Four Dream Trip Itineraries

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Home for Christmas

Trip: From anywhere to anywhere by air
Cabin: economy
Miles Needed: depends on the cash price of the ticket you want
How You’ll Get Them: Arrival Plus ($3,000/3 months)
Taxes/Fees/Fuel Surcharges: $0 out of pocket

First let’s talk about how you shouldn’t try to get home for free. Do not use traditional region-to-region airline miles.

If you try to use traditional region-to-region airline miles, you will get very bad value for your miles. That means don’t try to collect or use United, American, Delta, or Aeroplan miles for the trip.

Why not?

First, you’ll have to find Saver award space on the days and flights you want in order to get the Saver price of 25,000 miles for a roundtrip in economy. Airlines only release Saver award space when they expect to have unsold seats. At peak times like Christmas, airlines expect to sell all their seats, so you might have to shell out 50,000 miles for a roundtrip in economy class at the Standard award level.

Spending 50,000 miles on a roundtrip economy ticket is awful when the same 50,000 American Airlines miles could get you a one way to Europe in flat bed business class or a roundtrip in economy.

If not region-to-region miles, then what?

You want to use credit card points that pretend to be miles. The card to get is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. Here’s the plan in three easy steps:

  1. Get the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®.
  2. Spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months. Buy your flight home for Christmas as part of this $3,000. Also book a hotel or car rental as part of the $3,000 if they are a necessary part of the trip.
  3. Redeem your Arrival miles online retroactively. You can get $400 of free flights, hotels, and car rentals.
1. GET THE ARRIVAL PLUS

The first step is to apply for the Arrival Plus.

2. SPEND $3,000 IN THE FIRST THREE MONTHS, INCLUDING YOUR TRIP HOME

The next step is to use the card for your daily purchases until you hit at least $3,000 in the first three months, which will unlock the card’s 40,000 Arrival mile bonus.

Since the card earns double miles on all purchases, after spending $3,000, you will have 46,000 Arrival miles in your account.

Make sure to include your travel expenses home for Christmas on the card. Travel expenses include:

  • Airfare booked on the airline’s website or through travel agencies (e.g. Expedia)
  • Hotels
  • Motels
  • Resorts
  • Passenger Railways
  • Car Rental Agencies

Arrival miles are worth 1.075 cents each when redeemed for travel expenses and far less when redeemed for other purchases, so it’s imperative to use the card for at least $482 worth of travel expenses in order to use our 46,000 Arrival miles to remove the $482 worth of travel expenses.

3. REDEEM THE ARRIVAL MILES FOR $482 WORTH OF FREE TRAVEL

Redeeming Arrival miles is incredibly simple. All the travel purchases we made in the course of meeting our minimum spending requirement are put together in one place in our online Barclaycard account, and we can use miles to remove those charges from our bill any time in the 120 days after making the purchases.

Upon making a travel redemption, 5% of the miles used for the redemption are automatically rebated to your account.

I’ll walk through a recent redemption of mine with screenshots.

After signing into my Barclaycard account, I clicked on Manage Rewards where my Arrival miles balance was shown. If you’ve completed steps one and two, your balance should be 46,000+ Arrival miles.

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On the page dedicated to rewards, choose to “Pay yourself back for travel” because as I mentioned, that is the highest value redemption of Arrival miles.

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On the next screen, a list of all travel purchases for the last 120 days will appear.

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Mine (above) included two Southwest flights, a motel booking through kayak.com, and a $100 change fee on a United award. Yours will include your flight home for Christmas and hotel or car rental charges.

If you click “Redeem now” next to any charge, you are given redemption options to remove the charge in its entirety or to remove $25 increments.

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You are taken to a final confirmation screen where your current balance, the miles needed for your redemption, and your new balance are shown.

Here’s me about to do three redemptions at once to get $398 in free travel:

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Immediately after clicking “Place your order”, you are given an instant 5% rebate of the miles you just redeemed. (The rebate used to be 10%, so that’s what’s shown below, but the current rebate is 5%).

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With your new balance, make more redemptions. My rebate put me over the 5,000 mile threshold needed to make another $50 redemption.

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For every redemption, you will get an email like this:

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The email explains that your statement credits will appear in 5-7 business days. Mine actually appeared the next day in my account.

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My redemptions were reflected in my current balance being less than my statement balance even though I hadn’t yet made a payment.

