There are a lot of reasons to use an Award Booking Service, like the MileValue Award Booking Service. One great reason is because you have miles in several accounts and want to use the most efficient type for the trip you have in mind. Different miles have different best uses.

Recently I was contacted by a friend who had mid-six-figure account balances in his American, United, and Delta accounts. He wanted a simple open jaw trip to Europe in economy class. From Washington-Dulles to Nice and returning from London to Dulles.

Below is the email I sent to him. The only edits are that I have inserted images that I attached to the email, and I have added some hyperlinks to other posts that expand on a point I am making in the email.

In the email you’ll see the options I presented, and how I was able to book him a free oneway and an award that got him 2.3 cents of value for each United mile!

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Hey [buddy],

I wanted to let you in on what I’ve found.

First, I don’t know if you have any flexibility, but when possible on open jaw trips I recommend flying into London and out of France. The UK has the highest departure taxes in the world of about $155.

The UK departure taxes is if he went ahead with his trip plans.

This is more of an issue when flying business class where it’s more like $250. But you could save money by reversing the directions of this trip. If that’s possible, let me know.

United miles

I started with United miles as you directed. The return is super easy. There are four direct flights on your preferred date, all with space in economy. These are all the saver price of 30k miles.

Four perfect, direct options on the return.

The outbound is a lot trickier. The best option, and the only one that gets you in on your desired day leaves the day before and has an overnight in London. It’s one of those weird daytime flights to Europe, then a night at an airport hotel and London-Frankfurt-Nice then next day, arriving at 2:05 PM on your desired day. This is the earliest arrival possible. It’s not ideal, but it is the best 30k saver option.

Daytime flight to London connecting to…

 

…after an overnight in London, it’s two more flights to Nice to arrive in the afternoon.

The other option for the outbound is to book a “standard” award for 55,000 miles. The itinerary is a lot better, since it is one stop, a redeye across the Atlantic, and doesn’t require an overnight en route.

Ideal itinerary, but an extra 25k miles.

 

I hate to book “standard” price awards, but this might not be horrible for a few reasons. One, the roundtrip award would only be 85k miles + taxes, which is a steal compared to the $2,200 itinerary you found, and the award itinerary would actually be more convenient than the paid one you mentioned. [The paid itinerary he was considering had a one-stop return.] Second, within a week of departure United and Lufthansa tend to open up a lot of award space if seats are unsold–especially in business and first, but also in economy. When that happens, we can rebook that space.

If we rebook to saver economy, the award would be 60k miles like we want. If there is no saver economy space, but there is saver business, that would be an 80k mile award. It would save 5k miles and get you in business one way as a surprise treat. The one drawback of a last minute rebooking is the $75 fee for making a change within 21 days of departure, but that is swamped by saving 25k miles or saving 5k and upgrading to business class.

There are no guarantees with award space, but I would estimate the chances of a good saver economy itinerary opening up at 50%; a good saver business has an 80% chance of opening up.

American Airlines miles

For good measure, I looked at award space with AA miles next. The big problem is that if you book British Airways flights with AA miles, you incur fuel surcharges of about $300 per transatlantic segment. This is a big enough drawback on business awards, but on economy awards like this one, it’s a near deal killer.

I didn’t find any transatlantic award space that we could use on the no- or low-surcharge AA partners. I did find space on a BA flight, leaving and arriving one day later than you want. It cost 30,000 AA miles and $315.

A nasty surcharge on an AA award on BA flights is deal-killer in economy.

This compares to taxes of about $40 to $60 on the outbounds with United miles.

There were no good return options with AA miles.

Delta miles

Finally I checked space with your Delta miles. This was a bust. I didn’t find any good space on Delta or any of its partners. (I even looked at routing you through Russia on Aeroflot, which surely would have been an adventure!)

Putting it All Together

Both United and American can be used to book oneway awards. The return should pretty clearly be on your preferred flight of the four direct LHR-IAD flights on United.

For the outbound, you can choose the overnight in London, the “standard” award with the great schedule, or the fuel-surcharged and day-late BA itinerary.

