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

United is offering tons of Business Class award space for the next 11 months on its flights to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Santiago, Chile.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.39.01 AM

Both routes will soon be flown by United’s brand new 787-9 Dreamliners with flat beds in Business Class. You can book either route for as little as 35,000 miles one way.

United 787-9 Dreamliner

The United 787-9 Dreamliner has 48 beds in Business class in a 2-2-2 configuration. I would choose a middle seat, since both have direct aisle access. If you choose a seat on either side of the plane, you’ll either need to climb over your seatmate or be climbed over during the flight.

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Each seat converts to a fully flat bed with 6’6″ of sleeping space.

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Miles Price

Between the United States and Argentina, United charges 30,000 miles each way in economy and 55,000 miles in Business Class.

But you don’t have to book the United award space with United miles. You can book the space with miles from any Star Alliance partner. If you want to book with another partner, search united.com without signing in. Note the date, cabin, and flight number of any Star Alliance flights with a blue button in its Saver award space column; then call the airline whose miles you’re using to book the award.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.13.14 AM

Here are the prices charged by some other Star Alliance partners (economy/Business one way) with their transfer partners in parentheses:

UR = Ultimate Rewards, MR = Membership Rewards, TY = ThankYou Points, SPG = Starpoints

  • Asiana (SPG) : 25k/35k
  • Air Canada Aeroplan (MR, SPG): 30k/47.5k
  • Singapore (UR, MR, TY, SPG): 30k/50k
  • Lufthansa Miles & More (SPG): 30k/52k
  • United (UR): 30k/55k
  • Avianca LifeMiles (none, must buy): 30k/60k

United flights to South America do not have fuel surcharges, so no matter what miles you use you’ll just pay taxes of $53 roundtrip to Chile and $60 roundtrip to Brazil.

Award Space Picture

All the calendars below are for direct flights to and from Houston for two people. It is zero extra miles to start your award anywhere else in the continental United States, Alaska, or Canada and connect to Houston as long as you find Saver award space on united.com for those connecting flights.

Yellow dates have Saver award space for two passengers in economy. Blue dates have Saver award space for two passengers in Business Class. Green dates have Saver award space for two passengers in both cabins.

Houston to Rio de Janeiro

The 787-9 Dreamliner starts flying on August 18, 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.19.28 AMBusiness Class award space is available over the whole schedule except Christmas, New Year, and Carnaval (February 5-9, 2016). Award space is particularly good in March and April , 2016.
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.19.15 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.20.08 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.20.27 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.20.49 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.21.05 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.21.23 AM

Rio de Janeiro to Houston

The northbound flight is a slightly longer redeye.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.28.10 AM

Return dates show similarly excellent award space in Business Class.
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.27.47 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.28.19 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.28.32 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.28.46 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.29.00 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.29.13 AM

Houston to Santiago

The 787-9 Dreamliner takes over this route on January 5, 2016. Just like Rio de Janeiro, both directions are redeyes.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.26.21 AM

Award space is fairly available in January, February, and March 2016, summer down there. April through June have plenty of economy award space.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.26.09 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.26.32 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.26.45 AM

Return space is more widely available in Business Class.

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Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.31.15 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.31.45 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.32.01 AM

More People

All the calendars above were for two people. I did one search for eight people from Houston to Rio in April and May 2016. Many of the dates have award space for eight people in flat beds!

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.33.45 AM

Other Houston Dreamliner Routes

United is also placing its 787-9 Dreamliner on several other routes from Houston over the coming year: Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Buenos Aires. None have very good award space in Business Class with Buenos Aires space particularly abysmal.

Bottom Line

There is excellent award space for two people in economy and Business Class from Houston (or elsewhere in the United States) to Rio de Janeiro and Santiago. United puts its 787-9 Dreamliner on the Rio route in a few weeks and on the Santiago route in January.

Just because the space is on United planes doesn’t mean you should use United miles to book. You can use any Star Alliance miles.

  • Asiana charges only 35,000 miles one way in Business Class, compared to United’s 55,000 mile price. You can transfer SPG points to Asiana miles in about two weeks.
  • Promiscuous transfer partner Singapore Airlines, a transfer partner of Chase, AMEX, Citi, and SPG, offers the routes for 50,000 miles one way in Business Class.

The best cards to get Singapore miles?

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also earns 3x points on travel and gas and 2x points on dining and entertainment. The Citi Prestige® Card also offers 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also comes earns 3x points on airfare and hotels and has a host of benefits like lounge access and $250 in free airfare per year.

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

13

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Here is just how easy and how essential it is to search for awards segment-by-segment.

My friend is visiting me in Belgrade, Serbia and wants to fly home to Los Angeles next week, so we were searching for an award for him with United miles, which are definitely the best miles between the United States and Europe.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 5.46.40 PM

Unfortunately the only awards available are in Business Class, and he has more time than money or miles.Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 5.46.58 PM

I’d personally fly this award in flat bed Business Class for 57,500 United miles + $78. (I would get out of the $75 close in ticketing fee with this trick.)Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 5.47.14 PM

But he needed an economy award, so we moved onto segment-by-segment searching. The idea is that there are legal itineraries you can book that don’t show up with a simple search because they have too many segments or too long of layovers (often overnight) for the computer to catch.

You can literally search one segment at a time, starting with potential transatlantic route. I didn’t do that. I just searched from Belgrade to United’s hubs in the Eastern United States. I started with Newark.

I found an economy award to Newark, but the next Saver economy award space from Newark to Los Angeles was the next morning.Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 5.47.37 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 5.48.00 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 5.48.42 PM

Those four segments are a legal award that would cost 30,000 United miles plus taxes, but I wanted to see if we could get him a more convenient itinerary.

I searched Belgrade to Washington-Dulles. I found this itinerary…Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 5.49.22 PM

…and six hours later there is space from Dulles to Los Angeles.Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 5.49.56 PM

This isn’t the best itinerary ever, since there are two layovers of 10 total hours, but it is legal, it costs 30,000 United miles, and it avoids an overnight in transit. For my friend, it is a win!

Booking Segment-by-Segment Awards

To book segment-by-segment awards, note the date, cabin, and flight number of each segment. Call the airline whose miles you want to use, and feed the agent that information.

In this case, to save the $25 phone fee and $75 close in fee, we’ll do something a little different. We’ll book a random Belgrade to Los Angeles itinerary for far in the future. Something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 6.43.54 PM

Then we’ll immediately call in, and say “Hey I just booked an award an hour ago, and I want to change the date.”

Changes or cancellations are free within 24 hours.

Then we’ll read out the date, cabin, and flight number of the flights we want.  There is no phone fee with this method. Very probably the agent will forget to add the $75 close in fee.

Bottom Line

Just because your simple search shows no award space doesn’t mean there is no award space. Try segment-by-segment searching.

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

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The Qantas San Francisco to Sydney flight that begins in mid-December is now searchable and bookable on aa.com. This is really bad news for Business Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 2.15.14 PM

Last week I wrote that there was plenty of Business Class award space on the flight, searchable on Expert Flyer and bookable by calling American Airlines. The flight wasn’t yet searchable or bookable on aa.com.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 2.15.48 PM

Now the flight is searchable and bookable on aa.com and award space is wide open in economy in both directions for at least six people per flight at a cost of 37,500 American Airlines miles each way. Award space in Business Class for even one person per flight is rare, though there is some, especially from Sydney to San Francisco.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.24.22 PM

Product

I flew Qantas Business Class on its A380 two years ago from Melbourne to Los Angeles. I understand that the 747 has the same seat/bed as the A380.

