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Update: The offer to email me later in this post resulted in free drinks at the 2013 Chicago Seminars. The offer is now dead.

I book frequent-flyer-mile awards professionally through the MileValue Award Booking Service. I know how to book complex awards and squeeze every inch out of my miles. But do I routinely do it for myself?

I think I’ve booked myself 17 award for travel from May 2012 through March 2014. The bookings have run the gamut from economy flights to Hawaii all the way to First Class on four airlines’ A380s with every level of fanciness and number of miles in between.

A few–not all–of the awards we’ll be discussing

How many of these 17 awards could you have booked for yourself?

1. May 2012 British Airways Club World to Paris

Anatomy of an Award: Using American Airlines Miles to Fly British Airways Business Class to Paris with a Free Stopover

Trip Report: Tampa to London in British Airways Club World (Business)

Notable for: This is the only award I’ve flown where I paid major fuel surcharges, about $300 worth. (British Airways flights between the US and Europe now have fuel surcharges of about $400.) Even after the surcharges, though, I still got more than 2 cents per mile in value, mainly because the business class product was awesome and I got a free stopover in Tampa to see my mom, which was only possible by paying fuel surcharges.

The other notable aspect of the award was changing airports in London and spending a day there. This illustrates two ideas. The first is that you can have unlimited layovers of under 24 hours on international awards. The second is that you can fly into one airport in a city and out of another without issue on most awards.

Skills Involved: The skills involved in booking this award were knowing American Airlines’ stopover rules–international gateway city–and knowing my options for international gateway cities.

2. June 2012 United BusinessFirst Return from Kharkiv with “Free Upgrade”

Anatomy of an Award: none

Trip Report: London to Los Angeles in United BusinessFirst

Notable for: I initially booked this award for 30k miles plus taxes as a one way award from Kharkiv, Ukraine to Los Angeles in economy because premium cabin flights were not available.

I set award alerts on a few important transatlantic routes, and space opened up that changed my routing slightly to go through London and pick up a United flight in business class.

I called United to make the change, and I was assessed the difference in taxes between my old and new itinerary, but no separate change fee or extra miles. From this and similar experiences changing awards for clients, I think United agents have to manually input change fees and manually deduct miles from your account on award changes, and sometimes they forget.

Skills Involved: The original award showed up for me on a simple Kharkiv to Los Angeles search, so it only required knowing how to use united.com. The change came from a seat alert.

3. July 2012 to Honolulu with Shared Hawaiian Miles

Anatomy of an Award: Using Hawaiian Miles to Book a One Way to Honolulu

Trip Report: Here’s some info about a free miles-and-points seminar I offered in Honolulu on the trip.

Notable for: Hawaiian Miles are notable for the quirk that anyone with a Hawaiian Airlines credit or debit card can receive miles transfers for free, so I got some miles from my family to top up my account.

Skills Involved: Searching hawaiianairlines.com and knowing miles-transfer rules were the only skills involved.

4. August 2012 from Honolulu with British Airways Avios

Anatomy of an Award: Using Avios for a One Way from Honolulu

Trip Report: Does Booking an Avios Award on American Airlines Grant Priority AAccess?

Notable for: This award cost 12,500 Avios and $2.50, which is the cheapest way you can get to or from Hawaii with miles.

Skills Involved: The main skills were searching ba.com and knowing the Cheapest Ways to Get to Hawaii.

5. December 2012 to Auckland in United Global First

Anatomy of an Award: none

Trip Reports:

Notable for: This award was notable because it is very hard to secure flights from the US to Australia in their peak summer season. I recommend booking 11 months in advance when the schedule opens up, which is what I did in this case. The flights were notable because I was nowhere on January 1 of this year. The flight took off December 31 from Los Angeles and landed January 2 in Sydney.

Skills Involved: As you can imagine from the lack of an Anatomy of an Award, there wasn’t a lot of skill involved besides knowing when award space opens up on united.com, about 337 days out.

The skills needed to get to Australia/New Zealand come into play when there are no direct flights. In that case, you need some segment-by-segment searching to get through Asia.

6. January 2013 Emirates First

Anatomy of an Award: none

Trip Report:

Notable for: This award is the cheapest award possible to shower on an airplane. Auckland to Sydney is one of three tag routes flown by Emirates A380s to New Zealand. The others are Melbourne and Brisbane to Auckland.

All are easily booked as just the short segments with cash or miles. A friend gave me his expiring Emirates miles, and I booked the award for under $100 in taxes and surcharges. This is my favorite flight I’ve ever flown.

Skills Involved: Knowing tag routes is a useful skill, and I learn about routes from wikipedia. I got the miles from a friend in the miles world, so networking can be useful–either online at miles forums or on blogs or in person at seminars. (Speaking of seminars: if you will be at the Chicago Seminars next month, please email me with the subject line “Chi-town”. You’ll be glad you did.)

Analysis of These Awards

These awards are all on the easy side. Three of the six mentioned so far were a single direct flight. The most complicated ones up this point were the award to Europe with a stop in Tampa and the return from Europe that I changed.

If any skill is in evidence so far, it’s the creativity behind some of the awards. I don’t think most people would think to fly a Middle Eastern airline between Australia and New Zealand, would know that British Airways flies to Tampa, or would know all of their miles options to and from Hawaii.

Through these first six awards, I’d hope anyone who reads MileValue would have been able to go through the mechanics of booking each award pretty easily. Some of the awards I’ll talk about in the next installment are quite a bit trickier though.

Continue to Part 2




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