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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…

Lost bags & luggage delays

Lost bags & luggage delays 2560 1707 Chris West

In my previous article, I covered round-the-world tickets. And in my case, they were too expensive for the travel plans I’ve talked about in this run of articles. The way I booked my tickets eventually ended up causing me issues with my luggage too…

I booked my trip to South America and my trip to Asia as two completely separate trips. But the timing was tight, I needed to get from Bogota to Singapore quickly. The Bogota to London trip was a completely separate booking and different airline to my London to Singapore trip. If I had any major delays on my first flights it could have seriously impacted the rest of my trip. I allowed 6 hours at London Heathrow for my turnaround. As it happened that was almost not enough!


London to Bogata trip

For this part of my trip, I was flying Air France in Business class from Bogota to London. I’d be stopping in Paris (this was the return leg of my KLM trip out to Bogota mentioned before). I was then flying from London to Singapore in Premium Economy on British Airways. As mentioned previously I was very impressed with the Air France Business class product.

What I didn’t mention is that we were late departing Bogota because a tropical thunderstorm was passing over. It wasn’t a huge delay. If I remember rightly around 45 minutes. But I had a very short connection in Paris for my short hop over to London. When we arrived in Paris, I had no time to sample the Air France lounge. I had to run straight from one flight to the next.

Upon arriving at the gate I realised that my short turnaround time might have been ok for me, but not for my bags. I asked the member of staff at the gate if they knew if my bags were coming across. They did some checking and seemed to think it would be fine. So, I boarded the A320 for my short flight across to London.

Upon arrival, I waited at the baggage belt and nothing appeared. When I went to check with baggage services, the bag had not made my flight. But it shouldn’t be too much of a problem as it would be on the next flight which was only an hour behind. When I asked what I should do, I was told I should leave the area go landside, and wait until the next flight landed.

When it did land there is a telephone I could use on the wall right next to the exit. I could use that to request permission to re-enter the baggage collection area and collect my bag. The airline had offered to post it to my final destination, even though that was going to be Singapore.

Generally speaking, airlines have a policy that if they lose your bag they will post it to any address anywhere in the world. But as I was going on another trip I really wanted my bag with me. So I left the area and waited.


Waiting for the luggage

My upcoming trip to Asia was going to be a long one, plus I was visiting friends while there. So I’d stored an additional bag in the excess luggage company at Terminal 4.

I had the bright idea to go and remove this bag whilst waiting for me other bags to arrive. I thought this would save me some time. This turned out to not be such a good idea.

I collected my bag and waited for the flight from Paris to land with my other bag.

When the flight did land, I went to the phone, rang through and asked for permission to go back to the luggage area. I was then escorted to a security checkpoint, who of course wanted to scan all my bags. The bag I had been storing in T4 had a bottle of gin in it. This was a gift for my friend in Malaysia. Of course, I was not allowed to take that through security and they wouldn’t watch it for me even for a few minutes.

I had to leave the area go back to excess luggage, check it back in again, and then head back to security to go through with my hand luggage to finally collect my bag.

After a few minutes, I was reunited with both sets of luggage. Now I was ready to make my way to Terminal 5 and catch my flight to Singapore. Thankfully I still had a few hours to spare, but not the luxurious 5 or 6 hours I was hoping for.


Changing terminals

One thing Heathrow doesn’t do particularly well is help you transit between other terminals particularly terminal 4 to Terminal 5 when you are landside.

In hindsight, I now know I should have stepped outside and found the direct bus that goes there. But at the time I was tired, jet lagged and feeling a little rushed as my time had been clipped. So I went and found the trains instead. It took me ages to get one train back to Heathrow terminals 2 and 3, and then another train up Terminal 5.

Eventually, I arrived, checked in my 2 bags and made my way to the BA First class lounge to have a little bit of relaxing time before my flight to Singapore.


Heading to Singapore (finally!)

I booked myself in for a free shower to freshen up before getting on my second long haul, and 3rd flight of the day.

