United

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Update 6/28/15 at 9:50 PM ET:

United now lists 757s as operating all flights between Newark and Los Angeles/San Francisco from October 25 on.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.47.03 AM And yet, space is still amazing. This calendar shows great space for eight people on a single flight between LAX and Newark in November and December.Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.47.10 AM

This one shows San Francisco to Newark for eight people next winter.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.48.30 AM

I should note that most of the Business Class space is available on the earliest flights and redeyes.Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.48.40 AM

 

Act now! This space has lasted two weeks, but I don’t expect it to last another two.

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Originally posted 6/16/15:

Starting October 25, 2015, United is moving its p.s. flights from JFK to Newark airport; p.s. flights are United’s internationally configured 757s with flat beds in Business Class that fly between New York and Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.09.28 AM

Until October 24, the only two cities served from JFK on United will be Los Angeles and San Francisco. From October 25, the airline will have no JFK service at all. United adds the p.s. flights to Newark to consolidate its fortress hub at an airport where it carries 14 times as many passengers as the number two airline.

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United will continue to fly some flights between its hubs and LaGuardia.

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Whether United moving p.s. service to Newark from JFK is good for you depends on where you live, but this move is undoubtedly good news for who:

  • live in Los Angeles and San Francisco and want to book international premium cabin awards
  • want to book p.s. award space now for travel between October 25, 2015 and May 14, 2016

Good for International Connectivity

United serves dozens of international and domestic destinations from Newark. All of these places are more easily accessible for Californians with the move of p.s. service to Newark.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.21.01 AM

Of course, JFK has good international connectivity on Star Alliance partners. The move to Newark cuts Californians with Star Alliance miles off from that award space. It’s a trade I’m willing to make.

Temporary (?) Increase in Award Space for p.s. Flights After October 25

United.com already reflects the p.s. airport change. October 24 shows flights from Newark and JFK to Los Angeles.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.44.43 AM

October 25 only shows Newark to Los Angeles, with no JFK flights.Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.45.17 AMHowever united.com does NOT reflect the aircraft switch. Right now the schedule is still showing 737s operating some Newark to Los Angeles flights on October 25 when in fact all the frequencies will be operated by 757s with lie flat seats up front.

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Why does that matter? Because award space is way better on United’s 737s out of Newark than on its p.s. flights.

Book the 737 First Class award space now, and you will get to fly 757 p.s. Business Class space when your flight date rolls around. I’d book as soon as possible before the aircraft information is updated, which might cause award space to crater.

I suspect award space will worsen because award space is much better on the 737s than the p.s. flights. Check out these calendars for August and September. The first is Newark to Los Angeles. The second is JFK to LAX.
Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.46.43 AM Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.47.02 AMNewark has Business Class award space on 52 days; JFK has space on three days.

Look at how great award space is in First Class on the Newark to/from Los Angeles and San Francisco flights after October 25.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.45.57 AM

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 1.46.22 AM

Book this space now while the computer still thinks it is 737 First Class, and fly it when it is 757 flat bed Business Class.

Booking the Space

Search the space on united.com, but there are cheaper ways to book it than with United miles.

United charges 25,000 miles + $5.60 one way for domestic First Class or Business Class. Singapore charges 20,000 miles + $5.60 for the same space. Singapore has access to all the Saver award space you see on united.com if you search without signing in.

Call Singapore at 213-404-0301 to book the award space. Feed the agent the date, flight number, and cabin of the award space you want to book. Call it “Business Class” whether you’re booking the front cabin on the 737 or 757.

Singapore miles are a partner of every transferable points program. Cards I like that earns points that transfer:

Bottom Line

United ends p.s. service to JFK on October 24, ceasing all operations at the airport. The premium San Francisco and Los Angeles flights with flat beds in Business Class move to Newark, United’s hub in the New York metro area.

Right now award space in excellent between Newark and San Francisco/Los Angeles in First Class after October 25, 2015. If you book that space, you’ll actually fly Business Class on a plane with flat bed seats. That space may disappear when united.com updates the operating aircraft. Book that space with Singapore miles to save 5,000 miles per person per direction.

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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.

There’s an idea that you have to book your award tickets exactly 11 months in advance or there will be no award space. Having booked tons of awards for myself and clients of the MileValue Award Booking Service at all times from 11 months to 11 hours in advance, I can tell you that that idea is a myth.

While it is an advantage to know where you want to go 11 months out and start looking, the award space on your route might open up at any time before departure as airlines adjust their award space based on how many seats they’re selling.

Case in point: there’s tons of award space to Europe for this Summer right now.

You want to use United miles because United and its partners have the most award space. As a refresher, between the United States and Europe, United charges:

  • 30,000 miles each way in economy
  • 57,500 miles each in United Business
  • 70,000 miles each way in partner Business
  • 80,000 miles each way in United First
  • 110,000 miles each way in partner First Class

Here are some selected routes with fantastic award space for two people in July and August 2015. There’s nothing special about them; they’re literally the first three I searched. Remember that yellow dates have economy award space, blue dates have Business or First (but overwhelmingly Business) Class award space, and green dates have both economy and premium cabin award space.

Houston to Munich

Business Class award space is available for many early week departures. Economy award space is available nearly every day.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.15.27 PM

Some dates have space on the direct United flight.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.15.55 PM

Some have a connection. Don’t be afraid of a London connection. It only adds $38 to the award price.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.16.06 PM

Los Angeles to Paris

West Coast to Europe is a lot harder than East Coast to Europe, but there is still plenty of economy award space, and premium award space sneaks in at about 21 days before departure if seats are unsold.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.16.41 PM

From the West Coast, you have a higher chance of a “Mixed Cabin” award that could mean hours in economy even when paying the Buiness Class price.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.17.10 PM

New York to Split, Croatia

Even awards to Eastern Europe into smaller airports have award space on plenty of dates.
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Connection times are often less convenient to smaller cities because there are fewer flights per day, but you will get to hang out in the Austrian Airlines lounge for the five hours of this layover.

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Awards may have two stops, but you’ll arrive rested from flying Business Class.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.18.48 PM

Other Airlines

United miles are far and away the best to Europe. Collect them for your trip there next summer, since you have time. See my Blueprint for a Free European Summer Vacation for the simple steps.

But that doesn’t do you much good for Summer 2015. If all you have are Delta or American Airlines miles, your options are much more limited, but there are possibilities.

For instance, American has great award space New York to Paris for two people in economy in July and August.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.26.24 PM

There’s good space from Boston to Paris.Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.27.06 PM

Bottom Line

You don’t always need to book 11 months in advance to use your miles.

There is great award space from the United States to Europe for this summer, especially with United miles. The space gets even better, especially in First Class, in the last week or two before departure.

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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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Generous reader Nancy is donating two United Club passes that expire October 31, 2015–in about four months–to one lucky winner. (This is different than last week’s giveaway of the same prize from a different reader. Congrats to @Global_Gregory for winning those passes.)

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, so this giveaway could be worth up to $100.

There are two ways to enter this contest:

  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.)
  2. Retweet the following tweet.

Each person can enter both ways to double his chances of winning.

I’ll pick a winner by next Sunday night to get those passes in the mail as soon as possible.

