Feb 15th 2014
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.
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