United

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Thai Airways First Class on its 747 operates daily between Bangkok and Sydney. Thai Airways First Class is luxurious with renowned Thai service, awesome Thai food, and free hourlong Thai massages for First Class passengers departing Bangkok.

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The price for 9+ hours in Thai First Class: only 40,000 United miles!

For whatever reason, when United jacked up the prices of flying Business and First Class on partners in February 2014, it dropped the premium-cabin prices between Southeast Asia and Australia/New Zealand.

I flew First Class on the Thai A380 in September 2013–unfortunately I lost my camera, so I never wrote a trip report–and I was sufficiently impressed by the bed, food, massage, and service that I would happily fly Thai First Class again. On that trip, I even got an hour in First Class on a Thai 747 from Phuket to Bangkok, and I found this specific seat/bed combo to be very comfortable as well.

The Massage

Most international First Class, at least on Asian airlines, is going to have a great bed, great service, and delicious food. What sets Thai apart is the ground experience.

I connected in Bangkok and was met at the plane door by a Thai employee who escorted me to the lounge. Once there, I was handed off to another employee who took my food, drink, and massage order.

First Class passengers departing Bangkok get a free massage. You have four options, and I went with the hourlong Touch of Silk oil massage. I’m not much of a massage guy, but the time flew by, and I came out feeling relaxed and fantastic.

All else equal, you really want to fly Thai First Class out of Bangkok instead of into Bangkok to take advantage of Thai’s ground service.

Award Space

Award space is very good from Bangkok to Sydney for two passengers in Thai First Class. You can search on united.com. Here’s a search for November and December for only the direct Thai flights.

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There’s premium cabin award space several days a week. There’s no way to distinguish from the calendar which days have Business and which have First Class, but my experience is that a lot more of the space is First Class than Business Class.

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From Sydney to Bangkok, there is even better award space in February and March for two passengers.

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Some days feature two flights between the cities on Thai. On February 4, there is award space on both flights in all three cabins for two people!

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THINK BIG Options

In Bangkok, you can connect throughout United’s South Asia regions for zero extra miles:

  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • Brunei
  • Cambodia
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Macau
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar (Burma)
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

In Sydney, you can connect to New Zealand on Air New Zealand for zero extra miles.

Thai First Class could connect SE Asia and Australia into one trip. I’d look to fly to Australia in Etihad First Class on its A380,  Qantas First Class on its A380, or Virgin Australia Business Class with Delta miles. I’d look to fly to SE Asia in Cathay Pacific First Class with American Airlines miles.

Bottom Line

I mainly use my United miles these days for economy awards and United Business awards, but there are a few gems left on the chart for partner First Class. Thai First Class, nine hours in luxury preceded by a one hour massage, is available between Bangkok and Sydney for only 40,000 United miles. Award space is excellent in both directions.

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

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ANA’s “First Square” is one of the nicest First Classes in the world.

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The fully enclosed suite featured on ANA’s 777-300ERs is a top of the line hard product, including a fully flat bed.

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In addition, it comes with–from the reports I’ve read–typical, excellent service you would expect from a top Asian airline and fancy touches like caviar.

ANA has announced schedule changes that put the 777-300ER on new routes this year.

  • Tokyo-Narita to Houston starting June 12
  • Tokyo-Narita to Singapore starting March 29
  • Tokyo-Narita to Seattle starting May 6
  • Tokyo-Narita to Frankfurt starting May 7

The only one of these flights that I consider accessible with miles is Tokyo to Singapore. On that route, you can get seven hours of one of the world’s nicest First Class products for 60,000 United miles + $22.

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Award space is wide open on the flight with many dates having two First Class award seats.

 

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United charges more for partner First Class than its own mediocre offering, but in this case, not much more. United’s First Class on the route is 55,000 miles.
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You can even get the Tokyo to Singapore leg for only 50,000 AviancaTaca LifeMiles or 25,000 LifeMiles + $375.

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Unfortunately LifeMiles are not easy to earn and basically need to be purchased for 1.65 cents each.

United States to Asia

Of course, you can fly from the United States to Asia on the 777-300ER, but that starts to get prohibitively expensive.

United charges 110,000 miles one way in First Class from the United States to Japan and 130,000 to Singapore.

LifeMiles charges 90,000 miles one way in First Class from the United States to Japan and 99,000 miles one way to Singapore.

Air Canada charges 105,000 miles one way to either in First Class, plus fuel surcharges.

