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

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

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 5.46.40 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booking Segment-by-Segment Awards

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 6.43.54 PM

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

Changes or cancellations are free within 24 hours.

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

Bottom Line

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

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You can use Avianca LifeMiles to book domestic First Class or Business Class on United for about $400 one way, including United’s fully flat beds on its routes from Los Angeles and San Francisco to New York. (Currently these flights go to JFK. They go to Newark starting October 25, and award space is excellent after the transition.)

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 6.44.05 PM

This method of booking $400 one ways in United First and Business Class is identical to the method I showed to book $1,000 one ways in Business Class to Europe on Star Alliance carriers.

Both are great deals for people who routinely buy tickets in on the routes. In this case, you’d pay $400 for a domestic one way in Business Class when United charges over $1,000 one way for these flights.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 1.20.22 PM

However the method in this post is not necessarily a good deal if you don’t ordinarily purchase these tickets with cash. And there are cheaper ways to book these flights with miles, specifically with 20,000 Singapore miles using a similar method to the one outlined in this post.

Three Steps

  1. Sign up for an Avianca LifeMiles account and select a country of residence in Europe.
  2. Buy 11,000 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus for $165.
  3. Book a domestic Business or First Class one way on United, for 11,000 LifeMiles plus $241.

The Steps Broken Down

1. Sign Up for a LifeMiles Account

Sign up for a free LifeMiles account here. Do it now even if you don’t want your $400 ticket for months. Do it now even if there’s only a 10% chance you’ll ever book one of these tickets. Signing up before a sale (Step 2) starts is a prerequisite to be eligible to purchase miles during a sale.

When signing up, select a country of residence other than Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, United States, or Colombia. During the most recent sale (Step 2), accounts registered in these countries got a 100% bonus on miles purchased. Accounts from other countries got a 120% bonus.

Why sign up for LifeMiles? LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, a Colombian airline that is a member of the Star Alliance. You can use Avianca miles to book awards on all Star Alliance members including United.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.14.50 PM

Of the many types of Star Alliance miles you can use domestic Business and First Class, LifeMiles stand out for how cheaply it sells miles, allowing for ~$400 one way transcontinental Business Class tickets.

2. Buy 11,000 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus for $165

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

If the next sale is identical–I bet it will be–you can buy 5,000 miles with 6,000 bonus miles (11,000 total) for $165. Or if for some reason you’ve signed up with an American address, you can buy 6,000 miles with 6,000 bonus miles (12,000) for $198.

Why 11,000 or 12,000 miles? Because a one way Business Class award costs 25,000 LifeMiles but LifeMiles allows awards to be booked with 40% of the necessary miles–10,000 in this case–by putting up cash to pay for your miles discount (Step 3). As I’ll show below, having at least 11,000 miles in your account is a better idea than exactly 10,000.

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

During the sale, you should purchase 11,000 miles for each one way Business/First Class ticket you think you’ll want to book in the next few months, since the sales only pop up every few months. There is a limit of 150,000 miles purchased per calendar year including bonus miles during sales, so you are limited to booking 13 Business Class one way tickets per account per calendar year. But you can always open multiple accounts, since LifeMiles accounts can always be used to book tickets in anyone’s name.

3. Book a Domestic Business/First Class Trip, for 11,000 LifeMiles plus $241

To book a LifeMiles ticket, sign into your account and click “Air Tickets” under “Enjoy.” Notice I bought 98,000 miles during the last sale.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.34.47 PM

Search for your cities, date, number of passengers, and cabin. Ideally the search reveals award space on several options like this search for award space from Los Angeles to Newark in November reveals.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 6.42.27 PM

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

Once you’ve decided on your flight, select it and at the bottom of the screen, toggle “More Money” to the maximum. This will change the price from 25,000 miles and $0 to 10,000 miles and $236.04.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 6.41.45 PM

Then toggle it back to 11,000 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 6.41.52 PM

The copay actually drops by $26 for using 1,000 extra miles, which makes using 11,000 miles and $210 the best deal.

Clicking “Continue” takes you to the screen that shows the total price, which will include all applicable government taxes and a $25 booking fee. One way flights within the United States have only $5.60 in taxes.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 6.42.13 PM

We paid $165 for the 11,000 miles in Step 2, so for a one way Business Class flight from the Los Angeles to Newark in a flat bed, the all in price of this method is $165 + $240.60 = $405.60! How else can you consistently get transcontinental flat beds for about $400?

