Monthly Archives: May 2011

Air India May Not Join Star Alliance After All

Air India, which had been invited to join Star Alliance, may have its invitation rescinded after the airline has repeatedly delayed meeting the requirements necessary to join the group. Star has a gaping hole in India, and while it has ample flights to the region from other areas (including several nonstops from the U.S. on Continental), intra-India travel has exploded and Star needs a partner there (Kingfisher, a leading domestic carrier in India, is tied with Oneworld), though Air India only holds about 15% market share on domestic flights.

Air India, however, is a mess, losing $1 billion a year, even as the rest of the industry in India has pulled itself back from the brink a couple of years ago. Plus, they’ve faced repeated pilot strikes causing far too frequent delays and cancellations throughout the system. Worse, they have rather outdated practices, including scheduling their 1,600 by hand using paper and pencil rather than a computer system.

The NY Times has also reported on safety concerns at the airline, noting that pilots will sometimes cover the cockpit windows with newspaper to keep out sunlight; pilots are frequently found smoking in the cockpit; cockpit doors are frequently left unlocked; and captains will leave the cockpit for long stretches of time.

Add to this extreme political pressure from local government representatives to add routes to their little-flown areas, and you end up with an airline that loses money on 95% of its routes. Said one Air India exec: ““I feel like a woman with 1,000 husbands.”

The airline has about 80 items on their integration list still outstanding, and Star has given them until July to complete those.

Virgin America Coupon Code Available: Save 15% Off 1 Flight in June

Virgin America has a promotion going on right now with Banana Republic where they’re giving 15% off on your next Virgin America flight (provided you book by June 3 and fly by June 27). Virgin America coupon codes are unique, so I’ve only got one to pass along to the first person who can use it: 975FD29F — enter it when you check out on their website.

25% Bonus for Converting Membership Rewards Points into Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles

Now through June 30th, get a 25% bonus when you convert American Express Membership Rewards points into Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles.

There are pros and cons here. The pros: Right now, they’re offering roundtrip tickets to London over the summer for just 29,500 miles (ie, convert 24,000 MR points and you’ll get enough points with the 25% bonus for the flight). Also, they have reward availability during the summer, which is helpful.

The cons: They charge absolutely ridiculous fuel surcharges for award redemptions. That reward ticket will cost you $528 in fees, for example. Buying the ticket outright will cost you $1080, so it’s still an OK use of the points — essentially you’re getting a $550 voucher for 24,000 MR points. That’s about double the value of what you typically get for using MR points for a gift card.

In short, is is the best use of MR points? No. But if you’re a Flying Club member already, and you’re sitting on some points, it’s not a bad way to top off the account.

Amazing Deal to Tokyo: Flight and 4 Nights at a Good Hotel, $780 (Taxes Included!)

The Japan National Tourism Organization is offering a fantastic deal on a package to Tokyo: you’ll get flights to Tokyo and 4 nights hotel at select Prince and Excel hotels (solid 4-star properties) for just $780 (taxes included). This is less than airfare would be alone. Select dates are available in June from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu. Book the trip by May 31st.

For those who care, flights are available on ANA, Japan Airlines, and United. United flights earn full miles (frankly, I’m not sure about the others).

Qantas Makes Improvements to Its Frequent Flyer Program (and One Non-Improvement)

Plenty of Americans join Qantas’ frequent flyer program because it provides access to its Oneworld award search tool, the best place to check for near-comprehensive award availability on Oneworld partners. But for those who actually credit miles to the program, they’ve announced a couple of changes that will benefit its members. Those flying in Premium Economy will get their mileage bonus increased from 10% to 25%. Business class flyers will go from 25% to 50% bonus and those in first class will now get a 100% mileage bonus, instead of 50%.

Silver status members will get a bonus of 50%, up from 25%, while Gold members will get a bonus of 75%, up from 50%.

They will also allow you to purchase mileage earning when flying lowfare subsidiary Jetstar.

On the negative side, while Qantas allows you to use points to pay for taxes, fuel surcharges and fees on award tickets (cool, right?), they’re increasing the number of points necessary on intra-Australia and intra-New Zealand tickets by 50%.

Switzerland Refuses to Refuel Iran Air Planes

Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation announced that it will no longer supply fuel for Iran Air’s weekly flights from Tehran to Geneva, joining several European Union countries in refusing to give jet fuel to the airline. The United States has pressured several oil companies to stop providing fuel to Iran’s flag carrier.

Flights from Iran to Europe typically stop in Belgrade or Budapest, where they are able to refuel. In retaliation Iran has stopped refueling western planes in Tehran.

Woman Sues Virgin Australia Because Unborn Child Got Food Poisoning

Renee Cherry, a passenger on a 2009 Virgin Australia flight from Brisbane to Melbourne, is suing the airline after, she claims, her unborn child suffered food poisoning when she ate a tainted chicken roll during the trip. Cherry, who came down with Listeria after eating the meal, claims that her as-then-unborn fetus suffered “anxiety” among other ailments. The baby was born two months later and, she says, has since suffered developmental delays.

