Tag Archives: American

Current State of Free Oneways

This blog became famous because I was the first to articulate how to book free oneways on United and US Airways awards.

A free oneway is a one way trip to or from your home airport that is tacked onto another award for no extra miles. Free oneways cut your flight bill in half for a second trip without adding to the price of the first trip!

American Airlines killed free oneways on its awards last week by nixing all free stopovers because free oneways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport.

What’s the current state of free oneways with major frequent flyer programs?

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A Ranking of Miles from Most Broadly Useful to Most Niche

I naturally categorize miles and points into two groups:

  1. Broadly useful
  2. Niche programs

The first type of miles are the miles you want to stockpile if you’re hoping to follow a simple mile-accumulation strategy to meet all your future travel goals. Ideally these miles benefit from cheap award charts across all classes of service and to all regions without incurring fuel surcharges on awards.

By contrast, niche programs have some great values on their award charts, but lots of flaws. Maybe the program collects fuel surcharges on most awards, or charges too much for redemptions in premium cabins, or simply doesn’t release much Saver award space on flights.

Niche programs can be ignored my those who merely dabble in miles collection, but serious miles collectors should  know the strengths of and collect miles in niche programs too.

Which miles do I consider broadly useful? Which programs do I consider niche programs? What are the niche programs’ strengths?

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Combining Hawaii and Australia onto One Award is Easy with Great Award Space in 2014

There is:

  • widely available
  • underpriced
  • economy award space
  • for two passengers
  • for all of 2014
  • to Australia
  • with the opportunity to stop in Hawaii for a few days in either direction.

If you have 75,000 American Airlines miles and about $100, you can fly a roundtrip award from the United States to Australia on almost any day you want this year. Stop in Honolulu, stop in Los Angeles, or stop in each place one direction to make the trip even more interesting!

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 3.00.02 AM

How can you book this incredible award space online? What are your stopover options?

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Asian Low-Cost Carriers Are So Cheap that It Affects United and American Award Bookings

I recently booked two flights for only $102 total on Asian low-cost carriers. Asian low-cost carriers are so cheap that there are effects on United and American awards you might be considering booking.

I booked Kuala Lumpur to Lankawi for $27 on Air Asia, and I spent another $75 on a Firefly flight from Penang to Phuket. (I ferried between Langkawi and Penang for $19.)

What important effects do Asian low-cost carriers have on award booking strategy?

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You Don’t Need to Be a Hub Captive When Collecting Miles

I think it’s a big mistake to be a hub-captive. There’s no reason that the credit cards you open have to be related to the dominant carrier at your airport.

Your life will be better if you instead open up the best card for the trip you want regardless of the airline that dominates your home airport.

Why should you ignore your hubby?

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Summer 2014 Award Space Picture to Europe Right Now

Early planners are looking to book their summer trips to Europe for 2014 right now, since award space is loaded 11 months in advance. Our Award Booking Service is currently handling a lot of these requests, and award space in premium cabins is awful at the moment.

But don’t despair, there is award space in business class to Europe for next summer.

Where can you find business class award space to Europe for next summer?

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What I’d Least Like to See Changed about Each Frequent Flyer Program

United scared me a lot on Friday when it tweeted that changes were coming to MileagePlus.

United still hasn’t told us what those changes are, but insists we’ll like them.

It’s very unlikely I’ll like them much. It could be a minor enhancement, but there are very few things I would change about United MileagePlus that United would also change. (That is, I would love for the change to be that all awards now cost 5,000 miles, but that won’t happen.)

But there are a lot of negative possible changes that could come like award chart devaluations, restrictions on routing rules, more surcharges and fees, or a throttling of ultra-premium availability.

In this post I’ll lay out my single biggest fear for each of several major programs’ next round of changes.

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A Letter in My Outbox

There are a lot of reasons to use an Award Booking Service, like the MileValue Award Booking Service. One great reason is because you have miles in several accounts and want to use the most efficient type for the trip you have in mind. Different miles have different best uses.

Recently I was contacted by a friend who had mid-six-figure account balances in his American, United, and Delta accounts. He wanted a simple open jaw trip to Europe in economy class. From Washington-Dulles to Nice and returning from London to Dulles.

Below is the email I sent to him. The only edits are that I have inserted images that I attached to the email, and I have added some hyperlinks to other posts that expand on a point I am making in the email.

In the email you’ll see the options I presented, and how I was able to book him a free oneway and an award that got him 2.3 cents of value for each United mile!

—————————————————————–

Hey [buddy],

I wanted to let you in on what I’ve found.

First, I don’t know if you have any flexibility, but when possible on open jaw trips I recommend flying into London and out of France. The UK has the highest departure taxes in the world of about $155.

The UK departure taxes is if he went ahead with his trip plans.

This is more of an issue when flying business class where it’s more like $250. But you could save money by reversing the directions of this trip. If that’s possible, let me know.

United miles

I started with United miles as you directed. The return is super easy. There are four direct flights on your preferred date, all with space in economy. These are all the saver price of 30k miles.

Four perfect, direct options on the return.

The outbound is a lot trickier. The best option, and the only one that gets you in on your desired day leaves the day before and has an overnight in London. It’s one of those weird daytime flights to Europe, then a night at an airport hotel and London-Frankfurt-Nice then next day, arriving at 2:05 PM on your desired day. This is the earliest arrival possible. It’s not ideal, but it is the best 30k saver option.

Daytime flight to London connecting to…

 

…after an overnight in London, it’s two more flights to Nice to arrive in the afternoon.

The other option for the outbound is to book a “standard” award for 55,000 miles. The itinerary is a lot better, since it is one stop, a redeye across the Atlantic, and doesn’t require an overnight en route.

Ideal itinerary, but an extra 25k miles.

 

I hate to book “standard” price awards, but this might not be horrible for a few reasons. One, the roundtrip award would only be 85k miles + taxes, which is a steal compared to the $2,200 itinerary you found, and the award itinerary would actually be more convenient than the paid one you mentioned. [The paid itinerary he was considering had a one-stop return.] Second, within a week of departure United and Lufthansa tend to open up a lot of award space if seats are unsold–especially in business and first, but also in economy. When that happens, we can rebook that space.

