Archives April 2019

Frequent Flyer Programmes

How do Frequent Flyer Clubs work?

These were invented to keep passengers loyal to a particular airline. The more you travel the more points you earn.

These points are normally exchangeable for free flights. However, taxes and other fees will still have to be paid. Short haul flights are included, but some clubs have a minimum distance to earn points, so check the small print carefully.

The airline will probably be a member of a group of airlines, so as long as you fly with another group member you’ll still earn points/miles. The three main groups are OneWorld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. If you join one airline per group you’ll be able to earn points on every flight.

 

Airlines also have partner schemes where you can earn points if you use a particular credit card, hire car company, hotels etc. It may work out cheaper to sign up for that airline credit card instead of flying to get your points to a certain level.

If you regularly fly a certain route, check out the clubs offered by each airline that flies it. Some are more generous than others for giving points and for exchanging them. For example, some airlines give the same rate even if you have a heavily discounted ticket, whereas BA will reduce the reward for cheap tickets. This is common amongst most airlines, where different fare classes give a different return.

The BA website states that an economy passenger is rewarded 1 mile for every mile flown. This is not strictly true, as further on the website states:

The amount you collect depends on the distance you fly, the cabin you fly in, the type of ticket you hold and your Executive Club Tier.
On flexible economy fares you will receive 1 BA Mile for every mile flown.
On discounted economy fares (non-flexible ticket), you will earn 25% of the actual miles flown.
Example
If you fly less than 500 miles, one way, on a flexible economy fare, you will earn a minimum of 500 BA Miles. On a discounted economy fare, this would be a reward of 125 BA Miles

When booking your flight, weigh up the pros and cons of increasing the cost of the ticket for the extra miles you will receive. If you have a trip in mind for your free tickets, check how many points each airline needs for you to ‘earn’ it. You may find up to double the difference. However also think about the actual costs of your flights. It may not be worth the extra in ticket prices to quickly earn the free flight.

Only a certain number of seats are available for free flights on any given flight, so if you are unable to cash in your miles to fly your particular route and date, check for alternative airports. For example, fly from Gatwick instead of Heathrow, land at Baltimore instead of Washington Dulles International. You could also look at partner programmes to see if another airline will allow you to use your miles. If all else fails, demand in a polite way to speak to a supervisor at the airline’s booking call centre. They have discretionary powers to give you the ticket.

You could benefit from a new route and a connection. If for example Frankfurt Airport has a new route to China, you may be able to use your miles for this flight after paying for a connection from London to Frankfurt.

Remember, don’t waste your points on a cheap flight and check for any expiry dates. It is also very important that you are aware of the inactivity clause for your scheme. Not all airlines are the same, BA gives you up to 36 months, and Qantas only gives you 18 months.

Converting your points

If you are unhappy with your return on your current scheme, you could look at converting them to a new one. Websites such as www.insideflyer.com have a tool to show you what you would gain or lose by changing your miles/points from one scheme to another.

Also you may not be able to change directly from one airline to another. For example, 10,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles can be changed to Hilton HHonors at a ratio of 1:1, and then to BA Executive Club at a ratio of 10:1 giving you 1,000 miles.

Another option if you are going to fall foul of the inactivity clause, is donating your miles. You can check on various charity websites if they have a scheme in place.

Most importantly, do not dispose of any tickets or boarding cards until you have been credited your miles. A website to check out for American flights on offer is Award Grabber


Flight tickets – how to go around the world

There are over two hundred countries to choose from for your next trip, what happens if you can’t narrow this choice down? Then you need a Round the World ticket.

Getting a Round the World (RTW) ticket is fairly straight forward, but it is best left to an expert to find you the best one for your trip. You don’t have to fly with the same airline as every major long haul airline is a member of a group such as One World, Star Alliance and SkyTeam. This means that your ticket can be for any number of different airlines, but they all are members of the same group.

If you are on a very tight budget, book as far ahead as possible. Special offers on RTW tickets are virtually non-existent. You will also need to stick to popular routes and stopovers to keep the costs down. It may also be possible to book a return ticket to somewhere like New Zealand and have one or two stopovers each way.

It is also possible to have openjaw options. This allows you the option of travelling overland (for example, land at Las Vegas and take off again at San Francisco).

If time is your major concern, then fly east as most east bound flights are overnight and westbound are during the day (and therefore wasting valuable time). In around three weeks it is possible to visit four destinations without feeling rushed.

