I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Ireland’s government announced its approval for IAG–the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, and Vueling–to purchase Aer Lingus, the flag carrier of Ireland. The Irish government owns a 25% stake in Aer Lingus.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.49.15 AM

Other shareholders, including Ryanair which owns a 30% stake in Aer Lingus, have not weighed in, but if the deal goes through it will have a big effect on your miles.

Right now Aer Lingus is not a member of any airline alliance. It does, however, have one-off partnerships with United and British Airways, so you can redeem United miles and Avios for Aer Lingus flights.

If IAG buys Aer Lingus, it would join oneworld, and you would be able to redeem American Airlines, British Airways, and any other oneworld miles for Aer Lingus flights. You would, however, almost certainly lose the ability to redeem United miles on Aer Lingus.

Current Redemption Options

British Airways Avios awards use a distance-based formula. Flights from Boston to Ireland are 12,500 Avios one way in economy. Flights from New York, Chicago, and Washington to Ireland are 20,000 Avios one way. San Francisco to Ireland is 25,000 Avios one way.

Unfortunately, since Avios devalued last month, Business Class awards are now triple the economy price on those routes. This is especially unfortunate because Aer Lingus now has flat beds on some of its American routes.

Avios redemptions on Aer Lingus have very small fuel surcharges, in the tens of dollars.

Connections beyond Ireland add to the price of an Avios award, since all flights add to the price of Avios awards.

You cannot book Aer Lingus awards on ba.com. Search Expert Flyer for award space and call British Airways at 800-AIRWAYS to book.

Alternatively, you can use United miles to redeem Aer Lingus flights. United charges 30,000 miles one way in economy to Europe and 70,000 miles in Business Class. You can search and book on united.com.

Future Redemption Options

If Aer Lingus is bought by IAG and joins oneworld, the United option would probably be discontinued. The British Airways option would remain since British Airways is a member of oneworld.

We would also gain the ability to redeem American Airlines miles for Aer Lingus flights. That would be great since American Airlines charges only 50,000 miles one way in Business Class to Europe and 20,000 in economy for the majority of the year. Unfortunately I do expect these prices to go up, possibly before you’d have the chance to redeem American Airlines miles for Aer Lingus flights.

We’d also gain the ability to redeem every other type of oneworld miles for Aer Lingus flights, but most of those programs are terrible.

I’d consider this mainly a wash–losing United redemptions and gaining American redemptions. I’d call it a slight win though because United has a ton of great partner options to Europe, and American has fewer.

Bottom Line

Aer Lingus to IAG and oneworld is not a done deal, but the second biggest shareholder approves. If it happens, redemption options to Ireland and Europe will change, and probably get slightly better.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

Possibilities with Qantas flight. Source: gcmap.com

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Yesterday I published “Awards Between South America and Australia or New Zealand” because two days ago I published “How to Book a RTW Trip in 2015. Use These Underpriced Awards Around the World,” which lists the best awards between far flung regions. Take a look at those if you’re an adventurer who wants to take a BIG trip.

I got thinking about other interesting ways to move on from Australia. There are two direct flights to Africa.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.15.46 PM
South African flies to Perth, Qantas flies to Sydney. Source: gcmap.com

South African Airways, a member of Star Alliance like United, flies from Johannesburg to Perth. Qantas, a member of oneworld like American, flies from Sydney to Johannesburg.

Award space is excellent on both routes, but the Qantas route is much cheaper with American Airlines miles than the South African route is with any type of miles.

What is the Business Class Product

South African Business Class on its A340 is ever so slightly angled. I flew it from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg and filed this trip report.

Lounging in the cradle position. The bed gets flatter than this, but not fully flat.

Qantas flies its 747 on its Sydney <-> Johannesburg route. According to Seat Guru, the Business Class is in the nose and upper deck and is fully flat. Here’s my review of Qantas Business Class on the A380.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 4.07.13 PM
Source: http://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Qantas_Airways/Qantas_Airways_Boeing_747-400RR_V2.php

How to Search Award Space

South African award space can be searched on united.com. Here’s how.

Qantas award space can be searched on aa.com. Here’s how.

Award Space Picture

South African Flight

Award space is excellent in economy and Business Class on the South African flight between Johannesburg and Perth for two people for the next 11 months. Many of the daily flights have award space for two people in both economy and Business Class.
Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.16.45 PM

Here are all the award calendars. Yellow means economy award space for two passengers that day. Blue means space for two passenger in Business Class that day. Green means award space for two passengers in both cabins that day.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.17.24 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.19.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.19.45 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.20.07 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.20.31 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.21.05 PM

It shouldn’t be any trouble at all to find award space in your preferred cabin between Johannesburg and Perth as part of your round-the-world (RTW) trip.

Qantas Flight

The Qantas flight doesn’t have such consistent award space. For instance, for the next month there is no award space for two weeks then award space in economy basically every day.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.27.05 PM

Business Class space is very rare for long stretched. The next day with Business Class award space is August 6.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.27.35 PM

Business Class space starts to get less rare throughout our Fall, their Spring.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.27.53 PM

Then Business Class space becomes fairly available in October and November.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.28.12 PM

Come December, all award space disappears.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.28.28 PM

Then Business Class space is back to being wide open in January and February, summer in both destinations. Note the gray 37.5k days, indicating that most days without Business Class space during this time period at least have economy space.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.28.41 PM

Economy space is excellent for most of the year, though with several gaps of a few weeks each.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.28.48 PMAll the preceding calendars were for 1 person, but I didn’t see a big difference when I switched to searching for two people:

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.36.49 PM

Connections

The South African flight, when booking with United or other Star Alliance miles, has few connection options in Australia and New Zealand. The only partner in the region is Air New Zealand, and it only has flights from Auckland and seasonally from Christchurch to Perth.

This flight has much better connection options in Africa because of South African’s hub in Johannesburg. You can connect for zero extra miles within South Africa or within Southern and Central Africa. A few examples:

Possible Itineraries with South African Flight
Possible Itineraries with South African Flight. Source: gcmap.com

By contrast, the Qantas flight offers far more connection options in Australia and New Zealand from Qantas’ Sydney hub. It also offers a few connection options in Johannesburg on British Airways (operated by Comair) flights within Southern Africa. This map offers a few possibilities in Australia and New Zealand and all the options in Africa.

Possibilities with Qantas flight. Source: gcmap.com
Possibilities with Qantas flight. Source: gcmap.com

How to Book

Depends on which miles you want to use.

For the Qantas flight, you definitely want to use American Airlines miles. American charges:

  • 37,500 miles one way in economy between Australia or New Zealand and Africa
  • 50,000 miles one way in Business Class between Australia or New Zealand and Africa

You can find the British Airways and Qantas space on aa.com, so just book right there. Taxes are $66 from Sydney to Johannesburg and $71 the other way. There are very mild surcharges on the British Airways flights within Africa if you book those as part of the award.

For the South African flight, there are a few options–none very cheap. United (book online) charges:

  • 50,000 miles one way in economy between Australia or New Zealand and Africa
  • 85,000 miles one way in Business Class between Australia or New Zealand and Africa

Avianca LifeMiles (book online) charges the same.

Booking with another Star Alliance carrier’s miles will incur fuel surcharges of about $171 per person.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 10.00.35 PM

There are no cheap deals with other Star Alliance carriers:

  • Lufthansa wants 50k/92k one way
  • Singapore wants 45k/72.5k one way
  • Asiana wants 60k/90k

All these carriers you’d need to call and give the date, cabin, and flight number of each flight you want to book.

