Tag Archives: award booking tips

SEA 2014: Booking a Round-the-World Award for My Sister

For my Southeast Asia trip, I met my sister in Bangkok as she had considerably more time to travel last summer than I did. She was planning on going to numerous places throughout the summer and had briefly mentioned to me the idea that she was going to buy a round-the-world cash ticket for many thousands of dollars. I told her to NOT buy anything before consulting with me, as I knew that she had a small stash of United miles that could be put to very good use given United’s generous award routing rules.

Here’s the list of places she wanted to go:
Tel Aviv
Awesome time with me in Southeast Asia starting in Hanoi and ending in Singapore

The bulk of this itinerary was booked as two awards:
1) USA to TLV (stopover) to BKK; (open jaw) DPS to USA for 65k United miles in coach (pre-deval)
2) SIN to HND; (open jaw) TPE to DPS for 30k United miles in coach (pre-deval)

One “trick” that I employed is that travel from North America to the Middle East (USA to TLV in this case) is more expensive than travel from North America to South Asia. BUT, you can transit the Middle East on the way to South Asia, and South Asia is a more powerful zone than the Middle East (terminology taken from TravelIsFree), which means that by making TLV the stopover on the way to BKK, I saved my sister miles. (One caveat to note is that you can’t transit the same airport more than once while going one direction of travel. In this case, the most convenient routing was through VIE to get to TLV from the US, as well as to fly through VIE again to get from TLV to BKK, but that’s a no-no, so I had to reroute her through IST on the way to TLV from the US so I could use VIE as a transit to get to BKK).

I didn’t completely “maximize” the awards, as she still has one stopover leftover in the second award. She could have done something like, SIN to HND (open jaw); ICN to TPE (stopover); TPE to DPS (implicit open jaw since you didn’t return to SIN) if she had wanted to also tack on a visit to Korea.

Even though United miles aren’t as good for premium cabin travel after the devaluation, coach prices haven’t risen too much, and the routing rules are still generous for roundtrip travel. By taking advantage of the one stopover and two open jaws, you can visit many more destinations. If you’re interested in more stuff like this, I strongly suggest you read the complete guide to United routing rules on Travel Is Free.

Award Redemption Tips: Alaska Airlines Miles for Intra-Asia Cathay Pacific Flights

Another underrated Alaska Airlines award redemption besides premium economy is intra-Asia flights on Cathay Pacific. You can only redeem Alaska miles for routings that are defined in their award chart, which generally means that you can only redeem miles for awards that begin or end in North America (e.g. you can’t redeem for Emirates between Europe and Asia because there’s no mileage price listed on their chart). But Cathay Pacific has some of the most comprehensive routings listed for non-US travel if you’re willing to begin/end in Hong Kong.

Here’s the award chart for Cathay for Asia:

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While all of the prices between North America and Asia are pretty competitive (and you get a free stopover), the intra-Asia prices are super cheap if you’re looking to travel between North Asia (i.e. Japan and Korea) and Southeast Asia (e.g. Singapore, Thailand). As a comparison, Asia1 to Asia2 costs 20k/30k/40k using American miles for a one-way in coach/business/first; North Asia to South Asia is 20k/40k/50k using United miles on partners for one-way travel; and US Airways is 40k/60k/80k roundtrip for North Asia to South and Central Asia. Note that travel within a single region on these other award charts can be cheaper than Alaska’s intra-Asia prices on Cathay, and super short flights can often be a better deal using British Airways Avios (e.g. Taipei to Hong Kong is only 4500 Avios in coach and only 13,500 Avios in first class).

The incremental mileage needed for premium cabins is relatively small, requiring only 2.5k more miles each way for premium economy instead of coach. But even first class at 27.5k miles is a pretty good deal if you can find routes with first class. Ignoring the dates, you could potentially do the following routing in first class on Cathay Pacific: BKK to HKG on a Friday, nearly 24-hour layover in Hong Kong, then continue on flying HKG to HND the next day in first class. That’s about 5 hours in first class for only 27,500 Alaska miles with access to Cathay’s first class lounges in Hong Kong.

