Home > Barclays, Credit Cards, Star Alliance, Travel, Trip Reports, US Airways > Asia 2012 Trip Report: How I Booked It

Asia 2012 Trip Report: How I Booked It

Part 1: Introduction (with index to the rest of the trip)

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The sole miles I used for this trip were US Airways Dividend Miles. I’ve actually never flown US Airways (except when they were called America West), nor did I fly them on this trip.

US Airways is a member of the Star Alliance, which includes some of the world’s best airlines, like Air New Zealand, ANA (Japan), Asiana (S Korea), Lufthansa (Germany), SAS (Scandinavian), Singapore Airlines, SWISS, Thai Airways, and Turkish Airlines. What are great about US Airways and United Airlines miles is being able to earn them easily through credit cards and promotions here in the U.S., then use them on international carriers.

It’s not all roses and petals – Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, and SWISS tend to block a lot of their premium cabin (First/Business) space out of North America to partners, so getting a flight on those carriers can be difficult for popular routes.

Still, with some flexibility and route research, it’s not too hard to find space on flights to get where you’re going.

How I Earned The Miles:

I opened a US Airways account in August 2011 and had 184,000 miles in it by December. How? By something called the US Airways Grand Slam. Basically, it was a promotion that ran from mid-September until mid-November where you were awarded “hits” for each partner activity you did with US Airways. Partner activities meant everything from buying miles from US Airways, transferring hotel points to US Airways, buying flowers and crediting the miles to US Airways, etc etc. Every 4 hits, you’d get bonus miles. After 4 hits, you’d get 3,000 miles. After 8 hits, 10,000 miles. After 12 hits, 15,000 miles. Once you hit 36, you earned 100,000 bonus miles, on top of the miles you earned from the activities. That was my goal.

My breakdown of 184K miles:

+ 40,000 miles from opening a Barclay’s US Airways Mastercard, free for the first year and miles awarded on first purchase. $89/year after that, but you get 10K miles each year for renewing. It’s still available with this bonus. +1 hit for using once during Grand Slam.

+ 20,000 miles for buying miles as soon as the GS started, since it overlapped with a 100% bonus. I paid $295 for 10K miles and got 10K miles on top of that. +1 hit.

+ 3,000 miles for converting my Bank of America Debit Card to US Airways (not available anymore). $30 + 1 hit.

+ 1,000 miles for doing surveys on e-Miles and e-Rewards and transferring the points to US Airways. $0 + 2 hits.

+ 1,005 miles for joining US Airways Dividend Miles Dining and spending $2 at my local KFC (with my US Airways Mastercard). $0 incremental cost (I needed to eat lunch) +1 hit.

+ 10 miles for doing Audience Rewards trivia, where you answer questions about musicals, and transferring the points to US. $0 +1 hit.

+ 50 miles for buying 2 jars of Biscoff Spread from Biscoff.com. $5 incremental cost (over what I pay at the store) + 1 hit.

+ 400 miles for crediting a hotel stay I had to make (so no incremental cost, i.e. cost I made solely for the promo) +1 hit.

+ 300 miles for doing 6 one-day rentals at my nearby Hertz Local Edition (each rental was for less than 10 minutes, easy to do over 6 lunch breaks over the course of 2 months, for example).  $120 + 6 hits.

+ 1500 miles for 3 FTD/1-800-Flowers/Teleflora purchases for special occasions (like my sister’s birthday or to surprise my mom). $25 incremental cost (over what I would have spent anyway), +3 hits.

+ 61 miles for doing my online shopping through US Airways Dividend Miles Shopping Portal. $0 incremental cost + 1 hit.

+ 2,500 miles for joining ING Direct ShareBuilder and funding $10 to my account (that I’ve since withdrawn). $0 + 1 hit.

– 800 for using miles to subscribe to Money via Magazines for Miles. The 800 miles I spent were worth the +1 hit.

+ 2,000 miles for registering a domain name for 3 years via Network Solutions. $26 + 1 hit.

+ 300 miles for purchasing something via OfficeMax. $0 incremental cost (purchased something I already needed) +1 hit.

+ 2 miles for doing 3 searches with the Dividend Miles Toolbar Extension for Firefox +1 hit.

+ 1,000 miles for sharing miles with another Dividend Miles account. It costs $40, but the miles were shared to my account from a friend’s account, so I took the brunt of the cost. $30 + 1 hit.

+ 12 miles for purchasing something via SkyMall. $11 + 1 hit.

