News of a strategic partnership between the airlines has been discussed since September 2012, and of late the news is hitting the peak, also helping the stock price of the listed entity Jet Airways in the meanwhile.

While there was a lot of discussion earlier in the past week that grounded carrier Kingfisher was taking away the funding cake from Etihad, with the lollipop of handing out operational control to Etihad (along with a 46-49% equity stake), Kingfisher categorically denied the news. However, the board of Kingfisher airlines met last week as well, to limit investments by institutional investors to create space for an airline to take stake in it.

Remember, time is running out for KFA who may have no license to fly as of 31 December 2012. Vijay Mallya, chairman of the airline, was initially expected to make an announcement of a deal on 18 December 2012 in his birthday bash at Goa, but looks like that is not the case now.

In the meanwhile, the Etihad boardroom seems to be in favour of a deal with Jet Airways, where the stake will be smaller (at 24%), but at a premium. The airline is already in the air, has a reasonable amount of frequency to Abu Dhabi as well, and recently announced a new codeshare agreement where all flights to Paris on EY will be sold with the 9W code as well.

Unnamed sources of the blog confirm that a deal may be announced as soon as Monday (17 December 2012) since the airlines are now on the same page with valuations, but it is not done till its done, so we’ll see how Monday passes by for both the carriers.

In the meanwhile, lets hear from you…

Which Indian airline will get Etihad's money

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Stay tuned…watch this space Winking smile

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Indigo, the 6-year old low-fare carrier, which became the largest Indian domestic airline, a very professional and cool one at that, and the only profitable Indian airline might be slipping up as well. It seems their dream run seems to be finally coming to an end.

As per a newsreport published in the Economic Times today, Indigo has lost the plot. India’s civil aviation minister, in an address in the Indian Parliament, states that the airline made a nominal loss of Rs. 88 Crores ($15 million) in the period April 2011-March 2012. In the preceding periods of 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, the airline made a profit of Rs. 18 Crores ($3 million), Rs. 447 Crores ($80 million), Rs. 603 Crores ($110 million) respectively.

While the airline is disputing this and states it is running with a profit, there is no way to establish the number. Indigo is a private company, not listed and hence not everyone has access to their financials.

But if this is true, the Mayan Calendar end of the world theory might as well be true as well!

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Jet Airways, earlier this week took delivery the first of its 4 new Airbus 330-300s (VT-JWR) which are on order, and are scheduled to join the fleet over the coming months. Coming up next later this month is VT-JWS. The first two planes will replace Airbus 330-200s which are being returned to their lessors, and the next two will add to the capacity of Jet Airways on the international network, perhaps on their new routes out of Bangalore, or wherever else.

The new A333s are a step-up on the A332s on capacity, and will contain 259 Y seats, and 34 J seats, as compared to 190 Y seats on the earlier A332s, and 30 J seats in the herringbone configuration. The new aircrafts will be doing their first rounds on BOM-BRU-BOM as 9W 228/227 from 22 December 2012 onwards.

A by-product of the new aircrafts is that the herringbone design is now going away from these planes. The Herringbone design provided aisle access and private enclosed spaces to all the individual J seats, however, they were the patent of Virgin Atlantic Airways, who eventually sued Jet Airways in the UK to disallow them from carrying them on future planes.

Which means the new configuration of the business section looks like this (in a 4-5-4-5… configuration), which is similar to the new Lufthansa Swiss business class.

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This is how the configuration would look like, you can see the 2 seats in the front and 1 seat in the back. These seats are arranged such that the foot wells for each are under the console of the seat in front, resulting in staggering space between each row of seats.

From the press release…

The Première (business class) in the all new Airbus A330-300 comes with a horizontal flat bed for maximum comfort and more personal space for guests. The configuration of the Première (business class) cabin allows guests to choose between 2 individual seats, adjacent to each other. The all new Vantage 2 suite controls incorporated into the new Airbus A330-300 are equipped with Passenger Control Units (PCU) to activate various features and help the guests adjust to the most comfortable seating position. Pumped air lumbar support, with a massage feature further adds to the comfort of passengers. The newly designed Premiere seats boast individual stowage for guests, a cocktail table area on the side console, leather armrests, a robust table with simple deployment and individual in-flight entertainment through a 12.1” monitor.

