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Anatomy of an Award posts highlight real awards I’ve booked to show you the techniques needed to book your dream trip.

Recently the MileValue Award Booking Service was contacted by a client who was wondering if he was able to add a “free” one way from Hawaii back to his home in New York City in connection with a dream trip for two to the Maldives using US Airways Dividend Miles.

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Most often we are asked to add a “free” or “cheaper” one way to Hawaii or elsewhere in the US at the end of an award but this client wanted to know if he could add one at the beginning.

By adding a one way to the beginning of an award, he would be getting the return flight home at the end of a Hawaiian vacation and then continuing onward to the Maldives several months later. He already had an outbound flight booked to Hawaii with miles, so this free one way saved him half the miles needed for trip to Hawaii.

In the end, he got two business class tickets from Honolulu to New York in September and two roundtrip flights from New York City to the Maldives in February for 120,000 US Airways miles per person–the same number of miles it would have cost for a standard roundtrip between New York City and the Maldives.

  • How did I work around the US Airways routing rules allowing a stopover or an open jaw but not both?
  • How did I search for award space from Honolulu to New York City in business class?
  • How did I search for award space from New York City to the Maldives in business class?
  • How did I book the US Airways award after identifying the desirable flights?
  • How did this “free one way” from Hawaii save the client 80,000 miles?

This client came to us with the question of whether or not it was possible to get a free one way from Hawaii to New York before his next planned vacation to the Maldives. In short, the answer was yes!

The US Airways Routing Rules

You’ll note in the below US Airways award chart that a roundtrip from Hawaii to South & Central Asia (where the Maldives is located in this award chart) is 120,000 US Airways miles.

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US Airways award routing rules allow either a stopover OR an open jaw . The client’s desired routing was from Honolulu to New York and then several months later a roundtrip from New York to the Maldives which would mean his routing would have both a stopover and an open jaw.

A stopover in New York for several months was a required component of the free one way but only returning as far as New York instead of Honolulu–where the trip started–would result in an open jaw. Therefore a routing like this would not be permitted with US Airways miles:

  • Honolulu to New York
  • four month stop in New York
  • New York to Maldives
  • Maldives to New York

In order to avoid breaking the rule of only one open jaw OR stopover, I needed to shape the return from the Maldives back to New York and then onto Honolulu.

The client does not live in Hawaii, but he can simply choose not to get on continuing flights upon his return to New York. When you add flights to the end of a trip that you don’t plan to fly in order to get a cheaper price for the rest of the trip, it is called “hidden city tickets.” Hidden city ticketing is somewhere between prohibited and frowned upon.

Decide for yourself whether you’re comfortable with hidden city ticketing and understand the risks and drawback:

  • Raising the ire of an airline (seems remote.)
  • Irregular operations forcing a re-routing that would not include a layover at your home airport since the ticketing airline has a responsibility to get you to your destination but not to your layovers.
  • You can’t check a bag since it goes to the final destination. Exception: you can check a bag when your home airport is the first one you reach in the United States since US customs laws require all passengers to collect all checked baggage and pass through Customs at their first airport in the United States.

The Search

The best way to search for oneworld availability between Hawaii and the continental United States is at www.aa.com since it displays American Airlines and US Airways flights on an easy-to-navigate calendar.

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AA.com displays award availability for many airlines that serve Hawaii including US Airways, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Alaska Airlines.

Keep in mind that you cannot use Dividend Miles for flights on Hawaiian Airlines or Alaska Airlines, which are not US Airways partners. They are American Airlines partners and are not part of the oneworld alliance. For the time being, American Airlines and US Airways partners are separate lists, and that’s likely to continue until early 2015.

I always start my US Airways-miles-to-Hawaii award searches by isolating American Airlines flights.

The way to isolate flights on American Airlines only is to choose the “AA, American Eagle, and American” button at the bottom of the American Airlines Award Travel search page.

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I start in this way to weed out the Hawaiian and Alaska results. It also weeds out US Airways results, but I find that American Airlines has better availability than US Airways to Hawaii. If the AA-only search doesn’t work, then I re-search with all partner airlines.

I hoped to quickly identify availability from Honolulu to New York City in business class that included a flight from either Los Angeles or San Francisco to New York-JFK on a brand new American Airlines A321 with lie flat seats in business class.

