Anatomy of an Award

Last week my friend flew 24 hours of Lufthansa First Class and had a 3.5 hour layover in the famous Lufthansa First Class Terminal, which he booked for 125,000 United miles and $58. I helped him book the award, and this post will illustrate:

  • Where to Search for Lufthansa Award Space
  • When Lufthansa First Class Award Space Opens Up
  • How to Predict Whether There Will Be Lufthansa First Class Award Space on Your Desired Flight
  • How to Book Lufthansa First Class with United miles
  • How to Save $75 When Booking Lufthansa First Class

My friend was in Tokyo and wanted to move to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had tons of United miles from opening United cards and cards that earn Ultimate Rewards in the past. He wanted to fly a fancy First Class product.

He contacted me in December, 2015 about a series of awards that he wanted to book to go from Buenos Aires to Southeast Asia to Japan and eventually to Rio. We booked most of his awards then, but I suggested we hold off on booking the flights from Japan to Brazil until the last minute. Why?

  1. There wasn’t award space in Business or First Class on any reasonable routing when we first searched
  2. I thought Lufthansa First Class would be a great product for him to fly with a great routing and fancy amenities, including the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt
  3. Lufthansa only opens up First Class award space for partners 15 days before the flight

When I made the suggestion, I wanted to be fairly sure that we could book him Lufthansa First Class when the time came. So I followed my own advice in “How to Estimate Your Chances of Last Minute Award Space.” I searched for award space from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro for the next two weeks and found award space on 7 of 15 days. That was a good sign since he had some date flexibility, and May isn’t peak time on the routes.

He originally planned to fly May 10 +/- one day, so I set a calendar alert for April 25 and searched for award space for May 9 and May 10 on April 25.

I found some decent Business Class itineraries that I relayed to him, but I didn’t find the holy grail: Tokyo-Haneda to Frankfurt in Lufthansa First Class, 3.5 hour layover at the Frankfurt First Class Terminal, and Frankfurt to Rio de Janeiro in Lufthansa First Class.

That itinerary had First Class space on May 9…

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 12.45.01 AM …and May 7…Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.48.38 PM …but for a May 10 departure, he’d need to fly ANA Business Class on the first leg and have an all day layover in Frankfurt (a curse if you’re in a hurry, a blessing if you like to see cities on 23 hour layovers en route.)Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.47.04 PM
These First Class itineraries are very pricey since United devalued its award chart massively in February 2014, so I also mentioned the Business Class awards he could book, like 75,000 miles one way if he flew United Business Class (flat bed)…
Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.45.15 PM …or 85,000 miles if he flew partner Business Class.Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.43.33 PM

Finally I let him know that if we waited a few more days, I thought we could snag the all Lufthansa First Class award because at the time 5 of the next 7 days had First Class award space on that route.

He said he didn’t mind spending 125,000 miles one way. His main priority was ultra-luxury, and he would happily wait a few more days to book.

A few days later, he told me that he changed his ideal departure date by a week and now wanted to travel May 2. There had already been award space on May 2 when I first searched on April 25, and it was still there, so we were ready to book.

However, instead of heading straight to united.com and booking the award for 125,000 miles + $58 in taxes + $75 for ticketing an award within three weeks of departure, I told him to use this trick to avoid the $75 close in ticketing fee.

He went to united.com and booked himself an economy award from Haneda to Rio de Janeiro on Lufthansa for June 2016 for 55,000 miles + $58 and immediately called United at 800-UNITED-1. He told the agent he’d like to make a change to an award which he had booked within the last 24 hours and fed her the Lufthansa First Class segments on May 2. She made the change, deducting 70,000 extra miles (125,000 total as expected) and informed him that the taxes hadn’t changed. As we had hoped, she forgot to add a $75 fee for changing an award’s departure to within 21 days.

The Product

Both his segments were on the Lufthansa 747-8, which I have flown in First Class from Frankfurt to Washington-Dulles. The Lufthansa 747-8 First Class product is a large seat

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that folds into a comfortable flat bed.

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There is unlimited wine (I’ve heard of people requesting wine tastings) and caviar onboard (ask for seconds since they serve everyone out of one large containers instead of individual small containers.

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If you have a flight out of Frankfurt in Lufthansa First Class, you get access to the First Class Terminal, which is my favorite ground experience in the world.

This is an entire terminal just for First Class passengers with a top-notch buffet and a la carte food, a cigar bar, and warm baths with rubber duckies.

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Since you are in a separate terminal, when it is flight time, you are ferried to your plane in a Porsche.

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My friend loved his trip. He texted me from the First Class Terminal several times excitedly, and said that the ground experience alone was worth the miles.

While I think 125,000 miles is too much for a single one way trip, I think 62,500 would be an amazing price for either Tokyo to Frankfurt or Frankfurt to Rio de Janeiro in Lufthansa First Class (both of which are 12 hour flights), so I didn’t begrudge him the redemption.

Cheaper Ways into Lufthansa First Class

I am hoping to fly Lufthansa First Class in September for 50,000 Asiana miles (transferred from 40,000 SPG points) + $200-$300 from Eastern Europe to Washington-Dulles. Flying from Europe to the United States in Lufthansa First Class with Asiana miles is the best deal if you find a route with low taxes and fuel surcharges.

Getting the Miles

You can get United miles from the United Explorer and United Business Explorer cards. You can get Ultimate Rewards, which transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles from the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus.

While I can not directly link to the current United Explorer or Sapphire Preferred offers, you may find them by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

While I can not directly link to the current Ink Plus or Explorer Business Card offers, you may find them by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

Bottom Line

If you want to book Lufthansa First Class, do research many months out to figure out if award spaces usually opens on your route of interest within 15 days of departure. Have your miles ready (and ideally some date flexibility), and then start searching again 15 days before departure. If you find your dream space, book some dummy space more than 21 days out (ideally on the same routing and airlines, but it doesn’t have to be), and immediately call in to change to the real space you want to likely avoid the $75 fee for ticketing within 21 days of departure.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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10

For the second time, I used 5,000 ThankYou Points to book a one way Air Serbia flight award flight. This time I booked a $323 flight from Prague to Belgrade for $25, meaning I got 6 cents per ThankYou Point because I understand the sweet spots of all frequent flyer programs instead of only focusing on American-based programs.

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I transferred and booked before the 30% American Express transfer bonus to Etihad miles was announced, which would have allowed me to book for 4,000 Amex points and get 7.5 cents per point of value.

I transferred my ThankYou Points to Etihad Guest Miles, which is the frequent flyer program for Air Serbia and several other airlines.

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ThankYou Points are easy to get because the Citi Prestige® Card is offering 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months.

Etihad Guest / Air Serbia Award Chart

Air Serbia is not a member of one of the three alliances, but is a member of the “kind-of fourth alliance” of airlines in which Etihad has bought a stake. The only way to book Air Serbia flights with miles is with Etihad Guest miles. Here’s the award chart for Air Serbia flights in its entirety:

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Prague to Belgrade is 5,000 miles one way in economy and 7,125 miles one way in Business Class. For a two hour flight, I didn’t even want to pay 2,125 miles extra for Business Class.

You do not pay fuel surcharges on Air Serbia award flights, only government taxes.

(By the way, that Belgrade to New York route is intriguing. It begins June 23, 2016 and will operate five times per week on a leased Jet Airways A330 that features 18 Business Class flat beds in a 1-1-1 configuration. The Business Class price is competitive and could be a route to watch if award space is as good as it is on shorthaul flights. During the current 30% transfer bonus from Amex to Etihad, you’d need only 50,000 Membership Rewards for a one way in a flat bed!)

Getting Etihad Guest Miles

Etihad miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points and Amex Membership Rewards, and you must transfer in increments of 1,000.

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To transfer ThankYou Points to Etihad Guest miles, you must open a free Etihad Guest account, and then complete the transfer on thankyou.com. First click “Points Transfer” under “Do more.”

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Select “TRANSFER NOW” next to Etihad Guest.

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Type in the number of miles you want to transfer. You need to transfer in increments of 1,000.

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Enter your Etihad Guest frequent flyer number, and you’re done.Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 4.57.06 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-09 at 4.57.31 AMThe transfer is not instant. It took about one week for my Etihad miles to show up in my account last year. This time, the transfer took five days. I transferred Thursday afternoon, and the miles posted the next Tuesday afternoon.

We have seen 25% transfer bonuses from ThankYou Points to Etihad miles before.

In April 2016, Amex Membership Rewards added Etihad as a transfer partner. There is a 30% transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to Etihad miles through June 15, 2016.

Booking Etihad Guest / Air Serbia Award

To book an award, call 800-8-ETIHAD. I don’t know of any way to search award space beforehand, but all the short Air Serbia flights I’ve inquired about have had award space.

I had searched flight times and prices on kayak.com, and the two daily Air Serbia flights were $323 one way.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 2.44.09 AM(A decent itinerary with one connection was $267, and an overnight in Istanbul was $130, so using points on the expensive direct flights was ideal.)

