Aspirational Award #2 – a.ka. How to Maximize American Airline AAdvantage Miles Using Unique Awards

Last month I booked two award tickets for my in-laws.  They have only been out of the country on a couple occasions, so this trip to 3 destinations in South America, and 1 Caribbean destination, in business class, would be an incredible experience for them.  The best part, it only cost 90,000 American AAdvantage Miles per person. Normally, a North America to Argentina award in business class on American costs 100,000 miles per person.  And you only get one stopover, which has to be the gateway north American city.  So compared to this my in-laws trip is a significantly better value

Here’s how:

  • American has the Oneworld Explorer Award.  It is an award that charges you points in proportion to how many miles you fly on American or their partners.  You have to use at least two of their partners to qualify for this award.  It is available as an open-jaw, round-trip, or one-way.  You can have up to 16 segments.
  • My in-laws live 1 hour from Tampa or Orlando airport, or 3 hours from Miami airport.  Doing Tampa, to Miami, to Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina and back is 8,888 miles.  Per the Oneworld Explorer award chart, trips of 9,001 miles to 10,000 miles (Zone 4) in length cost 90,000 American Airlines points in business class.
  • However, to use this, they would have to fly two partner carriers.  LAN and American serve South America from Miami, but no other Oneworld partner airlinesSo somehow I had to add another partner carrier to the trip, but wasn’t sure how.

Here in lies a well kept secret for Oneworld Explorer award bookings.

  •  British airways flies a few fifth-freedom flights in the Caribbean.  Head For Points does a great job examining these.  Two examples are Nassau to Grand Cayman Island, and Nassau to Turks & Caicos.  Basically the plane comes in from London to Nassau, stops, and then finishes the flight to one of these destinations.  This is an amazing tool to enable a Oneworld Explorer award where you only have 1 partner carrier and need a 2nd to qualify for all the rules!  Just add one of these British Airways fifth freedom flights to your trip.
  • If your Oneworld Explorer award is a one-way, you can potentially add one of these legs as an open-jaw at the end of your trip.  Or you can add a Carribbean vacation on the end of your Oneworld Explorer award.

In the case of my in-laws, the booking went like this:

  • Tampa – Miami – Lima (3 day stopover in Lima)
  • Lima – Santiago (3 day stopover in Santiago)
  • Santiago – Mendoza (5 day stopover in Mendoza)
  • Mendoza – Santiago – Miami (3 month stopover in Miami.  My in-laws would drive home 3 hours from Miami airport, and resume their lives as normal)
  • Nassau – Providenciales, Turks & Caicos (4 day stopover in Providenciales. Basically, I have made this ticket as an open jaw, where it goes from Tampa to Miami via South America, then has surface travel, and resumes again in Providenciales back to Tampa.  My in-laws have to buy Tampa/Orlando to Nassau ticket themselves, which are only $85 on BahamasAir.  The Nassau to Providenciales is on BritishAirways, making it become a valid Oneworld Explorer award)
  • Providenciales – Miami – Tampa (finish the trip)

To recap, they have a business class award ticket to Lima, Santiago, Mendoza, and Providenciales for only 90,000 American Airlines points as this trip comes in at 9,880 flown miles, just under the 9,999 limit.  They are only out of pocket the taxes/fees American charges, which was in this case $402 a ticket, and $85 to buy the one-way Tampa/Orlando to Nassau ticket).  What an amazing value!  Again, just Santiago or Mendoza alone from Tampa would be 100,000 miles with a stop-over only allowed in Miami.

Only 9,866 miles, thus 90,000 American AAdvantage miles per person to 4 destinations!

map2

I hope this will be a memorable award trip for my in-laws.  They will love LAN and AA international business class experience on the MIA – LIM, LIM – SCL, SCL – MIA, and NAS – PLS legs of this trip.

 

Aspirational Air Award – Real Life Experience #1

Over the course of this blog, I will note aspirational air award tickets I have booked for my friends and I.  Last night I was able to get an amazing business class award ticket to Dubai and Croatia for my friend Chad and his wife using US Airways miles.

