Part II: US to Asia via Europe for 90k Miles in Business
Part III: Adding a Great Sidetrip
This article is a continuation of the post from last week, discussing getting to Tokyo in business class for only 90,000 US Airways miles. For full details on my original plans that were scrapped, check out the details here.
After putting my New Year’s travel resolutions on paper, I was in line to book a solid roundtrip to Tokyo that included a free domestic oneway from San Francisco to Washington D.C.
Right as I was about to book, I had a change of heart. There were other ways to maximize the award ticket to Asia. I could even check off another travel resolution at the same time!
It was really important to catch up with a friend who is moving to Bulgaria in August. I was hoping a quick stop in Europe would be enough time for us to catch up en route to Tokyo. I started research how to get to Europe with US Airways miles.
What are the best ways to get from Washington-Dulles to Europe on a Star Alliance carrier? Research really isn’t that difficult, and Wikipedia is often your best friend. For more information, check out Scott’s posts Book Awards Like a Pro: Routing Ideas and How to Use Wikipedia to Book Awards Like a Pro.
I jotted down the Star Alliance carriers that served major European cities from Washington-Dulles and began my search on United.com. Of course, I always trick United.com’s Award Calendar to only show me available nonstops. My first search was on Lufthansa to Frankfurt.
Unfortunately, my goal was two business class awards. Lufthansa notoriously holds back their premium cabin award space until the last minute. They want every opportunity to sell the seats at full retail price. My search in October and November yielded almost nothing, as you can see below.
The green dates have business class space, but it’s on United. I wanted to sample as many international carriers as I could on this trip and compare them to the major legacy airlines. United wouldn’t do.
To prove that Lufthansa typically releases award space last minute, I did a cursory check for the upcoming week. As expected, the 21st-23rd of January all had business and/or first class award seats. Scott even wrote up this phenomenon earlier this year in his post, The Poorly Kept Secret to Finding Lufthansa Availability.
My trip unfortunately had quite a few moving parts. I didn’t have the time nor flexibility to go down to the wire in the hope that Lufthansa would release two premium seats. It was time to move on.
The next try was with SAS, or Scandinavian Airlines, which flies nonstop between Dulles <-> Copenhagen. Business class space was decent, but the available dates didn’t match what I needed.
Austrian Airlines has a flight to Vienna, but award space was scarce in the summer months and completely nonexistent after July. That was a dead end.
My non-United options were drying up, so I thought about giving Turkish Airways a try. They run a daily nonstop to Istanbul and their flights between Sofia, Bulgaria and Istanbul are usually inexpensive. Luckily for me, award space was pretty wide open in business.
I wrote down the available dates from Dulles to Istanbul, but I couldn’t lock in my European flight just yet. I still needed to find my Istanbul to Tokyo leg.
The flight schedules didn’t quite mesh, so I would be spending almost a full day in Istanbul before continuing on to Tokyo. My layover was about 23 hours and 10 minutes, but (luckily) didn’t count as a stopover. All the legacy US carriers have a rule in place that on international layovers: under 24 hours is just a layover, but over 24 hours is a stopover. For more info, check out Scott’s post, Anatomy of an Award: 23 Hour Layovers.
Another advantage of flying into Istanbul is that Istanbul to Tokyo is a secret-weapon route. There was premium award space from Istanbul to Tokyo every day in October and November! With that good news in mind, my goal was to book the Istanbul to Tokyo-Narita nonstop on Turkish’s 777-300 aircraft.
If you’ve read Scott’s post Free First Class Next Month: seatguru.com, you know the site is your best friend when researching potential aircraft choices. Turkish’s 777 had fully flat business class seats which would serve us well on the nearly twelve hour flight. Unfortunately, the available dates just didn’t match. I then went to my next best option Asiana.
I had heard rave reviews about Asiana’s food and service. I also had to cancel an award ticket to Bali last year on Asiana, so there was extra incentive to fly with them. Asiana had an itinerary that routed through Seoul with a tight 85 minute connection onto Tokyo. Initially I worried about the tough transfer, reading this FlyerTalk thread, put my fears to rest.
An example of the Europe -> Asia itinerary I chose is below.
From there, finding my flight home was pretty easy. Referencing my previous post, ANA had plenty of dates with a nonstop to Washington-Dulles from Tokyo-Narita. I wrote down all the dates, times, and flight numbers. I was ready to book:
- Washington-Dulles -> Istanbul (23 hour layover) [Turkish]
- Istanbul -> Seoul-Incheon -> Tokyo-Narita [Asiana]
- Tokyo-Narita -> Washington-Dulles [All Nippon Airlines]
My award looked even crazier on the Great Circle Mapper.
Wait, you’re allowed to route to Asia via Europe from the US?
Absolutely! As I explained in my previous post, US Airways uses people to price their awards, not computers. They don’t have stringent routing rules. As long as you are polite, keep the number of segments on your award low, and feed the agent your desired segments, you can get away with a lot.
[Scott: On this routing, you want to make sure you frame the award as Washington to Tokyo roundtrip, routing through Istanbul one way. If it's framed as Washington to Istanbul roundtrip, routing through Tokyo one way, the award would cost 100k miles.]
When I called to book this award, the agent initially hesitated in routing me through Istanbul. “Um, I’m not sure this is allowed, sir.” I gently suggested that we should try and see what happened. The agent verified with the rate desk and came back with pricing. 90k US Airways miles and $131 per ticket. The $131 consisted of an unavoidable $50 “award processing fee” and approximately $80 in taxes. I quickly booked the ticket with a smile on my face.
Don’t think of my award ticket as the exception, either. Scott has given plenty of examples of the liberal US Airways routing rules. His coup de grace can be found in the post, Anatomy of an Award: South America, Africa, Europe, and North America in Biz for 100k.
Routing to Asia via Europe or from South America to Europe via Africa are just two examples of great US Airways rules. You can also route to Australia or New Zealand via Asia and lower the cost of your award! Scott discussed that great redemption value in his post, US Airways Award Chart Sweet Spot: Australia via Asia.
US Airways has the most liberal routing rules of the legacy carriers. Starting in North America, you can route to Asia via Europe with ease. The award will still be 90,000 US Airway miles in business, even if you choose to go the long way.
To construct an award, make sure to search segment by segment. In my experience, the transatlantic space is sometimes the most difficult to find. After locking in that piece of the award, you will need to secure space from Europe to Asia and then the return flight from Asia to North America.
Seatguru.com pointed me towards the best flights with lie-flat business seats, but unfortunately those segments didn’t work for me.
The award in this post worked well for my dates. I get to review three international carriers, Turkish, Asiana, and ANA, and have 23 hours in Istanbul to sample the city. Not only will I be able to see my friend who is in Bulgaria, but I will also get to visit Tokyo afterwards. That’s great value for one award!
The final installment of this award will center around adding a quick side trip to Hong Kong.