A unique eXport socket located immediately below the video screen is for guests to plug-in their personal Apple devices such as iPods, iPads and iPhones allowing them to view their personal video content on the video screen and/or listen to music, while allowing for the device to be charged. For our specially abled guests, the dropping side arm in the seats adjacent to the aisle, assists guests to get in and out of their seats with absolute ease and comfort.

Since I am based at Mumbai, I will be one of the first to be affected with these changes as and when I pack my bags to Europe the next time. Which also means, I have to say bye bye to these ones, which are my favourite business class seats on an ongoing basis!

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Jet Airways, in a tie-up with Club Carlson, the loyalty program of the owner & operator of the Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Inn, Country Inn & Park Plaza brands, has a new enrolment offer for Jet Airways’ JetPrivilege Members for fast track status with Radisson, valid upto 31 March 2013.

For Platinum & Gold Members of the JetPrivilege Program, the status offered is Gold Elite, and for Silver & BluePlus members, the status offered is Silver Elite, and status will be valid upto February 28, 2014.

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While usually it takes 15 Nights/10 Stays per year to get the Silver Elite status and 35 Nights/20 Stays per year to get Gold Elite status, using these links, you can enrol for a new account with Club Carlson very easily to get to the status offered by your JP tier.

Benefits of Club Carlson? Well, it is one of the most generous programs out there in terms of minting points, and they frequently come up with 50,000 point giveaways as well, so this one is for keeps to get the bonus points and even if you are an occasional traveller, you could make use of this.

Here are the benefits for Silver Elite:

  • Earn an additional 25% bonus Gold Points on every eligible stay
  • Receive 2,000 bonus points with our online booking bonus when you book at clubcarlson.com or any Carlson Rezidor hotel brand website
  • Complimentary room upgrades (subject to availability)
  • Early Check In and Late Check Out upon request (subject to availability)

Here are the benefits for Gold Elite:

  • Earn an additional 50% bonus Gold Points on every eligible stay
  • Receive 2,000 bonus points with our online booking bonus when you book at clubcarlson.com or any Carlson Rezidor hotel brand website
  • Complimentary room upgrades (subject to availability)
  • Early Check In and Late Check Out upon request (subject to availability)

On a whole, a good benefit, because when I last checked, there are over 60 Carlson brand properties around India, and this gives you enough opportunities to earn points with them, or redeem at these properties.

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A couple of years back, India made a big change to its visa policies for tourists for additional security measures. There was some abuse found of the tourist visa, with unscrupulous visitors making multiple trips. Policy was changed to not allow tourist visa holders back into the country within 2 months of making their last visit.

Unfortunately, the policy did lead to a drop in tourist traffic to India, and now there is a rollback. Last week, India changed the policy to allow visitors to the country to travel on the same multiple entry tourist visa multiple times without a 2-month gap between their visits. Which means, if you wanted to make a landing in India and go around the neighbouring countries with your base here, you could do that once again.

And yes, there is always that visa on arrival for some countries.

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I’ve been a big fan of the Citibank PremierMiles credit card, ever since it landed in my wallet almost a year back now. However, the product features have been changing and I’m not exactly impressed by all of them.

Overnight, there is a reduction in the lounge access policy, which quietly underwent a change. A reader Gagan pointed this out to me in the comments, and got me to have a look. While the MasterCard version did not have too many lounges to start with, on the Visa network, there were a lot of lounges in India and outside India to go for. However, I cannot blame, but thank Citi for having keeping the lounge access alive. This is because, the earlier benefits were offered by MasterCard and Visa networks, and while these have now been closed out by the networks themselves, Citi has approached them to make new tie-ups for PremierMiles customers.

