My 2016 Airline Awards and the Airlines I Flew On

Here’s for the AvGeeks.

I don’t use any flight logger or seek out new airlines or airplane products. I book what gets me where I need to go and book as cheaply as I can.

Other than some domestic Delta and United upgrades, all were in economy, except:

  • LATAM New York JFK-Toronto $89 business class flights, cheaper than the $141 in economy – RIP to that route!
  • American Airlines pre-2016 devaluation business class awards:
    • JAL New York-Tokyo-Shanghai
    • Sri Lankan Shanghai-Colombo
    • (insert Avios economy ticket Colombo-Maldives)
    • Etihad Maldives-Abu Dhabi-Casablanca
  • Avios business award on Qantas Sydney-Brisbane, cheaper than available economy options

Why I seldom redeem for premium cabin travel:

3. I have more travel than miles.

2. Earning miles is getting more time-consuming and more expensive for me.

1. Redeeming for premium cabin for my wife is a much better use!

Three airfare lessons I learned in 2016:

1. Skyscanner is extremely useful for finding creative routings and for finding OTAs that can ticket obscure airlines.

2. Citi ThankYou Points are useful for ticketing routes that OTAs block for reasons such as credit card fraud. Example: South African Airways Abidjan-Accra I could not ticket on South African’s website or any OTA, but was a breeze with Citi.

3. Many frequent flyer programs have great award charts until you put them to the test. Example: Etihad’s Virgin Australia chart looks great for short flights until you learn that they cannot book on flights operated by Virgin Australia regional.

In that spirit, the below list of airlines I flew on is not intended to show off. Rather, it is to say, yes, I have booked and flown these. If you have a question about them, I am happy to help!

The airline I flew most is probably Ethiopian, entirely on United awards.

My 2016 Airline Awards:

New favorite European airline: Aegean. Lots of fun and minimal hassle. Unlike many European airlines, Aegean does not torment customers will all kids of ticky tack fees and polices (or at least, does not enforce them.) Wow the flight attendants are beautiful.

Aegean

Favorite experience: ANA economy long-haul. Trick or treat on Halloween!

ANA Halloween

Least favorite: TAP. Incredibly tight seating in economy. Lisbon transits are a mess. Bus gates. TAP even closed down it’s own lounge.

LIS Bus Transfer

Most impressive operation: tie between Fiji Airways and Nauru Airlines. Both have overcome operation unreliability of prior years to run great operations.

Fiji Link

Nauru Airlines

Airline I resolve to avoid: American. I keep getting baited by Avios awards and Citi ThankYou redemptions. Thoroughly unpleasant and operationally unreliable.

Favorite lounge (international): ANA at Tokyo-Narita during afternoon sushi service. Star Wars video game, too!

ANA Lounge NRT Sushi

Favorite lounge (domestic, to them): the Qantas and Virgin Australia domestic lounges are much better than their international business class lounges. Sadly, the Cadbury CoCo tree is no more.

Virgin Australia Domestic Club Brisbane

Favorite lounge in the US: Star Alliance Lounge at LAX, which you can access with United Gold and above for domestic United flights.

Star Alliance Lounge LAX

Most disappointing lounge: Singapore Airlines’ lounges in Singapore for business class and Star Alliance Gold are pathetic. I have not seen the first class lounges. Singapore has a nice lounge in Brisbane.

Singapore Airlines Business Lounge Singapore

Most inspiring: the rise of African airlines. I had so many flights in African and the vast majority were on-time and well-run. Only exception that gave me a lot of grief was ASKY (owned by Ethiopian). ASKY operates a rudimentary hub in Togo with too few aircraft that serve challenging destinations. The result is rolling delays as they hold flights until all connecting passengers arrive. With a new airport and bigger push from Ethiopian, this should improve. Ethiopian now runs Newark and São Paolo flights to Togo to link us with ASKY.

Arik Air

The Airlines I Flew On in 2016

Americas:

  • AeroMexico
  • Air France (Guadeloupe-Martinique)
  • Air Canada
  • American
  • Copa
  • Delta
  • LATAM
  • Norwegian (US to Guadeloupe & Martinique)
  • United

Asia:

  • AirAsia
  • AirAsia X
  • ANA
  • China Eastern
  • Garuda
  • JAL
  • Korean Air
  • SilkAir
  • Sri Lankan
  • Sriwijaya
  • Wings

Africa:

  • Air Burkina
  • Air France (multiple Africa routes)
  • Arik Air
  • ASKY
  • CEIBA
  • Ethiopian
  • Kenyan
  • Mauritania
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • South African
  • TAP Portugal (Sao Tome-Accra)
  • Trans Air Congo

Europe:

  • Aegean
  • Brussels
  • Olympic
  • TAP Portugal
  • SAS
  • Virgin Atlantic

Middle East (transits only):

  • Etihad
  • Turkish

Pacific:

  • Air New Zealand
  • Air Vanuatu
  • Aircalin
  • Fiji Airways
  • Nauru Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Virgin Australia

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  • Adrian Pirau

    Very interesting insights. I will fly this year for the first tine with Air New Zealand, Fiji Airways and Air Vanuatu… any insights, tips etc ?

  • Overall, I enjoyed all the airlines. It is a delight to fly to islands where people are coming and going, perhaps first in their life, perhaps home after many years away. On small islands it seems the entire population greets the flights.

    The biggest thing to be aware is that Pacific airlines are maniacal about their 7kg carry-on limits and online check-in is often not available, even Air New Zealand has relatively few Pacific airports with online check-in. Even for Star Alliance Gold, Air New Zealand is a pay for what you get affair, the base tickets are like flying a budget airline.

    All the Pacific airlines are lacking in accurate information availability, even at the airport, so if things do go wrong, stick close to where you can get info.

    Fiji Airways in-flight is great, ground operations still a bit lacking, for instance often not able to through check-in for connecting itineraries. Going Tarawa-Nadi-Suva-Tuvalu-Suva-Nadi-Los Angeles I had to check-in at every airport. Other itineraries you can through check without problem.

    Sounds like you have a great trip ahead! Let me know anything else I can help and how it goes when you are back.

  • Adrian Pirau

    Thank you ! My trip is in May, but I try to gather info asap. I will keep a small cabin laguage then… I don’t have connecting flights I tried to be flexible and to arrange my schedule in such a way (the order I visit the countries) to have direct flights. I will go from Auckland to Apia, then, Nadi, then Port Vila. It is a trip to feel the local culture and way of leaving in a place which is so far away… If you have any tips regarding places to socialize, local food, watchouts regarding behaviour or things “not to miss” in my short stay from this places…. plese share :). Best regards

  • DaleM

    Thanks for the heads up on Skyscanner

    Aegean – it’s the uniforms 🙂 Also, some gate / check-in scenes can be pretty rough when things get tense, but mostly they are indeed kind of a cool operation.

    American – so how do you REALLY feel? (!)

  • stacey

    Good to know about Aegean … never flown them but have a couple of flights coming up — now looking forward! The SQ business class lounges in Singapore are quite good. It’s the Star Alliance lounges provided by SQ, like the one in Terminal 2 shown in the photo, that are pathetic (Star Alliance gold members can’t access the SQ business class lounges if flying economy).