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.
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)
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.