Saturday, February 21, 2015

Well, I got it!

  • JFK – Tokyo in ANA Business Class for 75,000 Amex points + $100 via Aeroplan
  • Seoul – JFK in Korean Air First for 80,000 Sapphire points + $75 via Korean Air

My brother ended up canceling his plans for a party in Tokyo but doing Hanami in Japan is on the bucket list so we figured we should go anyway. This freed us to pick whatever dates we wanted/could find award seats for. For starters, we had about 200,000 miles each in United, British, Amex, and Chase Sapphire points. 

I followed my own rule and priced out the ticket on Kayak and the cheapest non-stop in Business was $5000 per person on ANA. That's well above my pain point :) If we were willing to do a 1-stop itinerary we could get the price down to a much-more-manageable $3700, but that would have meant flying on a North American legacy carrier. Their surly service, mediocre food/beverage options, and generally un-special experience makes it really not worth that kind of money to us. I'd been tracking this periodically over the past few months and never saw any great deals jump out at me so we decided to book with points.

Between Sapphire and Amex, you can transfer to nearly every airline in existence. On one hand that flexibility is awesome, on the other hand it's a bit of a nightmare to search for flights in so many places at once! Add to that the fact that I didn't have enough miles for two round-trips in any one account and it gets a little complicated. 

Here are a few random tips after finding the tickets:
  • ANA still has the most complete search results for Star Alliance rewards. United hides certain airlines from the results (Singapore, LOT) and Air Canada's Aeroplan almost never offers a direct flight at the saver redemption level*. 
  • BA's website only shows partner availability if there are saver seats available. I could imagine them changing this once their new peak/off-peak redemptions go into effect in April. 
  • BA Travel Together certificates are useless if you're a North American going anywhere other than London. There's basically no availability of reward seats on anything other than the super busy NYC-London routes. 
  • There's heaps of Japan Airlines award space right now via British Airways, but only in Premium Economy.
  • Chase Sapphire has amazing customer service. The agent had to jump through a bunch of hoops to transfer our points from 3 separate accounts (mine, his, and my work card's) and even when we encountered some trouble, they were stellar in handling it. 
  • If you're using Chase/Amex, Don't transfer points until you're ready to redeem, and if you see a lone, perfect reward, make sure you check here to see if the point transfer will be instant. Whereas our Aeromexico reward was long gone by the time the points arrived 10 days later, this time I had an instant transfer to Aeroplan and snagged a unicorn – two Business Class seats on a direct flight from NYC to Tokyo on ANA for 75,000 miles + $100 each! (hence my * above!)
  • It's often worth it to create a frequent flyer account with a foreign carrier and then transfer points in to their program before you redeem. Many of them have a much larger reward seat inventory for their own customers versus what they offer to alliance partners for partner redemptions. In this case we were able to transfer Chase points to Korean Airlines, where there was a ton of First class seats available on their A380 service to JFK, so we did that for 80,000 points + $75 each.
  • Most Asian airlines only let you book for yourself and selected family members. Officially adding family members to your account can take several days/weeks so this up early! I created a separate post about adding my husband to my Korean Air account.
  • Many airlines require you to show the credit card used to pay for the flight, so make sure you bring it with you to the airport!
  • Many airlines block partner redemptions for international First Class, so this is another advantage to having an account directly with the carrier. For example, Delta lets you book reward seats on the same Korean Airlines flight we got, but only in Business Class. Once our points were in Korean's system, we had access to their First Class seats and there was a ton of availability. Singapore did the same thing when they launched their suites product.
  • I really wanted to do ANA First, but ANA's site only lets you do round-trip redemptions and I didn't have enough Amex points for that.
SO YES! WE HAVE TICKETS! ANA 777 in Business Class NYC-NRT, coming home on a Korean Air A380 in First from ICN to JFK. (We'll sort the flight to Korea once we plan the trip a bit more). I've never flown either airline before, so I'm excited! Toto Washlets and ANA's new "staggered business class" seats on the way there and Bimbim Bap in an A380 Kosmo Suite on the way back. 