Caveats

I hope you’re excited, but don’t rush off to Step 1 without reading these important caveats:

  1. These are the current prices from LifeMiles, but the only thing certain with miles is eventual devaluation. One day, LifeMiles will charge more than 25,000 miles one way in United Business/First Class domestically. When that happens, you don’t want to be stuck with a lot of miles in your account. That’s why you should go slowly and only buy enough miles to cover your very likely trips. Even then, you cannot completely eliminate devaluation risk.
  2. There is not award space on every flight in Business Class. You could buy the miles and then not be able to use them when you want to use them. However, I think this is only a minor concern because there is great Business Class space on United’s transcontinental routes, and United consistently opens up award space as departure approaches.
  3. You must book LifeMiles awards at least 24 hours before the flight.
  4. Every flight of a LifeMiles award must be in the same cabin. United Business and First on domestic flights are the same cabin, but if you try to hook up economy award space to Business/First space, that is unbookable with LifeMiles. To see if your route is affected by this silly rule, go to united.com and search your award. Any award with a “Mixed Cabin” icon is off limits.

Bonus

Buy your LifeMiles in Step 2 and book your ticket in Step 3 with a Citi Prestige® Card for $250 off the first purchase and 3x points on all purchases. With the Citi Prestige® Card, the first $250 in award taxes, fuel surcharges, airfare, or airline fees per calendar year are refunded to you as a statement credit. If you’ve already maxed out the statement credit, you will still earn 3x ThankYou Points on the LifeMiles miles purchases and award purchases.

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

Bottom Line

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

For businessmen who fly the routes too often to get all free tickets and ordinarily pay $2,000+ for a roundtrip in Business Class, there is a back up plan. Buy LifeMiles and book Business Class awards for around $400 each way.

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This is a repost from 2013 because this benefit is still available and still under-publicized.

Elite members of United’s MileagePlus frequent flyer program get access to extra Saver award seats in economy class. (Platinum and higher members also get extra business and first class seat availability.)

While helping my friend who has no United status book an award with United miles, I saw that extra economy class award seats popped up when she signed into her account. That confused me, since she has no United status. The only thing I can think of is that her United MileagePlus Explorer Card is conferring her the extra space.

If so, that would be one of the biggest benefits of the card, and one that is completely unadvertised and possibly unintentional.

What I’ve Seen

My friend Megan wanted to book an economy award from Houston to Buenos Aires in the second half of May. The award calendar looked bleak, showing few options when I did a quick search on united.com.

Second half of May 2013 has very little award space IAH-EZE

I signed into her account to take a look at her balance to figure out the options. Here’s my friend Megan’s account.

Megan’s account. No elite status with United. She does have the credit card though.

I performed the search again while signed in to her account, and the space had changed dramatically!

Dramatic improvement in economy class IAH-EZE when signed into a non-elite account.

If you look closely at the new calendars compared to the ones I saw before singing in, you’ll see that only economy space has opened.

Tons of white days turned yellow, which means that days with no Saver space are showing economy Saver space when she signs in. And three blue days turned green–May 3, May 10, and June 13. Blue meant there was only Saver business space. Green means there is saver business space and saver economy space.

As an example date, before signing into her account, May 17 had no Saver award space.

Before signing in…

After signing into her account, Saver economy space magically appears!

…and after

By continuing through the booking process, it became clear what had happened.

The Saver space is fare class XN.

If she continues to book May 17 at the Saver level, the Fare Class shown is XN. “Fare Class” is a one (or in this case two) letter code that signifies what cabin you are in and what you paid for that seat. Airlines divide their available seats into different fare classes that cost different amounts of money or miles.

The normal United fare class for an economy Saver award is X, and a Standard economy award is HN according to the Wandering Aramean. XN is the fare class for economy Saver awards booked by elites.

Elites have access to all the award seats United opens in the X fare class and any extras that United opens only to them in the XN class. Non-elites only have access to seats in the X fare class.

United.com conveniently will display how many seats are available on each flight in each fare class if you use Expert Mode as explained by One Mile at a Time. For the May 17 flight we’re looking at from Houston to Buenos Aires, there are 9 XN seats and 0 X seats.

Translation: an elite could book an award for up to nine people on the flight for the Saver price of 30,000 miles per person. A non-elite couldn’t book a single person at that price, instead having to pay the Standard price of 55,000 miles per seat.

This flight is an extreme example of extra seats available to elites, but it illustrates how valuable the benefit can be to elites.

