We highlight the success story of our readers on our blog to show the world that travel on miles and points is indeed possible – and if you are flexible enough and check all of the options, you are truly able to book those aspirational awards – even in First and Business Class. When using miles and points to book an award ticket, you need to have flexibility – in dates, in number of passengers traveling, in airline choice, in cabin choice, etc., flexibility will make your award ticket booking experience much easier.
Business Class Success Story Background
Mark lives in New York City with his wife and two kids who really wanted to getaway for Christmas and New Years – they already experienced all the magic that NYC has to offer during this festive season and wanted to go somewhere warm for the holidays. Mark and his wife were really focused on Asia and wanted to visit Hong Kong, Singapore, and the beach destinations in Thailand. Knowing that he wanted to fly the entire family in Business Class, he knew he would have to collect a lot of miles and points.
Mark and his wife both opened up credit cards over the years and managed to accumulate a ton of miles and points:
- American Express: 580,000 and 342,000
- Chase: 195,000 and 430,000
- Citi: 238,000
- American Airlines: 178,000
- Alaska Airlines: 80,000
While those balances are great in terms of miles and points needed, the biggest problem is that Mark wanted to take the entire family to Asia in Business Class over peak time – finding award availability was going to be tough.
Success Story: Initial Planning
Knowing where the family wanted to go (Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand), Mark started planning the trip a year out – airline schedules are released somewhere between 12 and 11 months out, so he wanted to be ready to book the first seats as soon as they open. Mark carefully analyzed airline routes from New York to Asia and decided he would like to fly his family on some of these products:
- ANA Business Class
- Cathay Pacific Business Class
- EVA Air Business Class
- JAL Japan Airlines Business Class
- Singapore Airlines Business Class
All of those flying experiences are great, however the main challenge was going to be finding multiple award seats in a premium cabin on these flights. Mark was willing to split up 2 and 2 on separate flights, if that meant the entire family could fly in Business Class.
Checking Business Class Award Availability 11-12 Months Prior
As soon as it was 12 months prior to departure, Mark started checking award availability. He initially did not see anything when the schedule opened up a year in advance, however he managed to find 2 Business Class award seats from Seattle to Tokyo on ANA around 10.5 months prior to departure. Around 9 months prior to departure, 2 Business Class seats showed up on Singapore Airlines from Los Angeles to Tokyo.
Mark searched each individual route separately for award availability. Therefore out of all of the products he wanted to fly, he checked each of the airlines mentioned above and where they fly to in the U.S. from their hub cities in Asia. He checked routes one by one until he eventually found something.
Booking Award Flights with Transferrable Points
As Mark had a good stash of miles and points, he was ready to book when the awards opened up. For the outbound he was going to book:
- ANA Business Class: Seattle to Tokyo
- Singapore Airlines Business Class: Los Angeles to Tokyo
While Tokyo wasn’t in their travel plans, they figured that the family could meet up there and explore Japan for a few days. Mark purchased inexpensive revenue tickets from New York City to Seattle and Los Angeles as positioning flights for their bigger awards. Knowing that these are separate tickets, Mark booked them to arrive the day before and they’d have an overnight at the west coast gateway cities – just to be safe.
ANA is a member of the Star Alliance which means that you can use any Star Alliance miles to book an award seat on ANA. The airline is also partners with Virgin Atlantic which means those points can also be redeemed. After hours of researching which program charges the fewest amount of points, Mark went with booking the ANA flight through Virgin Atlantic as the cost was just 45k Virgin Atlantic points plus minimal taxes/fees. Since there was a 30% transfer bonus from AMEX to Virgin, he needed to transfer just 70k AMEX MR points which would convert into 91k Virgin points, enough for two tickets in Business Class – an amazing redemption.
Singapore Airlines has the most award availability through their own frequent flyer program and that’s the only place where Mark could see the availability from Los Angeles to Tokyo in Business Class. Therefore he transferred Chase points to Singapore Airlines in order to book the two Business Class tickets. The cost per ticket was 103,500 miles – much more expensive than the ANA ticket and Mark could cancel this and book something else should it open up in the future. The Chase points transfer was not instant and took around 16 hours.
Success Story: Booking Tokyo – Hong Kong Award Flights
The family now had tickets to Tokyo, but that wasn’t where they actually wanted to go – they wanted to escape winter and not travel to it. After thinking it over, they decided to stay in Tokyo two nights and explore the city. Their next stop was Hong Kong. Without any issues, Mark found 4 Business Class seats on Cathay Pacific from Tokyo to Hong Kong using both AA miles (30k each ticket) or Cathay Pacific miles (25k each ticket). Mark booked through Cathay Pacific by transferring AMEX points (instant transfer).
The family was now in Hong Kong and their journey continued onwards to Singapore and beach destinations in Thailand before returning back home, 3 weeks later. The next part of this success story will continue in the next post.
All in All
Mark spent hours and hours on the computer searching for the best award tickets for his family – he knew that most likely they weren’t all going to fly on the same plane as they wanted to travel during peak times, which is why splitting up was going to be the best option if he wanted them to fly in the premium cabin. Mark searched multiple routes on the airlines he wanted to fly until eventually he found award availability.
Note that flexibility is key – sometimes you may need to position on both ends in order to find availability. In this case, Mark wanted to get from New York City to Hong Kong, but there was no good availability – therefore, he needed to position both in the U.S. (to SEA/LAX) and then in Asia (from Tokyo to Hong Kong). Thankfully, they were able to make mini stops in each of those places and explore them while waiting for their onward flights. Remember to check various routings and flight combinations if you are not seeing anything good from your home airport to your destination.