This morning I noticed I had missed some huge Etihad sales, I’m not sure why they would run a sale during the window of 1am and 6am, which I like to call ‘quiet time’. Twitter was ablaze with people finding new routes and prices. The ballpark seemed to be around $500 from the West Coast to India, $700 to Australia, and it seems a couple of options from as low $200-300 to Bangladesh.
Some Amateur tips (I’ve never booked one of these fares)
- The fares may or may not be a mistake, however it is best to not call them ‘mistake fares’ because if enough people do that the airline realizes that they made a mistake, and the chances of your fare being honored drastically reduces. There was a ruling by the DOT that states a fare cannot be increased after payment has been accepted by the airline, but there are lots of little quirks, such as delayed ticketing, that allow airlines an escape route.
- Don’t book any non-refundable hotels or other costs like transport to/from the airport, you may not be ticketed for your deeply discounted fare.
- Be aware of miles earning fare codes. Buying cheap fares is one way to earn miles, so you should consider a revenue ticket to have a component of the price allotted to the acquisition of miles. The Etihad fares had zero miles earned, so you need to add that back in order to compare Apples to Apples how good a deal really is.
If you want to stay abreast of these fares, I suggest that you follow The Flight Deal on twitter. These guys do a great job of putting together these deals in ways that you can understand, and also include details on fare class for miles earning. If you aren’t a twitterer, you can follow them on their website. I also bring these deals into The Forum, which you can watch via RSS.
Next time around, if you want a piece of the action, you have to keep an eye on these things, and if you see a deal jump on it like a tiger. The mindset you need is minimal thought, because if you procrastinate it will likely vanish, and also minimal attachment. You need to say ‘yes, I want to go (or heck yes, I will go) to Bangladesh. But if it falls through, don’t feel sad about it.
Pro (ish) tip – if you see the deal advertised on the front page of the airlines site, you can feel a bit more confident about the fare being honored.
I get it, I didn’t really say what to do if you missed it, but I did explain how to think about it next time, sad you missed the fare? Feel free to sit around all day and mope. Personally, I don’t really feel sad about missing these fares, while they are clearly cheaper than others out there, it is hardly game changing. These fares are really good for people who don’t have access to credit cards, and even better for those who were planning on flying to these locations anyway. For the rest of y’all miles are great!
Let’s compare a ‘paid’ ticket with a miles ticket. In order to make it a little fairer we can use the fantastic, and highly under discussed Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard.® (affiliate link) this card comes with 40,000 miles after $3,000 in spend, and you earn 2x everywhere. I am going to be comparing it with the current Ink Bold offer of 70,000 miles with $5,000 in spend, so will use a consistent spend.
- You get 50,000 Arrival miles after meeting spend, good for $500 in travel, they also kick back 10% of those miles as a bonus when used for travel, so 5,000 will be added back to your account.
- The Ink Plus offers 70,000 miles, and has staggered earning, 5x Office Supples/Cellphone/Internet 2x on Gas and Hotels, 1x elsewhere. If I am conservative and say 2.5x earned here (reality being 5x all day long..) then for the same spend you’d earn 82,500 Ultimate Rewards.
Remember, you can redeem Ultimate Rewards for travel via their portal for a value of $1031.25, so providing you can find these mistake fares on Ultimate Reward Travel you have a great deal. But if you can’t find it there, or if you just missed out on the deal, you still have 82,500 points that can transfer into miles.
The real value of Ultimate Rewards is their transfer value. If we take Australia, as an example, at ‘bargain bin’ rate $700 you get West Coast to Sydney with a shortfall of $200 using the Arrival (great card by the way, doesn’t get enough attention) or an excess of $331.25 with the Ink Plus due to the current increased signup bonus (short term only, get two). If we instead took those 82.5K Ultimate rewards and transferred them to United we could fly RT from North America to Australia for 80,000 miles (plus some taxes and fees) pretty neat right?
That same Ink could get you from A-B for $700 (if you are lucky) with $331.25 remaining, or it could get you from A-B with 2500 Ultimate Rewards remaining, without there needing to be a ‘discount fare sale’. If we ignore that $331.25 for a minute, you could argue that points travel is always like mistake fare rates, right?
But $331.25 is $331.25!
Perhaps it is, and in fairness it doesn’t have to be cash value. You could also use 56,000 URs for $700 and have an overage of 26,500 URs that could be later transferred to another program. What can you do with that? I don’t know about you, but if I fly all the way to Australia (in coach…ahem) then I want some time there, and I want to explore. If I wanted to fly internally, the rates for United would be:
I’m a little shy, but pretty close to being able to book a round trip within Australia with my 26,500 – I’d need to magic up another 8,50o. Luckily Australia has a few cheap airlines, such as Tiger Air and Jetstar, and a flight from Sydney to Cairns is only $207 – so perhaps we revert to the cash value again?
Recap, and Breathe!
So, one credit card can get us to Australia if we jumped on the mistake fare, and it can also get us a nice internal flight RT (perhaps with some cash left over). But lets not ignore award routing rules here! How about those 80,000 United miles again – RT flight plus you get one stopover and 2 openjaws… meaning a valid route for 80,000 miles would be:
- SFO/LAX-Sydney (nonstop, none of that via Abu Dhabi nonsense)
- Melbourne – LAX (nonstop)
You’d have to rent a Ute to get from Cairns to Melbourne, but from my eyeballing that it looks like what, a 3hr scenic drive?
So you missed sale of the century, but for the price of the annual fee, plus a little opportunity cost spend on the $5,000, you can piece together a better itinerary, for a quarter of the price. What’s more, if you start diving into other programs, you can find even more value. Just take a look at what Drew did with Lufthansa’s miles and more program (also 80K to Australia, transferable from Ultimate Rewards). These guys are also Star Alliance, so you would fly the same planes as with United miles, but they have two stopovers and two openjaws. If you read his post carefully, you will see that he manages to double that to four stopovers and four openjaws. In other words, you’d go on vacation a young man, and come back looking old and wise many years from now. You might even get married on the way.
So you missed a deal on fares that may, or may not be honored (I hope they are!) but you could build a much better trip for much less than these rates by leveraging award tickets, and stopover rules. I think money is to be used to pay off debts and acquire income producing assets, there’s too many great deals with points to be had to be spending money, even on amazing deals.