Anatomy of an Award: USA to Chile in Business Class for 35,000 Miles

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I just booked myself an award from Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile in Business Class for 35,000 Asiana miles + $24. United would have charged 55,000 miles for the same flights!

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Why Asiana Miles

Asiana has really cheap awards to Europe and South America and really expensive awards elsewhere. Asiana does collect fuel surcharges on awards when similar cash tickets have them, which is why Asiana awards to South America are so awesome: none of Asiana’s partners to South America have fuel surcharges on their flights within the Americas.

I already had exactly 35,000 Asiana miles in my account from previous Starpoint transfers. Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Asiana miles with the standard 5,000 bonus miles from transferring 20,000 Starpoints. That means 35,000 Asiana miles equals 30,000 Starpoints.

Searching

I plan to spend February through May in South America, mostly in Buenos Aires, but I can only spend 90 days there on a single visit, so I was looking to fill a few weeks with other stops first. I considered grand adventures in Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil, but eventually settled on a first trip to Santiago, Chile.

I decided to book a two week trip there, though I may leave the capital for a few days or a week in the middle.

I have very little flexibility for the Los Angeles to Santiago trip; I need to leave on one of two days. I searched on united.com for award space between Los Angeles and Santiago because any Copa, Avianca, or TACA space on united.com and any United Saver space on united.com can be booked with Asiana miles. I found pretty good space.

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On the search results, I clicked the Business Saver award column, so itineraries with Business Class award space would show up at the top.

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On the days I need to travel, the only Business Class award space is on one stop itineraries on Copa through Santiago. (Humorously, the itineraries don’t have Saver economy space, so a Business Class award is cheaper than an economy award with United miles.)

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 12.11.42 AMThe flight times and route are great, but Copa Business Class stinks. It is just a regular recline seat like you’d find in domestic First Class.

Booking and Seat Selection

Still I decided to book the Copa space since I don’t have date flexibility.

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

Here’s where it gets weird:

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

I followed automated prompts to reservations. I gave the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each segment that I had found on united.com.

The agent put the award together and gave me a confirmation number, which was the last eight digits of my phone number, then transferred me to Asiana Club. I gave them the confirmation number and my credit card. They ticketed the award for 35,000 Asiana miles + $24 in taxes. (There is no phone fee, there are no fuel surcharges, and there is no charge for booking at the last minute.) I got an email receipt a few hours later.

To confirm that everything ticketed correctly, I tried to select seats from Copa. I didn’t have the Copa confirmation number to select seats on copaair.com, so I called Copa and read the ticket number from my Asiana receipt to get my Copa reservation number. Then I went back to copaair.com and could pull up my reservation.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 6.43.30 PM Oddly, the flights are listed as “Economy Class (I)” even though I is the booking code for Business Class award space. I was able to select Seat 1A on each flight, further easing my worries that Copa will put me in economy.

I am not going to investigate “Economy Class” farther. I expect I will be flying Business Class, and if not, I will probably get a nice refund from Asiana.

Future Changes

As mentioned, Copa Business Class stinks. I would much rather fly from Los Angeles to Houston to Santiago with the last leg in United flat bed Business Class on the 787-9 Dreamliner.
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United is very stingy with this award space but opens some in the last few weeks before departure. As of yesterday, there was award space on the flight on January 18, 19, 22, 26, 27, and 28. That makes me hopeful that the days I want to fly will soon have flat bed Business Class award space. If that happens, I expect to be able to change the award for free based on my previous experience changing an Asiana award.

Bottom Line

I paid 35,000 Asiana miles for Business Class award space to Chile. To put in context how cheap that is, let me compare it to United’s award prices to Chile, which I consider eminently reasonable:

  • 30,000 United miles each way in economy
  • 55,000 United miles each way in Business Class

I will spend two awesome weeks in Chile and then fly my British Airways Avios award to Buenos Aires.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Scott,

    First, just want to say how much I love you. 🙂 I’ve been following your posts and benefited a lot from them.

    Second, let me (hopefully briefly) share my experience of booking tickets to Brazil using Asiana miles.

    I need 6 tickets to Brazil during Thanksgiving of 2016. Planning to do Copa biz there using Asiana miles (saw the seats on UA for the route SFO-PTY-MAO), and AA biz back using Etihad miles (and thanks again for your posts). So I need totally 35000×6=210K Asiana miles. I started transferring from my SPG account two weeks ago. Since there was a limit of 79999 per 24 hours, I transferred several times in 60000 each time. The points on each transfer arrived in less than 5 days.

    When calling Asiana to book, I was told the other 5 family members needed to have Asiana Club memberships first. It gave me big trouble applying for their membership, since it kept reporting error at the end of application. I finally figured out that I needed to wait for maybe 10 minutes, then opened a new private browser to do it…

    After I opened 6 Asiana Club accounts, I called to get the reservation easily and got the reservation number, which started with 0 and followed with the last 7 digits of my cell phone number. I then was transferred to the Asiana Club. They required me to fill out a Mileage Transfer Authorization form, provide passport copies, and the proof of relationships. I sent them two birth certificates for my two daughters, which also had my wife’s name. I then sent them the birth certificate of my wife, which proved the relationships with my parents-in-laws. It’s all through email.

    I called Asiana the second day, and the agent issued the tickets for me in two hours (This call may not be necessary. But I just don’t want to wait). Each ticket cost 35,000 Asiana miles + $24 in taxes. There is no phone fee and no fuel surcharges.

    At last, I filled out another form (Family Mileage Plan Registration Form) to add four family members (the limit) into my family plan, so that next time I don’t need to send them all those documents again.

    To select the seats, I called Copa with the ticket number, which started with 9882. The agent couldn’t recognize it. I then gave her the reservation number (please note that Asiana gave two reservation numbers. The first one had my phone number in it. The second one was a six-character one, which was the one I gave out). She was able to find my reservation and gave me Copa Airline reservation number. I then went to Copa’s website to choose the seats (you don’t need login). The only sad thing is that the seats are 2-2 configuration and not flat bed. But these are the only business seats available, and for sure much better than economy seats.

    With all these troubles, it saved 20K miles on each ticket comparing with using United miles. Totally 120K saving! I think it’s very well worth it.

    Thank you again, Scott. You are the man!!!
    Jason

    • Amazing! Very annoying process if you want to book an Asiana award for anyone other than yourself, but seeing it through saved you huge miles. I’ll have a trip report on Copa Business in the next few weeks. Enjoy the trip!

  2. As I read it you can only buy 30000 SPG points per calendar year. How can one get enough points in year 2016 to be able to get a decent redemption ??

    • 1) Open a credit card.
      2) Buy 30k SPG points in multiple accounts, make the address on each account the same, and freely transfer between the accounts whenever you’d like.

      • Thanks for your reply. Are you permitted to in fact have multiple accounts with SPG in the same name (or variations)? I used my US Citibank debit card to purchase my block of 30,000, but could also use my Australian Amex or MasterCard too if the currency conversion was not a hassle.

        • You’ll have to test it out yourself, but I imagine there are tons of people with common names who have SPG accounts. Some probably live at the same address too, since people commonly name their kids for themselves.

  3. I am finding some flights through the united website to go from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires in Economy. However, when I call Asiana they do not see the award travel. How do you deal with those situations? Apparently they can not see those flights.

    • Is the award space you see on United “Saver level”? Meaning, is it the cheapest level of award space available? That’s the only award space partners miles’ can book.

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