Tag: American Airlines

These three cards alone can earn you enough miles to fly anywhere in the world in business class

These three cards alone can earn you enough miles to fly anywhere in the world in business class

American Airlines is unique among air companies in that it has made co-branding agreements with two banks: Citi and Barclays. As a result, you can apply for credit cards with both banks and combine the signup bonus into your AAdvantage account. And it so happens that both banks have their highest public offers available right now. If you follow the plan laid out below, you can collect 180,000 AAdvantage miles in signup bonus, enough for round trip travel to anywhere in the world in business class.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Citi(R) / AAdvantage(R) Platinum Select(R) World Elite(TM) Mastercard(R) - Citi's Best Airline Credit Card with American Airlines AAdvantage(R) miles

  • 60K AAdvantage miles after making $3000 in purchase within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Preferred boarding, up to four on the same ticket, on domestic AA flights
  • First checked bag fee waived
  • Double miles on American Airlines purchases
  • Reduced mileage awards
  • Receive 10% in miles back when redeeming miles for flights, up to 10K per year
  • Annual fee of $95, waived for the first year

Besides earning one-time bonus offer, one of the noticeable features is free checked bag and priority boarding on domestic American Airlines flights. With Delta, United, and American all broadening their reach in Basic Economy fare, card holders can dip into the lowest fare without having to be constrained by the lack of carry-on privilege. You can just check in your bag instead. I personally also find 10% miles back beneficial. If you maximize your rebate (ie, redeem 100K miles on award tickets), 10K AA miles saved more than pays for the annual fee.

60K sign up bonus is the highest I have seen for the public. Apply yours here. It’s important to note that Citi bank has a 24-month window policy. If you have opened or closed any AAdvantage-earning Citi card within the past 24 months, you might be approved for the card but NOT be given the sign up bonus.

Barclay’s AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

AAdvantage Aviator Red

  • 60K AAdvantage miles after making a purchase within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Preferred boarding, up to four on the same ticket, on domestic AA flights
  • First checked bag fee waived
  • Double miles on American Airlines purchases
  • Reduced mileage awards
  • Receive 10% in miles back when redeeming miles for flights, up to 10K per year
  • Annual fee of $95, NOT waived for the first year

As  you can see, the terms are almost identical to Cit’s Platinum Select card. The biggest difference is with Barclay, annual fee is assessed before the first statement is cut, but sign up bonus is awarded with just one purchase in any amount. Follow the link to apply.

Since Citi and Barclay are different banks, applying for one does not affect the other, besides usual new credit pull on your credit report.

CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

Please note, this the business version of the Platinum Select personal card discussed above. I argued in my previous post that business card is not necessarily limited to profitable business owners.

  • 60K AAdvantage miles after making $3000 in purchase within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Preferred boarding, up to four on the same ticket, on domestic AA flights
  • First checked bag fee waived
  • Double miles on American Airlines purchases
  • Reduced mileage awards
  • $99 Companion fare, good for domestic flight only, after $30,000 spending in a year
  • Annual fee of $95, waived for the first year

There is not much meaningful difference between the business and personal cards. I don’t value $99 companion ticket that much as I may not have a chance to use it.

Here’s the link.

Three AAdvantage-earning cards offering maximum sign up bonus miles at the same time is not common. This will be a quick way to accumulate sizable amount of American Airlines miles. Even though AA domestic award seat is very limited, their OneWorld partners still offer reasonable redemption choices.

Following American Airlines’ award chart, from the US, the most expensive region for award redemption, South Pacific, costs 80K AAdvantage miles one way in business class. The sign up bonus from these three cards will take you anywhere in the world American Airlines or its OneWorld partners fly.

Are you interested in applying for these cards?

My venture into Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

My venture into Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

The Planning

Let’s face it, branching into a new frequent flyer program is both exciting and unsettling, even for a seasoned travel hacker. Generally speaking, I will look into these factors before committing to a new program:

  • Be in a position or have a plan to acquire big trunks of miles meaningful for redemption. Different travelers may have different views on what’s considered minimum. For me, I would set the bar at 100K at the minimum, preferably 200K. Why? At current rate, depending on the airline program, it will cost anywhere from 50K to 90K for a one-way long haul premium class redemption from the US, where the jewel of award travel belies. Too small a balance often means limited travel options and wasted small balance post redemption.
  • Have plausible travel itinerary in mind using the miles before expiration. Almost all frequent flyer miles programs enforce some form of expiration policy from as short as 18 months to a few years. Some set “soft” expiration dates, ie, life of program miles can be extended with some activity. Others are “hard” ones, miles expire regardless of activities in the program.
  • Ideally, the program either does not charge the notorious fuel surcharge (hello British Airways) or keeps it to reasonable nominal amount.

