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Star Alliance

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Introduction
Air New Zealand Economy Class, Wellington to Auckland
Air New Zealand International Koru Club Lounge, Auckland
Thai Airways Business Class, Auckland to Bangkok
Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Domestic), Bangkok
Thai Airways Business Class, Bangkok to Phuket
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach, Phuket


Mid-last year, Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter and I started planning for our trip to Europe so that she could visit her friends and family in Sweden. We typically time these trips when it’s Winter here in New Zealand, allowing us to escape the typically cold wind and rain in Wellington (though it hasn’t been that bad this year, apart from the storm) and trade it in for the warmer climate and barbecues on the other side of the World.

Windy Wellington - There's a reason why it's earned this reputation (especially in Winter): Photo by Marin Holl
Windy Wellington – There’s a reason why it’s earned this reputation (especially in Winter): Photo by Marin Holl

When it came down to planning for this trip, initially we were going to fully purchase the flights outright the traditional way, for two reasons:

  1. I had achieved Air New Zealand Gold status only a few months ago earlier that year, and was looking to use the 2 free ‘recognition upgrades’ (RU’s) available, plus the two new RU’s if I re-achieved it again.
  2. I knew that the early bird specials for Europe are typically released around October/November, so we were looking to take advantage of this.

As it so happened, my brother contacted me right when we were in the middle of planning as he was planning a family trip to Phuket (HKT) in July during the school holidays, and asked if we wanted to come, along with Mum and Dad. He was also offering to pay for our accommodation as a Birthday and Christmas present, which was an offer we couldn’t resist – how could we say no?
Thailand and Phuket has been a place that we have been looking to go to at some point, but the nature of it as a hub means it is difficult to get there unless you are flying with Thai Airways. As I was trying to use these upgrades from AirNZ (which require an NZ ticket & NZ operated flight), it was difficult to find a suitable routing to Phuket with connections on to Europe even though Thai Airways are part of the Star Alliance.

Whenever I see photos of Phuket, this is the image I think of - How inviting does that water look?
Whenever I see photos of Phuket, this is the image I think of – How inviting does that water look?

One of my ex-workmates was working for Flight Centre and was trying to help me find a suitable itinerary, even with just flying WLG-AKL-HKG (Hong Kong) / our own way to Phuket / before continuing on with our journey. Although this could have been possible, it is not ideal as:

  1. It would cost a few extra hundreds of dollars for both of us to get from HKG to HKT, in addition to the main flights.
  2. Working two separate itineraries/tickets can be problematic, particularly if there are delays or other unforeseen issues, and you miss the connection to the other flight on a different ticket – this voids the rest of that journey. Depending on the circumstances, travel insurance will cover this, but it is still good to leave some buffer time, eg. +1 day, so we would have likely stayed and had to book an extra night in a hotel in HKG, adding to the cost.

Flight costings were looking to be about $3,100 – $3,300 each, which is extremely high for an early bird fare. After getting frustrated with availability, routings and the cost, I decided to see if there was another way.

Earlier that year, we had flown on an award ticket via. a US Airways Star Alliance Partners award redemption, albeit in economy class, as we were looking to get to Europe cheaply. I had decided that the savings (we saved a couple of hundred dollars each) did not correspond to the benefits, due to the lack of earning for miles/airpoints and lack of status earn. However, with the dilemma of trying to find a suitable route via. Phuket and get to Sweden (reasonably) efficiently, I thought I would reconsider US Airways again.

By this time, we were in November, with no flights booked and the early bird fares starting to dry up. Something must have rolled in our favour, because in November US Airways decided to run a mile purchase promotion for 100% bonus on shared miles up to 50,000 miles. In other words, if I shared 50,000 miles with my partner, she would receive 50,000 miles (paid) + 50,000 miles (bonus), giving her a total of 100,000 miles. This is pretty similar to the standard 100% bonus promotion like the targeted one they are running this month, except there was also no restrictions on sharing miles that had already been shared.
In other words, I (person A) buy 50,000 miles. I share these miles with person B, and they get 100,000 miles. They could share 50,000 miles with person C, and they get 100,000 miles and so on and so forth, like a daisy chain. Although the initial purchase is 3.76 US cents per mile, subsequent purchases are less and less, like watering down the cost. As Mum and Dad also required flights to get to Phuket, this offer was definitely the way to go, and collectively, the cost was cheaper.

