Category Archives: Trick

My Second Best Travel Tip (Don’t Get Lost Abroad)

I actually haven’t ranked my travel tips, but I love this one because it’s super simple and saves me from getting lost all around the world.

But it’s not my #1 travel tip, which would probably be “use miles” or “travel more” or “travel solo” or something like that.

It may not even be my #2 travel tip because you can save a lot of money with these two:

Anyway, here’s how I avoid getting lost worldwide when I don’t have cell phone data. I used this trick in Slovenia last month because T-Mobile doesn’t offer free data there, and I’ve used it to navigate the dusty streets and alleys of Kampala, Uganda without issue.

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How Did I Just Learn This Awesome Trick To Get More Space in Coach

I fly a lot of flights in economy class. While all my longhauls are in business or first, when I fly domestically or hop around Southeast Asia, Europe, or Australia, it’s almost always in coach.

It’s just not worth using airline miles to book short flights in first class. I prefer to book cheap economy flight with Arrival miles and save my airline miles for international first class.

Last week I read an article called “30 Pilots And Flight Attendants Confess Their Best Kept Secrets,” and one of the secrets was actually an amazing tip I can’t believe I didn’t already know.

It won’t quite give you this much space in economy, but it does make flying in the back a little more comfortable.

IMG_0052

Cathay Pacific First Class

How have I given myself more room in economy this week?

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I Changed a United Award to Lufthansa First Last Week at the Old Price

United massively devalued its award chart on February 1, 2014, in particular for First Class awards on partner airlines.

Lufthansa First Class from the US to Europe went from 67,500 United miles each way to 110,000 miles each way.

Exacerbating that enormous price increase is the fact that Lufthansa First Class awards are generally only bookable two weeks before departure with United miles because that’s when Lufthansa finally releases First Class award space to partners.

While conventional wisdom was that Lufthansa First Class would only be bookable at its old 67,500-mile price for flights through early March 2014, I suggested in a post that you could lock in the old price for Lufthansa First Class through February 2015 by booking Lufthansa First Class at the old rate before the devaluation and later using the cancel-and-rebook-later trick.

What is the cancel-and-rebook-later trick? How was I able to change my award to Lufthansa First Class at the old price last week?

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Master Thread: Holds on United Awards

Two weeks ago, I wrote that United had ended free holds online for award bookings.

Luckily, JB from the MileValue Award Booking Service came up with an extremely simple hack to regain all of the lost award-hold functionality.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 11.56.03 PM

The ability to hold awards is crucial when booking a trip has many moving parts–hotels, flights for more than one person, several awards booked with different types of miles, etc–that you want to lock in completely before booking any part of the trip. That means it is great news that we can hold United awards so broadly!

Award holds on United are possible again under two circumstances:

  • You have enough miles in your United account to book the award. (PayPal trick)
  • You do NOT have enough miles in your United account to book an award AND the award contains a partner segment. (DoNotTrackMe trick)

That means there is only one time when you cannot hold an award on united.com:

  • You do NOT have enough miles in your account and the award contains only segments on United airplanes.

And even here, there’s a workaround.

How do you hold a United award when you have enough miles in your account? What about when you don’t have enough miles? What’s JB’s hack?

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United Ends Free Holds Online, But You Can Still Use This Trick

Update 3/6/14: This post is outdated. See Master Thread: Holds on United Awards

In What You Need to Know about United Award Holds, I ran through the two ways to hold a United award online:

  1. Any award that contains a partner segment can be held for free if your account does not have sufficient miles to ticket the award immediately. Bill wrote about this trick at length with screen shots.
  2. Any award can be held through the PayPal trick as long as you do have sufficient miles in the account.

The first trick is dead!

How can you now hold a United award?

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How to Get More Free Stopovers and Use Fewer Miles on Your Next Trip to South America

Did you miss 20k Miles (or Less) to All of South America All Year yesterday? That post is a competing trick with this one, and it might be an even better deal for you.

