It has been 30 years now since Wilderness and his family started flying between Los Angeles and Auckland with some regularity. We have always flown coach, one step up from baggage compartment but still, inside the airplane! For the most part, we got there at the same time as everyone else on-board, even those in first class, not to mention the pilots.
After a few years of searching for the lowest fare possible, we decided to continue looking but stick with one airline in order to build up some frequent flier points. Naturally, our luck being the way it is, we chose Continental. Not a bad airline but after a few trips with them, and just when we are building our points, they decide they will quit flying to New Zealand and Australia! Of course, we lost all the points we had accumulated.
After a few more years, we decide to try that again and this time select United Airlines. After a few more trips in cattle class we have built up, what we think, are enough points to get an upgrade to the rarefied air of Business Class. Being the 'rube' I am, I did not know I had to buy an "upgradeable" ticket in order to use my points for an upgrade.
This is where it gets, really confusing. You see, there are all kinds of classes of ticket... at many different prices, all for the same seat on the same airplane. Now remember, a normal cattle class ticket at the time was about NZ$2100. I ask my local travel agent how much a full fare, upgradeable ticket would be, she says; "Oh, that would be about NZ$6,300!"
What! I can buy a Business Class ticket for that much money. Heck, I can buy a small airplane for that much! It could keep me in ice cream for at least a year! I once bought a new Thunderbird for less than that! Anyway, you get the picture. I was somewhat astounded.
So let's call United and get this straight. Eunice, the gracious lady from United tells me that there are actually four classes of ticket that can be purchased and upgraded. They are H and M which will upgrade to business class for "30,000" points, one-way and Y and B class which can be upgraded for "15,000" points one-way. Wait a minute; our paper work says we can upgrade both ways for 25,000 points! Oh you silly boy, those were the 'old' rules, they changed in October, just to screw Wilderness and family because they were getting so close. "Of course!"
Okay so let's call the travel agency and get a price for some of these tickets. They are:
H Class = NZ$2519
M Class = NZ$2069
But both of these require 30,000 points to upgrade.
B Class = NZ$2854
Y Class = NZ$6560
Are you sure? That's a big difference for the same seat on the same airplane and both can be upgraded for 15,000 point. Better call United again.
Yes, that's right, you can get a seat for all those prices. What's the difference? Well, there are some special conditions. "Like what?" Well... the expensive one allows for a refund if you die and can't make the trip! "Listen lady, if I could get an upgrade to business class I would make the trip even if I was dead!"
"So I can buy a seat for NZ$2854 and upgrade to business class using my frequent flier points?" "Yes!" Well that's a lot better than the NZ$6000 plus figure we were talking about in the first place. Great, I'll call later and confirm.
Just as I'm hanging up she says; "By the way, don't forget that the upgrade is based on space available." Wait a minute, you mean I buy the ticket for NZ$2854 instead of NZ$2100 and I "still" might have to fly in cattle class if all the business class is full? Of course sir, do you think this should be fair to the traveller? I'm Sorry, I lost my head for a moment.
Now pause for the passage of a short amount of time . . . .
After all of the above, United Airlines announced it was stopping 'all' flights to and from New Zealand! From now on, just call me "Black Cloud".
Phyllis and Dick, a couple that we know who live in the Phoenix area travelled quite a bit on both business and pleasure. They ended up with enough mileage points to visit New Zealand.
You've heard the saying; "You can't get there from here, you have to go somewhere else first!" Well in Phyllis and Dick's case, the airline they had all their points with did not fly direct from Los Angeles to Auckland. It turned out they had to fly to "Tokyo" first! The non-stop trip from LA to Auckland is about twelve hours or more, long enough to tire the most hearty soul. So you can imagine what it must have been like to fly to Tokyo first . . . both ways!
Yes, there are some air pockets involved in free airline trips ... even more when you want to fly up-front.
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