One of the best things about the points game is how it allows you to enjoy travel experiences you otherwise would not be able to enjoy.
Sometimes, that is an incredible destination you might not be able to visit without points. Sometimes, it’s a luxury hotel that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Sometimes, it is experiencing a level of service and comfort that you would otherwise miss out on.
When my fiancée Sabrina and I went to Seattle last year for our Alaskan cruise, we were able to take advantage of a deal that allowed us to fly first class for the same price as we would have paid to fly coach.
We got to enjoy nice comfy seats for the long flight from Florida to Washington, easier check-in at the airport, free food and drinks (I certainly enjoyed some Alaskan brews on the trip!) – even waiting in the airport for our flight home was easier thanks to lounge access where we had wifi, more snacks and drinks, and comfortable couches to relax in.
We still got to the same place, but we were able to begin and end our trip in a more relaxed state than we would have scrunched in coach for the 6.5-hour flight (I’m 6’2″, so airplane seats generally aren’t super comfortable for me!). It was something that made the trip extra special for us.
Flying first class is a special experience, and when the opportunity comes up to experience it at effectively no cost – it’s a no-brainer!
Right now there is a combination of things going on that are allowing basically that – the opportunity to fly first class around the world for the same price as coach!
But this probably won’t last long, so you better hurry!
What’s The Deal?
In a nutshell, this deal involves traveling on UA Airways award partners to North Asia (Japan, China) or the South Pacific (Australia, New Zealand). You will need to redeem US Airways Dividend Miles for this travel – but don’t worry if you don’t have any – there’s a quick way to get all the points you need!
As part of their merger with American Airlines, US Airways recently joined the oneworld alliance – a partnership of 15+ airlines around the world that allows flyers of the member airlines to enjoy benefits across the whole group, things like frequent flyer benefits – including award travel. Oneworld is just one of these airline ‘alliances’, there are two other major alliances: SkyTeam and StarAlliance.
It is possible to use miles from one member airline to fly award tickets on other members of the alliance – this is a great opportunity since it allows you to earn miles all in one program, then use them on a wide variety of airlines.
US Airways’ oneworld partner award chart shows how much it costs in miles to fly round trip to various destinations – but for this deal, there are 2 current sweet spots:
- First Class to North Asia for 120,000 miles
- First Class to South Pacific for 140,000 miles
That’s a lot of miles, but currently US Airways is also offering a 100% bonus when you buy miles directly from them (meaning if you buy 1,000 miles, they give you 2,000). The current special runs until May 25, 2014.
US offers this kind of deal a lot, but there’s no way to tell when it might come around again, and there’s no guarantee this deal will still be available the next time it does. The problem is, American and US have shown they aren’t exactly good at letting customers know when they’re going to raise the cost of award redemptions (last month they raised the price of some awards 20,000 miles overnight and didn’t tell anyone) – and there’s no telling when they will raise the price of these ‘sweet spot’ awards.
With the 100% bonus, the cost of buying this many miles brings the cost per mile to 1.88 cents.
You can only buy up to 100,000 miles a year, so how do you get the last 20-40,000?
US Airways has a credit card offer that offers 40,000 points after you pay the annual fee ($89) and make one purchase – a really great deal that allows you to get a good chuck of points really fast and cheap.
If you wanted to go to Australia, you would sign up for the card, then purchase 100,000 points from US Airways (50,000 + 50,000 bonus) to get a total of 140,000.
You would of course need to do this process for each person – so you and your partner both apply for the card separately, and each buy the needed miles for your own ticket.
That’s $1,881 for a FIRST CLASS flight to Australia – right about what it costs to fly coach if you paid directly.
And to Japan? $1,505 – less than the cost of a coach ticket!
US Airways Award Extras
One of the really amazing things about doing this as an award (other than getting FIRST CLASS, that is!) is that as part of the US Airways award rules, you can build in a stopover or open-jaw into an award ticket.
What does that mean?
A stopover is exactly what it sounds like – on your way to your final destination (say, Australia), you can stop over in one of the cities along the way – for as long as you like! You have to have your stopover in a oneworld hub (more on what this means later), or in the transatlantic gateway city (again, more on this later) – but that still leaves plenty of opportunities!
An open jaw is when you fly into one city and out from another, for instance if you flew into Sydney, then drove up the coast to Brisbane, and flew home from there.
