Booking my best award ticket ever — 31 hours in business and first class for 112,800 miles
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Back in October, American Airlines put one-way award tickets from the U.S. to Australia on sale for 6,000 miles.
I was willing to sit in American's Main Cabin Extra seats (available at booking thanks to American Airlines AAdvantage elite status) for 14 hours to visit Australia for such an obscenely cheap award price. With the savings, I figured I'd try out a few upscale hotels, and use miles to enjoy a premium airline product for the leg home.
That's when I stumbled upon what could arguably be the best points and miles award ticket available through any program: Sydney to Atlanta in first and business class on a one-stop itinerary through Doha for a total of 112,800 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and under $400.
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Here's how I booked one of the most incredible frequent flyer redemptions of my life:
After searching for a return flight from Australia through a few different airlines and programs, British Airways' website returned a search result I almost missed with one eye on the morning SportsCenter edition and another on my toddlers:
Qatar Airways had an award flight available from Sydney (SYD) to Doha (DOH) and onward to my home in Atlanta (ATL) with the first leg available in Qatar Airways A380 first class and the second leg in available in Qatar's 777-200 business class.
My first assumption? This must be phantom award space.
So, I cross-checked the itinerary on other Oneworld search engines — and Qantas, American and Asia Miles all confirmed the space.
Related: Best websites for searching Oneworld award availability
American's website is probably my least favorite for award searches and, as expected, wouldn't show the route with a single search from Sydney to Atlanta on one ticket. Each segment, however, was available individually, just as BA.com had shown:
With two Oneworld engines confirming the space was available, it was very likely real. But before I began the booking process, I checked to see which configuration of the 777 was operating the flight for Qatar from Doha to Atlanta.
A quick search of the seat map on ExpertFlyer amazingly showed a Qsuite-configured aircraft operating on my date:
This is pretty rare for Atlanta to have Qsuites — and by no means is it a guarantee this aircraft will stay scheduled on my date of travel — but it was reason enough for me to try and find the best avenue to book the golden goose itinerary.
Qatar is a member of the Oneworld alliance, which means the best ways to book typically include partners American, British Airways or Cathay Pacific. British Airways wanted far too many Avios and taxes and fees for the long-haul premium flight. American Airlines would require two entirely separate award tickets for these zones pricing at a total of 170,000 miles.
So, I decided to use Cathay Pacific's Asia Miles, a program that's very dynamic and a bit tough to follow lately given some pricing changes, but one I've used with a lot of success in over the last year. A one-way search online doesn't allow a Sydney to Atlanta city pair, but if you use the multi-city search function, you can find availability leg by leg:
The itinerary came out costing 112,800 miles and 3,092 Hong Kong dollars (about $398.27) according to Asia Miles:
I didn't really believe that was an accurate price, as that's a great deal for 31 hours of flying at the front of the plane. But Asia Miles has updated their charts lately and last year I flew using Asia Miles from Atlanta to Vienna via London for less than what Atlanta to London would have cost.
The Asia Miles website will likely give a variety of errors when you get to the final booking screen of some multi-segment itineraries such as this one. But, that doesn't mean it can't be done.
I called Asia Miles to confirm the 112,800 mile price and was told the same amount by a phone agent. Based on the website and phone agent agreeing on availability and price, I transferred 113,000 American Express Membership Rewards which I had earned via cards such as the American Express® Gold Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. The transfer was instant and the miles were available in my Asia Miles account.
Related: Guide to earning transferable points
With the points in the right account, I got busy booking. However, on the final booking screen, I received a routine booking error that the Asia Miles site unfortunately gives:
I began to think worst case scenario that both the phone agent and website had given me the wrong price and I was going to be asked for a much larger sum of Asia Miles -- or the availability wasn't there at all. I called up the Asia Miles phone line again, and after another decent hold time, it worked. I was able to book the itinerary over the phone for the quoted price of 112,800 miles and $398. (Note the chat feature with Asia Miles also lets you book award tickets, but the wait was incredibly long for chat yesterday.)
I then used fixed-value points from my Arrival Plus card to cover the majority of the taxes and fees so my out-of-pocket cost was very minimal.
The trip is blocked at more than 31 hours in the air, which is quite a while, but it'll be hard to complain with a rather large A380 first class seat, followed by what will hopefully be a flight from DOH to ATL in a Qsuites configured aircraft. After I posted my successful booking in the TPG Lounge Facebook group, a member pointed me to a recent Frequent Miler article where Greg saw the same counterintuitive pricing I experienced.
The itinerary I booked is 15,147 flight miles long with Doha almost exactly in the middle of Sydney and Atlanta. The price Asia Miles produced of 112,800 miles is supposed to be based on Cathay averaging the cost of each segment based on the percentage of total distance flown in each class of service.
My math gives me the following projected cost based on the Asia Miles award chart that has historically applied to Cathay Pacific- and Cathay Dragon-operated flights, as well as partner itineraries operated by a single partner, like mine:
No matter which way I worked the math I couldn't get to my exact price by combining business and first class prices for the two segments. I also tried the math on the Oneworld multicarrier award chart and it doesn't work out exactly right either. But I do know that the itinerary priced as two separate flights would be 195,000 Asia Miles, so I am more than happy to pay 112,800 on the combined magic math.
This is really a great redemption, perhaps my best ever, and yet another reason I stay up to date and familiar with less utilized programs.
I am thrilled for my upcoming Qatar Airways experience home to Atlanta, including adding another A380 first class product to my list, visiting the Doha airport lounges and (hopefully) enjoy the suites.
If you aren't familiar with Asia Miles, now is the time to start learning! Or, if you are brand new to all this, start with our Beginner's Guide and work up from there.