Using ExpertFlyer helped get us Qantas First class AGAIN

I am the kind of person that likes to plan far in advance. Getting plane tickets for trips 5-8 months beforehand is not unlikely in my life, mostly because that’s when I seem to find the best deals. Either there is a sale of some kind of I have an insight due to my frequent-flyer blog reading. So, when I tell you that my wife and I booked our flights home from Australia one week before takeoff – please know that this is not who I normally am.

That being said, it’s not completely true. While we had booked our flight to Australia on Qantas First class, it was getting particularly hard to find the same kind of availability on the return for January 1. In fact, I had been searching for two months on a daily basis and I didn’t find anything. So, my wife and I gave in and decided two things:

  1. We would book the cheapest economy (oy) ticket home and just deal with it.
  2. We would set up flight alerts on ExpertFlyer and cancel the economy tickets (eating the fees) if we found something.

So, that’s what we did. I found a relatively inexpensive ticket home from Sydney on the morning of January 1 and booked it for the two of us:

Then, I set up flight alerts on ExpertFlyer for award tickets home. For those who don’t know what that service does: instead of spending my own time searching daily on all the websites for specific flights, it does the work for me! I just set up a bunch of queries and when one is available, it sends me an email. Here are some example searches I had running:

Then, the most amazing thing happened: not only did I receive notification of award availability, but it was still in Qantas First class!

I got this email while on the train from Gold Coast airport to Brisbane so I immediately closed the Netflix movie I was watching and went on AA.com to book it (I was using AA miles after all). It turned out while there were two seats available, one was direct Sydney->Los Angeles while the other was Sydney->Melbourne->Los Angeles. Well, after talking it over briefly with my wife, we booked it and later on cancelled the United flights (getting all the money back, incidentally). Since both flights arrive in LA around the same time, we then booked a return flight home to JFK together.

It’s amazing what a little patience, flexibility, and a great award search tool can do!

Review: Qantas First Class on an A380 Part 2 – The seat and the service

After our lovely time waiting in the Qantas first class lounge at LAX we walked over to our gate for boarding. It took about five minutes to get there and we saw a new piece of technology they are using for the boarding process: some kind of entryway where your photo was taken and your boarding pass scanned before you go onto the jetway to the plane. It seemed very new but maybe was a more efficient way of getting everyone onto the plane? I’m not sure and it was a bit of a blur because I was so excited to get into our seats.

Speaking of which, once we got passed the electronic gates we saw three doorways with various jetways to the plane. We took the proper one for our first class seats and within 60 seconds were greeted by very friendly flight attendants who directed us to our seats.

Courtesy of Seatguru.com.

This is the first time I’ve flown with my wife in premium seats where we weren’t sitting next to each other. It’s not for lack of trying – the Qantas first class seat on the A380 doesn’t even have the option. Whereas most first class wide-bodies have seats in a 1-2-1 pattern, these are big enough to be 1-1-1. I tried to place us near each other in 4K and 4F but we still couldn’t see each other unless we craned our necks! So, as a compromise, I came over to her pod for some take-off champagne and our dinner later on.

Now on to some specifics about the seat: it’s huge. The chair you get is quite wide (according to SeatGuru it’s 22 inches, but it feels like more). The space you get is also massive – enough that the seat itself swivels into two different positions (one for take-off/landing and one for cruising). There is a foot rest that is usable by a second person to sit with you at any time (I imagine it’s used mostly for meals). Two storage lockers are located next to you under the fixed tray area (one contains your over-ear headphones – not noise cancelling, unfortunately). There are two remote controls – one is for the seat (moving it, putting lights on/off, even a massage setting!) and one is for the screen you have to watch shows/movies or even communicate with others!

Now, onto the main meal. Since the flight was scheduled to leave in the evening (around 8pm, although we were delayed by about 30 minutes) we were served dinner. The menu had some great options, all chosen by Neil Perry, some famous Australian chef. As mentioned before, my wife and I opted to eat together so the flight attendants set up our dinner table together in her pod. Over the course of about 45 minutes we were served our various courses, enjoying all points of the meal. While I had forgotten to sign her up for a gluten-free meal, the attendants took something from the business class menu and offered it to her instead (she still said it was tasty). Overall, a very tasty and convenient method of eating over the ocean!

 

There were a variety of snacks offered throughout the flight as well. In fact, there is a lounge on the plane with some refreshments! Yes, that’s right: if you take the staircase (!) up to the second floor, there is a small seating area with a TV as well as a counter filled with some snacks and drinks to grab whenever you want. I believe this was exclusive to the 14 first class passengers, so very awesome!

