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

I just booked myself a five city, four country award for 15,000 United miles + $73. Let’s back up a little bit before I explain my current award.

My 2013 Euro Hopper

Two years ago, I flew a Seven City, Seven Flight, Six Country Award in Europe for 12,500 United miles plus taxes. I was able to get all that flying in because United allowed unlimited connections within Europe, so I added six between Zagreb and Munich.

Source: gcmap.com

The huge drawback on such awards is that a connection is a layover of less than 24 hours, so I had less than a day in each city. United doesn’t allow any stops greater than 24 hours on one way awards. I made clear in every post about that award that I knew it wasn’t for everyone because not everyone would enjoy such rapid travel.

But I had a blast.

  • It was my first trip to Dubrovnik, and I achieved a dream of cliff jumping into the Adriatic under the centuries old city walls. I have to go back.
  • It was my first trip to Rome, and I got to see the Colloseum and Forum, places I’d wanted to see since Latin I. I have to go back for longer.
  • I had never been to Brussels, Oslo, or Amsterdam, and while I enjoyed my time knocking off 2-3 of the top sites and activities in each, I learned that I don’t need to go back for longer trips any time soon.
  • Finally I got to Munich in time for Oktoberfest and my flight back to the United States.

As a break from my slow travel routine, I really enjoyed my week of breakneck speed. It was also a useful sorting mechanism. Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Rome, and Munich need extended visits. Brussels, Oslo, and Amsterdam don’t.

Two things have changed since that week in 2013.

  1. United now only allows four segments on a one way award.
  2. United has increased the price of an intra-Europe award to 15,000 miles one way.

My 2015 Euro Hopper

Fast forward to 2015. I’m about to spend four months in Europe that I have mentally divided into four parts, each of about one month.

  1. Madrid, Spain
  2. Helsinki to Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius (the Baltics)
  3. Belgrade, Serbia
  4. Bucharest and Romania

I plan to end the main trip in Bucharest, but my return flight to the United States is an award that flies two segments in Emirates A380 First Class and begins in Zurich.

How to get from Bucharest to Zurich?

Another Europe hopper with 23 hour layovers. This time four segments between five cities and four countries.

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Source: gcmap.com

I start in Bucharest and end in Zurich. My only hard requirement was to fly direct flights only because when you have less than 24 hours on the ground in each place, you don’t want a tough journey to get there.

Because of schedules and interest, my trip ends up being Bucharest to Athens to Dubrovnik to Zagreb to Zurich.

  • This will be my first time in Athens, and I am ecstatic to see the Acropolis.
  • This will be my second time in Dubrovnik. Last time I only had about three hours of sunlight for cliff jumping. This time I plan to jump and hang out on the rocks at least twice that long!
  • This will be my second time in Zagreb. It’s a great place to be on a Friday night.
  • Finally I get to Zurich on Saturday afternoon, my favorite time to arrive in a new city, a few days before my flights back to the United States.

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The entire award costs only 15,000 miles and $72.80 in taxes that I paid with my new Citi Prestige® Card. Its $250 annual airfare and airline fee credit will give me back the $72.80.

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Searching and Booking the Award

Searching the award took me about 20 minutes. It involved a lot of Wikipedia consultation, searching all the possible routes, and writing down the flight times to make sure the scheduled landing time of one flight is less than 24 hours before the scheduled departure time of the next.

Finding award space is the easy part. Intra-Europe award space is usually a gimme, available on almost every flight in economy.

I started at the beginning and checked out the Bucharest airport Wikipedia page to find the direct Star Alliance flight options. There are a lot: Athens, Vienna, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Lisbon, Copenhagen, and Istanbul among them.

I immediately eliminated many of the cities because I’ve spent extended time there recently, they were too far away, or I didn’t have interest. My clear top choice was Athens. I was flexible about the date of arrival in Zurich at the end of my award, so I searched Bucharest to Athens on a few days and noted the flight times.

