Travel Strategies For Planning Complex Itineraries

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10/02/2009 – Travel Strategies For Planning Complex Itineraries

Planning complex logistics for multi-destination travel can be overwhelming for some, relaxing for others and a nightmare for certain business travel. When traveling on business, either a series of photo shoot locations or business meetings, your schedule dictates your travel pattern and this can often range from ‘challenging’ to ‘impossible.’

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a well-known Middle Eastern oil firm, through The Travel Strategist, to help them plan out a series of highly complex travel schedules for a few upcoming trips.  Planning travel for the Middle Eastern oil company posed some unique challenges:
1) I can never mention the name of the company, which makes using them for future marketing of The Travel Strategist challenging….OK this is not an actual travel issue
2) This trip involved sending multiple people from a ‘sub-continent region’ through three continents, four very remote locations, with tight schedules in a defined period of time.
3) The planning of the flight itineraries involves some significant ‘back tracking’ to meet the travel requirements
4) I was not allowed to plan any travel on Middle Eastern based airlines
5) I needed to have the passengers fly a mix of business class & first class (some airlines no longer offer first class) and stay under US$20,000, for more than 30,000 miles of flying.
6) Some locations are so remote that flights to the nearest commercial airport cannot be sourced or booked through conventional airline booking methods
7) I was contacted by the oil company’s security & logistics department rather than their travel department and I am not allowed to know who I am scheduling the travel for (which didn’t make a difference to me, but it is intriguing).

…before making this post I cleared all the information with the company, discussing what I feel is relevant and without compromising the oil firms security and non-disclosure agreement.

So while I’ll detail the travel, all-actual dates of travel are removed and references to the locations these people were traveling to outside of the destination airport has been omitted.

This planning process began with a simple e-mail. Which stated that I was needed to plan a trip that could last no more than 14 days, with executives departing from a specific Middle Eastern international airport.  The executives needed to travel to a remote location in The North Sea; an area relatively close to Maracaibo Venezuela; the Pre-Caspian Basin in Kazakhstan and Heilongjiang Province in China.

At each location the travellers would need a certain number of hours to transit to the remote location, need a day on-site, then time to transit back the airport. Looking at maximum of 336 hours to have all the travel completed, this was looking like an impossible task.   Normally when planning travel I like to keep flyers on a single airline alliance. By using a single airline alliance you can more effectively streamline the planning process. Clearly sticking to a single airline alliance was not possible, and I shifted my focus to finding a way to stay under US$20,000 and under 14 days.

I have planned out long and complex travel scenarios for both myself and other travelers, but never one this daunting before.

So what does one need to plan a schedule like this, or any highly complex travel schedule?

You need an excellent understanding of geography.   If you don’t know where places are, there relation to other locations and a general sense of distance, you are working at a significant disadvantage.   While I have an excellent sense of geography I often reference various map sources.   A map however is useless if you don’t have an idea where locations are.

An understanding of time zones is important to planning long-haul travel.   Departure and arrival times are always listed in ‘local time.’ If you do not know the time zones it is hard to calculate how long a flight is.   While travellers should be able to sleep on flights, I like to know about how much time they should expect so they can arrive rested from an overnight flight, or stay awake on a day-flight.  The ‘body clock’ can take a lot of tinkering during travel, but the less you mess with someone’s body clock the better off they are.

Airport transit times are integral to complex travel schedules.   Knowing how to sort out transit times and finding out if passengers must exit immigrations and change terminals is an important factor in knowing how much time to allow between flights.   Plan a connection time to short and not only are the travellers stuck, but also their whole schedule is thrown off.

In additional to transit times, it is important to know an airports ‘delay rate.’ If you are planning travel through an airport known to be unreliable you risk the possibility of undo delays for the travel. Delays can always happen, but choosing connections based on known information about an airport can go a long way!

Knowing the basics of complex travel planning, along with researching airline reliability, Visa regulations and other such information can make the actual trip either great or a complete headache.

Global monetary currency is a must for multi-national travel. While looking at airfares you also look at taxes. While planning this itinerary I had to deal with US Dollars, the Kazakhstan Tenge, the Euro, the Chinese Yuan and a few other currencies to calculate true airfare costs.

So where did these people fly?  Well I can’t tell you the final destinations, but I can tell you their detailed commercial flight itinerary.

Flight 01 : Bahrain (BAH) to Amsterdam (AMS) – KLM
Flight 02: Amsterdam (AMS) to Aberdeen (ABZ) – KLM
Flight 03: Aberdeen (ABZ) to Paris (CDG – Air France
Flight 04: Paris (CDG) to Caracas (CCS) – Air France
Flight 05: Caracas (CCS) to Maracaibo (MAR) – Conviasa
Flight 06: Maracaibo (MAR) to Miami (MIA) – American Airlines
Flight 07: Miami (MIA) to Los Angeles (LAX) – American Airlines
Flight 08: Los Angeles (LAX) to Incheon (ICN) – Asiana Airlines
Flight 09: Incheon (ICN) to Harbin(HRB) – Asiana Airlines
Flight 10: Harbin (HRB) to Beijing (PEK) – Air China
Flight 11: Beijing (PEK) to Urumqi (URC) – Air China
Flight 12: Urumqi (URC) to Almaty (ALA) – China Southern
Flight 13: Almaty (ALA) to Atyrau (GUW) – Air Astana
Flight 14: Atyrau (GUW) to Almaty (ALA) – Air Astana
Flight 15: Almaty (ALA) to Amsterdam (AMS) – KLM
Flight 16: Amsterdam (AMS) to Bahrain (BAH) – KLM

In the end, I ended up sending this team of Middle East oil executives around the world, flying 30,570 miles. Their total travel time on the road was approximately 331hours, 5 hours short of the 336-hour (14 day) limit. The total airfare was US$17,863, a staying under the budget of US$20k by $2,137.

I have two more itineraries to plan for this client.   I’m hoping the next one includes New York, London, Moscow and Tokyo, that routing would be much easier to plan. Whatever they hand me I’m sure I’ll enjoy sorting out the complexities of making sure their travellers get where they need to go and home again…on-time and under budget.

Below is an image of how the above travel looks on a map.

Happy Flying!
–Click Image Below To Enlarge–
a map of the world

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