Chicago to Santiago “should” cost 30,000 American Airlines miles each way in economy. And you “shouldn’t” be able to stop in Peru on the way to Chile (or even layover there.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 12.23.22 AM

Do not pay 30,000 American Airlines miles for this award!

Instead of playing by American Airlines’ rules, though, we can combine our American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios to book dream trips to South America with more stops for fewer miles.

In the Chicago to Santiago example, we could pay only 15k American Airlines miles plus 10k Avios each way and stop in Peru either or both directions.

I’ve already explained how American Airlines has incredible off peak awards that allow you to travel for large swaths of the year at discounted rates. For Central America and Northern South America–Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador–you can fly one way from the US for only 15k miles for seven months out of every year.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.02.00 PM An off peak award to Northern South America plus one or more Avios awards creates a dream vacation with more stops for fewer miles.

How do I put it all together?

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$200 Flight to Japan with Hidden City Ticketing on LifeMiles Awards

TACA/Avianca is a Star Alliance carrier with a loyalty program called LifeMiles. LifeMiles are sold for 3 cents per mile, but frequent 2 x 1 sales–like the current sale through December 30, 2013–bring the cost down to 1.5 cents per mile.

LifeMiles has a solid award chart that is broadly in line with other Star Alliance carriers. It’s worse than US Airways’ chart, but better than United’s new chart.

LifeMiles has four incredibly flyer-friendly award policies that combine for some attractive deals like

  • a $190 one way flight from the US to Japan
  • a $190 one way flight from the mainland US to Hawaii
  • or a $340 one way in business class from Europe to Asia

The four awesome policies that combine to allow those prices are:

  • Cheap Miles. US Airways is currently “selling” miles for 1.13 cents, but other than that sale, you never see miles for as cheap as LifeMiles routinely sells them (1.5 cents per mile.)
  • One way awards for half the roundtrip price.
  • Not charging the award price for the most expensive region transited. You can route from North America to Japan to North America in one direction and pay only the “within North America” price instead of the more expensive price some airlines would charge for transiting a more expensive region.
  • Treating Guam as North America. Guam is part of the US, which is a big part of North America, so I understand LifeMiles’ thinking. Other airlines’ award charts treat Guam as part of Oceania, which is often a more expensive region.

How can you put it all together to get incredibly cheap economy and business class tickets to and within many regions worldwide?

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Anatomy of an Award: Southeast Asian and Mexican Vacations in Business Class for 90k US Airways Miles, 30k Arrival Miles, and Zero Cash

Two weeks ago, in How to Save 70,000 Miles on US Airways Awards to Southeast Asia, Bill blew people’s minds with his post about one of the biggest tricks you can pull with US Airways miles:

When routing from the US to South & Central Asia, you can save up to 70,000 US Airways miles by adding segments from Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean to your home airport before the main award.

The four step process is not difficult, but it is new, so there was some confusion in the comments section of that post. To allay that confusion, I’ll give an example of this type of award I’ve just booked for two of my friends in Los Angeles.

They’ll be taking two vacations in the next five months–a three day weekend in Cabo, Mexico and 17 days in Thailand–with almost all the flights in business class for 90k US Airways miles, 30k Arrival miles, and zero cash out of pocket.

How did I search for award space? How did I book the award? How is there no cash out of pocket? How many miles did they save?

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Holiday Travel Tips from MileValue Featured on Forbes

I was featured in a recent Forbes article called “20 Holiday Travel Secrets from Industry Insiders” about tips for cheaper and more comfortable holiday travel. My main suggestion for holiday travel that made the article was:

Use credit card points

Because airlines usually black out holiday travel dates for cashing in frequent flyer miles, “Use credit card points that are good on any flight, any time, on any airline like Arrival Miles [from the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® - Earn 2x on All Purchases], Capital One miles, and FlexPoints [from the U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® Card]. In the case of a FlexPerks award, you even get a $25 credit for baggage, food, or lounge access on the day of travel,” says Scott Grimmer, founder of MileValue.com.

