web Musings of The Global Traveller

Friday, October 17, 2008

The importance of checking accounts and itineraries regularly

I was reminded this week why it is important to check accounts and itineraries regularly.

Rules change, miles expire

I logged into an account for the first time in a year to check an upcoming booking. It was for a frequent flyer program (FFP) which I have no status and only use infrequently. Nonetheless I have a decent amount of miles accumulated - enough for a business class award or some upgrades to business or first class. I was startled into action by noticing a good chunk of the miles were about to expire.

In the time since I'd earned the miles, the expiry rules had changed for this FFP to something different and more harsh than many other FFPs. So I wasn't expecting any upcoming mileage expiry issues. I'm sure the FFP did let me know of the change in rules, but since this particular one is perhaps my tenth most used FFP I had put it out of my mind.

In the short time until the miles expire I have a lot of travel already booked, but of course you can book now for flights later than the expiry date*. So after some thought I have booked a business class award that represents about the best value I can for the miles that would otherwise have expired. If I'd realised earlier I could have gotten a much better value from them, but at least I'm still getting reasonable value and not nil (if they expired).

*There is, however, a trap for the unwary in booking future travel before the miles expire, where the date of the flights is after the expiry date. If the award is unticketed at expiry date then you'll lose the miles. If the upgrade is unconfirmed, on some programs the request will still be honoured (subject to availability) as the miles/vouchers are deducted at time of making the request. However, on some programs an unconfirmed upgrade request is lost at date of expiry as the miles/vouchers are not deducted until the upgrade is confirmed.

Lesson learned : keep up to date with program changes, and log into even the minor accounts at least a couple of times a year (I plan to do this when daylight saving changes to make it easier to remember).

Hotel stay or flight cancelled without notification

Earlier I blogged about a Lufthansa flight which had been cancelled without notifying me. The same thing can happen with hotel stays. I had a stay booked at a newly opening hotel, for which I had a confirmed reservation. I appreciate hotel opening dates are vague, but I waited until only a couple of months before the supposed date and booked my stay which was several weeks later. Unfortunately while checking if I could replace my eye-wateringly high paid rate (booked fully flexible of course) with an award I discovered my booking had been cancelled. Further investigation revealed the hotel had significantly deferred their opening date.

In many places and times of year, this would be of minor annoyance and no concern. Unfortunately this was for peak season and almost every hotel I checked was either completely sold out or had a six or seven day minimum stay requirement! Ouch.

Through stunning good luck I have found another hotel that accepted the one-night stay I need, so I have avoided the potential need to sleep at an airport. I am very glad I spotted the issue now and not be facing a building site instead of reception, and stuck for options in a place I haven't been to, is difficult to get around, and is sold out almost everywhere.

Lesson learned : check upcoming reservations (flights and hotel stays) earlier than my usual check just days before a trip.

Schedule changes

I had a message from an airline about an upcoming booking. As they didn't say which booking, I checked all my bookings for upcoming trips with this airline (about a dozen tickets) and found schedule changes for half of them on all sorts of different routes.

Lesson learned : make sure programs have my contact details, and check all reservations rather than assuming there is only an issue with one.

Involuntarily downgraded

Also this week (it has been an odd week for me for travel-related things), I found out through checking some bookings that several upcoming flights on LAN have been downgraded to economy from business class as a result of changes in the marketing of their intra-South America flights. So far I haven't been able to make contact with them to resolve. I don't expect I'll have much option, as my schedule is so tight I cannot fly another airline, but at least I'd like to be seated in premium economy and have a partial refund of the fares paid for the loss of amenity. These resolutions can be difficult to achieve if left until at the airport - premium economy may be full, check in will have no authority and ticket desk may or may not but will certainly require time (which given tight connections and schedules is something I will be lacking in).

Lesson learned : try to build in more flexibility into my schedule.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New Qantas First Class (A380)

I blogged previously that I'd been invited* by Qantas on a promotional A380 flight before scheduled service begins. What I didn't dare hope for, though, was that I'd be seated in their new first class for the flight. Woohoo.


I'd seen the publicity materials from Qantas when the new product was launched, and had been underwhelmed. Perhaps it was because Emirates and Singapore Airlines had both taken the opportunity to add fantastic new first class products on their A380s that expectations were too high.

Having sat in the seat for a couple of hours I think the pictures do not do it justice. For sure it is not as good as the top notch suites, but it is much better than the current Qantas First Class. I'd rank the new first class upper quartile rather than leading.

The cabin most definitely family unfriendly - you cannot easily see a small child in another seat, and also cannot reach across to refasten belts. While not enclosed ala Emirates or Singapore Airlines, there is a reasonable amount of privacy at least while seated or laying down. Stand up and you can see all.

I've posted a full review on Flyer Talk.

Here are a few snippets.

... overall the cabin is of airiness.

The seat faces forward for take-off and landing. There is limited legroom but with plenty of knee room in this position. Other than take-off and landing, there does not seem much point in the forward-facing position. All the other features of the seat are best used when the seat is swivelled.

There are plenty of places to put little things, but only 1 spot to put a laptop bag or similar - under the ottoman. There are two swivel triangular drawers under the small shelf at far right. A couple of cubbies up against the seat when swiveled. The lower one of these is partially blocked when in bed mode, but as a secure place to put things while sleeping it is inferior to BA first and business, or NZ business, for example.

The main table is inbetween the cubbies and the shelf and well positioned for eating alone or with someone else at the ottoman. The table however is not as large as NZ or CX business class, so it will be cosy for two.

There is a recessed drink/glass holder in the shelf, and also behind the head when in bed mode. Good for putting a water bottle in, but watch out if resting a glass on the shelf!

There is a pop-out coat hook to hang your jacket when you first arrive while waiting to hand it to an attendant, or on landing after being handed it back. There is also a hook on the seat wall to hang the headphones so you don't need to stuff them into a cubby or have them loose on the tray table or shelf.

In swivel mode there is decent legroom regardless of how far reclined the seat is. In bed mode the length is reasonable, the bed is flat (arm rests drop to lie fairly flush) and reasonably comfortable.

The master controller is wall mounted, and can also be lifted out of its socket. It reminds me of the one Emirates has in first class on A345 aircraft. The controller operates IFE, seat positions, blinds, lights, privacy screen, etc. It is touch screen, but also has buttons for preset seat positions, overhead lights and a crew call button. There are 7 different directions the seat can be adjusted (including massage functions), and 5 preset seating positions.

* The invite was offered due to my frequent flyer status, not for any publicity in this blog or elsewhere.

The Qantas A380 also has a new IFE system, which appears to be much better than the existing system. More on this later.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


I've gotten my passport back with the necessary visas (I think) for my upcoming trips. A few places I can get a visa on arrival, and there are a couple of places where it is not clear if I need a visa or not due to poor wording. Even the visa experts I use were baffled. Hopefully it works out okay, and if not I can talk my way out of the problem.

The passport came back in good time, for I have been invited by Qantas to a promotional A380 flight. Despite being domestic only (sadly), the function will be held in the international terminal. I'm looking forward to it.

The new US visa (waiver) program ESTA, which comes in mid January is now up and running - you can pre-register now at the website. I've managed to avoid USA on the first few trips for 2009, in part to avoid problems with the new system. However, I've realised I should still sign up by the end of this year, because in the event of irregular operations on my flights from South America to Australia I may get rerouted via USA. It would be very annoying to be denied the option merely because I failed to register.