web Musings of The Global Traveller

Monday, November 30, 2009

How to get to | Samoa

This is part of a series of blog entries on how to get to countries and places. Here is a link to the index. I plan to eventually cover every country and some other places. If you have a request for a particular country or place please use the email me link at top right, or leave a comment.

Source: Robyn Gallagher

Some cruise ships and freighters visit Samoa from other South Pacific islands and also Australia and New Zealand. However, most visitors to Samoa arrive by air at Apia. Airline options are limited to regional carriers.
  • Star Alliance - Air New Zealand from Auckland, Tonga and Los Angeles)
  • Oneworld - none
  • Sky Team - none
  • Other selected - local airlines to Pago Pago (American Samoa), Air Pacific from Fiji, Virgin Blue subsidiaries from Sydney Brisbane and Auckland
TIP Fares from Auckland, Fiji and Australia are relatively cheap, except in school holidays or if there is a major event on in Samoa.

TIP Air New Zealand has through-fares from UK and USA to New Zealand and Australia that allow an en-route stopover at Cook Islands, Samoa or Tonga for little or no extra $.
TIP Awards in business class between USA and New Zealand are easier to get via the islands than on non-stop flights.
TIP On a Star Alliance round the world fare, which is distance based, it is much more efficient to fly Auckland to Apia to Los Angeles or vice versa than doubling back via Auckland (Los Angeles to Auckland to Apia to Auckland).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

How to get to | Paraguay

This is part of a series of blog entries on how to get to countries and places. Here is a link to the index. I plan to eventually cover every country and some other places. If you have a request for a particular country or place please use the email me link at top right, or leave a comment.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Visitors to Paraguay arrive by bus from all neighbouring countries (except Bolivia), by cargo boat from Brazil, or by air at Asuncion. Airlines flying to Paraguay include:
  • Star Alliance - none
  • Oneworld - none
  • Sky Team - none
  • Other selected - TAM and other South American airlines

TIP Paraguay cannot be included on the standard alliance around the world fares, and no major airlines fly to Asuncion. However, TAM is a partner of some frequent flyer programs and thus awards are possible.

TIP From outside South America, first fly to Buenos Aires (see the how to get to Argentina post for some tips) and then get a separate ticket to Asuncion by bus or air.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New route, new hotel

I've mentioned before that one of my travel goals is to fly all the routes of an airline (over 100 routes). Naturally this is a shifting target as new routes get added from time to time, and old routes removed. I've achieved this goal twice, temporarily, and will do so again shortly.

Air New Zealand has a new route which I'll be flying. There is also one current route I have not yet flown, although I'm undecided on whether it counts or not toward my goal. The reason - it is a special flight which combines two destinations from one origin, and thus flies between two small regional airports which normally would not have flights between them. The flight is once per week, and doesn't operate all the time. Is it a regularly scheduled service if flights are this infrequent and sporadic?

Recently I decided that I would, after all, fly this route. The thing that helped me decide was the schedule requires an overnight stop at a nice regional place, and a hotel has been newly rebranded to a major chain. This the first international chain hotel at this tourist spot, only the second hotel of this chain in the country, and supposedly one of only a handful of 5 star hotels in the country. So I'll get a nice weekend stay in a very pretty and interesting place, fly another odd route, and try out a newly refurbished and supposedly very nice hotel. I'm sold.

Oh yeah, I also get some hotel points which will prevent my modest balance in that program from expiring, so the "value" of the stay is really in excess of the points I'll earn there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Emirates Skywards major devaluation

About 6 weeks ago I posted the news that Emirates Skywards will have a major overhaul effective 1 January 2010.

In short the frequent flyer program will be more closely aligned to revenue than it currently is. Earning rates depend on fare basis and the class of service factors for business and first class are higher.

Since the announcement, Emirates has drip-fed more detailed information including the new geographic zones (from 2010 both earning and redemption is zone-based), and new earning & depemption charts. After crunching the numbers on hundreds of routes, the conclusion is unmistakeable - this is a significant devaluation.

Geographic zones

The current program has 13 geographic zones for awards. From 1 January 2010 there will be 18 zones for both earning and redemption. Mostly these are unchanged from the existing zones, except:

  • America split into 3 zones - North America west (which includes Houston), North America east and South America
  • Australia/NZ split into 3 zones - Australia west (ie Perth), Australia east and New Zealand
  • Cyprus switches from Near East to Europe South
  • Cities near to Dubai (ie Bahrain, Doha and Muscat) switch from the Home zone to Middle East

The consequences of the America & Australasia zone splits are to make some awards cheaper for cities closest to Dubai, and some awards more expensive for cities further from Dubai.

Cyprus awards are more expensive.

Cities near to Dubai now have a small extra award mileage cost relative to the equivalent award to/from Dubai.