I searched united.com, here’s how, because all the relevant United partners in Eastern Europe are searchable on united.com. The only European partner not searchable on united.com is Brussels Airlines. Search it on aeroplan.com.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.40.01 PM

From Athens, I had a ton of options since it is the hub of Star Alliance carrier Aegean. (To make things easier on yourself when constructing these awards, plan a hub at least every other city.)

I only wanted to go to Dubrovnik. Athens to Dubrovnik is served by both Aegean and Croatia Airlines, but even combined, is not served daily. There was only one day and flight that worked for me. I noted its time.

From Dubrovnik, I had to get to Zurich in two more segments, so I opened the Dubrovnik airport Wikipedia page and Zurich airport Wikipedia page to find cities in common. There are actually a ton of cities in common because Croatia Airlines flies many seasonal routes from Dubrovnik.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.51.00 PM

I zeroed in on Zagreb and conveniently there are several daily Croatia-to-Zagreb and Zagreb-to-Zurich flights. I picked the ones that gave me closest to 24 hours, without going over, in each city.

Booking

I put the first segment on hold on united.com with the PayPal trick. Then I called United web support at 866-211-1861. I told the agent I just needed to add three segments to my itinerary and fed her the date, cabin, and flight number of the other segments. She never mentioned or charged a phone booking fee. That’s the advantage of starting the award with an online hold.

I paid with my Citi Prestige® Card to take advantage of its $250 airfare/fee credit. The whole call took about seven minutes. In less than thirty minutes I searched and booked the award.

In the end I get:

  • 22 hours in Athens
  • 20 hours in Dubrovnik
  • 19 hours in Zagreb
  • 3 days in Zurich (before my Emirates flight)
  • (2 days in Dubai as a free stopover on an Alaska Airlines award)
  • (arrive in Houston for a wedding)

It’s going to be a heck of a week!

Other Possible Itineraries

The Star Alliance dominates Europe. These are the European Star Alliance members and their hubs:

  • Adria Airways (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
  • Aegean Airlines (Athens, Greece)
  • Austrian Airlines (Vienna)
  • Brussels Airlines (Brussels, Belgium)
  • Croatia Airlines (Zagreb)
  • LOT Polish Airlines (Warsaw)
  • Lufthansa (Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, Berlin)
  • Scandinavian Airlines (Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm)
  • Swiss International Air Lines (Zurich)
  • TAP Portugal (Lisbon)
  • Turkish Airlines (Istanbul-Ataturk)

All these options make a four segment, five city itinerary very easy to create. Put the cities that you want to explore the most first and last because the three middle cities will only have 23 hours or less of exploration time. Also be sure to check the ease of getting from the airport to the city. Frankfurt is about a 15 minute train while Paris is about a one hour train. That matters a lot when you only have 23 hours.

Other Regions

This award may be possible in other regions, but Europe has some major advantages:

  1. No other region has close to the 11 European partners.
  2. No other region has cultures change over such short distances–short flights are nice when you only get 23 hours in a place.

Bottom Line

I’m taking the long way from Bucharest to Zurich, taking advantage of all four segments United gives you on a one way award with daylong stops in Athens, Dubrovnik, and Zagreb.

I searched on united.com with the help of Wikipedia. I put the first segment on hold and called in to book the award.

The award cost me 15,000 United miles and $73. I paid with my Citi Prestige® Card. Because of its $250 annual airfare/fee credit, I will have the $73 credited back to me. I’ve used up my free $250 for 2015 in the first month of having the card. I’ll get another free $250 for airfare and award taxes in January 2016, so I’ll get $500 in free money for the card’s first $450 annual fee. That’s in addition to the card’s 50,000 bonus points, 3x category bonuses, and free American Airlines and Priority Pass airport lounge access. Read my full review of the Citi Prestige.

There’s no excuse not to have 15,000 United miles. Right now the United card is offering 55,000 bonus miles.  You can get the United card and Citi Prestige on the same day.

