United

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Update: I Followed the Exact Steps in This Post to Buy My Friend a Business Class Ticket for $1,040
Update 2: Based on the fact that we saw LifeMiles sales in September 2014 and October 2013, I think we’ll see another one in September or October 2015.

You can consistently buy one way Business Class tickets between the United States and Europe for around $1,000, even at the last minute. The tickets take a little bit of planning, and a little bit of know-how, but let me emphasize “little bit.” If you normally buy economy, Premium Economy, or Business Class tickets between the United States and Europe, read this article so you can save 75% or more off your next ticket.

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You can book this flat bed on the upper deck of a Lufthansa 747-8 for $1,000 one way

Of course, it is better to just open one of the top travel rewards cards and use the sign up bonus for a free one way trip to Europe (plus $5.60 and up in taxes), but some people travel too much to use open a credit card for all trips or cannot open American credit cards with their huge bonuses.

For those people, there is a way to buy Business Class tickets between the United States and Europe for about $1,000 each way.

Three Steps

  1. Sign up for an Avianca LifeMiles account and select a country of residence in Europe.
  2. Buy 26,400 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus for $396.
  3. Book a Business Class trip to Europe, for 26,000 LifeMiles plus $587+.

The Steps Broken Down

1. Sign Up for a LifeMiles Account

Sign up for a free LifeMiles account here. Do it now even if you don’t want your $1,000 ticket for months. Do it now even if there’s only a 10% chance you’ll ever book one of these tickets. Signing up before a sale (Step 2) starts is a prerequisite to be eligible to purchase miles during a sale.

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

Why sign up for LifeMiles? LifeMiles is the frequent flyer program of Avianca, a Colombian airline that is a member of the Star Alliance. You can use Avianca miles to book awards on all Star Alliance members including United, Lufthansa, Austrian, Brussels, TAP, Turkish, and other airlines with service to and within Europe.

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Of the many types of Star Alliance miles you can use for awards to Europe, LifeMiles stand out for how cheaply it sells miles, allowing for ~$1,000 one way Business Class tickets to Europe.

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Flat Beds on Lufthansa 747-8
2. Buy 26,400 LifeMiles during the next 120% bonus for $396

You can always buy LifeMiles for 3.3 cents each. Every few months, LifeMiles offers a bonus on the purchase of miles of at least 100%. The most recent bonus was from May 5 through May 29, 2015 and was a 100% bonus for the countries listed above and a 120% bonus for the rest of the world. That made the price 1.5 or 1.65 cents per mile total.

If the next sale is identical–I bet it will be–you can buy 12,000 miles with 14,400 bonus miles (26,400 total) for $396. Or if for some reason you’ve signed up with an American address, you can buy 13,000 miles with 13,000 bonus miles (26,000) for $429.

Why 26,000 or 26,400 miles? Because a one way Business Class award costs 63,000 LifeMiles, but LifeMiles allows awards to be booked with 40% of the necessary miles–26,000 in this case–by putting up cash to pay for your miles discount (Step 3).

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

During the sale, you should purchase 26,000 miles for each one way Business Class ticket you think you’ll want to book in the next few months, since the sales only pop up every few months. There is a limit of 150,000 miles purchased per calendar year including bonus miles during sales, so you are limited to booking five Business Class one way tickets per account per calendar year. But you can always open multiple accounts, since LifeMiles accounts can always be used to book tickets in anyone’s name.

3. Book a Business Class trip to Europe, for 26,000 LifeMiles plus $587+

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

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Search for your cities, date, number of passengers, and cabin.

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Ideally the search reveals award space on several options like this search for award space from Washington DC to Frankfurt for next Monday reveals.

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

Once you’ve decided on your flight, select it and at the bottom of the screen, toggle “More Money” to the maximum. This will change the price from 63,000 miles and $0 to 26,000 miles and $557.10.

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Clicking “Continue” takes you to the screen that shows the total price, which will include all applicable government taxes and a $25 booking fee. One way flights from the United States to Europe with no connections in Europe have only $5.60 in taxes.

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We paid $396 for the 26,000 miles in Step 2, so for a one way Business Class flight from the United States to Europe, the all in price of this method is $396 + $587.70 = $983.30! How else can you consistently get Business Class tickets to Europe for under $1,000?

Awards from Europe to the United States will have higher taxes. I was talking to a friend about an award from Tallinn, Estonia to Chicago.
Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.40.42 PM

That award has $59 in taxes, so the total price is $396 + $641.03 = $1,037.03. That’s an outrageously good deal for a flat bed, lounge access, and free food and drinks.

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To figure out the taxes for your one way award from Europe to the United States, check this list of award taxes from Europe sorted by departure city. The worst departure point in Europe is Great Britain. A one way from London to the United States in Business Class has $309 in taxes, so the total cost is $396 + $891.46 = $1,287.46 for a one way in Business Class.
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And how about an economy ticket? LifeMiles charges 30,000 miles one way, so you can book them with 12,000 miles (40% of the price) plus a cash copay. A one way in economy from the United States to Europe costs 12,000 miles ($165) + $313.85 or $478.85. You can often find cash tickets for this price, so I wouldn’t bother buying LifeMiles to book economy tickets to Europe.Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.46.57 PM

I also wouldn’t buy LifeMiles for First Class tickets to Europe because LifeMiles cannot book Lufthansa or Swiss First Class, two excellent products. Your only option would be United First Class, which is really not much better than United Business Class.

