One Award, Eight Programs Part 4 – Final Round

This is part 4 of my series comparing the ease of award booking with various Star Alliance frequent flyer programs.

In part 1, I covered booking a transpacific premium cabin award, LAX-ICN-BKK, using 1) United MileagePlus, 2) Singapore KrisFlyer, 3) Avianca LifeMiles, and 4) Air Canada Aeroplan.

In part 2, I discussed my experiences booking LAX-ICN-BKK using 5) ANA Mileage Club, 6) Asiana Club, 7) Aegean Miles+Bonus, and 8) Copa ConnectMiles.

In part 3, I attempted to book a transatlantic premium cabin award (ZRH-FRA-JFK with an overnight in Frankfurt) not bookable online using MileagePlus, KrisFlyer, LifeMiles, and Aeroplan.

In this post, I attempt to book the same transatlantic ZRH-FRA-JFK award with ANA, Asiana, Aegean, and Copa.

Finally, a summary of my findings and experiences booking both awards can be found here.

 

AWARD 2 – ZRH-FRA-JFK in J/F with overnight connection

Flight 1: 4/23/17 ZRH-FRA in business class on Swiss (LX 1076), dep 7:05 PM, arr 8:10 PM 4/23/17

LX J

Availability on LX ZRH-FRA

Flight 2: 4/24/17 FRA-JFK in first class on Lufthansa (LH 404), dep 5:10 PM, arr 7:55 PM 4/24/17

Availability on Lufthansa FRA-JFK

Availability on Lufthansa FRA-JFK

 

ANA Mileage Club: As ANA does not allow one-way awards, I found return flights on a random date so as to be able to make a round-trip award.

Website – Again using the multi-city search tool, I was easily able to find the flights I wanted. Total cost for the round-trip: 165,000 miles and a whopping $765.98 in fuel surcharges and fees. Of all eight online award search engines that I used, the ANA search showed the most options by far.

NH

I was easily able to find the itinerary I wanted using the ANA online award search

Phone (800-235-9262) – Hold time 1 minute. The agent I was connected to was easy to understand despite having a minor accent. With no trouble at all, she was able to quickly find the exact flights I wanted and quoted me a price matching what the online search showed, with the additional $25 booking fee tacked on. Total time on phone: 9.5 minutes. 

Summary – I have no complaints at all with the award booking process through ANA Mileage Club. With a powerful yet easy-to-use online award search, decent phone hold times, and skilled phone agents, ANA can be a great option for Star Alliance premium cabin awards. Of course, only round-trip awards are permitted and fuel surcharges can be very high in some instances.

 

Asiana Club: After my difficulties booking the previous award, I was hoping to have a better experience this time around.

Website – I was unable to find a way to search for Star Alliance availability online, as the regular award search function seems to be for Asiana flights only. Rather than typing in an origin and destination, there is a limited list of airports (only those that Asiana serves) that can be selected, but there is no way to enter in any other airport code. If anybody has had luck otherwise, please let us know in the comments.

The Asiana online award search only allows searches with airports that Asiana flies to

The Asiana online award search only allows searches with airports that Asiana flies to/from

Phone (800-227-4262) – 6 minute hold time. The agent I was connected to this time spoke very good English and we had no problems communicating. Initially she was unable to find the itinerary that I wanted, but after I gave her each segment individually she was able to easily find them. When she came back with a price, however, I was quoted 75,000 miles, suggesting that each segment was pricing out as a separate award (50,000 for F Europe-US and 25,000 for J intra-Europe). I asked her to recheck the price, noting that a Europe-US first class award should only cost 50,000 miles. After putting me on hold while she checked with a colleague, she returned with the same price and unfortunately no explanation, simply stating that this was the price required for the itinerary. Fuel surcharges and fees were $406.76. Total time on phone: 15 minutes.

Summary — Unable to search for partner awards online, I turned to the phone center. While the phone rep quickly found the flights I wanted, there were complications with the award pricing, like with my previous booking. As with last time, the agent did not give any explanation for why the award priced out the way it did. Ultimately, even 75,000 miles for a first class award between Europe and the US is not bad, but I was disappointed by the discrepancy between the quoted price and the award chart as well as the lack of clarity on why this happened.

