Awards and trips that tempt me…

It’s summer, which is the time of year where I stay inside and don’t fly anywhere to avoid the heat and the crowds (not to mention the insanely high airfare we’re seeing right now).

The downside to summer for me is that it’s the time where I plan far too many trips for the future. It’s like going to a supermarket on an empty stomach, and you end up buying everything, just because it looks good. Well, I’m having one of those moments right now, and I’m trying to avoid booking everything (or anything, for that matter).

I’m starting to realize more than ever before that award tickets ideally have to be booked 9+ months out. That’s not to say that it isn’t possible to get an award ticket closer to departure (I do it every day for clients), but more so than ever before it’s tough to get an ideal itinerary without planning far out. It used to be that I could set up the perfect round the world trip two months before departure, though I’m finding that tougher than ever before since travelers have gotten a lot savvier and premium cabin award space seems to generally be on the decline.

Anyway, there are a few award opportunities that tempt me.

Korean Air Airbus 380 out of New York

I have a small fortune of Delta SkyMiles burning a hole in my pocket, and I’m always looking for ways to use them. I noticed that Korean Air will soon be introducing their Airbus 380 between New York and Seoul, and I’m incredibly tempted to book an award on it. Business class award availability is excellent, and at 120,000 SkyMiles, it’s tough to beat. I’m looking at early next year, and thinking of actually making Taipei my destination, a city I’ve yet to visit. Given that I see space all the way from Tampa to Taipei with the long flights both ways on a Korean Air Airbus 380, I’m very tempted. I have something on hold, though I’m trying to convince myself not to ticket this.

Ever since flying the Airbus 380 three times on Qantas a few weeks ago, I’ve fallen in love with the plane, and want to fly it again, even if “only” in business class.

Star Alliance business class sampler for $1,350

US Airways once again has a 100% bonus buy miles promotion through June 30, so there are a few days left to pick up a maximum of 100,000 miles at under 1.5 cents each. I realize others just like to have a huge stash of US Airways miles, but I just can’t bring myself to do that. Ideally I’d like to buy points and make a booking right away, to avoid any risk of devaluation.

I’ve done first class on just about all Star Alliance airlines, so now I really want to try business class on a few of the Star Alliance airlines that don’t have a first class product.

A US to North Asia business class award costs 90,000 Dividend Miles, and those miles can be purchased for $1,350. For that I could fly US Airways’ new Envoy class from the east coast to Europe, then Austrian business class from Europe to Asia, then SAS business class from Asia to Europe, and maybe Air Canada business class to finish off the award. I’d love to see more of Japan, so I’m very tempted.

Decent American Airlines revenue fares…

Now that I’m an Executive Platinum with American, I need to earn another 70,000 elite qualifying miles this year in order to requalify. That’s perfectly doable, though will require a bit of planning. I have eight of their systemwide upgrades that I need to use by the end of the year, and I see some reasonable fares.

For example, flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Dallas to Chicago to Shanghai and back on the same routing costs $900 all-in right now for the fall. That’s by no means an amazing fare, though it’s not half bad. The advantage of booking now would be that I could confirm my upgrades immediately, which some value should be placed on. I would earn about 20,000 elite qualifying miles or 40,000 redeemable miles for the roundtrip.

I’ve also always wanted to visit India, and I see fares on American are about $1,200 all-in for the fall. Yet again, that’s not amazing, but as far as India fares go, it seems pretty good. It’s also about 20,000 elite qualifying miles, so I’m tempted to pull the trigger on that.

At the same time, I can’t help but think in the back of my head that there will be a promotion of some sort that I’ll be missing out on if I book now, be it in the form of a fare sale or some bonus miles. Maybe even double elite qualifying miles? Who knows…

So apparently Lufthansa does release first class award space on the Airbus 380…

About five days ago I was looking for award space between San Francisco and Frankfurt for a client for sometime next year, and I couldn’t help but notice a first class award seat on the Lufthansa A380 between San Francisco and Frankfurt. It wasn’t what my client was looking for, so I thought to myself “well, someone’s gonna get lucky.”