Except that Megan is not an elite, so why does she have access to the extra XN Saver space?

Her United account is about 45 days old. She has never flown a United flight before. She has the United MileagePlus Explorer Card. The only thing I can figure is that having that card is somehow getting her access to XN space. That’s a pretty neat trick!

I do not believe this is a stated benefit of the card. Here’s the card’s advertised benefit related to award space.

From the United MileagePlus Explorer landing page

This benefit refers to cardholders being able to book any seat, any time as a Standard award. There is some value to the benefit, but in general I try to avoid booking Standard awards, which tend to cost double the price of Saver awards. I would much prefer to get more Saver awards than be able to get any seat as a Standard award.

What this means?

For me, this could be great news. I currently have United Silver status, which gets me the extra economy availability–XN space–that this post discusses. But I will probably lose that status and benefit next year because I doubt I’ll requalify. If my United MileagePlus Explorer Card could pick up the slack and get me the same economy Saver award access, that would be incredible, and it would be worth paying the card’s annual fee to maintain access to elite-level Saver space.

What I don’t know

I don’t know for sure why Megan has access to XN space, giving her a ton more options for economy Saver awards. I’d like to see more data points from people without status but with the card and without status and without the card to try to determine if the card is granting access to XN space.

I don’t know whether the card grants access to IN and ON space too. IN and ON are extra space that United Platinums and above get for business class Saver awards (IN) and first class Saver awards (ON).

I don’t know if this is an intended benefit or a glitch on United’s part.

Recap

The extra economy Saver award space that elites can access is accessible to my non-elite friend who has a United credit card. I’ve never heard of this benefit before.

 

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Out & Out notices that some United awards are pricing cheaper than they should on united.com. It seems a glitch is causing domestic awards to allow free or cheap one ways.

For instance, look at this roundtrip from Los Angeles to Newark (by the way, this new flat bed service STILL has amazing award availability) with a one way from Los Angeles to Houston two months later.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 4.33.19 PM

This should price at 75,000 miles because all legs are in Saver First Class, which is 25,000 miles one way for a domestic award. Instead it prices at 65,000 miles!Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 4.33.29 PMEven more strange, look what happens when I put the first leg in economy, but keep the last two legs in First Class.
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 4.39.00 PM

This prices out at 50,000 miles total. That should be the price of just Newark to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Houston in First Class, so that makes Los Angeles to Newark in economy a free one way.Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 4.39.08 PM Later I tested keeping the roundtrip from Los Angeles to Newark in First Class and making Los Angeles to Houston in economy.

Unfortunately I ran into a common glitch on united.com. When I searched Los Angeles to Houston one way, almost every flight on April 5th has Saver economy award space signified by the blue button over “12,500 Miles.”
Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 4.42.03 PM

But on my multi-city search, after selecting First Class on Los Angeles to Newark and Newark to Los Angeles, these same flights showed no Saver award space.Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 4.42.24 PM

 

So I held the entire award in First Class with the PayPal trick, and then called in to change the last leg to economy. The price stayed the same as an all-First-Class award at 65,000 miles.

Bottom Line

Three domestic First Class segments, including segments with flat beds, are pricing at 65,000 United miles. An economy segment, followed by two First Class segments, prices at 50,000 United miles. You will probably get errors online trying to book this. Call in if necessary.

Honestly this is more of a curiosity than a great deal because you can already book three United domestic First Class one ways for 60,000 Singapore miles, since Singapore charges just 20,000 miles for United First within the American mainland.

More Information

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United flies daily flights from Newark and Washington to Honolulu and back with a plane with flat beds in First Class.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 8.57.33 PM

The 767-400ERs plying the routes have five across First Class beds in a 2-1-2 pattern. I’ve flown both routes and recommend the middle seat for solo travelers and A & B for people traveling together.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.49.08 AM

These 10+ hour flights are a great candidate for award redemptions because the miles cost of First Class awards is lower than you’d expect.

  • United charges 40,000 miles + $5.60 each way in First Class
  • Singapore charges 30,000 miles + $5.60 each way for the same seats/beds

But what is the award space?

Award Space

The award prices quoted above are for United Saver award space, the only space that Singapore miles have access to. United Saver award space is almost completely absent between Washington and Honolulu, though it is much better between Newark and Honolulu.

