This is the another 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.
This post is about an award I booked to get my brother from Honolulu, his home airport, to Sydney next January with his AA miles with a free oneway beforehand from Las Vegas to Honolulu.
My brother needed to book a trip to Australia for Aussie Open 2013, using his AA miles. My first thought when booking an international awards with AA miles is “How can I add a free oneway?” It turned out that my brother had an upcoming trip to Las Vegas with no flights booked, so I added a free oneway from Vegas to Honolulu.
By December of 2011, my brother and I had decided to go to Australia in January of 2013. Planning ahead when flying to Australia during peak (Southern Hemisphere) summer season is crucial. We had to use AA miles to get there, so he had to fly Qantas or Hawaiian. Why? American does not fly to Australia from anywhere, and American does not let you route from North America to Australia through Asia on a single award, so something like Honolulu to Tokyo (Narita) to Sydney on Japan Airlines would price as two awards.
Qantas releases its award space about 350 days in advance, but American only lets you book awards 330 days in advance. For that twenty day period, I was checking Qantas’s availability at BA.com. (To see how to search BA.com for oneworld and Qantas availability, see this Anatomy of an Award.) My brother had to fly out on a specific Saturday, and without any flexibility, Qantas was of no help.
Luckily Hawaiian Airlines has some of the best availability of any airline. Partnering with Hawaiian for its mainland to Hawaii flights and Hawaii to Asia/Pacific flights really increases the value of the AAdvantage program, especially now that Hawaiian’s availability is searchable on aa.com.
Finding space for the award was a snap. First I wanted to search for the HNL-SYD leg to see its availability. I went to aa.com, and on the home screen input the search parameters.
As you can see, I’ve selected a One-way AAdvantage miles search from HNL-SYD in January, 2013. By now, all of Hawaiian’s January availability to SYD has been picked over, but look at what’s still available in February. Anyone want to escape North American winter to visit Sydney?
That’s right! Every day from February 7 – March 7, there is award space on the Hawaiian Air flight from HNL-SYD.
Back to my brother’s search: Because I was searching for availability 330 days out, there was availability on the Hawaiian Air flight on the day he needed in both coach and first class.
Hawaiian operates the route with an A330-200 with two classes: economy and first. He had to decide whether to pay 37,500 American miles for an economy oneway ticket or 62,500 for the first class ticket. (First class in a three-cabin plane from the US-Australia is 72,500 AAdvantage miles each way, but business class and first class on two-cabin planes is 62,500 miles.)
After looking at the SeatGuru seating chart for a Hawaiian A330-200, it was clear that first class was not a good use of 25,000 extra miles. Hawaiian’s first class for the 10+ hour flight is basically domestic first class: recliner seats with a 42″ pitch. That’s not worth 25,000 more AA miles than an economy seat since I value 25,000 AA miles at $442.50.
Having decided upon his seat for HNL-SYD, it was time to backtrack to see if a free oneway could be tacked on to HNL before the Australia trip. Why does the oneway have to go to HNL and be before the trip to Australia?
AA free oneways rely on a stopover at your home airport. The full routing, including a flight from Las Vegas, would be LAS-HNL-SYD with a many-month stopover in Honolulu, where he lives. So to him the award was really two trips, a return from Vegas and a flight to Australia, but to AA it’s all one award LAS-HNL-SYD.
Since the free oneway relies on a stopover in HNL, the four rules of AA stopovers must be met:
1) The stopover must be at the international gateway city, the city from which you leave North America and fly to Australia in this case. The stopover is at HNL, which is the international gateway for this itinerary, so this condition is met.
2) The routing that includes the stopover must not exceed American’s maximum permitted mileage for the origin and destination city pair by more than 25%. This condition is met since LAS-HNL-SYD is about as short a route as there is between Las Vegas and Sydney.
3) The overwater carrier, Hawaiian in this case, must have a published fare between the origin and destination. Since Hawaiian flies LAS-HNL and HNL-SYD, we can be pretty confident that it publishes a fare LAS-SYD, and it indeed it does.
4) All travel must be completed within one year. Since our free oneway and stopover occur before the main trip this is not a concern. The booking happened in mid-February 2012, and the flight to Sydney was for mid-January 2013. That means my brother could get a free oneway to Hawaii from anywhere in the US, Canada, or Mexico from which Hawaiian had a published fare to Sydney any time before his January 2012 flight to Sydney. In fact, he took the free oneway in April 2012.
Since I was sure that the stopover and free oneway were legal, it was simply a matter of finding the best LAS-HNL routing. Using AA miles, the options are AA planes to Honolulu with a connection in Dallas or LAX or a direct Hawaiian flight. He preferred the direct Hawaiian flight, and we were able to find space back on the day he needed. Tacking on the free oneway cut his flight costs to Vegas to play in a tennis tournament in April in half, when flights were over $700 roundtrip!
With both portions of the oneway found, it was time to put it all together in one aa.com multicity search, which I detailed in my post about booking free stopovers at aa.com. On the aa.com homepage where you can search flights, I checked the box that says Redeem AAdvantage Miles, then I clicked the link that says Multi-city.
I was brought to the AAdvantage Award tab with Multi-city selected. Here I searched for the itinerary until the stopover and for the itinerary after the stopover. I typed in Las Vegas to Honolulu to Sydney.
As you can see from the dates, the stopover can be months long if you want. These dates are a little different from the ones I actually booked for my brother, which featured a nine month “stopover” at home for him.
After clicking GO, I was brought to a screen like this:
Look at what I’ve highlighted in the middle: the computer knows he’s getting a free stopover!
At the top, I chose the date of the LAS-HNL leg. Why are there dashes instead of prices at the top? Because this is a free stopover, so the leg adds nothing to the miles prices, which are listed below for the main award leg.
After selecting both legs, I was shown the total of 37,500 miles and $31 in taxes and fees.
This post gives a great example of using an American Airlines free oneway to combine two trips on to one award. If you don’t live in Hawaii, maybe it’s given you the idea to combine Hawaii and Australia on to one trip by routing from where you live to Hawaii, having a stopover, then continuing to Australia.
Here is some info about the booking:
LAS-HNL cost: $350
My brother’s subjective value of the LAS-HNL: $350+, would have paid cash if necessary
HNL-SYD cost: $748
My brother’s subjective value of the HNL-SYD: $748+, would have paid cash if necessary
Total value of award: $1,098
AAdvantage miles needed: 37,500
Total taxes and fees: $31
Miles foregone by not purchasing itinerary: 7,829
Cents per mile as booked: 2.35! according to the milevalue calculator. (I plugged 1098; 31; 37500; 7829 into the calculator. Do you see why?)