For these reasons, I’d be inclined just to book the seven-hour daytime flight from Tokyo to Singapore with United or LifeMiles. You’d get to enjoy all the service and relax in luxury for a manageable 50,000 to 60,000 miles.

I’d probably make the flight part of a much larger trip hopping around East Asia, and I’d consider using American Airlines miles for the flights to and from the United States. The AA award chart is much cheaper, and they partner with Cathay Pacific, which has just as nice of a First Class product.

Bottom Line

ANA’s schedule changes make getting in the First Square affordable for 50,000 to 60,000 miles one way.

Hat Tip One Mile at a Time

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

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Singapore miles are fantastic for booking domestic awards on United flights. Singapore has access to all the exact same Saver award space on United flights that United miles have access to (except extra space set aside for elites), and Singapore charges fewer miles on some routes.

Singapore miles are also easier to get than United miles. Singapore miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, AMEX Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints. (And 20,000 Starpoints transfers to 25,000 Singapore miles automatically as with all 1:1 SPG partners.)

Last week I needed to book myself a one way ticket from Washington-Dulles to Houston, and Singapore miles were perfect for the task.

Why Singapore Miles?

I have to fly from Washington-Dulles to Houston on a Sunday in April. I have no date flexibility. Because that’s two United hubs, and they are the only carrier with a direct flight, the convenient direct flights are very expensive at $277. Even one-stop flights are $174, and I hate to connect when I don’t have to.

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United and Singapore charge the same amount for an economy award within the continental United States: 12,500 miles each way. Singapore is much cheaper on other awards.

  • 20,000 Singapore miles vs. 25,000 United for a one way in First Class within continental US
  • 17,500 Singapore miles vs. 22,500 United for a one way in economy to Hawaii
  • 30,000 Singapore miles vs. 40,000 United for a one way in First Class to Hawaii

But for the award I had in mind, Singapore miles and United miles were the same price. I chose to use Singapore miles instead of United miles to use some orphan miles balances and because United miles are more versatile overall, so I’d rather save them.

I had 625 Singapore miles, 7,200 ThankYou Points, and plenty Ultimate Rewards. I was able to use almost all my Singapore miles, almost all my ThankYou Points, and just 5,000 Ultimate Rewards for the ticket.

Transferring, Searching, Booking, Timing

The timing of the aspects of a Singapore award are very important and are dictated by the fact that transfers into Singapore miles take about 36 hours. Here are the steps:

  1. Search for Saver space on united.com
  2. If found, transfer points to Singapore miles.
  3. Wait 24-48 hours and hope space doesn’t disappear.
  4. Book your award with Singapore miles.
1. Searching on United.com

I headed to united.com to search from Dulles to Houston. I selected “Nonstop Flights Only” because that was my strong preference. (Don’t sign in before searching. Signing in may show you extra award space Singapore miles can’t access.)

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Despite sky-high cash fares, the award availability on direct flights between the two hubs is wide open. There is economy award space every day and First Class space around half the days.Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.31.43 PM

Here are the results for a typical day. I’ve highlighted the Saver Award column because that is the only space that Singapore miles can access.
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Ignore the miles prices listed. Since we’ll use Singapore miles, we pay the prices on Singapore’s chart. In this case, that would be 12,500 miles in economy and 20,000 in First Class. Even that modest premium is not worth paying for a three-hour flight in my estimation. (The one exception is that I might pay it for First Class on the 5 PM flight. It is operated by a 767-300 with fully flat beds in First Class. You can check that out by clicking View Seats and seeing the bed icon.)

 

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The perfect flight time had economy award space, so I noted the date, cabin, and flight number.

2. Transferring the Points

Since award space existed on my preferred flight, it was time for me to transfer my points. Transfers from all the transferable points programs take about 24-48 hours.

There is nothing you can do in the interim except hope space doesn’t disappear. I was never worried because my route has so much award space.

On some routes, during some transfers, space will disappear. That stinks, but the good news is that Singapore miles are pretty valuable and have a decent number of uses, so even if your plan falls through in one instance, you can still use the Singapore miles later.

I went into my thankyou.com account and transferred 7,000 ThankYou Points to Singapore miles. ThanYou requires transfers in multiples of 1,000, so that was the most I could transfer from my account which had 7,200 points. I quickly got a confirmation email of my transfer.

