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Joe Bleasdale

My process for picking flights

My process for picking flights 1100 619 Joe Bleasdale

One of the reasons I started this blog, was because I wanted to try and “productise” how I think about flights. So this week, I am going to share my travel process, and that starts with picking flights.


Airport choice

This is largely defined by your carrier choice, but some airlines do operate from multiple airports.

I try to avoid airlines that are predominantly budget carrier airports. Airports that have lots of national carriers generally tend to be easier to deal with.

Another important factor when looking at airport options is what lounge facilities are on offer. Nobody likes going to an airport with a bad lounge.


Carrier choice

For most people, the carrier is a given. They’ve usually been flying a particular carrier for a long time. In the UK, British Airways is the most common long-haul carrier. They fly to the most destinations directly from London Heathrow. They also benefit from a very good frequent flyer program (Executive Club). So most London based travellers use BA for long-haul travel.

Virgin Atlantic is another good long-haul choice, but doesn’t fly to as many destinations as BA.

I have flown extensively on both but landed on Virgin as my personal choice.


Timing choice

I am a big fan of day flights. So whenever I can, I will pick those.

I like to try and arrive at my destination in the evening so I can adjust to the new timezone more easily.

Sometimes overnight flights cannot be avoided, however. I usually optimise my trip for trying to get upgrades on the overnight part. That’s because having a lie-flat bed to sleep in is such a benefit.


Bottom line

Picking flights is an important part of any trip. Try to travel regularly on the same carrier, this will help you build status and a points balance.

Try and pick flights that not only get you to your destination but help you adjust timezones when you arrive.

In my next article, I’ll talk about picking the right cabin.


Let’s plan your next trip…

My process for picking a cabin

My process for picking a cabin 2048 2560 Joe Bleasdale

Once you’ve picked a flight, choosing your cabin is the next important choice. In this article, I talk about my process for picking a cabin.


Cabin choice

One of the biggest issues carriers have is the diversity of their fleet. BA, for example, operate Boeing 777 in multiple variants, Boeing 787 in multiple variants, Airbus A350 and Airbus A380 for their long-haul operations.

Having multiple different planes in their fleet means that the cabins on those planes can be inconsistent. That is a factor when picking not only the carrier but the cabin you want to fly for a particular trip too.

If you know a certain route is operated by a certain type of plane, that may sway your decision on which cabin to pick. I must say though, that planning a trip based on aircraft type is risky. Airlines do not guarantee which aircraft will operate a particular route. Fleet operations are simply too fluid to be able to do that.

I usually pick my cabin based on two factors. Firstly, is an upgrade possible at the time of booking? If it is, I’ll book straight into the preferred cabin (Business Class). Secondly, if I cannot book into Business at the point of purchase, do I think it’s likely that a reward seat will open up? If I deem it to be likely, I’ll make sure I am in a position to upgrade. If I think it’s unlikely, I will just book whatever ticket makes sense for the budget.


Ticket choice

This is one of the biggest factors for me.

The upgrade game is won when you book the ticket, not when you get upgraded.

To make sure you have a chance at either booking a reward seat, or upgrading from a cash ticket. You need to ensure the following:

  • You book the right ticket type. Not all tickets allow for upgrades. Check with the airline when you book to make sure the ticket can be upgraded with points. If you get this bit wrong, it’s game over.
    • On British Airways, most Economy tickets except the lowest priced can be upgraded. All Premium Economy fares can be upgraded.
    • On Virgin Atlantic, the same applies.
    • If you book through a travel agent, you will not be able to upgrade directly with the airline. The travel agent must do it for you. Having a travel agent in the mix, generally causes problems and I would advise avoiding it if possible.
  • Make sure you have enough points to upgrade on your trip. If you have an upgradable ticket but not enough points, then it was all for nothing! Make sure you have enough points in your account for at least two Business Class upgrades.
  • Ask for upgrade options at check-in! If you do not ask, a points upgrade will not magically fall in your lap.
    • I usually ask if there are cash or points upgrades available and if there are, compare the cost.

If you are ever in doubt about which ticket type is best, ask the airline before booking. Alternatively, drop us a message and we can give you some impartial advice.


Bottom line

Picking your cabin is an important part of any trip.

My top tip for cabin picking is this: try and book the highest cabin you can when you purchase your ticket. If you can’t get the cabin you want, get the one below it and upgrade later.


Let’s plan your next trip…

My first ever Business Class flight

My first ever Business Class flight 1707 2560 Joe Bleasdale

This is the story of my first ever Business Class flight. I bet you think you know which carrier it was on too, but you’d be wrong.