Last night I couldn’t help but wonder whether the space was still there. I figured it was a near guarantee that it would be gone, but it wasn’t. So I couldn’t help myself, and I booked it. But going from the US to Europe is only a few thousand miles cheaper than going from the US to Asia via Europe. So what did I do? I added a connecting flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok on a Lufthansa 747, after a 12 hour layover. I’ll then connect onwards to Chiang Rai, which I’ve been meaning to visit for a long time. I might do a week or so in Thailand, and try to visit Chiang Mai and Phuket as well. I’m still not convinced I’ll take the trip, though it would pain me to cancel it.

What to do, what to do…

Comments

  1. Regarding that Korean trip, you might share with your readers your technique for convincing Delta to hold an award ticket that cannot be booked on their website.. =)

  2. Simple I know I know oooo oooo (hand up). You mention you are going to use a KLM voucher. Those must be mailed in. Then you have up 10 days to do that. Maybe you change your mind and just pay for the whole thing since you did not have time to mail it in like you were going to!

    🙂

  3. You are like a kid in a candy store!

    Get out quick, before you buy everything!

    (Or, if you do buy everything, we look forward to your trip reports…)

  4. I like the Star Alliance business class option. I plan purchase US miles myself and do something similar with US, OS, AI (coming soon!), CA, and NZ. A bit ambitious for one award, but I think I can squeeze it all in. Maybe even some of the smaller Euro partners or SQ…

  5. I don’t know how you could pass up the Korean A380 trip. Especially since you haven’t been to Taiwan yet.

    Surely those LH F class seats will show up again in the future.

  6. As the dad in a family of four, I live vicariously through blogs like this.

    I think I can pull off a dad+1 trip later this year, but it reamins a to-be-negotiated matter.

  7. Ben, depending on where you go in India it can be hot even in the fall. If you do go, try and go in Nov. or Dec. The weather is much better.

  8. Lucky, I still don’t understand where you get all these miles. You don’t travel for business in the “traditional” sense, so you don’t have high credit card spending that your company reimburses you for but you get to keep the miles…you fly a good chunk of paid miles in a year, but I don’t see how that’s nearly enough to earn all the miles you redeem in a year. And there are only so many credit cards you can churn to get initial mileage bonuses. So I truly don’t get it! What are you doing that I’m not doing?

    Like where did this mini “fortune” of Skymiles come from? You NEVER fly Skyteam! I understand there are Membership Rewards transfers and SPG transfers and things like that, but again, you’d have to be spending HUGE amounts of money to get these miles, which it doesn’t sound like you do (or maybe you do but just don’t talk about it!). I mean, I travel for business almost every week, get to keep all the miles I earn from my business spending, but in the course of a year, I’m lucky if MAYBE I spend enough to get enough miles for a business class award ticket, and that’s with catching a 40% type transfer bonus. But I feel like you (and Gary, and the other folks who blog about this) talk about transfering tens of thousands of points/miles every time one of these promos come up…Once I transfer, it takes a couple years to build back up, even with traveling a ton.

    So I just don’t get it!

    I realize you might not want to answer this, which I totally respect, but if you have any secrets, I would love to hear them!

    Thanks!

  9. The US Air offpeak award to Europe in Envoy Class for 60k miles is quite compelling and there seems to be a lot of availability.

  10. Hey Lucky,

    Really enjoy the blog. I’ve been planning a big trip after taking my bar exam for a while, and saved up 120,000 miles for a first class trip to Europe and asia. I thought Lufthansa first class was impossible to get too, but when I booked my trip, the US Airways agent actually suggested PHL-FRA in first for Lufthansa and found it for me. I had looked up all my flights with the ANA tool, and the Lufthansa flight didn’t even show up as an option, but the agent was able to see one and booked it for me. Booked it around late March for my August flight.

    Also, when might you be in Chiang Mai? I’ll be there for a week and would love to meet ya!

  11. Chaing Mai is possibly my favorite Asian destination. Your lucky coins will go VERY far in that city. Pull the trigger.

  12. @Andrew I imagine he got his Skypesos from Suntrust Bank…? 🙂

    @Mel Lucky mentioned Chiang Rai rather than Chiang Mai, so he’s considering being somewhat North of where you’re planning to be (right near the Golden Triangle border area with Burma and Laos).

  13. @Lucky – if you visit Chiang Mai, a wonderful city, the LM there is very nice, has the best location, and I have always been upgraded to a suite.

