trick

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Until a few weeks ago, you could change the payment currency on Airbnb to the host’s currency. That saved you Airbnb’s ridiculous 3% currency conversion fee. As long as you paid with a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card, you got the conversion done for a 0% fee.

Since I’ve spent most of the year in Airbnb properties, that saves me a lot of money.

Then Airbnb took that option away. It looked like a pure cash grab, and certainly the Airbnb Twitter team had no explanation for why the option to pay in the host’s currency was taken away.

Luckily there is still a way to avoid the 3% junk fee that Twitter user @SterlingTravelr nails.

At the bottom of the Airbnb home page, change the currency to the currency of the host before searching.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.40.08 PM

I changed the currency to Brazilian Real and did a search in Brazil. Search results were in Real. When I selected a property and went to the payment screen, I saw a price of 150 Real.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.37.32 PM

The fine print clearly says that I’ll actually pay dollars, but no exchange commission is listed. And 150 Real equals $43, what I’ll be charged, so no 3% commission is being charged either.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.42.18 PM

By contrast, if I reset the currency on the home page to dollars, the property is going for $48. (The “Coupon,” the low prices, and the fact that $43 and $48 are more than 3% apart are because I have earned some referral credits. If you sign up for Airbnb through my referral link, you’ll get $25 off your first stay, and I’ll get $25 off my next stay. Feel free to leave your referral link in the comments.)
Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.39.55 PMThe fine print clearly indicates a 3% conversion fee.

Bottom Line

On the home page, set the currency to your host’s currency. You will still pay in your local currency but avoid the conversion fee.

It’s weird that Airbnb tried to make this cash grab while leaving a backdoor open. This could be shut at any time.

In the meantime, here are Three Ways to Save on Airbnb that are very unlikely to end. Here’s How Airbnb Works.

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5

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United allows you to book trips to and from ZFV, Philadelphia’s 30th St. train station. Such fares include flights to or from Newark and trains from there to Philadelphia.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 2.07.42 PM

Because in the short term an airline’s ticket prices have more to do with competition from other airlines than anything else, United often sells tickets to ZFV for cheaper than flights to Newark, even when the trip to ZFV is the same flights to Newark plus a train ride. This presents an intriguing hidden city ticketing option, doubly intriguing because you have to collect any checked bags in Newark.

Hidden city ticketing is the practice of booking a ticket with a connection and planning to fly only to the intermediate connection point. Hidden city ticketing can save you a lot of money when flights to your real destination are expensive, flights to your fake destination are cheaper, and you can book tickets to the fake destination with a connection at the real destination.

For example if you want to fly from Baltimore to Chicago and the fare is $200 one way, but you find Baltimore to Milwaukee with a connection in Chicago for $150 one way, you can buy Baltimore to Milwaukee and just leave the airport in Chicago $50 richer than you would have been if you had booked a ticket to Chicago.

Hidden city ticketing is not illegal, but airlines don’t like it. In the past, United sued a website that searched for hidden city tickets. (The case was thrown out on procedural grounds; I also think United would lose on the merits.) I’ll have more hidden city caveats as they apply to ZFV fares at the end of the post.

Cheap ZFV Fares

Philadelphia is an American Airlines/US Airways hub with a lot of direct flights on the airline. Most United itineraries to Philadelphia, by contrast, will have a layover at a United hub. People don’t like layovers, so United needs to price these connecting itineraries attractively to compete with American Airlines/US Airways direct flights.

Similarly, United has a fortress hub at Newark with direct flights from all over the country. If someone flies to Newark, they will want to fly United because of the much better schedule United has compared to other carriers at the airport. So United has some pricing power at the airport.

That’s why we often see that United charges more for a direct flight from somewhere to Newark than for that same flight plus a train ticket to Philadelphia.

