Understanding the huge differences in taxes & charges between different redemption options

I wrote a few weeks ago about using a tool called AwardAce to identify the best redemption options when there are multiple options between two cities. The tool is great, but focuses on the number of points needed and only gives an indicative view of the taxes & charges component, which can be a substantial influence on which option to pick.

There are three primary variables which define both the number of points you are charged, and the amount of taxes & charges you pay:

  1. The departure point of your flight, and the local taxes levied;
  2. The points ‘currency’ you’re booking with – BA Avios, Qantas Points etc.
  3. The ‘metal’ you’re flying – e.g. operated by British Airways, American Airlines etc.

There isn’t much you can do about (1), so I’ll focus on (2) and (3). Because both the points amount and the taxes & charges amount change, you need to use this formula to calculate the overall cheapest option:

Cash value of points for Option A + taxes & charges for Option A vs. Cash value of points for Option B + taxes & charges for Option B

Example

Let’s take a journey in Business Class, from Philadelphia to London, using either British Airways Avios or Qantas Points.

Firstly, with British Airways, you have two options:

Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 21.43.18

The option at 18.35pm with British Airways costs 50,000 Avios + £374.50, with the option at 21.10pm with American Airlines costs 60,000 Avios + £384.30.

Running the same search with Qantas, gives you the same two options in Business (with an additional option in Economy):

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 21.48.13

In this case, the option at 18.35pm with British Airways costs 53,000 Qantas Points + £370.01, with the option at 21.10pm with American Airlines costing 50,000 Qantas Points + £4.28. That is not a typo, it’s £4.28 in taxes & charges with American Airlines when booking with Qantas.

Converting all of the four potential permutations into cash, you have:

  • British Airways flight (6.35pm)…
    • …with Avios, = 50,000 Avios + £374.50 = £969;
    • …with Qantas, = 53,000 Qantas + £370.01 = £842;
  • American Airlines flight (9.10pm)…
    • …with Avios, = 60,000 Avios + £384.30 = £1,097;
    • …with Qantas, = 50,000 Avios + £4.28 = £450;

 

In this case, booking the American Airlines flight using Qantas points is c. 45% cheaper than the next cheapest option, and almost 60% cheaper than the most expensive option. In terms of absolute savings, a single person travelling one way saves c. £392 in total and more than £370 in absolute cash costs.

 

So how should you use this information?

Firstly, try to maintain a diverse portfolio of different points accounts so that you can take advantage of discrepancies like these. The above was just an example, and it isn’t always the case that using Qantas points is better British Airways Avios – if I had run the same analysis on a domestic flight between Sydney and Melbourne, BA would have come out on top.

Secondly, when you’re considering using your points, it pays to explore a few different options to identify which the cheapest option is, and to consider both the amount of points needed and the taxes & charges in a combined valuation. In the example above, note the taxes & charges between flying American with Avios points and flying BA with Qantas points were very similar, but because Qantas points are (on average) worth less than BA points, it’s overall cheaper to use Qantas points.

Get in touch if you have any questions on the above, or just let me know what you’re thinking and I can have a look for you.

How has the value of a frequent flyer point changed in the last 12 months?

Roughly a year ago, I wrote about the value of frequent flyer points in this article. Whilst the theory of how you value points hasn’t changed, and it is still heavily linked to your approach to determining value, I thought it would be interesting to look at my own valuation and whether it has changed much over the last year.

This is my latest valuation table, with 2016 valuations included and changes highlighted in green and red:

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 13.29.15

The ‘actual’ column refers to the valuation, in Australian Dollar cents, for every point I’ve ever redeemed agains that specific scheme. The ‘suggested floor’ column is my recommendation for the minimum valuation you should place on your points, when you’re comparing a ‘use points’ vs. ‘pay cash’ scenario. The reason for the difference is an attempt to reflect specific nuances of the redemptions I’ve made that might not apply to you (e.g. I’ve been forced to accept a lower valuation than I ordinarily would for reasons X, Y and Z).