Basically the South African flight is very expensive with miles. Book the Qantas flight with American Airlines miles.

Pay your award taxes with the Citi Prestige® Card. The first $250 in award taxes, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the award taxes.

Getting the Miles

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard offers 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings. There is no annual fee the first year, then $95.

Getting United miles is even easier with 55,000 mile offers on the United personal and business cards plus a 45,000 point offer on the Sapphire Preferred and a 60,000 point offer on the Ink Plus. Points earned on the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.

CKANbanner_300x250_v6b

Bottom Line

There is good award space between Australia and South Africa with connections in both regions.

The best value awards will use 50,000 American Airlines miles to fly Qantas Business Class between Australia or New Zealand and Southern Africa on the Sydney <-> Johannesburg route. Award space is very good on the route for most of the year in economy and part of the year in Business Class. With flexibility, Africa <-> Australia can definitely be part of your big RTW award.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Last month Citi improved the offer on the Citi Prestige® Card, which comes with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open, a $250 Air Travel Credit per calendar year, access to the American Airlines Admirals Clubs and Priority Pass lounges, 3x points per dollar on air travel and hotels, and a $450 annual fee.

The Citi Prestige® Card competes at the top of the market with other high annual fee/high benefit cards like the American Express Platinum and Citi Executive American Airlines Card. I compared the Citi Prestige and AMEX Platinum in Citi Prestige vs. American Express Platinum. Better Card? Now I’ll compare the Prestige and Executive, two cards from Citi with identical annual fees and similar lounge access. I’ll break down the comparison by:

  • value of points
  • sign-up bonus
  • category bonuses
  • lounge access
  • statement credits
  • other benefits
  • annual fee

I’ll foreshadow a little bit by saying that overall the Citi Prestige® Card is the much better card UNLESS you use American Airlines lounges quite a bit when NOT flying American Airlines or US Airways (a rather rare condition probably) or only want to earn rewards that are great for international Business and First Class.

Note: I am using the this link for the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, which is the best offer I see (50k miles). Last year there was a 100k link for the card.

Value of Points

The Executive card earns American Airlines miles, which I value at 1.8 cents each. The Citi Prestige® Card earns ThankYou Points, which I value at 1.8 cents each. Despite the identical valuation, the rewards have completely different uses. It’s like how your phone and laptop might each cost $800, but they aren’t used for the same things.

American Airlines miles are ideal for international Business and First Class on luxurious American Airlines partners like Etihad, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines. They are also ideal for international economy awards to South America, Asia, and occasionally Europe at off peak times for steep discounts.

American Airlines miles are weak in the same way all airline miles are weak. You shouldn’t collect them if you generally have to travel fixed dates or want to travel over peak times like Christmas and New Year. Airline miles work best when you are flexible.

Citi ThankYou Points transfer to 11 airlines and one hotel:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Qantas miles
  • Hilton HHonors

My two ThankYou Points favorite transfer partners are Singapore Airlines and Air France Flying Blue. (Click links to see why.) ThankYou Points have a transfer partner in each of the three major alliances meaning they can be used to book approximately three times as much award space as American Airlines miles. However, most ThankYou Points partners impose fuel surcharges on nearly every award, while American Airlines miles impose fuel surcharges only on British Airways and Iberia award flights.

Beyond transferring to miles, ThankYou Points have another excellent use for which the Executive card has no answer.

  • ThankYou Points earned on the Prestige offer you 1.33 cents toward any flight or 1.6 cents toward any American Airline or US Airways flight.

That makes ThankYou Points good for saving cash on low-cost carrier tickets–which are often impossible to book with miles–or American Airlines and US Airways flights if you are going for status on American Airlines, so you want to fly paid tickets. (Airlines see tickets purchased directly with points as paid tickets because Citi is buying the ticket on your behalf.)

Bottom Line: American Airlines miles and ThankYou Points have complementary strengths. Ideally you’d earn both or at least the one that fits your travel goals better. I value them equally, but they are not similar.

Sign Up Bonus

I already mentioned that I value the points equally, so this would be a wash except that the AAdvantage card has a higher spending requirement. That’s important because you could take that extra money and nearly meet the spending requirement on a second card that earns ThankYou Points, the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

Here’s a post about Getting $2,800 in American Airlines Flights in Five Steps from Opeing the Prestige and Premier about a week apart.

Category Bonuses

  • Executive: 2x miles on AA/US purchase and 1x mile on all other purchases
  • Citi Prestige® Card
    • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
    • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
    • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases

After hitting the minimum spending requirement on the Executive card, it doesn’t offer an attractive proposition to continue spending on the card. The only category bonus is 2x on purchases from American Airlines or US Airways. Even those purchases are better with the Prestige, which offers 3x on air travel and hotels.

The Citi Prestige® Card aims to attract continued spending. It aims to be a card you actually use day-to-day, and I think it succeeds. All the benefits of the Citi Prestige® Card are primarily valuable to travelers, so I will assume the average cardholder spends quite a bit on air travel and hotels, which rack up ThankYou Points at a rate of 3x per dollar. Restaurants and entertainment–common costs while traveling and at home–earn 2x per dollar.

I know a lot of people, for simplicity, only want to have one card. I don’t think the Executive has any case to be your one card because the earning rate is so low. The Citi Prestige® Card could be that card if you want a card with good earning and great benefits (below) as long as you can get good value out of ThankYou Points (above.)

To figure out the extra value of the Citi Prestige® Card‘s category bonuses to you, multiply your dining and entertainment by your valuation of ThankYou Point as if it were a percentage and your air travel and hotel expenses by double your valuation of a ThankYou point.

For instance, I spend about $7k on dining and entertainment and $3k on airfare and hotels per year. I value ThankYou points at 1.8 cents.

7000 * 1.8% + 3000 * 3.6% = $234

That’s $234 of extra value per year from having the Citi Prestige® Card‘s category bonuses versus basically none on the Executive. I imagine many people spend quite a bit more than me in those categories. For them, the Citi Prestige® Card would be even more valuable.

Lounge Access

  • Executive: American Airlines Admirals Club Membership (free access no matter who you’re flying for you plus your immediate family or any two guests)
  • Citi Prestige® Card: Priority Pass Select + American Airlines Admirals Clubs when flying American

Holding an Executive card makes you a member of the Admirals Club. Membership entitles you to free entry to American Airlines lounges no matter which airline you’re flying. For instance, last month I was flying Alaska Airlines out of Honolulu, but I could still access the Admirals Club lounge there with my Executive card. I could even bring in my friend for free because every visit members can bring in their spouse and children free or up to two guests free.

The Prestige card offers American Airlines lounge access when flying American Airlines, NOT membership. The difference is that you have to present a boarding pass on American Airlines or US Airways for a flight in the next 12 hours or one that landed in the last 12 hours to get in.

If you are flying American Airlines or US Airways that day, the same guest policy as the Executive applies to the Prestige: you can bring in your immediate family (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18) or up to two guests for free.

In addition to American Airlines lounge access, the Prestige comes with Priority Pass Select Membership. I use that at least as much as American Airlines lounge access to get into airport lounges worldwide like the LAN lounge in Bogota, the Alaska Airlines Board Room in Seattle, the Virgin America Loft at LAX, and many, many more. To Priority Pass lounges, you can also bring in your immediate family (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18) or up to two guests for free.

I think for 99% of people the Prestige’s lounge access will be better than the Executive’s. You’ll tend to be flying American Airlines when you’re at an airport with one of the 50 American Airlines lounges, and the cards offer equal access in that case. In addition, the Prestige has Priority Pass, which give access to 700 more lounges in more than 120 countries and 400 cities worldwide.

