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You can book Lufthansa First Class for 50,000 Asiana Club miles–40,000 Starpoints–one way. This is Asiana’s award chart from the mainland United States for roundtrip awards. One ways are half price:

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.39.26 PM

There are a lot of STEALS on the chart. This post will focus on Europe for 40,000 miles one way in Business Class and 50,000 miles one way in First Class. How good of a deal is this?

  • United charges 57,500 to 70,000 miles one way in Business Class to Europe
  • United charges 80,000 miles one way for its First Class and 110,000 for Lufthansa First Class.

Even with the mild fuel surcharges on Asiana awards of Lufthansa flights, these are great deals. And if you want to avoid fuel surcharges, book United flights with Asiana miles.

Test #1: Lufthansa First Class

I wanted to call Asiana and price out awards to see whether I could get agents to follow the award chart and to see what the taxes and fuel surcharges would be.

I’m considering flying Tallinn, Estonia to Washington, DC next month, so I took a look at that routing though there’s nothing special about it.

Lufthansa First Class would be awesome to get into the Lufthansa First Class Terminal again, and to enjoy the luxury onboard.

First I found this award space on two Lufthansa flights.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.28.59 PM

In case you’re not adept at reading united.com (which is where I searched because Asiana should have access to all Star Alliance space found on united.com):

  • There is award space in Business Class from Tallinn to Frankfurt
  • There is award space in Business and First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC

I noted the date, flight number, and cabin of the award space. I called Asiana and these are the prices I got:

  • For Business Class on both flights (what United is charging 70,000 miles for), Asiana charges 40,000 miles + $311.44.
  • For Business Class on the short hop and First Class on the long one (what United is charging 110,000 miles for), Asiana charges 50,000 miles + $311.44.
  • Drop the short hop altogether. For just Lufthansa First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC, Asiana charges 50,000 miles + $348.34.

A few notes:

  1. I can’t quite figure out how they got that amount of dollars though each agent was consistent.
  2. One agent priced Business + First at 75,000 miles, but two priced it at the 50,000 price quoted above.
  3. Taxes and fuel surcharges vary by country and route, so fewer flights actually can actually result in higher charges.

1. The Dollar Amount

I would expect Lufthansa to collect the taxes and fuel surcharges of an equivalent paid ticket. Here’s the equivalent paid ticket to Tallinn to Frankfurt to Washington DC in Business and First Class.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.38.03 PM

That’s 223.37 euros ($248) of taxes and fuel surcharges. Asiana wanted $311. I don’t know why.

2. Differing Miles Prices

I called Asiana a few times, and I got different miles prices. Two out of three agents priced the short hop in Business plus longhaul in First Class at 50,000 miles total. One said 75,000 total. When pressed she explained that it was because I had the shorthaul Business Class segment, which was another 25,000 miles on the Asiana chart. Her computer was adding inta-Europe Business (25k) to Europe-to-USA First (50k.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.45.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.45.53 PM

I believe she was wrong and that Asiana agents should price your Lufthansa First Class award, even if there is an intra-Europe segment, at 50,000 total miles.

The agent who said 75,000 miles said the computer had priced it like that. That might be because I had first priced Business/Business with her and then switched to Business/First and for that reason the computer saw my trip as two awards.

Bottom line: please report if a connecting segment in Europe drives up your miles price in the comments, but I don’t believe it will happen.

3. Taxes and Fuel Surcharges Vary

The dollar price went up by dropping the Tallinn to Frankfurt segment. That’s just because airlines price fuel surcharges by origin/destination city pair and taxes and vary by country.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.46.48 PM

Play around with your country of origin if the taxes and fees are very important to you.

Test #2: United Premium Cabins

Asiana doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on United award flights. I tested that out by pricing out this itinerary on the same route.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.29.10 PM

I tested out:

  • Lufthansa Business Class TLL-FRA + United Business Class FRA-IAD (57.5k United miles above)
  • Lufthansa Business Class TLL-FRA + United First Class FRA-IAD (80k United miles above)

The agents all priced them at:

  • 40,000 Asiana Miles + $133.71 for the all Business Class award
  • 50,000 Asiana Miles + $133.71 for the mostly First Class award

The short Lufthansa flight had slight fuel surcharges plus the rest is taxes. Overall, these are steals.

Searching

Asiana is a member of Star Alliance. You can book any of these partners with Asiana miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.14.50 PM

Almost all of these are searchable on united.com very quickly, so that’s where to search. Here’s how. When you find award space in the Saver column, note the date, cabin, and flight number.

You will pay a different number of miles and dollars than the amount shown on united.com.

Booking

Booking, or pricing out awards is a bit of a hassle. You have to call Asiana at 800-227-4262 from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM Pacific Time Monday through Friday.

First you need to talk to reservations and have them piece together and price the award. Then you are transferred to Asiana Club to pay.

When the phone connects, hit 2-5-# to get to reservations. You need an Asiana Club account. If you have zero miles, just tell the agent you want to know the price in miles and taxes and fees before transferring points to Asiana Club. There is occasionally a language barrier, but you can usually get done what you need to.

Asiana can only ticket departures that are more than 72 hours in the future.

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 and fees.

Getting Asiana Miles

SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles with the customary 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points transferred. At that rate:

  • 35,000 Starpoints transfer to 40,000 Asiana miles
  • 40,000 Starpoints transfer to 50,000 Asiana miles

Unfortunately, in my experience, SPG points took 17 days to show up in my Asiana account. I just made another transfer now; hopefully it shows up quicker.

The bonus on the SPG card is 25,000 Starpoints, and the minimum spending requirement just dropped to $3,000 in three months.

Bottom Line

It’s a bit of a hassle to book Asiana Club tickets and tough to get the miles, but you can’t argue with 40,000 miles + $131 for United flat bed Business Class to Europe or 50,000 miles + $311 for Lufthansa First Class.

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14

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Repost from February. While the exact award space has changed some, the pattern remains that you want United miles!

It’s already May. Summer starts next month, so now is your last, best chance to plan and execute a perfect summer vacation to Europe for 2015 with miles and points for pennies on the dollar.

Your roundtrip flights can be under $100. You hotels can be free. Everything else will seem like it’s 30% off as the euro sits at $1.13. I’ve been in Europe when it was $1.50!

This blueprint will explain which miles to accrue, why to accrue them, how many you need, and which cards to open now to accrue them. I’ve even got a few tips on free hotel and airbnb stays.

