I’ve got a problem. I don’t let enough alone. If I’ve got a good itinerary, I try to tweak it, to make it better. If its better, I try to tweak it to make it great. As my colleague says, I try to stretch a single into a double, a double into a triple, and if I’m already at third, I might as well give a go at a home run.
Over a year ago, when United first announced their award chart devaluation referred to as Black Friday (not the good Black Friday we talk about related to Thanksgiving. I looked at my wife and my mileage accounts and decided it was time to burn. We proceeded to burn 600k miles for a variety of trips on Star Alliance carriers. One of those trips was a trip to Asia that we would take my mother in law. We had previously taken her to Argentina and Uruguay, had offered to other parents the prospect of a trip (who declined), so, it was her turn again.
You can read about the different configurations that this trip had over the last year, in my post on irrational desires and sunk cost. For those more visually inclined – this is what the trip ended up as:
The Plot Thickens
Now, the itinerary really was a good one. It had Square Class on ANA, my wife and mother in law had Business (more than sufficient). From there it was a regional flight from Tokyo to Beijing, and Beijing to Frankfurt on Air China’s 777-300ER didn’t seem all too bad… But, here we were, going through Germany and not stopping at the Christmas Markets. How could this be?
If an award isn’t broken, tweaking it may fix that. Fixing a broken award takes twice as much time than breaking it anyway.
Saturday night, I had found an alternative itinerary that met all of our goals: Time to visit Christmas Markets, At least one of us in Lufthansa First Class leaving Germany, all parties in business class or above for the entire international itinerary.
I called United, and got Ms. Buttercup. This should have been my first indication to Hang Up Call Again (HUCA – Rule #2) An hour later, my wife’s ticket was broken, and when I mean broken, she gave up the Beijing-Frankfurt-Dulles flights… just gave them up!. They were offering to fly us PEK-IAD on a United bird. Well that just wouldn’t do.
When an award is broken, sometimes it helps to call the operating airline.
This tactic worked only so well as to get my wife back on the two flights that had been lost. But they could only get her in economy. Ok, we now had a backup in business, or the spread out approach on our original itinerary, one family member in each cabin.
When you are close in, award space often opens up in droves.
I went to sleep Saturday night, probably after a couple more drinks (made all the more necessary by United), thinking about alternative options, routing rules, etc. I woke up to find even more reasonable availability. I was once again energized that David could take on Goliath!
The three “P”s of making or modding awards: Politeness (Rule #1), Persistence, and Patience.
Sunday morning was a three HUCA day. But when I made call number for, Jana was quite helpful. i explained what I wanted to do, and she worked each ticket, one by one, making them nearly perfect. There would be no mileage changes for any of us, my wife and mother in law would fly business the entire way. We would have an overnight in Frankfurt / Mainz to visit the Christmas Markets, and I would get to fly Lufthansa First Class from the lounge.
Trust but verify.
I spent 2 or so hours on the phone with Jana, she got all of our tickets to work, but mine was the hardest, requiring a manual re-pricing. She said I was good, that I should get a new confirmation. I had already gotten my wife’s and my mother in laws, so I took her at her word. After getting off the phone with her I checked my Itinerary on United.com, and saw that I was missing one leg. I called, and the agent I spoke to started blurting about how it wasn’t a legal routing. I thanked her and hung up, as quickly as humanly possible.
Accept less than supreme victory, find an alternative, and pop the champagne.
Seeing as how United could break my itinerary more than it could fix it, I decided the logical course of action was to burn 20k Avios points and $93, to fly on a JAL flight leaving about the same time. Even better, its a 787, so I get to experience the Dreamliner as a regional aircraft.
The final itinerary looks like this:
There is a lot I have to learn about when it comes to award booking but, I think I learned a whole lot for this trip. Hopefully others can learn from my mistakes.