If you check out my review, you’ll see that I was not blown away by the product. My top two complaints are the 2-2-2 layout meaning that if you have a window you have to climb over your seatmate, and the fact that the bed is not totally parallel to the floor.


In bed mode

I think I would have slept fine on a westbound flight that takes off at 10 PM, but the schedule from Australia to the United States (on all airlines) are terrible for sleep, so I had trouble.

While I’d slightly prefer United Business Class and greatly prefer Qantas First Class, premium awards between the United States and Australia are hard to come by.

Award Space

San Francisco to Sydney

Award space is not available for the first month of the flight, encompassing Christmas and New Year.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.26.07 PM

Then award space quickly becomes available almost every day in economy.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.26.15 PM

Through the end of the schedule (late June 2016), award space is available nearly every Sunday through Friday in economy.

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Almost all the flights with economy award space have space for 6+ passengers in economy.

Business Class space is far rarer. From San Francisco to Sydney, I only see two days with award space in Business Class, each for only one passenger.Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.24.45 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.26.46 PM

Sydney to San Francisco

Sydney to San Francisco has the same award space patterns, but more dates with Business Class award space.

Economy has no award space until January 10, 2016, then picks up to six-day-a-week award space quickly.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.33.29 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.33.45 PM

There are a handful of days in May and June with one Business Class award seat.Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.35.11 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.35.26 PM

Award Cost

Between the United States and Australia one way, American Airlines charges:

  • 37,500 miles in economy
  • 62,500 miles in Business Class
  • 72,500 miles in First Class (not available on this route)

This is ridiculously cheap. United and Delta charge 40,000 and 50,000 miles one way in economy and 70,000 and 80,000 miles one way in Business Class.

There are no fuel surcharges on American Airlines flights flying Qantas, so you just pay taxes of $108 for a roundtrip.

I priced out an award with one way in economy and one way in Business Class. It cost 100,000 American Airlines miles + $108.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.54.31 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.54.38 PM

Connections

You can connect to San Francisco on American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines flights for zero extra miles. If you have a Business Class award, these connections can be in First Class.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 1.34.49 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-16 at 1.34.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-16 at 1.34.29 PM

In Sydney, you can connect throughout Australia and New Zealand for zero extra miles.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 1.36.44 PM

Getting American Airlines Miles

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® now offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months. That’s the biggest bonus of any card right now.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 2.52.22 PM

Until August 7, 20,000 SPG Starpoints transfer to 30,000 American Airlines miles.

Bottom Line

Award space for Qantas’ new San Francisco to Sydney route is now online. Award space is great in economy, even for entire families. In Business Class, award space is rare.

The sign up bonus on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® is big enough for a roundtrip to Australia in economy.

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

8

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Air Serbia award flights start at 4,550 Etihad Guest miles plus government taxes with no fuel surcharges. Etihad Guest miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.29.21 AM

Why Air Serbia?

I plan to spend a month or so in Belgrade, Serbia this summer, so I was looking at flight options for people to visit me or to get me from Serbia to Romania. Air Serbia serves a decent roster of European and Middle Eastern cities from its hub in Belgrade.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.19.08 AM

What is Etihad Guest?

Air Serbia is 49% owned by Etihad, and Air Serbia’s frequent flyer program is Etihad Guest, which is kind of a mini fourth alliance.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.17.14 AM

I’ve pretty much ignored the program until now because if you want to book Etihad flights, you get a better deal redeeming American Airlines miles than Etihad miles. (I had previously assumed you got a better deal on airberlin and Niki flights with Avios and Alitalia flights with Delta miles, but I will check those assumptions.)

Air Serbia Award Chart

However, there is no way to book Air Serbia flights other than with Etihad Guest miles, so I took a look at the Air Serbia award chart. Here it is, in its entirety:

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

The award chart is distance-based and doesn’t worry about round numbers with prices like 4,606 miles and 9,773 miles one way.

Business class is a modest premium over economy, about 50% more.

Most intra-European Business Class on airlines like Lufthansa or British Airways features the exact same seats as economy (same width and leg room) but the middle seat in each group of three seats is blocked out. If that’s how Air Serbia Business Class is, I wouldn’t bother paying even a 50% premium even though it comes with food, an iPad on flights over three hours, and lounge access. Air Serbia’s pictures online, though, show a 2-2 configuration like you’d find in domestic First Class in the United States, presumably with similar leg room.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.44.57 AM

Unfortunately I can’t find exact dimensions of Air Serbia’s Business Class seats online.

How to Book, Taxes & Fees

Unfortunately you cannot search or book Air Serbia award space online. You need to call 888-8-ETIHAD at least 14 days prior to travel to book your award. Air Serbia’s website says award bookings do not include “YQ tax” AKA fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.48.52 AM

I tested out one flight to see what taxes and fees were included on an award booking.

I picked this one way flight from Belgrade to Skopje, Macedonia because I’ve always had a fascination with Macedonia.

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 6.31.35 PM

The flight only costs $110.14.

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 6.33.15 PM

Of that, almost half, or $47.71, is made up of taxes and fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 6.33.23 PM

Specifically, the taxes listed as Serbia LG, Serbia RF, and Serbia RS are $23.17.
Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 6.33.42 PM

When I priced out that flight as an award ticket, the Etihad Guest phone agent quoted me a price of 4,550 miles + 20.78 euros.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.53.14 AM

That’s pretty close to $23.17. That tells me that booking Air Serbia awards with Etihad guest miles does NOT incur the YQ fuel surcharge or any phone fee, just the miles listed plus government taxes, which you can estimate very closely on ITA Matrix.

There were two flights from Belgrade to Skopje on the day I had the agent search. There was award space in economy on both flights. I don’t want to draw any conclusions from such a small sample, but I anticipate that award space is widely available on nearly every Air Serbia flight in economy and Business Class based on the fact that intra-European award space is a gimme on most airlines.

Is This a Good Redemption?

You save $87.10 by using 5,000 ThankYou Points (because you have to transfer in 1,000 point increments.) That’s getting 1.74 cents of value per point, which I think is pretty good. At that value, the sign up bonus on either the Citi Prestige or ThankYou Premier would be over $870.

Getting Etihad Guest Miles

Citi ThankYou Points and SPG points transfer to Etihad miles at a 1:1 rate. These are the best cards to earn Etihad Guest miles:

I transferred ThankYou Points to Etihad miles, and the miles took seven days to post in my Etihad Guest account. Combined with the 14 day advance booking requirement, make sure you plan ahead with your Air Serbia redemption.

Bottom Line

Etihad Guest miles are the only way to fly Air Serbia, which has a very cheap award chart for travel to and from Belgrade. Awards start at 4,550 Etihad Guest miles and Business Class is only about 50% more. Awards incur government taxes, but no fuel surcharges or phone booking fees.

You can get Etihad Guest miles by making a 1:1 transfer from Citi ThankYou Points or SPG points. Get the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card or Citi Prestige® Card, each with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points.

Pay your award taxes 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 award taxes.

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2

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American Airlines award space was not displaying on ba.com for the last three weeks. Now American Airlines award space is back on ba.com. Here is a search result from a few minutes ago for Miami to Manaus, Brazil:

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 1.25.19 PM

The award prices out at 12,500 Avios + $6 or 4,000 Avios + $83. (Read more on Cash & Avios awards. Read why my British Airways account prices in euros and maybe yours should too.)Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 1.25.58 PM

The best use of Avios is short, direct, economy award flights without fuel surcharges, which includes every American Airlines and US Airways flight within the Americas. Last minute awards can be especially great redemptions. (Read the Basics of Avios.)

