Award Redemption: How I Saved Over $27,700 and Spent $64 For First Class Flights
Every time I speak with an aspiring travel hacker I always remind them that learning to maximize your earning potential is half the battle. The other half of the battle is being able to redeem your miles/points for award flights or hotel stays. From a business perspective, airlines want you to be a loyal customer and award you fantastic bonus miles for flying with them. However, they make redeeming those miles a frustrating task. A lot of rules and restrictions come into play. For an example, finding award availability is the most common reason why many aspiring travel hackers decide that this hobby is not right for them.
Airlines only allow a limited number of seats for award redemption. The rest is all revenue seats in which customers pay for. The hardest award seats to come by would have to be premium (business/first class) seats. The reason behind this is because there are far fewer premium seats. For first class, they will only restrict 1 to 2 seats for award flights. The rests are revenue seats. Usually, in order to snag a first class seat you either need to redeem them as soon as the booking window opens up or risk it and try redeeming the seats about 2 weeks out before departure. The reason why more seats are available closer to departure is because they want to fill in that seat. If they can’t sell that seat then they might as well try to fill it with an award redemption.
You can see now why an average consumer or aspiring travel hacker does not maximize these miles to their fullest potential. An average consumer would redeem these miles for something low like going to Las Vegas for the weekend or even worse redeeming miles for merchandise.
Not only are we in this hobby to save cash, we are also in this hobby for the experience. One of my favorite quote is “it’s about the journey, not the destination“. So if flying first class or business class is something you want to do. Then do it because with miles/points you can take that first or business class for merely a fraction of the cost. With a little determination you can book the most luxurious trip you have ever taken.
Here is how I was able to snag two first class seats. At that time it only costed 120,000 miles each person on US Airways to fly first class from North America to Asia. I accumulated these points with a combination of churning the US Airways card and manufacturing spending. Since US Airways was a part of Oneworld group you can redeem flights on partners like Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. In addition, I researched and found out that US Airways allows one stopover or open jaw. Meaning I could maximize this trip even further by adding a stopover.
Since I needed to get two first class seats. I booked my flights right at the award booking window (335 days in advance). Since US Airways does not allow you to book stopovers/open jaw or book on partner flights online. You would need to call their hotline and book over the phone. It was definitely a sweat waiting for the booking window to open up because other airlines have a longer booking window. Meaning they can book earlier than US Airways. I constantly had to keep checking whether or not my flights had first class availability. British Airways website is the best search engine to finding award availability for any Oneworld partners. Here’s how to find an award availability flight.
Insert your routes. Click the one way only box. I personally search leg by leg to get my routes. I write down my flight numbers and airlines. When I book my flights through the phone I just feed them my itinerary and hope that my seats are still available.
They had some open first class and business class flights as much as 11 months in advance. Goes to show that you either need to book really early or risk booking late.
Once I had all my routes including my stopover in Japan. I called and booked my flights. Remember what I said earlier about how I could include a stopover into my itinerary? I decided I’d do a 8 day stopover in Japan and then fly out later from Japan to Hong Kong all on the same award redemption.
These three flights alone costs a retail value of $27,775. In the end, I managed to save over $27,700 by redeeming 3 first class flights for only 120,000 miles and paid out-of-pocket of ~$64 USD each for my girlfriend and I. The value per point on this award redemption is crazy because I was able to redeem them for 23.1 cents a point.