spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

An Adventure in American AAdvantage and Avios

…ay ay ay ūüôā¬† My mission: get the 4 of us from Seville (SVQ) to Barcelona (BCN) using less than $420, preferably on nonstop flights, preferably later in the day. Seemed easy at first: Iberia MUST have a nonstop flight between these popular Spanish destinations, right? And I could totally use my Avios on Iberia flights, so that would be a cinch, right? You would think so…

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Confession: I just bought 4 tickets…with cash

I KNOW!¬† It’s so rare for me to pay for anything but taxes when using miles/points, or pay for 1 or 2 fares and use miles/points/companion fare for the rest.¬† But this time it made a lot of sense.¬† I still have some tickets to buy for the European trip, but I’ll discuss some nice updates from Chase Ultimate Rewards¬†that may just help me out with those. Read the rest of this entry »

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Award travel success- transatlantic flights

I plugged our voyage  into the Great Circle Mapper, an excellent site to determine flight miles between destinations, potentially very useful in the near future (see Flights to Spain and Flights within Spain further down).  This is what came back!

europe trip route map

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My Favorite Travel Websites

I love travel websites.¬† Here’s a few of my favorites:

Boarding Area: this is the homepage for a bunch of business travel blogs.¬† A quick scan of the “headlines” every morning keeps me up to date on a bunch of miles and points info.

Flyertalk: a great informational website with forums for asking travel-related or airline-related questions.

Travel Math: I LOVE this site.¬†¬†I love being able to find the¬†airport nearest to a given city, calculate a “fly vs. drive” score, and solve many other travel math problems.

Kayak: I primarily use Kayak to check who offers nonstop flights between cities, and also to compare prices.  Great for fare alerts as well.

The Flight Deal: this is a perfect site for people who can book last-minute or short-lead-up-time travel based on deals.  So, not me.  But that might be you!

FlightAware: lets you track any flight!  Plus lots of other cool features.

Seat Guru: always check here before selecting airplane seats to avoid a dud- great resource!

XE: this is a user-friendly and reliable foreign currency conversion site.  They update every 5 seconds or something crazy like that.

Great Circle Mapper: this site lets you calculate distances between airports, or make a map with your flight path.¬† Very helpful when trying to use British Airways’ distance-based award chart:

Avios are the British Airways Frequent Flyer currency

Avios are the British Airways Frequent Flyer currency

Honorable mentions:

TripAdvisor: great for hotel and attractions reviews.¬† Check the 3 and 4-star reviews most often.¬† The 5-star ones may have been planted by management or paid for, and the 1-star reviews are usually from people who can’t follow directions or don’t read the fine print.

Hotels.com: another great price comparison and review site.  I never book through there though, I book directly on the hotel site to be sure I get my stay credits or other loyalty benefits.

Yelp.com: gotta find a good place to eat when you get there!  Also good for comparing airport transportation/shuttle options.


What are YOUR favorite travel websites?

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Strategies for Hawaii residents- American Airlines

For a while, I was completely loyal to American Airlines (AA) and wouldn’t really¬†consider other legacy carriers.¬† I was comfortable with their policies, their flight schedules, and my daughter even knew the safety video music by heart.¬† Getting to the airport and seeing the red, white and blue livery meant another fun trip was on the horizon.

This still holds true to some extent- in fact, I just redeemed miles on AA to buy our tickets back from Ecuador in January.¬† But I’ve¬†diversified a bit and find that other airlines have a lot to offer as well.¬† Still, American is an excellent airline with many options to South America, either on AA metal,¬†via codeshare agreements, or with alliance partners like LAN¬†and TAM.¬† For Europe, the ability to use AA miles on¬†British Airways and Iberia can be very useful.

Ok, here’s the scoop on nonstop flights on AA metal departing the Hawaiian Islands: you have¬†6 daily nonstops heading to the mainland, sorted by airports below.