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 1.32.46 PM

These US Airways flights today from Charlotte to Tampa are 4,500 Avios + $6.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 1.33.40 PM

If you bought with cash, you’d pay $443.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 1.33.26 PM

What to Do When Award Space Isn’t Displaying Online

American Airlines space is back on ba.com, but what should you do next time any airline’s award space isn’t displaying online.

There are two possible reasons award space wouldn’t display online, and each reason has a different course of action.

1. The Space Doesn’t Exist

A lot of people complain to me that they can’t find LAN Airlines award space on ba.com, but I am aware of no glitch in displaying space. The problem is that LAN Airlines releases very little award space, and the people contacting me are searching routes and dates with no award space.

If there really is no space, there is no solution. You must move on to another trip idea or keep checking for award space and hope that some opens up later.

You can check whether space exists by checking other websites. For instance BA, Qantas, and AA all show some oneworld partners’ award space. Similarly United, LifeMiles, and ANA all show some Star Alliance partners’ award space. If the space is on one site at the Saver level, it should be available with other types of miles. If the space isn’t on any of the sites, the space doesn’t exist.

2. The Space Exists, and There is a Website Glitch

The problem for the last few weeks was that American Airlines award space existed, but it wasn’t on ba.com. We knew the space existed because it was available at the MileSAAver level on aa.com (and on qantas.com.)

When space exists but is not on a website, call the airline whose miles you want to redeem. Calls to British Airways in the last few weeks successfully ticketed American Airlines award seats.

When you have to call in because of a website glitch, always ask for the phone fee to be waived. In this case, phone fees were waived.

Bottom Line

American Airlines flights are again bookable on ba.com. Next time, there’s a glitch like this, if award space really exists, call the airlines whose miles you want to redeem and ask for the phone fee to be waived.

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

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

Japan Airlines First Class space is widely available for 1-3 people per flight between Tokyo and Sydney between October 2015 and March 2016. That’s the heart of the Australian Summer, and Japan Airlines First Class is one of the nicest products in the world.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.29.36 AM

You can very cheaply book Japan Airlines First Class with American Airlines miles as part of a larger trip that includes both Asia and Australia.

  • How good is Japan Airlines First Class?
  • Where does Japan Airlines fly?
  • How many miles do you need between Tokyo and Sydney? How many miles from the United States to Sydney?
  • How can you search for and book the award space?
  • How can you get American Airlines miles?

How good is Japan Airlines First Class?

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 5.29.48 AM

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

Here’s a tour of the plane.

Where does Japan Airlines fly?

The only Japan Airlines plane with First Class is the 777-300ER. Seasonally, Japan Airlines adds its 777-300ER to its Tokyo-Narita to Sydney route.

Source: gcmap.com
Source: gcmap.com

This year, the 777-300ER and its First Class will operate from Tokyo to Sydney from October 25, 2015 to March 26, 2016.

Japan Airlines also flies its 777-300ER to America, specifically between Tokyo and San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

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

The San Francisco route flies to Tokyo-Haneda, so it doesn’t connect to the flight to Sydney. The others fly to Tokyo-Narita. From either airport, you can connect throughout Asia. If you don’t live at one of the North American gateways, you can connect from your home airport on American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines flights to the Japan Airlines award space for zero extra miles.

How Many Miles Does the Award Cost?

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

  • 60,000 miles one way in First Class between the Japan (Asia 1) and Australia (South Pacific)

You cannot route from the United States to Australia via Japan on a single American Airlines award. You’d have to pay for one award from the United States to Japan and a second award to Australia. American charges:

  • 62,500 miles one way in First Class between the United States and Japan

I realize almost no one reading this blog lives in Australia or Japan, but I still think highlighting these foreign deals is important because, hey, why not dream big and book a round-the-world trip as a series of one way awards?

How Can You Search and Book the Award Space?

Search on ba.com. For the moment–very likely to change very soon–there is excellent award space from October to March on the Japan Airlines flights between Sydney and Tokyo in First Class.

Most days have 1-3 seats in First Class in both directions. The Tokyo to Sydney flight is a redeye.Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.11.49 PM

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.11.57 PM

Sydney to Tokyo is a day time flight. Both flights are just under 10 hours.Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.11.49 PM

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.13.21 PM

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

Pay your award taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges 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 award taxes.

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

How Can You Get American Airlines Miles?

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

Bottom Line

Book–or put on hold–Japan Airlines First Class award space between Japan and Australia today with your American Airlines miles. Japan Airlines First Class suites are world class, American Airlines’ award chart is way underpriced, and 1-3 First Class award seats on most flights between October and March between Australia and Japan will not last.

Hat Tip One Mile at a Time

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

 

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

There’s an idea that you have to book your award tickets exactly 11 months in advance or there will be no award space. Having booked tons of awards for myself and clients of the MileValue Award Booking Service at all times from 11 months to 11 hours in advance, I can tell you that that idea is a myth.

While it is an advantage to know where you want to go 11 months out and start looking, the award space on your route might open up at any time before departure as airlines adjust their award space based on how many seats they’re selling.

Case in point: there’s tons of award space to Europe for this Summer right now.

You want to use United miles because United and its partners have the most award space. As a refresher, between the United States and Europe, United charges:

  • 30,000 miles each way in economy
  • 57,500 miles each in United Business
  • 70,000 miles each way in partner Business
  • 80,000 miles each way in United First
  • 110,000 miles each way in partner First Class

Here are some selected routes with fantastic award space for two people in July and August 2015. There’s nothing special about them; they’re literally the first three I searched. Remember that yellow dates have economy award space, blue dates have Business or First (but overwhelmingly Business) Class award space, and green dates have both economy and premium cabin award space.

Houston to Munich

Business Class award space is available for many early week departures. Economy award space is available nearly every day.

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Some dates have space on the direct United flight.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.15.55 PM

Some have a connection. Don’t be afraid of a London connection. It only adds $38 to the award price.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.16.06 PM

Los Angeles to Paris

West Coast to Europe is a lot harder than East Coast to Europe, but there is still plenty of economy award space, and premium award space sneaks in at about 21 days before departure if seats are unsold.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.16.41 PM

From the West Coast, you have a higher chance of a “Mixed Cabin” award that could mean hours in economy even when paying the Buiness Class price.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.17.10 PM

New York to Split, Croatia

Even awards to Eastern Europe into smaller airports have award space on plenty of dates.
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Connection times are often less convenient to smaller cities because there are fewer flights per day, but you will get to hang out in the Austrian Airlines lounge for the five hours of this layover.

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Awards may have two stops, but you’ll arrive rested from flying Business Class.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.18.48 PM

Other Airlines

United miles are far and away the best to Europe. Collect them for your trip there next summer, since you have time. See my Blueprint for a Free European Summer Vacation for the simple steps.

But that doesn’t do you much good for Summer 2015. If all you have are Delta or American Airlines miles, your options are much more limited, but there are possibilities.

For instance, American has great award space New York to Paris for two people in economy in July and August.

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There’s good space from Boston to Paris.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.27.06 PM

Bottom Line

You don’t always need to book 11 months in advance to use your miles.

There is great award space from the United States to Europe for this summer, especially with United miles. The space gets even better, especially in First Class, in the last week or two before departure.

