One Award, Eight Programs Part 2 – Comparing Ease of Award Booking

This is a continuation from last week’s post where I compared my experiences booking a Star Alliance premium cabin transpacific award using United MileagePlus, Singapore KrisFlyer, Avianca LifeMiles, and Air Canada Aeroplan. Here, I attempt to book the same award using four less-common mileage programs: ANA Mileage Club, Asiana Club, Aegean Miles+Bonus, and Copa ConnectMiles.

Part 3, in which I attempt to book a transatlantic premium cabin award with MileagePlus, KrisFlyer, LifeMiles, and Aeroplan can be found here.

In part 4, I discuss using ANA, Asiana, Aegean, and Copa to book the same transatlantic award.

A summary of my findings and experiences booking both awards can be found here.

 

AWARD 1 LAX-ICN-BKK in F/J with overnight connection

Flight 1: 8/16/17 LAX-ICN in first class on Asiana (OZ 201), dep 12:40 PM, arr 5:35 PM 8/17/17

Flight 2: 8/18/17 ICN-BKK in business class on Thai (TG 659), dep 9:35 AM, arr 1:25 PM 8/18/17

1 LAX-ICN Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 9.24.53 AM

2 ICN-BKK Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 9.23.06 AM

ANA Mileage Club: A generally well-regarded program that has some attractive redemption rates, ANA is a good option for Star Alliance premium awards. The two most significant negatives of the program are that ANA levies fuel surcharges on awards and one-way awards are not allowed. To be able to book the one-way itinerary I wanted for the sake of this exercise, I simply found return flights on a random date to make a round-trip award.

Website – Using the multi-city search tool, I was quickly able to find the flights I wanted. Total cost for the round-trip: 240,000 miles + $386.52 ($282 in fuel surcharges).

ANA award search

Booking online with the ANA award search was quick and simple.

Phone (800-235-9262) – After following the phone tree prompts for ANA Mileage Club, I was placed on hold for 3 minutes before being connected to a representative, who had to then transfer me to a separate “award booking agent”; this required another 7 minute hold. Once connected, I found that the agent spoke good English, and he was easily able to find the flights that I wanted. It should be noted that while working with this particular agent was a breeze, I’ve encountered some agents in the past with fairly strong accents that made communication difficult. Quoted price was the same as when I tried to book online, with an additional $25 phone booking fee. Total time on phone: 19 minutes. 

Summary: Overall, ANA Mileage Club is relatively easy to work with. The online search tool is simple to use and, in this instance, the agent was easy to work with as well. In addition, all of the agents I’ve encountered previously are capable and have been able to find/do what I wanted, despite some occasional communication hiccups. Hold times are not the best but also not unreasonable. Again, the major downsides of the program are that only round-trip awards are permitted and that fuel surcharges are levied on award tickets.

 

Asiana Club: An infrequently discussed program that has some strong redemption values, Asiana Club is perhaps best known for having a lengthy and difficult award booking process.

Website – I was unable to find the Thai Airways ICN-BKK connecting flight I wanted online, however the award search displayed two alternative ICN-BKK connecting flights on Asiana metal on the date I wanted (8/18), with the complete award LAX-ICN-BKK pricing out to 95,000 miles + $152.03 ($101 fuel surcharge). Interestingly, these flights do not seem to have any availability when searching on Expertflyer, United, or Aeroplan, suggesting that Asiana releases more award space on its own flights to members of the Asiana Club program than it does to partner programs. Also of note, I couldn’t quite figure out why the award priced out to 95,000 miles, as their award chart shows that one-way US-Southeast Asia awards in first should cost 100,000 miles.

OZ metal availability

The Asiana award search displayed 2 options ICN-BKK on 8/18 that were not available on other search tools.

OZ availability

EF search for Asiana availability ICN-BKK on 8/18

Phone (800-227-4262) 26 minute hold time. After providing my account information to the agent, I was informed that the zero miles in my account were not enough to book an award. When I told the agent that I planned to transfer in points from SPG, she seemed unaware that SPG points transferred to Asiana, and told me she needed to check with someone to make sure the points transfer was possible before proceeding. Rather than have me wait on hold, she took down my number and promised to call me back. Communication with this agent was shaky, and I got the sense that she didn’t fully understand what I was trying to say.