+ 50 miles for using SuperShuttle on a trip. $3 over the cost of the Metro (the cheapest option that I would have otherwise taken) +1 hit.

+ 5 miles for converting 20 American Airlines miles to US Airways at Points.com. $0 + 1 hit.

+ 102 miles for purchasing a $25 Restaurant.com voucher at ThanksAgain.com. $2 + 1 hit.

+ 500 miles for purchasing TrackItBack stickers. $25 + 1 hit.

+ 50 miles for buying a wine cozy from Vinesse.com. $12 + 1 hit.

This adds up to 31 hits. The remaining 5 hits I earned from transferring hotel points that I earned from various promos for cheap. Usually, transferring hotel points to airline miles isn’t worth it, but the extra 5 hits were worth an additional 40,000 miles. The personal value of these points was about $110, since they were earned for free or for cheap, and weren’t enough for a worthwhile hotel redemption by themselves.

All in all, I got 84,000 miles from doing these activities, costing me about $700. This comes out to 0.83 cents per mile, which is already good, since it’s easy to realize at least 1 cent of value per mile in most programs.

However, since I did 36 activities, I got the 100,000 bonus miles, making it $700 for 184,000 miles, coming out to 0.38 cents per mile. That comes out to $95 per 25,000 miles, a saver level domestic round-trip ticket.

How I Burned The Miles:

I knew I wanted to make a redemption to North Asia, which costs 90K miles in Business or 120K miles in First. I also wanted to make two awards within the South Asia region, 25K in Coach or 30K in Business. That’s where I got the goal to earn at least 180K miles.

It’s not enough to just earn miles, you have to know how to burn them as well. This is where reading, reading, reading really helps out. For instance, US Airways only allows round-trip awards (one-ways cost the same as a round-trip). You are allowed either one open-jaw or one stopover over 24 hours on award tickets. Any award tickets that involve partner airlines cannot be booked online but must be done through their phone reservations center. This costs $50 to do so. Lastly, changes cost $150, unless there is an airline schedule change.

Rather than plug in “LAX to HKG” in a website, I built this trip piecemeal by searching different routes, with the help of a few tools like AwardTravlr. I knew I wanted to fly Europe to Asia in Lufthansa or SWISS First Class, so that I could access the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. It’s only for departing passengers and getting space from Europe to the USA in First is tough (especially since US Airways doesn’t allow changes once the first flight is flown). I found First Class space on a Zurich – Hong Kong flight on SWISS, without options from Frankfurt or Munich on Lufthansa. From there, I knew I’d have to get a Frankfurt – Zurich flight, since the First Class Terminal is in Frankfurt.

From there, I just needed to figure out how to get from Los Angeles to Frankfurt. Luckily, FRA is a huge Star Alliance hub and United has a lot of flights there. Lufthansa doesn’t release a lot of First Class space outside of 2 weeks before the flight, so I stuck with a United flight from San Francisco and was ready to pay $150 to change to a flight if it opened (it didn’t). LA to SF is an easy flight to get, so I got that to complete the outbound.

US Airways usually allows up to 8 segments on a round-trip, so I knew I could get 4 segments returning, possibly more if I pushed my luck. I wanted to experience Thai Airways First Class on the outbound out of Bangkok, so I routed HKG-BKK-Europe to start with. Finding HKG to Bangkok was easy, and I read that Thai Airways was thinking of placing their 77W aircraft with suites on the Frankfurt route, so I booked a day when that flight was open. From Frankfurt, I needed to get back to the US. My goal was to book Frankfurt to Zurich to Montreal to LA on SWISS/Air Canada, but that wasn’t available at all, so I settled with Frankfurt to London to LA on Lufthansa/United.

Talking this out to a US Airways reservation agent took a lot of time (and some hair follicles since they didn’t know how to access certain flights), but I ended up getting everything. After a few days on hold to hammer out my plans and to make sure nothing better opened up, I ticketed the reservation for 120,000 miles + $232 in taxes/fees (including the $50 phone fee).

I used 30,000 miles for me to fly Bangkok to Mumbai to Hanoi open-jaw, via Singapore on Singapore Airlines both ways. Because these are more regional flights, award space is much easier to come by than on longer hauls. It’s only a 5,000-mile difference between Economy and Business for this region, so it makes a ton of sense to book Business. I booked a round-trip for myself, with taxes/fees coming out to $72 (including the $50 fee) and another for my sister, who flew one-way with me Mumbai to Hanoi ($65 in fees). The fees are brutal, about $300 for me, but that’s still under $1000 for to go to India for a destination that costs much more to fly to in coach.