My first ever experience in Business was on Air France. It was a flight from Manchester to Beirut via Paris CDG. I was travelling to the Middle East for work and this flight was the best option. I also did not pick it.

At the time I took this flight, I wasn’t a points geek like I am today. In fact, it would take some time before that became a thing.


The Air France experience

The first flight from Manchester to Paris CDG was very standard. Air France, even today, like other European carriers offer a “Business Class” short haul product. But really, it’s the same seat as Economy with some extra benefits thrown in. Only on the long haul routes which have wide body airliners do you get the full Business product.

On the Paris to Beirut leg I got the last generation Air France Business Class seat (image below). I’d only ever flown long haul once before this trip (to Canada). So this Business Class experience was out of this world. In reality, looking back – it actually wasn’t great. The Joe of today would undoubtedly turn his nose up at this experience.

I was so inexperienced at the time I took this flight, I do not even remember using the lounges! Imagine that.


The seat

The seat configuration on the Air France 777 at the time was a 2-3-2 recliner. In fact, some airlines still operate this type of seat. Although most have moved on to better products now. It’s a bit annoying because if you’re in the middle seat, you do have to step over someone. Likewise, if you’re in the window seat, you will have to step over the person who’s in the aisle seat. But for my first experience, I guess it was OK.

I remember being blown away by the room I had to move around. The cabin was also only half full, which helped.

Not only could I move around easily but the service was top-notch. I am not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but the food offered on this flight was pretty decent. I was pretty hungry and didn’t have much option but to eat whatever was served. I don’t remember the main meal, but the starter of cold meats, salad and warm pieces of bread was surprisingly good.

At the time, I was 18 years old and it seemed nothing short of magical that I could press a button and someone would appear with alcohol.


The return flight

On the return flight, I got stranded in Paris for the night as there was a huge snowstorm. I missed my connection to Manchester and I remember spending the night in the lounge. Back then, airlines would book hotels for stranded passengers but the disruption was so large scale that all the hotels were full. And I did not know the rules back then either.

I spent the night and then most of the following day in the airport until Air France managed to get me back to Manchester.

A tiring experience for sure. Not one that most people would think was very “Business Class”!


Bottom line

This wasn’t the flight that got me hooked on points travel… that’s a story for another day!

Back then I didn’t know anything about long-haul travel. But now there are plenty of tips in my other posts. Check out the rest of the blog


Let’s plan your next trip…

Virgin Atlantic & IndiGo codeshare agreement

Virgin Atlantic & IndiGo codeshare agreement 1024 485 Joe Bleasdale

Virgin Atlantic & IndiGo are today announcing a new codeshare agreement. This agreement will enhance connections between the UK and India.


Press release

Virgin Atlantic and IndiGo are delighted to announce a new codeshare between the UK and India, offering seamless connections and increased opportunities for frequent flyers to earn more points than ever before.

The codeshare partnership will mean customers booking a Virgin Atlantic ticket will be able to fly on the airline’s London Heathrow to Delhi and Mumbai flights and connect to and from 7 additional cities in India. Later this year the agreement will be expanded to cover a total of 16 destinations throughout India, as well as connections onto Virgin Atlantic’s extensive US network operated via London Heathrow.

The agreement will allow Virgin Atlantic to sell seats to passengers connecting onto IndiGo flights. The initial codeshare destinations in India include Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Goa, Delhi and Mumbai. The additional destinations will include Kochi, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Pune, Coimbatore, Nagpur, Vadodara, Indore and Visakhapatnam.

The new codeshare agreement will allow Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club members to reach their rewards faster, with opportunities to earn both Virgin Points and Tier Points available on every codeshare with IndiGo.

The codeshare flights will be available this week for booking for travel beyond 27th September, subject to government approval.


Official commentary

Juha Jarvinen, Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Atlantic, commented:

“We’re thrilled to launch a new codeshare partnership with IndiGo. This summer marks our largest ever flying programme from India with three daily direct services to London and our new partnership takes our commitment to even greater heights. IndiGo is India’s largest airline and its extensive network will offer Virgin Atlantic customers even more choice when travelling between the UK and India, as well as offering seamless connections for onward travel across our extensive US route network.

“It’s great news for our Flying Club too, by providing more opportunities for members to earn valuable points. This new partnership aims to respond to the large, fast-growing demand for visiting friends & relatives, leisure as well as business travellers looking for more choice between UK and India.”

Mr. Ronojoy Dutta, Chief Executive Officer and Wholetime Director, IndiGo said:

“We are pleased to announce our codeshare with Virgin Atlantic to provide enhanced connectivity to the passengers. This will not only help offer a seamless travel experience from London to as many as 16 destinations in India, but also open up international trade opportunities throughout the country via enhanced accessibility. We look forward to having Virgin Atlantic’s customers on our lean clean flying machine, as we extend our on-time, affordable, courteous and hassle-free travel experience.”


