Welcome to the another installment of the ‘How I Did It’ series! In this series I layout of my thought process and the steps I took to book certain award tickets. Hopefully this helps you learn how to book more advanced award flights, highlight different award chart sweet spots, and inspire you to add to your travel bucket list.
Did you recently book a sweetspot award flight or uncover a trick or just want to brag about one of your redemptions? I’d love to hear from you and feature you on an upcoming blog post – email me: TJ@theartoftravelhacking.com.
For my daughter’s upcoming 16th birthday, she got to chose the destination for our next big summer trip next. She chose Venice, Italy.
We have no specific flight dates/times other than sometime during school’s summer vacation. We were targeting an approximate 2 week duration and would hopefully return home on a Saturday or Sunday for a little recovery time before heading back to work.
I have a large enough stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Reward Points, Citi Thank You Points, American Airline Miles, and Alaska Airline miles that l have enough points for at least four one way business class seats. While Europe isn’t terribly far from the east coast, I would much rather a lay flat business class seat for the flight to Europe since it’s an overnight flight. I haven’t booked our return flights yet, but would be fine with economy flights since the return flights are always daytime flights.
After heading over to AwardHacker.com and checking the appropriate Frequent Flyer Programs boxes for the miles and points I have, Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program popped up as the ‘cheapest’ reward at 45K+ miles one way.
While I had just flown Cathay Pacific on our Thailand trip this past summer, I had actually booked the flights with Alaska Airline miles so I wasn’t very familiar with the Cathay Pacific Asia Miles program. After doing a little research, I found out AwardHacker was showing the old award chart. Cathay Pacific made changes to their Asia Miles program in June 2018. OMAAT did a nice write up on the changes. Luckily the changes weren’t terribly bad and the cost of a one way business class ticket to Europe only increased 5K points (45K to 50K) using their new calculator.
AwardHacker also shows what routes are available using Asia Miles. It was easy to ignore Qatar since it would have run 85K miles for each ticket. It was also easy to eliminate the British Airways flight since British Airways is known for ridiculously high fuel surcharges on award tickets. That left American Airlines direct from Philadelphia and Aer Lingus routing through Dublin.
Finding Award Availability
I next searched AA.com for award availability from Boston, Washington, & New York (since that’s where Aer Lingus flies to according to Wikipedia) to Dublin for four in June, July, or August 2019 and couldn’t find anything.
I then searched for AA.com for the non-stop flight from Philadelphia to Venice. After selecting the ‘Non-stop only’ option so the chart would not show any British Airways flights that route through London, I was surprised to see Economy had at least 4 seats available every single day:
Since I really wanted Business class, I crossed my fingers before clicking on the blue ‘Business/First MileSAAver’ button. And to my surprise there were 6 days in July that had at least four seats. (calendar below only shows 4 days, but there was 6 when I did my initial search. July 13th disappeared and I booked the other day that had 4 seats).
I then headed over to British Airways site to double check the availability – I have a habit of always double checking the availability with another alliance’s website. I also like that British Airways actually shows you how many seats are available. And sure enough British Airways confirmed there were at least four Business Class seats available.
If you hurry, there are actually still 7 seats available on July 14th, 21st, and 28th. There are also 3 seats available on July 7th, and 4 seats available on July 8th.
I then searched for award availability from any of the three Washington DC Area airports to Philadelphia. All three (BWI, IAD, & DCA) are just under and hour from my house and Philadelphia is a ~2.5 hour drive.
Unfortunately there was only award availability on a 6:00am flight from DCA to PHL. Since the flight to Venice doesn’t leave until 6:45pm, I would rather drive the extra 1.5 hours to Philadelphia then get up at 3:30am for a 6:00am award flight and sit in Philadelphia for 10 hours.
I also checked the cash prices to get to Philadelphia. They are insanely expensive (~$378 each) for the 56 minute flights later in the day, so I set a Google Flights price alert to see if the flights drop to something more reasonable.
I next wanted to see if Asia Miles would allow me to hold the award until I transferred over Citi Thank You Points and confirm the amount of the taxes. Unfortunately American Airlines is one of the partners that you can NOT book online. The website will direct you to a Flight Award Request Form, which asks you to fill out a form and Asia Miles will contact you to setup the award – but I read this could take a week for them to respond.
Instead, buried in the FAQs, they state you can also contact them on their ‘hotline’. I found the USA call number on this page:
An agent answered the phone quickly. After feeding him the dates, cities, etc he confirmed the award availability that I found on both AA.com and BA.com. He also confirmed the miles required – 50K each and the taxes would be 44 Hong Kong Dollars which works out to $5.60 USD. Unfortunately he said they could not hold partner award flights. I thanked him and hung up after he also warned me that the award flights could disappear at any time.
I headed over to Citi Thank You Points website to start the transfer process of 200,000 points. I read a few different articles that estimated the transfer time from less than 24 hours to 1-2 days.
I had initiated the transfer Saturday evening. I checked my account periodically on Sunday – morning, afternoon, and night. I even checked after midnight before heading to bed – my Asia Miles account still said zero. Finally on Monday morning the points had arrived to my account.
I checked the AA.com website one more time to make sure the award availability had not disappeared. There will still 5 of the 6 days with 4 seats available. I called the hotline again (1-866-892-2598) and an agent picked up after only a few seconds.
The whole booking process took about 10 minutes after feeding him the dates, cities, etc. Be sure to have your passport handy as he needed that information. I was sure to ask the agent for the American Airlines record locator number in addition to the Cathay Pacific confirmation number he gave me. This way I could choose seats for the flight directly on American Airlines website.
You Can Do It Too
Do you want to book your own business class award flight to Europe and need Citi Thank Points? The Citi Thank You Premier card is offering 60,000 Thank You points after spending $4000 in 3 months. 60,000 Thank You points are also worth $750 on any airline ticket. Thank you if you use my affiliate link (scroll to bottom of new page).
Need to Knows
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles program offers a decent redemption for flights to Europe (50K miles)
- Citi Thank You Points transfer to the Asia Miles program
- AwardHacker shows you the available routes on certain award programs
- British Airways flights typically include high fuel surcharges – avoid when possible
- American Airlines website is a good site to search for award availability – confirm availability at BA.com
- Not all partners are bookable online at Asia Miles – call the hotline to book others (including American Airlines)