The only scenario in which Executive’s lounge access is more valuable is a very weird one in which you never travel to an airport with a Priority Pass lounge, but you travel through airports with Admirals Clubs all the time while NOT flying American Airlines. I doubt many people have that travel pattern, maybe a Delta loyalist in Miami.

Most people who are paying the $450+ annual fee year after year for one of these cards are primarily doing it for the lounge access, so think carefully about which set of lounge access works better for you.

Statement Credits

  • Executive: $100 once every five years for Global Entry
  • Citi Prestige® Card: $250 per calendar year for airline fees or airline tickets. $100 once every five years for Global Entry

Both offer a Global Entry Statement credit, but the Citi Prestige® Card is the clear winner in the statement credit game. The Citi Prestige® Card has a $250 per calendar year credit that can apply to airfare, award taxes, baggage fees, or pretty much any other charge from an airline.

This benefit alone makes the Prestige a great idea for at least one year, since you can get two calendar year credits in the first year of cardmembership plus the Global Entry credit. You’ve already more than offset the big annual fee on the Prestige before considering the lounge access and sign up bonus. These credits are a big reason why I value the sign up bonus on the Prestige at $1,250.

Other Benefits

The Citi Prestige® Card offers the 4th night free on hotel stays booked through its travel provider and three free rounds of golf per calendar year.

The Executive offers priority checkin, security, and boarding on American Airlines flights plus a free checked bag on American Airlines flights. (Remember the $250 Air Travel Credit on the Prestige could pay for 10 checked bags per year.)

Which benefits you more depends on your travel style.

Annual Fee

The annual fee on the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard is $450. You pay it with your first statement, and again 12 months later if you don’t cancel the card.

The annual fee on the Citi Prestige® Card is $450. You pay it with your first statement, and again 12 months later if you don’t cancel the card.

For a person who wants Admirals Club membership for $450 per year, the Executive’s fee is worth paying in perpetuity. For a person who can use his $250 Air Travel Credit every calendar year–AKA everyone reading this blog–the Citi Prestige is definitely worth getting in year 1 and worth keeping if you value its lounge access at $200+ per year.

Which Card is Better?

Which card is better depends on you. Hopefully I’ve laid out how to think about each card’s benefits, but the actual thinking is left to you.

For folks who want Priority Pass access, American Airlines lounge access when flying AA/US, big category bonuses on spending, $600 in statement credits in year 1, and great rates on using points to pay for airline tickets (especially on American/US Airways), the Citi Prestige® Card is better.

For folks who want American Airlines lounge access no matter which airline they’re flying and want American Airlines miles for partner premium cabin redemptions, the Executive is better.

I have both currently. I’ll cancel the Executive in the next few weeks to avoid paying its annual fee again. I’ll keep the Prestige indefinitely because its annual fee is more than offset by the Air Travel Credit and lounge access.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Yesterday I published “How to Book a RTW Trip in 2015. Use These Underpriced Awards Around the World,” which I am very proud of. Take a look if you’re an adventurer who wants to take a BIG trip. In the comments, John Domingo asked about getting between South America and Australia.

The best flights to get between South America and Australia/New Zealand are the direct flights on LAN Airlines and Qantas, booked with American Airlines miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.47.01 PM
Source: gcmap.com

Qantas flies directly from Sydney to Santiago. LAN flies the same route but breaks it up with a layover in each direction in Auckland. LAN has the rights to carry passengers on any segment or the whole route. Between Australia/New Zealand and Southern South America, American Airlines charges:

  • 37,500 miles one way in economy
  • 50,000 miles one way in Business Class
  • no one serves the route with First Class
  • American doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on either airline, just minimal government taxes

Award space is excellent on the Qantas flights in economy, though Business Class award space is super rare. Award space is rarer on the Auckland <-> Santiago LAN longhaul, but excellent on the Sydney <-> Auckland portion.

What is the Business Class Product on These Routes?

Business is such a tiny premium over the economy price on this route that it’s the obvious choice if you can find award space.

Qantas flies its 747 on its Sydney <-> Santiago route. According to Seat Guru, the Business Class is in the nose and upper deck and is fully flat. Here’s my review of Qantas Business Class on the A380.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 4.07.13 PM
Source: http://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Qantas_Airways/Qantas_Airways_Boeing_747-400RR_V2.php

LAN flies its 787 Dreamliner from Santiago to Auckland to Sydney.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.37.36 PM

The LAN Dreamliner has fully flat beds in Business Class. Here is a video about the LAN Dreamliner in Spanish.

How to Search Award Space

Qantas award space can be searched right on aa.com. Here’s how.

LAN award space is not searchable on aa.com. Search it on ba.com. Any space you see there should be bookable with American Airlines miles.

What Is the Award Space Picture?

Award space is excellent between Sydney and Santiago on the direct Qantas flight in economy for most of the next 11 months, especially next Southern Hemisphere summer.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.32.03 PM

The flight operates four days per week, and for stretches of the year, award space is available on all four weekly flights in economy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.32.28 PM

Even over Christmas and New Year, the height of the tourist season in early summer, there is award space.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.31.35 PM

Unfortunately Business Class award space almost doesn’t exist. There is only one award seat in Business Class between Sydney and Santiago for the next 11 months, July 10.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.29.13 PM

LAN flies its route seven days a week, but with worse award space than Qantas. I searched the next month from Santiago to Auckland and found only one award seat in Business Class and none in economy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.37.02 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.37.08 PM

Then I searched all of October 2015 and found just three days with economy award space and zero with Business Class.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 4.19.23 PM
Source: Award Nexus

February 2016, a time I’d rather fly the route, has better award space, on eight days with LAN.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 4.14.31 PM

The above images just look at the longhaul from Santiago to Auckland. The plane continues to Sydney, and you can book just the trans-Tasman hop. Award space here is excellent. Almost every day has some award space on the route.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.41.21 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.41.27 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.42.01 PM

Oddly some of the award space is in First Class. I can’t even figure out what that mistake represents because the LAN 787 has only economy and Business, no third cabin at all (not First, not Premium Economy.)

Connections

As long as your connection follows the published-fare rule, you can start your trip anywhere in Australia/New Zealand and end anywhere in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, or Bolivia for the same number of miles. Or vice versa.

It was easy on aa.com to pull up Perth to Santiago awards for 37,500 miles…

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.33.40 PM

…or Auckland to Santiago awards for the same price.Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.34.50 PMIf you want to use LAN flights intra-South America, you’ll have to search that award space on ba.com.

How to Book

If all your legs were searchable on aa.com (ie all Qantas flights), book right there.

If one or more of your legs is not searchable on aa.com (ie LAN flights), note the date, cabin, and flight number of all the award space you find on aa.com and ba.com, and call American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to book. Give the agent that information, and book with no phone fee.

Pay your award taxes with the Citi Prestige® Card. The first $250 in award taxes, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the award taxes.

Getting the Miles

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard offers 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings. There is no annual fee the first year, then $95.

Bottom Line

The only two flights between Australia/New Zealand and South America are flown by American Airlines partners, so American Airlines miles rule this part of a possible RTW trip.

Award space is good-to-excellent in economy and extremely rare in flat bed Business Class, which at only 12,500 miles extra is a steal if you do find space.

You can start the award anywhere in Southern South America and end it anywhere in Australia or New Zealand for the same number of miles. You’re only on the hook for government taxes, not fuel surcharges or a phone booking fee.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Getting both the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers about $2,800 in free American Airlines flights. This isn’t a deal that should just get some ink. This is one that should be shouted from the roof top.

