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Back in March, the news that the vaccine rollouts were gathering pace led to a moment of over-optimism on my part that resulted in me booking a multi-segment tier point run to get me back to LA for the upcoming holidays. The booking seemed like a good idea at the time, but with events unfolding as they have, the tier point run turned into a trip that I really didn’t want to take.
The tier point run (880 tier points)
The tier point run in question is the same one that I highlighted in February of this year and involves two separate bookings covering 8 segments.
Booking 1 is simple:
- London – Sofia
- Sofia – London
Both segments are flown in British Airways Business Class and the two segments book-end the flights in booking 2.
Booking 2 looks like this:
- Sofia – London (BA Business Class)
- Overnight layover in London
- London – New York – Los Angeles (BA & AA Business Class)
- Los Angeles – New York – London (BA & AA Business Class)
- Overnight layover in London
- London – Sofia (BA Business Class)
A nice safety measure in this tier point run is that the London – Sofia segments and the Sofia – London segments involve back-to-back flights taken on the same day and on the same aircraft (i.e. I get off the aircraft in Sofia only to reboard it 30 minutes later to return to London).
This means that it doesn’t matter if my London – Sofia flights are delayed as my Sofia – London flights are scheduled to be operated by the incoming (and delayed) aircraft. As long as I’m not unexpectedly delayed while turning around in Sofia (one of the easiest places in the world to turn around on back-to-back flights) it is impossible for me to miss my return flight.
A bit of background
These are a few things that you need to know about this trip:
- Booking 1 was made through British Airways
- Booking 2 was made through American Airlines (because AA offered a considerably better fare than BA)
- The total cost of all the flights in this tier point run was ~$1,840
- A few months after I booked this tier point run, British Airways changed its schedules in such a way that my London – Sofia flight from Booking 1 and my Sofia – London flight from Booking 2 had to be brought forward by a day.
- I did not accept the schedule changes when they were first made because I knew there was no rush to accept the changes (the airlines would now have to accommodate me on whatever flights I wanted regardless of how late I left it to reschedule my trip) and because I wanted to keep open the option of a full refund (for both bookings) should my circumstances change and I found myself unable to travel.
The schedule changes put me in an unexpectedly strong position.
Why I didn’t want to do this tier point run
When I first booked this tier point run, I didn’t think that we’d be in the position that we’re in right now.
I didn’t think that the world would be fighting a resurgent coronavirus, I didn’t think that fully vaccinated individuals would still have to be taking Covid tests, and I didn’t think that even if Covid tests were still necessary, that they’d have to be taken as close to the day of travel as they are right now.
I’m clearly no psychic as I didn’t see any of this coming!
One of the main reasons why I didn’t want to go ahead with this tier point run is because it seemed wrong and a little silly to be taking unnecessary flights to/from Sofia at a time when the fight against the coronavirus isn’t going as well as we had all hoped.
I also didn’t really want to do the tier point run because there were now so many different points at which something could easily go wrong:
- Bulgaria could impose a ban on travel from the UK at the last minute and mess up my entire trip.
- Bulgaria could impose new rules for transit passengers that would make it impossible for me to catch my return flight to London on day 1 of my trip.
- The UK could impose a ban on travel from Bulgaria at the last minute and mess up my entire trip.
- Airline staff (who have to keep up with a huge number of rapidly changing rules) could misinterpret the rules of where I’m traveling to and erroneously deny me boarding leading to my whole trip being cancelled.
- With all the Covid tests that I’d have to take there would be an increased risk that I’d somehow fail one of them.
- The lab in charge of my pre-departure test for travel to the US (a test that has to be taken within 1 day of travel) could be late getting my result to me resulting in me missing my London – New York flight and having the rest of my itinerary cancelled.
To say that I was uncomfortable with the prospect of this trip would be a big understatement.
Why I went ahead with the flights anyway
I could sum up this entire section with one word – cost.
Because of factors outside of my control, my return to Los Angeles for the holidays was put into question back in October and I wasn’t in a position to be sure that I could travel home until a few days before I was scheduled to fly.
By this point, award availability was still non-existent (it had been non-existent for months) and the cheapest roundtrip Economy Class fares between London and Los Angeles (for the dates that I could travel) were sitting at between $1,500 and $1,800.
No amount of worrying about what could go wrong on the tier point run could persuade me to part with that amount of cash to sit in cramped Economy Class cabins for 20+ hours when I had the option of Business Class all the way – it’s amazing how fears of what can go wrong are put to one side when the prospect of paying a ridiculous amount of money for a very poor product is the alternative.
In one last attempt to see if I could simplify my trip, I asked American Airlines if I could change my itinerary in a way that would allow me to miss out Sofia without incurring any extra costs (I knew what the answer would be but I had to try), but it didn’t take the agent long to tell me that this would involve repricing the whole trip.
The cost of the re-priced trip was a cool $15,108 🙂
The end result
I’m writing this from Los Angeles so I’ve made it home for the holidays…but only just.
After thinking that I had considered all of the ways in which this trip could go wrong, it was very nearly derailed in a way that I never saw coming. It wasn’t a travel ban, a new travel rule, a poorly informed airline employee, a failed Covid test, or an incompetent testing lab that nearly ruined my trip, it was something else.
I thought that I’d covered all the bases that I could cover before I set off to catch my first flight but as I quickly learned, unpleasant surprises can pop up no matter how diligently you approach a trip. I’ll tell you what happened in a follow-up post.