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All airlines release award space 11 months out.

I’m not sure where that idea came from. Many flights never have any award space released, and flights that do have award space released have the space released at all different times from 11 months (or 11.5 months depending on the airline) before the flight to 24 hours.

One airline that has a unique pattern of releasing its Business Class award space between North America and Europe is Austrian Airlines: on Austrian’s five routes, it never releases Business Class space until three months before departure.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.38.49 PM
from gcmap.com; I like the German spelling of Vienna

 

The Product

I flew Austrian’s 767 in Business Class between Vienna and Chicago in 2013. Check out the full trip report.

Austrian flies 767s and 777s to North America. Both feature the staggered fully flat beds pictured in this video.

Your feet go under the divider between seats in the row in front of you. The 767 features four Business Class beds in all rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. The 777 alternates 1-2-1, 2-2-2. Obviously use Seat Guru to pick a row with the 1-2-1 configuration if you are traveling alone on an Austrian 777.

The bed is very comfortable like most Business Class beds. Austrian tries to differentiate itself with an onboard chef in full costume.

And its antipasti cart.

I thought the food was good, but the portions were too small–the only time I’ve thought that during a multi-course meal in a premium cabin.

Award Space

How can you get into this very good Business Class space? The easiest way is to pay 70,000 United miles one way in Business Class (on sale for 57,500 miles if you book by Saturday and travel in 2015.)

Award space in Business Class on Austrian’s routes follows a common pattern. Zero is available more than three months before departure. Within that three month window, some is available. (Economy space is available up to 11 months out. I see zero economy award space often in the summer months and great space for the fall and winter.)

Chicago

There are 14 days in the next three months with Business Class award space (blue and green days) from Chicago to Vienna, and no space beyond May 18.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.16.49 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.17.05 PM

In September and October, there is economy space almost every day, but Business Class space won’t open up in these months until June and July.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.18.09 PM

New York Area

From JFK and Newark–which I searched together with city code NYC–there is by far the most space. I count 38 days in the next three months with award space with the last day on May 23.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.18.44 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.19.09 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.19.12 PM

Some days have award space on both flights, which are annoyingly scheduled at exactly the same time, so you can’t pick between different flight schedules.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.20.32 PM

Washington DC

Washington-Dulles has terrible award space, with only five days with Business Class space in the next three months ending on May 17. Beyond that, there is no Business Class space.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.23.49 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.26.38 PM

Toronto

Toronto has award space in Business Class on 15 days in the next three months, ending on May 20.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.29.09 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.29.31 PM

Bottom Line

Not all airlines release award space 11 months out. Austrian releases economy space 11 months out, but only releases Business Class space between Europe and North America three months out if it releases the space at all on a given flight. I’ve noticed this pattern for at least a year.

The most plentiful award space by far is on Austrian’s JFK and Newark to Vienna flights.

This could be good news for people looking for Business Class awards to Europe this summer, but based on the dearth of economy award space to Europe on Austrian flights over the summer, I don’t think Austrian will release much summer award space. (I hope I’m wrong.)

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Delta got rid of its award chart two weeks ago. For awards starting and ending in the United States, I still know what Saver awards cost from memory and from these saved charts.

But now that Delta allows one way award bookings, I’d occasionally like to know the price of awards from Australia to Southeast Asia, Europe to Africa, or the Middle East to India. I don’t have those memorized, and I don’t have every set of Delta award charts for departures from every region saved anywhere. (Do you? Let me know in the comments.)

In fact, yesterday I was working on a booking for a client, and I wanted to know how many Delta miles a one way Business Class award from Beijing to Sydney would be. (By the way, the answer is apparently 65,000 miles based on the China Eastern award space online.)

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The Problem

When you want to know how many miles a trip costs, but there is no award chart and the partner that flies the route isn’t online, how do you find out the number of miles you need? I asked @DeltaAssist.

Delta’s Answer

I didn’t quite understand the response.

