Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Redeem Alaska Airlines Miles On Icelandair Now!

Back in September, Alaska Airlines and Icelandair announced a resumption of their codeshare and frequent flyer partnership, including reciprocal miles-earning (redeemable and elite-qualifying) and lounge access for elite members at their respective hubs. In terms of redeeming miles, both Alaska and Icelandair stated that this functionality would be available by "late 2015". Well, it looks like that day is officially here.

Starting today, Mileage Plan members can redeem miles for Icelandair flights directly on the Alaska Airlines website. The Icelandair partner award chart has also been posted (see below). Upon first glance, mileage costs appear to be quite fair, with round-trip flights between North America and Iceland starting at just 45,000 miles. This, compared to most programs which charge the typical 60,000 miles since Iceland is usually lumped in with Europe.

However, on second glance, you'll notice that Alaska is now charging different amounts based on "Low", "Medium", and "High" availability of economy class awards, which appears to be a first among partner airlines. On the other hand, business class awards still only have one level of pricing. Notice that you can also fly Icelandair between North America and Europe, and that would include a stopover in Iceland for no additional charge. At 55,000 miles round-trip at the "Low" level, that's quite a bargain.

On the flip side, Icelandair has also released their award chart for flights on Alaska Airlines. Bottom line is, it doesn't look great:

Note that Icelandair has a fairly extensive network in North America, with flights to JFK, EWR, IAH, BOS, MCO, ORD, MSP, DEN, SEA, PDX, ANC, YYZ, YVR, YEG, amongst others. Some routes may be seasonal, so be sure to check the appropriate dates.

I did some preliminary searches using Alaska's website, and "Low" availability doesn't look great, especially during the peak summer months. I do see more availability after Labor Day weekend in September, however. Another strange thing I noticed was that often times, direct flights to/from Iceland were pricing out at the "Medium" or "High" levels, but pick a flight with inconvenient layovers and additional segments on Alaska, and the price sometimes drops to the "Low" level - even if the same direct flight to/from Iceland is included in the itinerary.

For example, I saw SEA-KEF flights pricing out at 30,000 miles. However, SFO-KEF flight that included the SEA-KEF segment (and also had very inconvenient layovers) were pricing out at 22,500 miles. Play around and you might find some good deals.

Lastly, Alaska appears to be tacking on fuel surcharges both ways. Unlike Delta, which only includes fuel surcharges on flights originating from Europe, Alaska is charging ~$130 outbound to Europe and ~$170 inbound to North America. Total taxes and fees will amount to more than $300! It might be worthwhile to wait and book on WOW air as they continue to expand their North America route network next year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

10 Absolutely Insane Ways To Blow One Million Starpoints

Are these absolutely insane ways to blow one million Starwood Preferred Guest points? You bet. But oh what I wouldn't give to have the opportunity ;)

W Maldives Retreat & Spa

What would you do if you had a million Starwood Preferred Guest points to blow?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Australia September 2013 - Qantas Airways 1940 Economy Class (AYQ → ASP)

***This post is part 19 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

Originally, I had planned on flying directly from Ayers Rock to Perth, bypassing Alice Springs completely. However, in late 2012, Qantas cancelled their non-stop AYQ-PER service, and I was forced to detour through ASP. Complicating matters more, the flight schedules made it impossible not to overnight in Alice Springs. While this wasn't an ideal itinerary, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to see an isolated part of Australia I'd otherwise have skipped.

It was a hectic morning driving all the way out to Kata-Tjuta for the sunrise and back, but I actually made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I returned my Hertz rental inside the terminal and paid for the additional kilometers driven. While I expected this to be a pricey rental given the remote tourist destination, I was still a bit astounded to pay over $120 USD for a 24-hour economy car rental. To say Ayers Rock is an expensive place to visit is a gross understatement.

Ayers Rock Airport check-in area

A short lined had already formed for the QantasLink check-in counters, but the wait was quick enough. After my large backpack was tagged to Alice Springs, the agent printed out my boarding pass and directed me to the security checkpoint towards the left of the counters.

QantasLink counters

Security was an effortless affair, as it always is in these tiny, far-flung locations around the world, and I was airside within minutes. There wasn't much to see or do in the two-room departures hall, and I swiftly exhausted the few options I had, including perusing the surprisingly extensive gift shop and checking out the only dining option at the airport.

Departure gates and gift shop

Quick service dining option

Gate 1

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Flying The City-To-City Business Routes Of East Asia

Anyone who has lived in East Asia or traveled there for work knows of the city-to-city business routes between the major metropolitan areas of Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul. For those planning a visit for the first time, however, it is worth emphasizing just how much more convenient these secondary airports are when compared to their more famous counterparts.

