I came across something interesting recently. I have just booked a short trip to Carmel to stay at what I think is the best value Hyatt in the USA for my two free nights from the Hyatt Credit Card (here’s my analysis on that decision if you are interested). And was looking at how the heck to get there. I always try to squeeze out a bit more value with my travel from points and miles, which can get a little out of hand at times, but this process added some interesting ideas, i’ll explore them here to see if they might inspire some more.
Firstly there are two ways to book an award ticket, using a Distance Based Program and using a Region Based program. It’s really important to think of this before any booking and here is why:
- Distance Based programs charge you more for flying further.
- Region Based programs do not – so they allow for free one-ways using the stopover rules.
Think of your travels as ‘A Trip and a Half’
Now, whenever I book I don’t think of a round-trip, I think of a trip and a half. In the case of New York to Carmel I know I have limited time for the trip (three nights) and then I need to come home again. So what I decided to do was to book a one-way from JFK-San Francisco, and then a one way from San Francisco to London, via JFK where I will ‘stopover’ for 6 months.
The regular cost in miles for Business Class from JFK-LHR is 50K AAdvantage, but since it is a Region Based Program it is the same cost to fly from SFO. A regular business award ticket from SFO-JFK would cost me 25K miles, so I am in effect paying half price to get to London.
Stacking Hidden Cities, Rebates and Discounts for awards
A hidden city fare is best described as one where flying from A-B-C is cheaper than flying from A-B. All you do is waltz off the plan (without checking any bags) at destination B and in the meantime you save a bunch on the price.
I found this idea when booking for Carmel. There is a little airport called MRY that is in California and very convenient for Carmel, indeed it is a mere 17 minutes drive from the hotel and absolutely perfect for our needs. What’s more interesting is that it is very frequently listed on the Citi AAdvantage Reduced Mileage Award destinations:
The Citi Reduced Mileage Award destinations change monthly please check the full list here, with about a 3 month notice period, and are booked by telephone using the codes below, the trick is to look online first, find low cost MilesAAver space and then call up to secure the ticket at the lower rate. Note that they now allow one way trips.
So I could fly from NYC – MRY for 8750 AAdvantage in Coach. Furthermore the holders of certain Citi cards (the Visa works for me) get upto 10,000 miles rebated on any award booking for the year. So you could get back a rebate of 875 miles from that to your AAdvantage Account. Total cost would be 7875 each way in coach, or 19125 in Business Class.
We actually decided against booking this route for our trip to Carmel, despite it being so convenient an airport as you can see here, because the Route wasn’t ideal, this in turn made me think of Hidden City fares… MRY, like many of the airports on the Citi Reduced Mileage award list is a small airport that is served by very few airlines and routes. Basically the way that American Airlines deals with MRY is that you need to fly to it via LAX. As such, if you can find cheap saver space from NYC-LAX (and onto MRY) you can get that premium route, in the new American 3 classs Business Class for 19,125 despite it not being on the list of approved airports for the reduced fares.
Personally, thinking of these reduced mileage awards as hidden cities opens up lots of new angles, but they aren’t all obvious. For example if I want to go from LAX-JFK I have to find a route that considers JFK a step B on the ABC hidden city. The obvious one to look at on the reduced mileage award would be Buffalo, NY – however American doesn’t run a plane from JFK-Buffalo, it runs one from Chicago.
Now, whilst that means I fail to get to NYC, those of you who live in Chicago just got a route from LAX-ORD for cheap without it being on the list – pretty neat huh? I did find the return trip which would be a ticket from LAX-YYZ flying on flight #10 from Los Angeles. The route would take you nonstop LAX to JFK. YYZ is a bountiful airport, also offering a way to get to MIA for the same price on AA flight #28.
As mentioned, you need to book these ones on the phone, so all you need to do is find when there is space on the route you want by doing a search like above, make a note of the flight departure time and flight number and guide the representative through the reservation.
Hopefully these two ideas, for how to reduce the cost of a domestic award, and how to think of the round-trip as a trip and a half to reduce the International ticket will stretch those precious miles a little further. What you have in both of these are tickets that go from A-B-C, in one case to get you to B for less, and in the other to get you for C for less, stack them both and you have a much cheaper trip (and a half)!