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PART 2: Who won ‘Best Travel Innovation 2019’ at the Head for Points Awards?

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Today we are announcing our final winners in the Head for Points Travel & Loyalty Awards.

We are looking today at ‘Best Travel Innovation 2019’.  We split this article into two parts.  The first part – click here – talks you through what impressed us about each of the items on our 11-strong shortlist.

This second part announces the two winners.

Each winner will receive a trophy which we will be presenting at a special dinner in January.

We decided to give an additional ‘Editor’s Choice’ award in this category.  Let’s start, as we should, with the reader vote.

Your vote for ‘Best Travel Innovation 2019’ went to:

Reward Flight Finder

Reward Flight Finder was shortlisted this year for a radical new feature added in 2019.  This is the new ‘where can I go on these particular dates’ search.  Put simply, it reverse engineers the whole reward process.

You plug in the dates you want to travel and Reward Flight Finder shows you the British Airways destinations that are still available to book with Avios.  This is a fantastic innovation if you’re looking for some travel inspiration, and it is rather sad that the airlines don’t offer something similar themselves.

Reward Flight Finder managed to bag the lion’s share of the votes.  Many of you, I think, simply wanted to thank Tim Rogers for his work in putting this tool together, and potentially support him after Virgin Atlantic pulled its support in the Autumn.  Reward Flight Finder has transformed the way to search for Avios redemption by displaying availability for a full year  in one click.

Congratulations are also in order for the winners of the Editor’s Choice Award in this category.

The Editor’s Choice award goes to:

Virgin Atlantic’s ‘The Loft’

Virgin Atlantic made a big splash earlier this year when it announced that its new A350 fleet was not getting the usual Virgin Atlantic bar.  Instead, it has created a social space called ‘The Loft’.

Virgin Atlantic The Loft A350

Virgin Atlantic has always been known for its social spaces.  It was, I think, the first airline of the modern era to have a bar on its aircraft.  Over the years the Middle Eastern airlines, primarily Emirates but also Etihad and Qatar on their A380 fleets, have taken this idea and run with it.  On the most recent Virgin Atlantic arrival – the Boeing 787 fleet – the bar almost appears as an afterthought and doesn’t add as much as before.

The Loft is an impressive attempt to introduce something which is closer to a casual WeWork hot desking area and living space than a bar.  Virgin found that many people using the bar were using it to work or discuss business issues with colleagues.  The only time I ever use the bar on Emirates is when one of my kids gets restless and I want somewhere for us to sit side by side.

The Loft is a lovely looking area that accommodates eight people.  It will be the first thing that every passenger will see on boarding the aircraft, and the last thing they see when they leave, and Virgin is hoping that it will encourage other passengers to trade up over time.

There are five seats with seat belts in case of turbulence.  These are made up of a sofa, facing the 32 inch wall-mounted TV, a table where two people can sit face to face and a solo seat.  There is also an area where two people can stand, with a high surface for a laptop.  The lighting system – which you can just see in the photo above – is gold plated for effect.

The Loft has bluetooth capabilities for up to eight devices.  You can bring your own bluetooth headphones or borrow a pair from the crew.

I haven’t seen The Loft in the air yet, only in a crew-training version at the Crawley head office.  However, I asked Rhys to pen a few lines:

“Whilst this was met with scepticism at first, I found The Loft to be excellent and a feature that actually improved this space. Having tested it out on a flight to New York I was surprised how much more social it is. Whereas at the bar you are sat in a row facing the bartender, the social space allows for a range of seating that is far more natural and conducive to conversation.

If you are travelling as a pair or group it can be hard to chat when seated in Upper Class due to the size of the seats. The Loft, however, means that you always have somewhere to retreat to should you want to spend more time together rather than plugged into your own respective IFE. The Loft may not sound as sexy as the previous Virgin bar but it is very, very useful!”

The Loft is, genuinely, different and it is very rare that you can say that about anything on a commercial aircraft.  Virgin Atlantic has put a lot of money into this concept, and even they don’t yet know how regular Upper Class passengers will end up using it in practice.   This is innovation in its purest form.

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes

‘The Loft’ and ‘Reward Flight Finder’ show the two extremes of innovation in the business travel and travel loyalty space.