If we rebook to saver economy, the award would be 60k miles like we want. If there is no saver economy space, but there is saver business, that would be an 80k mile award. It would save 5k miles and get you in business one way as a surprise treat. The one drawback of a last minute rebooking is the $75 fee for making a change within 21 days of departure, but that is swamped by saving 25k miles or saving 5k and upgrading to business class.

There are no guarantees with award space, but I would estimate the chances of a good saver economy itinerary opening up at 50%; a good saver business has an 80% chance of opening up.

American Airlines miles

For good measure, I looked at award space with AA miles next. The big problem is that if you book British Airways flights with AA miles, you incur fuel surcharges of about $300 per transatlantic segment. This is a big enough drawback on business awards, but on economy awards like this one, it’s a near deal killer.

I didn’t find any transatlantic award space that we could use on the no- or low-surcharge AA partners. I did find space on a BA flight, leaving and arriving one day later than you want. It cost 30,000 AA miles and $315.

A nasty surcharge on an AA award on BA flights is deal-killer in economy.

This compares to taxes of about $40 to $60 on the outbounds with United miles.

There were no good return options with AA miles.

Delta miles

Finally I checked space with your Delta miles. This was a bust. I didn’t find any good space on Delta or any of its partners. (I even looked at routing you through Russia on Aeroflot, which surely would have been an adventure!)

Putting it All Together

Both United and American can be used to book oneway awards. The return should pretty clearly be on your preferred flight of the four direct LHR-IAD flights on United.

For the outbound, you can choose the overnight in London, the “standard” award with the great schedule, or the fuel-surcharged and day-late BA itinerary.

If you choose to overnight in London, the total cost will be 60k United miles plus taxes and fees of about $210. The cool this is that you can add a FREE ONEWAY to this trip. By that I mean that sometime between your return from London and April 2, 2014, you can fly a oneway trip on United from Dulles to somewhere else–pretty much anywhere else. If that somewhere is in the continental US or Canada, it will cost $2.50 and zero miles to add to the award. If that somewhere else is in Hawaii, it will cost 2,500 miles and a few dollars. If it’s in Peru, it will cost 10,000 miles. Let me know when and where, and we’ll book the award to include the free or cheap oneway.

If you choose the perfect outbound via Frankfurt, the total cost will be 85k United miles plus taxes and fees of about $220. This trip would be eligible for the same additional free or cheap oneway (although some of the cheap oneways’ mile costs will be slightly different than those quoted in the last paragraph.)

If you choose the day-late outbound on BA, the total cost will be 30k United miles, 30k AA miles, and taxes/fees of about $500. This trip would be eligible for a free oneway but only between now and your departure date from anywhere in Canada, the US, or Mexico to Washington on AA or an AA partner.

Please let me know your thoughts on how you want to proceed. If you select something, I should be able to put it on hold for you to call in and ticket.

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I wanted to give an example of how I think, how I search, and how I communicate about award bookings. As you can see, I left a ton out of this email. For instance, I obviously searched for business class options instead of the “standard” option via Frankfurt, and I searched other dates near his date. But I left those searches out of the email for brevity.

I didn’t write a treatise on free oneways into the email, perhaps confusing someone who had never heard of them before. He did decide to book one to San Francisco once he understood the concept.

Once he made his selection, I held the award online. This did not go smoothly as United had its most common problem on multi-city searches: not showing all the options. I held something online using Bill’s trick, and I called in to edit the reservation to the correct flights.

Although it is not part of the ordinary service, I will be checking for award space to make a last second change to his award.

In general, I think the award booking went well. He was certainly thrilled with the results. I was a bit bummed to be booking an award that was dinged by UK departure taxes and included a “standard” (high-miles-price) component, but a lack of flexibility necessitated those choices.

I think something approaching good value was still achieved with the addition of a cross-country free oneway with a sticker price of $214 and not having to buy a ticket with a sticker price of $2,200.

The Mile Value Calculator says he got 2.3 cents of value per mile!

How to Exploit the American Airlines/US Airways Merger

The merger of American Airlines and US Airways, announced today, is no news in the near term, fantastic news in the medium term, and bad news in the long term for me and similarly situated frequent flyer mile hackers.

No News in the Near Term

Your US Airways Dividend Miles are still there. They can still be used to book all the same awards as you’re accustomed to on Star Alliance partners.

Your American Airlines AAdvantage miles are still there. They can still be used to book the same awards as you’re accustomed to on oneworld partners.

Fantastic News in the Medium Term

In the next 12-36 months, the value of AAdvantage miles and Dividend Miles will both rise. Why?

  1. We are unlikely to see chart devaluations for two or more years. There are other things to do in a merger, and angering loyal customers is at the bottom of the list.
  2. We are likely to have the ability to transfer miles between our US Airways and American Airlines accounts. This was a feature of the United/Continental merger. This is still an incredible feature of the Southwest/AirTran merger.
  3. We are definitely going to have our US Airways and American miles combined at some point. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One big balance gives you more options than two medium ones.

The US Airways chart has to be devalued soon. It is way too generous. I’ve written a handful of posts on its sweetspots to South America, within South America, to Australia via Asia, within South Asia, and to North Asia.

The American Airlines chart was possibly the next devaluation. Its off peak awards, and prices to Australia and Asia were happily below market price.

The merger will postpone the devaluations because the new American wants to keep its loyal customers loyal.

Until the two loyalty programs of the former US and former AA merge, there will be two award charts. And if this merger is anything like United/Continental or Southwest/AirTran, we will be given the option to link our US Airways and American Airlines accounts and transfer miles between them freely.

That would be fantastic news in the medium term because not only could you combine your miles for more incredible awards, but you could select the better chart for each award you do book and have access to all of the Star Alliance and oneworld.

That means all of US Airways sweetspot awards, oneway bookings through American, the Star Alliance’s strength to Europe, and oneworld’s strength to South America could all be harnessed whether you currently have a stash of US miles, AA miles, or some of each.

