Fare War Over the Atlantic: Most US/Canadian Cities to London in Business Class for Less than $2K RT

There seems to be a flash fare war brewing over the Atlantic. AA and BA were advertising Queen’s Jubilee two day sale and soon other carriers were matching as well. The last day to book these is today 17th of May.

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You can now find airfares to London on Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, United Airlines, Delta, Air France, American Airlines, Iberia, and British Airways and probably on few others as well for less than $2K return in business class.

Most of these fares have relatively tight outbound window from North America to Europe, but the return can happen within the ticket validity/fare rules.

These $2K fares out from the eastern seaboard are not that common during holiday periods. They are, however, rare from the west coast.

Why I (Sometimes) Love United Mileage Plus

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I had a dilemma today earlier today. I was in Sharjah and needed to get to Bangkok for couple of nights, and then to Ho Chi Minh City until Friday next week. The weekend of 11th to 14th of May I was going to be in Hong Kong. I had already arranged an award using BMI Diamond Club miles to take me from Hong Kong to Manila via Bangkok and Singapore. This was bit out of the way, but decided to have a refresher on TG’s and SQ’s F products on HKG-BKK and SIN-MNL segments.

To make things worse I had to find a way out of Manila as well. Due to some regulations in Philippines most of the travel sites are not selling or issuing award tickets originating from Philippines. Filipinos are required to pay some sort of special departure tax that doesn’t apply for foreigners.

The beauty of United’s return awards are that they allow both a stopover and open jaws at both ends i.e. I can fly from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City and consider it a stopover on my way to Hong Kong. I can then return from Manila to Jakarta. These countries are all in the same zone.

But first, I needed to get to Bangkok. It didn’t make any sense to redeem out from UAE. Gulf Air had an excellent economy fare (yes – horrors). Booked it today around noon for flying out the same evening. Fare was only $308. This would also earn me around 4000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

So back to the United awards reservation, I plugged in the dates that didn’t have much flexibility; BKK-SGN, SGN-HKG and MNL-CGK.  I love the fact that you can mix and match flights from all Star Alliance carriers service Asia and United partner airlines as well.

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For the Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh sector I chose the Qatar Airways flight

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Ho Chi Ming to Hong Kong would have had a direct United flight available as well but only in economy. Decided to make a detour via Bangkok.

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The United is very good at suggesting routings that are somewhat out of the way. For the oneway from Manila to Jakarta I decided to go via Seoul and Bangkok. There would have been an option for taking this on Singapore Airlines F class as well, but decided that it wasn’t worth the extra miles United would have required. Also, there was lots of options for mixed cabin flights. The only problem is that United charges for the highest cabin.

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The best part of these awards is the taxes that United collects. There are no fuel surcharges or other funny extras to pay. This whole award was only 35K United miles + $49.40.

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My advice would be to consider return awards as well as they offer a stopover and two open jaws. Essentially you can create an itinerary that is close to three one ways for the price of one return award ticket.

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Unlike the formed United the new one takes couple of hours to email the eticket receipt. All was in order, however. I much prefer doing these online without human interaction.

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Hyatt Gold Passport Summer 2012 Promotion for up to Five Times the Miles

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Hyatt has teamed up with number of airlines; Air China, Air France-KLM, ANA, American Airlines, British Airways, China Eastern, Delta Air Lines, Etihad, Lufthansa, Qatar, Southwest, and United to offer up to five times the miles or points.

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This promotion starts on May 1st and end of August 30th, 2012. You will receive the normal number of miles or points for the first stay, triple bonus for stays 2 and 3, and quadruple miles or points for the stays 4 to 11.

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Please note that this promotion is NOT based on nights but rather on stays. You will receive the same number of miles or points regardless how many nights you stay. The promotion is capped at 11 stays.

The cumulative maximum number of points that you would earn by having 11 stays on Air China’s and China Eastern’s programs would be 39200. By crediting 11 stays to Southwest’s Rapid Rewards would earn you 29400 points. In all other programs the cumulative number of points after 11 stays would be the grand total of 24500 miles/points.

This promotion quite frankly works for me. Most of my stays are for one night. Getting 2500 miles for a one night stay is a rather good deal. Maybe I will finally set my foot to Hyatt property this year.

