Award Booking

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 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 53,000 American Airlines miles. Spend $7,000 more on the card at your leisure, and you’ll have 60,000 American Airlines miles.

If you normally spend $2,500 per month on a card, getting to 60,000 miles will take only four months. If you spend only $1,000, this will take 10 months. No matter what, sometime in 2015, you should easily get to 60,000 miles.

With that 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?

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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?

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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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I recently received an email about changes to the Virgin Atlantic route network.

Virgin Atlantic is a London-based carrier that is not a member of any of the three major alliances, but does have a partnership with Delta.

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Using 125,000 Delta miles for a roundtrip in Upper Class from anywhere in the United States to anywhere in Europe is a fantastic use of SkyMiles.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Marketing

I checked a few of the Virgin Atlantic routes for award space for May 2015 and found award space nearly every day on one route, many of those days featuring two award seats in Upper Class, bookable with Delta miles with no fuel surcharges.

Virgin Atlantic serves 11 cities in the United States from London and the rest of Europe from there.

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  • How is award space in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class?
  • How can you book it with Delta miles?
  • How can you greatly reduce taxes on awards that involve Virgin Atlantic Upper Class?

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Yesterday’s post on the Coolest Thing You Can Do with 60,000 Miles was a hit, so I thought I’d follow up with how you can create your own THINK BIG itineraries with miles.

The basic premise of that post was connecting far-flung regions into a single trip by taking advantage of under-priced awards between the regions. In that vein, I’ll post some under-priced awards between international regions from the American Airlines chart today and United chart tomorrow.

AA Award Chart, Spot the Value
AA Award Chart, Spot the Value

Why American and United awards? Because they can be booked as one way awards, and these THINK BIG trips allow you to see more by booking a series of one way awards.

I’m including the cheapest one way international awards between non-American regions only because the cheapest international awards from the United States are better known.

Hopefully seeing cheap ways to get between East Asia and Australia or Europe and the Maldives will spur you to THINK BIG and come up with a really creative trip that incorporates both places.

1. First Class: 40,000 Miles Between Europe and India, Maldives, Middle East

or 30,000 miles in Business Class

American groups the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and the Maldives into one region, and then it under-prices many awards to and from the region!

Between Europe and the Middle East, India, or Maldives is only 30,000 American Airlines miles in Business Class and 40,000 miles in First Class.

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Key routes to consider are Dubai to London on a Qantas A380 and Abu Dhabi to London with Etihad. Both feature absolute world class First Class products for the same price as you’d expect to pay for domestic First Class to Hawaii!

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7hr30min of A380 First Class for 40,000 miles

You can use these under-priced awards to get between Europe and Asia on a round-the-world trip.

  • What are the other top five under-priced awards on the American Airlines chart?

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Cathay Pacific is a Hong Kong-based member of oneworld with a mind-blowing First Class and a top-notch business class.

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Cathay Pacific First Class Bed

Cathay Pacific flies from six North American cities to Hong Kong (and from there to the rest of the world), plus Boston to Hong Kong starts in May 2015.

from gcmap.com
from gcmap.com

Cathay Pacific flies 777s between the United States and Hong Kong, which have only six First Class seats. Because of that, you rarely see more than one First Class award seat per flight.

But lately Cathay Pacific has been increasing its capacity to the United States so much that there are occasional flights with award space available for two out of the First Class cabin’s six seats.

  • What are the new routes/services from the United States to Hong Kong?
  • What is the pattern for Cathay Pacific First Class award space?
  • Which flights have two seats?
  • What are the best miles to book Cathay Pacific First Class award space?

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US Airways is now pricing roundtrip awards as the sum of two one ways. This can save you up to 50,000 miles per roundtrip awards.

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This award will now cost the one way price of Chicago to Hong Kong plus the one way price of Shanghai to Chicago

You still can’t book a one way award with US Airways miles for half the price of a roundtrip, but this is a baby step in the right direction!

Even as the US Airways program and the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® with a 40,000 mile sign up bonus on first purchase are set to disappear in early 2015, the program is improving!

  • What does it mean to price an award as the sum of its one ways?
  • How can this change save you 50,000 miles on a single award?

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Until late last year, getting to Europe in business class was much easier than it has been lately, especially for traveling parties of three or more. In December of last year, Austrian Airlines stopped releasing business class award space until about three months before departure. This made advance business class award redemptions for larger parties much more difficult.

In the past I’ve booked families of four to Europe and even to the Middle East on Austrian Airlines, and it is a very solid and comfortable flat bed business class product. See my full review for my thoughts on the onboard chef concept and the comfort of the bed.

Minced veal patty, potatoes, and veggies in Austrian Business Class

I was very excited several weeks ago to discover that Austrian Airlines was again releasing business class award space as soon as the schedule opens for up to four passengers.

  • Where does Austrian Airlines fly?
  • What kind of business class product do they have?
  • What miles are best suited for travel on Austrian Airlines
  • How good is award availability?

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