Earlier this month, Ajay and myself had to make a quick dash to the US to attend an important family event. We could only manage to free up our calendar a week before the travel dates. By then the prices for business class tickets were skyrocketing. Ajay tried his hands on redeeming miles but we weren’t lucky enough to get hold of 2 award seats last minute on a routing of our liking.
Finally, we booked revenue tickets and braced ourselves for a 50-hour long return trip all the way from Mumbai to the Washington, D.C. to be together with my family for 6 hours. More than Ajay, I was dreading this trip. The last time I remember having traveled economy on a long-haul flight was back in 2011 and over these last 5 years I have gotten just a little bit spoilt. In the last 3 years alone, Ajay and I have flown on more than 30 international itineraries, mostly in business or first class. So it was only natural that I was anxious about my travel.
But here’s what happened, Ajay and I together made the best use of our different airline elite status to make the travel comfortable in various ways. The Priority Pass that comes along with our Citi Prestige Card also came in handy on this trip.
So here are the 13 benefits we used through all our airline status and credit card, but before that this what our travel itinerary looked like.
And now for the all the benefits we reaped in 52 hours :
1. Priority Check in : After a working Friday we were scheduled to fly EY203 on Etihad’s Airbus A380 which will soon be withdrawn from the Mumbai – Abu Dhabi route. This is where Ajay’s Etihad Guest Gold and my JetPrivilege Platinum status came in handy. We checked in at the premium check-in counters and on my way to immigration I did make a quick note of the economy check-in queues. For a full A380 flight, there were more than 75 passengers and without the status and a regular ticket we would have easily spent more than 45 minutes in the serpentine check-in queue.
2. Access to GVK Business Class Lounge in Mumbai : So after a quick check-in, completing our immigration and security checks we headed straight to the lounge. My JP Platinum & Ajay’s EY Gold gave us access to GVK Lounge’s Premium section, inside which the First Class lounge is also housed.
We caught a quick bite in the Lounge and I also got a complimentary 15-minute foot massage done. After all I was getting travel ready.
3. Priority Boarding in Mumbai/Abu Dhabi/New York & Amsterdam : Next up was the ability to priority board our aircraft. This benefit makes a big difference especially when you are trying to board an aircraft along with 400 other economy passengers. On our Abu Dhabi – New York sector we boarded the aircraft along with other elites as well, making sure our bags had overhead bins before anyone else. On the return segment, we had access to the SkyPriority queue somehow, I presume because we had our final leg (AMS-BOM) upgraded to Business Class, which allowed us to get in ahead of others.
4. Access to Etihad’s First Class Lounge & Spa in Abu Dhabi: We arrived in Abu Dhabi around midnight and had a 4-hour layover. Both of us are Jet Airways Platinum members, and this gave us access to Etihad’s First Class Lounge. We got a chance to stretch our legs and savor a bite in the restaurant area.
Ajay got a complimentary shave and I got a dry back-massage done, getting ready for the upcoming 13-hour leg ahead. We had never flown economy on this flight before, always being on the Upper Deck. Can’t blame a lady for wanting some luxury 😉 The decision to fly Etihad was primarily driven by the US Preclearance facility where we completed our US immigration formalities and checked-in our laptop to comply with the electronics ban.
The First Class Lounge is before US Pre-Clearance, but Etihad also has a Premium Lounge after pre-clearance as well.
5. Access to American’s Admirals Club Lounge in New York : We had been travelling for about 20 hours when we arrived at New York JFK. With a short layover for the next flight and an airport change to LaGuardia we picked our bags and collected my laptop and headed out of the airport. Even the empty seat between us didn’t help me sleep too well, I hadn’t eaten much and was beginning to get cranky. Fortunately, Ajay’s British Airways Gold status saved us. Access to American Airlines’ Admirals Club lounge is usually paid for, except when you are a oneworld elite. We caught a quick meal before boarding the flight to Reagan (DCA).