Washington <-> Honolulu

I only see one day in either direction with First Class Saver award space between Washington and Honolulu: tomorrow.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.43.54 AM

I’d hope for award space over the low season–winter–but there is barely any in economy and none in First Class in February and March 2016 at the moment.Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.44.53 AM

Out of Honolulu, if anything, the space is worse!Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.45.34 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.46.10 AM

Newark <-> Honolulu

Space is quite a bit better from Newark. There are four days in the next two months with First Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.47.23 AM In 2016, the space really picks up. There are 13 days in January and Feburary and 17 in April and May with First Class award space.Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.47.55 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.48.29 AM

All the above calendars are for one passenger, but many of the days also have award space for two passengers.Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.48.47 AM

Award space is definitely worse from Honolulu to Newark, though, so you’ll want to return in economy or in First Class with a connection.Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.50.01 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.50.21 AM

How and Why to Book with Singapore Miles

Singapore Airlines is a Star Alliance partner with United, and it just happens to have a far cheaper award chart between the United States mainland and Hawaii than United does. Singapore charges:

  • 17,500 miles one way in United economy, United charges 22,500 miles
  • 30,000 miles one way in United First, United charges 40,000 miles

There is no way to transfer United miles to Singapore miles, but all transferable points (Chase, Citi, AMEX, and Starpoints) transfer to Singapore miles. Both of these 50,000 point offers can transfer to Singapore miles:

Search united.com for United award space to Hawaii. Singapore miles can only book space with a blue button in the Saver column, like this flight has in both cabins.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.48.59 AM

Note the date, cabin, and flight number of the award space you want to book, then call Singapore at 213-404-0301 and give the agent that information. (Call United First Class “Business Class” on the phone.)

The Singapore agent will charge you according the Singapore chart, which is way cheaper. For instance a couple who flew roundtrip from Newark to Honolulu with one direction in United First Class would pay 125,000 United miles + $22.40.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.51.50 AM Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 6.51.59 AM

The same flights are 95,000 Singapore miles + $22.40.

Bottom Line

United isn’t releasing much award space in flat beds between the East Coast and Hawaii, though Newark to Honolulu has decent space for two people in First Class.

If some of the space works for you, book with Singapore miles, not United miles.

Both of these 50,000 point offers can transfer to Singapore miles:

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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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Update: United flights have resumed.

All United flights are currently grounded for “automation issues” apparently related to a computer system malfunction. The same thing happened June 2, 2015.

If you are flying United today, check your flight status and call foreign call centers (via Google Voice) to make changes.

UK contact number: +44 0845-607-6760
Australia contact number: +61 131-777
India contact number: +91-124-4315500

Good luck out there. Have you been stranded by United today?

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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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Update 6/28/15 at 9:50 PM ET:

United now lists 757s as operating all flights between Newark and Los Angeles/San Francisco from October 25 on.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.47.03 AM And yet, space is still amazing. This calendar shows great space for eight people on a single flight between LAX and Newark in November and December.Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.47.10 AM

This one shows San Francisco to Newark for eight people next winter.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.48.30 AM

I should note that most of the Business Class space is available on the earliest flights and redeyes.Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.48.40 AM

 

Act now! This space has lasted two weeks, but I don’t expect it to last another two.

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Originally posted 6/16/15:

Starting October 25, 2015, United is moving its p.s. flights from JFK to Newark airport; p.s. flights are United’s internationally configured 757s with flat beds in Business Class that fly between New York and Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.09.28 AM

Until October 24, the only two cities served from JFK on United will be Los Angeles and San Francisco. From October 25, the airline will have no JFK service at all. United adds the p.s. flights to Newark to consolidate its fortress hub at an airport where it carries 14 times as many passengers as the number two airline.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.15.24 AM

United will continue to fly some flights between its hubs and LaGuardia.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.48.57 AM

Whether United moving p.s. service to Newark from JFK is good for you depends on where you live, but this move is undoubtedly good news for who:

  • live in Los Angeles and San Francisco and want to book international premium cabin awards
  • want to book p.s. award space now for travel between October 25, 2015 and May 14, 2016

Good for International Connectivity

United serves dozens of international and domestic destinations from Newark. All of these places are more easily accessible for Californians with the move of p.s. service to Newark.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.21.01 AM

Of course, JFK has good international connectivity on Star Alliance partners. The move to Newark cuts Californians with Star Alliance miles off from that award space. It’s a trade I’m willing to make.