 

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Then I went to ultimaterewards.com and transferred 5,000 Ultimate Rewards to my Singapore account. I got another confirmation email.
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Both of the transfers posted about 36 hours later on January 18. The date in my Singapore account reflects the transfer date, not when they actually posted.Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.37.03 PM

3. Hoping Space Stays

Once the points transfers posted, I checked united.com, and Saver space was still present on the flight I wanted.

4. Booking the Ticket

I called Singapore at (213) 404-0301 to book the award. I fed the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of the flight I wanted. He priced it at 12,500 miles and 7.5 Singapore dollars ($5.60.)

I ticketed the award.
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I went to united.com and typed in my confirmation number from Singapore, and I was able to get my United confirmation number and select a seat on the flight.

Getting Singapore Miles

Getting Singapore miles is extremely easy now.

Citi ThankYou Points transfer 1:1 in 22-36 hours to Singapore miles. If I had all four types of points in this section, transferring ThankYou Points would be my first choice. This is the best ThankYou Points transfer partner, and the other options like redeeming the points for 1.25 cents each toward any flight aren’t nearly as valuable.

To get 55,000 ThankYou Points after spending $5,000 over 15 months, start with the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

My Review of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

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  • Earn up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points. Bonus points are redeemable for up to $500 in gift cards, up to $625 for airfare or other great rewards
  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
  • Annual Fee: $125 (fee waived for the first 12 months). On  4/19/2015, this fee will be reduced to $95 on all accounts
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

The card also offers 3x points on dining and entertainment and 2x points on travel. (These categories flip flop on April 19.)

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Singapore miles in about a week. Like all SPG 1:1 transfer partners, for every 20,000 points transferred, you’ll get 5,000 bonus miles. Try to transfer in exact 20,000 Starpoint increments to maximize this 20,000:25,000 transfer ratio.

You can earn Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards from American Express.

Chase Ultimate Rewards earned from the Ink Plus and Sapphire Preferred transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer miles in a day or two. Points from the Freedom can transfer to any of those three cards‘ accounts and from there on to Singapore.

Ultimate Rewards are the only one of the four points that also transfer 1:1 to United miles, so people with Ultimate Rewards should definitely bookmark this post that compares awards using United and Singapore miles.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer miles in a day or two. Any Gold, Platinum, Green, EveryDay, or corporate card will earn Membership Rewards.

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United is offering award sales, several of them unannounced, to destinations all over the world at the moment.

United’s unannounced sale on Business Class awards to Europe is ongoing And now, via Dan’s Deals, United is offering three more discounts:

  1. Business Class between the United States and Central Asia for 70,000 miles each way on partner airlines for awards flown by March 31, 2015. The normal price is 80,000 miles each way on partners.
  2. Business Class between Europe and the Middle East for 35,000 miles each way on partner airlines for awards flown by March 31, 2015. The normal price is 45,000 miles each way on partners.
  3. Roundtrip economy class on United flights between the United States and Japan for 56,000 miles. The award must be booked by January 11 and flown between January 13 and March 11, 2015. The normal price is 70,000 miles roundtrip.

United States to Central Asia

The sale between the continental United States, Alaska, and Canada and Central Asia is exactly like United’s unannounced sale on Business Class awards to Europe.

You can book now for travel through March 31 and get partner Business Class for the United Business Class price (70,000 miles each way) instead of the normal 80,000 miles each way price.

March 31 from JFK to Delhi, India: 70,000 United miles in Lufthansa Business Class

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April 1 from Newark to Delhi, India: 80,000 United miles in Air India Business ClassScreen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.53.53 PM

Central Asia includes Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

Since this sale is completely unannounced by United, no one knows when it will end.

Europe to Middle

The sale between Europe and the Middle East follows the same rules.

You can book now for travel through March 31 and get partner Business Class for the United Business Class price (35,000 miles each way) instead of the normal 45,000 miles each way price. Oddly, of course, United doesn’t fly between Europe and the Middle East, so the “United price” on this route is imaginary.

March 31 from Frankfurt to Dubai: 35,000 United miles in Egyptair Business Class

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April 1 from Frankfurt to Dubai: 45,000 United miles in Austrian Business ClassScreen Shot 2015-01-04 at 11.58.15 PM

The Middle East includes Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

United States to Japan

The third sale between the United States and Japan is advertised, and follows the pattern of United economy award sales:

  • Must book a roundtrip award
  • Must fly United planes (not partners)
  • Book by January 11
  • Fly January 13 to March 11, 2015

Follow the sale rules for 20% off roundtrip awards.

