Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Basics of Airline Alliances

There are three main airline alliances in the world: Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and oneworld. Why are airline alliances important? Most practically, they’re useful for 1) earning miles; 2) redeeming miles; and 3) offering reciprocal benefits.

1) Earning Miles
Essentially all airlines have their own frequent flyer programs, but miles are usually only worth something if you surpass certain minimum thresholds in a single program. For example, it’s not worthwhile to have 5k miles across 5 different programs (unless you like magazines), but 25k miles in 1 program can usually get you a free flight. How do you deal with this if you fly lots of different airlines?

This is where airline alliances come in. If I fly on British Airways, I don’t have to credit my miles to British Airways Avios–I can instead credit my miles to American Airlines since both are oneworld partners. This means that I can focus on earning miles in one specific program, which makes it easier to reach the minimum thresholds necessary for good redemptions. This also applies to earning miles for status and not just redemption. So your flights within an alliance can all be credited to one airline to help you reach that next tier of airline status on a single airline.

Note that airlines often have airline partners outside their alliances. One notable case of this is Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines isn’t a member of any of the three major alliances, but you can often think of them as a oneworld airline since they partner with so many of the oneworld airlines. For example, you can credit Alaska flights to American Airlines and vice versa.

One thing that often takes people by surprise is that mileage earning isn’t consistent across partners. In the past, you earned miles on the legacy US carriers based on miles flown (this has now changed to be based on dollars spent on the major three). For most airline partners, you generally earn a percentage of the miles flown based on your fare class, and many of the cheapest fare classes offer only 25% (or even 0%) miles. So oftentimes it’s worth checking how many miles you’d earn if you credited a flight to a certain partner based on your fare class, but this is getting into a more advanced topic for another post.

2) Redeeming Miles
Want to go to Bangkok but only have American miles? While American Airlines doesn’t serve Bangkok as a destination, their partners do, so you can still redeem American Airlines miles on their partner airlines to get to Bangkok (in this case, your likely options would be Cathay Pacific through Hong Kong or Japan Airlines through Tokyo).

This is probably the best part of airline alliances. If you could only redeem your miles on that airline (which is true of some programs!), then you’d be severely limited on where your miles could take you. But thanks to airline alliances, your miles can take you anywhere the alliance flies (which is essentially any major destination for the three largest alliances).

Again, one thing to keep in mind is that airlines often have partners outside of their alliance. For example, Hawaiian Airlines isn’t a member of any of the major alliances, but they partner with American and United, so you can redeem your American or United miles on certain Hawaiian flights.

3) Reciprocal Benefits
Airline alliance members also generally offer reciprocal benefits to frequent flyers who have status on a partner airline. These benefits are things like dedicated check-in lines, priority boarding, free checked bags, and lounge access.

Lounge access is a favorite of mine and is particularly relevant for international itineraries. For oneworld airlines, if you have oneworld Emerald status (the highest frequent flyer status across oneworld airlines), then you have access to any oneworld First Class lounge on international itineraries. This gets you access to awesome lounges like the Cathay Pacific First Class Pier lounge in Hong Kong or the Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney, even if you’re flying on an economy class ticket.

Note that each airline has different qualification criteria for their own levels of elite status, and those different levels correspond to different levels of alliance elite status. And each alliance has different benefits for different levels of alliance elite status (e.g. Star Alliance Gold, the highest level of status in Star Alliance, doesn’t offer First Class lounge access).

This is just a primer on why airline alliances are practically important for travelers, but if you fly relatively frequently, especially internationally, then it might be worthwhile to concentrate your flying within one specific alliance to reap some of these benefits.