What are my other top tips for cheaper and more comfortable holiday travel that didn’t make the article?

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How to Save 70,000 Miles on US Airways Awards to Southeast Asia

By using the principles of free oneways and an incredible sweet spot on the US Airways award chart, you can save up to 70,000 miles on your next US Airways award booking to Asia.

I’m flying Turkish Airlines Business Class on My Next US Airways Award

US Airways charges ordinarily charges 120k miles roundtrip in business class to India or Thailand and 160k in first. We can cut that to 90k miles roundtrip in business class to South or Southeast Asia and 120k miles in first!

What is this awesome sweet spot on the US Airways chart? How do we take advantage of it? Can I really save up to 70,000 Dividend Miles per person by taking advantage?

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How You Can Be Better at Award Searching than United.com

United.com has one glaring flaw in the way that it was programmed that you can correct to become a better award searcher than united.com.

This is the ultimate trick when united.com tells you there is no Saver Award Availability on the route you want on the date you want.

How can you be better at award searching than united.com?

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Free Oneways on United Awards within the USA

Reader Christopher emailed me an exciting tip the other day: free oneways are possible on United awards within the continental USA and Canada. I already knew free oneways were possible on international United awards and awards to Hawaii, but this was news.

He sent me some screenshots, and I was able to replicate his findings and add some more of my own. I learned four things:

  1. Christopher’s tip: You can get a free oneway on roundtrip Standard economy awards within the US and Canada. That means three oneway Standard awards for 50k United miles. This is a savings of 25k miles.
  2. You can book a roundtrip award that is half in Saver economy space and half in Standard economy space with an additional oneway in Standard space for 42.5k United miles. This is a savings of 20k United miles.
  3. You can add a oneway onto a roundtrip Saver economy award ticket within the US and Canada for 10k miles. That means three oneway Saver economy awards for 35k United miles. This is a savings of 2.5k miles.
  4. You can add a oneway onto a roundtrip Saver business/first award ticket within the US and Canada for 10k miles. That means three oneway Saver business/first awards for 60k United miles. This is a savings of 15k miles.

Free Oneway on Roundtrip Economy Standard Awards

United has two prices for award ticket: the Saver price and the Standard price. I think of the Saver price as the “real” price and the Standard price as the “double” price. Saver space is heavily capacity controlled, and Standard space is almost always available.

Within the upper 49 US states and Canada, United charges 12,500 miles each direction for economy Saver awards and 25,000 miles each way for economy Standard awards.

That means a roundtrip Standard economy award is 50,000 miles, which I consider to be a horrible deal in the vast majority of cases. Why? I value 50,000 United miles at about $900, which is quite pricey for a domestic roundtrip.

But Christopher sent me screenshots of free oneways on domestic roundtrip Standard awards.

Here’s an example:

LAX-Orlando, Orlando-LAX, LAX-Chicago for 50k on all Standard space

In the example above, all the space is Standard economy space, denoted by the YN in parentheses at the end of the Fare Class line.

That means that

Los Angeles to Orlando on December 23, 2013

Orlando to Los Angeles on January 2, 2014

alone should cost 50,000 miles as a roundtrip Standard economy award. But in fact, the whole award costs 50,000 miles total including the third segment from Los Angeles to Chicago in economy. That means Los Angeles to Chicago added zero extra miles, and Los Angeles to Chicago is a free oneway.

Or if you prefer, you can think of this trick as getting three oneway trips for 50,000 miles, meaning 16,667 miles for each one. That’s a 33% premium over the Saver price, but it could be worth it in some cases.

Do the math for each potential award. Just because there is a free oneway doesn’t mean the award is a good deal, and just because Standard space is involved doesn’t mean the award is a bad deal.

For instance, the three segments above would cost $748.70 if purchased with cash. Plugging the award into the Mile Value Calculator, the award only gets about 1.3 cents of value per mile.

