Miles and and More Missing Miles Madness

A couple of days ago, I posted about my efforts to gather miles through my Brussels Airlines American Express card. In addition to the AMEX card, plenty of other ways exist to get miles. On top of my 8297 missing American Express miles, since August last year I have earned 17871 miles. Until now only 6100 of those have made it into my account. Below you will find a list of all methods I have used so far, and my experience with each of them. In summary, most methods also require a certain degree of follow-up, even the online subscription for the Miles and More (M&M) newsletter. And once miles for a flight are not credited automatically, it can get very frustrating.

Flights (3491 OK, 10771 missing)

While this should be the easiest of all ways to gather miles, it has cost me the most efforts and it has been the most frustrating by far. The cause: an Egyptair return flight Brussels – Johannesburg with stopover in Cairo in September/October. I did not have my M&M ID yet at the time of booking, so I presented it at the check-in, both in BRU and JNB. After more than a month, one segment had appeared in my account: BRU-CAI, getting me 2991 miles in Y. In itself, that was a positive surprise: since we had booked the flight at a very reasonable rate, I expected it to be in a lower booking class getting 0,5x distance miles instead of 1,5x. But the return flight boarding passes (the only ones I still had) did indeed show Y as the booking class, so it was probably correct. Great, I thought, this will get me a lot of miles.

A couple of weeks later, however, the other segments had not yet appeared in my account. So I used the online form to claim the missing miles. After a while, this resulted in the segments appearing in my account, with some cryptic messages explaining why I was not getting any miles. For the CAI-JNB segment, it read ‘Name not on passenger list’. And for the two return segments, it read ‘Booking class not entitled to miles’. Hmm… I emailed them, asking what was wrong. I twice got the answer my flights were still being processed. That surprised me, since the status shown on my account seemed pretty final to me.

A few months and several mails later we are at a point where the M&M service center asked me to send my boarding passes (by snail mail!) to Germany. I am trying to explain to them that for the CAI-JNB segment I don’t have it anymore, but that I did get miles for the BRU-CAI segment and the (separately booked) JNB-MPM flight just after arrival in JNB, so I could not possibly have walked from CAI to JNB. I am also trying to get clarification on why they want me to send boarding passes when their system seems to acknowledge that the booking class is Y, and indicates it is not entitled to miles. And I am trying to understand why on earth I would have to send them to Germany by snail mail. I have sent them the scans, and urged them to take action. I am hoping for a miracle…

In all fairness, I have to say that the JNB-MPM flight I mentioned before (operated by SAA), as well as a BRU-VIE return flight in December (operated by Brussels Airlines), were correctly processed. Unfortunately, the number of miles for those is a lot lower.

Hotel stays (0 OK, 1000 missing)

For both my stays in a Best Western hotel in Vienna, and one in the Savoy in Berlin (part of the Worldhotels chain) I am expecting 500 miles. Both were booked directly with the hotel. As indicated on the M&M site, I showed my M&M card while checking in (and out). Both noted my ID without any further comments. So far, no miles. I emailed both of them a couple of days ago. The Best Western quickly responded that they could only credit my miles if I joined their rewards program. I have done that and passed my ID to them, and they have assured me they will credit my miles immediately. Why this procedure is not mentioned on the M&M site, or explained at check-in, I don’t know. The Savoy has not responded yet.

Miles and More Newsletter (500 OK)

Since August, I subscribed to the newsletter several times, trying to get the 500 miles they promised. No newsletter, no miles until a couple of days ago. I then emailed the M&M service center asking them to subscribe me, and they took care of it. Why it did not work on line, I don’t know. (1780 OK)

Holidaycheck hotel reviews get you 120 miles (previously 100) per review. Every time I have submitted reviews, miles were credited within a couple of weeks.

Maasmechelen Village (329 OK)

Every euro spent at Maasmechelen Village outlet shopping center gets you one mile. A simple visit to the info center to show your bills will do. Miles are credited immediately.

Getting air miles with the Brussels Airlines American Express card – a rant

‘Simple comme bonjour’ – as simple as saying ‘hi’, so say the French. That’s what I expected it to be like. After all, once someone has filled out the on-line form indicating he wants an American Express (AE) card and a frequent flyer account, surely they will have some kind of simple,  automated process in place to take care of all that and keep the customer informed, right?

It all started on the 15th of August 2013. Being an avid traveler, I had been following Bart Lapers’ blog for some time. The world-famous-in-Belgium-blogger seemed to be doing what I was trying to do too: luxury travel on a budget. I had already saved us a lot of money by avoiding the ridiculously expensive packages from Belgian tour operators and booking flights and hotels separately, through German tour operators or direct. I had even found a much better travel insurance deal in Holland. I was learning every day. But frequent flyer programs weren’t working for us. We did not nearly fly enough to get anything out of them. Until I read about the Brussels Airlines Classic American Express card. Now that seemed like an interesting deal. Ok, it cost €60 per year, €40 more than my VISA and €60 more than my partner’s Mastercard, but hey, I should be able to earn around 25.000 miles a year through purchases and flights, and my miles won’t expire, so it should be worth it. If not that, at least it will be fun!

So I decided to sign up. Killing two birds with one stone, I indicated I was not a Miles and More (M&M) member yet, so that would be taken care of too.  And yes, a couple of weeks later, a nice package arrived in the mail. It contained my credit card and all I wanted to know about it, and more. How to activate it, the insurance coverage details, who to call in case of questions. Great! But wait… besides the nice M&M, Brussels Airlines and Lufthansa logos on the card, there was no info whatsoever on any frequent flyer program, not a single word…. That same night, I called AE for a first time to ask where my M&M card was, or at least my account number and login info. I was informed they were just the after hours emergency customer service and they did not know anything about it.