Temporary (?) Increase in Award Space for p.s. Flights After October 25

United.com already reflects the p.s. airport change. October 24 shows flights from Newark and JFK to Los Angeles.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.44.43 AM

October 25 only shows Newark to Los Angeles, with no JFK flights.Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.45.17 AMHowever united.com does NOT reflect the aircraft switch. Right now the schedule is still showing 737s operating some Newark to Los Angeles flights on October 25 when in fact all the frequencies will be operated by 757s with lie flat seats up front.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.26.42 AM

Why does that matter? Because award space is way better on United’s 737s out of Newark than on its p.s. flights.

Book the 737 First Class award space now, and you will get to fly 757 p.s. Business Class space when your flight date rolls around. I’d book as soon as possible before the aircraft information is updated, which might cause award space to crater.

I suspect award space will worsen because award space is much better on the 737s than the p.s. flights. Check out these calendars for August and September. The first is Newark to Los Angeles. The second is JFK to LAX.
Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.46.43 AM Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.47.02 AMNewark has Business Class award space on 52 days; JFK has space on three days.

Look at how great award space is in First Class on the Newark to/from Los Angeles and San Francisco flights after October 25.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.45.57 AM

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.46.22 AM

Book this space now while the computer still thinks it is 737 First Class, and fly it when it is 757 flat bed Business Class.

Booking the Space

Search the space on united.com, but there are cheaper ways to book it than with United miles.

United charges 25,000 miles + $5.60 one way for domestic First Class or Business Class. Singapore charges 20,000 miles + $5.60 for the same space. Singapore has access to all the Saver award space you see on united.com if you search without signing in.

Call Singapore at 213-404-0301 to book the award space. Feed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of the award space you want to book. Call it “Business Class” whether you’re booking the front cabin on the 737 or 757.

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

Bottom Line

United ends p.s. service to JFK on October 24, ceasing all operations at the airport. The premium San Francisco and Los Angeles flights with flat beds in Business Class move to Newark, United’s hub in the New York metro area.

Right now award space in excellent between Newark and San Francisco/Los Angeles in First Class after October 25, 2015. If you book that space, you’ll actually fly Business Class on a plane with flat bed seats. That space may disappear when united.com updates the operating aircraft. Book that space with Singapore miles to save 5,000 miles per person per direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston to Munich

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

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.15.27 PM

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

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

Los Angeles to Paris

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

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

New York to Split, Croatia

Even awards to Eastern Europe into smaller airports have award space on plenty of dates.
Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.17.59 PM

Connection times are often less convenient to smaller cities because there are fewer flights per day, but you will get to hang out in the Austrian Airlines lounge for the five hours of this layover.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.19.02 PM

 

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

Other Airlines

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.26.24 PM

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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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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Generous reader Nancy is donating two United Club passes that expire October 31, 2015–in about four months–to one lucky winner. (This is different than last week’s giveaway of the same prize from a different reader. Congrats to @Global_Gregory for winning those passes.)

United has lounges all over the world. The clubs are a pleasant place to relax in a comfortable chair, use free wifi, and enjoy free snack and drinks. Here are the amenities. One-time entry goes for $50, so this giveaway could be worth up to $100.

There are two ways to enter this contest:

  1. Comment on this post for a chance to win the passes. Include your real email address while commenting, so I can contact the winner. (Your email address will not be displayed and will not be used for any other purpose.)
  2. Retweet the following tweet.

Each person can enter both ways to double his chances of winning.

I’ll pick a winner by next Sunday night to get those passes in the mail as soon as possible.

Even if you don’t win this giveaway, there are credit cards that offer free airport lounge access every time you travel like the Citi Prestige® Card, which offers free American Airlines and Priority Pass lounge access.

Don’t forget to join the 7,390 geniuses on Twitter and 5,086 mavens on Facebook who follow MileValue for more chances to win.

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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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Update June 24: United added this promo to its promo page. Book by July 6.

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United is offering up to a 25% discount on roundtrip awards to Hawaii for travel this Summer and Fall!

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 10.15.24 PM

United cardholders get a 25% discount and pay 33,750 United miles roundtrip to Hawaii. Non-cardholders get a 20% discount and pay 36,000 United miles roundtrip. Full price is 22,500 United miles one way in economy between Hawaii and the continental United States, Alaska, or Canada.