Here is a snapshot of all the lounges/restaurants which one can access using the Citibank PremierMiles as of this moment.

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What is disappointing is however that there is new wording which says only ‘Primary’ cardholders may use the lounges ‘complimentary’ now. While the lounge has no way of finding out if a credit card is primary or add-on, the card company sure can charge for an add-on swipe at a later point of time. I am not too ruffled by the change at this moment however, till I don’t get to test it myself.

So, what are your views on these latest changes? On one hand, Citi is doing some fantastic promotions with the card, on the other hand, some bennies are going away…such is life!

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Skyteam airline Saudia has been offering, for the past few days, a Mumbai-New York JFK- Mumbai roundtrip fare on economy for ~550 – 600 Dollars. This fare is available for quite a few dates in 2013, all the way up to October 2013. This is clearly the cheapest flights to the USA could get.

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Saudia flies Mumbai – Jeddah on a Boeing 777-200 (in a 2-5-2 config) and onwards Jeddah – New York JFK on a Boeing 777-300ER (in a 3-4-3 config). As per Saudia’s website, Economy seats have a seat pitch of 34″, and everyone gets an amenity kit as well.

There could be a 10-15 hour layover involved in Riyadh depending on the day you are flying. A Transit visa is not required if you are transiting for less than 18 hours, however, if you need one, please be aware that ladies will need to be accompanied by a male relative. Check the rules here.

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For mileage runners, this fare earns full mileage on Skyteam’s Delta program as well as some others.

I am trying to see if flights are available from other cities as well, but even if they are not, you could arrive in Mumbai and start your trip and still find it cheaper than most other flights to the US. Please remember, this does not work the other way round (USA-India, no!)

You could book tickets using the Saudia website itself, or using Expedia, Travelocity or another travel agent as well.

If you have questions, drop me a line here, or send me an email. All the best planning your USA trip!

(H.T. Naren)

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Thanksgiving came and went, but not for everyone. This year, I am working with Passports with Purpose, the annual fund raiser of travel bloggers. Passports With Purpose was founded in 2008 as a way to build community among travel bloggers and to give back to the society.

In 2009, Passports with Purpose blew past its initial goal (which was to raise $14,000 to build a school in Cambodia) raising nearly $30,000 to add improvements to the basic school. In 2010, with overwhelming support and assistance from the PwP raised $64,128, over 25% more than the original goal of $50,000 and built an entire village in India.  Construction is now underway. In 2011, through partnerships with the participating bloggers, PwP raised $90,000 to build two libraries in Zambia through a partnership with Room to Read.

Now, it is time for the 2012 fundraiser. The 2012 project goal is to finance water wells in Haiti through Water.org.

A $10 raffle ticket is your opportunity to win some beautiful packages, trips, hotel views, and others,procured by over 200 travel bloggers, including yours truly. We are aiming enough walletshare in the next two weeks so that you can earn miles, points or cashbacks of choice, and PwP can raise $100,000 for water wells in Haiti.

Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, Weekend Stay in a Deluxe Sea View Room

Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbaiis sponsoring Live From A Lounge through Passports with Purpose with a 2-night weekend stay in a Deluxe Sea View Room, which could be yours if you purchased a $10 raffle ticket. The room with a view is located on a highrise floor, and has a sweeping view of the city.

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The Delux Sea View Room

You could also have a look at interesting collection of prizes brought together by 200 bloggers and take your pick to give your $10(s).

About the Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai

The Four Seasons Mumbai, Mumbai is located right in the city centre, overlooking the Arabian Sea, the Mahalaxmi Racecourse and the Mumbai skyline. Launched in 2008, and one of the youngest premium hotels in the country, this one is equipped with all the trappings of a good stay. 33 floors high and 202 rooms large, the hotel has a contemporary architectural feel to it.

