Jun 272016

Elite status with airlines is great. At a minimum, you can usually get a better seat on the plane. You also generally earn approximately double the miles each flight when you’re a top-tier elite member with most airlines in the US.

Then, there’s free luggage if checking bags is your thing. I know most top-tier elites go out of their way not to check luggage, but it’s certainly a nice benefit when you need it.

Did someone say upgrades? Most of the US airlines offer unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades to elites – space available of course – which is less and less these days. There’s also the ability to do international upgrades a few times a year with vouchers if you’re a top elite. Definitely a great benefit.

However, at least for me, while trying to do every country the single most valuable benefit is free changes on award tickets. Sometimes, I change tickets a lot because I can’t make up my mind. It’s good to lock things in when you find the availability in case it’s gone later, but other times there’s just a change of plans. Or, say 300 days out, you lock in the only routing available with miles…then closer in, better options open up. Free changes, and you’re good to go.

Then, there’s what happened today…

See, I’ve been wanting a flight on the Lufthansa A380. I got one once from Miami to Frankfurt on Christmas Day a few years ago, but I’ve been dying ever since to do it again. Lufthansa is probably my favourite first product, and doing it on the A380 is as close to perfection as it comes.

Once I decided to splurge the miles for a first award to Dubai to start my Turkmenistan trip, there was no question – I wanted the longest flight possible. Lufthansa generally doesn’t open up first awards until 14 days out, so booking United and changing to Lufthansa at 14 days is the best you can hope for. I did that, and at 12 days, lots of options opened up. Grabbing the Frankfurt to Dubai was a piece of cake. Question then was, how to get to Frankfurt.

DC to Frankfurt is a short flight, and wasn’t available anyways. Chicago to Frankfurt was, and surprisingly DCA to Chicago with United was there too. Put it on hold while I looked for something better. There was Houston to Frankfurt on the A380, but getting to Houston appeared to be a giant pain – and in the meantime the availability was gone. A week went by, and it looked like I was going via Chicago. Until this morning.

The longest Lufthansa flight from the US opened up this morning – LAX to Frankfurt! I grabbed it, not even thinking about how I might get to LAX. 11 hours on the A380 with Lufthansa in first was like a dream. Even managed to get an add-on with United from Las Vegas…but that’s as far as I could backtrack with miles.

I’m seriously short this year of requalifying with United in terms of miles. I’m only at around 50,000 booked so far, so am looking for United options whenever they come up. Found a shockingly cheap first fare from DCA to Las Vegas the night before, and I was set! No, this wasn’t how I expected this trip to go down, but, we have a new routing for the trip:


So, plans change, and the only reason I could even consider this is due to elite status. So, bring on one night in Vegas…..and then LA where I will have 6 hours (side trip to In-n-Out Burger perhaps?) and then a super long A380 ride to Frankfurt!

Apr 052014

It was spread a bit too widely to be a mistake fare, and Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Brussels Airlines matched the fares too, so it seems this one was intentional.  However, it was odd.  Fares from a majority of US cities, excluding United hub cities of course, to a variety of cities in Europe for $500 roundtrip plus taxes and fuel surcharges.  Depending on the cities it came to roughtly $1400 to $1600 total.

Of course, when I saw Honolulu was in the mix, I had to jump on it!

Problem was, since United massively devalued miles earlier this year, I cashed in around 500,000 so my travel year is packed.  And this deal would only be valid in July and August, when I already had some other commitments.  Early July was out, since I was already going to St. Kitts for a long weekend.  Late July/Early August also wouldn’t be good time-wise…and I was to go to Vegas the last weekend of August for a bachelor party.  Wait.  Vegas is on the way from Honolulu to DC…kind of.  This got me thinking….

Getting to Honolulu is easy…and can be done in one day.   I found a routing that would instantly confirm with a United regional upgrade as well.  So far this is working well.

Now, Hawaii to Europe on the business class deal… settled on HNL-IAD-CDG since it has a 10 hour layover in DC, enough time for me to repack bag, run any errands I might need to…or just be silly since it’s a Sunday.

I’d have just over 48 hours in Paris.  From what I remember Paris is rather dead in August, so I won’t likely stay there…but I might.  I’m also looking at buying roundtrip flights down to Toulouse, renting a car, and driving to Andorra for the night…the last country I need to visit in Europe.  Any thoughts on this?   I arrive into CDG around 6am and depart two days later around 10am.

On the way back, I’m doing the ultra-long CDG-SFO-HNL…going to be a very long day…and a very short night in HNL, because at 6am the next day I fly HNL-LAX which confirmed instantly with a regional upgrade, and LAX-LAS which wouldn’t confirm, so ended up paying like $40 more for a P fare.  Bargain of an upcharge!

Then, the only decision was how to get back from Vegas.  Since I’m looking to be a bit shorter on qualifying dollars than qualifying miles, I decided to go with the United P fare routing LAS-IAH-ORD-DCA.  Probably should have skipped the ORD, but it was the same price…and what’s one more flight at this point?

In the end, here’s what it looks like:


Total stats are:

27,128 butt-in-seat miles flown
11 days, 16 hours traveled
65,125 redeemable miles earned
37,542 elite qualifying miles earned
3,275 premier qualifying dollars earned

It should be an absolute crazy adventure…and I can’t wait!

Dec 222011

I’m going to go off on a new tangent here – this is my first post not specifically as a trip report but a bit of advice from my years of travel.  I’ve been traveling now for roughly 35 years, well before there were airline alliances, before frequent flier miles existed in any meaningful way, etc.  I flew as a standby brat for years, on the whims of empty seats, and once I’d spent years flying in first class for “free” I knew I didn’t want to go back.  The key was elite status – which seemed impossible at first, but in the end, it really wasn’t.

However, I quickly learned, that even when most people amass a large amount of miles – be it from flying, credit card offers, or other means, all too often they spend so many more than they need to to get something.  There’s nothing wrong with it – sometimes you need something very specific.  A given date, a given flight, a given gift for a friend – and you pay what you have to.  But, when you can be even just a little bit flexible…you can really stretch your dollar or frequent flier mile so much farther.

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