Awards

A Honeymoon On Delta

With my decision yesterday to jump ship with American Airlines, there is one thing that has been a huge drag on my choice, one that has been forcing me to really consider sticking with American Airlines. Next year I will be getting married and the subsequent honeymoon to Asia will be financed with points, and miles. Switching to Delta this year definitely makes me a little nervous when it comes to planning for next year. 



My current American Airlines mileage sits somewhere around 115,000 miles. Over the next year, with credit card openings and planned flights, I will easily surpass the needed miles for a big trip. There was little worry about hitting the amount I needed to make this happen, the worry comes when switching to Delta. Delta is already on a revenue based program, so the more I spend the more miles I get. With a good percentage of my usable miles coming from flights, the question is, Do I have enough time to accrue miles with Delta to fly to Japan?

The quick answer is yes, but there is more to it. The same strategies I use for American work with Delta. Credit card sign ups, spending money with shopping portals and more. There is a bonus here that American Airlines doesn't yet have... Membership Rewards. Delta is partnered with American Express with membership rewards, United is partnered with Chase Ultimate Rewards. American Airlines still has not initiated a partnership with their credit card carrier, Citi, for a transferable miles currency. This gives a huge advantage to Delta in this case. I can accrue membership rewards and transfer them to Delta.

We also need to keep in mind that I will not stop grabbing new cards, new ways of earning points and there is no reason that I will need to fly solely with Delta. There are lots of other airlines. Miles can cover those just as easily as a Delta flight and I have a large backlog of miles to work from at this point. All of that being said, it should be no issue to switch to Delta and still make all of the travel plans I already had in mind.

An $18,000 Flight for $600

So my flights are all booked for my trip to South Africa, I’m a few days away from having my return trip booked on Emirates. The wonder about all of this is that I’m flying in business and first class in all cases, yet I do it on a budget that most people fly domestic economy with… so the ultimate question I always come away with after booking an award flight, how much did I save? This is a pretty easy question to answer, but once you see the numbers on these flights, well you may be blown away if you’re anything like me.

Let’s start by recapping the flights that I just booked.  My outbound flight will depart from Atlanta (likely I will be moving to that area, so I probably won’t need a staging flight here). From Atlanta, I’ll be flying aboard a Virgin Atlantic A340 in “Upper Class” as they call it. Upper Class is set up as a business class style seat. After a long layover in London, I’ll be catching a British Airways 747 to Johannesburg, South Africa all in First Class right up in the nose of the 747. The last connection takes me the remaining distance to Cape Town, South Africa done in business class, because there is no first class on this regional flight.

The award tickets were booked through both Delta and American Airlines separately. The flight on Virgin Atlantic cost 62,500 miles through Delta and I paid a fee of $5.60.

The british Airways legs were booked as a single award ticket at 50,000 miles. Keep in mind that I have the American Airlines Citi AAdvantage credit card, so I get 10% back on my award spending on the first 100,000 miles I spend. So it really came out to be 45,000 total miles. When we look at the fees, that’s where the big money comes in for this trip. British Airways charges a fuel surcharge for award flights, in this case $583. Normally I wouldn’t suggest that anyone fly British Airways award for this reason, but it gave me the chance to fly a 747, which has long been a desire of mine and these are being phased out quickly.

So what was the price of these tickets if I had actually purchased them? This is where things may blow you away, these tickets are expensive, very expensive, I wouldn’t touch it with someone else's finger level expensive. The flight on Virgin Atlantic through Delta, would have cost me $7,589. The flight on British Airways through American Airlines would have cost me $10,534. Bringing the total cost of a one way ticket to a whopping $18,123. Even at the price, I was still able to fly it, and I only spent $589 to do so, saving me $17,534.

At one point I was even looking at buying a ticket on Qatar airways economy in order to get to South Africa. That ticket would have cost $1,300. So in the end, I was able to get a flight in first/business class for less than the cheapest economy class ticket.

It does take planning, good financial control, alot of credit card signups, and some real desire to travel. The reward  for the effort though is an incredible trip in lie flat seats, access to premium lounges, great service, and an incredible experience. When I look at the experiences I’m about to embark upon, I just can’t believe that this is all working out in my favor. I get to travel to places I never thought I’d get to go, and I get to do so in style. Hell, I’m more excited about the flights than the time on the ground… but I’m a huge aviation nerd, so what did I really expect?.