Eventually, it was time to board the A380 for my long 13-hour flight to Singapore. In London time it was an evening flight, however, I had just flown a night flight from South America and was on a completely different time zone. I knew I was going to land evening time in Singapore, it made sense for me to stay awake for the majority of the flight.

This did seem to confuse the crew somewhat as I was the only person wide awake, but I watched a lot of films and they kept bringing me regular drinks and snacks to keep me awake.

I eventually landed in Singapore after over 24 hours of flying to go around the world the long way. Whilst it is definitely an affordable approach compared to the round the world ticket, I’m not sure I’d recommend this particular route to someone else. As a fan of flying however I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Closing words

The moral of the story here is twofold. Firstly, flying around the world on multiple tickets is hard and arduous even for a very seasoned flyer. Secondly, always have a backup plan for what to do if your luggage gets lost.

I recommend carrying some essentials in your hand luggage specifically to cover you for this eventuality.

I would also caution you in trying to manage two different sets of luggage on two back-to-back trips.


Let’s plan your next trip…

Round the world tickets

Round the world tickets 1707 2560 Chris West

In my last article, I mentioned that I had a really good reason for wanting to be in business class for my trip to Bogota.

Well, the reason was I had to be in Singapore immediately after this trip and I was going to fly the long way around!

In the space of 4 weeks, I took 11 flights:

  • London to Amsterdam
  • Amsterdam to Panama
  • Panama to Bogota
  • Bogota to Paris
  • Paris to London
  • London to Singapore
  • Singapore to Kuala Lumpur
  • Kuala Lumpur to Singapore
  • Singapore to Tokyo
  • Tokyo to Singapore
  • Singapore to London


Investigating a round the world ticket

To do all of these flights, I did investigate the “Round the World” ticket option.

This ticket allows you to fly around the world, stopping in many locations, as long as you are constantly travelling in the same direction. This ticket is not cheap!

Unfortunately, whilst they would have sold me a ticket, it was prohibitively expensive. For this trip, the ticket would have looked like this:

London, Madrid, Bogota, San Francisco, Singapore, London. It would have only used One World Airlines.

This was in 2017 and flight pricing was quite different then. If I remember correctly, booking 2 return trips was cheaper than booking the round-the-world trip by around £1000.

However, I want to give you up-to-date information, so I did some research for a similar trip to go in March 2023, (the time of getting quotes was July 2022), flying in economy only this time, not Premium Economy, here’s my results:

Round the World Trip: London, Bogota, San Francisco, Singapore, London. £2732
Two return trips, London – Bogota and London to Singapore. £2067

I think the price gap has reduced a little since 2017, but flight prices currently are fluctuating all over the place, so it’s always worth doing your research.


Booking a round the world ticket

How do I book a round-the-world ticket?

Since you will be relying on multiple airlines, the best way to research your trip is to use the alliance websites, rather than the airlines:

Both One World and Star Alliance have dedicated round-the-world booking tools where you put in your chosen cities, and it proposes possible routes for you and gives you an option to book from the most suitable airline.


Closing words

Ultimately, round-the-world tickets are usually quite expensive. The reason for this is simple – they’re not targeted at people doing multiple stops on a business trip. Rather, they are designed for people who really are doing a round-the-world experience and want a simplified booking experience.

That being said, checking round-the-world ticket prices when doing a complex, multi-stop trip is recommended.


Let’s plan your next trip…

Finding deals

Finding deals 1438 2560 Chris West

Earlier this week, I talked about Open Jaw tickets. They’re a great way of finding a deal when you want to hit multiple destinations on the same trip. In today’s article, I am going to cover some more tips for the next time you’re deal hunting.

As my work continued and I flew more regularly, I learned A lot of tricks for flying all over the place. I came to the point where I was in demand in all sorts of locations. We had a Singapore office that looked after the whole Asia region. I would go out there for 4 to 5 weeks at a time and based out of Singapore I would fly to China, South Korea or Japan to visit customers there.

