Category Archives: Star Alliance

Star Alliance Routings and Award Availability to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)

As far as I know, there are no nonstop flights from the US to Bangkok, which is perhaps expected given the distance to Thailand from the US. Thai Airways used to fly nonstop from LAX to BKK, but that flight now has a stopover in Seoul.

Luckily, there are numerous options to get to Bangkok on Star Alliance carriers. Bangkok is the hub for Thai Airways, and they’re renowned for their ground service at BKK. Other Star Alliance carriers that have flights to Bangkok include Air China, ANA, Asiana, Austrian, Egypt Air, Ethiopian, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Singapore, Swiss, Turkish, and United (i.e. nearly all of the carriers in Star Alliance that you’ve heard of).

The obvious choice if you’re flying out of BKK, particularly in a premium cabin, is to fly on Thai Airways. If you fly First Class out of Bangkok, then you get access to the Royal First Lounge and Spa, where you get a 1-hour massage (business class passengers get 30 minutes). Thai currently has First Class service to Sydney, London, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Zurich, and on some flights to Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Thai is also great because they regularly release a lot of award space, both far out, in the interim, and close in. For example, there’s premium cabin award space on nearly all dates for flights from London to BKK for the entire schedule that’s loaded. Same with Frankfurt and Hong Kong. Tokyo is harder, but still easy if you’re planning at least a couple of months out (although you’ll be harder pressed to get First Class space on the A380 out of Tokyo).

Part of the reason why Thai releases so much award space is that their in-flight product is generally considered to be a notch below that of airlines like ANA, Asiana, Lufthansa, Singapore, and Swiss. The hard product is good on the A380 and the new suites on the 747 (and it’s fine on most 747s, although there’s one plane with an older version that you want to avoid), but people criticize the inconsistent soft product. But again, if you’re looking for flights departing out of Bangkok, I think you should seriously consider flying Thai for the first leg so that you get the full ground experience at BKK.

Since there are no nonstop flights to BKK from the US, you have to connect, and given how many Star Alliance carriers have flights to Bangkok, you have tons of options available. From the east coast of the US to Bangkok, it’s roughly the same distance to route through Europe as it is through Asia, and both United and US Airways allow routings through Europe to get to Southeast Asia. The most “aspirational” routing would probably go through Frankfurt on Lufthansa, but Lufthansa doesn’t offer First Class award space more than 15 days before departure. Routing through Asia, the most aspirational routing in First Class would be ANA through Tokyo, which is also a hard award seat to snag. A good alternative is to book legs on United to make sure that you have a seat assured and then switch to Lufthansa or ANA if the award seat opens up closer to departure. If you don’t have status, you’ll have to pay change fees, but that can be worth it to experience a significantly better product for a 10-hour flight.

United charges 60,000 miles for a one-way to South Asia in Business Class, while it’s 70,000 miles for First Class. US Airways charges 120,000 miles for a roundtrip to South Asia in Business Class and 160,000 miles in First Class, although you can likely get lower amounts charged if you say that your trip to Bangkok is a “stopover” on your way to a destination in North Asia, or you can continue on to Australia or New Zealand and pay fewer miles.

Advertisements

Why You Should Search Backwards on the ANA Site

If you’re looking for the most accurate Star Alliance award availability, you should be searching using the ANA website. It’s a little less user-friendly than the United website, but it’s 100% accurate (as far as I can tell), which means that I often do most of my searches on the ANA website, particularly when I’m looking for availability on Star Alliance partners like Lufthansa (see my recent post regarding problems booking Lufthansa awards on United).

Here’s a basic primer on using the site, and then a little advice on why you should sometimes be searching “backwards” on the ANA site.

1. After logging in, click the circled “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines” button. (Note: You’ll only be able to click the button if you have a non-zero number of points in your account. To fix this, you can transfer in 1,000 points from Amex Membership Rewards, wait for some promo like I did where I got 100 points for filling in a survey, use the Wandering Aramean’s awesome Chrome extension, or else use the workaround detailed as an addendum to this post)

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.23.58 AM

2. Assuming you’re searching segment by segment (i.e. you know the routing that you want), you can click the “7-Day Availability (direct flights only)” button to see a 7-day view.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.24.16 AM

3. On the next screen, enter your desired dates, airports, class of service, number of passengers, and then click “Next” to see the results.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.26.04 AM

4. Now you have your results, but note that results very close-in (in this case, within the next 4 days at the time of search), all have the “-” indicating no availability, which isn’t exactly accurate (and is really not helpful if searching for close-in Lufthansa First Class award availability).

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 9.26.31 AM

The circled part isn’t accurate.

5. But also note that if you click the “Previous” button for the return flight, ANA decides to show you all availability correctly regardless of date!

Click “Previous” to see earlier dates

Tada! Correct availability displayed for close-in dates.

Tada! Correct availability displayed for close-in dates for the return flight.