But just because my one example isn’t a great award doesn’t mean great uses of this trick don’t exist. This trick seems to encompass any three oneway Standard itineraries. If you are looking to book three very expensive oneways, 50,000 miles could be a good deal. Possible uses:

  • Booking a roundtrip Standard award to an event that is causing airfare prices to spike and Saver spaces to disappear, like the Super Bowl, and adding another expensive oneway trip. (Although there is plenty of award space to EWR at the moment for next year’s cold-weather Super Bowl.)
  • Booking a roundtrip award at the last minute where Saver space is not available, and adding another expensive oneway. (Ideally you would have status too, so the close in ticketing fee for booking an award within 21 days of departure would be reduced or waived.)
  • You live in a small city where very little Saver space is released, so you are stuck with Standard space. Three oneways using Standard space for 50,000 miles isn’t so bad since paid fares are probably expensive.

Charlottesville, VA to Las Vegas roundtrip plus Charlottesville to Houston oneway in Standard space for 50k

Cheap Oneway on a Roundtrip Mixed Standard/Saver Economy Award

The foregoing example makes theoretical sense to me: you can get a free oneway on a Standard roundtrip economy award within the US. But I can’t explain this second one.

If the outbound of a domestic roundtrip is in Saver space and the return is in Standard space, you can add a oneway to the end in Standard space, and the total award will price at 42,500 miles. I have no idea where that price comes from.

LAX to Orlando in Saver, Orlando to LAX and LAX to Chicago in Standard

The roundtrip from LAX to Orlando should cost 37,500 miles since oneway is in Saver space and oneway is in Standard space. The oneway from LAX to Chicago should be another 25,000 miles.

But instead of 62,500 miles, the price is 42,500 miles total. This is getting to the territory where I could see a lot of itineraries making sense. If I really needed a domestic oneway ticket as a Standard award, I would make sure to ticket that award using this trick.

Cheap Oneways on Roundtrip Saver Economy Awards

Most of us probably book Saver economy awards within the US if we book domestic awards at all. A roundtrip Saver award is 25,000 miles.

You can add a oneway on to that for 10,000 more miles. That’s not a huge discount–2,500 miles–but it’s nice to know.

Chicago to San Francisco roundtrip plus Chicago to Tampa oneway for 35k

 

Cheap Oneways on Roundtrip Saver Business/First Awards

A roundtrip Saver award in domestic first class costs 50k miles. I can’t imagine that ever being a good value for me, since domestic first class is just a slightly wider seat, seven extra inches of leg room, and a meal worth maybe $10.

But 50k miles is also the price of a roundtrip on flat beds on United’s p.s. flights from JFK to LAX and San Francisco in business class. That’s a price I might actually pay since those flights exceed six hours, and a bed is a big upgrade over an economy seat.

In another price I can’t explain, the price to add a oneway in domestic first class to a roundtrip in domestic first or business class is 60,000 miles total.

JFK to LAX roundtrip in flat beds, LAX to Chicago in domestic first for 60k miles

LAX to Dulles roundtrip plus LAX to Chicago, all in domestic first for 60k miles

 

Why do these four tricks work?

I assume these are glitches.

Any way to get more out of the tricks?

The tricks that maximize the value of Standard space are useful for very few awards, namely awards where the equivalent cash ticket would be very expensive. Unfortunately on those flights, even Standard awards might not be available because Standard awards don’t have “last seat availability” for the general public.

But if you have the United Explorer card or United elite status, you can get any seat, any time for the Standard award price. That means three super expensive oneways can be had for 50,000 miles, which could be a great deal.

I got an error message when I tried to replicate the methods in this post.

That happens a lot on united.com multicity searches, which is the only way to search for free oneways on United. Ordinarily I recommend calling in to piece together the award when you get an error on united.com. But since I think these prices are caused by a glitch, I would say that an error message just means you are out of luck.

The only error messages I’ve gotten on these searches are when I tried to string three flat bed p.s. flights together like JFK-LAX//LAX-JFK//JFK-SFO, and when I tried to take the free oneway back to where the roundtrip went like ORD-SFO//SFO-ORD//ORD-SFO.