Key movers and shakers:

  • In general, hotel schemes have improved in value, with the exception of IHG. SPG and Marriott are up 20% and 12.5% respectively, thanks in part to value of non-hotel redemptions (e.g. Marriott travel packages). IHG have just been through a devaluation, where the number of points needed for a room has increased for a large number of properties, but the cash prices have not increased at the same rate.
  • Virgin UK has increased by almost 10%, with British Airways remaining static. This mainly reflects the lower fuel surcharges on Virgin (which helps improve their value), and the fact that relatively little has changed at BA in the last 12 months as they continue to grapple with an identity crisis and a series of customer service changes.
  • Both of the Australian carriers have reduced in value, with Virgin Australia falling 20% and Qantas falling 25%. I think this is mainly a result of me understanding the schemes better! Across most distances, you need > Qantas and Virgin Australia points than the UK schemes, but the taxes and charges are on a par so it’s unreasonable to rate points in those schemes at the same level.

Why are valuations important? I treat points as a scarce resource, and only want to use them when I’m getting the right level of value vs. booking in cash. These tables help me assess every redemption to work out whether I’m getting the right level of value or not.

Availability and Alerting with Expert Flyer

partner-center-logo-expert-flyerI wrote a few weeks ago about a site called Award Ace (www.awardace.com), which is a great way of quickly finding out the best value way to redeem your points on a specific route. This week I’m going to cover Expert Flyer (www.expertflyer.com), which is a website with a huge range of features but highlights are:

  1. Alerting on fare class availability;
  2. Detailed fare information;
  3. Flight status and availability;

Whilst Expert Flyer is a subscription service and probably wouldn’t be worth the fee for most infrequent flyers, it’s useful to know what it can do for you as you can always benefit from my subscription!

1. Alerting on fare class availability;

Primary use: being automatically notified when a flight you want to book on points has availability.

‘Availability’ in frequent flyer parlance refers to the ability to reserve seats using air miles on any given flight. Most airlines only release a handful of seats that can be booked using points, and typically only 1-2 in Business Class. The availability of these seats changes all the time, because:

  • Different airlines have different policies for when they first release seats – some do it at T-355 days, some much closer to departure;
  • People book and cancel redemptions all the time;
  • Airlines often release additional seats closer to departure based on how busy the flight is;

It wasn’t so long ago that you would have to manually check on a daily basis to see if seats had opened up on the flight you wanted to book, but Expert Flyer lets you do this automatically.

You simply search for the flight you’re interested using the website interface:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.41.49

Click on a ‘setup alert’ button, enter a name for it, and hit save:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.42.55

And then sit back and wait! If availability opens up on your flight, you’ll get an e-mail that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.45.00

If you’re looking to use your points and not wanting to book urgently, just drop me an e-mail and I’m happy to set up alerting / monitoring on your behalf. I’m currently on a 100% success rate for booking the redemptions I need to book based on this alerting, but it could be that availability never opens up, so still be prepared that nothing will come through.

2. Detailed Fare Information

Primary use: being able to work out how long a given airfare is likely to be around for.

I used to worry quite a lot about how long a given price I’d found for some flights was likely to be around. Expert Flyer gives you access to the detailed underlying fare information that lets you work this out! As an example, say you’d found bargain prices for London to Istanbul with British Airways. Do you book straight away, or can you wait a few days to confirm other things like accommodation?

If you put the flight details into Expert Flyer, and select ‘detailed fare rules’, you’ll get a screen that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.52.48

You can see from this screenshot, that it states ‘TICKETS MUST BE ISSUED ON/AFTER 31AUG17 AND ON/BEFORE 26SEP17″, which tells me I’ve got until the 26th September to book before the fare expires and the price is likely to increase.

3. Flight status and availability;

Primary use: working out how busy a flight is to inform upgrade chances and flight selection.

As a general rule, it’s better to fly Economy when the plane is quiet (increased chance you’ll be able to engineer a row to yourself), and to fly Premium Economy when the plane is really busy (increased chance of an upgrade).

Expert Flyer lets you search any flight and see how booked it is. Taking a flight from London to Hong Kong tomorrow as an example:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.58.11

The above screenshot shows you every direct flight from London to Hong Kong tomorrow; 5 flights with Cathay Pacific (‘CX’), 2 flights with British Airways (‘BA’) and 1 flight with Virgin (‘VS’). Over to the right is the column entitled ‘available classes’ and then a series of letters followed by numbers. The letter is the fare class, and the number is how many seats are available against that fare class.

  • F,A denotes First Class
  • J,C,D,I denotes Business Class
  • W,R,E, T denotes Premium Economy
  • Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S, N Q, O denotes Economy

There is some variation between airlines, who might use the codes slightly differently, but the above is a good general guide.

