Time to Book Airline Tickets to Sochi 2014 Olympics

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As promised, I want to continue to share my plans and tips regarding getting to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  Individual event tickets went on sale in February, and I was able to lock in some events I am pretty excited about.  Once upon a time I had a hotel reserved on points, but that got canceled due to the “International Olympic Committee” regulations, or something like that.  I was compensated in points for that cancellation, but that does leave me still without a hotel.

I will do another post about hotels in the future, but the summary is that hotels will likely be the hardest part.  As far as I can tell none of the traditional chain hotels are accepting regular reservations on cash or points for the Olympics at this time.  There are many more hotels that will be completed throughout the course of 2013 as there is tons of construction still going on.  I expect that rooms that were not sold via package deals or needed for official Olympic purposes will be released for regular booking at some point late in 2013, but that is a guess, not a fact.  I’m not too concerned at this point, but I do know that hotels will be harder to come by than they were for me in London…and they are a key piece of getting your visa.

However, hotels are a post for another day.  Today I want to point out that we are just about to the airline booking window for the Olympics with many airlines.  For example, I am seeing good availability in economy and business on some Turkish flights into Istanbul from the US in early February.  Turkish Airlines is in the Star Alliance and you can book flights using United miles.  The Olympic events start on February 6th and the Opening Ceremony is February 7th.

Of course, the booking calendar for the return flights is not yet open, so that will mean you have a decision to make.  Do you go ahead and lock in the available outbound flights as one-ways (if permitted by your award program of choice), or do you roll the dice and wait until your return date is also available and book as a round trip?  This is important as with many programs, like United, you can do many more “fancy” things with your itinerary when booking as a round trip as opposed to a one-way.  For example, with a round trip award ticket booked via United I would have the ability to build in up to one stopover and two open-jaws.  Stopover means you stay in one city along the way for a while.  Open-jaw means flying into one city and out of another.

This would also allow you to build in the infamous “free one-way” award on United that Milevalue discusses in detail on the linked post.  However, if you book two one-ways instead of a round trip then you are missing out on a chance to really maximize the award.  So, an option is to book the outbound as a one-way now, and then try to call in and get it changed to add the return segment at a later time.  One of the big reasons I went for elite status with United last year is so that I can make changes like that for free.  If you don’t have status, then that sort of change will likely cost you some in fees.  It might still be worth it to some, depending on what you are getting by paying the change fee.

Even if you just book as two one-ways, it really isn’t a bad thing in this case as this is the Olympics.  This is a time where some of the normal “rules” surrounding using miles and points don’t totally apply.  Just securing the flight you want on miles is a big victory.  Don’t get too upset if it isn’t maximized to the nth degree.

Once you start playing with flights a bit you may quickly realize that flying all the way into Sochi on miles may not be possible.  I have been focusing primarily on Star Alliance and flying Turkish Airlines.  They do offer flights from Istanbul to Sochi, but they only operate on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  To make things more exciting the flight from Istanbul to Sochi leaves just after midnight and arrives around 3AM in Russia.  Fun?!  Technically it can be booked on United miles and an award from say Houston to Istanbul to Sochi doesn’t cost any more miles than a flight from just Houston to Istanbul.  But…right now I see no availability on the Istanbul to Sochi segment for any date even close to the Olympics.  The last date I see is around Christmas 2013.  Availability may get better later, or it may not.  It is also very possible that the flight schedule will increase as we get closer to the Olympics.  Again, you have the option of waiting until your “perfect” award itinerary is available, or pulling the trigger now and amending it later or just booking the final segment separately with either cash or miles.

If you want to fly in or out via a different city like Moscow, then there are some different options.  To throw in some OneWorld options, you can use Avios to fly from Moscow to Sochi on S7 for just 7,500 Avios one-way plus some minimal taxes.  February is also “off peak” time to Europe via American Airlines, so if you are willing to fly economy, it is just 20,000 miles each way to Russia (though the booking window is not quite open yet via American).