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Japan’s aviation taxes are low, like ours, so a roundtrip prices out at 56,000 miles + $44.70.
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Bottom Line

United is currently running unannounced sales to Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East during which you can fly partner Business Class for the United Business Class price.

There is also a sale to Japan: 20% off economy roundtrips on United flights.

None of these four sales will make me take a trip I otherwise wouldn’t, but all of them are nice automatic savings if you were looking to go to one of these regions.

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Generous reader Chrissie is donating five United Club passes that expire 2/28/15, about two months from now, to two lucky winners. I’ll divvy them up, so that one winner wins two and the other three. If you can use the passes between January 10 and February 28 (to account for the delay in sending them), there are two ways to win: a comment or a retweet.

United has lounges all over the world. The clubs are a pleasant place to relax in a comfortable chair, use free wifi, and enjoy free snack and drinks. Here are the amenities. One-time entry goes for $50–a ripoff in my opinion–so this giveaway could be worth up to $150.

There are two ways to enter this contest, and you can enter each way to double your chances of lounge access.

  1. Comment on this post for a chance to win the passes. Include your real email address while commenting, so I can contact the winner. (Your email address will not be displayed and will not be used for any other purpose.) Indicate whether you can use three or just want two.
  2. Retweet this tweet:

That means everyone can enter twice! I’ll pick a winner Sunday night, so the passes can hopefully be to the winner by January 10. Don’t forget to join the 5,750 geniuses on Twitter and 4,505 mavens on Facebook who follow MileValue for more chances to win.

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

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

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

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

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

Alaska Airlines

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

Alaska has an amazing group of partners:

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

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

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

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

American Airlines

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

British Airways

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

Delta Airlines

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

United Airlines

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

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Roundtrip award from Los Angeles to Honolulu with a later free oneway to Newark

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

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

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

US Airways

Free one ways are possible only on international US Airways awards.

US Airways only allows one stopover OR one open jaw on awards, and you ordinarily need both on a free oneway. Because of this limitation, free one ways are only possible on US Airways awards:

  • before your main roundtrip award
  • to your home airport
  • with a corresponding dummy leg(s) to where the free oneway began
  • after the main award
  • within 24 hours of landing at your home airport

That might sound a little more complicated than it is. Check out Master Thread: Free Oneways on US Airways Awards for an easy explanation.

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

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I got a request for a Free Credit Card Consultation that I thought would be informative to share with everyone. I was able to show a man how he could take his family of five to Europe by opening four cards by himself, divvying up his spending among the four cards, and paying just taxes and fees on his tickets.

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Here are selected answers from his Free Credit Card Consultation form:

Airports: Charlotte, North Carolina (CLT)

Goal: My goal is to take my wife and kids to Spain. (2 adults, 2 toddlers under 4, 1 infant under 2). Destination airports are Pamplona (PNA) or Bilbao (BIO) and Madrid (MAD) if we can get to PNA or BIO.

Current Balances: I have the Barclaycard Arrival +, I earned the 49k points, passed the 91 days.

How many people will be applying for cards? one

Current cards: I have the Barclaycard Arrival +, I earned the 49k points, passed the 91 days. I also have AMEX blue card, basic with no points. I got the AMEX card in 2006

Interested in earning: Airline Miles

Monthly spending: I could spend 2-3k a month

Here is a slightly modified version of my response:

If you travel between October 15 and May 15 each year, you’ll need 120k United miles and 80k American Airlines miles for 4x roundtrips–using one type of miles for 4x one way tickets and the other for 4x the tickets the other way. The lap infant will cost 10% of what United and American calculate to be the equivalent cash fare. Plan on the infant ticket costing around $200 roundtrip. Roundtrip taxes for the other passengers will be under $100 each.

American Airlines and US Airways have merged legally, but they maintain separate frequent flyer programs. The two programs will combine between April and June 2015, and your balances in the two program will be combined as American Airlines miles. The current American Airlines chart, which is the world’s best and far better than United’s or Delta’s, will be the award chart at that time. To take advantage, you should open the American Airlines and US Airways credit cards now, and watch those bonuses be combined soon. This will get you way more than the 80k American Airlines miles you need.

To get the 120k United miles, get the United card and Sapphire Preferred. That puts you at 106k United miles + Ultimate Rewards (which transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.) The last 14k miles can come from further spending.