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Sleeping soundly on the flat bed of a United 767-400 in Business Class

Caveats

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

  1. These are the current prices from LifeMiles, but the only thing certain with miles is eventual devaluation. One day, LifeMiles will charge more than 63,000 miles one way in Business Class. When that happens, you don’t want to be stuck with a lot of miles in your account. That’s why you should go slowly and only buy enough miles to cover your very likely trips. Even then, you cannot completely eliminate devaluation risk.
  2. There is not award space on every flight in Business Class. You could buy the miles and then not be able to use them when you want to use them. However, I think this is only a minor concern because there is award space on most days from the United States to Europe with Avianca miles as long as you book within a few weeks of departure, which is when I assume most people who routinely book paid Business Class book their tickets. Here is award space from Washington DC to Frankfurt for the next five weeks. All green and blue days have Business Class award space for one passenger.
    Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.41.54 PMThis is peak time and space is almost perfect. Space is barely worse to other cities in Europe because intra-Europe space is a gimme. Space is a bit worse to the west coast of the United States and much worse if you need to book more than two seats on the same flight.
  3. Every flight of a LifeMiles award must be in the same cabin. If you want Business Class across the Atlantic, you must also fly Business Class intra-Europe and United First Class (considered a business class) within the United States. This isn’t much of a problem intra-Europe, since almost all planes have Business Class, but there are many one-cabin planes in the United States operating to small airports. These cannot be booked with LifeMiles on a Business Class award. To see if your route is affected by this silly rule, go to united.com and search your award. Any award with a “Mixed Cabin” icon is off limits.

Bonus

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

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

Bottom Line

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

For businessmen who fly the routes too often to get all free tickets and ordinarily pay $4,000 to $8,000 for a roundtrip in Business Class, there is a back up plan. Buy LifeMiles and book Business Class awards for around $1,000 each way.

Nerdy Expansion of Search Techniques that You Can Skip

Further information on searching LifeMiles.com and picking the best plane:

Even when award space does exist, LifeMiles’ search engine may miss it if you select a “Smart Search” like I did in the screen shot of the search screen in the searching section. If your Smart Search reveals nothing, go to united.com to search for award space (here’s how), and return to search on lifemiles.com by specifying the airline you want to fly. LifeMiles should be able to book any awards on united.com that have a blue button in the Saver column other than space on Aer Lingus.

You may also want to use united.com to find the airplane operating each flight because certain Lufthansa aircraft are better than others. For instance, the 747-8 has flat beds in Business Class, while the 747-400 has angled beds.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.36.53 PM

You can see whether your Lufthansa flight has the “new” flat beds or “old” angled beds in Business Class on this site. All United, Austrian, Swiss, and Air Canada Business Class has flat beds.

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

 

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United is putting a 787-9 Dreamliner on its all of its routes to Australia by March 26, 2016. United currently flies the 787-9 on its Los Angeles to Melbourne route and 777s on its San Francisco and Los Angeles to Sydney routes.

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There is great economy award space on the Sydney routes after the operating aircraft switches to a Dreamliner, but very little Business Class space. There is, however, a trick to increase your chances of getting Business Class award space on the Dreamliner to Australia.

United 787-9 Dreamliner

The United 787-9 Dreamliner has 48 beds in Business class in a 2-2-2 configuration. In 2-2-2 configurations, I always choose a middle seat, since both have direct aisle access. If you choose a seat on either side of the plane, you’ll either need to climb over your seatmate or be climbed over during the flight.

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Each seat converts to a fully flat bed with 6’6″ of sleeping space.

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New Routes

Los Angeles to Sydney switches to a Dreamliner on March 26, 2016.

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San Francisco to Sydney switches to a Dreamliner on March 25, 2016.

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Both flights are 15 hour redeyes. Both returns are 14 hour redeyes that take off around midday.

Award Space Picture

Los Angeles to Sydney

Award space is fantastic in economy, and five days in the Spring (their Winter) have Business Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.49.49 PMScreen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.50.04 PM

Sydney to Los Angeles

Award space is fantastic in economy and three days have Business Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.53.17 PMScreen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.53.31 PM

San Francisco to Sydney

Economy award space is slightly worse, and there is no Business Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.54.54 PMScreen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.55.11 PM

Sydney to San Francisco

Just like the San Fran to Sydney flight, very good economy award space, no Business Class space.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.55.59 PMScreen Shot 2015-09-01 at 11.56.12 PM

Four People

All the above calendars were for one person. The award space hardly changes if you change the search to four people.

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How to Fly Business Class on the Dreamliner

So little Saver award space is released on the Dreamliner in Business Class that if you really want to fly it, I’d recommend using United Plan B.

The basics of Plan B are that:

  1. You book United-operated flights with United miles. In this case, you can book from your home airport to Australia in economy for 40,000 United miles one way or 80,000 United miles roundtrip. I repeat: Plan B only works when redeeming United miles for United-operated flights.
  2. You call United and ask to be waitlisted for a higher cabin on the flights you booked.
  3. The agent takes extra miles from your account as if you were confirmed in the higher cabin. In this case, that would be an extra 30,000 miles each way, since United Business Class to Australia is 70,000 miles.
  4. You are given top priority on the waitlist as if you were displaced Business Class passenger. That means you have higher priority than attempted upgraders.
  5. Since United rarely (ever?) sells all 48 beds on its Dreamliner to Australia, and you are at the top of the upgrade list, you are very likely to fly Business Class.
  6. If you don’t fly Business Class, you are refunded the extra miles (30,000 each way in this case) that you paid at the time of being waitlisted.

This is an ideal route for a Plan B award because economy award space is so wide open, the Business Class product is good quality and fairly priced, and the Business Class cabin is so large that an upgrade seems very likely.

Here are the first hand experiences of other people who have booked Plan B awards.

How to Get United Miles

The United personal, business, and Club cards plus the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus all earn United miles.

Bottom Line

United is moving its newest plane the 787-9 Dreamliner to all of its Australia routes by the end of winter. Economy award space is fantastic for 4+ people, but Business Class space is rarely available for even a single person.

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Use United Plan B awards to turn an economy award magically into a flat bed.

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

 

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

United flies daily from Newark to Honolulu and weekly from Washington to Honolulu. Both routes have flat beds in First Class.

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

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

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

But what is the award space?

You can get 100,000+ Singapore miles, almost enough for two roundtrips in First Class to Hawaii from opening two credit cards.

Award Space

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

Washington-Dulles <-> Honolulu

This route operates on Saturdays heading east and Sundays heading west. Award space is non-existent in First Class at the moment. Economy space is available most Sundays heading west, and about two Saturdays per month heading east.