Putting these together with the numbers in the screenshot, and taking BA31 as an example:

  • ‘F1 A0’ means there is a single seat for sale in First Class. Given airlines ordinarily oversell First by a single seat, this probably means F is completely full at present.
  • ‘J3, C1, D1, R1, I1’ means there are 7 seats in total for sale in Business Class. Again, airlines are typically willing to overbook Business by a few seats, so I would guess Business is 95%+ full.
  • ‘W4, E2, T1’ means there are 7 seats for sale in Premium Economy. Given the BA Premium Economy cabin is only c. 20 seats, this means PE is likely 60-70% full.
  • ‘Y9, B9, H9, K9, M9, L9, V9, S9, N9 Q9, O9’ means there are a heck of a lot of seats available in Economy! At most, Economy is looking 50-60% full.

If I were in Business or Premium Economy on tomorrow’s BA31, I wouldn’t fancy my changes for an upgrade, but if I was in Economy I’d be feeling optimistic about my ability to bag a row to myself in the airport.

If you have flights you want to book, or upcoming flights that you’re simply interested in, then just drop me an e-mail and I can use my Expert Flyer subscription to help you out.

Where have the last 5 years of flying taken me?

I have spent a lot of time in the air over the last 5 years, and like any true aviation nerd have tracked every flight. Don’t ask why, but I was delving into my flight history earlier in the week and thought it might be interesting to share some of what I’ve found. Before I do, a quick note on exactly what I keep track of for each flight:

  • Date
  • Origin Airport
  • Destination Airport
  • Distance (in miles…)
  • Cabin (Domestic, Econ, Premium, Business, First)
  • Airline

I briefly toyed with the idea of adding aircraft type and seat, along with some kind of ‘rating’ for what I thought of the seat, service, etc. but felt that was probably taking an already-questionable hobby too far!

Overall Numbers

Over the last five years, I have flown a total of 397,231 miles as a result of taking 318 flights. At 240,000 miles from the Earth to the Moon, that’s not too far off being able to take me to the Moon and back. In terms of split over the years, it looks a bit like this:

image001

2015 was a very busy year, thanks to being co-located between London, Edinburgh and Sydney. 2017 is YTD flights taken, and will push over 100,000 miles and 40 sectors by the time the year ends.

Most Visited Airports

If I amalgamated the London airports into one, they would clearly be at the top of the list having been my base for most of the last 5 years. Instead, Edinburgh takes the number one spot thanks to several years of weekly trips with work. The overall list is:

image001-1

Sydney is understandably high up the list having been my new home since February 2016, and Hong Kong and Singapore do well as primary stop-off points between the UK and Australia. Dublin has been a starting point for a number of long-haul trips (thanks to the €, low taxes and competitive fares) and Geneva shows up in the top 10 thanks to skiing as a hobby.

There are a few airports where I’ve flown into them more or less times than I’ve flown out of them, primarily because of a ground sector between two airports. For example, in Easter 2015 I flew into Abu Dhabi, took a taxi to Dubai, and flew out of Dubai.

Most Flown Airlines

Those 318 flights were spread across 25 different airlines. The top 10, with the number of sectors in brackets, are:

  1. British Airways (214)
  2. Virgin Atlantic Little Red (28)
  3. Qantas (14)
  4. Jetstar (8)
  5. EasyJet (7)
  6. Qatar Airways (7)
  7. Virgin Australia (5)
  8. Cathay Pacific (4)
  9. American Airlines (3)
  10. Singapore Airlines (3)

With 67% of my flights taken on British Airways, I have a fairly ‘long tail’ of airlines that I’ve only flown once or twice, including Air Berlin, Air Canada, Austrian, Dragonair, Sri Lankan and Tigerair.

Most Flown Cabins

Based on the amount of moaning I do about flying Economy, I was expecting to see a massive skew towards that cabin, and indeed that is the case when you look at number of sectors with 81% of flights being in either Domestic or Economy.

However, when you look at total miles flown and ‘time in the air’, just shy of 50% of all the miles I’ve flown have been in either Business or First.

image001-3image001-2

Whilst I’d love for all my flights to be in Business or First, the reality is that it’s difficult to justify on short routes and / or isn’t possible on routes which only have a ‘Domestic’ option.