Both my wife and I had previously signed up for Citi Preferred and Citi Prestige cards. Each card earned us 50K ThankYou points. As we closed these accounts with annual fees were due, I was searching for a new home among TY transfer partners for our 200K+ TY points before we closed out the last account. You will need one of the premium accounts open in order to transfer to partners. I was debating between Singapore’s KrisFlyer and KLM/Air France’s Flying Blue. Both have their standout merits but neither is ideal. KrisFlyer is the only way to gain access to the premium cabins of the topnotch airline, including Singapore Airline’s famous first-class suite (the “Apartment” as it is known), an ultimately thrilling experience treasured by many. Yet, Singapore Airline does not serve my home city of Chicago. Staging a flight to JFK, SFO, or LAX, though possible, costs time, a rare commodity in my world predominantly defined by kid’s school schedule. When I looked at Flying Blue, both Air France and KLM serve Chicago, making it possible to hop on SkyTeam’s global network without a transfer. But Flying Blue charge relatively high fuel surcharges and, for 62500 miles, the award rate for my most likely trip to Europe in business class is not particularly attractive. I was hoping Citi would offer transfer bonus to either one of the programs that would help settle my dilemma, before I had to close our last Prestige account by October when another year of annual fee would be assessed.

Well, my patience paid off, sort of. In early August, Citi announce a 20% transfer bonus to, … Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program. Given only two months left before $450 annual fee from Prestige were to appear on my bill and I did not plan to renew for another year (hindsight speaking, I actually renewed Prestige for another year due to promotional offers, but I had no regret for this act), this could well be my last chance to get some bonus miles from TY points. I had to ask myself, is 20% extra Asia Miles the tipping point compared to Flying Blue or KrisFlyer?

My homework on Asia Miles’ award program quickly turned up two award charts, one for Cathay’s partners and the other exclusively for OneWorld carriers. Cathay Pacific has formed wide partner network outside of OneWorld alliance, which even includes Star Alliance’s cornerstone carrier Lufthansa and its affiliates of Austrian Airlines and Swiss International, as well as Air China and Air New Zealand, both of Star Alliance. Here’s award chart for its partners:

Asia Miles’ distanced award chart for its flights operated by one of its partners or one partner plus Cathay Pacific

My decision to go for Asia Miles in large part was due to my anticipated redemption from Chicago to Shanghai, my second home town. The direct route between Chicago and Shanghai, served only by American Airlines among Asia Miles’ partners, is 7058 miles. I can also afford to make a stop at Tokyo via Japan Airlines, for a one-way distance of 7393 miles. In both cases, Zone D rate applies and round trip business class costs 120K, slight ahead of American Airlines’ 140K. However, if Cathay Pacific is involved, Chicago-Hong Kong-Shanghai segments add up to 8573 miles, bumping up the total to 145K miles, slightly worse than AA’s 140K. Yet, taking into account 20% transfer bonus, I am looking at either 100K Citi ThankYou points on AA or JAL, or 121K TY points on CX for a round trip home, pretty attractive redemption in my view. And I have no doubt being able to exercise redemption within three years before miles expire.

I also studied Asia Miles’ OneWorld award chart, below, and concluded that I could not do better than 120K AM miles for a round trip in business class to Shanghai, the least expensive option under partner chart above. Regardless, I already found the winning formula and decided to initiate transfer from Citi TY to Cathay Pacific AM.

OneWorld rate applies when two or more OneWrold carriers without Cathay, or three or more OneWorld carriers including Cathay are involved in a round trip ticket

Execution of Transfer

Once I logged in to my Citi ThankYou page, the partner transfer option was available online. I chose to start with a small transfer twenty days before the transfer bonus deadline, to validate the process.

Citi ThankYou points 20% bonus transfer to Asia Miles

Within two days, 20,400 miles were posted to my Asia Miles account. Everything looked good. A few days later, I transferred my entire TY point balance to bring my total AM balance to close to 300K.

More sweetspots

Just like owning a stock piques one’s interest in that company’s news, having miles in the program entices my appetite for better ways of redeeming my hard-earned miles.