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Newark <-> Honolulu

Space is better than it used to be from Newark to Honolulu.

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You have a real chance to fly this route in a flat bed. There are six days in the next five weeks with First Class award space.

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In 2016, the space really picks up. There are 14 days in April and May with First Class award space for two passengers.

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Unfortunately award space is definitely worse from Honolulu to Newark.

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You can plan your trip’s dates around the very rare space in First Class from Honolulu to Newark and book something like this.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 2.46.43 PMThis award would cost 160,000 United miles or 120,000 Singapore miles for two passengers roundtrip.Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 2.46.35 PM

Or you can book one way in direct First Class and the return from a different island in economy with a layover. I’d favor this strategy because you should see a new Hawaiian Island every 2-4 days.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 2.50.04 PMFor two people, this award would cost 125,000 United miles or 95,000 Singapore miles.Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 2.49.59 PM

How and Why to Book with Singapore Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line

There is good award space in flat beds from Newark to Honolulu. There is much worse award space Honolulu to Newark and none in flat beds between Washington and Honolulu.

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

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

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If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

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

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

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), a Star Alliance partner, operates a flight six days per week between Houston and Stavanger, Norway.

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The flight is operated by a 44-seat, all Business Class 737 with angled-flat seats in Business Class. Award space is excellent on the route for the next eight months.

The route interests me for its unique aircraft, unique onboard layout, and the fact that it serves the second closest airport to Trolltunga in Norway.

Award Space

Both directions show a similar pattern of award space. You can book the flight most days between now and the end of April 2016, after which it is mysteriously unavailable for awards.

The flight to Norway leaves at 9:45 PM and arrives the next day at 2:15 PM.

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Award space looks like this for most of the next eight months.Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 1.05.01 PM

Then award space abruptly ends on April 28.Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 1.06.23 PM

The return to the United States looks very similar.

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The late afternoon flight has award space almost every day except Tuesdays when it doesn’t operate.
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Award space suddenly runs out April 28, 2016.
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Connections

Since Houston is a United hub, it should be very easy to connect to this flight from throughout North America. Here is a sample itinerary from Los Angeles.

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Connections in Stavanger are also very possible. Here are the SAS flights from Stavanger.

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Certainly connecting to Oslo or Bergen is very easy.
Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 1.07.00 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-24 at 1.07.31 PMThe place I most want to visit in Norway is Trolltunga. It is 4 hours by bus from Bergen’s airport and 6 hours by bus from Stavanger’s.

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Source: http://www.visitnorway.com/en/product/?pid=149585

Booking the Award

You can book all the award space in this post with any Star Alliance miles by calling the appropriate airline or booking on its website. Here are the award prices for a one way Business Class award (in bold if there are NO fuel surcharges on the award):

  • Asiana: 40k miles
  • Aeroplan: 45k miles
  • Lufthansa: 52k miles
  • LifeMiles: 63k miles
  • Singapore: 65k miles
  • United: 70k miles

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If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

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

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

United is offering a 25% discount on roundtrip economy awards to Brazil and Chile this Fall (their Spring.) For 45,000 United miles, you can fly roundtrip to Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, or Sao Paulo.

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This is nearly an exact re-run of a deal we saw in April.

Key Terms

  • Book by November 30, 2015.
  • Travel by November 30, 2015.
  • You must fly only United and United Express flights–no partners.
  • Discounted Saver Award is only valid for travel between the U.S. or Canada (excluding Hawaii) and Brazil or Chile.
  • Discounted Saver Award is only valid if you book roundtrip travel in Economy cabin. One-way travel is still priced as a regular, non-discounted Saver Award.
  • Open jaw itineraries within the same region do qualify for the discount. Stopovers do not qualify for this offer.
  • The discounted Saver Award is combinable with other award types as long as the itinerary is roundtrip (e.g., a member can book a Standard Award for the outbound portion of an itinerary and a Saver Award for the return portion, or vice versa) but only the flight segments purchased with a Saver Award will be eligible for a 25% discount.
  • A booking service charge may apply for travel booked less than 21 days before departure.

Examples, Award Space, What’s Possible

In Brazil and Chile, United flies from:

  • Houston to Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo
  • Washington-Dulles to Sao Paulo
  • Newark to Sao Paulo
  • Chicago to Sao Paulo

Economy award space is very good on these routes over the sale period, represented by green and yellow dates below.

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If you search roundtrip, the discount will be reflected on the results screen. See how it says 22,500 mile sin the Saver Economy column instead of 30,000?Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.50.47 AM

You can combine one way in economy and one way in Business for 77,500 miles total. Business on all these routes features fully flat beds.
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You can fly an open jaw, like this one into Santiago and out of Rio de Janeiro, and still get the discounted price.Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.52.31 AM Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 7.52.37 AM

If I booked this award, I’d fly between Santiago and Rio for 10,000 Avios on LAN.

If your departure is less than 21 days away, a $75 fee is added.Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.02.53 AM

American Airlines Off Peak

While these United awards for 45,000 miles–a 25% discount sound great–American Airlines has a cheaper award to Brazil and Chile that more flexible.

Every March 1 – May 31 and August 16 – November 30, you can fly American Airlines or any of its partners like LAN and TAM to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, or Uruguay for only 20,000 American Airlines miles each way–a 33% discount.

That’s broader dates, the ability to fly partners, more countries, and a cheaper price. The American Airlines off peak awards and award chart in general is better than United’s.

For a limited time, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months. That means you’ll have 82,500 American Airlines miles after meeting the spending requirement. That’s enough miles for two roundtrips to Southern South America.

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Included in the $450 annual fee, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® offers Admirals Club lounge membership, meaning you can access over 90 American Airlines Clubs in airports around the world whenever you’re flying–even if you’re not flying on American. Plus you can bring in any two guests for free OR your spouse and all children under 18 for free on each visit.

Are you going to book a discounted United award to Brazil or Chile?

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Earn 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. Plus get American Airlines Admirals Club membership for super-cheap economy awards and ultra-luxury First Class awards.

