Author: Miles Moneyball

2017: Chicago/Taipei Round Trip

2017: Chicago/Taipei Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Business Class Round Trip Chicago to Taipei on EVA Air + Business Class One Way Chicago to New York on United for 160K United MileagePlus Miles.

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MMB Analysis

  • Check out new route by EVA Air from its hub in Taipei to Chicago when award seat availability is good.
  • Travel time and comfort are of essence to enjoy a brisk vacation across the Pacific Ocean during the spring break week.
  • Take advantage of United’s free “open jaw” flight on international award booking. It’s called open jaw because this US to Asia trip starts in Chicago and ends in New York. United sees Chicago as a stopover city en route from Taipei to New York. The Chicago stopover lasts from April to August, leading to our mini-vacation to New York in August with outbound flight already covered by this redemption.
  • Trip Report in Chinese (游记)

How will it work out today

The same 160K rate applies. Free open jaw flight no longer allowed.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Taipei 7457
Taipei Chicago 7457
Chicago New York LaGuardia  734
Total 15648
2017: Chicago/Shanghai Round Trip

2017: Chicago/Shanghai Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Business Class one way outbound, First Class inbound, on Japan Airlines for 55K + 67.5K American Airlines AAdvantage miles

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MMB Analysis

  • The trip was booked just prior to AA devaluation in 2016.
  • AAdvantage account owners can redeem AA miles on Japan Airlines up to 330 days before departure. Availability is usually good on the first day (i.e., 330 days ahead). It will dry out after initial release and won’t open up again until a week or two before departure, if ever. As with other carriers, it pays to plan early.

How will it work out today

American Airlines have devalued their award chart in 2016. The same trip would have cost 70K AA miles in business class and 110K in first class.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Tokyo 6275
Tokyo Shanghai 1119
Shanghai Tokyo 1119
Tokyo Chicago 6275
Total 14786

MMB Highlights

Japan Airlines served Tokyo to Chicago route with Boeing 777-300 ER with three-class configuration, 4 seats per row in first class and 7 abreast in business class, both lie-flat. Japan Airlines feature meal-on-demand in premium classes, – one can order from the menu anytime during the flight. Our younger son is a big fan of Japanese noodle. After he requested his fourth bowl, on top of regularly served meals, concerned flight attendant politely asked “Are you sure you can finish this?”. I don’t blame him. Udon noodles in seafood soup did wonder to dispel fatigue on trans-Pacific flights!

After visiting Japan Airlines’ Sakura Lounge for business class passengers a couple of times, we had a chance to tour its First Class Lounge at Terminal 2. These two lounges were situated next to each other. Through a inconspicuous door, First Class passengers can walk to the upper level of Sakura Lounge and get any service offered there. Despite its smaller size, I noticed that all the food choices found in Sakura were also present at First Class Lounge. In addition, First Class featured a beer machine and a made-to-order Sushi station.

Beer machine at Japan Airlines First Class Lounge

Meals served on first class flight were all recognized by chefs’ names. I went for Western style by “BEDD”.

Champion served on Japan Airlines first class

Main Entree: Wagyu beef

 

2016: Chicago to Manchester, Amsterdam to Chicago

2016: Chicago to Manchester, Amsterdam to Chicago

Trip Synopsis

Business Class one way Chicago to Manchester, via New York, on Delta, Economy Class one way Amsterdam to London on KLM, London to Chicago on Virgin Atlantic for 90K Delta SkyMiles

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MMB Analysis

  • Delta is the only domestic “Big Four” without a hub presence in Chicago. Flying non-stop between Chicago and Europe will have to involve Delta’s partner. I found it in Virgin Atlantic on the return trip.
  • Delta has withdrawn award chart publicly, making it difficult to plan and budget miles needed for redemption. I did not have enough SkyMiles to book round trip in business but figured it’s worthwhile to exhaust my balance on a mixed cabin itinerary.
  • It’s best to redeem SkyMiles in round trip to Europe as they charge $200+ in fees for one way Europe to the US. The fee goes down to $50 for round trip award tickets.

How will it work out today

Delta devalued Europe award chart early 2017 without warning. One way business will cost 70K.

Trip Metrics

From To Distance (Miles)
Chicago New York 741
New York Manchester 3341
Amsterdam London 231
London Chicago 3953
Total 8265

MMB Highlights

Delta One

Our outbound flight on Delta One (aka Business Class) gave us privilege to access Delta Airlines Sky Club at New York JFK airport.

The lounge compared favorably to other domestic airlines’ lounges at their hubs, including American Airlines Admiral Club at ORD, MIA, and DFW, or United Club at ORD, for example. Seats were plenty and dining area spacious.

Sky Club entrance
Sky Club entrance

 

I found the food and drink choices decent, too.

I particularly liked the outdoor terrace and glass window corner of the lounge for plane spotting.

In contrast, food served on trans-Atlantic Delta One was definitely underwhelming, compared to those served on Asian premier carriers. Mustard-Crusted Tuna fell on the dry side, so was the lamb chop.

Tumi amenity box was provided on the flight.

2015: Chicago to Barcelona, Madrid to Chicago

2015: Chicago to Barcelona, Madrid to Chicago

Trip Synopsis

Economy Class One Way Chicago to Barcelona for 20K American Airlines AAdvantage Miles + Business Class One Way Madrid to Chicago for 40K British Avios, both on Iberia Airlines

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MMB Analysis

  • This was my first time redeeming points on OneWorld Alliance member Iberia.
  • Revenue tickets during Christmas/New Year week are usually pricey. Almost all trans-Atlantic fare sales exclude this winter break time. Award tickets are also in demand, often requiring planning ahead. In this case, it was 11 months ahead.
  • As I pointed out before, when it comes down to fees and surcharges, not all airlines’ frequent flyer programs are created equal. This booking illustrated the vast difference in fees and carrier surcharges even though the entire award trip was carried by the same airline, Iberia in this case. On the outbound redemption using AAdvantage miles under American Airlines’ rules, I paid $108 in fees in addition to miles. Inbound trip was governed by British Airlines rules using British Airways Avios. BA assessed $202 in economy and $272 in business class from Madrid to Chicago.
  • Almost without exception, redeeming on long-haul business class produces the best point value. Round trip business class tickets to Europe hover around $5000, pinning one way business class ticket value of easily above $1500. Evan with high carrier-imposed fees, 40K Avios saved at least $1200, or three cents/Avios.

How will it work out today

Both American Airlines and British Airways have devalued their award chart. For AA, end of year travel to Europe is considered “peak” travel time that requires 30K AAdvantage miles one way in economy. Similarly, BA has also split its redemption chart into “peak” and “non-peak” rates. Beginning of the year falls under “peak” and for distance between 4000 to 5500 miles as Madrid to Chicago measures, one way economy costs 25K Avios and business a whopping 75K!

Trip Metrics

From To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Madrid 4202
Madrid Barcelona 301
Madrid Chicago 4202
Total 8704

MMB Highlights

Iberia Airlines

The mediocre rating of Iberia Airlines worked to mute my expectation for a new airline, even for its business class product, prior to the trip. Because of this, I was pleasantly surprised by the hardware and service offered on Iberia.

1-2-1 lie-flat seat configuration on A330 proved to be very comfortable. Food choices were pretty impressive, too.

I missed the pitted olives, better than any olives I had on land.

Sea bass main entree

Free hotel stay at Madrid

 

 

2015: Shanghai to Chicago to Philadelphia

2015: Shanghai to Chicago to Philadelphia

Trip Synopsis

First Class one way Shanghai to Chicago to Philadelphia on American Airlines for  67.5K American Airlines AAdvantage Miles

 

MMB Analysis

  • My first long-haul first class redemption
  • I threw a freebee Chicago to Philadelphia segment for the same amount of miles required for China to North America redemption. I was hoping to be bumped but the flight was not oversold. I approached AA ticket counter at O’Hare and canceled the segment.
  • Great redemption value prior to AA depreciation. This is the return trip from Shanghai. The outbound trip was covered in full trip report.

How will it work out today

American Airlines have devalued their award chart in 2016. The same trip would have cost 110K AA miles now.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Shanghai Chicago 7058
Chicago Philadelphia 679
Total 7736

 

2015: Chicago to Shanghai

2015: Chicago to Shanghai

Trip Synopsis

Business Class one-way Chicago to Shanghai on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines for 55K American Advantage Miles

MMB Analysis

  • My first long-haul business class redemption
  • Totally excited by the opportunity to experience two Asia-based premier airlines, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, and lounges at their hubs. See full trip report.

How will it work out today

American Airlines have devalued their award chart in 2016. The same trip would have cost 70K AA miles now.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Hong Kong 7794
Hong Kong Tokyo 1842
Tokyo Shanghai 1118
Total 10754

 

2015: Chicago/Liberia, Costa Rica Round Trip

2015: Chicago/Liberia, Costa Rica Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Round Trip Economy Class Chicago to Liberia, Costa Rica + One Way Chicago to San Francisco, all on United Airlines, for 35K (28K) United Airlines MileagePlus Miles

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MMB analysis

  • United allowed open jaw (depart from/return to different cities) and stopover (stop over 24 hours) in international award. This itinerary was seen as an open jaw at origin (Chicago to Costa Rica, then return to San Francisco) with a (seven-month-long) stop over at Chicago on the way back. In practice, we completed a spring break vacation in Costa Rica with a free one way to San Francisco during our fall break.
  • I ended up finding a one way San Francisco to Chicago for $64 on American Airlines and hopped on a four-day fall break to San Francisco.

How will it work out today

  • United eliminated stopover allowance in 2016. A freebie to San Francisco is no longer possible.

Trip Metrics

From To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Tampa 1012
Tampa Houston 788
Houston Liberia 1476
Liberia Chicago 2166
Chicago San Francisco 1846
Total 7287

MMB Highlights

Can you believe this? It was snowing on our day of departure in late March and our flight from Chicago to Houston was delayed by weather-related repercussions! We were stranded at O’Hare Airport from early morning through late evening and had to make one more stop at Tampa before heading to Houston. Our week-long spring break vacation shrank by one day.

Later on, after complaining to United, each of us received 7000 MileagePlus miles for the inconvenience. I would rather have one more day to spend at Costa Rica for sure.

2014: Chicago/Washington D.C. Round Trip

2014: Chicago/Washington D.C. Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Round trip Economy Class Chicago to Washington D.C. on American Airlines for 9K British Airways Avios

MMB analysis

Redeeming British Airways Avios on domestic short haul on American Airlines often results in excellent values. BA used to charge 4500 Avios for flights less than 650 miles. Assuming a regular revenue ticket of $200 between the two cities, this redemption yields better than two cents/Avio.

How will it work out today

British Airways has rolled up 650 miles and under to 1150 miles range and charge 7500 miles instead for US domestic tickets, although the ultra short distance is still available outside of the US.

Trip Metrics

From To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Washington, D.C 612
Washington, D.C. Chicago 612
Total 1224

MMB Highlights

  • American Airlines Admirals Club lounges

I turned serious at travel hacking in 2014. Don’t take my words for it, I have my $450 annual fee Citi American Airlines Executive World Elite MasterCard that I obtained that year to prove, the most expensive card in my possession ever. It was an extraordinary offer when it was rolled out: an unprecedented 100,000 AA Advantage Miles for a whopping $10,000 in spending! I will not go into details how the spending requirement was satisfied but one of my teeth answered the call with a crack that resulted in dental implementation. Anyone who had been through or teetered on that procedure would know the rest.

Besides generous points offering, the card also came with $200 statement credit on travel (read: annual fee reduced to $250) and American Airlines Admirals Club membership, with lounge admission privilege extended to card holder’s family. Taking American Airlines flights between Chicago and Washington Reagan airports, both with Admirals Club presence, fed into the travel plan.

American Airlines Admirals Club entrance between Concourses H and K

Elevator the AC

Snack and drink (sorry, real food not included)

Shower facility at Chicago AC

A couple of hours later, we visited another Admirals Club at Washing Reagan airport.

Compared to Chicago, Reagan airport lounge was noticeably smaller with less patronage.

The card has faded in many travel hackers’ radar after it removed perhaps the best benefit associated with its ownership: last night free for any award booking of two or more days at Club Carlson hotels, which include Radisson Blu, Radisson RED, Radisson, Park Plaza, Park Inn, and Country Inns & Suites. Our weekender involved only two nights, yielding the best award redemption value.

Card holders also receive Carlson Gold Elite status, eligible for room upgrade. At Country Inn & Suites at BWI Airport, we were lucky to have actually received King Suite upgrade. Total cost: 28,000 Gold Points for two nights. The signup bonus of this card alone, 85,000 Gold Points, was nearly enough to pay for this stay three times.

With free flights and free hotel stays, we enjoyed our meetup with friends who we hadn’t seen for over 10 years at L.P. Steamers, Baltimore’s premier place for steamed blue crabs. Blue crab season run from April through November. Crabs were meaty, I can assure you, during our visit in late August.

Beer and crab on the deck at L.P. Steamers.

We liked the crabs so much that we feasted in our upgraded room for a second time the next day.

2014: Chicago/South Carolina Round Trip

2014: Chicago/South Carolina Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Economy Class round trip for two Chicago to South Carolina on Southwest for 13K Southwest RapidRewards Miles

MMB Analysis

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards points are priced at fixed value of 1.5 cents/point. The greatest benefits of redeeming RR points is at its flexibility. If you cancel a revenue ticket, Southwest refunds in the form of voucher that expires in one year from ticket date. If the ticket is paid for by points, you will receive all the points back without any penalty. This makes Southwest RR points the best venue for speculative booking when you are not sure about the trip, all the way through 10 minutes before the flight! Meanwhile if you find lower price, simply cancel/rebook or modify existing reservation. You can’t beat that with any other airlines!
  • With this flight, I also took advantage of Southwest’s Companion pass earned through Chase Rapid Reward visa cards. With Companion pass, you pay for one ticket, with points if you wish, and receive second ticket for free.

Trip Metrics

From To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Greensville 562
Charleston Chicago 745
Total 1307
2013: CHICAGO/Toronto Round Trip

2013: CHICAGO/Toronto Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Round Trip Economy Class Chicago to Toronto on American Airlines for 9000 British Airways Avios

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MMB analysis

  • British Airways charges 4500 Avios for under 650 miles redemption
  • There is no round trip figure in BA award chart. A round trip is calculated as two one-ways.

How will it work out today

  • British Airways eliminated 650-mile award bracket in North America. The same flight would cost 7500 Avios each way, like other under 1150 miles redemption.
  • American Airlines have become very stingy in releasing domestic award seats. Flights like this are considered rare find, let alone between Christmas and New Year.

Trip Metrics

From To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Toronto 437
Toronto Chicago 437
Total 874