Cards

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • US Airways MasterCard with 50,000 bonus US Airways miles after first purchase and payment of $89 annual fee
  • Sapphire Preferred with 40,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months and 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user. (Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.)
  • United card with 50,000 bonus United miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months and 5,000 bonus United miles for adding an authorized user

To get the United offer, sign into your United account and see whether a banner appears advertising this offer.

If not, try this:

  1. Apply for the standard offer: 30k United miles after $1k in spending in the first 3 months card
  2. Add an authorized user on the application. That gets you a free 5k miles. Adding an authorized user does not prevent that person from getting the card at the same time or in the future in as the main user and getting the full sign up bonus.
  3. After the card shows up on your chase.com account, send Chase a Secure Message from inside your chase.com account saying you’d like to be matched to the 50k sign up bonus you’ve seen others offered. My friend wrote:
    “Hello,
    I opened the United MileagePlus account with the 30,000 bonus after $1,000 in spending in the first three months. However, I noticed that there was also an offer with a 50,000 bonus after spending $2k in the first three months. Can you please match me to that offer?
    Thank you,”
  4. Chase will say something like: “OK, when you meet the $2k minimum spend, let us know and we’ll give you 20k more miles.”
  5. Hit the minimum spend of $2k, then follow up with Chase.

In the email itself, I go into a lot more detail about the other benefits and fees of the cards. Here are recent reviews of the American Airlines and US Airways cards. Check the terms and conditions of the United and Sapphire Preferred cards for more info on them:

Minimum Spend

If you add up the minimum spending requirements on your new cards, it is $9,001 over three months. That’s at the top end of the $2k – $3k you report spending each month. To meet the minimum spending requirement, you can either try to put more of your spending on credit cards or stagger the applications by waiting to meet the spending requirement on three of the mentioned cards before applying for the Sapphire Preferred.

In return for meeting the spending requirements, you’ll get 103k American Airlines/US Airways miles and 106k United miles/Ultimate Rewards.

That leaves you 14,000 United miles short of your goal. Keep spending on the Sapphire Preferred, and you’ll get there in five months, fewer if a lot of your spending is on dining and travel where the card has a 2x category bonus.

Do not transfer any Ultimate Rewards to United miles until you are ready to book the awards, since the transfer is instant and irrevocable.

When you have 120,000 United miles and 80,000 American Airlines miles, search for award space in both directions before booking anything. Put the American Airlines award space on hold for 5 days for free by phone or online, ticket the United space, and then ticket the American Airlines space to avoid any award space disappearing during the booking process.

You can search united.com (here’s how) for the United award space. For award space using the American Airlines miles, you’ll want to use ba.com (here’s how) because Iberia award space appears there. You’ll probably have to construct the direction using AA miles with segment-by-segment searching. If this sounds like too much, hire my Award Booking Service.

A quick look at wikipedia shows Bilbao airport with a ton more service than Pamplona, so you’ll probably have better luck there with Madrid as a back up plan.

At the time of booking, mention the lap infant.

Recap

He’s got to get four cards, meet minimum spending requirements, spend a little extra on one card, wait for his American Airlines and US Airways miles to be combined, and by about June 2015, he should have all the miles and be ready to book an award for 5 passengers for about $500 in taxes and fees.

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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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Right now, awards:

  • booked with United miles
  • between the United States and Europe
  • for flights in January, February, and March 2015
  • on partner airlines
  • cost only 57,500 miles each way in Business Class

That’s the same price that awards booked on United’s own flights cost, and 12,500 miles off the normal price for Business Class awards on United partners–70,000 miles each way.

I have been monitoring what I believe to be an un-announced sale (rather than a glitch) closely because I am looking to book myself an award in Business Class from the United States to Seville, Spain near the end of March.

An award leaving March 30 using Air Canada Business Class (flat bed!) to cross the ocean is 57,500 United miles, an un-announced discount.

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An award leaving in April using Lufthansa Business Class (angled lie flat) is 70,000 miles, the normal price.Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 2.21.46 PM

This sale appears to be only in January, February, and March. Flights leaving December 30 price partner Business Class at 70,000 miles one way.

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The same route in Air Canada Business Class on January 1, 2015 prices at the discounted 57,500 mile price.

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How Good Is This Sale?

