web Musings of The Global Traveller

Friday, January 30, 2009

Competitours : a personalised race to experience Europe

Some people describe my travels as a crazy race against time, dashing here and there around the world. So naturally I was interested to hear of a new concept by Competitours.

They've developed a package that provides lots of different experiences around Europe in a competitive race format. It's an odd cross between the traditional European tours, independent travel and The Amazing Race. Unlike the tv show, almost anyone can participate (in teams of 2).

How it works is this:

There is a 2 week secret itinerary across 5 European countries. Each destination is only revealed the day beforehand. At each place there are a range of activities and experiences to select from to complete. Each activity is worth a number of points based on difficulty and time. Get the most points by the end and you win a prize. The competition rules and itinerary are structured so as to ensure there is plenty of free time outside the competition to do other stuff.

Since there are lots of choices, in effect everyone will have their own personalised tour. The intention is that even if you don't win the competition you still win by having a fun trip and experiencing more of Europe than you'd get from an organised tour.

If you are on Flyer Talk, Randy Petersen is generously sponsoring a team for a mid-March tour. Register your interest, and submission to be chosen, in the discussion thread by early February.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Up to 1000 free DL miles

As blogged by Lucky over on one mile at a time, you can get 500 free DL miles for less than 1 minutes of effort, and 1000 free DL miles for less than 5 minutes.

First get 500 free Northwest (NW) miles through NW WorldPerks University. Very simple questions, takes just a few minutes. Sign up for a new account first if you don't already have one. My miles posted instantly.

Then get 500 free Delta (DL) miles by linking your NW WorldPerks account with your DL Skymiles account. You can opt to leave your NW miles in your NW account, transfer some or all of them to your DL account, or transfer some or all of your DL miles to your NW account. Note that once linked you cannot unlink accounts, but about the only reason not to link accounts would be if you have multiple NW accounts (which is against their T&Cs) and only 1 DL account.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Airline's own social network sites - not for me

I was reminded by a recent email from BA about this topic. A couple of years ago I blogged about KLM's first foray into having their own social network sites (interest-specific).

Since then only a few other airlines have established their own sites.

In my view they all share 2 common problems - they are too specific to an airline and being airline sponsored they do not empower consumers as much as other communities such as Flyer Talk do.

Cranky Flier (at BNET rather than his own site) and Robin Wauters of TechCrunch have both been critical of these airline social networking sites.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An example of deceptive airline price marketing

Deceptive airline price marketing is nothing new, but it annoys me from time to time. Here is a recent example from British Airways.

British Airways today launched its ever popular ‘London for Free’, offering two
nights’ free hotel in London. ‘London for Free’ offers travellers
two nights’ free hotel accommodation at select three and four star hotels in
central London when purchasing roundtrip airfares between the U.S. and the
U.K. Roundtrip airfares begin at $312 between New York (JFK or Newark) and

So $312 gets airfare from New York to London and 2 nights accommodation. Seems simple enough.

Comparable airfares are available from all 18 British Airways’
U.SA. cities. Travelers also have the option to upgrade to World Traveller
Plus, the airline’s premium economy cabin for an additional fee.
Prices are available for sale through Thursday midnight (EST), Jan. 29,
2009. Travel is valid from Jan. 27, 2009, through March 22, 2009.

Pay more from cities other than New York, or for World Traveller Plus cabin.

London hotels participating in ‘London For Free’ include the Royal National,
President, Best Western Burns, Jurys Inn Chelsea, Holiday Inn Kensington Forum,
Rembrandt, Thistle Euston, Thistle Barbican, Fraser Place Queens Gate Apartments
and Holiday Inn Regents Park. The two free hotel nights are based on
double occupancy; single occupants are offered one free hotel night.
So 2 free nights is only for 2 people booked together (or 4 if staying at Royal National Hotel), otherwise it is 1 free night.
World Traveller and World Traveller Plus roundtrip fares must be booked and
purchased seven days in advance and are non-refundable. Fares may be
higher for other travel dates and from other U.S. departure gateways.
Some fare restrictions and clarifying that it is indeed more expensive from places other than New York, or outside the sale period.

