I mentioned a couple of days ago that a friend was scheduled to transit Bangkok overnight on the way back home from Kathmandu, Nepal. With the Bangkok airport closed, this was a challenge. (And to top it all off, many connections out of Kathmandu involve flying to Delhi and onward through Mumbai.)
To complicate matters further, the flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok was on a separate ticket from the rest of the journey. United has historically refused to issue awards on the Thai Airways Bangkok-Kathmandu segment despite generally good availability in business class. I tried once for the award and found availability on two days only out of sixty I queried, and then only in coach. Thai was offering award seats on the flight on more than fifty days during that period.
United has a travel waiver for Bangkok (currently extended through December 15) permitting rescheduling of flights and also changing departure cities. The waiver doesn’t actually mention award travel, but that wasn’t a problem.
It used to be that Star Alliance awards issued by Mileage Plus were completely non-changeable after commencement of travel. That was changed recently, permitting changes provided that all remaining flights are actually on United (or can be changed to fly only United). While one Flyertalk member mentions rebooking on Singapore, United said they could only rebook onto their own flights. Since they were being more than helpful, and there were plenty of flights that would work, I didn’t push the matter when I spoke with them.
But the trick was going to be getting out of Kathmandu. First, Thai Airways has much of the lift out of that city. Their 10 weekly flights are all on Boeing 777 aircraft, the largest plane landing at the airport. With those flights cancelled, there are many people trying to get out of the city. Additionally, flights out of Kathmandu can go through spurts in which they fill up quickly even without unrest. There were simply very few seats available to convenient destinations — nothing to Hong Kong on Dragonair, nothing to Seoul on Korean, nothing to Singapore on Silkair.
And what was showing up as available was expensive. Very expensive. At least without waiting a week or so to get out (flights to Delhi on Royal Nepal or Jet Airways could be had for less than US$300 one-way… when availability could be found, which mostly meant waiting several days). Confirmable flights to Hong Kong meant $1200. Coach itineraries to Singapore were showing up at $2800 with two connections.
I finally found a flight on Royal Nepal to Delhi connecting onto Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, but when trying to buy it Royal Nepal didn’t confirm. Fighting the good fight, I tried Jet Airways in business class to Delhi, but it got in too late to connect. Then Indian Airlines to Kolkata and on to Delhi, requiring an overnight before continuing to Hong Kong. But India doesn’t offer visa on arrival, which means staying airside — which I don’t believe would be possible in Kolkata for a connection to Delhi, and would have required staying airside overnight in Delhi in any case (and there’s no airside hotel, I don’t recall an airside sleeping option of any reasonable kind, although modest sleeping accomodations can be found in Kolkata for ~ US$4).
Finally I found a business class itinerary through Kolkata to Singapore for $1000. Coach to Singapore was $2800 (due to availability, involving full fare coach purchases on three carriers) whereas business was only about 35% the cost. Even so a fortune for intra-Asia travel, it involved piecing together business on two carriers. Fortunately Singapore could issue the ticket.
Now back to United — we had already found availability out of Hong Kong. Now we had to get there from Singapore. Fortunately United’s Singapore-Hong Kong morning flight connects nicely, both with the Singapore arrival on the separate paid ticket and with the onward Hong Kong-San Francisco flight.
Ultimately this was going to be a tremendous amount of flying. But at least it was in business and first class the whole way. And the refunded Thai Airways segment was going to cover half the cost of getting to Singapore, and home ultimately just a couple of days later than originally planned.
The other consideration was a flight to Delhi and a new award ticket back to the states via Frankfurt. All United would book (despite plenty of availability on Lufthansa) was coach. And even that would have meant 80,000 miles, and it would have been a real fight to get back any miles on the unused return portion of the original first class award. In fact, since they were offering to rebook folks the flight cancellation might not have been a sufficient hook in the argument with Mileage Plus.