Flying to South Africa

Yesterday covered a little of the planned outbound flight from Cape Town, South Africa. The question still remains, how to get to Cape Town in the first place. This is a question I’m still trying to answer right now. Using award points to fly in premium classes is amazing, but is always a challenge to set up an itinerary that works.

Right now I’m still pretty early in the year and only will likely have the 1 round trip left to book this year. So while I have points to play with, they aren’t all in the right place at the moment for me to book the flights I want. Alaska Airlines has the points I need for the Emirates flights, but I’m waiting on 25,000 points to post to my account so that the flight can be booked. Citi owes me 30,000 AAdvantage miles that they have been dragging their feet on posting to my account. So while I have the points I need for a round trip, they aren’t all posted to my account yet.

After nailing down a decently flexible award time frame for Emirates, the challenge to find me way to South Africa began. There are so many options to fly to South Africa, but knowing all of those options, knowing what is the best in what situation, and finding available award space is a big challenge… but one I really enjoy. Since a credit card pick up just gave me access to 50,000 Delta miles, I thought I could grab a business class ticket to South Africa. This is possible, at least for part of the journey, the flight to France would have been in Economy at a business class price.

Qatar Airways doesn’t have award space to South Africa, same with Etihad, same with many airlines. South Africa seems to be a problem for award space, Emirates is only offering business class on their 777-300ER for the leg to Dubai, and even that is only available on select dates.

One option I have found is British Airways, but I’d have to spend my AAdvantage miles, which i had hoped to not use this year in anticipation of a big big trip in 2017 or 2018. It wouldn’t even have been a big deal to fly business class… except British Airways business class gets bad reviews, really bad reviews. So British Airways should be done in First Class. British Airways first is on par with other carriers business class if that gives you any idea of what to expect with them. The upside here is that the leg to Johannesburg is flown with a 747-400, which I’ve been wanting to fly for a while, these queens of the sy are being phased out, I’d love to grab a flight before they are gone.

The one thing I have not yet tried is to book individual segments. Use some Delta miles to London, then pick up British Airways to South Africa. We’ll have to see what I can arrange in the near future. Meanwhile, stay tuned for my booking as soon as I figure out this routing.

 

AAdvantage Devaluation

The long awaited and much dreaded situation has finally come to pass, and I am not too happy about it. American Airlines has made some massive changes to their program, and they are worse than originally expected. 



At the beginning of the year AAdvantage points are going away, personally I don't see this as a huge lose, because they are changing Elite Qualifying miles (EQM's) to scale with class just like points used to do in the past, so really this change to me isn't a big deal. However, American just announces that EQM's are going to be cut on partner airlines. If you fly in discount coach on any airline other than American, you'll only earn 0.5 EQM's per mile flown. This seems a bit crazy to me for a few reasons. One is that these are your partners and many times I fly a codeshare, so they are marketed as American Airlines flights... yet they won't earn me the same miles, despite being considered an AA flight. Second, there are places I plan to fly, that are not serviced by American Airlines. Cape Town for instance is either a British Airways flight or Qatar flight, no other options in One World... so I get penalized because American doesn't serve this destination? Seems odd to me.

Next is the earning structure in the second half of the year for 2016. Miles earning is going to way of Delta and United. Despite American claiming they were "innovating" they apparently think innovation is a synonym with copying. Copying is exactly what they did, the earning structure is as follows.

  • AAdvantage Memebers - 5 Miles per $1 spent
  • AAdvantage Gold - 7 Miles per $1 spent
  • AAdvantage Platinum - 8 Miles per $1 spent
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum - 11 miles per $1 spent

So where do I start. First off, why is the earning structure exactly the same as United and Delta. This is a weird business practice that rides the edge of collusion, not to say this is whats happening, but it really is up with with price fixing. There is no reason to make all of your programs the exact same, especially when redemption rates on awards is different between airlines. I will never call this a back door deal without some good evidence, but they sure or skirting the fine edge on this.