Her lawyers say that the event is “every mother’s worst nightmare,” though I’ve never met a mother who has dreamed of eating a bad chicken roll on a Virgin Australia flight.

Half-Off Early-Summer Award Travel to Europe on KLM and Air France

KLM and Air France offer some amazing great half-off deals for reward travel, and right now they’ve got an especially great offer considering how ridiculous airfares are to Europe. For travel through the end of June, you can fly to Europe from Chicago on KLM for 25,000 Flying Blue miles round trip in coach, or 50,000 in business class. Business class is available from Washington to Europe for 50,000 miles round trip.

On Air France, coach tickets are available at 25,000 miles round trip from Houston to Europe in coach, and double that in business class.

Assuming you don’t fly Air France (or credit your Delta flights to Flying Blue), you can transfer 20,000 Starwood points to Flying Blue to get the 25,000 miles necessary for the coach tickets. You can also transfer Membership Rewards points (1:1). It’s a solid deal.

Several Online Travel Agencies Fined for Not Disclosing Codeshare Flights

The Department of Transportation fined several smaller online travel agencies upwards of $50,000 for failing to disclose on their websites that flights they were selling were actually codeshares operated by other airlines. In other words, a flight would be displayed as, for example, United Airlines, but it would be operated by US Airways.

This issue came to a head when a Continental Express flight, operated by Colgan Air, crashed a few years back. Questions arose as to whether codeshare partners (especially “express” partners) were being held to the same safety standards as mainline carriers. The DoT required travel agents to disclose when a flight was being operated by a codeshare partner.

For what it’s worth, the OTAs blame the GDSs for not providing full information about whether a flight was operated by a codeshare partner. This is one reason why I generally recommend sticking with a well-known online travel agency if you feel compelled to book through a 3rd party. I’ve found repeatedly that the smaller OTAs do not provide full fare, tax, fee, and codeshare information until either late in the purchase process (or not at all).

OTAs affected by the ruling include Cheapoair.com and AirGorilla.com. Generally, the DoT drops the fines if the OTAs comply with the regulations for a year.

Do NOT Mess with German Middle Managers Outside an Airport Lounge…

One final note from last week’s trip:

I was approaching the Turkish Airlines lounge at Istanbul’s airport, when I noticed a bit of a brouhaha unfolding at the entrance. I pretended to ignore it and showed my card so I could get in, but I was told the lounge was only open to Business Class passengers and not to Star Alliance Gold cardholders (if you’re not into this kind of detail, they were basically not letting in anyone who wasn’t flying business class, although a bunch of other people, like myself, are usually permitted into the lounge because of reciprocal blah blah blah). I was a bit annoyed because I was too cheap to buy a soda in the terminal, and was looking forward to 4 ounces of Coke Light in the lounge. Damn you, Turkish lounge!

I was preparing to walk away, when I noticed that the brouhaha was basically 2 German middle manager types (if they were not middle managers, they would’ve been flying business class, and they would not have been turned away like so much trash….like I was) becoming increasingly agitated and aggressive toward the poor woman manning the door. They were upset because their status on Lufthansa (usually) provided them access to such lounges, and, despite this one being under construction and, hence, not large enough for everyone, they took out their frustration at not getting a free soda out on this woman.

And man, were they rough. I thought I might be able to glom on to their aggression and weasel my way in, but — and I’ll give the staff member credit here — no matter how much they swore (this is bullshit!) or threatened (give me your name so I can write a letter!) or whined (I’ve never been treated this way before!), she would not let them in.

They asked to speak to a supervisor, who eventually came over, and, again, to her credit, she was even more aggressive with them. The 2 travelers tried to drag a youngish fellow from Korea into this whole thing by saying that he was given a pass to the lounge, and that they DARED not to let him in, even though he had a pass. Then things got confusing, as that guy (who spoke little English) said that he was traveling from Sao Paulo to Toronto to Istanbul (where we were) to Seoul, but I’m not sure that makes any sense. The supervisor cut him off, saying that his pass was only good in Toronto and shame on him for trying to lie his way in (even though it was the original 2 Germans who got him involved in the first place.)

They then asked for HER name so they could write a letter because they’ve never been treated like this before, and Lufthansa would never permit this, and this is bullshit, and this is crap, and why is Turkish Airlines in the Star Alliance if they’re not allowing other Star Alliance members to use the lounge, and give me the name of the President of the Star Alliance, and I’m going to walk in anyway.

That’s when I left.

I’m not sure there’s really – as we said in business school – a key takeaway from this whole thing, other than do not attach your coattails to two German middle managers who cannot get into an airline lounge.

I bought my own soda.