Even if you don’t win this giveaway, there are credit cards that offer free airport lounge access every time you travel like the Citi Prestige® Card, which offers free American Airlines and Priority Pass lounge access.

Don’t forget to join the 7,390 geniuses on Twitter and 5,086 mavens on Facebook who follow MileValue for more chances to win.

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Sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts!

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

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

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 4.04.22 PM
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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.14.50 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 4.03.53 PM
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 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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.34.47 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.35.58 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.37.17 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.37.56 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.41.26 PM

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.
Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.44.26 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 4.01.53 PM
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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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Update June 24: United added this promo to its promo page. Book by July 6.

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United is offering up to a 25% discount on roundtrip awards to Hawaii for travel this Summer and Fall!

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 10.15.24 PM

United cardholders get a 25% discount and pay 33,750 United miles roundtrip to Hawaii. Non-cardholders get a 20% discount and pay 36,000 United miles roundtrip. Full price is 22,500 United miles one way in economy between Hawaii and the continental United States, Alaska, or Canada.

The sale is valid:

  • for roundtrip or open jaw awards. One way awards and awards with a stopover are NOT discounted
  • for awards booked by July 6, 2015
  • between Hawaii and the mainland United States, Alaska, or Canada. The award can begin on the mainland or in Hawaii
  • for travel in economy only
  • for travel on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Travel on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays is at the normal price. The day that counts is the day of departure for the direction you’re flying (ie taking off on Thursday from Hawaii and landing Friday at home counts as discounted Thursday travel.)
  • for travel between August 18 and December 15, 2015
  • for travel on United only, NOT on Air Canada, Hawaiian Airlines, or Island Air

All of this information is culled from searches as United doesn’t advertise the sale anywhere.

If you book a roundtrip award with one direction meeting the sale conditions and one direction not meeting the conditions, you will get half the discount. For instance, if you fly during the sale period in United economy with the outbound on a Friday and return on a Monday, and you are not a cardholder, you will get a 10% discount instead of 20% (because the outbound is on a Friday.)

Cardholder vs. Non-Cardholder

I am a United Explorer cardholder, and united.com recognizes that as soon as I sign in. I searched before signing in for a roundtrip, and the prices were displaying at 18,000 miles each way.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.51.38 AM

Then I had to sign in to see the total price, which was automatically discounted a full 25% to 33,750 miles roundtrip.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 7.52.23 AM

Further searches once I was signed in showed a price of 16,875 miles each way as part of a roundtrip.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 8.03.50 AM

Open Jaws, Starting in Hawaii

You can book an open jaw like flying into Maui and home from Kauai and still get the discount.
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I heartily recommend this strategy because 3-5 days is plenty for your first trip to each island. United serves Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai.

If you are in Hawaii already, you can also get the discount in this post for awards that start in Hawaii and fly to the mainland roundtrip.

Half Discounts

If one way of your roundtrip qualifies for the sale price (Saver economy, right day of week, inside date range, United) but the other way doesn’t qualify, you’ll get the discount on the one direction.

For instance, here is a roundtrip with the outbound in First Class (no discount, 40k miles) and the return on a Monday in September in United Saver economy (discount, 16,875 miles for cardholders.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 8.28.05 AM

The award priced at 56,875 miles for me, a cardholder, because the return is discounted. Full price would be 62,500 United miles.

Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 8.28.00 AM

Cheaper Awards than This United Sale

Even with the discount, there are cheaper awards to Hawaii than 33.75k or 36k miles roundtrip.

Singapore Airlines has access to all the same United Saver award space you see on united.com before signing in. For the same space, Singapore Airlines charges fewer miles to Hawaii than United. Singapore charges:

  • 17,500 Singapore miles one way in United economy to Hawaii
  • 30,000 Singapore miles one way in United First Class to Hawaii

United cardholders could book a slightly cheaper roundtrip award during this sale with United miles as long as they don’t mind flying an economy roundtrip on Monday through Thursday during the sale period. Otherwise Singapore awards are cheaper.

Singapore mile are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi, AMEX, Chase, and SPG points. United miles are only a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase points.

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. ThankYou Points transfer to Singapore miles in about a day.

See my complete Guide to Booking United Flights to Hawaii with Singapore KrisFlyer Miles.

British Airways charges only 12,500 Avios each way on awards to Hawaii on American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines direct flights.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.43.59 PM

While great for West Coasters, keep in mind that awards with even a single connection will cost 9,000 to 25,000 extra Avios roundtrip, and First Class awards are four times the price of economy awards!

Here are All the 12,500 Avios Awards to Hawaii.

Allegiant Air offers fares in the $300 roundtrip range pretty frequently from Los Angeles and Las Vegas to Honolulu. Here’s my experience flying from Los Angeles to Honolulu in one of their very cheap premium seats: Trip Report: Allegiant Airlines Giant Seat.

Bottom Line

United cardholders can book roundtrips to Hawaii for the late Summer or Fall for 33,750 miles roundtrip. Non-cardholders can pay only 36,000 miles roundtrip. Those are 25% and 20% discounts off the normal 45,000 mile roundtrip price.

To get the discount, you must book a roundtrip Saver economy award on United flights between August 18 and December 15 with departures on Mondays through Thursdays.

This sale might not excite you if you live on the West Coast because Avios awards or if you’re accustomed to booking United flights to Hawaii in First Class with Singapore miles.

This unadvertised sale is very interesting to me. I assume it is a way to quietly offload some inventory that would otherwise go unsold while also testing how sensitive MileagePlus members are to award prices.

United has had unadvertised award sales before for international awards and also offers Explorer Card holders extra Saver economy award space as an unadvertised benefits. Long live blogs and forums for disseminating these secrets.

Hat Tip Dan’s Deals

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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.

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

Last month, I helped my friend book a bread-and-butter United award to Europe. She flew from Newark to Rome to spend a few days, continued to Madrid for a few days, then returned home to Newark. All of it was booked as one award for 60,000 United miles + $110 in taxes.

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Source: gcmap.com

 

I had helped her book one of the three highest value United awards to Europe, the “Stopover (Complete Two City)” award. The three highest value awards with United miles to Europe, or any other international destination, are:

  1. Stopover (Complete Two City Award)
  2. Stopover + Open Jaw (Incomplete Three City Award)
  3. Open Jaw + Free One Way (Incomplete Two City Award + Later Free One Way)

Let’s look at the strengths of each one, so that you can book the best one for your travel goals on your next trip with United miles.

What All Three Have in Common

All the awards use a stopover. A stopover is a connection other than your destination where you are on the ground for more than 24 hours. United allows one stopover per roundtrip award, and zero on one way awards. This is more generous than American and Delta, which never allow stopovers, but less generous than Alaska, which allows stopovers on one way awards.

All the awards can be booked in any cabin. The best value United awards are in economy or United Business Class, since United jacked up the price of partner Business and First Class awards last year.

Two of the awards use at least one open jaw. An open jaw is just a mis-match between the start and end of your award or the turnaround point–like flying into Madrid, but flying home from Stockholm with no flight connecting those two cities on the award.

The Three Awards

1. Stopover (Complete Two City Award)

My friend booked a simple stopover award, which allowed her to see two cities on the same trip for no extra miles.