The new charts have a disclaimer that the figures are based on the most direct route between zones. Since Emirates has lots of tag flights (ie flights between cities other than Dubai), it is unclear how to interpret the new earning & redemption rates on some routes. For example between Asian Sub-continent south and Far East there are some direct flights (Male to Jakarta for instance) but between most city pairs travel would need to be via Dubai (eg Colombo to Seoul). How are the rates determined in those cases?

As the Emirates route map changes frequently, Skywards members will need to pay attention to changes in the zone earning rates. This could be a positive or a negative depending on changes to the routes and how quickly Skywards reacts. It certainly is a nuisance and is a drawback of using geographic zones so heavily in a frequent flyer program (incidentally Air NZ Airpoints also uses zones, but the issue is less relevant for them due to their much more limited route network and less active changes in that network).

Awards relatively unchanged

The good news is that on the whole award costs are the same in the new chart as the existing one. There are some increases (mostly associated with the zone changes) and some decreases.

This is particularly reassuring to those who have a sizeable stash of miles, given the short notice to cash them in on the old award charts if the rates had increased significantly.

The new ability to redeem one-way awards is a genuine improvement.

Upgrades costly

The new upgrade costs are much higher than the old costs. Upgrades from flexible fares are generally slightly higher than the old upgrade cost (with some slightly cheaper and some much higher), and upgrades from saver fares are generally 30-40+% higher than the old upgrade cost.

In most cases the new mileage cost to upgrade from economy saver to business is almost as high as the cost of a business award.

Earning rates slashed

The most significant change is to the earning rates. Emirates spun the changes as being an enhancement to the class of service bonus. While it is true the mileage earned for first class relative to economy class (flexible fares) is higher from 1 January 2010, this has been achieved by reducing almost all the earning rates as outlined below.

The 2009 earning rates are 100% mileage in economy, 150% in business and 200% in first.

The 2010 earning multiples are 50% for economy saver, 100% for economy flexible fares, 125% for business saver, 175% for business flexible fares, 200% for first saver and 250% for first flexible. However the base mileage earning between the zones is roughly 80-90% of the typical distance flown.

The result is marginally higher earning on flexible first and business fares, a 15% drop in earning on saver first fares, a 30% drop in earning on saver business fares and a whopping 55% drop in earning on saver economy fares. Some routes have smaller or bigger changes in earning than these generalisations. Most people fly on saver fares because the definition includes all fares not fully refundable, fares which are available for a limited period or are non-published, and all fares which include other airlines.

Status more difficult to achieve

In more PR spin, Emirates trumpeted that the elite status requirements were unchanged. Of course now we see the detail of the earning rates it is immediately obvious that from next year it will be harder to earn Silver or Gold status.


The changes remove most of the anomalies in the existing program, and at the same time represent a significant devaluation.

With both earning and redemption being fixed amounts based on zone and fare, the earn to burn ratios are relatively constant. The earn to burn ratios on Skywards from 1 January 2010 are generally in the 8-10% range, with some as poor as 5% and some as good as 15%. This represents much worse value than most US-based frequent flyer programs, for example.

These changes are big enough for me to rethink my plans for some premium longhaul trips on Emirates for 2010.

Monday, November 23, 2009

E-tickets are more convenient, yeah right

Ticketing 'bot fails

I have finally received the last ticket bought in the Oneworld 10th anniversary sale, which ended 3rd November. The quick and supposedly automated online booking process got stuck and required some chasing up to get human intervention to push the ticketing through. I knew I needed to do this because I did not receive an email e-ticket (although did get the quick booking confirmation) and verified using the various online tools such as checkmytrip that the ticket had not been issued (as opposed to a glitch with the email). When the booking is ticketed these online tools should show a ticket number.

In this case the ticket would have been issued quicker as a manual paper one.

Passing the buck

There are reports on Flyer Talk of people needing changes mid-itinerary (eg during irregular operations) being forced to wait for the original ticketing airline to deal with it. Not so convenient when you are halfway around the world and the ticket desks of the ticketing airline are all closed because it is night time/weekend/public holiday for them.

With a paper ticket you can easily get changes from any airline on the ticket (subject to the rules of the fare of course). This also is possible with e-tickets, but only amongst airlines whose computer systems properly talk to each other. Other combinations (eg between American and Cathay Pacific) are "impossible" to change, or may be changed by one airline only to not stick. This is a worse issue because the first sign of problem may be later in the trip when the second airline tells you your ticket was cancelled (I've had this happen and it is not pleasant).

The passenger should not be required to have extensive knowledge of the workings of airline systems. I don't think it is too much to ask that processes for dealing with tickets involving multiple airlines should work seamlessly.

Still need paper

With few exceptions (eg in markets where mobile boarding passes are allowed), an e-ticket still requires the passenger to have a printout of the ticket information and itinerary. This is to show immigration/security if needed (they do not have access to airline reservation or ticketing systems), and also as backup when computer systems fail.

Earlier this year I encountered an airline's total computer failure while flying. As I didn't have a printout with me, ultimately they had to accept my word that I was booked on the flight (with a check that the passenger numbers tallied their register). Fortunately for me, I have status with that airline and they were happy to accept my word, so I wasn't stranded. Not everyone would be so lucky.