As flights though an agent were going to cost over $3,000 anyways, I asked Miss. Kiwi Globetrotter if she wanted to spend a little more and fly in Business Class – to which she answered with a resounding Yes (though, I don’t really see why she wouldn’t) 😉
~I can’t remember the exact amounts purchased through each account, but we ended up with 100,000 in each of our respective accounts and purchased an additional 20,000 miles on top to achieve the 120,000 mile quota required for a Business Class award redemption to Europe.

It took about 2 months in my spare time to find the best combination flight for our trip, mainly because at first the way I was searching was quite inefficient, but I picked up a few tips along the way which made things easier as time went on.
The other reason was trying to find different routings across Star Alliance airlines for the itinerary we needed. As we were searching for a flight from South Pacific to Europe, there were no restrictions on how we got there, provided there was availability – We were stopping over in HKT, but needed to also stop in Munich (MUC) for some friends of our’s wedding on the return trip to NZ. Two stopovers are not permitted on a US award ticket, and neither is a stopover or an open jaw (eg. we couldn’t stopover in Phuket and then have our final destination in Stockholm (ARN), departing from Munich on the way back – which would have required us to buy a separate ticket from ARN-MUC).
I decided the best way to go was a stopover in HKT, with our final destination MUC, and separate tickets between MUC – ARN (we would be in MUC for a few days on the way back anyway so there would be no problems with missing our connection). Finally after researching into all the different routes and ways of getting to Europe I started finding our more information into the different products offered by each airline, so specially routed our trip in particular to take advantage of these.

So in the end, our miles were bought at the end of November and our flights were booked and confirmed in mid-December. The itinerary (once I was done with it) looked like this:

WLG_ARN_itinerary_map

Our total journey is with 5 different (Star Alliance) airlines covering a total distance of over 42,000km, which is about 55 hours in the air – That’s a lot of flying! In addition, we will be visiting various lounges and airports along the way while in transit, so it is *quite* the journey.

I am particularly excited about flying Austrian Airlines new Business Class, as it is a brand new product (they started refitting their planes at the end of last year) and features a ‘throne’ type seat. DO & CO also provides the catering, thought to be some of the best in the skies.

Austrian's New Business Class Product
Austrian’s New Business Class Product

Likewise, Turkish Airlines Business Class offering is meant to be right up there, and they have also been awarded Best Airline in Europe. Something I am also quite looking forward to is hearing their lovely jingle, which was particularly great to listen to as on-hold music when calling them to make our seat reservations.. and yes, it looped just like in the video when on hold too, and gets quite stuck in your head.
I’m not sure if it’s one of the most annoying tunes I’ve heard, but The National Bank’s old tune was also quite horrible as well. They seem to use it all throughout their marketing & activities, so no doubt I’ll be sick to death of it after our long-haul flight:

Turkish Airlines does however, have a very nice business lounge in Istanbul, complete with pool table, a library, and a wide selection of food options. We won’t be spending a huge amount of time in this lounge, but it is something I am also quite looking forward to seeing.

We will also be flying long-haul business class on Thai Airways and Air New Zealand, and there are various short-haul flights throughout – We finally get back to New Zealand at the end of August (ready to start my leave count afresh!).

Final Destination: Stockholm, Sweden
Final Destination: Stockholm, Sweden

The trip begins this Tuesday, so I’ll be blogging throughout the journey and providing trip reports of our experiences along with reviews of our flights and the various soft/hard products and our general time along the way.

