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.
Hey, nice thought process here and enjoyed reading the steps. One thing that occurred to me is this. If you have FlexPerks points and could get the round trip for just under $400, you could actually get it for just 20K points total, if it prices that way for you on their site. It can be hard to remember, but that card really shines when you have flights just near the top of their threshold amounts. So, it isn’t good for everything, but it is good for a flight close to $400, close to $700, etc.
I actually don’t have that, this time it would have failed as the best was over $400 but otherwise it does seem like a great option.
Very informative. I’ve shied away from collecting Virgin but it’s good to know how to use them, esp. since they transfer from Amex. Looking forward to seeing you at TravelCon!
Personally they’ve got a lot more interesting since the BoA card has some solid sign up bonuses, and yep.. See you soon!
Blame the SEMA show for filling up all of the flights that weekend, over 140,000 attendees expected. Even for Vegas that is A LOT of people.
Ouch- that’s a lot of people… Hopefully they stay outta my hotel 🙂
So the final damage was 21K VS + 17 MR + 25K DL + $11, which got you flying non-stop Friday morning returning non-stop by Sunday evening, with one way in VA First.
Playing the role of bitter know it all, I am going to say 63K + $11 is too much (inaccurate but simplifying assumption all points roughly equal in value). Better option is Citi TY points if you have the Premier or Prestige cards, anywhere between 32K-34K TY points for ‘buying’ the Jetblue flights, minus the over 1K in TrueBlue points back, so 31K-33K net. Coach quality similar to VA, and the timings roughly equal out with the Jetblue giving you a more convenient outbound but requiring an overnight and Monday morning arrival. And of course, no VA first outbound, but I don’t really value that anywhere near the incremental 30K+ points and $11. The unused VS miles obviously have future VA use potential.
Chase UR works just as well, although I tend to view them as more cash like given the statement credit option, so I use Citi TY first. The argument that one can get superior value by transferring these to airline/hotel programs is potentially true (but not always given alternate cheaper travel options), but is irrelevant in this case since you used airline miles anyway.
I dunno about that- you can’t compare JetBlue coach with a choice to fly in F. If you like, maybe you could say 25k outbound and pretend main cabin select is equitable (though it isn’t really).
Good point about TYP, I do have some, but only from Banking, so no way to get a bonus on the miles.
BTW I wasn’t aware they had a bonus barring AA flights, thanks for that info!
Would null your argument about future use of virgin pts as the future use of TYP is the same thing- you’ve gotta burn something!
I agree with a different mix of cards it could have got me from A-B cheaper, but that’s not quite the same 🙂
Certainly wasn’t suggesting B6 coach is the same as VA F. Just that one way VA F and return VA coach for JFK-LAS isn’t 30-32K+$11 better than B6 coach roundtrip, personally speaking of course.
Far be it from me to suggest not taking the more expensive option sometimes, just burned 125K AA roundtrip to Japan for JL F instead of the off peak 50K in JL Y. But the 37.5K each way upgrade cost there is for a trip 3x as long as JFK-LAS and the F hard and soft product is a lot better than VA domestic F.
As far as future use of VS miles, that was just to address the possible objection regarding a preference for using up the 21K or now 38K lying around if you had gone the route I suggested. Totally agree with your approach to burning points instead of cash, as long as even slightly reasonable value is received. Just didn’t see that reasonable value in that itinerary at that incremental point cost over the alternative.
Good thought exercise, though! 🙂
Yeah, I think most of all this trip showed a bit of a flaw in my points.. not enough options like the TYP or those FlexPerks… but its all good. I’m happy with burning up the miles, they’ve been basically sitting there since 2012..!
Leana @Milesforfamily says
This is interesting to me. Virgin Atlantic apparently allows one-ways on Virgin America, but I was told no one-ways are permitted on Delta. Well, you can do it, but the price will be the same as roundtrip, at least according to the rep I’ve talked to . Are the rules different for Virgin America or one-ways are indeed allowed on all partner redemptions? If so, this is huge, and fills in the gap Chase UR program has when it comes to Delta redemptions.
That I don’t know… But a phone call will clear it up. I’m most interested in NY to South Africa though!
Matt- its really helpful reading about your process for finding a good flight at the right price. I would love to hear some about how you work out finding a similarly great deal on a room. Vegas has some of the worst (highest ) deals for using points I’ve seen!! Probably better to earn points on a room than spend them at these rates. One thing I did see that looks potentially promising is AirB&B (Vdara, MGM Suites…) Anyone know anything about that?
I just found a good relative deal… I paid a lot, but better than it could have been.