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Travel Booking Fire Drill – Are You Ready?

Are you ready for the next devaluation, mistake fare or major change to your favorite MS method? Let’s take a look at some recent events that gave us good reasons to book tickets that we might not have without the fare or concern involved. And why it’s worth knowing what you would book if the chance came along. These are some of the things that changed the way I plan to book travel.

On August 28, 2013, AA began charging fuel surcharges on award tickets booked on Malaysia Airlines flights. Concerned, various people including Lucky at One Mile at a Time called and tweeted American and got the same answer: effective immediately, AA is collecting surcharges on all international award tickets rather than just segments operated by BA and IB. But since only Malaysia flights were affected at that point, many people sitting on AA miles went rushing to book travel using those miles before every international ticket got hundreds of dollars more expensive. Fortunately it became clear within a day that the collection of surcharges on Malaysia flights was an error on AA’s part, and that there was no change to AA’s award surcharge policy: stay away from BA and you’re OK. But guess what? Those who booked big trip-of-a-lifetime travel they were planning and wanted, avoided losing some of the best options to get more from those miles when AA did in fact change their program 8 months later. Of course life goes on, and the other day I was able to redeem some AAnytime award tickets for less than they would have cost before that change. Miles that are worth less aren’t worthless.

Just a couple weeks later, on September 12, 2013, there was the most recent big United mistake fare. Domestic tickets were free plus taxes, for about 45 minutes. I missed that one by about 15 minutes, but it wasn’t a complete waste. I knew something like that would likely happen again. And I realized that I hadn’t been ready.

On December 26, I was much more prepared and had no problem booking two and a half trips on the Delta mistake fare: home from Alaska, and trips to Jackson Hole and Hawaii. Maybe I should have booked more, but that’s what we were ready for.

Since then there have been at least two mistake fare or easy-to-use fuel dump deals for international travel: the Wideroe deal to Europe and the Alitalia fuel dump. We didn’t have free time to use the Wideroe deal, but we did get tickets to Israel this fall on the Alitalia mistake fare. Because, once again, we were ready to jump on what Trevor would call a brass ring opportunity.

If you’re upset about the most recent fire drill over a potential British Airways Avios, please blame me. If you booked tickets you don’t want, I’m sorry. Mostly I’m sorry that you didn’t know what you would book if it was time to book. But all the reports I have seen and heard are of people going ahead and booking trips they had been planning anyway. And very much looking forward to those trips. If the frenzy helped you pull the trigger, you’re welcome! For the rest, I’m not sorry either. I had no Avios with which to book anything, so I didn’t have any decisions to make one way or the other. This is what happened from my seat in the middle of the arena:

Sunday after lunch I sat down to write a post in our award booking sweet spot series, this one on the possibilities available from and through Chicago and Dallas, when a couple of tweets popped up from The Freequent Flyer.

Did Iberia go revenue-based while I wasn’t watching? Short domestic flights are pricing out astronomically.

Hey, I’m working on an Avios post and maps and all right now! I’ll look at this! I responded with a link to IB’s AA chart and info I thought to be correct (it wasn’t):

Ugly new(ish?) IB award chart for AA. Ouch! It used to be the same as BA.

It was suggested in a tweet that Gary Leff might have some contacts at Iberia or British Airways, so I tweeted again:

I’m seeing the ridiculous new chart for all IB redemptions except IB, VY, BA, and IG

Then I realized that chart is basically the same as the one I had put in a post back on August 15th on redeeming Iberia Avios for Royal Air Maroc flights. I tweeted:

The odd thing is we’re not even sure how long the ‘new’ charts have been around.

but by that point Gary had jumped to the same incorrect conclusion I initially had that IB had made a recent change, and blog posts started showing up left and right based on his post. The fire drill was in full swing, and there was more than enough smoke apparent to get a few bucket brigades going. And frankly, we’ve seen more than enough major devaluations to expect them to continue to occur.

Manufactured spending opportunities, like extremely low fares and award programs, also change. Sometimes we have warning, others there is none at all (this post turned out to be all too accurate).

So let’s see who is ready! Say you got a text right now:

AA domestic fares $20-$50. Includes HI and PR. Book now.