Air China – Phoenix Miles

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Air France-KLM Flying Blue

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ANA Mileage Club

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American Airlines AAdvantage

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British Airways Executive Club

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China Eastern

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Delta Air Lines SkyMiles

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Etihad Guest

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Lufthansa Miles & More

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Qatar Airways – Privilege Club

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Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards

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United Airlines – Mileage Plus

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Here are the promotional terms and conditions of the United offer, but they are basically identical for each of these airlines.

More stays means 5X more miles and even more rewards

ELIGIBILITY: To be eligible to participate in the Hyatt Summer Airline Promotion (“Promotion”), you must be a member of Hyatt Gold Passport and a member of United MileagePlus.

HOW TO REGISTER: Between April 1, 2012 and August 31, 2012 (“Promotion Period”), you can register for Promotion via hyatt.com/UNITEDSUM12A or by calling 1-800-228-3360 and requesting enrollment code UA12S. You must register in advance for stays to qualify. Stays completed before registration are not eligible. You only need to register once.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: After registering for the Promotion, complete two (2) or more stays at any participating Park Hyatt®, Andaz®, Grand Hyatt®, Hyatt Regency®, Hyatt®, Hyatt Place® , Hyatt House™ or Hyatt Residence Club™ hotel and resort worldwide between May 1, 2012 and August 31, 2012 (“Stay Period”) and request United MileagePlus miles for each Eligible Stay. You must provide your United MileagePlus member number at check-in for each Eligible Stay. For each Eligible Stay during the Stay Period, you will earn the award miles as summarized in the chart below. A Eligible Stay is a stay at a participating hotel during the Stay Period with at least one (1) Eligible Night during the stay and request United MileagePlus miles for each stay. For the purpose of this Promotion, an “Eligible Night” is defined as one (1) night at any participating hotel or resort at an Eligible Rate when choosing United MileagePlus miles as the method of loyalty reward upon check-in at a participating Hyatt property and paying an Eligible Rate (as defined below). Award nights do not constitute an Eligible Night. Hyatt Gold Passport members will only receive eligible night credit for the room they physically occupy, regardless of the number of paid rooms. Only stays that occur after registration for Promotion will be counted as Eligible Stays.

American Airlines Offering Status Matches to United’s Frequent Fliers

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American Airlines has started directly to match United’s frequent fliers to a similar level on AA’s program. This is an unheard development from AA that has previously required fliers to do challenges and only up to a Platinum level.

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This time, however, American Airlines is matching from Gold all the way up to the Concierge Key status. This development was first reported on FlyerTalk.

United Status = Equivalent AA status

Premier Silver to AAdvantage Gold

Premier Gold to AAdvantage Platinum

Premier Platinum to AAdvantage Platinum

Premier 1K to AAdvantage Executive Platinum

Global Services to Concierge Key

Here’s what you need to do

You need to call AA at 1-800-882-8880 and request a status match from United’s program. American will shortly send you an email outlying the process.

American Airlines requires a copy of your current United Mileage Plus card and/or copy of your online statement that shows the current status.

You can either send these by email to aadvantage_customer_svc@wwwmail.aa.com or by fax (817) 963-7882. American requests that the subject line of the email or the fax would be “Requesting AAdvantage Elite Status”.

If American Airlines accepts your documents, the new status will reflect in about 10 days and is valid until the February 28th, 2013.

Why American is doing this?

United and Continental are going through the integration process of the two airlines, and it hasn’t been a smooth process. American is going through equally messy bankruptcy proceedings and US Airways is trying to buy the airline.

Should I try AA?

Personally, I have had 1K status with United longer than the Executive Platinum with AA. Last year, I qualified for the 1K, but didn’t for the Executive Platinum status as I moved out from the United States.

I have found that the Star Alliance as an alliance fits my travel needs better than Oneworld due to greater number of carriers and network coverage.

If you care about unlimited domestic upgrades, the AA’s program is the way to go at the Executive Platinum level. Lower level elites do not get unlimited upgrades on AA, but need to use sticker upgrades that are awarded based on the number of miles flown, or they can simply buy them in bundles.