More restrictions

It seems like yesterday that around the world tickets could have 24 or 28 or more flights in the itinerary. With paper tickets there is no limit on the number of flights - you just add more coupons. E-tickets, however, have a strict 16 sector limit. So around the world fare rules were changed to reflect this. There was no reduction in fare to compensate for this devaluation.

The issue, however, is more than the loss of value. The limit creates difficulties if a 16 sector itinerary requires additional flights, for example when an airline ceases to operate a route. If a reroute with additional flights is required, better hope it is late in the itinerary when the airline can just delete the older (already flown) sectors to keep within the 16 sector limit. If it is early in the itinerary, or before the start, then a mess is created. It hasn't happened to me yet, but with several complicated 16 sector itineraries ticketed for travel next year it probably is a matter of time until I have to deal with this issue.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to get to | Haiti

This is part of a series of blog entries on how to get to countries and places. Here is a link to the index. I plan to eventually cover every country and some other places. If you have a request for a particular country or place please use the email me link at top right, or leave a comment.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Entry to Haiti is by air or by bus from Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo to Port Au Prince is the easiest option). Airlines flying to Haiti (Port Au Prince) include:
  • Star Alliance - Air Canada
  • Oneworld - American
  • Sky Team - Air France (but not from Paris - see below), Delta
  • Other selected - some Caribbean airlines, some North American low cost airlines

TIP Air France flies to Haiti on a milk run between Miami and French Guyana.

TIP The routes with reasonable competition on them are Montreal, Miami/Fort Lauderdale and to a lesser extent New York JFK. Paris Orly also has some low cost airlines flying to & from Haiti.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Get expert tailored frequent flyer advice + tickets to "Up in the Air"

Wendy Perrin of Conde Naste Traveler has teamed up with frequent flyer guru Randy Petersen in a great giveaway. For the winners, not only will their frequent flyer questions be answered by experts but they also get tickets to the New York preview of the FF movie of the year "Up in the Air" starring George Clooney. There are 10 pairs of movie tickets, and at time of writing less than 40 entries, so the odds are great.

To enter post your FF problem or question over at The Perrin Post (you may want to subscribe to get Wendy's great travel advice and news while you are there).

Friday, November 20, 2009


I'm continually adding links to useful and interesting travel-related sites I come across.

Please check back at my links page from time to time (also accessible from the sidebar)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

United eggs on extreme mileage runners, again

No I'm not referring to double or triple EQM (elite qualifying miles) promotions. Last year United Mileage Plus had an Elite Choice Team competition, where the winning 50 teams (of 4 people) earned 1 million redeemable miles (all these to be shared between each team) plus some other lesser prizes.

The 2010 individual Elite Choices are not as lucrative but once again appeal to competitive insane Flyer Talkers. Top billing is for the first 50 people to reach 250,000 EQM or 250 EQS (elite qualifying segments) - they get 50,000 redeemable miles (on top of the pile of miles earned) and also get 1K status (with all the attendant Star Alliance gold benefits) to gift to a nominated person.

Another great, but hard to get, prize is for the person who in a calendar month earns the most EQM from United flights - 2 SWUs (systemwide upgrades good for any one-way trip between stopovers) and also Premier Executive status (also Star Alliance gold) to gift to a nominated person.

To show how lucrative this could be for someone flying an insane amount, take the following hypothetical.

Suppose you win both of the prizes mentioned above (most United flying in a calendar month and also in the first 50 to reach 250,000 EQMs in 2010). Suppose also you currently do not have any United status. While reaching 250k EQMs you would earn at a minimum (ignoring everything other than the Elite Choices promo):

  • up to 250,000 redeemable miles from flying depending on fare class and airline
  • potentially a significant amount of redeemable miles from credit card spend
  • 25,000 redeemable miles or gift of Premier status at 125k EQMs
  • 25,000 redeemable miles or gift of Premier Exec status at 175k EQMs
  • 50,000 redeemable miles from 250k EQMs prize
  • gift of 1K status from 250k EQMs prize
  • 2 SWUs from most United flying in a month prize
  • gift of Premier Exec status from most United flying in a month prize
  • up to 6,250 redeemable miles from the Premier 25% bonus miles on United flights (between 25k and 50k EQMs)
  • up to 200,000 redeemable miles from the Premier Executive and 1K 100% bonus miles on United & Continental flights (after 50k EQMs)
  • up to 88 of 500-mile region 1 upgrades from the 4 500 mile region 1 upgrades per 10k EQMs on United after 25k EQMs
  • up to 2 confirmed region 1 upgrades (CR1s) from flying 10k miles on United in a quarter
  • 6 SWUs on qualifying for 1K (credited at end of 2010)
  • 6 SWUs from 2 SWUs per 50k EQMs starting at 150k EQMs in a calendar year
  • up to 25% of the way to Million Mile status (if all EQMs are from United flights)

I've assumed all this flying happens in the first quarter & so have ignored the new unlimited United domestic upgrades system.