I’m looking forward to hitting 500,000 miles in the next 12 months, and then onwards to joining the ‘million mile club’!

Latest Round of ‘Accelerate’ for September – December 2017

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 17.32.52Over the last week, IHG have launched their latest ‘Acclerate’ promotion, covering stays from 1st September to 31st December. It doesn’t feel like very long ago that I was writing about the last promotion, but given this one covers 4 months instead of the usual quarter, you should have a reprieve for a few months until the 2018 version is launched! Accelerate is one of the best promotions in the industry and it’s worth giving air time too each time a new promotion is launched.

As a recap for those not familiar with how it works, IHG sets you a series of ‘targets’ which, if achieved, pay out bonus points when you stay with them. As an example, for staying 5 nights over a 3-month period, you may get 10,000 bonus points.

My offer – what is it and how am I going to approach it?

I have a total of 45,000 points up for grabs, in return for the following:

  • Stay Once for 2,000;
  • Stay 5 Nights for 10,000;
  • Stay 3 nights at InterContinentals for 3,600;
  • Stay outside of UK for 8,000;
  • Complete 3 out of 4 and get 16,400;
  • Stay in September and get 5,000;

These are c. 30% lower than my targets for the last quarter in terms of points on offer, but I have a few InterContinental nights coming up so will probably hit this with two separate stays, totalling 3 nights in ICs outside of the UK, which will yield 30,000 points (good for one free night in most IHG hotels).

My wife’s offer – what is it and how might she (read: I) approach it?

She has a total of 60,300 points, in return for the following:

  • Stay Once for 1,500;
  • Stay 5 Nights for 7,500;
  • Book 2 Stays with the IHG app for 3,400;
  • Stay 1 weekend for 6,000;
  • Use ‘Points & Cash’ for 2,400;
  • Stay Anywhere Outside of the UK for 18,000;
  • Get the IHG Credit Card for 2,000;
  • Complete 6 out of 7 and get 17,000;
  • Stay in September and get 2,500;

In contrast , these are much better than Laura had last time. Unfortunately, with the IHG credit card off the table being Australia-based, that limits the options somewhat. Either we’ll need to go for the lot which means at least 3 different stays, or try to ‘optimise’ the highest number of points from the least amount of spend. In this case, we’re going for a single $100 night in Singapore in September, which will yield 22,000 points (a very decent return).

You can check out your own offer by going to the IHG website here.

Picking the right redemption with AwardAce

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 22.11.18To the maximum extent possible, I try to build points balances with multiple different frequent flyer programs. Doing so is important for a few different reasons:

  • It helps to get around the age old problem of award availability (i.e. there not being a seat available in the class you want, for the route you want, on the day you want).
  • It diversifies risk in case any given program decides to reduce the value of its points and
  • It lets you, to an extent, pick the redemption that gives you best $ per point.

This article focused on the latter point, and gives you a quick overview of AwardAce.

In short, AwardAce is a simple tool which tells you the number of points required to redeem an award seat for a given route in a given cabin.

As an example, browse to www.awardace.com and start by putting in details of a particular route. I used Sydney to Hong Kong in Business. The result is a chart that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 22.12.48

This tells me that the cheapest redemption is to use 30,000 United MileagePlus miles, and the most expensive to use Flying Blue (Air France / KLM) or MileMiglia (Alitalia). I happen to have a stockpile of MileagePlus, Qantas and BA Executive Club miles and so this is helpful in telling me that using MileagePlus would be the best value.

There are a few things it doesn’t tell you, however:

  • Schedule, airline and aircraft; using the example above, with Qantas I’d get a direct service on a Qantas aircraft with a flat bed, whereas with MileagePlus I either need to go via Shanghai / Beijing (Air China) or via Bangkok (Thai Airways). By-in-large, Thai & Air China have an inferior business class product to Qantas, and with a stop being required, it’s not really a direct comparison.
  • Taxes and charges; continuing the example, Qantas charges just over double the fuel surcharges that are charged if you redeem through MileagePlus.
  • Value of the points; in a Qantas point is worth 1$c and a MileagePlus mile is worth 2$c, then using twice as many Qantas points doesn’t mean you’re paying twice as much. You need to factor in the relative value of a point held in each scheme to get a true comparison between different programs.