Recap

A reader tip sent me to explore free stopovers on United domestic awards. I found:

  • You can get free oneways on domestic roundtrip Standard economy awards. That means three Standard oneways for 50,000 miles.
  • You can get a cheap oneway on a domestic roundtrip economy award that is half Standard/half Saver. That means two Standard oneways and one Saver oneway for 42,500 miles.
  • You can get a cheap oneway on a domestic roundtrip Saver economy award. That means three Saver oneways for 35,000 miles.
  • You can get a cheap oneway on a domestic roundtrip Saver business/first award. That means three Saver business/first awards (including up to two on flat beds on the transcontinental p.s. flights) for 60,000 miles.



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Save 15,000 Miles with the Hidden City Trick on Your Next Award

United, US Airways, American, and Delta among others rely on award charts to determine the price of your award. This method generally makes sense, but it also opens the airlines up to the hidden city trick.

If you can route through your desired destination on the way to a region that costs fewer miles, you can save miles as long as you travel with only carry ons.

Let me give an example that reader Ryan just emailed me:

Bangkok to Fiji costs 15,000 United miles oneway in economy and can route through Auckland on the Air New Zealand flight to Fiji.

Bangkok to Auckland to  Fiji for 15k oneway

Bangkok to Auckland costs 30,000 United miles oneway in economy.

Bangkok to Auckland for 30k oneway

That means adding Auckland to Fiji onto an award from Bangkok to Auckland reduces the miles outlay by 15,000 miles.

So if you want to book an award from Bangkok to Auckland, book Bangkok to Fiji instead and just leave the airport in Auckland with your carry on.

If you want Bangkok to Auckland, book Bangkok to Auckland to Fiji and just don’t fly the last segment.

 

There are several examples of the hidden city trick that you can use while booking your award. I’ve talked about some before.

There are surely other examples that will be shared in the comments. The way to find more examples is to look for a way you can route through your desired destination on the way to a region that costs fewer miles.

Things to keep in mind:

  • If you miss a flight, your entire ticket is cancelled, so make sure the flight you are skipping is the last one on your ticket.
  • Checked bags will go to your destination in most cases, but you must collect all bags at your first stop in the US when returning from abroad to clear customs.
  • Intentionally not flying a segment might violate an airline’s rules. If you do this, there is some risk of your frequent flyer account being shut down.
  • Award space is rivalrous. If you ticket space that you don’t intend to fly, you may be shutting someone else out of space he would want to fly.

Recap

Flying from Bangkok to Fiji costs 15,000 miles and can route through Auckland. Just Bangkok to Auckland is 30,000 miles, so you save 15,000 miles by appending a segment to Fiji that you won’t fly.

This is a specific example of using hidden city ticketing on awards. There are a lot more examples, and some drawbacks to ticketing this way.

The Trick If You Don’t Live at an International Gateway City

With my recent posts about flying to Europe all year round for 20,000 American Airlines miles or flying to South American for negative 7,500 miles, there’s one problem for a lot of people.

Using both tricks requires taking a stopover on an American Airlines award. In The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards, I said:

Stopovers must occur at the North American International Gateway City. The North American International Gateway City is the last North American city you transit on awards leaving North America.

On awards from other regions to North America, the North American International Gateway City is the North American city in which you first arrive.

North America is defined as the 50 US states, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

For a complete list of North American International Gateway Cities of all AA partners, see the list I compiled.

Example: On the itinerary Melbourne to Sydney to Honolulu to Los Angeles to New York, the North American International Gateway City is Honolulu because it is where you enter North America. It is the only place on the itinerary where you can have a free stopover.

So what if you don’t live at a North American International Gateway City? Can you still take advantage of my tricks? Yes!

This post will be about using a combination of American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios to greatly increase the number of cities where you can enjoy an almost free stopover on an AA award.

