My travel plans for the upcoming year are starting to take shape and I've booked some nice awards on the first date released for next Christmas / New Year period as well as finalising some paid trips. I find I tend to cash in miles regularly since the frequent flyer programs regularly devalue - hoarding miles is not "investing" for future travel. That said, some significant changes to alliances (more on that soon) will open up new opportunities for both earning and redemption.

I have taken a small gamble with one of my upcoming hotel stays. It is a new hotel currently expecting to open a month before my visit, although the opening date has already been pushed back several times. The hotel award looks very cheap compared with paid rates, and I've already confirmed an executive suite. So fingers crossed the hotel opens on time and is fully functional from the outset.

I've also been working to earn more miles with various promos, some of which were not well advertised. It really does pay to actively search them out. On one stay by booking hotel through an airline website, for the same heavily discounted rate as the hotel discount websites I get the same room and 2000 miles, not counting miles earned when paying the bill on the credit card. Not a bad return on 5 minutes work to do the comparison. Another trip I booked flights + 1 night of hotel as a package, got the same great sale fare on the flights as I would get booking just the flight, plus hotel for $120 with $100 rebate. So the hotel in the central city cost me $20, far below what the same hotel or any others for that matter would cost on a hotel discount website.

There was a period a couple of years ago when it seemed every few flights I would be asked to complete a survey. Then it dried up with very few surveys. I recently got emailed a travel survey which I thought was poorly designed. It was very long, more like something you'd get in a focus group - it took me about 40 minutes to complete. Many questions where confusingly written. Imagine airlines were people, for each of the listed airlines select which of the following types of people they would be. And the types would be something wierd like "sensible". Huh? I normally like doing surveys as I see it as an opportunity to give feedback so they can improve. However this one left a sour taste - too long for what they were giving for it, badly worded questions and a focus more on branding and advertising perceptions than on the actual product at hand.