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

Until August 31, 2015, United is selling miles up to 50% off.

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The exact maximum discount is targeted, so you have to sign in to see your discount. My maximum discount is 50%.Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 2.55.14 AM Even if you get the 50% discount, it only applies to purchases of at least 50,000 miles. United miles normally cost 3.76 cents each, so with a 50% discount, they cost 1.88 cents each.Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 2.55.42 AM

After the 50% discount, 50,000 miles cost $941. The maximum number of miles you can buy in a year is 150,000 miles, which cost $2,822 after a 50% discount.

Is It a Good Deal?

The cheapest miles cost 1.88 cents each during this promotion, and that requires shelling out $941. If your targeted discount is only 40%, the cheapest miles are 2.25 cents each. Smaller discounts result in even pricier miles.

I value United miles around 1.5 cents each, so there is no way I would buy these miles speculatively for 1.88+ cents. The only way it could possibly make sense to buy miles at these prices is if you had an immediate high value use for them.

In general, the highest value uses for United are international economy awards, United BusinessFirst and Global First awards, and these Six Under-Priced Awards on the United Chart. Check out my Basics of United MileagePlus post for more info.

Conspicuously absent from that list are most partner Business and First Class awards. That’s because in February 2014, United jacked up the prices of those awards substantially.

To figure out if the award you’re thinking about is a high value use, use this simple expression:

(A – B) / (C + D)

  • A: Value of the award. Important: this is the lesser of the cash price and your subjective value.
  • B: Taxes on the award
  • C: Miles used on the award
  • D: Miles you would earn if you purchased the award ticket with cash

This will spit out the dollar value you are getting for your miles. If that number is greater than 0.0188, and you can book the dream award now, buy during this promotion. Otherwise, don’t buy.

Bottom Line

You can buy 50,000 to 150,000 United miles for 1.88 cents each if you were targeted for a 50% discount through August 31, 2015. That’s way too high to buy speculatively, but this is tied for the cheapest I’ve seen United sell its miles, so jump on the sale if you have a high value use for the miles.

United miles are sold by points.com, so purchasing them will NOT trigger category bonuses on cards that bonus airline or travel purchases.

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3

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Transfer hotel points to United miles by August 31, 2015 for a 25% bonus of United miles.

  • You must register here before transferring to get the bonus miles.
  • The bonus is capped at 20,000 bonus United miles.
  • Here are the participating hotel points partners.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 6.43.57 PM

All of the hotel partners offer a terrible rate except for Marriott. (For instance, 20,000 Starpoints = 15,625 United miles after this bonus.)

Marriott and United have an enhanced partnership, so Marriott offers a very fair rate on United transfers. With a RewardsPlus transfer, you can transfer 56,000 Marriott points to 31,250 United miles after bonus or 112,000 Marriott points to 62,500 United miles after bonus. In general, I’d value Marriott points at 0.4 cents and United miles at 1.5 cents, so those are good deals.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 6.43.26 PM

With a RewardsPlus Hotel + Air Package, you can do even better. With these deals, you get seven free nights at the hotel category listed plus the number of United miles listed at the top of the table.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 6.43.13 PM

Remember that the 25% bonus is capped at 20,000 bonus miles, so choosing a “7 Nights + 110,000 Miles” or “7 Nights + 132,000 Miles” will result in far less than 25% bonus United miles. But those are still the best options. You’ll notice that as you move left-to-right in a row, get 1.1 extra miles for each 1 point spent before the current bonus promotion. That’s an insane value since, as I already noted, United miles are far more valuable than Marriott points.

How should you use your United miles? For international economy awards, United BusinessFirst and Global First awards, and these Six Under-Priced Awards on the United Chart. Check out my Basics of United MileagePlus post for more info.

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If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

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

6

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

A few weeks ago, I used 27,500 Asiana miles (transferred from 22,500 Starpoints) to book myself a Business Class award from Honolulu to Bogota, Colombia. Now I’ll tell you how to change an Asiana Club award.

I chose to use Asiana miles because it has a number of ridiculously cheap sweet spots including from Hawaii to South America. United would have charged me 45,000 miles for the exact same flights.

At the time I booked, there was only economy award space on one of the two segments that made up my award.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 7.21.03 PM

I booked anyway and tried to set up an automatic email alert to let me know if premium cabin award space opened up on that flight. Award space did open up on that flight, so it was time to change my award.

Changing the Asiana Award

I had the United award space up in front of me, and I called Asiana at 800-227-4262.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 2.37.33 PM Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 2.37.47 PM

The change process is identical to the annoying two-step process used to book a ticket. First you have to talk to Reservations, then Asiana Club.

I told Reservations that I had booked my Business Class award a few weeks ago, and that award space had since opened up in Business Class on the first flight, so I wanted to change it from economy to Business Class. (Note that United calls its premium cabin on two cabin planes “First Class,” but partner phone agents call it “Business Class” because United uses the Business Class award space code “I” for that space, reserving the First Class code “O” for international three-cabin First Class award space.)

The agent said he made that change and then connected me to Asiana Club.

The Asiana Club agent said he would ticket the award and send me an email with the changes.

While I was on the phone, I was logged into my united.com account, refreshing my award to see if changes had been made. While I was on the phone, the “Fare Class” on the first flight changed to “United First (I).”

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 2.23.31 PM I never did get a change email, but I can see the changes in my United account, and I was able to select a First Class seat for the first segment, so I know that the change was made.Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 2.23.38 PM

I was not charged a change fee. As far as I can tell, Asiana has no award change fee. Award cancellations cost $30.

Bottom Line

Other than having to talk to both Reservations and Asiana Club, changing my Asiana award when United First Class opened up was easy and free. Now the award is perfect and complete, and I can’t wait to fly it next month as part of my End of 2015 Travel.

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

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United.com has completed a site redesign. The new site is live now.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.20.24 PM

The old site is still available, but will disappear in a few weeks.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.20.12 PM

The new united.com is far worse than the old one for award searches. This will negatively affect me, my Award Booking Service, and you. Let’s bombard United with messages to bring back the old search functions before it kills the old site.

