I recently got a chance to fly on the Airbus 380. It was on a Lufthansa operated flight from Johannesburg to Frankfurt (JNB-FRA). Flying the Boeing 787 is next on my list, and has been there for a long time. I missed a chance last year to fly one from London to Newark (LHR-EWR), as the timing did not work. As I primarily fly United, I have been looking at United’s 787 routes to make sure I do not miss out on an opportunity to fly one if I happen to be flying one of those routes.

Unfortunately for me, United does not fly any 787s out of my home hub – Washington Dulles (IAD) or from my nearby hubs – Newark (EWR) and Chicago (ORD). As the 787 is designed for ‘long thin routes’, it is being primarily used on such for routes out of Houston (IAH), Denver (DEN), San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX). There too on low traffic (thin) routes, or routes that have other flights also, operated with larger aircraft. Interestingly, the Los Angeles – Melbourne (LAX-MEL) route is the longest 787-9 series route operated by any airline.map.gif

Attached is a picture showing all the International routes operated by United with a 787. These include mostly 787-8, with LAX-MEL and LAX-PVG (Shanghai) operated by the longer 787-9 planes. United is taking delivery of more 787-9s, so I expect some of these routes to get replaced with those, and new routes added. (Picture created using gcmap.com).

Hope to fly one of these soon and report on this blog.

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I fly a lot of international flights in coach. My employer only buys me coach tickets. I upgrade a lot of my long haul flights using upgrade instruments (GPUs for United). 201503221528.jpgBut GPUs are limited, so I use them only on really long haul flights (10+ hours) or on overnight flights for shorter ones. For International flights that are daytime flights and are shorter than 10 hours, I end up riding in coach.

Most people love flying 777s. They are larger and newer, especially for United. I however prefer flying United’s 767s. While they are mostly older, they have much better seat config in coach than 777s. United’s 777s have 3-3-3 seating in coach, where as the 767s have 2-3-2 seating. As someone who prefers sitting in a window seat, the 2 seat config is obviously much better than the 3 seat config. Getting in a out is easier. It feels less congested. And if you are on a flight that is not congested, you may actually get no one sitting next to you. Last but not the least, even in a full flight, there are many, many fewer middle row seats for one to get stuck in.

In Business class too, the 767s are much better. They have no middle seats at all, with a 2-1-2! 201503221535.jpgI have not flown in single middle section seats, but they look like First Class seats to me! United’s 777s have a 2-4-2 config, with no aisle access for most of the seats. (Ranting on that issue in another post).

What are your preferences? When in coach, are you a window or aisle person? Do you have a preference between 777s or 767s? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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United-787-Dreamliner.jpgAs you all probably know by now, United has switched to a revenue based earning model for miles as of March 1st. This change only impacts how redeemable miles (RDM) are earned. It does not impact how Elite Qualification miles (EQM) are earned. EQM (or PQM as United calls it) earning remains the same as last year and is based on miles flown, with fare and class of service kickers. This change does also apply to partner flights, if the ticket was sold by United, and does not apply if the ticket was sold by the partner airline. You would then still earn RDM based on distance. See details and fine print here.

Redeemable miles are what one redeems for awards – travel awards or upgrade awards. Elite Qualification miles are what one earns towards Elite status, and cannot be redeemed. This is hence a very important distinction to understand. Based on what your mileage goals are, how you earn RDM vs EQM really matters.

Show me the money, and status!

The new revenue based model for United is based on two factors – the dollar amount spent on the ticket, and your status (determined by EQM earned the prior year). Here is an easy explanation:

Every flight earns 5x RDM per dollar spent on the ticket (before fees and taxes)

If you are en Elite on United, you earn additional bonus miles per dollar based on your Elite level.

  • Premier Silver – Additional 2x miles per dollar
  • Premier Gold – Additional 3x
  • Premier Platinum – Additional 4x
  • Premier 1K and Global Services (GS) – Additional 6x

So, for example if you spend a $1,000 on a ticket (using round numbers), before fees and taxes, you will earn:

  • No Status: 5,000 miles
  • Silver: 7,000 miles
  • Gold: 8,000 miles
  • Platinum: 9,000 miles
  • 1k or GS: 11,000 miles

On United’s website, one can see the the dollar amount United will use to determine miles earned under the Premier Qualifying Dollar (PQD) column on your MileagePlus statement page. United introduced this data last year when they introduced a minimum revenue requirement for Elite qualification.