For example:

24/4/10 Depart Heathrow to Kruger National Park Safari
28/4/10 Depart Kruger National Park to Delhi India’s Golden Triangle
6/5/10 Depart Mumbai to Beijing City tour
11/5/10 Depart Beijing to Dubai City tour
15/5/10 Depart Dubai and return to Heathrow

4 destinations in 21 days.

If you have a really unusual journey planned then costs will increase and it also helps if you stick to one direction. Tickets have a mileage limit and you don’t want to waste miles by going back on yourself.

Some RTW ticket providers can also supply your accommodation, sightseeing tips and transfers to ensure that the whole trip goes like clockwork.

 

RTW Terms

Mileage – the maximum limit set by your ticket, for example 29,000 miles. Take care to find out if overland mileage is also included in the calculations.

Dummy Dates – Airlines only take bookings for 11 months in advance, so if your journey is longer than this then other dates are used enable the ticket to be issued. You will then have to change these dates while on the move. However, you may be charged for this.

Tips on Planning a RTW trip

  • Write a list of dream destinations; let your imagination run wild for now
  • Write a list of destinations where there are friends and family who can put you up
  • Check all the entry requirements. Don’t assume that you can get a visa on arrival. Does your passport have enough spare pages left? Some countries require two blank pages for entry/exit stamps and visas
  • Will you be working during your trip? If so, check the regulations. Do you speak the local language? If you can’t, then you won’t get much bar work
  • Don’t get committed to a start date, check the average weather conditions first. Websites for weather include www.worldclimate.com and www.intellicast.com/global. Also look into local festivals, events, etc. You may not want to arrive just as everybody is leaving
  • If you’re worried about your career when you return, read books such as Lonely Planet’s ‘The Career Break Book’, seek advice from a careers advisor, or even your HR department. A lot of RTWers come back with a different focus on life, so you may change jobs anyway
  • If you’re unsure of a location, seek advice. This can come from travel agents, travel researchers (www.holidayhut.co.uk), the local embassy, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website and even online forums. When it comes to safety advice, don’t ignore it
  • If you are still worried about embarking on this adventure, start your trip in a familiar country. Let your bank know that you are regularly changing countries. Unusual card activity may cause your cards to be blocked. Bank call centres are expensive to call from abroad. Time differences can be a pain too.
  • Be prepared for last minute changes. Your accommodation may fall through, so have a backup list.
  • Airports may close due to weather or civil disturbance, so have a list of accommodation close to each airport for any unplanned stays
  • Take care when using Internet Cafes. Speak to an IT security expert before you leave to ensure that your passwords are not easily captured
  • You don’t have to rely on planes. Overland and over sea trips can be just as easy to arrange – and no jet lag!
  • Get the right insurance from an RTW expert. Make sure that you fully understand its small print. Keep an eye on your budget and ensure that you have readily available emergency funds

Have fun, and do try to remember to come back home!


Flight tickets – checked baggage

This is usually your suitcase. Checked baggage used to be included in your ticket price, but this is no longer always the case. ‘No frills’ airlines try to encourage their passengers to only take hand luggage. This means that the aircraft is lighter, so less fuel is used and the airplane can be turned around quicker once on the ground as there is less baggage to remove. The passengers are ‘encouraged’ by the fact that checked or hold baggage is now an extra cost. Charter and scheduled airlines are starting to follow suit by either reducing the included allowance or by charging separately for the baggage.

There are two systems in use by the airlines.

1. Weight System
This is the most common system in use, where your allowance is determined by your class. It usually means one case up to a maximum weight, ranging from 15kg to 23kg for economy passengers. If you go over your allowance you will be charged excess baggage. There will also be a size allowance as well, sometimes given as height x width x depth, or can be given by X (where X=height+width+depth).

Sometimes you are given a limit, but it also includes your hand luggage. For example the current weight limit for a Thomsonfly Premium seat is 30kg, but this includes 7kg hand luggage. If your suitcase is more than 23kg you will be charged.

Excess is only allowed if there is room on-board the aircraft, so don’t just assume that you can go over your allowance and still take it on board. There is also a maximum allowed weight per item for health and safety reasons, which is 32kg. There will also be a maximum size limit as well. Please check with your airline.

Excess used to be between 1 and 1.5% of the highest one way adult economy ticket per kilogram. Now different airlines have their own systems in place. BA has a set charge of £30/$50 per bag in local currency.

Some airlines allow you to pool your weight when travelling on the same ticket; others such as Ryanair do not.