ANA is the best tool for getting accurate Star Alliance award availability, but if you’re searching very far out or very close in, it’s better to search “backwards” (i.e. put your destination as your origin and your origin as your destination) so you can use the more flexible “return” calendar.

UPDATE: Here are instructions for what to do if you don’t have any miles in your ANA account (I’m assuming that you can figure out how to join the ANA Mileage Club on your own. If you can’t, you can try reading some other blog’s guide like MIleValue’s.)

1. On step #1 above, you were probably like, “Wtf, I can’t click that button. It’s all greyed out and unclickable.” So go ahead and click the button that you can click, which is the “ANA International Flight Awards” button.

I am so good at greying out buttons

I am so good at greying out buttons

2. On the next page, search for a route that ANA serves, like SFO to NRT.

Searching for a route that ANA serves

Searching for a route that ANA serves

3. Almost there! At the bottom of the search results, we see the fabled “Use Star Alliance Member Airlines” button. Click it, and then follow the above steps for your search.

Woot

Woot

Or again, you can just transfer points into your account from Amex or use Seth’s tool to avoid this, since you’ll have to do it every time you log in for a search.

 

Star Alliance Routings and Award Availability to Seoul, Korea (ICN)

Seoul is one of my favorite cities. The food is great (assuming you like Korean food…), the city is really accommodating of tourists (e.g. lots of museums are free, they’ve had promotions where they’ll give you free postcards and mail them for you), public transit is great, there’s interesting history as well as modern influences, and it’s relatively affordable.

Delicious banchan

Delicious banchan

Seoul at night

Seoul at night

So what are the best ways to redeem a Star Alliance award to Seoul?

Seoul is the hub of Asiana Airlines, one of my favorite airlines. It’s a 5-star airline according to Skytrax and has won Airline of the Year awards from both Skytrax and Business Traveler in the past. Asiana is an awesome choice for a premium cabin (or even coach) redemption to Seoul.

In the US, Asiana flies nonstop to Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York (JFK), San Francisco, and Seattle. Of these routes, only Los Angeles and New York have a first class cabin (well, Chicago has it for now, but that plane is switching to New York on July 22, 2013), and the New York flight will have the new Asiana first class suites as of July 22. The old first class on the LAX route isn’t too shabby, but it is an older product.

If you’re flying business on Asiana, you definitely want to look for a route with the new Quadra Smartium seats. While the old business class is angle-flat, the Quadra Smartium seats are completely lie-flat. This product is generally found on flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles (on the 777 flight, not the 747 flight with first class), Chicago, and New York (starting on July 22nd). Beware of aircraft swaps, though, as you’re not guaranteed to get the new product even on these routes.

Award availability on Asiana is best far in advance (as in, right when the schedules open), especially if you’re looking for the new first class suites product. Best of all, they usually release 2 award seats in first class.

Caution: Asiana has blackout dates for awards (which I often forget about). There are different dates depending on whether or not you’re departing from the US, so even if there’s a blackout date for one direction that you want, it’s possible that the other direction is fine. Check out my post on Asiana blackout dates for more info.

United flies nonstop to Seoul from San Francisco. While United isn’t a very aspirational premium cabin product, the hard product is actually quite good in both business and first. Business class is lie-flat, and the entertainment system is pretty good, although the service and food are not up to par with Asian carriers. Award availability is best far in advance or else close-in.

Singapore also flies nonstop to Seoul from San Francisco. Unfortunately, if you’re using United or US Airways miles, you won’t be getting into a premium cabin as they serve that route with a 777-300ER. You can transfer Amex Membership Rewards into Singapore’s KrisFlyer program and redeem for premium cabins this way, though.

Thai flies nonstop from Los Angeles to Seoul 4 days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday), served by a 777-300ER with a lie-flat business seat, but I only see the schedule loaded until the end of November 2013, and it doesn’t look like they’re releasing any business class seats.

Finally, Air Canada flies nonstop from both Vancouver and Toronto, but no one cares about Canada, so I’m not going to write about them (jks, but I honestly don’t know much about Air Canada; business class availability looks okay on both routes, and I believe both routes are served by lie-flat seats in business, but please, someone correct me if I’m wrong).

Those are your options for nonstop flights to/from North America. The most aspirational product accessible with United or US Airways miles is Asiana’s new first class suites from New York (staring July 22, 2013), although I don’t think you can go wrong with the Quadra Smartium routes from San Francisco and Los Angeles (note: you can also do a routing like SFO->JFK->ICN if you really want to do the suites).

You can also route the long way through Europe, and there are also lots of options if you want to connect in Tokyo. Now that EVA Air has joined the Star Alliance, you can also route through Taipei, and EVA’s Royal Laurel Class (currently to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York) looks quite good, although connecting through Taipei is a little more out of the way than connecting through Tokyo.

Hope this helps if you’re looking for an award to Seoul! And if you don’t want to deal with finding award availability and booking an award yourself, you can contact me at efficientasianman (at) gmail (dot) com to employ my award booking service.