Well, you’d know that deal wouldn’t last so you would start booking. Or would you start calling your spouse and family members to see what you could book? This is where it gets a lot more difficult for those of us with families and 4 or 6 or however many schedules to work around. What would you book in an adrenaline-fueled rush that you’d actually be able to use? When can you not travel or take time off? What about your spouse’s schedule? And when are all your kids’ school holidays? Where does everyone want to go, anyway?

We talk about all of these things. Our school holidays are all in my calendar as soon as they are released. There are limits to how much we can travel, but about one trip a month is doable for us as long as most of those are 2 or 3 day trips. Unfortunately we can’t travel at our kids’ spring break because it coincides with the busiest week of the year for Bonnie.

So in this example I would start out by booking trips around those school holidays. Once the calendar was full, I’d go back and book similar trips, a day longer or shorter, maybe to other destinations. I’d like to think that with half an hour, I’d book at least 8 or 9 family trips knowing I’d be using 24-hour cancellation policies to clean up and keep only the trips we can take.


Again, I apologize for not doing more research before asking a question about what I thought was a change in IB’s award chart. But what did you learn, if anything, from this fire drill? Are you ready when there is a real devaluation or opportunity?


{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Elaine August 29, 2014, 1:54 am

    Great post, yet again. But there are other aspects to a good frequent flyer fire drill. If you are not experienced at booking flights, it will be hard to book anything quickly, even if you have your schedule down pat.

    I remember reading a Milenomics post suggesting we get better at burning by just booking some pretend trips. I hate the whole booking process, so I didn’t follow his wise counsel, but when I booked my first trip using Avios, I realized that I could never have done it in a hurry. The second trip was quicker to book, and when the scare surfaced, I was able to jump right online and book my flight to the WestCoastDO, first transferring some UR points to Avios to do so.

    Using Avios can be more tricky than some currencies, esp. if you are flying Alaska. (As in check AA’s website, find AS flights, and then book them using BA Avios.) But every airline / program /route has its peculiarities, and I don’t think I know enough about booking across the various programs to always be able to quickly book a bunch of trips. Just as real fire fighters practice coiling hoses and open fire hydrants, I had better start practicing my booking skills if I am to be ready the next time something pops.

    With the scare behind us, it is easy to kick back just read the blogs and play on The Forum. Your post is a good reminder that I have homework to do 😉 !

    • Kenny September 5, 2014, 4:28 pm

      Thanks Elaine! Practice might not make perfect, but it definitely makes you better! I find that by planning dummy trips including activities, not just flights, that it’s a lot of fun. And it helps keep our bucket list overflowing 🙂

  • Leana@ Milesforfamily August 29, 2014, 8:10 am

    Let me guess, Bonnie works in a tax-related business? I think, it was appropriate that you wrote about it and that Gary Leff picked it up. There was a good reason for concern, based on the info provided. This is a news-oriented industry, and it was legitimate news at the moment. There is no reason for anyone to apologize. Everyone in this hobby is an adult (hopefully) and responsible for their own choices.
    The fact that the award chart didn’t change for some time is irrelevant. It was published online at that point, and Avios program could have easily changed on Monday. Nobody knew for sure, and airlines haven’t been very “classy” or Chase-y (apparently a new term) lately, as far as providing any notice on changes. I linked to Milenomics post, which suggested booking domestic AA tickets, where taxes are just a few bucks. It was a good advice, and not over-the-top.
    As far as mistake fares go, this is a tough one for me. I’ve missed most of them because I’m busy with kids. In order to catch these elusive deals, you have to stalk Twitter, and Twitter is a black hole. You know how addictive it can be. I’ve pretty much been avoiding it, but do subscribe to The Flight Deal. Maybe one of these days I’ll be flying for 10 bucks to Hawaii on the same plane as you!

    • Kenny September 5, 2014, 4:23 pm

      Yes, Bonnie does accounting work and our Spring Break holiday coincides with the corporate tax filing date. I’m as happy as anyone that my assumption was wrong, even though we have no Avios. I hope that I won’t be relying on dumb luck for the next mistake fare, with subscriptions to forum threads and RSS feeds. The extra noise those generate is worth it if they alert us in time.

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