Last Chance To Book United Stopovers Under Current Rules

Just a reminder if you have an itinerary that won’t be allowed under the new “Excursionist Perks” rules you need to get them booked within the next couple of days.  A few examples of flights you won’t be able to book as of 6 Oct.

SYD – BKK (stopover) – Europe – BKK – SYD because it has a stopover in a different region

JNB – LUN – ADD – NBO because it’s all in one region

I have more details here.

 

The Impact Of United’s Stop-over “Enhancement”

If you’ve been in The Hobby for awhile, you know that “enhancements” are never good news.  So it was with great dread that I perused United’s new stop-over routing rules which come into effect on 6 Oct 2016.  They claim that they are simplifying the booking process and giving a new benefit called an “Excursionist Perk”.  (I’d like to know how they came up with that term – maybe an office pool with the winner getting a couple movie passes?)

They have step by step instructions on how to use the new booking interface on their website so I won’t copy it here.  What I will do is show you how it impacts people like me who were maximizing the previous stop-over rules that allowed 2 open jaws and two stopovers in any region.  This is the example of what will be allowed moving forward.

The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries. Members who book an itinerary with three or more one-way awards will be eligible to receive one of those one-way awards for free, if it meets all of these conditions:

  • The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)
  • Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
  • The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.
  • The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
  • If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.

UA excperk

MY REAL-LIFE EXAMPLES

#1:  In 2014 I booked an United award as follows:

Brisbane-Taipei-Beijing-Johannesburg

Accra-Addis Ababa-Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro-Addis Ababa-Bangkok-Brisbane

This is a round-trip with an open jaw at destination and a stop-over at Kilimanjaro on the return.  Although open jaws are not specifically addressed, this is probably still allowed as I departed and returned to the same zone and my stop-over is in the same zone as the destination.

#2:  In 2014 I booked this itinerary and flew it in 2015:

Brisbane-Bangkok-Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai-Bangkok (23 hour layover)-Koh Samui

Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok-Shanghai-Auckland-Rarotonga

This itinerary wouldn’t be allowed under the new rules.  I departed from Australia and returned to Rarotonga which is in Oceania – 2 different zones.  The stop-over would have been fine as it is in South-east Asia, same as the destination.

#3:  In 2016 I booked this itinerary and will fly it next year:

Entebbe-Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa-Lusaka

Lusaka-Johannesburg-Windhoek

It’s a good thing I have it already booked because it wouldn’t be allowed under the new rules.  The whole itinerary is in Africa (same zone) so no “Excursionist Perk” allowed!

#4:  I haven’t booked this but it is a common itinerary for Aussies:

Sydney-Bangkok

Bangkok-(anywhere in Europe)

Europe-Sydney (or anywhere in Australia or NZ)

This will not be allowed as the Excursionist Perk is taking place in South-east Asia zone and the destination is in another zone-Europe.

Two out of my three actual trips would have cost a lot more miles if I hadn’t already booked them.  The lesson here is – if you have any travel which depends on the current routing rules, book it before 6 October!

American AAdvantage Devaluation Approaching

We are just a few weeks away from the dreaded American AAdvantage devaluation which will happen on 22 March.  If you have any travel plans that are substantially cheaper using the old chart valid until 21 March, best to book now to avoid the last minute rush.  American loads awards 330 days in advance so the last potential date of travel is around 22 February depending on when the partner makes inventory available.  I’ve covered the worst parts of this devaluation already and Australians really copped it bad!

OLD CHART UNTIL 21 MARCH

AA old chart

NEW CHART ON/AFTER 22 MARCH

AA 2016 chart

Thankfully our travel has long been booked for this year but our 2017 trip is out of range for the old chart so we will be stuck with the devalued awards on the one route we will be using AAdvantage on.

AA Offers Buy Miles Promo – Good For Pre-Devaluation Bookings

While I am normally not a fan of buying miles (kind of defeats the purpose of free travel from everyday activities), in this case you may want to top up your account to book an award before the 22 March devaluation.

Here’s the offer, be sure to read the T&Cs.  It’s probably the best price you will get and may be worth it if your desired award will be increasing quite a bit and you don’t have time to get the miles any other way.

AA buy promo

Old chart which expires 22 March 2016

AA old chart

Horrendous new chart

AA 2016 chart

Australians Suffer Double Whammy With New American Airlines Devaluations

Right on the heels of the prospective Marriott-Starwood merger that will probably see the end of Aussies’ only transfer route to American Airlines, AA (one of my Top 8 recommended programs) has now advised their new award chart which affects awards booked on/after 22 March 2016 – and it ain’t pretty!

In a nutshell:  Not only will American Airlines miles be harder to get,  the ones you already have are being devalued!

