Author Archives: Bill

Anatomy of an Award: Summer Trip to Paris & Free Oneway Home for Thanksgiving

My absolute favorite awards are the ones I’ve booked for family and friends. Helping them fly for (nearly) free is a great pleasure that can’t be replicated. Recently, my sister came to me asking for advice on the cheapest ways to fly from Boston to Paris this summer. She has zero miles and a tight budget. Staring at $1,500+ flights on Kayak.com, the trip wasn’t looking promising.

Main Award

Boston to Paris roundtrip with a later free oneway from Boston to Atlanta

Luckily, with the help of my AAdvantage miles, I was able to find her nonstop flights from Boston to Paris during the peak of summer travel. In addition, I helped her add a free oneway home for Thanksgiving, saving her additional money and hassle.

How did I find the award space? Was the free oneway easy to add to the itinerary? What’s the method to booking two seemingly tough awards on the same itinerary? Is there a secret way to save 10k miles on this trip?

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US Airways Random Buy Miles Promo, Up to 100% Bonus

Per the email I received last week, US Airways is again offering up to a 100% bonus on purchased or gifted miles. This “Mystery Bonus” promotion is a slight variant from previous iterations, as the bonus you receive varies by individual frequent flyer account. You might receive a 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100% bonus on purchased and gifted miles.

US Airways Mystery Promotion

US Airways frequently runs promotions offering bonuses to buy its miles, including one in December of last year. The deal is hardly a new proposition, especially if you receive an inferior 25%-75% offer like I did. However, there is a small subset that will want to jump on this promotion before US Airways leaves the Star Alliance.

Who should buy miles through this promotion? What do you need to be very aware of before booking a Star Alliance award with Dividend Miles? Are the lesser offers worth your time?

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Delta Announces 2015 SkyMiles Award Chart

Delta has released its award chart for awards booked on or after January 1, 2015. Check it out here.

Great News: The lowest priced “Level 1″ awards (formerly “Saver”) will remain at the same price or drop compared to the award chart that goes into effect on June 1, 2014.

SkyMiles have seen a lot of changes the last few months:

  1. First Delta announced a devaluation of its award chart for awards flown June 2014 or later. (You can still beat this devaluation!)
  2. Then Delta turned that into a double devaluation, speeding up some of the price increases to February 2014.
  3. Last week Delta made a giant announcement that earning SkyMiles would become revenue-based starting in 2015. We learned that the 2015 chart would have five price tiers and would allow one way awards, but we didn’t see the price tiers.

Delta 2015

Luckily, after some intense pressure and scrutiny (h/t Gary Leff), Delta released their 2015 award chart early. Both the economy and business award charts can be found here, and they aren’t bad.

The economy chart’s Level 1 prices are identical to the June 1 chart except that roundtrips to the Middle East and South Asian subcontinent are going back down to 80k miles each. This was their price until Delta’s 2014 devaluations.

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The business award chart is identical to the June 2014 chart at Level 1 except that Northern South America is dropping from 90k miles roundtrip to 80k. That’s a great adjustment as 90k was just way too high for a roundtrip to Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, or Ecuador.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 1.21.51 PM

There are a few other changes in price at the higher award levels, but as usual, our goal for ourselves and our clients at the MileValue Award Booking Service will be the lowest price Level 1 awards.

I think we can breathe one major sigh or relief. Level 1 award prices are not going up, and that means that award space on Delta’s SkyTeam partners will remain affordable.

I’m also glad Delta will finally introduce one-way awards for half the price of a roundtrip, and we’ll be able to book award tickets in Economy Comfort.

But the big question–and one we won’t have answered until at least 2015–is what level Delta will tend to release its own award space at.

We have no idea the amount of Level 1 availability that will be released with this new five-tiered award chart. If it’s anything like Delta’s current yield management, don’t expect to find many domestic segments at the lowest levels.

Further Reading

Scott wrote a great post about the Top Four Delta Awards You Need to Fly Before It’s Too Late which is still applicable after today’s announcement.

Book Scott’s favorite SkyMiles awards that cost between 25k and 150k miles under the old chart before 2015 if you can. Otherwise, time will tell in seeing if saver availability improves under the new five-tier system.

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Booking Awards While Avoiding Fuel Surcharges with Aeroplan Miles to Central/South America

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

Air Canada Aeroplan miles are roughly line with other award charts for travel to Central and South America, though a bit better value than United miles for awards to Southern South America (e.g. Brazil and Argentina).

