Miles from Blighty posted earlier about seeing award space into Sana’a, Yemen using United miles. And I wondered, how useful would those miles be to leave Yemen right now?
Granted, if you’re in Sana’a right now you’re probably there working for a government, a private employer that’s getting you out, or a non-governmental organization that’s hopefully working to do the same.
In Yemen and across the region there are people fleeing because the U.S. has declared that really scary things are about to happen. (And presumably this is in comparison to the scary things that already do happen!)
Star Alliance member Turkish Airlines flies six times a week from Sana’a to Istanbul with a 45 minute stop in Aden. And over the next few days availability is good — in coach only on the flight leaving in just a few hours, and in business class after that.
Turkish operates the flight with a 737 so I wouldn’t consider the inflight product worthy of the extra miles, but for a 7 hour journey it’s nice not to be in the back of the plane.
And it’s especially nice to be able to use your miles for a seat, if you really have to!
So if you’ve got United miles and you’re stuck in Yemen, you can hop on:
That’s doubly true because many of my readers at least do not carry a stash of Turkish Miles&Smiles points around, even if they do have elite status in the Miles&Smiles program.
And the option to use double miles for last seat availability on a plane is useful, great for true emergencies, it’s an option that’s consistently disappearing.
If you had United, American, or Delta miles it wouldn’t have been an option in any case — since double miles or ‘rule buster-style’ awards are generally available only on the airline whose miles you have and none of the major US airlines fly to Yemen.
When the Bangkok airport shut down due to protests, a work colleague was to return on a United award from Bangkok to Tokyo and back to the U.S. She couldn’t do that, of course, and United had issued a travel waiver meaning she could make changes to the return portion of her ticket with no fee (and back then United’s Star Alliance awards permitted no changes once the outbound portion of the ticket had been flown under normal circumstances).
She was actually in Kathmandu, scheduled to fly Thai back to Bangkok on a revenue ticket. But since Thai’s daily 777 was no longer operating, the rest of the flights out of that airport were filling up. Getting space to Hong Kong was impossible. Options to Singapore were sold out completely — in coach. It turns out that there was business class award space connecting in India (Indian Airlines) on to Singapore, and it was available and reasonably priced (as premium cabin tickets in that part of the world sometimes are). The refund of her Thai segment effectively funded the business class trip to Singapore, and the award ticket was changed to begin in Singapore. It was a long travel day home, but she made it.
During the European ash cloud, when air traffic was grounded, I helped some award clients come back from Europe via Asia. Some airlines were restricting rebookings to the same routing and same fare class booked. But persistence and ‘hang up call back’ usually worked, fees waived and all.
- Last-minute award availability tends to be very good. This is especially true when there are several potential flights to choose from, and you have a little bit of flexibility. Many airlines will release award seats when they realize there are any seats on the plane likely to go unsold. Ranging from several hours to a week out, the world is often your oyster.
- This is a risky strategy on thin routes, those where there are really only a couple of flights that will work. The risk there is that those flights actually sell out, and no awards will become available.
- Act quickly! The Sana’a – Aden – Istanbul run isn’t usually packed, but a flight like it might fill up quickly in the event of turmoil. So make a booking and decide later if you’re actually going to use it. Don’t wait.
- Frequent flyer miles are great for speculative bookings. It’s best when your elite status gives you free changes and mileage redeposit, of course, but frequent flyer awards are usually more flexible than paid tickets — even if the change fee is the same, you can usually redeposit miles back into your account.
- You can often talk an agent into breaking a rule — such as award routing rules — when you have a compelling and sympathetic story.
Be careful out there! Miles and points are the modern day equivalent of Ford Prefect’s towel — but you need to know how to use them.