If you look at the direct cents per mile (CPM) for this redemption it's 7¢ for the ANA leg and 8¢ for the Korean (the one-ways are $5250 and $6478, respectively). In reality it's less than half that since ANA round trip Business Class is pricing out around $5000 right now. But as I've mentioned before, valuing points is a tricky endeavor at best. Since the most I'd pay for that flight is $3000, you could say my CPM is only 2¢, but if I think about how much more fun the flight will be in an A380 in First, it almost becomes almost priceless. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Adding my same-sex partner to my family account in Korean Airlines SkyPass

Several Asian airlines (Korean, Singapore, ANA, others?) only let you redeem miles for tickets for yourself and for certain family members. Until now, I've never had to actually attempt a family redemption. I'd seen a few online guides with scary tales of "you MUST fax this form to..." and "please allow 4-6 weeks for processing" and so I'd sorta steered clear of it. But I'm booking a trip to Korea right now and so it was time to bite the bullet. I was especially nervous about doing it because I'm in a same-sex marriage and I wasn't sure if Korean Air's policies/IT infrastructure would let me designate another man as my spouse. I've talked to a lot of other LGBT travelers who end up with concerns like this and I thought I'd put this out there for anyone who might be wondering the same thing I was.

LONG STORY SHORT: It worked just fine, and it took less than 48 hours

I was completely new to Korean air, so my husband and I both had to create new accounts on Once that was finished:

  1. Make sure you have a GIF/JPG/PDF of your marriage certificate that's less than 6MB handy
  2. Log In
  3. Click My Dashboard
  4. Click My Family
  5. Click Add a Member
  6. Under the Apply Online section, click Add A Member
  7. Enter their information, attach the file, and then click Submit
The confirmation screen says "1 - 2 weeks" but I got an email confirmation a day and a half later. I've not tried this with a Domestic or Civil Partnership, or anything else for that matter. It's literally a datapoint of one, but I'm assuming it'll go as well for people in similar situations. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Point transfer reference

I use my Amex Premier Rewards and Chase Sapphire cards fairly frequently for transferring points to airline frequent flier programs. They both have different transfer partners -- for example Chase can transfer to United, Amex can't; Amex has a long list of transfer partners, Chase has only a few.

Transferring points is often instant, but other times it's not. I have a general rule that I only transfer points right before I'm about to book a reward flight, but if there's a lag in the point transfer, it can disrupt the best-laid plans.

I found this chart that shows the transfer times for some of the more popular cards. It might be helpful in planning your next trip.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Singapore Airlines reducing fuel surcharges!

Hooray! Another airline is lowering their fuel surcharges! Starting at the end of February Singapore Airlines is lowering theirs. ANA, JAL, and British Airways have all made similar announcements. With all of the recent point devaluations, it's nice to get some good news for a change.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

JetBlue accepting ApplePay

I'm a big fan of ApplePay. Aside from the obvious cool factor, I love that it's a whole lot more difficult to skim my credit cards when I use them via ApplePay. We've both had our cards skimmed several times in the past decade and we're usually super cautious and know what to look for. The USA is also changing credit card liability laws in October, so lots of places are switching their equipment over to add NFC/ApplePay and EMV chip credit cards.

JetBlue just announced that they're going to start supporting ApplePay for in-flight transactions. I'm heading to LAX from JFK next week so I'll have to give it a try and see how it goes.

Friday, February 6, 2015

jet blue coat check

I just got back from Mexico and while I was at JFK I found out about a new coat check service for people getting the heck out of the snow and heading someplace warm.

Right now it's only available in JetBlue's Terminal 5 at JFK. More info over on JetBlue's blog. Their website is here.

UPDATE Feb 2016: sadly this service has been discontinued. I thought it was really useful, maybe it can come back in a different form someday...

The kiosk is right after you clear security. It opens at 5am and closes around midnight, but the staff let me know that they monitor inbound flights and will stay open later in the event of delayed flights.

