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

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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?

My friends had saved up 120k US Airways miles each from a combination of the US Airways Premier World MasterCard‘s 40k mile sign up bonus, this month’s Share miles program, and miles earned from flying.

They also had 46k Arrival miles each from getting the Arrival Plus–and meeting its minimum spending requirement.

They were planning to use 120k US Airways miles each for roundtrip business class flights to Thailand for a two-to-three week vacation during this North American winter, the dry season there. I told them I could get them the award for 90k miles.

They had a great trip to Cabo, Mexico last year, but didn’t think they’d have a chance to get back there again with the high flight prices. I told them they could get there for no extra US Airways miles and no cash out of pocket.

To book their trips, I included the four simple parts Bill laid out in How to Save 70,000 Miles on US Airways Awards to Southeast Asia:

  1. A free oneway from Mexico/Central America/Caribbean to your home airport
  2. A stopover at your home airport for up to one year
  3. The main award: a roundtrip from your home airport to Asia (with no stopover and no open jaw)
  4. A continuation of the return to the original starting point in Mexico/Central America/Caribbean with less than a 24 hour layover at your home airport.

Part 1: A free oneway from Cabo to Los Angeles

Their award began with the return flight of their vacation from Cabo to Los Angeles. Because the whole award would be in business class, this flight could be in business class for no extra miles.

To search for award space on this flight, I searched united.com for Saver award space. US Airways has access to all Saver award space on united.com released by Star Alliance carriers.

There was great space on Mondays in December in business class.

This space dovetailed perfectly with an outbound flight on Saturday morning to Mexico for a three day weekend. But that flight would be separate from the US Airways award, and we booked it last.

Part 2: A Three Month “Stopover” in Los Angeles

The second part of the award is the separation of the two trips with a “stopover” on the award at your home airport.

My friends’ trips will be three months apart in December 2013 and March 2014, so they stopover in Los Angeles from December to March.

The stopover can be as long as you’d like, subject only to one rule: all award travel must be completed within one year of ticketing the award.

Part 3: A Roundtrip from Los Angeles to Bangkok

Part 3 of the award is the main award, which has to be a roundtrip with no stopovers or open jaws to your main destination in South & Central Asia.

I again searched for award space on united.com and found a great itinerary with only one stop in each direction, two different long haul business class products, and a 17 day trip that required only 12 vacation days.

This roundtrip award would cost 120k United miles + $57.30 in government taxes per person.

US Airways will collect the same government taxes, but we can ignore the listed miles price. The US Airways miles price will be set by its own award chart.

Part 4: A Continuation of the Return to Cabo

US Airways awards can have one stopover OR one open jaw. We used the stopover in Part 2, for three months in Los Angeles.

That means that we get no more stopovers or open jaws.

That’s the reason that my friends have to fly into and out of Bangkok instead of into Bangkok and out of Phuket, which would create an impermissible open jaw.

The same rule means the award can’t just end in Los Angeles. It has to end in Cabo where it started, again, to avoid an impermissible open jaw. And the layovers on the return all have to be under 24 hours to avoid a second impermissible stopover.

Luckily I found award space from Los Angeles to Cabo that left LAX less than nine hours after their arrival from Asia.

Putting It All Together

In December 2013, my friends begin their US Airways award by flying the return leg of a three day weekend in Cabo.

They take a three month break from world traveling at home in Los Angeles.

In March 2014, they resume the award with a 17 day roundtrip to Bangkok.

After arriving back in Los Angeles, they collect their bags, clear immigration and customs, and head home.

Nine hours after arriving in Los Angeles, the award continues to Cabo.

Booking the Award

To book the award I called US Airways at 800-622-1015. My friends had two accounts with 90k miles each, so I explained to the agent that I had to book two awards from San Jose del Cabo, Mexico to Bangkok, Thailand from two separate accounts.

I fed her the carrier, flight number, cities, and cabin of each of the seven flights on the award. I didn’t use any fancy concepts that she didn’t understand. The only “technical” word I used was stopover when I said, “They’ll stopover in Los Angeles. The next flight is March 7 from Los Angeles to Beijing on Air China flight…”

She priced the perfectly valid award correctly as an award from Mexico & Central America to South & Central Asia in business class for 90k miles + $165.55 per person–$115.55 in taxes and a $50 award processing fee.

I put the awards on hold and gave the confirmation numbers to my friends. They called back one at a time and ticketed their awards, paying the $165.55 with their Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® cards.

They then logged into their Barclaycard accounts and redeemed 16,500 Arrival miles each to remove that charge from their statements. Ten percent of those Arrival miles will be rebated to their accounts as with all redemptions of Arrival miles for airline tickets, making the true cost around 90k US Airways miles, 15k Arrival miles, and no out-of-pocket cash per person.

Without the legs to/from Mexico, a business class award from Los Angeles to Thailand would cost 120k US Airways miles per person.

One way in business class from Mexico to the US would cost 30k US Airways miles per person (if you could book it as a one way with US Airways miles.)