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 3.03.41 AM

I asked the agent if there was award space on the day I wanted, and she said there was award space on both flights that day. This didn’t surprise me because there has been award space on every short Air Serbia flight I’ve ever inquired about. She quoted a price of 5,000 miles + 22.08 euros.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 2.43.34 AM

This exactly matched the taxes on the paid ticket according to ITA Matrix, which were 597 Czech koruna. The award did not include the approximately $20 fuel surcharge that the cash ticket included.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 2.50.12 AMScreen Shot 2016-05-01 at 2.51.29 AM

I received a confirmation email of my new ticket while I was still on the phone with the agent.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 2.58.39 AMI immediately went to airserbia.com and typed in the confirmation on the home page.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 3.00.21 AMI was able to select my seat, an aisle in the second row.Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 3.01.32 AM

Bottom Line

In a few weeks, I am flying from Prague to Belgrade to start a big new undertaking (more on that in a future post.) The direct flight was a ridiculous $323, and even overnighting in Istanbul would only bring the price down to $130.

Instead I booked the flight for 5,000 Etihad miles + $25. I got the miles by transferring 5,000 ThankYou Points, which means I got about 6 cents per ThankYou Point of value.

Etihad Miles aren’t just useful if you want to go to/from Serbia. Etihad Guest Miles are also the miles of big airlines in Italy, Germany, and Austria.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.17.14 AM

And you can also use Etihad miles to fly American Airlines flights for pre-devaluation prices.

Getting ThankYou Points is easy:

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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Update 6/23/16: Singapore is ending its Sao Paulo <-> Barcelona route, which is reviewed here in First Class. The last flight is October 20, 2016. Singapore will continue to fly Singapore <-> Barcelona, but that isn’t much consolation, since Sao Paulo <-> Barcelona is specifically such a great deal. Award space is great Barcelona <-> Sao Paulo through October 20.

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I just booked myself an award from Sao Paulo to Barcelona: 10+ hours in Singapore First Class for 58,225 Singapore miles + $37, a route I’ve highlighted before as a sweet spot. I booked the award for several reasons:

  1. I need to get from South America to Europe because it is turning to winter here :( and summer there. :)
  2. Ten hours of Singapore First Class for 58,225 miles is a ridiculous steal.
  3. This is the only route to book Singapore award space with no fuel surcharges, which are illegal departing Brazil.

The Route

Asia to South America is too far and has too few customers for nonstop flights. Airlines that offer service between the two continents always include a stop like Korean Air, which flies from Seoul to Los Angeles to Sao Paulo. Singapore flies from Singapore to Sao Paulo three times a week with a stop both directions in Barcelona. You can book any part of the trip individually.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 2.02.38 PM

As you can imagine, an Asian airline flying between Europe and South America doesn’t fill the plane with paying customers, so award space is wide open between Sao Paulo and Barcelona in both directions in economy, Business, and First Class. And, for whatever reason, Singapore charges very few miles for Saver awards on the route.

Award Price

From Barcelona to Sao Paulo, an 11 hour, 10 minute flight, Singapore charges only:

  • 17,425 miles + $183 one way in Economy
  • 50,150 miles + $197 one way in Business Class
  • 58,225 miles + $207 one way in First Class

Economy and First Class are ludicrously cheap compared to other airlines’ award charts. For instance, American charges 50k/87.5k/120k each way in economy/Business/First which is 2-3x the price Singapore charges. United charges 47.5k/87.5k/125k, again 2-3x the price Singapore charges. And Singapore offers a superior product compared to United’s and American Airlines’ partners.

Unfortunately from Barcelona to Singapore, you pay pesky fuel surcharges of about $100-$150 one way. You must pay fuel surcharges on all Singapore awards that fly Singapore Airlines except on the Sao Paulo to Barcelona and Sao Paulo to Singapore flights. Brazil law prohibits fuel surcharges.

So from Sao Paulo to Barcelona, a 10 hour, 25 minute flight, Singapore charges only:

  • 17,425 miles + $37 one way in Economy
  • 50,150 miles + $37 one way in Business Class
  • 58,225 miles + $37 one way in First Class

The Product

This route is flown by a Singapore 777, which means it features “only” First Class instead of Suites Class, which is the name of First Class on the Singapore A380.

I have flown Singapore First Class on the 777 before, and it is awesome! Here’s my full trip report.

You basically get a throne…

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 1.57.30 AM

…that turns into a comfortable, large bed.

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Plus you get some of the best service, food, and drink in the sky.

Singapore First Class is several steps above American and Latin American carriers, and solidly better than Lufthansa First Class, which would be the second best option between Europe and South America.

Getting Singapore Miles

You need Singapore miles to book Singapore First Class, Suites Class, and Business Class on longhaul flights. Singapore protects the cabins by not releasing award space in them to partners. Luckily Singapore miles are easy to get.

Singapore is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points. Plus 20,000 Starpoints transfer to 25,000 Singapore miles.

The best cards to get Singapore miles are the Citi Prestige® Card, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Plus.

The Citi Prestige® Card 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.

My review of the Citi Prestige Card 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.

The Sapphire Preferred is one of the best personal credit cards on the market. It offers:

  • 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
  • 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on travel and dining purchases
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • no annual fee the first year and $95 thereafter

While I can not directly link to the current Sapphire Preferred offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

The Ink Plus is easily the best business card on the market. It offers:

  • 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months
  • 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services
  • 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at gas stations and hotel accommodations
  • 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee

While I can not directly link to the current Ink Plus offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

Transferring

According to this FlyerTalk thread, which compiles transfer times, transfers from Chase, Citi, and Amex usually show up overnight within 1-2 days. Transfers from SPG can take up to two weeks.

Which transferable points to send to Singapore, if you have several options, depends on which type of points you’d like to save for future uses.

I had 125 Singapore miles. I decided to transfer 8,000 Ultimate Rewards and 40,100 SPG points to Singapore miles. With the 10,000 bonus Singapore miles for transferring 40,000 SPG points, that was a total of 58,100 new Singapore miles, bringing my total to 58,225 miles.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 10.46.25 AM

The Ultimate Rewards posted within 24 hours. The SPG points took three weeks to transfer. (More on that in a separate post.) Luckily, while I waited, the award space remained. If space had disappeared in First Class, my back up plan was to book economy, plan C was to book Business, and plans D through I were to book any cabin a few days earlier or later (the flight occurs three times per week.) If I had booked economy or Business, the extra miles would not have been orphaned; they would have been used to book a trip between the mainland United States and Hawaii on United in the future–another top use of Singapore miles.

Booking

Once I had my miles, the process was a snap. I searched right on the home page of singaporeair.com.

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Award prices are initially displayed without the automatic 15% discount for booking online.

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But once selected, the discounted price is displayed.

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I paid for the award with my Citi Prestige® Card. If I hadn’t already used my $250 Air Travel Credit for 2016, I would have had the $37 in taxes refunded as a statement credit. Since I have, I will just earn 3x on this airline purchase.

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Post Booking

Booking the ticket doesn’t end the fun. I also want to ensure the ideal seat, food, and lounge plan.

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Singapore First Class is laid out 1-2-1 in two rows. I chose seat 1A to have my own space an a window.

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Singapore premium-cabin passengers can select their exact meals in advance of the flight through the Book the Cook service. Unfortunately the service is not available for flights from Sao Paulo, only the following cities: (It would be available if flying Barcelona to Sao Paulo.)

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I could only select meal preferences/allergies. I just selected “Standard meal,” and I’ll have a chance onboard to choose from several options.

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I looked up lounge access, and it looks like I’ll get to use the Star Alliance Lounge in Sao Paulo. I googled trip reports and found this review of the GRU Star Alliance loungeScreen Shot 2016-05-03 at 2.39.24 PM
It looks solidly better than a United Club or equivalent, but well below what I would expect if Singapore had its own lounge like it does at Singapore’s airport.

Since the lounge isn’t that great, I won’t budget much time to explore it, and I won’t eat much food, preferring to gorge onboard!

Bottom Line

In a few weeks, I’ll fly Sao Paulo to Barcelona in Singapore First Class. It’s an awesome route between South America and Europe because it has a super product, a very low mileage price (especially in economy and First), no fuel surcharges, and great award space.

Singapore miles partner with every transferable points program.

Has anyone else flown this route? Trip report coming up in a few weeks.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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You can book yourself a tour around the Caribbean and South America stopping in three places for only 64,500 miles total with half the trip in a flat bed. By stopping in three places, I am referring to actual destinations, not connections that have to be under 24 hours.

This incredible deal relies on piecing together four sweet spots awards into one big trip. Even if you never take a trip like this, you should know about these sweet spot awards.

For the purposes of this example, this will be the route we examine:

Philadelphia > Aruba > Bogota, Colombia > Rio de Janeiro, Brazil > Philadelphia

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However the price is the same no matter where your home airport is, and no matter where you choose your destination in Southern South America to be.

You can tweak the route to your liking and keep the same prices as long as each destination falls in the right region for the pricing of the award.

What does that mean exactly?

  • Aruba could be replaced by anywhere that is in the region defined by American Airlines as Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America for no extra miles
  • Bogota could be replaced by any nearby city with direct LAN flights from the Caribbean or Mexico, though the miles price will probably go up if you choose a different city since this part of the award is flown with distance-based Avios
  • Rio de Janeiro could be replaced by any destination in South America for no extra miles

United States to Aruba

American Airlines post-devaluation award chart has flights to Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean during the off peak season priced at just 12,500 miles one way in economy.  

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The off peak season for these regions is defined as:

  • April 27 – May 20
  • September 7 – November 14

Taxes: $16

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Where to search for award space: aa.comHere’s how to search aa.com, award space is great to Aruba during off peak season

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How to Book: on aa.com

Aruba to Bogota

It costs 4,500 British Airways Avios to fly from from Aruba to Bogota, Colombia on LAN in economy.