Executive Platinum members are also awarded 8 evips per year that can be used to upgrade domestic or international flights from even the lowest economy fares to business or from business to first. These upgrades typically clear, although sometimes only at the gate.

This year American has been offering number of double elite qualifying promotions, so requalifying this year is not impossible even if the third of the year has already passed.

Conclusion

It is a no brainer to apply for this match even if you wouldn’t be currently planning to fly on American Airlines. If you have an Premier 1K status or Global Services with United and can get AA to match you Executive Platinum or Concierge Key, it is really a no lose situation to try AA out. You might be positively surprised or at least fly on AA until the United has managed to sort out its merger related problems.

There has been few status matches around recently. SAS is matching to their EuroBonus Silver or Gold if you have a status with competing airline and an address in Hong Kong or in China. EuroBonus Gold gives you all the Star Alliance Gold benefits. Etihad was running a status match campaign for Etihad Guest Gold status that just expired. Alaska Airlines is continuing doing matches to their MVP status.

Update on My Troubles Booking an Intra-Europe One-way Award on Star Alliance Using United Miles

Last week, I wrote about a problem I had with United Airlines and their 1K desk. I am here in Rome and need to get to Stockholm on Friday to catch my Ethiopian flight to Dubai via Addis Ababa. I do, however, need briefly visit Finland as well and routing from Rome to Stockholm should be a valid one.

When I was trying to get this booked last week, the United.com wasn’t co-operating and was pricing this as two one ways, and the 1K desk agents, when I called, were even less helpful. As a stopgap measure, I have been holding an award space on Finnair flights from Rome to Stockholm via Helsinki using miles from my American Airlines AAdvantage account. The only problem with the Finnair flights was that they wouldn’t give me an overnight in Helsinki. Just a long transfer on Thursday.

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To my surprise, when I was pricing this exactly the same itinerary today that United.com wanted 25K miles last week, it came back with the correct number of miles (12.5K) this time around.

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When building the Rome – Munich – Helsinki overnight Stockholm, the number of miles required for this one Helsinki to Stockholm flight is shown as 6250 on the pricing screen, when all the others are at 12.5K. If I chose any of the other flights, the United.com was again pricing this complete itinerary incorrectly at 25K, but this one flight suited me the best anyway.

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Now, I am only concerned that I booked this in economy, although the business class within Europe is the economy seat with a middle blocked and better catering.

I am happy that I got the flights that I wanted at the end, but dealing with United shouldn’t be this difficult. Have you had troubles booking award flights using United miles? Leave a comment below.

United Airlines Mileage Plus Buy Miles at 40% Discount Offer

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United Airlines is now offering miles at up to 40% discount off of the regular rates. There has been quite a few buy miles offers lately from both American Airlines and US Airways, and apparently United is now trying get in to the game as well.

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What is good about the United’s offer, is the fact that you can buy up to 100K miles, which is a nice chunk. The price of a mile through this offer is 2.26 cents each. US Airways has tend to offer miles that you can use for Star Alliance carriers at a lower price, but booking awards online using United.com is easier than to deal with phone agents with US Airways. United does appear to limit the number of miles you can buy or gift per calendar year to 100K. It could be perhaps possible to get someone else to gift you 100K miles, if you happen to need more. The terms are somewhat unclear about this.

Is it a good deal to buy Unites miles at 2.26 cents each? It really depends how you would be using them. If you use them for international premium class tickets, this offer could be well worth it. United doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on award tickets for any of its partners like American does for British Airways and Iberia.

Sometimes United miles can be very worthwhile on short notice on economy class tickets as well. I just issued an intra-Europe ticket for 12.5K United Miles + about $50 in fees for travel in 36 hours. The exact same itinerary would have cost more than $900, and cheapest working, albeit not as convenient ones, in excess of $400.

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I am quite surprised that United is handling these miles sales by themselves. Most of the other airlines and hotels are using Points.com for this purpose. Note that this offer is not limited just to North America, but is valid worldwide.

You need to react fast as this offer expired on April 25th at 11:59PM CDT. You can access this sale by clicking www.ualmiles.com/april40.