The sale is valid:

  • for roundtrip or open jaw awards. One way awards and awards with a stopover are NOT discounted
  • for awards booked by July 6, 2015
  • between Hawaii and the mainland United States, Alaska, or Canada. The award can begin on the mainland or in Hawaii
  • for travel in economy only
  • for travel on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Travel on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays is at the normal price. The day that counts is the day of departure for the direction you’re flying (ie taking off on Thursday from Hawaii and landing Friday at home counts as discounted Thursday travel.)
  • for travel between August 18 and December 15, 2015
  • for travel on United only, NOT on Air Canada, Hawaiian Airlines, or Island Air

All of this information is culled from searches as United doesn’t advertise the sale anywhere.

If you book a roundtrip award with one direction meeting the sale conditions and one direction not meeting the conditions, you will get half the discount. For instance, if you fly during the sale period in United economy with the outbound on a Friday and return on a Monday, and you are not a cardholder, you will get a 10% discount instead of 20% (because the outbound is on a Friday.)

Cardholder vs. Non-Cardholder

I am a United Explorer cardholder, and united.com recognizes that as soon as I sign in. I searched before signing in for a roundtrip, and the prices were displaying at 18,000 miles each way.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.51.38 AM

Then I had to sign in to see the total price, which was automatically discounted a full 25% to 33,750 miles roundtrip.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.52.23 AM

Further searches once I was signed in showed a price of 16,875 miles each way as part of a roundtrip.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 8.03.50 AM

Open Jaws, Starting in Hawaii

You can book an open jaw like flying into Maui and home from Kauai and still get the discount.
Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 8.10.43 AM

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.52.23 AM

I heartily recommend this strategy because 3-5 days is plenty for your first trip to each island. United serves Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai.

If you are in Hawaii already, you can also get the discount in this post for awards that start in Hawaii and fly to the mainland roundtrip.

Half Discounts

If one way of your roundtrip qualifies for the sale price (Saver economy, right day of week, inside date range, United) but the other way doesn’t qualify, you’ll get the discount on the one direction.

For instance, here is a roundtrip with the outbound in First Class (no discount, 40k miles) and the return on a Monday in September in United Saver economy (discount, 16,875 miles for cardholders.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 8.28.05 AM

The award priced at 56,875 miles for me, a cardholder, because the return is discounted. Full price would be 62,500 United miles.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 8.28.00 AM

Cheaper Awards than This United Sale

Even with the discount, there are cheaper awards to Hawaii than 33.75k or 36k miles roundtrip.

Singapore Airlines has access to all the same United Saver award space you see on united.com before signing in. For the same space, Singapore Airlines charges fewer miles to Hawaii than United. Singapore charges:

  • 17,500 Singapore miles one way in United economy to Hawaii
  • 30,000 Singapore miles one way in United First Class to Hawaii

United cardholders could book a slightly cheaper roundtrip award during this sale with United miles as long as they don’t mind flying an economy roundtrip on Monday through Thursday during the sale period. Otherwise Singapore awards are cheaper.

Singapore mile are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi, AMEX, Chase, and SPG points. United miles are only a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase points.

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also earns 3x points on travel and gas and 2x points on dining and entertainment. ThankYou Points transfer to Singapore miles in about a day.

See my complete Guide to Booking United Flights to Hawaii with Singapore KrisFlyer Miles.

British Airways charges only 12,500 Avios each way on awards to Hawaii on American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines direct flights.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.43.59 PM

While great for West Coasters, keep in mind that awards with even a single connection will cost 9,000 to 25,000 extra Avios roundtrip, and First Class awards are four times the price of economy awards!

Here are All the 12,500 Avios Awards to Hawaii.

Allegiant Air offers fares in the $300 roundtrip range pretty frequently from Los Angeles and Las Vegas to Honolulu. Here’s my experience flying from Los Angeles to Honolulu in one of their very cheap premium seats: Trip Report: Allegiant Airlines Giant Seat.

Bottom Line

United cardholders can book roundtrips to Hawaii for the late Summer or Fall for 33,750 miles roundtrip. Non-cardholders can pay only 36,000 miles roundtrip. Those are 25% and 20% discounts off the normal 45,000 mile roundtrip price.

To get the discount, you must book a roundtrip Saver economy award on United flights between August 18 and December 15 with departures on Mondays through Thursdays.

This sale might not excite you if you live on the West Coast because Avios awards or if you’re accustomed to booking United flights to Hawaii in First Class with Singapore miles.

This unadvertised sale is very interesting to me. I assume it is a way to quietly offload some inventory that would otherwise go unsold while also testing how sensitive MileagePlus members are to award prices.