Chad has earned his US Airways miles the hard way, mostly butt-in-seat miles.  However, he rents an AVIS car each week for work, and AVIS continues to give 3,000 US Air Miles per 3 day rental.  He now had at least 240,000 US Airways miles which are what is required for 2 business class to the Middle East region.

US Airways has some very bizarre award routing rules, that can work to your advantage.  However, many of their agents are not well versed in the rules, nor geography, so creative routings can ensue.  In general, US Airways rules for international partner tickets include:

  • You get one stopover and destination, or an open-jaw.  Not both.
  • The stopover has to be in a Star Alliance hub city, or a US Airways international destination (and if not a Star Alliance hub city, but a US Airways international destination, you are supposed to arrive to that city on US Airways)
  • You cannot have more than 8 segments (although sometimes folks are able to get one-off exceptions)

Chad’s award was for about 3.5 months from now, and availability, especially to Europe was not that good.  I used a combination of United Airlines website to search for each segment in a one-way award search and this tool.  I have no idea who has created the tool, but it works really well for Star Alliance awards.  They are an awesome programmer, that is all I can say.  It is important to search segment by segment for your preferred routing to piece together a workable award, especially when availability is tight.

Here is what we ended up with for Chad:

Charlotte – Munich – Zagreb – Split

  • Split as a stopover on the way to Dubai.  Split is a Croatia Airlines hub city, which is part of the star alliance.  The first agent I called at US Airways to book this insisted Zagreb was the only Croatia Airlines hub.  She even pulled out some list, I have never heard of before, of allowable stopover cities by partner carrier.  Thessaloniki Greece was even on this list as part of Aegean Airways.  But not Splut.  I politely hung up and called back, and the next agent I spoke with was fine with Split as a stopover city.
  • Lufthansa on Charlotte to Munich has a pretty solid business class, although some don’t like that the seats aren’t horizontal lay flat, and rather angled lay flat.  It is still a very solid product.
  • Munich to Split was availabile direct, but would have required a 9 hour layover in Munich.  Thus we did the connection in Zagreb so they could get there much sooner.  Interestingly enough, Croatia airlines offers business class on a turboprob.  That should be interesting!
  • 5 day layover in Split to stay at a Starwood hotel, like Le Meridien Split.  You can do buy 4 nights, get 1 free on points which is an excellent value.  Chad earned the 40,000 Starwood points required for this hotel buy signing up for the SPG Credit Card for he and his wife.  This hotel does not suck.

Split – Vienna

  • Vienna has a 23 hour, 30 minute layover.  This is a well kept secret.  All connections less than 24 hours on US Airways international award tickets don’t count as a stopover, allowing you to have a quick day and a night at a city to get a feel for it.  Going Split to Dubai didn’t have great availability for the last day of their stay in Split, but there was a really good Vienna to Dubai direct flight on Austrian Airways (with new, awesome business class) so a 23 hour layover on Vienna was on order.

Vienna – Dubai

  • Dubai as the destination.  6 nights in Dubai.  They will probably stat the Ritz-Carlton through Marriott points earned from Marriott stays and opening up the Marriott credit card for Chad and his wife.

Dubai – Washington – Detroit

  • Detroit as another 23 hour layover so Chad and his wife could see some family in Michigan.  A direct Washington to Charlotte was available, so this one was tricky for an agent to go along with since it was a boondoggle.  However, with some polite pushing, the agent was willing to see if the computer and supervisors would accept it.  And they did!
  • The Dubai – Washington is a 14 hour monster flight on United Airlines.  The day they reserved, was the only day Dubai to Washington was available for 2 business class seats in a 2 month period!  They got lucky here as this is an awesome 777 lay flat seat, with some seats even facing in reverse!

Detroit – Charlotte

  • After 23 hours in Detroit, a quick domestic first class flight home.

Overall, this is 7 segments, a stopover in Split, a Destination in Dubai, and 2 23 hour+ layovers in Detroit and Vienna to see family and explore.  A real value at 120,000 US Airways points each in business class and $119 in taxes and fees each. Almost 16,000 nautical miles flown! US Airways charges WAY less taxes and fees than most carriers.  If this ticket was booked on ANA or British Air for example, it would be $1,000+ per ticket, just in taxes and fees!

What a routing!

What a routing!