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.

Celebrating one year of The Reward Concierge

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 18.54.19It’s been just over a year since Laura and I started The Reward Concierge, and today’s weekly e-mail will be number 50 since the first edition on the 20th March 2016. When we decided to set the site up, we were sat in a small cafe in Clovelly, Sydney, and simply thought it would be a good way of channeling some of my frequent flyer nerd energy and helping people out. We didn’t have any particular interest in making money, and didn’t really know whether we were talking about a hobby or a business.

Since that day, and over the last year:

  • More than 6,000 unique visitors have browsed to therewardconcierge.com;
  • We’ve helped more than 100 people get a better deal on their travel arrangements;
  • We’ve booked more than $100k worth of travel;
  • People save an average of $100 – $200 when they get in touch, though the range is very broad (from $0 to several thousand);

Clearly, if The Reward Concierge was our livelihood, we’d be homeless and living on tinned ravioli! But as a hobby being squeezed in at the margins of the day, we’re pretty pleased with how our first year has gone. Some of our observations from the last 365 days:

  1. We don’t have enough time to do it ‘properly’. Running a site like this is a significant time investment, and between busy jobs and other commitments, we’re a long way away from doing all the things we’d want to do with the site. I’ve not even managed to do something as basic as set up a proper e-mail signature!
  2. People value the service we provide, but we’d benefit from being able to issue tickets directly. Because neither of us are registered travel agents, we can’t actually issue tickets. On the rare occasions where we do make bookings on peoples behalf, it means complex payment arrangements and a bit more hassle all round.
  3. We’re not good at converting people onto the mailing list. We have plenty of e-mail exchanges with people who get in touch, and many of them are repeat customers, but we’re not great at converting them into having an ongoing relationship with The Reward Concierge via the mailing list.
  4. Word-of-mouth drives 95% of our business. Given we don’t do any marketing, and the extent of our social media usage is roughly one post every quarter, this isn’t a surprise! However we’ve been delighted by the number of people who are clearing talking about The Reward Concierge to their friends & family, and we see the vast majority of people who get in touch starting their e-mails with “X mentioned you to us”…

So what about the next 12 months? These are some things we’re actively contemplating, and will hopefully put in to place over the next year:

  • Taking time off work to purely focus on developing the The Reward Concierge. This won’t be in the order of months, but I’ll be looking to take a day every month or so to dedicate to improving the site.
  • Introducing more feedback loops to better understand peoples experiences. We’ll be trialling a ‘satisfaction survey’ in the next few months, so we can start to get more quantitative feedback on how people have found their experience.
  • Looking at company incorporation and trademarks. At the moment, The Reward Concierge isn’t registered as a business (I’m effectively acting as a sole trader) so we’ll be looking at whether we register either in the UK or Australia (our complex immigration status doesn’t make this easy).
  • Looking at becoming a registered travel agent. This isn’t a cheap and easy thing to do, but it would give us the ability to issue airline and hotel bookings ourselves and make things easier for our customers. We’ll be exploring this further over the next year.

Thanks for reading, and if there’s anything you’d like us to add to the list of ‘things to do’, as ever just get in touch.

Adam & Laura

Review: Stavanger – London – Hong Kong – Sydney

The-Pier-Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-Lounge-Hong-Kong-AirportWe were in the UK recently for the wedding of a friend, and in the spirit of practicing what we preach, did an ex-EU back to Sydney. It wasn’t without it’s hiccups, and there’s some good reminders of do’s and don’ts for successfully arranging an itinerary like this one.

1. Booking

Booking an ex-EU itinerary normally comprises three bits:

  1. Main Itinerary: When looking for flights for a friend, we spotted a return from Norway to Sydney in Business Class for £1,800. We had some flights in place already, but mostly on points and inexpensive to cancel them. I priced the exact fare on ITA Matrix, then called BA to book as I couldn’t get BA.com to give me the routing via Hong Kong, it kept insisting on Singapore.
  2. Positioning Flights: Sine our actual point of origin was the UK, we needed to get over to Stavanger. We booked a one-way RFS in Club Europe, costing 9,000 points and £25 each. Club is a bit excessive for such a short hop, but unfortunately no seats available for the timings we needed.
  3. Positioning Hotel: Once the flights were booked, we used a Hotels.com credit for the hotel in Stavanger. We booked the Radisson Blu Royal, and paid the £30 difference between the Hotels.com voucher and the cost of the room.

All the above was booked up around 6-8 weeks ahead of the trip.

2. Before the Trip

It didn’t get off to a great start, as 3 days before we were due to fly we got an e-mail from Hotels.com saying there was a hotel industry strike in Norway, and the hotel we’d chosen was closed. I called Hotels.com, who attempted to find a comparable hotel (a long and frustrating process), but they weren’t able to find anything available despite various options appearing online. After a call back to their customer service line, as opposed to rebooking, they agreed to cancel and refund the whole booking and I made a separate booking online at the Clarion Hotel Stavanger instead.

After making a new booking, I called the hotel on the day of travel to confirm the booking. The said they’d gone back to the  third party company I booked with to say nothing was available, and to reject my booking, despite me having a confirmation and not hearing anything was amiss from the third party. The hotel eventually confirmed that we would be OK to stay, but not the smoothest hotel booking experience we’ve had! Moral of this one is that a quick call to the hotel if there’s any doubts is time well spent.