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Alitalia Business Class award space is wide open in Spring 2016 from New York and Boston to Rome for 62,500 Delta miles each way. Many days have three award seats in nearly flat beds. You can connect to New York on Delta flights for zero extra miles, award space permitting, and within Italy or Europe on Alitalia for zero extra miles.

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  • What is the Alitalia Business Class product?
  • What is the award price with Delta miles?
  • What is the award space on Alitalia’s routes?
  • What connections are possible?
  • How do you book these awards?
  • How do you get Delta miles?

Alitalia Business Class Product

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Alitalia’s Business Class features a staggered layout similar to Austrian Airways’, which I reviewed in Trip Report: Austrian Business Class from Vienna to Chicago. Your feet go under the arm rest of the person in front of you.

Image from Austrian Business Class to show the staggered seats. Your feet go under his arm rest.

Though widely marketed as fully flat, my eyes tell me that Alitalia seats are not fully parallel to the ground.

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You can still get a comfortable night sleep, but not quite as comfortable as you’d get from a fully-flat, parallel-to-the-ground bed.

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Award Price

Delta charges 62,500 miles each way to Europe in Business Class. Alitalia awards originating in the United States, including one ways and roundtrips to Europe, do not incur fuel surcharges.

Alitalia awards originating in Europe, like one way trips home, do incur fuel surcharges, so don’t book one ways from Rome to the United States with Delta miles.

The miles price is the same from anywhere in the continental United States or Canada to anywhere in Europe, so adding connecting Delta or Alitalia flights will not change the miles price.

Roundtrip taxes to Rome should be $60 according to my List of Award Taxes from Major Cities in Europe, So You Return from Low Tax Countries.

Award Space

Alitalia flies year round from Boston, New York, and Miami to Rome. It serves Los Angeles and Chicago in the Summer.

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Credit: gcmap.com

Award space is wide open from New York to Rome from January to May, 2016 (the end of the current 11 month booking window) for up to three passengers. Award space is good in 2016 from Boston to Rome.

New York to Rome

The following calendars show award space from New York to Rome for three passengers in Business Class on nonstop flights. Days that say 62,500 miles have three Business Class award seats on at least one Alitalia flight that day.
Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.56.41 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.58.21 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.58.07 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.57.51 PMThe calendars show that award space is wide open in 2016 from New York to Rome in Business Class on Alitalia flights.

Boston to Rome

Boston to Rome doesn’t have quite as much award space for two passengers, but there is still plenty of space in Spring 2016.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.59.41 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 5.59.55 PM

Los Angeles to Rome

The other routes–from Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles–don’t have nearly as much award space. But there is a smattering of dates this summer from Los Angeles to Rome in Business Class with space for two.
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Connections

Don’t think of this as award space to Rome. Think of it as award space to Europe. Here are Alitalia’s flights from Rome.

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Any connection within Europe in Business Class adds zero miles to the 62,500 miles price. That’s pretty much every city in Italy and every major city in Europe.

You can also connect to New York in Delta or Alaska First Class for zero extra miles. While Alitalia award space intra-Europe is widely available, Delta First Class space is much less available. That means this Alitalia award space is primarily valuable for those living in New York and Boston. But if you’re flexible enough, you can find availability in Delta First Class.

Booking the Awards

Alitalia awards are searchable and bookable on delta.com. I’d book right there unless you need to book a mixed cabin award or you are getting an error online, in which case I’d call Delta at 800-323-2323 to book. Unfortunately Delta will charge you a phone booking fee of $25 per ticket. There is no way to hold award space with Delta miles.

Pay your award taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges 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 award taxes.

Getting the Miles

Right now Delta miles are easier than usual to get. Both the personal and business versions of the Delta Gold card are offering 50,000 bonus SkyMiles after spending $2,000 in the first three months. Their $95 annual fees are waived for the first year.

The Delta Platinum card offers 60,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQM (status miles) after spending $2,000 in the first three months. The $195 annual fee is not waived, but it is partially offset by a $100 credit if you make a Delta purchase in the first three months.

These deals end June 30.

CKANbanner_300x250_v6b

Bottom Line

Award space is excellent in 2016 in a very good Business Class product from New York and Boston to Rome and the rest of Italy and Europe. Alitalia Business Class costs 62,500 Delta miles each way plus roundtrip taxes of about $60.

Award space is open for up to three people per flight.

Connections are widely available in Rome, and to a lesser extent within the United States.

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

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According to Delta’s SkyMiles FAQs, mixed cabin awards are no longer allowed.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.34.54 PM

Mixed cabin awards used to be explicitly allowed (and indeed this FAQ at a slightly different URL has the old language.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.35.00 PM

If mixed cabin awards were totally banned, that would terrible news. I can see three possible maladies:

  1. Delta has “five” cabins: economy, Business, Business Elite, First, and One. Each plane has only two cabins but the front cabin is branded several ways. Not being able to mix First (domestic) and One (international business) onto one award would make international awards nearly impossible and would be a ridiculous policy. This is, emphatically, not what the new prohibition means.
  2. Folks who live in small cities, served by economy-only regional jets would not be able to fly economy to the big city and connect to Delta One (international business). This is also definitely not what the new prohibition means.
  3. If you can’t book a one way award to Europe in economy with the return in Business Class for 92,500 miles, then you’d have to book those two awards separately for 30k + 62.5k. Delta awards originating in Europe (your one way return) incur fuel surcharges, so this will cost you a few hundred bucks extra compared to being able to book as one award! (Plus if you need to cancel later, you pay two cancellation fees!) The new prohibition will cause this situation.

We know that–for all Delta’s confusing branding–there are really only two cabins: economy and business.

A Delta spokesman told View from the Wing: “From a shopping perspective First and Business (Delta One) are one and the same ‘premium cabin’.”

So don’t worry about connecting domestic First Class to international Business Class, that’s only one cabin according to Delta.

We know that one-cabin planes will not cause problems.

A Delta spokesman told Delta Points: “When only Main Cabin is available on a flight segment due to aircraft configuration, that does not break the fare.”

You can confirm this online right now. Here is an award from Philadelphia to Rome via New York-JFK. Philadelphia to New York is operated by a one cabin plane, so the Business Class price of 62,500 miles includes that segment in economy and the transatlantic segment in Alitalia Business Class.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.28.05 PM

You can see that by clicking “Multiple Cabins” above the miles price to get this pop up.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.28.12 PM

And you can confirm the Delta flight only has one cabin by looking at its seat map by clicking “View Seats” below the itinerary’s times.Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.28.33 PM

3. But you cannot book mixed cabin roundtrips online–one way in economy and one in Business.

This is a problem. Say you want to book New York to Rome with the outbound in economy and return in Business Class. You can’t do that online, only both ways in economy for 60,000 miles or both ways in Business for 125,000 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.20.04 PM

You can book each direction as a one way award.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.23.15 PM

The problem is that the return is an award originating in Europe, meaning Delta slaps you with fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.24.54 PM

While the Alitalia flight I showed above has fuel surcharges of only about $140 + taxes, many awards have fuel surcharges that are a lot higher. Delta from Paris to New York would cost over $340 one way between fuel surcharges and high taxes you can avoid if you read this.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.26.20 PM

At least for now, though, you can book a roundtrip award with one way in economy and one way in Business Class for the proper price by calling Delta at 800-323-2323. I just confirmed that by pricing New York to Rome with one direction in economy and one in Business at 92,500 miles. Who knows how long this loophole will last.

Bottom Line

Delta added scary sounding languages to its frequently asked questions, barring mixed-cabin awards.