By pairing Avios with our AAdvantage miles, we can greatly the number of cities where we can stopover for a small amount of extra miles. Here’s how:We’ll book two awards. The first will be the main international award with AA miles. We must choose an international gateway city near the city where we want to stopover. We must also ensure that there is a direct AA flight between the international gateway city and the desired stopover city.

If that sounds complicated, it really isn’t, and an example should clarify.

Example of an almost free stopover: Imagine I live in Tampa and want to book a oneway award from Los Angeles to Tampa with AA miles.

This award costs 25,000 miles in business. North America to Uruguay costs 50,000 miles each way in business. If only Tampa were an international gateway city, I could add on Tampa to Montevideo for 25,000 miles in business using the technique I explored recently.

But since Tampa is not an international gateway city, it looks like I’m out of luck. Except that Miami is very close to Tampa and is a city with a direct AA flight to Montevideo.

What if I book a separate Avios award MIA-TPA-MIA? For 9,000 Avios, I’ve added a stopover in Tampa. Here’s how the flights would look with some example dates:

April 16: LAX-MIA <— business, part of AAdvantage award

April 16: MIA-TPA <— economy, award for 4,500 Avios

 

April 24: TPA-MIA <— economy, award for 4,500 Avios

April: MIA-MVD <— business, part of AAdvantage award

 

To recap this example: I would book two awards.

  1. A oneway from LAX to Montevideo with a free stopover in Miami.
  2. A roundtrip Avios award on AA planes from Miami to Tampa.

Even though I booked LAX to Montevideo and Miami to Tampa roundtrip, my flights turned out to be LAX to Tampa then Tampa to Montevideo. What are the benefits to booking this way? Lower cost.

An LAX to Montevideo business class award would cost 50k AA miles, so adding in a stopover on a business class award would cost 50k AA miles, 9k Avios, and small taxes. If instead, I booked the awards LAX to Tampa and Tampa to Montevideo in business class that would have cost 75k AA miles and about the same taxes.

So combining this trick with an AA premium cabin award results in huge savings. In my example, the savings would be 25k AA miles for the cost of 9k Avios. According to my valuation of those miles, using this AA-plus-Avios trick, we would save $289.50 worth of miles.

How would I actually exploit this trick in practice? It’s important to make sure that both awards–the AA award and complementary Avois award–are booked so we aren’t left with a stopover we don’t want or an Avios roundtrip we can’t use.

So the first thing I would do is search for the AA award with the appropriate stopover. If you are flying AA, Hawaiian Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, airberlin, Finnair, or Alaska Airlines, you can search for the award on aa.com, and it will even price correctly with the stopover. (If you don’t know how to book a free stopover online on an AA award, see this post.)

To continue the example from earlier, I would search for LAX-MIA//MIA-MVD on aa.com. But after searching and selecting my itinerary, I wouldn’t purchase it. Instead I would select AAdvantage Hold on the screen that asks if you want to purchase the itinerary. This reserves the itinerary for five days and generates a record locator.

Now we can go ticket the Avios itinerary. If you don’t know how to book AA flights on ba.com, here is an example of my booking such an award on ba.com. This booking is a snap. I just need to find a flight from MIA-TPA that minimized my layover in Miami, and a return TPA-MIA that minimizes my layover in Miami. Here is such an itinerary.

I’ll splice the images to make it easier to see how these two awards combine into the two journeys we want, LAX-TPA and TPA-MVD. Note the reasonable layovers of 1:40 in Miami en route to Tampa and 2:00 en Miami en route to Montevideo.

With the BA award ticketed, I would sign back into AA and ticket the reserved AA award.

The best part of this trick is that oneworld airlines, like AA and BA, have a policy of taking responsibility to get you to your final oneworld destination even if your flights are on multiple tickets. In plain English, that means that if your first flight LAX-MIA is delayed, so you miss MIA-TPA, AA won’t say, “Tough luck, MIA-TPA was a separate ticket. We’re not responsible for your missing that.” Instead they’ll treat you the same as any passenger on an LAX-MIA-TPA connecting ticket. That is, they’ll get you a seat on the next MIA-TPA flight.

