Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My bags are packed and I'm ready to go

(OK, so my bags aren't really packed, and I've got lots of work to do before I'm ready to go, but ... actually come to think of it, that's a ridiculous title for this post. Never mind - back to the saga from my most recent post.)

In the mean time I had been sorting out my itinerary for the rest of the trip. One thing I needed to ensure was that my travels this year would allow me to requalify for Executive Platinum status in the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer program. Usually two RTWs in Business would do that nicely, but because the award tickets to Colombo do not accumulate frequent flyer miles, I looked like being a few thousand miles short. Business Class flights earn 1.5 points towards status requalification per actual mile flown, so with two RTWs you need to average 33,334 miles on each RTW to get the required 100,000 points for Executive Platinum.

Fortunately my one free weekend will be during the UK leg of my trip, and there is a well-documented long flight which falls within the airfare rules. So on the Saturday I am flying from Heathrow to Dubai, then getting back on the same plane and returning to London. I also routed my London to Washington DC flight via Los Angeles (!) which is also allowed. Checking the mileage on the Great Circle Mapper we find that the flights end up totalling 33,114 miles. OK, so it's 220 miles short of requirements, but since each flight earns a minimum of 500 elite qualifying points, it's fine - a single domestic flight will fix the problem. The whole trip, including the non-earning segments totals just over 40,000 miles, or 64,000 km.

I hope to be able to blog the progress of my adventure as it happens - it all starts this Saturday.

Getting my flights booked and ticketed

So I've finally managed to convince the company (admittedly with some concessions) to allow me to travel Business Class overseas.

The next problems were:
1) Finding an agent in Colombo to do the booking and ticketing, and
2) Getting to Colombo to pick up the ticket.

My contacts came to my rescue with the first problem - the Cathay Pacific agent in Colombo is used to dealing with foreigners looking for cheap fares. As for the second point, frequent flyer points would be my only option as I had no money with which to afford the airfare (see previous blog post about buying and selling property). The obvious route from Sydney to Colombo is via either Singapore or Bangkok, but of course there were no frequent flyer seats available. I was eventually able to secure a seat from Canberra to Sydney to Hong Kong to Bangkok to Colombo, so I grabbed it. Next problem was getting the ticket, since for some reason the Hong Kong to Colombo flight could only be produced as a paper ticket rather than an e-ticket (electronic ticket). I was using American Airlines frequent flyer miles, and AA wouldn't send the ticket to me in Canberra - they would only send it within the US. So I asked them to send it to my company's office in Reston Virginia who would then send it on to me. There was plenty of time for all that to happen.

Fast forward two weeks. I realised I hadn't heard from the Reston office. Hopefully they had received the tickets and sent them, but just forgot to let me know. After all there was only one week to go until I had to get on the plane. Better double check ...

The tickets didn't make it to Reston! AA say they were send by FedEx two weeks ago. It's now Friday, and Monday is a holiday in the US, so there is no way that the tickets will reach me in time. I phoned AA in Sydney to ask whether they could reissue the tickets for me. No real surprise when they said no, since the originals were done in the US. Time to call the super secret Executive Platinum phone number at AA - these people are the best agents AA have, and they can do things that mortal agents can't. I called and asked for my options.
AA: You need to drop in to an AA office in the US and ...
Me: I'm in Australia. How many other options do I have?
AA: None.
Me: Have you counted them all?
AA: Twice.

Eventually we talked it through and came up with a few possible solutions. Some were bad, while others were really bad. Cutting an absurdly long story slightly less absurdly long, after a few more calls to the US and Australian AA offices (including a very stressful weekend when the Australian AA office was closed), the AA office in Sydney faxed me a form which I filled out and faxed back. Within the hour they had sent new tickets by Express Post, and next morning I had my tickets! WHY DIDN'T Y'ALL COME UP WITH THAT SOLUTION IN THE FIRST PLACE?! Gah!

Anyway, I now have tickets which will get me as far as Colombo.

One step closer to the pointy end

Each year I need to do two round-the-world (RTW) flights to visit our UK and US regional offices (near London and Washington respectively). The company policy dictates Economy Class travel. While very annoying, the policy is understandable since a typical RTW on oneworld alliance airlines (Qantas, British Airways, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, etc.) costs $3200 plus taxes in Economy, but $9600 plus taxes in Business. That's makes Business Class three times the price of Economy! Well actually not quite - the taxes on a typical RTW would be around $1000 to $1200 regardless of class, so the percentages change a bit. If the policy were applied equally I probably wouldn't be so concerned, but there seem to be a number of people who have been granted exemption from the rule and get to travel in the good seats.

In recent years the company has paid the surcharges to allow me to upgrade to the British Airways World Traveller Plus seats (premium Economy) where possible, which has helped. It's still very much Economy, but significantly better seats. The surcharge on an RTW is $1500 if all upgradeable legs are upgraded, which brings the ticket price from $3239 up to $4739.

Now, I've mentioned that a Business Class RTW is $9600. The thing is, that's the price you pay if you start your journey (or purchase your ticket) in Australia. But as it turns out, anomolies exist. Due to the way that the RTWs are priced, by purchasing a RTW ticket outside of Australia the cost can change significantly. For example, by beginning the journey in Sri Lanka a Business Class ticket will cost $6696, before miscellaneous taxes and fuel surcharges. This means that for only $1957 more than my usual fare I could travel in Business Class.

Another benefit of ticketing outside of Australia is that it includes up to four sectors within Australia. While the exact value of this is hard to determine, a very conservative estimate would be $1000. In other words, the actual price differential is now down to $957.

I actually think this proposal is a cost-neutral solution for the company, since by careful routing of flights (and taking into consideration reduced downtime while overseas) I am able to reduce my hotel stays by three nights on a typical trip. But in recognition of the fact that a conservative view would indicate that there is a shortfall of approximately $1000, I offered to split the difference with the company and pay $500 toward the fare.

Somewhat to my surprise, the offer was accepted!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Naming the blog

A colleague at work set up and named this blog for me.

In case you're wondering about the name of my blog, it relates to company policy. The policy in question is the one which requires all business trips to be booked through a particular admin person. Unfortunately this person has not had much opportunity to travel, and so knows less than the average person about air travel. Coupled with the fact that aviation is my "thing", this policy has been the cause of much tension. My workaround was to deal directly with our travel agent, book the flights, then send the official request to the required admin person. The travel agent knew that she would eventually receive the go-ahead e-mail from admin, and could ticket the booking as though she and I had never spoken.

Funnily enough, recent events (which I will detail later) have meant that I now can actually book my own flights.