Example: One Way from Las Vegas

This is a calendar of only United-marketed itineraries (I’ll explain how to get it below) from Las Vegas to Philadelphia’s train station in September. There are a lot of days including Fridays and Satrudays for $125.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.19.31 PM

Here is a $125 itinerary on a Friday that includes a direct United flight from Las Vegas to Newark and then a train to Philadelphia.Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.19.55 PM

Here is a calendar of flights from Las Vegas to Newark in September. The cheapest price is $167, and the cheapest Friday is $178.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.20.41 PM

And the cheapest flights are with a connection, which means an extra 2.5 hours of travel to Newark. The United direct flights are pricing at $222–$97 more than the price from Las Vegas to Philadelphia that included the same flight.Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.21.07 PM

Example: One Way from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)

This is a calendar of only United-marketed itineraries from DFW to Philadelphia’s train station in September. There are a lot of days including Fridays and Saturdays for $105.
Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.25.54 PM

These $105 itineraries are a direct DFW to Newark flight plus a train ride.Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.26.16 PM Now let’s search DFW to Newark on all airlines with no maximum number of layovers. The cheapest days are $147, and the cheapest Fridays are $158.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.26.46 PM

The cheapest nonstops are $185, a full $80 more than the fare to Philadelphia.Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.27.00 PM

How to Find These Fares

I started on the ITA Matrix. First I searched for United one way fares from different cities to ZFV. To make sure you only get United fares, include the advanced routing code UA+.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.20.15 PM

If you want your results to only include United direct flights to Newark plus the train ride, you should instead use the advanced routing code UA UA.Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.27.34 PM

You’ll get a calendar of results that include flights to Newark.

Now re-run the search and change the destination to Newark and remove the advanced routing codes. You’ll get a calendar of results from all airlines.

Compare the two calendars. If the United fares to Philadelphia are cheaper, you can book them on united.com or on whatever online travel agency you prefer.

Caveats & FAQ

A normal caveat with hidden city ticketing is that you cannot check a bag because it will fly to your final destination. With tickets to ZFV, though, you can check a bag. The bag will come out at baggage claim in Newark, and you are expected to pick it up there are carry it to the train. No one will (or can) force you to do that instead of just leaving.

Another normal caveat is that your plans could be ruined by inclement weather that causes a re-routing that eliminates the connection in your true destination. This is less of a worry with ZFV fares. To get to ZFV, you have to fly to Newark and take the train. If United tried to re-route me to Philadelphia’s airport via Chicago instead, I would insist on changing the itinerary back to plane to Newark plus train because ZFV and Philadelphia’s airport are in very different places.

You are violating United’s terms and conditions, and United could respond by not awarding miles for your trip or even canceling your MileagePlus account. I have never seen a single report of United doing this. Surely your odds of United noticing and punishing you increase if you book these tickets frequently.

What about skipping your train legs, what effect will that have on you and your ticket? There’s a 1,500+ post FlyerTalk thread on the subject, and this is the summary based on folks’ experience:

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Skipping ZFV-EWR/EWR-ZFV Segment

The scenarios below are categorized as low-risk, medium-risk, or high-risk.

  • Low-risk scenarios are unlikely to result in cancelled segments; the risks here include UA coming after you if you do it frequently, and the possibility of being routed directly to PHL in IRROPS.
  • Medium-risk scenarios are those where some people have reported cancelled segments, particularly if there is enough lag time between the Amtrak segment and one or more of the United segments for the systems to sync up; sometimes you can get an agent to reinstate canceled segments/trip for no charge but seating assignment and upgrades will probably be lost.
  • High-risk scenarios are those where some segments are almost certain to be cancelled.

Here are the scenarios:

  • Booking One Way or Round Trip: ZFV-EWR-XXX, boarding ZFV-EWR downline (e.g. at TRE or MET) – No risk (subject to obtaining your train ticket–see below)
  • Booking One Way: ZFV-EWR-XXX, Skipping ZFV-EWR only – Medium-risk
  • Booking One Way: XXX-EWR-ZFV, Skipping EWR-ZFV only – Low-risk
  • Booking Round Trip: ZFV-EWR-XXX, Skipping ZFV-EWR only – High-risk
  • Booking Round Trip: XXX-EWR-ZFV, Skipping ZFV-EWR only – Medium-risk
  • Booking Round Trip: ZFV-EWR-XXX, Skipping EWR-ZFV only – Low-risk
  • Booking Round Trip: XXX-EWR-ZFV, Skipping EWR-ZFV only – High-risk
  • Booking Round Trip: ZFV-EWR-XXX -OR- XXX-EWR-ZFV, Skipping ZFV-EWR and EWR-ZFV – High-risk

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So FlyerTalk is basically suggesting that you only skip the train if it is the very last segment on your ticket. The easiest way to do that is to book a one way TO Newark/Philadelphia.

