tricks to booking with miles

A friend recently gave me some great advice — always have your next trip decided before you finish your current one. That way you’ll have something to look forward to vs. experiencing post vacation blues. I plan on living by this advice.

To that end, my next trip Down Under (decided upon while recently traveling in Lisbon) is well underway in the planning department. First stop, booking my flights with miles. And imagine my disappointment when nearly two full weeks of return flights from Melbourne were blocked out on American Airline’s online booking tool during my chosen travel dates.

After nearly a full day wasted, spent looking at actually purchasing tickets and comparing multiple itineraries across multiple airlines where prices and options varied wildly, I was convinced there must be a way to book the trip I actually wanted to take, on the dates I wanted, flying in and out of the cities I wanted to. And darn it, I was gonna use miles — which is not free by the way. You have to pay the tax on the flight, you have to pay for a seat, and as it turns out you have to pay a booking fee. That’s right, $40 ($75 if within 21 days of departure) to speak with a live person can get you exactly the trip you want as long as you do the legwork first. Not a terrible financial penalty when you consider purchasing those tickets could be in the thousands.

So, for all you One World Alliance members out there, this is how you do it. . .

If you are an American Airlines Advantage member like me, start by looking online at AA.com. A few years back AA made using miles and booking international flights online possible which can save you the booking fee if you’re lucky.  Sometimes you’ll  find exactly the flights you want. Other times you won’t. And that is where this bit of knowledge comes in handy:

The AA online booking tool lies. It does not give you all your hard earned flight options when it comes to using miles. In fact, it only shows you other airlines if their own flights are not available and even then (as in my case), not always. Now that AA flies their own planes to Australia and are not just a One World partner to Qantas, never does a Qantas flight option appear on their website.

The good news … there are other search tools out there to help. Both British Airways and Qantas online booking tools, have search functions that allow you to see most, if not all,  flights available for miles anywhere in the world, on any One World Alliance airline. Search on these websites, find your exact flights, call an American Advantage international ticket agent, pay your forty bucks and tell them exactly the flights you want to book — et voila! Plane tickets sorted.

HELPFUL HINTS:

  • To use these search engines, you must be a member of that airlines rewards program. You’ll need a member number and password to search reward flights.
  • From the Qantas home page, (my search tool of choice) when you start typing in a city to fly in or out of, you immediately get the drop down planning tool below.  Fill in your plans, provide your rewards member info and click USE POINTS — CLASSIC FLIGHT REWARDS ONLY to search all One World airlines rewards availability.
  • While it may cost extra when paying for a ticket, it is no extra miles to fly into one city and out of another. All miles flights are calculated as one way rewards redemption. Use the Multi City tool to search available options.
  • Searching on the British Airways site is a little trickier but often more thorough depending upon your destination. First select the tab for Executive Club at the top of the home page. In the Executive Club drop down click “Spending Avios”.  When on the Spending Avios page, scroll down to “find availability” just above the book reward flights button. Then to find flight options on One World partner airlines, select the blue “search & book” button on the right. From there you will be directed to sign into your Executive Club account before you can start your search.
  • Have an American Airlines credit card? You qualify for Miles Saver Rewards — for a trip to Australia, that’s half the amount of miles for each leg. My round trip coach ticket into Sydney and out of Melbourne was 80,000 miles. When you consider you can easily use 60,000 miles to fly to NYC that’s a bargain, even with the $40 fee.
  • Have premium status on American? Lucky you — fee waived!
  • Business & First Class reward flights to Australia, come up just a few times a year, if at all. In other words, don’t count on being comfortable while in flight.
  • Seats on American Airlines to Australia start at $95. I opted to pay $150 for an extra 5 inches of leg room which on a long haul flight can make the world of difference. Because I was using miles, the extra $55 didn’t hurt too much and it gave me the opportunity to try out the new Dreamliner aircraft in one direction. Coming home I am flying Qantas where standard coach seats on the A380 are only $30 by comparison.
  • You should be supplied a different ticket locator number for each airline you book. You’ll have to go on the partner website with that partner airline ticket locator number to make & pay for your seat selection, provide your travel document information, etc . . . Once done, however, all that information will show up on your American Airlines trip overview using the AA ticket locator number so you can print it all out in one document.
  • DO opt to pay and choose your seat regardless of what airline you choose. You don’t want to get stuck in the middle when you could have paid a small fee to be on an aisle and free to get up and walk around at will. I promise you, on a 15 hour flight it is worth it!
  • Dress well, smile and ask for an upgrade at the airport. You never know when you might get lucky!

 

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