Having scheduled a trip to South Africa and Mozambique including flights with Egyptair and SAA at the end of September, I really wanted to know which M&M ID they had linked to my card. It took me four – increasingly frustrated – calls to AE and M&M over the next couple of days to find out that AE would only create me a M&M account when they wanted to send my earned miles info to M&M, which would only happen after about three months, when they were sure I was paying my bills. Funny thing is, it was someone at M&M customer service who was finally able to enlighten me. AE customer service was completely oblivious. So I had to create a M&M account myself, and call AE to let them know my ID.

Five months later, I have paid five AE invoices. I have earned 8315 miles with my AE card. To their credit (pun intended), the invoices do seem to indicate correctly the amount of miles earned each month. They added the 1500 points subscription bonus, and the additional 1500 bonus for subscribing through Bart’s link. They even correctly calculated the 1,5x points for paying our flights to Vienna with the card. I now realize, though, it wasn’t my smartest decision ever to pay the scandalous €16 credit card fee for using my Brussels Airlines credit card to pay for two Brussels Airlines flights for a total of €310, getting me 465 points, while no one would even be so stupid as to  consider the equivalent 1000 mile purchase for €35 offered by M&M.

To end the story on a bombshell: so far, none of these points have made their way to my M&M account. I guess I will need to start making some more calls…

Short tip of the day: watch out for duty free shopping before flights with a stopover

Taipei vending machine

Duty free purchases are made after luggage checks. Since they are made in a safe zone, they can be taken on board without any further checks. Or so we thought… On a Manilla – Amsterdam flight with KLM earlier this year, this proved not be a general rule.

In Manilla, we bought some food and drinks with the last pesos we had left.

We had a stopover in Taipei where we had to leave the plane for half an hour, before reboarding the same plane. When leaving the plane, our carry on luggage was checked, and the soft drinks we bought in the Manilla tax free zone were found.  They gave us two options: drink them there or have them confiscated.

We were shocked. The bottles had cost only a few Euro, but we did not understand the principle. We tried to argue that they were checking the same bags that were loaded onto the plane in the Philippines. I even considered telling them that if we wanted to blow up the plane, we could have done so already, but decided against it. They were obviously lacking any sense of humour.  And they didn’t care to explain. We did actually try to sneak away after having promised to drink them, but two security agents chased us down the corridor. We drank every last drop. And guess what? Just around the corner, there was a vending machine.

So be careful when making duty free purchases containing liquids. Check with the airline before buying anything expensive. Tamper-evident sealed bags provided in the duty free shops can help, but there are no guarantees. To be safe, buy your expensive champagne at home, or on the last stop.

Are the days of one-stop shopping for package holidays over?

Until a decade or so ago, not many options were available for the average traveller. Especially those wanting to book a run-of-the-mill flight – transfer –hotel combo for a popular destination rarely deviated from the standard approach: visit a number of travel agencies, collect a few kilos of brochures, draw up a list of favourites, try to calculate the prices, visit the chosen agency hoping that at least one of the favourites is still available, book.

Nowadays, things are different. Most tour operators have websites that allow direct booking. Hotels and airlines have websites of their own. Comparison sites for packages, hotels as well as flights have popped up like mushrooms. Reviews on hotels and flights can be found with a simple Google search. And so on. Although Belgium seems to be lagging with regards to comparison sites, the evolution can not be stopped. Anyway, EU laws enable us to shop around in different countries.

I must admit that I have only begun thinking about organising our own ‘package holidays’ a few years ago. Until then, we used all of the tools above for the more complex trips with, for instance, multiple flights, driving around from hotel to hotel. Standard sunny beach holidays were usually booked online, through Belgian tour operators, flights, transfers and hotel included.

It was a stay at the Steigenberger Al Dau Beach hotel in Hurghada, Egypt that made us think. They offered 15% off their best rates along with other advantages, including free airport transfers, for returning guests. Since we liked both the Red Sea and the hotel a lot it sounded appealing but it was obviously only available to those booking directly with the hotel. So we looked at the option of booking the flight separately, which proved to be a breeze, even for a charter flight. All in all we saved about € 150 per person on our next one week trip to Hurghada. It was the beginning of an era with a lot more research before we book anything.

In conclusion, it pays to compare, not only between packages from different local tour operators, but also including alternatives based on separate bookings for flights and hotel. Once you go that route, however, another rather complex world of comparison sites, search engines and foreign tour operators opens up. Plenty of subjects for future posts…

Hello fellow travellers!

Our world map

Over the past few years, more and more people have shown interest in all kinds of travel tips I gave them, be it links to useful sites, do’s and don’ts, places to see, ways to do more with less money, and so on. Along came my girlfriend Sandra, who suggested starting a blog. So here I am, writing the first post of what will hopefully become a long series.

I am not a native English speaker, so please bear with the occasional mistake. If you are like me, and hate reading language errors, just private message me – if that is possible of course, I am still discovering this site.

The picture above shows a large map we have in our living room. It is not clear enough, unfortunately, to see where we have been, so I will have to work on a virtual version. But it does prove that we are avid travellers. Destinations this year have ranged from the simple and nearby to the far away and exotic, from Champagne and Disneyland Paris to the Philippines and Palau. Apologies to the French for linking Champagne and simple – I could also have used Tenerife for that purpose, but that would certainly have upset my mother in law who owns an apartment there. Anyway, you get the point.

Some interesting posts with more content are in the pipeline, and I hope you will like!