Destinations

Phase one

Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Goa, Delhi, Mumbai

Phase two

Kochi, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Pune, Coimbatore, Nagpur, Vadodara, Indore and Vishakhapatnam

Connect on IndiGo to and from London Heathrow via Delhi / Mumbai


Bottom line

This is undoubtedly good news for anyone wishing to travel to India on Virgin Atlantic.

Currently, there is no indication on how to redeem Virgin Atlantic points for these internal flights, or if that is going to be possible. Our prediction is that IndiGo will become a standard airline partner for the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. Once that information is available, we will endeavour to share the options available for people looking for upgrades.


Let’s plan your next trip…

3 things to do if you can’t find reward seats

3 things to do if you can’t find reward seats 2560 1707 Joe Bleasdale

So you’re on the hunt for reward seats but can’t find them… Here are 3 things you can do if you can’t find your ideal reward seats.


Consider booking a lower cabin

If you’re looking for seats in Business Class, but cannot find availability then consider booking Premium Economy instead. Sure, it’s not what you want, but if you are booking far enough in advance, there is a chance of reward seats opening up.

The benefit of most reward tickets is that they’re flexible. You have a lot more options for changing, upgrading or cancelling a reward ticket than you do with a cash ticket. Use that to your advantage!

This strategy also works well when combined with the next tip.


Book an upgradable cash ticket

If you have read this blog before, you’ll know that I love this strategy. It’s efficient, easy and gives you the best of both worlds.

If you want a ticket in Business Class but there is no availability, book the cheapest upgradeable Premium Economy fare. It is very important to check with the airline that the fare you’re buying is upgradeable. If it isn’t, you’ve got problems.

Keep checking in advance of your trip and as soon as you see a reward seat, call the airline and do the upgrade. This is usually done by just paying the difference in taxes & fees plus the points needed for the upgrade.

The benefit of this strategy is that you still get the underlying fare points. So you can offset the cost of the upgrade against the original ticket. If you were to add a points booster (specific to Virgin Atlantic), you may even wipe out the cost of the upgrade entirely.

This strategy is what I used on my recent trip to Austin, TX. Read about that here.


Ask at the airport

I often say that when it comes to upgrades, it’s not game over until you’re sat in your seat. Well, that’s only partly true. Really it’s game over when your boarding pass is scanned at the gate. If it makes the magic beep noise (the beep that basically says – denied), then you’re in luck. If you board normally, then it’s game over.

I have zero shame when asking for upgrades. I’ll ask the check-in staff, lounge staff and gate staff. If you don’t ask, someone else will.

This became such a regular thing for me that when the lounge staff at LAX saw me approaching, they’re pick up the phone and asked the revenue team what seats were available. They did that because they knew I was going to ask them to do it anyway.


Bottom line

It’s not over until it’s over. Booking as far in advance as you can increases your chances greatly. Keep checking for those reward seats. When it comes to upgrades, fortune favours those who never stop looking.


Let’s plan your next trip…

Boarding passes – explained

Boarding passes – explained 2560 1707 Joe Bleasdale

I often talk about upgrades on this blog. One key thing that enables me to find upgrades, is a deep understanding of airline ticketing systems.

Did you know that the random lettering on boarding passes actually means something?

In this article, I’ll explain what those seemingly random letters and numbers on your boarding pass mean. It may just help you bag an upgrade.


Virgin Atlantic boarding pass

In the image below, I’ve drawn arrows pointing to some important items to know on the Virgin Atlantic boarding passes.

  • VSXXXXXX2459 – this represents the Virgin Atlantic Flying club number. If you do not see your frequent flyer number on your boarding pass, your points will likely not credit. As a result, you’ll have the hassle of chasing the airline for something that should have just happened automatically.
  • VS GOLD – Simply the flying club level of the passenger. This is needed to verify you have things like lounge access. If this is not on the boarding pass and you try to access a Delta Skyclub, they’d have to verify your booking manually which takes time.
  • Class G – Super important information. This is called the fare class, or fare bucket. It’s the thing that defines most of the rules of your ticket. How many points you earn, ticket flexibility and upgrade rules. In this case, it’s G which is the Virgin code for “Upper Class reward flight”. This ticket was actually upgraded from Premium Economy to Upper Class but G is also used for that scenario too.
  • BCN LHR072 – This is another interesting number. BCN stands for Boarding Control Number. Essentially, this is the position at which you checked in. So on this day, I was the 72nd person to check in for the flight. Quite late really because that flight only had about 96 customers onboard. This number is largely irrelevant for most people, but sometimes airlines use your position in the check in order to decide who gets upgraded or bumped off a flight. Some frequent fliers also try and get 001 – just for fun.
  • 1 932 xxxxxxxxxx 3 –  This is your e-ticket number. Each individual airline has a unique three-letter prefix so you can instantly tell who ticketed it. 932 is Virgin’s unique code. BA tickets are 125 prefixes. If this flight was a codeshare, the e-ticket will denote the “marketing carrier”, i.e. who sold you the ticket. The flight number will denote the “operating carrier”, i.e. who is actually operating the flight, for example – Delta.