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When United greatly devalued its award chart in February 2014, it started charging more to fly Business and First Class on its partners than on its own planes. For instance from the United States to Thailand costs:

  • 40,000 United miles one way in economy
  • 70,000 United miles one way in United Business Class
  • 80,000 United miles one way in Partner Business Class
  • 80,000 United miles one way in United First Class
  • 130,000 United miles one way in Partner First Class

If you fly all the flights on an award on United planes or all flights on partner planes, it’s obvious what price you have to pay, but the rules governing awards that feature United and partner planes are less intuitive. You can still pay the cheaper United prices if:

  1. Your United flight is in a higher cabin than your partner flights, or
  2. Your United and partner flights are in the same cabin, but your partner flights are intra-regional

United Flight in Higher Cabin Than Partner Flight

If you fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo in United First Class and then connect in Thai Business Class to Bangkok, you pay the United First Class price from the United States to Thailand because your United flight is in a higher cabin than your partner flight. (If your Thai flight were also in First Class, you’d pay the partner First Class price from the United States to Thailand.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.42.56 AM
Source: gcmap.com

 

Equal Cabin but Partner Flight is Intra-Regional

If you fly from Chicago to Frankfurt in United Business Class and Frankfurt to Paris in Lufthansa Business Class, you pay the United Business Class price from the United States to Europe because the partner Business Class is intra-regional. (By region, I mean the official regions on the United award chart.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.43.14 AM
Source: gcmap.com

 

These two rules lead to some funny pricing between a lot of regions in which the partner Business Class and United First Class prices are equivalent. One such award is Hawaii to Australia & New Zealand.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 2.44.57 PM

United charges 60,000 miles one way for partner Business Class and the same price for United First Class. That means you get funny award search results like this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 2.42.59 PM

The Business Class column features United Business Class and Air New Zealand Business Class, both on region-connecting flights. That means you pay the partner Business Class price: 60,000 miles.

The First Class column features United First Class and Air New Zealand Business Class. Since the United flight is in a higher cabin, you pay the United First Class price: also 60,000 miles.

That means on this route, you pay the same amount whether you fly United First or United Business Class before the Air New Zealand Business Class. Easy choice!

The same thing would happen if you found similar award space between the mainland United States and Thailand. You’d pay 80,000 miles one way for United First or partner Business Class.Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 2.45.12 PM

That means you’ll see a lot of awards like this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.30.18 AM

In both itineraries, you pay the same 80,000 miles whether you pair United First Class or United Business Class with partner Business Class because of the rules given above. These don’t have an option to pay 130,000 miles for United First plus partner First because the partner flight is a two-cabin plane.

But what if you the partner flight is a three-cabin plane with award space in all three cabins? You see an award like this:Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 11.30.55 AM

San Francisco to Beijing on United has award space in all three cabins. The same can be said for Beijing to Bangkok on Thai. If I wanted to book this award, I’d do it by phone. Why?

I’d want to pair United First plus Thai Business for 80,000 miles. It’s not worth the extra 50,000 miles to me to fly Thai First for 5hr15min. Unfortunately the mixed-cabin award I’d want want isn’t online, so I’d just call 800-UNITED-1 to book it by specifying the date, cabin, and flight number of each flight I wanted.

Do you understand how awards with United and partner flights price? Have you seen awards where the First Class column and Business Class column show the same price like in this post?

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Right now 40k Starpoints plus taxes will get you a roundtrip economy class trip to Europe, 65k Starpoints will get you a roundtrip Business Class ticket, and 80k will get you a roundtrip First Class ticket.

Starpoints always transfer to dozens of airlines at a rate of 20k Starpoints to 25k miles. On top of that standard bonus, until April 27, 2015, Aeroplan is giving a bonus of up to 25k miles on transfers of hotel points to Aeroplan miles.

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These transfer bonuses combine to mean you can get up to 56% more Aeroplan miles than you had Starpoints, which you can redeem on a cheap award chart on Air Canada flights or any Star Alliance carrier.