Air Canada charges 60,000 miles (30k oneway) for roundtrip business class awards to Central & Northern South America and 85,000 miles (42.5k oneway) for first class awards. Southern South America awards are 95,000 miles (47.5k oneway) in business and 135,000 miles in first class.

Aeroplan Award Pricing

Aeroplan Roundtrip Pricing ex-US

The Central and South American regions are broken down by Air Canada as follows:

Aeroplan Regions

Many European and Asian Star Alliance carriers must be avoided when booking Aeroplan awards, as their pricey fuel surcharges eat up any potential savings.

Luckily, there are relatively few instances of fuel surcharges when booking Aeroplan awards to Central and South America.

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Central and South America? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

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LifeMiles Visa Signature Offers 40,000 Mile Signup Bonus

I received a great TACA/Avianca LifeMiles credit card offer in my email inbox late last week. The LifeMiles Visa Signature card is offering 40,000 LifeMiles after spending $3k in the first 90 days.

Credit Card

20k miles are awarded after making your first purchase and you receive an additional 20k miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership. The actual email I received is pasted below.

LifeMiles CC Offer

Why is this such a good credit card offer? Should you take advantage? Why are LifeMiles so valuable, especially in today’s climate of devaluations? Are there any pitfalls associated with the LifeMiles program?

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Booking Awards While Avoiding Fuel Surcharges with Aeroplan Miles to Australia/New Zealand

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

Air Canada Aeroplan miles were once a solid value for business class travel between the continental US/Canada and Oceania. They charged 135k/190k for roundtrip business/first class award seats prior to their infamous summer 2013 devaluation.

After United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s double devaluation, Air Canada Aeroplan miles are roughly equivalent to competitors for Oceanic travel.

US Airways is the absolute best bargain for travel to Oceania (110k miles roundtrip in business, 140k in first), and you can still use Dividend Miles for awards on Star Alliance carriers until March 30th.

American’s chart is also a solid value, as it only takes 62.5k/72.5k AAdvantage miles to reach the South Pacific one way in business/first class. I was luckily able to snag a rare first class seat on Qantas last month. Scott had issues with his seat in Qantas business class, though.

Delta’s 160k business class seats on partner Virgin Australia are expensive, but the amount of available seats to Australia is sometimes jaw-dropping.

See a Comparison Table of United, US Airways, Delta, and American Airlines Award Charts.

Air Canada now charges 160,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (80k oneway) for travel to the South Pacific region comprised of the countries below.

Oceanic Region

 

Aeroplan Oceania Award Chart

United miles are a better value for travel to Australia on United metal. A oneway award only costs 70k miles. First class on United should also be booked with United miles (80k oneway). Scott flew United’s GlobalFirst product from Los Angeles to Sydney and enjoyed the experience.

First class on Star Alliance partners is a better value with Aeroplan miles (110k vs. 130k), but there aren’t many bookable first class awards that fit the criteria.

As mentioned in previous posts, not all Star Alliance carriers are the same when redeeming Aeroplan miles. Air Canada collects fuel surcharges on its own flights and certain partners like Thai. Luckily, the few Star Alliance airlines that service Oceania don’t incur these fuel surcharges.

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Australia and New Zealand? Is routing via Asia possible (or even worth it)?

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Buy Lufthansa Miles for 1.6 Cents and Get The Economist Subscription

Lufthansa is currently offering a whopping 10,000 Miles & More miles for a one-year print + digital subscription to The Economist. The offer details and sign-up page can be found here.

Economist

A one-year print & digital subscription to The Economist is $160 through the Lufthansa portal. That cost is exactly the same as what you would be charged on The Economist site without the bonus miles.

Is buying 10k Lufthansa miles for $160 a good deal? What are the best redemption options? How do you avoid fuel surcharges? What’s the best way to earn more Lufthansa miles?

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Booking Awards While Avoiding Fuel Surcharges with Aeroplan Miles to Africa/Middle East

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

After Aeroplan’s summer 2013 devaluation, its award chart for travel to Africa and the Middle East (especially) became expensive relative to other carriers.

Aeroplan Roundtrip Award Chart from US/Canada

Aeroplan Roundtrip Award Chart from US/Canada

Sadly, United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s double devaluation brought Air Canada Aeroplan miles in line with the likes of United and Delta.

American’s chart is decently priced for business class travel to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent. In fact, I used 67.5k AAdvantage miles for my one way award from Washington D.C. to the Maldives in business class on Etihad. Their African award chart nearly mirrors Air Canada’s.