The path is easy:

  1. Get the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi ThankYou® Premier Card eight days apart, each with a 50,000 point bonus.
  2. Combine the two ThankYou accounts into one, and meet their minimum spending requirements.
  3. Spend the 106,000+ points you have on about $1,700 in American Airlines flights.
  4. Use the Citi Prestige® Card‘s $250 Air Travel Credit in 2015 and in 2016 for $500 in American Airlines flights.
  5. Use the 25,000+ American Airlines miles you’ve earned from flying $2,200 in paid flights for an award ticket worth $600.

That’s $2,800 worth of American Airlines flights from opening two credit cards and using their benefits. This is the kind of deal you should be telling your friends about who are jealous of your free travel and want a fast start in this hobby.

As an added bonus, you can visit American Airlines lounges for free during all these trips, and you can earn American Airlines Gold Status.

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American Airlines Lounge, Honolulu

Let’s look at the steps in turn.

1. Get the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi ThankYou® Premier Card eight days apart.

You can have both cards at once–I have them both right now–but you cannot be approved for two Citi cards on the same day.

Once you get the Citi Prestige® Card, wait 8+ days before applying for the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

2. Combine the two ThankYou accounts into one, and meet their minimum spending requirements.

Getting both cards will automatically open two separate ThankYou accounts. Points earned on the Prestige are more valuable for American Airlines flights than those earned on the Premier, so you’ll want to spend the five minutes to combine the two accounts into one account that has the redemption power of Prestige. Here’s how.

That way when you’ve spend $3,000 in the first three months after opening the account on each card, your 106,000+ points will be in one ThankYou account where they are worth 1.6 cents each toward American Airlines and US Airways flights.

3. Spend the 106,000+ points you have on about $1,700 in American Airlines flights.

To spend ThankYou Points, select Flights under Shop on thankyou.com.

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ThankYou Points are worth the same 1.6 cents toward any American Airlines flight with no blackouts, so learning how to find cheap flights is an essential skill in order to stretch your points.

I searched for roundtrips to Los Angeles and San Francisco from New York on ITA Matrix and found them for just under $400 for much of the year.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 1.24.05 PM

I could recreate the same price on thankyou.com’s search easily.
Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 1.14.42 PM The 106,000 points are worth $1,696 in free American Airlines flights. When you no longer have enough points for a free redemption, you can do partial points + cash redemptions with any amount of points and still get the full 1.6 cents of value per point.Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 1.16.47 PM

American Airlines will see tickets purchased with ThankYou Points as cash tickets and award you miles and status based on the distance flown.

4. Use the Citi Prestige® Card‘s $250 Air Travel Credit in 2015 and in 2016 for $500 in American Airlines flights.

The Citi Prestige® Card offers an unrivaled $250 Air Travel Credit each calendar year. The credit will offset the first $250 you spend on airfare, airline fees, award taxes, and pretty much anything else that codes as a purchase from an airline each calendar year.

In 2015, use the $250 as the cash part of a cash + points redemption of ThankYou Points (pictured above) for American Airlines flights. In 2016, do the same. That’s another $500 worth of American Airlines flights.

American Airlines will see tickets purchased with the Air Travel Credit as cash tickets and award you miles and status based on the distance flown.

In the last two steps, with almost $2,200 worth of American Airlines tickets purchased, you will likely earn 25,000+ redeemable miles.

For instance, $2,200 is easily enough for five roundtrips between New York and California, which are about 5,000 miles each.

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source: gcmap.com

5. Use the 25,000+ American Airlines miles you’ve earned from flying $2,200 in paid flights for an award ticket worth $600.

The final step is to redeem those 25,000+ American Airlines miles for more free flights. You have enough for one domestic roundtrip or one way in Business Class (or two-cabin First Class) within the continental United States. Or you have enough for one way to Europe, Southern South America, Japan, or Korea at off peak prices.

Of those options, I think the most fun redemption would be using the 25,000 miles for one flat bed Business Class flight between New York and Los Angeles or San Francisco.

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These seats for about $600 with advance purchase, which is frankly cheaper than I was expecting.

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Or you can book them for 25,000 American Airlines miles + $5.60.

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Total

  • ~$1,700 from the 106,000 ThankYou Points from meeting the two card’s minimum spending requirements
  • $500 from the Prestige’s $250 Air Travel Credit times two calendar years before the next annual fee
  • ~$600 from the 25,000 American Airlines miles you’d earn from flying the other $2,200 worth of American Airlines flights

That’s ~$2,800 in American Airlines flights from opening two credit cards and using them well.

Bonus #1: American Airlines Status

If you fly the approximately $2,200 in free flights that American Airlines sees as paid flights in the same calendar year, you may fly 25,000+ miles, which would earn you American Airlines Gold Status.

You’d get benefits like upgrades, better seats, priority boarding, and a higher mileage earning rate on future American Airlines flights.

Bonus #2: American Airlines Lounge Access

The Citi Prestige® Card offers American Airlines lounge access every time you fly American Airlines or US Airways, which would mean that every flight in this article would come with American Airlines lounge access.

The comfortable place to relax, free drinks, free snacks, and free wifi will make the trips much less stressful.

Bottom Line

My review of the Citi Prestige Card which explains its many benefits like $250 in airfare or airline fee credits per calendar year, access to the American Airlines Admirals Clubs and Priority Pass lounges, 3x points per dollar on air travel and hotels, and a $450 annual fee.

My review of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening and 3x points on travel and gas.

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Get both cards and use them as outlined above for approximately $2,800 in free American Airlines flights. During the trips, enjoy American Airlines lounge access, and maybe even earn status with American Airlines.

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Japan Airlines has released incredible First Class award space from the United States to Tokyo and beyond that you can book for only 62,500 American Airlines miles.

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On the four routes on which Japan Airlines offers First Class to the United States, 1-4 First Class suites are available with miles on most flights for the next year.

  • How good is Japan Airlines First Class?
  • Where does Japan Airlines fly?
  • How many miles do you need and why is this such a good deal?
  • How can you search for and book the award space?
  • How can you get American Airlines miles?

How good is Japan Airlines First Class?

Japan Airlines First Class is a world class flat bed enclosed in a suite.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.29.48 AM

I haven’t flown the product personally, but everything looks top notch and Asian airlines have the best service in my experience.

Where does Japan Airlines fly?

Japan Airlines flies its 777-300ER equipped with First Class between Tokyo and San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.02.39 AM
Source: gcmap.com

 

The San Francisco route flies to Tokyo-Haneda. The others fly to Tokyo-Narita.

From either airport, you can connect throughout Asia. If you don’t live at one of the North American gateways, you can connect from your home airport on American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines flights to the Japan Airlines award space for zero extra miles.

How Many Miles Does the Award Cost?

American Airlines hasn’t devalued its award chart in years–I think a devaluation is coming at the end of this year–so its award chart is a lot better than Delta’s or United’s. American charges only:

  • 62,500 miles one way in First Class between the United States and Japan or Korea
  • 67,500 miles one way in First Class between the United States and the rest of East and Southeast Asia

You cannot book this award space as part of a single award to India. That violates American Airlines routing rules, so your trip would be two awards: United States to Japan and Japan to India.

How Can You Search and Book the Award Space?

Search on ba.com. For the moment–very likely to change very soon–there is excellent award space for the next 11 months on the Japan Airlines flights to and from the United States in First Class.

