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TACA Airines

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Welcome change to London Heathrow for Star Alliance Airlines Passengers

Unlike some other travel writers and air travel commentators, I’m still a big fan of airline alliances. Those are the large, multi-airline, varying degrees of cooperation, groupings of airlines, promising “seamless travel”, “earn and redeem across our network”, “global recognition”, and other buzzwordy come-ons that often fall short. But not always. Of the three big alliances, oneworld, Skyteam, and Star Alliance, the latter, Star, is my favorite. Not only nor even primarily because it is the biggest, not because it’s the oldest, but because it is by far the most integrated. They come closer to delivering more of those cloudy benefits than do the other two, in my experience as a traveler and in what I read as an analyst of the travel scene. They are definitely doing so with this move.

Artist rendition of the completed T2 LHR Star Alliance common checkin area

Artist Rendition of the completed LHR Terminal 2 Common Check-in area. Courtesy Future Travel Experience. Click the image for Ryan Ghee’s article.

Star’s “Move Under One Roof” initiative – something they all talk about, but *A (as it’s often abbreviated on sites such as Flyertalk) is doing so much more with it. This initiative in London, at London’s premier international airport, Heathrow, really outdoes everybody. Read the story from Future Travel Experience, watch the video in that link, and then read on here. Continue reading »

More oneworld alliance woes? Finnair going low-cost low-service

I’ve been writing a lot about airline alliances lately. Not always with the most accurate predictions (but just wait…) As a fairly frequent traveler over the years, whether for work, family, or now as an expat, I need to maximize my miles. So knowing (and speculating on) who is partnering with whom, who else I can earn miles and status benefits with, and thus what grouping I should plan my future travel on, is important. Also I find it fun. Yeah, I know.

Couple of weeks old, but I don’t hang out much in the Finnair forum on FlyerTalk all that much. Nor for the most part with oneworld alliance airlines. I’ve burned off the last of my American AAdvantage miles with my upcoming LAN flight home to Uruguay in August. I do have earnings in LANPass, but my recent paid LAN flights were credited to unaligned Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, rather than to LAN’s own program within oneworld.

But I have noticed that the oneworld alliance has been getting weaker and shakier, at least in comparison to the booming Star Alliance and the now no-longer-leftover SkyTeam. Finnair’s move, as reported in this thread at FlyerTalk, looks to be weakening one of the core European players in that alliance.

In the past few years, other European airlines have either left that alliance, scaled back service significantly to just intra-European and near-Europe routes, or gone out of business entirely. Hungary’s Malev is no more as of early this year, and they discontinued their Budapest-USA service a couple of years before that. I flew them just intra-Europe a few years back, when they were a Northwest Airlines partner despite being in competing alliances. Ok, nothing special, pride-of-a-small-proud-country airline. (Like pathetic little Pluna of Uruguay, which exists despite the country not being big enough to justify its own airline.) But another hub, another network in the alliance gone. Aer Lingus used to be a oneworld member. It switched to so-called low-cost, mostly Europe-centric and lessened TATL, with subsidized weird deals,  even doing a wet-lease Washington-Madrid flight flying as United Airlines. Aligning on other routes with FF benefits and codeshares with United, arch-enemy of oneworld co-founder American.

Elsewhere, oneworld is further weakening. American Airlines is a mess, with a bankruptcy reorganization crippled by employee unions making deals with a competitor to take them over. Even though that competitor itself still hasn’t completed its 8-year-old merger and has warring unions. The only other North American oneworld carrier, Mexicana, went into bankruptcy and was grounded about two years ago. There is no Central American carrier, while Star Alliance just gained two (or three, or four, or even five, depending on if you count Avianca and Taca separately, and Copa and Copa Colombia, and LACSA as different from Taca.)

There’s been no Canada representation since the early 2000’s takeover of Canadian Airlines by Star Alliance co-founder Air Canada. The only north-south lift in Western North America of substance is provided by non-alliance partner Alaska Airlines, who also partners with arch-competitor SkyTeam founder Delta (and in Europe, with founder AirFrance-KLM.) In South Asia, oneworld was supposed to gain Kingfisher of India by now. But while the Kingfisher Beer brewery is doing great, the airline is bouncing checks and repeatedly being grounded, likely soon for good.

Yes, oneworld has gained some airlines in that same timeframe. Royal Jordanian a few years ago. Most recently airberlin, which though tiny compared to Lufthansa, does serve well as a northern and central European hub carrier. But with Malev gone, Finnair weakening (and don’t ignore Finnish flagship company Nokia’s failings as part of what will drive down international travel to Finland), oneworld’s European position is weak. Yes, IAG is a giant international conglomerate that now owns British Airways, Iberia, and now former Star member British Midland BMI (being folded into BA). But look at the geography: Both England and Spain are on the periphery of Europe, not its core. Berlin is core, but airberlin can’t fully compete against Star founder Lufthansa‘s giant built-over-decades Frankfurt and Munich hubs. Nor its wholly-owned or affiliated partners Austrian (Vienna hub), SWISS (Geneva and Zurich hubs), and LOT Polish (Warsaw hub)

I’m no insider. But it doesn’t look good for oneworld from where I sit on the plane. And it thus makes me less likely to book on any oneworld carrier until this all shakes out. Unless it is a carrier such as American or LAN which is a full partner including Elite earnings and benefits with non-oneworld Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

Latin Star (Alliances that is)

Well I blew it.

AviancaTaca Group and their subsidiary airlines Taca, LACSA (the Costa Rica branch of Taca), Taca Perú, and Avianca all joined Star Alliance today 21 June. Along with their competitor in Central and northern South America, Copa Airlines, whose accession was never in question.  With AviancaTaca even jumping the gun by a day on its websites yesterday.

