In the second instalment of this three-part series, Warren teaches us that it takes a lot of research, planning and patience to book a dream trip.
Case study: Warren’s Business Class honeymoon to Tahiti, the US and Japan
Research and planning
It takes a lot of planning to research routes and flights.
Personally speaking, I would say getting sufficient points is half the battle and securing the award seats is the rest of the battle. This is why I prefer to plan in excess of 12 months before my next trip, as most airlines open their bookings 11-12 months in advance. Doing this increases my chances of securing that coveted award space as it can be very limited.
I understand not every traveller would know what life would entail 12 months into the future. However, to me, this is a minor trade-off for flying at the pointy end of the plane affordably with points. The ability to make changes to award bookings with minimal costs is also very handy if something does pop up in life and you have to make late changes to your travel plans.
My trip planning in six steps
Step 1: Know the destinations you want to visit and the airline products you want to experience
We knew that we wanted to visit Bora Bora, the US and Japan. We were relatively flexible with what airlines we fly. Our focus was on Business Class cabins for additional comfort.
Step 2: Find out what airlines get you from A to B
Step 3: Find out which type of airline points and how many points it costs to fly on the route you select
I used a combination of Google Search for ‘[insert airline name] partners’, ‘[insert airline name] award chart’ and Great Circle Mapper to gather information on what and how many points I needed to get on the flights I wanted.
I later learned that websites like AwardHacker can assist in reducing the amount of legwork.
Step 4: Shortlist your flight selections
I personally use spreadsheets to help me manage the large amount of information and I find tables help with that a lot.
After comparing the points required and routes on different airlines, we crafted our specific itinerary.
Step 5: Find the required points to fund flights
Now, I only had a relatively small amount of Qantas and Velocity points at that point in time, which were far from sufficient to pay for all the flights. I needed to get more points pronto as the time to book was fast-approaching.
I learnt from Point Hacks that buying points could be a financially savvy way to reduce the cost of premium cabin seats. I did a cost comparison between buying tickets with cash versus buying points to redeem—more on that later.
I ended up deciding to purchase American AAdvantage miles while they were on sale. I had to buy AA miles with two accounts as the amount of additional miles I required exceeded the annual limit for one account.
Step 6: Locking in the award seats
This is where most people find it challenging.
Timing when to book
As award seats can be very limited, I wanted to be one of the first to book when the dates/flights I wanted became available.
On my spreadsheet, which already had the flight dates and routes on, I added the dates of when to book to a separate column. For example, if I wanted to redeem a Qantas flight that fell on the 20 December 2018, and I know that Qantas opens its booking calendar 353 days in advance, I would have to be ready to redeem around 1 January 2018.
Identify the critical routes
Some routes are more popular than others—these are usually longer flights like between New Zealand or Australia and the US or Europe.
This is where performing dummy searches before when you need to actually book comes into play, as you will familiarise with the website interface and get a better idea of how many award seats are usually released. I soon realised that getting to Tahiti is very challenging as there are very few flights and airlines that fly to Tahiti.
I booked the flights using AA miles and Velocity points on the dates the bookings opened up. I booked the first and last flight on our itinerary at the end because there is more availability on these shorter routes (Brisbane – Auckland and Sydney – Brisbane).
How to redeem these flights
Our flights using Qantas and Velocity points were redeemable via Qantas and Virgin Australia websites, so that was pretty straightforward.
There was no easy way to check for award seat availability on Air Tahiti Nui, so I had to phone American Advantage to check and redeem. The agents are very easy to deal with and the wait-time is generally short.
Japan Airlines award seats were not visible on AA or Qantas website at that time, so I had to use British Airways website to search and, again, call AA to redeem the tickets.
How much I paid compared to how much it would have been without points
The following table summarises how much I paid for the Business Class seats compared to if I were to pay for Economy or Business Class seats with cash (in AUD). Note that the points gained from earning are not factored into this equation—only the cost of the purchased points plus taxes.
The three flights that I purchased AA miles to redeem Business Class seats for were slightly more expensive than the Economy Class seats.
|Flight Route||Costs if bought with cash||Price I paid|
|Paid with earned points|
|Brisbane to Auckland||$337||$792||$131|
|San Francisco to New York||$310||$1,384||$14|
|New York to Tokyo||$1,249||$4,921||$74|
|Sydney to Brisbane*||$116||$729||$37|
|Paid with purchased AA miles|
|Auckland to Papeete||$445||$997||$764|
|Papeete to Los Angeles||$1,928||$3,589||$2,026|
|Tokyo to Sydney||$655||$4,781||$1,260|
*Rookie error: I have since learnt that I could have potentially tacked on Brisbane – Auckland, Tokyo – Osaka and Sydney – Brisbane for no extra points/miles as I was already redeeming connecting flights with American Advantage miles—you live and you learn!
Purchasing points or miles can be a nifty way to reduce the costs of expensive Economy Class seats or premium cabin seats but you will have to compare the costs involved. There is also a need to factor in the points earned from a revenue flight but, for simplicity purposes, I have left it out of the costs comparison.
Would I have done things differently if I had a chance? Absolutely. However, given the timing, our points balance and the limited knowledge I had at that time, I think I did alright for a first time premium cabin award redemption.
Stay tuned for the final instalment, in which I give my thoughts on some of the less-talked-about Business Class offerings in our trip around the Pacific—on Air Tahiti Nui, Delta and Japan Airlines.