If you redeem to Western Europe on Swiss and United flights, you’ll pay only 40k/65k/80k Starpoints in economy/business/first with no fuel surcharges.

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Luckily I have Starpoints from getting the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and business version a few years back.

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  • How can you take maximum advantage of this promotion?
  • How can you avoid the fuel surcharges?
  • Where do you search? How do you search?
  • Where do you book?
  • How good of a deal is 40k Starpoints to Europe or 80k Starpoints in First Class?

The Deal

Starpoints always transfer to dozens of airlines at a 1:1 rate. For every 20k transferred, you get 5k bonus miles. My favorite airlines transfer partners are American Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t consider Air Canada’s program, Aeroplan, because Aeroplan collects fuel surcharges on most partners, though not on United, Copa, Avianca, Swiss, and Turkish flight.

But Aeroplan is running a compelling promotion through April 27, 2015. Transfer hotel points and get bonus Aeroplan miles. All transfers from the listed partners will be summed to determine one’s bonus threshold.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.03.19 PM

 

The relevant transfers for Western Europe awards with Aeroplan miles are:

  • 40k Starpoints transfer to 50k Aeroplan miles + 10k bonus Aeroplan miles for 60,000 total Aeroplan miles (50% bonus). This is enough miles for a roundtrip economy award to Western Europe* from the continental US, Alaska, and Canada.
  • 65k Starpoints transfer to 80k Aeroplan miles + 10k bonus Aeroplan miles for 90,000 total Aeroplan miles (38% bonus). This is enough miles for a roundtrip business class award to Western Europe* from the continental US, Alaska, and Canada.
  • 80k Starpoints transfer to 100k Aeroplan miles + 25k bonus miles for 125,000 total Aeroplan miles (56% bonus). This is enough miles for a roundtrip first class award to Western Europe* from the continental US, Alaska, and Canada.

*Western Europe includes the countries defined as Europe 1 on the chart, Europe 2 is more expensive.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 10.55.57 PM

Similar deals are available to Southern South America. Check the award chart to see how many Aeroplan miles you need.

Maximizing Aeroplan Awards

Aeroplan awards allow for two stopovers in addition to your destination.

Aeroplan collects fuel surcharges on most partners. For instance, fuel surcharges of over $500 per person per roundtrip are instituted on Lufthansa economy awards. Two partners on which no fuel surcharges are collected are United and Swiss flights.

Searching for United and Swiss Space

We want to book our Aeroplan award with United and Swiss space to avoid fuel surcharges. The best place to search for space on United flights is united.com. On an advanced search, tick the box to search only United flights.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 11.05.07 PM

Search results–and the search calendar–will only display United flights.

To search for only Swiss flights, find routes that Swiss flies and check Nonstop Flights Only on the united.com advanced search.

Once you’ve found your United or US Airways flights, head to aeroplan.com to book them. Aeroplan will have access to all Saver United space, and all Swiss space that shows up on united.com. You can mix-and-match Swiss and United flights and still have no fuel surcharges.

Booking on Aeroplan.com

Booking the award space on aeroplan.com is easy. Search the dates and cabins you found on united.com. I found award space from Newark to Brussels to Zurich to Newark on united.com.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.24.00 PM

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.29.10 PM Then I searched for the space on aeroplan.com.Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.29.04 PM

Each flight I found was the top result for the day I searched. I pieced it together for 90,000 Aeroplan miles + $132. That would be only 65k Starpoints at current rates.Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.30.25 PM

Getting the Miles

The easiest way to get Starpoints is to get the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months.

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Your Starpoints won’t arrive before this promotion ends, but we’ve seen similar promotions before, so you’ll have Starpoints in case this promotion returns.

Caveat

It can take up to two weeks for transfers from Starwood to Aeroplan to arrive. The exact award space you want may be gone by the time your Aeroplan miles are in your account.

