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Starting Out

Friday, 24 November, 2000 - Washington, D.C.

Because of a heap of frequent flyer miles in an account we decided to get as close to Lao as possible on Northwest Airlines (NWA). For anyone who has tried to make use of their frequent flyer miles domestically, getting around seat availability and black-out date issues, I can tell you that the problem is even more significant when trying to book international seats using frequent flyer miles. Airlines love to have your posterior in the seat when you are paying (particularly for full fare for business class), but they are not too discreet about their dislike of giving you non-revenue "free" seats, especially to destinations 1/2 way around the world. After working with the calendar, work schedule and a few calls to the airline trying various combinations of airline partners and routes, we managed to get freebie flights as far as Bangkok. That was close enough to Lao for our purposes and actually was an ideal gateway for a land journey to the Thai/Lao border.

TIP 1: When booking flights with multiple legs, we have encountered situations where airlines will insist that the route (e.g. Dulles - Bangkok) is unavailable/sold-out. However, when pressed to examine the route on a segment basis (i.e. (i) Dulles-Detroit, (ii) Detroit-Narita, (iii) Narita-Bangkok), the airline will often discover the flight is indeed available. I have no explanation (nor does the airline) why this occurs, but it does on occasion pay to have them examine the route segment by segment. Worst case, you will then at least know which segment is unavailable and perhaps you can book the problematic segment using one of the airline's partners or shift your flight a day to address that segment.

On a cool November morning we set out for Dulles Airport at 7:00 catch NW1401 bound for Detroit, connecting to NW11 to Narita and NW1 to Bangkok. We had no particular affection for Northwest Airlines ( In fact we were (and continue to be) totally unimpressed with their aircraft interiors (outdated), food service (poor quality) and entertainment options (HBO-Asia quality movies and no in-seat screens in coach) on flights to Asia. We can only assume NWA competes strictly on price, as they are generally the cheapest US carrier to Asia. Unless you live near a gateway city of an Aisan carrier, and want to try say Korean Air ( or EVA (, NW will likely yield one of the best prices. In our case, FREE was definitely the best price available, and that made up for many of the shortcomings of the airline this time.

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