Here are the details of the offer from United:

  • Offer expires April 25 at 11:59pm CDT
  • Buy Personal Miles or Give Miles for $21 per 1,000 miles plus a 7.5% excise tax
  • Purchase up to 100,000 MileagePlus Personal miles or Give Miles per account per calendar year
  • Credit card will be billed immediately for purchase
  • Mileage rates and other applicable fees are subject to change
  • Miles are available in increments of 1,000
  • Minimum purchase 2,000 miles
  • Allow 48 hours for miles to post to MileagePlus account
  • Personal Miles and GiveMiles are non-refundable
  • Purchased miles do not count toward elite qualification

My Award Booking Problems Today with United and American Airlines to the Rescue

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I am currently here in Kuala Lumpur, but will make my way to Europe next week after few days in Shanghai. I will land in Rome where I will spend few days, and then need to make my way to Stockholm from where I have unused business class return to Dubai via Addis Ababa on Ethiopian. To make things more complicated, I need to briefly visit Finland for few hours somewhere between.

For the past couple of months I have been reading customer service and other service failure horror stories about United on FlyerTalk. It is understandable that some things can and probably will go wrong when you are merging two large airlines like United and Continental. I have been mostly shielded of this wreckage as I have been traveling mainly in Europe, Asia, and Australia for the past six months, and haven’t set my foot on any of the US carriers for a while.

My status will most likely drop from Premier 1K to Platinum or Gold with United next year. It cannot go below Gold due to me having more than a million flight miles on the United’s program. I have the same situation with American where I have a lifetime Platinum status due to 2.7 million miles that I have collected.

So my goal today was to book FCO-XXX-HEL-ARN on Star Alliance using United Mileage Plus miles from my account. This award should cost 12.5K miles in economy. American also offers similar awards for intra-Europe travel, and the cost for oneway is 10K AA miles.

So, using KVS Tool I identified the flights on Lufthansa FCO-MUC-HEL and on Blue1 HEL-ARN that had award availability in economy.

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For some reason Continental.com DBA United.com was not able to price it correctly. It was able to price the transfers correctly tax wise, but was requiring double the number of miles than it should have.

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I dialed the ATT USA Direct access number here in Malaysia (free) and inputted the number for the 1K desk. This way I don’t have to pay for the call at all. The call was promptly answered, but for some reason I was immediately transferred to some award rewards phone tree. Second time the same thing. This time, however, I waited for few minutes and listened to the music before hanging up. Apparently some agents are not keen working on award reservations. But, I have zero patience working with United’s outsourced call center workers in Manila or India. It is like banging your head against the wall.

Third time I got an agent that was willing to do an award reservation, but appeared to be challenged when it came to Star Alliance member airlines and transfers vs stopovers.

1. According to the agent Blue1 is not affiliated with United or Star Alliance and they cannot book them. I pointed out the that airline is listed as a Star Alliance carrier on United.com and maybe she should check her info.

united-airlines-star-logos

2. Agent was referring a transfer of less than 24 hours as a stopover, which is incorrect. She was probably confused with domestic US transfer/stopover rules versus international ones.

3. Supervisor refused to ticket it because of the “stopover” and not a valid route. There is a valid MPM based YY fare that has an MPM of 1477. FCO-MUC-HEL-ARN is 1681. This is within MPM + 15. On paid itineraries you can exceed the MPM up to 25% by paying extra.

Overall, it was just a miserable experience with United’s supposedly 1K desk. Was transferred twice and the third agent was obviously very confused. I still have few tricks on my sleeves to get this itinerary ticketed.

Now that I had already wasted about an hour of my time and made three fruitless phone calls, I Decided to have a look at Finnair options using my American Airlines AAdvantage miles. Although I am a Finn, I really prefer flying on Lufthansa, especially if I end up in economy. Last time I flew on Finnair, maybe five years ago, was from Berlin to Helsinki in business class.

As is the case with United, I always want to know the award availability and my preferred routing before I call AA, although I have find it far more pleasant to deal with award reservations with AA than United.

Tried to use my British Airways Executive Club account first to identify Finnair award availability on the route.