Right now, you can still book mixed-cabin roundtrips by phone.

You will always be able to book mixed-cabin awards where one flight is in Business Class, and another flight is in economy on a one-cabin plane. You will always be able to fly all premium cabins no matter how Delta has branded them (eg mixing BusinessElite and One.)

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

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

With the 25% transfer bonus from Citi ThankYou Points to Virgin Atlantic miles, one way awards to London start at 14,000 ThankYou Points. Flat bed Upper Class awards start at 32,000 ThankYou Points.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 4.41.22 PM

Virgin Atlantic flies from 12 American cities to London.

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It also flies from the United States to Manchester, Glasgow, and Belfast.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 4.28.34 PM

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 4.29.29 PM

You can book Virgin Atlantic flights with Virgin Atlantic miles or Delta SkyMiles. The advantage of booking with Virgin Atlantic miles is that you need way fewer miles. Here is the roundtrip award chart to the United Kingdom with Virgin Atlantic miles. One way awards cost half the number of miles.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.02.18 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.02.35 PM

The drawback is that Virgin Atlantic awards booked with Virgin Atlantic miles have fuel surcharges. When booked with Delta, there are no fuel surcharges, and I compare using the two types of miles below.

Questions answered in this post:

  • What are the award prices with Virgin Atlantic Miles?
  • How are the Premium Economy and Upper Class Products?
  • What are the fuel surcharges on the awards? What route has almost none?
  • How do you search Virgin Atlantic Award Space?
  • How do you transfer ThankYou Points to Virgin Atlantic miles? Is the transfer instant?
  • How do you book the Virgin Atlantic awards?
  • Should you use Delta or Virgin Atlantic miles to book Virgin Atlantic flights?

Award Prices in Miles

Virgin Atlantic charges unusually few miles from the United States to the United Kingdom–and that’s the only place in Europe that you can fly Virgin Atlantic, which is a longhaul carrier.

There are two award bands–one for nearer cities and one for farther cities.

From the following cities, you can fly a one way award to the United Kingdom for 17.5k/27.5k/40k Virgin Atlantic miles in economy/Premium Economy/Upper Class:

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Newark
  • New York-JFK
  • Washington-Dulles
  • Chicago

That’s 14k/22k/32k Citi ThankYou Points. From most of those cities, the next cheapest economy option to Europe in miles is spending 20,000 American Airlines during its off peak award window. But this 14,000 ThankYou Point price is available for travel any time of year as long as you transfer your ThankYou Points before the transfer bonus ends on August 23, 2015.

Similarly spending only 22,000 ThankYou Points for Premium Economy is incredible compared to paying 30,000 United/Delta/American miles to Europe in regular economy. Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic is like flying domestic First Class.

Finally paying 32,000 ThankYou Points for a one way in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class to Europe is outrageously good. That’s basically what most airlines charge for economy, and you’re getting a flat bed, Clubhouse access, and access to an onboard bar.

From the rest of the United States, you can fly a one way award to the United Kingdom for 21.25k/35k/50k Virgin Atlantic miles in economy/Premium Economy/Upper Class:

  • Miami
  • Orlando
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco

That’s 17,000 ThankYou Points one way in economy, 28,000 ThankYou Points one way in Premium Economy, and 40,000 ThankYou Points one way in Upper Class.

Oddly, Detroit to London is not on the award chart at all, and the booking form explicitly says you cannot use miles to book the flight. This is particularly strange since Detroit to London was just part of an award sale on Virgin Atlantic.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 4.23.06 PM

Fuel Surcharges

The miles prices are the good news. The fuel surcharges are the bad news.

  • One way awards in economy to London have fuel surcharges of $129.
  • One way awards in Premium Economy to London have fuel surcharges of $229.
  • One way awards in Upper Class to London have fuel surcharges of $414 or $452, depending on flight length.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 4.04.11 PM

I consider fuel surcharges on awards a junk fee and a cash grab. I am never happy to pay them, but I am not foolish enough never to pay them.

Even after the fuel surcharges, Virgin Atlantic awards have significant value, especially during the 25% transfer bonus from ThankYou Points.

I’d rather fly Chicago to London for 22,000 ThankYou Points (transferred to Virgin Atlantic) and $234 in Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy than 28,000 ThankYou Points (transferred to Singapore Airlines) and $5 in United economy. The $229 extra is a small price to pay for more space, better food, and saving 6,000 ThankYou Points (which I value at $108.)

As always, use your ThankYou Points only if you are getting enough value for them. I’d only use ThankYou Points if I were getting at least 1.6 cents of value since you can always use ThankYou Points like cash to buy American Airlines tickets at a rate of 1.6 cents per point.

How do you figure what value the award is giving you for your ThankYou Points?

Use this simple expression:

(A – B) / (C + D)

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

This will spit out the dollar value you are getting for your miles. If that number is greater than 0.016, and you can book the dream award now, transfer ThankYou Points to Virgin Atlantic miles and book.

Hong Kong

Awards to Hong Kong have very low fuel surcharges, which is useful if Hong Kong to London can be part of a round-the-world trip for you. The awards cost just 25k/40k/60k miles in economy/Premium Economy/Upper Class with taxes plus fuel surcharges of $49.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 4.17.09 PM

That’s 20,000, 32,000, and 48,000 ThankYou Points + $49 during the 25% transfer bonus.

Why are all the prices mentioned one way to the United Kingdom?

Flying out of the United Kingdom incurs humungous taxes, about $300 one way in Premium Economy or Business Class, as I covered today in List of Award Taxes from Major Cities in Europe, So You Return from Low Tax Countries. I would only ever book Virgin Atlantic flights to London with Virgin Atlantic miles. Then I’d return from a low tax country in Europe on a separate award with a different type of miles.

Searching Award Space

Award space is not great, but it is present on all routes I checked in all cabins. The best award space is in economy and Premium Economy.

To search award space one month at a time, fill in the search form on the Virgin Atlantic home page and select “Spend your miles.”
Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.03.27 PM

Results look like this. At the bottom of each date are colors that signify award space.
Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.03.50 PM

Red is economy, white is Premium Economy, and purple is Upper Class.Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.52.00 PM

Find a date that has the award space you want and click Continue.Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 3.53.58 PM You’ll see the miles needed and the total in taxes and fuel surcharges. If you click Flight Info, you can see the aircraft.

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You can find seat maps on Seat Guru. Most of the planes, including the 787-9 Dreamliner, have Upper Class in a 1-1-1 configuration. I’d pick and A seat since G and K share an aisle. I’d pick a seat up front to avoid the noise from the bar behind 10G.

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Source: http://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Virgin_Atlantic_Airways/Virgin_Atlantic_Airways_B787-900.php

Transferring ThankYou Points to Virgin Atlantic Miles

Sign into thankyou.com and go to the page listing the 11 airline transfer partners.
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You can transfer in increments of 1,000 points and receive 1,250 miles.

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Two (1, 2) FlyerTalkers report their Virgin Atlantic miles posting in less than 24 hours. It’s unlikely, but award space could disappear in that time. Have a back up plan to use the miles if that happens.

Booking the Awards

When your miles post, head back to Virgin-Atlantic.com, rerun your search, and book there. Use a card with no foreign transaction fees, since purchases from foreign airlines often code as a foreign transaction even when denominated in dollars.

Pay your award taxes and fuel surcharges 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 award taxes and fuel surcharges.

Use Delta Miles Instead?

