Archive for February, 2014
The new year has started, American Airlines shows that I have 0 miles, 0 segments, so it’s time for me to get started on the 2014 mileage runs.
The first comes later this month, the longest in time and distance that I have ever done, a five day trip to Johannesburg, South Africa!
FlyerTalk has listed discount rates to Johannesburg since last October, I finally had the time and money to take advantage of those fares.
I managed to book the following itinerary for my friend and I:
- We’ll leave Austin on an American Airlines MD 80 at 6:10 p.m., arriving at DFW at 7:20 p.m.
- At 8:20 we’ll board an American Airlines 777-200 for the flight to London Heathrow, arriving at 11:20 the next morning. Then we’ll have one of the worst layovers you can have: almost six hours. That’s long enough to be inconvenient, but not long enough to leave the airport and go into town.
- At 6 p.m. we’ll board a British Airways 747-400. for the 11 hour flight to Johannesburg, arriving at 7 a.m. the next morning.
I’m Executive Platinum, so I am hopeful of an upgrade on the AA flights. However, the BA 11 hour flight, will be in coach. We’ll arrive at Johannesburg at 7 a.m. and will take their light rail (built for World Cup a few years ago) to the main business district of Johannesburg, called Sandton. We have hotel reservations at a property just a few blocks from Nelson Mandela Square. They probably will not let us check in that early, but hopefully they will be able to watch our luggage.
At noon, we’ll board our tour bus for our trip to the local Lion Park. I’m looking forward to this, something that I can check off my bucket list.
We’ll get back to the hotel that evening, look for a place for dinner, then call it a night.
The next day we’ll take the hop-on hop-off bus tour of Johannesburg.
After a full day in Johannesburg we’ll head home.
- At 8:15 p.m. we’ll board a British Airways A-380, the world’s largest commercial aircraft, for the 11 hour flight to London, arriving the next morning at 5:10 a.m.
- At 9:45 a.m. we board an American Airlines 777-300 ER for the flight to DFW. I’m looking forward to this, this is AA’s most modern aircraft.
- We’ll arrive at DFW at 2:05 p.m., clear customs, and, at 4:30, take an AA MD-80 to Austin, arriving at 5:30 p.m. We will have been gone for five days.
Is it worth it? The ticket cost $1,215.00. I’ll earn 21,742 Elite Qualifying Miles, and 42,848 redeemable miles, at a cost of 2.79 cents per mile. Is that great? No. But lately, any flight under 3 cents per mile from Austin is a good deal. The 21,742 EQMs will give me a good jump on my elite qualifying for the year, and the 42,000 redeemable miles is a huge number. So yes, it’s worth it.
Johannesburg the sequel
Exactly one month later my friend and I will be heading back to Johannesburg. Our itinerary is completely different.
We’ll leave Austin at 8 p.m. on a British Airways non-stop flight to London on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This is the first major international flight from Ausitn-Bergstrom International Airport, and will start just a few weeks before our trip. I’m extremely excited to be able to fly on the Dreamliner, which I first saw almost two years ago when it made its first trip to DFW Airport.
We’ll arrive at London at 10 a.m. and then have an 8-hour layover. I think that will be enough time to get into town, eat a meal, and then get back to Heathrow on time for our 6 p.m. departure on a Airbus A-380-800. We’ll arrive JNB at 7 a.m.
What will we do during this trip? I don’t know, I haven’t made plans yet, Hopefully we’ll get some good ideas during our first JNB trip.
We’ll spend one night in JNB, flying out at 9:45 p.m the next night. on a 747-400 to LHR, arriving 6:45 Tuesday morning. Another long layover — we’ll take the BA 787 back to Austin, leaving LHR at 12:35 p.m. arriving AUS at 6 p.m.
Is it worth it? The ticket costs $1,165.00. I’ll earn 21,072 EQMs and 42,144 RDMs at a cost of 2.76 cents per mile. As I said, anything less than 3 cents per mile has been very difficult to find lately from Austin, so I am happy with this rate.
By the time the miles have posted from both flights, I’ll have 42,814 EQMs, making it almost certain that I will earn Platinum Status this year, and making EXP a reasonable goal. I’ll have earned almost 85,000 redeemable miles: with what I have in my account that will almost cover our first Business Class ticket to Bali for November 2015.
These are long trips, but I have always wanted to go to Africa. The visit to the Lion Safari will let me check off one more box from my bucket list. I’ll also be able to fly on the 777-300 ER, the A-380, and the 787 Dreamliner. I have wanted to fly on all three of those so that is another positive. (If that doesn’t prove that I am an aviation geek, what does?”
So, in answer to the “is it worth it” question, I reply with an emphatic YES! Trip reports to follow.
Disclaimer: I own stock in American Airlines and Boeing.
The main reason I do all of my mileage runs is to earn enough miles to travel internationally in the great luxury of either First Class or Business Class, a trip I could otherwise not afford.
My goal has been to accumulate enough miles to purchase two Business Class tickets to Bali, Indonesia, returning to the place where we had such a wonderful vacation two years ago. Each ticket required 110,000 AAdvantage miles. When we made the trip two years ago we flew on AA from Austin to Los Angeles, Cathay Pacific from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, and then Cathay to Bali. (Trip Report)
As soon as my AAdvantage account hit 220,000 miles I called the American Airlines Executive Platinum desk and told them I wanted to reserve three business class seats to Bali in November of this year. (Three seats: my wife and I, and our good friend. He had the miles in his account to pay for his seat.) I wanted to reserve the seats, put them on hold for five days so that we could give it some thought, be sure it was the itinerary we wanted. and then make the purchase.