If you choose to overnight in London, the total cost will be 60k United miles plus taxes and fees of about $210. The cool this is that you can add a FREE ONEWAY to this trip. By that I mean that sometime between your return from London and April 2, 2014, you can fly a oneway trip on United from Dulles to somewhere else–pretty much anywhere else. If that somewhere is in the continental US or Canada, it will cost $2.50 and zero miles to add to the award. If that somewhere else is in Hawaii, it will cost 2,500 miles and a few dollars. If it’s in Peru, it will cost 10,000 miles. Let me know when and where, and we’ll book the award to include the free or cheap oneway.

If you choose the perfect outbound via Frankfurt, the total cost will be 85k United miles plus taxes and fees of about $220. This trip would be eligible for the same additional free or cheap oneway (although some of the cheap oneways’ mile costs will be slightly different than those quoted in the last paragraph.)

If you choose the day-late outbound on BA, the total cost will be 30k United miles, 30k AA miles, and taxes/fees of about $500. This trip would be eligible for a free oneway but only between now and your departure date from anywhere in Canada, the US, or Mexico to Washington on AA or an AA partner.

Please let me know your thoughts on how you want to proceed. If you select something, I should be able to put it on hold for you to call in and ticket.

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I wanted to give an example of how I think, how I search, and how I communicate about award bookings. As you can see, I left a ton out of this email. For instance, I obviously searched for business class options instead of the “standard” option via Frankfurt, and I searched other dates near his date. But I left those searches out of the email for brevity.

I didn’t write a treatise on free oneways into the email, perhaps confusing someone who had never heard of them before. He did decide to book one to San Francisco once he understood the concept.

Once he made his selection, I held the award online. This did not go smoothly as United had its most common problem on multi-city searches: not showing all the options. I held something online using Bill’s trick, and I called in to edit the reservation to the correct flights.

Although it is not part of the ordinary service, I will be checking for award space to make a last second change to his award.

In general, I think the award booking went well. He was certainly thrilled with the results. I was a bit bummed to be booking an award that was dinged by UK departure taxes and included a “standard” (high-miles-price) component, but a lack of flexibility necessitated those choices.

I think something approaching good value was still achieved with the addition of a cross-country free oneway with a sticker price of $214 and not having to buy a ticket with a sticker price of $2,200.

The Mile Value Calculator says he got 2.3 cents of value per mile!

14 COMMENTS

  1. While some may simply call this post advertising, I think it provides useful insights into how the process works, both in terms of what happens when the award booking service is used, and how a person would actually go about checking various options to try to get the best choice. I have not yet used the award booking service, but likely will in the future when I am trying to do something for which the best strategy is unclear to me.

  2. I’m sure that many that use your booking service have a positive experience, but mine wasn’t so great. I tried to use your service last fall to book 4 economy tickets to Hong Kong with Delta Skymiles. Tashir ended up handling my award. He dragged out the process over a couple of weeks and did not communicate the situation nearly as well as the example you provide in this post. It was a frustrating experience as I felt that I knew as much or more about award booking as he did. Ultimately I gave up and booked a mid level award to Kauai on my own. To those of you considering using the milevalue service, I say that if Scott handles your booking you should be in good shape. Other wise, consider paying a little extra and use another service.

    • I am suprised to see this comment. Tashir knows more about award booking than anyone I have ever met. I consider myself an expert at a few airlines, though his knowledge of alliance partners and hard products amazed me. If I use milevalue’s booking service I would specifically ask if Tashir could handle my awards.

      • I don’t doubt that these guys know their stuff. I wouldn’t tell people to not use this service because it’s obvious they know what’s going on and I’ve learned enough from them to make some complicated bookings for myself and others. Maybe Tashir was just having a really busy week. All I really wanted was for him to lay out my options and the thought process behind it, just like Scott did in this post. Tashir did not do that. I’ll grant that the trip I wanted was difficult because it was on Delta, I wasn’t very flexible with dates, I needed 4 seats and I was flying from the middle of the country. But I just didn’t get the service I was expecting.