There are reports of people booking ZFV to Newark to a destination, printing their real Amtrak ticket at a station, and then skipping the Amtrak segment and being allowed to fly out of Newark. But read the FlyerTalk thread in detail before trying that.

Bottom Line

If you want to fly to Newark, you can save serious money booking United fares to ZFV, a Philadelphia train station, and then skipping the train segment.

As with all hidden city ticketing, there is risk.

More hidden city ticketing articles, all of which are about award booking:

Hat Tip Dan’s Deals

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4

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I booked a few awards to Thailand and Egypt in January. The awards would have allowed me to explore new areas and fly some of the world’s fanciest First and Business Class products. Here is how to book the awards I booked:

I should be in Egypt right now, but a wedding came up in Virginia that would have cut the trip too short, so I just wanted to cancel all these awards to get my miles back to head to Cuba and Colombia instead.

Canceling the Emirates flights was a breeze: until 60 days before departure, you can cancel or change Alaska Airlines awards for free. I called up to cancel a few months before the trip and got my miles and taxes back.

Canceling the Qatar and Etihad flights wouldn’t be so easy. American Airlines charges $150 to cancel an award. All the flights were on one American Airlines record locator, so I could pay the $150 once and get back all 120,000 miles and the taxes on the award, but I don’t want to pay $150 when I don’t have to.

The Trick to Avoiding Cancellation Fees

If you want to cancel any ticket–award or cash–for free and there is a major schedule change, you can get a free cancellation. What counts as major? Depends on the airline and the agent, but probably at least 60 minutes.

My American Airlines award had a five minute schedule change, and I tried to get a free cancellation because of the change by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880, but the agent wouldn’t allow it.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.06.13 PM

Increase Your Chances of a Schedule Change

What do you do when you don’t have a valid schedule change that offers a free cancellation? Push back your flights to give the airline more time to change the schedule.

American Airlines allows free changes of awards up to 21 days before departure as long as you don’t change cities, airlines, or cabins. All awards must be flown within one year of ticketing, so you can’t move your flights back indefinitely to wait for a schedule change, but you can move them back quite a bit.

I booked my ticket in January, but that March five-minute schedule change reissued the tickets on March 2, 2015. That means I can push my flights back until March 1, 2016.

These were the original flights.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.05.47 PMI couldn’t change cabins, dates, or cities, so I started with the last flight from Abu Dhabi to Washington Dulles and found award space as close to March 1, 2016 as I could. Then I kept working backwards.

I found award space for all four flights in late February and called American Airlines to make the schedule change.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.05.12 PMThe change was free, and now I have nine more months for Etihad or Qatar to make a schedule change. I’d say my chances are greater than 50% that this will eventually happen, and I can cancel for free to get my 120,000 miles and taxes back.

If it doesn’t happen, or I need my 120,000 miles before then, I’ll just call to cancel and pay the $150 fee.

I’d pay the $150 fee with my Citi Prestige® Card next year when my $250 airfare/airline fee credit resets. The $150 would then be credited back to me.

See Also

Bottom Line

Want to cancel for free? Wait for a schedule change.

If none comes, change your award to later dates for free to give yourself longer to get a schedule change.

If you have to pay the fee, pay with a card that offers an offsetting statement credit for airline fees like the Citi Prestige® Card.

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

My 2013 Euro Hopper

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

Source: gcmap.com

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

But I had a blast.

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

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

Two things have changed since that week in 2013.

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

My 2015 Euro Hopper

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

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

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

How to get from Bucharest to Zurich?

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.44.03 AM
Source: gcmap.com

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.42.34 AM

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.47.54 AM

Searching and Booking the Award

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.40.01 PM

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.51.00 PM

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

Booking

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

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

In the end I get:

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

It’s going to be a heck of a week!

Other Possible Itineraries

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

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

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

Other Regions

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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Here’s how to cancel an American Airlines award without paying the $150 fee to reinstate your miles and cancel the award.

  1. Be an Executive Platinum canceling an award booked with miles from your account. The reinstatement fee is waived for Executive Platinums.
  2. Hope for a schedule change greater than 60 minutes on one of your flights, and call to cancel for free because the new schedule doesn’t work for you.