Taxes: $49 (my ba.com is in euros for this reason)

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.18.01 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.18.11 PM

Where to search for award space: ba.comHere’s how to search ba.com. This route has the worst award space in the post, so if you copied this routing, you’d build the trip around award space on this leg. You can pick a place with better award space to Bogota (or wherever you decide to go), but the Avios price will probably be higher. Aruba to Bogota is only 605 miles flown, so it is the cheapest price of 4,500 Avios. Flights 651-1,150 miles flown are 7,500 Avios and something like Cancun to Bogota is 10,000 Avios.

How to Book: on ba.com.

Bogota to Rio de Janeiro

For 12,500 Singapore or American Airlines miles you can fly from Bogota, Colombia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Avianca/TACA (if using Singapore miles) or LAN (if using American Airlines miles). You could book the same flights in Business Class for 20,000 Singapore miles, or 25,000 American Airlines miles. 

Taxes/Fees: $62 (ignore the miles price in the screenshot, we pay the price on Singapore’s chart, not United’s chart when using Singapore miles)

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Where to search for award space: If using Singapore miles, united.com. Here’s how to search united.com. If using American Airlines’ miles, ba.comHere’s how to search ba.com. Award space is very good on Avianca’s direct Bogota to Rio flight, especially in Business Class.

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How to Book: If using Singapore miles, on singaporeair.com. If using American Airlines miles, call American Airlines’ AAdvantage customer service at 1-800-882-8880.

Rio de Janeiro > United States

It costs 35,000 Asiana miles to fly Business Class on Copa Airlines, Avianca, United, or Air Canada from Southern South America to the United States. I booked Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile in Copa Business Class for 35,000 Asiana miles this year.

Taxes/Fees: $57 (ignore mileage prices below, Asiana has lower prices than United for the same flights)

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Where to search for award space: united.com. Here’s how to search united.com. There is great award space between Rio and Philadelphia.

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How to Book: call the Asiana Club at +1-800-227-4262.

What Do Those Awards Add up to?

    United States to Aruba = 12,500 American Airlines miles

    Aruba to Bogota, Colombia = 4,500 British Airways Avios

    Bogota, Colombia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil = 12,500 Singapore or American Airlines miles

 + Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to United States = 35,000 Asiana miles in Business Class


    64,500 miles and under $184 in taxes

Or, if you wanted to fly the leg between Colombia and Brazil in Business Class, it would cost 72,000 using Singapore or 77,000 American Airlines miles.

Consider it from this angle as well. Heading southbound, you spent only 12,500 + 4,500 + 12,500 = 29,500 miles/Avios, and you visit three places. Normally a one way award to Southern South America would cost 30,000 American Airlines/Delta/United miles, and no stopovers would be allowed.

Why are There No Fuel Surcharges Mentioned in This Post?

Because fuel surcharges are not levied on any airline, on any ticket, w the Americas that I am aware of. Great news for our mega-trip!

How to Get the Miles and Points Needed for this Trip

American Airlines Miles

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

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Application Link: Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®

Singapore Krisflyer Miles (transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points)

The Citi Prestige® Card with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

Asiana Miles (transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints)

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card by American Express, personal and business versions, both are offering 25,000 Starpoints each for spending $3,000 and $5,000 respectively within three months of the accounts opening.

British Airways Avios 

British Airways Visa Signature card by Chase is offering 50,000 Avios for spending $2,000 within three months of the account opening.

While I can not directly link to the current offer from British Airways Visa Signature card by Chase, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

Bottom Line

If you have some (emphasis on some, not many are needed!) American Airlines, Singapore, and Asiana miles as well as a few British Airways Avios, you can piece together an amazing multi-award trip that spans all over the Caribbean and South America with three different destinations. It would be a great way to use up smaller amounts miles hanging around in your frequent flyer accounts, leftover after larger redemptions.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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I just booked myself an award from Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile in Business Class for 35,000 Asiana miles + $24. United would have charged 55,000 miles for the same flights!

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Why Asiana Miles

Asiana has really cheap awards to Europe and South America and really expensive awards elsewhere. Asiana does collect fuel surcharges on awards when similar cash tickets have them, which is why Asiana awards to South America are so awesome: none of Asiana’s partners to South America have fuel surcharges on their flights within the Americas.

I already had exactly 35,000 Asiana miles in my account from previous Starpoint transfers. Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles with the standard 5,000 bonus miles from transferring 20,000 Starpoints. That means 35,000 Asiana miles equals 30,000 Starpoints.

Searching

I plan to spend February through May in South America, mostly in Buenos Aires, but I can only spend 90 days there on a single visit, so I was looking to fill a few weeks with other stops first. I considered grand adventures in Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil, but eventually settled on a first trip to Santiago, Chile.

I decided to book a two week trip there, though I may leave the capital for a few days or a week in the middle.

I have very little flexibility for the Los Angeles to Santiago trip; I need to leave on one of two days. I searched on united.com for award space between Los Angeles and Santiago because any Copa, Avianca, or TACA space on united.com and any United Saver space on united.com can be booked with Asiana miles. I found pretty good space.

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On the search results, I clicked the Business Saver award column, so itineraries with Business Class award space would show up at the top.

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On the days I need to travel, the only Business Class award space is on one stop itineraries on Copa through Santiago. (Humorously, the itineraries don’t have Saver economy space, so a Business Class award is cheaper than an economy award with United miles.)

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 12.11.42 AMThe flight times and route are great, but Copa Business Class stinks. It is just a regular recline seat like you’d find in domestic First Class.

Booking and Seat Selection

Still I decided to book the Copa space since I don’t have date flexibility.

Booking the award is straightforward though not as streamlined as it should be. Always call the airline whose miles you’re using, so I called Asiana at 800-227-4262.

Here’s where it gets weird:

  1. First you need to reserve the ticket with reservations.
  2. Then you need to pay for the ticket with Asiana Club.

I followed automated prompts to reservations. I gave the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each segment that I had found on united.com.

The agent put the award together and gave me a confirmation number, which was the last eight digits of my phone number, then transferred me to Asiana Club. I gave them the confirmation number and my credit card. They ticketed the award for 35,000 Asiana miles + $24 in taxes. (There is no phone fee, there are no fuel surcharges, and there is no charge for booking at the last minute.) I got an email receipt a few hours later.

To confirm that everything ticketed correctly, I tried to select seats from Copa. I didn’t have the Copa confirmation number to select seats on copaair.com, so I called Copa and read the ticket number from my Asiana receipt to get my Copa reservation number. Then I went back to copaair.com and could pull up my reservation.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 6.43.30 PM Oddly, the flights are listed as “Economy Class (I)” even though I is the booking code for Business Class award space. I was able to select Seat 1A on each flight, further easing my worries that Copa will put me in economy.

I am not going to investigate “Economy Class” farther. I expect I will be flying Business Class, and if not, I will probably get a nice refund from Asiana.

Future Changes

As mentioned, Copa Business Class stinks. I would much rather fly from Los Angeles to Houston to Santiago with the last leg in United flat bed Business Class on the 787-9 Dreamliner.
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United is very stingy with this award space but opens some in the last few weeks before departure. As of yesterday, there was award space on the flight on January 18, 19, 22, 26, 27, and 28. That makes me hopeful that the days I want to fly will soon have flat bed Business Class award space. If that happens, I expect to be able to change the award for free based on my previous experience changing an Asiana award.

Bottom Line

I paid 35,000 Asiana miles for Business Class award space to Chile. To put in context how cheap that is, let me compare it to United’s award prices to Chile, which I consider eminently reasonable:

  • 30,000 United miles each way in economy
  • 55,000 United miles each way in Business Class

I will spend two awesome weeks in Chile and then fly my British Airways Avios award to Buenos Aires.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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I have a big Asia trip coming up in January. I’m going to go from Hawaii to Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, and India before returning to Los Angeles.

I need to get from Japan to Thailand to meet a friend there, but I wanted to beat her to Bangkok by as little as possible, so I didn’t have a lot of date flexibility.

Since I am flying into Tokyo, I wanted to fly out of a different Japanese city, preferably one near Kyoto since that is where I want to spend several days.

The closest international airports to Kyoto are Osaka-Kansai (KIX) and Nagoya (NGO), which are both about two hours away by train. Both have direct flights to Bangkok on Thai Airways, which I discovered on Wikipedia.

Searching on United.com

I searched for award space on united.com because united.com displays Thai award space, and any space I find there I should be able to book equally with all partners.

Award space was good on the Osaka-Bangkok route in First Class on a Thai 747. I’ve flown that cabin before for one hour from Phuket to Bangkok, and it was very nice.

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I couldn’t find economy or Business Class space on the Osaka flight on the day I needed to fly.

On the Nagoya route, I found Business Class award space on the two daily Dreamliner flights. I have never flown Thai Business Class or the Thai Dreamliner.

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Deciding Which Miles to Use

Thai Airways award space can be booked with any Star Alliance miles. I compared the award charts with United miles, Avianca LifeMiles, Lufthansa miles, Singapore miles, Asiana miles, Copa miles, and Aeroplan miles, all of the big eight Star Alliance miles except ANA since ANA requires a roundtrip award.

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The best award option was to pay 36,000 LifeMiles and no fuel surcharges to fly Thai Business Class. Thai First Class was only 50,000 miles, but I have flown it on the 747 and A380, so I wanted to try out Business Class on the Dreamliner instead.