Get United Miles

United and its partners in the Star Alliance have the best award availability to Europe for Summer 2015 by far. Award space in economy to Europe is wide open for 4+ people on the same itinerary this summer. Sample routes:

New York to Frankfurt, June and July, award space for 4 in economy on 54/61 days

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.48.55 PM

Houston to Brussels, July and August, award space for 4 in economy on 55/62 days Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.50.03 PM

Los Angeles to Paris, June and July, award space for 4 in economy on 34/61 days Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.50.28 PM

Award space is better from the East Coast because finding the award space within North America during the summer is hard, and flights from the West Coast directly to Europe have terrible award space on almost every airline.

Award space within Europe is excellent, so pretty much no matter where you want to go in Europe should have similar award space.

Business and First Class award space is very limited right now. Usually United’s flights to Brussels from Newark and Washington-Dulles have some of the best premium-cabin award space in its European network. Right now Washington-Dulles to Brussels only has premium-cabin award space for one passenger on 6/61 days in July and August.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 3.14.37 PM

Some days do have award space in both Business and First Class.Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 3.14.55 PM

If you really want to fly a premium cabin, I’d suggest one of two options:

  1. Book a premium cabin one way. There is sprinkled award space in Business and First Class on various routes. Find space in one direction that you can build on, and then book the other direction in economy since economy space is plentiful with United miles to and from Europe this summer. The age old question is which direction to book in Business Class? If it’s the eastbound, you get better use of the bed. If it’s the westbound, you get more out of the service and experience. There is no right answer.
  2. Book economy now and look to change one or both directions to a premium cabin in the last few days before departure.

Both United and Lufthansa, the German Star Alliance carrier, are pretty famous for opening last minute award space in Business and First Class.

Check a few weeks before departure to see if space has opened up on your flight and then every day after that. Space can open up as late as the day of your flight.

Unfortunately changing an award within 21 days of departure does cost $75 per ticket, but weirdly, sometimes this fee is forgotten by phone agents and not charged online.

How Many United Miles?

United charges:

  • 30,000 miles one way in economy
  • 57,500 miles one way in United Business (and for a limited time in partner Business)
  • 70,000 miles one way in partner Business Class normally
  • 80,000 miles one way in United First
  • 110,000 miles one way in partner First

You’ll need at least 60,000 United miles per person for the roundtrip to Europe. United awards do not require a payment of fuel surcharges, but you will be on the hook for government taxes associated with your flights. These vary based on the countries you transit, arrive in, and depart from.

The highest taxes are on roundtrip Business or First Class awards to the United Kingdom (about $300). For most European itineraries, the roundtrip taxes will be in the $50 to $150 range. If the taxes matter a lot to you, play around with awards to different countries on united.com.

Add up the number of miles you need for the passengers and cabins you have in mind.

How to Get United Miles

The easiest way to get United miles is from credit card sign up bonuses on cards that offer United miles or Ultimate Rewards, the proprietary points Chase offers with some cards that transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.

All the relevant cards are offered by Chase. In my experience, you can get one Chase personal and one Chase business card on the same day. Between such days, I like to wait 91 days until I apply for more Chase cards. I’ve also noticed that many people who are brand new to Chase can get two personal cards (and a business card) on the same day.

Once you get your cards, you will have to meet a minimum spending requirement to get the promised bonus miles. Once you meet the requirement, your miles should post the same day or maybe a day after the day on which your next statement closes.

Because of this lag between credit card application and getting your miles, unless you are planning a very late summer trip, you only have time for one relevant application day before summer. Make it count.

Here are the best two personal and one business card:

  • United personal card: 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months, 5,000 bonus miles for adding an authorized user. About the extra 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user: the authorized user card does NOT stop that person from getting their own United card account with the bonus miles, does NOT require inputting that person’s social security number, and is sent to you.

This card should be 58,000 miles after spending $3,000.

  • Sapphire Preferred personal card: 40,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user.

This card should be 49,000 points (which transfer 1:1 instantly to United) after spending $4,000.

  • Ink Plus business card: 60,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

This card should be 65,000 points (which transfer 1:1 instantly to United) after spending $5,000.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.40.36 PM

Future Cards

In 91+ days, you could get the Freedom for 10,000 bonus points after spending $500 in the first three months and the Ink Plus business card for 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. That’s about it in the short term for how many United miles one person can get.

I’d also save hotel cards for the future unless you can meet their spending requirements at the same time. The reason? Award flights at the Saver level are heavily capacity controlled. Get them first. Free hotel nights are generally available whenever there is a standard room for sale at that hotel. Get them later.

The hotel card I like in Europe is:

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card comes with Two Free Weekend Nights (Fri, Sat, or Sun) worldwide at top tier Hiltons after spending $2,500 in four months. The card also comes with free Gold Status.

Of course, hotels are only one option for lodging. I actually prefer airbnb because they are cheaper, have more space and multiple bedrooms if you want, include a kitchen, and are often in more interesting parts of the city. Here are Three Ways to Save Money on Airbnb.

Do You Really Have Enough Miles?

Transferring United miles between accounts is very expensive, so one account with 45,000 miles and one account with 15,000 miles is very different than a single account with 60,000, which is enough for a roundtrip to Europe.

You can book United awards as one ways, so two accounts with 30,000 miles can be great to book one direction of the trip from each account. Anyone’s United miles can be used to book anyone else a ticket.

Ultimate Rewards can be perfect to top off accounts, but the points can only transfer to your United account or your spouse/domestic partner’s.

When you’re planning how many miles you need and which cards to get, keep these limitations in mind.

What Can You Do On Your Award?

One way United awards can’t have anything fancy. No stopovers, only connections of up to 24 hours.

Roundtrip United awards can have two open jaws at the end points, one stopover, and the destination, plus any connections up to 24 hours.

On a roundtrip award, you can do something like this:

  • Home to European city A (stopover)
  • European city A to European city B (destination)
  • European city C (open jaw) to home

And feel free to throw a few 23 hour connections in there in European cities D and E.

Note the open jaw between cities B and C. This would be filled in with a train or low-cost carrier flight.

Any questions?

Get started now, so you can have your miles in place as soon as possible and your flights booked shortly thereafter. At that point, worry about hotels and lodging if you haven’t already.

You can use your miles to see up to three European cities (plus more on 23 hour connections) on a single roundtrip award.

Award space is wide open, Europe is unusually cheap at the moment, and miles and points can pay for most of your trip. What are you waiting for?

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6

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United is putting a 787-9 Dreamliner on its only route to Argentina, from Houston to Buenos Aires, starting October 25.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.13.29 PM
source: gcmap.com

 

The United 787-9 Dreamliner has 48 beds in Business class in a 2-2-2 configuration. I always 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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.14.20 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.14.40 PM

Some days that the Dreamliner operates have 18 awards seats!

