Travel Miles 101 loves to highlight success stories where our readers are successful in booking award travel in premium cabins through a variety of methods and techniques described here. Today we will take a look at a success story from Sue R. from San Diego and how she was able to book her and her husband to the South Pacific in Business Class using miles and points.
Planning the South Pacific Trip
Sue and her husband wanted to travel to the South Pacific in April, which is Spring in the northern part of the world, but Autumn in the southern part. She wanted to visit a few cities in Australia as well as an island in the South Pacific – such as Fiji, Tahiti, or New Caledonia.
Knowing that Business and First Class travel to the South Pacific is notoriously difficult to book using miles at a good rate, she started collecting various miles and points about two-and-a-half years before the trip. Through a combination of flying and credit card bonuses, they both ended up with the following miles and points:
- 230k American Airlines miles
- 368k Chase UR points
- 173k AMEX MR points
- 80k United Airlines miles
- 120k Air Canada miles
With the various miles and points they’ve collected, they were set and could book most airlines between the two regions should award availability open up.
Searching Available Airlines to the South Pacific
There is a number of ways to travel between North America and the South Pacific, here are some (not all) available routes from the West Coast to various places in the South Pacific:
- Air Canada: Vancouver to Australia
- Air France: Los Angeles to Tahiti
- Air Tahiti Nui: Seattle and Los Angeles to Tahiti
- Air New Zealand: West Coast to New Zealand
- American Airlines: Los Angeles to Sydney
- Delta Air Lines: Los Angeles to Sydney
- Fiji Airways: Vancouver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to Fiji
- Qantas: Vancouver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to Australia
- United Airlines: San Francisco and Los Angeles to Australia
Since Sue is located in San Diego, she didn’t look outside of the West Coast for availability – she knew she would also need to position herself from her home to a major west coast gateway city like SFO, LAX, SEA, or even YVR in Canada.
Locating Award Availability
Sue knows that the best way to search for award availability is to search segment by segment. In her case, she wanted to fly them first from San Diego to Cairns, Australia – typing that routing in will likely yield no results due to airlines operating the routes and award availability.
Therefore Sue located every route from the West Coast to the South Pacific and searched every flight individually and stitched together the entire itinerary after finding award availability flight by flight.
Sue wanted to visiting the following places on this trip:
- Australia: Sydney, Melbourne, and Cairns
- New Zealand: only if necessary on a quick layover
- one or two islands in the South Pacific like Fiji, Tahiti, or New Caledonia
After searching award availability she was able to find in Business Class:
- Los Angeles to Auckland on Air New Zealand
- Vancouver to Sydney on Air Canada
- Seattle to Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui
Since they wanted to head to Australia first, she decided to go the Air Canada route and fly from Vancouver to Sydney – she only had to add on a flight from San Diego to Vancouver.
Inside of Australia, she could redeem British Airways Avios for flights on Qantas or Air Canada/United miles for flights on Virgin Australia. She ended up finding lots of award space in Economy from Sydney to Cairns and then from Cairns to Melbourne on both Qantas and Virgin Australia.
Returning back home, she searched for award space from various islands in the South Pacific and found in Business Class:
- Fiji to San Francisco on Fiji Airways
- Tahiti to Seattle on Air Tahiti Nui
They decided to fly to Tahiti – which meant she needed to get from Melbourne to Tahiti for the final part of her trip. There weren’t really that many good flight options available so in the end they were able to locate in Economy Class:
- Melbourne to Auckland on Qantas
- Auckland to Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui
Finally, after selecting the flight from Tahiti to Seattle, she was able to find a connection flight on Alaska Airlines to San Diego and add it on to the booking for no additional miles.
While she was happy to find the flights, booking could be another challenge.
Redeeming Miles and Booking Flights
Sue was in a good position since she and her husband had a good amount of miles and points in various places. After doing some transfers from AMEX/Chase to various airlines, the final itinerary was as follows:
- San Diego to Vancouver to Sydney
- Air Canada Business Class
- 127k Aeroplan miles
- Sydney to Cairns
- Qantas Economy
- 11k British Airways Avios
- Cairns to Sydney to Melbourne
- Virgin Australia Economy
- 12.5k Aeroplan miles
- Melbourne to Auckland to Tahiti
- Qantas/Air Tahiti Nui Economy
- ~33k Qantas miles
- Tahiti to Seattle to San Diego
- Air Tahiti Nui/Alaska Airlines Business
- 80k American Airlines miles
The prices in miles are per person and don’t include the taxes and fees she paid, which were decent for this type of trip.
The first part San Diego to Sydney via Vancouver she was able to book directly online on Aeroplan and transferred in AMEX and Chase points to top-up her balance. She also transferred AMEX/Chase to British Airways to book Sydney to Cairns on Qantas in Economy and did the same for Cairns to Melbourne via Sydney – but she used Aeroplan miles for travel on Virgin Australia.
Melbourne to Auckland to Tahiti was booked using Qantas miles on their website after transferring points from AMEX. Finally, the last part of the trip from Tahiti to San Diego via Seattle was booked using American Airlines miles directly on their website.
All in All
It took Sue months of collecting miles and points and then weeks of research to be able to put together this itinerary. What made it even more complicated is that she wasn’t able to find Business Class availability both ways and had to take a risk and book just one-way and hope the other way opens up later – which it did, weeks later. Sue was smart and booked a placeholder in Premium Economy she could cancel for free if nothing opened up in Business Class.
The biggest takeaway is to always search for award availability segment-by-segment and then put all of the flights together – some frequent flyer programs allow you to create custom itineraries and if you plan it correctly, you shouldn’t pay more miles for the connecting flights. Remember to search the long-haul flights for availability first and then plan the shorter flights around that as the long-hauls will always be the hardest to book, especially in the premium cabin.