Weekend (Thursday-Sunday) surcharge applies at $30 each way.
Pay $30 more each way to travel on 4 days of the week.
Fares are subject to government approval and do not include government fees and
taxes from approximately $150 and a $2.50 September 11th Security Fee.
The headline fare excludes taxes and fees - which are about half as much again as the fare. The T&Cs on the BA website refer to "approximately $150-250" in taxes + the September 11th Security Fee. The email of course does not mention $250 in taxes anywhere but hides behind the word from.
Minimum stay of Saturday night is required and maximum stay is 11 months.
So everyone has to stay at least 4 nights in London or pay up to $60 more than the headline fare. Remember only 2 (or 1) nights are free.
Hotel accommodation must be booked and purchased with British Airways roundtrip
published airfare originating in the U.S. during the promotional period. Other
significant restrictions apply.
What are the significant other restrictions?
Further information on this promotion and other British Airways offers are
available by visiting the airline’s website,

The website gives some clues of further restrictions. Non-refundable. $200 change fee on top of the difference to fares available at the time the change is made. All changes after 29 January result in forfeiture of free hotel nights, and if you still want to stay at the selected hotel there is an admin fee of $25.

Where does that leave us? For most people the real cost is at least $494 ($312 + $150 + $2.50 + $30), and they may only get 1 free night. A lot of people would jump at a trans-atlantic fare of $494 that includes a free night accommodation in London, so why bother hiding a lot of surcharges and terms in the fine print? Not very customer friendly in my view.

Monday, January 26, 2009

How to get to | Tahiti

I've travelled to a lot of different places (about 100 countries currently depending on which list is used), and intend travelling to a lot more. Sometimes I get asked how to get to country X, where X is perceived to be (and may be really) hard to get to. While I do not mind answering these types of questions privately, if there is reader interest I'll blog about it too. If anyone has a request please feel free to contact me by making a comment or through the email link at top right.

I'll start off with Tahiti (French Polynesia).

Tahiti (French Polynesia)

While some cruises do include Tahiti, most travellers arrive by air. A few main airlines fly to Tahiti:

  • Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles, Paris, Sydney and Auckland - they have codeshares and partnerships with both Qantas, Air New Zealand and American Airlines
  • Air New Zealand (Star Alliance) from Auckland (the Los Angeles and Rarotonga flights have been dropped)
  • Hawaiian from Honolulu
  • Air France (Sky Team) from Paris and Los Angeles
  • LAN (oneworld) from Santiago via Easter Island
Fares generally are high, especially in premium cabins. Tahiti is difficult to get to on round-the-world tickets due to the lack of onward flights in all 3 alliances and backtracking rules.

TIP book early on a business class award for the best value and a comfortable (long) flight to and from the islands.

TIP Moorea and Bora Bora are far more attractive than the main island of Tahiti but will require a ferry (Moorea) or flight (all the islands on Air Tahiti). These extra flights are unable to be booked on any award or round-the-world ticket. Watch out for schedules as often an overnight stop in Papeete is required to make the connection.

US Visa Waiver and ESTA

From last week, the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) program is now compulsory for visitors from visa waiver countries who are flying to (or transitting) USA (except for those visiting under one of the special visas). All of these people must apply for authorisation before checking in for their flight. As it may take up to 3 days for approval to be confirmed, it is not recommended you apply at the last minute.

You apply at the ESTA website. If approved then you are authorised for 2 years, or until expiry of your passport whichever is earlier. If not approved then you need to apply for a visa to enter USA, which normally takes some time (and $$) to arrange. Another reason to not leave it too late to apply for ESTA authorisation.