Of course, you couldn’t get all those on the same award. You would either have to transfer to US Airways and use its strengths or transfer to AA for its strengths. But I am salivating at the possibility. Unfortunately this remains only a possibility because no details were given on whether this transferring would be allowed. I sure hope it is.

We can be almost positive that when the two loyalty programs officially merge into one programs our miles will be combined. That’s good because one larger balance is always worth more than two smaller ones. Among the many benefits of one larger balance will be the increased likelihood you have enough miles for American Airlines Explorer Awards–their most valuable awards, which I’ll be discussing in depth in the next week.

Bad News in the Long Term

The merger is good news for the airline industry and bad news for consumers in the long term. Fewer airlines will mean less competition. We’ll see higher fares–and far worse–fewer credit card offerings possibly with lower sign up bonuses.

In a few years, instead of seeing the Citi American Airlines cards and the Barclay’s US Airways cards, we’ll see just the New American Airlines cards, wherever they are issued.

How to Exploit the American Airlines/US Airways Merger

While the two airlines are still separate and issuing their own credit cards and miles, I am going to try to rack up as many as possible of each kind.

As I’ve said, best practice is to apply for one personal card from each issuing bank every 91 days. Normally I get the card with the most valuable sign up bonus at the time, but there are occasionally other things to consider. The fact that Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard is virtually certain to disappear, and the Citi American Airlines cards may also disappear strongly argues for getting these cards now.

Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard Strategy

In my experience, and other reports I’ve read, you can get at least two Barclay’s US Airways MasterCards. They can be open simultaneously, and you can get the 30,000 mile bonus twice. You should apply for a Barclay’s US Airways MsaterCard today.

Application Link: US Airways Premier World MasterCard with 30,000 US Airways miles after first purchase

In 91 days, you should apply for the card again. In 182 days, you should check back here to see whether people have had success getting three.

You should be able to rack up at least 60,000 US Airways MasterCards in this way before the merger. You can use those miles on US Airways’ fantastic chart or, in the future, on the new American.

There is also a US Airways Business MasterCard with 25,000 US Airways miles after first purchase. I would consider this card too. Its sign up bonus isn’t huge, but it will disappear soon, and I don’t know of any better business cards offered by Barclay’s.

Citi American Airlines Card Strategy

Citi has several American Airlines cards. Until recently, you could get two at the same time. I think the two browser trick is dead from the reader emails and FlyerTalk reports I’ve read.

But you can still get one personal American Airlines card now for 30k miles and one business card for another 30k.

 

You can’t get a new AA personal card every 91 days. You actually have to wait 18 months between applications. With the slow pace of airline mergers, you may be able to get AA cards now and in 18 months before the merger is completed.

What Cards Will the New Airline Offer?

No one knows for sure. Since the US Airways brand is disappearing, we know its cards will too, making getting the US Airways Premier World MasterCard a more pressing matter. I hope both cards are discontinued, and a new one is released. A new card would mean a new sign up bonus we were all eligible for.

Time to Burn Miles?

I think we’ll be given several months notice whenever the status of our miles or an award chart will change, so I am not in burn mode for now. When we get that notice, we will probably be able to book under the old rules for a few months plus be able to book flights 11 months in advance. With all that lead time, I am in no hurry to burn. I will be booking awards at my normal rate for myself based on my travel desires, not a need to zero out my balances.

Recap

The American Airlines/US Airways merger is no news for now, fantastic new for the next few years, and bad news afterwards. There is no hurry to burn either type of miles, but there is a hurry to earn both types before opportunities to do so disappear. I recommend getting the US Airways MasterCard and Citi American Airlines cards now (and again later) before they disappear.

Application Link: US Airways Premier World MasterCard with 30,000 US Airways miles after first purchase

Application Link: Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard® with 30,000 miles after $1k in spending in the first three months

Application Link: CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard® with identical 30k mile sign up bonus after $1k in spending in the first three months

15,000 to Hawaii? We can do better!

American Airlines is offering 15,000 miles per direction awards to Hawaii. (Hat tip Lucky)

My first thought: we can do better!

1. American Airlines Award Free Oneway- On any award returning from Europe, you should be able to get a free or cheap oneway to Hawaii. Zero miles or 9,000 Avios is a better deal than 15,000 AA miles.

2. Allegiant Air $358+ roundtrip- Allegiant Air is a super-low cost carrier that announced flights to Hawaii that will start in November. Flights to Honolulu from Bellingham, Eugene, Fresno, Las Vegas, Monterey, Santa Maria, and Stockton; and flights to Kahului from Bellingham begin in November. The flights are as cheap as $308 roundtrip, but a carryon will cost $50 roundtrip and a checked bag is $70 roundtrip. Additionally if you want to select your seat or board early, you have to pay extra.

But if you live in one of the cities serviced by Allegiant, don’t mind a middle seat for five hours, and can travel with only one bag, $358 roundtrip to Hawaii is the second best deal in my opinion.

One key caveat is that Allegiant flights don’t earn any frequent flier miles or credit of any kind. Since normally flying from the west coast to Hawaii earns about 5,000 miles, and I value 5,000 miles at around $85 depending on the carrier, Allegiant flights must be $85 or more cheaper than the legacy carriers for this to be a good deal. Since the legacy carriers want $600+ from the west coast to Hawaii right now, Allegiant easily meets the criterion.

3. Avios Award 25,000+ Avios and $11+ roundtrip- I love that Avios is a distance-based award chart. Flights like the west coast to Hawaii cost only 12,500 Avios each way plus taxes. For 25,000 Avios and $11, you can fly on AA planes from LAX to the four major Hawaiian airports.

Alaska Airlines has way more gateways on the mainland to the four major Hawaiian airports. For 25,000 Avios and $36, you can fly from Anchorage, Bellingham, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Jose, and Seattle to Hawaii. The extra $25 on Avios awards comes from the fact that awards on Alaska Airlines can’t be booked on ba.com, and calling BA incurs a $25 phone fee.