Unfortunately, availability for two isn’t in business class on the A321T isn’t plentiful.

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However, we got lucky and found a two-stop return from Honolulu via Los Angeles and San Francisco with the San Francisco to JFK leg in business class on the updated aircraft with the lie flat seats. I then wrote down the flight numbers, dates, and cabins of the Honolulu-to-JFK flights.

Then I moved on to the segment by segment search from New York City to the Maldives and back. Arguably, the best product on this route in business class with the oneworld alliance is on Cathay Pacific. However, AA.com does not show award availability on Cathay Pacific.

The best place I find to search for Cathay Pacific availability is through a combination of the British Airways and Qantas online award tools. This client had a bit of flexibility so I started at Qantas.com because they display results a month at a time.

Qantas Search

 To search availability on qantas.com, you must be signed into your frequent flyer account (free to join if you don’t have one). By following the process found here, I was able to search for and identify the four segments separately that worked best for the client (New York to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Male, Male to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to New York.) I wrote down the dates, cabins, and flight numbers.

I then verified the availability that I had identified on on the Qantas award tool through the British Airways award tool by following these instructions. 

It’s important to note that occasionally Qantas indicates that there is availability on flights when availability does not exist. That’s why I make sure to cross check each flight on ba.com. In this case, all segments were available.

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Lastly, I needed to add a return from New York to Honolulu to avoid violating the US Airways routing rules. I had to choose a flight that departed New York within 24 hours of the arrival from Hong Kong. I chose the only flight I could find. It didn’t matter what class I chose as the client wouldn’t be flying this segment.

For more info on why this last part is necessary, read Free One Ways on US Airways Awards.

Booking the Award

I proceeded to call US Airways at 1-800-428-4322 to place the award on hold. After making my way through the electronic prompts, I reached an agent. To make the call go smoother, I always indicate to the agent that I had spoken to someone earlier who found availability, and I’d like to place those flights on hold.

Generally, the agent is very pleased to hear this as they don’t really have to do the searching themselves and can simply enter the flights identified. After methodically giving the agent the flight details of each segment, we easily placed the award on hold.

In the end the client ended up with:

  • Honolulu – Los Angeles American Airlines first class (standard recliner seats)
  • Los Angeles – San Francisco American Airlines first class (standard recliner seats)
  • San Francisco – New York JFK American Airlines business class (lie flat seats)
  • New York JFK – Hong Kong Cathay Pacific business class (lie flat seats)
  • Hong Kong – Male Cathay Pacific business class (lie flat seats)
  • Male – Hong Kong Cathay Pacific business class (lie flat seats)
  • Hong Kong – New York JFK Cathay Pacific business class (lie flat seats)
  • New York LGA – Dallas Fort Worth American Airlines first class (standard recliner seats)
  • Dallas Fort Worth – Honolulu American Airlines first class (standard recliner seats)

The crossed out segments are on the ticket but will not be flown.

Note that this is a nine segment award. Many US Airways agents now only allow eight segments per award. I lucked out on the first try for this client, but when I encounter resistance, I thank the agent for their time and tell them that I’d like to think about what I want to change and end the call. I then call back and try again with another agent.

Most agents will ticket up to 10 segments.

The total cost of the awards was 120k US Airways miles per person plus government taxes plus a $50 award processing fee that US Airways charges to non-elites.

The one way from Hawaii to JFK was a true free one way since without it, the award would have been no cheaper in miles and only $10 cheaper in taxes.

The value of a one way in business/first class to Hawaii is 40,000 miles per person, so by adding the free one way for two people, we saved our client 80,000 miles.

Recap

I booked a client two roundtrip tickets from Honolulu to the Maldives via his home city of New York, tying together two vacations and saving him 80,000 miles in the process.

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A traditional roundtrip in business class from the United States to South and Central Asia costs 120,000 miles. A one way from Hawaii to the continental United States in business class is 40,000 miles (note that you cannot use US Airways Dividend Miles for one way awards). Therefore, this trip “should” have cost him 160,000 miles per passenger.

But by using his home airport as his stopover point and leveraging US Airways routing rules, we added a free one way, saving him 40,000 per passenger.

If you have a trip like this in mind, I recommend booking it while US Airways’ generous routing rules are still in place! If you encounter difficulty trying to do it on your own, hire the experts at the MileValue Award Booking Service!

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