6. Free Check-in bag allowance: We had check-in bags on this trip. You may wonder why does a 48-hour trip need check-in bags, but we were just being cautious. Apart from the fact that we did not want to be lugging around our cabin bags, we also did not want to be opening them up at every security checkpoint, so we figured the airlines would rather take care of them for us.
While baggage is not a problem on international flights, within the US, check-in bags have to be paid for. The charge to check in one bag with American Airlines is $25. Fortunately, Ajay’s BA Gold allowed us to check in our 2 bags for free.
7. Free Seat Selection: You do know that American airlines charge you for seat selection, right? But not when you are a oneworld Emerald. On the way out of New York, we had front row seats in economy, with no extra charges for us. On a small plane such as the E145, that is a big plus. And while the next part is more an agent’s goodwill, but heading out from Mumbai to New York via Abu Dhabi, the agent saw to it that the middle-seat in our row was blocked to give us a free empty middle-seat and add a slight bit of comfort for the both of us.
8. Change of flights one day ahead: This being a last minute itinerary, parts of it were booked on points. After all, last minute tickets between New York & DC run at $300-$500 one way in economy for a 200 mile flight, and the same seats could be had for some 7500 AA miles or BA Avios, so why not? We did not have an ideal flight to get back to New York, since we would rather prefer to get out of Reagan (DCA) than Baltimore (BWI).
Over 24 hours prior, many more flights opened up, so Ajay called BA to change the flights, which was done at no cost by BA for the Gold members. So, net out of pocket for flights to and fro DC from New York worked out to be $20 for the both of us.
9. Free change of flights at the airport: This is less of a status thing, but more of a status influence combined with a puppy face thing. We arrived at DCA early enough to finish our ritual of eating at Ben’s Chilli Bowl before heading out of town. When we headed to the counter to drop our bags, we also casually checked if we could get to NYC on an earlier flight, which American Airlines obliged with. It’s a win in my book, because left us with one more hour to go and get some nice grub in NYC for lunch.
10. Free Comfort Plus seats out of New York: We hadn’t even shaken off our jet lag and it was already time to head back. On the return leg, we both managed to snag complimentary Comfort Plus seats from Delta. Any kind of upgrade on a 7-long hour flight matters and access to the SkyPriority queue helped us here. Ajay and I both hazard a guess here, because we are not sure, but this SkyPriority was given to us due to a confirmed upgrade on the Amsterdam to Mumbai sector which is the longest sector on this trip (JFK-AMS-BOM).
11. Access to lounge in New York: In the past when I’ve flown from New York we’ve had invites to the Etihad lounge. Though this time around, we used our Priority Pass and spent sometime in the WingTips lounge.
12. Upgrade to Business Class in Amsterdam: By far one of the most valuable benefit of being a Jet Airways Platinum member is getting 5 upgrade vouchers. Since our tickets were issued by Jet Airways, before departure from Mumbai itself, we had managed to confirm our upgrades on the Amsterdam to Mumbai segment. 3 Vouchers each for the both of us, and it helped us to get into a flat bed on the plane. I felt so sleep deprived from my last 72-hour travel marathon that I slept 7 hours straight on that leg.
13. Access to KLM Lounge in Amsterdam: We had a 5-hour layover in Schipol before we got on our next flight to Mumbai. We landed in Amsterdam at 6 am in the morning. Access to the KLM lounge came through our Jet Platinum status and business class upgrade and it was good to wash up before getting back on the next flight.
Honestly, there are many benefits like being ahead of the queue at check-in, catching a quick bite in the lounge, and boarding the flight at my own convenience that I usually take for granted. This trip made me realize the real value of them, especially priority tagging of our bags. We had our bags tagged priority on all sectors and getting hold of our bags quickly helped us many times. In New York, on the A380 arrival we were able to quickly grab our bags and beat the queue at the laptop collection area. That also helped us make the airport change to La Guardia swiftly without any delay. Our bags arrived first in D.C. and we had to head straight for an event. We arrived in the nick of time and had our bags been delayed we would have missed it.
If you knew me a few years ago, I couldn’t care less for travel status and privileges but as time passes my experiences are only getting me to value them more.
When is the last time your airline status helped you and came to your rescue?