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.

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