3. London to Stavanger

Check in at Heathrow was painless, using the First class check in desks courtesy of our BA Gold card. Fast Track security was also quick, and it was no more than 10 minutes between dropping our bags and being in the Galleries First lounge. Whilst firmly in the realm of first world problems, the lounge continues to deteriorate its customer offering. Taittinger has recently been replaced with a fairly anonymous alternative and the catering continues to trend toward school meals. Most First lounges east of London are now on a different planet to Heathrow Galleries First (Doha, Hong Kong, Sydney etc.).

The flight to Stavanger itself was great – we left a little late on account of the usual Heathrow taxiing, but a combination of schedule padding and a tail wind saw us arrive 5-10 minutes ahead of schedule. The catering in Club was good, the new Castelnau champagne an improvement on the previous Monopole, but the seat no better than Economy except for the guaranteed Window / Aisle you get in CE.

4. Stopping in Stavanger

We took the ‘Flybussen’ service from Stavanger Airport into the City, costing around £15 return and dropping us right outside the hotel. This service doesn’t appear on Google Maps, but you can buy tickets inside the terminal and it’s a relatively low-hassle way of getting into the centre and for two people is around 30-40% of the price of a taxi.

The Clarion Hotel Stavanger were expecting us and there were no issues on check in, I suspect due to the call to them earlier in the day. It turns out the hotel strike ended early and this was probably why they were able to fit us in.

Our flight back to Heathrow was at 6pm the following day, so we had an enjoyable meal in Stavanger and a walk around the town the next day (including a good visit to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum), before getting the bus back to Stavanger airport.

5. Stavanger – Hong Kong

There’s no lounge for BA passengers at Stavanger, although a new lounge for SAS etc. has recently been built. As a third party lounge, there’s no reason BA couldn’t pay for access for Club / Golds / Silvers like many other outstations. The fact that this isn’t provided is either cost saving or contract negotiations are taking a long time to complete (likely the former!).

The Club Europe flight (1A /1C) over to Heathrow was almost a carbon copy of the flight over, which says good things for BA’s consistency of service standards. We landed into Terminal 5a, and went straight to International Connections, where we needed to re-clear security. Other than an overly zealous HAL employee trying to persuade us that it was ‘mandatory’ to keep our passports in our bags, the connection was very smooth.

Our onward flight to Hong Kong was on the 777, in 16 E/F. BA currently operates two daily services to Hong Kong, the BA27 which uses a 777 and the BA31 which uses an A380. We would ordinarily have gone for the 380 as it’s a newer plane, but the connection timings didn’t quite work as the A380 departs earlier in the evening.

The 777 is getting a little tired now, but the plane was very lightly loaded so we had the middle pair of seats which work very well when travelling as a couple. The light loads also meant great service from the crew, who had at most 10 passengers to look after each. We were at the back of the cabin, and by the time they came to take our meal orders, they’d run out of one of the starters. In a great touch of service recovery, the crew went up to First to source a spare starter from First that was very similar.

6. Hong Kong to Sydney

We arrived on time into Hong Kong, and went through flight connections and on to The Pier First Class lounge. The Pier is probably the best airline lounge in the world, and certainly our favourite, and we try to transit via Hong Kong almost entirely so we can use it instead of the more lacklustre options in Singapore.

Our flight down to Sydney was with Cathay Pacific and not BA, which made for a very different experience. The layout on Cathay planes is very different, with each seat having direct aisle access instead of BA’s ‘yin yang’ setup. I would probably be called a heretic for saying so, but I’m leaning toward preferring BA’s layout. In particular, the BA seat wins for sleeping as (a) the seat is more open, in contrast to Cathay’s layout which has your feet quite ‘boxed in’ and (b) BA cabin temperatures tend to be a nudge lower (particularly good if you’re a hot sleeper). There’s no doubt that Cathay’s service, food and amenities are better, but if you’re just looking for 7 hours sleep on the flight then BA probably edges it.

7. Conclusion

Overall, this was a fantastic way to travel from Europe down to Sydney. The extra travelling up to Stavanger was more than compensated for by being able to fly Business Class. Given a London – Sydney return in Business is in the region of twice the price, we wouldn’t have been able to justify a direct return.

We’re looking forward to the return leg that will take us back up to Europe in July.

As usual, any questions or comments, just drop us an e-mail.

An Ex-EU Success Story

It seems counter-intuitive that it can cost less to take more flights, but the nature of the market means airlines often offer significant price incentives to take an indirect routing with them rather than travel directly with a competitor. Add to that currency movements and localised sales, and the potential for a great deal is high.

Anna and Tom* recently got back from a trip to Tokyo, which involved ‘doing an ex-EU’. Direct flights from Heathrow to Tokyo in Business class were around £2,800, but The Reward Concierge was able to find an ex-Germany deal which meant Dusseldorf – London – Tokyo and back was a shade under £1,300.

The trip started with a BA Reward Flight Saver to Dusseldorf on a Friday night, with time for dinner and a bit of sightseeing before staying close to the airport. Saturday morning saw them fly back from Dusseldorf to London and then on to Tokyo in BA Club World.

No doubt some people will look at this and think “what an almighty hassle”, but they [and us] see it as an opportunity to go for dinner somewhere interesting, and save £1,000’s on the cost of premium travel to the final destination.

It was great to get some feedback from Anna and Tom after their trip:

“The Reward Concierge provided invaluable advice prior to travel enabling us to save a lot of money on business class flights to and from Japan, as well as to get hotels and internal flights using reward points. This really enhanced our trip and was something that we would not have known about if it wasn’t for the advice received from the Reward Concierge. Thank you!”