Sunday, February 24, 2013

Our free flights to Asia paid for with miles and points

The wife and I have been busy accumulating miles on different programs.  Within the last few months, we’ve accumulated a combined total of over 200,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and 185,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles (among other points programs).   We have accumulated these free miles and points through some generous credit card bonuses, as well as getting points for using our rewards credit cards to pay for regular everyday expenses and bills.

We have been looking forward to vacationing and visiting family in Asia and I recently booked our flights for free! (minus some fees and taxes). 
Hong Kong, China
Taipei, Taiwan
Seoul, South Korea

My main goal when searching for flights was to achieve free travel to several parts of Asia including Seoul, South Korea, Taipei, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, China.  

My second goal was to use the least amount of points and miles for these trips.

As my frequent flyer friend Joe says: “I personally don’t mind flying for free in economy, when I can save 2.5 to 3x the points by not flying in Business or First class.  I’d rather save these points for more free flights.”

I believe in diversifying our point usage and did not want to “blow” all of the points we had in one program for this one vacation.  

I decided to use our AAdvantage miles and Chase UR points.  We also have a ton of SPG points, which we will try to use to book free hotel stays on our vacation.

American Airlines is part of the Oneworld group of airlines, meaning you can use AAdvantage miles to fly on American Airlines airplanes as well as dozens of other participating airlines.  Here are some of the Oneworld partners you can fly with using your AAdvantage miles:
The annoying thing about booking free flights using AA miles is that for most flights that are on non American airplanes, you cannot directly book the flight that you want online.  There are some ways to search for available partner flights.  You can read here on the blog for details. 

In order to book free award travel on American Airlines partner flights, you need to call the AA telephone reservation number at: 800-222-2377.  There you can speak with a live agent who will help you pick the flights that you want to take and use your AA miles to book the flight.  It’s like speaking with a travel agent over the phone.

There is a $25 fee per person to use the AA telephone service, but in my experience it was well worth it!  The woman who helped me on the phone was extremely nice and patient with me, going over all our travel options.  I actually spent 1 hour and 21 minutes on the phone discussing the various flight options for us and how to best use our free AA miles for free travel.  The customer service rep was pleasant the whole time. 

I booked travel between LAX (Los Angeles) to ICN (Seoul, South Korea) with a return trip flight from HKG (Hong Kong, China) to LAX (Los Angeles).   This flight was not a rount trip and included an open jaw.   An open jaw happens when the origin of one trip does not match the destination of the other. 

For example, if we flew from LAX to ICN, then from ICN to LAX, that would be a round trip.  In this case, we will fly from LAX to ICN, and will return flying HKG to LAX.  This open jaw allows us to explore more countries without spending extra points and miles.  You can read more about open jaws here.  
The cost of these flights for each of us was 60,000 AA miles, $67.90 for taxes and fees, and $25 for telephone ticketing service:

The total cost for the two of us for these flights came out to be 120,000 AA miles and $185.80 in taxes and fees.  

I wanted to know how much of a savings we got, so I went directly to the Japan airlines site, searched the exact same flights we booked using our AA miles:
I discovered that if we were to book these flights with cash, the flights would have cost us a whopping $3670.12!

Next, I needed to book a flight from ICN (Seoul, South Korea) to HKG (Hong Kong, China) with a stopover in TPE (Taipei, Taiwan).

For international flights, a stopover is any time you choose to spend more than 24 hours in a city between your origin and your final destination.  You can read more about understanding stopovers and open jaws here at the blog. 

I went to to book flights from ICN to TPE and from TPE to HKG.  This included one open jaw and one stopover in Taipei, Taiwan. 
It is very easy to book international travel online with United without having to speak with a telephone booking service.  I researched the flights that matched our travel timetable.  I found the flights we wanted and the total cost for both of us for these flights was 55,000 United miles and $72.20 for taxes and fees:
As you can see, if we were to book these flights with cash, the flights would have cost us a whopping $1,540.20!! 

To convert 55,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points into United airline miles, I went to, then clicked on “Transfer Points” and the points converted to United Airlines points instantly.  
Reminder: in order to transfer Chase UR points into airline partners, you need to have a premium Chase credit card (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, Chase Ink Plus, or JP Morgan Palladium card).  The premium rewards cards will have an annual fee.

As you can see, redeeming your points for airline miles has tremendous value and can really save you a great deal of money compared to paying for airline tickets with cash.  We will be flying to 3 different countries in Asia for a grand total of 120,000 AA miles, 55,000 United miles, and $258 in taxes and fees.  

If we were to pay for these flights, it would have cost us a total of $5,210.32.  

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