I’m flying to Germany tomorrow on…

While I book awards for others on a daily basis, lately I’ve realized just how bad I am at planning travel for myself. While I have plenty of miles in every alliance, the issue is that I always feel the need to completely maximize any given itinerary in order to feel good about it. The challenge is that I rarely actually have to be anywhere on specific dates, at least when it comes to award travel. In other words, I’ll find an award to somewhere that’s almost perfect, but then start second guessing myself, saying that there might be a better “value” by visiting a different destination or traveling at a different time. That always brings me back to square one.

I need to be in Germany this coming week to visit family, though was totally open as far as carriers go, so let me share just how in-depth, frustrating, and time consuming my travel planning process can be. Let me preface this by saying that my goal from hereon out on the airline front is to sample as many airlines’ premium products as possible, so I can review them here. Yes, even if I have to “downgrade” to business class. 😉

So, when I started planning the trip, I first considered the most obvious option to Frankfurt, good old reliable Lufthansa. They even had first class award availability both ways out of Orlando nonstop to Frankfurt, and as of a few weeks ago they’re operating a 747 on the route. Great product, though I’ve done it so many times. Do I really want to fly them again when there are other options out there to try? Oh, who am I kidding, if I don’t book Lufthansa I’ll actually have to access the Frankfurt airport via something other than the First Class Terminal. I’ve forgotten what the terminal looks like, I’ll get lost!

Then I considered using my British Midland miles for business class. I’d love to sample some new airlines, though the challenge with British Midland is that on a business class award, they don’t let you include domestic first class segments, with the exception of Continental, which codes their domestic first class as business class.  So you either need to book the tickets to the gateways separately, or fly to the gateways in… coach!

My first consideration was US Airways, believe it or not. When booking travel through British Midland, they impose fuel surcharges on all tickets where the operating airline imposes a fuel surcharge. US Airways doesn’t have any fuel surcharges, so for a roundtrip savings of $300 or so, they were my first consideration. More importantly, though they have the new Envoy Suites product, which is available on the A330-200 aircraft. I managed to find a routing via Paris both ways. While DeGaulle is one of my last favorite airports, I would at least (theoretically) be flying on their new product. The only issue is that only five of the seven A330-200 aircraft have been converted with the new product, so I had close to a 30% chance of ending up in US Airways’ old business class product. Do I *really* want to do that?

Then I started thinking about other Star Alliance airlines. Continental was available through Newark to Frankfurt all the way, and the seatmap showed their new business class product. While it’s a decent product no doubt, what would I fly on the return? I might as well do US Airways, right? Well, I figured if I did US Airways roundtrip, I could at least be pretty certain I would get the new Envoy Suite in one of the directions. I’d be sorely disappointed, though, if I only flew with them one way and it ended up being the old product.

Austrian also had award availability on the outbound. I really have wanted to try Austrian business class for a while, though they do impose fuel surcharges and I would have to book a separate ticket to Washington Dulles. Certainly not the end of the world, though I need to check a bag for this trip, so I can see that getting at least a bit stressful.

Hmm, I have OneWorld miles, so why not do British Airways first class? I’ve always wanted to try them. While there are fuel surcharges, it’s still worth it, right? I could even fly into and out of LAX, in order to “maximize” the flights. Ultimately I’m not sure I’d need to fly them both ways, so why not just fly them on the return? For the outbound I’ll just stick to one of the other options above. But at the same time, do I really want to risk flying through Heathrow, given the weather issues they’ve had lately?

Then I started looking at SkyTeam. Just for giggles, I hopped onto delta.com to see what they had available, given that I recently acquired about half a million SkyMiles. Holy cow, availability to Frankfurt on my preferred dates for 100,000 miles roundtrip. Sounds nice and dandy, though these are the old style recliner seats. Do I really want to fly a transatlantic flight in a recliner when I could have a flat bed? I should be using my Delta miles either for V Australia or for a Delta destination served by a product with flat beds, like London (which has plenty of award availability during the low season).

And then the thought process started all over again until I was ready to just about call the trip off!

But I did end up making a decision, and as of now am traveling tomorrow. Which choice (or combination of choices) would you have gone with?

I’ll be tweeting (including pictures) during my travels tomorrow, so feel free to follow along there. Otherwise, expect updates here very soon.

Filed Under: Awards, Travel
  1. I flew home LIM-EWR-DEN on CO this past week and had old business first on the LIM-EWR leg and new flatbed EWR-DEN. Yes I thought it was strange to be on a old product internationally and the new product domestically as well. Anyway. The CO product is a lot like the new UA seat but I find it a little shorter (757). It could just be perception but I definitely felt cramped.

  2. Hope the weather lightens up and even if it does I also hope you’re not screwed due to knock-on effects of today’s cancellations!

