Sunday, May 21, 2017

70 Hours on Airline Seats

Aviation Safety Lounge, Seoul ICN.
A thirty-something neighbor once announced he would love to visit Europe, but he would have to wait until he could afford to travel that distance in Business. He appeared to be in good health, so I can only assume he wasn't particularly interested in the wider world.

I would willingly travel that distance holding on to a subway-style strap if that was the only option.

But it's not the only option. When I knew my bum would be on airline seats for about 70 hours during my recent trip around the Northern Hemisphere, I made plans to maximize my comfort for the minimum price.
Comfort is subjective. I took this picture at a bus stop near our home on the way to the airport: it shows the backpack I was about to take around the world. That, for me, is comfortable travel, but it is not for everyone.

I fly enough with Delta and spend enough using their affiliated credit card to be classified as a gold customer in their SkyMiles loyalty program. The program promotes loyalty by offering better seat selections (including the occasional domestic First at no extra charge), early boarding (guaranteeing bin space for my backpack), fast-track security in some overseas airports, and access to over 600 SkyTeam airport lounges around the world.
Recharging at Seoul ICN before a flight to Guangzhou CAN.
Most of these benefits apply when flying with any of Delta's SkyTeam partners. For me, there is value to flying with Delta or its SkyTeam partners when the price is right. It's worth it to me to retain the benefits of the customer loyalty classification.

It took seven separate tickets, and twelve flights to circle the Northern Hemisphere. I paid for two of the tickets with points I had accumulated with the Delta SkyMiles program. With the the other tickets I accumulated SkyMiles I'll use for future travel.

I'm cheap. I discovered Honolulu to Shanghai via Tokyo was $568, which is much cheaper than flying just from Honolulu to Tokyo ($1,406). So I flew from Honolulu through Tokyo to Shanghai.

I selected seats carefully to minimize discomfort. An aisle seat makes it easy to get up and move. I try to maximize personal space, so I favor an exit row or a seat facing a bulkhead. I angle to get an empty seat beside me; for example, if a twin-aisle plane isn't too full, an aisle center block seat next to an empty seat is a good bet: people generally don't want to share an armrest with a stranger, especially in a center block. A center block seat is often a good choice on a long flight because other passengers in the row don't need to climb over me to get to the lavatory when I'm asleep.

I was happy to exchange some money and SkyMiles (points) for comfort on the five long-hauls on my journey.

From
To
Airline
Service
Extra Cost
Notes
Los Angeles LAX
Kahului, Maui OGG
Delta
First
No charge
I originally booked an exit row seat in Economy. The upgrade popped up on my Delta app about an hour before departure.
Honolulu HNL
Tokyo Narita NRT
Delta
Delta One
$600
This upgrade was offered through the Delta app when I checked in. A long nap with a fluffy pillow, stretched out on a lie-flat, under a duvet was a treat.
Guangzhou CAN
Dubai DXB
China Southern
Premium Economy
$200
This was offered once I boarded. Instead of being in a fully booked cabin, I stretched my legs out in a wide seat, similar to domestic First, next to empty seats.
Dubai DXB
Paris CDG
Air France
Business
22,500 SkyMiles (points)
This was my one overnight flight. It was lovely to explore Paris all day, having slept, flat, all night.
Amsterdam AMS
Minneapolis/ St. Paul MSP
Delta
Economy Comfort+
$137
I was surrounded by empty seats. I was not eligible for a paid upgrade to Business because I had paid for my ticket with SkyMiles.

These long-hauls account for about 45 of the 70 hours I spent on planes.
DXB--CDG. Note my mesh stuff sack.
I took advantage of the well-appointed SkyTeam lounges in every airport. I had access to these lounges whether I was about to fly Economy or Business.
I declined in-flight meals when they were served at odd times, I enjoyed better, fresher meals on the ground, along with a selection of wines, all at no cost.
I place high value on smooth travel. Arriving back home at MSP, there was no line for Global Entry: I scanned my passport and fingerprints and headed for the exit. I made it from the door of the Airbus A330-300 to the door of our home in 75 minutes, for a couple bucks, with the help of light rail and bus.

Note: Last year, a friend and colleague called me a first classhole when I had just netted a long-haul upgrade at no cost with a $227 Economy ticket. We laughed, because we both like to extract maximum value out of the airline system, and have enjoyed many a fine conversation over after-work beers about the minutiae of air travel. Our paths cross in New Zealand in January 2018: he and his wife will fly from Portland, Oregon to Down Under in Business. Of course, they are using SkyMiles.

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