Maybe “CA” means that I can price the ticket by going through the initial steps of a purchase. Since the only way to purchase a China Southern award flight with Delta miles is to call Delta, I guess that’s what he’s suggesting.

I followed up to clarify, but I didn’t get a response.

If Delta Assist really is suggesting that you call Delta to figure out these award prices, that’s very strange. In every other context, airlines discourage you from calling them–going so far as to impose fees of up to $40 for calling instead of handling a task online. When you call Delta, that costs Delta money in staffing costs, so it’s a bit perplexing that Delta wants you to call and run up its costs. The only way that makes business sense is if removing the award chart from the internet is somehow more profitable than those phone staffing costs are costly.

Not Much of a Solution

I don’t care about Delta’s perspective as much as I care about ours. For us, it stinks to have to call Delta to get the price of these awards. I’ll have to find award space, wait on hold, deal with a (possibly) incompetent agent, and finally get the price of the award. Then I’ll have to hang up, compare that price to the price on the American and United award charts (and possibly many other airlines’ charts.) Then I’ll either have to decide to book the Delta award and call back or decide to book another airline’s award and go through that process.

The true solution of course is for Delta to put its award chart back online. That seems very unlikely, but I would have said it was impossible that an airline would pull its award chart off the internet in the first place, so stranger things have happened.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Fireworks in Sydney over NYE. Source:

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There are five Business Class saver award seats and seven economy saver award seats between Los Angeles and Sydney for much of late December.

The space is on the direct Virgin Australia flight and bookable with Delta miles on delta.com. Connecting from anywhere else in the United States and to anywhere else in Australia/New Zealand is possible for zero extra miles, award space permitting.

This is the ideal way to book what should be a very tough ticket: a trip to Australia over Christmas and New Year. This is your chance to see the Sydney fireworks in person.

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Source: http://www.sydneynewyearseve.com/fireworks/

Where does Virgin Australia fly?

Virgin Australia flies from Los Angeles to Brisbane and Sydney. Both cities are hubs for Virgin Australia, so you can connect from either throughout Australia and New Zealand. Here are the Virgin Australia flights from Sydney.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Airport
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Airport

Virgin Australia has excellent award space, so connecting in Australia/New Zealand should be easy and will add zero extra miles to the award.

Getting to Los Angeles is another matter. You can connect from your home airport to Los Angeles for zero extra miles if you find Level 1 award space on Delta. That’s not always very easy. To double your chances, remember that you can fly Level 1 economy space or First Class space to Los Angeles to connect to Virgin Australia Business Class.

Search segment-by-segment for the parts of the award, and if you can’t get delta.com to bring up your masterpiece, call Delta at 800-323-2323 to book the award.

Award Space

Delta charges 80,000 miles one way in Business Class between the United States and Australia, so every day that says 80,000 miles below has award space on Virgin Australia. (I can assure you that none of it is on Delta’s daily flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, which rarely has Level 1 space available.)

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.06.51 AM

Most days there is space nonstop between Los Angeles and Sydney and space with a stop in Brisbane. You can hover over a date, and if it says “NONSTOP,” you know the direct flight has space.

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Clicking on a date brings up your options. On December 29, the Delta flight only has Level 5 space available, and the Virgin Australia space is less than half its price.Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.07.29 AM

Note that all the flights are redeyes that land two days later because they cross the international date line. December 29 is the last day to depart to catch the fireworks.

Two years ago I departed December 31 from Los Angeles and landed January 2 in Sydney. I was nowhere for New Year’s Day.

The above calendar was for one passenger. I kept increasing the number of passengers, and the award space picture basically didn’t change. Here’s five passengers:
Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.10.27 AM

That’s astonishing! You can book five passengers on the same direct flight in flat bed Business Class to Australia in the peak of their summer and the peak of our holiday vacation at the saver level.