If all the flying is on United, and assuming take the bonus miles option this comes to a total of:

  • up to 556,250 redeemable miles (before any other promotions, minimum mileage, credit card earn, etc)
  • 14 SWUs (8 of 2010 vintage and 6 of 2011 vintage)
  • 88 500-mile upgrades
  • 2 CR1s
  • 1 gift Premier Exec status
  • 1 gift 1K status
  • 1 sore butt

I'm not an expert on United Mileage Plus, so hopefully my maths is right. Please correct me if not.

That is a lot of bennie for some crazy enough to do a lot of flying on United (or slightly less benefits if flying other Star Alliance airlines). How much flying? Well 250k EQMs in a premium cabin is at least 167k flown miles, or roughly 7.5 times around the world. I have flown that distance in under 2 months, although admittedly not on United.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How to get to - updates for Continental & Mexicana

Since there have been a few key changes in the major alliances, the how to get to series of posts is currently being reviewed, and updated where necessary to keep the information useful.

The changes are:

  • Continental and Copa have left Sky Team
  • Continental has joined Star Alliance
  • Mexicana has joined Oneworld

The following "how to get to" posts have been amended (* denotes significant change to advice):

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A380 first class suites comparison - Emirates, Qantas and Singapore

This year I've been fortunate enough to fly in first class on A380 on all the airlines which operate it (excluding Air France which has just taken delivery of their first A380). I think it may be useful having a comparison between the three products.
In each case, the A380 first class is the best first class offering of the relevant airline. Singapore Airlines even has restricted bookings in this class to special paid fares and no awards (Qantas also had special paid fares for A380 first class initially but soon dropped this approach).
Emirates - Sydney to Auckland (picture from Emirates)

Qantas - Sydney to Singapore (picture from Creative Commons)
Singapore - Singapore to Melbourne (picture from Singapore Airlines)


All 3 airlines treat A380 suites the same as any other first class on the airline - ie pretty well. This means a dedicated first class check in lane (Qantas in Sydney & Melbourne, and Singapore in Singapore also have a special curbside first class check in lobby), priority immigration queue, access to a nice first class lounge (or combined business & first class lounge in the case of Emirates), as well as priority boarding together with business class and frequent flyer elite passengers. Emirates also has airport limo transfers at both ends for first and business class passengers on most routes (including trans-Tasman).

Qantas in Sydney and Melbourne, and Emirates in Sydney, also have a priority security queue for first class, business class and frequent flyer elite passengers. At Singapore security is processed at the gate, and the gates used by A380 do not have a priority lane.

Onboard all three airlines you are escorted to your seat, offered a pre-departure drink (juice, water and champagne are offered but in practice you can request other drinks as long as they don't take too long to prepare). On Singapore Airlines the champagne is a choice of Krug or Dom (2000 vintage currently), on Emirates it is Dom and on Qantas it varies. Emirates also offers a date and shot of Arabic coffee before departure.

Menus are handed out before departure. Other amenities (pajamas, slippers, toiletry kit) may be handed out before or after departure. Note due to the short flight duration, my Emirates flight did not offer pajamas or the normal amenity kit, but did include slippers and a small collection of creams.

On all three airlines noise cancelling headphones are used. Qantas has the headphones ready in a cubby hole but doesn't switch on the IFE (except for the tail camera) until well after take-off, Emirates hands out the headphones before departure so you can start watching movies straight away, whilst Singapore Airlines doesn't hand out headphones until after departure.

The hard product

All three airlines have a suite for first class - ie at least partially private with lie flat bed and ability for couples to dine together. Emirates and Singapore Airlines have a relatively similar set-up - in contrast Qantas is quite different.

On Qantas and Singapore Airlines, first class suites are on the lower deck, but on Emirates they are on the upper deck. Qantas has 1-1-1 layout across the cabin with seats angled to the direction of travel, Singapore Airlines and Emirates are 1-2-1 layout with seats facing forward. This means Qantas is not so good for couples travelling together, Singapore Airlines has the widest suite, whilst Emirates makes use of the space beside the grand main stairs to provide 2 showers in well appointed shower rooms (limit to 15 minutes use per flight, with timeslot bookable). Emirates and Singapore Airlines A380 suites have doors, and Qantas does not, but due to the angled seat direction Qantas suites are almost as private as if they had a door.

All of these suites have plenty of legroom in bed or reclined mode, however Qantas has an odd arrangement whereby seats face forward for take-off and landing and this has minimal legroom. The Qantas (and I think Emirates too) seat can convert to a bed with you sitting in it, whereas with Singapore Airlines you need to get out for a minute while cabin crew converts it for you.

The tables are good in all three - large so that a couple can eat together, and somewhat adjustable, although Singapore Airlines table has less flexibility than the others.