As I said, I called AA, explained what I wanted, the customer service rep (CSR) looked and told me there was no availability for the dates I wanted. Things can change, I was calling 10 months in advance, maybe something would open up soon.
I called back a few days later and was told there was no availability.
I called back a few days later and was again told there was no availability.
I called back a few days later and this time the CSR checked 37 consecutive days and found no availability.
I waited almost a week, called back, and was again told there was no availability. This time the CSR suggested I call back twice a week for the next four months, maybe something would open up. She put the blame on Cathay Pacific, saying they offered very few award seats.
Needless to say, I was not happy with this. Then I remembered an article I had read on the wonderful Million Mile Secrets blog. Darius and his wife run the blog (and travel around the world in First Class at no cost), I had met them at a Chicago frequent flyers seminar and seemed to remember that he had written an article about how to find Cathay availability when told there was none. I looked around his site for a little while and soon found what I was looking for.
His system involves using the British Airways website to find seats that American Airlines apparently did not know about. I suggest you read his article to get the full story. (Book American Airlines Award Flights Like a Pro: Part 8 – Finding Cathay Pacific Award Availability Using the British Airways Website)
So, pen and paper in hand, I started my hunt. We wanted to get to Bali, spend 13 nights, and wanted to make the trip in November. Using Darius’ suggestions, I found an itinerary in less than 90 minutes.
I wrote down all the details, called the AA EXP desk, and asked if there was availability on the specific dates I needed. The answer, of course, was no.
So I asked the CSR, “Can you book us on this flight from Austin to DFW?” Yes she could.
“Great, can you get us on this flight from DFW to Hong Kong.” Yes, she could.
And this continued. Each time I gave her a flight number, she was able to find awards seats for us. In very little time, our itinerary was complete.
- Austin to DFW, First Class, MD-80 on American Airlines
- DFW to Hong Kong, Business Class, Boeing 777-300 ER on American Airlines. (DFW-HKG is a new AA route that will launch in June, and will be the longest flight the airline offers)
- Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, Business Class, Cathay Pacific Airbus A330-300
- Kuala Lumpur to Bali, Business Class, Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 ER
And the return trip:
- Bali to Singapore, Business Class, Qatar Airways, Boeing 777-300 ER. (After visiting the Qatar Airways website and seeing the service they offer, I wish I was on a longer flight than three hours!)
- Singapore to Hong Kong, Business Class, Cathay Pacific, Boeing 777-200 ER
- Hong Kong to DFW, Business Class, American Airlines, Boeing 777-300 ER.
- DFW to Austin, First Class, American Airlines, Boeing MD-80.
And there it is, our trip to Bali on dates when AA said there was no availability. As you’ll see later on, this would not be the first time that we got incorrect information when calling AA.
First Class on the flights to and from Austin on AA really does not matter, we’ll only be in the air for 32 minutes.
Business Class on the AA 777-300 ER from DFW to HKG will be very nice: lie-flat seats, aisle access from each seat, only four seats across in each aisle. (more details). The flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur on Cathay’s Airbus A-330 will offer similar comfort.
The Malaysia Airlines 777-200 will not be as nice. Seating is a 2-3-2 configuration, which means we will not have lie flat seats: they will be nicer than coach, but not really luxury seating as the earlier flights are.
The Qatar Airlines 777-300 ER offers six across seating (2-2-2), but lie-flat seats and highly acclaimed customer service in the air.
The Cathay 777-200 from Singapore to Hong Kong offers similar service to the Malaysia Airlines flight. Nice, but not luxury.
We’ll then take the wonderful AA-777 300ER from HKG to DFW and then the MD-80 back to Austin.
We had what we wanted. Until a problem came up.
I had made a reservation for three of us. My friend called the AA Platinum desk and tried to use his miles to pay for his seat, and was told that wince the reservation was in my name, only I could pay with miles; the representative suggested he transfer the miles to me so that I could use them.
This was a BAD idea. It costs money to transfer miles, and takes several days for the transaction to process. (I don’t know why this is, the system is computer automated, it is not run by someone sitting in a basement with a pad and pencil, it should go through very quickly.) My friend pointed out that the several day wait did not work, the seats were only on hold for another four days and the miles would not transfer in time. The rep’s reply was “We’ll make a note of that.”
We’ll make a note of that? That’s another bad answer from AA customer service.
I called the EXP desk to see if they could do any better, and thankfully, they could. The CSR was able to put my friend on a separate locator so that he could use his miles, while keeping him on the same flights as I had reserved. A good answer from an AA CSR. Yaay! And yes, I sent a note to customer service at AA.com thanking her for her wonderful service.
So, my friend used his miles, I used mine, and we now have our confirmed reservations for our dream trip to Bali in November. It’s a unique itinerary: eight flights on four airlines — one North American, two Asian, and one Middle Eastern.
And we made it happen when AA incorrectly told us there was no availability, and the only way for my friend to get his seat was to transfer miles to me,
We’re looking forward to the trip. Many thanks to Darius at Million Mile Secrets for providing a way for me to find our route.
Disclaimer: I own stock in both American Airlines and Boeing.