  • How many miles do you need? 
  • What’s the award space?
  • How can you get United miles?
  • How can you book the awards?

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:

  • 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

Award Space Picture

For over a year, award space on United routes to Buenos Aires has been terrible. That’s probably because United cut its Argentina flights to one per day from Houston, when it previously operated daily flights from Newark and Washington-Dulles also and also because Argentines want to travel to America to take out dollars at a cheaper rate than the “blue market” rate at home.

Award space is pretty weak for the next few months also, but after United puts its 787-9 on the route, award space picks up consistent mid-week award space for up to 9 people in each cabin.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.31.03 PM
When United 787-9s are rolling out. Source: http://airlineroute.net/2015/05/09/ua-iah789-s15/

Houston to Buenos Aires

All the calendars below are for Houston to Buenos Aires. It is zero extra miles to start your award anywhere else in the continental United States, Alaska, or Canada and connect to Houston.

Normally United opens up a lot of last minute award space, and it has opened some from Houston to Buenos Aires in the next month, though almost exclusively in economy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.25.03 PM

Look when award space picks up and starts to include a lot more space in Business class: right after the Dreamliner starts flying on October 25.Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.26.04 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.26.38 PM

All those calendars just show award space for one passenger. That’s all I expected there to be, considering how sparse award space has been on the route historically.

But I decided to see if there was more award space on a day like November 4 when the calendar had shown award space in both cabins.
Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.38.56 PM

I changed my search to two people, and all the Dreamliner days seemed to have 2 award seats.Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.39.27 PM

I changed to 4, 6, and then 8 passengers, and most days remained. That means that almost every day with one award seat has 8+. Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.44.34 PM Finally I signed in and searched for a flight on one day to look at United’s Expert Mode.

On November 4, you can see “I9″ and “X9.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.50.44 PM

“I” is Business Class Saver award space and “X” is economy Saver award space. The “9” means that there are nine seats in that fare bucket, or possibly more since nine is the highest number listed. That’s 18+ Saver award seats on the same flight.

Award space from Houston to Buenos Aires is bookable through mid-April 2016 at the moment, but the award space dries up March 24.
Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.53.31 PM

Buenos Aires to Houston

Award space from Buenos Aires to Houston is similar to what we just looked at, but a little worse.

For two people, there is a lot of award space in the next month from Argentina back home, almost all of it in economy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 11.04.06 PM

After a dead period, there is award space that again starts right after the 787-9 comes into service on the route on October 25. All the award space is in Business Class.
Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.54.10 PM February and March also have some good award space for 2+ people.Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.55.46 PM

How to Get United Miles

Right now is a fantastic time to get United miles.

  • The United Explorer card offers 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months and 5,000 bonus miles for adding an authorized user.
  • The Ink Plus business card offers 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.
  • The Sapphire Preferred offers 40,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months and 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.40.36 PM

Bottom Line

United is moving its newest plane the 787-9 Dreamliner to its Buenos Aires route in October. From then on, award space in widely available midweek, sometimes for up to 18 people on the same flight.

United’s Dreamliner features excellent flat bed seats, and the award space is open over the best time to visit Buenos Aires–its Spring through its Fall. What’s not to like? Only that this space might not last because historically United has offered very little space on the route.

Further Reading

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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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.44.03 AM
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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.42.34 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.47.54 AM

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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The United Explorer Card now comes with 50,000 bonus miles after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first three months the account is open. Plus you get 5,000 bonus miles for adding an authorized user on the application. (The AU’s card comes to you, and you don’t have to input a social security number or make a purchase with the card to get the 5k extra miles.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 3.54.06 AM

 

This limited time offer ends June 2, 2015. The is a huge increase on the previous sign up bonus of 30,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months.

 

The card also comes with priority boarding, a free checked bag, two United Club passes per year, and extra award space for cardholders.

Quick Facts

  • Sign Up Bonus: 50,000 MileagePlus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months + 5,000 more miles for adding an authorized user
  • Category Bonuses: 2x on United flights
  • Lounge access: two United Club passes per year
  • Benefits while flying United: free checked bag and priority boarding
  • Global Acceptance: Chip technology and no foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $0 for the first year and $95 thereafter

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.40.36 PM

Sign Up Bonus

The headline sign up bonus is 50,000 United miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the card.

Do not miss the chance to get 5,000 extra miles for adding an authorized user. You are sent the extra card, and you can cut it up if you want. The person you make an authorized user is still eligible to open the United card for himself for 50,000 bonus miles.

Category Bonus

  • Earn 2x miles on United flights

Lounge Access

Get two United Club one-day passes per year. These normally cost $50 each to purchase.

Chip and No Foreign Transaction Fees

The United card has a chip for global acceptance, and there are no foreign transaction fees when using the card.

Priority Boarding and a Free Checked Bag

The United card comes with early boarding on United flights, so you will get overhead space for your carry on. Nothing annoys me more than having to gate-check a carry on, so that I am delayed 20 minutes on arrival to collect my bag.

However, if you want to check a bag, you and your companion will get a free checked bag if you use your United card to book a United flight. That’s $25 per person per direction in saved bag fees.

The Card’s Biggest Secret Benefit: Extra Award Space

The card proudly advertises that cardholders get last-seat availability for Standard awards. That means if you are willing to pay twice the price of a Saver award, you can barge onto any flight. This benefit isn’t a big deal to me because Standard awards cost a lot of miles.

Far more important is the secret benefit that Chase and United don’t mention. United Explorer cardholders get extra Saver economy award space on United flights that is normally set aside only for United elites. I wrote about this secret benefit here. If you use this extra Saver award space even once, you way more than pay the annual fee.

Annual Fee

The annual fee is $0 for the first year and $95 thereafter. If you cancel the United card to avoid an annual fee, your miles are unaffected. They expire after 18 months of no earning or spending activity in your United account.

Get the Card

I don’t have a direct affiliate link to the card, but if you click my Featured Travel Credit Cards Banner, the card is at the top of the list. Applying for the card through the banner supports MileValue.

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Bottom Line

The United card joins the growing ranks of 50,000 mile limited time offers. Also check out the AA personal and business cards, the Citi ThankYou Premier, and Citi Prestige. We’re living in an amazing time to get free travel just from signing up for a credit card.

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

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

Where We Are and Where We’re Going

We’re in the section on redeeming miles. Once you understand how to redeem miles, you’ll understand which miles are right to earn for your travel goals. This post will focus on United miles, which are ideal for international economy and business class awards with stopovers, open jaws, and free one ways.

Why Collect United Miles?

