September 2008
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Whose tax is it anyway?

You should never gamble just for comps.  Everyone knows this.

It’s all one long game though, and if you have an edge on the game where’s the harm, really?  You’ll win in the long run, so as long as you don’t have to sell your ticket home to keep gambling, it’s all good.  If you get to eat for free along the way, it’s even better.

That’s what I’m telling myself anyway, in spite of recent video poker results.

But nobody ever told me I shouldn’t choose flights based purely on frequent flyer status, so that’s exactly what I appear to have done.

I’m pretty sure it’s a good play, but whenever I try to explain the cost-per-mile calculations to justify it I usually get instant snores (and this time they’re more complicated than ever) so I won’t even bother.

Firstly, I’d redeemed some Diamond Club miles for a business class flight next July.  It must have been on the very day it was released for booking because BMI redemptions are almost never available.  Certainly not in school holidays, on their own planes and bookable through the web site.

37,500 miles and £696 will get me and Claire there using a miles+cash option.  That’s £210 cash and £486 tax for both of us, but on a one-way flight.

They’re on the fiddle with the tax for sure.  If you buy the flight, it doesn’t really matter how the cost is split between fare and tax, but they’re stuffing frequent flyers by doing it this way because you always pay the full tax in cash when you book using miles.  Whatever that £486 is for, it’s not all tax.

Compare these identical flights (it’s the actual same piece of flying tin, they have the same flight number) booked as operated by US Airways, or as a BMI codeshare.

The price of a ticket with US Airways is more expensive, but overall it still weighs in as a cheaper booking thanks to, apparently, over three times the tax with BMI.  I don’t believe it for a second, but there’s not much you can do.

Still, I have tasted the high life and I think I like it (especially the chocolate cake) and £348 each way per person for business class isn’t bad at all.

Of course, we still have to keep fingers crossed for a return flight – they won’t be released for booking until later in the month!  Bit of a gamble, but it is Vegas baby…

The one downside with a redemption flight is that you don’t earn any miles when you’re spending them.  So, in order to retain gold status for another year, I still needed about 20,000 miles to come from somewhere.

By choosing an unorthodox route with two stops for next Easter, I found a business class fare that awarded double miles and clocked in at $3410 – about £1900 when converted using the plummeting exchange rate.  A couple of months ago it would have been £1700.

It’s a pretty steep fare considering the hassle involved, but it’s sorted out my flyer status for the next year in one go.  The only other way I’d found that Claire and I could both retain gold membership was with a premium economy flight in April (about £1300) and either paying for Summer 2009 instead of redeeming or taking another paid flight.

We’re flying from Manchester to Philadelphia, then on to Phoenix, then on to Las Vegas.  It takes about twice as long as a direct flight, but at least we’ll have nice big seats and lounges every step of the way!

There aren’t many sub-£2000 business class fares across the pond, especially at peak times, so I think this falls somewhere inbetween taking one for the team (a stupid route now earns perks for next time) and splurging on luxury.

I’m not even sure MAN-PHL-PHX-LAS is a recongnised route.  If you put MAN-LAS into the Star Alliance timetable software, it doesn’t even think to suggest making a connection in Phoenix – you have to force this stopover yourself when booking.

That’s probably because one of the connections on the return journey only gives us 42 minutes to change planes, which will be exciting.  Even if we make it, who can imagine what will happen to the luggage?

In fact there was a possible 26 minute layover on the outbound, which I would have been allowed to book but I decided to wait for the next one instead.  57 minutes then.  Plenty of time.

The effect of adding in this scenic detour via Arizona was a drop in price by nearly $1000 compared to flying MAN-PHL-LAS, using only two planes.  I have no idea why but I’m not arguing, and you can be sure I’ll be looking at every possible wacky route next time I’m booking a flight.

So, that’s my next three Las Vegas trips in the bag, with a little more than minimal fuss but at least it’s set.  For a while there, I only had one planned, and that just wasn’t good enough!