For instance, San Francisco to Tokyo-Haneda has 1 to 4 First Class seats every day from August 9 to 14.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.13.57 AM Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.14.04 AMLos Angeles to Tokyo-Narita has 1 to 3 First Class seats every day from September 8 to 13.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.13.57 AMScreen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.19.12 AM

Chicago to Tokyo-Narita has 1 or 3 First Class seats every day from October 4 to 10.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.13.57 AMScreen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.23.46 AM

New York to Tokyo-Narita has 2 to 4 First Class seats every day from February 28 to March 3, 2016.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.13.57 AMScreen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.25.49 AM

Note the date, cabin, and flight number of the award space you like. If necessary, pair it with American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines award space you search on aa.com as part of a segment-by-segment searching strategy. Once you’ve found all your space, call American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to book the award by feeding the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each flight. There is no longer a phone booking fee to book awards that cannot be booked at aa.com, so you’ll just pay the miles plus about $50 in taxes for a roundtrip to Japan.

Alternatively, instead of booking now, you can put the award space on hold for five days for free when you call American Airlines.

How Can You Get American Airlines Miles?

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings and a free checked bag on American Airlines flights. There is no annual fee for the first year, then $95.

Bottom Line

Book–or put on hold–Japan Airlines First Class award space to Asia today with your American Airlines miles. Japan Airlines First Class suites are world class, American Airlines’ chart to Asia is way underpriced, and 2-4 First Class award seats on most flights for the next year between the United States and Japan will not last.

Hat Tip One Mile at a Time

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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American Airlines is running a sale on the purchase of their miles through Thursday, June 12, 2015. You can buy up to 100,000 American Airlines miles during the sale and get up to 50,000 bonus miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 6.07.27 PM

The bonus is tiered, based on how many miles you purchase.

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American Airlines miles cost 2.95 cents each plus a 7.5% excise tax, and every purchase has a $30 processing fee. The cheapest per-mile price comes from purchasing 90,000 American Airlines miles + 50,000 bonus miles for $2,884.13.

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That works out to getting 140,000 miles for 2.06 cents each.

A recent sale offered miles for 2.00 cents each, so this isn’t the best sale of the year, but it’s only 3% worse.

Math

The cheapest miles cost 2.06 cents each during this promotion, and that requires shelling out $2,900. I value American Airlines miles around 1.8 cents each, so there is no way I would buy these miles speculatively for 2.06 cents. The only way it could possibly make sense to buy miles at these prices is if you had an immediate high value use for them.

To figure out if you have a high value use, use this simple expression:

(A – B) / (C + D)

  • A: Value of the award. Important: this is the lesser of the cash price and your subjective value.
  • B: Taxes on the award
  • C: Miles used on the award
  • D: Miles you would earn if you purchased the award ticket with cash

This will spit out the dollar value you are getting for your miles. If that number is greater than 0.0206, and you can book the dream award now, buy during this promotion. Otherwise, don’t buy.

Buy AAdvantage Miles with These Credit Cards

AAdvantage miles purchases are processed directly by American Airlines. That’s great news!

It means you can buy them with your Citi Prestige® Card, and its $250 Air Travel Credit will refund you the first $250 of the purchase price of the miles (plus you’ll earn 4x ThankYou Points on the first $250 of the miles purchase.)

It means that the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers 3x ThankYou Points on the purchase of LifeMiles.

It means you can purchase LifeMiles, then use your Arrival miles for an offsetting statement credit.

 

Bottom Line

You can buy 140,000 American Airlines for $2,884 or 2.06 cents each. That’s way too high to buy speculatively. Hopefully cheaper sales come along.

The American Airlines miles sales are now processed by American Airlines itself, so you can get category bonuses on cards that bonus airline or travel purchases like my latest card, the Citi Prestige® Card which offers 3x on purchases from airlines, or you can use your Arrival Plus to get American Airlines miles for zero cash.

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Earn up to 20 free hotel nights after meeting spending $2,500 in the first 90 days on the Club Carlson Visa.

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Cathay Pacific is considering offering more award space to its own club members than to partner airlines like American Airlines.

Cathay Pacific is to set aside more free seats for its seasoned frequent fliers, under the latest proposal to revamp the award-winning airline’s loyalty scheme.

The plan is to slash the number of free air tickets available for partner airlines and to reallocate those to Cathay’s own Marco Polo Club members, sources close to the ongoing review say.

Right now Cathay Pacific First Class and Business Class award space is wide open to American Airlines members if you know how far out to search for each. American Airlines charges a ridiculously low price for the award space considering some of the flights are 16 hours long, and you can connect throughout Southeast Asia for zero extra miles:

  • 55,000 AA miles one way in Cathay Pacific Business Class between the United States and Hong Kong/SE Asia
  • 67,500 AA miles one way in Cathay Pacific First Class between the United States and Hong Kong/SE Asia

Cathay Pacific Business Class gets rave reviews, and Cathay Pacific First Class is one of the nicest in the world. Here’s my trip report of flying New York to Hong Kong in First Class last year. I was particularly impressed by the humungous bed, the ability to customize my meal so much, and the desire of the flight attendants to make it my best flight ever.

IMG_0051

So What about Cathay Pacific’s New Proposal?

Cathay Pacific’s new proposal to withhold some award space looks aimed squarely at American Airlines, which was recently offering 50,000 bonus miles on its personal and business cards at the same time as offering 50,000 miles on the US Airways card.

At present, Cathay lets clients of partner airlines book flights using air miles accrued through their own flier programmes. But these passengers can redeem Cathay flights at much cheaper rates than Marco Polo Club members, putting its own privileged customers at a disadvantage.

One such partner carrier is American Airlines, which at the same time gives away tens of millions of free miles to flyers each year via credit card schemes.

I get Cathay Pacific’s complaint. It really doesn’t make sense for them to have more AAdvantage members than Marco Polo Club members booking Cathay Pacific awards. And I understand why they’re feeling confident enough to consider changes now that would end that.

The sources say Cathay believes it is time to stop allowing external redemptions when the airline is capable of filling aircraft with paid passengers – boosting long-term profitability.

But I don’t think the methods make sense. Instead of blocking space to partners like Swiss does with its First Class award space, and Singapore does with its Business and First Class seats, I’d prefer Cathay Pacific to do nothing.

According to the experts and me, we’re only a few months away from American Airlines announcing an increase in the number of miles needed to book an award on Cathay Pacific. By December 9, 2015, we expect booking Cathay Pacific Business Class awards (Asia 2) to rise more than 10,000 miles to 65,000 miles one way and First Class awards to rise more than 13,000 miles to 81,000 miles one way.

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Such an increase would lower the number of awards booked by partners, solving or, at least, ameliorating the problem.

If Cathay Pacific wanted to do more, it could increase the number of dollars it charges American Airlines for American Airlines award bookings. This could make the deal better for Cathay Pacific, and could further limit AAdvantage award bookings if it caused American Airlines to increase the miles price of Cathay Pacific awards further.

What I really hope to avoid is a complete blocking of Cathay Pacific First Class or Business Class space when using American Airlines miles. More palatable but still very bad would be a partial blockage of that award space when using American Airlines miles.

Bottom Line

Have you dreamed of using your American Airlines miles to fly Cathay Pacific to Asia to fly some of the world’s nicest First and Business Class prices for very few miles? Book your trip as soon as possible.

Cathay Pacific is considering limiting the space AAdvantage members can book. And if it doesn’t go through with that proposal, American Airlines is likely to jack up the prices of these awards by early next year.

Hat Tip The Points Guy

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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Update at 11:45 PM: A previous version of this post speculated the space was phantom because I couldn’t book it on my only attempt before writing the post and rushing to dinner. Many people commented they had booked the space, and I succeeded in booking myself a January 2016 flight from Abu Dhabi to New York in Etihad First Class apartments.

