A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 57.5k United Miles and 10k Avios, which arose from daydreaming about booking myself more award trips.
The last few days I’ve worked myself into a frenzy planning an incredible-value American Airlines Explorer Award around the world in business class for 130k American Airlines miles and the most opulent Explorer Award possible for 280k miles.
American Airlines Explorer Awards have a distance-based award chart that uses American Airlines miles to fly two or more of American’s oneworld partners. The award chart has incredible values for round-the-world trips and trips with many destinations in one region, especially in business class.
I have written several posts about Explorer Awards, including The Rules, which you should check out now if you aren’t familiar with Explorer Awards.
The keys to getting great value Explorer Awards are planning longer trips and maximizing the mileage bands. Here are the longest Explorer Award distance bands with their mileage prices.
The two things that jump out at me are how large some bands are–14,001 to 20,000 miles flown is a big difference–and how tiny the business class premium is–sometimes as little as 25% more than economy.
The final key to maximizing an Explorer Award in a premium cabin is taking advantage of the best premium cabins available in the oneworld alliance.
With those ideas in mind, I have two Explorer Awards that I would love to book.
Around the World for 130k Miles in Business
The first award goes around the world on Cathay Pacific, British Airways, and American Airlines business class in all flat beds.
The award checks in just under 20,000 miles, meaning it would cost only 130,000 miles in business class.
Flying west, the first two legs would be in Cathay Pacific business class on fully flat beds, which receive consistently excellent reviews. Bahrain to London would be in British Airways Club World flat beds, which I very much enjoyed flying and sleeping in from Tampa to London last year. The last leg from London to Los Angeles would be on American Airlines’ fully flat beds in business class on their 777-300ER, which I’ve talked about before.
The benefits of this route are obvious. Four incredible segments on three world class products for only 130k miles. Priced individually, the four segments would cost 165k American Airlines miles to book as four awards.
But there are a few drawbacks. The first is that flying British Airways with American Airlines miles will incur a fuel surcharge of about $300 per segment. The second is that flying London to Los Angeles in business class will result in a UK Air Passenger Duty of about $290. Finally, it might be more fun not to repeat a product, and this award flies Cathay Pacific two segments in a row.
The first two drawbacks could be eliminated by choosing a different routing–maybe trying to throw Finnair into the mix for the transatlantic segment.
The last drawback of repeating Cathay Pacific is necessitated by their being no current great oneworld option for business class based in the Middle East. That will change when Qatar joins oneworld. “The joining date is still to be determined but is expected during the second half of 2013 or early 2014” according to Qatar’s website. When Qatar joins you can fly Qatar to Doha, connecting to British Airways there, and it’s still under 20,000 miles flown, meaning it’s still just 130k AA miles.
What if you want ultra-luxury? I have a five continent first class dream trip too.
Five Continents and First Classes for 280k Miles
The second award goes around the world in American Airlines, British Airway, Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas First Class, while also stopping on five continents.
I imagine this award heading east to save on taxes and fuel surcharges. It would start by flying LAX to Miami in three-cabin first class on American Airlines, a rarity on domestic flights, and continue to Sao Paulo in AA First.
From Sao Paulo, I would fly British Airways First Class to London to take advantage of the fact that, by law, there are no fuel surcharges on flights leaving Brazil.
From London, the award would go to Helsinki to minimize the Air Passenger Duty (it’s partially based on the distance of the flight leaving the UK). From Helsinki, I’d continue to Paris to catch one of Malaysia Airlines’ A380s in First Class.
From Kuala Lumpur, I would head to Hong Kong with a stop in Hanoi to see Vietnam. From Hong Kong to Sydney would be in Cathay Pacific First. The last leg would be Sydney to Los Angeles in Qantas First on an A380.
This entire award just stays within the 25,001 to 35,000 miles flown band, which means it costs 280,000 American Airlines miles in first class.
My main advice trying to recreate a big award like this would be to start with the hardest segment to find, which would by Qantas First Class by far. There are only a handful of days in the next 11 months with First Class space on a Qantas A380 that are available to AA miles.
Are These Awards in Jeopardy?
I am nervous that Explorer Awards will disappear when AAdvantage and Dividend Miles are merged with the merger of American Airlines and US Airways. I hope that Explorer Awards survive because they are an incredible option for people with a lot of American Airlines miles. If they do disappear, I hope we get notice for one last hurrah in booking.
Plan Your Own
I use gcmap.com and wikipedia.org to fantasize about Explorer Awards. The Great Circle Mapper gives distances of flights that should come very close to matching up with AA’s official distances. Wikipedia gives me routing ideas because all routes flown are listed on every airline’s and airport’s page.
I’ve been daydreaming about flying on flat beds on the cheap with Explorer Awards by checking routings on gcmap.com. My favorites are a reasonably priced business class trip around the world and an opulent, veering first class trip.