  • What are the negative changes? 
  • How can you let your displeasure be known, so United can reverse course?

Changes

The new united.com has a sleeker tiled look. If you sign in, all the information you might need is right on the home screen if different tiles. I like all that.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.21.04 PM

What I don’t like are the changes to award searches. Here’s that tile, which is basically identical to how it is on the old site. (You can ignore the cabin dropdown when you tick “Search for award travel” because all cabins are returned regardless.)

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.22.40 PM

Negative Change #1: You can NOT get a nonstop calendar.

Notice that on the search box above I ticked “Nonstop.” On the old united.com that produces a calendar for two months that shows award space on nonstop flights on that route. Here’s Houston to Honolulu for September and October–lots of economy space on the direct flight, but almost no First Class space.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 5.13.08 PM

But here’s the calendar on the new site.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.23.00 PM

The calendar shows all flights, not just nonstop. To find out which days have First Class award space on the nonstop flight, I’d have to click all 61 dates individually. What an insane waste of time when United has the technology to show me all 61 dates’ space at a glance as evidenced by the old site’s calendars.

There are a lot of reasons to want to know the award space only on one direct segment, so this is a huge deal to me on my award searches and for my Award Booking Service searches. I used this functionality just last week on an award booking for myself.

There is no conceivable reason why United would want to make it harder to find direct award space, so this must just be an oversight. Our complaints–I’ll explain how to complain below–should have a good chance of getting United to fix this.

Negative Change #2: No Separate Columns for Economy Saver and Standard

This change affects me a lot less but is a lot more insidious.

Here’s how an individual itinerary looks on the old united.com; note the separate columns that clearly indicate whether you are getting Saver or Standard award space.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.28.21 PM

Here are the new search results.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.23.13 PM

Premium Cabins are broken down into Saver and Standard, but economy space just shows the lowest price without indicating whether it is Saver or Standard.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.29.08 PMThis is not a big deal for me because I know whether a price is Saver or Standard. Worst case scenario, you can check the United award chart in a few clicks versus the 61 clicks I now need to check two months of award space on the direct flight on a route.

But this change seems a lot more intentional. Lately United has loved copying Delta with award chart devaluations and revenue-based mileage earning. Maybe United wants to copy Delta in the future by deleting its award charts, and answering the question of what an award should cost with “Whatever the search results say it costs.”

Remember that the Saver/Standard distinction matters not just for how many United miles the award costs, but also because partner miles only have access to Saver award space, which is now no longer marked in economy on the new united.com. I book a lot of United award space with Singapore, Asiana, and Lufthansa miles, so Saver award space matters a lot to me.

How to Complain

Do two things:

1. On both the old and new site, there is a button for Site Feedback. Here’s its placement on the new site.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.30.25 PM

Click that and make a complaint about the award search calendars not displaying nonstop award space and the economy award price not being broken into Saver and Standard.

2. Retweet this tweet from Dan’s Deals.

Also if you’re on Twitter and Facebook, consider sending @united your personalized feedback.

Bottom Line

The new united.com will make award searching much more time consuming.

It has eliminated the ability to see nonstop award space for two months at a time on the route of your choice. My conspiracy theory mind sees no reason for this, so I have to assume it is a programming oversight that hopefully can be corrected.

It has eliminated the two columns for Saver and Standard economy award space, replacing them with “Lowest.” My conspiracy theory mind sees this as a baby step to following Delta into the darkness. Luckily they haven’t eliminated the Saver and Standard columns for premium cabins, so maybe I am misinterpreting.

Complain to United on its site and on Twitter to see if we can get the new site to be as good as the old site.

Hat Tip Dan’s Deals

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

12

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Last week I used 27,500 Asiana miles + $38.30 to book myself a Business Class award from Honolulu to Bogota that I’ll fly next month.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.26.02 PM

This is a steal of a deal because United would have charged 45,000 miles for the same ticket.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 7.20.42 PM

While I am ticketed, one of my two legs is in economy, so I have set an automatic alert to let me know if Business Class space opens on the leg on which I’m currently ticketed in economy.

  • Why use Asiana miles?
  • How to get Asiana miles and transfer time
  • Route planning
  • Award Search
  • Award Booking
  • Setting alerts to improve cabin

Why Asiana Miles?

Asiana has a super cheap award chart that I’ve mentioned before for awards to Europe like 50,000 miles one way in Lufthansa First Class. Here is the roundtrip award chart for awards originating in Hawaii; one way awards are half price.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.09.57 PM

In general Asiana’s awards to South America are very cheap. Asiana only charges 27,500 miles one way in Business Class to Northern South America and 35,000 miles to Southern South America. United charges 35,000 and 55,000 miles respectively.

Plus United charges extra miles if you start in Hawaii instead of the continental United States. In this case, Asiana doesn’t.

Asiana collects fuel surcharges on awards except on United, Copa, Avianca, and TACA flights, making Asiana miles ideal for awards to Latin America.

How to Get Asiana Miles

The only reasonable way for Americans to get Asiana miles is to transfer SPG Starpoints. Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles.

Plus for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you get 5,000 extra Asiana miles. That means I’d need only 22,500 Starpoints (=27,500 Asiana miles) to book Honolulu to Bogota in Business Class.

In the past, transfers from Starpoints to Asiana have taken me two weeks. My most recent transfer, initiated last week, took a few hours less than seven days.

For this award though, I already had Asiana miles sitting around from a transfer I made in May, in anticipation of possibly booking an award from the United States to Europe with Asiana miles that I never booked.

Route Planning

I prefer to fly as few segments as possible because it means less chance to mis-connect, less time spent on layovers, and longer individual segments, which is what you want when you fly in the comfort of Business Class.

There are several ways to get from Honolulu to Bogota with one stop. On American, you can stop in Dallas. On United, you can stop in Houston. With a combination of United and Avianca, you can stop in several places including Los Angeles.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.26.02 PM

The Los Angeles option was the best because of the short layover time. The layovers in Texas would have been all day layovers–no thanks!