Before landing, we were offered a breakfast meal, which was also quite tasty. My eggs were cooked to order and I got to choose a variety of veggies as sides. For this meal, we chose to eat separately because one of us might have still been sleeping when the other chose to eat.

The bed, the pajamas, and the amenity kit: all great, although the amenity kit could use some more pizzazz. Since the flight was about 14 hours long, I wanted to make sure I back-loaded my sleep so I would wake up more refreshed in Sydney at 6am. I asked the flight attendants to set up my bed a little bit later than many others and went to change in the bathroom (quick note: they were larger bathrooms than in economy, which is nice, and contained a lot of amenities, including disposable razors and shaving cream, of which I took 3 to use during the rest of my trip).

The pajamas we were given are some of the best I’ve experienced! So comfy, and they come with a drawstring as well as pockets. They are thicker than the Qantas business class ones we received last year on the Dreamliner and were very good to sleep in. When I returned from changing, my bed was made. There was a great mat put on the turned-down seat which made it very soft and comfortable to sleep on. The duvet and blanket were enough to keep me warm (but not overly so, as has happened on previous flights). And, the pillow let my head sink right into it with no trouble. Finally, the amenity kit contained a high-quality eye mask, not simply one of those that rests on your head made of cloth, but something more like this. And I used the toothbrush/toothpaste before getting some needed sleep (7 hours worth!).

Overall, the seat and service were incredible. If I had to make any recommendations, it would be to upgrade the headphones to noise-cancelling versions, and put some nicer toothbrushes in the amenity kit. Otherwise, my wife and I had a great time on the Qantas A380 and I look forward to experiencing it again on the ride home!

Review: Qantas First Class on an A380 Part 1 – Check-in and the Lounge

I’ve read so many times how difficult it is to get award tickets to Australia and New Zealand yet, for some reason, I found myself returning to the sun-burnt country for the second time for less than a few hundred dollars round-trip. Last year my wife and I got to fly on Qantas’ new Dreamliner business class and really enjoyed it. While the pajamas we received don’t make it into my regular rotation, I still remember the trip with fondness.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

This time around, though, I was even more lucky. My wife and I knew we wanted to go somewhere far again this winter break so I began looking at our options. While I was trying to find something good to other parts of the world I was lucky enough to see the light purple pop up with Qantas first class award availability right when my winter break began – so we jumped on it.

For the low low price of 110,000 AAdvantage miles + $40.10 in taxes per person, we had a flight down under that would be incredibly comfortable. We booked a first class flight from LAX->SYD and then tacked on a free flight from Sydney to Gold Coast about 13 hours after landing.

Fast forward to the day of travel. We had to position ourselves in Los Angeles so we took a JetBlue flight out to get there (we love the comfy seats, the unlimited snacks, and the fact that we get 50% off all in-flight purchases with our JetBlue credit card). We brought our rental car back to the airport and then went to check in.

While there was a moderate line for the economy passengers, there was only one person in front of us so it took a minute or two for us to bring our bags up front. We discovered – much to our excitement – that our bags would be checked up until our final destination of Gold Coast (we would just have to pick them up in Sydney airport and bring them to the Domestic Baggage Transfer area).

Once through security, we went into one of my favorite places during international travel: the lounge. Qantas has a first class lounge (also accessible to other One World premium customers) with many amenities: plenty of space to sit and read, magazines and newspapers for you to take, a full bar, bathrooms/showers, and table service for a variety of meal options.

 

We sat down to have a relaxing meal with the 45 minutes we had before the flight (even though, of course, we would also eat on the plane). It’s important to remember that these lounges are basically miniature all-inclusive resorts; we could order whatever we wanted in whatever amounts. We kept it light but tasty and had some drinks to boot. My wife even liked my dessert so much she ordered one for herself when we found out our flight was delayed by about 20 minutes.

While waiting for our food to arrive I decided to avail myself of the shower facilities. It was easy enough to walk over to the receptionist desk and have someone show me to an open room. It was very clean and had all the resources I might need. The water pressure was great, the soap, shampoo, and conditioner was nice (although scented, which some may not appreciate).

The lounge staff announced when our flight was going to depart and updated us when the delay occurred. Overall, we had a great and relaxing experience at the Qantas First Class lounge at LAX. If you are departing from there anytime soon, make sure to give yourself an hour to enjoy the heck out of it!