United has had unadvertised award sales before for international awards and also offers Explorer Card holders extra Saver economy award space as an unadvertised benefits. Long live blogs and forums for disseminating these secrets.

Hat Tip Dan’s Deals

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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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Brussels Airlines award space is again searchable and bookable on united.com. Brussels Airlines flies flat bed Business Class award seats from Washington and New York to Brussels and beyond in Europe and Africa.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.45.00 PM

Even when the award space was not searchable on united.com, Brussels was bookable with United miles by searching on other Star Alliance carrier sites and calling United to book the award space. The award space being searchable on united.com, the biggest Star Alliance program’s website, may have a negative effect on Brussels award space.

  • What is the Brussels Business Class product?
  • How much do awards to Europe and Africa cost?
  • What is the award space on Brussels’ routes?
  • What connections are possible in Brussels?
  • How do you book these awards?
  • How do you get United miles?

Brussels Business Class

Brussels flies its A330s on its United States and African routes. The plane has economy and Business Class.

Business Class features flat beds in a staggered 1-2-1, 2-1-2 configuration, so that in the flat position your feet are under the arm rest in front of you.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 3.33.59 PM

I slept on a similar bed in Austrian Business Class. I found it comfortable overall though it can feel a bit claustrophobic.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 3.34.33 PM

Award Price

To Europe, United charges 30,000 miles each way in economy and 70,000 miles each way in partner Business Class.

To Africa, United charges 40,000 miles each way in economy and 80,000 miles each way in partner Business Class.

In addition to the miles, you’ll pay award taxes of about $55 on a roundtrip to Brussels and different prices if you connect to other cities in Europe or Africa. United awards never have fuel surcharges.

Award Space

Brussels flies two American routes: a summer route to Washington-Dulles and a year-round route to New York-JFK.

It is impossible on united.com to just search Brussels’ DC flight because United flies the same route and also comes up in search results.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.31.05 PM

I didn’t find any Business Class award space on the Washington DC flight this summer. All the Business and First Class space below is on the United flights. Here are reviews of United Business and First Classes.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.31.22 PM

The reason I found no Business Class space to/from DC became clear as I searched New York.

In both directions between New York and Brussels, I found the same pattern: sporadic economy space in 2015 and regular Business Class space in 2016.Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.33.26 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.33.52 PM

Going east, that Business Class space is Tuesday through Thursday.Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.34.09 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.34.29 PM

Returning from Europe has the same pattern except with less economy space in 2015 and more Business Class space in 2016.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.36.22 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.40.47 PM

The Business Class space on the return is Monday through Thursday.Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.35.35 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.41.10 PM

Space for Two

All the previous searches were for one passenger. Most of the days with award space for one also have award space for two.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.43.06 PM

Africa

These are the countries in Europe and Africa served by Brussels. In Africa, we see good coverage of Francophone countries.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.42.37 PM

Award space is excellent between Brussels and Africa in 2016, so you can easily fly the whole way from the United States to Africa in Brussels Business Class. Here is award space to the capital of Rwanda, a very lovely place.Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.43.42 PM

Here is award space to Sierra Leone, where I haven’t been.Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.44.32 PM

Connecting in New York and DC

DC is a United hub, so you can connect there easily from anywhere.

JFK is far from a United hub. The only current flights are from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Even those flights cease on October 24 and move to Newark.

Booking These Awards

Brussels Airlines flights have fuel surcharges, so you want to book them with Star Alliance miles that do not collect fuel surcharges on any awards. Right now, that is United miles and Avianca LifeMiles. Hopefully Copa ConnectMiles will be the same next month.

Both programs let you search and book online.

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

Getting United Miles

Chase offers United personal and United business cards in addition to its Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus which earn Ultimate Rewards, which can transfer 1:1 to United miles.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.40.36 PM

Unfortunately Chase has started denying applications for the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus if you have opened 4 or 5+ other new cards in the last two years. Some readers are even reporting being denied for the United cards in those circumstances. See News of the Year? Chase Fights Churners with Denials.

Bottom Line

Brussels Airlines is again searchable on united.com. Right now its American routes only show economy award space in 2015, but have great Business Class award space midweek in 2016 for two passengers.

You can fly to Western Europe or Francophone Africa on Brussels Airlines if Belgium doesn’t interest you.

Brussels Business Class is a fully flat bed, and the cabin has a staggered layout.