 

Aegean Miles+Bonus: Despite the inability to book partner awards online, my overall experience booking the previous award with Aegean was fairly painless.

Website – N/A

Phone – 1 minute hold time. The first agent I interacted with spoke workable English but we did have some minor issues communicating. She was unable to find the ZRH-FRA Swiss flight, even when searching for it alone. After five minutes without any luck, I decided to hang up and try again.

1 minute hold time for second call, which went much more smoothly. The second phone rep spoke great English and easily found the flights I wanted when I gave them to her individually. She was able to piece together the itinerary quickly and quoted me a price of 60,000 miles + 403.20 Euro in fuel surcharges/fees. Total time on phone: 6 minutes for first call, 5 minutes for second call.

Summary – As with the previous award, I had to hang up and call again. The second agent I reached quickly found what I wanted and was able to quote me a correct price for the award.

 

Copa ConnectMiles:  Earlier this week, Copa announced a number of changes to the ConnectMiles program. As this has already been covered elsewhere and the primary purpose of this series is to compare the ease of booking awards rather than miles earning, I won’t dwell on the news much other than to say that there aren’t too many significant changes that impact the value proposition of the program.

Website – In contrast to my previous experience, I was unable to find the itinerary I wanted online this time around. Even when searching by individual segments, the first leg ZRH-FRA on Swiss did not show up. The Lufthansa FRA-JFK flight initially did not show up either, but interestingly after I logged in to my account the option appeared.

The Copa award search did not find the itinerary I wanted

The Copa award search did not find the itinerary I wanted

Phone (844-287-0304) – 1 minute hold time. The agent was easy to communicate with, but as in my previous experiences the phone connection was spotty and cut out frequently. Within just a few minutes, the agent found the flights I wanted and quoted me a price of 220,000 miles. This is of course grossly inconsistent with the 110,000 miles that the award chart shows. I asked for clarification and without missing a beat the agent replied that the award chart displayed online is incorrect. Incredulous and a bit taken aback by what I was 95% sure was a lie, I asked him to clarify/explain but he refused to do so. He also refused to run any further searches for me, noting as agents with the previous award did that the 15,000 miles in my friend’s account were not enough to book this award.

I decided to hang up and try my luck with a different phone rep. After being connected to a new agent, I explained that I was trying to get an accurate price on a first class Europe-US award. He immediately responded that the account didn’t have enough miles and that he would not be able to run an award search for me. I hung up and tried again with one final agent, who also refused to run a search for me based on lack of miles. Total time on phone: 10 minutes for first call, 3 minutes for second call, 5 minutes for third call.

Summary – The award search was unable to find the itinerary I wanted this time around. Of note, award availability returned by the search seems to vary based on whether a user is logged in or not. Even though I no longer have status with Copa, the Lufthansa flight did not show up when I initially searched and only appeared after I logged into my account. Over the phone, the majority of agents I worked with booking these two awards refused to even run searches, noting that the account didn’t have the required miles. The one phone agent who did run a search for me with this award quoted a price that was vastly different from the award chart and refused to recheck or provide any explanation.

 

RECAP

ANA Mileage Club demonstrates again that it is a solid program with a comprehensive and easy-to-use online award search as well as great phone agents. Booking over the phone with Aegean Miles+Bonus was fairly simple as well, however as with last time agent quality was variable and successful booking required hanging up and calling back. In contrast, Asiana and Copa were a bit more disappointing. Although communication with the Asiana agent this time around was better than with my previous award, the lack of online partner award searching plus pricing discrepancies that phone agents are either unable or unwilling to clarify make Asiana Club a difficult program to deal with. Copa ConnectMiles, as well, provided troublesome as the online award search was unable to find the desired itinerary and phone agents were unhelpful, citing an insufficient number of miles in the account I used.

Thanks for reading, and I hope at least some of this was informative. The final post in this series, a summary of all of my experiences and cost breakdowns for each program, is coming next week.

 

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