As always, any questions and comments are welcome!

A few days ago, Air New Zealand and the Star Alliance released a media statement and conceptual pictures of the new Star Alliance Lounge at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Concept Image of new Los Angeles (LAX) Star Alliance Lounge in Tom Bradley International Terminal (Opening Fall 2013) - Lounge Seating and Cafe area
Concept Image of new Los Angeles (LAX) Star Alliance Lounge in Tom Bradley International Terminal (Opening Fall 2013) – Lounge Seating and Cafe area

The new lounge is going to be located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) and “will offer guests … a truly unique and glamourous lounge experience.”

Air New Zealand, who is a Star Alliance member airline, was selected in 2012 to lead the project to design, as well as manage the new lounge at LAX, part of a USD $1.7b refurbishment of the terminal commissioned by Los Angeles Worldwide Airports.
The internationally acclaimed architectural firm Gensler has been employed to design the lounge, and locally designed and sourced materials has been used to manufacture the furniture where possible.

Lounge Seating and self-serve open bar area [Concept Image]
Lounge Seating and self-serve open bar area [Concept Image]

The new lounge is expected to be completed in July 2013, and is set to open later this year in (Northern Hemisphere) Fall 2013 and will replace the existing Star Alliance Lounge as well as the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge in Terminal 2 (this will close when AirNZ move operations to the TBIT terminal next year).
Air New Zealand will move and commence operations from the Tom Bradley International Terminal along with many of the other Star Alliance member carriers which already operate from this terminal including:

  • Air New Zealand (early-mid 2014)
  • ANA – All Nippon Airways
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Swiss
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • The new lounge will offer the following facilities:

  • First Class: 42 Seats
  • Business Class: 387 Seats
  • Outdoor terrace and bar
  • A wide range of seating options
  • Fast, free and unlimited Wi-Fi internet access
  • Wireless printing and local telephone calls are available on request
  • Variety of complimentary hot and cold food and beverages
  • A wide range of Californian wines
  • Complimentary bar
  • Showers and restroom facilities
  • Flight information displays
  • Fully accessible to disabled travellers
  • Luggage storage area
  • Media room with international news and sports channels
  • No smoking lounge
  • The new lounge will be able to be accessed from the terminal on Level 6, either via. elevator or escalator from the main atrium area. It is located airside after security and is only accessible by guests departing from this terminal on a Star Alliance operated flight with premium status (Star Alliance Gold or higher).

    New Los Angeles (LAX) Star Alliance Lounge in Tom Bradley International Terminal, Level 6 (Opening Summer 2013) - Entrance [Concept Image]
    New Los Angeles (LAX) Star Alliance Lounge in Tom Bradley International Terminal, Level 6 (Opening Summer 2013) – Entrance [Concept Image]

    Edit: US Airways have since merged with American Airlines and consequently decided to (eventually) adopt American Airlines’ branding and loyalty system in future. This has resulted in their exit of the Star Alliance and the new American Airlines continuing their relationship with OneWorld. I will be looking to create a new step-by-step tutorial at some point in the near future – In the meantime, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment if you have any questions!

    So you’ve heard all about the way to book a cheap business class airfare to almost anywhere in the World by purchasing a Star Alliance Award ticket, possibly by reading my overview post earlier this week here.

    You might had a bit of a think, perhaps done some initial planning, and have decided that this is something that you want to give a go. This post is to help guide you step-by-step on how to go about doing it.

    Create a Dividend Miles membership
    First off, you need to sign up for and create your US Airways Dividend Miles membership. It is free to sign up, just go to the US Airways website and click on the “Join Dividend Miles” link.

    To join US Airways Dividend Miles, click on the highlighted link.
    To join US Airways Dividend Miles, click on the highlighted link.