Unfortunately you can’t book six at the saver level:Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.11.11 AM

For economy awards, Delta charges 50,000 miles one way to Australia. I would much rather pay 30,000 miles more and get a bed, but for those short on miles, I searched economy award space. It is wide open for up to seven passengers:Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.11.40 AM

The return from Australia shows similar award space. Right now awards are only bookable through December 31, 2015. Every day you can book a day further into the future, so if you want to travel over Christmas and New Year, your return flight should be bookable very soon, and I expect excellent award space with Delta miles on Virgin Australia.

The Product

Virgin Australia Business Class is not the nicest in the world, but you’ll hardly be slumming it.

You get a fully flat bed that is 6’2″ long with a duvet and pillow. You’ll have a personal entertainment screen and access to an onboard bar.

Not all seats have direct aisle access, and reports of the food and service are less glowing than with Asian airlines, but this a solid Business Class product where you will be able to sleep and entertain yourself on the 14+ hour flights.

Getting the Miles

There are several co-branded Delta credit cards, plus Membership Rewards and Starpoints transfer to Delta miles.

None has a huge public bonus at the moment. The biggest bonus is 50,000 points on the Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum Card that I wrote about in my Top Ten Credit Cards.

Keep an eye out for the occasional 50,000 mile offers on the Delta cards and occasional 50,000, 75,000, and 100,000 point bonuses on the Gold and Platinum cards from American Express.

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Using miles to book trips instead of using cash has tons of advantages:

  • Easier access to First Class and flat beds: An international First Class ticket can cost $10k or the amount of miles you can get from opening a pair of credit cards.
  • Better open jaw and stopover rules: Few revenue tickets allow you to stopover without increasing in price. Many mileage awards allow free stopovers and open jaws for no extra miles.
  • Some mileage awards can be cancelled for free or close to it.

This last advantage–free or very cheap cancellations–is an oft-overlooked benefit of certain mileage programs.

I can afford this seat with miles, but not cash.
I can afford this seat with miles, but not cash.
  • Which program allows completely free cancellations?
  • Which programs allow cheap cancellations, as cheap as $2.50?

Southwest Rapid Rewards Awards

As commenter UAPhil has pointed out numerous times on this blog, Southwest Rapid Rewards are the gold-standard when it comes to cancellations. Here’s his take:

Rapid Rewards points bookings are fully refundable, with no cancellation fees or penalties, and no availability hassles. (Southwest revenue bookings have no change fees, but they are non-refundable with some fairly strict rules on when they must be re-used, so points are actually a more valuable currency than dollars for making Southwest bookings.)

It’s true that if you book a Southwest award for 10k points + $5.60, and you later cancel it, you will get your 10k points back and the $5.60 will even be returned to you as a credit toward a future booking. (I think I’ve even succeeded in having Southwest refund the $5.60 to my credit card, but I can’t find a record of it.)

Since Southwest awards are fully refundable, you can speculatively book with impunity.

British Airways Avios Awards

Last year I booked two friends tickets to visit me in Hawaii from Los Angeles. For each friend, I booked two awards:

  • Los Angeles to Oahu for 12,500 Avios + $2.50 per person. (Domestic airfare taxes have since increased to $5.60 one way.)
  • Maui to Los Angeles for 12,500 Avios + $2.50 per person.

One friend had to cancel.

I called British Airways to cancel his awards. I got back my 12,500 Avios on each award and lost my $2.50 on each award. That’s an effective cancellation fee of $2.50 on each award!

The fee is “supposed to be” $40.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 1.12.51 AM

If your taxes and fees are greater than $40 and you cancel, British Airways will refund your Avios and taxes and fees less the $40 fee. But if your taxes and fees are less than $40, you just forfeit whatever your taxes and fees were and get your Avios back.

Since I pretty much exclusively use Avios for direct domestic flights with $5.60 in tax per segment, my Avios cancellation fee is routinely $5.60.

Lufthansa Miles & More Awards

Miles & More awards have a $60 cancellation fee. That’s $140 cheaper than the cancellation fee on a United award with the same flights.

And it’s certainly much better than trying to cancel a non-refundable cash ticket.