I went to lifemiles.com to make the booking. I searched for the award space I had already found on united.com and brought it up easily.

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The award costs 36,000 LifeMiles + $47, $22 in taxes and a $25 award booking fee.

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I had the option to pay fewer miles by paying more cash at a rate of $15 per 1,000 miles or 1.5 cents each.

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That’s a bad option because you can currently buy LifeMiles for 1.32 cents each. If you bought 36,000 miles for 1.32 cents each, the award would cost $522.31 all in after taxes and fees. That’s well below the retail price for nearly seven hours in a flat bed on a Dreamliner.

I paid the award taxes and fees with my Citi Prestige® Card to earn 3x points on the airfare purchase. If I hadn’t already used up my $250 Air Travel Credit in 2015, the $47 would have even been refunded to me. No worries, that credit resets for me in January. The Citi Prestige® Card 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

I booked the award and got an email confirmation. I went to thaiairways.com to confirm that they saw the booking and to select a seat. It is always smart to contact the operating carrier after making an award booking to make sure they see the booking on their end. I was able to input the Avianca Reservation Code on thaiairways.com. Putting in the booking carrier’s code does not always work, and when it doesn’t you may need to call the booking carrier to get the operating carrier’s code.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.44.56 PMSince thaiairways.com recongnized my reservation code, I was able to select a seat. Because its Dreamliner is 2-2-2 in Business Class, I went for a middle seat, so I had aisle access and no one would have to climb over me in flight.
Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.46.28 PM

Bottom Line

I will be flying Business Class on a Thai Dreamliner from Nagoya to Bangkok. I hope to sleep most of the flight and to show up relatively refreshed to meet my friend in Bangkok.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 1.26.22 PM

The award cost 36,000 LifeMiles + $47. I searched on united.com and booked with LifeMiles because they offered the best deal among Star Alliance carriers on Business Class from Northern to Southern Asia.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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9

In October, I booked what might have been my favorite award ever: a Three One Way award that would allow me to see Pohnpei, Palau, and the Philippines while flying the Island Hopper. Read about it here.

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Alas, something came up, so I can’t fly it. I decided to just fly directly to Japan instead, but that still left the thorny issue of how to turn my old award into an award to Japan.

United charges $200 to cancel an award and re-credit the miles. (You do get the taxes back, so you end up paying less than $200 at the time of cancellation.)

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But there’s two ways to save big on that fee.

  1. If there is a schedule change, you can call up and tell the agent the new flight schedule doesn’t work for you. They will cancel and fully refund the ticket. How big of a schedule change? I don’t know United’s rule. American Airlines requires a 60+ minute change.
  2. Instead of canceling, you can change your award and pay the much lower change fee.

Unfortunately there had been no schedule change since I booked my ticket, so I went with the second plan.

You can make any change to the ticket and pay the lower $75 fee ($50 in practice).

To change an award, sign in to your United account, click “My trips,” and click “Change flight.”

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Check all segments of the award, and then continue.
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As I mentioned, I just wanted to book a simple one way award from Honolulu to Tokyo to see Japan for the first time and start a month in Asia.Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.14.32 PM There was economy award space on the day I want to fly, which costs 25,000 United miles + $5.60. My old award cost 47,500 miles + $18.20. I get refunded the difference but have to pay a $50 change fee. (Why that is not a $75 change fee as United’s website says it should be is beyond me but for at least 2.5 years, United has been under-collecting this fee online.)Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.17.19 PM

I made the change, paying with my Citi ThankYou® Premier Card to earn 3x points, and got instant confirmation that I am booked on my new flight. I signed out of my United account and back in and saw that my 22,500 mile refund had already posted.

Bottom Line

I’m missing Pohnpei and Palau for now. I hope to see them later in 2016 or in the more distant future.

You should never pay a $200 cancellation fee on a United award. Hope for a schedule change for a free cancellation. Failing that, just change the award for a $50 fee.

The new award does NOT need to have anything in common with the old one. I could have changed the award to any award flight. As far as I know, the cheapest United award is 6,000 miles for a one way award within Hawaii. In a pinch, it is better to pay a $50 change fee and eat 6,000 miles by changing to an intra-Hawaii flight that you never plan to fly than to pay $200 to cancel an award and get all your miles back.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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In January, I’ll be in the United States, and I’ll need to get back down to Southern South America. It would be fun to break the trip up with a few stops because there is a lot to discover in the Americas.

If I book a United Three One Way Award (read this if you don’t know what that is) I can stop two places along the way for as long as I’d like in addition to my final destination.

Some places on the top of my list right now are Guatemala to see parts of the country I missed my first time, especially Semuc Champey; northern Colombia to see Cartagena, Parque Tayrona, and hike to the Ciudad Perdida; and Santiago, Chile because it is one of the few South American capitals I haven’t seen. Santiago could also be a jumping off point to Easter Island, which I would like to see one day.

I played around on united.com and came up with two possible itineraries for myself. Both start in Los Angeles where my award that flies an Etihad A380 in First Class ends. Both awards end in Buenos Aires. I plan to spend a few months early in 2016 in Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro.

Option 1: Stop in Guatemala City and Santiago

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Award space is very good on the LACSA (part of Avianca/TACA) direct flight from Los Angeles to Guatemala City in economy and Business Class.

Award space is very good from Guatemala to Santiago (and really throughout the Americas) on Copa flights connecting in Panama City.

Award space is spotty, but available on some days, on the Air Canada tag flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires. If booked in Business Class, you get a flat bed for the approximately 90 minutes you are in the air.

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 3.16.52 PM

With just the last leg in flat bed Business Class, the award is 50,000 United miles.
Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 3.16.58 PM

With the whole thing in economy, the award is 42,500 miles.
Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 3.21.33 PM

This means that United considers Santiago to be the destination of the award. Los Angeles to Santiago is 30,000 miles in economy and Santiago to Buenos Aires is another 12,500.

Option 2: Stop in Colombia and Santiago

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 4.34.42 PMI would actually want to stop in Baranquilla or Cartagena and not Bogota, but I was getting errors trying to book that online. I believe they would be bookable by phone, but I still haven’t tried.

United’s computer thinks the destination here is Bogota, so the award is 40,000 miles total in economy, 20,000 from Los Angeles to Bogota and 20,000 more from Bogota to Buenos Aires.

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 4.07.24 PM

Interestingly, the award has two connections in Panama City without issue.
Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 4.07.18 PM

Option 3: Stops in Guatemala and Colombia, making Santiago the destination

I could even make all three stops. In this scenario, my destination would be Guatemala. The stopover would be in Colombia and the destination of the “return” would be Santiago, so the award would cost 37,500 United miles. There’s a similar award here.

Then I could book Santiago to Buenos Aires on LAN with Avios for 7,500 Avios + $30 or 2,500 Avios + $83. I’d choose the 2,500 Avios option.

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Bottom Line

Why go from Point A directly to Point B when miles excel at offering bigger trips?

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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21

I booked myself an award from Honolulu to Manila with eight take offs and landings and multi-day stops on Pohnpei and Palau for 47,500 United miles by taking advantage of the free stopover on roundtrip United awards and how lenient the definition of “roundtrip” is.

A few weeks ago I shared how you can book United’s amazing Island Hopper route with miles and stopover at one of the otherwise-nearly-impossible-to-reach islands along the way.

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The Island Hopper. Source: gcmap.com

United operates the Island Hopper from Honolulu to Guam with five stops twice per week on Mondays and Fridays. On Wednesday, it flies the same route but skips Kosrae. This is an inefficient way to get to Guam, but it’s certainly a cool one with amazing take offs and landings on remote islands. Here are a few trip reports that got me excited to book the Island Hopper one day:

The Island Hopper is an ideal use of miles because ordinarily this flight is ridiculously expensive with cash, since it is a route on which United has a monopoly and has high operating costs.

Trip Planning

I need to get from Hawaii to Southeast Asia around New Year. The Island Hopper heads in that general direction, and United has daily flights from Guam to Asia, so I started looking seriously at how to make everything work.

I want to stop at one of the islands along the route of the Island Hopper. First, because I’d like to split up the 14.5 hour trip, and second because when else would I have a chance to spend a few days in Chuuk or Kosrae or Pohnpei?

United doesn’t allow a stopover on one way awards, but it does allow one on roundtrips, and as I’ll show, the definition of “roundtrip” is very loose. It basically means any two one way awards joined together.

I also want to go to Palau. Snorkeling with the jellyfish looks so fun.

Then after Palau I want to go to Asia for my planned Southeast Asia trip in January.

Choosing the Stopover

There are five stops between Honolulu and Guam. Kwajalein Island is not a possible stopover because it is a military base.

Of the other four options, Chuuk and Pohnpei got the most love in FlyerTalk threads (1, 2, 3) asking for the ideal stopover point.

I picked Pohnpei for my stopover.

Choosing the Asian Destination

I want to start my Southeast Asia trip in Bangkok, but the flights are a real hassle from Palau to Bangkok. There are daily flights from Palau to Guam at 1:45 AM that sync pretty well with flights to Fukuoka and Sendai, Japan, so I read up on each. I was thinking about a Fukuoka-Hiroshoma-Tokyo blitz of Japan and then flying to Bangkok, but decided it would take too much time and that Japan is “on the way” on plenty of other trips, so I’ll see it soon enough.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.07.53 PM

I decided the best option out of Palau is to fly directly to Manila, Philippines on a day when that flight operates. I’ve never been to the Philippines either, and it’s a direct flight that’s headed the right direction towards Bangkok.