Avios is also the best option for anyone who lives close to one of the airports mentioned in this section, since a short hop flight only adds 4,500 Avios and $2.50 to the price each way. That means Tuscon to Los Angeles to Lihue roundtrip would be 34,000 Avios and $16.

Avios can be used for oneway awards at half the price of a roundtrip award, which means that if you can’t get the Avios deal both ways, it’s still a good idea to go oneway for 12,500 Avios and use another oneway deal.

See here for an Anatomy of an Award post for a step-by-step breakdown of the time I booked a oneway award from Honolulu to LAX with Avios.

4. Hawaiian Airlines Award 35,000 miles and $5- Hawaiian Airlines awards start at 35,000 miles for Hawaiian Airlines branded card holders. The normal price is 40,000 miles. While this price is no cheaper than an American Airlines off peak award to Hawaii, I think it’s a better deal because Hawaiian Airlines miles are worth less than most programs’ miles. (The reason Hawaiian miles are worth less is their lack of partners, junk long haul first class product, and lack of destinations.)

Hawaiian also has the only direct flight from Honolulu to JFK, which at 35,000 miles and $5 is a fantastic value in terms of low cost and getting a direct flight. The other flights Hawaiian operates from Honolulu to the mainland go to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle.

Hawaiian miles can be used for oneway awards at half the price of a roundtrip award, which means that if you can’t get the Avios deal both ways, this can be combined with a oneway Avios deal.

See here for an Anatomy of an Award post for a step-by-step breakdown of the time I booked a oneway award from LAX to Honolulu with Hawaiian miles. The post also includes information on the very useful mile pooling allowed by Hawaiian.

5. United Airlines Award 40,000 miles and $10, including a free oneway- With east coast fares to Hawaii exceeding $1,000 on many routes these days, 40,000 miles is a good value. What makes this a top-five value is that United awards to Hawaii can include a free oneway!

The linked post shows one example–LAX-HNL//HNL-LAX//LAX-JFK. United’s free oneway rules are very liberal. The only rule is that your routing can’t exceed the maximum permitted mileage between the start and end of the routing in either direction by more than 15%. That means even people at small regional airports can take advantage of the free oneway.

Bonus: Accrue Southwest Points or a Southwest Companion Pass in Anticipation of Their Future Flights to Hawaii-Southwest has purchased planes and is seeking the ETOPS certification necessary to fly to Hawaii. They won’t start this year, but I expect them to start flying to Hawaii at some point.

When Southwest begins to fly to Hawaii, their fares will be competitive and their awards from the west coast will undoubtedly be very cheap since Southwest awards are based on the cost of the cash fare on the route. Plan on getting your Southwest Companion Pass or Southwest points now to take advantage of Southwest’s future entry.

Bonus: Forget the Delta SkyMiles- Delta almost never releases low-level award space to Hawaii. For instance today, I couldn’t find a single flight from LAX-HNL for the entire eleven-month booking window with low-level space. Since medium-level space to Hawaii costs 65,000 miles roundtrip, Delta miles are best used elsewhere.

Anatomy of an Award: 12,500 Miles to Asia in First Class

I recently booked a fascinating award that shows just how simply you can turn a good itinerary into a great itinerary using the the concept I laid out in a post titled 7,500 Miles to Europe and Negative 7,500 Miles to South America.

The basic premise is the inverse of a free oneway. If you are booking an award within the US on American Airlines, consider adding on an international leg to the domestic leg for very little extra.

My client Mark came to me with 105,000 American Airlines miles and 103,000 Ultimate Rewards. He was living proof that one person can indeed churn for two. He wanted to take his wife from Honolulu to New York City for a week and a half in first class.

His top priorities were itineraries that limited connections, and the nicest cabins he could get.

First Step: Book the main award to New York City.

The first thing I wanted to do was nail down his main award for his New York City vacation. His miles meant that he was going one way with United miles and one way with American miles.

United charges 40,000 miles per person each way from Hawaii to the mainland in two-cabin first class. American charges 37,500 miles per person each way from Hawaii to the mainland in two-cabin first class.

My first thought was to get him on the direct Honolulu to Newark flight on United in first class. Not only would he fly direct to the New York City area, but he’d get 10 hours on a fully flat bed. I’ve written before about flying on beds to Hawaii.

I knew that the bed would be more valuable on the redeye heading east than on the return, plus I had something in mind for the return with American miles.

With everything pointing toward using United miles on the outbound, I headed to united.com.

Note that I checked Nonstop Flights Only because I only wanted the nonstop, flat-bed 767-400 route. (Note also that I don’t have to Trick the United.com Award Calendar here. Do you know why?)

Mark wanted his week and a half in New York City some time in late October and early November. He had some options on the direct flight.

Any day colored green or blue had two beds available on the direct flight. I couldn’t select a United flight, though, until I saw the American availability for the return to find a good 10 or 11 day trip length.

On aa.com, I searched for a return in early November.

In consultation with Mark, we decided that the ideal return would be in Hawaiian Airlines first class on the direct flight from JFK to Honolulu. Hawaiian Airlines first class has a few more inches of leg room than American Airlines domestic first class, and Mark loved the idea of a direct flight.

I could have routed Mark through Dallas or LAX and gotten him a better seat for one leg, but he wasn’t keen on that idea.

To find only the Hawaiian nonstops, I selected the dropdown box labeled Number of Stops along the left side of the search results. There were two seats on the Hawaiian Airlines flight a number of days.

October 30 to November 10 lined up as ideal dates for his New York City trip.

Good Enough?

What I’d found so far would be a good award, and one that met his needs while using direct flights and great products. I mean, 40,000 miles per person for 10 hours in a flying bed is a pretty good deal.

First Class seat map for HNL-EWR flight on United

He had gotten a few cards, and now he had more than the 80k United miles and 75k American miles he needed.

Better

But we could do better. Specifically if he continued west from Honolulu on a later date, he could get the outbound portion of a second vacation for just a few extra miles.

New York to Hawaii is 37,500 American Airlines miles in first class. New York to Japan is 50,000 American Airlines miles in business class.

Honolulu is a valid stopover on a 50,000 mile award from New York to Japan with American Airlines miles. See Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

And international business class awards can always include two-cabin domestic first class segments.

