Help Me Choose Which Business Class Products to Fly I got trigger happy and booked without asking
Or: How An American Can Exploit the South American Sweet Spot with US Airways Miles
Or: How to Get an Open Jaw AND a Stopover on a US Airways Award
Or: How I saved 20k miles
Necessity is the mother of invention. I wanted to think of a way to get from Buenos Aires to Europe next summer with a stopover in South Africa, then from Europe to Chicago in time for the Chicago seminars. The problem: I only had US Airways miles for the task.
US Airways allows one stopover or one open jaw on awards. That means the following–what I wanted–is against the rules.
Buenos Aires to Johannesburg (stopover)
Johannesburg to Munich (destination)
Munich to Chicago (destination)
This is an open jaw since it starts in Buenos Aires and ends in Chicago. It also has a stopover en route to Europe–I wanted to stop in Africa for ten days. I thought I would have to drop the South Africa stopover, but I didn’t!
If you read my recent post on How to Get Free Oneways on US Airways Awards, you can probably guess my solution.
You can get a stopover and an open jaw on the same US Airways award if you meet several conditions. The most important one? Don’t check any bags.
The basic crux is to route through where you want you open jaw final destination to be, continue the award routing to where your award started, but get off the plane and leave the airport where you want. If that sounds complicated, I’ll show you my award to show you how simple it really was.
Here’s what I ticketed for 100k miles:
Buenos Aires to Johannesburg in South African business (stopover)
Johannesburg to Munich in South African business (destination)
Munich to Vienna to Chicago in Austrian business
to Newark to Buenos Aires (destination)
This award has one stopover in Johannesburg for ten days, and no open jaws. It flies into and out of Munich and into and out of Buenos Aires. I have crossed out the last two legs back to Argentina because I don’t plan to fly them.
I’ll just get off the plane in Chicago and leave the airport there after going through immigration, giving me my dream itinerary:
Buenos Aires to Johannesburg
Johannesburg to Munich
Munich to Chicago
Let me explain what you need to do to book a similar award and when you would want to.
Why US Airways?
US Airways has the best award chart in the world. When people disagree with my valuation of US Airways miles at 1.95 cents, higher than any other mile, I point to off peak awards and the chart.
South America in particular is a sweet spot for US Airways miles. You can fly anywhere within South America for 25k/30k miles roundtrip in economy/business class. There are some long intra-South America itineraries, so 30k miles roundtrip in business class is a steal.
Similarly I’ve written about South America to Europe roundtrip for 100k in business, the same price as North America to Europe. When I spotted that gem, I was considering its value for the direct Buenos Aires to Frankfurt flight. But now that I know you can route through North America or Africa, it’s even more valuable.
For comparison, while US Airways charges 70k/100k/130k roundtrip in economy/business/first between South America and Europe, United charges 95k/140k/160k. American charges 100k/140k/180k. In fairness to United and American, they let you go oneway for half price, while US Airways doesn’t.
But American was out of the question for the awards. I absolutely love British Airways business class (see my review), but 70k miles and $450 is not my idea of a good deal for a oneway trip!
With American or United miles, I would have to pay 120k miles to get from Buenos Aires to Europe to Chicago. US Airways would let me go for 100k with a free stopover in South Africa and no surcharges, so the choice was easy.
The Award Search
When searching for a US Airways award, head directly to united.com. I knew I wanted to go to South Africa because I really enjoyed East Africa this winter, and I hear incredible things about Cape Town. My first search was Buenos Aires to Johannesburg.
I didn’t check Nonstop Flights Only for the reasons mentioned in Tricking United.com’s Award Calendar.
The route has excellent availability on the direct South African flight operated by an A340-300.
The availability was so good in fact that I didn’t pick a date, skipping ahead to what I expected to be the hardest leg–Johannesburg to Europe.
My desire for this leg was to fly directly to somewhere in Europe other than Istanbul and London, since I’ve been both places recently, and they aren’t central. I wasn’t too picky, since I plan on a six week loop through several countries. The Star Alliance routes from Johannesburg to Europe are, according to wikipedia:
Frankfurt (Lufthansa A380, South African)
Munich (South African)
London (South African)
The German and Swiss options were ideal, since I want to loop through both countries, and both have direct flights to Chicago with plenty of space.
The Lufthansa A380 was appealing to try out Lufthansa business and get a second flight on an A380 (Qantas business coming up in January)! It was unappealing because Lufthansa put angled lie flat seats on the plane, and I always try to avoid those.
But I knew the key thing was to be flexible because I didn’t expect great award space. To check, I followed the tips I outlined in Tricking United.com’s Award Calendar. I would do an award search for a date in February for a direct flight like JNB-ZRH. When I found a date with a seat in any cabin, I would then toggle the calendar to August to see if there was any space for me.
Johannesburg to Zurich. Blue = biz space. Yellow = economy space
I wanted to give myself at least five and a half months in Argentina and ten days in South Africa, so that meant a departure a week or two later than August 6. No luck on Swiss.