Good, Bad or Ugly?

From the airlines perspective, this earning model makes perfect sense. They pay out more miles if you spend more. They dish out even more miles if you are an Elite. In the older model, the miles payed out were independent of how much revenue the airline collected, which obviously can create issues. I have a personal example to elaborate on this point. Last year I flew from Washington DC to Las Vegas (IAD-LAS) and back. Due to scheduling issues I booked the two and fro trips as separate one-way trips. The pricing for each was drastically different. For the outbound, I payed $680 (PQD), while for the return I payed $283 (PQD) only! As this was before United switched to the new model, I earned the same miles on both segments – 4,130 miles. This was determined by the base miles (2,065) and the additional 100% elite bonus I earned being a 1k. From the airlines perspective, this seems unreasonable – they paid out the same # of miles despite collecting less than half the revenue on the return leg.

Under the new model, I would have earned 7,480 on the outbound segment ($680 x 11, as a United 1k Elite) and 3,113 on the return ($283 x 11). For the airline, this seems more logical – pay out more miles for more revenue collected. From my perspective, total miles earned would have beeen 10,593, as opposed to 8,260. So, I would have earned more too for paying out extra.

However, this would have really hurt me if both segments of my journey had been on the cheaper ticket, I would have earned 6,226 miles ($283 x 11 x2), much lower than what I actually earned last year. But, I would have also payed much (~$400) less.

In my opinion, this works out great for frequent (read business) travelers who are not always looking for the cheapest ticket, and not as much for leisure travelers who are looking for deals. Expensive tickets, coupled with Elite status, will work out better.

In the long run, I think all airlines are going to switch to this approach of paying out miles (Delta already has). Hotels have been doing this for the longest times. It makes more sense. As a traveler, it rewards me for how much I shell out for my travel. My fear is that over the long run airlines will also switch to a revenue based rewards too. Delta is already on that path with their ‘non-published’ rewards chart.

Your thoughts – good, bad or ugly? Leave a comment…

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Every time I head over to Asia, especially India or Southeast Asia, I am always pleasantly surprised by the awesomeness of the hotels there. And of their relatively low prices for the product they provided. After spending most of my traveling nights in hotels in North America and Europe, it is pleasant to see a hotel that is beautiful, not exorbitant, has excellent service, great food and really understands ‘hospitality’. The everyday Marriotts, Starwoods and Hiltons in the West rarely provide any of these.IMG_2731.jpg

A hotel I stayed in recently was the ITC Gardenia in Bangalore. It is pretty much in the heart of the city, right by some great restaurants and not far from most IT workplaces. I knew I was in for a treat when I read the reviews and learnt that the IPL Cricket teams stay there. These teams have more money than most Major League sports team in the US and can stay where they want. I was not disappointed.

Like most hotels in Bangalore, this is not a massive hotel and is a patch of zen in a bustling, congested, noisy city. The first thing that hits you about the hotel is its open lobby – no walls – open air. Only other place I have seen this is in Hawaii. The name Gardenia comes thru with the greenery and gardens you see all around the lobby. There is even an open air restaurant right in the middle of one of the gardens. It has grass growing even on its roof! And yes, it has live music during Happy Hour in the evening. There are Indian Style massive swings which a whole family can sit on in the lobby too. No need to sit on a lumpy sofa while waiting.IMG_2735.jpg

I did not get a chance to get to it, but as you can see from the pictures, the hotel has a beautiful pool on the roof of one of its towers.

The hospitality was exceptional – you get greeted by the staff as soon as you enter and receive a traditional Kannada welcome with scarves put around your neck. Like most Asian hotels, the desk staff person who checks you in also escorts you to your room and explains to you the hotels features. The service was truly unbelievable. If you ever wandered thru the lobby looking like you were unsure of anything, you had multiple people step up and offer to help. There is a transportation desk in the lobby – you can use the hotels cars or have them get you a regular taxi. If you are not a Bangalore native, I would suggest getting their car to and fro the airport for sure.

The food – breakfast is a feast, with western and Indian selections that would take a week to sample! Made to order omelettes, dosas and parathas. Lunch was off the books for me every day. In a hurry, no sweat, just let them know ahead of time and they will pack you a box full of enough food to last till dinner. My hotel rate included the breakfast for free! YMMV.