Of the little touches, I like the double blind system used by Qantas - lower one set to cut out glare while keeping the suite light and lower the second set to darken, I like the several air nozzles in the Emirates suites but the mini bar is a bit gimmicky for my taste.

All three suites have large screens to watch the in flight entertainment. The selection is the widest of the various offerings by each airline - Qantas has a special system not available on their other aircraft, and both Emirates and Singapore Airlines have their renowned comprehensive entertainment options. I've flown Qantas A380 twice and both times the IFE crashed in my seat (and other seats). 2 flights is a small sample so I could have been unlucky there.

Qantas and Emirates have a special touch screen controller to adjust the various suite functions (seat/bed positions, lights, etc) and double up as IFE controller. Singapore Airlines has the more traditional handset plus buttons in the suite wall.

Soft product

On all three airlines, A380 first class has much the same soft product as other first class, and it is pretty good.

Singapore Airlines has a special menu for suite class (ie A380 first class) but really it is no different to first class menu for the same or equivalent route. All three airlines have great food and drink options, and the option to dine at your leisure (ie you pick the time to eat). One of my great pleasures of flying longhaul premium travel is the ability to take my time savouring a great wine and food menu. I think it is a mark of great crew to identify the pacing a passenger wishes to take and making sure they don't feel rushed or slowed down (in case of trying to get to sleep afterwards) unduly. I enjoyed a long slow meal with Singapore Airlines, for Emirates the flight is too short for maximum effect but there was some tailoring in the speed for each passenger, but with Qantas there was less flexibility offered in this regard - I felt rushed.

On the Sydney to Singapore flight Qantas has the degustation menu, which is a great way to sample many different foods with accompanying wine selections. Emirates had the least interesting food options, but for a 140 minute flight it was still very impressive (and far better than any on offer by any of the other 7 airlines flying the Tasman). Their longhaul menu was better still.

Cabin crew can make a world of difference to how a flight is enjoyed. Emirates and Singapore Airlines had great attentive staff who seemed to read minds when you wanted something. Qantas on the other hand continues to have a problem with consistent quality of cabin crew, and this was made worse with A380 by their decision to use staff on a newer contracting arrangement for this aircraft. Qantas appears to have accepted the negative feedback and since my flight has included other more experience crew in addition and is taking steps to improve quality all round.

How can you experience A380 suites for low cost?

Emirates flies A380 between Auckland and Sydney, and first class fares are relatively low (a little over US$1000 return). For longhaul look for fares from certain cheap originating Asian countries to Toronto. Otherwise, Skywards miles are easily able to be used on A380 first redemptions.

Qantas first class fares are never cheap. Look for British Airways premium sales to Australia - often these include first class (as return or one-way in business and one-way in first), and thanks to the joint services agreement on the kangaroo route these are bookable on the BA codeshare on the Qantas A380 flight as well. Otherwise, mileage redemptions are possible although hard to get unless using Qantas Frequent Flyer points (since QFF redemptions are opened at roughly 355 days before departure often prime awards are sold out by the time AAdvantage redemptions open at 330 days before departure).

Singapore Airlines blocks awards on A380 suites. You can get lucky, as I did, by booking an award on a flight operated by 747 before it is switched to A380. However, the easiest and surest way (for now) is to book first class between Singapore and Hong Kong and pick the A380 flight. Eventually Singapore Airlines must open up A380 suites to awards, but it has been over 2 years already with this policy.


I enjoyed the first class A380 suites experience on all three airlines. I certainly want to try Emirates on a longer flight. Qantas was the most different and also the most disappointing. I hope my experiences were an aberration as they have the potential for a very good service. Singapore Airlines offered all that I imagined, and lived up to their high reputation and my expectations from many prior flights on other aircraft.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask by comment and I'll try to answer.

Congratulations you've been upgraded, no just kidding

A marketing fail by Virgin Blue in my email.

First I got an email congratulating me for being upgraded to gold status despite being slightly short of the requirement.

Then later another email from Velocity Rewards (the frequent flyer program of Virgin Blue) saying, oops you weren't meant to get that email.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Frequent Flyer Friday #9

Celebrating Friday with a short interview with a frequent flyer.

Steven Frischling
Steven is globe hopping photographer who has branched out into travel and airline consultancy. He has an active blog, Flying with Fish, runs a small business, The Travel Strategist, and is a Director of Emerging Media [ed - ie he is on twitter a lot] for Innovation Analysis Group. When not travelling the world earning a stiff back and numb butt, Steven spends time with his family, watches the Boston Red Sox and shoots photos.

First, some questions to see what kind of frequent flyer Steven is.

What is your home airport?
Steven - New Haven-Tweed. This is a lovely little airport which currently has five flights a day all Dash-8 turboprops to Philadelphia. However, New York JFK always feels like home to me, having grown up right at the end of runway 4R/22L.

What is the airline you usually fly?
Steven - US Airlines, since it is the only airline to fly to New Haven so nearly all my trips include at least 2 flights on them. Prior to 2006 I mainly flew Delta but then they stopped flying to New Haven.