To figure out possible routes, start on the Wikipedia pages of your starting and ending airports and look for common connection cities.

Award Search

I could have just plugged Honolulu to Bogota into united.com, but I would get a lot of long, terrible itineraries. I wanted to isolate itineraries with award space from Los Angeles to Bogota, so I started by just searching that segment. There is very little award space on that route, but there is some if you’re flexible like I am.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.09.37 PM

Since this flight leaves in the morning, I next searched for Honolulu to Los Angeles flights for the night before.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.11.05 PM

Award space is very good on United’s many Honolulu to Los Angeles flights, but there is a lot more economy award space than First Class award space.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.10.40 PM

When flying international Business Class, you are entitled to hook it up to domestic First Class for no extra miles, but there just wasn’t space on the day I wanted to fly.

I decided to book the mixed cabin itinerary anyway.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 7.21.03 PM

I figure that a good itinerary with one stop, a short layover, and 7 of the 13 flying hours in Business Class for only 27,500 Asiana miles is better than not booking the award or booking the award in economy 17,500 miles one way.

I noted the date, flight, and cabin of each segment and moved on to booking.

Booking the Award

Booking the award is straightforward though not as streamlined as it should be. Always call the airline whose miles you’re using, so I called Asiana at 800-227-4262.

Here’s where it gets weird:

  1. First you need to reserve the ticket with reservations.
  2. Then you need to pay for the ticket with Asiana Club.

So I followed automated prompts to reservations. I gave the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each segment. (Remember to call domestic First Class “Business Class” though in this case I was flying domestic economy.)

The agent put the award together and gave me a confirmation number, then transferred me to Asiana Club. I gave them the confirmation number and my credit card. They ticketed the award for 27,500 Asiana miles + $38 in taxes. (There is no phone fee, and there are no fuel surcharges on either of my flights.) I got an email receipt a few hours later.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 2.23.34 PM

The miles came out of my account immediately.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 7.22.21 PM

Setting an Alert to Move Up to First Class

If United opens up award space in First Class on either of its Honolulu to Los Angeles redeye flights, I want to make a change and get that space. Asiana charges $30 or 3,000 miles to make a change. I would pay the $30, which is a steal to “upgrade” almost six hours from economy to domestic First Class.

I could frequently check united.com to see if space opens up in First Class from Honolulu to Los Angeles, but there is an easier way. Set up an alert on Award Nexus.

Will space open up for me?

[Award space did open up for me, and I am now booked in United First Class on the first segment.]

No one knows for sure, but I think it will. I’d give my chances of flying First Class from Honolulu to Los Angeles at 80%.

As I said in “Will You Find Last Minute Space? Here’s How To Estimate Your Chances,” the best way to estimate is to look at space on the route for the next few weeks.

Space is really good in United First Class from Honolulu to Los Angeles for the next four weeks with 25/28 days having First Class space. That tells me that in a few weeks, space on the flight I want might open up!

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 3.02.19 PM

It is instructive to click a day to see which flight has First Class award space because I need one of the two redeyes. Those are not particularly popular flights, so they have good award space.
Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 3.02.27 PM

Bottom Line

I booked Bogota to Honolulu for 27,500 Asiana miles, transferred from 22,500 Starpoints, plus $38. United wants 45,000 miles for the same flights.

I couldn’t find both segments in a premium cabin, so I booked economy on the first leg and Business Class on the second. I then set an alert, so if the premium cabin opens on the first leg I’ll know, and I can make the change for $30. I do expect that award space to open up for me, but there is no guarantee, and I am happy with my award as is.

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

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

Updated and expanded 7/31/15 because I booked myself another First Class award to Hawaii on United flights with Singapore miles this week.

It is cheaper to book the exact same United flights to Hawaii with Singapore KrisFlyer miles than with United miles.

  • United charges 22,500 miles each way in economy and 40,000 miles in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii
  • Singapore charges 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 miles each way in First Class between the mainland and Hawaii

That’s a humongous difference. Instead of costing 90,000 United miles to get two people from your home airport to Hawaii and back, you could pay 70,000 Singapore miles. Instead of paying 160,000 United miles for two roundtrip First Class tickets, you could pay 120,000 Singapore miles–even occasionally for flat beds!

To reiterate, these are the exact same flights with vastly different prices depending on which miles you use. Singapore has access to all the same Saver award space United releases to people with United miles (except for some space set aside only for United elites and credit card holders.)

What’s the catch? For bookings to Hawaii, there really isn’t one.

  • Singapore awards cost fewer miles than United awards
  • Singapore awards are way cheaper to change or cancel than United awards if your plans change
  • Singapore awards do not have a fee for booking within three weeks of departure like United awards do (though here is how to get out of that fee on United awards)
  • Singapore awards of United flights do not have fuel surcharges, so both types of awards will just have identical taxes of around $11 roundtrip.
  • Singapore miles are easier to get than United miles, and even share a key transfer partner.

Getting Singapore Miles

Singapore miles are a partner of the four major transferable points program:

  1. Chase Ultimate Rewards, 1:1
  2. Citi ThankYou Points, 1:1
  3. American Express Membership Rewards, 1:1
  4. SPG Starpoints, 1:1 with a bonus. Every 20,000 Starpoints transferred earns a 5,000 mile bonus, so the ideal transfers are in exact increments of 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 Singapore miles.

Right now, I carry the two best cards to earn Singapore miles:

To compare this to earning United miles, United has its own co-branded personal and business cards plus is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards but not any of the other three transferable points programs.

Searching for Award Space, Transferring Miles, and Booking the Awards

You will have to search for award space on the United flights on united.com; then you will call Singapore Airlines at 213-404-0301 to book the awards.

Here’s how to search united.com. Make sure that you do NOT sign into united.com when searching for award space that you plan to book with another type of miles because signing in can cause award space set aside for elites or credit card holders to appear, and that space is not bookable with other types of miles like Singapore miles.