Despite the scary introduction screen it is fairly easy to use. One point not adequately explained on the website, and untested yet because it is a new system, is what happens if the address information is not updated between visits (such as when doing a mileage run computer access may be limited)?

There is however, already an issue. When ESTA was announced last year one "benefit" to passengers was to be the removal of the I-94W visa waiver form. Indeed one reason for a period of voluntary use of ESTA was to test out the systems, with an announced intention that I-94W would be gone once ESTA became compulsory. At some stage since then, the ESTA website has been changed to state there is a [mere] intention to get rid of I-94W at some stage in the future [date or criteria for choosing the date unspecified].

So, visa waiver visitors will now need both ESTA authorisation (before checking in) and complete an I-94W form (before arrival in USA). I understand the I-94W form has even been lengthened. Instead of saving time, the processes take even more time than ever. Bah.

There is an active thread on Flyer Talk discussing the latest developments and any issues arising.

Friday, January 23, 2009

United flight Washington to Madrid operated by Aer Lingus

United Airlines yesterday announced one of the oddest airline codeshare arrangements I've come across. They intend launching a Washington to Madrid flight, but it will be operated by Aer Lingus (thanks to Open Skies the flight does not need to start or end in Ireland). Source United.

So we have a full service airline that is struggling with yields in charge of revenue, and a low cost airline that slashes costs in charge of operations, starting a thin route against an entrenched competitor (Iberia) in a time of a recession. That sounds like a recipe for terrible service and a financial disaster.

The Cranky Flier has given a good explanation of why this is not a good idea for the airlines (except for Ryan Air!). Assuming it gets off the ground, I also think it is a bad idea for customers.

Aer Lingus, some may recall, left the Oneworld alliance in order to reduce costs and concentrate on being a low cost airline. United markets itself as a full service airline, although of course it fails to reach the standards of the best full service airlines. For United customers on the flight (some passengers will be Aer Lingus customers having bought the flight directly through Aer Lingus) the service will likely be less than they expect, although a newer aircraft perhaps even with IFE may offset that. I bet there will not be freely available upgrades to United Mileage Plus elite members. In case of operational problems (such as delays or cancellations), customers will need to deal with Aer Lingus. I have no direct experience dealing with their call centre, but with a focus on saving costs I do not have high expectations. There are a lot of things wrong with United, but that at least have good proactive customer service during irrops or dealing with misconnections.

For a laugh, check out the quote by Aer Lingus Chief Executive Dermot Mannion (bolding mine).

"... We are very excited by the potential of the Partnership and believe
that the unique combination of two leading transatlantic
airlines can drive significant value for the shareholders of both

I think he got one bit right - it is a unique combination.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Missing mileage credits and incorrect posting of points and miles

I’ve been reminded again how important it is to check points and miles have been posted correctly, and to follow up if necessary. Those who travel frequently and don’t keep an eye out may be missing out on a lot.

In my case I have several flights on a few different airlines dating back to last October which have either not been credited at all to my selected frequent flyer programs, or have posted at the wrong rate. I am also chasing up some missing hotel stay points from recent stays.

When requesting missing mileage be credited, or an adjustment to the amount posted, it is important to have the information that the FFP or frequent stay program may need. Dates, paid fare or rate, booking class of flight, ticket or reference numbers, copies of the boarding pass or hotel receipt.

Assuming they all post as I hope, all up it will be about 70,000 miles/points. Well worth spending a bit of time following up, although of course it is annoying to need to – why can’t they credit correctly in the first place?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Up to 2500 free AA miles

Another year and another free miles offer for subscribing to AAdvantage emails. These are easy, regularly recurring miles. As advised previously, remember to unsubscribe to be eligible for the next batch ... but only after the required minimum subscription period (3 months). I've diarised my unsubscribe move.

Hat tip to one mile at a time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Singapore Airlines business and first awards released

We have a quick answer to the question posed in my previous blog entry.

