I’ve always found the best use of American AAdvantage miles to be for travel in Cathay Pacific first class. Not only is Cathay Pacific historically extremely generous with releasing first class award space (though perhaps less so recently), but American also has really attractive award rates between the US and Southeast Asia, at just 67,500 miles for a one-way ticket.
For that matter, I generally try to go out of my way to redeem miles for first class over business class, given that first class is quickly becoming a thing of the past as airlines continue to eliminate it in favor of a “premium” business class product. As a result I’ve redeemed hundreds of thousands of miles for Cathay Pacific first class, and have reviewed it many times (including here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, just to name a few). Beyond that I’ve actually reviewed all other OneWorld first class products as well, including American, British Airways, Malaysia, Qantas, and Qatar.
Now my focus is on reviewing as many new products as possible, so I’m planning out an AAdvantage distance based OneWorld Explorer Award.
I wrote a post about American’s distance based OneWorld Explorer Award rules just a couple of weeks ago, and as the name suggests, the number of miles you’re charged is based on the number of miles you fly (as opposed to American’s traditional partner award chart, where you’re charged based on the regions you fly between).
The other benefit is that you can fly up to 16 segments, and you’re allowed to stopover in as many cities along the way as you’d like.
Anyway, I’m looking to book either a zone six or zone seven distance based award, which I consider to be the “sweet spots” on the OneWorld Explorer chart.
- A zone six award allows you to fly 14,001-20,000 miles in business class for 130,000 miles
- A zone seven award allows you to fly 20,001-25,000 miles in business class for 150,000 miles.
So I’ve been trying to come up with a routing that would allow me to accomplish a few things:
- Try as many OneWorld business class products as possible
- Escape the dreary weather in Seattle in January (which is probably the worst month there)
- Visit some new cities, in particular in the Middle East
Since Qatar Airways just joined the OneWorld alliance I’d obviously like to try them in business class, in particular on their 787, which looks like quite a nice product. I’d also like to try Qantas business class, as up until now I’ve only flown them in first class. And while they may not be amazing products, I’d also like to try the new business class products offered by Air Berlin and Iberia.
With that in mind, here are the segments I’ve potentially been looking at:
- Cathay Pacific 777-300ER new business class Vancouver > New York — perhaps the most comfortable way to fly coast-to-coast
- Iberia A330 new business class New York > Madrid — looks like a nice new fully flat business class product
- LAN 787 new business class Madrid > Frankfurt — fun fifth freedom route for trying LAN’s 787
- Qatar Airways 787 new business class Frankfurt > Doha — looks like a great product since they have reverse herringbone seats, which I’ve enjoyed on American, Cathay Pacific, and EVA
- British Airways 777 business class Doha > Bahrain — if I’m not mistaken this is the world’s shortest 777 flight
- Qantas A380 business class Dubai > London — would be interesting comparing Qantas to Qatar between Europe and the Middle East
- British Airways business class London > Dusseldorf — nothing exciting
- Air Berlin A330 new business class Dusseldorf > New York — probably not an aspirational product, but would like to try this transatlantic OneWorld business class product
Now, this itinerary isn’t actually anywhere close to complete, as it’s “only” 17,345 miles. I’m leaving either ~2,655 miles on the table if I’m going for a zone six Explorer award, or ~7,655 miles on the table if I’m going for a zone seven Explorer award.
So while the above itinerary gets me onboard many carriers I’d like to try, now I’m trying to figure out how to get to the destinations I actually want to visit. I think Qatar Airways hugely increases the value of American’s distance based awards due to how central the Middle East is to many destinations. But the one thing I overlooked with them is that they market their forward cabin on flights within the Middle East as first class.
Qatar flies the same two cabin planes within the Middle East that they fly on longhaul flights, except that forward cabin suddenly goes from being business class to being first class. As far as I know this means on a business class OneWorld Explorer award you’d be stuck in coach on that regional flight. I suppose that’s not the end of the world given how short these flights are, though at the same time I’m trying to figure out if there’s a better way to maximize the award.
For example, I’d really like to visit Muscat as I’ve heard great things about it, so if need be I’ll just add a roundtrip between Doha and Muscat in coach on the business class award. But I’m still trying to figure out if there’s a more creative way to do it.
Anyone have any thoughts on the above itinerary, or other airlines/routes you think it would be fun to include? I’m not opposed to flying another 7,000 miles, I just can’t figure out where else it would make sense to go on the same award. Also, has anyone been to Bahrain? If so, is it worth a visit, and for how long? Any other cool Middle Eastern cities to visit? I’ve only been to Qatar and the UAE thus far.
I’ve gotta say, planning these OneWorld distance based awards can be a fun challenge…