Singapore KrisFlyer Awards

Singapore Airlines awards have a $20 change or cancellation fee. My friend booked one of those super cheap awards between South America and the United States with Singapore miles, and when he decided to change the dates of his stopover in Cancun, he paid just $20 to do so.

Try doing that with a cash ticket!

Recap

The main reason I use miles is to enter into otherwise inaccessible First Class cabins and stretch my travel further. I also love the lax routing rules on many awards that have let me see seven cities on one trip (although that loophole has now been closed.)

Beyond those big things, though, don’t forget to take advantage of the free or cheap cancellations that some types of miles offer. Speculative bookings have a lot of value when your plans aren’t fixed and great award space (or a cheap fare in the case of Southwest awards) is available.

As cash tickets have ever worse change and cancellation rules, award tickets hold extra value for their lax rules on the matter.

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United is offering award sales, several of them unannounced, to destinations all over the world at the moment.

United’s unannounced sale on Business Class awards to Europe is ongoing And now, via Dan’s Deals, United is offering three more discounts:

  1. Business Class between the United States and Central Asia for 70,000 miles each way on partner airlines for awards flown by March 31, 2015. The normal price is 80,000 miles each way on partners.
  2. Business Class between Europe and the Middle East for 35,000 miles each way on partner airlines for awards flown by March 31, 2015. The normal price is 45,000 miles each way on partners.
  3. Roundtrip economy class on United flights between the United States and Japan for 56,000 miles. The award must be booked by January 11 and flown between January 13 and March 11, 2015. The normal price is 70,000 miles roundtrip.

United States to Central Asia

The sale between the continental United States, Alaska, and Canada and Central Asia is exactly like United’s unannounced sale on Business Class awards to Europe.

You can book now for travel through March 31 and get partner Business Class for the United Business Class price (70,000 miles each way) instead of the normal 80,000 miles each way price.

March 31 from JFK to Delhi, India: 70,000 United miles in Lufthansa Business Class

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.53.06 PM

April 1 from Newark to Delhi, India: 80,000 United miles in Air India Business ClassScreen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.53.53 PM

Central Asia includes Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

Since this sale is completely unannounced by United, no one knows when it will end.

Europe to Middle

The sale between Europe and the Middle East follows the same rules.

You can book now for travel through March 31 and get partner Business Class for the United Business Class price (35,000 miles each way) instead of the normal 45,000 miles each way price. Oddly, of course, United doesn’t fly between Europe and the Middle East, so the “United price” on this route is imaginary.

March 31 from Frankfurt to Dubai: 35,000 United miles in Egyptair Business Class

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.57.43 PM

April 1 from Frankfurt to Dubai: 45,000 United miles in Austrian Business ClassScreen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.58.15 PM

The Middle East includes Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

United States to Japan

The third sale between the United States and Japan is advertised, and follows the pattern of United economy award sales:

  • Must book a roundtrip award
  • Must fly United planes (not partners)
  • Book by January 11
  • Fly January 13 to March 11, 2015

Follow the sale rules for 20% off roundtrip awards.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 12.07.21 AM

Japan’s aviation taxes are low, like ours, so a roundtrip prices out at 56,000 miles + $44.70.
Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 12.09.13 AM

Bottom Line

United is currently running unannounced sales to Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East during which you can fly partner Business Class for the United Business Class price.

There is also a sale to Japan: 20% off economy roundtrips on United flights.

None of these four sales will make me take a trip I otherwise wouldn’t, but all of them are nice automatic savings if you were looking to go to one of these regions.

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January 1, as promised, Delta began to allow one way award redemptions for half the price of roundtrips. Delta also went from three tiers of award prices–Saver, Standard, Peak–to five–Levels 1 through 5. Delta had promised greater availability at Levels 1 and 2.

This has been Delta’s plan for many months now, but I was away from the internet from December 30 to January 2 hiking in Patagonia, and I didn’t want to queue up a post saying one way bookings were live because I don’t fully trust Delta. This time it looks like Delta followed through.

  • One way bookings are live.
  • I do see Level 2 award availability where I once saw Standard. (Level 2 is cheaper than Standard, which is equal to Level 3.)

I have argued that even though we were losing the opportunity to book stopovers on Delta awards at the same time, the trade–one way bookings for stopovers–is a net positive for two reasons:

  1. Delta award availability isn’t as good as its rivals’, so being able to snag a one way award at Level 1 (previously “Saver”) prices is much easier than finding an entire roundtrip at those prices.
  2. We now get two open jaws on a roundtrip award–this is always true when you can book one way awards–and we previously only got one.

The Proof

Yesterday I headed to delta.com and ran a search that I have been monitoring for weeks, from Buenos Aires to Greensboro in March. (While American Airlines offers the route for only 20,000 miles one way in economy to Delta’s 30,000, Delta has far more convenient one-stop itineraries available.)

The search can be done right from the delta.com homepage without signing in. Make sure to select “Miles.” Select “Flexible Days” if you are flexible, which I hope you are if you are using miles.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.18.37 PM

 

A seven day calendar comes up, which you can toggle to 5 Weeks by clicking the button above the calendar.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.19.13 PM

Taking a look at Delta’s current award chart, you can see that Level 2 and Level 4, the new levels, are 37,500 and 55,000 miles one way from the United States to Southern South America or vice versa.Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.20.13 PM

When I toggled my search to five weeks, I saw that a ton of Level 2 award space is available, some of which I’ve highlighted. I don’t see any Level 4 award space.Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.20.44 PM

In the 35 day window searched between Buenos Aires and Greensboro in economy, I see:

  • 12 days of Level 1
  • 14 days of Level 2
  • 6 days of Level 3
  • 3 days of Level 5

The last time I checked this award space on December 29, there was less Saver space than the current number of Level 1 days. Add that to the fact that about 40% of the dates are now Level 2, which is cheaper than Standard award space, which used to dominate this picture, and Delta has complied with its promise–at least on this route–to release more Level 1 and 2 award space.

Kudos Delta!

This is true for economy and business class award space on all the routes I’ve checked. Over time we’ll see if this holds, and Level 1 award space is more common than we were used to with Level 2 award space filling in where Standard award space used to reign. If that is the case, Delta miles could become as valuable as United miles.

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United.com is convenient to use, but doesn’t work very well.

I ran a simple search the other day, and got a different problem with a different solution for the outbound and the return.

The Plan

I was just running a search from Chicago to Sydney roundtrip. I was expecting to route from Chicago to Vancouver to Sydney.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 10.55.41 AM

It’s only a little more flying than routing through San Francisco or Los Angeles, and Air Canada’s flight out of Vancouver has much more award space than United’s flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles, especially in Business Class.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.04.21 AM

Searching the Hardest Leg First

I found dates that worked on the direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney roundtrip first because I always start with the hardest leg in my searches. (If you don’t know the hardest leg, start with the longest leg.)Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.07.54 AM

These flights cost 160,000 United miles + $131 in Business Class. As a refresher, United charges more miles to fly partners in premium cabins than to fly its own premium cabins. United would charge only 140,000 miles roundtrip in United BusinessFirst and 160,000 miles roundtrip in United Global First to Australia.Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.08.01 AM

The Full Search

Knowing which days had award space in Business Class on the Air Canada flights, I searched the entire Chicago to Sydney award roundtrip on those days on united.com. The calendar at the top of the search results told me there was Saver economy and Business Class award space on the day I searched.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.13.40 AM

Yet the results showed only Saver award space in economy. And the results only featured United flights. No partner options were offered.
Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.14.21 AM

Solution 1: Display 50 Flights

You can often get new and better results from united.com just by asking it show you more results.

I clicked on Advanced Search at the bottom of my results.
Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.10.23 AM

At the bottom of the Advanced Search page, I toggle the Number of Flights to Display to 50.Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.10.46 AM

Re-running the search brought results that featured the Business Class flight from Vancouver to Sydney.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.10.03 AM

After selecting the outbound, though, no results were found with the Air Canada Business Class segment for the return even though, again, the calendar said I should find some and I asked 50 results to be displayed.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.17.11 AM

Solution 2: Segment-by-Segment Searching

For the return, the way to find award space was segment-by-segment searching. I already had found award space from Sydney to Vancouver, landing November 17 at 7:35 AM.

I searched Vancouver to Chicago and found award space on a few flights.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.16.48 AM

I could select the 10:30 AM departure in economy if I valued getting back to Chicago quickly or the 1:41 PM if I wanted to fly Business Class on the four hour flight.

Here is a post on Segment-by-Segment searching with a full example.

Since I couldn’t get united.com to show the full Sydney to Vancouver to Chicago return, to book these flights, I’d need to put something on hold then call in to United and feed the agent the flights I’d found.

Bottom Line on United.com

United.com doesn’t display all possible connections, sometimes says there’s no space on flights with space, and sometimes says there’s space on flights with no space.

It’s not as good as aeroplan.com or ANA.com–click the links for how and why to search those sites–at displaying Star Alliance award space. If you decide to use united.com–to redeem United miles or because it is the easiest site to use–be aware of possible errors and solutions.

Bonus: Free One Way

This roundtrip United award could include a stopover or a free one way before or after the main award to/from Chicago to/from anywhere else in Canada or the continental United States.

See Free One Ways on United Awards

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Right now, awards:

  • booked with United miles
  • between the United States and Europe
  • for flights in January, February, and March 2015
  • on partner airlines
  • cost only 57,500 miles each way in Business Class

That’s the same price that awards booked on United’s own flights cost, and 12,500 miles off the normal price for Business Class awards on United partners–70,000 miles each way.

I have been monitoring what I believe to be an un-announced sale (rather than a glitch) closely because I am looking to book myself an award in Business Class from the United States to Seville, Spain near the end of March.

An award leaving March 30 using Air Canada Business Class (flat bed!) to cross the ocean is 57,500 United miles, an un-announced discount.

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An award leaving in April using Lufthansa Business Class (angled lie flat) is 70,000 miles, the normal price.Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 2.21.46 PM

This sale appears to be only in January, February, and March. Flights leaving December 30 price partner Business Class at 70,000 miles one way.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 2.23.07 PM

The same route in Air Canada Business Class on January 1, 2015 prices at the discounted 57,500 mile price.

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How Good Is This Sale?

This is a nice sale, but nothing to go nuts over for two reasons:

  1. It’s not that cheap. American Airlines charges 50,000 miles each way in Business Class to Europe on its own flights or partners. Delta will charge 62,500 miles each way in Business Class to Europe for awards booked on or after January 1, 2015.
  2. United Business Class is better than most of its partners to Europe. United BusinessFirst (as they confusingly call Business Class) features fully flat beds and is more widely available than many partners’ offerings. Lufthansa Business Class, the easiest award space to find to Europe with United miles mostly features angled lie flat beds. Generally to Europe, I’d use my United miles to fly United BusinessFirst any way, so this sale doesn’t change that.

Your Take

Will this sale cause you to take a trip you otherwise wouldn’t? Will you take advantage of the discount for a trip you were already planning?

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American Airlines offers some of the most generous off peak awards in the world. Off peak awards are discounts (ranging from 20-30%) on economy awards with MileSAAver award space, the capacity-controlled space that we like to book.

To Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Central America, American Airlines charges just 15,000 miles one way seven months out of the year. Two roundtrips cost only 60,000 miles.

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Two Roundtrips to Peru

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Just meeting its minimum spending requirement puts you at 53,000 miles. A little more spending gets you to 60,000 miles and two roundtrips.

When are Off Peak Awards Available

Off peak awards are available to the Central America and northern South America for most of the year, including most of winter, spring, and fall.

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What Do They Cost

If you fly between January 16 and June 14 or September 7 and November 14, you can take advantage of a 20% discount on MileSAAver awards and pay only 15,000 miles one way or 30,000 miles roundtrip to Central America and Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

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Where Does American Fly in the Region

American has the strongest route network to Central and South America. Here are the flights from Miami to cities in the off peak region.

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Here are the flights from Dallas. There are no destinations served from Dallas that are not served from Miami.
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Unique to American Airlines, you can usually book off peak awards on either American flights or its partners flights. By contrast US Airways off peak awards require booking on US Airways flights only. See Master Thread: Off Peak Awards for more information.

One exception to American’s largesse is off peak awards to Central America, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Off peak awards to these countries must be booked on American Airlines flights.

That means that adding on a connecting segment on a partner will increase the price to the normal MileSAAver price of 17,500 miles one way. For instance, adding Lima to Cuzco in Peru onto an American Airlines award that would otherwise cost 15,000 miles makes it cost 17,500 miles. It still might be worth it to pay 2,500 miles to get the segment onto your award, but be aware of this rule.

You can connect from your home airport to Miami or Dallas to start the award for zero extra miles as long as the connecting flights have award space in MileSAAver economy and are operated by American Airlines. If they are operated by US Airways, the price jumps to 17,500 miles that direction.

How to Search for Award Space

Nothing fancy here. Search on aa.com for award space from your home airport to your destination. There shouldn’t even be a need for segment-by-segment searching because aa.com is pretty good at displaying even long layovers on awards like these if necessary. Here’s how to search aa.com.

Award space is generally excellent to these destinations during off peak dates. If it isn’t available on the dates you want, don’t despair, American Airlines open a lot of MileSAAver and off peak economy award space one month before departure.

Getting the Miles

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. It also comes with a ton of other benefits like free checked bags, priority boarding, a 10% rebate on awards, two lounge passes, and more. See my full review.

If you open the card and meet the minimum spending requirement, you’ll have 53,000 American Airlines miles. Spend $7,000 more on the card at your leisure, and you’ll have 60,000 American Airlines miles.

If you normally spend $2,500 per month on a card, getting to 60,000 miles will take only four months. If you spend only $1,000, this will take 10 months. No matter what, sometime in 2015, you should easily get to 60,000 miles.

With that 60,000 miles, you can book two roundtrip (or open jaw) tickets to Central America or northern South America during off peak dates.

You’ll even get a 6,000 mile rebate a few weeks after the booking from the 10% rebate that comes with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®.

Take your friend on a dream trip. Open one card, collect 60,000 miles on it including the 50,000 mile sign up bonus. Then book you and a companion an award trip to Central or South America. Head to Ecuador to see the Galapagos, Peru to see Machu Picchu, Colombia to trek to the Ciudad Perdida, Guatemala to see Semuc Champey, or wherever your dream trip is.

Is there an easier way to get two tickets to an exotic destination? Share it in the comments.

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Bri wrote in her Free Credit Card Consultation:

2 passengers, to Lima, Peru. Anytime in July 2015 (hopefully stay 2 weeks). I would love to fly business class but I would like to err on the side of opening just 1 card, if possible. My friend is willing to also open a card. I’m thinking American Airlines or the US Airways offer, since its 50,000 miles, but I don’t know if that’s the best use of miles to get to South America and if there’s notoriously low availabilities for South America during the summer

I was expecting to suggest the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months or the US Airways card with 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase also. After all, I had suggested the American Airlines card to everyone as the Way to Get to Machu Picchu with Miles.

 

But as is often the case, I ran a quick search to see what award space I could find. I ended up finding award space every day in July to Lima, but not with American Airlines miles.

United miles are the ticket for Bri. I replied:

There is award space every day for two passengers from IAD-LIM, usually with an option to connect in El Salvador, flying TACA/Avianca, or Panama City, flying Copa. It is easily searchable and bookable at united.com. Each way is 20k in economy and 35k in Business, so opening one card is enough for one way in each cabin.

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Most days have economy and business class award space available.

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Outbound award space, green means economy and business class space available for 2 passengers
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Return award space, look at all that green

United isn’t releasing Saver space on itineraries via its daily flight from Houston. Instead, you fly on Copa and TACA/Avianca.