Factoring these things in makes a big difference to what on the face of it seemed like a fairly simple equation. If you value a direct service, and on average get half as much value for a Qantas point as a MileagePlus point, then the equation becomes much more competitive than if you valued the points roughly equally and didn’t mind the connection and the longer journey time.

As a result, whilst AwardAce can’t tell you the right answer in terms of which redemption is best, it can at least simplify the admin required to find out how much it costs to redeem on a given route.

Why InterContinental Ambassador is the only reward scheme that I’m happy to pay for.

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 22.06.46Regular readers will have picked up that I am a huge fan of InterContinental properties, and the IHG rewards scheme ‘Rewards Club’. The ability to earn large numbers of points in their regular ‘Accelerate’ promotions by staying at low cost properties, to then redeem them at aspirational 5* properties, is exactly what you want from a hotel rewards scheme. There is one small catch, however, in the way that IHG run their reward scheme. They actually have two schemes:

  • IHG Rewards Club – the ‘main’ program, with levels including Club, Gold, Platinum and Spire. It works much like every other hotel loyalty scheme, albeit with the benefits for top tier members being fairly weak. Benefits apply across Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites etc.
  • InterContinental Ambassador – applies only to InterContinental properties, and gives excellent benefits at those properties. There are two levels, ‘standard’ InterContinental Ambassador and Royal Ambassador, which is invitation only.

The fact that you have to pay for Ambassador status will put many people off, but it’s one scheme I have no problem paying for so thought it would be worth quickly running through the cost and the benefits.

How much is it?

There are two different rates, one for initially purchasing Ambassador and one for renewing. Initial purchase costs US$200 or 32,000 IHG points, with renewal having three options:

  1. Renew for US$150 and receive 10,000 IHG points;
  2. Renew for US$200 and receive 15,000 IHG points and a 10% rebate on all reward nights;
  3. Renew for 24,000 IHG points and receive 5,000 IHG points;

What are the benefits?

According to the marketing spiel, you will get all the things listed below. I’ve added my own views and experiences in receiving them in italics:

  • Guaranteed room upgrade each time you stay – one of the best benefits. If the next room up is a suite, it’s a big jump, but occasionally an ‘upgrade’ can just me a slightly improved view. I’ve only ever had good experiences and ended up in a materially better room.
  • Fresh fruit upon arrival – never really notice this one.
  • In-room mineral water (replenished daily) – if you have elite status in IHG rewards club, you’ll likely get complimentary water anyway, but it’s handy to have it guaranteed.
  • In-room welcome gift – the gift is at the discretion of the hotel, and has ranged from a key ring (yay…) to a bottle of wine (much better). I tend to keep my expectations low.
  • Single-room rate for double occupancy – no experience of this one – will need to investigate!
  • Extended check-out — up to 4 pm – one of the best benefits, I use this pretty much every time I stay in an InterContinental. If you have an evening flight, it’s great to head out for the day and then come back and use the room for a shower etc. before heading to the airport.
  • Dedicated Ambassador check-in area – does normally mean you get into your room quicker, but even if you’re checking in as a ‘normal’ guest you rarely spend more than a few minutes waiting.
  • Complimentary pay-TV film per stay – only works on paid stays (not reward nights), but I do quite like having the option particularly on longer stays.
  • Complimentary newspaper, delivered daily – it’s a newspaper…
  • Instant checkout – not even sure why they mention this one, it’s open to anybody.
  • Complimentary weekend night certificate – definitely in the top three benefits, this gives you a free night at the weekend when you pay for one night (e.g. pay for Friday, get Saturday free). Whilst you pay a higher rate than the cheapest advanced purchase rate for the one night you do pay for, it works out as at least a 35-45% discount on a weekend stay.
  • 5,000 bonus IHG Rewards Club points – I think of this as offsetting some of the fee you pay for Ambassador in the first place.

Pulling out the key benefits, for a max of US$200, you get:

  • 5,000 IHG points worth c. US$40
  • A free night in an InterContinental worth c. US$100
  • Benefits on each stay valued at US$20-$30

A quick bit of maths will tell you if you’re  going to stay more than 2-3 times at an InterContinental over 12 months, it’s worth paying for the status. I probably do 5-6 InterContinental stays per year and certainly don’t regret paying for it.