So this trick can be a real mile saver, and a mile saved is a mile earned. Astute readers probably see the possibility to get even more value out of this trick by booking an almost free oneway. How does 9,000 Avios for a oneway first class ticket to Hawaii sound?

The steps are:

  1. Book an international AA award with its North American international gateway city at an airport near your home airport, and a free oneway from that airport to your desired free-oneway destination.
  2. Book a direct AA flight roundtrip from the international gateway city to your home airport with Avios.
  3. Fly the two itineraries. Origin to your home airport, home airport to the destination of the free oneway.

 

Example of an almost free oneway: Alyse lives in Pittsburgh, PA and has a stash of AA miles. She wants to take her honeymoon to Spain. She’s heard about AA’s free oneways and wants to tack a free oneway to Hawaii onto her award. But Pittsburgh is not an international gateway city. Once Alyse learns about this AA and Avios combination trick, an almost free oneway is within her grasp. Here’s how:

Alyse sees that JFK is a nearby international gateway city with direct AA flights to Barcelona. And she notes that AA has a direct flight between Pittsburgh and JFK. Alyse would book two awards, with sample dates:

AA award, 50,000 miles, free oneway to Hawaii after the main trip:

March 15, 2013: AA business Barcelona-JFK

September 15, 2013: Hawaiian Airlines first JFK-Honolulu

BA award, 9,000 Avios:

March 15, 2013: AA coach JFK-PIT

September 15, 2013: AA coach PIT-JFK

Those are the awards Alyse would book, but this is what she would actually fly:

March 15, 2013: Barcelona to Pittsburgh

September 15, 2013: Pittsburgh to Maui

If Alyse didn’t know this trick, she would have booked Barcelona to Pittsburgh in business class for 50,000 AA miles and been bummed that she missed out on the free oneway fun. But with this trick Alyse can book Barcelona to Pittsburgh in business class and Pittsburgh to Honolulu in first class for 50,000 AA miles and 9,000 Avios. So Alyse would be adding a first class journey from Pittsburgh to Honolulu for only 9,000 Avios! That’s an incredible deal.

To get the most out of this deal, you must live close to an international gateway airport, so that a roundtrip is only 9,000 Avios. And you should book a premium cabin award with your AA miles. Why? 9,000 Avios for a oneway to Hawaii in coach is good, but 9,000 Avios to Hawaii in first class is better.

Your almost-free oneway can go anywhere in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or the USA, subject to the five rules that govern any AA award.

Recap

I’ve written about a lot of great ways to get maximum value out of your American Airlines awards recently. All of them require you to live at an international gateway city to take a stopover there. If you don’t live at one, you can use Avios to get you to one for as little as 9,000 Avios roundtrip. That means the tricks are open to practically anyone, in only a slightly less valuable form, as long as you have a few Avios.

For more tricks, follow me on twitter @milevalue

Confessions of a Hotel Insider Article is a Treasure Trove of Hotel Advice

Right before Christmas, The Week published an article odd in tone and subject matter. The story “Confessions of a hotel insider” and subtitled “If you want the best room, sparkling service, and free booze, just follow these rules” was an excerpt of a new book “Heads in Beds” by Jacob Tomsky, a career hotel employee.

The first few tips fall under the general idea of being polite to the person checking you in because they have a ton of control over whether you end up in a good room or a bad room. Great bad room example:

If I put you in room 1212 in New York City, your phone will not stop ringing with wrong numbers. Why? Well, a surprising number of guests never seem to learn that you have to dial 9 to make an outside call. So all day and, believe me, all night, idiots dispersed throughout the building will pick up their phones and try to straight dial a local number, starting with 1-212. Whatever they press after that matters not because they have already dialed room 1212, and 1212′s guest will constantly pick up the 3:00 a.m. call and hear the loud mashing of other numbers or some drunk guest saying, “Hello? Hello? Who is this?”