To help #2 along, when you are one month from departure, if you haven’t gotten the magic 60 minute schedule change, call to change your award to a later date for free. Change the award to a date as far in the future as possible. You are only limited by the fact that the new travel date must be within one year of the award’s original ticketing date. Now you have more time for a schedule change.

My Experience

I booked two awesome one way trips as one American Airlines award.

  1. Bangkok to Doha to Luxor with the first segment in Business Class on the new Qatar A380. (anatomy of an award)
  2. Cairo to Abu Dhabi to Washington DC with the second segment in First Class on the new Etihad 787. (anatomy of an award)
Etihad First Suite on 787
Etihad First Suite on 787

 

Combined these cost only 120,000 American Airlines miles, and I was excited to fly in ridiculous luxury.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.09.15 PM
Bar on Qatar A380

 

Then I was invited to a wedding that made my trip impossible. Only a five minute change had been made to my itinerary since booking. (I did try to get a free cancellation for that change, but I had no luck.)

The flights were originally scheduled to begin April 30, 2015. Any changes made within 21 days of departure cost $75 to $150. But if you change an American Airlines award

  • more than 21 days before your original departure
  • your new flights are also 21+ days out
  • you don’t change the cabin
  • you don’t change the origin or departure
  • you don’t change the airlines
  • and you don’t change the award type (MileSAAver or AAnytime)

…your change is free.

My award had four flight segments, I searched for award space on those four segments as far in the future as possible. I started with my last segment and worked backwards. I found award space for all four segments in mid-February 2016 on the same routes in the same cabins of the same airlines. (Read the Anatomy of an Award posts linked above to see how I searched.) The only restriction on my new dates was that all flights have to be completed within one year of my original booking which was at the end of February 2015.

I called American Airlines and fed the agent my new flights by giving him the date, flight number, and cabin of each segment. He changed my itinerary for free and sent me a new confirmation email. Now I’ll wait.

If a schedule change is made, I’ll call to cancel for free. I’ll get my miles and taxes back. If no change is made, I’ll call in February 2016 and cancel. I’ll get my miles back but have to pay $150 minus what I already paid in taxes.

Right now I have plenty of American Airlines miles, but if I need these 120,000 desperately, I can always change my plan and cancel at any time for $150.

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Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 3.34.07 AM

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Last month, I wrote about saving money on paid tickets by using a “fake location.” The idea is that airlines charge different amounts for the same ticket depending on where you’re from or where you say you’re from.

I just had the opportunity to use the trick, and I saved 47% on an intra-Egypt flight.

I’m going to spend a week in Egypt in May, and I want to split the time between Luxor and Cairo. My fancy award tickets, which I’ll be writing about in the coming days, fly into Luxor and out of Cairo, so I’ve just got to get myself from Luxor to Cairo on a separate ticket.

Award Booking?

My first thought is always to book an award ticket, but in this case, it’s a very poor value.

United shows award space every day on the route, usually on multiple flights, but the price is 20,000 miles in economy and 35,000 in business–steep for a one hour flight.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.05.37 AM

These segments might be very useful as part of a larger award, but I’m not spending 20,000 miles on what turned out to be a sub-$100 flight.

Paid Ticket Search

I headed to kayak.com to check out the price of a paid ticket, which was $112.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 12.21.42 PM

That’s not terrible, and certainly better than 20,000 miles, but I wondered if a fake location would make the flight cheaper.

I went to egyptair.com and selected Egypt as my country and English as my language.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.09.05 AM

It’s nice that Egyptair lets you pick English/Egpyt. Some sites put you into the native language if you choose the airline’s home country. In that case, using the Google Chrome browser to automatically translate is helpful.

Searching the exact same dates on egyptair.com “from Egypt” brought much cheaper results than my Kayak search “from the United States.” (In fact, I was in Argentina for both.)

Luxor to Cairo priced out at 422 Egyptian Pounds, about $59.
Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 12.23.59 PMI selected my ideal flight and paid with my Citi ThankYou® Premier Card because it has no foreign transaction fees. In my Citi account, the charge shows as $59.16, a 47% discount on what someone who didn’t know the fake-location trick would have paid.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.00.01 AM

I’m sure I’ll find plenty of ways to spend the $53 I saved on my trip!

