The Deal Mommy

How I Used 3 Frequent Flyer Programs to Get 4 Tickets on the Same Flights to Asia

The object of my affection.

One of the tools in my kit.

I’m thrilled to announce Camp Mom 2015!  I successfully booked four tickets on the same flight out and three on the same flight back to and from Asia in Business and First Class using three different frequent flyer programs. I wanted to share how I booked my tickets as my process offers tips you can use. In doing so I’m showing you my takeaways at each step.

To recap, Camp Mom is a concept I started in 2011 where I use the money I would have spent on day camp to travel with the kids. On the odd years I tack Camp Mom onto the end of our big family trip (on the even years I get to travel solo while Deal Dad takes the kids to Grandma’s). In 2013 we successfully tacked on two weeks in Europe after the family vacationed in Ireland.

For 2015 we’re headed to Asia for the first time as a family.  At 8 and 11 next summer, the Deal Kids are ready for a more challenging trip.  Japan is our family destination as requested by Deal Kid: his current obsessions are Yu-Gi-Oh and Anime. After 2 weeks exploring Japan, Deal Dad heads home and the Kids and I have 2 weeks open until we depart from Hong Kong. Takeaway: Open Jaw and 1 way tickets are your friend.

My Assets

Before I could even think about tickets, I had to take a good look at what I could spend.  I’ve been concentrating my miles earning in the OneWorld Alliance so I had the following to work with:

  • Us Airways: 200K Dividend Miles each in 2 Accounts
  • American Airlines: 128K Miles
  • British Airways: 155k Avios Points

The miles were earned with a combination of “butt in seat” miles flown, credit card signup bonuses*,everyday spending, sharing miles for a penny each, and in the case of BA compensation for the worst travel experience of my life. As you can see, each account has enough for a ticket or 2, but no one account has enough for all 4. This is where I had to get creative. Takeaway: Identify alliances when earning miles and try to pick one that works for you.

Finding the Flights

The first decision I made may surprise you: I wanted at least business class flights.  I know I’ve railed against Vendoming, but on flights over 10 hours I think it’s a matter of not losing an entire day of your trip to exhaustion due to lack of sleep on the plane. When I was younger, time was less valuable than money and I happily slept away day 2 (why is it always day 2 and not day 1?) because I had all the time in the world. Nowadays, especially when it involves Deal Dad, time is precious.  To Dublin and back economy was fine. To Tokyo?  Not so much.

I also knew I wanted us to fly together to Tokyo on the outbound (again time being limited) and I needed 3 tickets on the same flight for the return.  With these items being inflexible, I knew I needed to be flexible on dates and the return gateway city. Takeaway: You’re not going to get 100% of what you want booking an award ticket.  Find the absolute non-negotiables first.

So to search for 4 award tickets from DC to Tokyo, I started with American Airlines and British Airways as they offer 1 way ticketing.  Takeaway: Search leg by leg as opposed to an entire trip.

American Airlines showed availability in 1st class for 4 on a date that worked for us, but I knew that wasn’t enough knowledge as I couldn’t book the all of my tickets on American Airlines miles.  I needed to cross check to US Airways and coordinate the return. The challenge is that US Airways only books round trip tickets. I went ahead and placed 2 1st class tickets on 3 day courtesy hold for 125K miles and $11 each on American’s website for me and Deal Kid. I’ll get 10% of those miles back with my Citi AA credit card. Takeaway: Use holds to help you.

Then I went to US Airways as at this point I knew I could take care of Deal Dad’s booking. Searching round trip DCA-NRT with the outbound date I had already chosen and their availability calendar, it was easy to find a round class ticket in 1st on American Airlines for 120k Dividend Miles and $94 out of his account. Booked!

Now I needed to find the return for the Deal Kids and me.  Because I was flexible on our return gateway I just needed to find 3 one way tickets on the same flight out of a OneWorld North Asian City. Using British Airways’ search engine, I found 3 business class tickets from Hong Kong to New York City.  Strangely, many flights were available from Hong Kong to New York, but absolutely none from New York to Washington! If I had only searched to Washington, I would not have found any flights. Fortunately, getting home is easy via $100 shuttle flights, or I might take the kids into the city for a day and come home on Amtrak or the Megabus.  Takeaway: Just get “over the pond”. 