It is now easier with some airlines to take extra suitcases. This will be cheaper to book online, so don’t leave it until check-in. For example, with Virgin Atlantic, each bag will cost up to three times as much at check-in than online.

Easyjet allows up to eight pieces of checked baggage, BUT they can only add up to 20kg in total. Customers pay for more cases believing that each extra suitcase can be 20kg, but this is not the case. You also have to pay extra for the new combined weight.

 

2. Piece System
In this system you are allowed a set number of bags. There are still weight and size limits though.
Using a piece system does make life easier if travelling with sporting equipment such as skis and golf bags as these are included as one bag (depending on weight and dimensions). With a weight system these will be extra. Excess charges are not common so you should check with your airline.

Notes:

  • Infants without seats do not always have the same allowance as children with seats
  • If you are flying on a code share ticket (for example if you buy a BA ticket, but you actually fly with Qantas, then your baggage limit is set by Qantas)
  • Check with your airline if you want to take unusual luggage such as sporting equipment or mobility scooters. As well as size and weight restrictions, there may be specific packing instructions

Do take care when checking your allowance. For example, standard BA economy is one bag at a maximum 23kg. If you have limited mobility BA will allow you two bags BUT the maximum weight is still 23kg (this does not include wheelchairs).

If you are flying out for your wedding, and you can’t fit your dress in your hand luggage, consider shipping your clothes and dress separately. If may seem expensive, but there is less chance of your dress going to the wrong airport, or being left behind.


Fight tickets – hand luggage

Hand luggage is the luggage that you can take on-board with you. Since 9/11 and the ‘Shoe Bomber’ in 2001, there have been regular changes to what can and can’t be taken on-board by passengers. All items that are no longer allowed to travel with passengers must be checked in the hold. The number of bags allowed also changes depending on security alerts and airline policy. The typical maximum weight is 5kg.

Governments set the maximum allowances, but some airlines may not allow you to take that much on board (maximum bag size may be smaller for instance). Finding the right allowance involves cross referencing the advice on airport websites and the limits set by the airlines.

Anything that is not allowed on board must either be disposed of, or placed in checked baggage. If you’re at security when the item is rejected, then to check the item will mean going back out to the check-in desk. This may also mean paying excess baggage fees and having to get a new boarding pass printed as the original may no longer be valid when attempting to pass security again.

Remember; don’t just check the restrictions for the outgoing flight. Check the rules for your inbound airport as well as they may be different.

Travelling with liquids – 100ml rule – the following is from the BAA website
Only limited quantities of liquids may be carried through security control in hand baggage. This includes bottled drinks, suntan lotion, fragrances, cosmetics and toiletries.

The following restrictions apply to all liquids, creams, gels, pastes and aerosols taken through security control:

  • Liquid items may only be carried in containers holding up to 100ml
  • They must be carried separately in a single transparent, resealable plastic bag
  • The bag must be no larger than 20cm x 20cm (8in x 8in) and all items must fit inside so that it closes properly
  • At security control the bag must be placed separately on the conveyor belt for screening
  • Liquid items larger than 100ml should be packed in your hold luggage – otherwise they will be confiscated

Exceptions to the 100ml rule can be made for baby food or milk. However, you should only carry what you need for the flight, and you will be asked to taste at least 50% of the containers at security control.

 

Exceptions

Exceptions may also be made for medicines. However, you may be asked to taste any liquid medicines, or to provide evidence (such as a doctor’s letter) that you need them for your journey.

However, anything you buy after security control can be taken on board the aircraft, including bottled drinks, fragrances and cosmetics in sizes over 100ml.

If you are catching a connecting flight, you may need the store staff to place your purchases in a special sealed bag.

Check when paying and if in doubt place it in your checked baggage.


Flight tickets – how to get more from your itinerary

So you have your flight booked, and you know the departure and arrival airports. But which terminal do you need? Scheduled flights can be looked up on third party websites.

In fact some agents use these websites to produce your E-Ticket.

These websites are provided by the airlines’ GDS providers. A GDS, which stands for Global Distribution System, is a computer system which is used to store and retrieve information and conduct flight booking transactions.

All you need to log in is the lead surname and the Reservation Number. This may differ from the main receipt number given to you by an agent or a tour operator, but it should be on the paperwork somewhere.

Once logged in you are presented with information such as airport terminal, seat, meal, the distance flown, how long it should take, sometimes even your hotel and car hire details. This information can be printed out or emailed to other members of your group.

The website may have other tools to assist you in your trip such as visa advice and maps.

