Award Booking

13

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

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

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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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can book each direction as a one way award.

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 4.26.20 PM

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Routes Does Singapore Fly to the United States

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

West Coast Routes

Singapore’s West Coast routes stop in Asia.

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

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 1.28.44 AM

Other American Routes

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 1.29.03 AM

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

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

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

Four things that jump out at me:

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

Searching and Booking Singapore First and Suites Class

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

Then go fly in your enclosed double flat bed!

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Key Links:

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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.

Possibilities with Qantas flight. Source: gcmap.com

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

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

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

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South African flies to Perth, Qantas flies to Sydney. Source: gcmap.com

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

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

What is the Business Class Product

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

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

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

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Source: http://www.seatguru.com/airlines/Qantas_Airways/Qantas_Airways_Boeing_747-400RR_V2.php

How to Search Award Space

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

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

Award Space Picture

South African Flight

Award space is excellent in economy and Business Class on the South African flight between Johannesburg and Perth for two people for the next 11 months. Many of the daily flights have award space for two people in both economy and Business Class.
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Here are all the award calendars. Yellow means economy award space for two passengers that day. Blue means space for two passenger in Business Class that day. Green means award space for two passengers in both cabins that day.

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

Qantas Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Connections

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

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

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

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

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

How to Book

Depends on which miles you want to use.

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

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

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

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

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

Avianca LifeMiles (book online) charges the same.

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

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There are no cheap deals with other Star Alliance carriers:

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

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

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

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

Getting the Miles

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

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

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Bottom Line

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

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

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Never miss a post again! Follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook. And sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts!

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

My 2013 Euro Hopper

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

Source: gcmap.com

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

But I had a blast.

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

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

Two things have changed since that week in 2013.

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

My 2015 Euro Hopper

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

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

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

How to get from Bucharest to Zurich?

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

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Source: gcmap.com

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

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

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

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

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Searching and Booking the Award

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maximizing Aeroplan Awards

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

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

Searching for United and Swiss Space

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

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

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

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

Booking on Aeroplan.com

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

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

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

Getting the Miles

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

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

Caveat

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

The Plan

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

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

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Searching the Hardest Leg First

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

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

The Full Search

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.13.40 AM

Yet the results showed only Saver award space in economy. And the results only featured United flights. No partner options were offered.
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Solution 1: Display 50 Flights

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.10.03 AM

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.17.11 AM

Solution 2: Segment-by-Segment Searching

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line on United.com

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

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

Bonus: Free One Way

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

See Free One Ways on United Awards

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

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

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Two Roundtrips to Peru

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

When are Off Peak Awards Available

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

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What Do They Cost

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

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Where Does American Fly in the Region

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

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

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

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

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

How to Search for Award Space

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

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

Getting the Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bri wrote in her Free Credit Card Consultation:

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

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

 

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

United miles are the ticket for Bri. I replied:

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

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Most days have economy and business class award space available.

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

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

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The return offers the same kind of itineraries.

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Suggested Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easy enough to get here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An actual improvement to delta.com!

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

The nearly useless delta.com used to display

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

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

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

United miles are the best to Europe, though the routes with gold mine award space for Summer 2015 might surprise you. For Summer 2014, I wrote Route from the US to Europe via Canada for Better Award Space, and I decided to check back in on some of our old favorite routes to see if they were again gold mines for 2015.

The answer is a resounding yes. For next summer, there are a number of Air Canada routes with award space for two people every day, often with 2 award seats in economy and 2 in business.

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Routing through Canada is actually a shorter trip than connecting in the United States because the direct flights from most of the United States to Canada pass over Canada. According to the Great Circle Mapper, routing through Calgary only adds about 100 miles and Toronto about 300 miles over the direct Los Angeles to London flight.

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Air Canada award space is searchable and bookable on united.com with no fuel surcharges. It is easy to connect to the space form the United States on Air Canada or United flights. Air Canada Business Class varies slightly by aircraft, but always features a fully flat bed at least 6’3″ long and always features at least some rows where all seats have direct aisle access.

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Air Canada Business Class
  • Which routes from Canada to Europe have award space for two passengers every day this summer?
  • How many United miles are required to book from the United States to Europe in economy and Business Class?
  • How can you book these awards (with one trick to make things easier if necessary)?

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Virgin Atlantic is a London-based airline that serves or has plans to serve 12 American airports. Virgin Atlantic releases a ton of award space in Upper Class between the United States and Europe in the last days and weeks before departure.

Detroit begins 6/1/15, Atlanta begins 10/27/14
Detroit begins 6/1/15, Atlanta begins 10/27/14

You can book Virgin Atlantic Upper Class with Delta miles. Delta currently charges 125,000 miles roundtrip to Europe in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class.

Last week, I looked at some of Virgin Atlantic’s new flights and asked whether booking Virgin Atlantic Upper Class was the best use of SkyMiles.

Starting January 1, 2015, you’ll be able to book Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for 62,500 Delta miles one way. Delta does not collect fuel surcharges on Upper Class flights.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is among the world’s best business classes because it features a fully flat bed, direct aisle access from every seat, an onboard bar, and fantastic lounges, especially in London.

I was daydreaming about flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class home from Europe next summer, and I wondered: Does Virgin Atlantic release a lot of last minute award space on its routes?

I figure that if I am in Europe, and I do want to fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class home, I’d book the ticket at the last minute to maintain maximum flexibility.

  • Does Virgin Atlantic release a lot of last minute award space on its routes?
  • How can you search and book Virgin Atlantic award space?
  • How can you save money when booking Virgin Atlantic award space?

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