Which of the following best describes your flying pattern?
- infrequent (eg annual) leisure trip
- jetsetting for pleasure
- frequent (eg monthly) business travel
× road warrior
- mileage runner
× I live on planes
Steven - until last year when an unexpected health issue decreased my flying significantly I lived on planes. My travel will soon be picking up again but I plan to adjust my lifestyle to road warrior.

I hope you have a full recovery soon.

How do you mostly earn your frequent flyer miles?
- promos
- credit card spend
× business and leisure travel
- taking extra flights on trips I need to take
- mileage running
Steven - business travel, butt in seat (BIS) miles.

Please describe how you travel in 4 words.
Steven - Fast and light (OK, that is 3 words, sorry).

Now for some travel advice from Steven.

Flying with photography gear has its own challenges. What are the most common issues and how do you overcome them?
Steven - The most common issues most photographers face, both professional and hobbyist, is the desire to pack everything they own. This ads unneeded weight and decreases valuable space. Since checking camera gear can be risky, the biggest challenge is hauling everything you need on your back on the plane as carry-on. To avoid weight restrictions on certain European and Asian airlines I pack everything into a photo vest. I have managed to fly with a photo vest stuffed with 2 full-size pro bodies 8 lenses, a flash, a 12” Apple PowerBook and batteries. This is possible because a vest is clothing and is not weighed or counted as a carry-on bag.

Nice one. I can think of some non-photographer chronic overpackers who could benefit from that trick.

What is inside your carry-on bag right now?
Steven - Right now my Mountainsmith Endevour briefcase is loaded with a Sony PSP (Darth Vader limited edition!); eight UMD movie disks for the Sony PSP; my technology-run pack (CF card reader, USB cord, charger for laptop, iPhone, Blackberry, noise canceling headsets, 4 AAA batteries, international power outlet adapter, etc etc); Canon battery charger; Canon 20D; Canon 28-70f2.8; National Geographic Magazine; 2oz bottle of Purell; pack of disposable wipes; Kit Kat bar and a Moleskine notebook.

What is your preferred airline for regular travel, and why?
Steven - US Airways could be my preferred airline because it gets me home to kids. On the other hand I used to fly Delta on most of my domestic and international flights, which I always enjoyed. My preference for Delta dates back to when I was a kid watching their L-1011s fly over my house all day long.

What is your preferred airline for a special trip, and why?
Steven - I am not sure I have an answer to this question. If the Concorde were still flying I’d say British Airways or Air France just to get a shot on the Concorde, but now the airlines, even the great ones, are all pretty much the same. If I wanted a great layover experience I might say Virgin Atlantic for their arrivals lounge at London Heathrow; Korean Air for their lounge at Seoul Incheon or possibly KLM for the pure enjoyment of Amsterdam. If I was able to swing a first-class seat I might add Lufthansa to the list due to their First Class Terminal at Frankfurt, which I have been spoiled to use in the past.

Please give one of your great tips on travel.
Steven - When transiting through airport security enter the line completely prepared. Make sure your mobile phone, keys, wallet, pens, etc are off your body and secured. Place them in your bag or a zipped jacket pocket so they are out of sight and reach of airport thieves. Be as prepared as possible for the airport security process and never take your eyes off your items. The most common place to get targeted by an airport thief is in the security line.

Sound advice. It is much more difficult for the whole carry on bag to be taken than slipping, say, a wallet out of a tray.

What is your preferred frequent flyer program, and why?
Steven - Of all the programs I have used, I prefer British Midland/BMI’s Diamond Club. The program has a relatively low threshold, is low maintenance and offer fantastic value for mileage redemption.

Please give a tip on frequent flyer programs.
Steven - When choosing a frequent flyer program keep in mind the best program for you might not be that of the airline you fly most frequently. I fly US Airways most commonly and for the past few years I have chosen to place all my miles with BMI.

Thanks Steven Frischling for sharing some great travel advice and all the best for your evolving career. Have a great weekend.

For other frequent flyer friday posts please check out the index. If you have any questions you'd like answered, or wish to nominate someone for an interview, please drop me a line using the please use the contact me link. For all sorts of reasons I can't make any guarantees, but if you're interested chances are others are too and so we'll get some good interviews.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Learn the basics of frequent flyer programs

Fellow nomad Chris Guillebeau has launched a guide how to use frequent flyer miles and has requested for a quick review*. I like what he does so I'm happy to oblige.

I like the guide. It covers the basics well, and includes practical, real, examples. This will save someone unfamiliar with frequent flyer programs from making simple, common, mistakes. It will also save a lot of time on researching how to get the best value out of them. All the information in the guide is available on Flyer Talk and elsewhere, but it is hard to find because you have to know what to look for and the right questions to ask - tricky.