This is a nice sale, but nothing to go nuts over for two reasons:

  1. It’s not that cheap. American Airlines charges 50,000 miles each way in Business Class to Europe on its own flights or partners. Delta will charge 62,500 miles each way in Business Class to Europe for awards booked on or after January 1, 2015.
  2. United Business Class is better than most of its partners to Europe. United BusinessFirst (as they confusingly call Business Class) features fully flat beds and is more widely available than many partners’ offerings. Lufthansa Business Class, the easiest award space to find to Europe with United miles mostly features angled lie flat beds. Generally to Europe, I’d use my United miles to fly United BusinessFirst any way, so this sale doesn’t change that.

Your Take

Will this sale cause you to take a trip you otherwise wouldn’t? Will you take advantage of the discount for a trip you were already planning?

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United is offering a 20% discount on roundtrip Saver economy awards booked this month to Hawaii, Mexico, and several ski and warm weather destinations in the continental United States. The number of awesome winter destinations included is staggering.

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The promotion is hard-coded into the search results at united.com, so as long as you search roundtrip for travel dates between January 12 and February 12, you will see the results display 20% off.

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Hawaii & Mexico

Flights from anywhere in the United States (except Hawaii) or Canada to anywhere in Mexico and Hawaii are 20% off.

I performed some dummy searches between Washington DC and Honolulu, and as I expected, award space was excellent as it usually is to Hawaii during the winter.Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.06.16 AM

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

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Two notes on heading to Hawaii with this promotion.

  1. Winter is the rainiest time in my home state. Consider Kona, Hawaii (Big Island), which sees the least rain if you go during winter. Other than rain, the weather is perfect with a high around 80 and low around 70.
  2. 36,000 miles is not the cheapest way to get to Hawaii. It isn’t even the cheapest way to book these exact flights. 35,000 Singapore miles is enough for a roundtrip to Hawaii on United flights with Saver award space. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United and Singapore miles, so transfer them to Singapore miles to book Hawaii.

Continental United States

Within the continental United States, there is a list of destinations that are 20% off that encompass nice winter escapes and ski destinations.

I searched for a roundtrip for two from Tampa to Vail. Award space was plentiful even though it is high season in Vail. Two roundtrips were 20% off at 40,000 miles + $22 (20,000 miles per person.)
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The list of included cities for continental United States travel:

  • Aspen (ASE)
  • Bozeman (BZN)
  • Durango (DRO)
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
  • Fort Myers (RSW)
  • Jackson Hole (JAC)
  • Mammoth Lakes (MMH)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Montrose/Telluride (MTJ)
  • Salt Lake City (SLC)
  • San Diego (SAN)
  • Santa Barbara (SBA)
  • Sarasota (SRQ)
  • Sun Valley (SUN)
  • Vail (EGE)
  • West Palm Beach (PBI)
  • Yampa Valley (HDN)

Unlike the Hawaii sale, which is cheaper with Singapore miles, 20,000 miles is the cheapest way to get to these destinations on the Star Alliance. I’m sure for many people, they can replace $400+ tickets with these 20,000 mile awards, which would be a fantastic 2+ cents per mile return for domestic economy.

FAQ

Does this discount apply to one way awards?

No. If you search one way, you will see the normal one way Saver price.

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

You will get the discount on one way if one way of a roundtrip is within the discounted January 12 – February 12 date range.

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.27.58 AM Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.28.05 AMSimilarly if one way of a roundtrip is in economy, it will be discounted, while the First Class portion of the award will not be.

Full terms and conditions: click here 

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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.

CKANbanner_300x250_v6b

 

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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American Airlines, United, Delta, and US Airways all release several co-branded credit cards with various benefits, bonuses, and fees.

I have attempted to summarize the following cards on one table for easy comparison:

I consider these to be the “basic” personal card for each of the four legacy carriers in the United States. Each airline also has a lower-tier cards which earn miles at a lower rate and come with no sign up bonus. And several of the airlines have higher tier cards that come with gigantic annual fees and even better benefits. But these are the four basic cards.

  • Which cards have the best sign up bonus?
  • Which have the best benefits?

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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United flies from Los Angeles to Melbourne directly with its newest plane the 787-9 Dreamliner.

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15 hours 45 minutes

Award space on United’s Dreamliners in Business Class has been abysmal, but I wanted to check in and see if anything was different on this route.

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We want to get into these flat beds up front

The good news is that there is award space on the route in both directions for two people in Business Class.

  • What is the award space picture? 
  • How many miles does the flight to Australia cost?

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