Flying to Japan, though much farther, would be much cheaper as United’s award chart prices Oceania (Palau) to Japan at 12,500 miles one way. Oceania to Southeast Asia (Philippines) is 22,500 miles ones way.

Searching

I searched everything as a one way trip first. I noted dates when award space was available, and then looked for a set of dates that would give me 2-3 days in each place. Right now there is award space for two passengers in economy every day the Island Hopper operates from December 28 to January 8 and the days I checked in March. I haven’t found any Business Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 12.46.33 PM

Click “Details” and you’ll see the short stops on each far-flung island.

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Turning that Award Space into a Trip

United one way awards allow zero stopovers of longer than 24 hours. United roundtrip awards allow one stopover plus your destination plus up to two open jaws. I decided to book a roundtrip award with a stopover and an open jaw.

  • Honolulu to Pohnpei (stopover)
  • Pohnpei to Palau (destination)
  • Palau to Manila (there is an open jaw between Honolulu–the origin–and Manila–the destination)
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Color coded by day of travel

You may notice that the open jaw–the distance between Honolulu and Manila–is much longer than either the outbound–Honolulu to Palau–or the “return”–Palau to Manila. United’s computer doesn’t mind at all.

To book the award, I did a multi-city award search on united.com searching for the days I had found award space. I didn’t get any errors on my multi-city award search, though that frequently happens on united.com. If you get an error, just call in to book.

On the multi-city search page, you break the trip into three parts, so that each place you plan to spend more than 24 hours is listed. (Yes, this is the old united.com. It’s better, and it still exists if you use this trick to access it.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 2.42.41 AM

On the search results, the mileage price and taxes are not shown, but keep picking from the Saver award column and you’ll be fine.

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In the end, I booked an award that gives me three days in Pohnpei and three days in Palau.Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.48.09 PM

The total price is a puny 47,500 United miles and $18. The miles price is because United charges 25,000 miles from Hawaii to Oceania (Palau) and 22,500 miles from Oceania to Southeast Asia.Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.50.13 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.50.20 PM

The equivalent cash ticket was over $2,000. I would never pay $2,000 of course, which means that without miles I would never be able to take this trip.

I paid the award taxes with my Citi Prestige® Card to earn 3x points on the airfare purchase. If I hadn’t already used up my $250 Air Travel Credit in 2015, the $18 would have even been refunded to me. No worries, that credit resets for me in January. The Citi Prestige® Card 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

The Rest of the Plan

Tentatively I’m thinking about going to these places in this order though lines don’t necessarily represent flights. I fly back from Chennai to the United States in late January on an Etihad A380 in First Class.
Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.54.04 PM

Plan B?

For whatever reason, United basically never releases Business Class award space on its flights through Oceania.

The Business Class product is what you would find in Domestic First Class, just a wider recliner with more leg room, but it would probably be worth booking if Saver space were available because the price premium is small.

  • Hawaii to Oceania in economy: 25,000 United miles
  • Hawaii to Oceania in Business: 40,000 United miles
  • Oceania to Southeast Asia in economy: 22,500 United miles
  • Oceania to Southeast Asia in Business: 35,000 United miles

I wouldn’t pay 12,500 extra miles for Business Class from Palau to Manila because it is only 2:45, but I would pay 15,000 extra miles for Business Class from Hawaii all the way to Palau because that is about 13 hours in the air.

United offers Plan B awards where you pay the premium cabin price, get top waitlist priority as if you are a displaced premium cabin passenger, and get the miles refunded if your upgrade doesn’t clear. I am going to call and try to have 15,000 miles taken out of my account now as part of a Plan B award booking. If I don’t get upgraded to Business Class, I’ll get those miles back. If I do, it’s well worth the price.

You Don’t Live in Hawaii

You don’t need to live in Hawaii to make any of this work. You can either book from your home airport to Oceania via the Island Hopper on a single award or fly one award to Hawaii and then book an award like the one in this post.

To get home from Manila or Japan after flying there to end your “roundtrip,” you can book a one way award with almost every type of miles.

Don’t put this post in the category of “cool but useless because I don’t live in Hawaii or have the flexibility to end in Asia.” Use this post as a guide to book what you can given where you live and how much time you have available.

Bottom Line

To get a stopover at a hard-to-reach island on the United Island Hopper in addition to your destination, book a “roundtrip” United award. It can be a real roundtrip or an open jaw roundtrip that ends in Asia.

I booked myself Hawaii to Pohnpei to Palau to Manila for 47,500 United miles + $18.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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In May, I booked myself an award in an Etihad A380 First Class Apartment for January 2016. I am looking forward to flying the spacious suite with a couch/bed and separate seat from Abu Dhabi to New York. This post explains how I booked that award.

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Etihad is a partner of American Airlines, and you can book First Class between the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent and North America for 90,000 American Airlines miles one way.

Get both the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, which are each offering 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.

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Get both cards and meet the $6,000 total spending requirement in the next three months to have over 106,000 American Airlines miles.

Since American Airlines counts all of the Middle East, Egypt, Maldives, and Indian Subcontinent as one region, I decided to start the award in Chennai, India. I’ve never been to India, and Chennai is conveniently close to Sri Lanka, which is in American’s Southeast Asia region (Asia 2). I was planning to use that fact to fly cheaply to Sri Lanka on an American Airlines award, hang out there for a few days, then book a cheap cash or Avios flight from Sri Lanka to Chennai. Now I think I’ll just fly a low cost carrier from wherever I am in Southeast Asia to Chennai a few days before the flight.

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Since American charges the same number of miles no matter where I end in North America, I added New York to Los Angeles for zero extra miles. It will give me a chance to fly American’s three cabin First Class on the route.

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Award Searching

This award is centered on flying Etihad’s A380 in First Class to luxuriate in the onboard suite and to take a shower seven miles above land. For that reason, and because I always suggest starting your award search with the longest segment, I first searched for Etihad A380 First Class award space.

As I explained in Where to Search All 24 American Airlines’ Partners’ Award Space, you search Etihad award space on etihad.com. You need to find award space in the GuestSeat column to be able to book the flight with American Airlines miles. Right now I don’t see any First Class award space on the Etihad A380 between New York and Abu Dhabi in either direction that is bookable with American Airlines miles. (I do see plenty of space on the 777 that operates on the route.)

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We have seen award space in First Class on the route come and go quickly and dramatically a few times. I booked in May when award space was wide open, even though it had been non-existent the week before. You can be sure I’ll cover when award space opens back up between JFK and Abu Dhabi in First Class on the Etihad A380.

Once I had my First Class space, I worked backward to get the space from Chennai to Abu Dhabi. This is classic segment-by-segment searching. On shorter regional routes, the top cabin is Business Class, so that’s what I searched.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 2.16.56 PM

Award space is fantastic in Business Class on Etihad regional flights. I selected the 10 PM departure, which gives me a two hour layover in Abu Dhabi. I noted the date, cabin, and flight number. I ignored the price listed on etihad.com because I was using American Airlines miles, which means paying the American Airlines price.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 2.17.15 PM

Last I searched for award space from New York to Los Angeles in First Class. Award space is often wide open in First Class from New York to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Remember that you need to find MileSAAver (not AAnytime) award space on American Airlines flights to hook them onto partner flights, and still pay the lowest mileage price.Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 2.18.34 PM

I picked an 11 AM departure to give me another two-hour layover.
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You can confirm that every New York to Los Angeles flight has American’s newest First Class product by clicking “View Seats” and seeing this 1-1 configuration.Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 2.19.25 PM

Award Booking

Next I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to book. I fed the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of the three flights I wanted to book.

She pieced it together easily and quoted me a price of 90,000 American Airlines miles and $79.

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That sounded pretty good, but I asked her if she had waived the $40 phone fee, since I couldn’t book the award online. That’s American’s new policy.

She hadn’t. Once she removed the phone fee, I paid only $38.55 in taxes plus 90,000 miles for a trip that will fly from Chennai to Los Angeles in two super fancy First Classes, and a solid Business Class.Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 5.22.44 PM

Getting the Miles

Get both the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, which are each offering 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 6.44.51 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-09 at 3.59.13 PM

Get both cards and meet the $6,000 total spending requirement in the next three months to have over 106,000 American Airlines miles.

Bottom Line

I booked myself an incredible award from India to Los Angeles that will let me finally see the world’s second most populous country and finally fly the second commercial First Class with an onboard shower. It is a perfect mix of destination and aspirational products, and it cost me 90,000 American Airlines miles + $39.

You can get both the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, which are each offering 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 6.44.51 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-09 at 3.59.13 PM

Get both cards and meet the $6,000 total spending requirement in the next three months to have over 106,000 American Airlines miles.

Unfortunately award space in Etihad First Class on the A380 comes and goes, and right now there is none. But if history is a guide, that is likely to change soon, and I will cover when award space opens back up.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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I’m going to spend most of the rest of the year in Buenos Aires, but I want to spend Christmas with my family in Hawaii. I recently put on hold an award that will allow me to do that. I am going to fly Business Class in a flat bed from Argentina back to Honolulu for 50,000 American Airlines miles and $87.

For a limited time, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months.

