In this final entry, I promised to give some tips on making air travel easier in the Philippines. When I travel for business, I tend to fly business class on flights that are over 3 or 4 hours long. Those fares are typically priced several thousand dollars more than the typical coach seat. However, most seats in the front of the plane are upgraded from coach class. Airlines treat their best customers better than everyday travelers… That is a fact. By joining a frequent flyer program and sticking to one primary airline, you build up status. This is the most important tip I can give. It is not necessarily the free flights that have value, but, rather, the upgrades that really frequent flyers covet. By flying enough to get to Silver or Gold status, you tell the airline that you are one of their best customers and you can get numerous benefits. In the Philippines, the only airline that has kept its program in place is Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay Miles program. Unfortunately, the other airlines in the Philippines have eliminated their programs, and you can no longer earn miles on domestic flights taken on Air Philippines, even with a Mabuhay miles card. Another problem is that PAL does not belong to one of the three alliances: One World (American, BA, Cathay, Qantas, JAL), Star Alliance (SQ, Thai, United, Lufthansa), or Sky Team (Delta, Northwest, KLM, Air France, KAL). The alliances allow you to earn and redeem miles across multiple airlines and seamlessly book flights all around the world. I hold “elite” status in three programs: One World, Emirates, and Etihad. In order to get elite status, you normally actually have to fly… Credit card rewards and other bonus miles typically do not count towards status (You just get the miles). Benefits to higher status:
1. Many times, if space is available, you are upgraded to business class. You don’t always have to use accumulated miles… Sometimes it is simply because of elite status. Trust me, the bigger seat makes a trans-Pacific flight much easier.
2. Free flights. As much as I travel, I don’t typically care about a free flight (I prefer upgrades), but I use miles to fly Rebecca with me on business trips, sometimes. I often hear people complain they accumulate many miles but can’t use them. Elite status nearly always means that more seats are available for free flights when and where you want to go.
3. You earn more miles on flights. On One World, I earn almost double the miles as I normally would, due to loyalty.
4. Easier booking of tickets. You typically get special reservations numbers that are actually answered.
5. With elite status, you are the last person to be bumped from a flight and are nearly never overbooked.
6. Faster check-in. For instance, on Cathay Pacific, I typically can check in at the First Class line, even when flying coach.
Now, none of these things, in my mind at least, is worth the price on its own, but if all things are equal (fares, schedule, etc.), it makes the decision as to which airline to fly much easier.
With fuel costs so high, “deals” are getting rarer these days. Now, some tips for cheaper fares:
1. Book on Tuesday or Wednesday departure. Airlines are busiest around the weekends… Friday, Sunday, and Monday. That is when business travelers fly. Book during the middle of the week and fares are typically cheaper.
2. If you must fly last minute, check the business class fare as well as coach fare. Sometimes, there is no difference in fare, or very little, so, even though it is a higher fare than if you booked ahead, you are more comfortable.
3. If you are flying one-way, check the equivalent round trip fare… Sometimes it is cheaper to buy a RT fare and just not use the return flight.
4. Use airline web sites. Fares are usually cheapest. The frustration is the credit card issue I discussed previously. Very frustrating if the fare is cheapest, but you can’t book. Fares are almost always higher if you actually have to talk to someone.
5. Be flexible on plans, if possible. You will normally pay much more over Christmas or other holidays. You need to be realistic in expectations. Speaking of realism, the Golden Age of Air Travel is long gone… There are no longer any “freebies” like pillows or even water. The airline advertisements usually focused on First Class. Everyone else is riding a flying Jeepney.
If your flight is cancelled due to weather or very late and you might miss a connection, get on the phone to the airline… Don’t wait at the desk at the airport. You will usually have a much easier time rebooking. A final tip: Be NICE to the gate agent…No matter how frustrated you are or how dumb they appear to be… They are usually your best key to getting an upgrade and can be helpful in sorting out problems.
Well, so much for this series of articles… I hope they were helpful. Next article, in as few days, is about my first trip to the Cagayan Valley.