If you live on the west coast, particularly close to a gateway city, 120K can get you to many places in China/Asia in business class round trip. For example:

  • San Francisco to most of China for 120K on Air China
  • Los Angeles to eastern China for 120K on Japan Airlines
  • Vancouver to southeast Asia for 120K on Cathay Pacific
  • Western US to Shanghai for 120K on American Airlines
Trip Cathay Partner Airlines Route Distance Zone AM Miles (Round trip business)
San Francisco/Urumqi Air China SFO-PEK-URC 7428 D 120K
Los Angeles/Chongqing Japan Airlines LAX-NRT-CKG 7450 D 120K
Vancouver/Bangkok Cathay Pacifc YVR-HKG-BKK 7442 D 120K
Phoenix/Shanghai American Airlines PHX-LAX-PVG 6856 D 120K

Evan if you are located on the east coast, distance-based AM chart may not come in your favor in terms of mileage requirements, you can still be rewarded with choice of airlines that include Qatar, Iberia, Finn Air, and, if hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges does not faze you, British Airways.

  • Eastern US to Hong Kong and beyond for 145K on American and Cathay
  • Washington to Beijing for 145K on Iberia
  • New York to Guangzhou for 145K on Finn Air
  • Boston to Chongqing for 145K on Qatar
  • Miami to Chengdu for 145K on British Airways
Trip Cathay Partner Airlines Route Distance Zone AM Miles (Round trip business)
Pittsburgh/Kuala Lumpur American + Cathay Pacific PIT-JFK-HKG-KUL 9987 E 145K
Washington/Beijing Iberia IAD-MAD-PEK 9550 E 145K
New York/Guangzhou Finn Air JFK-HEL-CAN 8893 E 145K
Boston/Chongqing Qatar Airways BOS-DOH-CKG 9880 E 145K
Miami/Chengdu British Airways MIA-LHR-CTU 9595 E 145K

As you can see, Asia Miles program does a nice job either supplementing OneWorld routes beyond those available on American Airlines or saving miles outright compared to AAdvantage. Since AA often offers very few, if any, award space on its own flights, success in OneWorld redemption increasingly hinges on partner availability. Asia Miles does just that, opening another door when AA’s is shut.

What happens if you push the envelope further?

As usual, I like to start off with comparing Asia Miles to its OneWorld cousin, AAdvantage. As far as I am concerned, AAdvantage award rule is cut and dry. To go from point A to point B, you look up which regions they belong to, and apply the rate between the two regions. You can’t construct complicated routing other than maximizing transit time of up to 24 hours to explore the stops in between. Asia Miles, on the other hand, allows two stopovers (stops over 24 hours), two transfers (stops less than 24 hours) or one open-jaw (gap in itinerary instead of all connected dots). In each of the examples above, you may opt to spend a few days en route, whether it’s US gateway cities of San Francisco or Los Angeles, transfer hubs of Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Doha, London, Helsinki or Madrid, the choice is yours! Does anyone object to visiting two places in one award ticket without extra flight cost? And since we’re talking about business class tickets, how do you feel about checking out airport lounges at each airlines’ main hubs?

If you still manage to feel hum hum about Asia Miles, let me show you a few more examples, this time, utilizing its OneWorld redemption chart. In a truly industry-leading fashion, Asia Miles OneWorld redemption permits five stopovers, AND two transfers, AND two open-jaws. The only downside? You are required to fly a minimum (note, NOT maximum) of two OneWorld airlines not counting Cathay Pacific.

Asia and Oceania

map

  • Chicago to Tokyo on American Airlines or Japan Airlines (6275 miles)
  • Tour Japan using land based transportation (stopover 1)
  • Tokyo to Hong Kong on Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific (1842)
  • Tour Hong Kong (stopover 2)
  • Hong Kong to Brisbane on Cathay Pacific (4306)
  • Tour Australia using land based transportation (open-jaw 1)
  • Sydney to Los Angeles on Qantas or American Airlines (7488)
  • Los Angeles to Chicago on whatever (open-jaw 2)

Total flying distance, 19,910 miles, fits into Zone 10 in AM OW chart, giving this all business-class trip a price tag of 140K Asia Miles. And we still have three more stopovers and two transfers to give. Remember, it will cost 140K in AAdvantage miles to go to Hong Kong alone!

Africa and South America

map

  • Chicago to Miami on American Airlines (1197 miles)
  • Transfer at Miami (transfer 1) or tour Miami
  • Miami to Sao Paulo on LATAM or American Airlines (4073)
  • Explore Brazil on land from Sao Paulo (stopover 1)
  • Sao Paulo to Johannesburg on LATAM (4631)
  • Explore safaris from Johannesburg, followed by land or air transportation to Cape Town. Explore Cape Town (open-jaw 1)
  • Cape Town to London on British Airways (5995)
  • Tour London or Europe on land or by low cost air (stopover 2)
  • London to Chicago on American Airlines (preferred due to low fuel charge) or British Airways (3953)

Total fly distance 19,848 miles, good for Zone 10 rate of 140K in business class. Try to do that in AAdvantage!

Asia and Europe on new airplances

If sampling new airplanes or highly ranked airlines is your cup of tea, consider including Doha in your itinerary, home of award-winning Qatar Airways that equips multiple routes with Airbus A380, Boeing Dreamliner B787, or Airbus A350.

map

  • Chicago to Shanghai on American Airlines (7068 miles, B787)
  • Tour Shanghai (stopover 1)
  • Shanghai to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon (779 miles)
  • Tour Hong Kong (stopover 2)
  • Hong Kong to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific (1050, A350)
  • Tour Bangkok (stopover 3)
  • Bangkok to Doha on Qatar Airways (3285, A380)
  • Transit at Doha (transfer 2)
  • Doha to Venice (or Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna and many other European cities) on Qatar Airways (2488, A350)
  • Vienna to London on British Airways (795)
  • Tour London (stopover 4)
  • London to Chicago (3953) on American (B787) or British Airways (B747)

With this itinerary, you have a chance to visit three charming Asian cities of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, as well as European double-header of Vienna and London, sit in front of modern aircrafts in style, and still only have to pay 140K in Asia Miles for your flights!

How can you earn Asia Miles?

Besides flying on Cathay Pacific or crediting your partner flight credits to AM, you can obtain 150K Asia Miles rather quickly with no more than three credit cards offers. Remember Asia Miles is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and SPG Starpoints programs. For example, you can apply for these cards and be on your way to book some of the exciting trips I mentioned earlier after completing signup bonus requirements.

  • American Express Platinum card (often comes with 70K or even 100K offers)
  • American Express SPG card (usually 25K but occassionally 35K)
  • Citi Prestige or Preferred card (50K currently)
  • Synchrony Cathay Pacific card (50K currently)

Are you becoming interested in Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles?

 

 

2017: Chicago Albuquerque Round Trip

2017: Chicago Albuquerque Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Economy Class Round Trip Chicago to Albuquerque, NM, on American Airlines for 15K British Avios.

map

MMB Analysis

  • British Airways’ award chart is distance-based, great for short haul redemption on domestic AA flights. At a distance of 1118 miles, Chicago/Albuquerque falls just under Zone 2 of BA’s chart (up to 1150 miles) for 7500 Avios one way, a very affordable fall break proposition. The same trip would cost 25K in American Airlines AAdvantage miles. Revenue tickets easily exceed $300.
  • By default, when redeeming BA Avios on AA flights, the reservation is associated with your BA Executive Club account. To enjoy the benefits of credit card perks such as priority boarding and free checked bag afforded by Citi American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select or Barclay’s AAdvantage Aviator Red cards, remember to call AA to switch frequent flyer account to AAdvantage. If you have TSA Precheck saved to your AAdvantage account, this will also trigger TSA Precheck on your boarding pass. British Airway does not participate TSA Precheck as yet.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Albuquerque 1118
Albuquerque Chicago 1118
Total 2236

MMB Highlights

  • Although the focus of my award travel experience has been on flights, on the ground, hotel expenses could quickly add up with “free” trips. Fortunately, just like airlines, hotel loyalty programs from time to time offer irresistible deals that savvy travelers should not ignore. For this trip, I concentrated on a Wyndham Rewards promotion that gave bonus 7500 points for each stay booked online and paid for through MasterPass, up to two stays. I maximized the promotion by registering both myself and a family member and spent two stays each during the trip for a total of 30,000 Wyndham Rewards points. One nice feature about WR program is that any available room in their worldwide portfolio can be booked for 15,000 WR points, regardless of cash price. Chances are you will not redeem 15,000 points on an ordinary Howard Johnson or Days Inn, but if you aspire to visit tony Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel at Charleston during Memorial weekend, for example, a room there will knock you off with $409 per night, or 15,000 WR points. The MasterPass promotion is now over. Wyndham has replaced it with a less attractive but still decent offer of 15,000 points for three stays by 2/18/2018.

  • If our fall break is a little longer, I would go after another low-hanging fruit in Marriott’s MegaBonus promotion. Similar to Wyndham, two stays at Marriott hotels qualifies for one free night in category 1-5 hotels. You have to register before Nove 30, 2017. Granted, more and more Marriott hotels are drifting above category 5, damping my enthusiasm not so slightly. but you can still find decent hotels if you plan ahead.
  • Timing could not be better for discussing the value of Marriott free-night certificate as I redeemed one such certificate right on this trip at Residence Inn Santa Fe, a Category 4 Marriott hotel, earned through Marriott Rewards Premier card issued by Chase. Annual free night certificate that comes with the card more than offsets its annual fee of $85, making this card a keeper in my portfolio. Currently, Chase runs an all-time-high public offer of 80K Marriott Rewards points, plus an additional 7500 points for adding the first authorized user, after $3000 spending within three months of account opening. You don’t have to apply through my link to receive the best public offer, but if you do, I will receive a referral bonus and would appreciate your support of my efforts in sharing good deals such as this with you.

Marriott Rewards(Registered Trademark) Premier credit card

  • We stayed at Residence Inn at Santa Fe for two nights. The second night was also free, courtesy of Hotels.com’s stay-ten-nights-get-one-night-free ongoing offer. Unless you choose to book with chain hotels directly for status chasing or loyalty promotions (such as Wyndham Rewards promotion mentioned above), for other generic bookings, it often pays to book through hotels.com, an online travel agency, to collect the equivalence of its own loyalty benefits. To top it off, go through a portal such as TopCashBack.com to hotels.com, TCB will return another 5-6% of your pretax charge a few weeks after your hotel stay.
  • Not all the nights at New Mexico were either free (Marriott) or directly responding to free hotel stay offers (Wyndham). Hotels at Santa Fe are noticeably more expensive than in Albuquerque so one of nights we found ourselves settled at its suburb at Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder, a resort style hotel 15 miles north of the city. As a devotee to bargain travel, I charged the only “standard” stay to my American Express Hilton Surpass card that triggered a $50 cash back from American Express and enjoyed free breakfast for all of us at its onsite restaurant and balcony room upgrade for one of our rooms by virtue of Hilton Honor Gold status from both my wife and myself, thanks to American Express Hilton Surpass card. Through an affiliate link not related to or benefiting MMB, I found the best ever signup bonus offer of 125K Hilton points for $4000 spending with the opening of a new Surpass account. If you anticipate to stay at Hilton hotels for even a couple of times a year, the Gold status alone will likely pay for its $95 annual fee.

Hilton Honors Surpass® Card

  • When combining free flight with either outright free or free-earning hotels stays, what’s not to like spending a school break in a new state? My 50 state countdown continues, ND, SD, NE, AR, AL, I am looking at you on the map now.
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

 

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

 

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.

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
2015: Flying long haul premium cabin for the first time

2015: Flying long haul premium cabin for the first time

Unless you are a “Tuhao”, – an increasingly acceptable English word describing China’s rich, or bestowed a covetous job title that entitles you to either shareholders’ or taxpayers’ money, squandering thousands of dollars on a transoceanic business flight is probably not on top of your agenda. To this date, I have never had the privilege to sit in front of an airplane despite numerous international flights and can’t help looking at those who do with irresistible jealousy.

It looks like the award game I play is just about to bring an end to the drought. In splurging the hard-earned American Airlines currency, 55000 miles to be exact, plus a $60.50 cash outlay, on a one-way business ticket to Shanghai in the summer, I purposely avoided non-stop Chicago to Shanghai AA flight but opted instead for Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. CX805 departs Chicago shortly after midnight and arrives at Hong Kong in the early morning, with connecting flight for Shanghai in the evening on Cathay’s partner DragonAir. This arrangement was attractive to me as it combined a chance to experience not only business class, but one from the top airline in the world and to see Hong Kong for a day as a bonus. The whole family has been brimmed with expectation and excitement since the booking last summer.

That jubilant mood was briefly altered in February when American Airlines notified us that Cathay Pacific had canceled our CX805 flight. What would happen to our precious business tickets? I had to wonder in a great deal of anxiety. It would be too late to book any award tickets for summer travel to China, let alone four seats on a flight! Luckily all was not lost, Cathay Pacific put us on CX807, also in business, with a departure from Chicago in the afternoon, arriving Hong Kong in the evening.