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The return offers the same kind of itineraries.

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Suggested Card

The best card to get United miles is the United card. Right now the public offer is 30k miles after $1k spending in the first three months plus 5k miles for adding an authorized user.

If you log into your United account, you may get a 50k offer after spending $2k in three months instead plus the same 5k miles for adding an authorized user.

If you don’t get that offer, you can probably get matched to that offer by applying for the public offer, then writing Chase a Secure Message saying you saw the 50k offer (it has been at Houston Airport in the last month) and asking to be matched to it.

In all cases, the $95 annual fee is waived the first 12 months.

If you get the 50k offer, that should be 57,000 United miles after spending $2,000, which is enough for one way to Peru in economy and one way in business class.

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Bri and her friend can get to Lima next July for under $100 in taxes by opening one credit card each. It wasn’t the card she (or even I) expected to suggest. This is a cautionary tale to always start at the end and perform an award search before you apply for a credit card. Or just have me do it for you with a Free Credit Card Consultation.

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I think miles and points are one area where you don’t have to spend hours per day to get great results like flying some of the world’s nicest First Class products or taking your family of four on vacation for pennies on the dollar.

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Easy enough to get here

You could probably cut the amount of time you spend on this hobby to 20% of your current input and still get 80% of the results. (Not that you’d necessarily want to do all of that because this is fun!)

Here’s are four ways I’d shave off huge amounts of time, while still getting most of the results.

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If you’ve somehow made it until two days before Thanksgiving without booking a flight and would like to book one, there is award space available.

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What? You were expecting a picture of the other turkey? (from Google Maps)

I did searches on transcontinental routes with two airlines and found good award space, even premium award space for travel over Thanksgiving weekend.

This is interesting whether you still need to book an award or plan to book holiday travel this year or in the future.

  • What award space pattern did I find?
  • What miles have no extra fee for booking right before departure?

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The calendar is turning to Summer below the equator, and it’s not too late to book yourself an award to escape the cold in the United States.

Many airlines release unsold seats as Saver award space in the last weeks, days, or even hours before a flight. I searched for award space between Miami and several South American cities on American Airlines for the next few weeks to see what American’s pattern of last-second award space will be this South American Summer.

American Airlines miles have the best award space to South America on American Airlines and LAN Airlines flights. Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

If you got the card today, and spent $3,000 on it in the first month, you’d have 53,000 American Airlines miles around the New Year. That’s more than enough for a roundtrip to Northern South America including Peru and just short of the 60,000 miles needed for a roundtrip to Southern South America.

  • What is the award space to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and more for the next few weeks?
  • What is the award space in economy, business, and first class?
  • Where can you search and book this award space?

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

As you read this, I’m 35,000 feet up on my way to Medellin, Colombia.

I was in Tucson over the weekend for a tennis tournament, and I didn’t have any exit flight booked. I really wanted to return to Colombia because I had enjoyed Bogota so much and heard even better things about Medellin, but award space didn’t appear to be available for a Monday departure from Tucson to Medellin.

I used two tricks and a little bit of creativity to come up with a Saver award, save myself $75 in fees, and give myself a chance to hang out with a buddy I haven’t seen in a few years.

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  • What were my two tricks?
  • How did I save $75?

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An actual improvement to delta.com!

Previously, you could search award space one month at a time with a calendar on delta.com, but that calendar only took into account award space on Delta flights. Because much of the Saver award space available to people with Delta miles is available on partner airlines, that meant that in practice, you really had to search delta.com one day at a time to get the full picture. See “A Major Problem with Delta.com and the Only Solution.”

The nearly useless delta.com used to display

Now, multi-day award searches can display a grid of +/- 3 days, and do take into account partners. This is a big improvement in my mind. It will certainly save me a lot of time when I am booking awards for clients of my Award Booking Service.

  • How does the new delta.com search work?
  • What airlines are searchable on delta.com?
  • Why should you still call in to book most Delta awards?

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