This is the second part of a multi-post Anatomy of an Award series about American Airlines Explorer Awards, which are ideal for around-the-world trips, trips with multiple destinations, and other “trick” itineraries. Previously: The Rules
A client contacted the Award Booking Service wanting to book an around the world trip with American Airlines miles. He wanted to stop in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, an Asian beach, a Middle Eastern city, Turkey, Switzerland, and London.
We got him and his wife this ten-stop, month-long trip around the world in business class for 150,000 miles and $278 each.
This 23,000 mile itinerary is three times the distance of, say, a Raleigh to London roundtrip for only 50% more miles.
The trip took a bit of planning, so I’ll go through how I turned my client’s goals into a dream trip.
He wanted to go to these destinations heading west the whole way, but he had no order in mind for Asia:
- Hong Kong
- an Asian beach
- a Middle Eastern city
He wanted as many direct flights as possible.
He wanted to spend three nights most places, with four nights at the beach, and five nights in Switzerland.
He had 460,000 American Airlines miles, but he wanted to use as few as possible while flying in business class.
We could have an issue with the 16-segment maximum rule. We will need to have as many one-segment trips between stopovers as possible. This was also one of his goals.
My trick here is to place oneworld hubs two stops apart. That allows you to maximize direct flight options. The two oneworld hubs in Asia were Hong Kong and Tokyo.
By placing those first and third (or second and fourth) in Asia, we make sure that we can have one-segment hops between all Asia cities. If we placed Hong Kong and Tokyo in a row, there would be more segments spent getting around Asia.
We ended up choosing Manila as the Asian beach destination. Hong Kong-Manila//Manila-Tokyo//Tokyo-Seoul was three segments to connect the four destinations. That was made possible by placing the hubs two stops apart.
My next concern was going to the Middle East with only oneworld partners. Etihad would be the perfect American Airlines partner to get to the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), but Explorer Awards must use only oneworld partners. Unfortunately Etihad is a non-oneworld partner of American Airlines.
Royal Jordanian is the oneworld partner in the Middle East, but it has an inferior product and a small route network.
There was no perfect solution to this concern, but we flew him to Dubai on Cathay Pacific on a fantastic business class product before getting him around the Middle East on Royal Jordanian.
My next concern was keeping this award in the 20,001-25,000 miles flown band. Smart routing could keep us in that band, which costs 150,000 miles per person in business. Careless routing would put us in the 25,001-35,000 mile band, which costs 190,000 miles in business class. I didn’t want to blow 80,000 of his miles if I could help it.
In the end, this concern didn’t materialize. We decided to purchase a cash ticket from Istanbul to Switzerland for about $90 per person because there was no convenient way to route between the two with oneworld partners. Taking care of this segment with cash meant we weren’t in jeopardy of breaking 25,000 miles flown and entering the more expensive band.
Another major concern was date flexibility. Like all clients, he had ideal dates. And like almost all awards, it wasn’t possible for to book all the ideal flights–hardly surprising since there were so many flights in this award.
I knew that some flights like intra-Asia, intra-Middle East, and intra-Europe were going to be wide open while others like Cathay Pacific business class to Hong Kong and a return from Europe to the US in the middle of the summer would be tough to find.
In the end, we came very close to the ideal plan with a few changes. That’s a basic lesson of award bookings: “You can’t always get what you want. Well if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
My final concern was getting him in the best products I could for the three longhaul segments. The best options USA-Asia were Cathay Pacific or the JAL Dreamliner. We got Cathay Pacific, which we got again for the Asia to Middle East segment. The best product home from Europe would have been British Airways, but that would have incurred about $300 in surcharges per person, so we went with American Airlines.
I was not concerned at all about two rules that could occasionally trip people up.
I knew we were going to easily meet the requirement of using at least two oneworld partners other than American. We used four.
I also wasn’t concerned about the rule limiting us to one stopover plus two layovers per city. Hong Kong was potentially going to brush up against that limit, but we avoided that by using JAL for some intra-Asia flights.
American Airlines allows you to hold awards for five days. That rule also applies to Explorer Awards, so the plan was to put the USA-Asia segments on hold then get everything done in the next five days.
I just worked through finding space one segment at a time. An alternative approach would have nailed down the three difficult segments first–the three longhauls.
I called American Airlines three times to put everything on hold. The first call got him to Hong Kong, the second to Dubai, and the third got him home. I basically called to save each longhaul segment as I got to it.
Tomorrow: The Search