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THE MATH OF $482 IN FREE TRAVEL

You spend $3,000 on the card at 2 miles per dollar for 6,000 miles from spending. That spending unlocks a 40,000 miles bonus for 46,000 total Arrival miles.

You redeem 45,000 Arrival miles for $450 off one or more travel expenses, and you have 3,250 Arrival miles left in your account.

46k balance – 45k redemption = 1k, 1k + 2,250 [instant 5% rebate] = 3,250

You can redeem those miles for $32.5 off another travel expense, get another 5% rebate, and repeat the process.

A $450 redemption plus a $32.50 redemption is $482 in free travel!

Two Other Bonuses

The airline on which you fly home will award you frequent flyer miles and status for the flight because it sees your ticket as a cash ticket. If you instead redeem United miles to go home, that award would not earn miles or status.

You earn 2 Arrival miles per dollar even on the purchases that you later eliminate by redeeming Arrival miles for an offsetting credit.

Washington DC to Honolulu

Trip: applicable for anywhere from continental United States to any Hawaiian Island
Cabin: economy or First Class
Miles Needed: 17,500 Singapore miles per direction in economy, 30,000 in First Class
How You’ll Get Them: ThankYou Premier ($3,000/3 months)
Taxes/Fees/Fuel Surcharges: $11 per person roundtrip

I normally see fares from the East Coast to Hawaii in the $1,000 range. You can do better or course, but at that price, you would need about 100,000 Arrival miles for a roundtrip in economy. That shows that Credit Card Points Pretending to be Miles are a poor value for the trip. We want traditional Region Based miles from most of the United States to Hawaii. (The exception is that folks who live on the West Coast getter a better deal with the Distance Based Avios.)

United Airlines serves all four major Hawaiian Islands and releases the most Saver award space on its flights to Hawaii, but we won’t use United miles. We will use United’s partner, Singapore’s, miles. Remember that partner miles always have access to all the Saver space released by their partners (with very few exceptions.)

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

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

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

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

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

  • Singapore awards cost fewer miles than United awards
  • Singapore awards are way cheaper to change or cancel than United awards if your plans change
  • Singapore awards do not have a fee for booking within three weeks of departure like United awards do
  • Singapore awards of United flights do not have fuel surcharges, so both types of awards will just have identical taxes of around $11 roundtrip.
  • Singapore miles are easier to get than United miles.

There are four steps to booking your award from the East Coast to Hawaii.

1. Get a ThankYou Premier

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

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

Right now, the best card to get Singapore miles is the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card with 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.

Find an application link to the Citi ThankYou Premier at milevalue.com/booklinks

2. Search for Award Space on United.com

You will have to search for award space on the United flights on united.com even though you are booking with Singapore miles because Singapore’s website doesn’t show United award space. We will later call Singapore Airlines at to book the award.

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

You can search for award space right on the home page of united.com by checking “Search for award travel.”

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How to Interpret the Calendar

The first thing you’ll notice when you search for award space to Hawaii on united.com is that it’s widely available for much of the year. Here’s a calendar of February and March 2016 from Washington DC to Honolulu. Yellow days have Saver economy award space; blue days have Saver First Class space; green days have Saver space in both cabins. Singapore miles can book all the Saver space that is depicted on these calendars.

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How to Interpret the Itineraries

Once you select a date, the itineraries will be displayed from shortest travel time to longest travel time. Most results will have three columns of award space. You only need to pay attention to the first two, “Economy (lowest)” and “First Saver Award.” Singapore miles can book all the award space in the First Saver Award column. Singapore miles can book all the award space in the Economy (lowest) column that is priced at 22.5k each way and says Saver award above the 22.5k. (You will not pay 22.5k Singapore miles.) Singapore miles cannot book any other space on united.com.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 5.56.59 PMIn the First Saver Award column, you may see a red bar that says “Mixed cabin.” Hover your cursor over that to see which flights are in which cabin.Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 5.57.08 PMYou can book mixed cabin awards with Singapore miles, but you get no discount on the 30,000 mile price each way.

While searching, you are just looking for Saver award space. You can ignore the number of miles and united.com says the award will cost. You will pay the number of Singapore miles I’ve mentioned several times: 17.5k each way in economy and 30k in First. You will also pay about $5.60 each way in taxes and no fees.Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 6.05.57 PM

Write down the date, cabin, and flight number of each segment of the award you want in both directions. You will need this when calling Singapore to book.

