Recently a friend came to me with an award request along the lines of what I have done for hundreds of clients of the MileValue Award Booking Service.

He wanted to visit Sydney during its summer and Hong Kong on the same trip. He wanted to fly in some of the world’s nicest airline products. And he wanted to maximize his weekends because he could only budget seven vacation days for the trip.

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Through several rounds of Free Credit Card Consultations, he had built impressive six-figure balances with United, American, Delta, US Airways, and Ultimate Rewards.

I suggested that we use his US Airways miles now–before they are devalued next year–to get him into Cathay Pacific First Class and Qantas First Class, two of the world’s nicest First Classes. I helped book him an 11 day trip that uses only seven vacation days, gives him time in each city, and costs only 140k miles roundtrip.

He had gotten all of his US Airways miles from The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®, which currently offers 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase.

  • How did I know that using US Airways miles would be the best value?
  • How did I search for the very rare Qantas First Class space on an A380 between the United States and Australia?
  • How did I search for Cathay Pacific First Class?
  • With what routing rules did I have to comply?
  • What were his options for a free oneway?
  • How exactly did I book the award?

Why US Airways Miles

When I saw the destinations of Sydney and Hong Kong, I knew that US Airways miles would be the best to use.

US Airways just joined oneworld this year, and both cities are hubs for oneworld alliance members–Qantas in Sydney and Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong.

Of course American Airlines is also a member of oneworld, but American does not allow routings to Australia via Asia on a single award or stopovers on awards. That means that American Airlines would treat a routing like

  • Los Angeles to Hong Kong (67.5k miles)
  • Hong Kong to Sydney (45k miles)
  • Sydney to Los Angeles (72.5k miles)

as three separate one way awards and charge the full price for each award–listed in parentheses above–of 185k miles total.

US Airways allows routings to Australia via Asia and allows one stopover OR one open jaw per roundtrip award, so the award my friend had in mind would be only 140k US Airways miles in First Class.

Beyond the low price in miles, US Airways’ partners are also ideal for someone who wants to fly the world’s nicest airline products. I loved Cathay Pacific First Class from New York to Hong Kong, and I stared forlornly at the empty First Class cabin when I flew Business Class on a Qantas A380.

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This Bed for 15 Hours in Cathay First

Searching for Award Space

For all award bookings, start your search with the most difficult segment.

I knew that finding a flight in Qantas First Class between the United States and Australia would be the most difficult segment of this trip. Those seats are extremely rare. Luckily my friend doubled my chances of finding him one because he didn’t care whether he flew to Hong Kong or Sydney first.

I headed to aa.com, the best place to search Qantas award space, and searched for Los Angeles to Sydney and Sydney to Los Angeles award space for early 2015–Australia’s next summer. Here’s how to search aa.com.

US Airways miles have access to all of the Qantas space that appears on aa.com.

As expected, space was rare, but I found two dates with award space on the direct flight from Los Angeles to Sydney in First Class next February.

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The flight is great for maximizing vacation time, since it takes off at 10:20 PM, meaning you can work all day and then catch the flight.

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With the outbound out of the way, I moved on to the return. The ideal way to use his seven vacation days would be to return on a Sunday flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles.

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Leaves Wednesday the 11th after work. Seven vacation days in red.

I searched for Cathay Pacific First Class space on ba.com (here’s how) for a Sunday return. All the Cathay Pacific award space on ba.com is available to US Airways miles.

There was award space in First Class on two different flights that day between Hong Kong and Los Angeles. That didn’t surprise me since Cathay Pacific routes have the most award space during the low season of the Northern Hemisphere’s winter.

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With the beginning and end of the trip decided upon, the last step was to find award space for the leg between Sydney and Hong Kong.

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Unfortunately the direct Qantas and Cathay Pacific flights between Hong Kong and Sydney in 2015 do not have First Class. Luckily on almost any award, you can include a flight in a lesser cabin. You don’t get a discount though.

Cathay Pacific flies the route with an A330 with an awesome Business Class product in which all seats have aisle access and convert to fully flat beds.

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Space was widely available on the route in Business Class, so he chose a flight that gave him six days in Sydney and three in Hong Kong.

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Routing Rules and Free Oneways

US Airways awards allow one stopover OR one open jaw.

My friend wanted to use his stopover in Hong Kong, which means he could not use an open jaw. Since he flew into Sydney, he had to fly back out of it. And since he started in Los Angeles, he had to end there.

If he wants to see more of Australia like Melbourne or the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns, he’ll have to book that excursion as a separate roundtrip award. (I’d recommend using British Airways Avios.)

Using his stopover in Hong Kong also precludes my friend from booking the possible, but complicated, Free Oneways on US Airways Awards.

Booking the Award

To book this award, my friend called US Airways at 800-622-1015. He gave the agent the date, cabin, cities, and flight number for each flight I had found for him. She was able to put the three segments onto one award in just a few minutes.

The total cost was 140k US Airways miles + $226.31. That was $176.31 in taxes plus a $50 award processing fee. The award processing fee is reduced or eliminated for US Airways elites. US Airways never charges a phone fee to book awards that are not bookable online. (Online you can only book awards with US Airways and American Airlines flights.)

Getting the Miles

Right now The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® comes with 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase.

The three reasons to get this card now are:

  1. Big sign up bonus.
  2. No minimum spending requirement in an age of $3,000, $5,000, and $10,000 spending requirements to unlock sign up bonuses.
  3. Your ability to get the 40,000 bonus miles will end when the card stops accepting new applications in early 2015. (If you get the card now, you can use them on the current US Airways award chart or on the future American Airlines award chart after the programs combine.)

Also, you can often buy US Airways miles for 1.88 cents each including through the end of this month.

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