Examples are:

Check My Trip
My Trip and More

TripIt
TripIt is a website that helps travellers to put an itinerary together. This can be stored online for your own use, or you can share it with others. You can include maps, directions, and weather with your flight details. There are also mobile Apps so you can access your trip with your smart phone. This is very useful for group trips as the whole group can easily access the information.


Flight tickets – courier tickets

I’m sure that you have seen a character in a film or a TV show (e.g. The Simpsons) fly as a courier to get a cheap flight ticket. This does actually happen, although you need to be flexible with your date of departure as well as your choice of destinations.

These aren’t the only drawbacks – you may also lose your luggage allowance and you may have to travel alone. You will also be restricted to major airport hubs. But if all this is ok with you, then you may save up to 85% of the price of the flight just for carrying a small package through customs.

Courier companies use this method as it is quicker than using air cargo and sometimes it is also a cheaper method.

 

There are two methods to find these flights. The first is to register with a courier agency such as The International Association of Air Travel Couriers. A registration fee will apply. The second method is to do all the research yourself and to contact the couriers direct.

You will need to leave a deposit with the courier before you leave, but as long as you deliver the package satisfactorily this will be refunded without any problems. Usually you would fly in economy, but it may be possible to pay for an upgrade. Generally the closer to departure the cheaper the ticket and as you are representing the company you will be expected to dress smartly.

An example website is Air Courier International


Flight tickets – Fare Classes

Scheduled airlines do not sell every seat on a flight for the same price. Each Class (First, Business, Economy) is divided into fare classes. This division is not fixed and depends on route popularity, holidays, time of flights and many other factors.

This means that if the airline did its sums right, the later you book, the more expensive the ticket price. Fare classes also determine if you are able to receive a check-in staff discretionary upgrade to premium economy or even first or business class.

No amount of charm and wearing expensive suits will get you that upgrade if you have the wrong fare class ticket. This also explains why a group booking may be more expensive than pricing for one. There may not be enough seats left in the cheapest class for your group, so you move up in fare class until there are enough tickets for your group.

So when looking for prices, you are really looking for the lowest fare class available for your flight. This is why you should be flexible with your flight dates, as a day earlier or later could get you that heavily discounted fare class.

Fare Class Explanation
A First Class Discounted
B Economy Discounted
C Business Class
D Business Class Discounted
E Shuttle Service (No reservation allowed), or Economy Discounted (or Premium Economy)
F First Class
G Conditional Reservation
H Economy Discounted
I Economy Discounted
J Business Class Premium
K Economy Discounted
L Economy Discounted
M Economy Discounted
N Economy Discounted
P First Class Premium
Q Economy Discounted
R Was supersonic now First Class Suites on Airbus A380
S Economy (or Premium Economy)
T Economy Discounted
U Shuttle Service (No res. needed/Seat guaranteed)
V Economy Discounted
W Economy Premium (or Premium Economy)
X Economy Discounted
Y Economy
Z Business Class Discounted

A full fare, unrestricted economy ticket is booked as a Y fare. Full fare tickets with restrictions on travel dates, refunds, or advance reservations are commonly classed as B, H, or M, although some airlines may use S, W, or to confuse things even more, may use other letters.

T or W which are heavily discounted fares, will not permit cabin upgrades, refunds, or reservation changes, and may require Internet booking. They may also be exempt from frequent flyer schemes, or may impose other restrictions. Other fare codes are restricted for use by consolidators, group charters, or travel industry professionals.

Low-cost (or no frills) carriers have simplified the fare classes they use to a handful of cases. So in economy a passenger with a ‘Y’ ticket will sit next to same one with a ‘W’ ticket, eat the same food and get the same service, but would have paid £100’s more for their ticket. If you are unsure of your flight dates, then a ‘Y’ may work out cheaper than a ‘W’ if you have to change your flight.


Flight tickets – Fare Rules

With booking websites you input the dates, number of passengers and route, and the best flights on offer will come up. But this doesn’t give you all the facts. Every ticket has a ‘fare rule(s)’ that goes with it.

Most of the time these rules are ignored by the DIY customer. You should read them before confirming the order as the restrictions imposed may put you at a disadvantage. They should be available to read (the link may be ‘Terms and Conditions’) before the ticket is confirmed. If they’re not, book elsewhere as you will be held to them whether you have read them or not. You should always print out the rules for your own records.

By understanding fare rules, you’ll have a much better idea whether or not you’re getting the best ticket for your trip.