I am going to focus on the award redeeming area since this blog doesn’t cater to business travelers and anyone who is concerned with earning status or crediting miles from paid tickets.  You can read all the details of the new program here.  My target audience is the average Joe/Jane who wants a free trip to someplace that has amazing birding and wants to get miles from their everyday spending on credit cards and sign-up bonuses.

This is the old chart which is in effect until 21 March 2016. I have highlighted the most popular long-haul redemptions for Aussie eco-tourists:  Central/South America & Africa.  I am leaving Asia out of the equation since there are easier options with low-cost carriers such as Air Asia.

AA old chartHere’s the new chart effective for flights booked on or after 22 March 2016.

AA 2016 chartAs you can see there is a modest increase on the Central/South America reg 1 in economy, somewhat worse increases on South America reg 2 and Africa in economy and huge 35-40% increases in business class to everywhere!  First class is even worse, though I have never really considered first as an option as long as I can get some sleep in a lie-flat business class seat.  Business class to Central/South America on the Qantas & Lan trans-Pacific flights are a moot point as they are rarer than hens’ teeth!

ONE SILVER LINING

Awards within the South Pacific region – mostly on Qantas and Fiji Airways are going down from 20,000 to 15,000 in economy so that can be good if you are looking at Fiji, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu & New Caledonia.  Australia – New Zealand is going up from 10,000 to 15,000.

ONLY AN OPTION UNTIL LATE 2016

If all your American Airline miles come from your Amex Membership Rewards points via SPG, I expect that option will end in late 2016 after Marriott acquires SPG.  It is widely expected that the Marriott Rewards program will swallow the SPG program.

MY ADVICE

If you are an Aussie who wants to go to Africa or Central/South America before early Feb 2017 you should transfer your Amex to SPG and on to AA before the new charts take effect.  Before you move your Amex points, check that the availability is there as you won’t be able to move them back to Amex.

Just Returned From Thailand & Malaysia, Recap Of Miles & Points News While We Were Gone, 1000 Free AA Miles

Over the last month it may have looked like business as usual at MTTW because I scheduled a pre-written post to appear each day.  But we spent most of April in Thailand and Malaysia for a relaxed birding trip with plenty of R&R time in Chiang Mai and Koh Samui while maximising a United Airlines award between Australia and South-East Asia.  Then we went to see my husband’s friends & family in the Cook Islands (which also have great birding on some of the islands like Aitutaki & Atiu).

I’ll start blogging about this trip as soon as my series on Africa is finished.  This will be our only overseas trip this year as we have some much needed home renovations to take care of but we will do a short road trip for birding in Outback Queensland later this year.  And there’s no rest for the wicked as I need to get flights for the very extensive trip to Ecuador, Colombia, Caribbean and USA in 2016 booked before AA devalues their program so the race is on!

MILES AND POINTS NEWS FROM APRIL 2015

There have been huge changes that happened in the miles and points world while we were gone.

The Club Carlson Visa devalued by losing the last night free benefit.  You have until 1 June to book an award night that gets the 2nd night free.  This was somewhat expected as the bonus was unsustainable but disappointing still.   I had used this quite a bit in places like Panama, Tahiti, Port Elizabeth, Israel & France.  I also discovered that my planned redemption for next year is no longer available since the San Juan Radisson closed down so I need to figure out what to do with my remaining Club Carlson points.  They just don’t seem to have properties where we plan to travel!  I just paid my annual fee on this card but called in to complain and got 7500 points compensation.  But next year I’ll be saying Adios to Club Carlson and this card.

Chase Ink lost the Lounge Club benefit.  This is not a deal breaker because of the 5x feature on office supply stores, internet, phones, etc but disappointing as we did use these lounges in BKK and PVG to get free internet and snacks in airports we otherwise didn’t have access to lounges as we flew economy this trip.  Our Lounge Club memberships expire end of July and they won’t extend them to end April 2016 so we can use them next year.  Best I can do is reapply and hope they give us new cards but it’s a punt at best.  30 April 2015 is the last date to apply.

British Airways Avios devalued which doesn’t really affect most of us as the best use of Avios – short haul economy redemptions is still the same.

Southwest Airlines devalued in some markets.  This airline was previously just a domestic US carrier so of limited interest to eco-tourists but they are expanding to the Caribbean and Central America.  Since they fly to SJU they are on my radar for the trip next year.  My dummy runs shows scarce availability for award tickets using AA or UA miles between SJU and the mainland USA so I need to have alternatives in mind.

And just to end things on a positive note – AA is giving 1000 free miles just for watching some videos about the program and answering some easy questions.  Experienced miles & pointers will already know the answers and can scroll ahead through the video.  Newbies should watch the videos, it only takes 10 minutes and does give a nice synopsis of the program.

