When you are new to booking reward flights, you’re just happy to find availability but once you’ve been doing it a while, you start to get a little choosy about what you are willing to use your points on. In fact, you may go out of your way to avoid inferior products.
As an example, if I had a choice between flying YYC-SFO-NRT with United (UA) or taking a longer route of YYC-YVR-TPE-NRT with EVA (BR), I would most likely go with EVA because their product is much more superior to that of United, even if it means more connections. Now I may be a psychopath but I feel that those that have been doing this for a while would do the same … assuming time wasn’t a factor.
So the question then becomes, how do I know which products are best? Well, I’ll walk you through my thought process and my workflow.
Know Your Routes
The first thing we need to know is what airlines can get you where you want to go. When you are looking at isolated places geographically or somewhere not very popular for tourism or business, you simply have little choice. However, if you are looking at somewhere that is a popular hub then you usually have a lot of options.
Let’s look at Paris for example. If we were to rely on Aeroplan, you would think that you would need to route from Calgary to Frankfurt to Paris and while that is an option on some decent airlines, we know that you can get to Paris a lot of other different ways.
If we flip over to the Star Alliance Route Map, we can see that there are 54 different cities that service CDG directly, meaning there are lots of airlines that can get you to Paris.
Your job now is to go through the list and see which airlines service CDG and see if there are viable options to get you there.
I won’t delve deeper into this subject because it’s a very large rabbit hole but luckily I can point you to my Series on Finding Award Availability for more information. If you are looking for more information specifically on routing, go to Part 2 of the Series.
Know Your Plane
Assuming you have found your availability and you have some options, you now need to figure out what plane services the route that you are planning to fly. This is very important because large airlines can have a large variety of planes that they use and finding the right one is important. Typically, for international flights, I like flying on newer planes like the A380, 777-300ER, 787 and the A350. But how will you know if you have that plane on your route?
Let me introduce you to FlightMapper. I’ll warn you that it’s not the most user-friendly or pretty site out there but it really does provide you with everything you need to know about what plane is servicing your flight.
In order to figure out what plane is flying your route, you must place two pins on a map. The pins go on the origin and destination. You don’t have to be perfectly precise because FlightMapper pulls up all the routes in the vicinity but be as accurate as possible for best results. Here we are looking to see what aircraft operates between Montreal (YUL) and Zurich (ZRH).
As you can see, the first result at the bottom of the map is SWISS. If we click on the word SWISS, we open up a new page and at the bottom of the page is where the information gold is.
As you can see, this route is serviced by the Airbus A330-300 (333) and it’s effective until March 23, 2018. What about after March 23rd? Well, there’s an option to choose another day in the calendar to see if there is an equipment swap. While this won’t predict last-minute equipment swaps, it will definitely tell you what the planned aircraft is.
Okay great. You have your routing and what aircraft services the route but how do I determine whether it’s going to be a good or bad product. Well, that’s going to take some legwork but here’s what I use to get a sense of what to expect.
RouteHappy is a search engine that pulls up information about your specific flight and lets you know what services/amenities are on board. All you need to do is plug in your routing, class of service, and date of flight and they will provide you information on everything you can expect on your flight. RouteHappy provides you with their proprietary score for comfort, which is nice because you can compare different options at a glance.
While RouteHappy provides the aircraft, I cannot guarantee the accuracy, which is why I recommend FlightMapper for that part of the equation.
RouteHappy provides you with general information about the hard product, I find that there’s an even better resource for seeing what the entire experience is like.
This may or may not be blatantly obvious but if it isn’t, YouTube is an EXCELLENT resource for flight reviews. I searched “Swiss Business Class Montreal Zurich” and the first result was this review:
YouTube is littered with these reviews and they are my go-to resource for determining if I want to fly an airline/aircraft. My wife hate that I watch these things all the time but it’s how I relax … don’t I deseve a little Jayce time?
If you want to ask specific questions regarding what to expect, why not ask an expert that has actually flown the product? Head over to FlyerTalk and go into the specific airline’s forum and do a search. If you can’t find your answer then feel free to post a new thread about it.
Chasing after the best flight experience can be a daunting task but it’s not without its rewards. By using the tools I’ve described above, you eliminate any surprises and if you do it right, it’ll give you a bit of that wanderlust everybody loves.
Also published on Medium.