Citi Prestige Trip Cancellation Benefit doesn’t cover miles refunds

In an attempt to recoup the value of a ticket my wife and I had to cancel I called the phone number on the back of our Citi Prestige card in order to file a trip cancellation refund request. We had used the card to pay the taxes on a mileage trip on Korean Airlines, whose generous refund rules allow you to recoup much of your losses for not that much money (miles, actually). That being said, they still deduct miles in order to process the refund according to this chart:

So, due to the international nature of our travel we each lost 3,000 Korean Air Skypass miles in the transaction (and we got the rest back, including the taxes). So, when I called Citi, I wasn’t necessarily expecting anything magical, but I was hoping they would refund some kind of dollar value of the 6,000 miles that we lost. Turns out the answer is no. They don’t refund miles. I’ve been a happy customer of Citi Prestige for a while and love all their insurance benefits but it turns out this one they don’t help with. It’s not that big a deal – 6,000 miles is a small price to pay to get everything back easily, but it’s annoying.

Good to know for the future, though, I’m sure.

Using Budget’s Fastbreak service at SFO

The San Francisco rental car center is both convenient and annoying at the same time. It has all the rental car companies and their cars located in one gigantic garage that is easily accessible by the AirTrain connecting all the terminals and BART stations. That being said, it takes a good 10 minutes to get to by AirTrain and you arrive with a large throng of people so getting to a good position in line for your rental car can be difficult.

Enter the loyalty programs and services like “Fastbreak.” As I’ve published before, oftentimes these companies show your name on a screen to ensure you know where to go for your car.

This time, however, Budget went old school and put our rental agreements on paper next to the station where no associates were standing. Since we were going to show our driver’s licenses to the exit attendant anyway, it didn’t matter that we didn’t check in with anyone. I just thought it was quaint to use paper instead of a video screen (which Avis was doing right next to the Budget station).

United DOES care (on a trip when your in-flight entertainment doesn’t work)

My wife and I took United flight 1513 from Newark to San Francisco last Thursday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised by the outcome of an unfortunate situation that occurred with the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.

Essentially, since United decided to remove many of their IFE systems from planes to save on costs. The physical hardware requires maintenance and fuel in order to keep it in the sky. Many airlines are going in this direction so you should always check in advance if you need to download an app or a movie to make sure you have something to watch on long flights (that is, if you want to – there are also these paper-based items called “books” I’ve heard are having a resurgence).

Anyway, for the vast majority of our flight the IFE system was inoperable. My wife and I like to watch movies together on airplanes and were disappointed (as, I’m sure were parents of small children…). I read a book and took a nap, then discovered with about 45 minutes left in the flight that the IFE was working again.

Throughout this situation, were kept fairly well apprised by the flight attendants that there was nothing they could do and that they were sorry for the delay. Toward the second half of the flight we heard a message explaining that they wanted to make it right with us and we should go to this website in order to get something for our troubles. In the end, we were offered a choice that – to me – is a no-brainer:

5000 miles is worth about $50-$75 with how they are often used, so I opted for the $100 e-certificate for the two of us. That means our next flights are discounted by a pretty substantial amount. Since the plane tickets, themselves, were about $110 each for us, I’m impressed that we were able to get these certificates.

Also, I’m curious to know United’s math on this situation. According to this seating chart of the plane that we used (I think it was this model of 777-200) there were 364 people on the plane, meaning $100 * 364 = $36,400 of extra cost for United. I am very impressed at both the speed and ease in which this all took place. This definitely makes me like them a bit more than I had before.

Kudos, United. Thanks for the money back.

EL AL Policies have shifted around in regards to religiously-inclined seating requests

As a frequent traveler I find it is very important to know and understand the religious and cultural values of the country to which I am traveling. Unfortunately, when it comes to my own background as Jewish person, I am sometimes dismayed at how those values can be warped and twisted. Case in point: women sitting next to religious men on an airplane.

Airplanes are obviously close-quarters. Airline owners are pondering daily how to cram more people in to make more money. So, when (as often happens) an ultra-orthodox Jewish man is seated next to a woman in a seat on a plane, the man often asks flight attendants to move the woman so he won’t break his interpretation of Jewish law. The actual law is called Shomer Negiah and I have plenty of religious friends that follow it but still sit next to women on airplanes.

Enter: Renee Rabinowitz, a Holocaust survivor and 81-year-old woman who was sitting in business class, yet still had the same request made of her. Back in 2016 she filed a lawsuit and in 2017 she won it. El Al, the Israeli airline, was now mandated to come up with a more specific policy on how to deal with these situations, and not one that would be negative towards women.

The more specific policies were implemented (women are not to be asked to move anymore) but an ad showcasing them was blocked for being too political in origin.

Then, finally, on June 24, El Al Chairman Gonen Ussishkin announced Monday that any passengers refusing to sit next to other passengers will be immediately removed from the aircraft. I am truly curious to see how this will work going forward. Will the ultra-orthodox just choose a different airline and have the whole issue pop up again? Or will they stop flying at all? I wonder…