United miles are easy to collect in bunches. There are big sign up bonuses available on a half dozen cards that earn United miles or Ultimate Rewards, which can be transferred to United miles. When the miles are so easy to earn, it makes fancy trips or family trips easier to book.

United is part of the biggest and best alliance–the Star Alliance–with the most award space. I find better award space on United’s partners to most parts of the world than I do on any other airline alliance.

United never collects fuel surcharges on awards. The ability to book flights on all of the Star Alliance without fuel surcharges is incredible. Delta and American Airlines–United’s two major award program competitors–both collect fuel surcharges on some awards.

  • What airlines can you fly with United miles?
  • What are the routing rules for United awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the MileagePlus program?
  • How can you book a United award?

Mileage Price

United miles are region-based miles. (See Five Types of Miles)

United has two region-to-region charts, one for travel on United flights and one for travel on its partners, both of which can be found here. The award charts are identical for economy awards, but United charges a large premium to fly its partners’ Business and First Class products versus its own.

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

The chart for travel on United has two prices in each cabin: the Saver and Standard prices.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.56.50 PM

We redeem miles for Saver awards, the capacity controlled awards that cost the fewest miles, which are not available in every cabin on every flight. Standard awards cost approximately twice what Saver awards cost and are available on almost every flight.

The partner chart doesn’t have a Standard level because partner awards always price at the Saver award.

To have a multi-segment award price at the Saver level, every segment in that direction must have Saver award space.

Which countries are in which region of the chart can be found at the bottom of the award chart.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.59.16 PM

Partners

United is a member of the Star Alliance. That means you can use its miles on all these airlines:

  • United Airlines
  • Adria Airways (Slovenia)
  • Aegean Airlines (Greece)
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA (Japan)
  • Asiana Airlines (South Korea)
  • Austrian Airlines (Vienna)
  • Avianca (Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Peru)
  • Brussels Airlines (Belgium)
  • Copa (Panama)
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air (Taiwan)
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa (Germany)
  • Scandinavian Airlines (Denmark, Norway, Sweden)
  • Shenzhen Airlines (China)
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • TAP Portugal
  • Thai Airways International
  • Turkish Airlines

United also has several partners that are not a part of the Star Alliance. You can also redeem miles to fly these airlines:

  • Aer Lingus (Ireland)
  • Aeromar (Mexico)
  • Azul (Brazil)
  • Cape Air (Puerto Rico)
  • germanwings
  • Great Lakes (Denver)
  • Hawaiian Airlines (only interisland flights within Hawaii)
  • Island Air (Hawaii)
  • Jet Airways (India)
  • Silver Airways (Florida)

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

ROUTING RULES

You can book one way awards with United miles for half the price of roundtrip awards.

One way United awards cannot have any stopovers. Roundtrip awards can have one free stopover (in addition to the destination) and two open jaws.

Unfortunately, beyond that, it’s difficult to say much about United’s routing rules other than whatever the computer says, goes. The computer accepts some wacky routings and rejects others. If you try a routing online that gets an error, you can call in to book the award with an agent, but you are unlikely to talk them into charging you the mileage price you want if the computer rejects your routing.

The computer likes routings with fewer segments and less backtracking.

All award travel must be completed within one year of the original booking. Changes can’t extend this time frame, so if you can’t fly within one year of your original booking, you’ll have to cancel you award.

Stopovers

Stopovers are not allowed on one way United awards. One stopover is allowed on roundtrip United awards except that roundtrip United awards wholly within the continental United States, Canada, and Alaska cannot have a stopover.

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

Open Jaws

Roundtrips can have two open jaws.

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

Here’s an example of an award with one stopover and two open jaws.

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.14.27 AM
Source: gcmap.com

 

  • The award starts in Chicago and flies to Munich for a stopover.
  • The award continues to Athens, its destination.
  • The return begins in Rome. There is an open jaw between Athens and Rome that you’d have to fill in with transportation that is not part of this award.
  • The award ends in Washington DC, which is not where it started, so there is a second open jaw between Chicago and DC.

Free One Ways

Free one ways are possible on United awards. Since a free one way requires a stopover at your home airport, booking a free one way on a United award means you cannot use a stopover en route on the main award.

The free one way can be BEFORE your main award TO your home airport or AFTER your main award FROM your home airport.

The free one way can be to most places in the continental United States, Alaska, and Canada. If you want the one way to go to Hawaii, the Caribbean, South America, or somewhere else, you have to pay the difference between flying to those places and flying to your home airport.

For full details on Free One Ways on United Awards, check out this Master Thread.

Special Feature of United Miles

There are two features of the United program everyone should be aware of.

1. United’s multi-city search results are extremely buggy.

This is the search page you use if you want to book an award with a stopover or open jaw.

This is a problem since nearly every award I book with United is a multi-city award.

If you search each part of your multi-city award one way, you will see far more options for each part then when you do a multi-city search on united.com.

The solution is simple: put on hold part of your award and call in to change the held award to the award you really want.

For more information on this problem and solution, see this post.

2. United charges a ton more miles to fly its partners’ premium cabins than its own.

United BusinessFirst (business) and Global First (first) are solid, but not spectacular products that I’ve flown eight total times.

Since United went to separate charts for its own flights and partner flights in February 2014, I have lost interest in using United miles for premium cabin awards on its partners. Usually, its partners’ products aren’t a big enough improvement to justify a big increase in the miles price, and sometimes the partners’ product is worse.

Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges

Taxes

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

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

Fees

Phone Fee: There is no award booking fee for awards booked at united.com. Calling United to book an award incurs a $25 per person fee. You can usually get the agent to waive that phone fee.

Late Booking Fee: There is a $75 booking fee per person to book an award less than 21 days from the date of departure. This fee is reduced for elites and waived for Platinum and 1K members. Here’s a trick to never pay the late booking fee again.

Date and Time Changes: Changing the date, time, or routing costs up to $100 per person. This fee is cheaper if the change is made at least 21 days before departure and if you have elite status. It is waived for Platinum and 1K members.

Origin/Destination Changes: There is a $100 fee per person to change the origin or destination. This fee is reduced for elites and waived for Platinum and 1K members.

Cancellation: There is a $200 fee per person to cancel your award and get the miles back. This fee is reduced for elites and waived for Platinum and 1K members.

Full details on United’s award fees can be found here.

Fuel Surcharges

United does not collect fuel surcharges on any award tickets.

How to Book United Awards

Most of United’s partners can be searched and booked on united.com. Two major exceptions:

  • Singapore Airlines
  • Brussels Airlines

Partners that can’t be searched online can be searched by calling United at 800-UNITED-1 or by searching other Star Alliance award search engines.