I used cash for the Emirates flights, mostly because it was a great way to experience an amazing First Class on the A380 for a doable price. Coach is about $300 round-trip on this route, with Business 2x as much and First 3x as much. If I were using miles, it would have been 30K British Airways Avios round-trip for Cathay Pacific business class.

So that’s how I “travel hacked” my way to a First Class trip to the other side of the world. Well, I don’t really like the word “hack.” I like to think of it as a scheme (but not a scam ;)).

In addition to US Airways miles, I have also earned hundreds of thousands of miles in different programs via strategically signing up for various credit cards. Last year, I signed up for the Chase British Airways 100,000-mile offer to travel around South America. While the program has changed, that 100,000-mile bonus (which is still available) will still get you a business class round-trip from New York to Santiago without huge fees, or 2 business class round-trips from Boston to Dublin without fees.

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  1. ryan from MA
    June 28, 2012 at 11:22 am

    yo where you at? love to read some more of your posts!

    • June 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm

      @Ryan – haha thanks for checking up! I’m happy to know that people are reading this blog!

      I’ve been a bit busy catching up with the real world, and now I’m on yet ANOTHER trip (posting this comment from Economy Class on a Singapore Airlines A380). I have a few posts in the pipeline, so stay tuned!

      • ryan from MA
        June 28, 2012 at 7:56 pm

        awesome!

  2. David
    June 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Hello, I love the trip report. I’m now following you on Twitter to get blog updates…

    About the Emirates flight…that looks very interesting. Did you book directly with EK on their website? Just wondering if there was a way to maximize value, as I’ve never spent so much $ on a 3 hour flight, or used $ on such an award available route.

    Also, did you find any other 380 routes in a similar price range?

    • June 30, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks for reading and following!

      I booked directly with EK on their website (and went through TopCashBack.com to get a reasonable 1.3% cash-back). Other short flights on the EK A380 include Auckland-Sydney and Dubai-Jeddah … AKL-SYD is a bit more than HKG-BKK.

      Korean also the A380 flies Seoul-Narita and Seoul-Hong Kong, thought I haven’t looked up the prices for those. China Southern flies Beijing-Guangzhou, while Thai’s new A380 will be tested on the Bangkok-Singapore and Bangkok-Hong Kong routes later this year.

      • David
        June 30, 2012 at 11:22 pm

        Thanks for the quick reply!

        The other 380 products don’t look as impressive as EK. Korean has good routes for me…but costs more (HKG-ICN $2800 RT, ICN-HKG $1900 RT, interesting price difference.)

        Based on award availability, I might just have to add on a TG segment in the future.

        Have a good trip.

  3. arcticbull
    July 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    So it’s not entirely true that LH doesn’t open First space. They do, 14 days prior to departure on flights to MUC and DUS, and 7 days prior on trips to FRA, and 48 hours prior on the A380. However, even if they do, US Airways has a policy of not allowing people to book Lufthansa First Class award tickets. The agents’ computers will always show 0 seats. If they manually request the space it WILL come back confirmed (if other partners can book it) however agents have been specifically instructed not to do so. You will have to use another partner (United for instance) to book LH F awards.

    Since your booking, SIWSS has stopped releasing First awards to partners completely. To book an LX F award you must use their own Miles&More. This happened sometime within the last few months. Business is still quite available. You can get M&M from an SPG transfer.

    And Singapore won’t allow you to book any premium cabins on TATL/TPAC legs unless you use their own miles, which you can transfer in from both Amex and SPG.

    However, both LX and SQ will charge fuel surcharges, so look out *sigh*

    • Amol
      July 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Yeah, I meant more for US miles — LH F can’t be booked because of US’ blocking it. I booked in January and it seems that starting in March, SWISS blocked bookings to outside M&M. SQ intra-Asia is well available to partners. I wish I had gotten in on the flash SQ availability a couple weeks ago but I was out-of-town (on a PAID SQ ticket!).

      • arcticbull
        July 20, 2012 at 8:38 pm

        Yeah, me too 😦 I actually booked a ride during the last mini-flash last October JFK-FRA-JFK that I had to cancel because plans fell through. Then by the time I found out about this one it was all over -_-

      • Amol
        July 21, 2012 at 10:55 am

        If only 4-mile award weekend had been the same as SQ Reservations change weekend! 😀

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