Rules to look out for

  • Is the ticket refundable? (the cheapest fares generally are not refundable) If not, can the ticket be used for part payment for future flights?
  • Can you alter it, and what are the fees?
  • Can two singles be combined to make a return trip, or open jaw trip (fly a-b and then c-a)? One way fares may be cheaper, but booking terms may not allow them to be combined

 

Rule Explanation
BLACKOUT DATES Cheap rates are not always available in peak seasons. These are the dates where the ticket cannot be used.
BOOKING CODE What is the Fare Class for this ticket? This restricts the number of seats available for this price.
CANCEL Can the ticket be cancelled, e.g. once issued the ticket is non-refundable
CHANGE This lists any changes that are permitted, with their fees
CONTRACT The number for the contract/ticket, e.g. VSITT211/A1301476
FARE TYPE ROUTES The flights that this type of ticket can be used, for example Heathrow to Newark, Heathrow to JFK
FARE VALID The dates when the passenger can travel with this ticket e.g. 22/08/2010 – 09/12/2010
MAXIMUM STAY The latest date that a traveller can fly back before the ticket becomes void e.g. 30 days, 60 days, 365 days
MINIMUM STAY This may also include any days that must be included for the ticket to be valid. In most instances this means that you cannot return until after a Friday or a Saturday.
OPENJAW Can the ticket be used as an open-jaw –e.g. a to b and c back to a?
PASSENGER TYPE Breakdown of fares – child 75%, infant 10%, adult 100%
RESTRICTIONS The flights that can and cannot be used with this ticket
RES/TICKETING How far in advance the ticket must be booked e.g. 7, 14 or 21 days in advance /when the ticket has to be issued e.g. 24 hours after making the reservation.
STOPOVER Can the passenger stop over-night when connecting?
TOUR If the ticket is an IT fare, what must be booked with the ticket? This is usually means that a hotel must also be booked. Sometimes this has to cover the full length of stay.
VALIDITY Many special fares must be purchased within a certain range of dates.

Other important points when buying a flight ticket online

For example, you need to know the difference between ‘direct’ and ‘non-stop’.

  • Direct flights are not ‘non-stop’ – they touch down on the way; you do not leave the aircraft. Obviously this increases your journey time
  • Are you happy with the flight times/connections?
  • Have you heard of the company listed from a price comparison search? Research the company before booking
  • What are the rules for the ticket?
  • Check your seat pitch/legroom. It may be worth flying with somebody else for the extra comfort given by more space on-board
  • Select your seat as soon as possible. Don’t leave it to when you check-in. However if you are after an exit seat, get to check-in as early as possible. These seats may be needed in an emergency, and passengers sitting in them must be physically capable of assisting the crew. So they are not assigned until somebody has assessed you
  • If flying abroad, check the entry requirements. Do you need a visa? Do you need two spare pages in your passport? How long does it have to be valid for after the date of return?
  • Have you looked at a package price? Some tickets are cheaper (called IT Fares or ITX) if brought with a hotel or a hire car


IT(X) fares

An IT or ITX Airfare (Inclusive Tour Fare) is a limited availability airfare which can only be booked in conjunction with accommodation or car hire. Due to these strict rules, ITX airfares are only available under certain criteria.

For instance the ground arrangements (accommodation, car hire, cruise) must equal the duration of the stay. If you are putting your own package together it is worth calling an agent to see if they can get an IT fare for your route. It could save you a lot of money.


Disabled flyers

To get the best possible service from an airline, any disabilities should be declared at the time of booking. Although it is believed than some people don’t declare it then as they are worried about being refused the booking. Facilities at airports and on-board are unfortunately still limited, so as much notice as possible is required.

The hard part is finding out which company is responsible for looking after you. The airport may assist you to the check-in desk, and then the airline takes over, for example.

When informing the airline (usually by calling a special number or their general call centre) always take a name as reference in case of problems. If the promised assistance is not there for you, the airline will just refuse to believe that you booked it unless you have a reference of some kind.

Powered buggies

Powered buggies may be allowed in the hold, but there are requirements, such as the battery must be disconnected, before they can be loaded. Wheelchairs are also placed in the hold; with passengers using airport or airline ones after check-in.

There may be extra charges for equipment that needs to be carried on such as oxygen cylinders.

Some airlines are particularity unhelpful when you’re looking for specific requirements, so instead of carrying out general searches consider using a specialist tour operator, or contact forums to find out how others have fared when flying with a particular airline.