The last time I stayed over for a weekend, I was raving about the view and the lip-smacking breakfast served at Prato. Not just that, I keep heading to their multi-cuisine restaurant, San-Qi, which is one of my favourite places in the city of Mumbai to meet up for a business lunch, or a leisurely weekend brunch with the champagne glass not being allowed to empty. I’m frequently tempted to and do head to their rooftop lounge Aer very often too, and it has perhaps one of the best sweeping views of Mumbai.

And though I am not a Spa person, I am told their Spa is the only place to be in Mumbai if you wanted to get a luxurious 24 karat pure gold facial. Winking smile

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The AER lounge, one of the most breathtaking views of Mumbai

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San-Qi, the multi-cuisine restaurant. One of these days you could run into me here

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A pool with a view… no less!

Terms & Conditions: Winner will be mailed a voucher prepared in their name, valid for 6 months from the date of issue and to be mailed by the hotel to them. Reservation would need to be made with the executive office and voucher would need to be presented on arrival. Offer is made on a room-only basis for 2 people.

So… out with your Bluebirds, Sapphires, Amex or whatever is your preferred credit card. And if you’re in India or the rest of the world, your newly acquired mileage earning cards need some spending too… here is the link to draw some raffle luck. From Wednesday, November 28 through Tuesday, December 11, 2012, you receive one raffle ticket entry for the prize of your choice with each $10 donation.

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I know everyone is excited about the new Jet Airways American Express Credit Cards which were launched a couple of days back. I’ve got tons of mail and tweets and phone calls asking about the cards. I will get down to dissecting all the 3 cards for you folks soon.

At this point of time, I wanted to remind you, that if you are looking at the ICICI Bank credit card in tie-up with Jet Airways, you should apply or call up for your card upgrade now, since the November 30, 2012 deadline is close for getting the extra bonus with the card. You could read all about the extra bonus offer here.

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In September, I had written about the possibility of Etihad investing in Jet Airways. Turns out I was not the only one who was thinking like that, even Jet & Etihad seem to be thinking on the same lines.

As per Reuters, they have news from an insider Indian ministry of Civil Aviation that deal between Jet Airways and Etihad is almost a done deal, and will be at a substantial premium to the market price. Extracts from the news report filed:

“The talks are on. This is more or less final. It may take around a month and half,” the government source told reporters, referring to the Jet-Etihad negotiations.

“This deal is not just about investment but also technology and partnership in many other ways,” said the source, who declined to be identified.

It is also well-known that Jet Airways has been trying to raise an amount of $400 million for the past 2-3 years, but has not been able to raise the amount due to difficult market conditions, and even more tougher conditions in the Indian aviation space.

Now, as per deal-tracking website VCCircle, the deal for a 24% stake is on its way, and will be valued at the $400 million the airline is looking for. Like we know Etihad, they are going shopping all around their world with their pocket money, and have been able to buy stakes in Australia (Virgin Australia), Ireland (Air Lingus), Seychelles (Air Seychelles) and Germany (airberlin). Then, it went around some more in Europe and struck a strategic alliance with KLM/Air France, and counted in Air Berlin as well in the deal it made with them. What is striking, is the 100% premium Etihad is supposedly paying to make the deal.

Jet Airways will now be most likely added to the mix, and like we know Etihad, it will definitely not just be a financial deal but a strategic alliance. So, I can almost foresee all the flights going to Dubai now being diverted to the Abu Dhabi airport instead. Frequent flyer programs will become interesting as well, since you should be able to earn and burn across both the programs, even elite benefits should be offered on both carriers.

What I am wondering aloud is, like I was wondering the last time as well, is will this affect the plans of these guys to join the Star Alliance, especially since they are seeing positive movement on that front as per the press. Gulf carriers can really rip apart plans or memberships of alliances, like the recent Emirates – Qantas deal and the Air Berlin – Etihad deals have proved, both of which, incidentally will affect oneworld only. Also, where will the out of India hub be? Abu Dhabi, Brussels, Frankfurt/Munich?

I figure, at the end of the day, cash infusion is going to be a better problem to solve for 9W at this moment, and that is the direction they are headed to, while aligning their alliances could wait for later.

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