Will 2009 see Singapore Airlines finally making available their new/best
first and business class on awards? Currently A380, 77W and A345 awards are not
available in first at all, and only available in business class using expensive
Kris Flyer awards.

The answer is (mostly) yes. We now see 77W awards available in first and business for the first time (other than the odd glitch), and A380 awards available in business also for the first time. Still unavailable for awards are A345 in business and A380 in first.

Similarly, in recent days we've been seeing Qantas free up awards and discounted fares in first and business class on their A380 flights.

Now, having opened the gates the question is how long will it be until Kris Flyer removes the double charge for business awards on these aircraft? The same award seats are available at a fraction of the cost using miles from other programs.

2009 - A Year of Opportunities?

A little late, but here are my views on the travel landscape this year as it pertains to frequent flyers in particular.

The financial turmoil means flight and hotel bookings are way down overall, and particularly on some routes. As some bloggers have, correctly in my view, noted we can expect some good sales, and there are a range of other impacts.

First, the downturn in travel is uneven. Business travel will be much less than in recent years. This affects some aspects of travel more than others. Secondly, leisure travel is impacted through reduced discretionary spending.

What does this mean for savvy travellers?

Discounted fares and sales

Airlines that rely heavily on business travellers and premium leisure travellers will in general find 2009 hard. Expect sales and inducements to buy up to first or business class, particularly on certain routes most impacted. Normal wisdom is to book well ahead to get the best deals but this year year the reverse may be true. Not only are advance sales lower thus discounted fares will be available closer to departure than normal, but airlines will try to encourage demand through sales. Already some airlines have been offering last minute sales at very low fares.

Conversely low cost airlines may have less need for sales as people switch from perceived high fare full service airlines to perceived low fare reduced service airlines.

A similar logic applies comparing longhaul/expensive routes with shorthaul/cheap routes – demand drops on the former and may increase on the latter.

For some airlines or routes the impacts may be more subtle. People switching from business to economy travel may result in sales in premium cabins rather than the usual economy class sales.

Capacity reductions

Another airline response is to reduce capacity, through less flights and/or using smaller aircraft. This means schedules may change more than normal this year. For 2009 I’m being less aggressive on connection times and the long sequences of flights in a row that I sometimes do.

Frequent flyer status

Business travel is the bread and butter of many airlines. With business travel slashed, the airlines will be looking to retain as many customers as they can. So qualifying thresholds will not be increasing. It should be easier to get a status match, and frequent flyer programs may more readily requalify those who just fail to meet the requirements and/or fail to requalify but have a long elite history. Some FFPs may also offer inducements to their best customers to maintain the amount of flying – eg Air New Zealand has introduced a gift for a small proportion of top tier gold elite members based on a higher level of status earning.


As with discounted and sale fares it should generally be easier to nab awards in 2009, especially in first and business class. However, on heavy leisure routes it may be more difficult with people economising by using miles instead of cash to pay for their holiday travels. I also expect more awards to be available at short notice.

Will 2009 see Singapore Airlines finally making available their new/best first and business class on awards? Currently A380, 77W and A345 awards are not available in first at all, and only available in business class using expensive Kris Flyer awards.

Operational upgrades

Airlines should have less need to op-up passengers. However some exceptions come to mind. For example British Airways longhaul aircraft have a relatively high proportion of premium seats and some passengers who would have booked in business class choose instead to book into economy. Under pressure to fill seats and with more empty seats in premium cabins, airlines may oversell economy by more than currently, and on the more popular routes there may still be a reasonable number of op-ups required.


Mileage, voucher or complimentary status upgrades should be easier to obtain. Some airlines, such as Lufthansa, are managing op-ups by encouraging people at check-in to use their miles to upgrade.


In 2007 a number of airlines added new fees and increased existing ones to generate revenue. I see this trend continuing in 2008, but with perhaps more fee waivers for FFP elite members.