How to Interpret the Calendar

The first thing you’ll notice when you search for award space to Hawaii on united.com is that it’s widely available for much of the year. Here’s a calendar of the next two months from Houston to Honolulu. Yellow days have Saver economy award space; blue days have Saver First Class space; green days have Saver space in both cabins. Singapore miles can book all the Saver space that is depicted on these calendars.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 2.02.57 PM

 

How to Interpret the Itineraries

Once you select a date, the itineraries will be displayed from shortest travel time to longest travel time. Most results will have four columns of award space. You can ignore the Economy Standard Award and First / BusinessFirst Standard Award columns. Singapore miles cannot book that space.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.00.50 PM

We’re looking for a blue button in one of the Saver columns.Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.01.08 PM

The “First / BusinessFirst” column is especially interesting and potentially confusing to people unfamiliar with award terminology.

Two vs. Three Cabin First Class

The vast majority of United’s domestic flights have two cabins that are sold as Economy and First. Internationally, United’s two cabin flights are sold as Economy and BusinessFirst. Whenever United operates a two-cabin plane, the premium cabin’s awards are priced at the Business Class award price by United and by Singapore.

Extremely rarely, you will encounter a plane on a domestic route with three cabins: Economy, Business, and First. Whenever any itinerary is available with any flight with three cabins, the four columns you’re used to seeing on the search results turn into six columns.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.05.34 PM

United charges 50,000 miles if any of the segments is in First Class on a three cabin plane. Singapore would charge 40,000 miles. But again, these flights are rare, and you can get flat beds in two cabin planes for 30,000 Singapore miles.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.05.53 PM

Flat Beds

Both Business and First Class on three cabin planes have flat beds.

On two cabin planes, you can occasionally find flat beds in First Class. To find out if your plane has flat beds, click View Seats on the itinerary. Regular seats look like squares with rounded edges.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.01.21 PM

Beds look like little beds.Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.02.26 PM

Some 777-200s feature flat beds, and all 767-400ERs feature flat beds. Flights from Newark and Washington-Dulles to Honolulu all feature flat beds, and some San Francisco and Houston flights feature flat beds.

Mixed Cabin Awards

Many awards on united.com in the premium cabin columns say “Mixed Cabin.” Holding your cursor over “Mixed Cabin” launches a pop up that says which cabin is available on each flight.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.04.19 PM

You always have to pay the full price of the premium cabin award even though part of the award is an inferior cabin.

Singapore Airlines also lets you book mixed cabin awards for the full Business Class price.

In April, I booked myself a mixed cabin award to Hawaii because my first flight was about 2 hours in economy, and the next was 8.5 hours in a flat bed. That seemed worth paying 30,000 Singapore miles.

Transferring Miles

Transfers from Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles all take about 19-48 hours. My most recent transfer in July, 2015 from Citi ThankYou Points to Singapore miles were in my Singapore account when I checked 19 hours after the transfer. SPG transfers take at least as long as the other three.

Once I find award space, I initiate the transfer.

Award space changes all the time, so in a worst case scenario, your award space could disappear before your miles posted. If you can’t handle this outcome, transfer Ultimate Rewards to United miles instantly instead, and pay the extra miles.

I can handle the small chance that my award space will disappear. Maybe it will reappear later. If not, I can always use Singapore miles in the future for a different high value award.

How to Book Singapore Awards

Once your miles post, you have to call Singapore Airlines to book the award. Call 213-404-0301 and be ready with your Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer account number and six digit PIN.

Feed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of each flight you want.

For cabin, call United First Class on its two cabin planes “Business Class” because that is what the agent needs to search for.

The agent will charge you taxes denominated in Singapore dollars. If you convert that price to US dollars, it should be about $5.60 per person per direction, the standard taxes on domestic awards.

Within a few minutes, you should get an email from Singapore Airlines with an attachment like this.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 3.13.16 AM

Picking Seats

To pick your seats and confirm that your reservation was ticketed correctly, head to united.com and input the Singapore Airlines confirmation number on the home page where it says “Find a Reservation by Confirmation Number.” The Singapore Airlines confirmation number is the six letter/number code listed on your email attachment next to “Booking Reference.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 2.03.44 PM

 

United.com will recognize the Singapore Airlines confirmation number. You can select your seats and note your United confirmation number, which will be a different six letter/number code. You can also permanently add this reservation to your united.com account, which will be convenient for checking in without having to search for it again. To do that, click “Add to Account” from the tiny links above “United Confirmation Number.” That option isn’t available in the screen shot below because I clicked it a few days ago.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 2.04.58 PM

Other Benefits of Singapore Airlines Awards Over United Awards

  1. United charges $75 to book an award within 21 days of departure. Singapore charges no fee for such bookings.
  2. United charges $200 to cancel an award booking and get your miles back. Singapore charges $30.
  3. United charges $75 to $100 to change an award booking. Singapore charges $20.

My Experience Booking United to Hawaii with Singapore Miles

In April, I found out that my mainland plans had fallen through, so I could start my trip to Hawaii a few days later. Booking so late in the game is no problem because United offers excellent last minute award space to Hawaii.

I needed to book an award from Atlanta to Honolulu, so I searched united.com and found a mixed-cabin award with Atlanta to Houston in economy and Houston to Honolulu in a flat bed in United First Class on a two cabin plane.

A short hop in the back before a long flight in a bed
A short hop in the back before a long flight in a bed

The award would have cost 40,000 United miles and $80.60 to book including United’s $75 fee for booking within 21 days of departure. I noted the flight number, dates, and cabins plus my KrisFlyer number and PIN.

I already had 30,000 Singapore miles in my account because I transferred Citi ThankYou points and Chase Ultimate Rewards weeks earlier in anticipation of booking an award to Hawaii in First Class when I knew what date I wanted to fly.

I called Singapore Airlines and fed the agent the information and called the First Class cabin on my United flight “Business Class.”