It's all run from a tablet – just put in your phone number, it takes your picture, you swipe your card, tell them when you'll be back, and you're off. When you get back, you punch in your phone number, your face appears onscreen, and the attendant gives you back your coat. All receipts are automatically sent to your phone as a text message. The fee is $2/day. Simple and super convenient.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

La Compagnie launches all-Business Class service to London Luton

I've mentioned La Compagnie before. They've been offering all-Business Class service between Newark and Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport since summer of 2014 and they're now launching Newark to London Luton service 5x per week. The flight times are nice: leave Newark at 10:20PM and arrive London 10:30am, leave London 5:45pm and arrive Newark at 9:00PM

They've been consistently offering amazing deals ($1000 round trip to London right now!), so I'm still very interested in trying them out. The big thing is trying to avoid all of the potential downsides:
  • If anything goes wrong with the plane, they don't have any other planes to put you on, so no booking them when I'm on a tight schedule. 
  • You don't earn any miles (which is fine by me since I'm not chasing status) 
  • I hate Newark. Maybe once the PATH train is done it won't be so bad, but until then, ugh.
  • The seats are the last-generation angled-flat seats, but lots of fancy airlines (hello, Lufthansa and JAL) are still flying this product today.
  • Luton airport isn't the best for transport, but there is a rail link

Lucky has a trip report over here. Another article about their future expansion over here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Aeromexico transfer bonus

I just now noticed while logged in to American Express' website that AeroMexico has a 20% transfer bonus running until March. I've used the Amex transfer twice now to fly from NYC to Mexico City on their new 787. It's one of the few intra-North American routes that has long-haul international seating and service. 

In my experience, Business Class award availability on this flight is wide-open (there's no First Class on this flight). You need 48,000 AeroKilometros for a one-way flight in Business. What's odd to me about the Amex transfer is that the points transfer at a 1:1.6 ratio (the same as miles-to-kilometers) – meaning that I transfer in 30,000 Amex points and 48,000 AeroKilometros show up in my account. With a 20% bonus, I should only need to 25,000 Amex points for that same flight. Sadly I just got back from Mexico so I won't have the chance to take advantage of this. (As I've mentioned before, I never transfer points until right before I'm about to book a ticket). 

A few caveats:
  • Point transfers between Amex and Aeromexico take up to two weeks, and this can bite you in the ass if you're using the points to continue on to a route with lower award availability
  • The 787 flight leaves JFK at 1:40pm and the flight to JFK from Mexico City leaves at 6am. All the other flights on this route are on planes with normal Crappy Domestic First Class recliner seats. 
  • It might make more financial sense to buy a cash ticket in Economy and then do their Optiontown upgrade lottery. Many friends have had great luck with this system, but none of them have tried it on the 787 run (my friends seem to love the 1am redeye on the 737). 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New way to get to Vancouver from NYC

Foreign carriers are forbidden from selling flights between two US cities. Before I go on, can you imagine how awesome it would be if Emirates, Cathay, Lufthansa, and ANA could compete with domestics on the JFK-LAX run!? We do, though, permit "5th freedom" flights between the USA and foreign countries by any carrier. (There's some background information about the various freedoms here, and a list of fifth freedom routes here).

I took a fifth freedom flight earlier this year when I went from NYC to Vancouver on Cathay Pacific. Starting in March, Philippine Airlines is adding a competing flight: NYC-Vancouver (YVR)-Manila. According to their press release, it'll be an A340 with 36 lie-flat Business Class seats

While I'm fairly certain that Cathay Pacific has a more refined experience, I'm pretty excited about eating some SkyLumpia :) I don't even know if that's a thing that exists but if it doesn't then it should! In addition to (hopefully?) tasty food, the other big pro of this flight is that the JFK to YVR leg is a daytime flight rather than Cathay's "not quite a redeye" flight that leaves JFK at 10pm and arrives in Vancouver at 1:10am – well past the last SkyTrain from YVR into the city. Given that Philippines' is a daytime flight, it would be really nice if it had Wi-Fi but it doesn't. (Cathay doesn't either, but they really try to get you to sleep onbord).