IMG_2733.jpgAnd yes talking of food, right across the street (which you need to be EXTREMELY cautious trying to cross) is an authentic gem of Bangalore – the xxxxx. It has some of the most authentic and classic South Indian food on the planet. The decor, furniture (and even some of the staff) appears to have not changed since the British era it seems, but neither has the taste of the food.

For my fellow Hotel Points junkies, ITC has a partnership with Starwood. So, your Starwood SPG points are good here – for earning and redeeming. You can in fact book this right of the SPG website. If you book elsewhere, be sure you switch from the default ITC loyalty program to SPG to get your points.

I know where I will be staying next time I am in Bangalore.

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IMG_2640.jpgDC has a new hotel. It is the Marriott Marquis in Downtown DC. It opened last year and is a gem in a city with several good, but mostly aging hotels. The first thing that hits you about this hotel is the openness. The vast sky high lobby with its exquisite layout is a breath of fresh air. The architecture is modern, and the hotel ‘feels’ fresh and upbeat.

The rooms were great – I got one with a lobby view, which was not bad at all (see picture). The hotel has a great ‘M Lounge’ which provides an awesome view of DC from its balcony. Breakfast in the lounge was excellent with ample selections!

Like any downtown hotel, parking is expensive. The good news was that over the weekend (while I was there), there was ample free street parking just a block from the hotel. I am sure this is not true on the weekdays. I know the meters are not free on weekdays for sure.

All in all, I loved the hotel and would choose to stay there over any other hotel in DC that I have checked out.  IMG_2641.jpg IMG_2642.jpg IMG_2636.jpg IMG_2637.jpg IMG_2638.jpg

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I took my first flight on an Airbus A380 a few weeks ago. It was a Lufthansa operated flight – and a long one – from Johannesburg (JNB) to Frankfurt (FRA). The flight was 5,380 miles long and pretty much goes across the length of the entire continent of Africa, over the Mediterranean and then on to Germany.

Now, on to the A380. Yes, it is massive. You can see pictures of the plane below. One of the first things you realize when you get in is the sheer sense of size. Even in Economy, where I was, which is the lower deck, the ceilings seem higher and the cabin just seems bigger than any I have been in. The larger windows add to the feeling of size. A point to note on that – while the windows are larger, they are only larger on the inside. The actual glass portal on the ours of the plane did not appear to be much larger than regular planes (see picture below).

The flight I was on was full – a flight attendant said that there were less than 20 seats open in Economy. That is a lot given the Lufthansa A380 has 420 economy seats in this configuration (with no premium economy). Seatmaps can be found here.

The flight itself was extremely comfortable. There was hardly any engine noise. There was significant turbulence, which I am told is not unusual for this route, going over the Equator, several mountain ranges, and an ocean.

Looking forward to flying a 787 and a A350 soon.

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Every once in a while one gets lucky – an upgrade to a suite in a hotel. I was staying for one night at the Westchester Marriott in Westchester County, NY. It was an uneventful stay and a nondescript Marriott, in a non-so-exciting location. I showed up really late and was in for a surprise – as a Gold Elite they upgraded me to the Presidential Suite.

I wish it had happened on a longer duration stay, and when I was on a vacation with my family rather than by myself, for one night, for work, but that was the case.

The room was extremely nice. With a dining room, kitchen, living room and a bedroom. There was a swivel TV between the sitting area and the bedroom (see pictures). I wish it was amore exciting hotel with nicer amenities… Pictures of the room are attached.

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Related Posts (Hotel Reviews):

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VA789.jpgThe new ’stretch’ version of Boeing’s 787 ‘Dreamliner’ (787-9) are now being put into service. I happened to see my first 787-9 at Dulles airport (IAD) last week, operated by Virgin Atlantic. Virgin replaced it’s aging A340 that it used to fly to to Washington Dulles from London Heathrow (LHR). The schedule of operations is:

VS21 DEPART LHR 11:25 ARRIVE IAD 15:00

VS22 DEPART IAD 19:15 ARRIVE LHR 07:35+1 -

You can tell in the picture that it is a 787 by looking at the wingtips and the ‘waffle’ pattern on the jets.