  14. Taipei is the very best place for Chinese cuisine, authentic as well as fusion. The National Palace Museum in Taipei has the very best art collection of the past thousands of years in Chinese history. 1/23/2012 is the Chinese New Year. If you are going to enjoy the traditional Chinese New Year in Taipei, you might want to book the trip in early advance.

  15. Lucky, if you do get to chiang rai. The le meridien is excellent. the town isn’t too exciting (not as popular as chiang Mai) but there are 2 must see’s: the white temple and the black house. they are truly amazing sights and like nothing i’ve seen before.

  16. What are the dates you’re looking at for Korean Air trip to Taiwan? And what does the itinerary (schedule) look like?

  17. I’d recommend seeing Taipei before the new years though, as many restaurants and places would either be packed or closed..

  18. You should visit Taipei, Taiwan before or after Chinese New Year. Many Taiwanese travel out of Taiwan during the Chinese New Year break because companies close for business for up to 10 days and schools are also closed during the New Year’s break. Good time for Taiwanese for an overseas trip. There are many places to visit in Taipei, for example, Taipei 101, Shi-Lin night market, the snake alley just to name a few. Hope you pick Taipei for your trip. KE has the lowest number of seats for A380 and they also have duty-free shop on board. I am sure you already know!

  19. Lucky, I often spend 2-3 months at a time in Chiang Rai and do so twice or more a year. If you do eventually go, email me and let me know your dates. I’d be happy to show you some of the local attractions, such as they are (like the aforementioned White Temple and Black House).

  20. Glad to see you’re interested in going to Taipei! It’s a city that is typically not high on most Westerner’s radar, but I honestly believe they have some of the friendliest people in Asia.

  21. How is it possible to sign up and get 10 different debit cards at the SAME bank?! I would think you’d legally be limited to one new card/account per person?

  22. @Andrew – i think he had 2 accounts, personal and business, so 5 cards each. Lucky, Mom, Dad, Dog , Cat, etc.

  23. Thanks for the feedback, folks! I think I’ll do both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for the Lufthansa trip.

    @ Glenn — Hah, the only reason I could pass it up is because I have so much other travel to do. The Lufthansa trip would also take me to a new destination (Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai), so either way I’m seeing new places. I’m leaning towards doing both, thought.

    @ Katie — They’re Continental miles.

    @ John — Thanks for the advice, I’m leaning towards November.

    @ Andrew — There really aren’t all that many secrets, believe it or not. I earn close to a million miles per year, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less. I fly 200,000 revenue miles per year, which earns me about 400,000 redeemable miles not account for any bonuses. I earn at least 200,000-300,000 per year through credit card bonuses. I earn another 100,000++ Membership Rewards points per year through credit card spend (lots of triple miles for airfare, double miles for gas/groceries, etc.). Then I take advantage of any offer I see. For example, I earned over 500,000 Delta SkyMiles last year through the debit card offer, which cost me only a bit over $1,000. It’s not that tough to rack up a ridiculous number of miles. 🙂

    @ JRL — Duly noted!

    @ Gary — Now I’m leaning towards both Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. Given how cheap it is, and since I can really work from anywhere, I think I’ll spend a few days in Chiang Mai to start (the flight options to there are better), and then take a bus to Chiang Rai for a while, and fly onwards from there.

    @ Carl — Thanks, I’m leaning towards Le Meridiens in both cities.

    @ John — I’ll see if I can make it there for the new year, thanks.

    @ JCB — Thanks, I was thinking of Chiang Rai more for relaxation, so it sounds like it’s a good place for that.

    @ Ted — I’ll reveal that once I book it. 🙂

    @ David — Sometime in April, it looks like.

    @ Sam — If I end up going, I’ll be in touch.

  24. FYI, the Le Meridien in Chiang Mai is pretty “meh” compared to the one in Chiang Rai. And, while the bus ride from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai isn’t bad at all – really, it’s only 3 hours and pretty nice in the Green Bus – I recommend you rent a motorbike and bike down, then back to Chiang Rai before flying out. Not cheaper, but way more fun.

    (Oh, and while you’re in Chiang Mai, be sure to pet some tigers and maybe ride an elephant. Not as cool as the tiger temple, west of Bangkok, but still pretty awesome.)

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