Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Big changes to Aeromexico's Upgrade plan


We started planning the annual pilgrimage to Mexico a bit early this year. We loved Oaxaca so much last year that we basically want to repeat the schedule from last year:
   NYC > Oaxca > Puerto Vallarta > NYC.
We booked last year in September and many of the food and mezcal tours we wanted to take were already sold out for our late January dates, so we wanted to book a bit earlier this year.

There are several challenges in that itinerary, but probably the biggest one is that final direct flight back to New York. United (and Delta back when they used to compete on this route) will charge you USD$1000 per person for that trip whether it's a one-way or a round-trip. I got lucky last year and found a Mexican travel agent who could book the one way for $600-ish. Sadly they couldn't make that happen again this year, so I had try several different tricks but managed to eventually land the one-way for $550 in Business (happy to share how privately).

As I discussed in previous planning posts, there are never any Saver award seats on these direct NYC-PVR flights, and very rarely are there seats at the Standard award level, either.

 

Goodbye, Optiontown…

Ok, so we've got a flight home, now it's time to start looking for the other legs. Unfortunately there have been lots of changes since last year so I can't just copy-paste what I did last year. In years past, you could buy a coach ticket with Aeromexico, and then enter a lottery for a $50 upgrade through a 3rd party company called Optiontown. That's now been scrapped in favor of a new homegrown Upgrade auction system. From what I've been able to find on Flyertalk, winning bids are generally in the $150 to $200 range and you have to bid on each segment of your flight separately if you're on a connecting itinerary.
New Aeromexico Upgrade system

Right now a one-way Aeromexico flight from JFK to Oaxaca is about $950 in First, and about half that price in Economy. The next-best option is a United one-stop flight via Houston, but it's more expensive, there are no Saver rewards, and a long leg of that itinerary is on a tiny regional jet with no First or Business. (The Aeromexico flight is on a 787 with lie-flat seats). Furthermore, whenever I fly into a small town, I'd prefer to be on the biggest local carrier. United has one flight a day into OAX and if there's a mechanical problem their options are limited compared to Aeromexico's.

In years past they've had quite a bit of award seats available (usually netting around 3¢ each after you transfer from Amex) but now their Saver First award calendar is completely empty throughout the winter. (This might also be related to their recent addition of Peak dates for rewards) One way or the other, it looks like we're going to have to buy the tickets this year.

Zero saver award seats in First on any days in Jan/Feb


If you book right now (i.e., July/low season), there's plenty of choices

One other thing that's changed since last year is that Aeromexico has moved to Terminal 4 at JFK from Terminal 1. Their lounge in T1 was quite nice, so I'm not very hopeful for this new one.









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