June 07, 2007

Can I combine air miles from different companies?

I have over 160,000 frequent flier miles on Delta and 100,000 miles on American Airlines. And yet over the last two years, I have not found a way to use the miles, unless I double them. For two people traveling to Europe, it used to cost 25,000 miles each way. So we could have made the round-trip for 100,000 miles. Now the price has double to 200,000 miles. Is there any way to combine Delta and American miles for award travel on a partner airline? Andrea Spurling, New York.

The short answer is no. But you can redeem Delta Air Lines Skymiles on any of the 10 Skyteam Alliance partners that include Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Continental Airlines, and Northwest Airlines; and American AAdvantage miles on any of 20 Star Alliance partners, including British Airways (though not to London), United Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, and Air New Zealand. And you may not need as many miles as you think for round-trip tickets from New York to Paris or London. Depending when you want to travel and how flexible you are prepared to be a round-trip economy ticket with Delta from New York to Paris will cost from 50,000 to 250,000 miles. A similar ticket on American from New York to London will cost 40,000 to 150,000 miles. Click on to 'awards' at each airline site to see how many miles you need for free flights and upgrades.

My wife and I, both 73 years old, were ousted from our pre-assigned seats in the emergency exit row when we checked in for an American Airlines from Buenos Aires to Miami, because we are "seniors." I am an MD and we are both in top shape - we exercise, lift weights three times a week and play tennis. Samuel Borushek, Chicago:

I'm afraid you fell foul of the emergency exit rule exercised by many airlines by which exit rows are reserved for able-bodied passengers who would be capable of helping to open the doors in event of emergency. Ageism has extended to a presumption that older travelers are invariably infirm!

However, it is possible to reserve such roomier economy seats in advance, albeit sometimes for an extra charge.

Air Canada, for example, charges passengers in its lowest fare category, Tango, 15 Canadian dollars for an advance seat assignment, but has not yet taken to selling specific seats on its aircraft. And Northwest Airlines offers Coach Choice on its domestic network, by which passengers can book certain aisle and exit-row seats for $15 extra per flight segment. Coach Choice seats "are offered to all passengers 24 hours prior to departure; WorldPerks and SkyTeam Elite members 36 hours before departure."

KLM now offers passengers traveling from Singapore, Manila, and Curacao to Amsterdam the chance to reserve economy class seats with guaranteed extra legroom for a fee of 50 euros per seat on each flight.

In Europe, EasyJet, which has "free seating" (ie a mad scramble for the best seats), has introduced a Speedy Boarding option allowing passengers who have paid a £5 supplement to be first to board.

It is not easy to figure out the best and worst seats from airline seating plans, but some Web sites offer help. Skytrax Research (www.airlinequality.com) compares seat dimensions and gives seating tips for more than 325 airlines on long-haul flights. Aircraft seat plans at www.seatguru.com show you which seats to ask for, and which to avoid, on more than 30 airlines, including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Air France, British Airways, Continental, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Northwest, Qantas, SAS, United and US Airways. The site lists aircraft for each airline and gives color-coded seat descriptions (green designates a "very good seat," yellow, "be aware!" and red, a "poor seat."

Other useful Web sites include Lovemyseat.com, which gives seat charts, scores and reviews for 80 airlines, and Flatseats.com, which compares first- and business-class lie-flat seats and gives "sleep ratings" for airlines around the world.

Many airlines, such as British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic, allow you to check in online, even to print your own boarding card so that you can go straight to the gate when you arrive at the airport.

But this doesn't ensure you'll get a good seat, such as one in the emergency exit row with its extra legroom or an aisle seat where you can stretch at least one leg from time to time.

The snag is that normally you can only check in and book your seat 24 hours in advance by which time the best seats have mysteriously disappeared, and you are stuck in a dreaded middle seat or crushed in an especially narrow row back of the cabin by the lavatories.

Read more of this article's from the source at: International Herald Tribune

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