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

Bottom Line

United MileagePlus is one of the best frequent flyer programs. Its strengths are United’s huge network of partners and the lack of fuel surcharges on awards.

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

United has unwritten routing rules, but any simple awards, and many complicated awards, price exactly as you’d expect.

United awards are flexible for one way travel. If you book a roundtrip, you can add one stopover and two open jaws to your destination.

Most United are bookable on united.com, while others require a call to United.

Any questions? What did I leave out?

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

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United has a setting you can activate called Expert Mode that allows you to see how many seats are in each fare bucket on a given flight.

I mentioned it yesterday in “Booking Two Tickets on the Same United Flight” and I got some questions in the comments about what Expert Mode is, how to use it, and why you’d want to use it.

What is a fare bucket?

Every ticket you book with cash or miles has every segment come out of a fare bucket or fare class.

The fare bucket is a one or two letter code that represents what cabin you’re in, whether you got the seat with cash or miles, and how many miles you’ll earn for the flight.

Everyone walking through this door has a ticket that booked into one fare bucket

Airlines are willing to book a certain number of tickets in each fare bucket. If the Saver economy award fare bucket has zero seats, you can’t book a Saver economy award on the flight, but if it has six seats, you can book up to six Saver economy award tickets.

Knowing how many seats are in each bucket will let you know whether you can expect an upgrade, whether you can book an award, and whether elites have better award access on a certain flight.

  • How can you enable Expert Mode on united.com?
  • How can you use Expert Mode on united.com in award bookings and to secure upgrades?

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This week I posted that it is cheaper to use Singapore Airlines miles to book United flights to Europe in economy than it is to book the same flights with United miles. Check out that full post.

Yesterday I booked myself an award from Washington DC to Madrid in May with Singapore miles on a United flight.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 5.06.58 PM
Source: gcmap.com

Questions this article will answer:

  • Why did I use Singapore miles?
  • Which points transfer to Singapore miles and how long does the transfer take?
  • How did I search for award space?
  • How did I book award space?
  • How did I select seats?

Why Singapore Miles

As explained in “Using Singapore Miles to Europe in Economy is Better Than Using United Miles,” a United economy flight from the United States to Europe costs 30,000 United miles or 27,500 Singapore miles.

My most important priority was booking a direct flight, since they are so much more convenient than connecting itineraries. The only airline that flies from Washington DC to Madrid is United. I would have preferred to book this flight in Business Class on a flat bed, but Business Class award space is not available at the moment as a Saver award. It may open up in the future, but I just wanted to lock this award in, and I can handle seven-and-a-half hours in economy, especially since the flight takes off so early that I wouldn’t have slept any way.

I used Singapore miles to book the economy award because, first, I wanted to save 2,500 miles.

Second, I wanted to use Singapore miles instead of United miles because I have more “potential” Singapore miles (ie transferable points that transfer to Singapore miles) than potential United miles. I’ll discuss this point further in the section on transferring points to Singapore miles.

Searching for Award Space

I searched for award space on united.com before transferring points to Singapore because transfers are irreversible. The flight I wanted had Saver award space in economy. (Here’s how to search united.com.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 5.40.20 PM

Singapore Airlines only has access to the flights on united.com with a blue button in the Saver award column.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 5.40.27 PM

Which Points Transfer to Singapore Miles?

All major transferable points transfer to Singapore miles including Citi ThankYou Points, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints. It is all these partners that makes getting Singapore miles so easy, which allows things like: One Person Can Open Four Cards and Fly Six Roundtrips to Hawaii.

If you have all four types of transferable points, which should you transfer to ThankYou Points? The ones that you have the fewest other high value uses for.

For me, I’d transfer ThankYou Points, Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, Starpoints in that order because that is my order from least valuable (1.8 cents each for ThankYou Points) to most valuable (2.5 cents each for Starpoints.)

I already had 12,500 Singapore miles in my account, so I needed to transfer 15,000 points. I transferred 4,000 ThankYou Points to draw down that account (temporarily until I get the 50,000 bonus points on my Citi Prestige.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 4.54.07 PM

Then I transferred 11,000 Ultimate Rewards.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 4.53.36 PM

Both transfers are performed online inside your credit card account. Both transfers resulted in immediate confirmation emails, though it takes 24-48 hours for the Singapore miles to show up. In this case, I transferred on Thursday at 9:30 AM ET, and the points had arrived by Friday at 3:30 PM ET, or in 30 hours at most.

Re-Running the Search

Once my points posted, I re-ran my search, and my award space was still available.

There is a possibility that you transfer points to Singapore miles, and in the 24-48 hours that the transfer takes, the space disappears. In that case, you’re basically out of luck because transfers are irreversible.

I didn’t worry too much about that possibility because United award space tends to increase not decrease in the last month, and because if I were “stuck” with 27,500 Singapore miles, I’d find a quick use for them to Europe, Hawaii, or South America or booking Singapore Suites.

Booking Award Space

I called Singapore Airlines at 213-404-0301 to book the flight. To book all Singapore partners, you have to call Singapore, but luckily there is no phone fee.

I fed the agent my date, flight number, and cabin, and she quickly found and booked the award space for 27,500 Singapore miles + 31.60 SGD ($23.) The whole call took 13 minutes.
Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 4.58.30 PM

I paid with my Citi Prestige® Card because it has a $250 airfare credit per calendar year that includes airfare, award taxes, bag fees, upgrades, and more. That means that the $23 will be credited back to my account. This benefit is per calendar year, so in the first 12 months of holding this card, I will get $500 worth of free flights and award taxes. This more than offsets the $450 annual fee, and makes the 50,000 point sign up bonus and free lounge access worldwide even more valuable. All this is Why I Got the Citi Prestige.

How Did I Select Seats?

The general rule is that you must select seats with the operating carrier, in this case United. It is usually important to ask at the time of booking for the confirmation number for each operating carrier, so that you can contact them and quickly select seats.

In this case, the Singapore agent proactively offered me the United confirmation number.

That’s actually not necessary in this case because typing in either the Singapore or United confirmation number on united.com where it says “Change or View Reservations” will allow for seat selection.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 5.01.21 PM

I picked the window seat furthest to the front. I was offered the chance to buy an Economy Plus seat upgrade from $109. Anyone with a ticket, no matter how you got it, always has the chance to buy Economy Plus.Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 5.09.44 PM

Bottom Line

Singapore miles are cheaper than United miles for booking United economy awards to Europe. I used my Singapore miles to book myself a one way flight to Madrid next month to kick off four months in Europe. Transferring ThankYou Points and Ultimate Rewards to Singapore, searching for the space, and booking the award were all seamless.