Avios Devaluation Won’t Affect Most Eco-tourists

I must admit to a bit of a panic when I woke up to a Feedly full of blog titles decrying the Avios devaluation.  I also got an email from Executive Club with the same information.  To make a long story short, it shouldn’t worry most eco-tourists.  The best use of Avios – short-haul economy class has been thankfully left alone.  The price has gone up on routes which are popular with many mainstream travelers, especially in business and first class.

Here is the old chart.

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And the new chart.

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They have introduced off-peak levels on British Airways flights.  This would have gotten me a good discount on the short-haul flights I booked on Comair last year.  Partner flights such as the ones I recommend for eco-tourists intra-South America and intra-Australia on Lan, Tam & Qantas respectively are still the same as before only now they are classified as “peak” since they are partners.

Bottom line:  If you earn miles from credit cards, not flying and redeem on short-haul economy, you have nothing to worry about!

ALERT – Iberia Devalues Avios Without Notice, Could BA Be Next? (False Alarm)

UPDATE:  Thankfully this has been proven a false alarm.  Iberia’s award chart has always been the same since they converted to the Avios system, it just hadn’t been published in chart form before.  British Airways has confirmed they don’t have plans to devalue Avios.

 

This is all over Feedly (various blogs) and Flyertalk but I’m hat-tipping Matt from Saverocity for alerting me first, a good reason to subscribe to his newsletter!

Avios are a favourite miles currency of mine for use in South America on LAN, and can save you a bundle on intra-Peru fares!  I personally would also use them on Qantas for short-haul flights and on Comair (BA partner in South Africa) for my upcoming African adventure.

The current chart on British Airways (and Iberia up to today) was very attractive for short-haul, though once you get over 2000 miles into the 10k Avios zone you are probably better off with American AAdvantage miles.

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Here is the new chart posted on Iberia’s website.  The same rates apply to non OneWorld partners Avianca, Taca and a few others.  Currently redemptions on Iberia and British Airways are the same as the old chart above.

Iberia only allows round-trip redemptions on partners so if British Airways follows suit, the rates below would be half that for a one-way since they do allow one-way redemptions on partners.  Awards under 600 miles will cost 9750 Avios.  601-1000 miles will cost 12000 Avios.  At this point, most redemptions with Avios cease to be a good deal  and you are better off with American AAdvantage (providing THEY don’t devalue)!  Bear in mind that BA charges YQ fuel surcharges on most partners and AA doesn’t.

If you have travel planned up to July 2015 requiring use of Avios, I recommend you book it asap!

New Iberia Chart

BEST AVIOS REDEMPTIONS FOR ECO-TRAVELERS

LAN flights under 2000 miles within South America, also routes that AA has across two zones such as LIM-VVI (Lima to Santa Cruz, Bolivia).

Qantas flights under 2000 miles (must be QF metal, no Jetstar or codeshares).

BA flights on Comair within South Africa, I also used them for JNB-MRU as the taxes are cheaper using Avios.

 

 

Stealth Devaluation – Both US Airways & American Airlines

It’s not so much the devaluations themselves that bother me.  The other major airlines United & Delta did their devaluations last year and United actually gave several months advance notice.  It’s the fact that this time there was NO ADVANCE NOTICE!

The travel blogosphere is up in arms starting with Dan’s Deals reporting that stopovers (at North American international gateway cities) would be eliminated.  Then Lucky posted on One Mile At A Time the further bad news that AAnytime AAwards were increasing with detailed charts.  Travel Summary chimed in with the US Airways increase to the popular North America – North Asia award which went from 90k in business class to 110k.

Now those 3 changes had very little effect on most birders and eco-tourists.  We tend to plan in advance and use Saver Awards (capacity controlled and best booked way in advance), not the more expensive AAnytime awards.  The North America – North Asia route wouldn’t be on a typical eco-travel itinerary.  The loss of the North American gateway stopover could affect Americans who want to visit Grandma in LAX enroute to Australia or Brazil.

But all of the above pales in contrast to the loss of the OneWorld Explorer award.

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This gem of an award was perfect for anyone wanting to avoid American’s strict routing rules and hop around various destinations as they wished.  As long as you used at least 2 OneWorld carriers, you were fine.

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This would have allowed me to go from Brisbane to South America via the USA and have a few stop-overs and I was eyeing one for 2016.  Ironically, I have the miles but not the cash to pay for the lodges and birding guides which is why I have to allow a couple years to save for it.

The obvious lesson here is don’t hoard your miles – spend them!  Devaluations can come at any time, though ideally we would at least get some advance notice.   I wish I could be redeeming my miles more often but as a birder, I can’t use miles to pay for the vast majority of my ground expenses so I am pretty well stuck.  Cash is a lot harder for me to get than miles!