United would have charged her 60,000 miles roundtrip for a simple roundtrip to Rome, but she added a stopover there, continued to Madrid, and flew home from there for the same 60,000 miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 6.13.48 PM

The award had no open jaw–even though two are possible on roundtrip United awards.

The cities she chose for the destination and stopover are not particularly good choices for convenience on a United award because neither is a Star Alliance hub. That meant that to get from Rome to Madrid, she had to fly via Frankfurt because there were no direct flights.

If either your stopover or your destination is a Star Alliance hub, you can fly a direct flight between them, making your vacation a little smoother. Here is a list of Star Alliance hubs.

This award is ideal if you just want to see two cities and don’t have grander plans. For grander plans, look at awards 2 and 3.

2. Stopover + Open Jaw (Incomplete Three City Award)

I explained to my friend that if she wanted to see three cities, she could book an award with a stopover and an open jaw. Something like flying to Rome, flying to Munich a few days later, then flying home from Madrid a few days after that.
Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 6.16.24 PM

Notice there is an open jaw between Munich and Madrid–hence the “incomplete” three city award. You can fill in the open jaw any way you’d like. In Europe, usually the best options are low cost carriers, trains, or Avios awards. You can put the open jaw between any of the three cities, so optimize it based on cost or distance of the separate ticket you’ll need to buy.

This award is ideal if you want to see three or more cities. For instance, if you want to see five European cities, you can fly into Rome, fly a few days later to Munich, and fly home two weeks later from Madrid. With separate tickets, you can book Munich to Paris, Paris to Barcelona, and Barcelona to Madrid.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 7.09.51 PM
United Stopover + Open Jaw Award in Red. Three separate flights or trains in black. Source: gcmap.com

3. Open Jaw + Free One Way (Incomplete Two City Award + Later Free One Way)

The last option is the most complicated. It allows you to see 2+ cities in Europe and have a later free one way.

This would be an award like flying to Rome, returning from Madrid, and months later flying to Hawaii on the same ticket.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 7.14.08 PM
Source: gcmap.com

 

If the “free one way” city is in the same region on the United award chart, the extra one way adds zero miles to the award price. Newark and Honolulu are NOT in the same region, so the one way would add 5,000 to 7,500 miles to the price of the roundtrip award depending on cabin, making it a “cheap one way” and not a true “free one way.” True “free one ways” are available within the continental United States, Canada, and Alaska.

If you book an award like this, you can see as many cities as you’d like in Europe, but you are responsible for booking all the intra-Europe flights and trains as separate tickets from the main United award.

You are also responsible for booking a separate one way ticket home from your free one way destination.

Is it better to book a stopover en route like in Awards 1 and 2 or a free one way in Award 3?

You must choose between a stopover en route and a free one way because both use a stopover–the free one way stopover is at your home airport–and you only get one stopover on a roundtrip United award.

Which is a better deal depends on your valuations and the cost of substitute cash tickets. My friend probably would have been better off using a later free one way instead of a stopover en route because Ryanair sells Rome to Madrid for as low as $62 (plus baggage and other fees.)

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 7.38.38 PM

 

For a full discussion, see Choosing Between a Free Stopover and a Free Oneway on United Awards.

“I got an error.” or “Award space disappeared when I searched multi-city.”

All three awards require using united.com’s terrible multi-city search. You’ll get a lot of glitches with it. Sometimes you just get an error message that aborts your search. Sometimes you found space searching one leg at a time, but that space doesn’t appear on united.com when searching multi-city.

For example, when researching this post, I had one multi-city search that included Rome to Newark on July 15. This is the only result I got:

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 6.45.34 PM

But searching one leg at a time, shows award space on the direct flight that the multi-city search didn’t show.Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 6.46.28 PM

The solution, as always with problems on united.com: hold or book one leg and call United to change your award immediately. Free changes are allowed within 24 hours, no phone fee will be charged, and the agent will see all the space you saw online on one way searches.

Searching, Booking, Getting the Miles

When booking any of these awards, start by searching each of the three parts of the award as one way searches on united.com. The three parts of the award are:

  1. Origin to stopover
  2. Stopover to destination
  3. Destination back home

When you have space, move on to a multi-city search, and call United at 800-UNITED-1 if you are getting errors.

United miles are easy to collect on the United cards and cards that earn Ultimate Rewards like the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus.

CKANbanner_300x250_v6b

Bottom Line

Don’t just book a boring roundtrip to Europe for your next vacation, add extra cities and possibly a free one way. There are three maximum value awards to Europe that use a stopover.

  1. Stopover (Complete Two City Award)
  2. Stopover + Open Jaw (Incomplete Three City Award)
  3. Open Jaw + Free One Way (Incomplete Two City Award + Later Free One Way)

The best value for you depends on your goals. All three require searching on united.com, using its glitchy multi-city award search, and possibly calling up to finish a booking.

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Updated June 3: The Asiana miles showed up today, meaning the transfer took 14 days. My last transfer in September 2014 took 17 days. In the interim, I’ve decided not to book Lufthansa First Class from Europe to the United States in June, but the Asiana award chart is so good that I don’t mind have 60,000 points on hand. That’s almost enough for Business Class one way USA to Argentina (35k) + First Class USA to Hawaii (27.5k).

You can book Lufthansa First Class for 50,000 Asiana Club miles–40,000 Starpoints–one way. This is Asiana’s award chart from the mainland United States for roundtrip awards. One ways are half price:

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.39.26 PM

There are a lot of STEALS on the chart. This post will focus on Europe for 40,000 miles one way in Business Class and 50,000 miles one way in First Class. How good of a deal is this?

  • United charges 57,500 to 70,000 miles one way in Business Class to Europe
  • United charges 80,000 miles one way for its First Class and 110,000 for Lufthansa First Class.

Even with the mild fuel surcharges on Asiana awards of Lufthansa flights, these are great deals. And if you want to avoid fuel surcharges, book United flights with Asiana miles.

Test #1: Lufthansa First Class

I wanted to call Asiana and price out awards to see whether I could get agents to follow the award chart and to see what the taxes and fuel surcharges would be.

I’m considering flying Tallinn, Estonia to Washington, DC next month, so I took a look at that routing though there’s nothing special about it.

Lufthansa First Class would be awesome to get into the Lufthansa First Class Terminal again, and to enjoy the luxury onboard.

First I found this award space on two Lufthansa flights.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.28.59 PM

In case you’re not adept at reading united.com (which is where I searched because Asiana should have access to all Star Alliance space found on united.com):

  • There is award space in Business Class from Tallinn to Frankfurt
  • There is award space in Business and First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC

I noted the date, flight number, and cabin of the award space. I called Asiana and these are the prices I got:

  • For Business Class on both flights (what United is charging 70,000 miles for), Asiana charges 40,000 miles + $311.44.
  • For Business Class on the short hop and First Class on the long one (what United is charging 110,000 miles for), Asiana charges 50,000 miles + $311.44.
  • Drop the short hop altogether. For just Lufthansa First Class from Frankfurt to Washington DC, Asiana charges 50,000 miles + $348.34.