He priced the award at 30,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles + 7.8 Singapore dollars ($5.66.) I booked the ticket with my Citi ThankYou® Premier Card because it has no foreign transaction fees and earns 3x points for airfare purchases and got an email confirmation a few minutes later. I input the Singapore confirmation code into the United app on my phone and selected my seat and bed.

Just this week (July 2015), I booked myself another United First Class award to Hawaii for 30,000 Singapore miles. I will be in Houston for a wedding in a few months and then want to fly to Hawaii to see family.

From Houston to Honolulu, there is usually a lot of First Class award space if you connect in Los Angeles or San Francisco and a lot of economy space on the direct flight. If you want First Class on the direct flight, which some days features flat beds, you normally have to book within a few days or weeks of departure.

But I got super lucky!

When I searched for award space, the monthly calendar of the direct flight looked like this. There was literally one day with First Class award space, and it was the exact date I wanted to fly.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 2.08.23 PM

I transferred my 30,000 ThankYou Points to Singapore miles, and they posted within 19 hours. Within 20 hours, I had ticketed the award for 30,000 Singapore miles + $6. I will get 8 hours in First Class to Hawaii. Unfortunately, it will not be flat bed First Class.

Bottom Line

Use Singapore miles instead of United miles to book economy and First Class awards to Hawaii on United flights. You’ll pay fewer miles, lower fees, and be able to book the exact same seats. Plus Singapore miles are so easy to get as a transfer partner of pretty much everyone.

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

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United is offering tons of Business Class award space for the next 11 months on its flights to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Santiago, Chile.

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Both routes will soon be flown by United’s brand new 787-9 Dreamliners with flat beds in Business Class. You can book either route for as little as 35,000 miles one way.

United 787-9 Dreamliner

The United 787-9 Dreamliner has 48 beds in Business class in a 2-2-2 configuration. I would choose a middle seat, since both have direct aisle access. If you choose a seat on either side of the plane, you’ll either need to climb over your seatmate or be climbed over during the flight.

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Each seat converts to a fully flat bed with 6’6″ of sleeping space.

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Miles Price

Between the United States and Argentina, United charges 30,000 miles each way in economy and 55,000 miles in Business Class.

But you don’t have to book the United award space with United miles. You can book the space with miles from any Star Alliance partner. If you want to book with another partner, search united.com without signing in. Note the date, cabin, and flight number of any Star Alliance flights with a blue button in its Saver award space column; then call the airline whose miles you’re using to book the award.

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Here are the prices charged by some other Star Alliance partners (economy/Business one way) with their transfer partners in parentheses:

UR = Ultimate Rewards, MR = Membership Rewards, TY = ThankYou Points, SPG = Starpoints

  • Asiana (SPG) : 25k/35k
  • Air Canada Aeroplan (MR, SPG): 30k/47.5k
  • Singapore (UR, MR, TY, SPG): 30k/50k
  • Lufthansa Miles & More (SPG): 30k/52k
  • United (UR): 30k/55k
  • Avianca LifeMiles (none, must buy): 30k/60k

United flights to South America do not have fuel surcharges, so no matter what miles you use you’ll just pay taxes of $53 roundtrip to Chile and $60 roundtrip to Brazil.

Award Space Picture

All the calendars below are for direct flights to and from Houston for two people. It is zero extra miles to start your award anywhere else in the continental United States, Alaska, or Canada and connect to Houston as long as you find Saver award space on united.com for those connecting flights.

Yellow dates have Saver award space for two passengers in economy. Blue dates have Saver award space for two passengers in Business Class. Green dates have Saver award space for two passengers in both cabins.

Houston to Rio de Janeiro

The 787-9 Dreamliner starts flying on August 18, 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 1.19.28 AMBusiness Class award space is available over the whole schedule except Christmas, New Year, and Carnaval (February 5-9, 2016). Award space is particularly good in March and April , 2016.
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Rio de Janeiro to Houston

The northbound flight is a slightly longer redeye.

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Return dates show similarly excellent award space in Business Class.
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Houston to Santiago

The 787-9 Dreamliner takes over this route on January 5, 2016. Just like Rio de Janeiro, both directions are redeyes.

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Award space is fairly available in January, February, and March 2016, summer down there. April through June have plenty of economy award space.

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Return space is more widely available in Business Class.

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More People

All the calendars above were for two people. I did one search for eight people from Houston to Rio in April and May 2016. Many of the dates have award space for eight people in flat beds!

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Other Houston Dreamliner Routes

United is also placing its 787-9 Dreamliner on several other routes from Houston over the coming year: Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Buenos Aires. None have very good award space in Business Class with Buenos Aires space particularly abysmal.

Bottom Line

There is excellent award space for two people in economy and Business Class from Houston (or elsewhere in the United States) to Rio de Janeiro and Santiago. United puts its 787-9 Dreamliner on the Rio route in a few weeks and on the Santiago route in January.

Just because the space is on United planes doesn’t mean you should use United miles to book. You can use any Star Alliance miles.

  • Asiana charges only 35,000 miles one way in Business Class, compared to United’s 55,000 mile price. You can transfer SPG points to Asiana miles in about two weeks.
  • Promiscuous transfer partner Singapore Airlines, a transfer partner of Chase, AMEX, Citi, and SPG, offers the routes for 50,000 miles one way in Business Class.

The best cards to get Singapore miles?

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also earns 3x points on travel and gas and 2x points on dining and entertainment. The Citi Prestige® Card also offers 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also comes earns 3x points on airfare and hotels and has a host of benefits like lounge access and $250 in free airfare per year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booking Segment-by-Segment Awards

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

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

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

Changes or cancellations are free within 24 hours.

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Steps

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

The Steps Broken Down

1. Sign Up for a LifeMiles Account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 6.41.45 PM

Then toggle it back to 11,000 miles.

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

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

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

Caveats

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

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

Bonus

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

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

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

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

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

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

What I’ve Seen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before signing in…

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

…and after

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

The Saver space is fare class XN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the United MileagePlus Explorer landing page

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

What this means?

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

What I don’t know

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

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

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

Recap

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

 

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