Here are the three main alliances and their members:

Star Alliance: Adria, Aegean, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels, Copa, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, EVA, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, Shenzhen, Singapore, South African, Swiss, TAP Portugal, Thai, Turkish, and United

SkyTeam: Aeroflot, Aerolineas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech, Delta, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya, KLM, Korean, Middle East, Saudia, TAROM, Vietnam, and Xiamen

oneworld: Air Berlin, American, British, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, JAL, LATAM, Malaysia, Qantas, Qatar, Royal Jordanian, Sri Lankan, and S7

Giveaway of Random Stuff

I seem to have collected a lot of stuff over the past year or so, which is unusual for me as I try to not accumulate stuff, so I figured I’d give it away to people. If you’d like some random stuff, please email me at efficientasianman (at) gmail (dot) com with your name and mailing address, and I’ll try to send some stuff your way. Note that I have a finite amount of stuff, so you won’t necessarily receive anything depending on how many people email me, although I might send you something in the future if I happen to accumulate more stuff. Also, please have a mailing address in the US, as I don’t want to spend a fortune on postage.

Examples of random stuff you might get:
-Decks of airline playing cards
-Things that airlines give to kids
-Amenity kits (including airline eye masks and slippers)
-Airline/travel/hotel-branded swag (e.g. SPG-branded sunglasses)
-Hotel toiletries
-Souvenirs

Winner of One AA SWU!

Earlier this week, I launched a giveaway of one expiring AA SWU. And the winner is…

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Bob! Who wrote that he’s grateful for the new experiences that traveling affords.

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I certainly agree that one of the best parts about traveling is experiencing things that you wouldn’t get if you stayed in one place. I’ve reached out to Bob to apply the SWU. Thanks to all who entered for sharing things that you’re grateful for!

A Quick New Year’s Reminder: Do Your Own Research

Happy 2015! I can’t believe it’s already 2015. I’ll post one of those year-end summary posts when I get around to it (probably around the same time I finish up my Vietnam/Cambodia trip report, as well as all the other ones that have been marinating in my notes).

I’ve been home for the holidays, and I found myself at Target to pick up a present for a family member. Since I was at Target anyway, I decided to wander over to the gift card/prepaid card section to see what they had on offer, and lo and behold I found a stack of prepaid REDcards aka Redbirds. I was giddy because I had recently given up on my Serve card due to my unwillingness to deal with Amex wanting a picture of every single one of my credit cards that I tried to use for online loads, and Redbird is a great replacement for MS.

But according to the internets, there’s no indication that Redbird is even available in this state. The Amex store locator doesn’t list the state as having any participating stores, the lengthy Flyertalk thread doesn’t mention this state as being somewhere you can buy the cards, and I didn’t see any blog posts about this (and yes, I am confident that I bought the correct card). If I hadn’t taken the extra 5 minutes to check the gift card rack because I blindly believed what I read online, then I wouldn’t have been able to get a Redbird of my own.

If you’re still trying to think of a new year’s resolution, perhaps it should be to do some of your own research to develop new MS techniques. A big trend in 2014 was the clamping down on public information–it’s still there, but you have to work much harder to get it. But it’s going to be much rarer to find blog posts with step-by-step instructions.

Quick Thoughts on 2/26/2014

1) Delta devaluation. Should I feel good about flying American? Or should I be scared for the future because these changes are inevitable? Why do people fly Delta again? Oh wait, good in-flight product and well-run airline. Supposedly this will make Delta miles more valuable in the future since earning rates are going to be cut so much?

Inane aside: I used to fly Delta, but then I had a terrible experience and switched to US Airways (The first airline I ever got status on! And it was unintentional. And I actually got upgraded as a Silver. For these reasons, US holds a special place in my heart). Since I figured I’d never fly Delta again, I tried to spend all of my miles down, even redeeming for a non-low-level award and redeeming miles for magazines. Magazines! But the flight that was supposed to be my last Delta flight ever went mechanical, and I ended up getting a handful of miles as compensation, so I still have a small number of Delta miles that might actually end up being redeemable for a flight now that Delta will introduce one-way awards.

2) Why don’t people talk more about JAL? Given how many travel bloggers are AA fanboys, you’d think that there’d be more miles redeemed on them. Had the chance to visit the JAL First Class Lounge at Narita the other day and was very pleasantly surprised. That lounge had some of the best food I’ve had at an airport (granted, I like Japanese food).

