Seeking help on Upgrade strategies for travel to Africa - StarAlliance or SkyTeam

Discussion in 'Star Alliance' started by trooper2001, Aug 22, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    I'm a newbie here seeking some help on upgrade strategies for flights from the States to Africa, specifically on several Star Alliance partners -- my question is how to book. I'd be flying United/Continental to Europe connecting to Brussels Airlines or Air France to Yaounde (Cameroon), then on the return using Swiss from Douala (Cameroon).

    Because I'm trying to use miles to upgrade on all segments across multiple airlines, I have no idea which airline to call to do this booking. Is there a Star Alliance reservations line that can help? I'm a oneworlder but my options for using one world take me from the States to Europe then I'm forced to rely on Star Alliance or Air France.

    My other option is SkyTeam but that takes me almost all the way it seems except from Europe to NSI, where I have to use Brussels Air (back to StarAlliance).
     
  2. MSPeconomist
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    MSPeconomist Gold Member

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    Welcome to MP

    As a general rule, you call the airline whose miles you are using for the upgrade (or award ticket) as it's that airlines whose rules apply, although the situation and rules can differ based on which partner you are flying, especially for upgrades. You should plan for the upgrades before purchasing the ticket and be sure that all conditions are satisfied. You might need to have different tickets as upgrades could require particular ticket stock and flight numbers. (Usually it's best to avoid codeshares, but they can sometimes work to your advantage, so be careful here.) If you can't confirm upgrades when purchasing your ticket, be sure your understand how the airline prioritizes upgrades and whether you can be on standby and wait lists or must call to have the upgrade processed when an upgrade seat becomes available. If you don't have elite status on the alliance or airline, you should not necessarily expect that upgrades will succeed.

    It's relatively easy--if upgrade inventory is available--to use UA/CO miles and SWUs to upgrade flights flown ("metal" by UA/CO, although since it's the middle of a merger, you need to check which flight numbers, etc. are better in your case. AFAIK you can now transfer miles back and forth at will between the two programs, so you might want to go with the program that threats your elite level with them better. Upgrades require particular fare classes and sometimes co-pays depending on the fare class of your ticket.

    For SkyTeam upgrades, DL requires the purchase of high fare classes (M or higher, very expensive not even including intermediate discount coach classes). You must have the correct fare class to be considered for waitlist or standby for upgrades and DL usually charges change fees to upfare a ticket for upgrade purposes, probably $250 for a typical nonrefunadable international coach ticket. The rules say that SkyTeam partner upgrades require full Y fare class. However, DL/AF/KL have a somewhat closer relationship (the joint venture), so there are exceptions that generally allow TATL upgrades on AF/KL from the equivalent of M or higher fares as well as some Y+ fares on AF which can be real bargains. There have been mixed reports concerning AF upgrades beyond the TATL segment to/from CDG, so YMMV, but your upgrade instrument should normally include all available upgrades on connecting flights without paying more.

    I'll stop here since I know this is confusing and I'm more familiar with SkyTeam policies.
     
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  3. MSPeconomist
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    MSPeconomist Gold Member

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    A FEW MORE COMMENTS:

    If this is a work trip, do you have access to a really good corporate travel agent who can straighten this out for you? Have colleagues made similar trips? If so, they might be able to help.

    Again if this travel is at least partly for work, what are your corporate travel policy rules regarding purchasing more expensive upgradeable fares? Are you allowed to pick carriers based on price only, or schedule, individual preference, FF programs, and upgrade opportunities?

    Are you allowed to purchase discounted business class tickets or consolidator (which generally don't earn miles) business class tickets? What about premium coach Y+? Sometimes these can be in fact be cheaper than a coach fare even though it seems strange to argue that flying FC and business saves money. Are you expected to buy refundable tickets? Would it perhaps make sense and be cost effective to purchase a RTW business class ticket?

    Are you perhaps eligible for special charity/humanitarian fares for this trip? Must you follow government travel rules and use government fares? Are you required to use USA carriers (this includes a lot of government grant partial funding situations) , where possible (definition of possible?????), is there a preferred carrier or alliance, are there corporate contract fares? Are there forbidden airlines or other safety requirements?

    Finally, I hope that you're on top of visa and health and safety requirements/recommendations for your trip, such as anti-malaria pills or required shots for diseases such as yellow fever based on your itinerary and travel conditions.
     
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  4. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    Very comprehensive replies! In case further assistance may be offered, some answers/clarifications to these comments:

    - I have the following status on airlines: Delta Platinum Medallion (with 4 systemwide upgrades).
    Continental - Gold OnePass.
    American Airlines Platinum with 2 systemwide upgrades
    Miles to use for upgrades -- 350,000 which can be transferred from Amex Membership Rewards account to any one or more FF accounts. Willing to use up to 200,000 of these if necessary.

    Also have 200,000 American Airlines miles.

    No restrictions on airlines to fly and can use consolidator. Goal simply is to fly in business class from LAX - NSI and DLA - LAX on return without spending an arm and a leg. Willing to pay a premium for class of service to use upgrades (i.e., M or higher on Delta to use upgrades). Business travel but reimburse-ability is limited and anything over comes out of my pocket. Coach fares run $2K-ish and business fares around $10K so difference is significant.

    Any other questions for clarification I'd be glad to answer.

    Thanks again!
     
  5. thetenken
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    thetenken Silver Member

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    When you say you are using miles to upgrade segments, I assume you don't want to try for an award ticket?
     