Have you used the “fake location” trick before for big savings?

Full explanation of the trick with examples and uses: Book Tickets from Fake Location to Save Money

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Pay for your cheap flights intra-country with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 8.29.19 PM

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Delta awards that originate in Europe have big fuel surcharges, but they can be dumped fairly easily.

The fuel surcharges weren’t much of an issue for most Americans in the past when Delta required roundtrip awards because not many of us book roundtrips originating in Europe. But now that Delta allows one way awards, the fuel surcharges for awards originating in Europe are very annoying. They effectively make it cost-prohibitive to book a one way award from Europe to the United States.

The Problem

For instance this Madrid to New York one way has 199 euros ($230) worth of taxes, fees, and charges.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.10.29 PM

That roughly lines up with the taxes and fuel surcharges (194 euros) of a cash ticket.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.11.08 PM

But if you book this one way as part of a roundtrip to Madrid, you pay only $91 total in taxes for the entire roundtrip.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.08.11 PM

The Solution

The way to fuel dump the one way ticket out of Europe is to add a preceding one way ticket that originates somewhere other than Europe, like the United States.

Go to the Delta Multi-city search page and search for a flight that doesn’t originate in Europe followed by your one way ticket from Europe to the United Staes.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.37.04 PM

In the above example, I’ve chose Atlanta to New York preceding Madrid to New York. Yes, back-to-back flights on the award go to New York. I chose this example to show that the preceding flight can really be any flight that doesn’t originate in Europe.

This award booked at 87,500 miles + $68–no fuel surcharges–in First Class and Business Class. That’s 25,000 miles for Domestic First Class and 62,500 miles for Business Class from Europe to the United States.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.17.46 PM

It priced as 42,500 miles in economy–12,500 miles for domestic economy and 30,000 miles for Europe to the United States. Again without fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.17.09 PM

Unfortunately online I couldn’t get the computer to price domestic economy plus Business Class returning from Europe. When I selected flights like that, it overrode my selection and put the first flight in First Class.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.18.46 PM

The first flight doesn’t need to be a domestic flight in the United States. Here is an example where the first flight is Seoul to Tokyo, which by the way, is dirt cheap at 7,500 miles one way.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 7.33.46 PM

The award prices at 37,500 miles + $88 in taxes–again, no fuel surcharges.

The Problems with the Solution

The big one: If you don’t fly the first flight, your entire award will be cancelled. Pick a first flight you actually need.

Smaller one: Domestic First Class on most routes is not worth double the price of economy, but I couldn’t price out domestic economy for the first flight plus international Business Class home from Europe. I suspect you could price this out correctly by phone. I further suspect the agent’s computer would spit out the taxes without fuel surcharges for the entire award, and the agent wouldn’t even notice that you just dumped over $200 in bogus fuel surcharges.

Hat Tip for this trick to reader John who came up with it while playing around with a Delta award he was booking.

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 8.29.19 PM

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

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

The Plan

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 10.55.41 AM

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.04.21 AM

Searching the Hardest Leg First

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

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

The Full Search

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.13.40 AM

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

Solution 1: Display 50 Flights

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.10.03 AM

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.17.11 AM

Solution 2: Segment-by-Segment Searching

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.16.48 AM

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

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

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

Bottom Line on United.com

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

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

Bonus: Free One Way

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

See Free One Ways on United Awards

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11

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A friend passed along an article from Time.com that advocates doing something I’ve done a few times, but not described:

You can often get a cheaper price on a cash ticket if you book the ticket in foreign currency through airline’s website designed for use by people in another country.

For instance, you can save about 35% on a roundtrip from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island, Chile booking in Chilean pesos through the LAN Chile website instead of in dollars through the LAN USA website.

I’ve noticed similarly cheaper flights using Colombian websites intra-Colombia and, most notably, Argentine websites intra-Argentina.

It’s easy to search the foreign websites, easy to translate them to English, and easy to pay with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, so this is a trick everyone should be using.

Searching Foreign Websites

I recommend starting at the ITA Matrix. There you can quickly search for flights while toggling the “Sales city.” I searched Santiago to Easter Island roundtrip in April twice.