3) I’ve got 90k US Airways miles burning a hole in my pocket. What should I do with them? I’m thinking I want to redeem prior to US Airways leaving Star Alliance. My current fleeting thought is to redeem a trip to Taipei or Hong Kong on EVA J (hopefully getting a segment or two on a Hello Kitty plane), then embedding a trip to Australia using UA miles on the outbound for Thai F and AA miles on the return for Qantas F.

Thailand 2014: Millennium Hilton Bangkok

Introduction
Cathay Pacific Lounge San Francisco
Cathay Pacific First Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge The Pier Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong to Bangkok
Millennium Hilton Bangkok
Cooking with Poo
Overnight Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Le Meridien Chiang Mai
Patara Elephant Farm
Bangkok Airways Economy Class Chiang Mai to Ko Samui
Conrad Koh Samui
Bangkok Airways Koh Samui to Bangkok
Thai Airways First Class Check-in and Lounge Bangkok
EVA Air Evergreen Lounge Bangkok
Louis’ Tavern First Class CIP Lounge Bangkok
Singapore SilverKris Lounge Bangkok
Thai Airways First Class Bangkok to Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines Lounge Hong Kong
Thai Airways Lounge Hong Kong
Asiana Business Class Hong Kong to Seoul
Asiana Airlines First Class Lounge Seoul
Asiana Airlines First Class Suites Seoul to New York
United Airlines Business Class PS Service New York to San Francisco


When I was booking the hotel in Bangkok, I was deciding between the Millennium Hilton and the Conrad. I ultimately chose the Millennium due to its supposedly better location for tourists, since it’s located on the river, and many tourist attractions are located along the river. In the future, though, I’d probably try to choose a hotel closer to a BTS station, as it got a little old after the second day to have to take the hotel’s shuttle boat every single time you wanted to get anywhere.

Since our flight arrived quite late at night, the only option was to take a taxi to the hotel, so we went to the taxi queue and got a taxi. At first, the driver tried to take us for a flat fee, but I insisted on the meter. He still ended up taking us on a VERY roundabout way and driving 90+ miles per hour, but at the end, the total cost was 570 baht (450 fare + 50 airport surcharge + 70 for tolls), which was only a couple of dollars more than the fare should have been, and I didn’t feel like arguing at 1am.

View of the hotel from the river

View of the hotel from the river

The first thing I noticed about the hotel was the mosquitos. Granted, this hotel is in Bangkok, and there are mosquitos in Bangkok, but there were mosquitos in all of the common areas of the hotel, including the lobby, restaurant, and executive lounge. You should definitely wear bug spray whenever you’re not in your room.

Hotel lobby

Hotel lobby

I was upgraded to an executive room, which was on the smaller size but adequate. The room was nicely furnished and had a lot of stuff in it, which made it feel a little bit crowded. The bed was large and comfortable, the bathroom was large, but the biggest problem I had with the room was the lack of separation between the bed and the bathroom. There’s no actual wall, but instead there are just slats like a window shade separating the two, which I found less than ideal.

Entrance (note the blinds into the bathroom)

Entrance (note the blinds into the bathroom)

Room

Room

Room

Room

Bathroom

Bathroom

I was told that I could get breakfast at either the executive lounge or at Flow, the hotel’s ground floor restaurant. The first day, I got breakfast at the executive lounge, but I ended up eating at Flow the rest of my stay due to the slightly better selection. The service in the executive lounge was great, and the views were quite good.

View from the executive lounge

View from the executive lounge

Executive lounge seating

Executive lounge seating

More lounge seating

More lounge seating

Executive lounge breakfast spread

Executive lounge breakfast spread

Lounge breakfast

Lounge breakfast

More lounge breakfast

More lounge breakfast

Moar breakfast

Moar breakfast

I also got afternoon tea in the lounge one day, and they served everyone who arrived an entire tray of snacks that were decently tasty for a complimentary tea.