Delta miles can book Virgin Atlantic award space in economy and Upper Class, but not Premium Economy. Awards cost 30,000 Delta miles one way in economy and 62,500 Delta miles in Upper Class.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 4.37.01 PM

There are two advantages to using Delta miles.

  1. No fuel surcharges on the awards
  2. You can connect to Delta/Alaska flights in the United States and SkyTeam partners in London.

Do the math–add the out of pocket costs to the number of miles or points used times your value of those miles or points–to see whether you get a better deal with Delta miles or ThankYou Points transferred to Virgin Atlantic miles.

  • You’ll almost certainly get a better deal in economy with ThankYou Points transferred to Virgin Atlantic miles because you save 16,000 or 13,000 miles for only a $129 fuel surcharge.
  • You’ll definitely get a better deal in Premium Economy with ThankYou Points transferred to Virgin Atlantic miles, since Delta miles can’t book that cabin.
  • In Upper Class, it will come down to which route you want and how much you value ThankYou Points vs. Delta miles.

Getting Thank You Points to Transfer to Virgin Atlantic Miles

These two cards offer over 106,000 ThankYou points total for meeting their minimum spending requirements. You can get both as long as you apply at least eight days apart.

Bottom Line

Yes, Virgin Atlantic awards have fuel surcharges, but they also have incredibly low miles prices. During the 25% Citi ThankYou Points to Virgin Atlantic mile transfer bonus, you can book these awards for even cheaper.

Use these deals to fly one way to Europe, then return home on a separate award with a different type of miles from a low tax country.

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

16

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Below is a list of the taxes for awards departing from most major European cities, flying to the United States.

My friend wrote to me:

Not sure if any of the travel websites have done this, but the taxes of the airports in Europe really can impact the cost basis.

Just looking at three European cities for my United award:
London: $200
Athens: $98
Geneva: $48
Factoring for two people, that makes a big difference.

Every time you book an award with frequent flyer miles, you are responsible for paying government taxes associated with the award ticket. Sometimes you are also responsible for paying fuel surcharges or ticketing fees.

Pay your award taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges 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 award taxes.

My friend was looking at booking a roundtrip United award to Europe for July. United doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on any awards, and there are no fees for ticketing United awards more than 21 days before departure, so all he’d be on the hook for is the miles price and the government taxes.

Taxes vary widely based on the country and airport you depart, connections you make, and, occasionally, the cabin you fly.

Below I’ve compiled basically what my friend asked for: the taxes on a one way award from major European cities to the United States.

Why a one way award from Europe to the USA?

Because all direct one way awards from the USA to Europe have taxes of $5.60.

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The reason is that the United States puts most of its international aviation taxes, $17.50 worth, on the return to the United States while almost every other country in the world puts its aviation taxes, ranging from $15 to $280, on departure.

Bottom line: the country you fly into on a European award doesn’t affect the taxes; only the country you return to the United States from (plus connections and occasionally the cabin you fly) affects the taxes.

For a roundtrip award to the cities below, add $5.60 in taxes.

How Did I Get the Info?

I got all the tax information from united.com. On search results, hover your cursor over the taxes for a detailed breakdown.

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There’s nothing special about united.com except that it is easy to use. The same taxes would apply on awards with any other types of miles (though fuel surcharges and other fees may apply with other types of miles too.)

Extra Taxes for Flying in a Premium Cabin

Britain and France charge higher taxes for departing in Business and First Class. (I really just mean Britain, the island with England, Scotland, and Wales. Northern Ireland does not charge extra to fly a premium cabin, perhaps to compete with low Irish departure taxes.)

Britain calls its variable tax the “UK Air Passenger Duty,” and it is calculated based on the distance between London and the capital of the country where your award ends. France–hilariously–calls its variable tax the “Air Passenger Solidarity Tax.” I guess these countries figure, “From each [passenger] according to his ability [to pay punitive departure taxes]…”

Departure taxes leaving selected cities in Britain and France:

  • Paris in economy: $78.80
  • Paris in Business or First: $124.50
  • Manchester in economy: $144.70
  • Manchester in Business or First: $253.80
  • Glasgow in economy: $146.10
  • Glasgow in Business or First: $255.20
  • Edinburgh in economy: $147.20
  • Edinburgh in Business or First: $256.40
  • London in economy: $191.10
  • London in Business or First: $300.20

Avoid flying out of Britain on your European award, especially in a premium cabin. Britain is a lovely place that you shouldn’t skip on a big European adventure, just make sure it’s your first stop instead of your last stop, so you don’t have to pay the Air Passenger Duty.

If you do fly home from Britain, airports outside London have taxes about $45 lower.

France in economy is on the high end of the European range. In a premium cabin, departing France is better only than departing Britain.

Low Tax Countries

I’ve ordered the cities from cheapest to most expensive.

  • Oslo: $31.70
  • Istanbul: $32.50
  • Warsaw: $33.80
  • Stockholm: $36.30
  • Dublin: $39
  • Belfast: $42.20
  • Geneva: $42.90
  • Venice: $43.40
  • Barcelona: $43.50
  • Shannon: $43.60
  • Copenhagen: $43.80
  • Lisbon: $47.40
  • Amsterdam: $48
  • Madrid: $48.40
  • Brussels: $50
  • Milan: $50
  • Zurich: $56.50
  • Rome: $60
  • Hamburg: $82.70
  • Vienna: $87
  • Munich: $94.80
  • Frankfurt: $112.10
  • Berlin: $119.20

Shockingly to me, the cheapest country to depart is Norway, which is the most expensive country I’ve ever visited.

Irish and Northern Irish cities come out well on the list between $39 and $44, making Britain’s punitive Air Passenger Duty all the starker.

Most taxes cluster in the $30 to $60 range where I don’t think the difference is big enough to affect your departure decision.

The outlier is Germany. It is the most expensive country to depart outside of Britain and France. It also shows the most variability between departure airports. Hamburg, with a direct United flight to Newark, has only $83 per departure in taxes while departing Berlin costs $119.

Connections

The above showed the taxes on a direct flight from those cities to either Newark or New York (though the American city you fly to doesn’t matter.)

Connecting increases the taxes. Here are some sample connection taxes to give you an idea:

  • Oslo direct to Newark: $31.70
  • Oslo to Newark to Los Angeles: $37.30
  • Oslo to Copenhagen to Los Angeles: $48
  • Oslo to Munich to Newark: $51
  • Oslo to Frankfurt to Newark: $64.90
  • Oslo to London to Newark: $80.40

If you connect in the United States, you have to pay the $5.60 September 11 security fee. If you connect in other countries, you usually pay their taxes in the range of $10 to $50.

Again, London is the worst, but transiting London is a lot cheaper than starting your award there. And there are no extra taxes for transiting London in a premium cabin.

Eastern Europe

To get home from smaller cities in Eastern Europe like Prague, Helsinki, Riga, or Ljubljana, you will need to connect. The Eastern European countries themselves have low taxes, but the connection adds to the taxes. You’re probably looking at spending about $80 to $120 in taxes one way.

Maximizing This Information

Don’t make your destination picks based on saving a few bucks in taxes, but think about the order of your destinations. On your open jaw award, fly into the higher tax country and home from the lower tax country.

As an extreme example, imagine a Business Class open jaw award where you see Oslo and London. Flying into London and out of Oslo is smart. You pay only $37 in taxes.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.19.31 PM

Flying into Oslo and out of London is silly. You pay $304 in taxes–$267 more than the other way.Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.20.47 PM

Similarly if you want to take advantage of the current 25% transfer bonus from Citi ThankYou Points to Virgin Atlantic miles to fly Premium Economy or Upper Class to Europe, I suggest booking that award one way to London and returning from a low tax country.

