There are a lot of reasons to use an Award Booking Service, like the MileValue Award Booking Service. One great reason is because you have miles in several accounts and want to use the most efficient type for the trip you have in mind. Different miles have different best uses.
Recently I was contacted by a friend who had mid-six-figure account balances in his American, United, and Delta accounts. He wanted a simple open jaw trip to Europe in economy class. From Washington-Dulles to Nice and returning from London to Dulles.
Below is the email I sent to him. The only edits are that I have inserted images that I attached to the email, and I have added some hyperlinks to other posts that expand on a point I am making in the email.
In the email you’ll see the options I presented, and how I was able to book him a free oneway and an award that got him 2.3 cents of value for each United mile!
I wanted to let you in on what I’ve found.
First, I don’t know if you have any flexibility, but when possible on open jaw trips I recommend flying into London and out of France. The UK has the highest departure taxes in the world of about $155.
This is more of an issue when flying business class where it’s more like $250. But you could save money by reversing the directions of this trip. If that’s possible, let me know.
I started with United miles as you directed. The return is super easy. There are four direct flights on your preferred date, all with space in economy. These are all the saver price of 30k miles.
The outbound is a lot trickier. The best option, and the only one that gets you in on your desired day leaves the day before and has an overnight in London. It’s one of those weird daytime flights to Europe, then a night at an airport hotel and London-Frankfurt-Nice then next day, arriving at 2:05 PM on your desired day. This is the earliest arrival possible. It’s not ideal, but it is the best 30k saver option.
The other option for the outbound is to book a “standard” award for 55,000 miles. The itinerary is a lot better, since it is one stop, a redeye across the Atlantic, and doesn’t require an overnight en route.
I hate to book “standard” price awards, but this might not be horrible for a few reasons. One, the roundtrip award would only be 85k miles + taxes, which is a steal compared to the $2,200 itinerary you found, and the award itinerary would actually be more convenient than the paid one you mentioned. [The paid itinerary he was considering had a one-stop return.] Second, within a week of departure United and Lufthansa tend to open up a lot of award space if seats are unsold–especially in business and first, but also in economy. When that happens, we can rebook that space.
If we rebook to saver economy, the award would be 60k miles like we want. If there is no saver economy space, but there is saver business, that would be an 80k mile award. It would save 5k miles and get you in business one way as a surprise treat. The one drawback of a last minute rebooking is the $75 fee for making a change within 21 days of departure, but that is swamped by saving 25k miles or saving 5k and upgrading to business class.
There are no guarantees with award space, but I would estimate the chances of a good saver economy itinerary opening up at 50%; a good saver business has an 80% chance of opening up.
American Airlines miles
For good measure, I looked at award space with AA miles next. The big problem is that if you book British Airways flights with AA miles, you incur fuel surcharges of about $300 per transatlantic segment. This is a big enough drawback on business awards, but on economy awards like this one, it’s a near deal killer.
I didn’t find any transatlantic award space that we could use on the no- or low-surcharge AA partners. I did find space on a BA flight, leaving and arriving one day later than you want. It cost 30,000 AA miles and $315.
This compares to taxes of about $40 to $60 on the outbounds with United miles.
There were no good return options with AA miles.
Finally I checked space with your Delta miles. This was a bust. I didn’t find any good space on Delta or any of its partners. (I even looked at routing you through Russia on Aeroflot, which surely would have been an adventure!)
Putting it All Together
Both United and American can be used to book oneway awards. The return should pretty clearly be on your preferred flight of the four direct LHR-IAD flights on United.
For the outbound, you can choose the overnight in London, the “standard” award with the great schedule, or the fuel-surcharged and day-late BA itinerary.
If you choose to overnight in London, the total cost will be 60k United miles plus taxes and fees of about $210. The cool this is that you can add a FREE ONEWAY to this trip. By that I mean that sometime between your return from London and April 2, 2014, you can fly a oneway trip on United from Dulles to somewhere else–pretty much anywhere else. If that somewhere is in the continental US or Canada, it will cost $2.50 and zero miles to add to the award. If that somewhere else is in Hawaii, it will cost 2,500 miles and a few dollars. If it’s in Peru, it will cost 10,000 miles. Let me know when and where, and we’ll book the award to include the free or cheap oneway.
If you choose the perfect outbound via Frankfurt, the total cost will be 85k United miles plus taxes and fees of about $220. This trip would be eligible for the same additional free or cheap oneway (although some of the cheap oneways’ mile costs will be slightly different than those quoted in the last paragraph.)
If you choose the day-late outbound on BA, the total cost will be 30k United miles, 30k AA miles, and taxes/fees of about $500. This trip would be eligible for a free oneway but only between now and your departure date from anywhere in Canada, the US, or Mexico to Washington on AA or an AA partner.
Please let me know your thoughts on how you want to proceed. If you select something, I should be able to put it on hold for you to call in and ticket.
I wanted to give an example of how I think, how I search, and how I communicate about award bookings. As you can see, I left a ton out of this email. For instance, I obviously searched for business class options instead of the “standard” option via Frankfurt, and I searched other dates near his date. But I left those searches out of the email for brevity.
I didn’t write a treatise on free oneways into the email, perhaps confusing someone who had never heard of them before. He did decide to book one to San Francisco once he understood the concept.
Once he made his selection, I held the award online. This did not go smoothly as United had its most common problem on multi-city searches: not showing all the options. I held something online using Bill’s trick, and I called in to edit the reservation to the correct flights.
Although it is not part of the ordinary service, I will be checking for award space to make a last second change to his award.
In general, I think the award booking went well. He was certainly thrilled with the results. I was a bit bummed to be booking an award that was dinged by UK departure taxes and included a “standard” (high-miles-price) component, but a lack of flexibility necessitated those choices.
I think something approaching good value was still achieved with the addition of a cross-country free oneway with a sticker price of $214 and not having to buy a ticket with a sticker price of $2,200.
The Mile Value Calculator says he got 2.3 cents of value per mile!