A few notes:

  1. I can’t quite figure out how they got that amount of dollars though each agent was consistent.
  2. One agent priced Business + First at 75,000 miles, but two priced it at the 50,000 price quoted above.
  3. Taxes and fuel surcharges vary by country and route, so fewer flights actually can actually result in higher charges.

1. The Dollar Amount

I would expect Lufthansa to collect the taxes and fuel surcharges of an equivalent paid ticket. Here’s the equivalent paid ticket to Tallinn to Frankfurt to Washington DC in Business and First Class.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.38.03 PM

That’s 223.37 euros ($248) of taxes and fuel surcharges. Asiana wanted $311. I don’t know why.

2. Differing Miles Prices

I called Asiana a few times, and I got different miles prices. Two out of three agents priced the short hop in Business plus longhaul in First Class at 50,000 miles total. One said 75,000 total. When pressed she explained that it was because I had the shorthaul Business Class segment, which was another 25,000 miles on the Asiana chart. Her computer was adding inta-Europe Business (25k) to Europe-to-USA First (50k.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.45.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.45.53 PM

I believe she was wrong and that Asiana agents should price your Lufthansa First Class award, even if there is an intra-Europe segment, at 50,000 total miles.

The agent who said 75,000 miles said the computer had priced it like that. That might be because I had first priced Business/Business with her and then switched to Business/First and for that reason the computer saw my trip as two awards.

Bottom line: please report if a connecting segment in Europe drives up your miles price in the comments, but I don’t believe it will happen.

3. Taxes and Fuel Surcharges Vary

The dollar price went up by dropping the Tallinn to Frankfurt segment. That’s just because airlines price fuel surcharges by origin/destination city pair and taxes and vary by country.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.46.48 PM

Play around with your country of origin if the taxes and fees are very important to you.

Test #2: United Premium Cabins

Asiana doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on United award flights. I tested that out by pricing out this itinerary on the same route.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 7.29.10 PM

I tested out:

  • Lufthansa Business Class TLL-FRA + United Business Class FRA-IAD (57.5k United miles above)
  • Lufthansa Business Class TLL-FRA + United First Class FRA-IAD (80k United miles above)

The agents all priced them at:

  • 40,000 Asiana Miles + $133.71 for the all Business Class award
  • 50,000 Asiana Miles + $133.71 for the mostly First Class award

The short Lufthansa flight had slight fuel surcharges plus the rest is taxes. Overall, these are steals.

Searching

Asiana is a member of Star Alliance. You can book any of these partners with Asiana miles.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.14.50 PM

Almost all of these are searchable on united.com very quickly, so that’s where to search. Here’s how. When you find award space in the Saver column, note the date, cabin, and flight number.

You will pay a different number of miles and dollars than the amount shown on united.com.

Booking

Booking, or pricing out awards is a bit of a hassle. You have to call Asiana at 800-227-4262 from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM Pacific Time Monday through Friday.

First you need to talk to reservations and have them piece together and price the award. Then you are transferred to Asiana Club to pay.

When the phone connects, hit 2-5-# to get to reservations. You need an Asiana Club account. If you have zero miles, just tell the agent you want to know the price in miles and taxes and fees before transferring points to Asiana Club. There is occasionally a language barrier, but you can usually get done what you need to.

Asiana can only ticket departures that are more than 72 hours in the future.

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

Getting Asiana Miles

SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles with the customary 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 points transferred. At that rate:

  • 35,000 Starpoints transfer to 40,000 Asiana miles
  • 40,000 Starpoints transfer to 50,000 Asiana miles

Unfortunately, in my experience, SPG points take 14-17 days to show up in my Asiana account.

The bonus on the SPG card is 25,000 Starpoints, and the minimum spending requirement just dropped to $3,000 in three months.

Bottom Line

It’s a bit of a hassle to book Asiana Club tickets and tough to get the miles, but you can’t argue with 40,000 miles + $131 for United flat bed Business Class to Europe or 50,000 miles + $311 for Lufthansa First Class.

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Ireland’s government announced its approval for IAG–the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, and Vueling–to purchase Aer Lingus, the flag carrier of Ireland. The Irish government owns a 25% stake in Aer Lingus.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.49.15 AM

Other shareholders, including Ryanair which owns a 30% stake in Aer Lingus, have not weighed in, but if the deal goes through it will have a big effect on your miles.

Right now Aer Lingus is not a member of any airline alliance. It does, however, have one-off partnerships with United and British Airways, so you can redeem United miles and Avios for Aer Lingus flights.

If IAG buys Aer Lingus, it would join oneworld, and you would be able to redeem American Airlines, British Airways, and any other oneworld miles for Aer Lingus flights. You would, however, almost certainly lose the ability to redeem United miles on Aer Lingus.

Current Redemption Options

British Airways Avios awards use a distance-based formula. Flights from Boston to Ireland are 12,500 Avios one way in economy. Flights from New York, Chicago, and Washington to Ireland are 20,000 Avios one way. San Francisco to Ireland is 25,000 Avios one way.

Unfortunately, since Avios devalued last month, Business Class awards are now triple the economy price on those routes. This is especially unfortunate because Aer Lingus now has flat beds on some of its American routes.

Avios redemptions on Aer Lingus have very small fuel surcharges, in the tens of dollars.

Connections beyond Ireland add to the price of an Avios award, since all flights add to the price of Avios awards.

You cannot book Aer Lingus awards on ba.com. Search Expert Flyer for award space and call British Airways at 800-AIRWAYS to book.

Alternatively, you can use United miles to redeem Aer Lingus flights. United charges 30,000 miles one way in economy to Europe and 70,000 miles in Business Class. You can search and book on united.com.

Future Redemption Options

If Aer Lingus is bought by IAG and joins oneworld, the United option would probably be discontinued. The British Airways option would remain since British Airways is a member of oneworld.

We would also gain the ability to redeem American Airlines miles for Aer Lingus flights. That would be great since American Airlines charges only 50,000 miles one way in Business Class to Europe and 20,000 in economy for the majority of the year. Unfortunately I do expect these prices to go up, possibly before you’d have the chance to redeem American Airlines miles for Aer Lingus flights.

We’d also gain the ability to redeem every other type of oneworld miles for Aer Lingus flights, but most of those programs are terrible.

I’d consider this mainly a wash–losing United redemptions and gaining American redemptions. I’d call it a slight win though because United has a ton of great partner options to Europe, and American has fewer.

Bottom Line

Aer Lingus to IAG and oneworld is not a done deal, but the second biggest shareholder approves. If it happens, redemption options to Ireland and Europe will change, and probably get slightly better.

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Ethiopian Airlines will begin flying Los Angeles to Dublin to Addis Ababa on June 18, 2015 with a 787 Dreamliner. Ethiopian will have fifth freedom rights, meaning you will be able to fly any single segment of the flight, including Los Angeles to Dublin.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 9.37.36 AM
Source: gcmap.com

Normally direct award space from the West Coast to Europe is tough to find. (Solution: route via Canada.) This is such an exciting addition to the Star Alliance’s transatlantic routes because the route has great award space for two passengers in economy and Business Class.

The flight will be bookable with United miles and any other Star Alliance airline’s miles. Crucially, with United miles, you can connect Los Angeles to Dublin with the rest of Europe by using United’s non-alliance partner Aer Lingus.

