Authors Posts by Bill

Bill

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I use united.com for most of my award searches when redeeming Star Alliance miles because it shows most Star Alliance partners’ award availability, but it does have some drawbacks. Namely, it doesn’t show all partners and it sometimes displays phantom award space–award space will show as available but in reality, it doesn’t exist.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.14.50 PM
Star Alliance Airlines Whose Award Space I Want to Search

The best way to confirm Star Alliance award space is using the All Nippon Airways (ANA) search tool. ANA’s tool is trickier to use, but it’s the most reliable. The website and search tool’s interface has undergone some changes since the last time I wrote about how to use the ANA search tool three years ago, so I’m rewriting that post today to clarify any doubts.

First of All, Great News!

ANA no longer restricts members from using it’s award search tool for a lack of miles in their account. Anyone can search Star Alliance availability as long as you are signed up as a member of the ANA Mileage Club— no more annoying work arounds necessary!

Using the ANA Award Search Tool: Step-by-Step Guide

1. If you haven’t already, sign up for a ANA Mileage Club account here. Though this page looks like a credit card application (no annual fee!) simply click “Apply Here” at the bottom of the screen.

ANA mileage club sign up2. After filling in your pertinent information, you will be assigned a Mileage Club frequent flyer number and a password. Once you are signed up and logged in, you can access the award search tool directly from the ANA home page, just click Award Booking in the bottom right corner of the regular flight reservation box.

ANA homepage, award booking box

3. You will then be taken to the ANA Award search tool, where you can start searching for your desired Star Alliance award. Check the bubble next to “Compare seat availability +/- 3 days.”

ana search tool

4. Checking the bubble next to Compare seat availability +/- 3 days will show you a week’s worth of availability.

LAX to Tokyo ANA

5. Occasionally a search will turn up this ugly error message, but it only means the specific day and class you searched for doesn’t have a seat available. Click Confirm and the rest of the week’s availability will display.

Mia to Bue error, confirm anyways ANA

6. Choose your dates for both legs.

LAX to tokyo, day specific selection

7. And then select your preferred flight schedule for both legs.

If you don’t have the sufficient mileage in your Mileage Club account, a box will pop up like this:

lack of mileage ANA

8. Just click Confirm and it will allow you too see all the details anyways.

Displayed will be the summarized flight itinerary, the price of the award in miles as well as taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges….

ANA itinerary, payment breakdown

…and the award type descriptions, with convenient links to the corresponding award chart/rules. The baggage limitations are also displayed. (This is only important if you are redeeming ANA miles.)

award type bagge ANA

A Common Glitch

I received this pop-up multiple times while choosing the flight itineraries for my preferred days of travel:

wonky error ANA

It seems like you can ignore the error message if the previous screen said there were flights available on the day you’ve selected.

LAX to Tokyo ANA

Try to select the date again, and you may see the space and no error message.

In my experience, even if you keep getting the error message, there is award space on the flight. (You can check this by calling United and asking the agent if the flight has award space. I did that for the example of a Business Class seat from Los Angeles to Tokyo above, and there was indeed award space available.)

Can I Plug in my City Pairs and Expect ANA to Come up With Good Itineraries?

No. ANA’s search tool has improved somewhat over the years, but searching Kansas City <-> Mumbai likely won’t yield anything usable. You should search segment-by-segment (like Newark to Mumbai on Air India and Kansas City to Newark on United.)

How do I search multiple segments?

There’s no short cut to this with ANA’s search tool unfortunately. You’ll need to search every segment separately.

This seems tedious. Any shortcuts?

Searching United.com is faster but can sometimes display false positives and negatives as previously detailed in my post about phantom award space. United’s site is a great place to get routing ideas while confirming them using ANA’s tool.

Do ANA miles have any value?

This is outside the main scope of this post, which is how to SEARCH ON ANA.COM to USE ANY STAR ALLIANCE MILES.

But yes, since you ask, ANA miles have plenty of value.

Though ANA assesses fuel surcharges on all Star Alliance partner flights except United, their chart has some great sweet spots that allow for low mileage redemptions. Check out how ANA’s chart compares to other types of Star Alliance miles here: Comprehensive Spread Sheets of Eight Star Alliance Award Charts.

Bottom Line

ANA’s search tool is the final word on Star Alliance availability. If united.com displays the space but you don’t see it on ANA’s site, the award isn’t bookable.

The only requirements to use ANA’s search tool are a Mileage Club membership and a little bit of patience to do the segment-by-segment searching. Once you find award space on ana.com, you can book it with the Star Alliance miles that offer the cheapest award price to where you’re going. Find that out here.