 

In the end, the award searching was very easy in this case, but I hope this Anatomy of an Award will illuminate:

  • how to book awards around the peak Christmas travel season
  • how far in advance you should start searching for awards
  • how American Airlines free holds work
  • how I choose between different Business and First Class products

The History

How far in advance should you search for award space?

It’s one of the most common questions I get. The answer: whenever you know your travel goal, start searching for award space. That way if there is space now, you can book it. If there isn’t, you can keep searching and hope space opens up. You can also estimate the chances that award space will open up by tracking it over time.

It has been my plan to go to Honolulu for Christmas for at least five months. Following my own advice, I’ve occasionally been searching for award space from Buenos Aires to Honolulu during mid- or late-December for the last five months. Finding award space right before Christmas is very difficult because airlines only release award seats when they expect to have unsold seats, and they don’t expect to have many unsold seats around Christmas.

So I have been realistic with my searches, mostly hoping to find award space some time between December 14 and 18 because that is the week before the last weekend before Christmas, when I imagine Christmas travel will really pick up.

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I had found the occasional award using Copa and United flights to get to Hawaii, but Copa Business Class is just a recliner seat, and that sounds terrible for such a long day of traveling. I could book that award space with 60,000 United miles.

I had also found awards to Los Angeles in AeroMexico Business Class with the longest flight on a flat bed, but I couldn’t find Delta award space from Los Angeles to Honolulu. I could have booked just to Los Angeles in AeroMexico Business Class for 62,500 Delta miles, but I kept searching.

I hadn’t found anything good on LAN or American Airlines that I could book with American Airlines miles, until Saturday.

The Search

On Saturday, I lucked out and found American Airlines award space. American Airlines has the cheapest awards between Southern South America and Hawaii:

  • 20,000 or 30,000 miles in economy one way depending on the time of year
  • 50,000 miles in Business Class one way
  • 62,500 miles in First Class one way

I always start with a simple search. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find award space immediately without having to search segment-by-segment. On Saturday, I went to aa.com and typed in my search:

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.42.22 PMEconomy space is rare in December, with only one day with Saver award space.

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.43.17 PM

Business Class award space also only had one day available, much closer to Christmas, in the December 14 to 18 window I was targeting.

First Class had the most award space with five days at the Saver level in December, with one in the week I was targeting.Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.43.32 PM

I compared the Business Class and First Class awards that were closest to Christmas. The Business Class award costs 50,000 miles, features a travel time of 27.5 hours, and has two stops. One major drawback is that the 6.5 hour flight from Phoenix to Honolulu is in economy because First Class award space isn’t available on that flight. (You are entitled to fly First Class domestically on international Business Class awards. If that space doesn’t exist at the Saver level, you can book Saver economy space, but you don’t get a discount.)

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.43.53 PM

American Airlines Business Class used to be an angled-flat laughingstock. New planes and retrofits are slowly converting the fleet to fully flat. I clicked “View Available Seats” for the flight from Buenos Aires to New York to see whether the seats would be fully flat or angled.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 2.18.55 AM

The seat map shows a plane that has been retrofitted with flat beds in Business Class. You can confirm that by comparing it to seat maps on Seat Guru until you find the one that matches and then reading Seat Guru’s description of Business Class on that plane. The triangles indicate seats that face backwards. Here is a trip report with photos of the Business Class cabin on this American Airlines 777. It looks very nice.

Next I looked at the First Class award. It is 12,500 miles more, 1.5 hours more travel time, and also features economy on the last segment.

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.44.00 PM

I flew this exact First Class product a in 2013 to Buenos Aires (trip report), and I can see why it is being phased out. It’s not up to First Class standards. It’s just a decent flat bed Business Class product in my opinion.

I figured that the Business Class itinerary is better because:

  1. I’ll save 12,500 miles.
  2. I’ll get 1.5 hours extra in a flat bed. I usually prefer longer flights to maximize sleep when I have a bed conducive to sleeping.
  3. I’ll take off from Buenos Aires 1.5 hours later, which is better for my sleep schedule.
  4. I’ll travel 1.5 hours less, which is good because even 27.5 hours is possibly my longest itinerary ever.
  5. I think the Business Class and First Class products on these two awards will be of very similar quality, and I haven’t flown the new Business Class, so novelty gives it the edge.

I selected the Business Class itinerary, and it priced out at 50,000 American Airlines miles + $87. That is all government taxes; American Airlines only collects fuel surcharges on British Airways and Iberia award flights.
Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.44.23 PM I selected seats on each flight, input my personal information, and clicked through to the purchase screen.Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.44.30 PM But I don’t currently have 50,000 miles in my American Airlines account, so I was only given the option to hold the award. (Why don’t I have 50k? I have 120,000 miles tied up in an award I want to cancel, but I am waiting for a schedule change to get the $150 cancellation fee waived, and I just booked a 90,000 mile award to fly Etihad First Class on its A380 from India to the United States.)Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.47.17 PM If you do have enough miles in your account, you can still get a free award hold. You’ll see these options at the time of payment; select AAdvantage Hold.

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Award holds last five days and expire at midnight in the city of departure.

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If you do nothing, the hold cancels itself. If you want to book, you have to log back into your account and book.

I am only about 7,000 miles short of the 50,000 needed to ticket this award, so I transferred some SPG Starpoints to my American Airlines account. That process usually only takes a few days. If it doesn’t look like my transfer will post in time, then I will cancel that 120,000 mile award I mentioned above.

Loose End

I really would like to get that Phoenix to Honolulu leg into First Class, since it would be zero extra miles if Saver award space opens up.

I have a couple options. First, American Airlines has been known to open up award space if you call and ask on the pretense that you found an award that is almost perfect and is just missing the award space you want on one leg. When my American Airlines account has 50,000 miles in it, I will call and ask for an agent to open up First Class award space from Phoenix to Honolulu and then ticket the whole award.

If that doesn’t work, I have set an alert on the award space. If it opens up, I’ll change the award. This will be free until 21 days before departure and $75 within 21 days.

American Airlines sometimes opens up award space in the last month or week before departure. I notice this quite a bit on its Hawaii routes in particular. To estimate the chances that award space will open up in First Class on the Phoenix to Honolulu flight closer to departure, I searched award space for the next month:
Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.50.20 PMThere is Saver award space on four days in the next week and a half. I’m guessing there’s about a 40% chance that the award space opens up for me.

If it does, I’ll know because I set a free alert with the Wandr Me tools. I also set an alert for JFK to Honolulu in case a different route to Hawaii opens up with award space in First Class on the same day, maybe via Los Angeles or Dallas.

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 8.48.37 PM

Bottom Line

Search early and often on every airline that can get you where you want to go. Compare your award options to determine the best value for you. In this case, I prefer a new Business Class product to an old First Class product.

Put your award on hold when possible to secure the award space while you get the necessary miles.

If the award isn’t perfect, like maybe it has one leg in economy, book anyway and set an alert in case better award space opens up.

If you don’t want to deal with your own award bookings, hire the MileValue Award Booking Service.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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The idea of big trips fascinates me. True round-the-world (RTW) awards are basically dead, so the game now is to string together several cheap one way awards into a RTW trip. To help you out, I regularly update a page that strives to list all the cheap awards between all regions of the world.

Here’s how you could use that post to put together a RTW trip. I put this one together in under half an hour.

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The example RTW trip in this post starts and ends in Los Angeles (imagine your home airport instead), takes about a month, and has stops in all the places on the map above:

  • Fiji
  • Sydney
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Delhi
  • London
  • Madrid

It flies a mix of economy, Business, and First Class flights. It has logical jumping off points if you want to really take your time in one region and see a lot of that area before continuing to the next region. Let’s walk through it:

Los Angeles to Fiji to Sydney for 40,000 Alaska miles + $142 (economy)

While most programs charge about 40,000 miles one way from the United States to Australia, Alaska lets you fly Fiji Airways and stop for as long as you’d like in Fiji. Search on alaskaair.com for a multi-city award.

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I’m imagining that this RTW trip starts January 31, 2016. The stop in Fiji is four days.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.43.29 PM

Total cost is 40,000 Alaska miles + $142 of taxes and fees. Business Class would be only 55,000 miles if you could find award space, but Fiji Airways releases very little Business Class award space.Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.43.39 PM

Sydney to Kuala Lumpur for 40,000 United miles + $60 (Thai First Class)

United has way underpriced awards between Australia/New Zealand and Southeast Asia. Search for them right on united.com.

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After five days in Sydney, the trip picks back up.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.46.11 PMThe United award flies from Sydney to Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur. The long segment is in Thai First Class on its 747, which means you will get First Class lounge access and a free hour-long massage in Bangkok. The short hop down to Kuala Lumpur is on a Thai Dreamliner in Business Class.
Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.45.26 PM

The total price is 40,000 United miles + $60.

Note that both Sydney and Southeast Asia are great spots to take a longer amount of time to explore the surrounding regions. Particularly in Southeast Asia, the low cost carrier flights are plentiful and cheap, so you can see a lot of places quickly and cheaply.

Kuala Lumpur to Delhi for $187 (economy)

After four days in Malaysia, the trip continues to India. You could fly this segment on Malaysia Airlines, booking the ticket with Avios, but the taxes and fuel surcharges are over $130, so you might as well just buy the ticket with cash on a low-cost carrier.
Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.47.33 PM Malindo Air prices the route at about $186 for most of February 2016.Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.47.47 PM

You can of course use the $250 Air Travel Credit on your Citi Prestige® Card, Arrival miles, or ThankYou Points to get the flight for free.

