web Musings of The Global Traveller

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Last paper ticket

I've now picked up what is supposed to be my last paper tickets. It has been a rush trying to get several complex itineraries sorted before the conversion to all e-tickets on 1 June 2008 (or rather mostly all see my previous blog entry). Some of my upcoming trips are not currently supported by e-tickets.

Here's hoping none of us need last minute reticketing of paper tickets. Supposedly these will be impossible, although I think some work around must be provided once the airlines experience how much of a problem the restrictions will create.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A charge for all checked bags

American Airlines (AA) has taken the low-cost carrier (LCC) approach with their latest baggage fee. All checked bags will be charged for most domestic economy passengers. Exemptions to the first bag luggage charge are given to those flying on first and business class fares or awards, or paying full economy fare, or an anytime AAdvantage award, or anyone with any oneworld elite status at the date of travel (as well as anyone else flying with them). Those passengers who are upgraded at the last minute (eg operational upgrades) will not be exempt from the fee unless they also fit another exemption category. Perhaps the list of exemptions will get simplified at some stage.

From 15 June, the first bag is $15 (each way), the second $25, the third $100, and so on. At least they haven't tried to put on the LCC spin of "it is a discount for no checked bags", as Australian airline Jetstar does for example.

Expect the overhead bins to be even fuller, at least until AA is forced to either back down or restrict and enforce carry-on items to 1 bag plus 1 personal item. Having elite status to enable boarding early will be more important than ever to claim the bin space by your seat.

As with fuel surcharges and the earlier introduction of baggage fees for the second checked bag, I'd expect other airlines to quickly follow suit.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

100% e-ticketing? Not quite, and a warning.

IATA, the airline association, has been pushing for 100% e-ticketing for quite some time. The latest deadline is 1 June 2008, and unlike previous targets it seems this date is sticking.

I, like many other frequent travellers, have been sceptical that 100% etickets can be achieved by 1 June 2008. After all, it is not just remote parts of the planet that do not support etickets. It was only a couple of months ago I was issued an eticket by Qantas for a simple round trip between one of their hubs and another oneworld hub.

So it was no surprise when Air New Zealand confirmed that there is a long list of circumstances where paper tickets will still be required from 1 June 2008. More on that in a moment. My main concern is this. Air NZ warns that from 1 June 2008 it may take 5 or more working days to issue a paper ticket. Too bad if your travel plans change in a hurry and you are forced to use a paper ticket because of the e-ticketing limitations. Note this long delay is not because paper tickets suddenly become difficult to issue in two weeks time. No, it is an artificial constraint engineered to ensure as few paper tickets as possible are issued. Travel agents and airline ticket offices will no longer have paper ticket stock but will have to jump through hoops to get paper tickets issued and sent out to them.

The good news is that those who have paper tickets by 31 May 2008 will not be forced to reissue their tickets as e-tickets. Phew. The exception is where a ticket needs to be reissued after 31 May 2008 (eg for a change of routing) and travel has not yet commenced - they will need to reissue as an e-ticket.

The bad news. Here is a list of circumstances still requiring an e-ticket when the ticket is issued by Air New Zealand (or by a travel agent or Air NZ ticket stock). For other airlines, the items in points 4 to 6 may be different depending on where they fly, which airlines they interline with and whether or not they themselves have system issues with e-tickets.

  1. Over 16 coupons required, including any surface segments. This is the reason that both oneworld and Star Alliance round the world fare rules have reduced the number of allowed flights (from 1 June 2008 for oneworld and from 1 May 2008 for Star Alliance). Bad for travellers.
  2. Any open-dated segments. No more booking an itinerary and firming up the dates later while waiting for a waitlist to clear on the date you want. Bad for travellers.
  3. Reissue of paper ticket where travel has commenced. Neutral for travellers (forcing to switch to e-tickets would be bad).
  4. Any flights on Air Vanuatu or Air Rarotonga including Air NZ codeshares.
  5. Any flights on one or more of the following airlines - Aeroflot, Air Fiji, Air Rarotonga, Frontier Airlines, Garuda, Hong Kong Airlines, Hong Kong Express, Skywest, Royal Brunei, Jetstar, Jet Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Eurostar. There may be other airlines that are also not ready for e-ticketing but which have no interline agreement with Air NZ.
  6. Any ticket that includes an infant and a flight on one or more of the following airlines - all those listed in #5 above plus American Airlines, Alaskan, EVA, Air China, Delta Airlines, Etihad, Air Pacific, Shanghai Airlines, Solomon Airlines, Lufthansa, Malaysian Airlines, Air Vanuatu, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic.

