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Earning miles is only half the battle in the miles and points world, the other half is redeeming them in as rewarding a way as possible (for you). Sometimes that is pretty easy and straight forward, and sometimes it is a bit more complicated. I would say that my trip next year to the Maldives falls under one of the more complex award bookings I have personally done (though I know it just scratches the surface for those who book true round-the-world tickets).
In my original post on booking our tickets, I outlined the process I went through in booking what turned out to essentially be an around-the-world trip, as well as the routing and carriers we chose. There are lots of different options to get to and from the Maldives, but none of them are direct or fast. Since we were flying in business class, our goals were #1 to have lie flat beds whenever possible and #2 get home as quickly as possible. I think we are doing pretty well with #1, though getting home is still taking a massively long time.
Originally our return was booked Male – Singapore – Seoul – San Francisco – Houston. See, told you it wasn’t direct! We were on Singapore Airlines for the first two segments, and then on United across the Pacific and on home to Houston. We were still in coach from Singapore – Seoul, but the rest were confirmed in business or domestic first. With that much travel, we have to be able to get sleep on airplanes, or else the trip just wouldn’t be all that fun for us.
I have several alerts set for reward availability on different flights thanks to Expert Flyer, but I still manually go in and check the options myself at least once or twice a week to see if anything better had opened up. The beauty of Platinum status on United is free changes to award tickets. If you don’t have elite status with United then changes to award tickets booked via United that keep the same origin and destination now carry a fee of $75 21 days + out. This was a new fee as of June 19th, so if you booked an award before then you should still be able to change the routing and dates up until 21 days from departure for free.
Today when I went in to do a routine check on the different options, I saw a new option on EVA Air. To be fair, EVA isn’t a new partner with United, but checking for their award space via using United miles has recently gotten a lot easier since they recently joined the Star Alliance last month. There have been some glitches in the past month or so with the ability to accurately see and book award flights with them via the United website, but that seems to be improving. Honestly I hadn’t paid too much attention to this carrier based in Taiwan joining Star Alliance since I am not a regular visitor to Asia. However, I am transiting Asia for this trip, so this is an option worth exploring.
For my travel dates that are still almost 10 months out, award availability was quite good on EVA. After brushing up some on their business class product thanks to some online reviews and a quick email to my buddy Gary, I confirmed that their business class product on the 777-300 from Taipei to LA was indeed the way to go for our trip.
A “quick” phone call to United and we are now flying:
Male – Singapore (Singapore Airlines)
Singapore – Taipei (EVA Airlines)
Taipei – Los Angeles (EVA Airlines)
Los Angeles – Houston (United Airlines)
All except our LAX – Houston flight are confirmed in business, and I bet we are able to get that one moved up before our flight next year. It is still costing us “just” 120,000 United miles each for the round trip flight. There was an increase of about $5 each in faxes/fees for switching to the EVA flights. As a side note, Air China now offers a new nonstop flight from Houston to Beijing that just started in the last week or so. It just goes four days a week, and isn’t operating on the day we are traveling, but there was good availability in business class around our travel dates. I have had good luck with solid award availability on new routes in the past, so it is always worth a check.
While I know not everyone is in the middle of planning a trip to the “Maldives on Miles”, the point of this post is that routes and partners are somewhat fluid in the aviation industry. The “best” award you could book last week may be very different this week. We were fortunate to be able to improve our award, and with many months to go it is possible it will improve again.
Have you been able to use new partners or new routes to your advantage when booking award tickets?