At the same time as expanding our Asia operation, we were looking to open up a new market in Latin America. We found a partner in Colombia, based in the capital city of Bogota. This meant a whole new region to fly to for me.


Economy you say!?

I was by far the most frequent flyer in the company. But since it was just me there weren’t really many formal policies on flying.

I mentioned previously that they liked me to fly in Economy or Premium Economy but allowed me to stay extra nights if I wanted to. That saved them money over flying me Business Class. After a while, I established a system of setting the budget for a trip based on the most suitable direct Economy ticket to a location.

My second trip to Colombia was coming up and I found that the Colombian national airline, Avianca, operated the only direct flight to London.

So, I got their price for a return Economy trip, and it was huge. This set my budget for the trip. I then went out to see if I could fly for less with another airline. Of course, that would mean an indirect flight, but I was ok with that. In the end, I found a trip with KLM, in Business class, that was cheaper than the direct flight in Economy. So that’s what I did.

I know that a few of you might be saying, hang on, if it was cheaper in business class on KLM, how much was the Economy on KLM? Well yes, I could have saved the company some money by going on a multi-stop flight on KLM in Economy. But there’s a very good reason why I didn’t, which I will come back to later.

Suffice to say, the agreement I had with the person who signed my expenses was; find the direct flight cost and if I could find it cheaper another way he didn’t care as long as it was for less.


An unusual route

The route I found was very interesting from a flying enthusiast’s point of view.

Outbound on KLM:

  • London to Amsterdam on an Embraer 190.
  • Amsterdam to Panama City on a 777.
  • Panama City to Bogota on a 737 operated by local company Copa Airlines.

Inbound with Air France, which partners with KLM:

  • Bogota to Paris on a 787
  • Paris to London on an A320


The flight

All of these flights were in Business class, which meant I got to compare KLM and Air France’s long-haul options.

KLM had a lovely big seat, slightly offset with the person next to you, so you didn’t feel like they were right beside you. The food, drink and service were excellent. And I did get KLM’s signature miniature bottle shaped like a Dutch house, containing a Dutch speciality drink.

Air France had a rather unusual lie flat, but not horizontal bed option. While the seat did go flat, it was at a slight angle so your feet were essentially under the head of the person in front of you. I was worried that this would be uncomfortable, but I slept very well. The food was amazing, I couldn’t stop eating the miniature French baguettes they kept bringing me.

The flight was delayed which caused some issues at the other end, I’ll come back to that later.


Why didn’t I fly One World?

By now you know I am a British Airways flyer, living in the One World alliance. KLM/Air France are both Sky Team members. So why would I fly outside my alliance?

Obviously, there are times when you have to fly with a different airline or alliance. Sometimes your airline or alliance doesn’t go to where you want.

There was a One World option open for me to Bogota. I could have flown LATAM (who are no longer One World), via another Latin American country. It was also possible to use Iberia and travel via Spain. I had done the Iberia route before and I hated it, it was an old A340, no option for Premium Economy and really didn’t enjoy the service. So that was a straight up – no.

Another reason why people sometimes try other airlines is simply because they can. When you have achieved enough tier points to get to the level you want to get to, earning more tier points becomes pointless. Tier points, qualifying sectors or whatever other name your airline has for them, reset each year.

As it turned out I was in an even better situation than this. On a previous trip BA had had a huge computer fault meaning a lot of luggage had been lost and it had all been checked manually, meaning huge delays at the airport. I had only been minorly affected, but since I was flying on the weekend of the computer fault, they had offered me compensation. What they did was gave me a 1-year extension on my Gold status, which meant that the tier points I earned for every flight during that time was completely useless, yes I’d get Avios, but nothing that would help me with my status. So I decided during this time to experiment with other airlines. It was then that I used status matching to try the Star Alliance, and I flew other airlines that I’d heard good reports about, such as KLM.


Closing words

If you’ve reached the maximum tier on your current airline and you’re looking for a deal, try an indirect route with another airline. This way you can find some amazing prices. And you get to experience life outside your usual alliance.


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