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Award space is wide open for two passengers on almost every flight from New York to Abu Dhabi and vice versa between December 1, 2015, when Etihad starts flying its A380 to New York, and the end of the schedule in March 2016. (Hat Tip Lucky)

I was excited to see the space because just last week I wrote that there was no space in First Class on the A380 on the route.

I want to fly the route because First Class features a shower, and each suite has a couch/bed and seat. The plane looks amazing.

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JFK to Abu Dhabi

Here is award space in January and February from JFK to Abu Dhabi. All the days that say “Miles 111000″ have award space for two passengers in First Class on the A380.

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Abu Dhabi to JFK

And here is the space on the route at the beginning of the A380’s time on the schedule from Abu Dhabi to JFK. All the days that say “Miles 111346″ have award space for two passengers in First Class on the A380.

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I don’t see award space past March 18 although the award booking calendar extends a few weeks beyond that. Come to think of it, that’s a pattern for A380 First Class I’ve noticed: no availability in the last few weeks of the schedule.Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 6.18.44 PM

Excited I decided to book myself an award for 90,000 American Airlines miles + taxes. The 90,000 mile price is the same whether you start in New York or anywhere else in North America to which Etihad publishes a fare, and the same whether you end in Abu Dhabi or anywhere else in the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, Egypt, or the Maldives.

I decided to start my award in Chennai, India because I have never visited India. I decided to end my award in Los Angeles because it will allow me to tack on New York to Los Angeles in a flat bed on American Airlines’ A321 for zero extra miles.

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I found a date in January to fly from Chennai to Abu Dhabi in Business Class, then two hours later from Abu Dhabi to New York in an Etihad A380 First Class Apartment, then two hours later from New York to Los Angeles in another flying First Class bed.

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The award priced out at 90,000 American Airlines miles and about $35. I paid with my Citi Premier to get 3x points on the taxes.Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 11.23.51 PM

 

 

It is worth noting that on my first call, the agent did not see the award space I saw on etihad.com, and on the second, she didn’t see space on every date where I saw it. You may need to hang up and call again or be flexible.

I’m ecstatic with my award: 15 hours in one of the nicest commercial cabins in the world, six more hours testing out American Airlines’ transcontinental First Class, and my first trip to India!

Further Reading

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

 

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I booked a few awards to Thailand and Egypt in January. The awards would have allowed me to explore new areas and fly some of the world’s fanciest First and Business Class products. Here is how to book the awards I booked:

I should be in Egypt right now, but a wedding came up in Virginia that would have cut the trip too short, so I just wanted to cancel all these awards to get my miles back to head to Cuba and Colombia instead.

Canceling the Emirates flights was a breeze: until 60 days before departure, you can cancel or change Alaska Airlines awards for free. I called up to cancel a few months before the trip and got my miles and taxes back.

Canceling the Qatar and Etihad flights wouldn’t be so easy. American Airlines charges $150 to cancel an award. All the flights were on one American Airlines record locator, so I could pay the $150 once and get back all 120,000 miles and the taxes on the award, but I don’t want to pay $150 when I don’t have to.

The Trick to Avoiding Cancellation Fees

If you want to cancel any ticket–award or cash–for free and there is a major schedule change, you can get a free cancellation. What counts as major? Depends on the airline and the agent, but probably at least 60 minutes.

My American Airlines award had a five minute schedule change, and I tried to get a free cancellation because of the change by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880, but the agent wouldn’t allow it.

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Increase Your Chances of a Schedule Change

What do you do when you don’t have a valid schedule change that offers a free cancellation? Push back your flights to give the airline more time to change the schedule.

American Airlines allows free changes of awards up to 21 days before departure as long as you don’t change cities, airlines, or cabins. All awards must be flown within one year of ticketing, so you can’t move your flights back indefinitely to wait for a schedule change, but you can move them back quite a bit.

I booked my ticket in January, but that March five-minute schedule change reissued the tickets on March 2, 2015. That means I can push my flights back until March 1, 2016.

These were the original flights.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.05.47 PMI couldn’t change cabins, dates, or cities, so I started with the last flight from Abu Dhabi to Washington Dulles and found award space as close to March 1, 2016 as I could. Then I kept working backwards.

I found award space for all four flights in late February and called American Airlines to make the schedule change.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.05.12 PMThe change was free, and now I have nine more months for Etihad or Qatar to make a schedule change. I’d say my chances are greater than 50% that this will eventually happen, and I can cancel for free to get my 120,000 miles and taxes back.

If it doesn’t happen, or I need my 120,000 miles before then, I’ll just call to cancel and pay the $150 fee.

I’d pay the $150 fee with my Citi Prestige® Card next year when my $250 airfare/airline fee credit resets. The $150 would then be credited back to me.

See Also

Bottom Line

Want to cancel for free? Wait for a schedule change.

If none comes, change your award to later dates for free to give yourself longer to get a schedule change.

If you have to pay the fee, pay with a card that offers an offsetting statement credit for airline fees like the Citi Prestige® Card.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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There’s a weird tax that you pay on awards leaving Colombia that you get refunded at the airport. American Airlines takes advantage of this by not fully refunding to you the tax you’ve already paid.

Check out this one way award from Bogota to Houston on united.com. The $89.50 in taxes includes a $35 “Columbia [sic] Resident Exit Tax.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 6.19.10 AM American collects the same $89.50 on a one way award from Bogota to Miami, so we can be confident it collects the same $35 Colombia Resident Export Tax.Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 6.20.14 AMHere’s my receipt for the itinerary I am currently flying from Bogota to Washington DC via Miami on American Airlines. That $95.10 in taxes is the $89.50 from the itineraries above plus $5.60 for my take off in the USA.

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All this is to say that I paid a $35 “Colombia Resident Exit Tax” when I booked my award.

I don’t owe that tax.

I don’t know exactly what does and doesn’t trigger it, but Americans who stay in Colombia less than a certain number of days–I think its 60, my stays of 15 and 4 were both under the limit–do not owe the tax.

If you don’t owe the tax, you get it refunded at the airport.

First you go to your check in airline, and they hand you your itinerary and direct you to a desk at the airport set up for this purpose. The desk gives you a stamped paper that you bring back to the airline. During check in, the airline refunds your departure tax in cash in exchange for that stamped paper.

Except that American Airlines does NOT fully refund the erroneous tax. They handed me 74,000 Colombian pesos in cash.

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That’s worth about $31, except that they’re handing $31 worth of pesos the people who least want them–Americans flying home. And if I changed 74,000 pesos at the airport, what would I get, $25? (I just pocketed the cash. I’ll probably be back in Colombia at some point, since I’ve been three times in six months.)

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This is bogus. American Airlines should refund the erroneous $35 tax as $35 cash or as a refund to the credit card on file. Until they do that, they’re ripping people off.

To be clear, I am not particularly upset about losing $4-$10. I just find being ripped off for any amount very frustrating, and it looks to me like American Airlines is ripping off its customers to the tune of a few thousands of dollars per month. (They have 5+ daily flights from Colombia to the United States on which almost all their American passengers are getting a refund.)

At least someone is pocketing that few thousand bucks a month, and the only other possible candidate is the Colombian government if they are getting those $35 payments upfront and mandating the 74,000 peso devolution.

The next step for me is to ask American Airlines to make me good on the tax I didn’t owe. Here’s the American Airlines refund page, which doesn’t seem to cover my scenario, so I put a question out to the AA twitter team about where to file my refund request. They gave me this address to press my complaint. I’ll keep you posted.