Flying Newark to London in Premium Economy would cost 27,500 Virgin Atlantic miles (22,000 ThankYou Points) + $234.60. In Upper Class, you’d pay 40,000 miles (32,000 ThankYou Points) + $419.60 for a flat bed.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.25.45 PM Then return from Madrid for 30,000 United miles (or 27,500 Singapore miles/ThankYou Points) + $48.Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.25.23 PM

Bottom Line

Taxes vary widely on awards that include a return from Europe. Taxes are based on the country and airport you depart, countries you transit, and occasionally cabin you fly.

Avoid departing Britain, France, or Germany. Most of the rest of Europe has taxes in the $40 to $70 range for a roundtrip. On open jaw awards, fly into the more expensive country and return from the cheaper country.

Pay your award taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges 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 award taxes.

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Last month, I helped my friend book a bread-and-butter United award to Europe. She flew from Newark to Rome to spend a few days, continued to Madrid for a few days, then returned home to Newark. All of it was booked as one award for 60,000 United miles + $110 in taxes.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 6.55.28 PM
Source: gcmap.com

 

I had helped her book one of the three highest value United awards to Europe, the “Stopover (Complete Two City)” award. The three highest value awards with United miles to Europe, or any other international destination, are:

  1. Stopover (Complete Two City Award)
  2. Stopover + Open Jaw (Incomplete Three City Award)
  3. Open Jaw + Free One Way (Incomplete Two City Award + Later Free One Way)

Let’s look at the strengths of each one, so that you can book the best one for your travel goals on your next trip with United miles.

What All Three Have in Common

All the awards use a stopover. A stopover is a connection other than your destination where you are on the ground for more than 24 hours. United allows one stopover per roundtrip award, and zero on one way awards. This is more generous than American and Delta, which never allow stopovers, but less generous than Alaska, which allows stopovers on one way awards.

All the awards can be booked in any cabin. The best value United awards are in economy or United Business Class, since United jacked up the price of partner Business and First Class awards last year.

Two of the awards use at least one open jaw. An open jaw is just a mis-match between the start and end of your award or the turnaround point–like flying into Madrid, but flying home from Stockholm with no flight connecting those two cities on the award.

The Three Awards

1. Stopover (Complete Two City Award)

My friend booked a simple stopover award, which allowed her to see two cities on the same trip for no extra miles.

United would have charged her 60,000 miles roundtrip for a simple roundtrip to Rome, but she added a stopover there, continued to Madrid, and flew home from there for the same 60,000 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 6.13.48 PM

The award had no open jaw–even though two are possible on roundtrip United awards.

The cities she chose for the destination and stopover are not particularly good choices for convenience on a United award because neither is a Star Alliance hub. That meant that to get from Rome to Madrid, she had to fly via Frankfurt because there were no direct flights.

If either your stopover or your destination is a Star Alliance hub, you can fly a direct flight between them, making your vacation a little smoother. Here is a list of Star Alliance hubs.

This award is ideal if you just want to see two cities and don’t have grander plans. For grander plans, look at awards 2 and 3.

2. Stopover + Open Jaw (Incomplete Three City Award)

I explained to my friend that if she wanted to see three cities, she could book an award with a stopover and an open jaw. Something like flying to Rome, flying to Munich a few days later, then flying home from Madrid a few days after that.
Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 6.16.24 PM

Notice there is an open jaw between Munich and Madrid–hence the “incomplete” three city award. You can fill in the open jaw any way you’d like. In Europe, usually the best options are low cost carriers, trains, or Avios awards. You can put the open jaw between any of the three cities, so optimize it based on cost or distance of the separate ticket you’ll need to buy.

This award is ideal if you want to see three or more cities. For instance, if you want to see five European cities, you can fly into Rome, fly a few days later to Munich, and fly home two weeks later from Madrid. With separate tickets, you can book Munich to Paris, Paris to Barcelona, and Barcelona to Madrid.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 7.09.51 PM
United Stopover + Open Jaw Award in Red. Three separate flights or trains in black. Source: gcmap.com

3. Open Jaw + Free One Way (Incomplete Two City Award + Later Free One Way)

The last option is the most complicated. It allows you to see 2+ cities in Europe and have a later free one way.

This would be an award like flying to Rome, returning from Madrid, and months later flying to Hawaii on the same ticket.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 7.14.08 PM
Source: gcmap.com

 

If the “free one way” city is in the same region on the United award chart, the extra one way adds zero miles to the award price. Newark and Honolulu are NOT in the same region, so the one way would add 5,000 to 7,500 miles to the price of the roundtrip award depending on cabin, making it a “cheap one way” and not a true “free one way.” True “free one ways” are available within the continental United States, Canada, and Alaska.

If you book an award like this, you can see as many cities as you’d like in Europe, but you are responsible for booking all the intra-Europe flights and trains as separate tickets from the main United award.

You are also responsible for booking a separate one way ticket home from your free one way destination.

Is it better to book a stopover en route like in Awards 1 and 2 or a free one way in Award 3?

You must choose between a stopover en route and a free one way because both use a stopover–the free one way stopover is at your home airport–and you only get one stopover on a roundtrip United award.

Which is a better deal depends on your valuations and the cost of substitute cash tickets. My friend probably would have been better off using a later free one way instead of a stopover en route because Ryanair sells Rome to Madrid for as low as $62 (plus baggage and other fees.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 7.38.38 PM

 

For a full discussion, see Choosing Between a Free Stopover and a Free Oneway on United Awards.

“I got an error.” or “Award space disappeared when I searched multi-city.”

All three awards require using united.com’s terrible multi-city search. You’ll get a lot of glitches with it. Sometimes you just get an error message that aborts your search. Sometimes you found space searching one leg at a time, but that space doesn’t appear on united.com when searching multi-city.

For example, when researching this post, I had one multi-city search that included Rome to Newark on July 15. This is the only result I got:

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 6.45.34 PM

But searching one leg at a time, shows award space on the direct flight that the multi-city search didn’t show.Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 6.46.28 PM

The solution, as always with problems on united.com: hold or book one leg and call United to change your award immediately. Free changes are allowed within 24 hours, no phone fee will be charged, and the agent will see all the space you saw online on one way searches.

Searching, Booking, Getting the Miles

When booking any of these awards, start by searching each of the three parts of the award as one way searches on united.com. The three parts of the award are:

  1. Origin to stopover
  2. Stopover to destination
  3. Destination back home

When you have space, move on to a multi-city search, and call United at 800-UNITED-1 if you are getting errors.

United miles are easy to collect on the United cards and cards that earn Ultimate Rewards like the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus.

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Bottom Line

Don’t just book a boring roundtrip to Europe for your next vacation, add extra cities and possibly a free one way. There are three maximum value awards to Europe that use a stopover.

  1. Stopover (Complete Two City Award)
  2. Stopover + Open Jaw (Incomplete Three City Award)
  3. Open Jaw + Free One Way (Incomplete Two City Award + Later Free One Way)

The best value for you depends on your goals. All three require searching on united.com, using its glitchy multi-city award search, and possibly calling up to finish a booking.

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

11

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Monday I wrote about my experience flying Singapore First Class, which is one of the nicest five or so First Classes in the world.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 2.02.44 AM

Some people even consider Suites Class on the Singapore A380 to be the nicest First Class in the world because of the available double bed that two people can share (or one person can get to himself if the flight isn’t totally full.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 1.46.33 PM

Singapore First and Suites Class are very easy for an American to book from the United States to Europe or Asia. You just have to collect the right miles and pick the right route for your goal.