Johannesburg to Frankfurt. Yellow = economy. Green = economy and biz
Frankfurt only had space in economy in August, and this will be a business class trip.
Munich didn’t have great space, but it had one useable date, which was all I needed.
Johannesburg to Munich. Yellow = economy. Blue = business. Green = both.
Munich sounds like a good start and end point for my loop; I’ve heard good things, and it should be easy to get around via train and plane. With the date for South Africa to Europe picked, I circled back and picked an appropriate date to leave Buenos Aires from my many choices. I will have nine days in South Africa, and I’ll have to buy a roundtrip ticket to Cape Town using the cheap ways I uncovered last week.
The penultimate step was Munich to Chicago. The Seminars next year are October 11-13, and there was a direct flight from Munich to O’Hare on October 10. It was almost perfect.
I really love United’s business class product (reviewed here), so it was very tempting to grab that seat. But I decided I wanted to spend two days in Chicago before the Seminars, and I wanted to try Austrian’s new transatlantic business class product.
Luckily space on that flight is plentiful too, so I broke my strong nonstop preference and found MUC-VIE-ORD to book.
Vienna to Chicago space on Austrian. Yellow = economy. Green = economy and biz.
This was the end of what I was flying, but it was not the end of my searches. I needed to find dummy legs from Chicago to Buenos Aires to book, so that I didn’t leave an open jaw between Buenos Aires and Chicago.
All I had to do was find economy or business class seats from Chicago to Buenos Aires that left me less than a 24 hour layover in Chicago and en route.
That wasn’t too hard because October is not peak time to Argentina.
Wouldn’t want to fly them. Happy to add them as dummy legs.
Booking was a snap. I called US Airways at 800-622-1015. I fed the agent the flight dates, flight numbers, and cabins. He checked his award chart and told me the price was 100k miles and $309.02. That $309 represented $259 in unavoidable government taxes–Germany, Argentina, and South Africa all want to ding you!–plus a $50 award processing fee that was also unavoidable. US Airways does not charge a phone fee for partner bookings, since you can’t do those on usairways.com.
I put the award on a three day hold to consider it. A few nights later, I was too pumped about the award to let it expire, so I called back and ticketed it.
The next day, I called South African Airways at 800-722-9675 to pick my seats. Both their flights are operated by an A340-300 with 38 fully flat 6’1″ beds.
Rows 15 and 16 are their own little mini-cabin, and the window seats don’t have aisle access. I wanted to test out two different seats, so I grabbed 16A for the EZE-JNB where I expect better viewing. I’m hopeful 16C is empty.
For JNB-MUC, I’ve got 2D to test out an aisle in the main business cabin.
The agent also was able to select seats for my other flights. I can’t find a seat map for Austrian’s new longhaul configuration, but he said it was 1-2-1, so a window up front seemed like the obvious choice. The agent said he could help me select seats for the United flights too and was baffled when I declined to select those seats, thanked him, and hung up.
Jealous of Myself
I am ecstatic about this trip. After five and a half months in Buenos Aires, I will go to Africa for a week and a half, then loop through Europe for almost two months. I consider myself more of a traveler than a flyer, so the long time frames are ideal.
Since I get to Europe in late August, I plan to head north while the weather is still good. I am considering going to Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, the Balkans… The list is already too long since I like to spend a week or more everywhere I go. But I love Scandinavia, I love Eastern Europe, and I want to see everywhere, so it’s hard to narrow it down. Suggestions?
And I’ll get to fly 20 hours on South African Airways’ beds, which get incredible ratings and 11 hours on Austrian’s new bed, which looks top notch–definitely worth 100k miles + $309 (+ 15k Avios + $66 for the JNB-CPT roundtrip.)
I put the trick I unveiled on Friday to good use by booking a US Airways award with a stopover and an open jaw by adding on dummy legs. I am flying all in business class from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg to Munich to Vienna to Chicago for 100k miles plus taxes and fees. Let’s look at the numbers.
EZE-JNB; JNB-MUC; MUC-ORD cost: $2,351 in economy, $6,560 in business
My subjective value of the itinerary: $3,351 (economy price plus $1k, a modest valuation for 30 hrs in flat bed business)
US Airways Dividend Miles needed: 100,000
Total taxes and fees: $309.02
Miles foregone by not purchasing itinerary: 15,213
Cents per mile as booked: 2.64! according to the milevalue calculator. (I plugged 3351; 309.02; 100000; 15213 into the calculator. Do you see why?)
I’m over the moon about the booking. I value Dividend Miles at 1.95 cents, which many consider high. I crushed that valuation, even with a conservative estimate of the value of my ticket. The US Airways chart is second to none. I plan to spend the $2k+ I saved on buying one hot dog from a street cart in Copenhagen. Seriously, have you seen the food prices in Denmark!?