Bargain Hunting (Int'l)

Bargain Hunting (Int'l)

Millions of frequent flyers around the globe can be forgiven for not giving a second thought to summer award travel this year. After the events of September 11, and the economic tumult that followed, a vast number of travelers didn’t even know if they still owned a mileage balance, much less if they would be using their miles for a summer holiday.

While several airlines were teetering on the brink prior to September 11, the shock waves of that tragic day pushed some of them over the edge of bankruptcy. Ansett was the first to go belly up, leaving 2.7 million members pointless and despondent. And, when the former Ansett members looked to the Star Alliance for salvation, the alliance bailed on them too. Sure, one member airline is offering to match elite status, but none of the airlines in the alliance are recognizing Ansett account balances.

Things didn’t turn out much better for Qualiflyer members either. While all attention was focused on a shaky Sabena, Swissair — one of Europe’s premier airlines — caught everyone by surprise when it announced it was ceasing operations. The announcement was so sudden in fact, that members were forced to prioritize their concerns — directing their immediate attention to securing passage home, and relegating their worries about miles to a later date. Thankfully, this story has a happier ending than the Ansett saga. Crossair and Swiss (the reincarnation of Swissair) will foot the miles of former Swissair members. All awards booked before April 1 for Swissair flights will be honored by Swiss and will retain their validity.

Americans reading this may wonder why frequent flyers from elsewhere in the world would accept the risk inherent in devoting all of their mileage earning to a single program. In point of fact, though, the United States is relatively unique with its abundance of major airlines — each vying for the traveler’s patronage. Most countries are served primarily by one flagship carrier, which can better serve the native country than any competitor. As a result, travelers in a given country tend to gravitate toward that country’s flagship airline, both out of familiarity and convenience, and develop a tremendous psychological attachment to their country’s national flag carrier. Italians seem to be the only ones who buck this trend, with Lufthansa Miles & More giving Alitalia MilleMiglia a run for its money.

So, against a backdrop of anxiety and clinging to their flagship carriers, Europeans and Austral Asians tentatively begin their summer award travel plans. Though this year’s summer travel picture may not appear to be as bright as in years past, we’ve bargain hunted in an effort to help everyone make the most of their miles and points. And the good news is, there is a silver lining in this cloudy economy. With fewer people traveling, award tickets are easier to come by, flights are more punctual and business-class awards are actually on sale.

Without further ado, here are our summer travel bargains:

  • Qantas Frequent Flyer: Book a flight between Australia and the United Kingdom, France, Germany or Italy in either direction and your companion will receive 50 percent off their award when you buy a commercial ticket. The offer is available in all classes of service and bookings must be made through May 15 for travel between April 15 and June 15. The offer is also available for a trip to the United States. Buy a commercial fare between Sydney and Los Angeles or Honolulu or between Melbourne and Los Angeles and take a companion along for 50 percent of the cost of their award booking. This offer is available on return service in either direction and is valid through May 31. Also through May 31, members can take advantage of a 25 percent discount on award economy-class travel to the Gold Coast: return flights in either direction between Coolangatta and Sydney or Melbourne and connection flights within Australia.
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer recently introduced companion awards. Members can redeem companion tickets in economy class for 40 percent fewer miles than an Economy Saver ticket (e.g., between Singapore and London, redeem 36,000 miles instead of 60,000 miles). If Raffles Class is more your style, you can save 50 percent on the miles required for a companion ticket — that’s 45,000 miles for a Raffles ticket between Singapore and Athens, Madrid or Rome.
  • British Airways Executive Club: This program possesses some permanent features that can be very useful for holiday travel. For example, members can redeem 5,000 miles for a 15 percent discount on a worldwide British Airways Holiday. Call (0870) 608-2201 for a brochure. If you have purchased a full-fare ticket, you can book a BA miles ticket for a traveling companion for 10 percent less than the number of miles normally required (15 percent less for Silver and 20 percent less for Gold). While this is not the bargain of the century, it might allow your family to accompany you on a business trip to an interesting destination. For example, say you had attended the recent gathering of telecommunication mavericks in Cannes, France. As a Gold member you could have flown out on a full-fare ticket and brought along three family members for a total of 31,200 miles in economy, 62,400 miles in business or 93,600 miles in first to nearby Nice. Viola, you have the beginnings of a holiday on the Cote d’Azur.
  • Marriott Rewards: While not exactly a bargain, these next two awards make for interesting trips. For 140,000 points, two Marriott Rewards members can step aboard the British Pullman Train for the Murder Mystery Excursion, which includes roundtrip travel from London to Brighton, continental breakfast, a tour of Brighton Royal Pavillon and lunch (award code 594). Or, redeem 200,000 points for two Superior Class one-way tickets aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient Express train from Venice to Rome (award code 587).

Whatever your holiday plans this year, the keyword this summer is “flexibility.” When choosing a holiday destination, select a few alternatives to fall back on, just in case your first choice isn’t available. And consider flying into alternate airports; this may free up seats.

Chances are good that you’ll hear a few “Nos” when planning this year’s summer trip. But if you persevere, stay open to alternative travel arrangements and utilize some of the travel bargains we’ve listed above, you and your family can still enjoy a holiday to remember.

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