As with real life mileage earning opportunities, the guide does have a US bias. Most of the promotions referenced are current US-based ones (although some are also available to global residents). There simply are more ways to earn much more frequent flyer miles through non-flying activity if you live in USA and/or have USA-issued credit cards than if you live in Asia-Pacific for example. Chris acknowledges this towards the bottom of his sales pitch.

If you don't know the ins and outs of frequent flyer programs, or how to earn significant sums from non-flying activities, the $49 fee can easily be recouped in time & money saved, and not only covers the guide but additional resources such as updates on significant promotions for the next 6 months.

Chris offers a guarantee so you can try it out and be refunded if it doesn't work for you.

Since the guide is targeted for non (or newly) frequent flyers there is no discussion of elite status benefits. I don't think that is a problem, but it would be nice to point out that those flying more than 1 intercontinental trip or half a dozen transcontinental trips in a year have additional factors to consider.

There is also little mention of mileage upgrades, although I understand this will be coming in an update.

* as with all my reviews I receive no reward for making the review, and also do not accept any restrictions on what I can or can't say. I simply tell it how I see it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mega party - mega fun

Last week I was at Flyer Talk's star mega do - 7 Partners, 6 Airports, 5 Flights, 4 Days, 3 Aircraft, 2 Continents and 1 Alliance. It was a lot of fun (even though I only made it to half the event I'm still recovering).

Rather than ramble on here about what over 200 flying enthusiasts did for several days, I'll link to various sites with reports on the happenings.

Star Mega Do Flyer Talk thread (warning very long).

Trip reports
My trip report on Flyer Talk (includes travel to and from the party).

Colpuck's trip report.
LN-MOW's trip report.
SkiAdcock's trip report.
Violist's trip report.

Live blogging by Randy Petersen (The frequent flyer guru).
Live blogging by sbm12 (official Do blogger).

Pictures and video
Video of aborted landing at Toulouse.
Picture from outside of final approach at Toulouse.
Pictures from

seatmap for ORD-EWR
seatmap for JFK-FRA
seatmap for FRA-OSL-TLS-FRA

Please let me know if you have other links for the party, and I'll add them.

Monday, November 09, 2009

How to get to | Greenland

This is part of a series of blog entries on how to get to countries and places. Here is a link to the index. I plan to eventually cover every country and some other places. If you have a request for a particular country or place please use the email me link at top right, or leave a comment.


Source: Hannes Grobe

A few cruise ships visit Greenland each summer. Otherwise (except for Arctic expeditions) the only way to arrive at Greenland is by air. Airline options are few with the only international flights being from Copenhagen and Reykjavik, and include:
  • Star Alliance - none
  • Oneworld - none
  • Sky Team - none
  • Other selected - Air Greenland year around, and Air Iceland (subsidiary of Icelandair) in summer

TIP Fares are pricey, and with limited seats many summer flights sell out. Book as far ahead as possible. Don't do what I did and wait until arriving in Iceland to attempt to book flights.

TIP With infrequent service and frequent weather disruptions ensure your schedule has a buffer of several days.

TIP It may* be possible to use Icelandair Saga miles on the seasonal summer Air Iceland flights. *unconfirmed

TIP With the possible exception of the above, there are no ways to redeem miles for flights to Greenland, nor to include Greenland on an alliance fare (or indeed any longhaul fare). Air Greenland used to participate in the SAS Eurobonus frequent flyer program (in respect of flights between Copenhagen and Greenland only).

Friday, November 06, 2009

How to get to | Liechtenstein

This is part of a series of blog entries on how to get to countries and places. Here is a link to the index. I plan to eventually cover every country and some other places. If you have a request for a particular country or place please use the email me link at top right, or leave a comment.

Source: Carl Rogers

Liechtenstein can easily be reached by road or rail from neighbouring Austria and Switzerland, or by bus from Switzerland. There is no airport in the country but Zurich is only about 40 miles (60 km) away.
TIP Driving is the easiest way to visit Liechtenstein.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

How to get to | Algeria

This is part of a series of blog entries on how to get to countries and places. Here is a link to the index. I plan to eventually cover every country and some other places. If you have a request for a particular country or place please use the email me link at top right, or leave a comment.


Source: Damien Boilley

Most of the land borders other than with Tunisia are closed. There are some ferries between Marseilles and Alicante and Algiers and Oran. Airlines flying to Algieria include:
  • Star Alliance - EgyptAir, Lufthansa, Spanair, TAP, Turkish
  • Oneworld - British Airways, Iberia
  • Sky Team - Air France, Alitalia
  • Other selected - Air Algerie, some North African airlines

TIP Some longhaul fares in business and first class are relatively cheap from Algeria (compared with from Western Europe).

TIP On a Oneworld around the world fare, Algeria is treated as part of Europe.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Online around the world booking

A few days ago I decided to buy one more Oneworld around the world ticket to take advantage of their 10th anniversary 10% off sale which ended 3 November.

