How To Book Awards From Multiple Accounts

Posts from me are going to be a bit lighter over the next week as I continue my dad’s round the world surprise birthday trip. As you may (or may not) know, I also have a points consulting service, whereby we help people redeem their airline miles. I have several colleagues working with me, and they’re some of the most knowledgeable and passionate people I know in this hobby. They’ve offered to pitch in and write a few posts to give me a bit more time off while I’m traveling, so hopefully you’ll enjoy the additional unique perspectives. This post is from my friend Tiffany, whom you’ve heard from before.


Ideally we’d all have enough miles to get everywhere we wanted to go, but that isn’t always the case, particularly for couples and families. So I thought it might be helpful to go through some examples of how to book awards from multiple accounts, or when you have miles in different programs.

I’ll try not to get as deep in the weeds this time, but anyone who has tried booking awards for multiple people from multiple accounts will understand that this stuff is innately complicated.

As an example, let’s say we have a couple in New York who wants to go skiing in Verbier for the Valentines/President’s Day weekend. Just because they can, I suppose.

We’re going to call them Chris and Sam.

Awards-from-multiple-accounts-5
Confession: I’m a little obsessed with visiting the W Verbier

Fantastically, there is great Star Alliance award space on Austrian and Brussels:

Awards-from-multiple-accounts-2

There are four business class seats on this Austrian flight, by the way, and potentially a shorter connection, though then you miss out on having lunch in Vienna, which would be a shame.

The return is textbook:

Awards-from-multiple-accounts-3

So, we have the award space. Let’s talk through some scenarios of how to book this, and then we’ll go over some of the tradeoffs involved when using miles from multiple sources.

Scenario A: All one program, multiple accounts

Let’s imagine that in this case, the bulk of Chris and Sam’s miles are in United MileagePlus.

United charges 70,000 miles one-way for a partner business class award between North America and Europe, so they would need 280,000 miles for the two of them round trip.

They have that many miles, but not divided equally. Their mileage breakdown is as follows:

  • Account 1 (Chris): 250,000 United miles
  • Account 2 (Sam): 75,000 United miles

So they technically have enough for two round trips, but you can’t issue a single ticket with miles from multiple accounts, so we’re going to have to get creative:

  • Purchase 30,000 more miles for Account 1, or transfer 30,000 miles from Account 2 to Account 1 so there are enough miles for two round-trips (~$475-$700). Bonus: they could add in a stopover, which might make the extra expense worth it.
  • Just use their existing miles, and split the award into four one-way tickets.

Skiing in Verbier already sounds expensive, so let’s go with the second choice.

I think the best way to think of this is as four one-way tickets (an outbound and return for each passenger).

Booked from Account 1Booked from Account 2
Outbound for ChrisReturn for Sam
Outbound for Sam
Return for Chris

Ideally I’d book the outbound as a single record number. At the end of the day we’re going to use 210,000 miles from Chris’ account, and 70,000 from Sam’s. This leaves them with somewhat awkward mileage balances, but I’m not sure how to avoid that in this case.

Scenario B: Multiple programs

If Sam and Chris have different miles and points, the situation is a bit different (obviously). Let’s imagine that they have joint accounts in flexible points currencies, as follows:

  • American Express Membership Rewards: 97,000
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards: 150,000

This can get infinitely more complicated if there are multiple programs and multiple accounts, so let’s try and keep it simple where we can.

In terms of options, we have the following Amex transfer partners:

AeroMexico Club PremierBritish Airways Executive ClubFrontier EarlyReturnsVirgin America EleVAte
Air Canada AeroplanCathay Pacific Asia MilesHawaiian Airlines HawaiianMilesVirgin Atlantic Flying Club
AirFrance/KLM Flying BlueDelta SkyMilesIberia Plus
Alitalia MilleMigliaEl Al MatmidJetBlue TrueBlue
ANA Mileage ClubEtihad GuestSingapore Airlines KrisFlyer

And a few more options through Ultimate Rewards:

Air France KLM Flying BlueIHG Rewards ClubSingapore KrisFlyerUnited MileagePlus
British Airways Executive ClubKorean Air SkyPassSouthwest Airlines Rapid RewardsVirgin Atlantic Flying Club
Hyatt Gold PassportMarriott RewardsThe Ritz-Carlton Rewards

Since we’ve already found award space, we’re really only interested in the Star Alliance airlines:

  • ANA [Amex] – 68,000 miles for one person round-trip
  • Air Canada Aeroplan [Amex] 90,000 miles for one person round-trip, 45,000 one-way
  • Singapore [Amex & Chase] 130,000 miles for one person round-trip, 65,000 one-way
  • United [Chase] 140,000 miles for one person round-trip, 70,000 one-way

Flexible points are aptly named, because as you can see we have a lot more options!

In general, I wouldn’t personally mess with Singapore KrisFlyer here. They have very strict routing rules, would likely consider the outbound to be “backtracking,” and are generally a pain to work with for partner awards. They also levy fuel surcharges, which are going to add up quickly here.