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Haneda and Taipei regularly have first class service, but Bangkok is currently only scheduled to have first class service once a week. Aircraft swaps are also common, so you might book something only to find that first class service might disappear from your aircraft as your departure date approaches. Intra-Asia routes are the last place that you’ll find Cathay’s 747s since they’ve stopped flying 747s long haul, so you still have a chance to fly Cathay Pacific first class on the 747 if you haven’t yet.

Mileage Redemption Tips: Alaska Airlines Awards for Premium Economy

Lots of people in the past have talked about using 70k Alaska Airlines miles to fly from North America to South Africa in Cathay Pacific First Class (although that’s no longer possible since Cathay no longer has first class between HKG and JNB), and Alaska is also well known for offering redemptions for Emirates First Class (granted, at a relatively pricey 100k miles for a one-way F redemption). But one thing that I don’t think gets enough love is that you can redeem Alaska miles for premium economy awards on its partners, and these are generally great redemption values.

As far as I know, Alaska is the only US program that allows redemption for premium economy. Premium economy only really exists on non-US airlines, which is perhaps why US mileage programs haven’t yet offered the option to redeem for premium economy on their partners. But Alaska allows redemptions for premium economy on Cathay Pacific, British Airways, and Qantas, and the additional mileage required is minimal.

For example, a one-way coach award on Cathay Pacific between North America and Asia is 30k Alaska miles. This in and of itself is a pretty good value, considering that American charges 35k miles for a one-way coach award between North America and Asia2 and United charges 40k miles for a one-way coach award between North America and South Asia. In addition, Alaska offers stopovers on one-way awards, so you could stop in Hong Kong for however long you want.

But premium economy is only 35k miles. That’s an additional 5k miles one-way for a verrry long trip. Worth it? I think so. In general, you’re getting an extra 6 inches of pitch and an extra inch in seat width, in addition to better meals, an amenity kit, etc. A quick, non-rigorous search on Cathay’s site showed a difference of about $800 between a roundtrip coach and a roundtrip premium economy ticket between SFO and HKG in April, while it would only be an incremental 10k miles for an award ticket.

Similarly, while a one-way coach award on Qantas between North America and Australia/New Zealand is 42.5k miles, premium coach is just 5k miles more at 47.5k miles. British Airways requires a 10k mile premium over coach, but why are you redeeming your miles for BA in the first place?

While most of the points/miles game is focused around aspirational travel, this is a pretty “cheap” way to buy some extra comfort while maximizing the amount of travel that you can do.

Quick Update and a Tip on Booking Your Last US Airways Star Alliance Awards

I’m not dead. I’m just not updating. I will eventually get around to finishing up this trip report, but for a variety of reasons which I might delve into at some point, this blog has taken a back seat to the rest of the things going on in my life. I might also have a guest trip reporter! That would be exciting.

Anyway, to be more helpful, if you’re like me and looking to spend some US Airways miles while they’re still in Star Alliance, you need to book your awards this weekend. As in today or tomorrow, since they’re transitioning to oneworld on Monday, March 31st. But if you call the US Airways number (1-800-428-4322) and say that you want to book award travel, you might get a pre-recorded message telling you to call back later since they’ve been receiving too many calls and not even get the option to wait on hold (this happened to me this morning).

This can happen when there’s extreme weather, in which case I definitely think that you shouldn’t tie up an agent’s time with a premium cabin award booking when they really should be trying to help the thousands of people who have been affected. But a quick search reveals no real inclement weather anywhere today, so the lines are just tied up because lots of people are booking awards this weekend.

What to do? Well, instead of saying that you want to talk to an agent about award travel, tell the voice tree that you want to talk about an existing reservation. I was able to get an agent essentially immediately using this strategy.

Caveat #1: Some agents obviously don’t like this, and you’ll have to explain why you don’t have an existing reservation that you want to talk about and instead are trying to book a new award reservation. Since so much of the US Airways award booking process is based on the agent that you get, this could be problematic if you get started off on the wrong foot.

Caveat #2: Don’t abuse this! If there are actually lots of people who need to get rebooked because of weather delays and such, you shouldn’t be a dick and tie up 40 minutes of an agent’s time so you can fly first class to Bangkok through Europe for only 120k miles because you confused the agent into thinking that Bangkok is in North Asia, especially if your booking isn’t urgent. In this case, since the “weather” that the voice recording is talking about is really just lots of other award bookers, I don’t feel so bad, especially since the bookings do have to be done this weekend.