Personally, I am a pretty lame gambler, so I am locking in one-ways to a nearby major city, and then will consider adding onward flights to Sochi if available later and/or converting the tickets to a round trip in the future, if possible.  This won’t be the best course of action for everyone, but it is the best one for me right now.  Whatever your course of action is going to be, just be aware that depending on when you want to go, the booking window for flights is either open, or very close to opening.

How is the planning process going for everyone else who is looking to cheer their country on in Russia next year?

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  1. How bout that Russian visa?… It’s one of the hardest to get. Have you looked into that yet?… Wouldn’t want all this work to go to waste if they deny you (happened to me a year back)

  2. I’ll be in Russia next month. Visas for 3 people=$783.26 using VisaHQ.
    @Jon: Did they give you a reason for the Visa denial?

  3. Jon, I’m not overly concerned as I couldn’t think of a plausible reason I would be denied assuming I get hotel accommodations squared away. Never a guarantee though, so this sort of travel does have elements of risk in that regard (though my flights would be totally refundable on miles).
    Lively, would love to hear about your trip to Russia!

  4. Russia in Winter? Don’t forget the vodka, silk thermals, parkas, glove liners, balaclavas, insulated boots, microfleece layers, and chemical heat packs. Far easier for me to just pack a suim suit, flip flops and dive gear and just catch the winter olympics on TV at Margaritaville down in the Turks. Planning to take Little C Themanovna?:)

    • ADK, It’s Russia in the winter on the sea…in fact, I think it being too warm for winter sports is more of a real concern than too cold. 😉 But no, Little C is sitting this one out. I hope to take her to Brazil for the 2016 Games though!

  5. I think there are some nice possibilities one can do by booking through US DM while they remain part of *A. Lock in a ticket that gets you to Istanbul and have it as a stopover on your way to say Tokyo. You can sit on that booking and then monitor what happens with the merger to see whether it still suits or you rather leverage that *A booking into a OneWorld boking. For those of us with no status and plenty of USDM miles but have status on American, it is a nice way to create a synthetic option of sorts: lock in flights with rigid rules and fees that can later become more flexible albeit with the additional AAdvantage award rules and costs.

  6. I just booked award flights with my brother and sister on Star Alliance to Istanbul, and we will also likely pay $ for our flights into Sochi. Unless Turkish Airlines flights become available on miles. We are so excited planning this trip to the Olympics!!
    Also waiting for hotel availability and more event tickets to come on sale.
    Thanks mommypoints for all of your posts and tips!

  7. Question from a newbie- I thought that United allows you to change the date / time of flights for free as long as it’s more than 21 days away. In that case, couldn’t you book your entire roundtrip award now (with some dummy inbound dates) and then later change the dates out further once availability opens up (as long as the destination / departure cities remain the same)? And wouldn’t this work if you add in stopovers as well (just pick the cities you want and use dummy dates, then switch to better dates once there’s availability)? This is what I was planning to do but since there’s no mention of this, I now wonder if this won’t work and I’m missing something very obvious.

  8. Top Gunner, I like that idea, and if I had the time to go all the way to Asia, it makes perfect sense to do that for less miles via US than just to Europe. 😉 Is a good strategy for some…just not for me on this trip.
    Katie and McG’s, yay! Good for you!
    Tiffany, you can change those things, but that wouldn’t really help if you are booking your outbound from NA to Europe on the day the schedule opens as the flights back the next calendar day would not yet be available. I like how you think though. 😉

  9. I’d be a bit nervous of an “incident” at Sochi – there are plenty of people in the general vicinity who have serious gripes with the Russians. Won’t see me there…

  10. Thank you. I’m not going to Sochi, but Rio is my planning 40th birthday present to myself. It’s nice to follow you around to get myself thinking about that trip in only 2 years time.

  11. Well, my wife and I just completed our flight reservations for the Olympics. Going to Moscow for a couple of days prior to the Olympics (UA award). Will use Avios to get from Moscow to Sochi. We were also able to book our return through IST. Even managed to grab 2 business seats from AER to IST as part of the return.

    Now just need to find a hotel in Sochi /AER.

    • Dean, wow, well done! Do you book using UA miles? What date did you get the AER segment. I’m seeing 2/5, but nothing past that.

  12. Both Aeroflot and S7 airlines started to sell tickets Moscow-Sochi. Aeroflot is expensive now as all cheaper tickets gone for February 6-7 for those going to see the Opening, I was lucky to get one. Today ( March 14, 2013) the sell through February 8, 2014 and every day open sales for the next day. S7 is much cheaper.

    • Managed to book the Sochi – IST flight with UA miles as part of the flight back to LAX. It was part planning and much luck. It appears that TK only releases award seats on Wed (they only fly Mon, Wed and Fri). Wed was the day we planned on coming back. So went into the UA web site just after 10 PM Pacific time (when seats opened). Had issues with the UA web site (so what else is new). Each time I tried to book a flight to LAX, it said flights were OK but when I went to pay, they said “impossible”. The second or third time I tried, the AER-IST flights disappeared. Figured someone else had snagged them. So wound up booking IST-LHR-YUL-LAX. Long story short, the next day I saw that UA had put on hold the AER-MUC flight with the stop in IST (along with a bunch of other flights – mainly IST-MUC and IST-FRA). Had UA drop the IST-MUC leg. Then canceled the AER-IST leg and it did pop back into inventory so I could add it to my other flights. PURE LUCK.

      Now just looking for hotels. Seems like the Russian Olympic committee has booked / reserved all rooms in the Sochi / AER area. Anyone have any ideas or leads on hotel rooms?????????

      • Dean, I want that Wed flight as well, but just haven’t seen it to grab it. Well done and no I don’t have much yet in terms of hotels.

  13. I went a totally different route because I don’t have airline miles. My wife and I used the Cosport company to get the tickets and hotel combination for the Games from Feb 9 to Feb 13th. The price for the same package has doubled since I booked it back in Febraury and those same dates are not avaialbe now. The airfare was different situation as all of the travel websites showed inflated prices, especially coming out of Orlando Fla. Putting it together in sections I was able to make it work with night layovers in Moscow each way. There are four different airports in Moscow and only two have flights to Sochi but are 50 miles apart.The airfare from SVO to AER is still showing high compared to if I booked it for the month of June. Moscow (SVO) only has one airline company going into Sochi that have inexpensive flights. I booked the flights anyway just to get a seat on the plane. You need the hotel reservation information to get the Visa’s which is the most improtant part. We will be appling for that in Novmeber or Decmeber. It was easier going to China than Russia.

    • For the visa, you will probably need to use a visa “expediting” company unless you live close to a Russian embassy. From my understanding, the only way to avoid having to go to the embassy for an “interview” is to use one of those companies. You should be aware that not all hotels will support the visa application process and you will need to pay one of the expediting companies to prepare an “invitation” for you. My suggestion is for everyone to start the visa process in early November.

  14. We are using a international travel to help with plannning and visa process. Part of the reason I went with Cosport for the hotel package plan was the invitation need for the visa is part of the guest registration information in May. They email it to me at a later date.

  15. Hi there!
    I see from these posts that I am not the only one concerned about the lack of hotel availability?? I thought that 9 months in advance was plenty of time to begin to get that part figured out, but I have found literally nothing. Any tips? Ideas? Prayers? 😉

  16. Last post was more than a month ago, anyone had any luck booking hotel yet?
    I am about to book flights, but decided to fly into Moscow and then taking a train to Sochi.

    • ARozzy, I don’t have them yet and don’t expect to until the fall when they are supposed to be released from IOC control.

  17. I am planning a trip to the Paralympics in March following the Olympics. I would like to use miles, as when I took your advice and looked at Houston to Istanbul only, many flights suddenly became available. However, I am confused on how to pay with miles in the first place. What was the process when you booked through Turkish airlines? Where is the option to pay with miles?

    Thank you!

  18. You need to book through whatever miles you are using. If you are using UA miles, you need to book through the UA site.

  19. You need to book through whatever miles you are using. If you are using UA miles, you need to book through the UA site.

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