        • Hi Mason,
          Firstly, I want to thank you for pointing out any issues that may have risen with your request. I always try my hardest to find awards for people when they request it. I understand your frustration with the booking process and not laying out the details. I won’t delve too deep into the booking but often times, i’m relegated only to what I see available. After all, it’s our job to manipulate and search for award space. I truly apologize if I was unable to meet your expectations. I acknowledge the mistakes that were made with your particular booking in which I failed to respond to your questions. I put the blame on myself and have actually learned to better manage myself throughout. I know there’s no excuse but I managed to receive your request right when I started the merger with milevalue. I hope you have enough faith in our booking service to give us another shot.

          Sincerely,
          Tahsir

  3. Insight or Advertising they both apply but in my opinion for the price he charges and service are you kidding me??? i’d pay him its to time consuming and aggravting so its worth it to me. i had the fun getting the points, i’d pay the the hundred or since i’m flying first class somewhere for hardly nothing anyways so sometimes OK to pay for booking services, shit you have to pay all those fees anyway at least with this you are are actually getting your monies worth…………….. then again just my opinion

  4. I would generalize that if you read this blog among other blogs, you should be able to book your own award trips 90% of the time unless it is extremely complicated.

  5. I had the same experience as Mason, although I don’t know who was assisting–the person only responded as “MileValue”, which seemed impersonal. I requested help booking two roundtrip economy saver tickets (30,000 each) to Central America leaving in the afternoon of a certain date. I also indicated that if only high level (60,000) tickets were available, I’d consider business class saver tickets, also leaving in the afternoon. Although I got a prompt response from “MV”, the options were all (1) high-level economy reward tickets and (2) leaving in the morning. Either the person didn’t read the request, or simply pushed what they could easily book, without acknowledging it was any different than what I requested. I was disappointed, so I went online myself and 30 minutes later had booked two business saver tickets with the schedule and dates I wanted. My impression was that the person was not particularly motivated. Finally, when I wrote a note to thank them for their time, but letting them know I had been able to identify a more convenient booking, I never heard back. I thought it would have been gracious just to see–“thanks anyway–hope we can help next time.” That would seem like a modest courtesy. My overall impression was that it was someone working on it who was inexperienced although, again, very quick responses.

    All that being said–I would still consider using MV again, for a couple of reasons: (1) It’s clear they have incredibly deep expertise (or someone on the MV team does anyway). I really do believe that if they have someone motivated working on a booking, they can do just about anything. (2) The only reason I could book those award tickets myself is because I religiously read the MV blog and have learned so much from it. So yeah–not the experience I expected–which would have been closer to the one Scott blogged about today–but I would definitely try them again, especially if it was a more important or more complicated itinerary.

  6. Reading this over, wish I could edit to tone it down a bit. Wasn’t major, just less than expected. Ultimately, the thing that bothered me out of all of it was not getting any response at the end.

  7. My experience was similar to Mason’s: got the job done, finally. But such long gaps in communication that I wondered where Tashir was. And I absolutely didn’t feel I was getting the ‘hand-holding’ that Scott lays out above. For that, I would continue to pay for the service. For what I got, which did work, I can now do myself. Just don’t know if there may have been some other options.

  8. Well, I was hoping to use Scott in particular for my award booking, but unfortunately I caught him right around the time he was moving to Argentina. I appreciated him telling me someone else would actually be handling the booking, and I politely declined based on some of the reviews I’d read about Tahsir’s service (no offense Tahsir!). But my assumption of Tahsir being the other person to handle the booking was incorrect – in fact there’s someone named [redacted] who works for/with MV as well? [Maybe this was who Flyerdad encountered as “MV”] In the “About” section, there’s no bio or mention of his name as an award booking service “partner” – so I’m left with the assumption that he’s some sort of apprentice. Needless to say, I’m not taking a “risk” on someone that I have *zero* information about. So, piece of advice for the MV service: name/add bios for each person who handles bookings directly :-) I’m a few hundred dollars in your pocket, I’d just like to know a little bit about you and how GOOD you are!

    With regards to a comment that Mason made about laying out options up front and explaining thought process. I experienced this same lack of service with another booking service – so, it’s not an isolated thing. I get the feeling that some itineraries and airlines are just more desirable and interesting to work on than others.

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