IATA is keen to push this through to save money for it's member airlines. However it seems it is the passengers who are having to pay for the initiative through greater restrictions on tickets (which could be solved by amending computer systems but this is not being done), and through potentially great inconvenience in some circumstances.

I wonder how long it will be before we get the first stories about people missing funerals because they needed a paper ticket and it was unable to be issued in time?

A most unusual flight experience

I've flown a lot and so experienced a lot of things that may seem odd or unusual. Sooner or later the law of averages catches up with everyone*, and with my crazy travel schedules it sometimes seems I seek out trouble - even if it is inadvertantly.

* I've had my share of delays, cancellations, bombs exploding nearby, hijacking attempts, temporary terminal reconstructions (just after 9/11), weather problems, go arounds, misconnections, baggage lost, and so on.

However I recently had a most unusual flight experience. I was flying to Erbil (aka Arbil or Irbil), Kurdistan or Iraq depending on your views I suppose. For those unfamiliar with the area, Erbil is in the northeast corner of Iraq close-ish to the borders of Turkey and Iran. Amazingly, there are commercial flights there - on Austrian Airlines from Vienna (the other commercial flight to Iraq is Royal Jordanian Airlines from Amman to Baghdad).

The scenery is spectacular en route - flying over a big mountain range and afterwards the desert landscape. However, that is not the unusual bit. For the last several minutes before landing, and the first several minutes after take-off, are spent in a tight spiral while the aircraft descends or ascends over the city.

Before I took the trip I'd read that Baghdad had this spiral landing but as Erbil is a much safer area I was surprised to experience this. I admit it unnerved me when I realised what was happening. What had I let myself in for?

On the ground immigration was rather simple. As far as I could tell, everyone onboard who was not a local was given a 1 week entry visa (stamp) and advised to register by the 10th day if intending to stay longer. Compare this to the many hours I had spent (or rather the company I use for arranging visas had spent) trying to find information which was absent or conflicting on the entry requirements. Even at Vienna I was almost refused boarding because my nationality was not on a piece of paper of countries which will get granted an arrival visa - it took a conference with a supervisor to decide to let me fly.

I'm glad I went rather than wait out for hostilities to cease in Baghdad. Although it has had a small impact on my travels - I have already been questioned by immigration in 2 different countries about the Iraq stamps in my passport, and I expect to keep getting questions until my passport is replaced (which should be another year to 18 months at the current rate I'm filling it up).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More miles - 3 free tips

Sorry it has been a while since I last blogged here. It has been a busy travel month even by my standards as I have passed through 18 countries on 5 continents. When I travel I have more time to ponder and notice things - look for a few upcoming posts on this.

1) I got an email recently from AAdvantage offering miles to subscribe to some of their email offerings. These are the same offerings which I subscribed to last year (and got bonus miles for then), so it is worthwhile unsubscribing to stuff you don't need. The only catch is to unsubscribe after the promo period (in this case I've diarised for the 3 months subscription that is required to earn the miles). For a minute effort I will get a modest bonus, and the price sure is right.

2) Normally I stay in the same hotel chain where it is available because I struggle to maintain high (meaningful) hotel stay program status given my schedule (lots of overnight flights and same-day return trips) and the locations I visit (lots of places with no or few chain hotels). However, lately I've been staying in a few different chains due to location, cost and availability issues. So, what I have done is use these odd stays to credit to various lesser used frequent flyer programs (FFPs) as an easy way to extend the mileage expiry out several more months. For some of these frequent flyer programs I am yet to set foot on one of their aircraft but have almost enough for a basic award, again with just a bit of effort here and there to credit some hotel stays or pick up the odd promotion (such as surveys).

3) I have a lot of flights of many different airlines and so it can be hard keeping track of the frequent flyer miles, hotel points and status earnt. I spent an hour or so the other day reviewing 5 of my accounts which I had credited recently. The result - I found several uncredited flights (which will net me about 70,000 miles when they eventually post), some more flights were I was given too few miles (an extra 3000 miles have already been credited), a couple of flights were the miles credited seems too low (still being investigated by the frequent flyer program), 3 missed hotel stays (2 have credited already which requalifies my status in that hotel program), and another where they forgot to give me points for incidental spend. Not a bad return for an hour of my time (plus maybe some more chasing up). Although ideally these would all credit correctly in the first place. One account took me more time than the others to go through, because they had reversed and re-credited many transactions, and not always at the same rate which then meant more reversals and re-credits.

I'm still looking for an easier way to reconcile my accounts than the spreadsheet I currently keep. If anyone knows of software please let me know.