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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Look in your email inbox for the subject “Your chance to win the trip of a lifetime.”

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The email explains that American Airlines wants to familiarize everyone with the AAdvantage program, so it is offering 1,000 bonus miles just for watching a few videos.Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 7.24.23 PM

You have to watch six videos and answer one question after each to earn 1,000 miles. You can skip to the end of the video as soon as it starts, and the answers are all very obvious. Hint: “All of the Above.”Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 7.25.01 PM

It took me about three minutes to earn the 1,000 miles, which say they will post in 6-8 weeks, though probably will actually post sooner.

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You can further enter for a chance for two First Class tickets anywhere American Airlines flies.
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Take the three minutes and earn the 1,000 American Airlines miles, which I value at about $18. Add them to the miles you got from the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®, which comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards, which would be 106,000 American Airlines miles after meeting the minimum spending requirements.

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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

American Airlines is running a sale on the purchase of their miles through Thursday, April 30, 2015. You can buy up to 100,000 American Airlines miles during the sale and get up to 60,000 bonus miles.

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American Airlines miles cost 2.95 cents each plus a 7.5% excise tax, and every purchase has a $30 processing fee. The cheapest purchase on a per-mile basis is 160,000 miles (100,000 + 60,000 bonus) for $3,201.25 or 2.00 cents per mile.Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 6.47.20 PM

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Math

The cheapest miles cost 2 cents each during this promotion, and that requires shelling out $3,200. I value American Airlines miles around 1.8 cents each, so there is no way I would buy these miles speculatively for 2 cents. The only way it could possibly make sense to buy miles at these prices is if you had an immediate high value use for them.

To figure out if you have a high value use, use this simple expression:

(A – B) / (C + D)

  • A: Value of the award. Important: this is the lesser of the cash price and your subjective value.
  • B: Taxes on the award
  • C: Miles used on the award
  • D: Miles you would earn if you purchased the award ticket with cash

This will spit out the dollar value you are getting for your miles. If that number is greater than 0.02, and you can book the dream award now, buy during this promotion. Otherwise, don’t buy.

Bottom Line

You can buy 160,000 American Airlines for $3,201 or 2.00 cents each. That’s way too high to buy speculatively. Hopefully cheaper sales come along.

The American Airlines miles sales are now processed by American Airlines itself, so you can get category bonuses on cards that bonus airline or travel purchases like my latest card, the Citi Prestige® Card which offers 3x on purchases from airlines, or you can use your Arrival Plus to get American Airlines miles for zero cash.

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This is the seventh post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Where We Are and Where We’re Going

We’re in the section on redeeming miles. Once you understand how to redeem miles, you’ll understand which miles are right to earn for your travel goals. This post will focus on American Airlines, which are ideal for international premium cabin awards.

Why Collect American Airlines Miles

American Airlines miles are the best miles for ultra-luxury redemptions like Cathay Pacific First Class, Etihad First Class, or Qantas First Class.

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Cathay Pacific First Class booked with American Airlines miles

American Airlines has very cheap off peak awards. If you are willing to go to Europe in the fall, winter, or spring in economy, you can pay only 20,000 miles each way. There are also great off peak economy awards to Japan, Korea, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

American Airlines has not devalued its award charts for years. United and Delta greatly increased the miles price of premium cabin awards in 2014.

  • What airlines can you fly with American Airlines miles?
  • What are the routing rules for American Airlines awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the AAdvantage program (off peak awards)?
  • How can you book an American Airlines award?

Mileage Price

Of the Five Types of Miles, American Airlines miles are region-based miles.

American Airlines has two region-to-region charts, one for travel on American Airlines and one for travel on its partners.

A region-to-region chart means that instead of having to calculate the number of miles for an award from your origin city to your destination city, say Atlanta to Rome, you merely figure out how many miles you need for an award from your origin region to your destination region, in this case North America to Europe.

The chart for travel on American Airlines looks confusing with four levels of award prices. I’ll make it simple:

  • MileSAAver Off Peak awards are available between the United States and some regions. Look for the dates that off peak awards are available to each region (much more on these awards below in “Special Features” section)
  • The rest of the year MileSAAver awards are the cheapest awards.
  • Ignore AAnytime Level 1 and AAnytime Level 2, which are the extremely expensive awards that are available on every flight (in the case of Level 2), but that we avoid booking

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The partner chart doesn’t have all these levels because partner awards always price as MileSAAver or off peak awards.

To have a multi-segment award price as a MileSAAver, every segment in that direction must have MileSAAver space.

Links to see which countries are in which region of the chart can be found at the bottom of the partner award chart.

Partners

American Airlines is a member of the oneworld alliance. That means you can use its miles on all these airlines:

  • American Airlines
  • US Airways
  • airberlin
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong)
  • Finnair
  • Iberia (Spain)
  • Japan Airlines
  • LAN (Chile and Peru)
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas (Australia)
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines (Russia)
  • SriLankan Airlines
  • TAM Airlines (Brazil)

American also has several partners that not a part of the oneworld alliance. You can also redeem miles to fly these airlines:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines/Horizon Airlines
  • El Al (Israel)
  • Etihad (Abu Dhabi)
  • Fiji Airways
  • Gulf Air (Bahrain)
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Jet Airways (India)
  • Seaborne Airlines (Caribbean)

Subject to other routing rules, which I’ll detail below, you can freely combine American Airlines flights, oneworld partner flights, and other partner flights onto a single award.

Routing Rules

You can book one way awards with American Airlines for half the price of roundtrip awards.

Unfortunately American Airlines has complicated routing rules that no other airline has.

  1. The airline that flies the flight that connects you from one region on the award chart to another must have a published fare all the way from your origin to your destination.
  2. When flying from one region to a second region on the award chart, you cannot connect in a third region or your trip will price as two separate awards. Here is a partial list of exceptions based on experience. American Airlines doesn’t publicly release the complete list.

You don’t really need to know these rules because most convenient routings will usually follow these rules. But if you think you have a good award and an American Airlines agent prices it higher than you were expecting, you probably violated one of these two rules.

You can check whether your region-connecting airline has a published fare from your origin to your destination by using Expert Flyer. Note that “having a published fare” and flying the whole route are two totally different things.

American Airlines also has three other rules that are less likely to trip you up:

  1. No stopovers are allowed on awards. A stopover is a layover of more than 4 hours on a domestic award or 24 hours on an international award.
  2. You can fly up to 125% of the Maximum Permitted Mileage between your origin and destination. This is generous and allows for out-of-the-way flying, but that doesn’t do you much good now that stopovers are prohibited. Find the Maximum Permitted Mileage for you origin and destination by using Expert Flyer.
  3. All award travel must be completed within one year of the original booking. Changes can’t extend this time frame, so if you can’t fly within one year of your original booking, you’ll have to cancel you award.

Stopovers

Stopovers are not allowed on American Airlines awards.

A stopover is a layover of more than 4 hours on a domestic award or 24 hours on an international award.

Open Jaws

When you can book one way awards, like you can with American Airlines miles, you can always book as many open jaws as you’d like.

Keep in mind that an open jaw is not a hole in the middle of a single one way award. Those are prohibited.

Free One Ways

Free one ways require a stopover at your home airport. American Airlines awards can’t have free stopovers. Therefore American Airlines awards cannot have free one ways.

Special Features

The main special feature of the American Airlines program is the ability to redeem for incredibly cheap economy awards during off peak months. For many regions, the off peak dates include some great times to visit.

