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…

The benefits of non-airline credit cards

You may have seen TV commercials featuring American Express or Capital One credit cards that promise points or miles with the clout to get you any seat on any airline without blackout dates. Those financial services companies try to distinguish their own loyalty schemes from airline programs, which restrict access to award seats.

Non-airline programs are not affected by award seat limits, because they don’t need award availability to book you on a flight. Instead, they sell you a regular revenue ticket, charge the ticket price on your credit card, then credit the cash amount back to your card and take miles or points out of your account, whose number is based on a standard formula…

British Air, Iberia’s dysfunctional merger

One of this column’s goals is to point out nuisances in the air travel system and help you avoid them or minimize their negative impact. As I welcome the many readers who have become subscribers since my book, “Decoding Air Travel,” came out, I’d like to tell you about one such nuisance.

As my regular readers are well aware by now, I always know in what booking class a future ticket will be issued. I search for availability in that booking class and choose flights with available seats. That’s why, even if I have to make a reservations with an agent on the phone, I know how much the ticket will cost before I make the call…

Should airline booking codes be secret?

Flying Blue, the frequent-flier program of Air France/KLM, has banned customer service agents from revealing the codes the airlines use when booking awards or upgrades. If you ask them, they will tell you it’s none of your business. Is this misplaced paranoia or do carriers have the right to keep that information secret?

For smart and sophisticated travelers, the importance of having access to raw airline data cannot be overstated. Benefiting from that access has changed my travel life — it has ensured that I always pay the lowest possible fares and fly in comfort and luxury at the same time. Booking codes, of course, use letters of the alphabet…

American’s antiquated ticketing process

American Airlines has been trying to cut booking costs by fighting to reduce the power of the Global Distribution Systems (GDS) — and the high fees they charge. However, its own ticketing process remains surprisingly outdated for one of the world’s largest carriers, and far from being cost-efficient.

It wouldn’t be difficult for American to save millions of dollars a year. All it needs to do is implement instant ticketing, which most other major airlines have had for years. The carrier says it plans to introduce instant ticketing on its website later this year, but it has no intention to allow phone reservation agents to issue tickets at this time…

Singapore Air’s inept agents, dark side

My previously high regard for Singapore Airlines has been sinking quickly in the last week. Dealing with its agents regarding an award ticket has been one of my worst airline experiences in years. Now we learn that the carrier did little to help a passenger who suffered a heart attack during a flight last month.

When I wrote about Singapore’s “maddening perfection” in September, I pointed out that it deserves all the accolades it gets for its on-board products and in-flight services. However, the airline hasn’t quite understood that being a global first-class company means much more than that. I usually try to stay calm with airline agents on the phone and give them the time they need, even when it’s clear they are not very good…

Delta SkyMiles needs new leadership

Delta Airlines has cemented its status as the network U.S. carrier with the worst frequent-flier program, further devaluing its long-cheapened SkyMiles. The leadership of the program or the airline — or perhaps both — doesn’t seem to understand what the loyalty business in 2011 is about. It may be time for a new team at the top.

For more than a year, Delta failed to publish an award redemption chart for most of the world, resulting in lack of transparency about how many miles were really needed for an award ticket. When it finally unveiled a chart this week, the mileage rates on many routes were increased significantly. Many loyal SkyMiles members felt cheated and disrespected, calling Delta’s move a “stunt” in comments posted on FlyerTalk, the largest online travel community…

US Airways denies StarNet blocking

US Airways has denied recent suspicion that it has begun to block award seats made available by its Star Alliance partners for mileage redemption by members of its Dividend Miles program — a practice pioneered by United Airlines, which I first exposed in 2008.

The airline has been silent on the issue since reports about apparent blocking surfaced last fall. Many travelers said they found award inventory on various Star carriers, using one or more of the publicly available sources — the websites of All Nippon Airways, Continental Airlines and Air Canada — but US Airways agents were unable to see those available seats…

Singapore Airlines’ maddening perfection

Singapore Airlines topped yet another industry ranking this week, and while it usually deserves the awards it wins, there are a few aspects of the way it does business that drive some customers and partner-carriers crazy. Still, don’t expect those practices to change anytime soon.

The latest awards were bestowed by Britain’s Business Traveller Magazine. Singapore was named best airline overall and also won best economy and business class. Best first class went to Emirates, probably because of the shower on its Airbus 380 aircraft. I have yet to meet anyone who has flown Singapore and didn’t like it, regardless of which cabin they were in. It has long been the world’s leading carrier in hard-product innovation and luxury, often years ahead of its competitors…