Airlines wake up to benefits of mileage redemption for unsold seats

IMG_0439There are few more frustrating aspects of being loyal to an airline or a global alliance than the inability to redeem the miles you’ve worked hard to earn for what are known as award flights. There is, however, something even worse: Airlines choosing to send out flights with empty seats rather than make some of them available for mileage redemption.

I’m referring to saver award levels, not those that require double or triple miles. As it is, round-trip saver awards require as many as hundreds of thousands of miles these days.

Last week, I called out Air New Zealand, one of the worst offenders — particularly in Business Class — on Twitter. With a few hours left until its Los Angeles-London flight on Feb. 2, there were six unsold Business seats. Yet not one of them was available on miles. On the same flight the next day, 16 Business seats were open — again, no award space. The coach cabin was wide open on both days, so the carrier wasn’t protecting Business seats to accommodate a so-called oversell in economy…
 
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American tries to entice top United fliers

American Airlines has finally decided to take advantage of the problems many United Airlines fliers have experienced since the merger with Continental Airlines was completed on March 3. In an extremely rare move, American is now offering conditions-free top-elite status match to United’s most loyal customers.

Having read and heard about many United customers’ troubles after the carrier adopted Continental’s reservations system — and having encountered some problems myself — I e-mailed American spokesman Tim Smith on March 16. Smith has been the best PR person to deal with at any airline since I started writing my column in the Washington Times in 2008. I asked him whether American had any intention of capitalizing on United customers’ dissatisfaction by stealing some of them away through a status-match offer…

New Lufthansa business class in a year

Lufthansa appears to have listened to the recent criticism of its decision to install its old angled business-class seats on the newly arrived Airbus 380 aircraft — finally, truly flat seats are planned when its first Boeing 747-800 enters service in late 2011.

Many Lufthansa customers were puzzled and disappointed when the German carrier didn’t bother to introduce fully flat beds on the A380. It was the perfect opportunity — the current seats have been inferior to those of many competitors for years and don’t quite fit the image of a leading airline, which Lufthansa certainly is. In addition, it rolled out brand-new first-class seats on the A380…

United’s award blocking an issue in Continental merger

Just as many loyal United Airlines customers hoped that its expected merger with Continental Airlines would put an end to United’s massive blocking of “award” seats made available for mileage redemption by its partners in the global Star Alliance, the carrier made a government filing that raised new questions about its filtering policy.

With all the complex issues United and Continental have to resolve before completing their merger, which would create the world’s largest airline, the “award” blocking is hardly a top agenda item. In fact, I’d be surprised if it has come up at all in their negotiations so far…

The ethics of travel blogs

Do travel blogs influence your decision-making when booking a trip? Does it make a difference to you whether an airline a blogger writes about has treated him to a free flight? When it comes to ethics, should readers be less strict with blogs than with the mainstream media?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs covering all aspects of travel — both from a business and leisure perspective. Most of them haven’t had a new post in months. As all initial enthusiasts eventually discover, maintaining a blog in any field is much more difficult than starting one. Many travel blogs are dominated by the author’s personal experiences on the road and feature numerous photographs of airplane seats, in-flight meals and hotel rooms…

Award blocks still irk United fliers

There is rarely a single specific issue a reporter writes about that provokes huge interest from its first mention, and then continues to do so for months on end. For loyal customers of United Airlines, however, the carrier’s blocking of “award” seats made available by its partners in the global Star Alliance is not just any issue.

That was evident as soon as this column exposed the previously secret practice in September, as hundreds of members of United’s frequent-flier program, Mileage Plus, complained either to me or the airline. Although I haven’t dedicated a column to the issue since early December, I continue to receive e-mail messages about it. I also try to answer some questions in a thread on FlyerTalk…

Gay travel endures amid recession

The travel industry seems to be engaged in a curious courtship. Its targets are gay travelers. During a recession, they apparently are the one group that doesn’t change leisure habits too much, so airlines, hotels and tour operators are trying to win their business.

Courting gay customers is nothing new, of course. A few years ago, the creators of the popular Showtime series “Queer as Folk,” Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, told me that, during their research for an episode, they had discovered that gay Americans had hundreds of billions of dollars of disposable income. So the fight for shares of that income has been going on for a while — many airlines and booking engines have created dedicated pages on their Web sites for gay travel…

Travel blogs keep watch on industry

Public relations departments of airlines can’t catch a break. Not only is their industry under constant scrutiny by the public and the traditional media, now they have bloggers to worry about.

Let’s face it — the news hasn’t been great lately. How do you spin reducing services while adding fees? Or keeping fuel charges intact when oil prices are three times lower than they were when those charges were imposed? Part of a journalist’s job is to “unspin” what businesses — or the government, for that matter — tell the public, but another part is to do so fairly and to present different sides to every story. Bloggers, however, have no such obligation. They are free to rant about any grudge they may hold against a company without worrying about bias…