Bottom Line

  1. Search for award space on united.com for Aeroplan partners on which Aeroplan doesn’t collect fuel surcharges.
  2. Open an Aeroplan account.
  3. Transfer the correct number of Starpoints to your Aeroplan account to book your dream award, taking into account the standard Starpoints to Aeroplan miles bonus (20k points = 25k miles) and the special limited time bonus being offered by Aeroplan until April 27.
  4. When the points arrive, redo your search on aeroplan.com and book.

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Virgin America no longer collects fuel surcharges on redemptions that fly Virgin Australia.

That means you can fly Virgin Australia’s flat bed Business Class from Los Angeles to Sydney or Brisbane for only 80,000 Virgin America points + $130 in taxes roundtrip. Delta charges 80,000 miles one way for the same flights!

Virgin Australia award space is widely available for up to 12 people on a single flight, including over peak times like Christmas and New Year’s.

But there are two catches:

  1. Virgin America points are expensive to acquire with cash or point transfers.
  2. This price is good from Los Angeles to Sydney or Brisbane, not from other American cities or to other Australian cities.

Getting Virgin America Points

There are Virgin America credit cards that earn one Virgin America Elevate Point per dollar, but the sign up bonus is only 10,000 to 15,000 points.

You can buy Virgin America points for 5.2 cents each normally. Until April 4, 2015, you can buy Virgin America points with an 80% bonus on points purchased. That brings the price of points to 2.9 cents each. You can only purchase 20,000 points per year–36,000 with the 80% bonus–for $1,040.

You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards at a rate of 2 Membership Rewards to 1 Virgin America point. There are occasional 30%, 35%, and 40% bonuses on the transfer rate. The most recent was a 35% transfer bonus that ended February 15, 2015. At that rate, you could have transferred 118,600 Membership Rewards to the 80,000 Virgin America points needed for a roundtrip Business Class flight to Australia.

Of the three methods, I think the best way to get Virgin America points is to wait for the Membership Rewards transfer bonuses.

The Award Price

Virgin America has different award charts for each partner. Here is the interactive chart for Virgin Australia flights booked with Virgin America points.

You select a departure and arrival city to get the prices. Los Angeles to Sydney is 40k/60k/80k Virgin America points roundtrip in economy/Premium Economy/Business Class.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 10.15.03 AM

One way prices are slightly more than 50% of the points.Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 10.15.13 AM

You can also book domestic flights on Virgin Australia. Melbourne to Adelaide is 3,500 points one way.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 10.53.32 AM

And flights to Virgin Australia’s destinations in the Pacific. Melbourne to Fiji is 25,000 points roundtrip.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 10.53.52 AMBottom Line

Using Virgin America points to book Virgin Australia points just got several hundred dollars cheaper with the elimination of fuel surcharges. The price remains 80,000 points roundtrip in Business Class from Los Angeles to Sydney or Brisbane.

If you live in a different city in the United States, you’ll need to book your ticket to Los Angeles separately. If you want to go to a different city in Australia, that will also require a separate ticket.

Virgin America points are tough to rack up, since the Virgin America credit card sign up bonus is only 15,000 points, the points cost 5.2 cents each to buy, and 2 Membership Rewards transfer to 1 Virgin America point.

But if you wait for a 30-40% Membership Rewards transfer bonus, you’re looking at around 120,000 Membership Rewards and $130 in taxes for a roundtrip award to Australia on a flat bed.

Hat Tip The Points Guy

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On many routes, Etihad releases tons of Business and First Class award space within one week of departure. You can book this ultra-luxury award space without fuel surcharges with American Airlines miles.

Twitter follower Patrick found four Etihad First Class award seats this week on a flight from Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi and asked whether that was normal.