The BA’s engine wouldn’t show Finnair availability on the Rome to Helsinki route as they fly it on themselves as well, although it would be quite a detour. Also the number of required miles would be 30K BA & 100+ euros in fuel surcharges etc.

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But because British doesn’t fly Helsinki to Stockholm, you can pull up both the economy and business class availability on that route using BA.com.

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ExpertFlyer does show Finnair’s award availability for economy, but won’t for business. It was easy to identify that I would get from Rome to Stockholm in Economy via Helsinki. Couple of hours would be enough, but I would prefer an overnight transfer.

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Unfortunately at the moment Finnair doesn’t have any economy award availability on Friday 27th from Helsinki to Stockholm. They do have business availability on quite a few flights, however. I made an ExpertFlyer alert for all the Friday flights that I could take, to alert me when there is availability on the X-class (the fare class that economy awards book into).

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I haven’t received my new Platinum AAdvantage card so decided to call the Executive Platinum number for free using the ATT USA Direct Service, the same service that United also uses. Lady who picked up my call transferred it to the “Platinum” desk. The gentleman was able to book the Finnair flights that I had identified to have economy availability and put in on hold for me. The call to AA took 337 seconds. I got the record locator and was able to easily pull up the itinerary on AA.com. The taxes were $57.90 and the number of miles required 10000.

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Conclusion

It makes sense to participate to number of programs. Although I far prefer Star Alliance over Oneworld, sometimes the Oneworld carrier is a better option. Also, dealing with United can be very problematic and time consuming as I again found out today. Not sure where they find all these surly people to man their 1K desk?

I am almost certain that I will get my preferred itinerary booked using Lufthansa and SAS, but it will take few phone calls.

Current United Airlines 1K Voice Response Time – About a Month

Last December, I took some flights in Ethiopian business class. They were part of the Star Alliance already at that time, but I wasn’t quite sure to which Star Alliance program I would credit the miles. I decided eventually to credit the flights to United’s Mileage Plus. I have lifetime Star Alliance Gold with United and still holding 1K status as well.

Email to Mileage Plus on March 12th, 2012.

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Included copies of BP’s and the eticket receipt. United instructs to send copies of the boarding passes and the etickte receipt to the email address above.

Email to 1K Voice on March 24th, 2012

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Forwarded the email that I had sent to Mileage Plus with all the attachments

Reply from the 1K Voice on April 18th, 2012

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Received a reply from the 1K Voice.

Because I hadn’t heard from United regarding this request, I placed a call to the 1K desk that transferred my call to the Mileage Plus about two weeks ago. I had these flights post to my account couple of days ago. The only info United needed over the phone were the flights numbers, booking class, and the eticket number.

It is understandable that they have some problems while integrating United and Continental systems, but replying about a month later to an email is not acceptable. Like on my case, I had already contacted United because I hadn’t heard back and the person replying to my email was doing the job again.

When I needed to contact Continental last year regarding crediting miles back to my account for a canceled award, the response time through email was similar, and I had Platinum status with the Continental at the time. United has been very good at getting back though email when I have needed to fix something that is not urgent. The reply time used to be a day or two. I truly hope that they get back to the usual response time soon.

Discover America Daily Getaways Announced for the 3rd Week April 23-27

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On Monday, I wrote about the Discover America Daily Getaways for the first two weeks. There were three deals that caught my eye, but probably not good enough to make me to participate, however.

On the third week I probably have to make some purchases. Last year, I ended up buying both Hilton HHonors and Wyndham Rewards points. Wyndham points have been sitting on my account since that, but I have been using and earning Hilton HHonors points all the time.

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Wyndham Rewards Points Monday April 23rd

Wyndham has five different packages for sale. You can buy one each. The beauty of Wyndham Rewards points is the transferability to airline miles.  30K Wyndham Rewards points transfers to 12K miles or equivalent in kilometers in number of programs; Amtrak, Czech Airlines, Delta, Hainan, Frontier, US Airways, United, Airberlin, Aeroplan, AeroMexico, China Eastern, American Airlines & Air China.