Right now you can earn oodles of Singapore miles. Start with the Citi Prestige® Card, which comes with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. 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.

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It costs fewer Singapore miles to fly United economy flights to Europe than the same flight costs with United miles, and neither award has fuel surcharges.

Conclusion: book United economy awards to Europe with Singapore miles instead of United miles.

From Singapore’s award chart:

  • 27,500 miles one way in economy to Europe (United charges 30k)
  • 65,000 miles one way in Business Class (United charges 57.5k)
  • 80,000 miles one way in First Class (United charges the same)

Singapore does not collect fuel surcharges on awards of United flights, so those economy awards on United flights are just cheaper with Singapore miles, which are so easy to get because Singapore miles are a transfer partner of Chase, AMEX, Citi, and SPG points.

How to Book a Singapore Award on United Flights to Europe

I want to fly from Washington DC to Madrid in May, and though I’d prefer to fly Business Class or First Class, my top priority is getting on United’s direct flight on the route to save time.

I searched united.com for award space and found Saver award space for the day I want. Singapore Airlines will have access to all the Saver award space listed on united.com if you search without logging in. United charges 30,000 miles + $5.60 for the flight.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.53.11 AM

I called Singapore at 213-404-0301 and fed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of the flight I wanted. She found space immediately and priced it at 27,500 Singapore miles + 32 SGD (~$23.50).

Why does Singapore charge about $18 extra in taxes on the one way flight? According to ITA Matrix, the flight I want has three taxes, fees, and charges. United only collects the September 11th Security Fee while Singapore collects that plus the US International Departure Tax. That accounts for the $18 difference, which is well worth paying to save 2,500 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.53.25 AM

Note that the United paid flight also has a stiff fuel surcharge of $248. Singapore does not collect fuel surcharges on awards on United flights.

I priced out other Singapore awards using direct United flights like Chicago to London and connecting flights like Tampa to Washington to Madrid.Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.55.18 AM

All these awards were the same 27,500 Singapore miles and $23.50.Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.56.18 AM

What I’m Not Saying

I’m not saying Singapore miles are better than United miles to Europe.

  • Singapore collects fuel surcharges on most other common partners, and United never collects fuel surcharges.
  • For United flights, Singapore charges more miles than United for Business Class awards and the same amount for First Class awards

But for United economy flights to Europe, Singapore miles offer a better deal than United miles.

This is compounded by the fact that Singapore miles are easier to get than United miles.

Getting the Miles

Singapore miles are a partner of every transferable points program. Cards I like that earns points that transfer:

Transfers do take about 36 hours from these programs to Singapore miles.

Bottom Line

Pretty soon here I’ll probably book a United economy flight to Europe. Instead of spending 30,000 harder-to-get United miles, I’ll spend 27,500 transfer-partner-of-everyone Singapore miles on the exact same flight.

Both awards are fuel surcharges free, and the Singapore awards to Europe just have about $18 more in taxes. I’ll be flush with ThankYou Points soon to transfer to Singapore miles because I got the Citi Prestige® Card with 50,000 bonus points just a few weeks ago.

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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.

I naturally categorize miles and points into two groups:

  1. Broadly useful
  2. Niche programs

The first type of miles are the miles you want to stockpile if you’re hoping to follow a simple mile-accumulation strategy to meet all your future travel goals. Ideally these miles benefit from cheap award charts across all classes of service and to all regions without incurring fuel surcharges on awards.

By contrast, niche programs have some great values on their award charts, but lots of flaws. Maybe the program collects fuel surcharges on most awards, or charges too much for redemptions in premium cabins, or simply doesn’t release much Saver award space on flights.

Niche programs can be ignored by those who merely dabble in miles collection, but serious miles collectors should know the strengths of and collect miles in niche programs too.

  • Which miles do I consider broadly useful?
  • Which programs do I consider niche programs?
  • What are the niche programs’ strengths?

Broadly Useful

None of these programs is perfect, but I consider all the following programs to be broadly useful programs in which a person could exclusively collect miles and still get a fair deal on the vast majority of potential redemptions:

  • American Airlines
  • United
  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • Ultimate Rewards

American Airlines

American Airlines miles offer good value on most routes in all cabins. The oneworld alliance great members like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and LAN, and American miles can be redeemed on 24 airlines.

There are some weaknesses with American Airlines miles:

  • American Airlines collects fuel surcharges on British Airways flights. British Airways award space is the most available award space to Europe and Africa. If you avoid booking British Airways flights with American Airlines miles, you are hamstrung to Africa especially.
  • I–and the experts–anticipate a devaluation announced in late 2015 for awards booked in early 2016 or later.
  • Awards to the Middle East and India are overpriced.

United

Even after 2014’s devaluation, I still think United miles are among the most broadly useful airline miles to stockpile for a few reasons:

  • Award space is good on United and partners.
  • United is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest alliance in the world, with good coverage of every continent.
  • United never imposes fuel surcharges on awards.
  • United’s economy awards are fairly priced.
  • United’s Business Class awards on its own planes are not outrageously priced.

Of course, the big problem is that partner First Class awards are basically out of reach. Who has 240,000 United miles for one roundtrip to Asia in First Class?

Still, I’ll almost always be happy when folks come to my Award Booking Service with a stash of United miles.

Ultimate Rewards

Since Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles, Ultimate Rewards are at least as useful as United miles. With the added flexibility of transferring to niche programs like British Airways, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, and Korean plus hotel programs, Ultimate Rewards are the second most flexible currency overall.

Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints

The most flexible and broadly useful points are Starpoints, which transfer to American, Alaska, and 27 other airline programs mostly at favorable rates. Every day, 20,000 Starpoints transfers to 25,000 American Airlines or Alaska Airlines miles.

The big drawbacks with Starpoints:

  • Most transfers take days.
  • 2 Starpoints transfer to 1 United mile. Since United devalued, I’d love that transfer to get revalued to 1:1 like with American, Delta, Alaska, and dozens of other airlines.

Intermediate Usefulness

These three programs have bigger warts than the programs above, but are too broadly useful for me to call “niche” programs.

  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points

Delta

Delta has some definite strengths:

  • There are good value awards and decent space to Australia (Virgin Australia), Africa (Air France), Europe (various partners), Asia (various partners), and South America (AeroMexico). Very few of these awards have fuel surcharges.
  • The often-times higher prices are offset by the ease with which you can earn Delta miles from Delta cards, Membership Rewards-earning cards, and Starpoints-earning cards.
  • Since January 1, 2015, Delta allows one way award redemptions for half the price of roundtrips.