There are some cool things you can do with open jaws, but I think this kind of trip lends itself incredibly well to stopovers.
For example, on your way to Australia, what if you also want to visit Japan? You can include a stopover in Tokyo for a few days, go visit Osaka or Kyoto – then fly on to Australia.
Another option is to stopover in Europe – fly to London, and stopover there for a while (perhaps go to Paris or Dublin) before continuing on to Australia. You could also have the stopover on your way home instead of on the way out – but you can only have one.
Flying to London through a US Airways award also opens up a unique possibility…
You remember how I said US Airways was joining the oneworld alliance as part of their merger with American?
US Airways used to be in Star Alliance, but now are in oneworld – and their computer system is still catching up with the change.
One of the other oneworld members is British Airways (BA) – an airline that is notoriously bad for travel hackers because even on award flights, they charge extremely high ‘fuel surcharges’, making the flight cost hundreds of dollars or more – plus all of the points! Partners of BA also charge these fees for award passengers flying on BA flights – or at least they are supposed to.
For now, US Airways is not charging these additional fees on award tickets on BA – making them the only way to fly BA without fuel surcharges! This is a great opportunity to fly British Airways to London without paying the usual extra hundreds of dollars.
Update 5/8: It looks like US Airways is in the process of notifying their agents that they need to add on these surcharges. So it is probably impossible once again to fly BA without paying a lot more. However, there are still other options for flying to Europe – American now has limited first class service to London on their new 777-300’s, and still more airlines that offer business class service as well.
Amazing Trip Opportunities
Although there are a lot of different possibilities for trips using one of these awards, I’m going to highlight what I think are 4 of the coolest, and at the same time try to show some of the different possibilities available.
Europe and Japan
US Airways allows routings to North Asia via Europe, so you could fly British Airways First Class to London, stop for a bit, then fly from London to Tokyo on JAL First Class. From Tokyo you may also be able to fly directly back to the US across the Pacific (depending on who you have book your award – more on this later).
While in London, you could of course visit elsewhere – taking a high speed train to Paris, for example. The thing to remember is that you will need to get back to London for the flight out.
Australia and New Zealand
If you would prefer to spend more time down under, you could also have your stopover be in Australia on your way to New Zealand.
You would want to fly to Australia via Asia (on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong or JAL via Tokyo), because Qantas, the oneworld airline in Australia, barely releases any award space directly form the US to Australia. You could then stopover in either Sydney or Melbourne, with your final destination being Auckland in New Zealand.
Australia and Japan
Another great possibility is having your stopover in Asia – you could visit Australia in the late summer/early fall and Japan in the early spring – a great opportunity to see the beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom!
Australia and Europe
Yet another routing you might be able to get away with is flying to Australia via Europe – and including a stopover there as well!
This one may a more tricky to actually book since it is pushing the limits on what is allowable routing-wise, but it has been done before.
How To Get It
Again, this is something that probably won’t be around forever, so I recommend getting started on this right away if you are interested.
I would totally be booking this for myself right now if our honeymoon wasn’t right around the time there is great availability for this award. If this opportunity is still around in a few months, I think I know where we’ll be taking our next trip, though!
Also, one note: I’m going to assume that you want to travel with one other person on this trip. Finding award space for more than 2 people can be very hard (and even can be tricky for 2), so this is the kind of trip that is easiest to take as a couple – which I would hope is the case for your honeymoon anyways!
If you are interested, here’s what I would do:
Figure out a possible trip
The first step is deciding where you might like to go. Your actual destinations and routings may change, especially as you check award availability, but I would suggest this basic process:
- Pick final destination. Decide where you want your ‘end’ destination to be – that is, the farthest place you want to go. It will either be in North Asia or the South Pacific. Your best bets for North Asia are China and Japan, and for the South Pacific it is really hard to find award space for anywhere but Australia and New Zealand (Fiji and Tahiti would be really hard with this particular award)
- Pick possible stopover destinations, if any. You can have ONE stopover at a hub on your way to or from your destination, but you don’t have to include one. Although there are a lot of oneworld hubs (that is, a hub of a oneworld airline), but for this trip you are likely going to want to stick to the following: London, Sydney, Hong Kong, Tokyo.