My absolute favorite awards are the ones I’ve booked for family and friends. Helping them fly for (nearly) free is a great pleasure that can’t be replicated. Recently, my sister came to me asking for advice on the cheapest ways to fly from Boston to Paris this summer. She has zero miles and a tight budget. Staring at $1,500+ flights on Kayak.com, the trip wasn’t looking promising.

Main Award
Boston to Paris roundtrip with a later free oneway from Boston to Atlanta

Luckily, with the help of my AAdvantage miles, I was able to find her nonstop flights from Boston to Paris during the peak of summer travel. In addition, I helped her add a free oneway home for Thanksgiving, saving her additional money and hassle.

How did I find the award space? Was the free oneway easy to add to the itinerary? What’s the method to booking two seemingly tough awards on the same itinerary? Is there a secret way to save 10k miles on this trip?

Per the email I received last week, US Airways is again offering up to a 100% bonus on purchased or gifted miles. This “Mystery Bonus” promotion is a slight variant from previous iterations, as the bonus you receive varies by individual frequent flyer account. You might receive a 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100% bonus on purchased and gifted miles.

US Airways Mystery Promotion

US Airways frequently runs promotions offering bonuses to buy its miles, including one in December of last year. The deal is hardly a new proposition, especially if you receive an inferior 25%-75% offer like I did. However, there is a small subset that will want to jump on this promotion before US Airways leaves the Star Alliance.

Who should buy miles through this promotion? What do you need to be very aware of before booking a Star Alliance award with Dividend Miles? Are the lesser offers worth your time?

5

Delta has released its award chart for awards booked on or after January 1, 2015. Check it out here.

Great News: The lowest priced “Level 1” awards (formerly “Saver”) will remain at the same price or drop compared to the award chart that goes into effect on June 1, 2014.

SkyMiles have seen a lot of changes the last few months:

  1. First Delta announced a devaluation of its award chart for awards flown June 2014 or later. (You can still beat this devaluation!)
  2. Then Delta turned that into a double devaluation, speeding up some of the price increases to February 2014.
  3. Last week Delta made a giant announcement that earning SkyMiles would become revenue-based starting in 2015. We learned that the 2015 chart would have five price tiers and would allow one way awards, but we didn’t see the price tiers.

Delta 2015

Luckily, after some intense pressure and scrutiny (h/t Gary Leff), Delta released their 2015 award chart early. Both the economy and business award charts can be found here, and they aren’t bad.

The economy chart’s Level 1 prices are identical to the June 1 chart except that roundtrips to the Middle East and South Asian subcontinent are going back down to 80k miles each. This was their price until Delta’s 2014 devaluations.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 1.21.43 PM

The business award chart is identical to the June 2014 chart at Level 1 except that Northern South America is dropping from 90k miles roundtrip to 80k. That’s a great adjustment as 90k was just way too high for a roundtrip to Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, or Ecuador.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 1.21.51 PM

There are a few other changes in price at the higher award levels, but as usual, our goal for ourselves and our clients at the MileValue Award Booking Service will be the lowest price Level 1 awards.

I think we can breathe one major sigh or relief. Level 1 award prices are not going up, and that means that award space on Delta’s SkyTeam partners will remain affordable.

I’m also glad Delta will finally introduce one-way awards for half the price of a roundtrip, and we’ll be able to book award tickets in Economy Comfort.

But the big question–and one we won’t have answered until at least 2015–is what level Delta will tend to release its own award space at.

We have no idea the amount of Level 1 availability that will be released with this new five-tiered award chart. If it’s anything like Delta’s current yield management, don’t expect to find many domestic segments at the lowest levels.

Further Reading

Scott wrote a great post about the Top Four Delta Awards You Need to Fly Before It’s Too Late which is still applicable after today’s announcement.

Book Scott’s favorite SkyMiles awards that cost between 25k and 150k miles under the old chart before 2015 if you can. Otherwise, time will tell in seeing if saver availability improves under the new five-tier system.

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Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

Air Canada Aeroplan miles are roughly line with other award charts for travel to Central and South America, though a bit better value than United miles for awards to Southern South America (e.g. Brazil and Argentina).

Air Canada charges 60,000 miles (30k oneway) for roundtrip business class awards to Central & Northern South America and 85,000 miles (42.5k oneway) for first class awards. Southern South America awards are 95,000 miles (47.5k oneway) in business and 135,000 miles in first class.

