Hints from someone who travels too often

by kai on 23/05/2009

Before I start this post – I’m already in the process of rebuilding this blog: new engine, new look & feel etc. Just not finished yet – so don’t complain 🙂

This is just a quick post that comprises a random dump of thoughts on air travel, a few recommendations and links to tools I find useful. The fact that I’m writing this post in a Thai Royal Silk lounge in Bangkok should tell you already enough really…

But actually – two things inspired me to write this. One was a discussion I had with a few other international speakers at webDU about international air travel (particularly in and to the US) and a demand from BarryB for recommendations to travel between AU/NZ and Europe (the UK in particular) just about half an hour ago.So, let’s start this. The unavoidable disclaimer before… I’m a German citizen, having residency in NZ and short-/long-term business visas for various other countries. I’m also Gold Elite on Air New Zealand (which is *G across all Star Alliance airlines). I’m telling you this because not everything I say might make sense or might be even possible to do for everyone (depending on passport and visa situation).

Because I have a very high status with Air NZ, I basically purely fly Star Alliance. That has two pretty obvious reasons – perks like upgrades, lounge access, internet access etc. but also that Air NZ is actually a quite nice airline. Actually, the best I can think of really (besides a few flaws here an there). Once one has a status with one airline or network, it can be a good idea to stay with that network – just for the ease of keeping it easily from year to year. I do know some more-extreme travelers then myself who easily can maintain a decent status in two or three global networks though (I can’t).

When I fly Trans-Tasman (we’ve got a lot of clients and work in Australia) between NZ and AU you can pretty much consistently find my on Air NZ. I can’t remember having used Qantas for 1.5-2 years. The airfares are quite comparable anyway.

Now Barry was asking me what I’d do to travel to Europe or the UK. If I was starting the trip in New Zealand, I’d try everything I could to travel WLG-AKL-HKG and then – depending on my final destination jump on a code share to where ever I want to end up in Europe or stay on the Air NZ flight until LHR (but just if I wanted to really end up there).

With that combination – there are a few things to mention:

1. For the mentioned codeshare, I’d try to avoid Lufthansa metal. Imho the worst Star Alliance experience outside the US.
2. It’s tempting to stay on Air NZ to LHR and then do a short inner-EU hop to your final destination – but LHR as a transit hub is a pain in the a$$. So – rather not.
3. The alternative to the HKG routing is via AKL and SFO to Europe or via AKL and LAX to LHR. Both not preferable because of transiting through the US – another pain in the a$$.

Other non-Air NZ options (but on Star Alliance) would be via AKL and Singapore (on Singapore Airlines), I think there’s a random Thai flight from Auckland to Bangkok as well – both Singapore and Bangkok are (besides HKG) common transfer hubs to Europe.

So – that’s me. But now let’s have a look into the Aussie market. The situation across the Tasman is quite different, because Qantas is the home player there and Qantas is part of the Oneworld alliance. That’s good in combination with British Airways and (I think) Cathay Pacific, but I can’t really say much. From a Star Alliance point of view that makes it tricky:

1. Thai flies to Bangkok from Sydney and Brisbane (at least), BKK is their (and a Star Alliance) hub, so there are plenty of options to get on to Europe from here (that’s what I’m currently doing).
2. Singapore Airways – same as Thai via Singapore, the beauty here is that they operate the A380 right through to London as far as I know – nice.
3. AirNZ has a service MEL|SYD|BNE to LAX via AKL that works for some people.

Other options:

Emirates (I’ve just flewn once with them but that was very good) via Dubai to Europe, Qantas and BA via Singapore (have done that a few times and it was alright as well).

Besides the routings – some tools I use frequently:

seatguru.com and seatexpert.com (both for seat maps on the plane)

seatcounter.com (gives you an indication how many seat are available in each booking class but it requires an understanding _what_ that really means)

flyertalk.com (frequent flyer forum – the best place to be online if you’re traveling regularly)

Hope that helps – have fun.

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