Hey MileValue Family,

Many of you take the time to read each and every article we publish. For that, we are truly grateful. Some have even taken advantage of our free credit card consultations. But today I wanted to take the time to highlight one of our lesser known services, our award booking service.

One of the biggest challenges in points and miles is putting your miles to good use. We try to share everything we know about lesser known programs such as Avianca LifeMiles, as well as teaching you all you need to know about American Airlines’ routing rules and more. However, synthesizing all the different rules and programs and knowing how to stretch your points as far as possible can be challenging sometimes.

Even more, finding award availability sometimes isn’t as easy as it seems. Some airlines don’t show all of their partners’ availability online. Knowing where to look is often just as important as how to look.

When reading an article about how to book cheap domestic flights, I highly encourage you to not just read along but to work along too. Practicing searching for award flights is the best way to learn. That way, when you’re ready to book, you know what to do.

Sometimes you just need help now. Sometimes you may not want to do the heavy lifting to find the award flights. Sometimes you may just be struggling to find the award flights that you need.

If that’s you, I’d implore you to take advantage of our award booking service. You can hire us to do all the hard work for you.

Naturally, before trusting someone with your award search, you want to know that you’ll get what you’re paying for. That’s why I wanted to take the time to share with you a case study from a recent booking I did. Hopefully this will show you that we are capable of making the “impossible” work.

The Award Request

On Sunday afternoon, I received a notification that a reader had submitted an award booking request. This wasn’t a typical request, since we usually get requests for round-trip travel out of the country for one or two people.

No request is too big or too small, and this one was a pretty big one.

The reader, based on Washington DC, wanted to travel to Seattle for a weekend, then travel to Hawaii for a week before continuing to Bali for a few weeks for a family trip and back. All in business class, for 5 people.

Finding business class award availability can sometimes be a bit tough. I’ve had a few trips myself where my wife flew on a different flight so that we could both fly in business class. Discovering business class for 5 people was a challenge, but one that I was certainly going to try to conquer.

Working with You to Discover Your Needs

The key to providing the most successful options for my clients is to understand what their priorities are. Sometimes, it isn’t fully captured in a simple form. This is where some discussion helps to clarify things.

In this case, I learned that my client had some flexibility for a few days in Seattle and Hawaii, but that the travel to Bali was for a family event and there were specific dates they needed to be there that were firm.

Knowing this helped me understand where we could be flexible on flights and where we needed to tailor our search. We discussed a few options that gave some flexibility, such as considering travel to Bali first, then back to Hawaii and Seattle. Overall, having more options meant a higher chance of success, especially on a more challenging award booking.

Tailoring the Search

After understanding the needs of our client, I knew the most important part was going to be flying from Hawaii to Bali.

This also is a difficult route. If you’re in the continental US, you have the benefit of positioning to other airports. When you’re in Hawaii, that isn’t really an option without adding a 6 or more hour flight back to the US. Realistically, there were two departure cities to choose from: Honolulu (HNL) and Maui (OGG).

That’s why I started here in my search. This would be the most critical part of the award search. Failing to find flights from Hawaii to Bali would mean the trip wouldn’t happen. Tailoring the search is the biggest key to a successful award trip. It helps see what the options are for the most critical leg of the trip and I can then build the remainder of the trip around that.

Another key aspect to tailor the search is keeping a big picture on the points and miles available. For this client, there were over 500,000 Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards. Additionally, there were over 250,000 Alaska Airlines miles, 200,000 Iberia, and 100,000 Virgin Atlantic miles.

Keeping the big picture of miles helped me evaluate possible routes. The Virgin miles would be great for domestic travel so that we could reduce the amount of points transferred there. The Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards would be useful for the long flights – those tend to cost the most and need the most flexibility. Alaska Airlines immediately puts a few options in my head, namely, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines as some great options for getting back home.

Having a strategy in mind is key before starting the search. Otherwise, you risk running out of miles or losing adequate flexibility to make the trip happen.

Starting the Search

When doing an award search, it isn’t always as simple as putting in your origin and destination, especially when looking for multiple seats in a premium cabin. If it was always that easy, we wouldn’t have a need for our service!

Naturally, however, that is a good way to start. You never know what you may find. Unfortunately, in this case, searching Hawaii to Bali yielded unsatisfactory results.

This is where many people would falter, but where our expertise came in handy for the client.

I then started searching from Hawaii to major destinations in Asia. Tokyo, Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, and other cities were in my crosshairs. Thankfully, I found some availability to a few different options.

Next, I searched from these cities to Bali to see what different award flights I could put together to get our client’s family to Bali.

Providing Options

When helping clients, sometimes presenting one option isn’t sufficient. Being able to provide a variety of options gives you more to choose from. Maybe what you wanted didn’t look so appealing after seeing the available flights, and another option looks more appealing.

That’s why we don’t stop once we find just one solution. Instead, we try to find 2-3 options for your travel. That way you can select which one best fits your needs. Maybe you’d rather do an overnight layover than a 7 hour stop at an airport. Instead of positioning to the west coast, you’d rather position to the east coast before your flight to Europe for more time in a premium cabin.

