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

I recently made a last-second decision to head to Las Vegas and Phoenix for three days for a mix of work and pleasure.

I planned and booked the trip in 10 minutes with miles and points, saving myself $1,500 in the process and getting to fly First Class on one long flight. The cost? Only 40,000 Hawaiian Miles, 8,500 British Airways Avios, and $102.50.

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When you need to make a last minute trip for a family or work emergency or when you want to take a last minute trip for spontaneous adventure, having balances with the right types of miles is key.

  • When I decided to travel to Phoenix and Las Vegas, what miles did I immediately think to use?
  • How did I find my direct flight options?
  • Which airlines charge a booking fee for last-minute awards and which don’t?
  • How did I search for award space?
  • How did I book my awards?

Thought Process

I needed to leave Saturday evening and return by Tuesday evening, so I only had about 72 hours to squeeze in Las Vegas and Phoenix. With such a tight schedule, flying direct flights was my number one priority in order to spend more time on the ground and minimize the chances of delays and mis-connects.

I know which airlines fly all three legs of my triangle directly:

  • Allegiant and Hawaiian from Honolulu to Las Vegas
  • US Airways and Southwest from Las Vegas to Phoenix
  • US Airways and Hawaiian from Phoenix to Honolulu

If I hadn’t known, I could always find the Wikipedia page of each airport to see which destinations are served by which airlines.

Honolulu to Las Vegas

I needed to fly out Saturday night.

Allegiant has dirt cheap fares, around $200 one way for its three weekly flights from Honolulu to Las Vegas even at the last minute, but they are all morning departures.

Hawaiian has more frequent departures including a daily redeye that leaves at 10:25 PM. I needed to book this flight on Saturday night.

On the date I needed, Hawaiian had released First Class Saver space for 40,000 miles and Coach Flex (High) level economy award space for 40,000 miles.

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That meant I would definitely be in First Class on the flight, but the question was: which miles should I use to book the flight?

American Airlines also partners with Hawaiian Airlines, so any award seats that Hawaiian releases at the First Class Saver or Coach SuperSaver level are available to AAdvantage members on aa.com at the prices on American Airlines’ award chart.

American charges only 37,500 miles each way in two-cabin First Class between the mainland and Hawaii. Plus since I have an American Airlines credit card, I’d get a 10% rebate on the miles used (up to 10,000 miles rebated per calendar year), so my effective price would be only 33,750 American Airlines miles for the same flight.

I chose to spend 40,000 Hawaiian Miles instead of 33,750 American Airlines miles for two reasons.

  • Hawaiian does not charge a fee for last second ticketing. The Hawaiian award would just have $2.50 in taxes. American charges a $75 fee for awards booked within 21 days of departure, so the American award would have $77.50 out of pocket.
  • Hawaiian miles aren’t as valuable as American miles. Hawaiian miles can mainly be used on Hawaiian flights or these partners at inflated prices. American miles can be used on much better airlines at much cheaper prices. I’m saving my American miles to fly more Cathay Pacific First Class for instance.

Getting Hawaiian Miles is easy. The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard® offers 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days.

Decision: Fly Hawaiian First Class directly from Honolulu to Las Vegas for 40,000 Hawaiian Miles + $2.50.

Las Vegas to Phoenix

I needed to fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX, the main airport), not Phoenix-Mesa airport (AZA), which Allegiant serves, so I was limited to Southwest and US Airways flights.

The cheapest cash price was $218 on a US Airways flight.

Since the flight is less that 651 miles, 255 to be exact, and since US Airways joined oneworld, you can use 4,500 British Airways Avios to book an award flight.

Award space was wide open, and British Airways does not collect fuel surcharges on US Airways domestic flights, nor does it collect a ticketing fee for last minute tickets.

Decision: Fly US Airways directly from Las Vegas to Phoenix for 4,500 Avios + $2.50.

Phoenix to Honolulu

Hawaiian and US Airways fly this route directly, but only US Airways had the early afternoon departure I needed.

The flight can be booked with 12,500 Avios because it is just less than 3,000 miles flown.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Cash & Avios price on this award is stunningly good, so you even have the option to spend only 4,000 Avios + $97.50.

Decision: Fly US Airways directly from Phoenix to Honolulu for 4,000 Avios + $97.50.

Booking the Awards

Always book every award at the website of the carrier whose mile you are using if possible. If impossible, call the carrier whose miles you are using.

Honolulu to Las Vegas

I went to Hawaiian Airlines’ site and logged into my account. I searched for the award and booked it in just a few clicks.

Seat selection is available online, and I selected an aisle seat in the middle section of the 2-2-2 First Class configuration.

Las Vegas to Phoenix

I went to ba.com and logged into my account. I searched for the award and booked in just a few clicks. Award space was wide open!

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Unfortunately the Cash & Avios prices were too expensive, but the standard price of 4,500 Avios + $2.50 was just right.

Phoenix to Honolulu

Still in my ba.com account, I searched for Phoenix to Honolulu.

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The award costs an incredible 12,500 Avios + $2.50. Even better, the Cash & Avios options are as cheap as 4,000 Avios + $97.50.

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I booked the 4,000 Avios + $97.50 option to conserve Avios. I reasoned that it was like buying the 8,500 Avios I was saving for $95, which is about 1.1 cents per Avios, a great deal!

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Unfortunately ba.com doesn’t allow for US Airways seat selection. I could have called US Airways, but I figured I would just pick a seat at check in. That worked out extremely well. On both flights, I was auto-assigned a bulkhead aisle seat for free while all the surrounding seats had an upcharge.

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Free bulkhead instead of paying $99 from Phoenix to Honolulu.

Money Saved

Because I was booking just a few days before departure, and I needed specific flights, the price with cash would have been outrageous.

Just for economy tickets, the price of the long legs would have been $487 and $829.

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Throw in another $218 for the short hop from Vegas to Phoenix, and my three flights had a retail price of $1,534. For that price, I’d get three economy flights in the back of the plane.

Instead I payed $102.50 + 40,000 Hawaiian Miles + 8,500 Avios. For that price, I got one of the legs in First Class and the other two in bulkheads.

Thanks, miles!

Bottom Line

Miles are useful for those First Class dream trips you book 11 months out. But they’re also really useful to have on hand when an emergency or spontaneous idea pops up.

In Las Vegas, I beat 1,900 people at one of my favorite games, and in Phoenix, I educated thousands of people about miles. It was a really fun, really fast trip that I would not have paid over $1,500 to take. But $102.50 plus miles including some First Class made the trip a reality.

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