    Signing up will require you to fill in various personal information, including your address, phone numbers, and details to create a login and password. The next steps will be to fill in various items of interest you may want to subscribe to, before verifying your information and submitting it to create your new account. Shortly afterwards, you will receive an E-Mail to the E-Mail address you used to sign up for your new account, which will have your Dividend Miles membership number and a virtual ‘membership card’. Take a note of your membership number – This will be useful later down the line when you need to purchase miles, and access your profile.

    Important Note: If you are looking to take advantage of the current US Airways Dividend Miles 100% Bonus Promotion (expires 31 May 2013) then you need to set an account up now. The terms and conditions of the promotion state that accounts must be open for a minimum of 12 days before any miles can be bought or gifted, however there have been reports of people purchasing them straightaway – As sign up is free, it does not hurt to set up the account now and it will be ready in under 2 weeks (plenty of time for you to do some thorough research and find a good itinerary ready to book!)

    Edit: US Airways have since merged with American Airlines and consequently decided to (eventually) adopt American Airlines’ branding and loyalty system in future. This has resulted in their exit of the Star Alliance and the new American Airlines continuing their relationship with OneWorld. I will be looking to create a new step-by-step tutorial at some point in the near future – In the meantime, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment if you have any questions!

    As I posted earlier last week, today I am going to share with you how to book a cheap business class (J class) fare to almost anywhere in the World, thanks to an opportunity that opened up a couple of days ago. This post is going to cover a general overview of how it all works, in a couple of days I will go through everything step by step on how to actually book an award ticket using this method – Easy as!

    Business Premier (Business Class) on the Air New Zealand 777-200ER
    Business Premier (Business Class) on the Air New Zealand 777-200ER

    So, how is this possible? Well – It is done through the purchase of a special award ticket, and in this case it is through/using Star Alliance airlines (Star Alliance Award). Most airlines, particularly the larger ones, are part of some kind of Alliance – The biggest one, made up of 27 airlines, is the Star Alliance, followed by OneWorld (12 airlines), and finally Skyteam with 19 airlines.

    As a frequent flyer of an airline, as you travel you will typically rack up points, miles, or in the case of Air New Zealand, Airpoints Dollars. Other earning methods include rewards credit cards, staying at partner hotels, or rental car companies. If you aren’t already a frequent flyer member of any airline, I fully recommend you join, as in most cases it doesn’t cost anything, and who knows, you might eventually find you have enough for an award one day 🙂
    Already many of you may have purchased a ‘free’ or award ticket with an airline, be it Air New Zealand or otherwise – possibly to a domestic destination, or perhaps short/medium haul, such as Australia. This concept is very similar. The ticket you will be buying is an award ticket, but instead of it being with only one airline, it will allow you to fly with any of the airlines that are part of the Star Alliance – Keep in mind that this is subject to availability.
    With 19 different airlines across the World each serving a raft of different routes and destinations, that allows for *quite* a wide range of possibilities for your next holiday 😉

    Star Alliance - The way the Earth connects
    Star Alliance – The way the Earth connects

    How does it work? Why is it so cheap? ..and what’s the catch?

    So we’ve already established that you’re able to book a Star Alliance award fare through one of the Star Alliance member airlines.

    Well, it just so happens that one of the airlines, US Airways, is currently running an open promotion to its frequent flyer members for a 100% bonus on frequent flyer miles bought, up to 50,000 miles. In other words, if you buy 50,000 miles, you will get another 50,000 miles free – that’s more than enough for a business class fare from New Zealand to Asia (90,000 miles) or with an additional top up of 10,000 miles you could fly to the United States/Canada in Business (110,000 miles) or for 20,000 miles more you could fly to Europe from New Zealand (120,000 miles). For those of you interested, that’s just over 1.88 cents (USD) per mile, or converted at todays rate for NZD, about 2.2 cents for mile.
    This is a time limited promotion which expires at the end of May, so if after reading through my overview post and you are still interested/convinced that taking advantage of this promotion is for you, then you can then start thinking about the places you want to go and start saving up the money required to purchase the appropriate number of miles.