Aeroplan Award Pricing
Aeroplan Roundtrip Pricing ex-US

The Central and South American regions are broken down by Air Canada as follows:

Aeroplan Regions

Many European and Asian Star Alliance carriers must be avoided when booking Aeroplan awards, as their pricey fuel surcharges eat up any potential savings.

Luckily, there are relatively few instances of fuel surcharges when booking Aeroplan awards to Central and South America.

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Central and South America? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

7

I received a great TACA/Avianca LifeMiles credit card offer in my email inbox late last week. The LifeMiles Visa Signature card is offering 40,000 LifeMiles after spending $3k in the first 90 days.

Credit Card

20k miles are awarded after making your first purchase and you receive an additional 20k miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership. The actual email I received is pasted below.

LifeMiles CC Offer

Why is this such a good credit card offer? Should you take advantage? Why are LifeMiles so valuable, especially in today’s climate of devaluations? Are there any pitfalls associated with the LifeMiles program?

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

Air Canada Aeroplan miles were once a solid value for business class travel between the continental US/Canada and Oceania. They charged 135k/190k for roundtrip business/first class award seats prior to their infamous summer 2013 devaluation.

After United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s double devaluation, Air Canada Aeroplan miles are roughly equivalent to competitors for Oceanic travel.

US Airways is the absolute best bargain for travel to Oceania (110k miles roundtrip in business, 140k in first), and you can still use Dividend Miles for awards on Star Alliance carriers until March 30th.

American’s chart is also a solid value, as it only takes 62.5k/72.5k AAdvantage miles to reach the South Pacific one way in business/first class. I was luckily able to snag a rare first class seat on Qantas last month. Scott had issues with his seat in Qantas business class, though.

Delta’s 160k business class seats on partner Virgin Australia are expensive, but the amount of available seats to Australia is sometimes jaw-dropping.

See a Comparison Table of United, US Airways, Delta, and American Airlines Award Charts.

Air Canada now charges 160,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (80k oneway) for travel to the South Pacific region comprised of the countries below.

Oceanic Region

 

Aeroplan Oceania Award Chart

United miles are a better value for travel to Australia on United metal. A oneway award only costs 70k miles. First class on United should also be booked with United miles (80k oneway). Scott flew United’s GlobalFirst product from Los Angeles to Sydney and enjoyed the experience.

First class on Star Alliance partners is a better value with Aeroplan miles (110k vs. 130k), but there aren’t many bookable first class awards that fit the criteria.

As mentioned in previous posts, not all Star Alliance carriers are the same when redeeming Aeroplan miles. Air Canada collects fuel surcharges on its own flights and certain partners like Thai. Luckily, the few Star Alliance airlines that service Oceania don’t incur these fuel surcharges.

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Australia and New Zealand? Is routing via Asia possible (or even worth it)?

8

Lufthansa is currently offering a whopping 10,000 Miles & More miles for a one-year print + digital subscription to The Economist. The offer details and sign-up page can be found here.

Economist

A one-year print & digital subscription to The Economist is $160 through the Lufthansa portal. That cost is exactly the same as what you would be charged on The Economist site without the bonus miles.

Is buying 10k Lufthansa miles for $160 a good deal? What are the best redemption options? How do you avoid fuel surcharges? What’s the best way to earn more Lufthansa miles?

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

After Aeroplan’s summer 2013 devaluation, its award chart for travel to Africa and the Middle East (especially) became expensive relative to other carriers.

Aeroplan Roundtrip Award Chart from US/Canada
Aeroplan Roundtrip Award Chart from US/Canada

Sadly, United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s double devaluation brought Air Canada Aeroplan miles in line with the likes of United and Delta.

American’s chart is decently priced for business class travel to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent. In fact, I used 67.5k AAdvantage miles for my one way award from Washington D.C. to the Maldives in business class on Etihad. Their African award chart nearly mirrors Air Canada’s.

US Airways has by far the best pricing for premium cabin travel to Africa (110k miles roundtrip in business, 150k in first), and you can still use Dividend Miles for awards on Star Alliance carriers until March 30th.

See a Comparison Table of United, US Airways, Delta, and American Airlines Award Charts.

Air Canada charges 165,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (82.5k oneway) for travel to the Middle East and North Africa comprised of the countries below.

Middle East & North Africa

82,500 miles is slightly more expensive than United’s inflated Star Alliance partner award chart. United charges 70k miles oneway for awards flying United’s own BusinessFirst product and 80k miles on Star Alliance partners.