The answer is that it depends on the route. Let’s take a look at three routes in Business and First Class to find the pattern:

  • London <-> Abu Dhabi (A380)
  • Washington-Dulles <-> Abu Dhabi (787 starting 3/15/15)
  • New York-JFK <-> Abu Dhabi (A380 starting 12/1/15)

The Product

Etihad First Class on its newest A380 has a couch that seats several people and a separate bed and costs only 40,000 American Airlines miles between London and Abu Dhabi. (When it starts flying New York to Abu Dhabi in December, it will cost 90,000 miles each way.)

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Etihad’s fully enclosed suites are the most spacious in the sky. Etihad First Class also features an onboard shower and lounge.

Getting the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®, which comes with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, give you enough miles to fly Etihad First Class. The card even gives you an automatic 10% rebate on all America Airlines awards (up to 100,000 AA miles redeemed per year), so the final cost is 36,000 miles.

Etihad Business Class is a fully flat bed that costs 30,000 American Airlines miles between Europe and the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent or 67,500 miles between the United States and the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent.

Award Space in the Last Three Weeks

I looked at award space over the next three weeks in Business and First Class on etihad.com. Here’s how to search for award space on etihad.com. For the purposes of this post, just remember that American Airlines can only book award space in the GuestSeat column on etihad.com.

Abu Dhabi <-> London

Abu Dhabi to London didn’t show much First Class award space over the next three weeks. There’s only one day with space, it only has one seat, and it isn’t even on the A380 flight.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.18.30 AM

In Business Class, Abu Dhabi to London also only had one day with award space in the next three weeks.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.19.47 AM

But this was not the pattern for all the routes. For instance, London to Abu Dhabi shows fantastic award space in Business and First Class in the next few weeks.

Six out of the next seven days–all the days that say “Miles 43857″ on the calendar–have Business Class space between London and Abu Dhabi. (Remember that American will only charge 30,000 miles for this space not 43,857 miles.) Many of the dates, like March 12 below, have award space in Business Class on both daily flights including the A380 service.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.20.56 AM

When there are six or fewer seats available for awards, that fact is noted in the search results, and yet that fact is not noted in the screenshot above meaning there are 7+ award seats in Business Class on each flight that you can book with American Airlines miles.

The award space in Business Class from London to Abu Dhabi appears to open up one week before departure because none is available after March 16. (On this route in Business, Saver award space is denoted by “Miles 43857.”)Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.21.29 AM

In First Class, the award space from London to Abu Dhabi is also wide open for the next week with award space every day, denoted by “Miles 54949.”Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.22.12 AM

Many days have 1-2 seats on the A380 service.

This space also appears to open up one week before departure because between one and three weeks out, there is only one more day with First Class award space, March 18.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.22.26 AM

Washington-Dulles to Abu Dhabi

Etihad puts its new 787-9 Dreamliner on the Dulles route Sunday. First Class award space–denoted by “Miles 114444″ on the calendars below–is excellent on the route within one week of departure with up to four First Class seats being released.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.23.31 AM

Beyond this week, there are three other days in the next three weeks with First Class award space between Washington and Abu Dhabi, March 27-29.
Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.23.45 AM Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.23.56 AM

Right now these days just have one seat on the Dreamliner, though more space is likely to open within one week of departure.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.24.08 AM From Abu Dhabi to Washington, we see the same pattern, excellent First Class award space–denoted by dates that say “Miles 114640″ below–within one week of departure.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.24.41 AM

Two and three weeks out, there is no award space.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.24.59 AM

New York <-> Abu Dhabi

There are two daily flights between New York and Abu Dhabi. On December 1, 2015, the A380 will begin to fly one of those frequencies. As of March 8, there was no award space on the A380 in First Class for any date it is scheduled to fly. (Some briefly opened and was either booked or taken back.) Will last minute award space open?