All that means that he could add a business class flight from Hawaii to Japan for 12,500 American Airlines miles per person–the ordinary price of a oneway economy flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

(Or he could have gotten a 17.5k oneway in business to Taipei or a 25k oneway in business to Australia.)

Booking the extra leg for a vacation to Japan for New Year’s was a snap too. Hawaiian flies into Osaka and has incredible space on the route.

All I had to do was a multi-city search, which I’ve explained here, and everything was bookable online.

Everything priced out as expected: 50k miles and $5 per person. That means for only 12,500 miles and $2.50, Mark added a oneway in Hawaiian first class to Japan for New Year’s.

But you don’t live in Hawaii.

Nothing in this post is specific to having Honolulu as a home airport. The key concept is a home airport with direct international flights on American, its oneworld partners, or its other partners like El Al and Air Tahiti Nui also known as a North American International Gateway City.

How will Mark get back from Japan?

I often am asked how to return from a free or cheap oneway. There are many ways:

  • Buy a oneway return
  • Book a oneway award with American or United miles
  • Swim

I recommend the first two!

Recap

If you live at a North American international gateway city, you can unlock extreme value by adding a later international flight to your American Airlines domestic award redemption.

Mark wanted a roundtrip for two from Oahu to New York City in first class. I got him a direct flight in each direction with a bed for the redeye. On to the end, we added the first half of a separate vacation to Osaka for only 12,500 miles per person in Hawaiian Airlines first class.

American Airlines & Virgin America: Complete Buy Miles Analysis

American Airlines Buy Miles Promotion

American Airlines is offering bonus miles on all AAdvantage miles purchases through January 31. As with past promotions, the bonus miles awarded are scaled. Buying 40,000 (or more) miles will yield a 15k bonus. Buying lesser quantities will result in fewer bonus miles being awarded.

The full promotion chart can be found below.

American seems to be running these deals fairly regularly. I’ve analyzed their fall and holiday buy miles promotions here and here.

How do I get in on this deal?

Simply go to American’s purchase miles page here and enter your AAdvantage information. You will then be taken to a payment screen for processing. Remember that these buy miles transactions are processed through Points.com and not American directly. If you are a Citi AAdvantage cardholder, these purchases will not be eligible for the double miles bonus.

Anything new about this promotion?

I touched on this in a previous post, but American quietly raised the annual limit of purchasing miles per account from 40,000 to 60,000.

That’s great, should I go for the maximum 60,000 miles purchase?

Absolutely not! Purchasing 60k miles will get you 75k total miles (including the bonus) for $1,808.75. You are buying miles for 2.41 cents. From a cents per mile standpoint, there are smarter purchase options on this chart. Buying 25k will get you 33k miles for $774.06, or 2.34 cents. We can do even better, though.

The “sweet spot” of American’s holiday award chart is buying 40k miles. Buying 40k will yield 55k total miles for $1,217.50, or 2.21 cents.

According to the Mile Value Leaderboard, we value AAdvantage miles at 1.77 cents. This promotion is still too expensive to buy miles speculatively (without a specific award redemption in mind). It’s not even close to the lucrative US Airways share miles promotion in October where you could effectively purchase miles for 1.1 cents. We wrote up (and fully leveraged) that deal in this post, Buy US Airways Miles for 1.1 Cents through 100% Share Miles Bonus.

Interestingly enough, American’s own site lays out the best use for their current buy miles promotion: “Buying miles is the easy way to top up your account to get the award you want.”

I don’t know if I’m close to an AAdvantage award. What are some good uses for American’s miles?

Though Scott just wrote up a big issue with American miles (see: American Airlines Miles’ Fatal Flaw?), there are plenty of great redemption opportunities available, especially with their huge route network to Europe.

Using American miles is also a great way to get to Tahiti and Bora Bora on partners Hawaiian and Air Tahiti Nui. For a complete breakdown, check out the post Getting to Tahiti with American Miles.

Scott discussed how you can leverage AAdvantage miles to get to Europe for only 20k miles in economy all summer! You can even get free oneways on American awards. Just be sure to follow their strict routing rules. For complete information, check out Scott’s post, Master Thread: Free Oneways on American Airlines Awards.

Virgin America Buy Elevate Points Promotion

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, Virgin America is running a promotion through January 31 where you can receive up to a 50% bonus when purchasing Elevate Points.

To purchase Elevate Points, simply go to Virgin America’s site here. The complete bonus promotion chart can be found below.

What is the maximum number of Elevate Points I can purchase?

You can purchase up to 20,000 points which will yield 30,000 points, including the 50% bonus. The total cost for the 30k points would be $1,040. You would be buying Elevate Points for approximately 3.46 cents.

Note that the annual limit on purchases is 20,000 Elevate Points.

What does 30k Elevate Points get me?

Elevate Points appears to have a fixed value when redeeming on Virgin America. You can typically find between 1.6-2.3 cents in value, so buying points speculatively doesn’t make sense if you are going to use them on Virgin America directly.

Back to the drawing board. What are some good redemptions for Elevate Points?

Scott actually wrote a comprehensive post on Virgin America and last month. You can read his analysis here, Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for 35k. In that post he proclaimed that Virgin America might have the best award chart in the world. You can redeem your Elevate Points on Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, and even Hawaiian Airlines. Be very aware of fuel surcharges on Virgin Atlantic/Australia, but using your Elevate Points on Hawaiian can be extremely lucrative.

There’s evidence to back up that bold claim, too. As Scott wrote in his post, 20k Points Roundtrip to Hawaii, 45k Roundtrip to Asia, 55k Roundtrip to Australia, it’s tough to beat Virgin America’s fantastic award chart on Hawaiian.

Though I couldn’t find a published partner award chart, you can actually go to Virgin’s site here and plug in your city pairs to find out how many Elevate Points you need for a specific redemption. For example, I plugged in Los Angeles <-> Honolulu.