Packages available

16000 Wyndham Rewards points for $55 = price per point 0.0034 = price per mile 0.0086

28000 Wyndham Rewards points for $76 = price per point 0.0027 = price per mile 0.0068

32000 Wyndham Rewards points for $110 = price per point 0.0034 = price per mile 0.0086

50000 Wyndham Rewards points for $143 = price per point 0.0029 = price per mile 0.0072

48000 Wyndham Rewards points for $165 = price per point 0.0034 = price per mile 0.0086

Above calculations do not take into account 10% discount when paying using an American Express branded credit card, and the figures are rounded. The price per mile number is calculated when transferring in the block of 30K Wyndham Rewards points to 12K airline miles.

When airlines sell miles in their respective programs, the prices tend to fluctuate between 1.8 to 2 cents per mile during the sales. You really cannot buy miles cheaper than first buying the Wyndham Rewards points during the Discover America sale, and then transferring them to airline miles. Of course you can use them for hotel stays as well.

Quick look at my Wyndham Rewards account shows that I was able to snag 146K worth of packages during the last year’s sale.

Hilton HHonors Points Wednesday April 25th

This is the only other purchase that I made last year.

Packages available

150000 Hilton HHonors points for $825

250000 Hilton HHonors points for $1375

100000 Hilton HHonors points for $550

I would steer away from buying Hilton HHonors points unless you are a Diamond member and/or know how to use them properly. You can “buy” a very good deal if you are able to use the points at a place like Conrad Koh Samui where rates are in excess of $600 per night.

Continental Award Ticket HEL-NAN Success On Lufthansa, Virgin, ANA, Thai & Air New Zealand

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Every now and then, I am going to write about award reservations that I have booked for myself, and that I consider being of good value. Most of my award trips are complicated and some might consider them unorthodox. I hope that my examples might give ideas how to best use the miles for international premium class tickets.

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I don’t normally book award trips months or sometimes even weeks in advance. For the past month I had been visiting family and friends in Finland, and decided that it was about the time for me to continue on my journey.

Last month Continental announced that they are ending the frequent flyer partnership with Virgin Atlantic. I haven’t tried Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class product so decided to piece something together as Continental allows one to mix their partner airlines and Star Alliance carriers on the same award tickets.

First, I was thinking of flying to Sydney. I have been to Sydney for couple of times before so it wouldn’t have been something new for me. The business class award from Europe to Australia/New Zealand is 65K CO miles. By throwing in another 10K I could make it all the way to Oceania. My award ticker to Colombo (CMB), Sri Lanka, where my next paid trip starts, would be using BMI miles that consider Australia/New Zealand/Oceania as the same zone.

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I then decided to have a look at the Air New Zealand’s pacific coverage again. I have already visited Nuku Alofa (TBU) on my round the world United Airlines business class award ticket and Raratonga (RAR) on a “special” Al Italia business class fare.  Papeete (PPT) has always been on my radar, but I was thinking of going there later this year and then hop to South America via Easter Islands (IPC).

Quite a few of the islands no longer have business class service at all. Apparently Air New Zealand has gone the LCC route and eliminated the premium cabin from many of the routes. When I flew to the Rarotonga on NZ they still had business class even on the narrow body planes.

As I was going to the islands, I decided that it would be ok to visit two islands and just pay for a one-way revenue ticket in between them. I nailed down Fiji (NAN) and Apia (APW). Award tickets in business class were widely available to/from Apia on the weekly 763 service, but the award availability back from Fiji to Auckland was non-existent.

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So using Expterflyer, paid service that has access to Air New Zealand award inventory, I could search week at a time for I (business class redemption bucket) class award availability to/from Fiji and Apia. You can also use Continental’s website for searching for NZ’s award availability. After I located the date for my AKL-APW flight, I had to start building the itinerary for other flights. For some dates Continental was even able to find award availability from Helsinki to Apia, but it wasn’t the routing that I was after.

Virgin Atlantic had quite good upper class award availability on their Asian routes. After I had found all the flights that I could live with; HEL-MUC-LHR on Lufthansa, LHR-NRT on Virgin, NRT-BKK-AKL on Thai, and the last leg AKL-APW on Air New Zealand, I placed a call with the Continental’s Platinum line. The agent was able to see and book all the flights. The taxes for this itinerary were $92.49. I tried to book the less complicated version of this at the Continental.com but never got past through the dreaded error messages.