Next, why is Platinum only 1 mile per $1 more than Gold. I fly alot to get from the 25,000 miles needed for Gold, to jump to the 50,000 needed for Platinum. Previously the bonus earn on Platinum was 4 times better than it was on Gold... now it's disturbingly low 14% increase... really I think that should be 9 miles at minimum.

The next change is that 12,500 miles will be required for each batch of 500 mile upgrades instead of the 10,000 it used to take. This is to slightly offset the fact that it is mildly easier to reach elite status now... not a huge deal. However, if you are Executive Platinum, they are cutting system wide upgrades from 8 per year to 4. This is huge, system wide upgrades allow one to upgrade one class higher on any flight in the world, cutting these in half severely degrades the worth of Executive Platinum.

On top of all of this, awards costs are jumping up significantly. Business class to Europe is jumping by 7,500 miles each way, and that's the best of the redemption jumps. Some are really bad, increasing by more than 60% in some cases for first class awards... that is insane.

I do enjoy that American is touting the really small good things that came out of this like the fact that awards under 500 miles in flight length now only cost 7,500 miles. This is a really really minor good outcome, it's 95% bad outcomes.

So to summarize, American has "innovated" by following the lead of Delta, I guess they didn't want United to be the only copy cat company. We will manage under the new earning structure, and since only a portion of my miles come from flights, we will continue to take aadvantage of all the other methods of getting miles to still fly in the super expensive, posh classes that are so very nice. Also, I am seriously considering flying more 1st class flights domestically in order to gain more points EQM's domestically since my many international flights next year may be hurt by the partner EQM cuts.

What are your thoughts on these changes?

Economy Awards, Are They Worth It?

We all love to go on vacations, especially when they are for free. So that credit card that was promised to you on the airline's website, or even on board the plane promised 2 round trip tickets. So the question becomes... Economy Awards, Are they worth the points? The short answer is no. I'm sure the short answer isn't really all that satisfying, so let me break it down a bit more.



In he case of American Airlines, they promise that the old offer of 50,000 miles could get you 2 round trip tickets in economy. Now this offer is no longer available, so the 30,000 they offer now will get you one round trip with 5000 miles left over. Now remember that this requires you to get the best value for your economy awards, the off peak value is 12,500 miles for a one way ticket, so round trip is 25,000. Seems like a good deal when I'm an shelling out 55,000 United miles for a one way trip to Beunos Aires, and 62,500 miles for first class on the way back.

Let's break this down though. American Airlines posts the award chart on their website and you should take a look at it if you want to see all of the miles award prices for different regions of the world. So why do I think 62,500 miles is better than 12,500? Well keep on thing in mind, these destinations aren't comparable. 12,500 miles only applies to flying in the United States. The 62.500 I spent was down to southern South America. Either way, we'll give them a compare as is.

I'm going to use my booking for a trip to Indiana that I'll be going on in November as my example. A flight to Indianapolis costs roughly $500 direct on American, $350 if I connect, we'll assume the direct flight, to give the benefit of the doubt here and make your awards go a bit further money wise. If this is the case and you find the time when you can use an off peak award on this, you are looking at 12,500 miles for a $500 ticket. Wait though, that $500 ticket is round trip, so lets make that 25,000 miles for this round trip. That roughly equates to $0.02 per mile... not too bad... but not great.

Now lets review the flight I'm taking in first class from Beunos Aires back to Philadelphia. This one way trip costs $7000 at the time I booked it. The total cost in miles was 62,500. Keep in mind though, I own the American Airlines Citi credit card, so I get 10% of the miles spend back to my account. So in the end, I actually paid 56,250 miles for this trip. Taking into account the price of this ticket, each point was worth roughly $0.13 per mile spent.

Looking at the two redemptions you can quickly see that the first class ticket is worth far more than the economy class ticket, more than 6 times better. The airlines sell these credit cards because they are great for business, and they tout the round trip tickets in economy because that is the best return for them. If you really want to go for broke, your money should be on a first or business class international ticket... that's the sweet spot. Plus you get the added bonus of lie flat seats, much better service, better food, and oodles of leg room. There is a place and time for an economy award, but premium redemptions are better in most every way.