Unfortunately, all great trips must come to an end. Three-and-a-half months before the end of my stay in Argentina, it is time to book my oneway return to the US: from Buenos Aires (EZE) to Denver (DEN).
I need to be be in Denver for a wedding at the end of July. Because of this, my travel dates are limited–I want to maximize my time in Argentina while still arriving in Denver before the wedding. This gives me about five days of wiggle room.
As this is a oneway trip, I only want to book an award with an airline that will allow me to book a oneway award for half the price of a roundtrip. Luckily, the American Airlines AAdvantage miles I currently have will allow me to do this. I got 105,000 AAdvantage miles last fall using the (now defunct) two-browser trick.
I really wanted to use these miles instead of my new United miles, which I plan on using to Europe at some point.
Searching for American Space
I began with the most simple of searches on AA.com: Buenos Aires to Denver. There was no MileSAAver (low-priced level) award space available in any class–only AAnytime (high-priced level). MileSAAver space would be 30,000 miles, and I am not going to pay double that just to sit in the back of the plane.
Rookie tip: just because my first search showed no space at the miles price doesn’t mean there is no way to find the low miles price. Many airlines’ award search engines don’t show all their partners’ award space, which always prices at the low miles price.
This is such a case. AA.com doesn’t show LAN–a South American member of oneworld–space.
Searching for LAN Space on ba.com
Knowing that American Airlines does not show the available space for all of their partner airlines, I next searched ba.com because it displays more oneworld airlines than aa.com does, and American Airlines miles can be used to book all the oneworld space found on ba.com.
My first search was for Buenos Aires to Denver. The original date I searched returned no available award space in either Economy or Business.
Something to remember when searching for partner space on ba.com is that you must use the tabs that list the surrounding dates in order to see if there is available partner space. Skipping this may result in you missing out on available space. Additionally, you have to run a new search in order to change the class that you want to search for.
Unconvinced that there was zero available award space in any class on any partner flight during the week I needed, I decided to search segment-by-segment.
Rookie tip: award search engines often miss possible itineraries that have connections because of flaws in their computer programming. You can search possible routes segment-by-segment to construct awards yourself that you will later call the airline whose miles you are using to book.
I used Wikipedia to see what US destinations LAN flies to out of Buenos Aires.
So this time instead of searching Buenos Aires to Denver on aa.com, I searched Buenos Aires to Miami. A quick search showed me that there in fact was business class space on a number of LAN flights that week!
They weren’t the direct flight I wanted, but I could handle a stop in Santiago. And they weren’t in economy class, but I was willing to spend 50,000 miles for a business class award. That sure beats the 60,000 aa.com wanted for an economy ticket.
I had found my way to Miami! Now I just needed to find space on a flight from Miami to Denver. Because I was flying international business, I would be allowed to fly domestic first.
Rookie tip: On international business class awards, your domestic portions can be in economy or first class on planes with only two cabins.
I ran a search on aa.com looking for first class award space from Miami to Denver, and found that there was availability on the day that I needed.
Unfortunately, the only direct availability comes with a 12 hour layover in Miami. Any suggestions on ways to pass the time?
I can live with this three flight business class award with a 12 hour layover in Miami to get to Denver when I want to and for a good price.
Knowing I would be unable to book this award online, and that I was booking with American miles, I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to make the reservation. I gave the agent my account information, and the flight numbers I had picked out. I requested to hold the reservation for a few days before ticketing. The agent complied, telling me that they would hold the award for five days–standard operating procedure for American Airlines. Two days later, I received a rather cryptic email from American:
When I called the number, I was told by the American agent that they were not supposed to hold reservations for seats on LAN flights, and that I would need to ticket the reservation immediately. By politely explaining that I had to confirm a detail before ticketing, the agent allowed me to hold the reservation for a few more days before purchasing the ticket.
Here is my complete itinerary:
This complete itinerary cost my 50,000 miles and $102.30 in taxes including that unavoidable $25 American Airlines Telephone Ticketing Services fee.
At least I’ll be getting 5,000 miles back because I have an American Airlines credit card. And I’ll have a chance to enjoy lie flat business class on the LAN segments, which is something I haven’t yet experienced.
What I Could Have Done
I could have booked a free stopover in Miami if I had more flexibility in my travel dates. Since Miami is my international gateway city, it is the only place on the itinerary that I would have been able to book a free stopover.
I could have had a shorter layover in Florida. When I searched aa.com for availability from Miami to Denver, I saw a few routes that would allow me to leave Florida hours earlier by flying out of Ft. Lauderdale (FLL). I could have had a three hour layover–rather than a twelve hour one– by taking a taxi to and flying out of Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami on my last leg.
I could have rolled the dice: after not finding any space on American for a date remotely close to the one I needed, I consulted Scott. He told me that American rarely opens up last second award space, but United open up a ton. If I wanted to use my United miles and book in the last week, I could probably have snagged an easy Buenos Aires to Houston to Denver itinerary.
Here’s what Buenos Aires to Denver looks like for this week for instance.
EZE-DEN for this month. Pretty good space is open at the last minute.
In terms of getting the best deal, this may have been the way to go–simply wait until mid-July and start searching for available space on United. I could have potentially saved 20k miles by flying economy. However, I am extremely risk averse and would prefer to have my flight locked in more than a week or two prior to departure. Plus I really would prefer to use American miles instead of United miles for this trip.
This award is a relatively simple one, but it highlights some good rookie tips too.
If you are searching for a route and keep coming up with zero availability, that does not necessarily mean that you will have to adjust your dates. Use Wikipedia to see where your airline flies to from your origin airport, and then do your search. This often yields hidden space that did not show up before.
Know where to search for each partner. In this case I searched for LAN space at ba.com and American space at aa.com then combined them by calling American.
Don’t forget that you can fly domestic first class on international business awards.
Every airline has different stopover rules on awards. American’s rule allowed a stopover in Miami that I won’t be using, but it’s nice to know the option.
Some airlines open last second space, and some don’t. Even if you think you have the miles to get space at the last minute, you might prefer to lock in your award in advance to save yourself the stress.
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