Right now, if you search united.com, Los Angeles to Dublin is showing 2+ economy seats and 2+ Business Class seats in both directions from next month until late March 2016. Unfortunately a lot of that award space is phantom award space.

  • How do I know the space is phantom? Where can you see real award space?
  • How much does the award cost?
  • How is Ethiopian Business Class?
  • Connection possibilities?
  • How can you book award space?
  • A full example of a roundtrip award with a (nearly) Free One Way

Phantom Award Space and Real Award Space

If you search united.com for two passengers from Los Angeles to Dublin on days on which the Ethiopian Airlines flight operates, you’ll see a lot of this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.04.58 PM
Apparently there is award space for 2+ people in each cabin on this flight

Nearly every flight has award space.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.02.11 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.02.37 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.04.25 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.04.44 PM

Unfortunately if you try to book the space, you may see this error:

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.44.22 PM

And other Star Alliance search engines like Aeroplan and Avianca don’t match up with the space on united.com. Other sites are right, and united.com is wrong, showing “phantom” award space.

I called United to try to book the space shown online on June 27 from Los Angeles to Dublin; it doesn’t exist. I asked about July 25, which online shows two economy and two Business Class seats. The agent only saw two Business Class and zero economy seats.

The upshot is that united.com is unreliable about this Ethiopian Airlines award space. There is award space on the route, and I suggest searching it on aeroplan.com, which matched award space seen by United’s agent.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.59.02 PM

Unfortunately sites like aeorplan.com don’t let me show 10 months of award space in five images, so I can’t as easily show you the award space. Just go search the dates you want.

Award Price

You can book the Ethiopian award space you find on aeroplan.com with any Star Alliance miles. The one way prices (economy/Business):

  • United: 30k/70k
  • Aeroplan: 30k/45k
  • Asiana: 25k/40k
  • Lufthansa: 25k/52k
  • Singapore: 27.5k/65k
  • LifeMiles: 30k/63k

United and LifeMiles never charge fuel surcharges. Aeroplan doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on this route. I didn’t test Asiana, Lufthansa, or Singapore, but I would expect them to collect fuel surcharges on this award. That’s about $124 one way in Business Class from Los Angeles to Dublin.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 2.00.08 PM

Ethiopian Business Class

Ethiopian’s Dreamliner has economy and Business Class. Business Class is in a 2-2-2 configuration. Choose a middle seat, so you and your seatmate both have aisle access.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 2.17.29 PM

Business Class is angled lie flat. Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 2.17.52 PM

Here is a full trip report from One Mile at a Time.

Connection Possibilities

United charges 30k/70k miles each way in economy/business between the United States and Europe on partner flights. You can connect to non-Star-Alliance-partner Aer Lingus flights in Ireland to the rest of Europe for zero extra miles on a United award. Aer Lingus flies to the following cities from Dublin:

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.03.27 PM

Dublin isn’t a Star Alliance hub, so other Star Alliance airlines that do not partner with Aer Lingus will have fewer connection options. Of course, you can always hop a super-cheap Ryanair flight from Dublin, its hub, to the rest of Europe.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.02.50 PM

If you fly all the way to Africa on the Ethiopian flight, United charges 40k/80k miles each way in economy/Business. From Addis Ababa, you can connect to the rest of Africa. The Star Alliance has the best network in Africa with Egyptair, Ethiopian, and South African.

Book Award Space

If you are booking with Aeroplan miles, book right on aeroplan.com after searching. You can also book the United and LifeMiles awards online on their respective websites.

For other types of miles like Singapore, Asiana, and Lufthansa, you book by calling the airline whose miles you’re using. Note the date, cabin, and flight number of all the award space you find on aeroplan.com, and call to book.

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

Full Roundtrip with (Nearly) Free One Way

What I like about this award space between Los Angeles and Dublin is that:

  1. it is available for the heart of summer and bookable right now
  2. Ireland is a very low aviation tax country.

Most award space to Europe in premium cabins is currently unavailable for the summer and will only open up within a few days or weeks of departure. A lot of that award space returns from England ($300 one way in taxes) or Germany ($150.)

To take advantage of these benefits of the Ethiopian space, I put together an award that has last second award space in Business Class on United to England but returns in Business Class from Dublin (get between the two on a separate ticket). For fun, I added a Free One Way in First Class from Los Angeles to Maui for next year. Except, it is not free; it adds 5,000 miles to the total award price for reasons that are obvious to anyone who has read Master Thread: Free Oneways on United Awards.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.22.39 PM

The roundtrip in Business Class plus the First Class to Maui eight months from now costs 132,500 United miles + $52 in taxes. Since the departure is less than 21 days from now, there is a $75 fee (that is reduced or waived for elites.)Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.22.33 PM

Bottom Line

Ethiopian begins its Los Angeles to Dublin to Addis Ababa route in a few weeks with good award space in economy and Business Class that you should search on aeroplan.com because of phantom space on united.com.

I like that the route is bookable in advance for the next 11 months including over the peak summer season and that departing Dublin has very low taxes.

You can book the space cheaply with Aeroplan or Asiana miles or use United miles if you want to connect within Europe on its partner Aer Lingus. If using United miles, consider adding a Free or Cheap One Way.

Hat Tip Gary Leff for reminding me about the route which I wrote about last October

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Repost from February. While the exact award space has changed some, the pattern remains that you want United miles!

It’s already May. Summer starts next month, so now is your last, best chance to plan and execute a perfect summer vacation to Europe for 2015 with miles and points for pennies on the dollar.

Your roundtrip flights can be under $100. You hotels can be free. Everything else will seem like it’s 30% off as the euro sits at $1.13. I’ve been in Europe when it was $1.50!

This blueprint will explain which miles to accrue, why to accrue them, how many you need, and which cards to open now to accrue them. I’ve even got a few tips on free hotel and airbnb stays.

Get United Miles

United and its partners in the Star Alliance have the best award availability to Europe for Summer 2015 by far. Award space in economy to Europe is wide open for 4+ people on the same itinerary this summer. Sample routes:

New York to Frankfurt, June and July, award space for 4 in economy on 54/61 days

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.48.55 PM

Houston to Brussels, July and August, award space for 4 in economy on 55/62 days Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.50.03 PM

Los Angeles to Paris, June and July, award space for 4 in economy on 34/61 days Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.50.28 PM

Award space is better from the East Coast because finding the award space within North America during the summer is hard, and flights from the West Coast directly to Europe have terrible award space on almost every airline.

Award space within Europe is excellent, so pretty much no matter where you want to go in Europe should have similar award space.

Business and First Class award space is very limited right now. Usually United’s flights to Brussels from Newark and Washington-Dulles have some of the best premium-cabin award space in its European network. Right now Washington-Dulles to Brussels only has premium-cabin award space for one passenger on 6/61 days in July and August.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 3.14.37 PM

Some days do have award space in both Business and First Class.Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 3.14.55 PM

If you really want to fly a premium cabin, I’d suggest one of two options:

  1. Book a premium cabin one way. There is sprinkled award space in Business and First Class on various routes. Find space in one direction that you can build on, and then book the other direction in economy since economy space is plentiful with United miles to and from Europe this summer. The age old question is which direction to book in Business Class? If it’s the eastbound, you get better use of the bed. If it’s the westbound, you get more out of the service and experience. There is no right answer.
  2. Book economy now and look to change one or both directions to a premium cabin in the last few days before departure.

