How I booked partner awards to Hawaii — reader success story

Feb 5, 2020

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Sankalp, who used transferable points to expand his options for booking an award flight:

Last year I earned the welcome bonuses from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and American Express® Gold Card. Between those bonuses and other points I accrued from spending over the past year, my wife and I had enough to book a trip to Hawaii; the next step was looking for award flights to get us there.

We wanted to fly United from Chicago (ORD) to Honolulu (HNL), and then back home from Maui (OGG). We’re going to need both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards points for a trip to Europe we’re planning for later in the year, so I wanted to use a mix of points from both programs for our Hawaii trip. As a result, I planned to book our United flights through Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, which is a transfer partner of both Chase and Amex.

Since United, Singapore and Air Canada are all part of the Star Alliance, I knew I could search for award availability on United or Aeroplan and book it on Singapore Airlines. I logged into my Aeroplan account and started my search there, since United moved to dynamic award pricing in November, and there were quite a few United awards that did not show up on KrisFlyer award searches. I found a non-stop economy itinerary that fit our schedule, and I called Singapore Airlines to confirm the availability. The booking agent I spoke with said the flights were indeed available, and I could book them for 35,000 miles round-trip per person (plus around $30 in taxes total).

I then transferred 35,000 points from Ultimate Rewards and another 35,000 points from Membership Rewards to my KrisFlyer account. Both transfers were completed within 24 hours. I called Singapore Airlines again and fed our itinerary to a booking agent. After putting me on hold for a few minutes, she confirmed the amount, and I used my Sapphire Preferred card to pay the $30 in taxes so we’d get the travel protection benefits. Our same flights would have cost $1,565 if we had booked through United Airlines, so we got a redemption value of around 2.2 cents per point. Thanks for getting me hooked on points and miles!

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Sankalp’s story exemplifies how booking a single award flight can involve multiple frequent flyer programs. Singapore Airlines is a strong alternative to United for booking flights to Hawaii on United metal, since the MileagePlus program charges at least 10,000 miles more than KrisFlyer for the same round-trip flights. Singapore’s award search engine is unreliable, so you shouldn’t also lean on KrisFlyer to find the flights you want. But Aeroplan’s site remains a great tool for finding Star Alliance award availability, and Sankalp put it to use when his preferred flights didn’t show up elsewhere. Employing three different programs to book a single award may seem cumbersome, but understanding each program’s strengths and weaknesses is key to maximizing your miles.

Sankalp made another smart move by confirming availability before transferring his points to Singapore Airlines. Award searches will sometimes return flights that aren’t actually bookable (colloquially known as ‘phantom availability’). If you transfer points in and the award you want turns out to unavailable, your rewards will be marooned until you find another use for them. Confirming by phone or via another search engine doesn’t guarantee the availability you want will still be there when you’re ready to book, but it at least provides some assurance that the award space you see online is genuine.

Related: Maximizing Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer partner awards

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 Sankalp 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 info@thepointsguy.com; 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 Damien Cornu/Unsplash.

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