US Airways has by far the best pricing for premium cabin travel to Africa (110k miles roundtrip in business, 150k in first), and you can still use Dividend Miles for awards on Star Alliance carriers until March 30th.

See a Comparison Table of United, US Airways, Delta, and American Airlines Award Charts.

Air Canada charges 165,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (82.5k oneway) for travel to the Middle East and North Africa comprised of the countries below.

Middle East & North Africa

82,500 miles is slightly more expensive than United’s inflated Star Alliance partner award chart. United charges 70k miles oneway for awards flying United’s own BusinessFirst product and 80k miles on Star Alliance partners.

Air Canada’s second African award chart (East/West/South Africa) encompasses the rest of the continent. An Aeroplan business class award costs 150,000 miles (75k oneway) to the below countries.

EastWestSouthAfrica

This is a better region to use Aeroplan miles over United miles, as Aeroplan business class awards will cost 5k less miles (75k oneway) than using United’s Star Alliance award chart (80k oneway).

As mentioned in previous posts, not all Star Alliance carriers are the same when redeeming Aeroplan miles. Air Canada assesses fuel surcharges on their own flights and certain partners. Luckily, most Star Alliance airlines in the African region don’t incur these fuel surcharges.

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Africa and the Middle East? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

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Booking Awards While Avoiding Fuel Surcharges with Aeroplan Miles to Asia

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

Europe is an absolute award chart bargain compared to Aeroplan’s mileage requirement for Asian travel. After Aeroplan’s summer 2013 devaluation, its award chart for travel to Asia became very expensive relative to other carriers.

Sadly, United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s unprecedented double devaluation brought Air Canada Aeroplan miles in line with the likes of United and Delta. American and US Airways have by far the best pricing for premium cabin travel to Asia, but this post is meant for those lacking those two mileage currencies.

See a Comparison Table of United, US Airways, Delta, and American Airlines Award Charts.

Air Canada charges 150,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (75k oneway) for travel to Asia Zone 1 which represents quite a few countries, including Thailand and Vietnam that are normally grouped in a more expensive category with other frequent flyer programs.

Asia Zone 1

Seventy five thousand miles is comparable to United’s new inflated award chart. United charges 70k miles roundtrip for awards flying United’s own BusinessFirst product and 80k miles on Star Alliance partners. Delta begins charging 140k SkyMiles for business class awards to Asia for flights starting June 1, 2014.

Asia Zone 2 encompasses the rest of the continent. An Aeroplan award costs 155,000 miles (77.5k oneway) to the below countries.

Asia Zone 2

There are certain Star Alliance carriers that Air Canada assesses dreaded fuel surcharges. Choosing to fly certain partners could cost over $1,000 per person in addition to the miles!

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Asia? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

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Super Cheap Awards While Avoiding Fuel Surcharges with Aeroplan Miles to Europe

Part I Europe
Part II Asia
Part III Africa/Middle East
Part IV Australia/New Zealand
Part V Central/South America

With United’s recent devaluation and Delta’s unprecedented double devaluation, Air Canada Aeroplan miles quietly became one of the best ways to fly to Europe in business class.

Air Canada’s website displays Star Alliance partners (like LOT and Singapore) that United.com lacks, and their award chart is reasonable relative to other carriers.

Air Canada only charges 90,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip (45k oneway) for travel to Europe Zone 1 which represents quite a few countries.

Aeroplan Zone 1

Ninety thousand miles is 10k less than booking with US Airways or American Airlines miles. United charges 115k miles roundtrip for awards flying United’s own BusinessFirst product and a whopping 140k miles on Star Alliance partners. Delta begins charging 125k SkyMiles for business class awards to Europe for flights starting June 1.

Europe Zone 2 encompasses the rest of the continent. An Aeroplan award costs 105,000 miles (52.5k oneway) to the below countries.

Aeroplan Zone 2

Though the Aeroplan award chart pricing is favorable, there are certain Star Alliance carriers that Air Canada assesses dreaded fuel surcharges. Choosing to fly certain partners could cost over $1,000 per person in addition to the miles!

What are the Star Alliance carriers to avoid when booking with Aeroplan miles? Which are the best to get you to Europe? Are there any fifth-freedom flights you can take advantage of?

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Trip Report: United BusinessFirst (Business Class) London to Washington D.C.

I surprised my family of four by booking them roundtrip business class tickets to Italy for Christmas using US Airways miles. It is very difficult to find four flatbed business class award seats to Europe during peak Christmas travel time. With a bit of flexibility, I was lucky to snag a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt on the outbound and the United flight below on the inbound. I previously reviewed Lufthansa’s 747-8 business class, so I will skip ahead to the flight home.