Both United and Lufthansa, the German Star Alliance carrier, are pretty famous for opening last minute award space in Business and First Class.

Check a few weeks before departure to see if space has opened up on your flight and then every day after that. Space can open up as late as the day of your flight.

Unfortunately changing an award within 21 days of departure does cost $75 per ticket, but weirdly, sometimes this fee is forgotten by phone agents and not charged online.

How Many United Miles?

United charges:

  • 30,000 miles one way in economy
  • 57,500 miles one way in United Business (and for a limited time in partner Business)
  • 70,000 miles one way in partner Business Class normally
  • 80,000 miles one way in United First
  • 110,000 miles one way in partner First

You’ll need at least 60,000 United miles per person for the roundtrip to Europe. United awards do not require a payment of fuel surcharges, but you will be on the hook for government taxes associated with your flights. These vary based on the countries you transit, arrive in, and depart from.

The highest taxes are on roundtrip Business or First Class awards to the United Kingdom (about $300). For most European itineraries, the roundtrip taxes will be in the $50 to $150 range. If the taxes matter a lot to you, play around with awards to different countries on united.com.

Add up the number of miles you need for the passengers and cabins you have in mind.

How to Get United Miles

The easiest way to get United miles is from credit card sign up bonuses on cards that offer United miles or Ultimate Rewards, the proprietary points Chase offers with some cards that transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.

All the relevant cards are offered by Chase. In my experience, you can get one Chase personal and one Chase business card on the same day. Between such days, I like to wait 91 days until I apply for more Chase cards. I’ve also noticed that many people who are brand new to Chase can get two personal cards (and a business card) on the same day.

Once you get your cards, you will have to meet a minimum spending requirement to get the promised bonus miles. Once you meet the requirement, your miles should post the same day or maybe a day after the day on which your next statement closes.

Because of this lag between credit card application and getting your miles, unless you are planning a very late summer trip, you only have time for one relevant application day before summer. Make it count.

Here are the best two personal and one business card:

  • United personal card: 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months, 5,000 bonus miles for adding an authorized user. About the extra 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user: the authorized user card does NOT stop that person from getting their own United card account with the bonus miles, does NOT require inputting that person’s social security number, and is sent to you.

This card should be 58,000 miles after spending $3,000.

  • Sapphire Preferred personal card: 40,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user.

This card should be 49,000 points (which transfer 1:1 instantly to United) after spending $4,000.

  • Ink Plus business card: 60,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

This card should be 65,000 points (which transfer 1:1 instantly to United) after spending $5,000.

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Future Cards

In 91+ days, you could get the Freedom for 10,000 bonus points after spending $500 in the first three months and the Ink Plus business card for 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. That’s about it in the short term for how many United miles one person can get.

I’d also save hotel cards for the future unless you can meet their spending requirements at the same time. The reason? Award flights at the Saver level are heavily capacity controlled. Get them first. Free hotel nights are generally available whenever there is a standard room for sale at that hotel. Get them later.

The hotel card I like in Europe is:

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card comes with Two Free Weekend Nights (Fri, Sat, or Sun) worldwide at top tier Hiltons after spending $2,500 in four months. The card also comes with free Gold Status.

Of course, hotels are only one option for lodging. I actually prefer airbnb because they are cheaper, have more space and multiple bedrooms if you want, include a kitchen, and are often in more interesting parts of the city. Here are Three Ways to Save Money on Airbnb.

Do You Really Have Enough Miles?

Transferring United miles between accounts is very expensive, so one account with 45,000 miles and one account with 15,000 miles is very different than a single account with 60,000, which is enough for a roundtrip to Europe.

You can book United awards as one ways, so two accounts with 30,000 miles can be great to book one direction of the trip from each account. Anyone’s United miles can be used to book anyone else a ticket.

Ultimate Rewards can be perfect to top off accounts, but the points can only transfer to your United account or your spouse/domestic partner’s.

When you’re planning how many miles you need and which cards to get, keep these limitations in mind.

What Can You Do On Your Award?

One way United awards can’t have anything fancy. No stopovers, only connections of up to 24 hours.

Roundtrip United awards can have two open jaws at the end points, one stopover, and the destination, plus any connections up to 24 hours.

On a roundtrip award, you can do something like this:

  • Home to European city A (stopover)
  • European city A to European city B (destination)
  • European city C (open jaw) to home

And feel free to throw a few 23 hour connections in there in European cities D and E.

Note the open jaw between cities B and C. This would be filled in with a train or low-cost carrier flight.

Any questions?

Get started now, so you can have your miles in place as soon as possible and your flights booked shortly thereafter. At that point, worry about hotels and lodging if you haven’t already.

You can use your miles to see up to three European cities (plus more on 23 hour connections) on a single roundtrip award.

Award space is wide open, Europe is unusually cheap at the moment, and miles and points can pay for most of your trip. What are you waiting for?

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6

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United is putting a 787-9 Dreamliner on its only route to Argentina, from Houston to Buenos Aires, starting October 25.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.13.29 PM
source: gcmap.com

 

The United 787-9 Dreamliner has 48 beds in Business class in a 2-2-2 configuration. 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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.14.20 PM

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

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Some days that the Dreamliner operates have 18 awards seats!

  • How many miles do you need? 
  • What’s the award space?
  • How can you get United miles?
  • How can you book the awards?

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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.13.14 AM

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

  • 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

Award Space Picture

For over a year, award space on United routes to Buenos Aires has been terrible. That’s probably because United cut its Argentina flights to one per day from Houston, when it previously operated daily flights from Newark and Washington-Dulles also and also because Argentines want to travel to America to take out dollars at a cheaper rate than the “blue market” rate at home.

Award space is pretty weak for the next few months also, but after United puts its 787-9 on the route, award space picks up consistent mid-week award space for up to 9 people in each cabin.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.31.03 PM
When United 787-9s are rolling out. Source: http://airlineroute.net/2015/05/09/ua-iah789-s15/

Houston to Buenos Aires

All the calendars below are for Houston to Buenos Aires. It is zero extra miles to start your award anywhere else in the continental United States, Alaska, or Canada and connect to Houston.

Normally United opens up a lot of last minute award space, and it has opened some from Houston to Buenos Aires in the next month, though almost exclusively in economy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.25.03 PM

Look when award space picks up and starts to include a lot more space in Business class: right after the Dreamliner starts flying on October 25.Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.26.04 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.26.38 PM

All those calendars just show award space for one passenger. That’s all I expected there to be, considering how sparse award space has been on the route historically.

But I decided to see if there was more award space on a day like November 4 when the calendar had shown award space in both cabins.
Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.38.56 PM

I changed my search to two people, and all the Dreamliner days seemed to have 2 award seats.Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.39.27 PM

I changed to 4, 6, and then 8 passengers, and most days remained. That means that almost every day with one award seat has 8+. Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.44.34 PM Finally I signed in and searched for a flight on one day to look at United’s Expert Mode.

