This is the second post in my Anatomy of an Award series, in which I take a real award I’ve booked and break it down step-by-step to elucidate the award booking process. If you have a real award you’d like to write up in a similar post, please contact me, and you can write a guest post.
Last year, I signed up for two Citi AA cards and netted 150,000 AAdvantage miles. With those burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to book a trip to see the French Open (tennis) and Euro Cup (soccer) this spring.
Since the French Open begins before the Euro Cup, I knew I needed to book an award from Los Angeles to Paris for some time in late May or early June. Since I knew I’d be using American miles, my first thought was, how do I want to exploit my free stopover.
Regular readers know that American allows a free stopover on awards from the US to other regions and that the stopover, among other things, must occur in the International Gateway City. That is, the last North American city that you depart from when leaving the US or the first North American city you arrive in when entering the US.
This was my first decision point: did I want a free oneway stopover or a vanilla stopover? In order to exploit a free oneway stopover, I would need Los Angeles, my home city, to be my International Gateway City. If I booked an award like Los Angeles to London to Paris (LAX-LHR-ORY), I could add in a free oneway from many places in the US, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean to Los Angeles before the main LAX-LHR-ORY.
Why would the free oneway have to be to Los Angeles and before the trip to Paris? Because the stopover would have to be in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles happens before the European airports on my outbound. Here’s an example of a valid award I could have booked for 30k miles in coach and 50k in business:
If I did that, I would have a flight back home from Honolulu, so I would just have to book a oneway flight to Honolulu as a separate award or with cash. The free oneway from Honolulu to LA would have saved me 20k miles or hundreds of dollars if I had an upcoming vacation to Hawaii in mind.
But the timing didn’t work for me to get a free oneway stopover. I didn’t want to travel anywhere before my trip to Europe. That meant that I decided to take advantage of a vanilla stopover. A vanilla stopover is what you would normally think of as a stopover, adding another destination en route to your main destination.
Because of my handy list of all possible North American International Gateway Cities, I knew that I had several options for my en route stopover, especially if I was willing to fly British Airways instead of American Airlines. I decided I would like a stopover in Tampa, which BA serves on its Tampa to London Gatwick route.
This was my second decision point: should I fly BA for the transatlantic leg on my American award? It was a tough decision. American charges a fuel surcharge for flying BA planes on AA awards. For a transatlantic leg that surcharge is hundreds of dollars. American doesn’t charge a surcharge for flying on AA planes, so I was deciding whether to spend hundreds of dollars extra if I wanted to fly BA and open up the possibility of a stopover in Tampa.
Flying on all AA planes, probably on a routing like Los Angeles to Chicago to Paris (LAX-ORD-CDG), would cost $5 in taxes and fees. I could book online and pay only the miles and $5 for the itinerary.
Flying on BA planes for the transatlantic portion with a stopover in Tampa cost $327.50, $302.50 in taxes and fees plus $25 to call in and book the ticket. (Now BA availability is shown on AA.com, so I would not have to pay the $25 to call up and have it ticketed over the phone.)
I had to decide whether this itinerary
LAX-DFW-TPA (AA first)
TPA-LGW, LHR-ORY (BA business)
was worth a $323 premium over this itinerary
LAX-ORD-CDG (AA business).
I decided the first itinerary was worth the $323 premium for two huge reasons:
1. I value a free stopover in Tampa at $300 plus $50 extra since i get to fly there in domestic first class. This five day stopover saves me the trouble of having to fly there on separate trip, which would cost $300+.
2. I value flying BA’s business class, which features a fully flat bed, at $300 more than flying AA’s business class product, which is one of those weird angled seats.
The main drawback of the itinerary through Tampa is that I fly into Gatwick, but out of Heathrow in London. I’m going to make the best of that though. I’ve got eight hours in London, so I’ll go straight to the parks, have a fry up for breakfast, a boxed sandwich for lunch, and maybe check out a few things I missed when I went to London, like the London Eye or the changing of the guard.
Now that I had decided that I would fly through Tampa with a stopover, it was time to find the actual award space. For this itinerary, it makes the most sense to start with the transatlantic leg, TPA-LGW.
Even though I am using AA miles, I decided to search at BA.com for the BA flights because it was easiest at the time. On BA.com, I’ll find the space and note the flight numbers, but I will not book because I want to use AAdvantage miles not Avios to book.
Go to BA.com, sign into your account, click on Spending Avios, then click on Book Flight with Avios. At this screen, I typed in my details: TPA-LGW in late May in Business class, which BA calls Club.
The next screen shows a calendar. On this calendar, you’ll find highlighted the days with availability.
After selecting the date, you see the exact flight info.
After finding the transatlantic space, I found the London to Paris flight the same way. Then I went to AA.com and looked for LAX to Tampa itineraries in first class since flying BA business transatlantic means you can fly AA first for the domestic legs.
After finding all the flights I wanted and writing them down, I called AA at 800-882-8880. I gave the agent the flights, and they priced out to 50,000 miles and $327.50 total. I booked the ticket last October, and in a few weeks, I’ll be watching a tennis grand slam, and the second best international soccer tournament in the world.
Here’s some info about the booking.
LAX-DFW-TPA-LGW, LHR-ORY cost in coach: $1,351
LAX-DFW-TPA-LGW, LHR-ORY cost in first/business: $7,410
My subjective value of the business class itinerary: $1,450
AA miles needed: 50,000
Total taxes and fees: $327.50
Miles foregone by not purchasing itinerary: 5,897
Cents per point as booked: 2.01! according to the milevalue calculator. (I plugged 1450; 327.5; 50000; 5897 into the calculator. Do you see why?)