TSA PreCheck

Note that on the first boarding pass, there’s no TSA PreCheck reference at the top. That’s because when flying out of a UK airport, there is no TSA PreCheck.

Usually, this is automatically printed on the ticket. If you are flying from the UK and connecting in the USA to a final destination and have PreCheck. You NEED to make sure this is added. If it is not, when you try and use PreCheck during your connection, the TSA will refuse you. The way to add PreCheck to your boarding pass is by giving the check-in staff your known traveller number. This should then add it to the pass. In the UK, you may need to explain why you want it added because most people do not quibble over this. Regardless of what the check-in staff say, if the boarding pass doesn’t say PreCheck, expect problems from the TSA.


British Airways boarding passes

The BA boarding passes are slightly different. In fact, boarding passes will look similar/different depending on what airline ticketing system the airline uses (fun fact). That’s why partner airline tickets often look very alike, they use the same system.

Thanks to Andy M for donating a recent BA boarding pass.

QQ3YF6 – booking reference. Basically a unique reference to the ticket and lets the airline staff access the booking without typing in the long ticket number.

SEQ 70 – Sequence number. Similar to the BCN on the Virgin boarding pass, this is the position at which you checked in. So in this case, Andy was the 70th person to check in for the flight.

125XXXXXXXXXX – e-ticket number. The prefix is 125, meaning BA themselves issued this ticket.

Emerald/BA/Gold – Frequent Flyer Status. Emerald is the One World name for “Gold”. Having this on your boarding pass means that not only is the passenger entitled to all BA Gold benefits, but also the Emerald benefits of the One World alliance. For example, lounge access on partner airlines.


Bottom line

Make sure all of your important information is correct on your boarding pass. If your frequent flyer membership number isn’t there, get it added. Check-in, lounge and gate staff can usually do it. Make sure the fare class you are in allows for upgrades (this is actually determined when you purchase the ticket, not at check-in).

Finally, if you have TSA PreCheck, make sure it is visible on your boarding pass if you intend on passing through expedited security in the USA.


Let’s plan your next trip…

Are all points equal?

Are all points equal? 1707 2560 Joe Bleasdale

In an earlier article, I talked about how to calculate the intrinsic value of your points. One of the questions I often get is – are all points equal?

The simple answer is – no.


Explanation

Each individual points program has a slightly different base value for a point.

This value is usually based on the redemption value of a point. I.e. how many points it takes to receive something of roughly equal value is what defines their value.

Just because one program may have points that are worth, for example, 1 penny; doesn’t mean others work the same way. That being said, a lot of airline points do have a value of around 1 penny/1 cent or thereabouts.


Why the value is important

Knowing the value of your points is important. If you do not understand their value, it’s much easier to waste them.

Once you know the value, you can get an idea of how to leverage that value to the maximum. This is why I often say that reward flights & upgrades are often fantastic value. Usually in this situation, you’re trading a reasonable amount of points for something of high value.

When you collect points, your goal should always be to get at least their base value if not more.

So if you’re spending British Airways Avios, your goal should be to get more than 1.1 pence of value per point. The way you stretch that value is by finding situations where the cash equivalent of whatever you are purchasing is more than the cost of the points purchase.


Bottom line

Knowing the value of your points is the first step to not wasting them.

Once you know their value, make sure you stay above their base value when spending. Try to increase your leverage by finding deals where you get a lot of value.

If you’re unsure of your valuations or want advice on a specific situation – just get in touch.


Let’s plan your next trip…

Never use points to discount a ticket

Never use points to discount a ticket 1919 2560 Joe Bleasdale

Yesterday I talked about how to calculate the intrinsic value of your points. One of the mistakes I often see is that people use points to discount the cost of a cash ticket.

This is usually a fatal mistake.


Exchange rate

The problem with using points to reduce the price of a cash ticket is the exchange rate sucks.