On November 4, you can see “I9″ and “X9.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.50.44 PM

“I” is Business Class Saver award space and “X” is economy Saver award space. The “9” means that there are nine seats in that fare bucket, or possibly more since nine is the highest number listed. That’s 18+ Saver award seats on the same flight.

Award space from Houston to Buenos Aires is bookable through mid-April 2016 at the moment, but the award space dries up March 24.
Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.53.31 PM

Buenos Aires to Houston

Award space from Buenos Aires to Houston is similar to what we just looked at, but a little worse.

For two people, there is a lot of award space in the next month from Argentina back home, almost all of it in economy.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 11.04.06 PM

After a dead period, there is award space that again starts right after the 787-9 comes into service on the route on October 25. All the award space is in Business Class.
Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.54.10 PM February and March also have some good award space for 2+ people.Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.55.46 PM

How to Get United Miles

Right now is a fantastic time to get United miles.

  • The United Explorer card offers 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months and 5,000 bonus miles for adding an authorized user.
  • The Ink Plus business card offers 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.
  • The Sapphire Preferred offers 40,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months and 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.40.36 PM

Bottom Line

United is moving its newest plane the 787-9 Dreamliner to its Buenos Aires route in October. From then on, award space in widely available midweek, sometimes for up to 18 people on the same flight.

United’s Dreamliner features excellent flat bed seats, and the award space is open over the best time to visit Buenos Aires–its Spring through its Fall. What’s not to like? Only that this space might not last because historically United has offered very little space on the route.

Further Reading

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

My 2013 Euro Hopper

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

Source: gcmap.com

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

But I had a blast.

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

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

Two things have changed since that week in 2013.

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

My 2015 Euro Hopper

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

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

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

How to get from Bucharest to Zurich?

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.42.34 AM

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 11.47.54 AM

Searching and Booking the Award

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.40.01 PM

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.51.00 PM

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

Booking

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

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

In the end I get:

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

It’s going to be a heck of a week!

Other Possible Itineraries

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

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

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

Other Regions

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 3.34.07 AM

5

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The United Explorer Card now comes with 50,000 bonus miles after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first three months the account is open. Plus you get 5,000 bonus miles for adding an authorized user on the application. (The AU’s card comes to you, and you don’t have to input a social security number or make a purchase with the card to get the 5k extra miles.)

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 3.54.06 AM

 

This limited time offer ends June 2, 2015. The is a huge increase on the previous sign up bonus of 30,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months.

 

The card also comes with priority boarding, a free checked bag, two United Club passes per year, and extra award space for cardholders.

Quick Facts

  • Sign Up Bonus: 50,000 MileagePlus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months + 5,000 more miles for adding an authorized user
  • Category Bonuses: 2x on United flights
  • Lounge access: two United Club passes per year
  • Benefits while flying United: free checked bag and priority boarding
  • Global Acceptance: Chip technology and no foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $0 for the first year and $95 thereafter

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.40.36 PM

Sign Up Bonus

The headline sign up bonus is 50,000 United miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the card.

Do not miss the chance to get 5,000 extra miles for adding an authorized user. You are sent the extra card, and you can cut it up if you want. The person you make an authorized user is still eligible to open the United card for himself for 50,000 bonus miles.

Category Bonus

  • Earn 2x miles on United flights

Lounge Access

Get two United Club one-day passes per year. These normally cost $50 each to purchase.

Chip and No Foreign Transaction Fees

The United card has a chip for global acceptance, and there are no foreign transaction fees when using the card.

Priority Boarding and a Free Checked Bag

The United card comes with early boarding on United flights, so you will get overhead space for your carry on. Nothing annoys me more than having to gate-check a carry on, so that I am delayed 20 minutes on arrival to collect my bag.

However, if you want to check a bag, you and your companion will get a free checked bag if you use your United card to book a United flight. That’s $25 per person per direction in saved bag fees.

The Card’s Biggest Secret Benefit: Extra Award Space

The card proudly advertises that cardholders get last-seat availability for Standard awards. That means if you are willing to pay twice the price of a Saver award, you can barge onto any flight. This benefit isn’t a big deal to me because Standard awards cost a lot of miles.

Far more important is the secret benefit that Chase and United don’t mention. United Explorer cardholders get extra Saver economy award space on United flights that is normally set aside only for United elites. I wrote about this secret benefit here. If you use this extra Saver award space even once, you way more than pay the annual fee.

Annual Fee

The annual fee is $0 for the first year and $95 thereafter. If you cancel the United card to avoid an annual fee, your miles are unaffected. They expire after 18 months of no earning or spending activity in your United account.

Get the Card

I don’t have a direct affiliate link to the card, but if you click my Featured Travel Credit Cards Banner, the card is at the top of the list. Applying for the card through the banner supports MileValue.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.40.36 PM

 

Bottom Line

The United card joins the growing ranks of 50,000 mile limited time offers. Also check out the AA personal and business cards, the Citi ThankYou Premier, and Citi Prestige. We’re living in an amazing time to get free travel just from signing up for a credit card.

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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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This is the eighth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Where We Are and Where We’re Going

We’re in the section on redeeming miles. Once you understand how to redeem miles, you’ll understand which miles are right to earn for your travel goals. This post will focus on United miles, which are ideal for international economy and business class awards with stopovers, open jaws, and free one ways.

Why Collect United Miles?

United miles are easy to collect in bunches. There are big sign up bonuses available on a half dozen cards that earn United miles or Ultimate Rewards, which can be transferred to United miles. When the miles are so easy to earn, it makes fancy trips or family trips easier to book.

United is part of the biggest and best alliance–the Star Alliance–with the most award space. I find better award space on United’s partners to most parts of the world than I do on any other airline alliance.

United never collects fuel surcharges on awards. The ability to book flights on all of the Star Alliance without fuel surcharges is incredible. Delta and American Airlines–United’s two major award program competitors–both collect fuel surcharges on some awards.

  • What airlines can you fly with United miles?
  • What are the routing rules for United awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the MileagePlus program?
  • How can you book a United award?

Mileage Price

United miles are region-based miles. (See Five Types of Miles)

United has two region-to-region charts, one for travel on United flights and one for travel on its partners, both of which can be found here. The award charts are identical for economy awards, but United charges a large premium to fly its partners’ Business and First Class products versus its own.

A region-to-region chart means that instead of having to calculate the number of miles for an award from your origin city to your destination city, say Atlanta to Rome, you merely figure out how many miles you need for an award from your origin region to your destination region, in this case North America to Europe.

The chart for travel on United has two prices in each cabin: the Saver and Standard prices.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.56.50 PM

We redeem miles for Saver awards, the capacity controlled awards that cost the fewest miles, which are not available in every cabin on every flight. Standard awards cost approximately twice what Saver awards cost and are available on almost every flight.

The partner chart doesn’t have a Standard level because partner awards always price at the Saver award.

To have a multi-segment award price at the Saver level, every segment in that direction must have Saver award space.