From New York to Abu Dhabi, there is award space in First Class for the next week, denoted by “Miles 111000.” Many days have four First Class award seats.
Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.25.39 AM

This space is widely available for all of the next three weeks.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.25.54 AM Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.26.04 AM

From Abu Dhabi to New York, the pattern is different. The award space is wide open this week (“Miles 111010″), but not for the two weeks after that.
Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.26.37 AM Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.26.51 AM Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.27.02 AM

Bottom Line

On some routes, Etihad releases tons of First and Business Class award space as departure approaches. Let me summarize for the routes and cabins I searched:

  • London to Abu Dhabi in First Class: opens up one week before departure
  • London to Abu Dhabi in Business Class: opens up one week before departure
  • Abu Dhabi to London in First Class: does not open up at last minute
  • Abu Dhabi to London in Business Class: does not open up at last minute
  • Washington to Abu Dhabi in First Class: opens up one week before departure
  • Abu Dhabi to Washington in First Class: opens up one week before departure
  • New York to Abu Dhabi in First Class: widely available the three weeks before departure
  • Abu Dhabi to New York in First Class: opens up one week before departure

The most common pattern was widely available award space in the last week before departure. This may not be the pattern for your preferred route and cabin, but you can easily discover your pattern by searching etihad.com.

All the award space in this post can be booked by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880. Since the space cannot be booked online, American Airlines will not impose a phone booking fee.

Getting the Miles

American Airlines miles are super easy to get.

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

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

Getting both cards now and meeting their spending requirements means you will have at least 106,000 American Airlines miles soon.

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

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9

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All airlines release award space 11 months out.

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

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

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

 

The Product

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

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

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

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

And its antipasti cart.

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

Award Space

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

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

Chicago

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

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

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

New York Area

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

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

Washington DC

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

Toronto

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 8.29.19 PM

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.46.26 PM

The Problem

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

Delta’s Answer

I didn’t quite understand the response.

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

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

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

Not Much of a Solution

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

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

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Fireworks in Sydney over NYE. Source:

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.56.26 AM
Source: http://www.sydneynewyearseve.com/fireworks/

Where does Virgin Australia fly?

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

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

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

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

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

Award Space

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

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.06.51 AM

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

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.07.08 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Product

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

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

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

Getting the Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southwest Rapid Rewards Awards

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

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

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

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

British Airways Avios Awards

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

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

One friend had to cancel.

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

The fee is “supposed to be” $40.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 1.12.51 AM

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

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

Lufthansa Miles & More Awards

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

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

Singapore KrisFlyer Awards

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

Try doing that with a cash ticket!

Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

United States to Central Asia

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.53.06 PM

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

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

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

Europe to Middle

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.57.43 PM

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

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

United States to Japan

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

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

Follow the sale rules for 20% off roundtrip awards.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 12.07.21 AM

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Proof

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.18.37 PM

 

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 5.19.13 PM

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos Delta!

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

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

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

The Plan

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 10.55.41 AM

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.04.21 AM

Searching the Hardest Leg First

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

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

The Full Search

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.13.40 AM

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

Solution 1: Display 50 Flights

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.10.03 AM

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.17.11 AM

Solution 2: Segment-by-Segment Searching

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.16.48 AM

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

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

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

Bottom Line on United.com

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

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

Bonus: Free One Way

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

See Free One Ways on United Awards

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Right now, awards:

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 2.21.18 PM

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 2.23.07 PM

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 2.23.39 PM

How Good Is This Sale?

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

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

Your Take

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 1.41.37 PM

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 1.41.49 PM
Two Roundtrips to Peru

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

When are Off Peak Awards Available

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 12.43.39 PM

What Do They Cost

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

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Where Does American Fly in the Region

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

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

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

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

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

How to Search for Award Space

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

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

Getting the Miles

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 30,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. It also comes with a ton of other benefits like free checked bags, priority boarding, a 10% rebate on awards, two lounge passes, and more. See my full review.

If you open the card and meet the minimum spending requirement, you’ll have 31,000 American Airlines miles.

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

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

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

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

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1

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

Bri wrote in her Free Credit Card Consultation:

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

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

 

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

United miles are the ticket for Bri. I replied:

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

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Most days have economy and business class award space available.

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

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

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The return offers the same kind of itineraries.

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Suggested Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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