The first time I left “Sales city” blank, which defaults to departure city.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.23.26 PM

The second time I put Washington DC for the “Sales city” to see what the price would be on American websites.

Washington DC as a sales city led to a price of $616.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.23.53 PM

Santiago as a sales city led to a price of CL$242,586.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.24.24 PM

That is $393 or a 36% discount on the price designed for Americans.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.25.01 PM

You can continue to select different sales cities and might find a cheaper price, but generally the cheapest price will be the foreign country where the flights are.

To get the price in pesos, head to lan.com. Along the top, you’ll see United States (English) as the default selection.
Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.25.49 PM

Change it to Chile. This will give you a Spanish-language site of course.

Getting the Foreign Website into English

If you use Google Chrome as your browser, you’ll be asked whether you want to translate the page to English.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.26.07 PM

Going through the purchase steps, I was able to replicate the price of CL$242,586.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.27.42 PM

Avoiding Foreign Transaction Fees

The last step would be to purchase the ticket with a card with no foreign transaction fees to avoid being dinged 3% on top of the $393.

If you want a free ticket, purchase the flights with your Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® and then redeem Arrival miles to remove the $393 purchase from your statement. See how to redeem Arrival miles.

If you want to earn 3x ThankYou Points per dollar, use your Citi Prestige® Card, which also gets you $250 in free flights per year. See my review of the Prestige.

 

If you don’t have either, you can also get 2x ThankYou Points per dollar on the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card or 2x Ultimate Rewards on the Chase Sapphire Preferred, both without foreign transaction fees.

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Citi Prestige® Card with 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, lounge access, $250 per calendar year in airline fee credits, and more

  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay
  • Earn 30,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

 

 

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I gave a well-received presentation on Trick Awards at the Chicago Seminars in October.

The presentation dealt with free one ways, negative price one ways, open jaws, stopovers, avoiding fuel surcharges, and award chart SUPER sweet spots.

Enjoy!

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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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 3.40.47 PM

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

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I met the author of Don’t Call the Airline (great blog name, right?), a Canadian frequent flyer miles blog, at the Chicago Seminars.

He came up to me and told me about how he had earned 20,000+ Virgin Australia Velocity miles and status by flying a Delta AWARD ticket.

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  • What did DCTA do to “earn” the miles?
  • Is the process repeatable?

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You can still pay United’s award prices from January 2014 and before for premium cabin awards.

The catch is that you need to be changing an existing award that you booked February 2, 2014 or earlier. Any award you booked before that date–no matter the origin, destination, cabin, and airline–that you haven’t flown yet should be eligible to be changed to any other award at the old award prices.

I recently changed a First Class award from North Asia to the United States to a different routing on a different airline and paid zero extra miles even though the current price for the award is 50,000 miles more than I originally paid.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 12.25.08 AM
I get to fly in this suite after my change!

The MileValue Award Booking Service is ready to help you if you have an old United award you want to change to something better at the old prices.

  • How can you find out if you have any awards that are eligible to be changed at the old rates?
  • What are the old rates?
  • How do you make the change?
  • What change did I make?

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I actually haven’t ranked my travel tips, but I love this one because it’s super simple and saves me from getting lost all around the world.

But it’s not my #1 travel tip, which would probably be “use miles” or “travel more” or “travel solo” or something like that.

It may not even be my #2 travel tip because you can save a lot of money with these two:

Anyway, here’s how I avoid getting lost worldwide when I don’t have cell phone data. I used this trick in Slovenia last month because T-Mobile doesn’t offer free data there, and I’ve used it to navigate the dusty streets and alleys of Kampala, Uganda without issue.

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I fly a lot of flights in economy class. While all my longhauls are in business or first, when I fly domestically or hop around Southeast Asia, Europe, or Australia, it’s almost always in coach.

It’s just not worth using airline miles to book short flights in first class. I prefer to book cheap economy flight with Arrival miles and save my airline miles for international first class.

Last week I read an article called “30 Pilots And Flight Attendants Confess Their Best Kept Secrets,” and one of the secrets was actually an amazing tip I can’t believe I didn’t already know.

It won’t quite give you this much space in economy, but it does make flying in the back a little more comfortable.

IMG_0052
Cathay Pacific First Class

How have I given myself more room in economy this week?

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