One of these products is a multi-million pound investment which is hoped will be a vital part in justifying the $300m cost of an A350 …..

…. whilst the other was, literally, developed by a guy in his bedroom in his spare time, for virtually no cost.

Both have made a big impact with the Head for Points team and with our readers.  I look forward to giving Tim Rogers from Reward Flight Finder and Daniel Kerzner, VP Customer Experience at Virgin Atlantic, their awards at our winner’s dinner on 13th January.

This was the final award category to be announced.  We’d like to thank all 4,500 of you who voted.  We enjoyed the process, and I know that the recipients of the awards take them seriously because they know the quality and size of our audience.

Comments (97)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Alex says:

    How is the Loft different from the new David Caon social spaces at the front of the Business cabin on the refurbished Qantas A380? (Genuine question, not being snarky.)

    • Rob says:

      No idea – we haven’t been inside a refurbed A380 yet.

    • Jamie Oliver says:

      You’re always being snarky, Alex. I’m sure (for you) that it helps address your own insecurities, but just wish you wouldnt keep doing it in such a public way. It’s sad to see.

  • Bunks unbound says:

    I love RFF. Have been using it a while now and it has proved invaluable in helping me book my annual BA 241 trips too. well done to Tim 👍🏼👍🏼

  • Alex says:

    Is it me or has virgin Atlantic sponsored all these awards? They seem to have won all the editors choice awards…..

  • Peter K says:

    Hopefully Virgin Atlantic see how popular RFF is at the awards and give back permission to use their data again. Their own website/app is just a dog in this regard.

    • TripRep says:

      Try SeatSpy, I’m liking it for BA + VS availablity

      • Peter K says:

        I know about seatspy but didn’t know if it was wise to mention it on a post that Virgin staff will be interested in reading.

  • Alan says:

    Tim is a very well deserved winner, it’s an amazing tool he has created. Would love Virgin to reconsider!

  • BJ says:

    The Loft is unnecessarily indulgent extra gwp/pax…by extension it is perhaps time to scrap all premium cabins in favour of economy seating configurations only in an effort to curb the growth in flight numbers.

    • Brian says:

      🙂 Good comment for this site!

    • JRC says:

      I assume this is meant tongue in cheek. Take Airbus A320 family orders, the three largest orders by a significant margin are from AirAsia, Indigo and WizzAir…
      Sure, business seats “create” more CO2 per sq ft than an economy seat, but the volume and total CO2 output is dwarfed by economy travellers.

      • Nick_C says:

        “I tend to the view that weight (not space) is the main driver of aircraft fuel usage and hence related emissions.”

        You may well be right. But have you looked at the weight of a business class seat? The extra weight, compared with economy, can be as much as the passenger it is designed to carry in comfort.

        But the day I stop flying business class is the day I stop flying.

    • BJ says:

      Just a pause for thought. I am not personally going to stop flying business class as long as it exists on aircraft but things like The Loft are not necessary although not near as bad as BA flying empty planes to Cardiff. We have known about global warming for over 30 years and stuck our heads in the sand at a time we could have made meaningful and worthwhile choices. Instead we left it to the next few generations to make increasing, and increasingly difficult, choices that might ultimately have even less benefit that if we had made those choices years ago. While I will continue to fly premium class if it is available, I would support, accept and applaud efforts to remove premium cabins from aircraft going forward if this were to curb growth in flight numbers. Take, for example, the current practice amongst European carriers of leaving middle seats empty to create a business class product that is more apparent than real. This is simply stupid and the EU should have it in their sights, we don’t need this on flights less than 3h.

      • Rob says:

        Aer Lingus now has flat beds on the European short haul flights which use their new short-haul planes.

        • BJ says:

          Perversely that a more complicated issue I suppose as you could argue that by using their north American planes on their European routes they are reducing the need for more planes and so on and so on. Just highlights the complexity of the issue.

        • TripRep says:

          Rob – got a list of the routes?

          • Rob says:

            Unfortunately not – they haven’t got all the deliveries yet so it is only a handful at present. I am keen to do a review but it can’t be done on Avios annoyingly.