That means my friends saved 120k US Airways miles–60k per person–by booking their awards with Bill’s trick of adding legs from and to Mexico onto awards to Asia.

Completing the Mexico Trip

The US Airways award only included the return from their three day weekend in Cabo. For the outbound, there was a great fare on the appropriate Saturday morning from Los Angeles to Cabo on a direct United flight.

My friends again booked the ticket with their Arrival cards. After the 10% rebate, the cost was about 15k Arrival miles per person and no cash out of pocket for the ticket. Plus they will earn United miles for flying the flight since United sees their ticket as a cash ticket.

The Haul

My friends have the flights booked for two vacations in the next five months:

  • Three days in Cabo, Mexico in December 2013 with one way in business class
  • Seventeen days in Thailand in March 2014 with the whole trip in business class

In total they each paid about:

  • 90k US Airways miles
  • 30k Arrival miles
  • Zero cash

Raise your hand if you could have maximized your miles like this two weeks ago before reading Bill’s tricks. I know I could not have!

Getting the Miles

The easiest way to earn US Airways is the US Airways card. The only way to get Arrival miles is through the Arrival card. Both are issued by Barclaycard, so you cannot get them the same day.

US Airways Premier World MasterCard® with 40,000 US Airways miles after first purchase

  • Earn up to 40,000 bonus miles with qualifying transactions
  • Exclusive: Book award flights for 5,000 fewer miles – award travel starts at just 20,000 miles for cardmembers
  • Zone 2 boarding on all US Airways flights
  • Earn 2 miles per $1 on US Airways purchases
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 on purchases everywhere else
  • Annual companion certificate good for up to 2 companion tickets at $99 each, plus taxes and fees
  • First Class check-in
  • Please see terms and conditions for complete details

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® with 40,000 miles after spending $3k in the first three months and no annual fee for the first year

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Chip card technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, currently 16.24% or 20.24%, depending on your creditworthiness.
  • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers

Application Link: Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

 


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25 COMMENTS

    • The award has to return to Cabo:

      “US Airways awards can have one stopover OR one open jaw. We used the stopover in Part 2, for three months in Los Angeles.

      That means that we get no more stopovers or open jaws.

      That’s the reason that my friends have to fly into and out of Bangkok instead of into Bangkok and out of Phuket, which would create an impermissible open jaw.

      The same rule means the award can’t just end in Los Angeles. It has to end in Cabo where it started, again, to avoid an impermissible open jaw. And the layovers on the return all have to be under 24 hours to avoid a second impermissible stopover.”

      But my friends don’t have to continue to Cabo as Angel pointed out.

  1. Hello again, I have booked a trip to Europe for a bit over 3 months starting in Feb and ending in June using Miles plus. starting and ending SFO, using miles. Can I tack on a OW to Oaxaca later next year?

  2. Hi–I’m new to your website and trying to catch up on the jargon. What are “arrival miles” and how do they differ from award miles?

    • The miles earned from the Arrival World MasterCard mentioned in the post. They are good for 1.11 cents each toward any flight on any airline at any time. (Or any hotel or any car rental.)

      My friends used theirs to make sure they spent ZERO DOLLARS out of pocket on the flights for these two vacations.

    • That was the plan BEFORE all the legal wrangling over the merger. Now it almost certainly won’t be in November, but it may be in the next few months.

    • No max partners. You can get 8 segments ticketed easily and many agents will allow you to ticket 10 on US Airways awards.

  3. Also, can u mix cabin? (say, if u wanted a particular route for the domestic legs and biz was not available but economy was)

  4. Great article. Very well explained. One question – Is there a reason why this award was booked by phone rather than using United website.

    Thanks!!

    • Because it was booked with US AIRWAYS miles. Booking this with United miles would have cost 122,500 or 125k miles United miles (+ 25k Arrival miles.)

  5. Scott, one huge caveat – once you have started travel on a US Airways award, you can’t make any changes for any reason. So, before flying your free OW from the Southland back to the US, you need to be absolutely sure of the dates you will be taking your “main” trip to Asia. (This “no changes” policy, plus no “one way” awards, are the reasons I consider US miles much less valuable than UA miles.)

  6. I usually use the United frequent flyer miles which allow you to fly for a location costing a specific amount of miles. The Barclaycard states that you have $400 towards a flight. Does the 40,000 mile bonus mean anything? As an example, how many miles would you need on the Barclaycard to fly roundtrip from New York to Western Europe.

    Thanks

    • United miles are “region-to-region miles.” Arrival miles are “fixed-value credit card points.” I advocate diversifying across the six types of miles/points because some are better for one use, some better for another. Arrival miles are better than United miles for domestic economy and often international economy. United miles are way better for international business and first.

      The cost of NY to Western Europe in Arrival miles is calculated the same as the cost of all flights in Arrival miles. Multiply the all in cost of the ticket you want by 90, and you’ll have the cost in Arrival miles. For more information, see

      and

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