This brings up an important point for all awards including those that are part of a RTW trip. Consider cash tickets. Sometimes they are a better value than using miles.

Delhi, by the way, is a two hour train from Agra, site of the Taj Mahal.

Delhi to London for 40,000 American Airlines miles + $40 (Etihad First Class)

After six days in India, keep flying west. American greatly underprices premium cabin awards between the Middle East or Indian Subcontinent and Europe.

Search on etihad.com for award space.
Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.48.43 PMThe flights you want need to have space in the Guest Seat column in order to be bookable with American Airlines miles. Pay special attention to the aircraft. If you can snag Etihad First Class on the A380, you will get a huge sweet and a shower onboard.
Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.49.30 PM

Ignore the price listed on etihad.com. Etihad charges its members way more miles for the exact same flights. American Airlines only charges 40,000 miles in First Class from India to Europe. Ignore, also, the out-of-pocket price listed on etihad.com. It includes fuel surcharges that American Airlines doesn’t collect on Etihad flights. I called American to price out these flights, and the agent priced them at 40,000 miles + $39.55.

London to Madrid for $36 (economy)

You don’t want to return to the United States from London. Taxes for departing London are outrageous. After five days in London, head to Madrid.

Avios are decent intra-Europe because there are no fuel surcharges on such awards. I searched ba.com to see about award pricing between London and Madrid.
Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.50.27 PM

The award on off-peak dates is 6,500 Avios (7,500 on peak dates) + $24 or 2,150 Avios + $68.Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.52.23 PM

I checked cash fares, and Ryanair charges only $36. Iberia had some $40 fares. I didn’t check which is cheaper when you include baggage, which I would always do if I were actually booking this RTW trip.

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You can of course use the $250 Air Travel Credit on your Citi Prestige® Card, Arrival miles, or ThankYou Points to get the flight for free.

Madrid to Los Angeles for 20,000 American Airlines miles + $54 (economy)

Finally we have to come home after about a month away.

From October 15 to May 15 each year, American charges only 20,000 miles between the United States and Europe. Just make sure you avoid booking British Airways flights with your American Airlines miles to avoid huge fuel surcharges.

I searched on aa.com from Madrid to Los Angeles.
Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.53.21 PMA great itinerary on American Airlines flights popped up that costs only 20,000 American Airlines miles + $54.Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.53.48 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 5.54.10 PM

Total Cost

  • 40,000 Alaska miles
  • 40,000 United miles
  • 60,000 American Airlines miles
  • $519

If the $519 sounds like a lot, you could instead use under 50,000 total Arrival miles to pay for the low-cost-carrier flights and award taxes to make the out-of-pocket cost $0.

How to Get the Miles

One person, opening only personal cards, could easily get all these miles. He could open the:

Some credit card offers in this post have expired, but they might come back. If they do they will appear –> Click here for the top current credit card sign up bonuses.

The cards are from five different banks, so you could even open them all on the same day. Combined they have minimum spending requirements of $13,000 over the first three months. If that’s more than you spend, either stagger your sign ups or manufacture spending.

The cards have combined annual fees the first year of $75 (on the Alaska card), and you could cancel all of them before the annual fees are due in 12 months.

Meeting all the minimum spending requirements, you’d have:

  • 25,000 Alaska miles
  • 49,000 Ultimate Rewards
  • 53,000 American Airlines miles
  • 28,000 Starpoints
  • 46,000 Arrival miles

Transfer 40,000 Ultimate Rewards to United miles, 15,000 Starpoints to Alaska miles, and 7,000 Starpoints to American Airlines miles. Then you’d have:

  • 40,000 Alaska miles
  • 40,000 United miles
  • 60,000 American Airlines miles
  • 6,000 leftover Starpoints (could be as many as three free hotel nights)
  • 46,000 Arrival miles

That’s enough to book all the awards and use the Arrival miles for $483 off of the original $519 out-of-pocket expenses.

If you’ve followed all the math, that means you pay $36 out of pocket for flights/taxes and a $75 annual fee on the Alaska Airlines card–or $111 total for a RTW trip with six stops.

How to Book the Awards

Everything in this post can be booked online on the site of the miles you’re using or the site of the low-cost carrier you’re flying except the Etihad flights you’re booking with American Airlines miles. That award needs to be booked by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880.

The booking order matters a bit, since award space can change. I’d put the American Airlines awards on free five-day holds online or by phone, then book the United and Alaska awards, then book the low-cost carrier flights.

If for some reason, the low-cost carrier flights surge in price or the award space you want to book with United or Alaska miles isn’t there, you can let the American Airlines award holds lapse for free, cancel the United award for free within 24 hours of booking for free, and cancel the Alaska Airlines award for free if travel is more than 60 days away.

Choose Your Own Adventure

This was an arbitrary template for a RTW trip. Use the list of all cheap awards between all regions of the world and your own travel preferences and schedule to plan your own RTW trip. If you want to hire my award booking service, we offer large discounts off our normal $125 per person per award rate when booking RTW trips that consist of several awards. Fill out this form for your free, no obligation quote.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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I have a clear picture of where I’ll be until about April 2016. Last week, I booked a flurry of awards, mostly with obscure mileage programs to lock in my dates for 2015. Here’s what I’m planning, with links to already written Anatomy of an Award posts:

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Lines do not represent direct flights

The rest of 2015 will see me:

  • explore new cities like Athens, Zurich, and Dubai
  • return to favorites like Zagreb, Dubrovnik (cliff jumping!), Bogota, and Buenos Aires
  • change hemispheres as the seasons change because everyone should live in Summer all year round
  • visit friends and family
  • speak at the Chicago Seminars

I’ll fly in products ranging from economy to one of the world’s fanciest First Classes on the Emirates A380. A plurality of my time in the air will be in Business Class products that are good but not top of the line. Most of the awards heavily prioritized destination over the best products.

All of the awards were carefully thought out to maximize miles, so I am excited to explain why I’ve been using so many Asiana and Singapore miles, and why you might want to use them also.

Some of the awards even touch on interesting problems like how long a transfer takes, what to do when there is only space in your desired cabin on some legs, and choosing which miles to use.

I still need to book an award from Buenos Aires to Honolulu for before Christmas. The Asiana miles that I hope to use to book the award in Business Class (35,000 miles) just posted. I may also book a short weekend getaway from Buenos Aires in November, which I could book with cash or miles. Other than that, I’m already focused on 2016 bookings.

Hopefully the rest of your 2015 travel schedule excites you as much as mine excites me. Where are you headed?

I’ll crank out the rest of the Anatomy of an Award posts soon–where I break down how to search the award, how to book the award, what miles to use, and how to get those miles–and I’ll keep this post updated as I do.

 

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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8

I just used 5,000 ThankYou Points to book a one way award flight from Belgrade to Bucharest.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 1.57.34 PM

I transferred my ThankYou Points to Etihad Guest Miles, which is the frequent flyer program for Air Serbia and several other airlines.

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I have a ton of ThankYou Points because the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card and Citi Prestige® Card are offering 40,000 and 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points respectively after $3,000 in purchases on the cards in the first three months. (Compare the Premier to the Prestige.) You can get both for 90,000 bonus ThankYou Points.

Etihad Guest / Air Serbia Award Chart

Air Serbia is not a member of one of the three alliances, but is a member of the “kind of fourth alliance” of airlines in which Etihad has bought a stake. The only way to book Air Serbia flights with miles is with Etihad Guest miles. Here’s the award chart for Air Serbia flights using Etihad miles in its entirety:

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 6.33.59 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-07 at 6.34.13 PM

Belgrade to Bucharest is 4,550 miles one way in economy and 6,450 miles one way in Business Class. For a one hour flight, I didn’t even want to pay 1,900 miles extra for Business Class.

When I investigated Air Serbia awards two weeks ago, I learned that you do not pay fuel surcharges on the flights, only government taxes.

Getting Etihad Guest Miles

Etihad miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of ThankYou Points, and you must transfer in increments of 1,000.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.29.21 AM

I have tons of ThankYou Points because there are two awesome cards with huge sign up bonuses at the moment, and I have both:

To transfer ThankYou Points to Etihad Guest miles, you must open a free Etihad Guest account, and then complete the transfer on thankyou.com. First click “Points Transfer” under “Do more.”

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Select “TRANSFER NOW” next to Etihad Guest.

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Type in the number of miles you want to transfer. You need to transfer in increments of 1,000, so I had to transfer 5,000 points for my 4,550 mile award.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 4.56.59 AM

Enter your Etihad Guest frequent flyer number, and you’re done.Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 4.57.06 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 4.57.31 AMThe transfer is not instant. It took about one week for my Etihad miles to show up in my account. I initiated the transfer July 9 at 4 AM ET, and the miles were in my account when I checked July 16 at 9 PM ET. (I wasn’t checking constantly, so they could have arrived up to 24 hours sooner than I saw them.)

Interestingly, the transfer–my first account activity–triggered a 500 miles “Enrolment Bonus” that I didn’t expect. Perhaps your first transfer will also.

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Booking Etihad Guest / Air Serbia Award

To book an award, call 800-8-ETIHAD. I don’t know of any way to search award space beforehand, but all the short Air Serbia flights I’ve inquired about have had award space.