Soon I realized that I had made a mistake. There was no way of me getting back from Fiji to Auckland using an award as there was absolutely no availability. I decided that it would be better for me to fly to Fiji and then buy one-way from Fiji to Apia, and have another redemption ticket starting from there.

The only problem was that I would need to partially build my itinerary again because the flight from Auckland to Fiji would be on 11th of February instead of 9th of February to Apia.

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The solution for problems like this is to build long transfers (less than 24 hours) that are not considered stopovers somewhere along the itinerary.  Star Alliance is so well presented in Asia that “forcing” an unnecessary connection or two is rarely a problem. From Narita to Bangkok you could have natural connections point in cities like Manila, Taipei, Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hanoi just to name a few. I decided to settle for Shanghai as I had one fee Fairmont suite night about to expire later this month and the Fairmont in Shanghai is supposed to be a good one.

So my final itinerary was:

HEL-MUC-LHR using Lufthansa on 5th – overnight in London on 5th

LHR-NRT on using Virgin Atlantic on 6th – overnight in Narita on 7th

NRT-PVG on ANA on 8th – overnight in Shanghai on 8th

PVG-BKK-AKL on Thai on 9th – overnight in Auckland on 10th

AKL-NAN on Air New Zealand on 11th

Continental didn’t have any problems amending the original itinerary and reissuing the electronic ticket. The taxes went up only by $27.61. The total number of miles was still the same 85K and the total taxes came to $120.10. The whole thing was booked bit more than 24 hours before the first flight.

I do understand that complicated itineraries like the one above are not for everyone. I don’t mind the overnight stays in London, Narita, Shanghai, and Auckland at all before reaching my destination in Fiji.

My tips:

1. It is an absolute myth that there is no award availability on short notice – quite the contrary. Often airlines dump unsold business and first class inventory to award buckets few days before of the scheduled flight.

2. Start with the bottleneck segment first. In my case it would be the Auckland to NAN/APW. Then work backwards.

3. Sometimes you need to build long transfers (less than 24 hours) to get awards work. Consider these as mini stopovers.

4. Have access to the right tools. Over the years I have found both KVS and ExpertFlyer to be invaluable. You can use airline websites like Air Canada’s Aeroplan, Continental.com, and ANA’s SkyWeb to search for Star Alliance award inventory.

5. Write down the flight numbers/times and feed them to the airline agent one by one.

6. Have patience. Some airlines are very strict when it comes to allowable routings i.e. AA when some others i.e. US Airways and Continental are more relaxed. Know the rules.

7. Be nice to the agent who tries to book your flights. Sometimes their systems might have limitations and not always the award inventory is the same across the alliance. It could be carrier or even the point of sale dependent.

8. Enjoy your trip!

Bloomberg Businessweek Article About United & Continental Merger

When I first saw the cover all I could say was wow! For sure it won’t let anybody cold. But, the actual article about the everyday things that these two merging airlines need to get right from the size of the coffee packet to combined flight management system is actually rather well written.

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If you can get the cover out of your mind, I would suggest spending five to ten minutes of your time to read it online. The full article “Let’s Get It On” is available at http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/united-continental-making-the-worlds-largest-airline-fly-02022012.html.

Marriott, Hilton, and Continental Email Customer Service Turnaround Times

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Two days ago I wrote about my experience with Etihad and US Airways when it came to retrocrediting some flights that I had taken.  In the past month I have had a need to contact Marriott, Hilton, and Continental by email to fix few things.

If I don’t have an urgent thing to solve, I prefer sending an email. This way I have proof and the company can also better manage their workflows. Also, if the reply is by email and you have competent people replying to them, it doesn’t really matter where the function is located.

With Continental I had canceled one award flight, but the miles or the taxes/fees hadn’t been credited back to my account. I wrote an email/replied on their web form on December 20th to find what was going on.  The reply from Continental was received on January 26th. That is 37 days later after the inquiry was initiated. I happen to be a Platinum member with Continental. I was wondering how long it would take for a general member to get a reply out of this airline?