This is an interesting development as British Airways just started flying a A380 to Dulles from Heathrow – a new plane battle in play? BA’s A380 was conveniently parked just a few gates away from Virgin’s 787-9. You can tell in the picture that it is an A380 by the double rows of windows across the entire plane.

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The longest 787-9 route:

United has launched the longest route for it’s 1st 787-9s, flying them from Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL). At 7,921 miles, it is a long one. LAX-MEL actually is a perfect fit for what is called a ‘long-thin route’ – long route with low volume.

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Great article on Bloomberg this morning. US based airlines – mainly the large ones with huge international networks – United, Delta and American, have been in Washington, DC asking for help in competing against Gulf based carriers. The Gulf based carriers – Emirates, Qatar and Etihad are making big inroads into the US market and taking marketshare from the US based countries. These inroads are mainly due to ‘Open Skies’ agreements that allow carriers from other countries to have access to multiple city in each others markets. This has resulted in the Gulf based airlines flying into multiple markets across the US. Given their better service, people are choosing the Gulf based airlines over the US based airline (who wouldn’t? especially if you are NOT an Elite on a US based airline).

I agree with the author that asking for Congress to reduce ‘open market’ competition is not the way the US based airlines should go. They have equal access to other markets. You compete by offering a better product, at a fair price. That’s free market capitalism. Your thoughts? Share below by leaving a comment.

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As I discussed in my last blog post, if you book a full-fare or flexible-fare economy ticket that is booked as a Y or a B fare, you will earn 150% of the miles flown on the trip. This is not a reason to buy these tickets as they can cost several times the cost of a regular ticket, but if you do get booked into this fare class, it is good to know if you will or will not earn the 150% miles. It is not a given, as I will come to shortly. If you need a flexible ticket due to fluid plans or you like me, book last minute travel or one-way tickets, you may get booked into these fares.

Other than Y/B, if one purchases full-fare Business Class or First Class fares, there is the 150% mileage bonuses for that too. These bonuses can be up to 200% for Award miles (RDM), but remain 150% for Elite miles. Conversely, if you purchase discounted Business or First tickets, you may not earn any bonus Elite miles. These fares are actually sometimes cheaper than Y/B fares, so it makes sense.United-747-at-HKG.jpg

In this blog post, I will list out which airline partners award the 150% miles on full fare Economy, Business and First fares when earning miles on United MileagePlus program. I only researched this program as this is my primary mileage program. Furthermore, I only looked at United’s Star Alliance Partners. United has several other partners outside Star Alliance, like India’s Jet Airways, but they do not award Elite miles to United flyers, so I ignored them for now.

I personally found this data useful. I recently flew Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to London (IST – LHR) on my way back to the US. it was a B-fare, but I earned no bonus, as Turkish does not award it. If I had known this fact, I may have explored flying on Lufthansa instead and return to the US via Frankfurt instead of via London, as Lufthansa does offer 150% EQM.

On a side note, I was surprised actually to find out how many airlines do not have a First class product. Just Economy and Business class. United does so too on some of its international flights that are only 2-class: Economy and BusinessFirst.

Here is the list. The format of this is such:

<Airline Name> – <150% on Y/B fares in Economy>, <150% on full-fare in Business Class>, <150% on full-fare in First Class>

Highlighted airlines (in bold) offer 150% EQM on Y/B economy fares.

  • United – Yes, Yes, Yes (of course)

[To decode – United awards 150% EQM on full fare Economy, Business and First fares]

  • Adria – No, No (No F)
  • Aegean – No, No (No F)
  • Air Canada – Yes, Yes, Yes
  • Air China – No, No, No
  • Air India – No, Yes, Yes
  • Air New Zealand – No, No (No F)
  • ANA – Yes, Yes, Yes
  • Asiana Airlines – No, No, No
  • Austrian – Yes, No/Yes, Yes (Some Business fares earn 150% EQM, and some do not)
  • Avianca – No, No, (No, F)
  • Brussels Airlines – Yes, Yes, (No F)
  • Copa Airlines – Yes (125%), Yes (150%, 175%), (No F) (Full fare Economy only earns 125%, and Some Business fares earn 150% EQM, and some earn 175%)
  • Croatia Airlines – No, No, (No F)
  • Egyptair – No, No, No
  • Ethiopian Airlines – No, No, (No F)
  • Eva Air – No, No, (No F)
  • LOT Polish Airlines – No, No, (No F)
  • Lufthansa – Yes, No, Yes, No, Yes, Yes (multiple yes/no combinations here. Lufthansa has a Premium Economy class on some aircraft. This earns the 150% miles for some fares. Same is true for Business class).
  • SAS – Yes, Yes, (No F)
  • Shenzhen Airlines – No, No, No
  • Singapore Airlines – No, No, No, No
  • South African Airlines – No, No, (No F)
  • Swiss – Yes, Yes, Yes
  • TAP Portugal – No, No, (No F)
  • THAI – No, No, No
  • Turkish Airlines – No, No (No F)

