American Airlines tagged posts

South Africa & Namibia Preview #1: Booking Award Travel to South Africa

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In a few weeks I’ll be traveling to South Africa and Namibia, which will be my first trip to the mainland of Africa.  (Back in 2014, I went to the Seychelles with layovers in Ethiopia.)  At this point, South Africa, China, India, and Japan are pretty much the only major global destinations I haven’t been, and South Africa seemed like the best to travel to alone – particularly in light of the favorable exchange rate.

I booked this trip back in August.  I had miles I could use on any number of programs, but getting to South Africa on miles basically comes down to the following options:

(1) Nonstop to Africa:   Two carriers fly to South Africa from the US – Delta from Atlanta and South African from JFK and Washington-Dulles.  The South African flight to and from Dulles, though, stops in either Dakar, Senegal or Accra, Ghana both ways.  Ethiopian also flies from Dulles (via Dublin on the return), Newark (via Lome), LAX (via Dublin), and Toronto (via Dublin on the return), but Addis Ababa isn’t really on the way, as you can see from the map below. (Delta also flies to Lagos, Accra, and Dakar, but it doesn’t have a partner to carry you onward to South Africa.)   Of these options,  the Delta flights had no business availability (they rarely do at reasonable rates), and the Ethiopian travel times were long.  South African had availability on the day before I wanted to return to JFK – but since United left JFK, getting back to DC is would be annoying – and then on the day after I wanted to return to Dulles via Dakar.  From reading reports online, it seems the Dulles flight is pretty unpleasant.  Its operated using SAA’s A340 with older-style lie flat seats in business class, and the one hour stop in Dakar is halfway through the flight in the middle of the night.  No thanks.

Mileage Options for flying directly from the US to Southern Africa

(2) Connecting in Europe:  Most award programs allow r...

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New Zealand Conclusion:  LAX Admirals Club and LAX-DCA in American Main Cabin Extra

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This is the conclusion of my 16-part series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

I’ve actually never connected at LAX before.  Particularly if you have luggage, I don’t recommend an international connection there.  Landing at the Tom Bradley International Terminal itself wasn’t that bad, and there was no line to clear immigration at Global Entry.  A lot of people were trying to go through Global Entry when they didn’t have Global Entry, causing a bit of a backup at the desk where you leave the kiosk area.  (As with MIA, it slightly defeats the purpose of Global Entry to require interacting with a human on the way out of immigration itself.)

Bags had already started coming onto the belt when I got through, and mine came pretty quickly, eve...

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2016 Index and Year in Review

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I won’t belabor the point, but 2016 was pretty terrible.  My travels were pretty good,though.  I still owe you all a few posts from my November New Zealand adventure, but as we say goodbye to the dumpster-fire of 2016, here’s a look back at my year in travel.  For previous years’ retrospectives, check out 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

2016, yeah!

I’ve kept the blog as a travelogue, continuing to blog less and less about things other than my personal travel given how crowded the space is for “hacking” and “free” points.  Going into 2017, I’ve requalified for American elite status (Platinum), and let my hotel status’ drop down to be those I have via credit card (Hyatt Platinum/Discoverist, Marriott/SPG Gold, Hilton Gold, IHG Platinum) and Intercontinental Ambassador.

So, what were my tra...

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Surprisingly Not Terrible: American LAX to AKL in Main Cabin Extra

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American Airlines Flight 83
Main Cabin Extra, Boeing 787-800
Sch. Dep. LAX 11:10pm     Actual Dep. 12:30am
Sch. Arr. AKL 8:20am +2   Actual Arr. 8:55am
American Airlines 787

American Airlines 787

I was not looking forward to my 13 hours in coach on American on the flight from L.A. to Auckland.  One it’s 13 hours, two it’s in coach, three it’s American.  My only previous coach ultra-long-haul was on the vaunted Etihad, and on Etihad, coach is basically a step over steerage on a cargo ship.  But I was pleasantly surprised on all three counts.

My time in Los Angeles was relatively low-key.  Even though the friend’s house I was crashing at was less than 15 minutes from the airport, I rented a car with a super low rate at Thrifty of only $33 including all fees and taxes.  The downside was no upgrade or going straight to the car like I would with Avis, Hertz, or National, but, $33.  The wait for the shuttle wasn’t too bad, and though there was a bit of a line at the airport, it did make for some interesting people watching, including a guy who was listed in the computer as “DO NOT RENT. NO EXCEPTIONS,” and Chinese tourists whose car had been vandalized.  My Nissan Versa was perfectly fine for one person and one day, and actually had more features, including a backup camera than I’d expected.  A pro of such a tiny car was that my 33 miles of city driving required only a little over one gallon of gas before I returned the car.

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Kia Ora!  New Zealand Introduction and DCA-LAX on American in Main Cabin Extra

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Hello from 36,000 feet over Wichita! I’m currently kicking off a two-week adventure to New Zealand, and I figured I’d give you all an intro and the scoop – and see if you had any tips!