    • Lady London says:

      Are you quite serious BJ? You are almost the last poster here I would accuse of suck Numbskull trendy political correctness.

      • RussellH says:

        Well, we have known about Global Warming for a lot longer than “over 30 years”.
        I went to a very traditional, right-wing public school (I was usually the only one in a class prepared to put the Labour Party manifesto to the rest of the class when elections happened – the teacher had lot of volunteers for the Tory side), but we learnt about Global Warming.
        I left school in 1966.
        I was writing to local media ten years later on the topic (making myself unpopular with the local ant-nuclear brigade, because I felt that Global Warming was more of a long-term risk than nuclear power.
        Even the Australians are finally getting the message now.

        • BJ says:

          Good stuff. My reference to 39 years was more a reflection of transition from acid rain to global warming as the key environmental issue of the time.

      • Cat says:

        I’m with BJ – and 97% of scientists aren’t numbskulls…

        • mark2 says:

          Isn’t it 97% of Climate Scientists? which seems low.
          Anyway, how many were actually asked. and ho were they selected?

      • BJ says:

        I am absolutely serious. What most don’t get about climate change is the timescale. We believe it to be a slow and gradual change that we can cope with and at the same time we keep our fingers crossed that the worse will not happen in our own back yard. The reality that most don’t yet get, and the politicians do not want to acknowledge, is that although the global warming itself is slow, it could trigger sudden and catastrophic change on a massive scale. We are all familiar with how natural events on a local scale can cause havoc locally, or even stimulate and cause events with enormous consequences on a regional scale, for example the tsunami of 2004 or El Nino events. It is entirely probable that changes due to climate change could combine in unpredictable or unlikely ways to create unprecedented and rapid catastrophic events on a global scale, or something close to it. This should not be seen as a doomsday scenario or anything even close to that but it is possible within the next few generations that we could see changes in the environment, with consequences to the socio economic order, the likes of what has never been witnessed before. It is also possible that it might indeed just be limited to slow progressive changes with increasingly frequent and erratic localised events such as we are already witnessing. The judgement call is which scenario(s) are we going to protect against.

        • JRC says:

          But your argument is flawed. Effectively you are saying as long as we remove biz class seats and amenities we are heading in the right direction. You fail to recognise that CO2 from planes is coming from LCC and increasingly Air Cargo capacity. Easyjet increased capacity by 10.3% in 2019. Do you know how tiny Virgin is compared to Easyjet? Virgin has about 37 planes in its fleet. Easyjet has 331, increasing to 352 in 2020.

          • Cat says:

            Well, it depends what you use as your metric really, doesn’t it? If you look at volume of CO2 per passenger, or volume of CO2 /passenger / mile, that changes things, especially if you do a breakdown by class of travel.

          • BJ says:

            Not suggesting the solution to global warming was so simple, only that there would be choices to be made (or not) and there is lots of often little things that could be done that could all help. Ultimately everyone presumably hopes that air travel becomes less damaging, we have choices how we do that, by decreasing flights and/or decreasing damage caused by each flight. The latter is obviously the better option. Fortunately the airlines themselves may take some of those decisions out of the politicians hands by demanding improved technology and ever more efficient aircraft.

          • JRC says:

            I think you are missing the point. If you take my simplistic scenario of 2 airlines and assume Virgin is 100% biz class, then 90% of CO2 from planes is coming from “economy”. The real issue is the amount of travel by aircraft that is occurring, both trips per passenger and number of passengers able to travel, governed by income and cost to travel. I think we will need to start having minimum pricing on air travel a la minimum pricing on booze in Scotland or further taxes a la sugar tax on fizzy drinks. You could have someone travelling 26,000 miles for work in economy paying less APD than another person making one trip per year of say 5,000 miles in biz.

          • Cat says:

            So, you’re saying the main cause of airline CO2 emissions is people who can’t afford to travel in business or above (or who are less wise to airmiles), because there are more of them?
            Hmmmmmm…

          • JRC says:

            No Cat, I’m saying it’s the volume of travel driving CO2, which coincidentally is driven by cheap LCC travel not business class suites. You +1 a tax on aviation fuel which is exactly the point I was making if you read the rest of my comment.