Please accept our apology for the delay in responding to your email; the busy travel season has led to an increase in the number of incoming e-mails and our response time is longer than average.

There had been few issues with Marriott.  Couple of properties that I had had problems with, and some points that hadn’t posted correctly. I try not to do a laundry list, but these issues were from the past seven months, and I hadn’t had time to fix them earlier. Sent an email with some attachment to Marriott Concierge on 21st and received a reply on 24th that they were looking what they could do. My email to them was sent on Saturday, and apparently the whole Marriott Rewards center is closed on Sunday so getting back on Tuesday was understandable.

But, I am still amazed how fast Hilton manages to reply to their Diamond members. I had a question regarding a promotion that they run with Emirates. I sent an email to Diamond desk at 11:57PM on 20th and the reply came on 21st at 3:25AM. The turnaround time was less than three and a half hours.

Continental should really look into how they manage the replies to email/web form inquiries. 37 days is nowhere near being acceptable. United has always been rather good at replying to complaints/comments sent to them as 1K. The reply is almost always received within a day or two. The Hilton example above is not an anomaly. Hilton has always been very good at replying to email inquiries and doing that fast. I am not as satisfied, however, with the quality of their Diamond phone line. It doesn’t really matter if the issues can be solved lightning fast by email. Marriott as a global hotel chain really should adopt better opening hours of their corporate customer care.

United & Continental Merger Update and the Last Chance to Buy EQM’s for 2011

Both United and Continental have been emailing in the past few days their merger update email. The new Mileage Plus program will start on March 3rd, 2012 and you can now check your combined EQM balance, if you have already linked your Continental OnePass and United Mileage Plus accounts.

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United and Continental had been using different methods to come up with the lifetime program miles figure. To come up with the measurable number, hopefully fair for both United and Continental members, United fliers got an onetime boost to include what Continental had been counting all along. This was calculated back to when you joined the program. My personal lifetime miles increased about 30%. The website now shows the combined lifetime activity once the programs are merged. Even without the 30% bump to my lifetime United figures, my combined balance would have been comfortably excess of 1 million lifetime miles, the thresh hold for lifetime Premier Gold status.

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There is also a last chance offer to buy up to 15K EQM’s that you can apply to your 2011 activity. Your status after the EQM’s is eligible for CR1’s (confirmed regional upgrades) and SWU’s (systenwide upgrades), if you passed the required EQM thresholds.  I wasn’t offered this one, because I had passed the EQM requirement for 1K status. If you are close to Platinum or 1K, you should consider your individual situation, and whether it would make sense to buy the EQM’s or not. I probably wouldn’t for a Platinum, but if I would be less than a $2K away from 1K, then it would be entirely different matter. You would get six systemwide upgrades that are easily more valuable than $2K, if used correctly. At other times, it might make sense to follow my earlier instructions how to use the Elite Maximizer to buy EQM’s.

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Price of the EQM’s if bought through this offer applied to 2011 balance.

There is also lots of other useful information on this website for both United and Continental flyers. The date for the new combined program is March 3rd, and it probably would be useful to familiarize oneself to the new status levels and procedures that will take place on that date.

Continental Airlines & Virgin Atlantic Frequent Flyer/Codeshare Agreement Ending on February 13th

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Now it is time to get the last Virgin Atlantic redemptions in using Continental miles. If you have United miles, you can link your accounts and transfer them to Continental. Virgin Atlantic hasn’t been United partner.

Effective February 13, 2012 we will discontinue our OnePass and codeshare partnership with Virgin Atlantic. Mileage accrual benefits are valid for travel through February 13, 2012. Please refer to the Mileage Credit Request Form for information regarding obtaining missing mileage credit. OnePass reward reservations for travel on Virgin Atlantic must be confirmed and ticketed by February 13, 2012, and they are valid one year from the date ticketed.

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This info is already available on Continental’s website, but nothing on Virgin’s website as of today. The last day to earn miles on Virgin flights is February 13th. That is also the last day to ticket any award bookings on Virgin. Most likely any changes to award flights involving Virgin i.e. date changes are not possible after that date.  You only option at that point would be to cancel the ticket and have Continental to refund the miles and taxes/fees.

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