I had searched flight times and prices on kayak.com, and there was only one Air Serbia-operated flight on the day I wanted. Etihad Guest Miles CANNOT book Air Serbia-marketed flights operated by other carriers, like the 9:15 AM flight below operated by TAROM.

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The agent said there was award space on the flight I wanted and that it cost 4,550 miles + 20.78 euros. I paid with Citi ThankYou® Premier Card, since it has no foreign transaction fees and earns 3x points per dollar on travel and gas purchases. The taxes were charged as $22.85 on my statement.

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I received a confirmation email of my new ticket while I was still on the phone with the agent.

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Why Not Just Use ThankYou Points to Purchase Flight Directly

ThankYou Points can book you onto many flights, including Air Serbia flights, two ways.

  1. The way described above: by transferring mile to one of ThankYou Points’ 11 partners and booking award space according to an award chart
  2. By using the points like cash toward any flight at a rate of 1.25 to 1.6 cents per point.

The flight I wanted was available on thankyou.com to be purchased with points like cash.

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I have the Citi Prestige® Card, so I can use my ThankYou Points to book American Airlines/US Airways flights at a rate of 1.6 cents per point or any other airline’s flights at a rate of 1.33 cents per point. The $115 flight is about 8,700 points at 1.33 cents per point.
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I booked it for 4,000 points less (but $23 in taxes) by transferring ThankYou Points to miles before booking. Always consider both ways to book flights with ThankYou Points before choosing one option.

Bottom Line

In a few weeks, I am headed to Romania for the penultimate stage of my four months in Europe. (The last part is hopping around to four cities for a day each with this cool United award.) There are no good train or bus options from Belgrade to Bucharest, luckily there is a great option with ThankYou Points.

Transfer 5,000 ThankYou Points to Etihad miles and book an Air Serbia flight for 4,550 miles + $23.

This isn’t just useful if you want to go to/from Serbia. Etihad Guest Miles are also the miles of big airlines in Italy, Germany, and Austria.

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Getting ThankYou Points is easy:

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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Update: LifeMiles are now on sale for as little as 1.4 cents each through September 30, 2015, which allows you to follow the steps in this post.

Last week I published How to Consistently Buy Business Class Tickets to Europe for about $1,000, which explained how to purchase Avianca miles and use them to book award tickets, so that the total cash outlay is far less than just purchasing a ticket.

Yesterday, I had the chance to book my friend into Lufthansa Business Class from Tallinn, Estonia to Chicago for $1,050 for a flight this weekend.

Booking one way flights at the last minute is usually extremely expensive. The cheapest one way in economy on the day he wanted to fly was over $700 and had two stops. The cheapest pleasant itinerary was over $1,100 in economy.

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For Business Class, you’d have to pay over $2,000 to get a one stop itinerary without an overnight stay somewhere.Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 2.37.38 PM

He’s paying less money than the cheapest one stop itinerary in economy for a Business Class itinerary with a fully flat bed.

Why LifeMiles?

LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, a Colombian airline that is a member of the Star Alliance. You can use Avianca miles to book awards on all Star Alliance members including United, Lufthansa, Austrian, Brussels, Singapore, TAP, Turkish, and other airlines with service to and within Europe.

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Of the many types of Star Alliance miles you can use for awards to Europe, LifeMiles stand out for how cheaply it sells miles, and the fact that it imposes no fuel surcharges on awards, allowing for ~$1,000 one way Business Class tickets to Europe.

Three Steps

  1. Sign up for an Avianca LifeMiles account and select a country of residence in Europe.
  2. Buy 26,400 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus sale for $396.
  3. Book a Business Class trip to Europe, for 26,000 LifeMiles plus $587+.

The Steps Broken Down

1. Sign Up for a LifeMiles Account

My friend signed up for a free LifeMiles account here a few months ago because I told him that you need to have an account at the start of a LifeMiles sale to participate.

When signing up, he selected Estonia as his country of residence, which confers an advantage over selecting the United States. During the most recent sale (Step 2), accounts registered in North and Central America got a 100% bonus on miles purchased. Accounts from other countries got a 120% bonus.

2. Buy 26,000 LifeMiles during a LifeMiles Sale

You can always buy LifeMiles for 3.3 cents each. Every few months, LifeMiles offers a bonus on the purchase of miles of at least 100%. The most recent bonus was from May 5 through May 29 and was a 100% bonus for North and Central America and a 120% bonus for the rest of the world. That made the price 1.5 or 1.65 cents per mile total.

If the next sale is identical–I bet it will be–you can buy 12,000 miles with 14,400 bonus miles (26,400 total) for $396. Or if for some reason you’ve signed up with an American address, you can buy 13,000 miles with 13,000 bonus miles (26,000) for $429.

I will cover the next sale on MileValue, so check back daily or sign up to receive one free daily email with all of the day’s posts.

During the last sale, my friend bought 105,600 LifeMiles for $1,584. That was 48,000 miles purchased and 57,600 bonus miles.

Why 105,600 miles? Because a one way Business Class award costs 63,000 LifeMiles but LifeMiles allows awards to be booked with 40% of the necessary miles–26,000 in this case–by putting up cash to pay for your miles discount (Step 3).

He bought 26,000 miles for each one way Business Class ticket he thought he’d want to book in the next few months, and 105,600 miles was as close as he could get to 104,000 miles (four one-ways.)

There is a limit of 150,000 miles purchased per calendar year including bonus miles during sales, so you are limited to booking five Business Class one way tickets per account per calendar year. But you can always open multiple accounts, since LifeMiles accounts can always be used to book tickets in anyone’s name.

3. Book a Business Class trip to Europe, for 26,000 LifeMiles plus $587+

To book a LifeMiles ticket, sign into your account and click “Air Tickets” under “Enjoy.”

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Search for your cities, date, number of passengers, and cabin. If you’d like, you can select the carrier you want to fly or have the engine search all Star Alliance carriers. We selected Lufthansa because that’s the most convenient itinerary and best product from Estonia to Chicago.

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Ideally the search reveals award space on several options like his did.

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However, award space is far from guaranteed (as I’ll discuss below in the caveats section.) Not all flights have award space in all cabins.

Once you’ve decided on your flight, select it and at the bottom of the screen, toggle “More Money” to the maximum. This will change the price from 63,000 miles and $0 to 26,000 miles and $557.10.

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Clicking “Continue” takes you to the screen that shows the total price, which will include all applicable government taxes and a $25 booking fee. Estonia has low aviation taxes, so he’s dinged only $58 by the governments of Estonia, Germany, and the United States.

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He’s using one-fourth of the miles he bought for $1,584 in Step 2, which is $396 worth. The award costs those miles plus $640.36 for a total price of $1,036.36 for a one way Business Class flight from Europe to the United States. How else can you consistently get Business Class tickets to Europe for around $1,000?

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He’ll get to use a lounge in Tallinn, a Lufthansa lounge in Frankfurt, and fly the Lufthansa 747-8 for the longhaul flight from Frankfurt to Chicago in this seat/bed.

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Confirmation

The confirmation number that Avianca emails to you include a six digit alphanumeric record locator. You can use that record locator on this page to select options like your seats and meals and to check in on lufthansa.com.

Caveats

I hope you’re excited, but don’t rush off to copy my friend without reading these important caveats:

  1. These are the current prices from LifeMiles, but the only thing certain with miles is eventual devaluation. One day, LifeMiles will charge more than 63,000 miles one way in Business Class. When that happens, you don’t want to be stuck with a lot of miles in your account. That’s why you should go slowly and only buy enough miles to cover your very likely trips. Even then, you cannot completely eliminate devaluation risk.
  2. There is not award space on every flight in Business Class. You could buy the miles and then not be able to use them when you want to use them. However, I think this is only a minor concern because there is award space on most days from the United States to Europe with Avianca miles as long as you book within a few weeks of departure, which is when I assume most people who routinely book paid Business Class book their tickets. Here is award space from Chicago to Paris for the next two months. All green and blue days have Business Class award space for one passenger.
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    This is peak time and space is almost perfect. Space is bout the same to other cities in Europe because intra-Europe space is a gimme. Space is a bit worse to the west coast of the United States and much worse if you need to book more than two seats on the same flight.
  3. Every flight of a LifeMiles award must be in the same cabin. If you want Business Class across the Atlantic, you must also fly Business Class intra-Europe and United First Class (considered a business class) within the United States. This isn’t much of a problem intra-Europe, since almost all planes have Business Class, but there are many one-cabin planes in the United States operating to small airports. These cannot be booked with LifeMiles on a Business Class award. To see if your route is affected by this silly rule, go to united.com and search your award. Any award with a “Mixed Cabin” icon is off limits.

Bonus

Buy your LifeMiles in Step 2 and book your ticket in Step 3 with a Citi Prestige® Card for $250 off the first purchase and 3x points on all purchases. With the Citi Prestige® Card, the first $250 in award taxes, fuel surcharges, 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 LifeMiles miles purchases and award purchases.

The card also comes with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, international lounge access, and a host of other features.

Bottom Line

For most people, the best way to get transatlantic Business Class is to open credit cards and use the sign up bonuses for the free flights.

For businessmen who fly the routes too often to get all free tickets and ordinarily pay $4,000 to $8,000 for a roundtrip in Business Class, there is a better plan. Buy LifeMiles and book Business Class awards for around $1,000 each way.

 

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

Earn 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $5,000 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines lounge access for you and guests. My full review of the card.

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