While I book awards for others on a daily basis, lately I’ve realized just how bad I am at planning travel for myself. While I have plenty of miles in every alliance, the issue is that I always feel the need to completely maximize any given itinerary in order to feel good about it. The challenge is that I rarely actually have to be anywhere on specific dates, at least when it comes to award travel. In other words, I’ll find an award to somewhere that’s almost perfect, but then start second guessing myself, saying that there might be a better “value” by visiting a different destination or traveling at a different time. That always brings me back to square one.
I need to be in Germany this coming week to visit family, though was totally open as far as carriers go, so let me share just how in-depth, frustrating, and time consuming my travel planning process can be. Let me preface this by saying that my goal from hereon out on the airline front is to sample as many airlines’ premium products as possible, so I can review them here. Yes, even if I have to “downgrade” to business class. 😉
So, when I started planning the trip, I first considered the most obvious option to Frankfurt, good old reliable Lufthansa. They even had first class award availability both ways out of Orlando nonstop to Frankfurt, and as of a few weeks ago they’re operating a 747 on the route. Great product, though I’ve done it so many times. Do I really want to fly them again when there are other options out there to try? Oh, who am I kidding, if I don’t book Lufthansa I’ll actually have to access the Frankfurt airport via something other than the First Class Terminal. I’ve forgotten what the terminal looks like, I’ll get lost!
Then I considered using my British Midland miles for business class. I’d love to sample some new airlines, though the challenge with British Midland is that on a business class award, they don’t let you include domestic first class segments, with the exception of Continental, which codes their domestic first class as business class. So you either need to book the tickets to the gateways separately, or fly to the gateways in… coach!
My first consideration was US Airways, believe it or not. When booking travel through British Midland, they impose fuel surcharges on all tickets where the operating airline imposes a fuel surcharge. US Airways doesn’t have any fuel surcharges, so for a roundtrip savings of $300 or so, they were my first consideration. More importantly, though they have the new Envoy Suites product, which is available on the A330-200 aircraft. I managed to find a routing via Paris both ways. While DeGaulle is one of my last favorite airports, I would at least (theoretically) be flying on their new product. The only issue is that only five of the seven A330-200 aircraft have been converted with the new product, so I had close to a 30% chance of ending up in US Airways’ old business class product. Do I *really* want to do that?
Then I started thinking about other Star Alliance airlines. Continental was available through Newark to Frankfurt all the way, and the seatmap showed their new business class product. While it’s a decent product no doubt, what would I fly on the return? I might as well do US Airways, right? Well, I figured if I did US Airways roundtrip, I could at least be pretty certain I would get the new Envoy Suite in one of the directions. I’d be sorely disappointed, though, if I only flew with them one way and it ended up being the old product.
Austrian also had award availability on the outbound. I really have wanted to try Austrian business class for a while, though they do impose fuel surcharges and I would have to book a separate ticket to Washington Dulles. Certainly not the end of the world, though I need to check a bag for this trip, so I can see that getting at least a bit stressful.
Hmm, I have OneWorld miles, so why not do British Airways first class? I’ve always wanted to try them. While there are fuel surcharges, it’s still worth it, right? I could even fly into and out of LAX, in order to “maximize” the flights. Ultimately I’m not sure I’d need to fly them both ways, so why not just fly them on the return? For the outbound I’ll just stick to one of the other options above. But at the same time, do I really want to risk flying through Heathrow, given the weather issues they’ve had lately?
Then I started looking at SkyTeam. Just for giggles, I hopped onto delta.com to see what they had available, given that I recently acquired about half a million SkyMiles. Holy cow, availability to Frankfurt on my preferred dates for 100,000 miles roundtrip. Sounds nice and dandy, though these are the old style recliner seats. Do I really want to fly a transatlantic flight in a recliner when I could have a flat bed? I should be using my Delta miles either for V Australia or for a Delta destination served by a product with flat beds, like London (which has plenty of award availability during the low season).
And then the thought process started all over again until I was ready to just about call the trip off!
But I did end up making a decision, and as of now am traveling tomorrow. Which choice (or combination of choices) would you have gone with?
I’ll be tweeting (including pictures) during my travels tomorrow, so feel free to follow along there. Otherwise, expect updates here very soon.