The best value with KrisFlyer miles is for bookings on Singapore, which is less expensive, and incredibly straightforward. I’m not sure it’s worth the time and hassle to book the one-way return flights with a partner carrier — it is hands down worth 5,000 more Ultimate Rewards points to save on the fuel surcharges and be able to book instantly online, in my opinion.

So let’s look at the other choices.

Option 1: Book two separate round trips

This is the best option if our imaginary couple wants to have a stopover. There are enough miles to book one round-trip through Aeroplan or ANA, and one round-trip through United.

Each program allows stopovers on round-trip tickets, so that could be a good way to stretch the value of their points. The risk is that if there is a schedule change or other disruption that would require them to be rebooked, they might not be automatically booked on the same flights.

Option 2: Book the outbound with one carrier, return with another

Given that this is a short trip, over set dates, this is the route I would likely take.

The outbound can be booked through United, for 140,000 miles for both passengers. The return can be booked through Aeroplan for 90,000 miles for both passengers, with no fuel surcharges on Brussels Air.

Awards-from-multiple-accounts-1
Blue for the outbound through United. Red for the return through Aeroplan.

They sacrifice the stopover, but in addition to saving cash, they are on the same itinerary in case of delays or irregular operations. Which is definitely a factor for winter travel, and might make their trip easier if things start to go poorly.

Choices and tradeoffs

Anytime you’re booking with miles there is a balance between what is possible, and what is practical. If you’ve redeemed miles in the past, you probably found yourself asking some of the following:

  • Do I want the most direct routing, or the one with the lowest fees?
  • Which program has the best award chart in this case?
  • Is _____ worth the extra connection?

When you don’t have enough miles in a single account to book the entire itinerary, there are a few more things to consider:

Stopovers

Most programs that allow stopovers only allow them on a round-trip (Alaska is an exception).

Stopovers can add a ton of value to your award ticket, but if you don’t have enough miles in a single account it might not be worth the tradeoff of buying and/or transferring miles to top off the account.

If you have points in a flexible currency that’s of course ideal, but otherwise the costs to purchase miles or move them from one account to another can add up quite quickly. A “free one-way” is even less free if you have to spend $500 to have enough miles in the first place.

Kids & novice travelers

I wouldn’t hesitate to fly on split PNRs with Ben or my husband, but I’m not going to do that with my niece or my mom. Delays and misconnects happen, and while you can usually get the airline to accommodate you together, it’s something to consider.

If you’re traveling with children, I’d think it’s pretty much mandatory for at least one parent to be on the same PNR as the child all the way through, just in case. But I don’t have kids, so take that with a grain of salt.

It certainly makes it easier to change and fix tickets when people are on the same record in the same direction though.

Fuel surcharges

Different carriers have different rules here, so it’s worth thinking about how these factor in.

In our scenarios above, Austrian has hefty fuel surcharges when booked through Air Canada Aeroplan, while Brussels doesn’t.

Awards-from-multiple-accounts-4

You’re going to save about $400 per person by booking the outbound through United and the return through Aeroplan versus the reverse.

Cost versus speed

ANA has a fantastic distance-based award chart, and you could theoretically be looking at as few as 63,000 miles for a round trip to Europe in business class.

However, transfers from American Express Membership Rewards to ANA can take 2-3 days. Singapore KrisFlyer is a bit faster, but you’re still looking at 12-24 hours. You also can’t book partner awards online, so you’re limited by the call center.

That’s an eternity when it comes to award space, and not something I’d risk when you have multiple moving parts.

So most people are going to be better served by booking through Aeroplan in a situation like this, as the points transfers are instant and simple itineraries can be booked quickly online, even though the mileage premium is a bit higher.

Bottom line

Redeeming miles can be really tricky, and even more so when you have miles spread across multiple programs and accounts. This is an area where I think a lot of mileage nuts end up with paralysis by analysis, because there are so many pros and cons to each option.

In general, I tend to think the “best” choice here is highly individual, but my bias tends towards finding the balance between the lowest cost (including miles and fuel surcharges) and the most efficient method of booking the trip.

Have you booked awards from multiple sources? How did you approach the booking?

Comments

  1. @ TonyM — 2016 is a long ways away, so hopefully you can build up your balances so the redemption is not quite so complicated!

  2. @Lantean It’s pretty obvious to me.Since they are imaginary anyway, you get to imagine them however you wish. If the reader is a gay guy, Chris is a guy. If the reader is straight, of either sex, Chris is a girl. If the reader is a gay woman, both Chris and Sam (Samantha) are female. 🙂

  3. I’m pretty sure Chris and Sam are both women. Sam is an excellent snowboarder and while Chris is a champion surfer she’s lived most of her life in Hawaii so she’s hardly even seen snow but she’ll pick it up quickly. She’s also very much looking forward to her first winter in NYC, especially Christmas – even though she’s not a practicing Christian she enjoys celebrating the festive holiday.

    It’s all in there if you read between the lines

  4. I just did that exact scenario. Booking hubby and I to Nuremberg via Amsterdam on KLM and then our return from Linate to IAD via Brussels on Brussels Airlines. We used the Membership reward points for the outbound and our UR points transferred to United for our inbound.

