Those in the Travel Hacking game hear a lot about earning points, but not so much about how to burn through a solid amount of them in one fell swoop, and maximizing value when you do. I look at Award Travel as a great way to make travel affordable, and focus our hard earned money on savings and investments, so we get to live a full life, but also don’t spend all our cash doing so!
Therefore, spending your Airline Miles frugally also is a very important step in stretching out the value from those hard earned (or sometimes easily earned) miles. This post I show how by nesting multiple awards together, and leveraging Stopovers, Openjaws and Low Season Awards you can craft a series of five trips over several months for less points than you would think possible.
Starting with my trip to Milan and Rome, to which I need to tie in a side trip to Dubai, this turned into the following series of award booking itineraries:
June 5th-11th Italy, Two City Rome and Milan
June 12th-17th Dubai
October 18th-21st Two City Panama City, Panama and San Juan, Puerto Rico
December 12th-17th Zurich
February 28th – March 2nd Toronto
Also since only I am going to Dubai (for a Business Trip) I split our PNRs so I could edit mine accordingly. I started with this:
A rather nice itinerary, lots of value for 62,500 UA miles. The idea was to have the Round Trip to Italy, then book the first half of a future vacation to Panama City. The only thing I didn’t like about this was that I wasn’t non-stop to Milan. I have noticed a weird glitch with the United website where it says there are no Non-Stops available, but there are actually there, so you call in and change – not only is there no charge to change (21 days or more in advance) also the price drops… because when you change planes in Switzerland on the way in they charge you $25.20 in Departure Tax – so swap to a Non-Stop to Milan, and get a $50,40 credit for the two tickets.
So I am already much happier – we went from having to change planes to Non-Stop, saved money too! Next issue though, is that I need to get from Rome (we check out of our hotel there on the 11th) to Dubai, and there are no Non-Stop Flights from Rome, they all go from Switzerland or Germany and some other locations.
My plan was to stretch the day that I fly back to NYC to the 17th, and in between the 11th and 17th I get a separate flight to Dubai, then fly back into Rome to fly home on the above ticket. However, that turned out to be really annoying, since I would need to fly from Dubai-Zurich-Rome-NYC when there are lots of direct flights from Zurich to NYC.
If I could swap Rome June 11th to Zurich June 17th on the first ticket life would be getting better already. I checked with United and they said it was fine, furthermore they did not charge me a change fee for this, I was expecting $75 for changing City, but they only charged me the difference in Taxes, which was $5:
Happy Days! Now I just need a ticket to Dubai from Rome. This was complicated by the fact that I knew I could get that extra third leg… and I was excited to get full value from my miles.
A Round Trip from Rome-Dubai would cost 35K miles in Saver Economy, however for a little more 57.5K I could start making a much more interesting routing:
I created a Dog Leg route –
- Rome-Dubai June 11th
- Dubai- Zurich on June 17th, swap planes and pick up the flight from Ticket #1
- Zurich – NYC December 17th – I now have 2 tickets back from Zurich to NYC, this first trip will be simply changing planes, but we decided to come back for Christmas Market in December, and this ticket will get me home again from there! You’ll notice the last leg is currently not a Non-Stop, that’s the glitch again… I’ll call in and adjust it.
Next up, we have the problem of both of us owning a one way ticket to Panama City, and no way to get home, unfortunately our puppy Ichigo will not be happy with this, so we are going to have to figure that out. We could just get a one way to New York.. but that would be too easy!
American Airlines has a very special award called the Economy MilesAAver Off Peak Award. It is without a doubt the best value for a ticket in the entire Award Booking industry, and it works like this.
A One Way ticket can start in the Caribbean, Mexico, North America or Canada, fly to a US Destination, and fly onto Europe for 20,000 AAdvantage Miles- this blew me away. All we needed to do was get a ticket from Panama City (which is in Central America) to anywhere in the Caribbean that American flew from, and then we could get ourselves all the way to Europe as well as getting home from the trip to the Caribbean for 20,000 Miles – it was also pretty mindblowing that total Fees and Taxes for this trip were $5 per person.
Trip cost for both of us to come back from San Juan Puerto Rico on October 21st, and then later go to Zurich for the Christmas Market was 40,000 miles plus $10! (hat tip to TheMilesProfessor for putting me onto this concept!)
So, we have our tickets for Italy, Dubai, Panama and the Caribbean sorted, other than I need a link flight from Panama City to San Juan. Luckily Copa Airlines, a Partner of United flies there very frequently, so we will get a ticket with them, however we were a little short of miles at this point. Copa was asking 10K each in Coach for the journey. Which is actually great value with the current pricing:
$453 per person for a one-way sub 3hr flight? Wowzer! So with Mrs Saverocity having 19K United miles remaining I logged into MY Chase Ultimate Rewards Account and wired her 1000 miles. This is free to do, but don’t do it for anyone other than yourself or Spouse as Chase is closing accounts for people doing this. Now we have 20K miles lets make this award booking :
As you can see above, lots of space in Saver, but some stinky fees – about $58 due primarily to a $40 departure fee from Panama. This is the only ticket that I made A-B so I might have left something on the table with this one, but at this point my brain had fried so I was happy that I could link us through to San Juan.
OK – we’re almost there, we have Italy, June;Dubai, June; Panama and San Juan October (and tickets home again for all of them!) next up… we’re sitting on two One Way tickets to Zurich in December (and I already have my flight home from that one booked back in the Dubai trip).
I now need to get my dear Wife a ticket home one way from Zurich. At this point I have burned all of our United Miles, so we were down to some American Airlines AAdvantage Miles and a swath of British Airways Avios. I really like the idea of using Avios, since we had so many, and I could put her on the Non-Stop American Airlines flight as a Partner. The distance was good (they are distance based awards with BA) they only wanted 20,000 Avios, and we have close to 300,000 of these. But then they hit me with the fees…
As many people are aware, flying British Airways through London costs a horrendous amount of Fees and Taxes, however this is a Non-Stop flight from Zurich to JFK on American Airlines – and they want $262.91 in Fees? This is an outrage. I really would like to know where this money goes, and am looking into it.
Instead, I went back to plan A (or is it B at this point?) and used the American Off Peak MilesAAver award. This would be 20K too, but with lower taxes:
Now, firstly look at the fees – $64.30 for not only the same flight, but for another flight on top! That’s right, I booked our final trip from NYC – Toronto for February 2014. Just a weekend thing. But if you are paying the 20,000 miles anyway, why not book a weekend away on the top for free?
Of course, that leaves me needing a Roundtrip to Toronto, and the Wife needing a one way back. However these are booked as one of the best value Avios awards -4500 miles per person each way, and perhaps $5 in taxes. There are so many of these flights that I haven’t bothered to book them yet, and I might even swap Toronto for somewhere else in America, the Caribbean or Mexico closer to the time…
So, the end result:
June 5th-11th New York- Italy, Two City Rome and Milan
June 12th-17th Rome- Dubai (for just me)
October 18th-21st New York- Two City Panama City, Panama and San Juan, Puerto Rico
December 12th-17th New York- Zurich
February 28th – March 2nd New York –Toronto
For a total cost of:
130K UA, 20K AA, 9K Avios for me and
72.5K UA, 40K AA and 4.5K Avois for the Mrs.
How’s that for value?