Flat Beds

On United flights to Hawaii, you can occasionally find flat beds in First Class. To find out if your plane has flat beds, click Seats on the itinerary. Regular First Class recliner seats look like squares with rounded edges.
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Beds look like little beds.Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 8.02.26 PM

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

3. Create a Singapore Account Transfer Your Points to Singapore Miles

Google “Join Singapore Krisflyer” and click the top link to open a free Singapore Airlines frequent flyer account.

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

Once I find award space, I initiate the transfer by signing into my Citi ThankYou account and following the links to transfer points to Singapore miles.

Award space changes all the time, so in a worst case scenario, your award space could disappear before your miles posted. I can handle the small chance that my award space will disappear. Maybe it will reappear later. If not, I can always use Singapore miles in the future for a different high value award. If you cannot handle that, transfer your ThankYou Points to Singapore miles before you start searching (i.e. reverse steps 2 and 3.)

I avoid transferring to Singapore miles before finding award space because I like to maintain all my transfer options with my transferable points until I know for sure which type of miles I want to transfer to.

4. Book the Singapore Award

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

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

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

The agent will charge you taxes denominated in Singapore dollars. If you convert that price to US dollars, it should be about $5.60 per person per direction, the standard taxes on domestic awards. Pay with a card with no foreign transaction fees like the Citi ThankYou Premier.

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

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Picking Seats

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

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

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

Los Angeles to to Sydney to Bangkok to Los Angeles

Trip: applicable for anywhere from continental United States to anywhere in Australia or New Zealand to anywhere in Southeast Asia
Cabin: economy on two parts, First Class on one
Miles Needed: 72,500 American Airlines miles and 40,000 United miles
How You’ll Get Them: Citi AAdvantage Executive Card ($7,500/3 months) and Sapphire Preferred ($4,000/3 months)
Taxes/Fees/Fuel Surcharges: $137 per person total

We are going to book three separate awards.

  1. From our home airport (I’ll use Los Angeles here, but it can be anywhere in the US49 or Canada) to Sydney (could be anywhere in Australia or New Zealand) in economy with American Airlines miles
  2. From Sydney to Bangkok (could be anywhere in Southeast Asia) in First Class with United miles
  3. From Bangkok to our home airport in economy with American Airlines miles

American Airlines charges (one way prices):

  • 37,500 miles in economy between United States/Canada and Australia/New Zealand
  • 62,500 miles in business
  • 72,500 miles in first
  • 35,000 miles in economy between United States/Canada and SE Asia
  • 55,000 miles in business
  • 67,500 miles in first

United charges (one way prices):

  • 17,500 miles in economy between Australia/New Zealand and SE Asia
  • 30,000 miles in business
  • 40,000 miles in first

The bolded awards are the ones we’re planning to book, but you could book business and first class on all legs by opening more credit cards.

This time there are also four steps to booking the trip.

1. Open the AAdvantage Executive and Sapphire Preferred

The AAdvantage Executive offers 75,000 bonus American Airlines after spending $7,500 in the first three months. It has a $450 annual fee, and that offers full membership to Admirals Club lounges at 90 locations worldwide for you, your spouse, and all children under 18 OR you and any two guests.

The Sapphire Preferred offers 40,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months. It offers an extra 5,000 points for adding an authorized user when you apply. That card is sent to you, so you can add anyone and cut it up when it arrives. It has no annual fee the first year, then $95. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.

Both cards’ application links can be found at milevalue.com/booklinks

If the annual fee on the AAdvantage Executive card is too high, you can sub in two cards in its place:

  1. The American Airlines Platinum card with 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in three months and no annual fee the first year ($95 thereafter)
  2. The Starwoord Preferred Guest American Express with 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 in three months and no annual fee the first year ($95 thereafter). Starpoints transfer 1:1 to American Airlines with a 5,000 miles bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred, so 25k Starpoints = 30k AA miles

Or if you wanted to fly Business Class on all the longhaul flights, you could the AAdvantage Executive card and the American Airlines Platinum card. Just make sure you get them at least eight days apart because both are issued by Citi, and Citi won’t approve two cards within a week.

2. Find Award Space on American Airlines Award and Put Them on Hold

From the United States to Australia, American Airlines and Qantas are the key partners of American Airlines miles.

Routes & Award Space

American flies from:

  • Los Angeles to Sydney (starting December 17, 2015)

Qantas flies from:

  • Los Angeles to Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne
  • Dallas to Sydney
  • San Francisco to Sydney (starting December 20, 2015)
  • Honolulu to Sydney
  • New York-JFK to Los Angeles to Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne

Both airlines are searchable on aa.com, so we will search there.