Air Canada’s second African award chart (East/West/South Africa) encompasses the rest of the continent. An Aeroplan business class award costs 150,000 miles (75k oneway) to the below countries.

EastWestSouthAfrica

This is a better region to use Aeroplan miles over United miles, as Aeroplan business class awards will cost 5k less miles (75k oneway) than using United’s Star Alliance award chart (80k oneway).

As mentioned in previous posts, not all Star Alliance carriers are the same when redeeming Aeroplan miles. Air Canada assesses fuel surcharges on their own flights and certain partners. Luckily, most Star Alliance airlines in the African region don’t incur these fuel surcharges.

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Africa and the Middle East? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

Europe is an absolute award chart bargain compared to Aeroplan’s mileage requirement for Asian travel. After Aeroplan’s summer 2013 devaluation, its award chart for travel to Asia became very expensive relative to other carriers.

Sadly, United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s unprecedented double devaluation brought Air Canada Aeroplan miles in line with the likes of United and Delta. American and US Airways have by far the best pricing for premium cabin travel to Asia, but this post is meant for those lacking those two mileage currencies.

See a Comparison Table of United, US Airways, Delta, and American Airlines Award Charts.

Air Canada charges 150,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (75k oneway) for travel to Asia Zone 1 which represents quite a few countries, including Thailand and Vietnam that are normally grouped in a more expensive category with other frequent flyer programs.

Asia Zone 1

Seventy five thousand miles is comparable to United’s new inflated award chart. United charges 70k miles roundtrip for awards flying United’s own BusinessFirst product and 80k miles on Star Alliance partners. Delta begins charging 140k SkyMiles for business class awards to Asia for flights starting June 1, 2014.

Asia Zone 2 encompasses the rest of the continent. An Aeroplan award costs 155,000 miles (77.5k oneway) to the below countries.

Asia Zone 2

There are certain Star Alliance carriers that Air Canada assesses dreaded fuel surcharges. Choosing to fly certain partners could cost over $1,000 per person in addition to the miles!

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Asia? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

26

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

With United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s unprecedented double devaluation, Air Canada Aeroplan miles quietly became one of the best ways to fly to Europe in business class.

Air Canada’s website displays Star Alliance partners (like LOT and Singapore) that United.com lacks, and their award chart is reasonable relative to other carriers.

Air Canada only charges 90,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (45k oneway) for travel to Europe Zone 1 which represents quite a few countries.

Aeroplan Zone 1

Ninety thousand miles is 10k less than booking with US Airways or American Airlines miles. United charges 115k miles roundtrip for awards flying United’s own BusinessFirst product and a whopping 140k miles on Star Alliance partners. Delta begins charging 125k SkyMiles for business class awards to Europe for flights starting June 1.

Europe Zone 2 encompasses the rest of the continent. An Aeroplan award costs 105,000 miles (52.5k oneway) to the below countries.

Aeroplan Zone 2

Though the Aeroplan award chart pricing is favorable, there are certain Star Alliance carriers that Air Canada assesses dreaded fuel surcharges. Choosing to fly certain partners could cost over $1,000 per person in addition to the miles!

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Europe? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

4

I surprised my family of four by booking them roundtrip business class tickets to Italy for Christmas using US Airways miles. It is very difficult to find four flatbed business class award seats to Europe during peak Christmas travel time. With a bit of flexibility, I was lucky to snag a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt on the outbound and the United flight below on the inbound. I previously reviewed Lufthansa’s 747-8 business class, so I will skip ahead to the flight home.

United has recently increased their award chart prices to most regions. Flying Star Alliance partners in a premium cabin usually costs thousands of miles more than flying United itself. Those that want to conserve United miles (or Chase Ultimate Rewards) should take note of this trip report, as your mileage balance stretches further flying United metal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How was the seat? Is United BusinessFirst a truly flat bed product? Was the service (and food) to the standards of other Star Alliance business carriers? Is the Star Alliance business lounge in London a decent place to kill a few hours?

2

Brussels Airlines award space now displays on United.com! Brussels award space was previously bookable using United miles (and other Star Alliance miles like US Airways), but no Brussels flights would display when searching United’s site.

SN Award Space

This development should make getting to Europe on United miles much easier, but might degrade the once reliable award space since it’s now much easier to find and book.

image (2)
Brussels Business Class

What does availability look like on the transatlantic routes? What is flying Brussels like? Why is Brussels such a valuable Star Alliance partner?

38

Everyone knows that the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® comes with a sign up bonus worth $400 in free travel after spending $3,000 in the first three months, and that the card earns 2% back toward travel on all purchases.

