Tag Archives: award

Planning a Trip to Central Europe (aka Burning My Club Carlson Points)

I’m headed to Central Europe in a couple of weeks, and I’m super excited because 1) I love Central Europe (Hungary in particular) and 2) it gives me the perfect opportunity to burn the rest of my Club Carlson points before the devaluation takes place.

I’m currently sitting on more AA miles than I’m normally comfortable holding, so at first, I looked at using miles for this trip. Even though I prefer to travel in premium cabins (obvi), AA has off-peak awards to Europe that are a great value: 20k miles each way in economy class. And the off-peak season is quite generous and goes until May 15th, so it’s not like you have to go in the middle of winter (which I have done before to take advantage of US Airways’ off-peak wards).

But trying to get to Europe from the West Coast on miles during summer months can be a very challenging award, particularly when you want to avoid British Airways fuel surcharges. Given that I live in SF, that would mean at least one domestic flight to position to the transatlantic flight, and then another connecting flight within Europe to get to Central Europe. And since my dates were somewhat constrained given that I’ll be traveling with other people, I wasn’t finding anything worthwhile (there was some availability for the dates that I wanted, but it would have involved 4-5 segments, which didn’t seem worth it), so I decided to pay cash for the ticket flying AA and attempt to use some SWUs to upgrade.

As for hotels, I had already planned to use Club Carlson points in Bratislava and Budapest given that they have pretty cheap redemptions in both cities. But once the devaluation was announced, I wanted to get rid of my remaining points. I had about 44k points remaining when the devaluation was announced and had hotel nights in Vienna I could book, but the options were either 38k for two nights or 50k for two nights, so I manufactured $1200 of spend on a Club Carlson credit card for the remaining 6k points I needed (gotta love that 5x earn on all spend). Of course, my credit card was declined when I tried to spend $1200 at once, and I had to call US Bank and deal with a very not nice fraud specialist. I’m looking forward to canceling these cards when my annual fees hit.

I’m also planning food, and I haven’t really splurged on any fancy restaurants this year, so I’m contemplating meals at Steirereck, Tian (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Michelin-starred vegetarain restaurant before), and Onyx. Any other food things I shouldn’t miss? And of course, I welcome any other suggestions on activities or sights to see.

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
Bangkok
Awesome time with me in Southeast Asia starting in Hanoi and ending in Singapore
Tokyo
Taipei
Bali

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.