To try to induce demand there may be more extras thrown in for little or no cost to the air fares. Eg ground transport, cheap accommodation, sightseeing tours.


Higher end hotels and those that normally do a lot of convention business will also be impacted. Expect more deals in 2009, and some hotels that haven’t yet opened may delay their opening until the economy improves.


I expect there will be lots of opportunities in 2009 for savvy travellers. However these will be much more in some areas than others. Those that adapt to the changed circumstances, and are the most flexible, stand to benefit the most.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Update on Accor A|Plus free status

Last year I blogged I had been offered gold status in APlus due to my old Sofitel Privilege membership, plus 500 free points.

It took a long time but the points were finally posted late last year. Unfortunately the status offer has been rescinded. It sounded too good to be true (free mid-level status when I hadn't even used my Privilege card) and so it has turned out. Easy come, easy go.

As with most other hotel chains they are trying to drum up business at the moment with bonus point offers.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Involuntary downgrade

My 2008 travel year ended on a sour note with many flights being involuntary downgraded from business class to economy class or premium economy class.

British Airways' subsidiary Comair downgraded my flights Johannesburg to Windhoek and return to economy class only. For the flight to Windhoek I was given a voucher for a token amount denominated in Rand. The voucher can only be used through a BA contact centre. Last time I had one, the flights cost considerably more than the same flights bookable online or via other airlines with the difference exceeding the value of this voucher. Thus the voucher is close to worthless to me. For the return flight I received no compensation at all.

Late last year LAN removed business class from all of their intra-South American flights except those operated with 767 aircraft, and replaced it with premium economy. I had lots of A320 flights booked. LAN had reseated me in economy rather than premium economy and didn't contact me about this at all, but as I regularly check my itineraries using tools such as CheckMyTrip (see also blog entries on checking and on the various itinerary tools) I discovered this for myself. On calling LAN I was able to be put into premium economy class, but they claimed no compensation is due for the downgrades.

This rankles me. In many countries there are consumer protection laws to address the imbalance when suppliers do not provide the good or service that was paid for. For example, the EU regulation 261/2004 article 10 covering all EU-based airlines as well as all other flights from EU requires a minimum refund for downgrades, with the refund percentage based on distance. Yet some airlines think they can simply not offer the class of service that was paid for. Okay it is not as bad as an involuntary denied boarding. I still flew the flights I had booked. However, based on the logic of these airlines, this means any first or business class ticket, which may cost many thousands more than economy class, gives no assurance of any extra comfort or service beyond that offered in economy class. That doesn't feel right.

By the way, there is another form of "downgrade" where an airline has markedly different products and switches from a better one to a worse one after you've bought the ticket. In this case I think the only compensation due is any fare difference (eg Singapore Airlines generally charges more to fly in first or business class on their A380). Of course, if Air NZ offers something for changing my upcoming Japan flight from 777 (business premier with private fully flat suites) to 767 (old business class narrow cradle seats), then I won't complain. But I don't expect anything because I am still flying in business class.

Happy new year

Happy new year to all.

I haven't blogged as much as I'd have liked but aim to do better in 2009. I plan to blog every week. From there, we'll see how it goes.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Last updated 30 January 2010

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A Travel Around the World - couple take a year out from work to travel around the world
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Un Road Warrior - fairly new blog with advice for the frequent (or not so frequent) traveler
Upgrade : Travel Better - tips on travelling better, and more (mainly USA) airline news
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the Wandering Aramean - avid flyer, with great advice and information
Wanderings. Andy E Williams - a writer who travels
Without Baggage -

Cool Travel Guide - personal travel blog of travel writer extraordinaire Lara Dunston
Frugal Travel Guy -
IAG blog - travel industry news (mostly about airlines)
John MacIlree's blog - great insight into international air travel treaties by one of the negotiators the Lost Girls - originally 3 women travelling around the world, now their travels continue & posts on others travels (how to plan a RTW trip post)
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