City-to-city business routes in East Asia

City airports almost always started off as the main international gateways to the urban centers they serve. In Asia, these smaller airports were often old military airfields converted into civilian use after World War II. As the economic boom of the 1960s through the 1990s fueled unprecedented growth in the region, major East Asian cities began constructing larger, more modern international airports capable of handling the massive increase in passenger traffic.

Trouble was, space came at a premium closer to town, so most new airports were built on plentiful land far outside of the urban areas, where future expansion was also possible. In a strange twist of fate, however, as business connections grew over time between these interdependent economies, more and more commuters found the newer airports to be far too inconvenient.

Time is money, of course, and if an executive needs to fly from Seoul to Taipei for a half day meeting, the last thing she needs is to spend an hour or more in traffic each way commuting from the airport to the downtown office. If that same executive flew from and to the city airports of Gimpo and Songshan, however, a potential two hours or more could be shaved off the travel time.

In the table below, I have compiled a comparison of the distances between each airport and the corresponding city centers. I've also included approximate driving times as calculated by Google Maps, assuming there is no traffic. Note that many of these airports also have metro connections, which can be faster than driving, depending on the time of day.

Distance and driving time comparisons

The distance and time savings can be considerable. Consider Taipei Songshan, for example. The airport is actually located within downtown Taipei, and reaching central destinations takes only a matter of minutes. Similarly, Tokyo Haneda is infinitely more convenient for those heading into downtown Tokyo compared to Narita, which is located more than 35 miles outside of the city.

While these routes make life a lot easier for business travelers, they can also help the casual visitor heading to East Asia for vacation. Of course, if you plan on solely transiting through one of these major cities, it makes sense to use the same airport (anyone rushing between Tokyo Narita and Haneda can attest to just how painful it can be). However, if you plan on actually stopping over in two or more of these destinations, consider searching for the city-to-city routes when planning your itinerary. It could potentially save you several hours of travel time and a bit of money.

Award availability is quite plentiful on these routes, as fewer travelers worldwide know about them. Out of all the possible routings between these four cities, the busiest by far continues to be between Tokyo Haneda and Seoul Gimpo. A quick search on the United website revealed six daily non-stop flights operated by ANA and Asiana, with tons of seats available in both economy and business:

HND → GMP award availability

Oddly enough, United no longer recognizes Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA) in its search tool, so I headed over to the ANA website instead and investigated award availability further. A search for the Taipei Songshan to Seoul Gimpo, Shanghai Hongqiao to Taipei Songshan, and Shanghai Hongqiao to Tokyo Haneda routes revealed decent availability in both economy and business:

TSA → GMP award availability

SHA → TSA award availability

SHA → HND award availability

Over on the Oneworld side, a search using the British Airways website revealed decent award availability (at least in economy) on Japan Airlines between Tokyo Haneda and Taipei Songshan. Don't forget that using distance-based Avios on short flights such as these can be a great value. Be aware that British Airways does collect mild fuel surcharges for Japan Airlines award tickets.

HND → TSA award availability

There are many SkyTeam airlines that fly the city-to-city routes as well, including China Southern, China Eastern, China Airlines, and Korean Air. It can be difficult to search for SkyTeam awards, however, and your best free option is probably the Air France Flying Blue website, although I have found the award search tool to be clunky and quite buggy. Alternatively, the subscription service ExpertFlyer displays award availability for all of the airlines listed above. If all else fails, those who are curiously masochistic still have the option of calling Delta SkyMiles.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Testing The New Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner's Limit

Captain Randall Neville, chief model pilot for the 787 program, along with Captain Mike Bryan, chief pilot for the 787-9 variant, pushed the limits of the new aircraft on Monday at the Farnborough International Airshow outside of London. Watch as the Boeing 787-9 completes some spectacular maneuvers during a six and a half minute demonstration flight:

While definitely not as insane as the barrel roll test pilot Tex Johnson pulled off in a Boeing 707 prototype way back in 1955, I think most people would probably be losing their lunch after that incredibly steep takeoff. The aircraft was pitched just shy of 30 degrees, although it looks a lot steeper from certain angles. In addition to the remarkable takeoff, the pilots also conducted a 60-degree banked turn, a very fast side-to-side roll, and a beautiful touch and go takeoff, banking sharply to the right in the process.

Just last week, Boeing delivered the very first 787-9 to launch customer Air New Zealand. This plane is a stretched version of the original 787-8, with an extra 20 feet in length. It is capable of carrying 280 passengers (40 more than the 787-8) while extending the range by an extra 300 miles. And just in case you have any doubt regarding the authenticity of the above video, here is the same flight in full from a different view: