How I saved over 17000 Euros on flights
If you read my previous article about travel planning for this year, you will have read that I booked a lot of flights for a 3 week trip with stops in Bali, Auckland, the Cook Islands and Abu Dhabi. Most of these flights have been booked using air miles from either American Airlines (AA), Lufthansa (LH) or United Airlines (UA). Let me first give you a short overview of the flights that I booked and afterwards I will go into detail as to how I saved over 17.000 Euros on flights. I will explain how I booked every single flight, how many miles I used for it and what the flights would have normally cost me if I had to buy them as revenue tickets.
- Paris (CDG) – Doha (DOH) – Bali (DPS) on Qatar Airways First & Business Class
- Bali (DPS) – Bangkok (BKK) – Perth (PER) on Thai Airways Economy Class
- Perth (PER) – Melbourne (MEL) – Auckland (AKL) on Qantas Business Class
- Rarotonga (RAR) – Auckland (AKL) – Shanghai (PVG) on Air New Zealand Economy & Business Class
- Shanghai (PVG) – Seoul (ICN) – Jakarta (CGK) on Asiana Business Class
- Jakarta (CGK) – Abu Dhabi (AUH) on Etihad Business Class
- Abu Dhabi (AUH) – London (LHR) – Brussels (BRU) on Etihad First Class & British Airways Business Class
CDG-DOH-DPS on Qatar Airways First & Business Class
Believe it or not but this was actually the hardest flight to book of the entire trip as my first goal was to fly Cathay Pacific (CX) business class from Europe to Bali, but I just couldn’t find any award availability on the CX inventory, it drove me nuts! So eventually I settled for Qatar as they offer a lot of flights from many European airports to Southeast Asia. Now it turned out even Qatar was hard to book… I looked up availability through the site of British Airways and found flights flying out of Brussels, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, London, Manchester and Munich.
I wrote down all kinds of possible scenarios on paper and then called American Airlines as I would be using AA miles to book this award ticket. First I tried to call the AA Platinum Desk in the US, but the waiting time was way too long to hold, even though I was calling with Skype and it cost me next to nothing to make the call. Eventually I resorted to calling the AA centre in the UK and was lucky enough to get a guy on the phone that was really helpful.
As soon as I started telling him the first scenario to fly from Brussels, he told me straight away he couldn’t see any availability even though I saw available seats on BA.com… “OK, no worries, how about the flight from Dusseldorf or Frankfurt?”, “I’m very sorry sir, but I can’t find any available seats on those flights either…”, “Crap!”.
Luckily the guy knew what I was after and after running through 75% of all scenarios I had written down, he offered to search himself in their system for any Qatar awards leaving from European airports. Eventually he found a flight from Paris (CDG) to Doha (DOH) and then to Bali (DPS). “That will be 70.000 miles sir…”, “Euh what? I thought a business class award was 52.500 miles?” “Yes it sir, but the first leg will be in first class”, “Oh hmm…”, “Would you like me to put the award on hold for the next 5 days sir?”.
I was in a bit of a pickle about what to do, but then thinking about how long it took to finally find an award seat I just told him to go ahead and book it. I mean it’s not every day that you get to fly first class on an A380, so I wasn’t complaining, heck I was excited! The only downside was that this award flight took a bigger bite out of my stock of AA award miles than planned, oh well that was a problem I would tackle later on as there’s a solution for everything in life!
DPS-BKK-PER on Thai Airways Economy Class
Now the way I got these miles was actually pretty funny, as it cost me absolutely no money only some of my time. Years ago I registered myself for an online survey program which allowed me to save up miles for United Airlines. The only prerequisite was to have an address in the US… Well I reside in Belgium but I work for an American company so I registered my account with the address of our US office and then used a VPN connection to complete any of the surveys as the websites were smart enough to track your location.
This ticket came to 17.500 United miles, now bare in mind that every survey got me 50, 60 or 110 UA miles, so that’s an average of 73 miles per survey… Divide 17.500 by that number and you will end up with 240! You read that right, I filled out 240 surveys for this ticket and had to pay an additional 25,30 USD in taxes. How much time did it take me? Well surveys lasted anything between 5 and 20 minutes and were very easy to complete on the iPad. “Oh but you wasted a lot of time!” Euh maybe, but sitting on a bus, waiting on a train, taking a crap,… what are you gonna do in the meantime? Pick your nose? I’d rather fill out those surveys and earn some miles!
Flights will be on a 777-300 and a 787 Dreamliner from Thai Airways in economy and I have never flown them, so I’m kinda curious what it will be like. Hopefully I’ll be able to get an emergency exit seat on both flights.
PER-MEL-AKL on Qantas Business Class
The previous flights will see me land in Perth and from there I will need to continue my journey towards the Cook Islands. I was sitting on a big stash of AA miles and when using the OneWorld Route Mapper tool I noticed there was a possible route from Perth via Melbourne to Auckland with Qantas, which is a partner of American Airlines.
I logged into my AA account, started looking at options and to my surprise I found that I could fly PER-MEL-AKL in Qantas business class for only 17.500 American Airlines miles plus USD 74 in taxes. There was plenty of availability at the time of booking and even now at the time of writing (March 13th) there are plenty of open seats that can be booked.
For this ticket I didn’t have to make any calls as I was able to book it online through the AA website. The entire process is super easy and probably one of the easiest awards to book for this entire 3 week trip.
RAR-AKL-PVG on Air New Zealand Economy & Business Class
This route has to be one of the sweet spots on the award chart of the Lufthansa Miles & More loyalty program. I was actually surprised to find award availability on this part of the return trip which would see me fly from Rarotonga to Auckland and then onto Shanghai. One of the reasons I wanted to fly this specific route was that I would be able to get onboard the Air New Zealand plane, I don’t know what it is that attracts me but I love the color scheme of simple black and white with the fern as a logo.
I will fly economy class on Air New Zealand from the island of Rarotonga to Auckland where I will have a 17 hour layover, now this was done on purpose as it will give me the chance to explore the city of Auckland for a couple of hours while I put my luggage in holding at the airport. Afterwards return to the airport and then board another Air New Zealand flight, this time flying business class on a 787-9 Dreamliner in business class for 12,5 hours to Shanghai!
All in all this ticket set me back 52.000 Lufthansa miles plus an additional $ 67.40 in taxes, not bad for 2 flights of which one in business class for a long time. I mean compare this to some of the so called Miles & More Mileage Bargains that Lufthansa releases every month… Those allow you to book a flight from Brussels to New York for 55.000 miles plus a load of ridiculous taxes!
PVG-ICN-CGK on Asiana Business Class
So by now I will have made my way from the South Pacific to China but I would still need to get home in some way, well hence this award. I still had about 29.000 Lufthansa miles left in my account and looked for ways to get from Shanghai to Jakarta, again I resorted to the Meilenrechner site of Lufthansa and found out there was a possible route from Shanghai to Seoul and then to Jakarta.
The Lufthansa site didn’t work with me when it came to looking for award space so I started searching on the United website, which is a great tool for finding Star Alliance award space. Even now the award availability on that route is still wide open. Now as you can see the United site will show you that you require 40.000 miles when booking this award, but remember I didn’t want to book these flights with United miles but with Lufthansa miles for which the award chart shows 35.000 miles.
But hang on a second, you only have 29.000 in your account! Shit! Now what? No way I was gonna get those miles soon enough on credit card spending, as that would that 4000 Euros in order to get 6000 Lufthansa miles… Do a mileage run then? Nah not an option either, but I then remembered that SPG has a 1:1 conversion rate when transferring hotel points to miles. Ok, so I went ahead and bought 6000 Starpoints for $ 175 and instantly transferred those into M&M account, bingo I now had enough miles to book the award!
Hmm the award wasn’t bookable online on the Lufthansa site, I saw availability on the United website and the actual flights are with Asiana airlines… Are you still with me? I wrote down the flight numbers, dates, times and my preferred seats and called the Lufthansa reservations in the US, again so easy when you have a Skype subscription. Why call the people in the US again? Well for a couple of reasons, first of all the call to the US is cheaper than calling their service in Brussels where you automatically get disconnected after 10 minutes, people are more friendly it seems at the US office (at least that was my experience) and they have better skills when it comes to searching for award tickets.
Luck was on my side as I got the flights I wanted and the seats as well, 2 times I will be seated in seat 2K. The first flight on Asiana will be on a 777-200 and the second flight is on an A330-300. Like with Air New Zealand, I have never flown on Asiana so it will be quite a trip (I hope).
CGK-AUH on Etihad Business Class
I was short on miles in order to book the award ticket from Jakarta to Abu Dhabi on Etihad’s business class, so I had originally planned a mileage run from Amsterdam via the USA to Sao Paolo and back through the US towards Brussels. But I had to cancel this trip as my dad passed away unexpectedly the day prior to flying out.