United has recently increased their award chart prices to most regions. Flying Star Alliance partners in a premium cabin usually costs thousands of miles more than flying United itself. Those that want to conserve United miles (or Chase Ultimate Rewards) should take note of this trip report, as your mileage balance stretches further flying United metal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How was the seat? Is United BusinessFirst a truly flat bed product? Was the service (and food) to the standards of other Star Alliance business carriers? Is the Star Alliance business lounge in London a decent place to kill a few hours?

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Very Good Brussels Award Space Now on United.com

Brussels Airlines award space now displays on United.com! Brussels award space was previously bookable using United miles (and other Star Alliance miles like US Airways), but no Brussels flights would display when searching United’s site.

SN Award Space

This development should make getting to Europe on United miles much easier, but might degrade the once reliable award space since it’s now much easier to find and book.

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Brussels Business Class

What does availability look like on the transatlantic routes? What is flying Brussels like? Why is Brussels such a valuable Star Alliance partner?

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Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard Are Worth 1.14 Cents Each Because of This One Quirk

Update 2/21/14: The minimum spending requirement is now $3,000 in the first 90 days to unlock the 40,000 bonus miles. Full offer details:

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles if you make $3,000 or more in purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next trip!
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • Use miles for a statement credit toward any airline purchase to any destination with no seat restrictions and no blackout dates
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits toward flights, cruises, car rentals, hotels and more
  • Complimentary subscription to TripIt Pro mobile travel organizer – a $49 annual value!
  • Complimentary FICO® Scores as a benefit to active cardmembers. Opt-in to have instant and convenient access to FICO® Scores from your Barclaycard online account.

Application Link: Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases

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Everyone knows that the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases comes with a sign up bonus worth $444 in free travel after spending $1,000 in the first three months, and that the card earns 2.22% back toward travel on all purchases. Scott’s first post about the card was even called “Barclaycard Arrvial World MasterCard: 2.22% Cash Back Card with $444 Sign Up Bonus.”

Except that those numbers are wrong! The card’s sign up bonus is actually worth $456 and the card actually earns 2.28% back on all purchases.

Until we both got the card, we didn’t realize that you actually earn miles on the purchase that you redeem miles to remove from your statement. This quirk takes the value of Arrival miles from 1.11 to 1.14 cents.

The Arrival card’s unique earning and redemption methods make it even more valuable than it appears at first glance for people who are trying to earn elite status with an airline while minimizing out-of-pocket costs.

With the Arrival card:

  1. Pay for your flight with the Arrival World MasterCard and earn 2 Arrival miles per dollar for the purchase.
  2. Once the flight purchase posts to your account, use your Arrival miles to remove the flight charge. After the 10% rebate on redeemed Arrival miles, you redeem only 90 miles per dollar of the flight’s cost. Since you earned 2 miles per dollar and spent 90 miles per dollar, you are only out 88 miles per dollar total.
  3. Fly your itinerary and earn airline miles and elite qualifying miles (EQM, or MQM if flying Delta).

Scott already wrote a comprehensive post Why I Got the BarclayCard World Arrival MasterCard, but there is actually more value to those chasing the perks of airline elite status. And you can do even better than the 1 and 1.11 cent values normally assigned to Arrival miles.

How can you maximize the value of your Arrival miles? What’s the best way to earn elite status with the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard?

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Rare TAM First Class Space Now Bookable

One of the most impossible premium cabin awards to find is now bookable!

Star Alliance carrier TAM has released excellent first class award space between its hub in Sao Paulo, Brazil and New York-JFK & Miami. In all my experiences at our Award Booking Service, I’ve never seen a TAM first class award seat….ever.

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Anatomy of an Award: Booking Etihad Business Class Using American Miles

Last month I booked myself an awesome award to the Maldives using AAdvantage miles and flying Etihad Airways Business Class. Etihad Business Class is one of the nicest in the world and award space is widespread and predictable between the US and the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and the Maldives.

Reaching the Middle East using AAdvantage miles is in general very easy with Qatar as a new oneworld member and Etihad as an American Airlines partner.

Routing from gcmap.com

Routing from gcmap.com

Though this is an extremely basic itinerary, there are several things everyone should be mindful of before tackling an Etihad award including how to search for Etihad award space and mastering the Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

How do you search for Etihad award space? Is Etihad reliable about releasing premium cabin award seats? Once you find Etihad seats, how do you book them? Which American Airlines rules trip up seemingly valid Etihad itineraries?

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