You don’t even need to play around with Virgin’s partner award tool, though! Scott was even helpful enough to piece together Virgin America’s partner chart with Hawaiian. You can check the oneway/roundtrip pricing below:

Purchasing small amounts might be beneficial, especially if you are planning to island hop on a Hawaiian vacation. Buying 3,500 Elevate Points for $130 will get you a oneway interisland award on Hawaiian. In some cases, that is cheaper than buying the ticket outright.

Will you be taking advantage of this promotion?

I’m leaning towards sitting this one out, but Scott and I each try to travel to Hawaii annually, and sometimes more than once a year. I’m also looking to book an award on Virgin Australia in the next 18 months, so I will probably attempt to accumulate a stash of Elevate Points in the near future. When I figure out a strategy to accumulate and leverage them to the fullest, you will read about it here first.

Besides this purchase promotion, what are some other ways to bank Elevate Points?

You can fly on Virgin America, but earning Elevate Points is attached to the cost of your airfare as opposed to the distance flown. You earn 5 Elevate Points per $1 on your base fare. Unless you live near their hubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco and fly pricey segments frequently, it will be tough to earn enough Elevate Points for an aspirational award.

American Express Membership Rewards is a transfer partner of Virgin America at a ratio of 2:1. That unfavorable ratio usually makes most transfers a bad deal. A 50% transfer bonus was recently offered by AMEX which could make sense for some awards. If AMEX ever offered a 100% transfer bonus in the future, I would pounce on it.

You can sign up for the Virgin America Visa Signature card, though it’s currently only offering 10k points after first purchase. In the past, there have been 20k first purchase offers, so I would probably sit this one out for the time being.

Starpoints, the currency of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, aren’t a Virgin America transfer partner, so that’s not a viable option.

Recap

American Airlines is running yet another purchase miles promotion. Even with the bonus, you shouldn’t be buying miles speculatively. If you need to top off your balance to reach an award ticket threshold, then I would definitely take a look.

Virgin America is also offering a bonus on Elevate Point purchases. You can book some solid awards on Virgin America’s sister airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, but you need to be aware of the high fuel surcharges.

The best use of Elevate Points is on Virgin America’s partner, Hawaiian Airlines. The award chart is extremely favorable, especially if you are flying to Hawaii from the West Coast, building an award that includes inter-island travel , or flying from Hawaii <-> Tahiti. Best of all, there aren’t any fuel surcharges! Hawaiian has a solid economy product but their first class product probably isn’t worth the mileage premium when redeeming.

Hawaiian Airlines Exciting New Route to Taipei, Taiwan

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, Hawaiian Airlines will be adding an interesting new route to their network in July of 2013. Hawaiian will add nonstop service between Honolulu and Taipei, Taiwan three times weekly. They will be flying this route with their 294 seat A330-200 aircraft.

Scott actually just wrote a mini review of Hawaiian’s A330 product in economy.  You can read it in this post, 20k Points Roundtrip to Hawaii, 45k Roundtrip to Asia, 55k Roundtrip to Australia. The economy seat looks really solid with personal TVs and decent food offerings. First class, though, doesn’t appear much better than domestic first class. Hawaiian’s first class product on all flights that leave Hawaii is a recliner with 42″ of pitch. That means only 4″ more leg room than most domestic first class.

As Scott detailed in his post, Getting to Tahiti with Hawaiian, United, and US Airways Miles and Membership Rewards, there are two big issues with spending Hawaiian miles for an award ticket. First, they charge 20k miles each way from the continental US to Hawaii. That’s what other carriers are charging, but if you live on the west coast, you can actually get to Hawaii for 12,500 British Airways Avios oneway.

In Scott’s very recent post, 20k Points Roundtrip to Hawaii, he discovered that you can actually use Virgin America Elevate points to fly Hawaiian airlines from the continental US to Hawaii for far fewer miles than what Hawaiian charges their own frequent flyer members.

The other big issue is that to get from the continental US to Asia or the Pacific on Hawaiian will cost the price of US-Hawaii plus Hawaii-Asia/Pacific. This method of pricing makes awards for mainlanders to Asia/Pacific on Hawaiian way more Hawaiian Miles than American miles, which can also be used for Hawaiian flights.

For example, a Hawaiian award from the continental US to Japan would be 60k miles oneway–20k from the mainland to Hawaii and 40k from Hawaii to Japan. That same exact award could be as few as 50,000 AAdvantage miles roundtrip if you fly during off peak times! For a great step-by-step on booking Hawaiian awards with AAdvantage miles, especially for beginners, make sure to check out Scott’s post, Free First Class Next Month: Award Searches on AA.com.

Hawaiian’s complete award chart can be found here, but I posted Hawaiian’s chart from the US-Philippines below. This is most likely the chart that will be used when the Taipei route officially opens up. 60k for awards originating in the continental US and 105k for first class award tickets. As I mentioned above, the first class seats aren’t that much of an upgrade over normal domestic first class seats. They aren’t angle-flat and they certainly don’t convert to lie-flat seats. I would save the miles in this case. The upgrade just isn’t worth the additional cost in miles.

Each Way Price

Can I include a stopover in Hawaii with either an American or a Hawaiian award?

Yes to both! Because Hawaiian prices the two legs of the award individually, you can build a stopover of whatever length you want into your award. If you are using American miles to book an award on Hawaiian, you get a stopover in each direction at the international gateway city. In this case, it would be Honolulu if departing from Los Angeles. For more information, be sure to check out Scott’s post How to Book Free Stopovers Online: American Airlines. You should probably also brush up with The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

If getting to Taiwan from the US is the only goal, other carriers offer better options. United Airlines, for example charges 32,500 miles for a oneway ticket. That same itinerary would be 60,000 miles with Hawaiian. Check out the dummy booking I was able to pull up on United’s website below.

Even though an award ticket using Hawaiian miles will probably be a bad deal, there are no nonstop flights offered from Hawaii to Taiwan: most carriers include a stop in Seoul or Tokyo. Hawaii’s new service could add a creative way to break up your long journey from the US to Taipei. You can break up the trip with a stopover in Hawaii before continuing on the 5,000+ mile journey to Taiwan.

How do I get Hawaiian miles?