I received a callback 11 minutes later, from a different agent who only spoke in Korean. Two minutes after hanging up, I received another call. It seemed like this call was an automated callback from the hold queue (which I had not requested), as there was initially a 2 minute hold before I was connected to another phone rep who was under the impression that I had just called in. Moreover, he had no idea what I was talking about when I referenced my conversation with the previous agent. Fortunately, I was able to start the booking process over with this agent and he was able to find the exact flights I wanted within 3 minutes.

From my conversations with both agents, I got the sense that Asiana, like Singapore Air, has two separate workflows/systems for booking awards on their own flights vs. those on partners and that mixing Asiana flights with partner flights can be tricky for phone reps. In addition, the price I was given by the agent (141,000 miles + $131) didn’t quite make sense when compared to the pricing displayed online. US-Southeast Asia partner awards are supposedly 90,000 miles one-way, while US-Southeast Asia awards on Asiana metal are 100,000 miles. Even if the itinerary were to price out as two separate awards (US-Korea on Asiana metal + Korea-Southeast Asia on a partner), the total would have been 117,500 miles (80,000 + 37,500). Presented with this information, the agent had no explanation, simply saying that the price he quoted was the price of the award. I asked for clarification on why the award priced out the way it did but he refused to provide any more details. Communication with this agent was better than with the first, but we still ran into some difficulties understanding each other at times. Of note, I never received an actual callback from the original agent that I spoke to. Total time on phone: ~70 minutes for all 3 calls combined, 14 minutes with the third agent who was able to price out the award.

Summary – Using the website, I was unable to find the exact flights I wanted, however I was given an alternative connecting flight on OZ metal on the date I wanted, thereby allowing for the overnight layover I desired. This connecting flight did not show availability using other search tools, so using Asiana miles may be an option for booking Asiana metal flights on which partners are not showing availability. The phone experience, in contrast, was considerably more tedious. In addition to having the longest hold times I encountered while booking this award, the call center had phone reps who had difficulty with English. In my very subjective and unscientific assessment, I would say the ability to communicate effectively with Asiana agents is roughly the same as or slightly worse than with Avianca agents.

Moreover, award pricing seems to a bit of a black hole, both online and over the phone. I was unable to figure out exactly why the price quoted by the phone rep was higher than what the award charts online show, and I was unfortunately offered no explanation by the agent, despite my attempts to get more information. Finally, while I did not actually ticket the award, reports (1, 2) indicate that creating an award reservation and ticketing the award are handled by different departments and require speaking to multiple representatives or calling in several times. Further complicating matters, reports on Flyertalk suggest that online Star Alliance award bookings require payment with a credit card issued in Korea, and that calling in or emailing are the only ways to complete those bookings. Overall, while Asiana Club offers some good values for award redemptions, a lot of patience and effort are required to actually book an award.

 

Aegean Miles+Bonus: Aegean Miles+Bonus is primarily known for at one time offering status without expiration (this has since been discontinued), but the program also has some solid redemption values. However, Miles+Bonus has some idiosyncrasies, like only allowing one connection on Star Alliance partner awards, as well as an essentially nonexistent online award search. Update: I was given incorrect information by a phone agent when I first wrote this post; it turns out that US-Asia awards are indeed possible, contrary to what I originally reported. Thanks to Charlie over at Running With Miles for bringing this to my attention.

Website – With only 1,000 miles in my account, the website would not allow me to even begin the process of searching for an award. Reports from a few years ago (1, 2) and more recent ones on Flyertalk indicate that only flights on Aegean metal can be booked online. Partner awards can only be booked by calling (easier option) or by filling out an online form with the desired itinerary and waiting for an agent to respond.

I was unable to search for awards online with my mileage balance.

I was unable to find an option to search for awards online with my mileage balance.

Phone (855-323-4326) – My first call to the service center was unfruitful, as some sort of miscommunication/misunderstanding resulted in the agent telling me an award from the US to Asia was not possible. After being informed this was incorrect by Charlie at Running With Miles, I tried again, with much better results. After only a 2 minute hold, I was connected to an agent who spoke English well. Whether it was connection issues or my speaking too fast, the agent initially misheard the dates I wanted for the itinerary, which added about 5 minutes to the total call time, as he had to reprice the award with the correct dates. With the correct dates, he was able to quickly find the flights I wanted. After a 4 minute hold while he priced out the award, he came back with a price of 100,000 miles + 111.45 Euro, which is consistent with the award chart. Despite what others have reported previously, I was told that award holds are not possible. Total time on phone: 16 minutes.