  3. Lucky, as someone that doens’t fly nearly regularly enough to be familiar with the biz / first products of various airlines how do you know when looking at flight options things like:

    1) Sounds nice and dandy, though these are the old style recliner seats.
    2) The only issue is that only five of the seven A330-200 aircraft have been converted with the new product

    Basically when I’m debating about booking an award flight and I’m trying to decide to between coach, biz, and first where can I find photos and or descriptions of what the biz / first cabins look like

    I’ve tried airliners.net and just random google image searches but the results are hit and miss

  4. @ Zack — In my case, I know all the different configurations from experience and close monitoring of the various products airlines feature. Generally speaking though, it’s best to do some research on FlyerTalk, check the airline’s website directly, and most importantly, match up the seatmap on the flight you’re looking at with the aircraft type that operates it via SeatGuru. SeatGuru shows the seating configurations, so that’s the best place to start.

    For example, on Delta, some of their 767-400 aircraft feature the new flat beds, while some don’t. Those that feature the new flat beds are configured 1-2-1 in business class, while those that don’t are configured 2-2-2. So that would be the way to tell, in that case.

    Make sense? 🙂

  5. I would risk it and try US Airways one way. From all accounts they are the nicest hard product in the sky and as evidenced by CX copying their seats, I bet they will be an industry standard soon. The soft product is going to suck, but the differences in soft product are less drastic in business class anyways. I would take CO from EWR to Frankfurt because since all the 777s were recently finished you are guaranteed to have the new seats (unless there is an unexpected equipment change to a different type of aircraft). That way you will at least have a flatbed product for the overnight flight. Take US on the return so if you get stuck with the old product its only during a day flight it won’t be as problematic that you don’t have a fully flat bed.

  6. When you get older, you”ll realize your time is worth more than anything else. When you’re young, you have the time but not the money. When you’re old, you have the money but not the time.

    For me, it wouldn’t be worth the extra time routing through Paris, Newark, Dulles, or LAX, when you could simply fly nonstop from Orlando to Frankfurt (in First Class no less!). I’m sure your parents would agree.

    What is the purpose of the trip? To spend time with family, I’m guessing. Extra routings, stopovers, etc. just mean less time spent with them over the holidays…. unless you are purposefully using this as an excuse to minimize your time with them!

  7. As someone who was supposed to travel PHL-LHR-FRA yesterday, I assure you that you should have chosen the direct flight. We’ve spent five hours on hold to rebook twice after Heathrow cancellations, and now it’s snowing like crazy in Frankfurt. We’re still skeptical that we’ll be able to leave tomorrow, and we’re considering jettisoning the entire trip and using miles to fly direct, even though I *hate* using miles in the wintertime (better redemption rate to Europe in Y in the summer!)

    If I’d spent the extra $300 per ticket for the direct flight, we’d already be there.

  8. I would go with Delta!! 🙂

    Ben, you need to eventually get on the new business class seats on the 767s…very nice.

  9. For US, CDG and LHR are “guaranteed” the Envoy suites. Of course equipment substitutions could occur – but your chances are very good. Also -the US site isn’t up to date, it’s more than 30 percent Envoy suites (5 out of 7 iirc).

    If you’re routing your outbound via PHL – the Envoy Club is worth checking out. It won’t blow you away, but it’s a great idea. A premium lounge (by US carrier standards) reserved for those travelling in Intl J/C. There is a regular US Club for the Amex Plat, Club Members, Day Pass etc, so the Envoy lounge is quiet,uncrowded and has a decent spread and drinks.

    The new flatbeds on Continenal are great. The onboard service is great, but the ground ops are lacking. It’s almost impossible to check-in with a real person -despite their describtion of the bizfirst concierge on their website. Their lounges at EWR are crowded and have very limited choices in food. The dinner service is amazing (does take a while) and the AVOD is great. Go for a 777 vs 757 to get the espresso machine.

  10. Based on your first pic, I’m going to have to guess that you picked CO. CO is very fond of providing those oh-so-tasty little packs of nutella in their President’s Clubs!

  11. Great meeting you at the dinner with captain Denny and thanks for setting it up btw.

    I would have gone with CO from EWR as I have yet to try their C product. I plan on doing that this summer when C fares go on sale. (If there’s F products like OZ and LX why would I burn miles to use CO is my rationale)

    One of the two US 332’s that needs new seats (N281AY) is in for maintenance and the new seats right now and the other one (N283AY) is scheduled to go out in January, so sometime after that would be an alright time to try a route with the new suites.

    I see from the twitter feed you picked DL. I’m kinda surprised. DL only runs recliners on DTW-FRA as I believe it’s a 763 route. Only 764’s and 77L’s have flat bed seats IIRC and their 764 seats felt small and compact IME.

    Enjoy DL (if it’s possible)

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