Last spring, I had started to think about where I wanted to go for what has become my annual November trip.  (Last year was Brazil; previous years were Sicily (2014), Panama (2013), Ireland (2012), Peru (2011), and Central Europe (2010).)  I’ve found it to be a good time of year to travel as its often the shoulder season, and I typically build it around Veterans Day so I have one less day of vacation I have to take.  And one destination came to mind which I had never been to and have heard wonderful things about: New Zealand.koru

So I spent a little bit of time looking at award availability, but didn’t see anything super compelling, and put it to the side of my mind.  About 2 weeks later, I woke up to use the bathroom at around 5:30am and for some reason decided to check my phone, and saw a few blog posts about uber-cheap flights to New Zealand – under $300 from LAX and SFO.     I saw it as fate, and knew I had to act fast, so quickly booked flights from LAX to Auckland  (ticketed at 6:50am) for a total of $210!  In retrospect, I should have probably done a 2 day longer trip, and at least one way out of Queenstown or Wellington, but still, an insane deal.  And the routing was pretty normal, LAX-AKL on American’s new Dreamliner flight, sold as a Qantas codeshare, and AKL-SYD-LAX on Qantas on the return.  It’s going to be *a lot* of coach flying!

I had six months to put the trip together, which was fun.  For my positioning flights to LAX from DC, I ended up using US Bank Flexperks bonus points that I got when my Avianca Lifeperks Mastercard was converted, which covered a roundtrip on American’s DCA-LAX flights.  (For those who don’t know, Flexperks redemptions are weird.  There isn’t a value per point.  Instead, there’s a point value associated with a price range.  So, for example, 20,000 points gets you a ticket from $1 to $400, 30,000 gets you a ticket from $401 to $600, etc.  This flight was about $380, so a good use of 20,000 points.)  On the outbound, I’ll spend a full day in L.A., breaking up the trip and catching up with some friends. 


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Sick in the Air: Airberlin Business Berlin to Chicago, American ORD-MSP-DCA and the Escape Lounge MSP

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Travel is unpredictable.  Award travel can be particularly so.  Add that in with the other variables that can upset a trip and a lot of it’s a gamble.  And, ooh, boy, did I have a terrible trip back from Berlin – not really the result of any airline behavior or anything, just luck.

My return ticket home from Berlin was booked for 50,000 AA miles, just before the most recent award price hike to 57,500 miles for US-Europe business class.  It used to be that Berlin was an easy place to fly from using AA miles, since Berlin is a hub for Oneworld partner Airberlin.  But when I was booking in the winter, literally zero Airberlin availability was showing—not just for transatlantic flights, but even for short flights like Berlin to Frankfurt.  Expertflyer showed plenty of availability, but it was invisible on the BA and AA sites for months.  AA’s response was the nonresponse “we understand it’s frustrating when the flight you want isn’t available for an award booking,” ignoring the fact that there was clearly an issue here for months. That made booking quite difficult, as the only partner availability out of Berlin was on BA, Iberia, and Finnair – and Iberia doesn’t show on, and flying through London involves expensive fees and surcharges.

Original routing: TXL-MAD-CLT-DCA

Original routing: TXL-MAD-CLT-DCA

Nonetheless, I was able to assemble a not terrible itinerary, flying Iberia from Berlin to Madrid at 7:25 in the morning, connecting to an AA flight from Madrid to Charlotte, and then up to DCA, all in business.  A few months before the trip, Airberlin availability opened up on its flights from Berlin to Chicago, and Dusseldorf to JFK and Boston.  But every time one of those opened up, there was no availability connecting from ORD/JFK/BOS to DCA.  And when my alert for ORD to DCA went off, the TXL-ORD availability was gone.

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Labor Day in Copenhagen and Berlin:  Introduction and DCA-JFK on AA, JFK-HEL in Finnair Business Class

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I spent an extended Labor Day weekend in Copenhagen and Berlin, 5 nights on the ground plus 1 in the air.  The trip reports on this one will be a bit nontraditional because I had actually lived in Copenhagen for a summer, and been to Berlin twice before, so I didn’t really do much of the tourist stuff in either city. My trip home also ended up being a bit of a disaster, through no real fault of any of the airlines involved.  So, with that, on to the first entry.

American Airlines Flt. 4644 DCA to JFK
Operated by Republic, Embraer 175, First Class
Sched. Dep. 1:59 PM      Sched. Arr. 3:19 PM
Actual Dep. 2:42 PM       Actual Arr. 3:55 PM

Finnair Flt. 6 JFK to HEL
A330-300, Business Class
Sched. Dep. 5:40 PM      Sched. Arr. 8:50 AM +1
Actual Dep. 5:46 PM       Actual Arr. 8:48 AM +1

My flight to Copenhagen was the return leg of my trip home from Spain a month earlier.  As you may recall, when I couldn’t find mileage availability home from Spain, I bought a cheap business class ticket that went from Dublin to DC and then DC to Copenhagen.  I studied abroad in Copenhagen 13 years ago and haven’t been back since, so I was excited to explore.  Unfortunately, Copenhagen is quite expensive, so I decided to combine a few days there, with a few days in Berlin, a city I spent Labor Day in 2 years ago but felt I’d only scratched the surface.  I was able to get an AA award ticket back from Berlin just before the AA price hike, but more on that later.

