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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Monjur, who split up his party to make the best of limited award availability:
I have read a lot about Cathay Pacific first class and wanted to figure out a way to try it using points. Thanks to TPG, I consider myself seasoned in mileage redemption strategies, especially when it comes to certain award programs like Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. So over the past 10 months, I accumulated more than 140,000 Alaska miles — having MVP Gold status certainly helped, and I made good use of the Mileage Plan shopping portal.
I used the British Airways Avios award search engine to find availability on Cathay Pacific from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG). Since I really wanted to experience Cathay’s 777-300ER first class, I wasn’t considering flights on the A350 (which offers a superb business class based on what I have read). I found one first class seat for the LAX-HKG flight in March of 2020 — yes, that’s how far in advance I plan a lot of our long-haul trips, especially when I’m redeeming miles — but I needed two seats to fly with my wife.
Cathay Pacific has two flights (#881 and #883) departing LAX one hour apart, and each of those flights had one first class award seat available. Knowing that Alaska doesn’t charge change fees for MVP Gold members, we decided to take those two seats. So even though my wife and I currently have different flights to Hong Kong, I’m optimistic that another first class seat will become available on either of our flights as we get closer to the departure date. I just need to make sure I re-qualify for MVP Gold in 2020.
I also know that Alaska allows one free stopover on award redemptions, and there was no way I was going to spend 70,000 miles without adding a stopover. So to further sweeten the deal, I added a flight to Johannesburg (JNB) in business class with a reverse herringbone configuration. We’ll fly LAX-HKG-JNB with a three-night stopover in HKG all for only 70,000 miles per passenger. Pretty awesome!
One of the big draws of airline elite status is the opportunity to score upgraded seats, but Monjur’s story touches on what I think is the most valuable (and underrated) benefit for award travelers: waived fees. Alaska, American, Delta and United (among others) all discount or waive change and cancellation fees for upper tier elites, including on award tickets, so there’s less pressure to track down the perfect itinerary from the outset. You can afford to book flights that are merely functional when parameters like the routing or departure time (or in Monjur’s case, the number of seats) aren’t ideal. You can simply adjust later free of penalty when the award space you really want opens up.
These benefits also give you the freedom to book awards speculatively, so when you see availability during an award sale or along a route where seats are hard to find, you can claim it right away and worry about the details later. If those flights don’t end up fitting with the rest of your plans, you can switch to new ones even if it means a adding a stop or accepting a downgrade in service. I don’t advocate booking awards you aren’t likely to use just because you can, but if you’ve earned the privilege to avoid change and cancellation fees, take advantage of it!
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Monjur a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to firstname.lastname@example.org; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy
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