I kept my British Airways screen open and called US Airways to book a “round trip” (actually an open jaw) ticket for Deal Girl using my miles. Giving the rep the exact flight information, she was able to see the flights and booked the ticket for 115k Dividend Miles and $44 (I have status so my fee was less). While she booked Deal Girl’s ticket over the phone, I booked on BA.com the same flight for me and Deal Kid for 70,000 and $160 each.

Takeaway: if you collect within an alliance, you can book your family on the same flight with different miles programs. It takes work, but can be easier than collecting a huge amount of miles in just one program.

Comparison to roundtrip DCA-NRT cash prices on same dates (lowest 1 stop available)

Coach: $1,959

Business: $5,096

First: $7,949

Final Cost:

112,500 AA Miles +$11

235,000 Dividend Miles +$138

140,000 Avios +$320

Total: 487,500 miles and $469 or $5,344 if we value miles at a penny each.  A pet peeve of mine is a miles blogger who only tells you the cash price. The headline would be “1st class Asia for $117!” WRONG.Takeaway: Travel is NOT free, but first/business class tickets at $1,336 each is a price I’m happy to pay.

So there you have it: 4 accounts, 3 programs, all booked on the same 2 flights in first/business at a 32% discount over the high season coach price. Sure the tickets aren’t perfect (I have to get us home from New York), but I’m pretty satisfied with the results. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 




19 thoughts on “How I Used 3 Frequent Flyer Programs to Get 4 Tickets on the Same Flights to Asia

  1. Pan

    I am in DC and is looking for similar flights for our family of 4 for next summer using the AA miles from the executive cards. I am also having problem getting back from NY, so I was hesitating booking the tickets now, hoping to find something better so we can get back to DC. The shuttle $150×4 does add up for a family of 4
    And if we book now and settle for NYC, when flight from NYC to was becomes available later , there would be a change fee , right ?

    1. The Deal Mommy Post author

      Hi Pan,
      Yes, and frankly the change fee would be higher than the ticket cost. That’s why I’ll likely do an overnight in NYC on points and take Amtrak (4k points from Chase, kids 1/2 price) or Megabus (average $20/each). Even if tickets come available they’ll be just 4500 avios (from Chase or Amex).

      It’s a constant struggle- wait for perfect or take good enough and available. When I’m booking for 4, I just get over the pond and let the rest work itself out. I can’t stand the idea of losing good enough waiting for perfect to show up.

    2. PW

      One-way car rental JFK-DCA is $75-100. We often rent a car one-way to get to one of the WAS or NYC airports and fly the other direction into or out of our home PHL airport. And almost always open-jaw at our destination(s) with a one-way car rental.

  2. Pan

    True, especially this Is 4 tickets for the peak summer season, there’s also the big devaluation everyone is predicting. Also, did you booked the JFK/EWR flight? Looks like EWR has a lot more award seats.

    1. The Deal Mommy Post author

      On the way out, we’re routed through Chicago to Tokyo on American Airlines. On that one I could find DCA availability. On the way back it’s Hong Kong to JFK on Cathay Pacific.

      Devaluation is also another real possibility…if I didn’t have to wait to school was out I could have booked the US Airways flights for 90k instead of 110k.

    1. The Deal Mommy Post author

      Yes, but I actually consider that saving a one way I wouldn’t have kept the kids in Japan either way. Leaving from Hong Kong means we don’t have to return to Japan to get back to the USA. I’ll fill that in (with either Avios or cash tickets as intra Asian tickets tend to be fairly low) once we choose a Camp Mom plan.

  3. Sandy

    Thank you for sharing your tips on this complicated process! I definitely took away lots of new knowledge and you opened doers for creative ideas!

    1. The Deal Mommy Post author

      Kadence,
      Thanks! In the meantime, check out Points and Pixie Dust. She just came back from a family Japan trip.

  4. Becky

    How exciting that you’re headed to Japan! Can’t wait to hear what you choose for the inbetween Japan & Hong Kong part. I actually just talked to the Macau tourism board yesterday and that may be an interesting ~2 day interlude with it’s Portuguese flair and cheap weeknight hotels (it’s otherwise a weekend destination due to the many casinos).

    1. The Deal Mommy Post author

      Thanks! I’m a big fan of places that “don’t belong” and Macau has been on my radar for the Portugal effect.

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