Hawaiian Airlines is a Membership Rewards transfer partner at a 1:1 ratio. If you have Starpoints (through Starwood Preferred Guest), you can transfer in increments of 20,000 and receive 5,000 bonus miles, a nifty 25% bonus. It’s important to note the delay when transferring Starpoints. It can sometimes take 1-2 weeks for the Hawaiian miles to post to your account, meaning the award you really want might not necessarily be there when the transfer is finally complete.

To really turbocharge your Hawaiian miles balance, there are two credit card signup bonuses you can take advantage of. Both Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii offer cards with a 35k bonus: 20k is awarded after first purchase, and you earn 15k more after spending $1,000 in the first four months of card membership.

FlyerTalkers have discovered that you can get both cards. The Bank of Hawaii card can be found here and the Bank of America version here. For our complete breakdown of the signup bonuses and the other benefits that come with the card, check out the Best Credit Card Offers by Absolute Value.

What other international cities does Hawaiian fly from Honolulu? This could be a great double vacation opportunity.

Check out the chart below to see which cities Hawaiian serves from their main hub at Honolulu International Airport.

The other route I am watching with great interest in the coming Honolulu to Auckland route.

Recap

Hawaii ‘s recently announced expansion to Taiwan is an interesting development for Asian travelers. You could theoretically include a long stopover in Hawaii before continuing on directly to Taipei–no other airline offers that option.

Redeeming Hawaiian miles for this award, though, this probably won’t make sense for those in the continental US. Hawaiian’s award chart combines regions to create a more expensive award ticket. You are far better off spending United or US Airways miles if you want to get to Taiwan from the US. If you truly want to fly on Hawaiian, though, you will spend far less using AAdvantage miles to book your award ticket.

Forum Buzz: Elite Status Offers for Delta/US Airways Club Memberships

Delta offers 1,500 MQM for one year Sky Club membership

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, Delta is offering elite qualifying miles for buying a Sky Club lounge membership. To take advantage, you must purchase a one or three year membership by December 31st.

You can choose between two additional free months on a one-year membership or 1,500 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs). MQMs are what Delta uses to calculate elite status. Most other airlines refer to these miles as elite qualification miles, or EQM.

What are the benefits of having a Sky Club membership?

Airline clubs in general can be a haven for frequent flyers. They typically offer snacks throughout the day as well as complimentary beer, wine, and mixed drinks. Delta Sky Clubs also provide complimentary wi-fi which is typically faster (and more secure) than internet access in the main terminal.

What’s the best perk of having Sky Club access?

Without a doubt, membership can pay for itself when you are stuck at an airport in bad weather or your flight experiences delays or cancellations. While most people rush the ticket counter and inundate the gate agents, you have the ability to get personalized assistance from the agents inside Sky Clubs instead. Lines are usually shorter, and they might be able to reroute you on options you didn’t consider.

How much does a Sky Club membership cost?

The pricing chart for annual memberships is below. The higher elite status with Delta, the less you pay for membership. If this is your first time purchasing a membership, you will also be charged a $50 initiation fee.

Those with no status on Delta would pay $500 ($450 + $50 initiation fee) for a one year membership.

Keep in mind that Diamond Medallions, Delta’s most frequent flyers, receive complimentary Sky Club access as part of their benefits package.

Where are Delta’s Sky Clubs located?

The complete list of Delta Sky Clubs can be found here.

How much do you value the 1,500 MQM being offered as part of the promotion?

It’s tougher to say with Delta than with other airlines. As Scott wrote in his post, How Much is the American Airlines Double Miles Promo Worth?, you should value your 1st through 24,999th elite qualifying mile on most airlines at 0. They won’t help you attain any elite status. The 25,000th MQM is worth what you value Silver status at. (The complete list of Delta’s elite benefits can be found here.)

But Delta is unique among carriers in that if you attain elite status, any elite qualifying miles above your status (but below the next level of status) are rolled over into the next year. For example, if you earned 28,000 MQM this year, you would be a Delta Silver Medallion. You would also start next year with 3,000 MQM to help you requalify, a very useful benefit! Rollover MQM has helped me maintain elite status with Delta since I became Platinum in 2009.

Rollover means that these 1,500 MQM will eventually get “used” for a status, so I’d value them at 6% of the value of Delta Silver Status since they get you 6% of the way there.

Delta AMEX Reserve card access to the SkyClub

Delta and American Express release the Delta Reserve card, which gives 10k MQMs on first purchase and SkyClub access. The big drawback is the $450 annual fee.

Is the annual membership or AMEX Reserve card the best way to gain access to Delta Sky Clubs?

Only if the MQM you receive from membership signup or the Reserve card help you reach the next level of elite status! I highly suggest you apply for the American Express Platinum card if airline club access matters to you. The card comes with Delta, American, US Airways, and Priority Pass Select lounge access. The annual fee for the Mercedes-Benz version is $475. That’s $25 more than the “regular” Platinum card, but it comes with a much better sign up bonus.

The current sign up bonus for the Mercedes-Benz Platinum-50,000 Membership after $1K in spending-worth $1,020 ranks third on our list of Best Credit Card Offers by Absolute Value. For more information on how we value credit card sign up bonuses, see Scott’s post, The Two Ways to Value  Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses.

Note that to gain access to Delta or American lounges, you must be flying those airlines the same day. A conventional Sky Club membership would allow you Delta lounge access regardless of the airline that you fly.

Are there other ways to earn MQM besides flying, Sky Club membership, or the Reserve card?

Hertz is offering 250 MQM for every three day rental.  Details of that offer can be found here. The offer expires on November 30th.

Hilton hotels is offering 250 MQM for two night stays at participating hotels. Registration is required and details can be found here. Eligible stays must be completed by December 15th. The FlyerTalk blog also writes up the promotion here.

Delta also just announced they are offereing Skymiles members the ability to outright purchase MQM. They ran the same promotion at the end of last year.

Prices are very steep (between 9.9-15.8 cents per MQM), and you must purchase in increments of 2,500 MQM up to the 10K maximum.