So I had to look for other ways to get the required miles, but as I didn’t have enough vacation days anymore and the tickets for a couple of mileage runs were getting too expensive due to the base fares increasing to crazy rates, I resorted to buying AA miles for this ticket.
It probably wasn’t as cheap as doing the mileage run to Brazil, but it sure was way easier and I didn’t need to spend 3 days on planes in order to get the miles. The only thing I needed to do was purchase the miles online and I got lucky that there was a promotion going on which got me an additional 7.000 miles on top of the 20.000 miles that I purchased. After the purchase I had sufficient miles in my AA account in order to book the Etihad Guest award from CGK to AUH in business class.
Unfortunately flights with their 777 aircraft are longer on the schedule, but they will be using an A320 aircraft, so I’m curious what the business class will be like on that plane.
AUH-LHR-BRU on Etihad First Class Apartment & British Airways Business Class
This is the flight I’m looking forward to most of all, even more than the flight on Qatar Airways A380 in first class. A flight on board the Etihad A380 and being seated in the highly praised First Class Apartments, flying from Abu Dhabi to London Heathrow! What a way this will be to end my birthday trip…
While this is one of the most prestigious award flights to book, it’s actually also one of the easiest award tickets to get a hold off. It’s very easy to check for availability of Etihad Guest Rewards on the Etihad website as these can be booked with AA miles. And prior to the changes in the AA award charts, this flight from AUH to LHR with a connecting flight on British Airways in business class will only set me back 40.000 AA miles and 85 Euros in taxes! A real steal if you ask me for the first class product you get to fly in return.
If you want to learn more on how to book Etihad awards with American Airlines miles, please have a look at the article I wrote for InsideFlyer.NL which explains the entire process and even though the article is in Dutch, it can be easily translated if you use the Chrome browser. Just browse to the page, wait till the loading is completed and then right click on the page and select the option to translate to English.
Time to do some numbers as I will show you a complete cost breakdown of what I paid, both in money and miles for all of the above mentioned award flights. You will come to the conclusion that although the total cost might be expensive, compared to the price of all the tickets if they would have purchased as revenue tickets, it’s only a fraction of the cost if you see what I get in return for it with flights in economy, business and even twice in first class.
Here’s an overview of how I earned most of the miles for this upcoming trip:
- The cost of the Honolulu mileage run was 416 Euros and it got me 36.048 AA miles.
- The insane 7 day mileage run cost me 1268 Euros for which I received 80.100 AA miles.
- As I was running low on miles in my AA account, I purchased 27.000 AA miles for 539 Euros.
- I still had some leftover AA miles from the previous year, which were 14352 miles.
- Lufthansa miles were all made through creditcard expenses, except 6000 SPG points for $ 175 (155 Euros)
- United miles only cost me time
What follows is an insight of what all of the booked award tickets cost me:
- Qatar Airways First & Business class ==> 70.000 AA miles + $ 125 (111 Euros)
- Thai Airways Economy class ==> 17.500 UA miles + $ 25.50 (23 Euros)
- Qantas Business class ==> 17.500 AA miles + $ 74 (66 Euros)
- Air New Zealand Economy & Business class ==> 52.000 M&M miles + $ 67.40 (60 Euros)
- Asiana Business class ==> 35.000 M&M miles + $ 87 (77 Euros)
- Etihad Business class ==> 30.000 AA miles + 1,90 AUD (1,28 Euros)
- Etihad First & British Business class ==> 40.000 AA miles + 85 Euros
Total AA miles spend = 157.500
Total M&M miles spend = 87.000
Total UA miles spend = 17.500
Total taxes paid = 423,28 Euros
So when you break all of the above mentioned numbers down into a spreadsheet, you’ll see that I spend 2378 Euros on getting most of the miles. What I haven’t put into the spreadsheet is the number of miles I still had left in my AA account from a trip prior to my 2 mileage runs at the end of the year, it was about 14.000 miles.
Now this is where it gets interesting, because at the time when I made every booking I looked up the price for a ticket on the exact same route, date and flight. The prices for a revenue ticket can be found in the Cost column and are shown in Euros.
So with some simple math, you can come to the conclusion that I saved 17.987,72 Euros!! Yes, you read that right, over 17.000 Euros on air fare which I didn’t pay. Are you starting to believe now that earning miles can save you money in the long run? You won’t hear me talk about “free” travel, but everything has its cost, but there are ways to travel cheaper, way cheaper!