  • HNL: Los Angeles, California¬†(LAX), Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas (DFW).¬† There was a¬†nonstop to¬†Chicago¬†O’Hare, Illinois (ORD) that went from daily to seasonal through January¬†2014, and no announcement has yet been made¬†regarding its return.¬† It’s possible it will be back in December.¬† I’ll keep this post updated.
  • OGG: Los Angeles, California¬†(LAX), Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas (DFW)
  • LIH: Los Angeles, California¬†(LAX)
  • KOA: Los Angeles, California¬†(LAX)

So…that’s limited.¬† However, you can now book US Airways flights on AA.com with cash or miles.¬† So that adds nonstops to Phoenix, Arizona (PHX) from HNL, OGG, LIH, and KOA.¬† And, we know that you can book Alaska Airlines flight on AA.com as well due to their codeshare agreement.¬† Hawaiian Airlines (HA) provides a similar benefit, where you can earn AA miles on most interisland and transpacific flights [Note: due to their codeshare agreement, you can currently use your AAdvantage miles to book HA metal Hawaii-mainland flights.¬† This will change on 9/1/15- see this post for more details].¬† ¬† You can pretty much get anywhere in the world with AA.

American is part of the oneworld alliance (oneworld member airlines list), and their frequent flyer program is called American AAdvantage.  You can use your American Airlines miles to book flights on their oneworld partners as linked in the previous sentence.  Here is the full AAdvantage award chart (my pic below is modified to only show my focus destinations):

Clear as mud

Clear as mud content-wise, and also find of fuzzy focus-wise, sorry!

So, what’s the deal with there being 2 different mileage rates for travel between North America (which, according the Region definition below the chart, includes Hawaii) and Colombia/Ecuador/Peru/Venezuela, and travel between North America/Central America/Colombia/Ecuador/Peru/Venezuela and Hawaii? Well, I called and asked, and…the answer wasn’t too clear.¬† Here’s what I understand (and have seen when making speculative searches): the mileage will be based on the origin and FINAL destination.¬† But it can also depend on whether your route includes a North American gateway city, if doing a multi-city search.¬† Honestly, the best thing to do is to play around on the website to see what they’re offering as far as redemptions.¬†If the result you get from the website doesn’t look right, call, because sometimes the agent can see availability you can’t, and some partner airline flights don’t even show up on AA.com.¬† If you book over the phone, you may have to pay a phone ticketing fee.¬† Fees vary from $25-45.

Of course, this all depends on whether MilesAAver availability, the lowest mileage level, is even open.¬† I highlighted the Off-Peak dates on the award chart above.¬† You’ll save a lot of miles if you can travel at off-peak times (duh).¬† I recall there being a Hawaii mileage “sale” only once, and it was last year.¬† Flights to/from the mainland were 15k each way, around October, representing a savings of 5k miles.

The AAnytime award¬†inventory listed above is not nearly as limited as the MilesAAver availability.¬† Basically, if there is a¬†seat on the plane¬†you can purchase with cash (meaning it is not sold out), you can use an AAnytime award for it.¬† You pay a premium in terms of miles spent, but you also get to choose from the Main Cabin Extra seats at no charge for¬†a bit of extra legroom.¬† However, see the AAnytime level 3?¬† There is no set mileage, just an asterisk. American says that those awards will be subject to a variety of pricing factors and determined at the time of the booking.¬† But you know what they say…if you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can’t afford it.

There is another way to save on mileage redemptions on American: with a co-branded American AAdvantage card from Citibank.  Cardholders are eligible for Reduced Mileage Awards announced quarterly; these almost never include Hawaii, but I check them out anyway.  In addition, some cards offer a 10% rebate on any redeemed miles in a calendar year.

You should take a break from reading, because we’ll soon talk about the partner award chart, how to find a fare code, and some ways to save money on a cash ticket.

Ok, we’re back!¬† Here’s the partner award chart:

AA partner chart

These are the amounts of miles you would need to use your AA miles on partner airlines (as opposed to directly on American Airlines like the chart¬†in the beginning of the post).¬† In some cases, the¬†milage required is lower than on AA directly- use this to your advantage!¬† But if the oneworld carrier¬†you want to fly doesn’t go to your destination, you may have to use multiple awards.

  • ¬†example: if I want to fly from¬†Spain to Hawaii, I can use my AA miles on¬†airberlin¬†to get from Barcelona (BCN) to Miami (MIA), but then I need additional miles (on AA directly or other partners) to get from MIA to HNL, since¬†airberlin doesn’t fly here.

I always enter my preferred itinerary as a straight-up search on AA.com before trying to figure out ways to use fewer miles with the partner award chart.  Sometimes, the stopover rules allow you to make a desirable connection with no further miles out of pocket.  And a warning about using AA miles British Airways (BA): they add BIG fuel surcharges to award tickets when routing through England.  By all means, use your miles on BA, but avoid going through Great Britain (London -Heathrow especially) if at all possible.  More on BA and using their FF program Avios in another post.

In many cases, you can credit your flight (when paying in cash, not miles) on these partner airlines to your American AAdvantage frequent flyer account.¬† You can select the correct fare code when buying your tickets to be sure you choose one that gives you 100% of miles flown.¬†¬†Here are¬†LAN‘s guidelines as an example.¬† It tells us that fare code letters G, N, Q and S award fewer than 100%¬†of miles flown.¬† This information will be available in the Fare Details section, usually a link labeled as such, or in the case of AA, click the “plus.”¬† Here is an example of a search from HNL to SJC (San Jose, California).¬† The initial result just shows the basic info like price and schedule:

Where, oh where, can the fare code be?

Where, oh where, can the fare code be?

After clicking the “plus,” you can see the fare codes for both economy (which AA is calling “Choice”)¬†and First Class.

Thar she blows!

Thar she blows!

You can also see whether any meals are included on board, whether there are any advance purchase rules associated with the fare, and even check for available seats, all before purchasing.

Notice you can’t check for available seats on the LAX-SJC connection.¬† This is because that flight is operated by Mesa Airlines, which is¬†the regional jet service arm of US Airways.¬† Of course, AA and US Airways are in the process of merging, which is why these flights are available on the AA site.¬† Anyhoo, for me, regional jets = fewer than 100 seats on board =¬†irrational fear.¬† I avoid these after flying to Molokai on a machine powered by an actual propeller.¬† It went as smoothly as it could possibly go, but this city gal was not expecting to fly to the country (Kaunakakai), on a toy plane (held aloft¬†only by spinning blades!¬† How in the world does it stay up?! And why doesn’t my ceiling fan take off periodically?), to a shack (the MKK “airport”).¬† Your mileage¬†may vary.

I would have felt better if this little guy were transporting me

This little guy is smiling! Why can’t all airplanes smile?

And now, some ways to save money on American Airlines cash tickets!¬† Spoiler: there aren’t too many.

  1. promo codes: these are usually sent out via email, and targeted to a certain segment of AA’s “audience,” as it were.¬† They are available for a limited time, to a limited set of origin/destination airports.¬† I’m not sure what methods they use for targeting, but I fill out my profile on AA.com, including my “Favorite Cities” list, to increase my chances.¬† I’ve received some codes, but have never been able to use one due to scheduling.
  2. Gift cards: occasionally,¬†a multi-pack of American Airlines gift cards shows up at Costco or Sam’s Club.¬† They are rarely available.¬† If you see them,¬†get them- you may be able to buy¬†$$$ worth of gift cards¬†at a small discount (usually 10-15%), and apply the whole value of those gift cards to your total ticket purchase.
  3. voluntary denied boarding vouchers:¬†volunteering to get bumped has its perks.¬† If your AA flight is oversold and they are asking for volunteers to give up their seat, pay attention to the offers if you have the flexibility to take a later flight or even the first flight out the next day.¬† The airline can offer meal vouchers, a hotel voucher, and a¬†travel voucher to use on your next flight, all to make up for the inconvenience.¬† Some people make a practice of booking flights that are historically oversold in order to take advantage of this.¬† Others are just lucky- the last time we came back from Disney World, we EACH received $800 vouchers¬†to be bumped from our HNL-bound flight.¬† Travel vouchers have various restrictions including an expiration date- be sure to ask for all the details if they offer you one.¬† I’ve even heard of people negotiating for cash (in the form of a check )!¬† Note: not to be confused with Involuntary Denied Boarding- see the Conditions of Carriage for compensation rules there. There is a condensed version of the CoC on the back of any paper ticket, too.¬† Yes, I am that person who reads all the rules and fine print.

I think  that covers most things AA-related.  Any questions?

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