 

Afternoon tea in the lounge

Afternoon tea in the lounge

Breakfast in the lounge was a more impersonal affair, but the selection was better. In particular, I enjoyed the hot soy milk and toppings on offer, as well as the noodle bar. Otherwise, I’d probably choose the executive lounge given the better views and service.

 

Flow restaurant

Flow restaurant

Restaurant breakfast

Restaurant breakfast

More restaurant breakfast

More restaurant breakfast

More restaurant breakfast

More restaurant breakfast

Soy milk and toppings

Soy milk and toppings

Pastries at breakfast

Pastries at breakfast

Overall, I found the breakfast offerings at the hotel to be quite good, and I didn’t get tired of the food after four days. The food ranged from decent to good, and the selection was varied with American, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian food on offer.

I didn’t use too many of the hotel’s facilities except for the gym, but the pool area seemed to be relatively popular. Besides the pool, there were plenty of places to get some sun, including a fake “beach” area, and a couple of small fresh water jacuzzis. The gym had a decent selection of machines, but I particularly liked the large multi-use room that they had.

Swimming pool

Swimming pool

Fresh water jacuzzi

Fresh water jacuzzi

"Beach" area near the pool

“Beach” area near the pool

Gym

Gym

Multi-purpose room in the gym

Multi-purpose room in the gym

Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Millennium Hilton. The room served my needs, housekeeping was good, breakfast was pretty good, and the service was competent. Honestly, my biggest complaint about the hotel is the elevators, which were terribly slow and often seemed to stop on floors with no one on them. I’m not sure I’d stay at this hotel again due to its location, which is good for first-time visitors to Bangkok, but relatively inconvenient otherwise since you essentially have to take the river boat to get anywhere. The hotel offers complimentary boats to the Saphan Taksin BTS station and to a mall called River City right across the river, but the boat essentially adds 20 minutes each way to any trip.

Review: United Club Hong Kong (HKG)

The United Club at the Hong Kong airport is supposed to be one of the best United Clubs out there, so I was excited to check it out when I flew out of Hong Kong back to the US.

Entrance to the United Club

Entrance to the United Club

Upon entering the lounge, I asked to take a shower, as I got to the airport pretty early and didn’t have the chance to take one before I left. Since it was quite early in the day, the lounge wasn’t crowded at all and the shower was free, so the desk agent led me to the shower immediately. There’s only one shower available, so you might have to wait a while later in the day if you want to use it, but then again, Hong Kong isn’t a huge Star Alliance connection point.

The shower room and the shower itself were large, and the water temperature and pressure were good. The only negative was that the shower room smelled a little funky when I entered.

Shower room

Shower room

After showering, I checked out the food options, and I don’t think I’ve seen any United Club with more food offerings than the United Club in Hong Kong. There were a couple of salads, some snacks, pastries, several hot food options, and a sushi bar.

Salad bar

Salad bar

Alcohol selection

Alcohol selection

Pastries

Pastries

One of the hot food dishes

One of the hot food dishes

Sushi bar

Sushi bar

The food wasn’t particularly good (the scrambled eggs looked disgusting, and the sushi was pretty terrible), but at least they offered more than just snacks, and I was able to put together a decent breakfast with the food offerings.

The club also offers ample seating, or at least when I was there in that morning there was plenty of room. It did not feel overcrowded at all, unlike almost any other United Club that I’ve been to. There are also pretty nice views of the tarmac, if you like to watch planes.

Seating

Seating

More seating

More seating

View of the apron

View of the apron

My only other complaint about the club was the wifi. Every 5 minutes or so, I’d have to reconnect as the wifi would cut out, and I’m not sure if I was the only person having the problem. But otherwise, yes, the United Club in Hong Kong is one of the nicest United Clubs I’ve been to, but that’s only because domestic airport lounges in the US are almost all not very nice. Compared to other international lounges, the United Club is decidedly mediocre in terms of the food offerings, but the space is nice, and I appreciated the views and ample seating.