Which makes me just about as prescient about airlines as most airline CEOs, who continue to lose money and go in and out of bankruptcy.

I still stand by the logic in my earlier posts about why LAN would want to find a way out of oneworld into Star. But not happening now.

Keep an eye on the Stars, however. I do not expect this to remain static. Logically Star still is a better global partner for LAN than is the weak oneworld, and Star needs a continent-wide South American partner. Which neither Copa nor AviancaTaca provides.

But for now… mea culpa. I stand in good company with the Bloomberg London reporter who said 2 days ago (at 00:39 into the video) that LAN is leaving their alliance,  and with the Copa agent in DC who had come to the same conclusion as me about AviancaTaca not joining (or at least not staying) in Star Alliance.

Until then, however, AviancaTaca LifeMiles is now going to be my primary Star Alliance frequent flyer program, totally replacing the devalued United Mileage Plus with its ridiculous fees. LifeMiles has great earnings on its own fares, and now has an excellent Star Alliance online booking engine, along with a flexible cash-vs-miles sliding scale. I just was able to find an LAX-to-Montevideo award in August for only 19,000 1-way miles. And because I only have 10,801 LifeMiles right now (all earned from just one cheap Uruguay-USA flight a week ago with booking/fare bonuses), I can use 10,500 + $131 USD as a dirt-cheap way to get that ticket. Not sure if I will, because I’ve got an AAwful Airlines AAward for that timeframe already, but it is a super value.

Why do you hate America(n Airlines), Dad?

In today’s episode of “Mark Versus The Volcano”, American Airlines can ____ __ ___ ___ ___k.

After not getting arrested by the sensible Miami cop whom the nonsensical AA rebooking gate agent called when I simply asked for a “distressed rate discount voucher” that airlines routinely give out when they refuse to pay for hotels due to acts of [$DEITY], and being told I had to wait until tomorrow 11/23 to get out, I stumbled into the street punch drunk from 2 nights of no sleep, with my heavy bags full of kitchen stuff for Uruguay. Which then fell all over the airport roadway when I tried to cross to the hotel shuttle bus lane.

A very nice elderly (meaning 10 years older than me) Uruguayo in a very cool hat and beard told me which agent to speak to in order to actually get help. This nice AAgent person gave me a voucher and apologized for her asshat colleague, but could not rebook me on tonight’s (Tues 11/22) flight, as the gentle Sr. El-beardo had gotten the last seat. Thus I still need somewhere to stay, and the voucher was for a $70 rate at the fleabag HoJos. I wasn’t going to have bedbugs at Hojos for $70 when I could have a nice hot cookie, soft bedding, and 1000 LAN Airlines kilometers towards my next Lima-Montevideo 32K ticket, for $101 at the DoubleTree. So I was stumbling towards the cookies of bliss at 8am when I yard-saled in front of the oncoming traffic.

Which did make me certain of my decision not to purchase the $720 3pm TACA (Peru, Costa Rica, El Salvadorian airlines) ticket for that afternoon, as I would have been guava jelly attempting to bring cascades of Calphalon to check-in. Thankfully but not at all unexpectedly, the lovely ladies at the DoubleTree by Hilton on Blue Lagoon Parkway, though wearing more than Brook Shields did on that same-named Lagoon, allowed me an early check-in. Perhaps knocking myself over by collapsing the luggage onto my knee helped them offer that amenity.

Upon waking from a long afternoon’s sleep, I called American Airlines and was told that even though I could refund the miles for my canceled-by-them flight at no charge if I didn’t like the 11/23 rebooking, I could not use those same miles for the New Year’s Eve flight I have to take as the new date for the pets-move (I need their flight as the only USA-Uruguay nonstop for las mascotas, el perro Whistler y el gato Blackcomb). That would be “high season” where a one-way is 30,000 miles if you can get it, rather than the 20,000 miles. Despite the chicken-anity of el Capitan del Vuelo yesterday, while other airlines diverted to Buenos Aires (EZE) or waited out the wind change of the Chilean volcanic ash plume getting into Montevideo, and thus the delay and my costs being AA’s fault, they would not do a waiver/rebooking. They even were going to charge me the $25 phone fee to rebook it at the higher mileage, even though they had to help me for free on the same call if I wanted to redeposit it.

So adios a Aerolinas Americanas, muchachos y muchachas. I canceled my re-booked Nov 23 Miami to Montevideo, canceled my Nov 30 Montevideo to Miami, canceled an open reservation of miles that Lisa had to fly to Montevideo, and will NOT fly them there at all. Other than the New Year’s Eve flight with the pets in order to avoid pet layovers in foreign airports, which can be dicey. Used 30K of the miles to book that NYE trip without the service fee, and will use the other 10K miles I have, supplemented by throwing a few hotel stays at them, to book a 1-way on their partner Alaska Airlines. Will use the 20,000 that Lisa now has back to book the same, or if she wants to tough it out (she’s been a big AA fan for decades, I’ve never understood that), she can use it for a 1-way back to the States for a visit from Uruguay and fly a good airline back home to South America for the return.

I have a $920 roundtrip on Brasil’s very friendly TAM Airlines booked for USA Thanksgiving Day 24 November and a slightly-extended stay in our new apartmento through 07 December while Lisa Marie Mercer makes a short trip back to the USA to reunite with las mascotas and do paperwork for our Uruguayan residency application. I have a very affordable $700 flight for her on TACA back to Uruguay in mid-Diciembre. And I have several choice words and an upcoming DOT complaint for American Airlines.

Oh, and one more day of “healthy” DoubleTree complimentary chocolate chip cookies (hey, they’ve got oatmeal in them.)

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