SriLankan Airlines are in a strange place from what I can tell. As per Ben from OMAAT, they recently cancelled their order of Airbus 350-900 aircraft and are losing $170M in the process. Add that to their financial results from last year, in which they lost $113M and it’s not looking great for the airline.
Having said that, until very recently there were two Sri Lankan based and government owned airlines and now there’s only one so I’m sure the Sri Lankan government won’t allow them to fail. The other airline was Mihin Lanka and from what I gather operated more or less as a low cost carrier but without charging extra for luggage or meals etc. Which is actually how the low cost carrier model makes money.
Anyway, I’ve actually been following things with Mihin Lanka and SriLankan as I really wanted to lock in some flights with them. As I’ve written about previously, SriLankan offer some amazing business class fares from Bangkok to Mahe in the Seychelles, which is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years. These fares fluctuate a little but are usually between AU$1100 and AU$1200 return.
Eventually, my wife and I decided that her 30th birthday would be a perfect time to take advantage of these fares so I started checking out dates.
How I ended up watching the whole thing unravel in the GDS
What I wanted to book was a return flight from Bangkok to Seychelles with SriLankan and the plan was to get the flights to Bangkok using purchased United miles, which I felt should be a reasonably straight forward itinerary to book. Well, it took some perseverance but I did get there, it just wasn’t quite straight forward.
Until about a week or two ago, the only service from Colombo to Seychelles was operated by Mihin Lanka but these services were also marketed with a SriLankan (UL) flight number. Mihin Lanka never flew between Colombo and Bangkok but SriLankan flew the route and the flights were also marketed with a Mihin Lanka (MJ) flight number. Both Mihin Lanka and SriLankan offered the exact same fares from Bangkok to Seychelles but both flights, Bangkok to Colombo and Colombo to Seychelles, needed to be on the same carriers flight numbers as a UL flight couldn’t go on an MJ ticket and vice versa.
Something strange happening with SriLankan Airlines
As SriLankan are a member of oneworld and Mihin Lanka weren’t, I of course wanted to put all my flights on the UL flight numbers so I could accrue miles and status credits. I started checking dates for my wife’s 30th trip in March and all of a sudden, all the UL flight numbers between Colombo and Mahe were completely blocked out. They looked as if they’d been cancelled but I could see that the corresponding MJ flight numbers were still available to be booked. I started to think something might be going on with the two airlines so checked a few other routes that operated the same way (as in Mihin Lanka operated but also offering UL flight numbers), such as Colombo to Muscat.
Right through the whole calendar, every MJ operated and UL marketed flight was completely unsellable. I could still have taken advantage of the fares but I would have needed to book everything on MJ flight numbers. For that reason, as well as the whole thing making both airlines look a bit shaky, I held off to see how it played out.
A couple of days went past and it was the same story. Then one morning I checked and every single MJ marketed flight had disappeared completely and been replaced by a SriLankan operated service. A quick Google confirmed that Mihin Lanka was packing up shop and SriLankan would be operating all MJ services from 30 October 2016 on.
I went and had a look to see if the moment to lock in my flights had finally come and the whole thing took another turn. The good news was that the UL fares were still on sale even though they were no longer competing with the identical MJ fares. The bad news was that the Colombo to Mahe flights, on every date the whole way through the calendar, had ‘I’ class blocked, which is the fare bucket I needed. I was worried that they might be blocking this booking class until they’d had a chance to pull the fare now that there was no Mihin Lanka to compete with but I kept checking for availability hoping I hadn’t missed my chance to book our tickets.
Finally getting it booked
Another few days went by and then the stars aligned! The ‘I’ class seats were no longer blocked out and were available on my dates. The fare was still good to go. The flights from Bangkok to Colombo had been upgraded to SriLankan’s A330-300 which has their nicest business class product by a margin. There was award availability with Thai Airways from Sydney to Bangkok. Bang! Job done!
A great way to max out these fares
Something a little different to what I’ve booked but using the same fare, it’s possible to add a stopover in Colombo to the inbound journey, add on flights from Colombo to Sydney and back via Singapore with SriLankan and Qantas and then back to Bangkok at the end of the itinerary to construct a really great value ticket.
So, an itinerary constructed in this way with SriLankan Airlines would go Bangkok to Seychelles, Seychelles to Colombo, Colombo to Sydney, Sydney to Colombo, Colombo to Bangkok all in business class and would have a total price per person of about AU$2700 (~US$2k) all in. Pretty amazing for almost 18,000 flown miles in business class!