This isn’t just me bragging about accomplishing one of the goals I just discussed, there are 2 real pieces of information int his post that may help you… but I’m also pretty pumped about the trip! Can’t wait for the St. Regis Mallorca!
First… the details:
I booked this award for 2 passengers with 200,000 US Airways miles (100k of which I recently acquired during their current share promo for about ~$1100) and all of our flights are in business class. The outbound:
I chose this routing for a few reasons.
- First no award flights were available between DC and any city which also connects directly to Mallorca (Frankfurt, Munich or Zurich), so I knew we were in for 3 flights at a minimum.
- Second, I really want to review US Airways Envoy product. While US Airways may not have the best reputation overall, in terms of hard product (basically: the seat), their business class “suite” is probably the best business class product across the Atlantic other than Singapore’s A380 from JFK-FRA–and Singapore doesn’t allow partner awards. So it’s actually probably the best product we could’ve hoped for.
- If we’re going to take 3 flights anyway, I’d much rather fly out of DCA than Dulles. It’s 15 minutes vs ~45-55 minutes at that hour on a weekday, and we get a shot haul out of the way first. If we’d done, for instance, Dulles to Amsterdam to Zurich to Mallorca, I wouldn’t be too excited about the last flight–a 2nd short haul in a row after another one plus a long haul.
- We also really like long layovers in Frankfurt and have a solid workout routine down that only takes us 2 hours or so to leave the airport, put our bags up, go for a run, and re-clear security.
The only other competitor was Dulles to Montreal to Zurich to Mallorca. The Montreal-Zurich leg is operated by SWISS, which definitely interests me, but that’s out of Dulles, it had a really long layover in Zurich (~9 hours), and I’ll get a chance to review the exact same seat on the return (stay tuned…).
And the return:
The PMI-MUC flight was actually originally scheduled for ~2pm, but in the 2 days since I’ve booked this, it moved up 4 hours to 6:35pm. So now we really just have a quick overnight in Munich, then fly out the next day via Brussels and home to Dulles on Brussels Airlines–whom I just wrote about (coincidence?).
I chose this return to get the opportunity to review another product–the [increasingly popular] staggered business class seats which Brussels, Austrian, SWISS, Delta, and many other carriers are using and to fly a new airline.
Part of the logic here was this: Pre-judging a bit, I’m betting the US Airways seat/bed is more comfortable, while the food & service are better on Brussels Airlines. That’s why I picked the US Airways flight for the outbound (red eye) and Brussels Airlines for the return (day flight). I’m much more likely to be awake longer on the return trip home, and I’ll get to impress Cara with my French fluency in ordering food & drinks.
Also, and this is really a tiny detail, but the only “pairs” of seats on US Airways “Envoy” class are in the middle, whereas the Brussels configuration also has window pairs. So I’ll get a window seat for the segment on which there will actually be something to see out the window.
We could’ve done an open jaw and Madrid-Philadelphia-DC on US Airways again, but that would’ve been a little boring…
One difficult bit in booking the award: The agent for US Airways was completely unable to see award space on the Mallorca-Munich flight. He insisted it wasn’t there all day, or in fact all week. I quadruple checked: United search, ANA search, Aeroplan search and ExpertFlyer–all showed at least 4 seats available in business class, so I knew it was there, but the agent couldn’t see it.
I’d seen reports that US Airways agents were having trouble with Lufthansa space, so I figured this was part of that same IT glitch. More on this in a bit, but obviously I did get it booked…
So what can you actually learn from this? I promised tidbits here…
1) There’s a lot to be said for booking close-in and getting a lot of available award space. But booking early [perhaps] saved us a change or re-deposit fee. I figured it would probably happen at some point, but within 2 days of booking (on an itinerary 9 months out) is pretty remarkable. Since a fairly significant change was made to our itinerary, we’ll now have the option of changing our ticket or re-depositing without a fee–saving $150 each! Why does that matter if we don’t plan to cancel? Well because closer to departure lots of award seats will open up. So my plan is to wait until then and see if something better doesn’t become available. If so, then we get a free change. If not, then I’m still happy.
So while booking last minute can yield tons of options, you’ll have to pay a quick ticketing fee unless you’re an elite flyer, and you’re unlikely to luck out and get a change that allows you to re-book for free within 1-2 weeks of departure. Now, we have the best of both worlds. I can keep watching for something better, but we’ve already got a great trip locked in!
2) US Airways still does have access to Lufthansa space–even if they say they don’t. This is a problem with US Airways front end system that their agents use to book tickets (“Shares”). The only way to get them to book the flight for you is manually through a process known as “Need-Need” or “Long Selling.” And US Airways agents that don’t know how to do this (90%+ of them in my experience) will make up a reason/rule why they “can’t” do it. In this case I didn’t really have patience for the HUCA (hang up, call again) procedure, so I continued to escalate the situation on the same call, and finally after 4 supervisors, and about 15 minutes on hold, the original agent came back on and said “we normally don’t do this because 99% of the time it comes back with no availability, but you were right it was there and you’re booked.”
So the key here is persistence and confidence. Make sure the flight is available through other carriers like Aeroplan, ANA, and United, and don’t take no for an answer. Either call back or continue to escalate the situation until you find somebody willing to manually request the flight for you.
Lastly, I always advise my clients to do the same as what I did here, and that’s pick the product eastbound across the Atlantic that gives you the best chance at sleep and pick the product on the way back that gives you the best passenger experience while awake. I believe I’ve done that here.