To get to Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco, New York, or Honolulu, you can fly American Airlines for zero extra miles as long as you find Saver award space. In Sydney, Brisbane, or Melbourne, you can connect anywhere else in Australia or New Zealand for zero extra miles as long as you find Saver award space.

Award Space

Economy award space for two passengers is excellent on all routes for most of the year. I basically never see Business or First Class space for two passengers on the same flight between the United States and Australia. Occasionally there is one award seat in Business or First Class, but even these are extremely rare.

Los Angeles to Melbourne typifies the excellent award space on Qantas flights in economy for two passengers.

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The total taxes are $26 on the one way award.

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Business Class award space on Qantas between the United States and Australia is rare, but it exists if you’re traveling solo.

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First Class award space is even rarer. I sometimes see it like these seats that were available for booking in February 2015 for October 2015 travel, but I don’t see any at the moment.

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It is a shame because Qantas First Class looks awesome!

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Once you find award space from your home airport to where you want to go in Australia or New Zealand on aa.com, do not book it. Go through all the steps of filling in the passenger information and selecting seats, but select AAdvantage Hold instead of paying. This holds the award space for five days.

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Now we move on to the return from Southeast Asia. American Airlines doesn’t fly south of Hong Kong in Southeast Asia, so we will need to find award space on Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragonair either to connect to an American Airlines flight or to come all the way home. Cathay Pacific award space is NOT searchable on aa.com. Instead we will search it on ba.com, which I explained how to do in Module 2.

Cathay Pacific flies from Hong Kong to New York-JFK, Newark, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In the case of our example, we would search from Bangkok to Los Angeles. If you live somewhere else, I would search from Bangkok to the nearest on of Cathay Pacific’s destinations and then search for American Airlines award space from there to your home airport.

Any Cathay Pacific or Dragonair award space on ba.com is bookable with American Airlines miles. Note the date, cabin, and flight number of the award space, call 800-882-8880 and feed those details to an American Airlines phone agent. Ask the phone agent to put the award on a five day hold for you, and she will you give you the confirmation number. She will quote taxes of about $51.

3. Find Award Space for United Airlines Award

The main United partner flying from Australia and New Zealand to Southeast Asia is Thai Airways. You can search and book Thai Airways award space on united.com. Just click “Search for award travel” on the home page.

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Award space is excellent on Thai’s two daily flights. You are looking in the First Saver Award column.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 5.12.33 PMThe award costs 40,000 miles and $60 one way for a top-of-the-line, flat-bed international First Class product with amazing food and service.

4. Transfer Ultimate Rewards, Book All Three Awards

Once you’ve held the American Airlines award and found the United award, you can sign into your Chase account and transfer Ultimate Rewards to your United account instantly. Just sign out of and back into your United account, and they should be there.

Then book the United award on Thai Airways.

Then book the two held American Airlines awards–the one to Australia online and the one home by phone.

The taxes on the three awards add up to about $137 total per person.

This trip has a lot of scope for further exploration in Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia. Within Southeast Asia, I’d recommend low-cost carriers to hop around. They are plentiful and cheap. Within Australia and New Zealand, I’d recommend booking awards on Qantas flights with Avios.

South America Hopper

Trip: to and within South America
Cabin: economy or business class
Miles Needed: Cathay Pacific Asia miles, the exact number depends on your exact journey. I’ll show an amazing 11 city journey that costs 85,000 miles in economy and 115,000 in business
How You’ll Get Them: Citi ThankYou Premier ($3,000/3 months) and Citi Prestige ($3,000/3 months)
Taxes/Fees/Fuel Surcharges: ballpark the taxes at $30 per segment, no fees or fuel surcharges

I’m going to show you how to book a mega-award to South America with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles–a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points, American Express Membership Rewards, and SPG Starpoints.

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Asia Miles can be used to book any oneworld airline‘s award space plus space on its partners Aer Lingus and Alaska Airlines.

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Asia Miles charges fuel surcharges on award tickets when the equivalent cash tickets would have fuel surcharges. In practice, that means all Asia Miles awards will have fuel surcharges except flights on:

  • airberlin
  • Niki (Austrian low-cost subsidiary of airberlin that flies to these destinations)
  • S7 (Russian airline)
  • American Airlines flights within the Americas
  • LAN Airlines (South American airline)
  • TAM Airlines (Brazilian Airline with Paraguayan subsidiary)
  • Alaska Airlines

Since I like to avoid fuel surcharges, I would almost exclusively book those flights with Asia Miles. Asia Miles awards that don’t include a segment on Cathay Pacific (which I would book with American Airlines or Alaska miles, not Asia Miles) can have 5 stopovers, 2 open-jaws, and 2 transfers. I’ll discuss these rules in detail later.