 

Travel ‘101’: Where should you stay when you’re flying from Heathrow?

she268ex.148268_mdI had an early flight from Heathrow a few weeks ago, and since I no longer live 30 minutes away, stayed at one of the hotels not far from the airport. Whilst I was there, it occurred to me that over the years I’ve stayed at a significant percentage of the ‘mainstream’ Heathrow hotels, including:

  • Holiday Inn London T5
  • Sheraton Heathrow Hotel
  • Sofitel T5
  • Sheraton Skyline
  • Holiday Inn Heathrow Ariel
  • Hilton Garden Inn Heathrow
  • Hilton London Heathrow Airport (T4)

And probably a few others that I’ve missed off the list too. Rather than rate all of them, I’ll go for the two that will get my custom every time in the future!

Best for convenience…Sofitel T5

The Sofitel is connected to the terminal at T5, is a genuine 5* hotel and a great option whether you’re flying from either T5 (a short walk) or T1,2 and 3 (free Heathrow Express). You’ll pay for the privilege, but on a fairly frequent basis you can get the Sofitel as a “secret hotel” on lastminute.com and other aggregators. It will look something like this:

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 23.02.49

The screenshot shows £168, but it’s frequently available for close to £100.

Best for value…Hilton Garden Inn Heathrow

Located close to Hatton Cross tube is the Hilton Garden Inn Heathrow. It’s a “low end” hotel, but recently renovated and a short walk from Hatton Cross. It’s infinitely easier than relying on the ‘Hotel Hoppa’ services between the hotels and the airport terminals. You can pick it up for c. £60 in a sale, £75 as a ‘normal’ price or c. 20,000 Hilton points:

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 23.12.07

I struggle to see myself using any other hotels in the Heathrow area other than the two above, not withstanding these possible exceptions:

  1. A lucrative promotion / bonus with other providers; I’ve stayed at both the Holiday Inn London Ariel and the Sheraton to trigger IHG / SPG bonuses respectively.
  2. Significant price difference; it’s unlikely that you’ll find hotels much cheaper than the Garden Inn, but if you want to stay somewhere nicer but the Sofitel is expensive, it would be worth considering the Hilton at T4 (except if you’re flying from T5).

Great to hear from you on whether you have a different set of go-to hotels at Heathrow, and if so why!

 

A great week for EU261! [Updated]

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 18.10.23As the old saying goes, you wait ages for a bus and then three come along at once. It felt a bit like that this week when it came to EU261 compensation for delayed or cancelled flights. In the last 7 days, I’ve claimed a total of €1,400 in compensation under EU regulation. Whilst the money hasn’t landed in the bank account yet, I only claim when I’m almost certain I have a case and my success rate from past claims is 100% so I’m fairly confident!

Each claim has been a little bit different, so I thought it would be interesting to share some details which will hopefully give some inspiration for your own claims.

Before I start, a quick word on whether it’s “right” to claim – after all, aren’t you pushing up ticket prices for all passengers by constantly claiming compensation? Yes, and no. Almost all major airlines have been adding a c. €2 surcharge to airline tickets to cover the costs associated with EU261, since the regulation gathered momentum from around 2005 onwards. So, you’re already paying for it, and if you don’t claim it just means more profit for the airlines.

Claim 1 – IT-related Cancellation in May 2017 (€400)

The IT meltdown at British Airways has been pretty heavily publicised on most major news outlets, and whilst BA and its contractors continue to argue about who exactly is at fault, their is no doubt that this was within BA’s control and they’re on the hook for compensation. Rather than argue in court (which is where it would almost certainly have ended up), BA have done the sensible thing and agreed to payout compensation claims.

I had booked a flight for my sister-in-law from Heathrow to Vienna on Monday, which was one of the last victims of the IT issues. BA cancelled the flight at around 5.45am, c. 5 hours before it was due to depart. The best alternative they could offer was a flight on Tuesday night, which for a trip that was only due to be 3 days anyway would have pretty much invalidated the trip. I ended up booking her on an early flight on the Tuesday with Austrian, and applying for a refund for the cancelled BA flight. Because the flight distance was over 1,500km, the compensation due was at the higher rate of €400 rather than €250.

Outcome [18/6] = Success: It took BA just a few days to reply to my initial e-mail, confirming that my claim was eligible for EU261 and asking for me to provide bank details for it to be paid. Apparently my maths / geography wasn’t great, and Heathrow-Vienna is actually less than 1,500km, so it was paid at the lower rate of €250.