Read More:

Earning more miles than you actually fly – the how and why?

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When I looked at the miles I have earned over the years, I have found a consistent trend – my earned Award miles (RQM) and Elite miles (EQM) are always are greater than the actual miles flown (BIS – Butt-in-Seat Miles). This is not unique to me, you will see this in your accounts too. There are four reasons this happens:

  1. Elite Status
  2. Minimum miles per segment
  3. Class of travel bonus
  4. Fare bonus

Elite Status:

As an Elite you will earn extra Award miles (RDM) on every flight. This can be up to 100% of the miles flown. For example, on United, Silver Elites get 25% bonus miles, Golds get 50%, Platinums 75% and 1k’s get 100% mileage bonus. So, as a 1k (100,000 EQM or more in a year) you get 2 miles for every 1 mile flown on United’s MileagePlus program. Note – these are only Award miles. There are no bonus Elite miles awarded for being an Elite.IMG_1227.jpg

Minimum miles per segment:

This happens when an airline awards you a minimum # of miles for each short segment flown, irrespective of the actual length of the short segment. For United, for example, this is 500 miles per segment, for any segment that is shorter than 500 miles. For segments longer than 500, of course, you earn the actual miles flown. It is important to note that most airlines, like United, only offer this minimum miles per segment only to their Elites. Even the lowest level of Elites (Silver on United) earn this bonus. If you fly a lot of short sub-500 mile segments, this adds up fast. One year I flew from Washington DC to Charlotte, NC (DCA – CLT) 16 times (8 round trips). The actual miles are only 331 miles. Earning 500 per segment gave me an extra 2,704 miles (both RDM and EQM) that year!

Class of travel Bonus:

As my employer is too cheap to pay for it, I very rarely fly on paid upper class – Business or First, so I very rarely earn this. However, if you do fly on paid Business or First, you get significant bonus miles for the class of travel. This can be up to 200% in First Class. I will discuss this in more detail in a later blog post.

Fare Bonus:

This way of earning extra occurs for me often. I travel for business with lots of one-way, multi-city and last minute bookings. These often get booked into full-fare or flexible-fare economy tickets. These are referred to as Y/B fares by airlines, as those are the two fare buckets they get booked into. Most airlines will give you 150% RDM and EQM for Y/B fares. This can add up fast too, especially on International flights! A fe moths ago I flew back to Washington DC from Johannesburg, South Africa, flying JNB-FRA on Lufthansa (my first A380 flight. yay!) and FRA-IAD on United. All on economy B fare tickets. And I actually flew in economy as my upgrades did not clear on either segment (my butt and back still hurt even thinking of it). The actual miles on the flights are:

JNB – FRA: 5,380

FRA – IAD: 4,081

The Elite miles (EQM) I actually earned because of the 150% fare bonus were:

JNB – FRA: 8,070

FRA – IAD: 6,121

Thats 4,730 extra Elite miles!!

(As a 1K Elite, I get double miles for every mile flown, so the final RQM miles were even more).

It is important to note that buying a Y/B fare ticket does not guarantee 150% mile bonus. They do not always work with partner flights. For example, when earning on United, more than half of its Star Alliance partners do NOT give the 150% miles. In my next blog post, I will go into details of which do and which do not.

Are Y/B fares worth it for the miles?:

NO! Do not buy Y/B fares just for the extra miles, especially with your own money. These fares are exorbitant. If you need the miles, you are better off looking for a low fare ticket that earns you regular miles and taking the extra flight just for the miles (mileage run) rather than pay what will typically be several times more to up-fare a flight you are taking to Y/B fares to get 50% more miles.

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