Off peak awards are available on American Airlines awards, regardless of which partners you fly, to the following regions on the following dates:

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If you fly only American Airlines and US Airways flights, you have even more off peak options:

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While other airlines offer off peak awards occasionally, American offers them on the most dates to the most places with the most partners. For people who don’t need to travel to Europe at the height of summer, this is a major plus of the American Airlines program.

Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges

Taxes

American Airlines awards require you to pay the government taxes associated with the itinerary.

These start at $5.60 each direction for domestic awards and go up to $300 roundtrip if you fly to the United Kingdom in a premium cabin. Generally international awards have roundtrip taxes of $50 to $150.

Fees

Phone Fee: There is no award booking fee for awards booked at aa.com. There is no award fee for booking awards by phone at 800-882-8880 that cannot be booked online.

Late Booking Fee: There is a $75 booking fee to book an award less than 21 days from the date of departure. This fee is waived when the booking is made from an American Airlines Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum account.

Date and Time Changes: Changing the date or time of travel is free unless the change occurs within 21 days of departure when it costs $75. This fee is waived when the booking is made from an American Airlines Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum account.

Origin/Destination Changes: There is a $150 fee to change the origin or destination of an award ticket plus $25 for each additional person on the same reservation. This fee is waived when the booking is made from an American Airlines Executive Platinum account.

Cancellation: American Airlines also charges $150 to cancel an award ticket and redeposit the miles plus $25 for each additional person on the same reservation. This fee is waived when the booking is made from an American Airlines Executive Platinum account.

Fuel Surcharges

American Airlines does not charge fuel surcharges on awards except on British Airways and Iberia flights.

The fuel surcharges on British Airways longhaul segments can be up to $500 one way per person. In all but the rarest circumstances, you’ll want to avoid booking British Airways flights with American Airlines miles.

How to Book American Airlines Awards

The following airlines’ award space can be searched and booked at aa.com.

  • American Airlines
  • US Airways
  • airberlin
  • British Airways
  • Finnair
  • Qantas
  • Royal Jordanian
  • Alaska Airlines/Horizon Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines

All other award space can be searched and must be booked by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880. I recommend searching award space for these other airlines before calling because phone agents might not find what you can find with a diligent search.

If you can’t seem to find the award you want for your dream trip, you can hire my Award Booking Service to search and book your American Airlines awards. We have the expertise to search every American Airlines partner to maximize convenience and luxury while minimizing out-of-pocket cost.

Bottom Line

American Airlines AAdvantage is one of the best frequent flyer programs. Its strengths are ultra-luxury redemptions on its partners and its off peak awards.

American has fantastic availability domestically, and many of its partners have great availability too. Availability is a big strength of this program in all classes of service.

American has complicated–some would say “annoying”–award routing rules, but most reasonable awards comply with the rules naturally.

American Airlines awards are flexible for one way travel, but unfortunately you cannot add stopovers to the awards.

There should never be a fee to book an American Airlines award more than 21 days before departure because the phone booking fee is waived if your award cannot be booked online.

American Airlines miles are very easy to get. Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards, which would be 106,000 American Airlines miles after meeting the minimum spending requirements.

Take advantage of the AAdvantage program as much as possible for the next six months. I expect an award chart devaluation in late 2015.

Any questions? What did I leave out?

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Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

The best American Airlines Admirals Club that I’ve visited is at Honolulu International Airport. The lounge is also called the Sakura Lounge and serves Japan Airlines Business Class passengers and Air New Zealand Business Class passengers. Perhaps the extra money from hosting those passengers allows American Airlines to offer the expanded food options compared to most of its lounges.

Like all 50+ American Airlines Admirals Clubs, you can get access with:

  • Admirals Club annual membership, which is $500 for the first year for folks without American Airlines elite status
  • Admirals Club 30 day membership, which is $99
  • Admirals Club One-Day Pass, which is $50
  • The Citi AAdvantage Executive credit card, which comes with Admirals Club membership included with its $450 annual fee
  • The Citi Prestige® Card, which comes with free access for the cardholder plus two guests (or all children under 18 and a spouse) whenever you’re flying American Airlines or US Airways
  • Your transcontinental Business or First Class boarding pass when flying New York to California or Miami to Los Angeles
  • Your international Business or First Class boarding pass to Europe, Asia, Central and South America and Mexico City

I just got the Citi Prestige® Card, but last night I was flying Alaska Airlines out of Honolulu, so I had to access the Admirals Club with my AAdvantage Executive credit card. Holding the AAdvantage Executive card is like having Admirals Club membership, so I was able to bring my friend in as a free guest.

Alcohol

The Admirals Club in Honolulu offers Heineken, Budweiser, Miller Lite…

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… red and white wines…Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 6.49.33 AM

…and a variety of liquors.

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All alcohol is self-serve. There are a number of sodas and juices at the soda machine with which you can create your own cocktails.

Seating Areas

The seating in the club is in a bit of a U-shape. In the middle is a long row of tables with one chair on each side.
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Along two walls are desks divided by partitions. I like to sit in these seats, especially during the day when they overlook the beautiful gardens below.Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.12.42 PM

In the food area are a few tables with four seats.Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.12.47 PM

Food

The food at the Honolulu Admirals Club is what sets it apart from other Admirals Clubs and domestic lounges generally. While most Admirals Clubs only have a few small snacks for free, my friend and I each ate a full meal before our flights.

Every time I’ve visited, two soups have been available. Last night they were minestrone and chicken noodle. In the past, I’ve seen potato chowder. I really like the minestrone and potato chowder, though I think the chicken noodle is just OK. (My friend really liked the chicken noodle.)
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Because the lounge serves Japan Airlines passengers, there are instant noodles and hot water. Because the lounge is in Hawaii, there is spam musubi. My brother really liked the instant noodles. The spam musubi is, of course, gross unless you grew up in Hawaii.Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.13.03 PM

There are Famous Amos cookies and Chex Mix.Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.13.09 PM

There is a full display of vegetables, with ranch dressing available, and a fruit salad of pineapple, strawberry, grapes, and melons. The fruit sald was fresh and delicious. It was also presented better than this picture captures it.Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.13.16 PM

A sandwich tray with turkey, ham, and tuna also has rolls and dessert pastries. I loved the turkey sandwiches–I think I had about eight–and my friend said the tuna sandwiches hit the spot. These pastries, not sure what they were, were good, but not as good as the mini doughnuts with chocolate frosting that came out later in the night.
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My friend and I had a few cups of soup, fruits and veggies, sandwiches, and dessert. He had a glass of wine to get sleepier for his redeye, while I hydrated with water and pineapple juice. It was his first lounge experience, and I’ve set unrealistic expectations for Admirals Clubs, which do not offer nearly this much food for free anywhere else that I know of. (Post your favorite Admirals Clubs in the comments.)

Internet

I had never had a problem with the lounge’s internet until last night. It cut out after downloading about one tenth of a show I wanted to watch on the plane, and I head someone else complain she couldn’t connect. This is a huge issue for a lounge, and one I trust will be corrected.

Bottom Line

My favorite Admirals Club is in Honolulu for its expanded food options and garden views. I don’t pay $50 a visit or $500 a year because lounge access is included with two of my credit cards.

The Citi Prestige® Card offers the primary cardholder access to the lounge when you fly American Airlines or US Airways. You can even bring in your spouse and your children under age 18 OR any two guests.

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Never miss a post again! Follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook. And sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts!

Earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $800 in American Airlines flights) after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the Citi Prestige® Card. Plus get an additional $500 in free airfare on any airline in the first 12 months plus free airport lounge access worldwide for only a $450 annual fee. Why I got the card.

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