  • What miles do you need to book Singapore First and Suites Class?
  • What cards offer points that transfer to Singapore miles?
  • What routes does Singapore fly to the United States with First and Suites Class? Where in Europe and Asia can you go?
  • What are the fuel surcharges on each route?
  • How can you search and book Singapore Suites award space?

You Can Only Book Singapore First and Suites Class with Singapore KrisFlyer Miles

Singapore only releases award space in longhaul First and Suites Class to its own KrisFlyer program. You need Singapore miles if you want to book a double bed in the sky. Luckily Singapore miles are extremely easy to get because every transferable points program transfers 1:1 to Singapore miles.

  • Citi ThankYou Points
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • SPG Starpoints (with the customary 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred)

The first three take about 36 hours to transfer. SPG transfers take about a week or two and seem to post on Tuesdays in Singapore.

Right now, the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier have each increased their sign up bonuses to 50,000 ThankYou Points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You can get both as long as you apply 8+ days apart. The 106,000 ThankYou Points are more than enough to book any award in this post, and even getting one card and getting to 58,000 ThankYou Points is enough to book Singapore Suites.

The Chase Ink Plus (business) and Sapphire Preferred (personal) have a combined 95,000 point sign up bonus after spending $9,000 in the first three months. That is another path to any Singapore Suites flight.

The Membership Rewards bonuses offered on the Premier Rewards Gold, Platinum, and business cards reach up to 50,000 points per card.

The New, Lower $3,000 Spending Requirement on SPG Cards means you can get 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 on the SPG personal card and the identical bonus on the SPG business card.

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What Routes Does Singapore Fly to the United States

Singapore Airlines flies to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and New York. But Singapore is too far away to profitably fly directly, so each route has an intermediate stop in Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Frankfurt, or Moscow. Singapore has traffic rights on all individual segments, so you can fly from New York to Frankfurt, say, in Singapore Suites.

West Coast Routes

Singapore’s West Coast routes stop in Asia.

  • San Francisco to Seoul-Incheon to Singapore, 777-300ER
  • San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore, 777-300ER
  • Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita to Singapore, A380

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 1.28.44 AM

Other American Routes

Singapore’s other American routes fly east and stop in Europe.

  • Houston to Moscow-Domodedovo to Singapore, 777-300ER
  • New York-JFK to Frankfurt to Singapore, A380

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 1.29.03 AM

If you don’t live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, or New York or don’t want to go to Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Moscow, or Singapore, you can connect to United flights in the United States or other Star Alliance partner flights in Europe or Asia. If you do that, you will have to book by phone, and you pay full price of 67,500 to 110,000 miles one way for your First/Suites Class award.

If you can just fly the Singapore routes, you can book online at singaporeair.com with an automatic 15% discount on the miles needed for the award. Below are the prices for one way awards after the 15% discount. (A380 flights, ie Suites Class, awards are in bold.)

  • San Francisco to Hong Kong: 70,125 miles + $49.60 (15 hours flying)
  • San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore: 91,375 miles + $263.30 (17:45 flying)
  • San Francisco to Seoul: 74,375 miles + $203.30 (12:50 flying)
  • San Francisco to Seoul to Singapore: 91,375 miles + $263.30 (19:20 flying)
  • Houston to Moscow-Domodedovo: 57,375 miles + $211.70 (10 hours flying)
  • Houston to Moscow-Domodedovo to Singapore: 93,500 miles + $271.70 (21:15 flying)
  • Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita: 74,375 miles + $113.30 (11:45 flying)
  • Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita to Singapore: 91,375 miles + $275.97 (19:20 flying)
  • New York-JFK to Frankfurt: 57,375 miles + $203.30 (7:35 flying)
  • New York-JFK to Frankfurt to Singapore: 93,500 miles + $285.85 (20:05 flying)

Four things that jump out at me:

  1. Singapore Suites and First Class are basically priced the same in miles and fuel surcharges, so book Suites Class all else equal.
  2. There are fuel surcharges on awards. ($23.30 of each award above is government taxes.) These vary greatly and seem to be a lot lower on routes with competition (SFO-HKG and LAX-NRT, though not SFO-ICN or JFK-FRA.)
  3. San Francisco to Hong Kong is fewer miles and lower fuel surcharges than San Francisco to Seoul despite giving you more time to enjoy First Class.
  4. 57,375 miles is a ridiculously low price to sample Singapore First or Suites Class from the United States to Europe. You might get more enjoyment flying Europe to the United States for the same price on a day time flight though.

Searching and Booking Singapore First and Suites Class

Award booking at singaporeair.com is easy. After signing in, check “Redeem award flight(s)”, type in your cities, dates, and cabins. Do not check “Pay with KrisFlyer miles” which is actually a scheme where you get a fixed value for your KrisFlyer miles that would never put a Suites Class award within reach.

Select the flight you want at the Saver level. Although the Saver level is listed as 107,500 miles, there is a 15% miles discount for booking online.

You can see the online price by clicking the “Display total cost” button below and to the right of the flights. In this case, the total cost is 91,375 miles for flights from Singapore to Europe in First or Suites Class.

Selecting a flight takes one to the pricing screen. The out-of-pocket costs are broken down into taxes and carrier surcharges. The currency for awards originating in the USA is dollars. Originating somewhere else will price the taxes/surcharges in the local currency.

Pay your award taxes and fuel surcharges 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 award taxes.

Bottom Line

You can book Singapore First Class and Singapore Suites with Singapore miles, a transfer partner of every major transferable points currency. I recommend the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier, each with a 50,000 ThankYou Points sign up bonus. You can get both as long as you apply 8+ days apart. The 106,000 ThankYou Points are more than enough to book any award in this post.

You can fly Singapore Suites or First Class from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, or New York to Frankfurt, Moscow, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, or Singapore because all American routes have en intermediate stop in Europe or Asia. You can connect to other Star Alliance award flights, but doing so means having to pay the higher mileage prices on the Star Alliance award chart.

Award prices range from 57,375 to 93,500 miles for 7.5 to 21+ hours in Singapore First or Suites Class. Fuel surcharges range from $26 to $240 depending on the route.

Search for award space on singaporeair.com, transfer your points and wait about 36 hours for them to post, and book your award, paying the taxes and fuel surcharges with a Citi Prestige® Card to get an offsetting statement credit for the taxes and fuel surcharges.

Then go fly in your enclosed double flat bed!

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 1.46.33 PM

Key Links:

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Possibilities with Qantas flight. Source: gcmap.com

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Business Class Product

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

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

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

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

How to Search Award Space

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

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

Award Space Picture

South African Flight

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

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

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

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

Qantas Flight

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.27.05 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.27.35 PM

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.28.12 PM

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.36.49 PM

Connections

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

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

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

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

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

How to Book

Depends on which miles you want to use.

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

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

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

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

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

Avianca LifeMiles (book online) charges the same.

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 10.00.35 PM

There are no cheap deals with other Star Alliance carriers:

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

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

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

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

Getting the Miles

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

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

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Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Business Class Product on These Routes?

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.37.36 PM

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

How to Search Award Space

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

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

What Is the Award Space Picture?

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.32.03 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.32.28 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.31.35 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.29.13 PM

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

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

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

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Source: Award Nexus

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

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

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

Connections

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

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

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

How to Book

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

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

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

Getting the Miles

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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