  5. @Tiffany,

    I think this is a great article, but it also highlights my concerns about over-diversification with points/miles accumulation. I am a casual traveler only, and only fly 2-3 times a year. I live near DFW, so I mainly fly AA. For the same reason, I have AA Citi personal and business cards to rack up AA miles. However, after reading this post and several of Ben’s other posts on miles, I’m starting to wonder if that’s the best strategy. What point/mile strategy would you recommend for casual travelers? Thanks!

  6. @ Matt S. — Thanks! I generally find that casual travelers are the people that most benefit from flexible points currencies and credit cards. It’s super easy to earn miles from methods other than flying nowadays, so you might as well.

    Depending on where you’re hoping to travel, you might want to branch out into Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, or SPG points. Unless you’re spending a ton on American the SPG cards are actually more lucrative for earning AAdvantage miles anyways, so that might be a good option if you’re feeling cautious.

    But that’s a great, great question. Maybe between us we can do a lengthier post on that.

  7. Well I had similar challenge in January 2013 when I booked the China trip for my family of five for Christmas/New Year 2013. It wasn’t easy finding 5 first class seats on Cathay SFO to HKG, my husband and I split up with the kids over two separate days. Thankfully the miles were coming out of my account and his account, not the kids. But the return flight was not so easy. The miles were in each of the five accounts, so we had five separate reservations, even though I booked it over the phone and told AA to link them, somehow they managed to leave my teenage daughter out. So when the flight was delayed by 6 hours on departure date, the system automatically rebooked 4 of us on the next day flight, but left my teenage daughter in Shanghai alone for another 24 hours after our departure! Guess the computer system doesn’t look at birthdays? And the fact that she has the same last name as four other passengers on the flight in first class as well? Took a lot of work but we all ended up with our original (but delayed) flight and originally seats!

  8. @ Sharon — Wow! That is quite the booking, and a perfect example! Thanks for sharing, and glad it all worked out.

  9. Nice! I currently have me and my mom’s winter trip booked with a combo of LM, UA, BA miles. Total headache but satisfying to put all the pieces together in a way that works.

    Also, I’m thoroughly enjoying all your posts. Please consider continuing to contribute long after the round birthday trip 😉

  10. @ Cheryl — Wow! Where are you heading?

    And thanks so much — we’ll certainly think about it. I’m having fun, but this blogging thing is harder than it looks.

  11. I’m sure it takes a lot of time and thought to not only make it fluid and coherent but also interesting for all of us. As much as I love reading about Ben’s aspirational travel, I equally enjoy hearing about the sometimes darker/stranger/unknown or forgotten aspects of using miles – something you guys have highlighted nicely lately.

    I’m flying SXM-MIA-JFK-VIE (for lunch and mozartkugeln ;)) -PEK-SIN (destination) – KUL-HKG-ZRH-WAW(stop)-VIE-JFK-MIA-SXM on a combo of OS and LX sprinkled with OW carriers for positioning and other short hops.

  12. Great post. Thanks! Last year I booked on Delta using both DL and AF flights. Stopover in Paris for 10 days then on to Joburg, then back to US (total of 6 flights). We are a family of 5 and were on 4 PNRs b/c all had miles to burn. I was very nervous about putting my 11 and 14 year olds on individual PNRs (I put 5 year old on mine), but we had no choice b/c wanted to go business class and the miles were all over our accounts. DL did link for me (and I had to call in to ticket minors but they waived the $25 fee for us all). In the end, it was totally fine, not even a delay on a single flight. I did stay on top of flight status, to be safe, but I would not hesitate to do it again on separate PNRs for us. Even for my youngest. No airline is going to have a child flying alone like that, so they’ll figure out something.

  13. Great post. Looks like I’m doing things right then. This year I helped my parents book a trip from BOG to BKK. They wanted to fly business class. My mom had enough miles on United for a roundtrip. My dad had enough miles on LifeMiles for one-way and had some other miles on United, but not enough for the one-way. Thank goodness, he had enough UR points so he could transfer them to United. Now with all the miles in place, I just needed to find the exact routing on the United and LifeMiles website. I was looking every single day. Then one night, around 1am, it showed up and I booked the flights. Thankfully, there weren’t any changes by the airlines. My parents had the time of their life.

  14. Love the insights, Tiffany. Having done a few awards now for family I can totally appreciate how much work it is. I was dead set against guest contributors but these award redemption posts are awesome. I would’ve never thought to keep 2 outbounds on 1 PNR rather than book 1 roundtrip and 2 oneways, but it makes perfect sense.

  15. @ Cheryl — Oh goodness! I can’t even imagine how much work that must have taken to put together!! Very impressive!

  16. @ Tiffany — A very informative series of posts! I really hope you continue to do more posts, especially if you can sprinkle in some irreverent ones like your Lufthansa one 🙂 BTW, do you find that SQ backtracking rules match Star Alliance route map? They wouldn’t let me book IAH-DME-ZRH (not shown on the map when searching IAH-ZRH) but IAH-DME-VIE worked fine (listed on the map for IAH-VIE). Vienna route was my first choice anyhow so didn’t try pressing them on Zurich.

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