I almost paid cash for a ticket. Holy moly! By cash I mean AA eGift cards. Luckily I managed to find some interesting things in the award charts, and wanted to share my adventures in the hope it may help.
I was looking for flights from New York to Las Vegas for TravelCon and was really drawing a blank, this post will share my process, which may help beginners, and may be scorned by the bitter old pros, by which I mean I am open to suggestions to improve! OK lets go:
TravelCon is on Saturday November 7th. Here are my ‘wants’ from the flights:
- To arrive a day prior to ensure I am relaxed for the big day.
- As few stops as possible, ideally non-stop. This makes it JFK-LAS for most options
- To return on the Sunday
Finding low priced awards was proving difficult. UA had zero, AA would get me in coach for 20K. I’m not averse to spending my miles, and I do spend 25K for domestic F on AA, but 20K in coach leaves a mark.
Finding partner space
Because AA is the ‘metal’ or the plane that I will fly on, if there is no low cost space, there’s no partner space. So this immediately rules out using partners such as British Airways, although, the value of their Avios program diminishes with distance in any case, and I often only use them for shorter hops. United did the same, not opening low cost space means that anything funky I could conjure up within Star Alliance would fail.
These guys know that people want to return from Vegas on Sunday, and be back by Monday, and will pay a premium. Simple supply and demand.
How’s the cash rate?
At this point, I’m already thinking about just paying cash. AA/UA were going for $500-600, and the best price was on JetBlue for about $420, which isn’t that bad for a non stop… but I really don’t like paying cash.
This is the time to start diving into more obscure relationships. In my case, the one I found was redeeming Virgin Atlantic on Virgin America. This partner chart seems really odd, so much so that I wondered if the rates were for one way or round trip.
25K for RT is a steal.. 50K for main cabin select for the same route seems crazy.. and First seems insane.. I caught myself asking the CSR if they were serious about charging 50K.. they confirmed that the prices were indeed roundtrip, which is quite interesting.
I had about 21K in orphan miles in Virgin from when I used to earn copious amounts of them, recently they have been untouched other than transferring 1000 Amex points periodically to keep them alive. As such, I’m happy to burn these. The problem is that the booking process is a pain in the arse.
Virgin Atlantic claims they cannot see award inventory until they start the booking process… I think this is a little untrue, but basically they wanted me to have 25K in the account before starting the hunt. I transferred 4K from Amex, got back on the phone to learn that they had only a mixed class of award, outbound 25K for Main Cabin Select, inbound in Main Cabin 12.5K.
They allow mixed awards!
Good to know that they allow booking mixed awards like this.
They allow holds for 24hrs!
So this contradicts the first CSR, I didn’t have enough points, my 25K balance was short 12.5K. They told me that it would be fine to put a hold on the booking while I got more points. I thanked them, and headed back to Amex for another 12.5K
Call #3 to Virgin, and as I reconfirm the dates I realize that I held the wrong return date… flying on the Monday not the Sunday. Guess what.. ? There’s now only Main Cabin Select both ways, 50K need. FML.
Luckily, I still have a hold on the wrong dates, so I hang up and think about what to do. I could return on Monday, or I could try something else.
They allow one ways!
I learned from the CSR that I could also book just a one way flight. Worst case scenario, I could book my outbound ticket with Virgin, and figure out a way back. I actually found a number of seats on Delta for 20-25K in economy, which were non-stops, and got be back into JFK by the evening, rather than overnight.
My final booking
I had 37.5K sitting in Virgin Atlantic miles after all that faffing, so I thought screw it, put me in First Class. Main Cabin Select was available for 25K, but I’d rather burn. 37.5K and $5.60 later, and my award is being processed. I took a return on Delta for 25K rather than 20K to give me 3 more hours in bed in the morning, and arrive at the perfect time on Sunday.
I also kept $410 which I’m very happy about, as I really don’t want to give any money to an airline, I think of money as paying for college education, or taxes, or other things.. and airlines are going to have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.
What to take from this
That virgin atlantic card is actually pretty useful for domestic travel. If you get a 75K signup bonus you’re looking at 3 roundtrips in Main Cabin (coach) and to be fair, Virgin America’s coach is one of the better ones. I’ve been sitting on these points for a long time not knowing what to do with them, and from now on will be including them in any transcontinental redemption option. The one way option and the mixed class make them interesting value to add to your arsenal. And, once again, Delta rocks.