But the weaknesses are far greater than with competing US-based airlines:

  • Delta doesn’t offer much Saver award space on domestic flights, making it hard to get to a gateway to connect to partner award space abroad. This is a huge drawback.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on a bunch of its partners.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on all awards originating in Europe. This essentially means that its miles can be used for one ways to Europe, but are a terrible value for one ways home.
  • Delta miles cannot be redeemed for three-cabin international First Class.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has a hodge-podge of partners that fly all over the world.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.54.32 AMAlaska has access to some of the world’s most coveted award space like Emirates First Class space with no fuel surcharges.

Some of the award charts are very cheap–there is a different one for each partner to each region–you can book one way awards for half the roundtrip price, and you can even get a stopover on one way awards.

The only thing that holds Alaska miles back from being more widely useful is that you cannot freely combine partners on Alaska awards. Each direction needs to be all one partner’s flights or all one partner’s flights plus Alaska flights. This rule hampers your options incredibly, especially if you don’t live in a city where Alaska flies!

Membership Rewards

Membership Rewards have a large number of partners, but none of them is in the most useful category above. All are 1:1 partners in case otherwise noted.

  • Delta Airlines
  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • Alitalia Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • British Airways Avios
  • Cathay Pacific
  • EL AL Israel Airlines 1,000 MR to 20 EL AL point
  • Air France & KLM Flying Blue
  • Emirates
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus Avios
  • JetBlue 250 MR to 200 TrueBlue Points
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin America 200 MR to 100 Elevate Points

Delta is in this intermediate category, and the rest of the programs are in the niche category below including Virgin Atlantic, Aeroplan, ANA, British Airways Avios,  Flying Blue (Air France), Hawaiian, and Singapore. The big problem is that all the global partners impose fuel surcharges on most of their awards.

You can creatively mostly avoid fuel surcharges, but you have to work hard enough that this program can’t be in the “Broadly Useful” category.

Citi ThankYou Points

ThankYou Points now transfer to 11 airlines at a 1:1 rate:

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

I don’t know of a single high value use of the eight programs that are not in bold. But between Singapore KrisFlyer, Air France Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and the ability to use ThankYou Points for 1.25 to 1.6 cents each toward any flight on any airline, this program belongs in the intermediate category.

Singapore miles allow fuel-surcharge-free awards on United flights often for fewer mile than United would charge for the same award including to Hawaii, Europe, South America, and within the continental US; they’re the only way to book Singapore Suites; and they have awesome stopover rules.

Flying Blue miles allow you to book some Delta flights for fewer miles than with Delta miles, and allow access to Promo Awards like 12,500 miles one way to Europe or Israel.

Virgin Atlantic miles aren’t just about 17,500 mile awards to London or 27,500 mile Premium Economy awards to London. They also allow 45,000 mile roundtrips to South America on Delta and a few other high value awards.

Citi partners with American Airlines. If Citi ever adds American Airlines as a 1:1 transfer partner, ThankYou Points will shoot to the most useful category.

Niche Usefulness

The absolute wrong conclusion to draw about the programs in this section is that they are not useful. Each program listed here–and many programs not listed here have some incredible, high-value awards. But most of their awards are a poor value.

You shouldn’t focus all your miles collecting in these programs, but you should know their strengths in case your travel goals overlap with their strengths, and you have transferable points. Here are some of my favorite niche programs and their strengths:

Of course, each of these programs has major flaws. Southwest points can’t be used for First Class, international travel beyond the Caribbean, or any partners. Any Avios awards with layovers get pricey very quickly. Almost all the international programs collect big fuel surcharges on most awards (but not on the awards mentioned above where there are no or small surcharges.)

Because of the weaknesses, I rarely collect miles in niche programs unless there’s an extremely attractive credit card sign up bonus, but I constantly consider the programs as transfer options for my Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Starpoints to take advantage of their one or two sweetspots.

Action Item

If you’re currently collecting niche miles with your day-to-day credit card spending, put more of your spending on cards that earn more widely useful miles and points like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months, which earns the most versatile points of all.

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Your Take

Are any of the programs listed here mis-categorized for you? Is one of the niche programs perfect for all your awards? Does one of my “generally useful programs” never seem to offer you value? Am I letting United miles off too lightly for its big devaluation last year?

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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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Through April 20, 2015, United is offering up to a 30% discount on purchased miles. The size of the discount depends on the number of miles you buy, with the largest 30% discount kicking in at 30,000 miles purchased.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 11.13.49 PM

United miles normally cost 3.5 cents per mile plus a 7.5% tax, bringing the full price to 3.76 cents each. During the sale the prices are:

  • 2k to 4k miles, 10% off: 3.39 cents per mile
  • 5k to 14k miles, 15% off: 3.20 cents per mile
  • 15k to 29k miles, 20% off: 3.01 cents per mile
  • 30k to 150k miles, 30% off: 2.63 cents per mile

Buying 30,000 miles–the fewest you need to purchase to get the biggest bonus–costs $790.13.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 11.14.10 PMIs This a Good Deal?

No, this is a terrible deal. Since United’s huge devaluation last year, I value United miles at around 1.5 cents. While the bottom line on all mileage sales is that they’re a good deal if you have an immediate, high-value use and not a good deal otherwise, there are few United awards for which you’ll get more than 2.63 cents of value per mile.

Math

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

(A – B) / (C + D)

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

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

 

Bottom Line

You can buy 150,000 United miles for 2.63 cents each. That’s way too high to buy speculatively. Hopefully cheaper sales come along.

United sales are processed by points.com, so you do not get category bonuses on cards that bonus airline or travel purchases like my latest card, the Citi Prestige® Card which offers 3x on purchases from airlines. (By contrast, AA’s sale of miles for 2.00 cents each is processed by AA, so you do get bonus points for buying the miles with a Prestige.)

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This blog became famous because I was the first to articulate how to book free one ways on United and US Airways awards.

A free one way is a one way trip to or from your home airport that is tacked onto another award for no extra miles. Free one ways cut your flight bill in half for a second trip without adding to the price of the first trip!

American Airlines killed free one ways on its awards in April 2014 by nixing all free stopovers because free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport. Delta killed its free one ways on January 1, 2015 with the elimination of free stopovers on its awards (though in return, we do now get to book one way Delta awards.)

What’s the current state of free one ways with major frequent flyer programs?

If you get confused during this post, please read my Introduction to Free One Ways.

Alaska Airlines

Free one ways are possible on one way Alaska Airlines awards. That means you can book two free one ways per roundtrip awards.