My routing to Copenhagen was via Helsinki on Finnair, meaning DCA-JFK-HEL-CPH.  I was excited to fly Finnair for the first time (despite having actually been to Finland in the past), and their business class looked pretty solid for a redeye flight.  The JFK-HEL flight leaves pretty early for a transatlantic flight, at 5:40pm, so I had an early flight up to JFK, leaving DCA at 2pm.   I couldn’t check in online, so I took a Lyft to the airport at around 11:40am, in case there was a problem with the ticket.

There was a bit of a wait at the AA priority check-in, but it turns out the only issue was that I was flying on a ticket to Denmark with no return ticket.  The agent was a bit more accusatory than I’d have liked, but I said I was flying back from Berlin on a ticket with another record locator, and that satisfied her.  I got all three of my boarding passes and was on my way.

Five different US/AA liveries on display at DCA

Five AA planes, five different  liveries on display at DCA

Rather than load up on the Admirals Club food I’m sick of, I picked up a salad at Cosi pre-security, and sailed through Precheck and security.  I noted the setup for the Clear membership program, which I imagine won’t survive at DCA.  I’ve rarely if ever had long waits at Precheck at DCA, so I don’t see a huge market for people to get Clear just for DCA, given how expensive it is.  I then headed to the Admirals Club for a quick stop.

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The 51st and Green Lounge at DUB and American Business Class Dublin to Chicago, Chicago to DCA

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This is the conclusion of my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, see this post.

I left the Radisson at 6:30am for my 9:25am flight.  Despite it only being a 10-minute walk to Dublin’s Terminal 2, given the rigmarole of US preclearance processes, I figured the extra time was well-advised.   The check-in lines for AA were loong, such that I overheard one agent say “I’m going to see what’s going on over there, these queues are too long.”  There were three separate lines:  New York, Chicago, and Priority.  (Presumably the 9:55am Charlotte opens later, Philadelphia doesn’t leave until 11:20am).  The Priority line was long, although not terribly slow-moving...

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Barcelona Bound:  AA Business Class DCA-PHL-BCN

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This is part two in my trip report series from my July 2016 trip to Spain.  For an introduction, visit this post.

I was scheduled to fly from DCA to JFK on a Tuesday evening, then on Wednesday evening fly JFK to Madrid on American, followed by Madrid to Barcelona on Iberia.  Not an ideal route, but not terrible for an award.  I had set an alert on Expertflyer, though, for AA’s JFK-BCN, CLT-BCN and PHL-BCN flights, and sure enough, on Monday availability opened up on all three.  DCA-PHL-BCN all on Wednesday was a no-brainer to switch to; it wouldn’t be on AA’s newest business class product, but the pre-merger US Airways Envoy A332 seating is perfectly fine, as I had flown it last summer on PHL-ATH and MUC-PHL.

Arriving at DCA was frustrating.  I was checking a bag, so appropriately went on the First Class line.  Unfortunately, it was not moving at all after 7 minutes, as there was one agent and one customer who seemed to have a complicated problem.  The for-some-reason-separate Priority line was moving at a normal pace, though, with two agents, and only 3 customers in line, so I switched to that queue.  Although she hadn’t approached anyone else, an agent came over to me and said “Can I see your record locator?”  How friendly.  I had checked in on my phone so pulled up my boarding pass, and she said “Come with me,” and then just pointed me to the self-service kiosk.

If I had wanted to use the self-service kiosk, of course, I would have.  But I didn’t.  And there’s no reason an agent should have forced me to do so (it wasn’t like it was a long line on the Priority queue).  Moreover, I was the only one she pulled out, and she was rude in doing so.  Had she said “If you’d like to save some time, you’re welcome to use the self-serve kiosk,” that would have been totally fine.  I asked “Why do I have to use the kiosk?”  “That’s the first step in the process.”  Incorrect.  It is the first step in a process, but not the only first step and one I was entitled not to use.

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Summer in Spain:  Trip Preview and Anatomy

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Since my Brazil mini-vacation, I haven’t stopped traveling, with trips to Minneapolis, New York, and Lubbock for work and family.  I’m glad to be at home in DC for a few weeks, but it also means I need to start turning my attention to my only real vacation of the summer.

For each of the past six years, I’ve taken a transatlantic summer trip for 10 days or so.  Summer mileage redemption to Europe in business class can be very hard, so I actually started planning in October for a July trip.  I love Spain, and have been three times, but actually haven’t been in the summer since my first trip there – back in 2003.   And although I’ve been to both Madrid and Barcelona each twice, I haven’t seen a lot of the rest of the country.   So I decided it was time for a return trip. 478568

I’ll be starting out in Sitges, a beach town just outside of Barcelona, before heading into Barcelona for three nights, then making my way to Basque country and seeing San Sebastian and Bilbao.

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