Claim 2 – Delay due to ‘inbound aircraft being delayed’ in February 2017 (€600)

When I was refreshing my memory on the specific EU261 rules for the first claim (above), I realised I had misunderstood the compensation for long-haul flights over 3,500km. I was right in thinking that compensation was €600 for delays over 4 hours, but hadn’t realised that 50% of the compensation was due for flights delayed between 3 and 4 hours.

My wife and I flew from London Heathrow to San Francisco with Virgin Atlantic in February, arriving c. 3hrs late. I didn’t submit a claim at the time as I didn’t think I was due anything, but have just submitted two separate claims for my wife and I this morning. I’m a little less sure on this one, as flight stats  says the delay was just over 3 hours, but my recollection at the time was that it was very marginal on whether it would hit the 3 hour mark or not.

Outcome [18/6] = Unknown: Virgin haven’t yet responded to either of the claims that were submitted. Unfortunately their SLA is 28 days, so I can’t start complaining about a lack of response yet.

Claim 3 – Delay due to technical issues in May 2017 (€400)

Ironically I was submitting the two claims above whilst on the ground at London Gatwick, awaiting a delayed flight to Malta. This was another one that ran very close to the wire, with the eventual delay being 3 hours and 8 minutes. It has been proven countless times that the European Courts deem technical problems to be within the airlines control (you can materially reduce the risk through comprehensive maintenance programs and having contingency parts / aircraft available).

Outcome [18/6] = Success: Another result from BA, who had replied confirming eligibility and credit €400 / £350 into my account within a week of the delayed flight. This is not a bad return from an e-mail that took 5 minutes to write, and paid for 50% of the cost of the holiday!

If you want any help on your own EU261 claims, just get in touch and I’ll do my best to help.

Cheap Qantas Points with Qantas Epiqure

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 15.09.45Frequent Flyer Programs (FFPs) have long associated with wine retailers as a way of earning additional points. In the UK and the US however, this normally takes the form of a reward for joining a form of subscription service, and as a result I’ve always avoided the offers as I’m not diligent enough about cancelling the subscriptions once I’ve taken advantage of the offer.

Fortunately, it works a little differently in Australia, and through Qantas Epiqure you can earn bonus points for one-off wine purchases through their online store. In this post I explain how to get the most out of Qantas Epiqure.

Some obvious ground rules that I always stick to…

  • Don’t buy wine you don’t like just for the bonus points;
  • Don’t pay over the odds just to get the bonus points;

How do you find the offers?

There’s a couple of different approaches you can take, either:

  • Search the ‘bonus points‘ page, looking for wines which seem good value. You can find the search here, and it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 15.25.24

  • Search the ‘sale‘ page, looking for wines which have a high points bonus. You can find the search here, and it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 15.27.44

My preference is to search via the sales page, as what I typically find is that unless the wine is on sale and it has a healthy points bonus, it’s not worth buying.

How do you work out whether you’re getting a good deal or not?

You have to start with the assumption that you’re interested in buying the wine anyway. It then becomes an exercise in ensuring that your decision to purchase via Qantas Epiqure is the right one. I value Qantas Points at 1c each.

  • Example 1: Jericho Fiano 2016, 8,000 Bonus Points

Cost per bottle is $23.25 in a case of 12, giving a total case price of $279. Available at Dan Murphy’s for $286 for a case of 12. I couldn’t find it cheaper anywhere else, so you’re saving $7 by going for Qantas Epiqure and you’re gaining 8,000 points up, worth $80. Verdict: definitely buy through Qantas.

  • Example 2: Voyager Estate Chardonnay 2013, 7,500 Bonus Points

Cost per bottle is $39.50 in a case of 6, giving a total case price of $237. Available at Dan Murphy’s for $226 for a case of 6. In this case, you’re losing $11 by going for Qantas Epicure but you’re gaining 7,500 points which are worth $75. Verdict: You’re still well up by buying through Qantas.

I couldn’t actually find any examples this week of where it wouldn’t make sense to buy through Qantas! That’s not normally the case, and often the cost / benefit analysis is much more finely balanced.

In summary, I think Qantas Epiqure is currently a great way to accrue substantial volumes of points when used judiciously. Sticking to the ‘ground rules’ of checking the value and not buying wine you don’t like are important, but there are plenty of bargains to be had.