Sadly Philippine Airlines isn't part of any alliance, and their only partners are ANA and Etihad. View from the Wing has some info about redeeming partner miles for their flights, but the short story here is that you'd need 63,000 ANA miles to book this (versus 50,000 for the Cathay flight). While I'd never pay the $3000+ fare they're both asking for Business Class, the Economy tickets are all competitively priced in the mid-$500 range for a round trip, same as the competing Air Canada service to Newark (which might be moving to JFK in spring).

Monday, February 2, 2015

Why I passed on the American Express - British Airways transfer bonus

The past couple of years British Airways Avios points have been pretty useful for me. We used them to fly to London on their signature A318 London City service and back on their 747 First Class, and we've used them countless times for short-haul flights (gotta love 9000 miles for NYC-Montreal round trip). I also have a decent amount of Amex points, which I love because of their flexibility. So it's no big surprise that I was excited about the Amex - BA transfer bonus that was announced for January.

As I've mentioned previously, we've been planning on going to Japan in spring but since my brother still doesn't have dates nailed down yet, our being there is going to rely on some serendipitous last-minute award availability or we're not going to be able to attend. I hemmed and hawed about proactively transferring my Amex points over during the bonus period, but I have a fairly hard rule with myself that I don't transfer points until right before I'm ready to buy a ticket. But in this case, I figured that I'd use the points eventually for a nice long-haul business class redemption at some point during the year even if the Japan trip doesn't happen, so why miss out on a 40% bonus?

Then last week BA announced a huge mileage devaluation. While BA did the usual gamification technique of creating a ridiculously complex set of redemption rules to obfuscate the changes, my takeaway is that the 40% transfer bonus is basically wiped out by the price hikes. So unfortunately my only use of this promotion was the 30,000 Amex —> 50,000 BA Avios that I did in early January for my Vancouver trip. I suppose it's better than nothing.

With BA and United's recent devaluations, they're both getting ever closer in valuation to Delta's infamous "SkyPeso". Indeed when I search Delta for some of the sample dates that I was considering, I'm getting round-trip flights in Business Class for 160,000 points. For comparison, BA wanted 140,000 points plus $578 per person (pre-devaluation) to fly on their partner Japan Airlines (JAL). So, in the end, I may end up actually transferring my Amex points to Delta (gasp!) to make this trip happen.

Another important thing about Delta is that in 2015 they enabled one-way awards. This is huge for us because we won't have enough miles to book two round trip tickets with a single airline, so we'll likely book two one-ways with one airline for the flight there and two one-ways with another airline for the flight home. When we're traveling together, we always try to have a single ticket with both his and my flight on it so we don't get split up if there's a problem with seats or flight delays/cancelations. We both have a bunch of United and Chase Sapphire miles so we may book one of the legs on United/Star Alliance. Whenever possible, I prefer to avoid flying USA-based airlines for international travel,  so ideally I'd go one way on Korean Air's A380 (via Seoul) and come back on All Nippon Airways 777 First Class out of Tokyo.

Lucky has a good post over here with some more detailed analysis about waiting to transfer your points until the last minute.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

JFK Terminal 1 AirFrance lounge

I don't obsess much about lounges. In my old age I need a bit of moderation in my life so the lure of unlimited free booze before a flight where I can also have unlimited free booze has faded. These days I usually have a little champagne toast with my hubby / traveling companions and that's about it. If I'm on a long layover or there's departure delays, I like my lounges quiet, half-empty, with decent coffee, fast wi-fi, and something resembling fresh fruit or vegetables to eat. The AirFrance / SkyTeam lounge at JFK's Terminal 1 is all of those things, plus a great planespotting bar upstairs. It looks like it got a major remodel since my last visit in Jan '14. Sadly they removed the model airplane display. Still, it's nice, clean, and modern. 

Here's some pictures. 

On a morning visit in 2017, they had Japanese curry on offer due to a JAL flight about to depart...