Alaska has an amazing group of partners:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Horizon Air
  • AeroMexico
  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways (fuel surcharges)
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Fiji
  • KLM
  • Korean
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska (flights within Alaska)
  • PenAir (flights within Alaska)

Unfortunately you must book only one partner each one way award (you may add Alaska Airlines flights as well.) And unfortunately most Alaska Airlines awards need to either start or end in the United States.

Abide by those rules, though, and enjoy some amazing free one way opportunities.

For full details, see Free One Ways on Alaska Airlines Awards.

American Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with American Airlines miles. Free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport, and American has eliminated the chance to take any free stopovers on awards.

British Airways

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with Avios. Every flight on an Avios award has a mileage cost (determined exclusively by its distance and the cabin you book.) If every flight has a cost, there’s no way to get one for free as a free one way.

Delta Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on Delta awards since stopovers were eliminated on January 1, 2015.

United Airlines

Free one ways are possible on both international United awards and awards between the mainland and Hawaii. Free one ways are not possible on awards wholly within the mainland United States and Canada.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.24.10 PM
Roundtrip award from Los Angeles to Honolulu with a later free oneway to Newark

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.24.16 PM

You can either have a free one way BEFORE your main roundtrip award TO your home airport or AFTER your main roundtrip award FROM your home airport.

United’s routing rules are pretty lenient for free one ways. You can do some amazing backtracking. You can also do “cheap one ways” where you fly the extra leg to a distant land and pay far fewer miles than you “should.”

You will get a lot of errors trying to book free one ways on united.com because united.com’s multi-city search tool is broken. Don’t despair. Find all the space you need with one way searches, then call in to book.

For full details, see Master Thread: Free One Ways on United Awards.

While American, US Airways (by ending its mileage program), and Delta killed its free one ways recently, and free one ways have never been possible with Avios, free one ways are still possible on awards booked with United and Alaska miles.

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Wandering Aramean got “part of an internal memo describing [United’s] plans for the coming year.” It says:

Deliver first phase of united.com 2.0 by 2q 2015, including bundled ancillary offerings;

Some time in this quarter (by June 30), United plans to roll out a new website with new bundled fare options, which sounds like what American Airlines offers. Not that interesting. Moving on…

begin introducing dynamic award pricing.

Uh-oh!

“Dynamic award pricing” would mean that award prices change, presumably based on the cash price of the underlying ticket. The question is: is this a huge deal or no big deal?

No Big Deal

Dynamic award pricing is no big deal if it just means that United gives us a chance to buy any cash ticket on United (and possibly its joint venture partners) with miles at a fixed rate, almost certainly 1 cent per mile.

If we get the option to buy $400 flights for 40,000 miles, and nothing else changes, it’s no big deal.

In this scenario, we can still use our United miles for higher value uses on the award chart like 40,000 miles one way in First Class between Australia and Southeast Asia.

Let’s call this scenario: adding dynamic award pricing. It’s no big deal.

Huge Deal

Dynamic award pricing is a huge deal if it supplants the award chart. If every United and Star Alliance flight is only available by paying 1 mile per cent, awards would go way up in price, especially premium cabin awards.

Let’s call this scenario: replacing the award chart with dynamic award pricing. It’s a huge deal.

My Guess

My guess is that United’s plan for this quarter is the first scenario, adding the option to buy United and maybe a few partner flights for 1 mile per cent while not touching the award chart.

That’s my guess because I don’t think United wants to be the first among United, American, and Delta to go to revenue-based award redemptions. It would crush the value of the program of MileagePlus, and United prefers to copy Delta, which has not gone revenue-based on redemption.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

We don’t have much to go on, just a snippet of one memo. Keep your eyes peeled to see what form dynamic award pricing takes. Be at the ready to burn United miles if it is an apocalyptic scenario in which the whole MileagePlus program goes revenue-based.

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United is offering a 20% discount on roundtrip Saver economy awards booked to Hawaii by April 19 and flown Mondays through Thursdays from April 14 to May 19. The total cost of a roundtrip is 36,000 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 11.31.21 PM

Don’t Book This Promotion

If you have United miles, this may be a good deal. If you have Ultimate Rewards, do not transfer them to United miles to book this deal. You can always book roundtrip Saver award space on United to Hawaii for 35,000 Singapore miles, which is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Starpoints.

How the Promotion Works If You Have United Miles

The promotion is hard-coded into the search results at united.com, so as long as you search roundtrip for travel dates between April 14 and May 19, Mondays through Thursdays will display 20% off–18,000 miles each way.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 7.50.16 PM

I performed some dummy searches between Washington DC and Honolulu, and as I expected, award space was excellent as it usually is to Hawaii during the Spring. All green and yellow days below have Saver award space for two passengers.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 7.51.30 PM

United flies to the four major Hawaiian islands daily. Atlanta to Maui priced out at 36,000 miles + $11 roundtrip, 20% off the normal 45,000 mile price.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 7.55.43 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 7.53.35 PM

FAQ

Images from a previous, identical promotion.

Does this discount apply to one way awards?

No. If you search one way, you will see the normal one way Saver price of 22,500 miles.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.28.34 AM

What if only one date of a roundtrip is within the discounted date range or I choose one way in First Class?

You will get the discount on one way if one way of a roundtrip is within the discounted April 14 – May 19 date range.

Here is Denver to Kauai with one way in the discounted dates and the return not. It prices at 40,500 miles roundtrip–18,000 for outbound and 22,500 for return.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.27.58 AMScreen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.28.05 AMSimilarly if one way of a roundtrip is in economy, it will be discounted, while the First Class portion of the award will not be. You would pay 58,000 United miles for such a roundtrip.

Full terms and conditions were emailed to members.

  • Saver Award discount applies for travel on Monday through Thursday only.
  • Saver Award discount is only valid for air travel. Promotion period ends at 11:59 p.m. CST on April 19, 2015.
  • Offer is valid for travel beginning on or after April 14, 2015, and completed on or before May 19, 2015.
  • Discounted Saver Award is only valid for roundtrip travel between the U.S. or Canada and Hawaii.
  • Discounted Saver Award is only valid for roundtrip travel. One-way travel is still priced as a regular, non-discounted Saver Award.
  • For this offer, a roundtrip is defined as travel from an origin city to a destination city with return travel ending at the first origin city, and with all segments on flights operated by Star Alliance partner airlines. A segment is defined as one takeoff and one landing. Open jaw itineraries within the same region do qualify for the discount. Stopovers do not qualify for this offer.
  • A booking service charge may apply for travel booked less than 21 days before departure.
  • Award pricing is subject to change without notice.
  • Qualifying existing award tickets may be reissued, upon request, to the award sale mileage. They are subject to the award change policy, including any applicable service fees.

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