The Aeroflot Alley-Oop

When most people think of Aeroflot, they think old Soviet planes, surly service and one of the worst safety records in the world. “Sure, the fare is low,” you might think, “but there’s no way I’ll ever fly with Aeroflot.” Unfortunately, if you think this, you’re missing out on one of Europe’s best kept secrets.

Today’s Aeroflot is much different than in Soviet times. The fleet is modern and efficient with new Boeing and Airbus planes along with new Russian models. Aeroflot now has an excellent safety record–comparable to other European carriers–and a safety program that meets international standards. The in-flight entertainment on long-haul aircraft is some of the best in the skies. Meals are excellent, and the meals in economy class can even occasionally rival those served in business class on other airlines. Service is very professional, if not particularly friendly (to some degree this is cultural, because Russians are not very friendly in general). And best of all, you don’t need a visa to transit Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport as long as your final destination is not Belarus. All of this for a price that is generally lower–in many cases much lower–than most other airlines flying between Europe and Asia.

Aeroflot is a member of the SkyTeam alliance and transfers between Aeroflot and other SkyTeam carriers such as KLM are seamless in Moscow. Your bags will be tagged through to your final destination at check-in and will be transferred to the other carrier when you connect. When you consider the price you paid, mileage credit can also be surprisingly generous when credited to other programs such as Delta SkyMiles. In most cases, the minimum mileage credit you will receive is 75% (although on the most deeply discounted fares–rarely seen because the fares are so low–mileage credit is limited to 25%).

Newer terminal at Sheremetyevo has a modern look.

Newer terminal at Sheremetyevo has a modern look.

Old terminal at Sheremetyevo, left over from the USSR

Old terminal at Sheremetyevo, left over from the USSR

What are the potential downsides? In my experience, Aeroflot does not recover well if anything goes wrong. If you’re stuck overnight at Sheremetyevo due to a missed connection, you will be put in the “transit hotel.” They will ask you to share a room with a random person from the plane. You’re not allowed to leave your room and basically you’re locked in, it’s almost like a jail. The airline will decide when you’re leaving (in my case, it was 6 in the morning after not even getting to the hotel until 1 in the morning), and will decide when you eat. You will also not have access to anything from your checked luggage and you’re not even allowed to buy anything from the hotel store, so you can’t get anything like contact solution, toothpaste or even medication that might have been locked into your checked luggage.

To be fair, Aeroflot doesn’t control Russian immigration regulations, Customs regulations or visa policy. And if everything goes well, Aeroflot fares can represent an incredible value versus other airlines. The next time you are traveling between Europe and Asia, consider Aeroflot. The experience may pleasantly surprise you!

My Travel and Savings – January and February 2014

2014-Feb-FlightDiaryI have stayed in the Western Hemisphere for January and February, and have traveled entirely on paid tickets. Here is a rundown of what I have spent and what I have saved:

SEA-PHX: Seattle to Phoenix $220 roundtrip, US Airways, sale fare (Total savings: $530).

  • I originally booked this flight with United for $280. It was a flight with a connection in Los Angeles. United made a schedule change that was genuinely inconvenient, so I asked for (and received) a refund rather than accepting the change. Loophole savings: $200 refund fee waived
  • I rebooked with US Airways who was offering a nonstop to Phoenix for $220 roundtrip. The schedule wasn’t very good, and I had to take flights very late at night. However, the schedule changed to a slightly later arrival time, so I was able to change to an earlier flight based on the schedule change. Loophole savings: $60 lower fare vs. United, $200 change fee waived
  • US Airways offers a free checked bag to Silver members of the Aegean Airlines frequent flier program and for a 2+ month trip, I needed a checked bag! It is very easy to get Silver status (only 7,000 flown miles) and almost anyone can do this. Loophole savings: $70 roundtrip bag fee waived

PHX-UIO $397 round-trip: Phoenix to Quito, Aeromexico, mistake fare, hotel points used. Total savings: $358.14 (excluding airfare savings) or $658.14 (vs. typical Quito deep discount sale fare).

  • Aeromexico published some fares to Quito from Los Angeles and Phoenix that were extremely low, and I bought a ticket during the few hours these fares were available. These are widely believed to be “mistake fares” resulting from an error in data entry, but Aeromexico honored all of the tickets purchased at these low fares.
  • The fares qualified for frequent flier credit with the Delta SkyMiles program. I value Delta miles at 1 cent per mile, so the fare was effectively 16.66% lower. Points savings: $66.14
  • I booked a return flight that left me on the ground in Mexico City for 23 hours. A stop in Mexico City while in transit for a period of less than 24 hours is not considered a stopover, so there is no additional charge. Loophole savings: $50
  • On the longest leg of the return flight, I was able to upgrade to first class for only $40 through the Web site optiontown.com. It was a rare escape from #Seat31B (and one I didn’t think was really worth it), more than paid for by savings obtained through loopholes. Cost: $40
  • In Mexico City, I stayed in the Marriott Reforma Hotel, a property that would normally cost $257 per night, but for which I cashed in a Marriott Category 1-4 certificate obtained by signing up for their credit card (with no annual fee). I avoided the $25 wireless Internet fee by using the computers in the business center for free. Points savings $257, loophole savings $25.

CUE-UIO: Cuenca – Quito, 1 way, $54, Total savings $7.50

  • Booked with an airline called LAN to get Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan credit. I value Mileage Plan miles at 1.5 cents per mile and LAN flights get the 500 mile minimum. Points savings $7.50