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Award Redemption Upgrade or awards to New Zealand? And a new question on fare class.

Discussion in 'questions. answers. conversations.' started by Kiwi Ian, Aug 7, 2015.

  1. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    I'm starting research on booking a trip from Philadelphia to New Zealand for July 2016 for my family (wife and one child). I've done this trip a few times in economy, and we really want to get business class for the long haul segments of the trip. This is the first time I'll ever have booked a flight using miles!

    For reference, I have 150,000 MileagePlus miles and 77,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

    I started looking as far out as I could and building itineraries for May 2016, just to get an idea of what I might be able to do, and it looks like I can book upgrades using miles, but that was when I got the first "gotcha" at the fee that United charges - $600 and 30K miles per person each way = $3600 and 180,000 miles on top of the economy fare!

    So with that said, and realizing I've never booked an award fare before, here are my questions.

    • Am I doing this way too early? Will I have more success if I wait six months? I'm going on the theory that if I find and book award tickets very early, it's more probable I'll get what I want rather than waiting with crossed fingers until February or March of 2016.
    • Is this a guaranteed upgrade, if I book it this way? Or could it be bumped later on by full fare paying passengers?
    • $3600 in fees plus 180,000 miles is a lot. But I've read that finding award space is really tricky. Should I expect to be able to find award space?
    • What about combinations? E.g. would I be able to reserve saver award seats one way and then get an award upgrade the other way?
    • Should I just throw in the towel and use an awards booking service???
     
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  2. MidSouth Skier

    MidSouth Skier Well-Known Member

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    In response to one of your questions, if you were to book this way then you'd definitely have business class and could not be bumped by someone who paid for business class.

    Using miles to upgrade is typically not a good value, as you've noticed, but $3600 is a *whole* lot cheaper than buying 3 business class seats.

    New Zealand and Australia are a couple of the hardest places to get to in premium cabins using miles. From the points currency you have available to you, I'd say this is your best bet.

    United will charge 70K per person each way in business, so that would wipe out your pool of miles. You'd also likely be routed via Australia (if that matters) because it doesn't appear United flies non-stop to NZ and Air NZ is very stingy with award seats between the US and NZ.

    Hopefully one of the Points Pros staff can chime in as to whether it's better to book now (my guess) or wait a few months and if they could provide any extra value.

    Good luck!
     
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  3. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    Thanks MidSouth Skier, that's really good to know (that I couldn't be bumped). Given that, I think my strategy is going to be to keep hovering on the United web site for the next few weeks until the July calendar opens up with the dates I want, then jump on it quickly. Unless a Points Pros staff member says different :)
     
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  4. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    Thought - does it make sense to book the trip TO New Zealand now? The dates in early July are open, and I can use points to get an upgrade now. (I'm just wary of waiting to see if the prices go down, and then missing out.) If I book the one way trip now, can I book the return flight in three weeks when my desired dates open up, and do that without any problems?
     
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  5. MidSouth Skier

    MidSouth Skier Well-Known Member

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    @Kiwi Ian - sure you can do that. I know sometimes on paid tickets a RT is significantly cheaper than a 1-way. So I'd call UA to see if they can book the first half of a round-trip and go ahead and apply the upgrades on the outbound and then when the return date opens up call back to complete the ticket. Not sure if that's still done or not but it can't hurt to ask.
     
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  6. Tiffany

    Tiffany One Mile At A Time

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    In my experience, you are almost always going to get a better value for your miles by redeeming for an award ticket versus upgrading. Let's look at the math:
    • I haven't looked at exact prices, but let's say economy tickets are about $1800. That seems pretty average for New Zealand, from what I've seen.
    • Because you're buying a discounted fare, you're also looking at $1200 per person in copays
    • The mileage requirement to upgrade is 60k miles per person. I value UA miles at about 1.4¢ each, but you can buy them for about 2.8¢ each, so let's split the difference and say that's another $1200 or so.
    • So at this point, you are essentially paying $4200 per person.
    IF you are able to confirm upgrade space in advance (and that's a huge if -- 95% of non-elite upgrades only clear a few days before departure, if at all), then this might be a good option still.

    Instead, I would look at using miles for the full itinerary.
    • As @MidSouth Skier mentioned, United would charge 70,000-80,000 miles per person, each way in business class.
    • So you'd be short ~250k miles, but perhaps you can look at accumulating more via a few sign up bonuses for yourself and your wife. You could even look at booking the outbound via United, and the return via another carrier so you can diversify your earnings a bit.
    • Even if you were to straight-up purchase those miles from United (which is absolutely not my first choice) you'd be spending about $7000. That's less than you'd be paying for buying the base fare + copays.
    • You can also look at buying miles in other programs. Alaska, American, and Avianca frequently have promotions where you can buy miles for less than 2¢ each, which would reduce your costs significantly.
    Does that help at all?
     
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  7. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    Tiffany, that's really helpful, thanks. My immediate question is about what gets a guaranteed upgrade versus a "maybe" upgrade. If I go on to United's web site and build an itinerary in, say, May 2016 (because July space still isn't opened up), using miles to upgrade to business class, it seems like it's confirmed (I can make seat selections on this test itinerary), and MidSouth Skier said that would not get bumped. In your comment "IF you are able to confirm upgrade space in advance" is this what you are talking about?

    The fees are huge, and your math is right on. But if I try to use miles for the full itinerary, isn't that a lot more up to chance, where I'm gambling on award space opening up? From what I've read, that's a lot more iffy on flights to New Zealand and Australia. Can I get that now, or do I have to wait until closer to the time?

    Hope this makes sense - I'm sure I'm asking some very naive questions.
     