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Add up the distance flown on all the flights, and then read the award price off this distance-based award chart.

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As you can see, there are a number of sweet spots in economy since the price barely rises from 1,001-4,000 miles flown or from 4,001-7,000 miles flown or from 10,001-20,000 miles flown.

In Business Class, the prices rises more steadily, but just under 9,000 miles flown looks pretty sweet.

The First Class chart is largely irrelevant because the only First Class by an airline on the no-fuel-surcharges list is American Airlines First Class, which isn’t that great and is being removed from most planes.

Rules for Awards

There are two award charts, each with its own set of rules. This post will only focus on the chart for awards that contain:

  • Two oneworld alliance airlines, where Cathay Pacific or Dragonair is not included; or
  • Three or more oneworld alliance airlines when Cathay Pacific or Dragonair is included.

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Cathay Pacific and Dragonair don’t fly to South America, so we’ll always be on the “oneworld Multi-Carrier Awards Chart.”

The big rule of the multi-carrier award chart is:

  • You can make a maximum of five stopovers, two transfers and two open-jaws at either origin, en-route or turnaround point, subject to airline partners’ terms and conditions.

Here’s what I’ve figured out:

  1. As usual a transfer is a layover of less than 24 hours. A stopover is a layover of more than 24 hours.
  2. If you need more transfers than the 2 allowed, you can ask an agent to count a transfer as a stopover. As an example, say you want to have 3 transfers and 3 stopovers–something like JFK-MIA-BOG; BOG-LIM-SCL; SCL-EZE; EZE-MIA-JFK where the stopovers are denoted by a semicolon after the airport code–this is illegal. But if you make a transfer a stopover, now you have 2 transfers and 4 stopovers, which is OK. Ask the agent to make the first Miami transfer a stopover even though it is under 24 hours.
  3. You get 5 stopovers for 5 total 24+ hour stops. With other types of miles, if an award is allowed one stopover, like a roundtrip United award, that’s in addition to your 1 destination, so you really get to stop 24+ hours in 2 places. Here you get 5 total, not 5 + 1.
  4. Open jaws do NOT count as a stopover. As an example, a super-simple award like Miami to Lima, returning Quito to Miami has 1 open jaw, zero stopovers, and zero transfers. That is an award that sees two places with no stopovers.
  5. That means your 5 stopovers plus 2 open jaws, which each can see two places without burning a stopover is already 9 places you can see. Add in the under-24 hour transfers, and you can see 11 places.
  6. Unfortunately not all agents are well trained on the point that open jaws do NOT count as stopovers. Some agents will count open jaws as stopovers, but you should just ask them to try putting your routing into the system and the system will accept a routing with 5 stopovers plus 2 other open jaws. You may have best results calling the agents on the Cantonese line and then speaking English with them because these are the best-trained agents.
  7. An open jaw may be at any point during the award or even between where the award begins and ends. Some agents say that if there is an open jaw between the first and last city of an award, both cities must be in the same country.
  8. You may be able to later transit your origin region or even stopover there (which would allow you to combine two separate trips onto one cheap award. Here is an example of someone who ticketed Brazil/Argentina/Peru and a later trip to San Francisco onto one award.)
  9. The Asia Miles website suggests filling out a form to request your award. Don’t. Call in to book your awards
  10. The ticketing time on awards–the time from your call until you receive a final confirmation that everything is ticketed–is between 15 hours and one week.

Here’s an award that follows all those rules that sees 11 cities in South America.

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  • Miami to Baranquilla, Colombia (1) on American Airlines. Stopover #1
  • Baranquilla to Bogota, Colombia (2) on LAN Airlines, layover of less than 24 hours, enough time to see a few museums and go out for a night. Transfer #1
  • Bogota to Lima, Peru (3) on LAN Airlines. Stopover #2
  • Lima to Santiago, Chile (4) on LAN Airlines. Stopover #3
  • Santiago to Buenos Aires, Argentina (5) on LAN Airlines. Stopover #4
  • Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo, Brazil (6) on LAN Airlines, layover of less than 24 hours, enough time to eat at a churrascaria and go out for a night. Transfer #2
  • Sao Paulo to Foz do Iguacu, Brazil (7) on TAM Airlines. Open Jaw #1 because you will not fly out of Foz do Iguacu
  • Porto Alegere, Brazil (8) to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (9) on TAM Airlines. Stopover #5
  • Rio de Janeiro to Natal, Brazil (10) on TAM Airlines. Open Jaw #2 because you will not fly out of Natal
  • Recife, Brazil (11) to Miami on American Airlines.