  6. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    I would be willing to use up to 200,000 miles for award travel (i.e., for the full biz class ticket, as opposed to purchasing eligible coach fare and upgrading)
     
  7. thetenken
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    thetenken Silver Member

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    Well, depending on your travel dates, I see that you can fly one-way saver pass for 60,000 miles (plus taxes) on United/Star Alliance to Yaounde. You can then do another one-way saver pass back for another 60,000 (plus taxes)from DLA. Put in LAX -> NSI/DLA on Continental.com with your dates and you should find some availability.
     
  8. thetenken
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    thetenken Silver Member

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    If you wanted to save 10,000 miles, you can also use US Airways miles. Their award business travel from U.S. -> Africa is 110,000 miles, compared to 120,000 miles. You just have to deal with calling into US Airways and talking to an agent. You would do a roundtrip award and just make it open jaw.
     
  9. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    In true ADHD form, I immediately checked out the first option by going to Continental's web site and found that the specific dates I'm working with are, to put it mildly, not good for upgrades or award travel -- the interface on the web site is useful, showing me that even plus or minus 3 days doesn't change things. I'm planning on out Sept. 29 LAX-NSI and returning Oct. 9 DLA-LAX. Nada except for basically $10,000 fare round trip. I'm going to try to call continental and beg. I'm also going to check Delta. Further, I'm going to check out US Air (where I'm Platinum Dividend miles).
     
  10. MSPeconomist
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    MSPeconomist Gold Member

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    DL M fares to upgrade with either miles or SWUs will cost MUCH more than $2000 RT although they tend to release award and upgrade inventory very close to travel dates. Remember that their awards cannot be changed within 72 hours of travel; you lose all miles.
     
  11. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    I am willing to spend up to $4,000 if necessary, total. My current strategy revolves around using miles on AA (200,000 total -- 100,000 each way) to go LAX-BRU (VIA ORD) and back from ZRH-JFK-LAX. The tough part seems to be BRU-NSI and DLA-ZRH. I can get (via cheapoair) a oneway from BRU-NSI for a bit under $1,400 (see attached) -- though I'm stunned that they can offer that given the going rate is about $3k from all other sources....

    Then I have to get from DLA-ZRH which is turning out to be a nightmare, and of course I don't want to buy anything until I have everything locked in.

    Still cranking away!
     

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  12. thetenken
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    thetenken Silver Member

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    Are you married to those dates? I see some availability like Sept 20 and also later in October for SaverPass...
     
  13. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    unfortunately, I am married to those dates. The only flexibility is that I can leave a day or two earlier, lay over for a day or two in Europe, then be in NSI by 30 sept. 2011. I need to be there to hook up with land travel arrangements that were made for the meeting I'm going to. On the return, I have to leave Oct. 9 (for same reason) but can stay in Europe a day or two if necessary.
     
  14. thetenken
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    thetenken Silver Member

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    I see availability from BRU -> NSI for 45,000 on 9/30, one way.

    There is also business availability from LAX -> LHR -> BRU on 9/27.

    I see business availability from DLA -> BRU -> EWR -> LAX on 10/10. So you could stay an extra day in DLA in a hotel.

    Putting these together, you can do a roundtrip award through US Airways, LAX -> BRU 9/27; stopover; BRU -> NSI 9/30; DLA -> LAX 10/10. Total cost should be 110,000 miles + taxes + booking fee.

    Depart:
    10:55 a.m.
    Fri., Sep. 30, 2011
    Brussels, Belgium (BRU)

    Arrive:
    4:40 p.m.
    Fri., Sep. 30, 2011
    Yaounde CM (NSI)
    Travel Time:
    6 hr 45 mn
    Flight: SN353
    Operated by Brussels Airlines.
    Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
    Meal: Lunch
    No Special Meal Offered.
    See On-Time Performance
     
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  15. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    Wow! That would be perfect! How did you dig that up? US AIrways web site? I checked continental and it seemed like a 45K was available but didn't work. This would be absolutely PERFECT!
     
  16. thetenken
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    thetenken Silver Member

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    I found all of it on the Continental website, all with saverpass availability. You then take the flight info and call US Airways or Continental/United to book (due to the stopover).
     
  17. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    Many thanks!! I'm getting on the horn now!
     
  18. thetenken
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    thetenken Silver Member

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    Any luck?
     
  19. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    Not yet -- the agents I've been working with can't seem to get the rates/awards I need..... Yet...
     
  20. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    I finally came up with a solution! A deal of deals. Transferred 364,000 Amex membership rewards miles to delta for biz class from lax to europe and Africa. Gained a whopping 50% bonus miles! That's right -- the net result was a reasonable 182,000 miles for the following itinerary -- i did have to book a one leg from BRU-NSI but it was small potatoes compared to the tough stuff.
    LAX ATL BRU. (ARNK) DLA CDG ATL LAX

    delta has the lie flat seats LAX to ATL then great seats the rest. air France has an incredibly comfortable seat too -- DLA to CDG.

    The fare is around $13K. At $10K the net is About $0.055 per mile worst case. That's bang for the buck considering even the airlines are selling miles for less than that. I never would ave done it otherwise
     
  21. trooper2001

    trooper2001 Member

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    Also, not that it was needed, I got 25K towards status (I am Plat. On Delta) -- but that deal could help others. Also note some fees for xfer and taxes
     
  22. thetenken
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    thetenken Silver Member

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    Glad it worked out for you!
     

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