This is far from a good deal on paper, but if you knew you weren’t going to requalify for status and didn’t have time for a mileage run, it’s at least a last minute option. To see the promo details, check out the screen shot below or visit the site directly to buy MQM.

 

US Airways offers 5,000 PQM for Club membership

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, US Airways is offering 5,000 Preferred Qualifying Miles (or PQM, their version of elite qualifying miles) for club memberships purchased through November 18th. The typical $50 initiation fee is also waived.

Membership costs can be found here and club locations can be found here. Note that US Airways membership permits access to United Clubs as well.

5,000 PQM is certainly a more generous offer than the 1,500 MQM promoted by Delta, but it’s still not a good deal. $450 is better spent on the American Express Platinum card which also provides Delta and American lounge access.

If you are trying to boost your PQM to gain elite status, note that US Airways is the only domestic carrier that sells elite status outright. You can “buy up” to any elite level even if you have no status with the airline to begin with. Unlike Delta, this isn’t a limited time promotion. They offer this throughout the year.

Pricing options and details can be found here.

If you want to really exploit both deals, you could sign up for the American Express Platinum card which comes with a $200 annual airline fee reimbursement. Select US Airways as your preferred airline and then buy membership online. You would then have access to American, Delta, US Airways, and United clubs for $725 ($475 Platinum annual fee + $450 US Airways membership – $200 Platinum reimbursement). Paying for each individual membership separately would cost double!

For more reading on the Platinum card’s airline reimbursement fee, check out my post, Master Thread of Which Airline Gift Cards American Express Reimburses.

Recap

It’s the end of the year, and both Delta and US Airways are trying to lock in new club memberships by offering EQMs. For most, applying for an American Express Platinum is simply the better value proposition for lounge access. If the EQM you receive would bump you to the next elite tier, it could make sense depending on how you value your new perks.

Even then, there are other creative ways to boost your EQM balance besides buying a club membership. Think twice before jumping in on these lounge offers.

United 20% Discount on Awards to Europe and Off Peak to Europe Round Up

United has announced a 20% discount on economy class awards to Europe from January 15 to March 13, 2013:

  • United and United Express operated flights
  • Booked between now and November 15
  • Roundtrip economy class awards for 48k miles.

I’ll break this promo down and compare it to the discounted awards to Europe being offered by American and US Airways.

United

Roundtrip awards entirely on planes bearing United and United Express paint jobs between the continental US, Alaska, and Canada and Europe in economy class, flown between 1/15/13 and 3/13/13, and booked between now and 11/15/12 cost 48,000 United miles. That is a 12,000 mile–20%–discount from the industry-standard 60,000 miles.

I did a few dummy bookings to test out what’s possible. Double open jaws price at 48k miles.

Chicago to London, Paris to Denver. Double open jaw for 48k.

Oneways are not discounted.

Interestingly, if you fly onevway on all United and United Express metal and one way on a parnter, you get the 20% discount one way for a total price of 54k miles.

United there and Singapore back gets half the discount, 54k total

If you’ve selected valid dates, you should see the discount at all stages of the booking process, not just the end.

This promotions is pretty easy to take advantage of. You have two months of the worst weather to Europe to choose from, so availability is incredible. But I wouldn’t consider this to be the best current off peak to Europe promotion–American’s is far better.

American

Every October 15 – May 15, seven months out of the year, American charges only 20k AA miles each way to/from Europe instead of the industry-standard 30k. And unlike the United promotion, you don’t need to fly roundtrip or only on American metal to take advantage.

American has widely available economy space to Europe during the off peak period. And American’s partner airberlin has out-of-this-world availability to Germany and beyond.

If you perform any search for flights on off peak dates on aa.com, you can easily ask the calendar to show you off peak availability, by clicking the lightest green rectangle.

Once you select your flights, the price will be an impressive 20k miles oneway or 40k roundtrip.

In many ways, American’s off peak deal is the best. Its dates are the most generous, including the shoulder seasons of early May and late October. Its availability is incredible, and you can use partner availability for the same price. Plus American’s routing rules are generous allowing half-price oneways, double open jaws, and one stopover or free oneway per direction.

But in some cases, US Airways may have an even more generous off peak offer to Europe.

US Airways

US Airways has the cheapest economy off peak award to Europe at only 35k miles roundtrip. It also has the only business class off peak award to Europe, which costs only 60k miles roundtrip–the normal coach price.

In general I am very enthusiastic about US Airways off peak awards, but they do have drawbacks. First, you can’t use them oneway. Second, the awards have to be on US Airways metal, and US Airways domestic award space is far behind United’s and American’s. Third, the off peak period is a limited, cold window from January 15 – February 28.

But if you want to fly during those times, you can’t beat the price. Any day on the calendar with blue-green coloring is a steal. And to some less-popular destinations like Manchester, there is great availability for January and February still:

You can mix-and-match cabins and miles-price levels. Or you can fly a roundtrip in economy for 35k:

Business class is only 60k roundtrip, and US Airways has a world-class business class product on its A330s, which operate many European routes including Philadelphia to Manchester.

Note that the high taxes and fees on the route are only partly US Airways’ fault, namely the annoying $50 “Award processing fee.” The rest is the obscene tax that the UK charges on departures, especially huge on premium cabin departures.

Recap

United has introduced a sale on its economy award inventory to Europe. Between now and November 15, you can book flights from mid-January to mid-March for 48k roundtrip instead of 60k.

The discount does not apply to oneways or to United’s partners’ award inventory, although you can go one way on United and one way on a partner for 54k.

This discount is nice, but not as good as American or US Airways’ standard discounts to Europe in the winter.

American’s annual discounts run from mid-October to mid-May. Plus its discounts are available on oneways and partner award space. And the discount is even bigger than United’s. American charges only 20k each way.

US Airways has an even cheaper way to get to Europe from mid-January to the end of February. For 35k roundtrip, you can fly US metal to Europe. Or for 60k, you can fly flat bed business class roundtrip to Europe.

The only major legacy carrier not currently discounting at least part of its winter award inventory to Europe is Delta.

If you can handle economy class and a little bit of cold weather, a few miles can take you very far this winter.