        • Graeme says:

          I read The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells last year and it genuinely changed my views on life. I now have made a lot of effort to cut my carbon footprint, that includes cutting flying down to 1 family holiday per year maximum.

          It’s easy to bury our head in the sand and pretend someone else needs to fix it in my view. Does anyone use Ecosia here out of interest? Search engine which plants trees. Tiny simple thing that may help for example.

          • memesweeper says:

            The big fix for aviation emissions is a tax on aviation fuel. Lots of hurdles to clear to get that launched, but when it does we can stop worrying about this-seat-vs-that-seat and know that all the polluters are paying.

          • Cat says:

            +1 Memesweeper

          • BJ says:

            The polluter pays approach is ever popular, especially amongst the polluted 🙂 While it has its merits it does not often in itself solve the problem but rather rebalances it. For example, the current fixation on charging polluters, planting millions of trees and tinkering around the edges of a few other bits and pieces to produce a paper showing we are zero carbon or carbon-neutral might be enough to make people and politicians feel good but it is not going to solve the global warming problem. It is already clear that much more complex and far-reaching action is needed.

        • Crafty says:

          BJ – it’s already happening. Surely given your other very sensible comments you have been paying attention this year and last?

          • Crafty says:

            Sorry, I misread your comment. You did say that we are already witnessing more erratic localised events. For some reason on first read I thought you said we are not! As you were..

    • BSI1978 says:

      + 1.

  • AJA says:

    Reward Flight Finder is a worthy winner. It’s a brilliant website. I’ve successfully used it 3 times in the last year to book Avios redemptions with my redemption in First using a 2-4-1 voucher for later this year being the ultimate one for me. It will also be my first flights in First too.

    • Lady London says:

      Reward Flight Finder saved my bacon. I was able to quickly find the few remaining Avios seats after Iberia cancelled a flight I’d booked my 90,000 on. This wrecked my itinerary as Iberia’s replacement itinerary would have for sure left me missing a connection in London and arriving in the US after it was time for me to come back.

      Thanks to Tim I used RFF to locate the only remaining itinerary with seats on it that would not leave me missing connections at Christmas.

      I hope Virgin sees sense and reinstates RFF access. In fact I think its illegal for them to deny it (legislation about API’s must be made available – even SAP is having to do).

      • AndyGWP says:

        It’s not illegal at all 🙂

      • Gary says:

        Lady London, please stop repeatedly spouting this nonsense about every company being legally required to open all its APIs to everyone. It’s a fiction. (Or provide something vaguely resembling a source and prove us all wrong)

        • Lady London says:

          I will try and remember what the legislation is called that caused this. I remember some comment about it at the time and how it would be used. I’ve definitely seen things made available I didn;t expect to and can only imagine that was why. Unfortunately the one thing I do recall is that the title of the legislation wasn’t helpful as to this sort of impact.

  • JJ says:

    1) This will be the perfect opportunity for Daniel Kerzner to be left in no doubt how annoyed we are with Virgin for preventing Tim’s access to their systems. If it’s not his domain then he should be able to take a loud and clear message back to those responsible.

    2) For me the jury is still out on The Loft. Doing “business” there feels very akin to talking too loud on your phone on the train or in a hotel public area. Both annoying to those around and hardly confidential.

    • Rob says:

      It’s not Daniel’s bag. Even Shai’s right-hand woman supports Tim getting his access back (we have talked about it) but that doesn’t mean she can overrule the IT guys. Shai, admittedly, could if he wanted to.

      • Lady London says:

        Tell the IT guys they are legally obliged to provide API’s to enable access. They will know about this. I’m shocked to see the bit of SAP I work on is providing it. So if they have to I can’t see how Virgin can get out of providing access to an alternative search method on this publicly available data.

        • AndyGWP says:

          It’s the business’ decision to provide access to and use of it’s API’s. There are no legal requirements to enable anyone access to your intellectual property 🙂

          • Lady London says:

            It’s publicly available info @:AndyGWP. The issue is the method being available/allowed to access it. Please see my reply above – I do know that it had to be pointed out to me that the legislation would act in this way as the title did not give a hint!

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