Except that those numbers are wrong! The card’s sign up bonus is actually worth $430 and the card actually earns 2.15% back on all purchases.

Until we both got the card, we didn’t realize that you actually earn miles on the purchase that you redeem miles to remove from your statement. This quirk takes the value of Arrival miles from 1 to 1.075 cents.

The Arrival card’s unique earning and redemption methods make it even more valuable than it appears at first glance for people who are trying to earn elite status with an airline while minimizing out-of-pocket costs.

With the Arrival card:

  1. Pay for your flight with the Arrival World MasterCard and earn 2 Arrival miles per dollar for the purchase.
  2. Once the flight purchase posts to your account, use your Arrival miles to remove the flight charge. After the 5% rebate on redeemed Arrival miles, you redeem only 95 miles per dollar of the flight’s cost. Since you earned 2 miles per dollar and spent 95 miles per dollar, you are only out 93 miles per dollar total.
  3. Fly your itinerary and earn airline miles and elite qualifying miles.

Scott already wrote a comprehensive post Why I Got the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM, but there is actually more value to those chasing the perks of airline elite status. And you can do even better than the 1 cent value normally assigned to Arrival miles.

  • How can you maximize the value of your Arrival miles?
  • What’s the best way to earn elite status with the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard?

To show how valuable Barclaycard Arrival miles are towards gaining airline elite status, let’s use an example.

Hypothetically, let’s say you are aiming for US Airways elite status and found a mileage-run-worthy roundtrip fare from Washington-Reagan to Portland. I found the below itinerary using the handy ITA matrix which is great for uncovering such fares.

US+AA DCA-PDX

The flight above costs $242.00.

If you wanted the flight to be free instead of $242, you could redeem Arrival miles for the flight.

Getting a free trip is a two-step process:

  1. Purchase the ticket with your Arrival card and earn 484 Arrival miles (2 miles per dollar).
  2. Redeem 24,200 Arrival miles to fully eliminate the charge from your credit card statement. Instantly receive a 5% rebate when using your Arrival miles towards travel purchases. The actual cost is only 22,990 Arrival miles (24200 – 1210) factoring in the 10% rebate. For more info on the simple redemption process, check out my post, How to Redeem BarclayCard Arrival Miles.

Since you spend 22,990 Arrival miles and earned 484 on the ticket’s purchase, your account balance is 22,506 Arrival miles below where it started, and the ticket is free.

That means we have gotten 1.075 cents per mile (24200/22506) of value from our Arrival miles.

If Arrival miles deliver 1.075 cents of value, then the 40k mile sign up bonus on the Arrival card is worth $430. And the 2 miles per dollar on every purchase are like getting 2.15% back toward travel on any purchase.

That’s great news for BarclayCard MasterCard holders, but we’re still not factoring in the airline miles you earn for flying the itinerary!

DCA-PDX GC Map

Segment Path

The flights above earn 5,615 US Airways miles (even more factoring in a lucrative bonus promotion US Airways is currently running with American Airlines). Per the Mile Value Leaderboard, those US Airways Dividend miles are worth approximately $109 (1.95 cents each), adding even more value to your redemption.

Caveats

This exercise doesn’t factor in your value of time/loss of productivity while in the air nor only incidentals like gas, parking, and meals that you would normally not spend unless flying. It’s a critical concept we’ve expanded upon in the past.

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card gives 1.25 cents per point on airfare redemptions and earns the same frequent flyer/elite qualifying miles that an Arrival award ticket would. Keep in mind you might not find the best fares on Citi’s proprietary site (as Frequent Miler notes), so 1.25 cents in value for ThankYou points isn’t always a given. Also keep in mind that the Arrival card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, while the ThankYou card earns 1, 2, or 3 points per dollar depending on category.

Recap

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is touted as one of the best travel credit cards (especially for big spenders), and rightly so. You earn 2x miles on all purchases, and you receive a 5% rebate when your miles are redeemed for travel expenses.

One more benefit that folks sometimes miss is that you earn Arrival miles on all purchases, including travel purchases that you remove from your statement by redeeming Arrival miles.

After factoring in these rebates and earnings, it only costs a net of 93 Arrival miles dollar to book a free flight, meaning Arrival miles are worth 1.075 cents per mile on travel redemptions.

Don’t forget that airlines treat Arrival awards as normal cash tickets, so you are receiving standard frequent flyer miles and elite qualifying miles for the flight. That makes the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard a mileage runner’s dream. You earn lots of miles towards airline elite status for minimal out of pocket costs.

Application Link: Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®

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