- Plan a preliminary itinerary. You will need to have an idea of the flights you want to take at each step along the way to your final destination, and stopover destination. Using the oneworld map, you can get a quick idea of where the oneworld carriers fly (tip: the cities marked with squares instead of dots are hubs), and can piece together an itinerary. Remember: if you want to get to Australia, you can’t fly straight there. At least not on an award ticket in a premium cabin. But what’s a little extra flying time when you’re lounging in luxury?
- Think about which airline you’d like to fly with on each segment. All airlines are not equal in regards to their offerings in the sky – check out the different airlines that fly the routes you’re looking at, and get an idea of who you’d prefer to fly with if you can. For instance, on flights to/from the US (across the Atlantic or Pacific), I’d rather fly with an international carrier rather than US Airways or American – the product, food, and service tends to be better on international carriers. In most cases, you can just fly whichever carrier uses the hub you are flying to/from and you will be fine (for example, JAL to Tokyo, Qantas to/from Sydney).
Once you have a preliminary itinerary picked out, it’s time to see what’s available.
Check award availability (next spring looking good!)
Just like any other award flight, a trip like this requires some flexibility. It is very unlikely you will be able to find specific, perfect dates for flights. That flexibility is what allows us to take advantage of these incredible opportunities.
Use a combination of aa.com and britishairways.com to find each individual segment’s award availability. American Airline (AA) has a more usable site for searching award flights, and they make it easy to see at a glance which days in a month have availability, but they don’t show availability for JAL or Cathay Pacific, who you will almost certainly want to fly with if traveling to Asia. For flights on JAL or Cathay Pacific, you will have to use BA’s site.
This part of the process can be very confusing if you’ve never done it before, so I will write a post dedicated to teaching how to use the AA and BA sites to search for award availability in the near future. Of course, you can always ask me questions and I’ll try to help out as best I can. If you want the latest tips and guides to all of this stuff, be sure to join my email list!
I will say that of the flights and dates I looked at, availability is VERY good for next February/March. This is for flights to Asia, Europe, Australia…lots of opportunities.
You will have to re-check award availability when it is time to actually book, but it is a good idea to see what kind of an itinerary would be available before you commit to purchasing all of those points.
Both you and your travel partner will need to do each of these next few steps, which is where you actually get the miles to pay for the trip.
Sign up for US Airways DividendMiles account
Before you can get the award points, you’ll have to sign up for US Airways’ frequent flyer program. It is free, and doesn’t take long at all. Of course, if you already have an account, you don’t need to do this step.
Sign up for the US Airways credit card
A really fast and easy way to get 40,000 US Airways miles is to sign up for their co-branded credit card. After being approved and paying the first year’s annual fee and making one other purchase, you get a nice bunch of miles.
The US Airways card also comes with some other nice benefits, like a companion certificate, a free checked bag, and priority boarding.
Buy miles by 5/25
After you are approved for the card, I would recommend calling the bank and asking if they can expedite shipping it to you (and waive the fee, of course!) – explain that you want to put some upcoming purchases on it ASAP. Usually, the bonus miles post soon after you make the purchase, so the sooner you get the card and buy something with it (it can be anything, a pack of gum – whatever!) the sooner you’ll get the points.
Then, sometime before May 25, buy the rest of the miles you’ll need (minus the 40k you’ll get from the card bonus).
Once you have all of the miles ready to go, re-check the award availability for the flights you want, and call up US Airways to book the award!
You’ll pay taxes and fees on the flights in addition to the points, but it should not be too much – especially considering it’s for such incredible flights!
If you get the bonus points from the credit card signup really soon (before May 25th when the buy points bonus ends), you can actually call up to book the award before buying the points. You’ll go through the same process of giving the booking agent all of the flights, but at the end you’ll ask them to place the itinerary on hold, which they will do for a few days. You will get a reference number, which you will use later to actually finalize the booking and pay for the tickets. After placing the flights on hold and finding out exactly how many points you need, you can then buy the points (they usually post very quickly – within a day), and then finalize your booking.
After you’ve booked your award – all that is left is to enjoy it!
This is an incredible opportunity to experience truly luxurious travel, and I hope some of you will be able to take advantage of this amazing chance to have an extravagant honeymoon!
If you’d like to get more tips and tricks on how to get extraordinary travel for you honeymoon, be sure to sign up for my mailing list! I’ll be following up with a guide to searching for award space through AA and BA, so be sure to sign up so you’ll know when it’s ready – you’ll also get access to content I don’t share anywhere else!