Which countries are in which region of the chart can be found at the bottom of the award chart.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.59.16 PM

Partners

United is a member of the Star Alliance. That means you can use its miles on all these airlines:

  • United Airlines
  • Adria Airways (Slovenia)
  • Aegean Airlines (Greece)
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA (Japan)
  • Asiana Airlines (South Korea)
  • Austrian Airlines (Vienna)
  • Avianca (Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Peru)
  • Brussels Airlines (Belgium)
  • Copa (Panama)
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air (Taiwan)
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa (Germany)
  • Scandinavian Airlines (Denmark, Norway, Sweden)
  • Shenzhen Airlines (China)
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • TAP Portugal
  • Thai Airways International
  • Turkish Airlines

United also has several partners that are not a part of the Star Alliance. You can also redeem miles to fly these airlines:

  • Aer Lingus (Ireland)
  • Aeromar (Mexico)
  • Azul (Brazil)
  • Cape Air (Puerto Rico)
  • germanwings
  • Great Lakes (Denver)
  • Hawaiian Airlines (only interisland flights within Hawaii)
  • Island Air (Hawaii)
  • Jet Airways (India)
  • Silver Airways (Florida)

Subject to other routing rules, which I’ll detail below, you can freely combine United flights, Star Alliance partner flights, and other partner flights onto a single award.

ROUTING RULES

You can book one way awards with United miles for half the price of roundtrip awards.

One way United awards cannot have any stopovers. Roundtrip awards can have one free stopover (in addition to the destination) and two open jaws.

Unfortunately, beyond that, it’s difficult to say much about United’s routing rules other than whatever the computer says, goes. The computer accepts some wacky routings and rejects others. If you try a routing online that gets an error, you can call in to book the award with an agent, but you are unlikely to talk them into charging you the mileage price you want if the computer rejects your routing.

The computer likes routings with fewer segments and less backtracking.

All award travel must be completed within one year of the original booking. Changes can’t extend this time frame, so if you can’t fly within one year of your original booking, you’ll have to cancel you award.

Stopovers

Stopovers are not allowed on one way United awards. One stopover is allowed on roundtrip United awards except that roundtrip United awards wholly within the continental United States, Canada, and Alaska cannot have a stopover.

A stopover is a layover of more than 4 hours on a domestic award or 24 hours on an international award.

Open Jaws

Roundtrips can have two open jaws.

Keep in mind that an open jaw is not a hole in the middle of a single one way award. Those are prohibited.

Here’s an example of an award with one stopover and two open jaws.

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.14.27 AM
Source: gcmap.com

 

  • The award starts in Chicago and flies to Munich for a stopover.
  • The award continues to Athens, its destination.
  • The return begins in Rome. There is an open jaw between Athens and Rome that you’d have to fill in with transportation that is not part of this award.
  • The award ends in Washington DC, which is not where it started, so there is a second open jaw between Chicago and DC.

Free One Ways

Free one ways are possible on United awards. Since a free one way requires a stopover at your home airport, booking a free one way on a United award means you cannot use a stopover en route on the main award.

The free one way can be BEFORE your main award TO your home airport or AFTER your main award FROM your home airport.

The free one way can be to most places in the continental United States, Alaska, and Canada. If you want the one way to go to Hawaii, the Caribbean, South America, or somewhere else, you have to pay the difference between flying to those places and flying to your home airport.

For full details on Free One Ways on United Awards, check out this Master Thread.

Special Feature of United Miles

There are two features of the United program everyone should be aware of.

1. United’s multi-city search results are extremely buggy.

This is the search page you use if you want to book an award with a stopover or open jaw.

This is a problem since nearly every award I book with United is a multi-city award.

If you search each part of your multi-city award one way, you will see far more options for each part then when you do a multi-city search on united.com.

The solution is simple: put on hold part of your award and call in to change the held award to the award you really want.

For more information on this problem and solution, see this post.

2. United charges a ton more miles to fly its partners’ premium cabins than its own.

United BusinessFirst (business) and Global First (first) are solid, but not spectacular products that I’ve flown eight total times.

Since United went to separate charts for its own flights and partner flights in February 2014, I have lost interest in using United miles for premium cabin awards on its partners. Usually, its partners’ products aren’t a big enough improvement to justify a big increase in the miles price, and sometimes the partners’ product is worse.

Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges

Taxes

United awards require you to pay the government taxes associated with the itinerary.

These start at $5.60 each direction for domestic awards and go up to $300 if you fly roundtrip in Business Class to the United Kingdom. Generally international awards have roundtrip taxes of $50 to $150.

Fees

Phone Fee: There is no award booking fee for awards booked at united.com. Calling United to book an award incurs a $25 per person fee. You can usually get the agent to waive that phone fee.

Late Booking Fee: There is a $75 booking fee per person to book an award less than 21 days from the date of departure. This fee is reduced for elites and waived for Platinum and 1K members. Here’s a trick to never pay the late booking fee again.

Date and Time Changes: Changing the date, time, or routing costs up to $100 per person. This fee is cheaper if the change is made at least 21 days before departure and if you have elite status. It is waived for Platinum and 1K members.

Origin/Destination Changes: There is a $100 fee per person to change the origin or destination. This fee is reduced for elites and waived for Platinum and 1K members.

Cancellation: There is a $200 fee per person to cancel your award and get the miles back. This fee is reduced for elites and waived for Platinum and 1K members.

Full details on United’s award fees can be found here.

Fuel Surcharges

United does not collect fuel surcharges on any award tickets.

How to Book United Awards

Most of United’s partners can be searched and booked on united.com. Two major exceptions:

  • Singapore Airlines
  • Brussels Airlines

Partners that can’t be searched online can be searched by calling United at 800-UNITED-1 or by searching other Star Alliance award search engines.

If you can’t seem to find the award you want for your dream trip, you can hire my Award Booking Service to search and book your United awards. We have the expertise to search every United partner to maximize convenience and luxury while minimizing out-of-pocket cost.

Bottom Line

United MileagePlus is one of the best frequent flyer programs. Its strengths are United’s huge network of partners and the lack of fuel surcharges on awards.

United has fantastic availability domestically, and many of its partners have great availability too. Availability is a big strength of this program in all classes of service.

United has unwritten routing rules, but any simple awards, and many complicated awards, price exactly as you’d expect.

United awards are flexible for one way travel. If you book a roundtrip, you can add one stopover and two open jaws to your destination.

Most United are bookable on united.com, while others require a call to United.

Any questions? What did I leave out?

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United has a setting you can activate called Expert Mode that allows you to see how many seats are in each fare bucket on a given flight.

I mentioned it yesterday in “Booking Two Tickets on the Same United Flight” and I got some questions in the comments about what Expert Mode is, how to use it, and why you’d want to use it.

What is a fare bucket?

Every ticket you book with cash or miles has every segment come out of a fare bucket or fare class.

The fare bucket is a one or two letter code that represents what cabin you’re in, whether you got the seat with cash or miles, and how many miles you’ll earn for the flight.

Everyone walking through this door has a ticket that booked into one fare bucket

Airlines are willing to book a certain number of tickets in each fare bucket. If the Saver economy award fare bucket has zero seats, you can’t book a Saver economy award on the flight, but if it has six seats, you can book up to six Saver economy award tickets.

Knowing how many seats are in each bucket will let you know whether you can expect an upgrade, whether you can book an award, and whether elites have better award access on a certain flight.

  • How can you enable Expert Mode on united.com?
  • How can you use Expert Mode on united.com in award bookings and to secure upgrades?

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