Being polite is pretty simple and comes down to treating the agent like a human, not talking on your cell phone during your check in, and not trying to be a big shot.

Then comes the juicy part of the story: Things Every Guest Must Know.

You never have to pay for using the minibar.
Minibar charges are, without question, the most disputed charges on any bill. Why? Because it’s done by people. The traditional minibar, before they invented the sensored variety, is checked (maybe) once a day by a slow-moving gentleman or lady pushing a cartful of snacks. Keystroke errors, delays in restocking, double stocking, and hundreds of other missteps make minibar charges the most voided item. Even before guests can manage to get through half of the “I never had these items” sentence, I have already removed the charges.

This tip is getting less useful all the time with the proliferation of electronic sensors, but last week at the Radisson Sydney our minibar was hand checked. This is also, of course, theft.

You don’t have to pay for the in-room movies either!
Here’s how, in three easy steps: 1. Watch and enjoy any movie. 2. Call down and say you accidentally clicked on it. Or it cut off in the middle. Or it froze near the end. Or it never even started. Would you like them to restart the movie for you? No thanks. You need to go to bed/leave now. Just remove the charge, please. 3. Order another movie.

This is probably theft too, but more like illegally downloading a movie then stealing a DVD.

The next tip is a way to beat the system that some might be comfortable with and some might think is over their personal line.

And you can easily avoid a same-day cancellation penalty.
This little move will not work with online prepaid reservations — only what we call “natural” reservations, booked through any channel as long as it’s not prepaid. Call the property directly and ask for the front desk. “Good evening, thank you for calling the front desk, my name is Doesn’t Matter, how can I assist you?”

“Excuse me, are you the manager?”

If the person says yes, hang up and call back. What we want here is certainly not the manager.

“No, I am not. Would you like to speak to the manager?”

“No, actually, I just have a quick request. I think you can help me. Well, I was supposed to fly in late tonight, but my 12-year-old daughter is sick — “

Let me stop you right there, dear guest. Sure, you need a reason, but what you don’t need is a 45-minute story. Try again.

“No, actually, I just have a quick request. I think you can help me. I’ve had a personal emergency and won’t be able to check in tonight. However, I have already rescheduled my meeting for next week. Do you think you could just shift tonight’s reservation to next Friday without a penalty?”

“Sure. Next Friday, the 24th, all set. Same confirmation number. See you then.”

“Thank you.”

Done. Now you have a reservation all set for next Friday! Why is that good? Well, tomorrow, whenever you get around to it, call the hotel back (this time no need to inquire about a manager), and just tell the front desk you want to cancel your reservation for next Friday, as you are well within your rights to do. No problem.

I’m a bit skeptical of this trick. If you ask “Are you the manager?” then continue when the person says “No,” you may set off alarm bells that make the person not very compliant.

And the last trick he lays out is the Twenty Dollar Trick. His wording is slightly different than the one I used successfully in Waikiki:

Finding your agent
What are we looking for in our agent? Someone who is efficient and not at all nervous, almost bored. If the agent is overly zealous or nervous, he or she might have just begun working at the property. Not only does the agent have to be comfortable playing the game; the agent must know the property and the system well enough to play it properly.

Tip up front: Let the agent know you are serious immediately. Here’s how I do it: I walk up, smile without showing teeth, give the agent my CC, drop a 20 on the desk, and say, “This is for you. Whatever you can do for me, I’d appreciate it.” Boom. If I am after something specific, I will include that as well: “This is for you. Whatever you can do for me, I’d appreciate a room upgrade, late checkout, wine, whatever.”

Finally, if you happen to have a successful experience, then make a point to memorize the agent’s name.

The article is interesting throughout if you can get over the over-the-top personality injection.

I won’t be using the tricks to get free movies and booze because I consider them theft. I will continue to use the Twenty Dollar Trick.

Hat Tip aotennis.blogspot.com

PS- Gary Leff mentioned the author and book in yesterday’s post about his experiences with the $20 trip. He pointed to a review of the book, which this article excerpts, by Very Good Points.