Saturday, 18 August 2018

A small case study: getting to South-East Asia in October

October/November is the start of dry season in Thailand. Whatever your reason to travel there, usually you will do this by plane. Flying directly to Bangkok directly from Western Europe will take some 11 hours. Doing that in economy class will usually be a nightmare. What are the options for a somewhat more comfortable flight?

  • Split the journey in two. Your best bet are the middle east carriers that will take you to Bangkok in approximately 2 x 6 hours. You can build in a stop 'en route' and might get a decent sleep in a hotel. 
  • Upgrade your travel class. These days there is a class called 'premium economy' that will increase your leg space, recline and food served. Then there is business class, obviously, and depending on fares offered this might be your best bet. It will offer you a flat 'bed' (usually) and much better food. 

Cheese plate: dessert on a Qatar Airways flight


How can you decrease your spend?
  • By being as flexible as possible. The more you insist on travelling on specific dates, specific airlines and from and to specific airports, the more you are likely to pay.
  • Use the http://matrix.itasoftware.com tool. It's slow and it looks like it's from the stone age, but in reality it's one of the most powerful booking tools that are at disposal to anyone, not just travel agents.
  • Once you have found an attractive fare (you will see the 'official' price), use the fare details (airline, dates etc.) to find opportunities to book it for less via a site such as Momondo (find your local Momondo by adding your country's internet extension). 
  • Be wary of the options offered though, there are a lot of online travel agencies that just do not take up the phone. Always book with a credit card: the travel industry is volatile, booking by credit card is your main insurance against bankruptcy or plain fraud.
Now, how about Bangkok?
  • I fill in the ITA Matrix search with departure airport Amsterdam and destinations Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore (a flight within South-East Asia can easily be done with a low cost carrier).
  • I ask for a price calendar for 30 days starting on October 1.
  • Now the lowest fare I see is 1278 euro Amsterdam to Bangkok, only on October 22. It's with Norwegian, a low cost carrier offering a premium cabin on long haul flights, not up the standards of some other carriers. 
  • I'll have to switch to different departure airports now. I have to do this manually for each departure airport, because ITA Matrix does not allow multiple departure airports anymore.
  • Suitable departure airports are within easy reach of Amsterdam, with multiple flights a day. Why? Because they're cheap to reach, and because there is no 'interlining' between the first so-called positioning flight and the long haul flight. In plain English, if you miss your long haul plane, you often won't be rebooked and might loose all your money.
  • So I try the following ones: Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Brussels, London, Budapest, Prague and Paris. Only to Bangkok this time, to speed up the searches. Frankfurt: 1,273 euro, Hahn Air Systems, never heard of. Dusseldorf: more than 2,000 euro. Brussels: 1,500 euro, but - Ukraine International Airlines. I'd rather not. London: 1,400 GBP, again Hahn Air Systems. Budapest: the equivalent of 1,400 euro, Air China. Not a preferred carrier. Prague: approximately 1,500 euro with Ukraine International Airlines, not a good deal. And then there's Paris.
  • I started out this search knowing that probably the best offer of this moment was on Gulf Air, a small carrier with a very comfortable business class, leaving from Paris, via Oman, for approximately 1,400 euro. I have to get rid of the Ukraine fares though, that undercut that price by somewhat more than 100 euro. For this, I add its IATA code PS with a negation sign (~) before it in the Outbound routing codes field. And then: nothing. I can't find the deal that I know should be there.
  • Back to Momondo. And yes, there it is, from 1,311 euro, October 2 through October 23, with a flight time of some 15 hours. Undercut by the probably truly horrendous EgyptAir (avoid at all cost). 
  • This would not be the cheapest business class ticket ever. If you have time, you can wait for slightly sub 1,200 euro prices across Europe. But if you don't have time, this might currently be your best bet.
  • Be aware that fare conditions for business class tickets vary widely. They may be very flexible but they might also be completely nonrefundable. I have even seen (and flown on) fares that promise to charge a multitude of the price you paid for the ticket in case of no show. I don't think any airline actually does that, but they do not mind putting it in their fare rules.
UPDATE August 18, 18:11
There is a flash sale of Oman Air on their own website (www.omanair.com) where you can book a ticket from Paris or Milan to Bangkok for approximately 1150 euro, only during this weekend (through insideflyer.de).

Hm, I'd rather fly economy from Amsterdam, and have a direct flight
No worries. use ITA Matrix and specify only direct flights and no additional stops. There is decent availability on KLM for 639 euro and on EVA Air for 759 euro. You might get some discount via an online travel agency.

What about this 'premium economy' product?
I wouldn't bother trying to fly premium economy on an indirect route. But I would definitely consider it for the direct flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok. There are two airlines operating this route directly: Dutch KLM and Taiwan based EVA. Now EVA has a real premium economy product, with wider seats, larger seat pitch and better food. Whereas KLM only has larger seat pitch - and the much-hated '10 abreast' configuration in their 777s. There used to be nine seats in a row, now it's 10. With prices for EVA premium economy starting at approximately 1,000 euro and for KLM at 900, it's clear that EVA would be the preferred carrier to fly with.

Where do you find deals without spending hours on ITA Matrix?
That's an easy one to answer. Usually I find the most attractive business class fares via insideflyer.de. A good second one to follow is travel-dealz.de

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