So a good friend of mine recently moved to Shanghai and I hadn’t seen him in awhile. Having never been to mainland China, I decided this was a perfect opportunity for me to burn some United Airlines Mileage Plus miles and book an award flight to visit him. But like all travel fanatics, I couldn’t just book a direct flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai. I had to make it the most complicated and fanatical routing possible to experience as many airlines as I could, using my small cache of United Airlines miles.
Four hours and and five “hang up and call back” calls to United’s reservations line later, I was successful in booking a pretty sweet award flight to see my buddy in Shanghai. I don’t know how it happened but I was able to route from Los Angeles to Shanghai, by way of Europe, on both the outbound and return flights! I didn’t think that was possible and I am pretty sure I violated at least one of their award redemption rules. At the very least, I’m sure this itinerary exceeded the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) or something, but surprisingly a confirmation code popped up, my credit card was charged for the taxes and fees and I was booked!
So my final itinerary will look like this: Los Angeles to Istanbul, stopover, Istanbul to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Seoul and then Seoul to Shanghai. The return trip would also route back through Europe from Shanghai to Bangkok, Bangkok to Paris, Paris to Montreal and then Montreal to Los Angeles. This eight segment trip will have me traveling on four different airlines, visiting seven different countries and traveling over 27,000 miles, all in First or Business Class. And the best part of it, this whole itinerary cost me 140,000 UA miles and a mere $144.90 in taxes and fees! I’m no expert award booker by any means but I was pretty damn proud of myself.
LAX to PVG, Via Europe
This trip will finally let me experience some great products and services that have been on my “to do” list for a very long time.
First up, Los Angeles to Frankfurt, via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, Business Class. At LAX, I will finally get to visit the new Star Alliance Lounge at LAX. Unfortunately, I’ll be on a Business Class ticket and will not have access to the First Class section but I’ll still be able to enjoy the massive main lounge with the impressive outdoor terrace. Of course, I’m not giving up that easily. I’m still hoping that Lufthansa opens up some First Class award seats closer to the departure date and I will gladly pay the change fees to experience the “other” side of the Star Alliance Lounge and the First Class Terminal at Frankfurt.
But if the yellow duck just isn’t in the cards for me this time around, I’ll still be able to experience Turkish Airlines’ award winning Business Class. I have flown both Turkish Airlines’ Economy and Comfort Class before and I have waited a long time to finally “turn left” when boarding their Boeing 777, albeit a little too late to get one of their beautiful iPad case amenities kit.
TK Business Class Seat.
Once arrived in Istanbul, I’ll get to play a round of billiards in their newly renovated and expanded CIP Lounge and then tool around the city for a few days.
TK CIP Lounge
TK CIP Lounge
From Istanbul, I’ll travel to Frankfurt to visit their amazing Senator First Class lounges before I board Asiana Airlines’ First Class on their Boeing 747 to Seoul, South Korea.
Asiana’s First Class
And Asiana Airlines’ Business Class from Seoul to Shanghai, China, to visit my friend, Robbie, for a few days.
Asiana’s Business Class
Once I’m all Shanghai’ed out, I’ll board Thai Airways Royal Silk Business Class to Bangkok for my return trip home.
Thai’s Business Class
Now, this is what I’m really looking forward to. I’ve head so much about Thai Airways’ amazing ground service for their First Class passengers and I have always wanted to experience it for myself. From their personal buggy service, expedited processing to award winning lounges, Thai’s ground services rivals that of Cathay or Singapore Airlines. But let’s be honest, I’m just looking forward to the complimentary massage at the Royal Orchid Spa!
Royal Orchid Spa
And the highlight of my trip – getting to (finally) fly the A380! I know, I can’t believe I haven’t flown the A380 yet either. Kinda embarrassing. But this flight will be especially meaningful for me because my “first” time will be on Thai Airways’ A380 First Class Suite! And not just on a short intra-Asia flight. I’ll be a long ass 13 hour flight to Paris! Woo hoo! Can you tell I’m pretty giddy right about now??
Thai Airways A380 First Class Suite
And lastly, I’ll board Air Canada’s Executive First Suite from Paris to Montreal.
Air Canada’s Executive First Cabin
And to finally end my trip, I’ll board a very uneventful Air Canada Executive Class seat for my final journey home to Los Angeles. But by that time, I’ll be so elated from the A380 flight and tired from my entire trip that I will only be looking forward to the comfort of my own bed.
As you can see, I have much to look forward to and I can’t wait to share my experiences with all of you. These next few months leading up to my trip will be sooooo sloooow. Lol.
How to Book this Trip
So how can you book this trip also? Simple. All you need is enough miles to get you from your origin to destination and a little bit of persistence. Flying from the US (origin) to North Asia (destination) in First Class only requires 140,000 UA miles. Connecting through Europe, Japan or even South Asia won’t require additional miles but you do have to keep your total flight to under nine segments. This is a lot easier said than done especially if you don’t live near a gateway city such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or New York. If you have to travel to a gateway city, then those connections count towards your overall segments. Remember, eight and under only. And apparently MPM’s don’t mean anything so route the craziest itinerary you can think of. What’s the worst that can happen? They say, “No?” Simply, hang up and call again. 😛
Okay, on to searching the actual itinerary. United Airlines’ website is a great place to start but it will never allow you to route these crazy itineraries. You have to search segment by segment and start with the longest or most important leg of your trip first. Once you have that, you can build the rest of your trip around that segment.
For me, flying on Thai’s A380 was the most important leg so I started there. I wasn’t able to find any to Frankfurt for my travel dates so Paris was my next best option. I then searched for my second longest segment. I knew I wanted to go from Europe to Asia and was really hoping to try ANA’s new Square First cabin but I couldn’t make that work so Asiana’s First will have to do. I then plugged in the rest of my segments and I was golden. My order of search was: Bangkok to Paris, Paris to Los Angeles, Shanghai to Bangkok, Frankfurt to Seoul, Seoul to Shanghai and then lastly, Los Angeles to Frankfurt.
What’s that? You thought I said to search the longest segments first? Then why did I book my Los Angeles to Frankfurt last? Good question. Because United allows for a free stopover when booking an international roundtrip award. Meaning, I can fly from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, stay there for a few days (or up to a year if you wanted) and then continue on with the rest of my trip. Knowing that I had a free stopover in Europe, that gave me more flexibility to search over several days and made the connection less crucial. If I couldn’t find any flights to Frankfurt on any given day, I just searched the days prior to look for open seats. In this case, I got a stopover in Frankfurt for one night before continuing onto Asia.
Although I didn’t take advantage of them on this trip, United also allows for two open jaws per roundtrip award trips. A typical roundtrip ticket will consist of you flying to and from the same airports, such as LAX to JFK on the outbound and then JFK to LAX on the inbound. An open jaw is when you don’t return back to the same airport that you originally left from. For example, LAX to JFK on the outbound and then JFK to SFO on the return. It still counts as a roundtrip ticket even though your return flight isn’t back to the original airport you left from. United lets you have two open jaws so your itinerary can look something like this: Los Angeles to London, stopover with open jaw, and then return home from Paris to San Diego. All without any additional required miles.
Okay, so now that you have your individual segments, write them all down on a piece of paper and call the United Airlines reservations line. Once you get a live person, tell them you want to book an award flight and feed them all the individual segments. If they come back and say, “No Sir, you can’t do that” because of rule X, Y, or Z. Simply, hang up and try again. 99% of the time, the agent doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. Three of the times I called, the agents told me I couldn’t go from the US to Asia, via Europe and the fourth call, the agent was completely lost. I got lucky on number five. However, if you get the same negative answer several times, you probably are violating some rule, somewhere, even though no one actually knows what the rules are. It basically comes down to if the computer takes it or not. If it does, you got it!
Of course, booking an award travel like this requires much time and flexibility so plan ahead. It’s not going to be easy and you will have to call United’s reservations line several times. But trust me, it’s all worth it in the end.
And do not wait. With United’s new devaluation of their awards chart, this trip will cost 240,000 miles if booked after February 1, 2014! Here’s my post on the updated devaluation.
Let me know your thoughts or if you guys have any questions. Good luck!