This time I booked it using the online tool, as I have booked others before (on both Star Alliance and Oneworld). Normally the booking is ticketed very quickly (within hours) as most of the validation of the complex rules is done automatically by the tool. It has been a few days since I made the booking and there is no sign of an eticket yet.

This is the downside of using online tools - less customer support than booking with a travel agent (who can hurry the ticketing airline along).

Mega party

As I write this I'm already on my way to the biggest Flyer Talk party of the year, and by the time this entry posts I'll be miles closer to joining the fun. All FT dos are fun, but this one looks to be especially good.

I'm talking about the Star Mega Do - 7 Partners, 6 Airports, 5 Flights, 4 Days, 3 Aircraft, 2 Continents, 1 Alliance, and over 200 excited frequent flyers (as far as I know George Clooney isn't one of them). Unfortunately due to my schedule I miss the start of festivities in Chicago, and Newark, and New York JFK, and flying to Europe. To console myself I'm flying in style with a first class award whisking me half way around the world to arrive just in time for the events in Europe. Given my crazy schedule I'll probably sleep most of the flights, but for now I'm far to excited to sleep despite the long sequence of late nights and early mornings.

Ironically one of the events is a tour of the Airbus factory in Toulouse where A380s are made, yet I'm flying there on a series of Boeing aircraft. At least I'll be flying mostly Airbus on the way back, including an A380.

I'll be back later to report on the fun and some new travel experiences I have planned along the way. For now, though, I must go and prepare for my upcoming transit where I have lots to do.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Kris Flyer redemption changes 1 December

Singapore Airlines' Kris Flyer program has some changes from 1 December 2009.

Kris Flyer has joined the trend for frequent flyer programs to allow cheap one-way awards - at 50% of the cost of return awards. This is a big and long-awaited improvement.

They have also simplified the star alliance award chart by reducing the number of zones. Generally most award costs remain unchanged, but some have increased a little. A few significant anomalies in the old chart have been fixed (routes where the award cost is very cheap for the distance travelled) - these will cost substantially more miles from 1 December so book now to get the old award mileage cost.

For awards on Delta, the changes are to add more zones than previously to more closely align with the star alliance award chart, and to generally increase the mileage costs (particularly in business class). Presumably this is to reduce arbitrage opportunities.

Mexicana awards have less zones and increased award costs.

For Virgin Atlantic the major change is to allow awards on the entire journey. Previously a route for say North America to Africa required 2 awards, now it can be done in one award. As with the other charts, in general costs have increased.

The Air India awards are not being changed.

Overall there is a slight devaluation of miles - the extent of which depends on routes awards are used on. However, the significant reduction in cost for one-way awards reasonably offsets this in my view.

British Airways strike threat for (late) December - update

Last week a BA cabin crew union issued notice of a strike ballot. Today the ballot end date has been confirmed as 14 December (source BBC). This means if there is a yes vote, and if a strike is not averted, then the strike must start on or after 21 December - just in time for the Christmas peak travel season. A 26 December start date for a strike is a possibility if the union wants to avoid being cast as a villian who stops people from returning home for Christmas.

The airline won't rebook passengers until a strike is confirmed, by which time it may be too late to get on alternative flights. While a stike is not certain, the more risk averse travellers who are flying on British Airways in late December should start looking into their options.

For myself I have already done some research. I have 3 flights in this period on BA on a flexible ticket. Unfortunately I cannot reroute onto another airline as it would break other rules of my fare, and nor can I retime my trip as I have a fixed timeframe for doing it. So I have a choice of sitting tight and see what rebooking options BA comes up with if a strike goes ahead, or changing a destination on my itinerary which I'm loathe to do at this stage. I won't do anything at the moment but review around 12 December. If a strike is announced on 14 December then I'll need to act quickly, but by being prepared I'll have the best chance of a reasonable outcome.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

How to get to | Oman

This is part of a series of blog entries on how to get to countries and places. Here is a link to the index. I plan to eventually cover every country and some other places. If you have a request for a particular country or place please use the email me link at top right, or leave a comment.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Oman can be reached by land from United Arab Emirate and Yemen, or by air at Muscat. Airlines flying to Oman include:
  • Star Alliance - EgyptAir, Lufthansa, Swiss, Thai, Turkish
  • Oneworld - British Airways, Royal Jordanian
  • Sky Team - KLM
  • Other selected - most Persian Gulf and major Indian subcontinent airlines

TIP There are a limited number of fifth freedom flights between Muscat and other places in the Middle East, eg British Airways and Lufthansa between Abu Dhabi and Muscat, or Swiss between Dubai and Muscat. These can be relatively inexpensive.

TIP On Star Alliance round the world tickets (which are mileage based) use a combination of Asian (ie Thai) and European (eg Lufthansa) to visit Muscat and avoid high mileage wastage of back-tracking. On Oneworld round the world (continent based) tickets you can backtrack with British Airways (limit one visit to Middle East though) or with Royal Jordanian. Backtracking to Asia is not allowed because Middle East is in IATA TC area 2 and Asia is IATA TC area 3.