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    Last edited: Aug 9, 2015
  8. Tiffany

    Tiffany One Mile At A Time

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    @Kiwi Ian -- Are you using "Expert Mode" to check inventory on the United flights? If so, you'll want to look for "R" space. If you see R1, that means there is one seat available as a confirmable upgrade, R2 means two, etc. R0 means there aren't any upgrades available, and you'd need to waitlist.

    But award space is open now on partners, and you can start looking at options there as well. The odds are honestly much higher of finding award availability than confirmable upgrade space.

    And these are great questions, don't worry!
     
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  9. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    Tiffany, how do I look for award space on partners? I was hoping they'd show up on United's web site, but apparently not. I tried your tip and being this far out I see R9. Does that mean that if I did click the button to use miles and pay the upgrade fee it's confirmed and no chance of getting bumped? (I also see RN9 - what's that??)
     
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  10. Tiffany

    Tiffany One Mile At A Time

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    @Kiwi Ian -- Partners do show on United's site, it just can't piece together complex routings. So search for maybe to Seoul, Hong Kong, or Tokyo, then from there to Auckland. Make sure you're searching for award availability.

    Yes, R9 means confirmable upgrade space is available. RN used to represent elite upgrades, but not sure if that's still the case.
     
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  11. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    Thanks so much for all your insight, Tiffany. Realistically, applying for several more cards to get the sign up bonuses is a strategy that we're not comfortable with. I'd be willing to buy the miles, but United says I can only purchase 150,000 per year. So I will run the numbers a bit more and see if I can figure out the best combination. Maybe get an award ticket one way and pay for the upgrade coming back?

    I think in our case we're willing to spend more to make the reservation early and be assured we'll have lay-flat seats in business class, as opposed to hoping for availability closer to the time.
     
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  12. Tiffany

    Tiffany One Mile At A Time

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    My pleasure! Keep in mind as well that each account can buy miles, and you can redeem for anyone. Just keep your increments correct.

    And you could always use United miles for one direction, and maybe Alaska miles for the other, etc.

    Lots of options, and you ultimately have to go with what works for you!
     
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  13. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    Ahhh, so I could use my UA account to get two of the award tickets and my wife's UA account to get the third award ticket. I'd have to boost them by purchasing miles, but from your math, that'd probably work out much cheaper (if I can find the right dates for award availability) than popping for the upgrade using miles, given the fees. Great idea! Thanks so much, Tiffany. Can I get a combination of, say, economy plus PHL-LAX and then business class LAX-AKL? How does it work if I want to do a two day stopover in SYD?

    I'm thinking to play safe I should find the exact flights I want, make sure they have award availability, and then call an agent to make the booking.
     
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  14. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    Update - I'm looking for award space on July 1st or thereabouts and NO business class saver award space unless I fly with a partner and do a long route through Beijing (which we don't want to do). And it's still too early to book the return flight.

    There is quite a lot in May, however. Is that because I have to wait for the saver award space to open up (seems unlikely), or because July is summer here and peak time for travel (even though it's winter down-under)? The second option seems more likely, which means I'm probably not going to get three saver awards, no matter how long I wait - right?

    Is there any chance saver award space will open up for the first week of July, or am I going to have to book economy and pay for an upgrade (with associated fees :()? Can I book the economy outwards flight now, pay for an upgrade with fees, and then hope to score an award flight on the return when it opens up in about a week?
     
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    Last edited: Aug 12, 2015
  15. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    Hi Tiffany,

    I'm still waiting for the dates to open for our return trip, but I'm now looking at Asiana from JFK via Seoul to Sydney. I'd still have to buy miles, but I can book three business saver award seats. How tolerable is it to do two long (around 12 hours) flights in business class? Plenty of options to while away the hours if you don't sleep the whole way?
     
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  16. Tiffany

    Tiffany One Mile At A Time

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    @Kiwi Ian -- Hah, well, it wouldn't bother me at all, but I always have a book, my laptop, etc. You could also stopover in Seoul for a couple of days (or even overnight) if you'd like, so that might help break things up a bit?
     
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  17. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    In a bit of perfect timing, United has just announced up to 50% off on buying miles until the end of August. It has to be a sign :)

    We won't stop over in Seoul, but we are planning on spending a couple of days in Sydney. It looks like I'll be able to book award flights JFK-SYD, then purchase three one-way tickets SYD-AKL, and then book our return award flights SYD-where ever is most convenient (JFK, EWR, or PHL).

    Can I select seats on United partners like Asiana? How does that usually work? We definitely want our daughter sitting next to one of us.
     
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  18. Gaurav

    Gaurav Well-Known Member

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    @Kiwi Ian if you book your flights over the phone just ask the agent for the Asiana record locator. Once you have that you should be able to go online and block seats. This was also displayed online on the United site under your reservation details but I don't know if this has changed since the site refresh.
     
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  19. Kiwi Ian

    Kiwi Ian Member

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    Got it, thanks. To be clear (I've never done this before) I would call United to book the award flight because I'm booking with MileagePlus miles, even though I'm looking at an award on Asiana?

    The way it's looking right now, I'm thinking of booking JFK to SYD on Asiana using miles, then paying cash for the short hop from SYD to AKL, and finally using miles again to book the flight home from AKL. I'll have to buy miles, but as @Tiffany suggested it will work out cheaper than paying the fees to upgrade from economy (especially if I can buy miles at a discount).

    Thanks to everyone for your friendly help to a newbie!
     
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  20. Tiffany

    Tiffany One Mile At A Time

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    Yep, you will always call the airline where you have miles, and follow their rules and prices.

    If you're buying miles, don't forget to look at other carriers! American has a decent sale on miles, so it might make sense to look at options on their partners as well.
     
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