There are holes in two spots in Brazil that you can fill with buses or separate cash or award tickets.

The flown distance is 12,330 miles according to Great Circle Mapper, so this award would cost 85,000 Asia Miles in economy or 115,000 Asia Miles in Business Class plus government taxes. There would be no fuel surcharges.

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Practical Considerations

If you don’t live in Miami or Dallas, you’ll probably need to use your two transfers to get to and from those cities. The vast majority of South American flights on oneworld leave from Miami and Dallas, so if you live somewhere like Los Angeles, you will probably need one transfer in each direction to start and finish the award.

Here is an award from Los Angeles with four stopovers in South America, two transfers in the United States, and zero open jaws.

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That’s not to say that all international flights to the Americas leave from Miami and Dallas. The following cities all have international flights on American or Alaska Airlines. The black dots mostly have flights to Mexican vacation destinations, of which only Cancun is well connected to South America.

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Open jaws are so powerful because they don’t cost you a stopover and you get two see two places. Some easy open jaws:

  • between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, which is served by a two-hour ferry
  • between Foz do Iguacu, Brazil and Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, which is a short car ride (and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay is right there too, but that is the sketchiest and most boring city I’ve visited in South America)
  • Punta Arenas, Chile and El Calafate, Argentina are a five-hour bus ride apart
  • Many Central American capitals are very close
  • Santiago, Chile and Mendoza, Argentina are a common bus-ride apart
  • Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina are not convenient A to B, but an open jaw between the two would allow you to explore Patagonia by boat, bus, and small airplane like I did last December

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Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires all have at least two major airports. I do not know whether flying into one airport and out of another airport in those cities counts as an open jaw or whether the airports are considered coterminal like JFK/LGA/EWR usually are in New York.

Fun Considerations

LAN flies to the Galapagos Islands (GPS is one airport) from Guayaquil and Quito, Peru.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 7.21.06 AM

LAN flies to Easter Island from Santiago and Lima.

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There’s no reason your award has to start in the United States. It could make sense to book awards from the United States to South America and then just hop around in South America on an Asia Miles award. This one would be 35,000 miles in economy, and you can still add more segments and stops.

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 5.21.26 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-14 at 5.21.45 PM

If you convince an agent to let you stopover in your city of origin, you can have two trips on a single cheap award. This award is Dallas to Cancun roundtrip, followed months later by Dallas to Bogota to Lima, open jaw returning Cuzco to Lima to Dallas. It would cost 65,000 Asia Miles in economy and 95,000 in Business Class.

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Getting the Miles

Asia Miles are a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points. The transfer takes one business day. You can get 106,000 ThankYou Points by opening the Citi ThankYou Premier and Citi Prestige eight days apart. You can use 106,000 ThankYou Points for up to 20,000 miles flown in economy on a single award or 10,000 miles in Business Class.

  • Citi ThankYou® Premier Card50,000 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
  • Citi Prestige® Card: 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. The card also comes earns 3x points on airfare and hotels and has a host of benefits like lounge access and $250 in free airfare per year.

Links to the application pages of both cards are available at milevalue.com/booklinks

Searching

The relevant airlines for a South America awards are American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, LAN, and TAM.

American and Alaska are best searched on aa.com. You can only use MileSAAver award space.

LAN and TAM are best searched on ba.com. You can use any award space you see there.

Booking

Once you’ve found the award space, call Asia Miles at 866-892-2598 to book the award. Feed the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each flight you found with award space.

If your award comes close to maxing out the 5 stopovers, 2 open jaws, or 2 transfers, I would proactively lead the call by saying things like, “Next is Bogota to Lima on January 10 on LAN flight 123 in economy. Bogota is my first open jaw because I continue the award from Quito. The next flight is…” The agents seem to have some discretion in their counting, so you want to suggest how they count.

If you’re having trouble with the Asia Miles agents at that number, call the Cantonese line at +852 2747 3838 from your gmail account for 2 cents per minute.

Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges

Taxes will vary based on your routing. I would make a ballpark estimate of about $30 per segment flown. There are no fees or fuel surcharges on this award.

 

 


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