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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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Generous reader Peter is donating two United Club passes that expire June 30, 2015–in less than three weeks–to one lucky winner. If you can use the passes between June 20 and June 30 this month, to account for the mailing time, enter.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 2.43.40 AM

United has lounges all over the world. The clubs are a pleasant place to relax in a comfortable chair, use free wifi, and enjoy free snack and drinks. Here are the amenities. One-time entry goes for $50, so this giveaway could be worth up to $100.

There is only one way to enter this contest:

  1. Comment on this post with your flight date for a chance to win the passes. Include your real email address while commenting, so I can contact the winner. (Your email address will not be displayed and will not be used for any other purpose.)

I’ll pick a winner by next Sunday night to get those passes in the mail as soon as possible.

Even if you don’t win this giveaway, there are credit cards that offer free airport lounge access every time you travel like the Citi Prestige® Card, which offers free American Airlines and Priority Pass lounge access.

Don’t forget to join the 7,271 geniuses on Twitter and 5,053 mavens on Facebook who follow MileValue for more chances to win.

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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.

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

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

 

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

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

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

What All Three Have in Common

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

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

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

The Three Awards

1. Stopover (Complete Two City Award)

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 6.13.48 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 7.38.38 PM

 

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 6.45.34 PM

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

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

Searching, Booking, Getting the Miles

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

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

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

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

CKANbanner_300x250_v6b

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

21

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

Updated June 3: The Asiana miles showed up today, meaning the transfer took 14 days. My last transfer in September 2014 took 17 days. In the interim, I’ve decided not to book Lufthansa First Class from Europe to the United States in June, but the Asiana award chart is so good that I don’t mind have 60,000 points on hand. That’s almost enough for Business Class one way USA to Argentina (35k) + First Class USA to Hawaii (27.5k).

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 take 14-17 days to show up in my Asiana account.

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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Ireland’s government announced its approval for IAG–the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, and Vueling–to purchase Aer Lingus, the flag carrier of Ireland. The Irish government owns a 25% stake in Aer Lingus.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.49.15 AM

Other shareholders, including Ryanair which owns a 30% stake in Aer Lingus, have not weighed in, but if the deal goes through it will have a big effect on your miles.

Right now Aer Lingus is not a member of any airline alliance. It does, however, have one-off partnerships with United and British Airways, so you can redeem United miles and Avios for Aer Lingus flights.

If IAG buys Aer Lingus, it would join oneworld, and you would be able to redeem American Airlines, British Airways, and any other oneworld miles for Aer Lingus flights. You would, however, almost certainly lose the ability to redeem United miles on Aer Lingus.

Current Redemption Options

British Airways Avios awards use a distance-based formula. Flights from Boston to Ireland are 12,500 Avios one way in economy. Flights from New York, Chicago, and Washington to Ireland are 20,000 Avios one way. San Francisco to Ireland is 25,000 Avios one way.

Unfortunately, since Avios devalued last month, Business Class awards are now triple the economy price on those routes. This is especially unfortunate because Aer Lingus now has flat beds on some of its American routes.

Avios redemptions on Aer Lingus have very small fuel surcharges, in the tens of dollars.

Connections beyond Ireland add to the price of an Avios award, since all flights add to the price of Avios awards.

You cannot book Aer Lingus awards on ba.com. Search Expert Flyer for award space and call British Airways at 800-AIRWAYS to book.

Alternatively, you can use United miles to redeem Aer Lingus flights. United charges 30,000 miles one way in economy to Europe and 70,000 miles in Business Class. You can search and book on united.com.

Future Redemption Options

If Aer Lingus is bought by IAG and joins oneworld, the United option would probably be discontinued. The British Airways option would remain since British Airways is a member of oneworld.

We would also gain the ability to redeem American Airlines miles for Aer Lingus flights. That would be great since American Airlines charges only 50,000 miles one way in Business Class to Europe and 20,000 in economy for the majority of the year. Unfortunately I do expect these prices to go up, possibly before you’d have the chance to redeem American Airlines miles for Aer Lingus flights.

We’d also gain the ability to redeem every other type of oneworld miles for Aer Lingus flights, but most of those programs are terrible.

I’d consider this mainly a wash–losing United redemptions and gaining American redemptions. I’d call it a slight win though because United has a ton of great partner options to Europe, and American has fewer.

Bottom Line

Aer Lingus to IAG and oneworld is not a done deal, but the second biggest shareholder approves. If it happens, redemption options to Ireland and Europe will change, and probably get slightly better.

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