It’s a well-known fact that when you go on holiday, you do not buy your Euros or Dollars in the airport currency exchange because it’s a rip-off. This is the points equivalent!

Here is an example using British Airways Avios. As we discussed in yesterday’s article, BA Avios have a base value of 1.1 pence. So when you spend them, you should aim to get at least that if not more value.

Let’s say you take £210 off your ticket and pay 46,750 Avios as shown in the image below. That’s an exchange rate of around 0.0044.

Effectively you’re losing half of the value of your Avios by doing this.

The exchange rate is usually a sliding scale too, taking a small amount of cash off is often OK. For example, £15 off for 1500 Avios is not far from the 1.1p of value. But as you take more cash off, the exchange rate gets much worse.


Bottom line

Unless you are a points millionaire and you do not care for their value, do not use them to discount the cost of cash flights.

It’s almost always a huge waste of them. Save your points for something that’s far better value – like an upgrade or reward flight.


Let’s plan your next trip…

Whats the value of your points?

Whats the value of your points? 2560 1705 Joe Bleasdale

One of the reasons people struggle with spending their points is because they do not understand their actual value. So in this article, I’ll talk about calculating the value of your points and how this can help you in choosing the best travel options.


Baseline value 

Every loyalty scheme works differently. So I will focus on the three core points that are popular on this blog.

They are British Airways Avios, Virgin Atlantic Points and American Express Points.

Quick examples

100,000 British Airways Avios = £1100 of value

100,000 Virgin Atlantic Points = £1200 of value

100,000 American Express Points = £1400 of value


It’s all in the spend

Most of the value you can extract from your points is when you come to spend them. You should be aiming to get a higher value per point than the baseline values listed above.

What do I mean by this?

Well, if an Avios point is worth 1.1pence and you spend 100,000 Avios on a reward flight, this brings your spend to £1100. Bear in mind, that almost all reward flights have additional taxes and fees (more on that here). So to calculate your total for how much you’re actually spending, the formula is as follows:

Points for reward flight x baseline value + taxes & fees = how much you actually paid.


Example

Let’s say you want to fly to New York in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic.

To fly off-peak, it will cost 95,000 points + taxes & fees.

Taxes and fees right now are high, so let’s say the taxes & fees come to £750.

The total cost of this example flight would be 95,000 x 0.012 + 750 = £1890.


Compare with the cash option

Using the above example, it only makes sense to use the points if the cash equivalent ticket is MORE than £1890.

If there’s a huge sale on and the cash flight is £1500, you’d be paying £390 more by using your points than buying the cash flight.

This works in the inverse too. Imagine the cash flight is £4000. Now points are extremely attractive because the intrinsic value is more than half of that of the cash flight. Nice deal!


Bottom line

Compare how much the cash flight costs vs the points flight.

If the value doesn’t make sense, then don’t waste your points on that option. Keep them for a time when you can squeeze out the most value from them.


Let’s plan your next trip…

Can you retroactively claim points?

Can you retroactively claim points? 1440 2560 Joe Bleasdale

After my trip to Austin, I outlined why you should always check that your points have been credited after a flight.

It’s quite common to take flights and for some reason, the airline’s systems do not credit your points.

So, can you retroactively claim points?

Yes, you can.

For Virgin Atlantic, you will need your e-ticket number and your flying club membership number.

For British Airways, you will need your e-ticket number and BA Executive Club membership number.


Tips

General

  • I try and keep my boarding passes after each flight until I know the points have credited my account correctly. That allows me to easily find the booking reference and e-ticket number without routing through my emails. It also shows the cabin flown and fare bucket, which can be important for tier points specifically.
  • It’s not uncommon for the airline’s own staff to get their rules mixed up, so make sure you push for solid explanations if you try and claim but get denied.
  • For basic scenarios, most airlines have an online form you can fill out that will automatically credit the points you are missing.

Virgin Atlantic

  • Virgin does not specify how long back you can claim points. However, within 6 months is the industry norm. Realistically you should be claiming for missing points within a matter of weeks, rather than months.
  • Remember that if you have upgraded a ticket from Economy or Premium with points, you will be owed points for the underlying fare.
  • Every airline in the world has a unique e-ticket number. You can identify the airline ticket by the first three digits in the e-ticket. Virgin e-ticket numbers start with 932.

British Airways

  • BA let you claim for up to 6 months following a flight.
  • They will also let you retroactively claim points for any BA flight you took up to 3 months before becoming an Executive Club member.
  • BA e-ticket numbers start with 125.


Bottom line

Always check your points after your flight!

If they have not been credited within a reasonable time then start the process to retroactively claim them.


Let’s plan your next trip…

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