Whatever your reason, having different options to choose from helps accommodate your needs. Although it isn’t always possible, in this situation I was glad to be able to provide three very different options to our client.

Yes, for a long multi-city trip, in premium cabin, for 5 people we were still able to find 3 different (although, admittedly, very different) options for the client to choose from.

The key to providing different options is not locking onto one flight and working around that. By tailoring the search appropriately and starting with Hawaii to Asia, I knew what options there were for those flights and built options around that. Rather than focus on just one flight from Hawaii to Asia, I focused on all the potential flights and built the remainder of the trip around those.

Presenting Options

After finding award availability, we want to be sure to present it in an easy to understand way that isn’t overwhelming. We break up awards in a table so you can see the travel in sequential time. It shows how many miles you’re using for each flight and what actions you need to take to book your travel, along with how many miles you have leftover after each step of the process.

Out of the three options presented to our client, here’s an example showing how we present the relevant information in an easy to digest format.

Date

2-Jul

5-Jul

13-Jul

13-Jul

14-Jul

17-Jul

7/27

Route

IAD-SEA

SEA-PHX-OGG

OGG-HNL

HNL-YVR-ICN

HNL-ICN

ICN-DPS

DPS-IST-IAD

Points Needed

112,500 Virgin

276,250 Avios

Cash fare

144,000 Lifemiles

96000 Lifemiles

225,000 Delta

495,000 United

Points Plan

transfer 12,500 MR to Virgin

transfer 76,250 from UR, 200,00 Iberia to BA

n/a

transfer 144,000 MR to Lifemiles

transfer 96000 MR to Lifemiles

transfer 225,000MR to Delta

Transfer 495,000 UR to United

Taxes & Fees

$28

$28

$370 economy, $603 business

$19

$13

$125

$200

MR Left

537500

550000

550000

406000

310000

85000

61000

UR Left

600000

523750

523750

523750

511250

511250

16250

AS Left

268000

268000

268000

268000

268000

268000

268000

Virgin Left

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Iberia Left

200000

0

0

0

0

0

0

Seats

5

6 seats available

5

3

2

5

4 on each day

It shows the route, the points needed, and the plan to get all the needed points. We make sure to highlight the taxes & fees, as these can sometimes be fairly expensive. We don’t want the taxes and fees to be a surprise. In this case, the total taxes and fees came up to about $1,000 if they book the one cash fare in business class. That’s only $200 per person for a trip to 3 destinations around the world, all in business class.

Note: we don’t suggest a cash fare without being sure you’re okay with it for a small positioning flight first.

If you don’t understand the award availability presented to you, it can be hard to translate the results into a completed booking. You can walk through, step by step, and make all the right moves to book the right flights.

In this case, they were willing to take some flights separately – one in a group of 3 and one in a group of 2. We only had to use this twice: once from Honolulu (HNL) to Seoul (ICN) and the return flight from Bali (DPS) to Washington DC (IAD).

As you can see, putting this award availability together may not be the clearest if you aren’t sure how, where, or when to look. But with the expertise of our award booking service, we can help you find availability that may otherwise seem impossible to find.

Helping You Book

While the client didn’t take advantage in this case, included in our fee is the option to help you book the travel.

While you do have to share information such as login information to your frequent flyer accounts and billing information, we encourage you to do so through a secure means such as Lastpass or another password management software. We are also happy to take the information over the phone to complete a booking.

The only thing we don’t do is transfer the points for you. But once you’ve got the points transferred, we can take the reins from there!

How Much Does It Cost?

If, after reading all this, you’re interested in our award booking service, you may be wondering how much it costs.

We pride ourselves in keeping our fees competitive, but as you can hopefully see a successful award search can be fairly time intensive.

For a round-trip flight we charge a $50 search deposit. If we don’t find availability, nothing else is owed. If we do, then the first passenger is $150 and $125 for the second and third passenger each. If there’s more than 3 passengers, each additional passenger is $175.

For a multi-city itinerary such as this one with up to 3 stops we charge $200 for the first passenger, $150 for the second and third, and $200 for any passenger beyond that.

More complicated itineraries are subject to custom quoting.

Our award booking service strives to keep taxes and fees as low as possible, which isn’t always as intuitive as it seems. Some of our services have saved customers over $1,000 in taxes and fees in exchange for just a $275 booking fee. Other times, we’ve found availability when our clients couldn’t by themselves, saving the trip for them.

Final Thoughts

Navigating award charts and finding the right flights for your trip isn’t always as intuitive as it may seem. I always encourage you to learn as much as you can, and practice along with articles showing you how. However, sometimes you may need an expert to help you find the right flights for your trip.

Whether you’re seeking a round-trip flight to Europe or a complicated booking like we found for our client here, we do our best to provide you with options when it seems otherwise impossible.

So if you’re looking to remove the stress of searching for award flights, or you have a complicated itinerary that you’re struggling with feel free to reach out. We would love to help you find your next trip.

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