Summary – A generous program for both crediting partner flights and redeeming miles, Aegean’s program has some good value, though awards are subject to fuel surcharges. Unfortunately, partner awards cannot be booked online and require calling in. In addition, only one connection each way is allowed on Star Alliance partner awards (this rule supposedly can be waived if there are no one-stop Star Alliance itineraries available for the desired trip). Despite the misunderstanding I encountered with the first phone agent, my second call and almost every report that I’ve seen agree that in general Aegean phone agents are quite good and easy to communicate with.

 

Copa ConnectMiles: A relative newcomer in the world of loyalty programs, ConnectMiles offered a generous status match opportunity back in 2015 that many of us jumped on. Given that Copa offers above-average mileage earning on some partner flights and a number of decent redemption opportunities, I wanted to explore the program a bit more in depth.

Website – Using the multi-city award search tool, I was easily able to find the flights I needed. Unfortunately, the award priced out on a segment-by-segment basis, resulting in a total cost of 160,000 miles (120k for LAX-ICN, 40k for ICN-BKK) + $20.20, in contrast to the 130,000 miles that the award chart says a US-South Asia F award should cost. Using the non-multi-city search was not useful, as the only options that showed up were routings through PTY involving Copa flights.

Copa award search

The Copa multi-city award search found the flights I wanted, but priced out the itinerary on a segment-by-segment basis.

Phone (844-287-0304) –  I encountered no hold time and the phone tree was easy to navigate. While all of the agents I spoke to were fairly easy to communicate with, I had phone connection issues and several times had to repeat myself so that the agents could hear me. This is something I’ve previously encountered with Copa, using different phones and calling from various locations, so this may be an issue on their end.

With a piddling 3,000 miles in my own Copa account, I tried multiple times but was unable to find an agent who would run an availability search for me, as they all noted that I did not have enough miles to book any award. After calling back using an account borrowed from a friend who had about 15,000 miles, I spoke to an agent who was quickly able to find the exact flights I wanted and who quoted me the correct pricing of 130,000 miles. However, he noted that the 15,000 miles in the account were not enough and stated that only 50,000 miles per year can be purchased per account. Total time on phone: 7 minutes.

Summary – While the online award search function is able to find availability, the pricing engine seems to be inconsistent with what phone agents and the Copa award chart show. Excluding potential phone connection issues, the process for booking awards over the phone is fairly simple and fast, and I have never had any communication difficulties with Copa agents. Unfortunately this program will be of limited use to most, as ConnectMiles does not partner with any transferrable points currencies and only 50,000 miles can be purchased per year.

 

RECAP

ANA Mileage Club has both an easy-to-use online award search tool and competent phone agents. Aegean Miles+Bonus, despite the inability to book partner awards online, has some strong redemption values and good phone reps overall. Copa ConnectMiles, as well, has a functional (albeit sometimes inconsistent) award search tool and phone agents who are able to find individual segments and piece together awards as needed. Meanwhile, Asiana Club was the disappointment here. Despite having some good redemption values on its award chart, neither the website nor phone agents were able to satisfactorily build the itineraries that I wanted (the former did not display the desired flights, the latter quoted pricing that was inconsistent with award charts shown online). Moreover, there have been numerous reports of the difficulties involved with booking Asiana awards, from issues with incorrect pricing to having to speak to multiple departments to get an award ticketed. Given the other options for booking Star Alliance premium cabin awards, Asiana might not be worth the effort and trouble. Even with the additional availability on Asiana metal flights offered to Asiana Club members, Star Alliance connectivity throughout Asia is strong and chances are more likely than not that a given itinerary available on OZ metal would be available on other carriers as well.

 

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  1. Hi, Stephen,
    Another nice post! Curious where you got your info about Aegean not being usable for US – Asia? That is a valid booking and one that I have done before. Maybe an agent misunderstood?

    • Thanks for that info, Charlie. I called back and it turns out that you’re absolutely right. Post has been updated accordingly.

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