As we learned from past travel experience, with connecting flights, one problem often leads to another, and another, before the whole itinerary collapses. Cathay’s change looked minor. After all, we would arrive at HKG the night before, with 25 hours connection time to Shanghai. Unfortunately, we would now have to go through the hassle of checking out baggage, checking in a hotel, and reboarding, all for the same benefit of a day trip we would have with the original booking, except now with added cost and inconvenience. If we were to move up our flight to Shanghai by one day, the latest flight for Shanghai would only allow one hour’s connecting time at HKG. There would be a distinct possibility that we scramble for a last minute hotel stay at Hong Kong should CX807 be delayed by as little as a few minutes. Extending the Hong Kong stay would not work either. AA’s award policy limits international transfers to 24 hours or less.

Anyone working overseas with fixed vacation days understands how precious each day is on a trip to China. Uncertainty in travel arrangement, even for a day, could mean lost time that should be avoided the best we can. My task was to work out the most efficient plan within the framework set forth by CX807.

One nice thing about AA’s award ticketing policy is, unlike that of United’s, passengers are allowed to change date and itinerary free of charge, provided there is no change in origin and destination. Award tickets, as a result, can be more flexible and valuable than revenue tickets, particularly when partner airlines’ routes are included. One World Alliance, which AA is part of, has two partners in Asia besides Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and Japan Airlines. I would like to be open minded when it comes down to choice of airlines. But given the recent mishaps with Malaysia Airlines and its shaky financial situation, I could not convince myself even to look up its flight schedule out of Hong Kong. Japan Airlines’ hub Tokyo Narita airport became the only alternative.

The last flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo departs HKG shortly after midnight, giving us ample connecting time. From there, Japan Airlines operates connection to Shanghai. Both flights happened to have just enough business class seats for all of us. I called AA immediately after the search, not knowingly at the worst possible time as a rare snow storm was engulfing the South where AA call center was located and commute and business were severely interrupted. I wasn’t able to reach a live representative before an hour and 40 minutes on hold, the longest ever in my contact with any airline. And by that time, I knew I had to lock it in and luckily I did.

Despite that the new itinerary offered certainty in connection and saved the trouble of getting in and out at Hong Kong for limited gain, I was concerned that forfeiting a day trip at Hong Kong and taking on a zig-zag route via Tokyo may disappoint my fellow travelers. But their reaction to the revised plan was beyond my belief. Not only did it win unanimous approval from the family of travel nerds, they cheered the fact that we can sit on lie-flat seats for longer without spending more miles, and that we get to sample another top airline, Japan Airlines, and that we would have a chance to fully take advantage of business class benefits and explore airport lounges at HKG and NRT. “The Wing” and “The Cabin”, two of the five Cathay lounges at HKG, receive high remarks from travelers for their modern decor and extensive food selection. We could expect to get a good taste of Hong Kong, literally, without leaving HKG. In comparison, complimentary massage at Sakura Lounge at NRT, as good as it may be, faded into a little more than an after-thought. Rebooking had been an intense moment. With positive “customer” feedback, I exhaled with a sense of relief in the end.

Though without much drama in reservation so far, the return trip promises no less exciting. According to AA’s award chart, the difference between business and first class on a one-way ticket is very modestly 12500 miles, despite thousands of dollars in their ticket price. Knowing I will probably never pay for a first class ticket in my life time, even after winning million dollar lottery, I found it easy, both mentally and wallet-wise, to indulge in this once-in-a-life-time treatment. For $34.50 and 67500 miles, a Shanghai to Chicago flight in First Class is about to take my travel experience to the next level.

(Almost) free travel, I am loving it!

ORD, lounge, British Airways, Cathay Pacific
Pre-flight use of British Airways lounge at ORD Terminal 5
British Airways, Cathay Pacific, ORD, Lounge
British Airways Lounge
Cathay Pacific, business class,
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER business class lie-flat seat
Cathay Pacific food, business class
Appetizer on Cathay Pacific: tuna takaki
Cathay Pacific, Business class, food
Main entree on Cathay Pacific: Grilled Chilean sea bass
Cathay Pacific, Business class, food
Stir-fried cod with jasmine rice served before arrival
HKG, Hong Kong, Welcome
Welcome to Hong Kong
HKG, The Wing, Hong Kong
Checking in at Cathay Pacific’s The Wing lounge at Hong Kong airport
The Wing, food, Cathay Pacific, Loung
The kind of food served at The Wing that pleases my stomach after long flight
Cathay Pacific, The Wing, HKG, shower
Shower facility at The Wing
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport
JAL, Japan Airlines, Narita, Sakura Lounge, NRT
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport